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The idea of the "quest" was an animating principle throughout the premodern world. Through the quest an individual could fight evil, heal a broken social order, discover previously-unknown worlds, forge new alliances, and find their true selves along the way. Yet, how do we conceive of the quest in an age that Max Weber characterised as dominated by rationalisation, intellectualisation, and above all, a profound sense of "disenchantment" (Entzauberung)? What currency does the idea of the quest have in the modern, bureaucratic, secular world?
We'll explore the problem that lies at the outset of all quests: the departure from emotional comfort and epistemological certainty to face unknown realms of fear and enchantments (broadly conceived). Why do we leave? What do we hope to gain? How can we truly depart and break down what holds us back? The module explores this problem through case studies from various fields. Each case study is framed through the lens of a particular "quest," with each path converging on the central problems of departure, enchantment, and facing the unknown. As such, "the quest" lens functions as an intervention in multiple contemporary problems that resist easy solutions, and can only be approached from a transdisciplinary perspective, such as that of the "disenchantment of the modern world," and the many avenues we seek out in order to re-enchant it and construct meaning.
This module complements our other core and optional modules offered in Liberal Arts and encourages you to draw upon and extend prior knowledge. The purpose of the module is for you to explore the problems involved in how quests from various disciplines frame the concept of departure and facing the unknown. Through an exploration of these issues, you'll learn to think critically about problematising the straightforward narratives you receive through the idea of the quest in popular and contemporary culture. As the module focuses on the problem of engaging with the unknown, it's hoped that you'll also develop your own strategies for grappling with unfamiliar ideas and perspectives outside your comfort zone.
Principal Learning Outcomes
- Identify key “quest archetypes” and apply them to contemporary problems;
- Consider, in detail, the motivations, features, structure, and problems inherent in such quests along with their—often unforeseen—social, intellectual, economic, cultural, and ecological impacts;
- Apply advanced cognitive skills to build transdisciplinary knowledge that fosters transformative dialogue between philosophy, literary studies, social sciences, intellectual history, medical humanities, business studies, and other fields;
- Implement meta-cognitive skills in approaching complex contemporary problems;
- Collaboratively create your own versions of a “modern quest”, along with a critical analysis of its motivations and multifaceted impacts; and
- Critically analyse themes of departure, delay, enchantment, and encounters with the unknown across disciplines.
The indicative outline syllabus below provides an overview of the key sections and subsections of the module rather than a week by week breakdown.
Introduction: Leaving Home
Education as Quest: Why and How do we leave?
The Quest for Love: Departure, Desire, and Discontent
Enchanting the Beloved: Dulcinea and the "Damsel in Distress"
Your Princess is in Another Castle: Gendered Agency in Video Games
The Quest for Freedom: Escape
Entrepreneurship and the Enchantment of "Being Your Own Boss"
Space Quests and the Climate Crisis
The Quest for a Cure: Facing the Unknown
Healing and Enchantment
Transgressive Hybrids and the Limits of Medical Inquiry
The Quest for Significance: Exile
The Holy Grail: Perceval, Galahad, and other Extremists
Relic or Souvenir? Knick Knacks and Invested Objects
Critical Quest: 3,000 word essay (40%)
Quest Log: 1,200 word commonplace book (20%)
Your Modern Quest: Group project (25%)
Troll Challenges: Pop quizzes (15%)
Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King. London: Penguin Classics, 2004.
Auster, Paul. David Mazzucchelli, and Paul Karasik. City of Glass: The Graphic Novel. Reissue with introduction by Art Spiegelman. New York: Picador, 2004.
Belting, Hans. Likeness and Presence: A History of the Image Before the Era of Art. trans. Edmund Jephcott.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.
Benson, Sarah. “Reproduction, Fragmentation, and Collection: Rome and the Origin of Souvenirs.” In Architecture and
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Berman, Morris. The Reenchantment of the World. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981.
Bird, William L.. Jr. Souvenir Nation: Relics, Keepsakes, and Curios from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of
American History. Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History in association with Princeton
Architectural Press: New York, 2013.
Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. 3rd Ed. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008.
Cervantes Saavedra, Miguel de. Don Quijote (1605). Translated by Edith Grossman. New York: Ecco Press, 2005.
Davenport, Christian. The Space Barons: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the Quest to Colonize the Cosmos. London:
Eliot, T.S. The Waste Land. Edited by Michael North. Norton Critical Edition. New York: W.W. Norton, 2000.
Etchells, Pete. Lost in a Good Game: Why We Play Video Games and What They Can Do For Us. London: Icon
Fassone, Riccardo. Every game is an island: endings and extremities in video games. London: Bloomsbury, 2018.
Foucault, Michel. The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception. Translated by A.M. Sheridan.
London: Routledge, 2003.
Homer, The Odyssey. Trans. Emily Wilson. New York: W.W. Norton, 2018.
Jasko, K., Webber, D., Kruglanski, Arie W., et al. “Social context moderates the effects of quest for significance on
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Kruglanski, Arie W., Michele J. Gelfand, Jocelyn J. Bélanger, et al. “Significance Quest Theory as the Driver of
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Lawrence, Chris. “What if Zelda Wasn’t a Girl? Problematizing Ocarina of Time’s Great Gender Debate.” In Harper T.,
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Lee, Raymond M. “Weber, Re-Enchantment and Social Futures.” Time and Society 19.2 (2010): 180-192.
Lester, Anne E. “What remains: women, relics and remembrance in the aftermath of the Fourth Crusade.” Journal of
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McPhilipps, Kathleen. “Believing in Post-Modernity: Technologies of Enchantment in Contemporary Marian Devotion.”
In Popular Spiritualities: The Politics of Contemporary Enchantment, ed. Lynne Hume and Kathleen McPhillips, 147-
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Nicholson, Sarah. “The Problem of Woman as Hero in the Work of Joseph Campbell,” Feminist Theology 19.2 (2011):
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Rushdie, Salman. Quichotte. London: Jonathan Cape, 2019.
Saler, Michael. “Modernity and Enchantment: A Historiographic Review,” The American Historical Review 111, 3 (June 2006): 692-716.
Segal, Robert A. Theorizing About Myth. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1999.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein, edited by J. Paul Hunter. Second Norton Critical Edition. New
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Sutcliffe, Steven M., “Practising New Age Soteriologies in the Rational Order,” 159-174. In Hume and McPhillips, eds., Popular Spiritualities.
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