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

COURSES > LIFELONG | COURSES > ONLINE

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 the Washington-DuBois Debate … Twice!

COURSES > LIFELONG | COURSES > ONLINE

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.
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How to Read the U.S. Constitution as Literature

COURSES > LIFELONG | COURSES > ONLINE

Like its counterparts “How to Read Classic Texts” and “How to Read Religious Texts as Literature,” this course is designed to help students improve their reading skills. In this case, by learning how to read the United States Constitution as “literature” rather than as “law” — and thereby discover new layers of meaning in what often seems like an old chestnut. Continue reading

A Perfect Storm of Vitriol: A Review of Norman Finkelstein’s I’ll Burn that Bridge When I Get to It! (2023)

WRITINGS > FINISHED [→ ONLINE ARCHIVE MATERIAL]

Norman Finkelstein’s I’ll Burn that Bridge When I Get to It! Heretical Thoughts on Identity Politics, Cancel Culture, and Academic Freedom (2023) is an important book that ought to be read by anyone trying to figure out what the hell has happened to “progressive” America these past few years.
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A “Great Conversation” Model of University DEI: At the University of Chicago, for Example

WRITINGS > FINISHED [→ ONLINE ARCHIVE MATERIAL]

The “Great Conversation” model of the university presupposes an intellectual posture of skepticism and humility that is incompatible with claims of epistemic privilege, the notion that some individuals or groups have greater inherent access to truth. UChicago DEI initiatives should reflect this by incorporating perspectives that question all aspects of DEI. Not doing so results in a “Great Monologue” that impedes the quest for truth and diminishes the possibility of truth-based activism, as well as denigrates those holding currently unfashionable views. Continue reading

21st-Century African-American Perspectives on Race

COURSES > LIFELONG | COURSES > ONLINE

Through close reading and discussion of a number of modern classics this course will seek to better understand two lines of African-American thinking about racism today. The more mainstream, “liberal” school of thought contends that America has always been — and is still today — a fundamentally racist nation. The less known, “conservative” school of thought contends not only that America has made great racial progress, but that the greatest obstacle to further progress is the “liberal” narrative itself. Readings includes works by Derrick Bell, Shelby Steele, Ta-Nehisi Coates, John McWhorter, Ibram Kendi, and Glenn Loury. Prior to the first class, please do the readings indicated on the syllabus and watch the 2020 documentary What Killed Michael Brown? … with as much “critical empathy” for each work as possible. Continue reading

A Matter of Black and White: 20th Century Perspectives on Race

COURSES > LIFELONG | COURSES > ONLINE

Inspired by W.E.B. DuBois’s famous thesis that “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line”, this course will try to understand a variety of 20th-century perspectives on race through a sympathetic examination of a selection of classic works of fiction, nonfiction, and cinema by authors and directors Black and White, including: DuBois himself, Rudyard Kipling, Frantz Fanon, Thomas Dixon, Jr., James Baldwin, and Joseph Conrad, as well as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. Prior to the first class, please do the short readings and watch D.W. Griffith’s (in)famous 1915 silent film, The Birth of a Nation … from a perspective as “critically empathic” as possible. Continue reading

Home Front, War Front: “Mrs. Miniver” and “Scarlett O’Hara” as the Interpretive Keys to Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun

LECTURES > PREVIOUS

Since it was first produced on Broadway in 1959 and by Hollywood in 1961, Lorraine’s Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun has been widely ranked as a modern classic — though perhaps not a completely understood one. For a full appreciation of this self-consciously-literary work requires not only, in general, a deep appreciation of a large number of subtle allusions in the text, but also, in particular, a deep appreciation of a few seemingly-trivial allusions to two of the most important American movies to come out of the World War II era: Mrs. Miniver (1942) and Gone With the Wind (1939). Once these contextual and intertextual allusions are fully understood, individually and collectively, the full significance of A Raisin in the Sun as a “war film” about the “home front” of America’s “race war” — indeed, as an “African American war film” about the “home front” of America’s “race war” — comes easily into view. Hansberry’s work thus exemplifies the dictum of T.S. Eliot’s “Tradition and the Individual Talent”: that no artist “has his complete meaning alone” but rather can only be fully appreciated when set “for contrast and comparison, among the dead”. Continue reading

“Impeachment” in the Constitutional Sense

LECTURES > PREVIOUS

Despite its hallowed status, the United States Constitution of 1787 is an imperfect text which sometimes obscures more than it reveals. Such is the case with the long-and-widely misunderstood Constitutional provision for “impeachment”. This lecture will attempt: first, to explicate the true meaning and operation of “impeachment” in the Constitutional sense through a close reading of the 1787 text within the 1787 context; and, second, to survey and explain the history of post-1787 (mis)understandings of this aspect of the Constitution. The possible contemporary political significance of a better understanding of the impeachment provision of the Constitution will be studiously avoided. Continue reading

“It Can’t Happen Here”? Sinclair Lewis on Tyranny in America

COURSES > LIFELONG | COURSES > ONLINE

In a time when many believe that contemporary events are unfolding in ways that bode ill for the future, the dystopian classics of youth are the focus of renewed interest as possible guides to “what might happen”. This course will be devoted to a careful, mature consideration of one such classic, It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis (the first American writer to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1930) as we seek both to understand the text as a literary work originating in its own time and place and to glean possible insights into our own time and place. For the first class, please read chapters 1-13.
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