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Fall 2008 Community Seminar Series
WHAT: Community Seminars give community members the opportunity to read and discuss seminal works the same way St. John’s students study the classics. Seminars are discussion-based and limited in size in order to ensure a spirited dialogue.
WHEN: Start dates range from September 9 to October 22; listed below are the dates for each seminar, as well as cost. Seminars either meet one day a week for 4-6 weeks OR over the course of a long weekend (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday).
DETAILS: Several of the seminars, inspired by the election year, revolve around the theme of democracy. Teachers with proof of employment can partake in Community Seminars at a 50% discount. Community Seminars are free to 11th and 12th grade high school students (limited spaces available).
TO REGISTER: Call 505-984-6099 or email@example.com.
Please note: We invite media who are interested in writing about Community Seminars in particular or St. John’s College in general to participate for free. If you are interested in signing up, please contact Sarah at 505-984-6099.
As Walt Whitman’s eulogy to America’s “Captain” suggests, the most important figure in American History may be Abraham Lincoln. In an effort to participate in the national celebration and conversation that will accompany the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birthday, as well as to prepare for the numerous books, television specials, and articles that will commemorate the occasion, this seminar will read and discuss Lincoln’s most important early writings. Assuming no prior knowledge of American History or Politics, we will explore with Lincoln the perennial questions that confront all of us as Americans: what are the threats to healthy democracy; how is liberty preserved and protected; and what is the nature and end of our regime? While Lincoln’s muse was Shakespeare, ours can be said to be Lincoln himself. Therefore, this seminar will pay special attention to the poetic character of Lincoln’s writings, particularly as he has shaped our imagination and the ways in which we see ourselves and our country. Please join us for a conversation about these vital questions as they arise through the stirring beauty of Lincoln’s own words.
Recommended Edition: Abraham Lincoln: Speeches and Writings 1832-1858 (Library of America Edition)
First Reading Assignment: Abraham Lincoln’s The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions: An Address Before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois (January 27, 1838)
The United States of America began as an audacious political experiment and is still in its infancy, when compared to the life-span of older civilizations. Published in 1835, Democracy in America is still the most penetrating and exciting book ever written on the distinctive nature of American democracy and the American character, and one of the richest meditations on democracy itself. In this community seminar series we’ll be reading the whole of Volume 1.
Recommended Edition: Vintage Classics or Everyman edition
First Assignment: Volume 1, chapters 1 and 2
What's the connection between America – its vigorous and egalitarian character – and Whitman's all-embracing sensuality? What do Whitman's voluptuousness and his 'barbaric yawp' have to do with the democratic spirit? With these questions in mind, we'll read some of Whitman's shorter poems, and then approach longer ones, including "Song of Myself."
Recommended Edition: Walt Whitman Leaves of Grass, any edition
First Reading Assignment: “I Saw in Louisiana a Live-Oak Growing,” “The Dalliance of Eagles”
How was this country initially conceived? A study of the Federalist Papers shows that the Constitution of the U.S. was neither uncontroversial nor inevitable, and things could have gone in any number of ways. During this weekend we will immerse ourselves in a reading of the founding documents and the Federalist Papers, trying to attain a fresh view of the meaning of the U.S.A. If you are trying to decide whether or not we have veered away drastically from the original conception, studying these texts is an essential prelude.
Recommended Edition: Any edition of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers
First Assignment: Federalist 1, 2, 6, 9-11, 12, Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation
In this seminar we shall read Pushkin’s The Tales of the late Ivan Petrovich Belkin, The Queen of Spades, and The Captain's Daughter. We shall also consider Dostoevsky's celebrated lecture on Pushkin, which served as a literary manifesto and a call to Russian authors to follow Pushkin’s example, as understood by Dostoevsky. We shall read, discuss and try to understand these 18th century tales, their author's literary art, and Dostoevsky’s thoughts about it.
Recommended Edition: the Translation by Gillon Aitken in the 1996 Norton Paperback re-issue of The Complete Tales
First Assignment: The Belkin Tales: Pushkin's Introduction, "The Shot," "The Blizzard," and "The Undertaker" (pp.63-104)
Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse (1928) is simultaneously a novel about the domesticity of a typical British family, an investigation of the ambitions of art and philosophy, and an examination of human relationships set against the backdrop of World War I. Time and place become characters in their own unique ways alongside the parade of children, mothers, husbands, wives, painters, poets, philosophers, students, soldiers, and lovers who march onto the stage of the novel’s pages.
Recommended Edition: Harcourt Paperback
First Assignment: Part I “The Window”
The Waves (1931) may be Woolf’s most challenging and stylistically innovative work. It is perhaps also her most beautiful. The elusive strains of its narrative unfold exculsively within the minds of its major characters. There is no dialogue and no external narrator’s perspective. Over the course of the novel the reader shares the interior worlds of six close friends, from their earliest childhood to old age. Meanwhile the sun rises and sets over an ever-changing yet constant ocean which serves as both metaphor and backdrop for a story that is both deeply personal and universal.
Recommended Edition: Harcourt Paperback
First Assignment: pp. 7-72
Aristotle’s Politics shows how politics may be understood as natural to human beings, what the proper goal of a political order should be, the just and unjust aspects of various claims to power and how one can judge these various claims adequately. In sum, Aristotle offers us a succinct and insightful education in political prudence and citizenship.
Recommended Edition: Carnes Lord translation
First Reading Assignment: Book One
A film at St. John’s?! It has been well argued that films are the dominant “texts” of the modern age, and no less texts than musical compositions. In this weekend we’ll be closely analyzing sections of The Godfather, perhaps the greatest American film, and a powerful and ingenious reworking of Shakespeare’s Henry IV. What does it mean and cost to become an American, or not to become one? In his unwilling ascent into the world of unvarnished force, does Michael Corleone/Prince Hal lose his soul or enlarge it? What is the greatness of Don Vito Corleone?
First Assignment: Watch The Godfather twice
Building on our reading of Part 1, we will discover that Democracy in America is also the richest and widest-ranging exploration of American democratic culture.
First assignment: Volume 2, chapters 1-10