Meanings of Life: Literature, Cinema, and Philosophy

This course focuses on how multiple meanings of life are explored in literature, art, cinema, and philosophy from different world regions and eras. It proposes an interwoven analysis bridging literary and philosophical texts, as well as films, music, paintings, and other artistic expressions from a wide array of perspectives.  

A reading of Chilean poet Vicente Huidobro’s book-length poem Altazor (1931), with its powerful reflections on existence, will be paired, for example, with Stanley Kubrick’s classic 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Our discussions on the published dialogues between the Dalai Lama and scientist and philosopher Francisco Varela, meanwhile, will provide us with the basis for establishing connections between the works of the seventeenth-century Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō and Andrei Tarkovski’s film Nostalghia from 1983. To this group of texts and films we will add works by Mary Oliver, the Nobel-Prize winner Patrick Modiano, and Jorge Luis Borges, among others. The main questions that we will explore throughout this course can be summarized here:

1) How have creators and thinkers from the East and the West produced new approaches to literature, art, and philosophical thought through their reflections on life?

2) What kinds of political and/or cultural factors have influenced their explorations of the meaning of life in their works?

3) How have their short stories, poetry, cinema, philosophy, or scientific explorations helped us to perceive and develop our own visions of life? These and many other questions will be analyzed in our course.  

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5 credits of Arts and Humanities coursework towards the Areas of Inquiry requirement.