Friday, June 21, 2013

Great Authors of the Western Literary Tradition

Great Authors of the Western Literary Tradition is a doozy of a course. Seven sections of 12 lectures each. This can take a while to get through.

The first two sections cover classical writings. This is mostly the Romans and Greeks that we've all we've all heard about, along with a few we haven't heard about so much. We also get the Bible, Gilgamesh and some other well known "ancient works." This stuff is really old, so there is not a whole lot of new things to go around. Perhaps we will have some new discoveries that will add to the canon. For now the big question is how to interpret what we have.

The third section covers the middle ages. This is where things get interesting. The professor begins by saying that we really don't understand the middle ages. Most of what we think of as the middle ages has been colored by the renaissance and later times. I also found that I'd been missing much of the literature from this time. This is the time when the English language starts to appear, and the Anglo-centric curriculum seems to focus there. (Ancient Greeks -> Romans -> Beowolf -> Canterbury Tales -> Shakespeare) Even "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" gets left out because it is the wrong English. The coverage of the Italian and French authors of the Middle Ages provides a lot of fodder for further study.

The Renaissance covers some really popular guys (Shakespeare). Some well known, but not so popular guys (Marlowe), and some that I've never heard of (Lope de Vega). Marlowe's Faustus is still on my "I should read" list.

With neo-classical the quality starts to go down. The general delivery is not as attention grabbing. (They seem to be reading rather than speaking, and the added emotional flares seem fake.) With the neo-classical lectures, there is a lot of overanalysis, trying to put modern day sentiments into the thought of centuries old writers. The lectures also tend to be very focussed, giving us a detailed recap of a single work, rather than giving more information on the author and the times.

Each professor also covers most of the "key" authors of the period, but then throws in a few "unknown" authors.

The style of the last lecturer annoyed me at first, but then I grew to like it. He was a bit too "pseudo-emotional" and started each lecture with an excerpt from a work he was discussing. He did do a good job of weaving in the work and the other body and life of each author. I found myself liking the lectures on the authors that I liked (like Kafka and Dostoevsky) and not caring so much for the ones I didn't know as well or didn't like.

After making it through everything, there were a few key works that I want to explore more. However, it seemed for the most part, I've already read the most appealing ones. (I'm wondering if it was worth the time to go through so many lectures.)

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