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The Tide and Seawood of History

ENGL 359.301
instructor(s):
TR 10:30-12

"'Malice, sir, is the spirit of criticism, and criticism marks the origin of progress and enlightenment.' And all of a sudden he began to speak about Petrarch, whom he called the 'Father of Modernity.'"

In this course, we will examine the reflections of a writer of great imagination and intelligence-Thomas Mann-on the contradictions in modern post-Enlightenment Europe.

Writers in the nineteenth century held two notions of the Enlightnment and modern history, the one confident of the progress of the morality of human beings and the second doubtful of it. According to the first notion, the best part of human nature of was slowly being worked out through history. That is, tide of time was finally fulfilling man as a free and enlightened being. According to the second notion, the nineteenth century, having found the proper way of doing history, required the sophisticated modern thinker to understand that any individual life is constrained by the political contests of its time. That is, all human beings are inevitably tangled in the seaweed of their historical situations. Thomas Mann weighs the argument that, on the one hand, in the modern post-enlightenment period, human beings have finally thrown off their childhood and the argument that, on the other hand, the Enlightenment has gravely misunderstood the complexity of the human soul. We will read several short works by Kant, the introduction to Hegel's Philosophy of History, and Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals. The course will culminate in Mann's Magic Mountain and Doctor Faustus.

Not the least aspect of Mann's greatness is his comic touch. How easily the character in this passage, a humanist cheerleader for Enlightenment progress, moves from malice to criticism to Petrarch!

3 short papers, one long final paper.