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“The concept of country, homeland, dwelling place becomes simplified as ‘the environment’—that is, what surrounds us; we have already made a profound division between it and ourselves. We have given up the understanding…that we and our country create one another, depend on one another, are literally part of one another.”
This quotation from Wendell Berry’s 1977 The Unsettling of America prompts us to consider how we conceive of the relationship between ourselves and our home. How does our environment shape who we are and the stories we tell each other? Does exile or distance from home make the heart grow fonder?
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. 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 end of all quests: that of transitioning from the status of being in exile to one's homecoming (broadly conceived). What do we hope to gain at the end of a quest? How has our concept of "home" shifted alongside our concept of individuality and selfhood? How have those we left behind changed? If we continually change along the quest, can the concept of home and homeland offer any kind of epistemological certainty or emotional comfort?
The module explores this problem through case studies that focus on a key aspect of the quest from various fields. Each case study is framed through the lens of a particular "quest," with each path converging on the central problems of exile and homecoming in the modern world. 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, theology, intellectual history, politics, and other fields;
- Implement meta-cognitive skills in approaching complex contemporary problems, such as the quest for new myths, critiques of the quest for sustainability, and new conceptions of home and homelands;
- 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 exile, delay, homecoming, 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: The Problem of Exile
- Quest Archetypes
- “You Can’t Go Home Again:” Nostalgia vs. Nostos
- “King of the Road:” Disenchantment, Exile, and Systemic Racism
"Shelter from the Storm": The Quest for Security
- Pandemics, Quarantines and Sense-Making
- Displaced Persons and the Refugee Experience
Environmental Exile: The Quest for Sustainability
- Ecocriticism, Shepherds, and the "Golden Age"
- Knocking Out the Pillars: Sustainable Developments and its Discontents
- Other Realms: Challenging the Western/Enlightenment-based Framework of the SDGs
Freedom and Constraint: The Quest for Authenticity
- Mimesis and Meaninglessness: The Malaises of Modernity
- "Becoming What You Are": Selfhood as Home
Re-Enchanting Modernity: The Quest for New Homelands
- Imagined Communities: Nationalism and The Dangers of New Political Myths
- Magical Realism in Art, Film, and Fiction: Prophecy or Perjury?
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%)
Alpers, Paul. What is Pastoral? Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.
Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. 1983.
Arendt, Hannah. “We Refugees.”
Augustine. The Confessions. Trans. Sarah Ruden.
Baldwin, James. “Stranger in the Village,” in Notes of a Native Son (1955).
Beiner, Ronald. Dangerous Minds: Nietzsche, Heidegger, and the Return of the Far Right. Philadelphia: University of
Pennsylvania Press, 2018.
Berman, Morris. The Reenchantment of the World. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981.
Brazeau, Bryan. “Building a Mystery: Giorgio de Chirico and Italian Renaissance Painting.” The Italianist 39.2 (2019):
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.
Césaire, Aimé, "Cahier d'un retour au pays natal," in The Complete Poetry of Aimé Césaire.
Dante Alighieri, Letter 10, “To a Florentine Friend”.
Davis, Gregson. “‘Homecomings without Home’: Representations of (Post)colonial nostos (Homecoming) in the Lyric
of Aimé Césaire and Derek Walcott.” In Homer in the Twentieth Century: Between World Literature and the Western
Canon. Edited by Barbara Graziosi and Emily Greenwood, 191-209. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.
Eliot, T.S. The Waste Land. Edited by Michael North. Norton Critical Edition. New York: W.W. Norton, 2000.
Fire at Sea. Directed by Gianfranco Rosi, 01 Distributions, 2016. (film)
Giovanni Boccaccio, The Decameron. Trans. Wayne Rebhorn.
Hiltner, Ken. What Else is Pastoral? Renaissance Literature and the Environment. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University
Homer, The Odyssey. Trans. Emily Wilson. New York: W.W. Norton, 2018.
Horkehimer and Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment.
Jothen, Peder. Kierkegaard, Aesthetics, and Selfhood: The Art of Subjectivity. New York: Routledge, 2014.
Kierkegaard, Søren Abbaye. Either/Or. Trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong. Princeton UP, 1980.
Kierkegaard, Søren Abbaye. The Sickness Unto Death. Trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong. Princeton UP,
Ková, Jan. “A Security Threat or an Economic Consequence? An Analysis of the News Framing of the European
Union’s Refugee Crisis.” International Communication Gazette (2019). DOI: 10.1177/1748048519832778.
Lee, Raymond M. “Weber, Re-Enchantment and Social Futures.” Time and Society 19.2 (2010): 180-192.
McIntosh, Malcolm. Thinking the Twenty-First Century: Ideas for the New Political Economy. London: Routledge,
Merjian, Ara H., Giorgio de Chirico and the Metaphysical City: Nietzsche, Modernism, Paris. New Haven: Yale
University Press, 2014.
Murdock, Maureen. The Heroine’s Journey. Boulder, CA: Shambhala Publications, 1990.
Nabokov, Vladimir. Pnin. New York: Vintage Books, 1989.
Nicholson, Sarah. “The Problem of Woman as Hero in the Work of Joseph Campbell,” Feminist Theology 19.2 (2011):
Night of the Shooting Stars (La notte di San Lorenzo). Directed by the Taviani Brothers. 1982. (film)
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.
Spence, Jonathan D. The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci. New York: Viking, 1984.
Takolander, Maria. Catching Butterflies: Bringing Magical Realism to Ground. Bern: Peter Lang, 2007.
Taylor, Charles. The Malaise of Modernity. 1991.
Taylor, Charles. The Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity. 1989.
Wolfe, Thomas. You Can’t Go Home Again. 1934.