Saturday, October 14, 2017 9:00 am - 12:30 pm
Seth Lerer / University of California at San Diego
Literature has always shaped societies, built cultures, and helped readers grow. This course explores four great novels that have helped to change our modern, western world – the world of personal feeling, social experience, family belonging, and moral imagination. Charles Dickens's Great Expectations stands as the defining novel of the individual in society, struggling to become a person and a writer in the heart of a new empire. George Orwell's 1984 remains the classic of dystopia – a satire on a totalitarian past, but also a lesson for a democratic future. Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man makes us all aware of how race and region bear on our culture, while Viet Nguyen's brilliant new book, The Sympathizer, reveals just how much our world has changed, now, in response to different communities in contact and in conflict.
All of these books are stories not just of politics and people, but of writers. All of these books show the power of the literary imagination to make and remake our world. They dramatize how our modern ideas of the hero have adapted to new pressures. They make us laugh, cry, ponder, and pause. They teach that the art of reading is essential to negotiating unfamiliar landscapes in our cities and our classrooms. These books have changed, and will continue to change, the ways we think and feel. Whatever happens, books will survive. These are four of them that will live on, both to instruct and to delight us in the future.
Seth Lerer is Distinguished Professor of Literature and former Dean of Arts and Humanities at the University of California at San Diego. He has published widely on literature and language, most recently on Children’s Literature, Jewish culture, and the life of the theater. He has been awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Truman Capote Prize in Criticism. His book, “Tradition: A Feeling for the Literary Past,” appeared in 2016, and his most recent book, “Shakespeare’s Lyric Stage,” was published in 2018.
Denise Budd / Columbia University
When considering artistic genius in the Italian Renaissance, the individuals who most commonly come to mind are the great triad of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Michelangelo and Raphael. These three often contentious rivals have been categorized as Universal Men, gifted in many arts and areas of intellectual pursuit. It is Leonardo who is most often imagined in this multifaceted way, as artist, scientist, engineer, and musician. Yet, in reality, unlike his more productive counterparts, Leonardo was a painter who infrequently completed a painting, a sculptor who rarely sculpted, and architect who never built anything. He penned drafts of treatises on the arts, and planned many more on wide-ranging subjects, although none of these were completed or published in his lifetime.
Even more elusive than his artistic identity is his personality. Described in the 16th century as possessing a divine combination of beauty, grace and talent, the several thousand pages of notes he carefully penned reveal almost nothing about himself. What they do demonstrate, however, is Leonardo’s genius of sheer invention and investigation, with ideas that he envisaged so relentlessly that they became his art. That he rarely had the will, time, or even ability to carry them out is beside the point. This course will discuss Leonardo’s career, examining several of his most canonical works, as well as considering his most ambitious plans that never came to fruition.
Denise Budd teaches art history at Columbia University and a wide range of Renaissance art classes at Rutgers University. She has published several articles on Leonardo da Vinci based on her studies of the artist and his documentary evidence. Following this interest in archival work, her current research has extended to the history of collecting Renaissance art in Gilded Age America, with a focus on the tapestry collector and dealer Charles Mather Foulke.
Jeffrey Engel / Southern Methodist University
The question stalks our politics. The Cold War's end was supposed to bring about a new era of East-West cooperation, integrating Russia for perhaps the first time as an equal player in European and Atlantic affairs. Democracy appeared ascendant, along with free markets. The end of old history appeared in sight,replaced by the new, at least according to Washington’s chattering class. We were poised to share "one common European home," the Soviet Union's Mikhail Gorbachev pledged. And we shall all have peace. A democratic revolution within Russia's borders, leading even a soft-spoken American president to gloat. "Eastern Europe is free," George H.W. Bush proclaimed as 1991 came to an end. "This is a victory for democracy and freedom. It’s a victory for the moral force of our values. Every American can take pride in this victory."
Well, the promised post-Cold War peace did not endure. Russia's free market collapsed. The West's triumph brought the average citizen in the former Soviet Union a shorter life-span, a lower standard of living, and a long list of new grudges. As Boris Yeltsin gave way to Vladimir Putin by the 20th century’s end, newfound civil liberties soon eroded as well. Oligarchs rose and democracy fled, setting the stage for what some are now terming a new Cold War, replete with hacking, election influence, annexations, and new East-West tensions.
Jeffrey Engel is the founding director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University. He has taught at Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania, Haverford College, and taught history and public policy at Texas A&M University. He has authored/edited eight books on American foreign policy, most recently, “When the World Seemed New: George H. Bush and the Surprisingly Peaceful End of the Cold War.”