Monday, January 30, 2017

For Wednesday: Krakauer, Into the Wild, Chapters Sixteen-Epilogue

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: Technically, McCandless failed in his quest to live “in the wild” and many Alaskans mocked him for it. But some, such as professor/explorer Roman Dial, suggests that he actually succeeded. How is he suggesting we appreciate or understand McCandless’ accomplishment instead of only seeing death?

Q2: Krakauer writes that “In 1992, however, there were no more blank spots on the map—not in Alaska, not anywhere. But Chris, with his idiosyncratic logic, came up with an elegant solution for this dilemma: He simply got rid of the map” (174). Why might this also be a crucial component of McCandless’ philosophy of life? How is “getting rid of the map” a unique way of looking at and exploring our world?

Q3: At the end of Candide’s adventures, he is finally bitter and broken until he embraces a new philosophy—“we must cultivate our garden.” How does McCandless’ final days in Alaska also teach him a new (or revised) philosophy of life? Is it similar to Candide’s new acceptance of life? Different? Does it explain who McCandless might have become if he had lived to tell his tale?

Q4: According to Krakauer’s exhaustive research, what really killed McCandless in Alaska? Is his death a matter of youthful bravado and ignorance? Or would even a more seasoned traveler have succumbed to this hidden danger? Why are people so divided about how he died and why? 

Friday, January 27, 2017

For Monday: Krakauer, Into the Wild, Chs.10-15

No questions for Monday, though we will have an in-class response based on a big idea from Chapters 10-15. If you missed class today (Friday), be sure to turn in the questions by 5pm, otherwise I can't accept them. Even if you missed the questions, keep up with the reading since we'll have our Exam #1 over both books before long! (see syllabus)

Here are some ideas to consider as you read:

* How did Chris' childhood shape the man-to-be? How much of his philosophy might have been a case of nurture over nature?

* How did Chris apply his trademark intensity/obsession to other areas of his life before he set off "into the wild"? What might this say about his psychological need to perform and test the odds?

* What event happened in his life that made "his entire childhood seem like a fiction"? How does this help explain (if not explain away) his sense of anger and betrayal at his parents?

* Why did climbing 'matter' to Krakauer? Why did it make his world "real" in a way that nothing else did? How does this connect, possibly, to the way McCandless saw/experienced the world?

* How does Krakauer's quest to conquer the Devil's Thumb compare to McCandless' journey to Alaska? What makes them similar or different? 

* What does Krakauer mean when he writes, "I was a raw youth who mistook passion for insight and acted according to an obscure, gap-ridden logic"? 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

For Friday: Krakauer, Into the Wild, Chs. 6-9

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: Where does the line between fiction and non-fiction become blurred in these chapters?  Why might he include things that may not be 100% true?  How does this affect (or help us understand) the novel? 

Q2: In Chapter 6, McCandless writes a letter to Franz explaining his philosophy of life: “The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure.  The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun” (57).  Despite his own failings, does McCandless express something fundamental about the ‘meaning of life’ here?  Or is he simply terrified of settling down and assuming any adult responsibilities? 

Q3: The preface to Chapter 8 reads, “It may, after all, be the bad habit of creative talents to invest themselves in pathological extremes that yield remarkable insights but no durable way of life for those who cannot translate their psychic wounds into significant thought or art.” How might this help explain many of the “types” who make idealistic journeys to Alaska, and who—like McCandless—are as much driven by their psychological makeup as any detailed philosophy?

Q4: Commenting on McCandless’ refusal to contact his parents, Westerberg remarks, “If Alex was here right now, I’d be tempted to chew him out good: ‘What the hell were you thinking? Not speaking to your family for all that time, treating them like dirt!’” (64). So much of McCandless’ identity seems to be based on a rejection of his parents, even more than his books and ideals. Is his trip “into the wild” basically an adolescent fantasy of running away? Do you feel he’s more trying to prove something to them rather than fulfill his own dreams and ambitions?

Monday, January 23, 2017

For Wednesday: Krakauer, Into the Wild, Chs.1-5 (pp.4-46)

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: Krakauer prefaces every chapter with quotes, some from the books McCandless read, and others from books which the author feels mirror McCandless’ journey. Discuss a specific quote that you feel helps illustrate the larger themes in that chapter. Where do we see a connection between life and literature in McCandless’ life?

Q2: In Chapter Three, Westerberg writes that McCandless was “extremely ethical. He set pretty high standards for himself” (18). How does this seem to balance with the young man who lies to his parents, leaves for Alaska without telling anyone (or ever speaking to his family again), and refuses to follow the rules of society? Is he a con man, who plays different roles for different people? Or does he simply define ethics differently from the average citizen (or from his parents)?

Q3: Does McCandless have a fully-formed philosophy of life as Candide does? Or do you feel he’s still working towards it by Chapter Five of the book? If he does, is it more like Candide’s notion that “everything happens for the best,” or does it more resemble Martin’s view that “the point of the world is to drive us mad”?

Q4: McCandless, after virtually starving on his journey in the Grand Canyon, he writes that “his spirit is soaring,” and “It is the experiences, the memories, the great triumphant joy of living to the fullest extent in which real meaning if found” (37). What do you think he finds by living ‘on the road’? Why is this life more fulfilling for him than what he had before? Is he simply fleeing responsibility and expectations, or does this explain his actual philosophy of life?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

For Friday: Finish Candide

No questions for Friday--we'll have an in-class writing response when you arrive in class. Hint: it might be about something important at the very end of the book. So read carefully and ask yourself, "what philosophy wins out in the end? Does Candide lose his optimism? Does he gain something better? Or does he simply reject the world like Martin?" 

See you on Friday! 

Friday, January 13, 2017

For Wednesday: Candide, Chs.13-22

Answer TWO of the following, and remember, give a short paragraph response and be thoughtful. I would rather you respond with confusion and detail rather than too briefly being certain. 

Q1: In many ways, Candide is a book about education: how do young people learn to be adults in the modern world (of the 18th century, that is)? What lessons do Candide and Cunegonde receive in right and wrong, and are either of them forced to corrupt their “good” nature simply to prosper in the world? Does success require a moral sacrifice for Voltaire?

Q2: El Dorado is a fabled paradise in the New World, which many explorers, including Sir Walter Raleigh, spent their lives trying to find. Lucky for him, Candide stumbles right onto it. What does Candide see in El Dorado that goes against the very nature of European civilization? Why might this entire passage be an elaborate satire of tradition and the idea of “whatever is, is right”?

Q3: After the incident with the monkeys, Candide remarks, “What all is said and done, there is a sterling goodness in unsophisticated Nature; for instead of eating me, these people behaved most politely as soon as they learnt that I was not a Jesuit” (72). How is Candide guilty of adopting Pangloss’ philosophy too literally here? And what other views/voices does he seem to echo in this passage?

Q4: How do the two new characters, Cacambo and Martin add to the satire of the novel? What new perspective does one, or both, offer, and how do they help us see aspects of the world that Candide is too young and ignorant to notice? 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

For Friday: Candide, Chs.1-12

For Friday: Voltaire, Candide, Chs. 1-12 (pp.1-29)

REMEMBER: these questions are meant as a kind of guide to help you ease into the book and find ideas you might otherwise miss or ignore.  Ideally, by answering two of the questions, you will be forced to consider not only what you read but why Voltaire wrote it.  Don’t worry about being right or wrong; the important thing is simply to attempt an answer based on the ideas in the book.  Even a “wrong” answer can help our class discussion on Friday. Respond in a short paragraph--at least a few sentences for each question you answer. 

Answer TWO of the following--due in class on Friday or no later than 5pm: 

Q1: Describe Dr. Pangloss’s philosophy as it appears throughout these chapters, notably in the beginning of the book and during the earthquake in Lisbon. Is Pangloss the voice of “reason” in the work (Voltaire’s voice, in other words), or is he an object of satire?  Use a specific passage in the book for support. 

Q2: The name “Candide” means “candid, honest, or open,” suggesting that Candide is an innocent soul who believes the best of people.  How does Voltaire test Candide’s faith throughout these opening chapters?  Do you feel he agrees with Candide that mankind is essentially good, despite a few “bad apples,” or does he think Candide is an idiot for holding such beliefs? 

Q3: How does Voltaire criticize the Church in the passages about the Lisbon earthquake (which was a real event)?  Do you think Voltaire is an atheist (as he was accused of being in his lifetime), or is he more critical of how religion is used by those in power?  Discuss a specific passage in support of your reading.

Q4: At the end of the Old Woman’s Tale, she explains, “A hundred times I was upon the point of killing myself; but still I loved life.  This ridiculous foible is perhaps one of our most fatal characteristics."  What, after all her trials and misfortunes, do you think she “loves” about life?  What can she still see that most people in her situation could not?  Also, do you think Voltaire agrees with this statement—or is he satirizing the Old Woman’s stupidity?  

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Welcome to the Course!

Welcome to General Humanities II, or as I like to call it, "The Conversation Between Literature and Culture, Part 2" (and no, you don't need to have taken Part 1). This course is a survey of literature from around 1700 to the present. However, instead of reading one work after another chronologically, this class attempts to forge connections between the past and present, showing the ‘family tree’ of ideas that have flowered in our own century. To do this, we’ll look at a wide range of literature, from novels to poetry to comic books to help us analyze the cultural DNA of humanity. Are we fundamentally different than we were 50, 100, or even 500 years ago? What problems have we solved—and which continue to haunt us? Also, what role did literature play in forging our collective humanity: did it record our progress or provide the blueprint to follow? Hopefully this course will give you a few new questions to ask yourself on long, dark nights...and possibly, one or two tentative solutions to help you sleep.

REQUIRED TEXTS: (a) Voltaire, Candide (Penguin or other edition); (b) Krakauer, Into the Wild; (c) Shelley, Frankenstein (Penguin or other edition); (d) Claremont, X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills; (e) WWI Poetry (Dover or other edition); (f) Heinlein, Starship Troopers

See you in class every MWF @ 10:00! 

[NOTE: The posts below this are from previous semesters--no need to read them unless you're curious. Our work will be posted above this post.]