Isolation comes in many shades. Many of us cherish time alone, but it has less welcome forms like longing and confinement. Films, novels, and philosophy texts often find something exotic in the familiar phenomenon of isolation. Real life is interdependent, but the internal perspective of fictional characters does not require that other characters exist, and thus a novel can go on for pages describing a character as if he or she were alone in the universe. In this class, we will read literature whose main characters do things on their own or reflect on others’ absence. While some stories captivate us with their gripping plots, these novels and short stories emphasize internal events rather than purposeful action. But isolation is never complete and, as we will see, the inner life cannot remain inert forever.
Our course materials will include some contemporary works, but many nineteenth-century texts such as Madame Bovary, about an imaginative woman who finds her solitude unbearable, excerpts from Thus Spoke Zarathustra by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, a connoisseur of solitude, and Notes from Underground, Dostoevsky’s classic depiction of proud isolation. Our readings and viewings will gradually shift from pessimistic to optimistic views of solitude: from prisoners to monks, from bored to pioneering. We will move from descriptions of imprisonment, to novels where the narrator’s wit provides pleasure that disrupts the reader’s empathy with the solitary person’s feelings of painful isolation, to stories of characters who seek inspiration, joy, and blessedness in their solitude.
Film viewings will include Kubrick’s The Shining and Fassbinder’s Effi Briest. Graded work consists primarily of two essay assignments and a reading journal.