20th Century Honors Seminar
HP 13303 Syllabus


Thomas Epstein
Fall 2001
Honors Seminar: the 20th Century. Part 1
Office: Honors Office & Lyons Hall 210
Office Hours: Wednesdays 11:00-1:00 Honors Office, Tuesdays 8:30-9:50 Lyons Hall 210


Beckett — Waiting for Godot
Camus — The Plague
Gide — The Immoralist
Heidegger — Basic Writings
Kafka — The Trial
Lawrence — The Virgin and the Gypsy
Mann — The Magic Mountain
Weil — Simone Weil: An Anthology
Woolf — To the Lighthouse

The Course:

The 20th century Honors seminar provides a special challenge both to student and instructor. How, within the framework of a single-load course, to begin to penetrate the intellectual history — for want of a better term — of a century that saw Western Civilization culminate, destroy itself, and perhaps even begin the process of reconstructing itself in a new, more inclusive guise?

Happily, we have two years of previous Honors seminars for a starting point. We also have your academic majors, from which you can draw knowledge and method. Finally, we have the fact that you yourselves have lived through part of the century and know people who have lived through even greater parts of it. These three resources should provide you with important tools for grappling with the issues we will face.

One fact can neither be hidden nor glossed over: the first half of the twentieth century is the bloodiest fifty years on human record. From Verdun to Dachau, from the Russian Revolution to the Soviet gulags, from Armenia to Hiroshimo, murder and mass murder were the order of the day. This crisis of culture and the individual culminated in the 'death' of both, in the ruins of Europe. Although our seminar is not a study of history in the narrow sense, the shadow of these events will accompany us everywhere. How can so much destruction have been perpetrated? What role did culture itself play in this explosion of evil? What happened to the golden promises of knowledge, beauty, science and art? And where are religion, revolution, and democracy in all this?

Our readings will center on authors whose special sensitivity and insight allowed them to capture the signs and implications of this unspeakable tragedy. We will not, however, rest in the darkness but search — primarily in art and in philosophy — for that luminous presence surviving amidst the ashes: the eternal promise of human rebirth that inheres in the infinities of love, freedom, imagination, and faith.

Along with our readings we will also see four films (Chaplin's Modern Times, Eisenstein's  Potyomkin, Lang's Metropolis, and Beckett's Waiting for Godot); a stage play (a production of James Joyce's The Dead); and samples of 20th century music and art that I will bring — I trust strategically — to class. There will also be group presentations —to be arranged — of various artists and art movements.

Course Requirements and Grading:

The syllabus assumes that you will devote two hours of preparation time for each hour we meet, six hours per week in total. I permit two unexcused absences per semester, that is, you will not be penalized (I mean in grading) for them. I of course prefer perfect attendance.

As this is a modified seminar, participation in discussion is expected and encouraged. Please, however, keep in mind that the best kind of intervention serves both self-expression and provides a catalyst for dialog with other seminar members.

The writing component is straightforward and manageable: a take-home, essay-style midterm on which I expect you to devote five hours; an in-class, essay-style final which you will have three hours to complete; a term paper (or two shorter ones), to be arranged with the instructor (me), of twelve to fifteen pages.

Written work will count for two-thirds of your grade; class attendance and participation the rest.


Tuesday, September 4 — Introduction

Thursday, September 6 — Max Weber: Science as a Vocation (handout); and Gide, The Immoralist, Pt. 1,

Tuesday, September 11 — Gide:  The Immoralist, to end; and Gide handout

Thursday, September 13 — Kafka: The Trial, to The Flogger

Tuesday, September 18 — Kafka: The Trial, to Block, the Merchant/Dismissal of the Lawyer

Thursday, September 20 — Kafka: The Trial, to end; and The Great Wall of China (Handout)

Tuesday, September 25 — Lawrence: The Virgin and the Gypsy, ch. 1-5; Letters (Handout)

Thursday, September 27 — Lawrence: The Virgin and the Gypsy, to end; and The Elephant is Slow to Mate, The Ship of Death (Handout)

Tuesday, October 2 — Woolf: To the Lighthouse (Part 1)

Thursday, October 4 — Woolf,: To the Lighthouse (to end)

Tuesday, October 9 — Edmund Husserl and John Dewey (Handout)

Thursday, October 11 — Ludwig Wittgenstein and Lev Shestov (Handout)

Tuesday, October 16 — Lev Shestov, Werner Heisenberg, W.B. Yeats (Handout)
Take-home Midterm

Thursday, October 18 — Mann: The Magic Mountain, through The Thermometer

Tuesday, October 23— Mann: The Magic Mountain, through Changes

Thursday, October 25 — Mann: The Magic Mountain, through A Stroll by the Shore
Midterm due Friday October 26

Tuesday, October 30 — Mann: The Magic Mountain, to end

Thursday, November 1 — Weil: Anthology, pp. 49-127

Tuesday, November 6 — Weil: Anthology, pp. 127-218

Thursday, November 8 - Weil: Anthology, The Power of Words, Prerequisite to the Dignity of Labor; and Scientism-A Review, The Love of God and Affliction (Handout)

Tuesday, November 13 — Camus: The Plague, Pts. 1 & 2

Thursday, November15 — Camus: The Plague, Pts. 3 & 4

Tuesday, November 20 — Camus: The Plague, to end; and Beckett, Waiting for Godot, Act 1

Thursday, November 27 — Beckett: Waiting for Godot; Act 2

Tuesday, November 29 — Heidegger: Basic Writings, pp. 37-111

Thursday, December 4 — Heidegger: from Basic Writings, Letter on Humanism and The Question Concerning Technology

Tuesday, December 6 — Heidegger: from Basic Writings, The Way to Language and; an excerpt from An Introduction of Metaphysics (Handout)

Final Exam: December 13, 12:30-3:30
Final Paper Due: 9 a.m, December 14