Fall 2015 -
Graduate Course Description
Discipline and Number
10:00 AM - 12:45 PM
|Epic & Evolution
Description of Course:
There has been a wave of new knowledge about the human being, its mind, brain, nervous system, and body, its neurochemistry and neuroanatomy, its biological evolution, its ability to adapt to the world and reproduce what it learns both biologically and culturally, the developmental stages of its technological and scientific understanding, the elaboration of its moral systems, and the resulting emergence of cultures and civilizations. This knowledge in turn provides the humanistic and literary scholar with a wealth of new interpretative tools. These tools can be both useful and dangerous, but they offer perspectives that many believe to be the future of the humanities.
What is especially striking is that these ways of looking at the human being have in fact been pioneered already by the great sages who composed the world's epics, its grand narratives. Epic is now established as a culturally universal genre, with commonalities all over the globe and throughout humanity's seven thousand years of recorded history, with archeological hints of them that go much further back in time as well. Epic looks now as if it is humanity's traditional account of its own evolution, told from the inside and using the techniques of fiction, allegory, and metaphor to deliver its meaning.
This class will explore some of the great stories of the world using these new perspectives.
Tentative Reading List (subject to change; excerpts or full texts):
The Popol Vuh (Tedlock trans.)
Homer: The Odyssey (Fitzgerald trans.)
The Book of Genesis
Monkey, or The Journey to the West (Waley trans.)
The Gilgamesh Epic (Mitchell trans.)
The Mahabharata (Buck trans.)
Njal's Sagai (Cook trans.)
The Volsung Saga (Byock trans.)
The Mwindo Epic from the Banyanga (Biebuyck trans)
Frederick Turner: Epic: Form, Content, and History
Brian Boyd: On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction.
Jonathan Gottschall: The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human.
Leda Cosmides and John Tooby: The Adapted Mind
Christopher Seddon: Humans: From the Beginning
Robert Wright: Nonzero
Robin Fox: The Tribal Imagination
Adam Nicolson: Why Homer Matters
Albert Lord: The Singer of Tales
David Moore: The Developing Genome: An Introduction to Behavioral Epigenetics
Kim Stanley Robinson: Shaman
Course Requirements/Evaluation Criteria:
Willingness to handle a challenging interdisciplinary reading list, weekly quiz essays, advanced oral discussion, and full, punctual attendance.