English R1A

Reading & Composition: What is Enlightenment?

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
19 Fall 2012 Mangin, Sarah
TTh 5-6:30 222 Wheeler

Book List

Coetzee, J.M.: Elizabeth Costello; Shelley, Mary: Frankenstein; Swift, Jonathan: Gulliver's Travels

Other Readings and Media

Course Reader

Bertolucci, Bernardo: The Conformist (film)


What constitutes cultural progress? How do we value the potential of a life and a mind? This course will explore some of the complicated legacies of the European Enlightenment. To begin, we will survey ways in which the Enlightenment remains both an ideal and an illusion as it is currently invoked in debates about American prisons, cognition in the Internet age, and the public university. We will then turn to consider a variety of source materials from the crackling public sphere of the eighteenth century—popular magazines, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, “Newtonian” poetry, the paintings of Jacques Louis David—all of which debate the nature of humanity and citizenship. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bernardo Bertolucci’s film The Conformist, and J.M. Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello will help us interrogate broader ethical, perceptual, and political anxieties about Enlightenment compacts in modernity. 

Amid these cultural contexts, our goal is to develop the range and depth of your thinking when approaching the college essay; we will consider matters of sentence craft alongside those of organization and critical reflection. As you track your responses to the readings and engage in lively debate with your colleagues, you will produce a total of thirty-two pages across several short essays and revisions. While we might not answer definitively the question of the course title, our task is that of transmuting “enlightenments” into essay form, into the convincing presentation of your discoveries.

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