Feb 4, 2013

Organizing The Course -- or Courses

I've been giving a lot of thought over the last several weeks to the question:  How precisely should I organize this ever-growing, now-sprawling course on Existentialism?  And, I've worked out what seems to me, at least at the present time, the best way to proceed -- dividing the "course" up into a series of several different courses.

One of the reasons I starting worrying, then reflecting, then working this out is that the video series that I originally intended was only going to run through 35-40 one-hour lectures.  It's already grown to 30 lectures, and I still have at least twice that many still to shoot if I'm going to try to do justice to the main works, thinkers, and topics of this multifarious, ambiguous philosophical and literary movement(s).  By comparison, the sets of video lectures from my actual face-to-face Ethics and Intro classes include a bit less than 30 videos, precisely because we got through just the material we did in the more or less 15 weeks available.

So, a potentially 100-video "course" might actually be misnamed!  Since my intention is to develop online courses based around the videos, the "canonical" texts, the resources I'm developing for students (perhaps even involving a textbook), and  some degree of personal interaction with me and with other students of the subject -- it seems to me that 100 videos would be quite simply overwhelming for most potential students.  Really, we'd be talking about something commensurate to three-and-a-half to four semesters.

I think it makes a lot more sense for me to reconfigure what I'm doing and planning.  There's no reason whatsoever why the length of the YouTube playlist has to dictate the length of a course that would be more than just self-study on the student's part.  It strikes me that the projected series could be reasonably divided up into three or four courses, each of which would examine some period of Existentialist thought.

Outlining the first period presents no real problems -- the natural place to start is with the three great "fathers" of Existentialism in the 19th century:  Soren Kierkegaard, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Friedrich Nietzsche.  A course dealing specifically with the three thinkers that everyone else refers back to, and who get the movement going, so to speak, makes perfect sense.  There's a natural cut-off point in the turning of the century, at which point we're already moving into a next set of Existentialist thinkers.

An end-point course -- at least in terms of where I was ending the current video series -- also seems easy enough to delineate. It would be natural to center it around the French existentialist thinkers (even if two of them, yes, admittedly, rejected the term), those whose work straddles philosophy and literature.  I have in mind four thinkers in particular:  Jean-Paul Sartre, Gabriel Marcel, Albert Camus, and Simone de Beauvoir, with perhaps a nod to some of the other arguably "existentialist" literary figures (e.g. the playwright Jean Anouilh).

It's the stuff in the middle where it gets a bit murky.  Do I just toss all of them into one single course:  Kafka and Rilke, Shestov and Berdyaev, Heidegger and Jaspers, Tillich and Buber, Ortega y Gasset and Jacques Maritain?  I'm nowhere near resolution on this issue.

I can definitely say that, for me, Shestov, Rilke, and Kafka really ought to go together, even though the one is a philosopher and literary critic, the other a poet and novelist, and the third a novelist and short story writer.  They're all in the second-generation of Existentialist development, and they all end up being referenced, reacted to, rejected or reappropriated by later Existentialists.

For the moment, I don't have to work all of that out -- it's probably enough to start working on actually putting the first course together.  But, I do keep coming back to the question about what I'll do with the rest of this, how I'll arrange and articulate the course sequence.  So, it remains an open question -- and I'd be happy to hear or read anyone else's suggested answers.

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