Tu/Th 08:00-09:30 204 Dwinelle Instructor: Johnathan Vaknin

In the opening pages of José Asunción Silva’s novel After-Dinner Conversation, the reader encounters a heated discussion between two of the work’s main characters, the poet José Fernández and his doctor friend Oscar Sáenz, about the former’s writer’s block. Oscar, the rational man of science, is quick to identify the source of José’s problem: his constant “prowl for new sensations.” In response, Fernández adamantly declares that all he desires is to “live life! To get drunk on it.” This course asks what it means to “get drunk on life” through the pursuit of sensual pleasure.

hedonism, n.

The doctrine or theory of ethics in which pleasure is regarded as the chief good, or the proper end of action.

-Oxford English Dictionary

What I thought was happiness was only part-time bliss.

-Janet Jackson, “The Pleasure Principle”

In the opening pages of José Asunción Silva’s novel After-Dinner Conversation, the reader encounters a heated discussion between two of the work’s main characters, the poet José Fernández and his doctor friend Oscar Sáenz, about the former’s writer’s block. Oscar, the rational man of science, is quick to identify the source of José’s problem: his constant “prowl for new sensations.” In response, Fernández adamantly declares that all he desires is to “live life! To get drunk on it.” This course asks what it means to “get drunk on life” through the pursuit of sensual pleasure. Such a pursuit, to be sure, has long incited lively—and at times violent—debate. Our readings will begin with Ancient Greek philosophies of pleasure and moderation [sophrosyne], and will traverse various centuries and continents. Rather than judge the morality behind certain acts of pleasure-seeking, however, our goal this semester will be to arrive at more nuanced definitions of the terms that structure the conversation. The questions we’ll focus on include the following, among others: What is pleasure, and how has its definition changed over time? What is the relationship between pleasure, desire, and narrative form? Can the pursuit of pleasure be a political gesture? If so, how? What are the shifting norms in relationship to which hedonism gets construed? How do literature and the arts, more broadly, represent and affect our bodily senses? Is there a connection between aesthetic form and hedonism? How do questions concerning sexuality, race, and socioeconomic class inform one’s liberty to pursue pleasure?

This course fulfills the University’s R&C requirement and is designed, above all, in order to help students improve their critical reading and writing skills. In addition to regular attendance and active participation, assignments include two essays, unannounced in-class quizzes, and short reading responses.

Possible course materials will draw from the following (please don’t purchase texts until after our first meeting):

Required Texts

  • After-Dinner Conversation, José Asunción Silva (ISBN 978-0-292-7097-9)
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde (ISBN 978-0-451-53045-5)
  • A course reader available for purchase at TBD.

Course Objectives

  1. Students will learn how to fine-tune their close-reading skills in order to develop nuanced theses about literary texts.
  2. Using a variety of resources, students will learn how to conduct scholarly research and incorporate this research into their own argumentative essays.
  3. Examining texts that traverse a number of historical periods and national/linguistic traditions, students will begin to think critically about pleasure and the various responses it elicits.

Requirements

  • Regular attendance and active class participation: Students are permitted to miss two class sessions without penalty. Any additional absences will each result in a two-point deduction in participation grade, and students who are absent six or more times will receive an “F” for the semester. Keep in mind that attendance is mandatory during the first two weeks of class; students who are absent during this period will be dropped from the roster. Please speak with me in advance if you anticipate having to miss class. Finally, class begins promptly at 8:10 a.m.; habitual tardiness will result in a lower participation grade.
  • Essays: Students will write a total of three papers over the course of the semester. The first is a two-page diagnostic essay due during the second week of class. The second paper should be six pages in length and should develop a precise argument about one of the primary texts we’ve discussed in class. The final paper should be eight pages long and must incorporate at least one secondary source (e.g., a scholarly article, a portion of a book-length work, etc.). All papers must be double-spaced and written in 12-point Times New Roman font, and should follow either Chicago or MLA citation style.
  • Reading responses: Students are required to write two one-page, double-spaced reading responses over the course of the semester. Responses are due in class on the days indicated on the syllabus. Reading responses should avoid plot summary and should focus on specific elements of the assigned text: a short passage that you find provocative or confusing; a recurring motif, symbol, image, or use of figurative language; one of the text’s formal characteristics that strikes you as odd, interesting, or important, (etc.)
  • Unannounced in-class reading quizzes: Four unannounced in-class quizzes will ask students to identify, contextualize, and close-read passages from assigned texts. Although students may not make up missed quizzes, their lowest score will be dropped.

Grade Breakdown

  • Attendance and Participation: 15%
  • Reading Responses: 10% (5% each)
  • Reading Quizzes: 10% (2.5% each)
  • Essays: 65%
    • Diagnostic (2 pages): 5%
    • #1:
      • Draft (5 pages): 5%
      • Final (6-7 pages): 20%
    • #2
      • Draft (6-7 pages): 5%
      • Final (8 pages): 30%

Late Papers

Late papers will be penalized one-third letter grade (i.e. A à A-; C+ à C) for each day they are late. Students should speak with us at least two days before the deadline should they require an extension.

A Note on Accommodations

Students who require accommodations are welcome to speak with me individually, and should consult the Disabled Students’ Program website for more information: http://dsp.berkeley.edu/

Academic Honesty

The University has a strict policy on plagiarism: “Plagiarism is defined as use of intellectual material produced by another person without acknowledging its source, for example:

  • Wholesale copying of passages from works of others into your homework, essay, term paper, or dissertation without acknowledgment.
  • Use of the views, opinions, or insights of another without acknowledgment.
  • Paraphrasing of another person’s characteristic or original phraseology, metaphor or other literary device without acknowledgment.”

(From Student Code of Conduct Violations, The Center for Student Conduct, http://sa.berkeley.edu/conduct/faculty-staff/violations)

If you are caught plagiarizing, you will automatically receive an F grade for the work in question or for the entire course.

Email

Students are expected to check their email daily for any important announcements, including changes to the syllabus, class cancellations, and other updates. Please allow twenty-four to forty-eight hours for an email response.

Office Hours

I encourage you to stop by during office hours to discuss readings, paper comments, or any concerns you might have about the class. Should you be unable to meet during regular hours, feel free to email me to arrange an alternate time.

Uploading Documents to B-Courses

Please be sure to upload documents to b-courses in .doc or .docx format (not pdf). Label your document as follows:

LastnameFirstnameAssignment.doc

(e.g., VakninJohnathanPaper1Draft.doc; VakninJohnathanDiagnosticPaper.doc)

Course Schedule (Subject to Change)

RR (Required Reading); WW (Writing Workshop); AD (Assignment Due); CR (Course Reader)

  1. What is Pleasure?

Week One

Tu. 1/17          Course introduction and ice-breaker activity.

Th. 1/19          RR: C.P. Cavafy (selected poems in CR)

WW: Writing about literature.

RR: “Tips for writing about literature,” “The Role of Good Reading,” and “The Interpretive Critical Essay” (all in CR)

Week Two

Tu. 1/24          WW: Thesis statements.

RR: “Formulating a Thesis,” “Recognizing and Fixing Weak Thesis Statements,” and “Making a Thesis Evolve” (all in CR)

Th. 1/26          RR: Sigmund Freud, “Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning” and Civilization and Its Discontents (selections) (both in CR)

AD: Diagnostic paper on Cavafy due in class and on b-courses.

  1. The Ancient Greeks

Week Three

Tu. 1/31          RR: Homer, Odyssey (selections in CR)

Th. 2/2            WW: Introductions and conclusions.

RR: “On Introductions” and “Introductions and Conclusions” (both in CR)

Week Four

Tu. 2/7            RR: Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics and Aristippus (selections in CR)

(Optional: Kurt Lampe, The Birth of Hedonism, available on b-courses)

Th. 2/9            RR: Sappho (selected poems) and Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Vol. 2: The Use of Pleasure (selections in CR)

WW: Using textual evidence

RR: “Using Evidence to Build a Paper: 10 on 1 versus 1 on 10” and “Using Textual Evidence” (both in CR)

  1. Symbolists, Decadents, and “Deviants”

 Week Five

 Tu. 2/14          RR: Charles Baudelaire, Artificial Paradises and Walter Benjamin, On Hashish (selections in CR)

Th. 2/16          RR: Max Nordau, Degeneration (selections in CR)

WW: Conducting and incorporating secondary research.

RR: “Using Secondary Sources,” “Formatting and Contextualizing Quotes,” and “Writing the Research Paper: ‘Conversing’ with Secondary Sources” (all in CR)

Week Six

Tu. 2/21          RR: José Asunción Silva, After-Dinner Conversation, pp. 50-114

AD: Reading response #1 due in class and on b-courses.

Th. 2/23          RR: After-Dinner Conversation, pp. 114-149

Week Seven

Tu. 2/28          RR: After-Dinner Conversation, pp. 149-192

AD: First draft of paper 1 due in class and on b-courses.

In-class peer review (bring 2 hard copies of your paper to class)

Th. 3/2            RR: After-Dinner Conversation, pp. 193-217

WW: Grammar, mechanics, and style.

RR: “Sentence Emphasis and Variety” and “Common Grammar and Style Errors” (both in CR)

Week Eight

Tu. 3/7            RR: Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, “The Preface” – ch. 4

Th. 3/9            RR: The Picture of Dorian Gray, chs. 5-7

Week Nine

Tu. 3/14          RR: The Picture of Dorian Gray, chs. 8-11

Th. 3/16          RR: The Picture of Dorian Gray, chs. 12-15

AD: Final draft of paper 1 due in class and on b-courses. 

Week Ten

Tu. 3/21          RR: The Picture of Dorian Gray, ch. 16-end

Th. 3/23          WW: Writing critically about film.

RR: “Visual Rhetoric/Visual Literacy,” “Writing about Film,” and “Basic Film Terminology” (all in CR)

  1. Desire, Eros, and Pleasure

Week Eleven

Tu. 3/28          Spring Break

Th. 3/30          Spring Break

Week Twelve

Tu. 4/4            Jim Jarmusch (dir.), Only Lovers Left Alive (screening location and time TBD)

Th. 4/6            Only Lovers Left Alive

 AD: Reading response #2 due in class and on b-courses.

Week Thirteen

Tu. 4/11          RR: Audre Lorde, “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power” (CR)

Th. 4/13          RR: Sonia Rivera-Valdés, The Forbidden Stories of Marta Veneranda (selections in CR)

AD: First draft of paper 2 due in class and on b-courses.

In-class peer review (bring 2 hard copies of your paper to class)

Week Fourteen

Tu. 4/18          Federico Fellini (dir.), La Dolce Vita (screening location and time TBD)

Th. 4/20          La Dolce Vita

Week Fifteen

Tu. 4/25          Individual meetings about final paper.

Th. 4/27          Concluding remarks.

AD: Final draft of paper 2 due by 5 p.m. on Monday, May 8th