It’s possible to imagine people who have not yet suffered, who have not yet had a peculiarly intense and sustained experience of physical or psychic pain. Those imaginary people are, however, vulnerable to future suffering. Even more importantly, they live in a world in which many others suffer, so many that a refusal to attend to suffering amounts to a refusal of a meaningfully relational existence. Thinking and feeling in response to suffering is, accordingly, an inescapable aspect of what Henri Bergson describes as “a really living life.” But how do we respond to suffering, whether in others or in ourselves? How do we take it in without appropriating it? How do we express it without parading it? These questions and others like them are difficult, but the aim of this class is to create a space in which it is possible to take them up–to generate an intellectual and emotional atmosphere in which it is possible to learn how to live with what we can’t rise above. Readings include The Book of Job, Sophocles’s Philoctetes, Shakespeare’s King Lear, Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, John Hersey’s Hiroshima, Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Art Spiegelman’s Maus, and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.
Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Professor Sanborn.