COMPLIT 122 - Writing World Literatures
Summer 2022, Section 201 - When Good Things Turn Bad, and Bad Things Turn Good: The Ironies of Moral Positions
Instruction Mode: Section 201 is  Online (see other Sections below)
Subject: Comparative Literature (COMPLIT)
Department: LSA Comparative Literature
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Requirements & Distribution:
Waitlist Capacity:
May not be repeated for credit.
Primary Instructor:
Start/End Date:
Full Term 6/29/22 - 8/16/22 (see other Sections below)
NOTE: Drop/Add deadlines are dependent on the class meeting dates and will differ for full term versus partial term offerings.
For information on drop/add deadlines, see the Office of the Registrar and search Registration Deadlines.


Today, moral debates are everywhere, and everyone seems to have an opinion: This is right and that is wrong! This must be done, and that must be stopped! You are corrupt! I am virtuous! This must be elevated, and that must be torn down! and so on. One curiosity about this phenomenon is that while debates rage—as they have for centuries—over what is right and wrong, good and bad, virtuous and corrupt, and even over whether there is any such thing as good and bad or if there is any discernible difference between them, many of us assume our position with astounding confidence, and subsequently express it with the full weight of moral injunction. The fact of debate is not strange but the ferocity—to not mention the assurance and conviction—is curious, given that we live in a time where most confess that absolute and universal truths do not exist. As one of the authors we will read would say: the death of God did not erase morality from the world and install an existence beyond good and evil; rather, what ensued is a strange, often desperate, and sometimes fanatical grasping for and insisting on moral values and laws.

In this class we will not join contemporary debates directly. Rather, we will look at two things: 1. How it’s possible that there can be so much fervent debate over things that seem so simple and obvious, and over things that may well have no grounds for being anything other than personal opinions; and 2. At some of the ironic twists of fate, contradictions, and surprising consequences of various moral positions. As the saying goes: sometimes the ‘road to hell is paved with good intentions.’ Part of what we will look at is the logic by which something can unintentionally become a road to hell.

We will look to the 19th and 20th century, focusing on things such as “the death of God,” pluralism, democracy, liberalism, nihilism, and autonomy, but also phenomena like resentment, inquisition, suspicion, tribalism, discriminations based on ascribed identities, groupthink, despair, absurdism, virtue-signaling, and even the strange appearance of tyranny in the 20th century.

The authors we will study will be selected from a wide group, which includes philosophers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Soren Kierkegaard, John Stuart Mill, and John Rawls, sociologists such as Alexis Tocqueville, psychologists such as Sigmund Freud, authors like Nathaniel Hawthorne, William Wordsworth, Arthur Miller, James Baldwin, George Orwell, Albert Camus, and G. K. Chesterton, and contemporary critics like Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges, Pankaj Mishra, Anand Giridharadas, and Naomi Klein. With few exceptions (short pieces of literature), we will read short, but representative exerts, thus offering insights into the main ideas of larger theories, doctrines, and positions. As we work through these exerts, we will try to tie what we learn to ongoing moral debates. The task is simple and humble: to understand the complexity of moral questions, as well as the motivations of moral positions and the emotional investments we make in them.

Concurrently, because this is a First-Year Writing Course, we will spend time developing reading and writing skills, meaning, reading comprehension and fluent expression. The readings above will help train the former, while your essays will develop on the latter. With this in mind, we will read segments of a book (or writing manual) by Frank Cioffi, The Imaginative Argument, and devote significant time to planning, organizing, and editing your essays.

Course Requirements:

Being a FYWR, this course will require that you write 25 pages of essays over the course of the semester. This total will be divided across three essays. Your grade will be composed of these essays, as well as participation and a few small writing exercises (all of which are requirements of FYWRs). There is no final exam.


COMPLIT 122 - Writing World Literatures
Schedule Listing
201 (REC)
TuTh 10:00AM - 1:00PM
6/29/22 - 8/16/22

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