Freshman Seminar 39n. The Call of Beauty

Instructor: Elaine Scarry
Terms: Spring Term

Mondays, 4-6 pm | Location: Sever 212

Open to freshman students only.

Across the centuries, philosophers, poets, scientists, and mathematicians have meditated on the nature and power of beauty.   Some have said beauty calls on us to educate ourselves; others have said it is a call to repair the injuries of the world. Our readings will come from both men and women: Plato and Sappho in ancient Greece; Aquinas and Lady Murasaki in the medieval period; Rilke and Maya Lin today.  We will study features associated with beauty such as color (e.g. “The Lady and the Unicorn” tapestries depicting the five senses) and symmetry (e.g. Augustine’s De Musica; a book on symmetry by astrophysicist Mario Livio; a recorded debate among physicists about math and beauty).  Does the call of beauty change according to its location? Among the sites we will contemplate are the beauty of earth (e.g. the writings of environmentalist Rachel Carson; the ephemeral sculptures of Andy Goldsworthy) and the beauty of faces (such as Homer on Helen, Seamus Heaney on an unnamed soldier).

 

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