Office hours: TTh 1-2, and by appointment
Course home page: http://www-rcf.usc.edu/~mccann/courses/lta101
We will study some of the major works of recent (nineteenth and twentieth century) literature and
philosophy concerned with the question of the meaninglessness of human life in the face of the
increasing bureaucratization and reliance on technology exhibited by modern societies, and by the
decline of religious belief and other traditional sources of meaning. Special attention will be paid
to existentialism as a systematic attempt to come to terms with the threat of meaninglessness.
Books for the course
1. Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilyich (Bantam)
2. Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, tr. Kaufmann (Vintage)
3. Søren Kierkegaard, The Seducer's Diary (Princeton U.P.)
4. Jean-Paul Sartre, No Exit (Vintage)
5. Albert Camus, The Stranger (Vintage)
6 .Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot (Grove Press)
1. Regular attendance and participation in class sessions.
2. Three papers: three 5-7 page papers (critical/analytical, not involving research) on assigned
topics. Each paper is worth 20% of the course grade. (Total value of three papers=60% of
3. Three unannounced in-class essays, in which students will have 30-40 minutes to write a brief
essay on a topic concerning the work currently being read. Only the two highest scores will be
computed into the course grade; each of these scores is worth 10% of the course grade. (Total
value of two best out of three essays=20% of course grade.)
4. One final examination, two-hour in-class essay format, covering material from the whole of the
course. The final is worth 20% of the course grade.
Schedule of topics and readings
(Note: readings marked with * are available on electronic
reserve and in the course pack.)
May 14: Introduction and course overview.
May 19: Death and the problem of meaning. Reading: Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilich;
Tolstoy, "My Confession"*; Schopenhauer, "On the Sufferings of the World"* and "The Vanity of Existence"*.
May 21: Absurdity and human existence. Reading: Camus, "The Absurdity of Human
Existence"*; Thomas Nagel, "The Absurd"*
LAST DAY TO DROP WITHOUT A MARK OF W AND WITH 100% REFUND, OR TO
CHANGE ENROLLMENT OPTION: May 22
FIRST PAPER DUE: May 26
May 26: Nietzsche's perspectivism and the denial of truth. Reading: Beyond Good and Evil, Parts I, II, III, and VI (pp.
May 28: Nietzsche against morality. Reading: Beyond Good and Evil, Parts V, VII, and
IX (pp.97-118, 145-70, 201-37).
June 2: Dostoevsky on atheism and its consequence: 'everything is permitted.' Reading:
The Brothers Karamazov Bk II,
chap. 6, pp. 69-70*, and Bk V, chaps. 4-5, pp. 236-264*.
June 4: Dostoevsky's answer to atheism: simple love. Reading: The Brothers
Karamazov Bk VI, pp. 282-324*.
SECOND PAPER DUE: June 9
June 9: Kierkegaard on the stages of existence. Reading: The Seducer's Diary;
selections from The Point of View for my Work as an Author*.
June 11: Kierkegaard on faith and despair. Reading: Selections from Fear and Trembling*, Concluding Unscientific
Postscript*, and The Sickness unto Death*.
June 16: Sartre on existentialism and morality. Reading: Sartre, "Existentialism is a
June 18: Sartre on human relations. Reading: Sartre, No Exit.
LAST DAY TO DROP WITH A MARK OF 'W': June 23
THIRD PAPER DUE: June 23
June 23: Camus and life without hope. Reading: The Stranger.
June 25: Beckett and the loss of meaning. Reading: Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot.
STUDENT EVALUATION OF THE CLASS AND INSTRUCTOR: June 25, at the end of the
regular class meeting
Week eight (June 30): FINAL EXAMINATION
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