Class Conference
























































































































































































































English 3120, Spring 2008

Obscenity / Sexuality / Atheism

in Western World Literature

Welcome to a section of Western World Literature that will focus on issues of obscenity, sexuality, sexual orientation, love, education, free thought, and atheism in literary and philosophical works of the so-called "Western" tradition, from Ancient Greece to the present. In this course we will consider the comic, picaresque, fabliaux, folk humor, carnivalesque, bawdy, filthy, scandalous, sacreligious, irreligious, anti-religious, and "popular," as opposed to the tragic, epic, heroic, beautiful, revered, edifying, sacred, morally uplifting, or "cultured."

We will examine texts through the lense of "obscenity," a word in whose Greek origin refers to that which is out of the scene, "off-stage." Drawing on thinkers including Marx, Freud, Bakhtin, and Foucault we will reflect on the social construction of that which should not be known, and the political and psychological purposes and implications of repression.

As the term "literature" is clearly under investigation, so the term "West" or "Western" is recognized in this class as a commonly accepted construct of Orientalist discourse -- although an interrogation of that term is not a focus of this section, suspicion of the category, of the existence of a "Western world" is registered at the outset. Although translation is also not a topic we address, our focus, by catalog description, is on works outside English, British, and American traditions. Indeed, the very idea of a "survey" course, spanning more than 2000 years in one semester, "covering" a variety of cultures, languages, literatures, and traditions is also obviously problematic. Categories such as "Ancient," "Medieval," "Renaissance," "Early Modern," "Enlightenment," "Modern," will be treated with skepticism.

We are interested in the past, and the representation of the past, as a history of the present, in order to understand and act in the present day. We will consider the content and purposes of a course titled "Western World Literature" and of education in general -- those students planning on becoming teachers will have opportunities to prepare for and think critically about their role.

There is no required textbook for the class, though studying textbooks and anthologies and the syllabi of courses similar to and different from this one (see below) may be an activity of interest. Instead, our on-line syllabus serves as an electronic, hyperlinked, textbook, opening to all the resources of the internet and vast on-line (and brick and morter) archives, libraries, and resources. All students will participate regularly in our on-line discussion at Nicenet.org -- posting at least once before every class. There will also be the opportunity to select from a variety of trade texts for group and independent reading.

The reading material in this class is suitable for mature audiences willing to attempt to understand the moral universe of other times and cultures as well as their own. If this class is not right for you, please take a different section.

Our class meets Tuesday and Thursday from 12:30 to 1:45 in 2209 Sangren Hall. Because class discussion is central to the course, participation is vital -- our learning depends on each other. Attendance will be taken and missing classes will lower your grade. Missing more than four classes may lead to failing. This course will follow WMU policies regarding academic honesty.

WMU has many resources to foster student health and well-being. I support the Safe on Campus environment (387-2123). If at any point in the semester if you feel stress, English 3120 does offer free on-line therapy from Eliza!

My office is 723 Sprau Tower, 387-2605. Office hours are immediately after class and by appointment. You can always reach me via email.



Extensive reading from digital archives and the internet. One essay involves a $3 fee. Some handouts.

In groups students will select and purchase novels and texts from the 19th and 20th Centuries related to course themes. See Literature Circles.



Major Assignments

Plato modeled on Leonardo da Vinci
from the "School of Athens" by Raphael (1510)

1. Class Participation, including electronic conference participation (20%)

2. Exam: Ancient Texts, Feb 7 (20%)

3. Paper: Comparing and contrasting ancient and early Renaissance texts, 5 page minimum. Due: Mar 11 (20%) [Sample papers 1 & 2 & 3]

4. Exam: Medieval and Modern (20%) Mar 25

5. Paper: Analysis of 19/20 Century works drawing on course themes. 5 page minimum. Due: Apr 21 (20%)

Electronic Syllabus

Jan 8 Tuesday: Introductions

Jan 10 Thursday: Educating the Guardians

1. Read: Greek Origin Myth from Theogeny by Hesiod

2. Read: from The Republic by Plato (360 BCE) , section addressing the literary education of the guardians, 2.376c to 3.398b (near end of book 2 into book 3) Perseus Archive or from MIT Classics

3. Comment on Nicenet
Class Key: E22436Z378 (Post before every class meeting!)

Socrates"Socrates Tears Alcibiades from the Embrace of Sensual Pleasure," by Jean-Baptiste Regnault (1791)

Jan 15 Tuesday A Scandalous View of the Socratic School

Read: The Clouds by Aristophanes (423 BC) Johnston Translation, Perseus Archive, or Hickie Translation (Optional: Critical Essays: "On Satire" Study Resources: Dunkle Study Guide)

Jan 17 Thursday: Sex and War in Ancient Greece

Read: Lysistrata by Aristophanes (411 BC) Perseus Archive, Project Gutenberg, or Eserver (Optional: Study Questions, Study Guide, Modern implications: Lysistrata Project)

Jan 22 Tuesday Celebration of Homoerotic Love

Read: "Symposium" by Plato (385) BC Project Gutenberg (you can skip the long translator's introduction) or Perseus Archive. (Optional: Wikipedia on "symposium" and on Plato's Symposium)

Jan 24 Thursday

Blaspheming the Gods
& Corrupting the Young

Read: "The Apology" by Plato (399 BCE) MIT Classics, Perseus, or WSU

(Option: Wikipedia, Commentary)

"The Death of Socrates," by Jacques-Louis David (1787)

Jan 29 Tuesday Roman Decadence

Scene from Fellini's Satyricon

Read: The Satyricon by Petronius (61 AD) Sacred Text Archive, Project Gutenberg I , or Project Gutenberg II
Also: Wikipedia "Homosexuality in Ancient Rome," "Slavery in Ancient Rome, Roman Empire.net "Household Sex" (Optional: Background, Wikipedia, view Fellini's Film)

Jan 31 Thursday Decadence Continued

Read: The Life of Nero 37-68 AD by Seutonius (110 CE), U of Chicago, Fordham, or Rolfe
(Optional: Wikipedia on Nero, Penthouse film "Caligula" warning -- this film has extreme violence and sexuality)

Nero"The Remorse of Nero after Killing his Mother"
by John Waterhouse, 1878

Feb 5 Tuesday

Ancient and Modern Sexuality
& Nature of the Gods

Read: "Forms of Problemitization" from Michel Foucault, Volume 2 of The History of Sexuality. (1985) (Class handout)
(Optional: Wikipedia: "Michel Foucault")

And Read: from On the Nature of the Gods by Cicero (45 BCE)
(Optional: Wikipedia: "Cicero"

Cicero 106 BC - 43 BC

Feb 7 Thursday Exam I: Ancient Texts


Mestrius Plutarch 46-120 CE

Apostle Paul by El Greco


Feb 12 Tuesday
Heterosexual Love, Christian Love, Courtly Love

Read: Plutarch "Dialogue on Love" from Moralia (120 CE) (Optional: IPCE library essay)

Read: Letters of Paul: Romans 1 & 7, 1 Corinthians 6 & 7, 13 & 14, Ephesians 5 (~50 CE) (Optional: Religious Tolerance commentary on Romans, and Corinthians, Scrogs)

Read Augustine from City of God Book 14 Chapter 16 & 18 & 22 & 23 & 26 (420 CE) (Optional: Wikipedia: "Augustine")

Read: Ovid from Amores: Elegy III, Elegy IV (10 BCE) (Optional: Wikipedia "Ovid")

Read: Cappelanus "The Art of Courtly Love" (11th C CE)

Feb 14 Thursday (Valentine's Day!) Fabliaux I

Read: French Fabliaux (13th Century CE): "The Butcher of Abbeville," "The Miller and the Two Clerics"; "The Priest Who Peaked," "The Knight Who Made Cunts and Assholes Speak" and Chaucer's "The Miller's Tale" (1387 CE)

(Optional: "Miller's Tale" Study Guide, Essay on Chaucer, Boccaccio and French Fabliaux, "Obsenity Out of the Margins," Images)

Miller's Tale
John, Alisoun, Nicholas (1913)

Feb 19 Tuesday Fabliaux II

Read: from Boccacio's Decameron (1353 CE) Day 3 all Novels 1 through 10, Day 5- Novel 10, Day 8- Novel 8 , Day 9 Novels 2, 6 &10 (Optional: others of relevance 6-7, 7-2, 7-3, 7-5, 7-6, 7-7, 7-9, 8-1, 8-2, 8-4, 8-5, 8-9 available at Decameron) (Full text also available at Project Gutenberg, or as an MP3)

"A Tale from the Decameron"
John William Waterhouse

"Gargantua" by Dore 1873

Feb 21 Thursday

The Carnivaleque

Read: Gargantua (1532 CE) and from Bakhtin's: Rabelais and his World


Francois Rabelais
1494 -1553

Feb 26 Tuesday

Nursery Rhymes, Mother Goose
and Fairy Tales

Read: "Peasants Tell Tales: The Meaning of Mother Goose" by Robert Darnton (available from NYTimes for $3) (Optional: Study Guide)

Bring 4 pages of paper rough draft


Little Red Riding Hood

Feb 28 Thursday Don Juan

Tirso de Molina's The Trickster of Seville (1630)

(Optional: exploration of Don Juan theme: Moliere's Dom Juan ou Le Festin de Pierre (1665), Byron's Don Juan (1821), Jose Zorrilla y Moral's Don Juan Tenorio (1844), etc.)

Mar 2-9 Spring Break


Don Juan
Don Juan in Don Giovanni
by Mozart
Scene from Candide
Candide Shooting Monkeys (1803)

Mar 11 Tuesday

The Picaresque

Read: Candide by Voltaire (1759) at Wikisource, Ebooks, Oregon State.

Ancient / Medieval Comparison Paper Due



Mar 13 Thursday Sexuality and Philosophy

Read (only as far into it as you wish): "Philosophy in the Bedroom" by Marquis de Sade (1795 CE) 2002 Translation (pdf)

Mar 18 Tuesday Class Repression

Read: Communist Manifesto, sections I & II & IV by Karl Marx (1848 CE), Communist Manifestoon, and "Marx on Religion" (Optional: Brian Study Guide, Wikipedia on Marx)

Karl Marx 1818-1883

Mar 20 Thursday Psychic Repression

Read: "Pschoanalysis" by Terry Eagleton, from "The Mechanism of Pleasure and the Psychogenesis of Jokes" from Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious by Sigmund Freud (1905 CE) and "Freud and Religion" (Optional: Wikipedia on Freud, "Freud's View on Religion," "Two Views of the Comic Freud and Bakhtin")


Sigmund Freud 1856-1939

Mar 25 Tuesday Exam II: Medieval to Modern

Mar 27 Thursday Literature Circles

Apr 1 Tuesday

Apr 3 Thursday

Apr 8 Tuesday

Apr 10 Thursday

April 15 Tuesday

April 17 Thursday

April 21-25: Finals Week

April 21 Monday 12:30-2:30 Scheduled Final Exam

Class Evaluation

Paper Due


Courses with Related Themes:

CLEN 4525 Banned Literature, Jonathan Able, Columbia University

English 493 The Obscene Machine, William Nericcio, San Diego State

Classics 240 Scandalous Arts in Ancient and Modern Communities, Ralph Rosen, Pennsylvania

CLST 277 Roman Decadence, Kenneth Mayer, Howard

English 179 Flesh and Spirit, Jeffery Cohen, George Washington

English 90 Banned Books: What They Didn't Want You to Read in High School, Glyniss Carr, Bucknell

English 183 Banned Books and Changing Cultures, Rebecca Romanow, U of Rhode Island

JOMC 144 Censorship, Chuck Stone, Ibibio

LIBR 593 Ethics and Intellectual Freedom, Ann Cury, British Columbia

Other Western World Literature Courses:

English 2301 World Literature, Merrilee Cunningham, Houston

Lit 125 Great Books that Shaped the Western Tradition, Keith Leonard, American

English 231 Literature of the Western World, North Alabama

English 221 Literature of the Western World, Hans Kellner, North Carolina

English 108 Western World Literature, Eleanor Latham, Central Oregon

CMLT 2210 Western World Literature, McFry, U of Georgia

English 2613 Western World Literature I, Rebecca Howard, Texas Christian

English 109 Western World Literature, Cora Agatucci, Central Oregon

English 202 Western World Literature II, Diane Wilcox, Gwynned-Mercy

English 120 World Literature I, Creighton

English 2230 World Literature I, Western Nebraska

Websites of Interest:

Citizens for Literary Standards in Schools

William Douglass Dissent in Roth Case

Banned Books On-Line