Skip to main content

CORE 102 Culture and Values

Professor J. Boone, Department of English >>
Professor M. Russett, Department of English >>
Professor R. Lemon, Department of English >>


 Professor J. Boone, Department of English

Varieties of Love and Literary Form

Many of the major works of literature in Western culture have been dominated by expressions of earthly love and romantic union as the highest goals of human existence. After all, when Tina Turner sings "What's love got to do with it,?," we know she's either being blind or ironic: love's got everything to do "it" in the world-view that's been instilled in us since the cradle.

 The goal of this course, then, will be to investigate how these concepts of romantic and sexual love have evolved and changed in the West from Plato to the present day.  It undertakes this task by focusing on love's representation in a variety of narrative forms of literature across a spectrum of epochs, arguing that such texts have not only served to reflect the social mores of their times but also helped to create, at significant junctures in our cultural history, new ideals of union and new literary idioms to express those new, sometimes daringly radical, expressions of love.  Indeed, one of the ironies of the love tradition in literature is the degree to which this primary goal of the "civilized" life-to feel and seek out true love-is simultaneously viewed as the greatest threat to social harmony and cohesion.  The course begins by looking at some of the competing ideals of love fostered in the classical period, including the famous disquisition on love staged in Plato's Symposium, Euripides' tragedy Medea, and Longus's pastoral romance Daphnis and Chloe; we conclude our look at the classical period by turning to a modernist female poet's "take" on Homeric epic by reading H.D.'s verse narrative, Helen in Egypt.  Next we investigate the uniquely English  ideal of love-in-marriage reflected in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and love-tragedy in Anthony and Cleopatra; then we turn our attention to how and why the novel-a relatively "new" literary genre-becomes the modern era's privileged "home" of the love plot, issuing in the quintessential romance, Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre.  We'll then turn to the twentieth-century and the poetic, political, and sexual reverberations of eros in Tom Stoppard's Invention of Love, Forster's Howards End, Zadie Smith's On Beauty (a contemporary rewriting of Howards End in which race issues replace Forster's class concerns), Hanif Kureishi's screenplay Sammie and Rose Get Laid, and a recent novel by a member of the USC creative writing faculty,  Marianne Wiggins' The Shadow-Catcher (nominee for the National Book Critics' Award and the LA Times Best Fiction award).  

Charlotte Brontë.  Jane Eyre.  New York: Penguin, 2006.
Euripides.  The Bacchae and Other Plays.  Trans. Philip Vellacott.  New York: Penguin, 1954.
Euripides.  Medea.  Trans. Anthony J. Podlecki.  Newburyport: Focus Publishing, 1991.
E.M. Forster.  Howards End.  New York: Penguin, 2000.
H.D.  Helen in Egypt.  New York: W. W. Norton, 1974.
Longus.  Daphnis and Chloe.  Trans. Paul Turner.  New York: Penguin, 1989.
Plato.  The Symposium.  Trans. Christopher Gill.  New York: Penguin, 1999.
Shakespeare.  Antony and Cleopatra.  New York: Penguin, 1981.
---.  A Midsummer Night's Dream.  New York: Penguin, 1959.
Zadie Smith.  On Beauty.  New York: Penguin, 2006.
Tom Stoppard.  The Invention of Love.  New York: Grove/Atlantic, 1998.
Marianne Wiggins.  The Shadow Catcher.  New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008.

Optional Reading
T.C. Boyle.  The Inner Circle.  New York: Penguin, 2005.





Professor M. Russett, Department of English

Family Feud

We hear a lot about the dysfunctional family these days, but a survey of the Western cultural heritage might lead us to wonder if there has ever been any other kind.   To understand why the words “family” and “dysfunction” link so readily, we should perhaps begin by asking what functions have traditionally been assigned to the family.  In other words, this class takes up the broad question of “values” by focusing on culture’s smallest unit.  We will consider the family’s role in defining both society and the individual.  This means that our literary discussions will emphasize three analytical perspectives:  the psychological, the historical, and the anthropological.  Some of the material will be controversial; this is not a class for those who like to keep things simple.

Focusing on classic literary texts from ancient Greece to the present, we will consider how the family has defined social and political roles; how it works as a vehicle of cultural and ethical transmission; and how it has shaped both typical and exceptional stories of individual development.  Because we are all either sons or daughters ourselves, we will pay particular attention to generational conflict, self-definition, and coming-of-age.  These issues suggest a paradox:  throughout the history of the West, ethical behavior has required both deference and resistance to the injunctions of our elders.  Must we sometimes disobey our fathers and mothers to honor them more fully?  This class may not make you understand your own parents any better, but it should help you see why defining the “ideal” family is so difficult.


Aristotle.  The Poetics.  Trans. Malcolm Heath.  Penguin, 1997.
The Bible:  Authorized King James Version.  Ed. Carroll and Prickett.  Penguin, 2008.
Emily Bronte.  Wuthering Heights.  Oxford University Press, 1995.
Freud.  Dora: Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria.  New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.
Homer.  The Odyssey.  Trans. Robert Fitzgerald.  New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998.
Milton.  Paradise Lost. New York: Viking Penguin, 2003.
Shakespeare.  Hamlet.  New York: NAL, 1998.
_____.  King Lear.  New York: NAL, 1998.
Zadie Smith.  White Teeth.  New York: Random House, 2001.
Sophocles.  The Oedipus Cycle.  Trans. Robert Fitzgerald.  San Diego: Harcourt Trade, 2002.





Professor R. Lemon, Department of English


              Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.
                                                                                       -Thomas Edison

Edison's formula hinges on the interdependence of hard work and surrender.  We perspire, but we also are "breathed into," as the Latin root of inspiration tells us-breathed by God, the muse, the landscape, or whatever else might serve as our creative source.  Edison suggests the limited availability of inspiration-we need only one percent to make up genius.  But what would happen if we had ninety nine percent inspiration and only one percent of perspiration?  Would we be on easy street or in the mad house? 

This class traces the relationship between perspiration (namely commitment, devotion, or will) and inspiration (surrender, possession, or release) by tracking the creative paths of some of literature's most famous figures.  God, Adam, Eve, Orpheus, and others struggle with the balance that Edison invokes. Some characters achieve such balance, exhibiting divine or artistic harmony, a kind of genius.  For others, however, when hard work ends in surrender, trouble follows since the source of inspiration proves suspect: damnation, murder, exile and rejection result.  What do such opposite paths suggest not only about the artist's view of the human will, devotion, and surrender, but also about the process of writing itself?  How do writers such as Plato, Aristotle, Shakespeare and Milton depict this axis running from control to abandon, and what do their depictions tell us about their own relationship to artistic creativity?

Aristotle.  Poetics.  Trans. Malcolm Heath.  New York: Penguin, 1997.
Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble.  New York: Routledge, 2006.
Euripides. The Bacchae, in Euripides V.  Ed. David Grene and Richmond Lattimore. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969.
Ishiguro, Kazuo.  An Artist of the Floating World.  New York: Vintage, 1989.
Milton, John.  Paradise Lost.  Third edition.  New York: W. W. Norton, 2005.
Plato.  Phaedrus.  Trans. Walter Hamilton.  New York: Penguin, 1977.
Petrarch.  Selections from the Canzoniere.  Trans. Mark Musa.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Pullman, Philip. The Golden Compass.  New York: Random House, 2001
Rilke, Rainer Maria.  Sonnets to Orpheus.  New York: Routledge, 2002.
Shakespeare.  Twelfth Night.  Folger Shakespeare Series.  New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004.
--.   Sonnets.  Folger Shakespeare Series.  New York:  Simon & Schuster, 2004.
Wordsworth, William and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  Lyrical Ballads.  Ed. Martin Scofield. Wordsworth Editions, 2002.
Woolf, Virginia.  A Room of One's Own.  San Diego: Harcourt Trade, 1989.
--.  To the Lighthouse.  Intro. Eudora Welty.  San Diego: Harvest Books, 1989.

Core 101: Symbols and Conceptual Systems

Read a Sample Course Description

Core 102: Culture and Values

Read a Sample Course Description

Core 103: Process of Change in Science

Read a Sample Course Description

Core 104: Change and the Future

Read a Sample Course Description

Core 112 Writing Seminar

Read a Sample Course Description