2012-13 Catalog

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Offering Description

Inexpressibility and its Discontents


Fall 2012 and Winter 2013 quarters

Marianne Bailey foreign languages and literature , Leonard Schwartz philosophy, creative writing
Fields of Study
literature, philosophy, theater and writing
Preparatory for studies or careers in
the humanities.

In this program we will study the function of myth, the concept of art as ritual and the critique of language and representation in vanguard poetry, theater and opera. We are interested in the work of the artist as creator of new, unexpected artistic languages which attempt to communicate that which is inexpressible, that which lies behind and beyond ordinary words. We will consider how it is that a poet's words can say more than they mean, or that a symbol, as philosopher Paul Ricoeur writes, points toward a meaning otherwise inaccessible. The poets, dramatists, philosophers and theorists whom we will study never relent in their fascination with reconceiving their means of expression, and act with the reckless abandon of the free spirit described by Nietzsche in his essay "On Truth and Lie in an Extramoral Sense".

Two of the major figures under study in our work will be the composer Richard Wagner and the poet and theoretician of the theater, Antonin Artaud, both of whom dreamed of a work of art that would contain word, image, music, flesh and movement in a single medium; both realized ritualized spectacles, in opera and in theater, capable of the transformation of their participants. We will read extensively from Artaud's work, considering his poetry, his essays comprising Theater and its Double, as well as his records of personal quests to places which he considered privileged, in which the Marvelous or the divine was written on the face of the land. We will view and listen to both Strauss's Salome and Wagner's  Tristan and Isolde . Wagner's "Total Art" or "Gesamtkunst" realized the 19th Century artists' dream of a perfect language, in which music, words, gestures and scenic symbols spoke as one single language. The philosophizing of Friedrich Nietzsche, embedded in the creative power of myth, will also be crucial for us in terms of conceptualizing the life-giving presence of myth in creative expression and the nature of language itself, as both problematic and world generating. Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy also takes us back to the Greeks, their masterpieces of theater as communal ritual, their metaphor of the artist as "entheos" imbued with the god, and their art as arising from the whispering of a muse, or an Orpheus.

During fall quarter, our reading will include as well the Dark Romantic and Symbolist poets of the later 19th Century, their reconception of art, and their aesthetic and philosophical groundwork for 20th Century Modernism. In addition to our work on Artaud, Wagner and Nietzsche during both quarters, readings will be drawn from Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Mallarmé and Rilke in the European poetic tradition. During winter quarter, we will study Aimé Césaire, as well as Aioné and Kamau Brathwaite, contemporary Caribbean poets. We will read Robert Duncan, Barbara Guest, Alice Notley, Fanny Howe, Nathaniel Mackey and others from the contemporary American poetic tradition growing out of the Black Mountain School. We will study composers Strauss and Berg in the Modern Western operatic tradition, and daring theatrical creators such as Peter Weiss and Peter Brooks. Other theoreticians to be considered during both fall and winter might include Rene Girard's Violence and The Sacred , Blanchot’s The Space of Literature , Bataille’s The Absence of Myth , Sigmund Freud's Civilization and its Discontents , and Robert Duncan's The Truth and Life of Myth.

All students will read, write and analyze poetic, philosophical and critical texts, will discuss key theorists in aesthetics, and will choose between weekly workshop/seminars on either creative writing or on the key philosophical writings of Friedrich Nietzsche. Over the two quarters of this program, students will develop and complete a major personal project. This substantial body of work students will develop over the first weeks of the quarter, and carry through over two quarters; this offers serious creative writers and dramatists, and students of theory, philosophy and literary interpretation the opportunity to undertake a collection of poetry, a play or performance/spectacle, an interpretive work on Nietzschean philosophy, or a research-based project on your choice of themes and artists in our curriculum.

This upper-division program demands a serious commitment of time and effort; the works which we will study are demanding, and the reading and writing will be significant.

Online Learning
No Required Online Learning
Greener Store
Offered During

Program Revisions

Date Revision
September 12th, 2012 This program will accept new winter enrollment without signature.
September 6th, 2012 This program will accept students at the Sophomore level in addition to Juniors and Seniors.