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Literature and the Idea of the University

ENGL 093.001
instructor(s):
TR 1:30-3

Essayists, philosophers and thinkers as diverse as John Henry Newman, Alfred North Whitehead, Jose Ortego y Gasset and Robert Maynard Hutchins have formulated powerful versions of the idea of the University. Their propositions have ranged from the gentleman's reach toward truth; the imparting of information imaginatively; the consideration of questions of who we are and what is our proper role in society and the merits and risks of engagement.
Veering historically from the image of cloistered sanctuary of scholarship to the symbol in the 1960s of the unholy alliance between the academic and the corrupt military-industrial complex, the university has been and remains both the abstract ideal and the concrete space. Within that space is sought the realization of that ideal, reflecting sometimes a utopian vision and sometimes a painful disillusion.
The idea of the University is thus the backdrop and the presiding genius of everything that happens within the university. The reach toward truth (Newman), the imparting of information imaginatively (Whitehead), the consideration of questions of who we are, how we function, what is our proper role in society (Ortega), and the merits and risks of engagement (Hutchins)-- these are the province of the university. But they are also the precise province of modern literature. The work of educational theorists and philosophers offers a rich context in which to consider a
variety of literary texts that ask similar questions and shed analogous light on conflicts that engulf the modern university today.
Readings for the course will juxtapose selected educational and philosophical essays with works such as The Education of Henry Adams, Alan Lightman's Einstein's Dreams, Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim and Don DeLillo's White Noise. There will be a film schedule, and in addition to readings and films, students will be responsible for four papers of approximately five pages each.