What makes a good conversation? In everyday life, we tend to think of a successful conversation as one that navigates around moments of tension: a primary if implicit aim of most conversations is to avoid conflict, misunderstanding, and awkwardness. This course, by contrast, will explore the possibilities offered by conversations that don’t go so smoothly. In readings from Plato and Shakespeare to Aimé Césaire and Hannah Arendt, we will consider how adversarial conversations might allow modes of understanding and forms of community that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.
Each of the texts we’ll read explicitly stages a difficult dialogue, and often more than one. As we read them, however, we’ll also discuss how the dynamics of productive disagreement might structure intellectual exchange and critical writing. In particular, we’ll think about how the essay might function as a form of dialogue, whether between the writer and an imagined reader, the writer and a community of scholars, or the writer and herself. As we work to strengthen our skills in academic writing and critical thinking, we’ll consider how the conversation of the essay might be enriched—rather than impeded—by tension and opposition.
Fiction: Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day
James Joyce, “The Dead”
Drama: Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick, and Joseph Stein, Fiddler on the Roof
Aimé Césaire, Une Tempête
Anton Chekhov, The Cherry Orchard
William Shakespeare, The Tempest
Film: Asghar Farhadi, The Salesman
Poetry: William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, selected poems
Political theory: Hannah Arendt, The Life of the Mind (excerpt)
Plato, The Republic (excerpt)