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Love in an Age of Cynicism

ENGL 065.001
TR 9-10:30

What do we talk about when we talk about love? Is love just empty talk, or the stuff of dreams offered by novels, poems and plays? Can literature and film, if they contribute to the emotional swindle of popular romance, address our anxieties about the untruth of love? Raymond Carver’s title (“What we talk about when we talk about love”) sends us back to disabused times, a moment when love seemed debased, reduced to weak sublimation or to mindless satisfaction. The Freudian thesis is that we only love our parents under different disguises, and use the noble word of love because we have to sublimate our murderous impulses, but there is an even longer history of cynical accounts of love. This class will explore the theme of love when it ceases to be taken for granted and has to be understood in a critical perspective. We will tackle the concept with the help of philosophers, Plato’s Symposium, Freud on the psychology of love, and Peter Sloterdijk on cynicism. We will discuss Aristophanes’ plays Lysistrata and Women in Parliament, Chi-rak, Spike Lee’s 2015 version of Lysistrata, W. E. B. Du Bois’s last novel, Worlds of Color, Edith Wharton’s critique of marriage in Custom of the Country, Carver’s stories, Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying, and Beckett’s “First Love” and Play. Altogether there will be eight film journals on Blue Valentine; Monsieur Verdoux; Chi-rak; Shortcuts; The Age of Innocence; L’Atalante; Journey to Italy; Jules and Jim.



Plato’s Symposium (on line)

Freud Psychology of Love (Penguin, 2006, texts available online).

Selections from Peter Sloterdijk’s Critique of Cynical Reason (online).

Aristophanes Lysistrata and Assembly of Women (on line).

Edith Wharton, The Custom of the Country (on line).

Samuel Beckett, “First Love” (on line) and Play.  

Raymond Carver, Collected Stories (Library of America)

Erica Jong, Fear of Flying.

W. E. B Du Bois, Worlds of Color.


Requirements: eight film journals (2 pages each, due before the assigned film is discussed) and one paper (8 pages).   

fulfills requirements
Sector 1: Theory and Poetics of the Standard Major
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major