The Philosophy Behind A Raisin in the Sun

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A landmark of American and African-American theater since its debut on Broadway in 1959 and as a Hollywood film in 1961, Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun is a disarmingly simple play that uses traditional techniques to craft a revolutionary message. It is also an extremely subtle work whose meaning lies largely in its unspoken sub-texts, assumed con-texts, and unacknowledged co-texts. This course will explore some of the implicit philosophical influences — including Aritotle’s Poetics and Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex as well as the existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus — that form part of the foundation beneath Hansberry’s work. We will also consider some of Hansberry’s thoughts about her own art. Students may wish to see Court Theatre’s concurrent production of A Raisin in the Sun in conjunction with this course and/or prepare for the course by taking the preceding course, “A Raisin in the Sun Deep Dive”. Continue reading

Comedies of Aristophanes
(Nyuk, Nyuk, Nyuk)

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Sometimes known as “the Father of Comedy”, Aristophanes was a fixture of ancient Athens at the time of Peloponnesian War and of Socrates. Indeed, in one of his plays Aristophanes lampoons Socrates himself. (Plato returned the favor by having Socrates allude to that play in the Apology and by including Aristophanes in the Symposium alongside Agathon, the great tragedian of the day.) This course will look closely at three of the master’s plays: The Clouds (about Socrates and his “Thinkery”); The Wasps (often considered the finest example of “Old Comedy”); and Lysistrata (in which the women of Greece go on a sex strike in order to force the men of Greece to end the Peloponnesian War). A final session will be devoted to a consideration of Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq, a modern adaptation of Lysistrata whose tagline is, “No Peace; No Piece”. Continue reading

Huck / James

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Modern authors have something of a penchant for writing various types of “replies” to classic works of yore. Think: Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead as an expansion of Shakespeare’s Hamlet; Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad as a response to Homer’s Odyssey; and John Gardner’s Grendel as a retelling of Beowulf. Now, Percival Everett has “replied” to Mark Twain’s classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with his latest novel, James. This course will be devoted to a close reading of both Twain’s original classic and Everett’s modern “reply”, with a view to understanding each work in its own right as well as appreciating the “conversation” between them. Continue reading

“Condemned to be Free”: Introduction to the “Existential Phenomenology” of Jean-Paul Sartre

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An intellectual titan of the 20th century who influenced many — including his romantic partner Simone de Beauvoir, author of the feminist manifesto The Second Sex — Jean-Paul Sartre articulated a philosophy of “existential phenomenology” through treatises, novels, and plays. Grounded in the theoretical claim that “existence precedes essence”, this philosophy culminates in the practical claim that every human being in unavoidably “condemned to be free”. Denial of this radical freedom is characterized as “bad faith”. This course will introduce Sartre’s perspective through a close reading and discussion of selections of his major theoretical work, his most famous novel, and three of his plays. It will also set the stage for a subsequent consideration of the political philosophy of Albert Camus, who started as Sartre’s friend and ended as his enemy. Continue reading

“In the Midst of Winter, I Discovered Within Me an Invincible Summer”: Albert Camus’s The Rebel

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What is a rebel? A man who says no, but whose refusal does not imply a renunciation. He is also a man who says yes, from the moment he makes his first gesture of rebellion. A slave who has taken orders all his life suddenly decides that he cannot obey some new command. What does he mean by saying “no”?
— Albert Camus, The Rebel

Although Albert Camus is better known for his essay “The Myth of Sisyphus” and his novel The Stranger, his essay The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt is perhaps his most important and underappreciated work. Part philosophy, part history, Camus’s essay surveys various aspects of rebellion — including “Metaphysical Rebellion”, “Historical Rebellion”, and “Rebellion and Art” — and differentiates rebellion from revolution. Indeed, it was just this analysis that led to Sartre’s repudiation of Camus, despite the fact that Camus’s perspective arguably builds on Sartre’s notion that “man is condemned to be free”. Continue reading

A Raisin in the Sun Deep Dive

COURSES > LIFELONG | COURSES > ONLINE

A landmark of American and African-American theater since its debut on Broadway in 1959 and as a Hollywood film in 1961, Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun is a disarmingly simple play that uses traditional techniques to craft a revolutionary message. It is also an extremely subtle work whose meaning lies largely in its unspoken sub-texts, assumed con-texts, and unacknowledged co-texts — what one reviewer called the play’s “obbligato”. This course will provide an extended opportunity to carefully explore Raisin from a variety of angles in order appreciate it as fully as possible, and may be especially valuable for those planning on seeing Court Theatre’s 2025 production of the play that runs from 7 February to 9 March. This course will also serve as useful preparation for the following course on “The Philosophy Behind A Raisin in the Sun”. Continue reading

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (ZAMM / ZMM) “Sidecar”

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This course is a synchronized supplement to a parallel reading of Robert Pirsig’s classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (ZAMM / ZMM) and Plato’s Phaedrus. As such, it functions something like a sidecar to a motorcycle. The core sidecar readings include (selections from) works on Zen/Buddhism, a “guidebook” to Pirsig’s novel, the book whose title was the model for Pirsig’s title, and the philosophical text that first introduced Pirsig’s narrator to the “classic and romantic modes of reality and probably shaped these terms in his mind more than he ever knew.” Two bonus readings and a film are the subject of a separate stand-alone session several weeks after the completion of both the primary readings and the core sidecar readings. Continue reading

Reading Machiavelli and Macbeth … Twice!

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Shakespeare’s Macbeth is sometimes read as a rebuttal of Machiavelli’s Prince. We’ll explore this notion by using the strategy laid out in Mortimer Adler’s classic How to Read a Book, to read each work twice, once quickly to get an overview and then again more slowly to figure out the details. Along the way, we’ll pay careful attention to the literary, philosophical, and political aspects of each classic work as well as the relationships between the two. Continue reading

To Be, or Not to Be, a Victim? Reading Seamus Heaney’s The Cure at Troy … Twice!

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Developed with South African apartheid and Northern Ireland’s “Troubles” in mind, Seamus Heaney’s adaptation of Sophocles’ Philoctetes explores the all-too-human tendency towards self-pity as an obstacle to communal reconciliation. Using the strategy laid out in Mortimer Adler’s classic How to Read a Book, this course, we’ll read Heaney’s play once quickly to get an overview and then again more slowly to figure out the details. Along the way, we’ll pay careful attention to the dramatic, psychological, and philosophical features of a text that is frequently quoted by American politicians. Continue reading

Reading the Washington-DuBois Debate … Twice!

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Although Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois are typically understood as ideological adversaries, a close consideration of their thought can suggest similarities as well as differences. Using the strategy laid out in Mortimer Adler’s classic How to Read a Book, this course is devoted to developing a thorough understanding of the core debate by reading Up from Slavery and The Souls of Black Folk twice, once quickly to get an overview and then again more slowly to figure out the details. Along the way, we’ll pay careful attention to the literary, philosophical, sociohistorical, and political aspects of each classic work. Continue reading