Living in a time of political and social turmoil, Confucius told his followers: “When the realm has the Way, show yourself; when it lacks the way, hide.” Reclusion here is a moral choice, justified by the ethical decline of the state. But it could also be a mortal necessity in a period in which government service was a distinctly hazardous pursuit. In other contexts becoming a hermit could instead be figured as aesthetic stance meant to preserve one’s artistic integrity against the dominant claims of society. This course looks at the literature of reclusion-living a life of seclusion from society-in a range of different cultures and periods, from ancient China to contemporary America. With sources that include poems, essays, novels, and films, we will investigate a set of issues surrounding radical seclusion. What different forms does reclusion take? Can one be a hermit without being completely separated from society? What is the relationship between hermits and the state-to what extent does one depend on the other? What are the philosophical and moral implications of eremitism? Is separating oneself from human society an inherently immoral act? What is the relationship between reclusion and technology in the contemporary world? What is the nature of solitude and can it be experienced in a group (for example, in contemporary “intentional communities”)? While most of our work will focus on textual analysis, there will be an experiential component to the course as well. Each student will design and implement their own experiment in (short-term) eremitism.
Format: tutorial; experiential component
Grading: no pass/fail option,
no fifth course option
tutorial papers, responses, and an individual project
first-year students, Chinese majors, Religion majors, Anthropology majors
Writing Skills Difference, Power, and Equity
This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
Students will write a 5- to 7-page paper every other week for a total of five papers. On weeks in which they are not writing, they will critique their partner's paper. Papers will receive substantial writing-based feedback from both the instructor and partner.
This course provides students with the opportunity to analyze the shaping of social differences and dynamics of unequal power. Acts of reclusion are often ways that individuals can challenge the dominance of the state and other structures of authority indirectly. Modes of reclusion can differ substantially depending on the social standing of the recluse. These are issues that we will examine in the course.