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Love in an Age of Cynicism

ENGL 065.401
also offered as: COML 065
TR 1:45-3:15pm


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 mindless satisfaction. The Freudian thesis is that we only love our parents under different disguises, and use the noble word of love only because we must 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 theme with the help of Plato’s Symposium, Freud on the psychology of love, Peter Sloterdijk on ancient and modern cynicism, and Alain Badiou’s In Praise of Love.  We will discuss Aristophanes’ plays Lysistrata and Women in Parliament, Chi-rak, Spike Lee’s 2015 version of Lysistrata, Edith Wharton’s critique of marriage in Custom of the Country, Carver’s stories, Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying,  Beckett’s “First Love” and Play, and the “comedy of remarriage” The Awful Truth.

There will be eight film journals: 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, or texts available via PEP Web).

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).

Alain Badiou, In Praise of Love  (online).

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

Raymond Carver, Collected Stories (Library of America)

Erica Jong, Fear of Flying.


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



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