LIT 224 — Ancients and Moderns: Readings in the Human Condition
Designed to give students an understanding of the ways in which a course in the Stanford Master of Liberal Arts Program would be structured and taught, this course poses the following questions: Does our understanding of the human condition improve over time? Have we become wiser about ourselves? To illuminate these questions, we will read, in alternate weeks, an “ancient” work and a “modern” work. We will, for instance, first read and discuss the biblical book of Job, and the following week, Franz Kafka’s The Trial. By putting these texts side by side, students will study how we, as humans, have struggled with absurd adversity.
Other readings will include works by William Faulkner and Albert Camus; plays by Sophocles and Eugene O’Neill; and a philosophical treatise by Søren Kierkegaard. Each student will write a final essay about issues discussed in the seminar. As always in a seminar of this sort, the readings will direct and shape the discussion in ways that cannot be predicted. They will set a framework for what should be a freewheeling and energizing conversation. The point of a course like this is not acquiring information but learning to think; success is measured not by a filled notebook but by a more capacious mind.
This course aims to introduce those who are strongly interested
in pursuing a degree in the Stanford Master of Liberal
Arts Program to the kind of seminar they would likely
encounter in the program. Students will face the same kind
of intellectual challenges, the same kind of opportunities to
engage in weekly discussion, and the same kind of stimulus
to write persuasive research essays. The course is open to
students who have not previously enrolled in an MLA-style
course through Stanford Continuing Studies. Students
are required to take this course for credit, submit written
work, and contribute to class discussions, as happens in all
MLA seminars. However, this course may not be taken for
a letter grade, though students’ written work will receive
extensive feedback from the instructor.
For more information on the Stanford Master of Liberal Arts Program, please see https://mla.stanford.edu/
William M. Chace, Professor of English, Emeritus, Stanford; President Emeritus, Emory UniversityWilliam M. Chace taught at Stanford for twenty years before becoming president of Wesleyan University (1988–1994) and then president of Emory University (1994–2003). He is the author of a number of scholarly books and articles. In 2006, Princeton University Press published 100 Semesters: My Adventures as Student, Professor, and University President, and What I Learned along the Way. Chace received an MA and a PhD from UC Berkeley.
Textbooks for this course:
(Required) Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling, ed. Alastair Hannay (ISBN 978-0140444490)
(Required) Eugene O’Neill, Long Day's Journey Into Night (ISBN 978-0300093056)
(Required) Sophocles, The Three Theban Plays, Penguin Classics (ISBN 978-0140444254)
(Required) William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying, ed. Michael Gorra (ISBN 978-0393931389)
(Required) Albert Camus , The Plague (Penguin Random House) (ISBN 978-0679720218)