Philosophy and Literature: The Prince and the Poet


Why is it that asking what we are seems always to begin with recognizing what we are not? This course will explore the aesthetics of alienation to examine whether detachment is the necessary condition for an inquiry into human nature and to think through how philosophy and literature differ in their treatment of this detachment. From the worldly wanderings of Odysseus to the mental anguish of Raskolnikov, from Socrates questioning the Homeric tradition to Nietzsche questioning Socrates, we will explore the context of isolation as the appropriate background against which a human being’s outline may be drawn. And we will see how the aesthetics of this context evolve—from the ancient model of a prince apart from his people to the modern trope of a pariah apart from his peers. We will look at a number of evocative pairings, including: the Odyssey and Ion; Hamlet and The Prince; Goethe’s Faust Part One and Discourse on the Method; The Misanthrope and The Reveries of a Solitary Walker; Crime and Punishment and Beyond Good and Evil. And we will ask what it means about the nature of self-reflection that, before we can reflect, the self must first stand apart.