COMP 294
Philosophy and Narrative Fiction
Last Offered Spring 2012
Division II Writing Skills
Cross-listed PHIL 294 / COMP 294
This course is not offered in the current catalog or this is a previous listing for a current course.

Class Details

What is it for a novel, a story, a play or a film to be a philosophical narrative? It is not enough for it merely to be about a character who happens to be a philosopher; nor is it just that philosophical positions are reviewed in the narrative, as in Gaarder’s Sophie’s World. Milan Kundera tried to answer this question by saying that a good philosophical novel does not serve philosophy but, on the contrary, tries to “get hold of a domain that (…) philosophy had kept for itself. There are metaphysical problems, problems of human existence, that philosophy has never known how to grasp in all their concreteness and that only the novel can seize.” If Kundera is right, fictional narratives (such as novels) sometimes do the philosophical work that philosophy cannot do for itself. What kind of work is that, and how is it accomplished? Why can’t argumentative prose–philosophers’ preferred form of expression–clearly say, and moreover prove, what literature, theatre and film illustrate, show and display? One possible answer which we will examine is that, while many philosophers recognize that there are intimate connections between what we believe, feel and do, philosophical argumentation by its very nature appeals to belief alone; narrative art, by contrast, can simultaneously engage our reason, emotions, imagination and will, thus resulting not only in deepening our understanding, but also in transformation of the self.
To properly address a number of interrelated questions concerning philosophy in literature and film, and philosophical problems of meaning, interpretation and evaluation of narrative fiction, we will discuss both narrative works of art and theoretical approaches to their analysis. We will consider the ways in which narrative fiction presents and engages its audience in philosophical reflections on personal identity, nature of the self, interpersonal relationships, memory, time, human existence, freedom, and the meaning in life. The works to be discussed and analyzed in the tutorial meetings will be by some of the following writers and directors: Kafka, Dostoyevsky, Sartre, de Beauvoir, Camus, Thomas Mann, Borges, Kundera, Ecco, Bergman, Tarkovsky, Resnais, Kurosawa, Bunuel and Kubrick. The theoretical aspect of the course will involve close readings of selected articles in contemporary philosophy of language, mind and action; in contemporary philosophy of literature and philosophy of film; and in contemporary narratology.
The Class: Format: tutorial
Limit: 10
Expected: 10
Class#: 3274
Grading: OPG
Requirements/Evaluation: all students will attend Monday evening film screenings and discussions; tutorial pairs will meet with instructor for 1 hr a week; each student will write a 5-pg paper every 2nd week, and comment on the tutorial partner's paper on alternate weeks
Extra Info: no final paper; in addition, there will be weekly Monday evening film screenings, followed by class discussion; attendance of the screenings is mandatory
Extra Info 2: may not be taken on a pass/fail basis
Prerequisites: none; open to all
Enrollment Preferences: students who demonstrate strong commitment to the course; prospective majors in PHIL, COMP or LIT and to students especially interested in film
Unit Notes: meets Value Theory requirement only if registration is under PHIL
Distributions: Division II Writing Skills
Notes: meets Division 2 requirement if registration is under PHIL; meets Division 1 requirement if registration is under COMP
This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
PHIL 294 Division II COMP 294 Division I
Attributes: PHIL Contemporary Value Theory Courses

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