Course by Dr. Elizabeth Richmond-Garza
What is a “self,” an individual? Is it a single entity or is it always entangled with others? Is it something created by history, by politics, by art, by culture or by the divine? Or does it fashion itself? Does it change over time and across space? At some level, art is always concerned with making and unmaking the individual and with freeing or chaining this being. Tracking texts from Classical Greece, Iraq and India to medieval Europe and Japan, we will focus on the continuing, and sometimes desperate, attempts of ancient and early modern artists and authors both to phrase and to answer this question. Expected names from the western canon, like Euripides, Shakespeare, Goethe and Baudelaire will keep company with Japan’s Bashô, Russia’s Pushkin, Argentina’s Borges and Nigeria’s Achebe.
We shall not limit ourselves only to the western canon but will look at points of crisis where, whether because of gender, race, ideology or class, an individual’s voyage of discovery will demand answers and action. We shall trace a drama of self-actualization, more than two thousand years old, one that is still being enacted. From the extremities of the Greek stage to a lonely cry of agony in the Assyrian desert, from ideal Platonic love to its witty and non-dialectical Asian counterparts, from a Parisian’s insomnia in 1900 to the painful experience of post-colonial Africa, from compulsive gambling to uncanny hauntings, from the dark voyages of Romantic self-discovery to imagined journeys through magical lands, we shall explore the limits of this question’s answers.
While the basis of the course will be the literary texts, we shall pillage often and importantly the resources of the other arts of painting, sculpture and film especially to conjure back to life the spirits of these past identities in preparation for a spring in which we shall interrogate our own century as it emerges from the twilight of the twentieth-century experiment.
Course website: https://richmond.la.utexas.edu/