I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the course that I’ll be offering as part of “Pathways of World Literature” section of NYU Abu Dhabi’s Core Curriculum this fall. The Core Curriculum enables students to think in pre-disciplinary ways, encouraging them to think rigorously about the kinds of “big questions” that a liberal arts education is supposed to pose but, apparently, all too rarely does in current U.S. practice. The Teagle Foundation recently made grants available to schools that were interested in thinking about how to reform curricula to be more hospitable to thinking about such big questions as “Who am I? Where do I come from? What am I going to do with my life? What are my values? Is there such a thing as evil? What does it mean to be human? How can I understand suffering and death? What obligations do I have to other people? What does it mean to be a citizen in a democracy? What makes work, or a life, meaningful and satisfying?”
As I understand it, the NYUAD Core, which I still considered to be a work in progress, is designed to help students tackle these questions in their academic work by offering courses that have a “great books” inflection without having a set of canon of “great” texts and that bring the knowledge and methods of different fields to bear on “big” questions and problems. The Core offers faculty members the opportunity to think outside of our typically disciplinary boxes or, for those of us who are accustomed to thinking in interdisciplinary ways, to explore interdisciplinarity more fully and experimentally than we are able to do in courses designed for disciplinary majors. In my view, the Core gives us the opportunity to test the premises of our disciplines against the premises of others, to understand both the power and the limits of disciplinary practice.
Here’s the current description of my course, written for the next edition of the NYUAD Course Bulletin:
Originating in the idea of the world citizen and conceived in contradistinction to nationalism, cosmopolitanism can be understood as a perspective that regards human difference as an opportunity to be embraced rather than a problem to be solved. Does this perspective lie behind all “great” literature, which asks its readers to experience otherness by opening themselves up to another person’s words and thoughts? This course uses novels, poems, plays, and films to explore the cosmopolitan impulses behind the literary imagination.
And here’s a list of texts that I’m contemplating for the syllabus:
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart.
Appiah, Kwame Anthony. Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers.
Bender, Thomas. “New York as a Center of Difference.” In The Unfinished City: New York and the Metropolitan Idea.
Burton, The 1001 Nights (opening frame and one or two tales).
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness.
Doctorow, E. L. Ragtime.
Greenblatt, Stephen. “Culture.”
Hollinger, David. Post-Ethnic America.
Kushner, Tony. Angels in America.
Mouawad, Wajdi. Scorched.
Nussbaum, Martha C., et al. For Love of Country.
Salih, Tayib. Season of Migration to the North.
Scheffler, Samuel. “Conceptions of Cosmopolitanism.”
Sophocles. Oedipus Tyrannus. Trans. Peter Meineck and Paul Woodruff.
Tagore, Rabindranath. The Home and the World.
Williams, Raymond. Marxism and Literature (excerpts).
I’ll also be adding short readings about cosmopolitanism, so that the students will likely be reading a new theoretical essay each week in addition to the designated “literary” text. Please leave a comment below if you have a suggestion for readings not listed above.
The course is still a work in progress. I’ll be thinking more about the subject in the next two weeks, because I’m scheduled to give a keynote lecture called “The Cosmopolitan Imagination” on April 30 at Brooklyn College’s annual graduate English conference. This year’s subject is “The New Urgency: Emerging, Evolving, and Redefining Literature.”