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Current Course Offerings

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Spring 2021 - February 15-May 18

Nature and Human Nature: Oil and Water: Elements of Global EcoFiction (MALS600-010)

In his provocative 2004 essay “Reflections on Water & Oil,” David Orr  declares that “Water makes life possible, while oil is toxic to most life. Water in its pure state is clear; oil is dark.” He even makes the extremely provocative claim that “Oil and water have had contrary effects on our minds”: water inspires and heals; oil deadens the imagination and made us “dumber.”  Is Orr on to something? Is he way off base? This course invites you to engage with these questions by thinking broadly and deeply about different ways of imagining and experiencing each of these substances. What might thinking with/through oil and water help us to see?  What might such thinking occlude? How might thinking in terms of oil and water enrich and enliven our ideas about environmentalism and sustainability?  Where are writers and artists leading us in terms of imagining or reconfiguring this relationship to make it more sustainable?  These are broad opening questions for a course that is very much interested in exploration and discovery.

Why “elements”?

  • Because the term connotes essentials, building blocks, basics, things out of which we build more complex things, like societies, and ways of life. Both oil and water are essential ingredients in our day-to-day experience.  In very real senses, our experience is built out of those materials. This course asks you to pay more attention to these ubiquitous, essential, mysterious, and often hidden elements that make up so much of our lives and worlds.

  • Also because, as the editors of the volume Elemental Ecocriticism note, the term “elements” evokes ancient conceptions of a vibrant, vividly animate non-human world with which humans are in dynamic relation.  Several of the texts we read this term lead us to conceive of oil, water, and their interactions in these terms. Such conceptions have consequences.  We will explore what those are.

Death and Dying (MALS635-010)

  • Instructor: Alan Fox
  • Tuesdays, 6-9 p.m.
  • Online via Zoom

This course will consider a number of responses to the "problem" of death and dying. Our premise is that there is such a thing as a good death, that many traditions consider the good life as the one that ends in a good death, and thus the highest practice in life prepares one for a good death. We will not address the question of an afterlife per se, but rather we will focus on the meaning of death and the meaning of a life that ends in death. We will look at representatives of Tibetan Buddhist tradition, Western philosophical and psychological traditions, and religious viewpoints. Students are invited to form their own conclusions and seek their own coherence.

Interpreting the Past: What Actually Happened in 1940--And Other Historical Legends (MALS622-010)

"When the legend becomes Fact, print the Legend." This line, from John Ford's "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," has come to characterize the way history reaches many people--perhaps the majority.  Popular accounts, memoirs, novels, films, TV series shape perceptions of "how it was" and those perceptions, in turn, shape responses to current issues.  We will look at one of the great examples of history into legend, with side trips into other such episodes (why did we win the Revolutionary War--really?). Among the books we will read are Robin Prior's When Britain Saved the West and Piers Mackesy's The War for America.

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