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PHI 108 — The Modern Crisis of Meaning: Søren Kierkegaard, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Samuel Beckett

Quarter: Spring
Day(s): Wednesdays
Course Format: On-campus course
Duration: 10 weeks
Date(s): Apr 5—Jun 7
Time: 7:00—8:50 pm
Drop Deadline: Apr 18
Units: 2
Tuition: $435
Instructor(s): Forrest Hartman
On-campus course
7:00—8:50 pm
Apr 5—Jun 7
10 weeks
Drop By
Apr 18
2 Units
Forrest Hartman
The optimistic vision of an advanced society, based on reason, science, and progress, was already under severe scrutiny in the 19th century and was shattered in the carnage of World War I. Meanwhile, any simplistic retreat back into a traditional theological faith that had once provided certainty and security was no longer tenable. Adrift in an unfamiliar world, bereft of meaning, we were left asking pressing questions about what we can believe in. Even more pointedly, how are we to exist in a world devoid of meaning and without foundations?

Søren Kierkegaard, emphasizing the concept of universal despair, decried objectivity and abstract, rational system-building as inimical to the subjective truth of the individual. Only with a leap into the absurd was meaning to be found. Obsessed by the problem of evil and plagued by doubts about his own faith, Fyodor Dostoevsky raised similar questions about rationalizing our existence. When logic fails us, we need to find a way back subjectively to a community founded on active love. When we turn to Samuel Beckett, we see his characters swallowed up by the yawning abyss of nihilism.

This course will explore the modern crisis of meaning. Texts will include Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, The Sickness Unto Death, and The Present Age; Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground and The Brothers Karamazov; and Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and Endgame.

Forrest Hartman, Senior Adjunct Professor in Critical Studies, California College of the Arts

Forrest Hartman’s research interests are based in the history of ideas and cultural studies, especially the relationship between the sciences and the humanities. He received an MA in rhetoric/philosophy from UC Berkeley and a PhD in evolutionary biology from the University of Michigan.

Textbooks for this course:

(Required) Soren Kiekegaard (Edited by Stephen Evens and Sylvia Walsch), Kierkegaard: Fear and Trembling (ISBN 0521612691)
(Required) Fyodor Dostoevsky (Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky), Notes from Underground (ISBN 067973452X)
(Required) Fyodor Dostoevsky (Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky), The Brothers Karamazov (ISBN 0374528373)
(Required) Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot En Attendant Godot, Bilingual (ISBN 0802144632)
(Required) Samuel Beckett, Endgame & Act Without Words (ISBN 080214439X)