College Seminar 002
Tragedy and Horror

Curtis Bowman
Thomas Hall 121

Course Description

The purpose of this course is to read and reflect on literary works that provoke responses in us that we are bound to find puzzling, in particular our responses to the representations of tragic or horrifying events. Normally, witnessing such events is painful, yet in literary contexts we can derive great pleasure from the representations of events that would be anything but pleasurable to us if were they real. Understanding how we can take pleasure in these representations is one of the foundational issues in aesthetics.

We will alternate between literature and aesthetics, using philosophical commentary to deepen our appreciation of the literature. The literary works that we will read will include Homer's Iliad, Sophocles's Oedipus the King and Philoctetes, Euripides's The Trojan Women, several weird tales by E. T. A. Hoffmann and H. P. Lovecraft, and Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House. The commentary will be drawn from works by Plato, Aristotle, Sigmund Freud, and Noël Carroll.

Required Texts

Noël Carroll, The Philosophy of Horror (Routledge)

Diana Hacker, A Pocket Style Manual, 3rd ed. (Bedford/St. Martin's)

Homer, The Iliad (Penguin)

Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House (Viking Press)

H. P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories (Penguin)

D. A. Russell & M. Winterbottom (eds.), Classical Literary Criticism (Oxford) [Abbreviated as CLC]

Sophocles, The Three Theban Plays (Penguin)

(Also, there will also be a package of photocopies containing plays by Sophocles and Euripides, as well as the material from Hoffmann and Freud.)



(1) Homer's Iliad

(2) The Paradigm of Ancient Tragedy: Sophocles's Oedipus the King

(3) More on the Trojan War: Sophocles's Philoctetes and Euripides's The Trojan Women


(1) The Weird Tale:

(2) Carroll's The Philosophy of Horror (pp. 1-11, 12-58, 59-96, 97-128, 158-195)

(3) Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House

Course Requirements

Students will write one short paper (2-3 pages) and three longer papers (5-10 pages in length). I will read and comment on first drafts of each paper, and then students will meet me for conferences to discuss the comments. Students will then revise the paper for a grade. The papers will contribute to the course grade as follows: first paper (10%), second paper (20%), third and fourth papers (30% each).

Participation will count towards 10% of the course grade. There will also be a showing of Robert Wise's The Haunting, a film adaptation of the Jackson novel, and perhaps some other films, if time permits.

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This page last modified on January 18, 2002.