English R1B

Reading and Composition: Indecision

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
5 Spring 2013 Ty, Michelle
MWF 11-12 225 Wheeler

Book List

Eugenides, Jeffrey: Middlesex; Euripedes: Oresteia; Kafka, Franz: Parables and Paradoxes; Plato: Crito; Shakespeare, William: Hamlet; Walser, Robert: Selected Stories; Woolf, Virginia: Mrs. Dalloway

Other Readings and Media

Film: Kurosawa's Rashomon

Available in a course reader:

Stein, "An Elucidation"; selected poetry of Dickinson, Yeats, and Eliot; Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener"; and selected photographs by Claude Cahun.

And selections from the following: Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Scepticism; Descartes's Discourse on Method; Goncharov's Oblomov; Carl Schmitt's The Concept of the Political; Kierkegaard's Either/Or; Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics; I Ching; Freud's Ego and the Id and "The Uncanny"; Cartier-Bresson's "The Decisive Moment"; Derrida's Politics of Friendship; Breton's Nadja.

NOTE:  The books will be available at University Press Bookstore on Bancroft Ave.


This course will ask its students to take up a strangely double task: to practice how to craft an argument—how to take a position in writing—while spending time reflecting on what it means to be, and to remain, undecided.  

We will begin by examining various incarnations of indecision in classical philosophy—in the antique traditions of skepticism and stoicism, and in Aristotle’s suggestion that decision is “the principle of action.”  In addition to considering how indecision might be lamented as a tragic flaw—a feature opposed to the strength and valor of the decisive act—we will explore how the experience of being undecided later comes to be associated with, if not partly constitutive of, modern subjectivity itself, with special attention to Hamlet’s famous bout of inaction and existentialism’s insistence that freedom is exercised through (semi-sovereign) choice.

In the latter part of the course, we will mull over indecision within the context of a whole host of related concepts, including psychic ambivalence; literary ambiguity; gender indeterminacy and androgyny; as well as the accusation of “waffling” or “flip-flopping” that is now prevalent in contemporary political discourse.

We will also consider the implications of thinking about artistic form as the manifestation of decision-making, and following this, will inquire how artists have sought alternatives to the imperative of choice—for instance, in the deliberate practice of leaving things to chance.

Requirements for the course include the following: one two-page response paper at the semester's beginning; an in-class presentation, relevant to the selected week's readings, which will become the basis for a 2-page paper, due the following week; one paper, 3-5 pages, which will be revised; annotated bibliography; one-page research paper prospectus; a final research paper, 8-10 pages.

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