Modernity and its Discontents

Modernity and its Discontents

Dr. Yoav Fromer

This introductory seminar to the liberal arts examines the origins, meanings, legacies and consequences of Modernity starting in the 18th century with the dawn of European Enlightenment and stretching across three centuries to the aftermath of the Second World War. The course will explore the political, philosophical, economic, social, technological and cultural transformations ushered in by Modernity and will, among other things, ask the following questions: what does it mean to be modern? What values, norms and institutions does Modernity entail? What are its benefits and consequences? Is there a “crisis” of modernity? Are we still living in a modern age – and if not – what comes after? Among the themes to be explored are: secularism and religion, individualism, science and rationality, democracy, bureaucracy, capitalism, nationalism, mechanization and industrialization, consciousness and identity, gender and race.

The course will engage a strong interdisciplinary approach and proceed thematically and chronologically through a study of key political-philosophical tracts paired with corresponding works of literary fiction (primarily novellas and short stories). Readings will include works by seminal political thinkers such as Kant, Paine, Rousseau, Wollstonecraft, Marx, Freud and Foucault, and by authors such as Balzac, Goethe, Dostoevsky, Conrad, Kafka, Woolf and Beckett. The readings will be complemented by corresponding works of art (David, Goya, Friedrich, Munch, Picasso, Dali, and Magritte) and Music (Mozart, Wagner, Beethoven, and Stravinsky) in an effort to demonstrate how powerful impulses of Modernity manifested themselves commensurately across different forms of aesthetic representation.

Grading and Assignments
- 50% class Participation and a Short Response Paper (2 pages). Due Dates TBA
- 15% in-class Midterm Exam with Reading ID’s
- 35% Final Paper (5-7 pages). Due Date TBA
- Participation includes either informed in-class participation about the assigned readings/materials or written participation sent via email to me prior (or immediately after) the class. This is my only way to evaluate your understanding of the material and is a crucial part of the grade. If you don’t participate in any one of these ways – it will affect your grade!


- You are allowed THREE unexcused absences (without Dr.’s Note or Emergency circumstance). Any additional unexcused absence will incur a penalty in your final grade for the course.
Reading Materials
- Readings will all be made available as internet links or PDF’s on the moodle website. However, since many of the novels we read are timeless classics available in paperback for cheap, I recommend purchasing them in advance for your convenience.


Week 1: What does it mean to be enlightened – and is that such a good thing?
- Immanuel Kant, “What is Enlightenment?” and “Idea for a Universal History”
- Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels (selections from parts III and IV)


Week 2: Secularism and Rationality
- Voltaire, Candide (entire)
- Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason (selections)
- View in class: Goya’s Caprichos


Week 3: Romanticism (or “Matters of the Heart”)
- Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther (part I)
- Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther (part II)
- Listen at home: Beethoven’s 5th Symphony
- View in class: works by David Caspar Friedrich and J.M.W Turner


Week 4: Democratic Revolutions and Reaction
- Jean Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract (selections)
- U.S. Declaration of Independence + Bill of Rights
- Marry Wollstonecraft, “Vindication of the Rights of Women”
- Robespierre, “The Justification of Terror”
- Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (selections)
- Alexis de Tocqueville, “Tyranny of the Majority”
- Short Paper Due in class


Week 5: Bureaucracy and Capitalism
- Balzac, Colonel Chabert
- Watch at home: Orson Welles’s The Trial
- Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations (chaps. 1-3); Karl Marx, “Alienated Labor” and
“The Communist Manifesto” (Preamble+ Part 1)

Week 6: Science and Technology
- Filippo Marinetti, “The Futurist Manifesto”
- Franz Kafka, “In the Penal Colony”
- Watch in-class: Stanley Kramer’s Inherit the Wind (1960)


Week 7: Midterm and Museum
- Midterm Exam in class
- Museum Visit - Tel Aviv Art Museum
# Students not from the Liberal Arts Program need to coordinate the visit separately with me


Week 8: Resisting Modernity
- Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground (part I)
- Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground (part II)
- View in class: works by Edward Munch and Alfred Kubin


Week 9: Race and Gender
- Joseph Conrad, The Heart of Darkness (entire)
- Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (selections)


Week 10: Tragedy, Collapse and Aftermath
- Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilyich
Listen: Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring
View in-class: works by Otto Dix, George Grosz and Picasso
- Michelle Foucault, “What is Enlightenment?”
Watch: Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot


Please do NOT record or video the lectures without my prior permission

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