In the autumn term, we will study the essay as a critical tool to explore and interrogate one`s own certainties. `Essay` here does not refer to the sort of thing you typically write for an undergraduate module. The essay, rather, is a distinct literary genre that has played an important role in the humanities and social sciences ever since its invention by Michel de Montaigne in the 16th century. Essays may mask themselves as innocent excursions but, as with Jonathan Swift's `A Modest Proposal` or George Orwell`s `Politics and the English Language`, the essay can rapidly overturn accepted opinions and provoke the questioning of values. In addition to studying some classic essays, students will get a chance to contribute to the genre by writing an essay of their own.
In the spring, we will turn our attention to the manifesto. Manifestos typically denounce dominant trends and/ or accepted conventions, question the grounds of prevailing, ideas, behaviours and practices, and involve a call and/or a programme for action. But they can take many forms. Manifestos, like Marx and Engels` `The Communist Manifesto`, are written to inspire action and overthrow existing social and working institutions, while the `How to be Idle`' manifesto proposes we abandon work itself and thereby challenges the incessant demands in our society that we devote our lives to paid labour. Mirroring the autumn term, after studying some of the most historically influential manifestos, students will get to write their own manifesto on a subject of their choosing.
To prepare for this module, suggested introductory reading:
Orwell, George. 'Politics and the English Language' . In The Penguin Essays of George Orwell, 354-367. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1994.
Nussbaum, Martha C. (2010) Not for profit: Why democracy needs the humanities. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press