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Freedom, Disobedience, and the Absurd in Literature

This course is expected to run but has not yet been scheduled.

Course Description

Are you free? What is the meaning of your life? When was the last time that you chose to disobey a rule? Why did you choose to do so rather than conform? Was this act of disobedience a positive, productive, and/or necessary force? How do you reconcile the absurd, which arises out of the fundamental disharmony between your individual search for meaning and the incomprehensibility of the universe? This course will investigate the problems of freedom, disobedience, and the absurd as presented in various literary works in order to help us examine the limitations that we willingly place on our own freedom.

In many situations, from political debates to friendly conversations, citizens of the Western world are quick to trumpet the levels of freedom that they enjoy. In America, especially, we constantly cite our Founding Fathers and founding documents as proof of the liberties that we possess. With these liberties in mind, many of us would surely dismiss Dostoevsky’s statement that “there is nothing more seductive for man than the freedom of his conscience, but there is nothing more tormenting for him, either; for nothing has ever been more unendurable to man and human society than freedom!”

But how much freedom do we actually have? To what extent are we bound by societal, economic, cultural, or familial constraints, and to what extent do we choose to be bound by them? Do we truly want freedom, or do we prefer safety and conformity? To what extent can we create meaning in our lives? The selected stories and essays (by authors such as Plato, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Camus, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Ellison, among others) will enable students to explore the complexities of freedom and obedience, both in extreme conditions, such as imprisonment, and in the more subtle circumstances of everyday life.

Although this is not officially a writing course, there will be some focus on writing, as writing is an integral component of thinking. Our readings will serve as the raw materials and models from which students will craft their arguments, focusing on idea, organization, and style. Students will work on all aspects of the writing process " prevision, vision, and revision " as they analyze and discuss the course themes. "Prevision" will include techniques on idea generation, such as close reading, personal response papers, freewriting, and outlining. "Vision" will include the organization of ideas into a specific claim and a series of questions, or thinking moves, that students will use to structure their papers. "Revision" will include incorporating methods such as reverse outlining, argument mapping, integrating sources, and paper workshops. Thus, in addition to providing a foundation for further study many fields, such as literature, philosophy, and political science, this course will also strengthen student's analytical and writing skills.

Upon completion of this course, students will be able to:
1. Investigate the complex nature of human freedom, disobedience, and the absurd, both in literature and in contemporary life.
2. Analyze an essay or short-story based on the three levels of reading: summary, analysis, and application.
3. Map arguments across a variety of rhetorical modes.
4. Compose cogent, thesis-centered essays on topics related to the course themes.
5. Break away from the five-paragraph essay structure commonly taught in high school and learn how to confidently approach the task of writing and re-writing a college-level essay.

No prerequisites required.