LAS 1110 – ON BEING HUMAN
American Theatre on Film
This is a study of what it means to be human through the arts, specifically through film and theatre. We will start with a film called The Cradle Will Rock, which will establish some course themes. Then we will watch a documentary on human evolution, followed by a film version of the play Inherit the Wind. A documentary on the founding of civilization will be followed by a film version of the play Insignificance. Subsequent works will include such films as A Streetcar Named Desire, The Death of a Salesman, A Raisin in the Sun, I Never Sang for My Father, The Miracle Worker, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Dutchman, A Trip to Bountiful, and The Children’s Hour; we shall conclude with All That Jazz.
At the Borders of the Human
When we think about animals, we think about animals other than ourselves because, for most of us, the word animal points to non-human beings, so we often forget that humans, too, are animals. Beyond their usefulness and companionship, what can animals tell us about ourselves? Just how definite is the line that we assume separates us from animal and them from us? Working with indigenous traditions, scientific research, philosophic, religious and cultural theories and assumptions, we will explore the boundary between the human and non-human animal in order to better understand why these relationships can tell us a good deal about ourselves and help us reflect upon our own humanity.
Creativity and Being Human
In recognition of literature’s role in psychological discovery, Sigmund Freud once wrote. “Not I, but the poets discovered the unconscious.” Stories, poems, and plays have long been our way into the human mind, just as they have shaped the human mind, projecting infinite possibilities for what human thought may be, what feelings are, and as a result, what it means to be human. The focus of this course will be on the many ways in which stories, plays, poems, and songs come into being as an extension of the human mind and how they helped to shape human consciousness, and the conception of humanness itself. We will study various examples of the writing of the mind, and through our discoveries we will investigate the implications of being human. Stream of Consciousness, the Shakespearean soliloquy, Confessional poetry, and personal journals are possible texts.
The Design Impulse
In this course, students will investigate the practice and theory of design as the foundation for all human endeavors. Anytime someone attempts to improve a thing, a situation, or their environment they are engaged in the practice of design. This urge for improvement, to envision and implement increasingly better solutions has lead us from stone tools to particle accelerators. Readings, videos, and projects will introduce important design concepts and strategies. Students learn how leading companies and institutions foster innovation. More importantly, they will be introduced to design as a way of viewing the world and their innate power to change it. This course has academic requirements such as written assignments and presentations. It also has hands-on production based requirements in the form of individual and group projects. No prior design or construction experience is necessary but a willingness to experiment and take risks is. In addition to texts, students will be expected to purchase a limited number of inexpensive tools and materials.
The Ever Changing Human
An integral aspect of being human is what we understand ourselves to be in relation to others—other people, institutions, or our gods. Because of this, the concepts of being human and of civilization are closely intertwined. “Civilization” is what results from people living together in organized and increasingly complex societies. The act of living together and engaging with each other forms and reforms values, motivations, and aspirations. Since this is a dynamic process, does that mean that “being human” is an identity permanently in flux? Or are there some aspects of humanness that are static?
In this course, we will grapple with the question of what it means to be human by engaging with what this concept has meant over time. Specifically, we will delve into the history of Western Civilization, tracing human civilization from its origins in Mesopotamia to the exciting early stages of the Renaissance. Along the way, we will focus on the changing relationships between individuals, societies, states, and deities, and ask ourselves how those relationships defined and redefined what it meant to be human. We will base our discussions on the very words and images created by the people who lived during those times, honing our skills of interpretation and analysis. Finally, as we wrestle with these deep and difficult questions of the past, we will keep our eyes on the present and ask ourselves what the implications of our historical study have for our contemporary world.
Finding Your Voice, Changing the World
Finding your voice is not a singular achievement; it is a metaphor for the process of self-development and for expressing what we, as whole human beings, are called to do at differing times in our lives. This course explores voice and development, and thus what it means to be human, in relation to making contributions to others. A particular emphasis is placed on the role of education in finding our voices and changing the world.
Humanity of the Inhumane
"Hitler was human." "Our laws call for us to kill people for killing people." "It is not only just, but even merciful to eat the children of the poor." These are the type of statements we will find ourselves pondering as part of this course. Over the semester, students will examine how inhumane acts, ideas, and people represent an essential piece of our shared humanity. We will attempt to identify and define characteristics of inhumanity and in doing so come to recognize how these characteristics play a significant role in the way we, as humans, look at and experience the world. In this context we will read and examine Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, as well as other shorter works. This course is not a black and white examination of insane, horrific, and immoral things; it is an examination of how our interest in and connection with the insane, horrific, and immoral stems from what we share as humans. After completing this course students should be able to understand how the lure and repulsion of the inhumane are at the heart of what connects Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal (written in 1729) to a modern-day issue of The Onion. That's just one example. Over the course of the semester students will be presented with a multitude of additional examples, each offering widely different insights into why humans are, above most everything else, inherently fascinated with and incredibly adamant about what we should and should not do, think, and be.
Human Rights on the World Stage
The struggle for human dignity, justice and freedom is universal and timeless. It recognizes neither cultural nor historical boundaries. The history of theatre and film is filled with the work of artists who have persistently and forcefully rebelled against tyranny, oppression and exploitation of all kinds. More importantly, however, is that plays and films movingly humanize the conflicts that they depict. Ultimately plays and films are not about “issues;” they are about human beings. Further, no matter what may separate these works from each other, they all attempt to shed light on the same basic question: what does it mean to be human? A range of plays and films will be read, screened and discussed that offer unique and compelling insights into these and other issues.
Love: For Better or Worse
Robert Browning wrote “Take away love and our earth is a tomb”, which is to say love is the essence of being, and for the purpose of this course, the essence of being human. The Ancient Greeks had three words for love: eros, philia, and agape, each corresponding to a type of love distinct from the others: sexual, non-sexual, and divine. In this course, we explore various manifestations of love in literature, history, and philosophy, coming to terms with an indomitable force of human nature that inspires not only what is best in our shared humanity but also what is worst.
More Than Human, Less Than Human
Inquiry is the foundation for this interdisciplinary course. “Inquiry is, by its definition, a process of asking questions and trying out answers” (Bloom, White, and Borrowman iii). In this course, students will consider writers with a variety of academic and social perspectives on a number of important philosophical and ethical ideas related to the question “What does it mean to be human?”
On Being Human: Honors
Our starting point for this course is expressed by the title of one of Gauguin’s greatest paintings. The end point will be some answers to this question, and the middle constitutes the muddle of working out these answers or, even better, more pertinent question, and the middle constitutes the muddle of working out these answers or, even better, more pertinent questions. The compelling question about such questions is "Who do we mean when we say 'we'?" When I identify my membership with a we, to what extends does that include and, more significantly, exclude others? Shelley's novel Frankenstein, will be the first work we'll read. We will look at a large array of responses to Gaugin's questions - works of art, music, theatre, film, and literature; works and statements in sociology, psychology, history, and politics; and words and statements about linguistics, philosophy, the cognitive sciences, and evolutionary biology. The basic methodology of discussion will be ongoing in-class debates then carried into the surrounding community in order to engage the community in these debates.
The Stories We Tell: How Narratives Define Us in the 21st Century
This course will investigate how we, as humans, define ourselves by the stories we tell. While acknowledging the rich history of storytelling throughout human history, this course will focus on contemporary narrative practices. Students will be introduced to various methods of storytelling utilized by contemporary artists. Specific attention will be given to non-linear and image-based narrative methods in short stories, novels, films, photography, and web-based projects. Additionally, various forms of social media will be examined to see how they, too, construct narratives in, and of, our contemporary culture.
Women as Storytellers
Storytelling is an ancient art that has shaped the human mind and united the human spirit. It is how we share our common experiences and find our path to the future. This course will examine and explore the role of women storytellers in theatre and film as we experience the female perspective as directors, producers, screenwriters, playwrights and actors. The focus of the course will be on the varied ways that women have used plays and films to outline their unique perspective and in doing so affect the larger human experience.