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.
Jan 15 Tuesday A Scandalous View of the Socratic School
Jan 17 Thursday: Sex and War in Ancient Greece
Jan 29 Tuesday Roman Decadence
Feb 7 Thursday Exam I: Ancient Texts
Mar 13 Thursday Sexuality and Philosophy
Mar 18 Tuesday Class Repression
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
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