1/03/2007Orientation: Why Do I Live? How Should I Live/Die?
JN01: Why do I live? How should I live/die? What would I be deprived of, if I were in prison now? (Choose one question.)
1/04/2007Wisdom, "The Meanings of the Questions of Life"
JN02: Comment on this idea, "We are trying to find the order in the drama of time" (p.114), while paying closely analytic attention to every key word such as "trying," "finding," "order," "the drama of time," etc., as used in the essay. Your thesis, examples and supplementary thoughts must bear relevance to those explored in Wisdom's essay. Again, your study of the material must be evident, as well as creative reflection and logical expansion.
1/05/2007Plato, "On the Aim of Life" and "On the Practice of Death"
JN03: What is the Platonic Soul? Why is it "immortal"? Or how, when, and where, does it become immortal? And why is this question, the immortality of the soul, important at all for human beings? Explain the background, argument and conclusion of the following questions/passages, by using key ideas in Plato's philosophy, not jumbled or irrelevant thoughts in your head. Conclude your journal by critically (and logically) evaluating Plato's contention: "[...] Is the body an obstacle when one associates it in the search for knowledge? I mean, for example, do men find any truth in sight or hearing, [...]? Does the soul grasp the truth? For whenever it attempts to examine anything with the body, it is clearly deceived by it." (Phaedo, p.11); "It really has been shown to us that, if we are ever to have pure knowledge, we must escape from the body and observe matters in themselves with the soul itself." (p.13) - has it, really?
1/08/2007Aristotle, from Nicomachean Ethics
JN04: For Aristotle, life is a kind of art, a sort of plant that needs constant watering and caring. Drawing on his views on "happiness as the end/objective of life," provide your own examples of, and critical responses, to this Aristotelian argument: (1) all living beings inherently desire something good, and so (2) the ultimately or self-sufficiently good is what the human beings (should) try and obtain by cultivating their virtues. In the course of analysis, you must explain clearly in your own words the meanings of the following two propositions from Aristotle, and reconstruct the process of reasoning, i.e., how can one move logically from (a) to (f): "(a) The human function is the soul's activity that expresses reason (as itself having reason) or requires reason (as obeying reason.). [...] (f) The human good turns out to be the soul's activity that expresses virtue." (p.20-21). You are advised to begin your journal by analysing those two passages; the order of appearance does not matter in the end, as long as there appears a substantial and well-incorporated comment on them.
JN05: Even the pigeons could not answer. So before you go ask Alice, just read, read, read your life like it's ma's face, gently merrily funnily enough, life is but a text. What images, ideas, thoughts or issues interested you most in the film? Pick up, from the movie, any discernable theme that is substantial and coherent enough for you to explore in your own ways. Relate quotes or scenes, as specifically and precisely as possible, to examples from your own life. Begin your own version of Alice in Wonderland by using this idea that life, like a play or movie one suddenly finds oneself in without knowing how to get out or where it began or how it ends, is an inifinite "text," of complex frames and interconnections, rather than a linear "book" which one often has an illusion of possessing. Be crazy sometimes. Be creative many times. And be critical at least once. Be awake at least for a while.
JN06: "Let it be." Or "let it go." Life happens in a vastly complex network of differences and repetitions, or differences in repetition. Explain the meanings and significance of a set of Buddhist terms such as Samsara, Compassion, Karma, Reincarnation and Nirvana by relating them to any specific examples/symbolisms you encountered in the movie, or to examples from everyday life. Be specific and precise as possible. As usual, conclude your journal by critically and creatively engaging with the learning material: spell out any Buddhist insights you found useful, compelling or problematic in the course of watching the movie and conducting your own independent study in addition. You must also demonstrate some minimal evidence of theoretical learning (from reliable books or credible web resources) in order to earn a full score, 3, on this assignment.
1/12/2007St. Augustine, "I Saw Only Death," Confessions
JN07: "Let me speak to You." "Let me confess my innermost thoughts to You, completely and truthfully." Those two sentences are quick, summary paraphrases of what Augustine says, or rather does, in Confessions. At least the following two points need be considered and incorporated into your journal. First, curiously enough, Augustine uses imperatives rather than propositions/affirmations: how and why does he do that? Why doesn't he simply say "God is so and so," or "God does this and that"? How does this form of personalised address affect and shape the way he thinks and feels? Explore this first question by relating it to the nature and enigmas of Christian selfhood as exemplified by the case of Augustine; the example of divinely mediated friendship might be interesting and useful here. Further in the same vein, secondly, note that God is for Augustine both "You" and "He/Him"; pay attention to the moments at which and ways in which he shifts the nominal register. Do a concrete analysis of particular passage(s) and demonstrate the significance of the passage you have chosen. You will inevitably face this Augustinian question: When one prays, who is the one that is prayed to? Try and answer...
1/16/2007Aquinas, "All Things Are Directed to One End, God"
JN08: "Let there be light" - without or before the Sun (?) ... Why is or was there light? Because, according to the Christian Bible, God wills it, or literally, "says so" (logos). How is this performative tautology of God, the uncreated Creator, to be understood? How could an effect that is light precedes its cause, the Sun? Why this inversion of causality? Rational theology, established by Aquinas who relies on the Aristotelian notions of "good," "purpose (telos)," and "the prime mover" that moves without being moved, locates the starting-point of creation and the end-point of completion as one and the same. Then (how) can it explain the mystery and mysterious origin of the Sunless light, e.g. an unmediated creation? Does the theological model that Aquinas proposes explain the origin or source of light and life? And what relevance of this line of enquiry bear on the ethical and practical question of what is a good life and how to live a good life. Try and perform a very close, and thorough, analysis of the question posed here and any Augustinian answer(s), drawing on the specific and precise reading of any relevant passage(s) from the textbook. Start and end your journal with a critical reflection on that issue: show a discernable thinking process in between.
1/17/2007Nietzsche, "The Madman" and "Eternal Recurrence"
JN09: Is it possible to live a life of eternity in this world of mortality? If not, why not? If so, how so? Should it be possible? Or should it not be? Can you think of examples of people living their lives as if they were already dead? Can you think of examples of people living their lives as if that oneness itself were worth an eternal recurrence? Where does and should the vitality (elan vital) of life come from? What does it mean to "affirm" life, once and for all? And what would such an affirmative life (a life that says "right here, right now, this extraordinary moment" rather than "not now, not here, but later when I get somewhere better where I safely deposited my eternal life") look like? Does such a perspective have any critical functions at all? Or does it entirely destroy conventional morality, the oppressive and resentful kind of which Nietzsche calls "herd mentality"? Is Nietzsche, the author of such alternative thoughts on the value of life, just an arrogant oddball? Reflect critically on such a line of questioning on the value of this life, while reading the textbook closely and working through the following three questions. (1) Am I willing to "die many times" (Plato) or "live many times" (Nietzsche)? What are the differences between the two, exactly? By introducing this prophetic outsider called "a madman" who came "too early" because no one is willing to listen, Young Nietzsche, the talented son of a small German town minister, undertakes a kind of self-critique of certain sedimented, hypocritical practices of Christianity as well as the life-denying, professional philosophy of death and abstraction; the madman stresses over and over again, almost obsessively, that "God is dead" because "we have killed him." Then (2) what kind of God (if not God per se, divinity qua divinity, absolute Being as such, etc.) is he talking about? It is extremely important for one to try and understand the historical and rhetorical context of that provocation, "God is dead"; please, please, please, I beg you, do not snip it out of the context and simply decide that Nietzsche is a dangerous atheist trying to undermine the authority of true believers. True believers are not allowed to be hysterical, and won't strut and fret. Besides, Nietzsche is intelligent enough to know that one cannot "kill" that which cannot be killed (God), to begin with. Again, closely read between the line -- quite literally. Now then the next question is: (3) again, what are the critical impulses behind such an impossible thought as "We have killed God"? Memory recalling "memory"? True beliefs reflecting on "true beliefs"? Truth critical of "truth"? Think hard. No Nietzschean thought is one-dimensional. Nor is life.
1/18/2007Sartre, "Mysticism of the Absurd," Nausea
JN10: "Existence precedes essence": Sartre's existentialist motto shifts the focus of philosophical thinking from "what" to "that," "that," for instance, something exists. Discuss the significance of this orientation of thinking, while explaining key concepts appearing in the text such as "absurd," "contingent" and "necessary." Clearly and specifically cite at least a few short passages from the text and reconstruct, in your own way, the line of argument or reflection that Sartre is exploring. Do not simply dwell on your own vague feelings or jumbled thoughts with no reference to the reading material. Do not ramble on or free-associate, either. Anyone could do such a thing relatively easily while having a bowl of breakfast cereal, or watching TV - that could very well be the starting point, when you brainstorm for ideas. The proper way to learn from the process of writing is to compose, in the end, a solid house of thoughts, however mini: start with an informed, critical explication of a passage of your choice, and follow through your own line of reasoning, while looking for answers or possible responses from Sartre, with whom you do not have to, and more important, must not, agree entirely. Simply, where there is no evidence of critical learning, there is no gain (i.e. grade).
1/19/2007Film: Wit JN11: Write a thematically-unified mini-essay on "time and life" by using at least five out of the following thirteen key words. The only other rule here is that your reflection should include descriptions of scenes or themes from the film Wit as examples that illustrate and guide your thoughts. For those interested, use of either or both of the following two poems is strongly encouraged: John Donne, "Death be not proud, though some have called thee" and Emily Dickinson, "Because I could not stop for Death"
[Cautionary advice/alternative assignment] Being a medical, intellectual and spiritual drama closely dealing with a real human body and a real death, this material does contain scenes involving human nakedness, partial or full. For any one who is still, for whatever reasons, indisposed to bear witness to the birthday suits of any human animals except those of him/herself and his/her spouse(s), here is the alternative assignment. The following two DVDs have been rush-ordered as a solution.
Option1: Watch, summarise and write a concrete and critical review of The Good Book of Love [videorecording] : Sex in the Bible , focusing on the questions concerning the ethics of bodily care and love. [LC Lib, DVD BS680 .S500 G667 1999]
Option 2: Watch, summarise and write a concrete and critical review of The Mirror [enregistrement vidéo] by Andrei Tarkovsky, focusing on the questions concerning the life and death of self-images. [LC Lib, DVD PN1997.5 .Z422 2000]
The same rules of journal submission apply.
And those interested to watch this film in addition to Wit in class, are strongly encouraged to do so and incorporate their synthetic thoughts into the journal on Wit; a bonus point is applicable, depending on the quality of submission.
Final Paper Submission Guidelines
1. Deadline: Firm - See Syllabus.
2. Method of Submission: Electronic File (Word Document or Scanned Image or a Combination) by E-mail Attachment.
3. Paper Theme or Format: Straightforward Standard Research, or Extensive Personal Reflection which could be a
(1) spiritual/intellectual/poetical/philosophical/mythical/imaginary/posthumous autobiography,
(2) a letter to a beloved/the imaginary friend/a lifetime enemy,
(3) a living will, or
(4) any combination of the three (1-3) synthetically presented as one piece.
3. 1 A creative use of visual or musical or any other media of textual expression is encouraged, as long as the words evidently remains the dominant component; you will not be penalised, however, for not attaching a photo of you as a 100 year old artist or not including a song of praise of Dr. Lee. Do not attempt to hide behind glossy pages or empty images. 3.2 It is strongly advisable, if you are going to produce a hard copy of any visual (painting, photo, film) or musical supplement, that you try and find a way to digitalise your submission in its entirety during or after your composition: you can either incorporate such an additional material into the digital document by scanning it, or if that is still impossible, submit it as a separate e-mail attachment file. If scanning is just not possible, submit that additoinal material later: take it to the departmental office (Ms. Robin Hurst) by 9am, Feb 06, 2006, and have it put in my mail-box. The main text still has to be submitted as required. 3. 3Those wishing to write on a theme or a philosopher, e.g., friendship, meanings of life/death, Augustine, Plato, Nietzsche, etc., must submit an abstract proposal (200-300 word abstract that describes the focus and scope of the paper) by 2:00pm, 18th January. And the submission is to be followed by, on Thursday, a 15 minute with me during the office hours: in other words, the proposal must be pre-submitted (Wed) and pre-approved (Thu).
4. Length: 8-10 page (letter size, double spaced, font size 12). If you include some form of art work or images into your text, make sure the supplementary material is no larger than a sheet of letter-size paper. Compose your whole composition as if it were a publishable booklet or brochure that has its formal limits; treat the restrictions as creative constraints, like poetry.
5. Evaluation Criteria Applicable to All Submissions; any elements missed results in a letter grade reduction.
5.1 Substantiality of thought and material; in the case of a research paper, at least one primary text (the whole book of your choice) and one secondary text are required.
5.2 At least a few, clear citations from the textbook.
5.3 Originality and creative; evidence of thoughtful in-put.
5.3 Relevance of the presented material to the specific sets of issues discussed in class and formulated in journal questions.