Seminars for the Spring Term 2016
FRS 102 CANCELED Utopia at 500: The Promise of Fiction LA
First published in Latin in 1516, Thomas More's Utopia remains an influential text for the history of political thought and for later speculative writing. In its 500th anniversary year (and in the spirit of stories about futures that are never reached and are always unfolding), this seminar considers More's meditation on the place of philosophy in politics and society through a close analysis of Utopia alongside a range of utopian writings from the following five centuries. How does social change come about, and what is the nature of political action? What is the use of fiction for reflecting on historically determined change? Most centrally, where do we locate the history of a political promise that has not been fulfilled and may never be? Among the fictions we will read alongside More's text are Francis Bacon's New Atlantis, a pair of 19th-century novels (one American and one English) with strikingly different accounts of political time, and more recent novels and stories by Octavia Butler and George Saunders. We will supplement these readings with shorter philosophical readings on utopian politics and a unit on architecture and urban planning. (Monday 1:30-4:20 PM)
Adam Elga and Simon Cullen
What, if anything, do we owe the global poor? Is abortion morally permissible? Is assisted suicide? Is it ever permissible to destroy a human embryo for medical research? Should we massively extend the human lifespan to thousands of years, or perhaps even to the point of biological immortality? Do non-human animals have rights? Is free will possible in a deterministic world, and if it is not, are we ever morally responsible for our actions? What are the conditions of personal identity? At a fundamental level, what are race and gender? What is the probability that we live in a massive computer simulation?
These are some of the toughest, most pressing questions in practical ethics and metaphysics. Philosophers have addressed these questions by producing subtle, intricate, and often beautiful arguments. In this seminar, you will assess those arguments and produce your own. You will learn to think like a philosopher — to strip an argument presented in prose to its bare essentials and produce a visual map that displays its structure plainly.
Learning to visualize arguments in this way will improve the clarity and rigor of your own thinking and writing. It will put you in a position to make progress on hard questions such as those above. And it will improve your ability to crisply convey your ideas — an ability that will serve you well not just in your Princeton classes, but also in the political, professional, and civic reasoning you employ for the rest of your life.
Please visit http://bit.ly/phimaps-info for more information about the seminar and argument mapping, and the results from a two-year controlled experiment on the effectiveness of the seminar. (Tuesday 1:30-4:20 p.m.)
FRS 108 CANCELED Afterlives of The Iliad LA
The Iliad may be a story about war, death, and mourning, but the history of the poem itself is one of continued survival and renewal. This seminar treats many centuries of rewritings of The Iliad from early modern and modern translations of the Greek text (which itself was given stable form only in the 10th century); to classical Greek and early modern English dramatic rewritings of its tales; to modern, politically motivated rewritings, including contemporary poetic versions that focus less on the story than on brutality of the world of war that The Iliad depicts.
Our first few weeks will be devoted to the translation of The Iliad, by Robert Fagles, the former Arthur Marks '19 Professor of Comparative Literature at Princeton, as well as a sampling of other English translations ranging from the 17th century to the present day. We will then embark on a grand tour of dramatic, lyric, epic, and novelistic works based on The Iliad, from authors including Sophocles, Shakespeare, Christa Wolf, Derek Walcott, Christopher Logue, and Alice Oswald. These rewritings will give us an opportunity not only to trace the influence of The Iliad across languages, media, and time, but also to ask vital questions about the formation, reformation, and deformation of literary canons; the role of translation in the dissemination and transformation of literary works; and the social, political, and ethical impulses that often motivate the writing and reading of literary texts. (Tuesday 1:30-4:20 p.m.)
FRS 110 What Is Authority? SA
What is authority? What does it mean to find a person, or a text, or an institution authoritative? How does a person or a book or an institution get to be an authority? How do different spheres of authority — religious, political, social, personal — interact with one another? What are authority's abilities, and what are its limits? In this course, we will begin by investigating these questions broadly and then narrow our focus to the consideration of religious authority in particular. Religion is both itself dependent on authority and authorities and, across traditions and time periods, has often been an integral part of political and social authority. Moreover, because of the nature of what we generally regard as religious knowledge, practice, and power, the terms of religious authority are particularly close to the surface. Our readings will include both theoretical investigations and case studies of religious authority from the perspectives of religious studies, history, philosophy, sociology, psychology, political science, gender studies, and critical theory.
Grades will be assessed based on participation, brief weekly writing assignments, and a final paper applying our readings to a contemporary example or instance of religious authority. (Tuesday, Thursday 11:00 AM-12:20 PM)
Edwin Turner and Michael Lemonick
FRS 120 Hogs, Bats, and Ebola: An Introduction to One Health Policy SA
Without agriculture, civilization would not exist. Surplus food enabled the growth of cities; cities led to nations, and nations discovered the science and technology that allowed our numbers to grow. The United Nations estimates that the global population will increase to over 10 billion in 2050 and possibly over 15 billion in 2100 if high-end estimates prove true. But agriculture comes with costs, including environmental destruction and zoonotic diseases (i.e., diseases of animals that infect humans). Meeting the growing world population's demand for meat while ensuring global health and sustainability is a challenge for current and future policymakers.
Approximately 75 percent of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic, and many of them emerge because of our quest for meat. For example, the deadly Nipah virus that emerged from the tropical forests of Malaysia in the late 1990s was preceded by widespread deforestation to clear land for pig farms, inadvertently destroying the natural habitats of fruit bats. The 2011 movie Contagion was based on this virus. When livestock is not available or too expensive, people sometimes resort to eating bushmeat (wild animals), which comes with its own disease risks. The consumption of fruit bats in Africa has been associated with Ebola outbreaks.
This interdisciplinary seminar will cover subjects such as basic epidemiology, public health and policy, history of food safety and security, history of meat production and consumption in the 20th century, essentials of zoonotic diseases, the politics of antibiotic resistance, and the national and international organizations that oversee health and agriculture. A series of disease outbreaks will be discussed and analyzed including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), avian influenza, Nipah virus, Q fever, and the Ebola virus. Students will learn how to search and download data from government websites and analyze it using Excel and PowerPoint. Readings will come from a variety of sources including medical and veterinary medical literature. Field trips to the Rutgers University agriculture facilities, the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, and the Mercer County Wildlife Center are planned. In addition to classroom participation, one take-home quiz, one short policy paper, one long final policy paper, and a classroom PowerPoint presentation are required. A strong background in high school biology is recommended. (Wednesday 1:30-4:20 PM)
FRS 126 Empires of the Ancient World HA
There were many empires in antiquity, but the three largest and most famous (apart from Han China) will be the subject of this seminar. These are the Persian Empire founded by Cyrus the Great; the empire of Alexander the Great, who conquered the Persian Empire; and the Roman Empire, which encompassed the entire Mediterranean world. In addition to examining these particular empires as case studies, we will address some important general questions throughout the semester: What makes an empire an empire (as opposed to a hegemony or an alliance)? Do all empires necessary follow the same trajectory of birth, growth, decay, and death? Or is it possible, through wise polices and good luck, to break out of this pattern? Is an empire always a bad thing for those who are the subjects? The rulers are usually seen as exploiters, but does an empire also bring negative consequences for them as well? Are some empires more benevolent than others — or is it paternalistic even to speak of a "benevolent" empire? And finally, can something useful be learned from the successes and failures (economic, social, and military) of these ancient empires that can guide today's superpowers? (Tuesday 1:30-4:20 p.m.)
FRS 128 CANCELED 21st Century Latina/o Drama LA
This seminar offers a practice-based overview of theater-making in the 21st century through an intensive study of contemporary Latina/o dramatists, movements, and companies in the United States. Through weekly readings, discussions, and in-class writing exercises, the seminar will investigate the cultural, artistic, and political implications of 21st century Latina/o drama. Each week, the seminar will read and comment upon a wide array of contemporary playscripts, drawing upon the critical vocabularies provided by performance studies, Latina/o studies, and literary studies.
The seminar will also examine the complicated ways that contemporary pressures for certain kinds of critical and commercial success impact Latina/o drama's historic investment in aesthetic experimentation, political advocacy, and community engagement. We will balance weekly readings, writings, and discussions with several excursions to the world of contemporary theater, including class trips to New York City and to theaters in the Princeton area, including McCarter Theatre Center.
The seminar will also be punctuated by in-class visits from one or more of the playwrights studied and discussed in the course. Several short writing assignments will oblige students to explore a range of critical idioms as they reflect and build upon the questions, conversations, and experiences staged by the course, with the culminating assignment inviting each student to rehearse their own critical voice as they author a profile of a contemporary Latina/o theater artist. The seminar is appropriate for a broad array of students, including those who have an active interest in theater as an art, as a vocation, and/or as a business, as well as those who have a personal or intellectual interest in the cultural history of U.S. Latinas/os. All students are welcome and there are no prerequisites for this course. (Wednesday 1:30-4:20 PM)
FRS 130 Creative Exploration of Color in Life and Art LA
This seminar is an active and creative investigation of color. Color is a big part of how we see and experience the world around us, and a powerful tool for the artist. We will examine a variety of sources to learn different ways of thinking and talking about color: documentary research, pieces of visual art, designs for stage and film, and some theoretical texts. We will explore how we perceive color and its sometimes covert influence on our experiences. Finally, we will apply what we have discovered by using color to express and communicate feelings and ideas on paper.
Most classes will be organized around a practical workshop, the Color Lab, where we will set up our own experiments to discover the various properties of color and mine the mysteries of color perception, in an effort to stretch our eyes and begin building our color toolbox.
While empirical exploration is at the heart of the class, drawing skills are not a prerequisite because we will be focusing on color paper as a means of manipulating colors (à la American artist and educator Josef Albers in his legendary course on color at the Yale University School of Art in the 1950s), and sometimes even on Photoshop. It is absolutely possible to embark on the study of color without being a trained artist — all you need is a pair of open eyes and the willingness to open them wider. Class work and homework will include individual research, group work, class demos, discussions, readings, and a personal journal of "color revelations." Various creative projects will culminate in a final project, which will be tailored to each student's specific interests in the study of color. (Thursday 1:30-4:20 PM)
FRS 136 Architecture and Its Representation LA
This course explores major concepts in Renaissance architecture through the hands-on study of original source materials. How do architects design buildings? How have design practices changed over time, and how have those practices determined our built environment? We will consider these questions as we examine the role of representation in architectural history, focusing on the 14th through 17th centuries in Europe and the Americas. Each seminar session will incorporate a visit to a special collection on campus. As a class we will explore Princeton's superb holdings of early modern books, maps, paintings, drawings, and prints and use these objects as the focus of our investigations.(Tuesday 1:30-4:20 p.m.)
FRS 142 Freud on the Psychology of Ordinary Mental Life EC
When we laugh at an incredibly funny joke, what, exactly, are we laughing at, and why is it laughing we do? How do we come to be engrossed in a novel? Given that the characters are nothing to us — they are neither relatives nor friends, and they are not real — why do we care what happens to them? How does it come about that perfectly rational people sometimes succumb to moments of magical thinking, and which aspects of our psychological makeup might explain both the pervasiveness and tenacity of religion in human society?
Although he is best known for his elucidation of the unusual in human mental life, Sigmund Freud also attempted to illuminate ordinary human experiences and values, such as people's susceptibility to humor, their capacity to become engrossed in fiction, and their susceptibility to superstition and religion. His insights into the everyday and his sense of where the productive questions lay reveal an incisiveness of argument that defy both earlier and subsequent thought on his topics. The seminar will consider both Freud's accounts of ordinary mental phenomena and his method of inquiry, with the aims of coming to understand some of his seminal thought, learning a powerful method of critical inquiry, and honing fresh ideas about the nature of ordinary mental life and human values.
Readings include original works by Freud and a few brief selections by other authors whose work provides useful material for comparison. The seminar, which will meet in two 80-minute classes per week, is organized to allow for maximal play of students' own ideas and their development of Freud's technique of identifying and unpacking anomalies as a method for investigating human mental life. (Tuesday, Thursday 11:00 AM - 12:20 PM)
Shirley M. Tilghman
FRS 146 Classical India from Rigveda to Kamasutra through Verbal and Visual Art LA
“This work is compiled in chastity and utmost meditation for the sake of worldly practice, not for the sake of passion.” — thus concludes Vatsyayana his Kamasutra. He systematically enumerates arts, laboriously classifies men and women, exhaustively catalogs hugs, kisses, sexual positions, and so on. He extensively quotes his predecessors, engages in logical debates, distills a dignified tradition of scholarly research into a concise textbook. Textbook? Sounds boring, doesn’t it? But this very book is a source of inspiration for religious and – at the same time — love poetry. What connects a dry scholarly tractate, a catalog of sexual positions, an encyclopedia of urban life with religion? How can poetry inspired by such a tractate be religious?
The goal of this course is to trace both manifest and subtle connections among major narratives, myths, ideas, and images that permeate Indian culture and make it a unique whole. Through attentive reading and critical analysis of major texts of classical India, through studying them in comparison with traditional and modern art forms — music, dance, theater, cinema, painting — we will be witnessing historical development of a living canon. We will look at Indian culture at different historical stages, and at every stage we will observe how the insiders built their relationship with the world, how they understood their place in it, their moral and religious duties, and the right organization of society.
We will see a god who is absolutely devoted to his lover and at the same time has a personal intimate relationship with an unlimited number of women. We will read the most popular epic in Asia, the Ramayana, a story of an ideal man who burns his wife in a fire and still remains an ideal husband. In the Mahabharata, the longest epic poem in the world, that includes one of the most influential scriptures, the Bhagavad Gita, we will encounter a perfect warrior, a devout son and a loyal member of his family, who kills his closest relatives and still remains true to his duty. There we will also meet a perfect wife who has five husbands. By reading the Upanishads, traditionally understood as a book of profound wisdom and mysteries, we will learn that the Self and the Absolute are the same, and God is one and there are 33,330 gods.
Our journey into this magnificent ancient culture will begin at the pinnacle of the Indian religious and literary tradition, a text that from the traditional perspective encompasses all: all the worlds and all the words — the human and the divine. It was created by a nomadic people who had no writing, whose material culture has left us no images and almost no objects. What has reached us is their Word, 1028 poetic hymns of exquisite complexity and sophistication that elaborate a highly refined system of mythology and a unique worldview. It has been orally passed from generation to generation word by word, sound by sound; it is most certainly being recited somewhere in India as you are reading this introduction. This text — preserved through centuries and outlived the religion that begot it — is the Rigveda.
Throughout this course students are expected to read fully the assigned texts and actively participate in class discussions. Requirements include a short midterm image paper and a final paper. (Tuesday 1:30-4:20 PM)
FRS 148 CANCELED What Does It Mean to Be Free? EM
Freedom is held to be a prime political value in the modern world — not only, but especially, in the United States, land of the free. But what is freedom exactly? Can anybody be free? Are certain conditions required to make freedom a reality? What are the greatest sources of "unfreedom" in the world today? Are alienation and conformism signs of unfreedom, as some social theorists have argued? What is the relationship between different social and political institutions and freedom and, in particular: Does the market make us free or enslaved? And is there a necessary trade-off between liberty and security, as many people have argued in the aftermath of 9/11? Finally, are there external material and inner psychological obstacles to freedom? If so, who should be authorized to try to remove them?
This seminar encourages students to ask fundamental questions about freedom — and to look to major writings in social and political theory, as well as the history of ideas. Beyond such theoretical texts, the seminar will also feature selected pieces of fiction and films.
There are three goals to the seminar. First, students will be introduced to normative political theory and learn to craft and present arguments in political theory, both in writing and in class presentations. Second, the course will be writing-intensive; students will receive extensive feedback on their writing and will have an option to try their hand at independent work. Third, the seminar will show students how literary texts and films also present arguments relevant to normative theorizing — without being reducible to mere illustrations of philosophical claims. In other words, by the end of the seminar students will ideally have a sense of what it means to do work in three genres: political theory, literary criticism, and film criticism. (Tuesday 1:30-4:20 PM)
FRS 150 Soviet-Satellite Relations and Russia's Conflict with Ukraine SA
Last spring, Russia's longstanding conflict with Ukraine erupted into a war that shows little sign of abating. Thousands have lost their lives in brutal urban warfare among the ruins of once gleaming modern buildings in eastern Ukraine. The Donetsk airport has become a symbol both of the destruction within Ukraine and of the weakness of Ukraine's ties with the European Union. Constructed for the Euro 2012 football championship, cohosted with Poland, at a cost of nearly one billion dollars, the airport has been reduced to a pile of smashed concrete and warped steel. Online videos posted by Ukrainian army soldiers, nicknamed "cyborgs," have become gruesome memorials to those who posted them, but have since fallen in battle.
Officials on both sides blame their opponents. The Ukrainian government accuses Russia of sending, under the cover of secrecy, thousands of troops and weapons across the border as well as recruiting, funding, and training Ukrainians to overthrow the government. Western media portray the Russian government as systematically using cyber trolls to shape the outcome of "non-conventional war." Russia denies the charges and says that NATO has infiltrated Ukraine and marshaled forces against Russia in a revival of the Cold War conflict of East versus West, and that Ukrainian propagandists have systematically distorted the reporting of eastern Ukraine. Can we discover the truth of these claims?
In an effort to understand this momentous global conflict, students will look at the history of Russia's relations with Central Europe during the Soviet period. We will also examine the current and historical patterns of military, economic, and political conflict between Russia and Ukraine through a theoretical lens. We will explore how theories of international relations can be applied in the case of the Soviet Union and its satellites in Central Europe, including realism, Marxism, liberalism, economic power, rational choice, and theories at the level of domestic politics as well as analysis of individual leaders. On this theoretical foundation, students will investigate contrasts and continuities in Russia's relations with Ukraine.
The current conflict and its historical context also illustrate fundamental methodological problems in the study of international relations, namely the challenges in collecting and evaluating data. To help us think critically about these crucial issues, we will hear from guest speakers from the Russian and Ukrainian embassies, and experts with firsthand experience in Ukraine. (Tuesday 7:30-10:20 PM)
Miguel Centeno and Rachael Ferguson
FRS 164 Improbable Journeys: Travel in Time and Space in American Science Fiction LA
This course is an exploration of 20th-century American science fiction with a focus on its capacities to take us to new worlds, to transcend the bounds of time and space, and to challenge our notions of what is possible. The seminar begins with a voyage to a feminist utopia (Charlotte Perkins Gilman), then shifts to a prison where a straight-jacketed inmate has learned to free his soul to travel in time (Jack London), then to a world in which an African American scientist finds a way to eliminate the issue of race (George Schuyler), and then to an America that becomes a fascist nightmare (Sinclair Lewis). The remaining novels feature eight of the most acclaimed writers of speculative fiction who will take us on other journeys that engage the meaning of freedom — the ways in which it can be gained or lost — while also confronting the specific realities of race, gender, and politics. In their imaginative engagement with transformative technologies, these novels both expand our awareness of what is possible and insist that we come to terms with injustice, political corruption, and systems that debase human life. (Wednesday 1:30-4:20 PM)
FRS 166 Listening In: Sonic Culture in American History HA
This course will explore the meaning and significance of sound, music, and noise in American culture. We will consider not just what people heard and how they listened in the past but also how we attune ourselves to the role of sound in our own lives today. The course will combine readings on historical aspects of sonic history with listening exercises that will enable students to comprehend their own aural culture.
Historical subjects will include: the sonic characterization of Native Americans by European colonists; the meaning of sound on slave plantations; noise and the modern urban environment; the role of the phonograph in musical culture; the meaning of Muzak; the construction of motion picture soundtracks; and the rise of "the mix" as a musical practice and aesthetic.
How can we reconstruct the sounds of the distant past when they have long since vanished into thin air? What do such considerations of sound add to our understanding of American history? Can recordings from the past function as sonic time machines? How can we analyze our current sonic environment in order to understand more fully American culture today? Students will attempt to answer these questions through reading, discussion, writing, and especially through listening. (Tuesday, Thursday 1:30-2:50 PM)
FRS 168 Divided We Stand: Economic Inequality and Its Discontents SA
Economic inequality is today a topic of vital debate in American political life, as exemplified by the Occupy movement. This seminar aims to help students better understand the causes, nature, and consequences of economic inequality. We will take up five big questions: Who is unequal and when; what is unequal; what are the causes of inequality; what are the consequences of inequality; and how does inequality affect justice?
Who is unequal and when? Discussion of economic inequality conventionally focuses upon income inequality among families or households within a nation. We also want to consider economic differences across nations, among families worldwide, and inside families — income inequality among siblings is surprisingly high. To whom we compare ourselves is not merely a definitional choice; it also embeds our view of the appropriate moral community.
We will also examine changes in inequality over time. Inequality trends allow us to interrogate the relationship between inequality and economic growth, and to consider an important concomitant, income mobility.
What is unequal? The technical issue concerns how best to measure inequality. The conceptual issue concerns what is unequally distributed. Some alternatives, such as wealth, are even more unequally distributed than is income, while other measures, such as happiness, are less unequally distributed. Are all gaps with economic consequences — for example, the very unequal distribution of status, height, beauty, or life expectancy — morally significant, and if so, when should policy aim to shrink them?
What are the causes of inequality? We will investigate some leading accounts of the causes of growth in inequality: increased globalization, polarized politics, increasing returns to skilled labor, the rise of "superstar" labor markets, growth of the financial industry and its notoriously outsized compensation, and an aging and better-educated population.
What are the consequences of inequality? Some economic inequality is desirable: it spurs innovation, hard work. and investment in human capital, all of which create more wealth and the good things wealth affords. But greater economic inequality is also associated with adverse health outcomes, political capture, slower economic growth, and, if people want to keep up with the Joneses, increased inefficiency. How much inequality is too much inequality?
How does inequality affect justice? Is inequality intrinsically bad, or bad chiefly in its consequences? Is distributive justice solely a matter of the structure of a distribution or is it a matter of the process that leads to that distribution? Is Wall Street occupied because bankers are too rich or because bankers became rich unfairly, for example, by luck, fraud, or harm? And, do obligations to the poor cross national borders or stop at the water's edge? (Wednesday 1:30-4:20 PM)