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 turning it into a spectacle? These questions and others like them are difficult, but the aim of this class is to generate an intellectual and emotional atmosphere in which we can be transformed by the process of taking them up. Readings include The Book of Job, King Lear, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Art Spiegelman’s Maus, and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.
Limited to 25 students. Spring semester. Professor Sanborn.