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Tracing Truth through Time: Suggestions for the Second-Quarter Syllabus

FatCatRex's picture

October 3, 2010

Second-Quarter Syllabus Suggestions

I’d like to consider the development and presence of truth, or the real, throughout several eras and genres of thought. So far this semester we have primarily considered works by contemporary writers and thinkers, and I’m interested in how the idea of what is true or real has changed, been contested, challenged, remained the same, been forced to adapt, been covered up, over time. Obviously this could encompass thousands upon thousands of sub-topics and pieces, and I would be open to many. For the purposes of this assignment, I selected some of what I thought would be most interesting in light of what we have discussed already and where perhaps we have not yet travelled.

Tracing Truth through…


Week One: …The Development of Language
Samuel Johnson’s DICTIONARY

Samuel Johnson was the first man to produce a published volume of dictionary definitions and etymological roots of English words. What fascinates me about his work is that because he was the first to do so, how much of his Dictionary did he report as existed, and how much of it did he write into being? In other words, some may argue that the truth of Johnson’s work is that he wrote on the status of language and speech in the 1700s. I would argue, however, that our speech today has been based off these truths of his sole creation. His prose definitions can be lengthy and humorous, and all together worth investigating.

Week Two: …War
THE SECOND WORLD WAR by Winston Churchill

Originally a six-volume collection, there are now four condensed volumes in this set by Churchill. I can’t say which would make the most sense for our class to read around in yet, but I am fascinated that this series is what led to Churchill receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature. According to the in-depth Wikipedia article on his writing, Churchill’s opinions were at once valued—as he was the foremost authority on the subject who had decided to write on the Second World War—and simultaneously questioned. Churchill left out much of what would have been unique to his position as Prime Minister and so some felt this was more a self-indulgent memoir than historical tome. That being said, he was the only world leader to write on the subject and he did take weekly ‘notes’ (so reports Wikipedia) that he turned into these manuscripts.

Week Three: …The Civil Rights Movement
WHY WE CAN'T WAIT by Martin Luther King by Jr.

I have never read anything other than MLK’s speeches (which are an option for our class as well) and so I am eager to read a longer work by Dr. King. As a man led often by the truth in God and in his deep belief in the truth of equality, I would be incredibly interested to read his thoughts on the truth of civil rights, and to read the way that his personal truths influence his writing. How do ones belief in larger Truth effect personal, daily truths? 

Week Four: …20th Century Cultural Critiques
UNDER THE SIGN OF SATURN or IN AMERICA by Susan Sontag

I have wanted to read more of novelist, cultural critic, and activist Susan Sontag for a long time. I’ve read one or two of her critical essays, particularly around media and photography. I am curious about how her fiction would read differently or similarly. I read that she was accused of plagiarism in her novel In America, even after self-identifying as a fiction writer/novelist, and her rebuttal was: "All of us who deal with real characters in history transcribe and adopt original sources in the original domain. I've used these sources and I've completely transformed them. I have these books. I've looked at these books. There's a larger argument to be made that all of literature is a series of references and allusions," (Wikipedia). It would be interesting to decide on reading her classified fiction or her non-fiction—In America is supposedly plagiarized fiction, and Under the Sign of Saturn purports to be non-fiction.

Week Five: …Free Speech Protection and Law
THE SHADOW UNIVERSITY: THE BETRAYAL OF LIBERTY ON AMERICA’S CAMPUSES by Alan Charles Kors

Kors’ work has focused on the protection of free speech liberties, particularly with college students and on college campuses. He is a highly regarded professor at Penn who has written extensively on his controversial positions about rights to free speech. He is famous for fervently defending speech acts that seemed inappropriate or racist, yet he stands by his clear delineation of the truth of the law. It would be a very interesting shift in our conception of truth to read someone who so clearly finds truth to be a black and white, right and wrong entity and has even made a career of boldly declaring as much.

Week Six: …The End of Non-Fiction
A MILLION LITTLE PIECES by James Frey

Despite its wide fame and period of acclaim, I have never read Frey’s A Million Little Pieces. Perhaps it would be useful to read this and also read his statements after it became clear that his books, which was marketed as memoir, was in fact nothing of the sort. This brings us to the present day of published-truths, but in no way the end of discussions on truth. I would hypothesize that the truth, the real, is harder to come by every day. Because it is harder to find, there is a higher premium; there is more pressure to find truth that isn’t readily findable. Reality TV, paparazzi blogs, and books that are written with as liberal a definition of truth as possible, to bring the idea of truth to us and thus, the end of non-fiction (if in fact, there was ever truly a non-fiction genre).

 

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