Friday, 7 December 2012

The Individual in Poetry and Prose

Please choose some of the following texts and discuss their views of the self!


Li Bai, "Zazen on Ching-t’ing Mountain":

Muhyiddin Ibn al-Ă€rabi, "Tigris Song":

Mewlana Jalaluddin Rumi, "A Moment of Happiness":

Mewlana Jalaluddin Rumi, "All through Eternity":

Mewlana Jalaluddin Rumi, "A Stone I Died":

Hafez, "For Years my Heart Inquired":

Hafez, "Ode 44":

Kabir, "I Won't Come":

Kabir, "Plucking your Eyebrows":

Kabir, "Chewing Slowly":

Kabir, "His Death in Benares":

Emily Dickinson, "They Shut Me up in Prose":

Emily Dickinson, "I Dwell in Possibility"

Mirza Ghalib, "Ghazal":

Khalil Gibran, "A Poet's Voice - 15":

Khalil Gibran, "A Tear and a Smile":

Rabindranath Tagore, "Fruit-Gathering 55":

Rabindranath Tagore, "I Asked of Destiny":

Rabindranath Tagore, "Sing the Song of the Moment":

T.S. Eliot, "The Four Quartets" (please focus on: "Burnt Norton")

Chuang Tzu, "Action and Non-Action":

Vinda Karandikar, "The Wheel":

Yehuda Amichai, "The Amen Stone":

Pablo Neruda, "Absence":

Maya Angelou, "A Brave and Startling Truth":

Maya Angelou, "Alone":

Benjamin Zephaniah, "We Refugees":

Taha Muhammad Ali, "Exodus":

Taha Muhammad Ali, "Meeting at an Airport":

Bei Dao, "Notes from the City of the Sun"

Bei Dao, "Moon Festival":


Thich Nhat Hanh, "The 14 Mindfulness Trainings":

Dogen, Selected passages:

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Development of the Concept of the Individual in Europe

Literary and Cultural History in Europe Is often Divided in the Following Major Periods:

* Middle Ages
* Renaissance
* Classicism/ Enlightenment
* Romanticism
* Realism
* Modernism
* Post-Modernism

Concepts about the Individual change significantly from one period to the next. Please watch the following short introductions to each period to get an idea:

1) Middle Ages

* intro to social structure in Medieval Europe:
* life in the Middle Ages:
* Medieval music:
* Medieval art:

2) Renaissance

* good general intro:
* interesting student project:
* good intro to Italian Renaissance:
* good intro to English Renaissance/ Elizabethan Age:

3) Classicism/ Enlightenment

* good general intro:
* intro to major English poets of that time:

4) Romanticism

* excellent general intro to Romanticism:
* good student project about the period:
* some "typical" Romantic images:

5) Realism (& Naturalism)

* Romanticism and Realism:
* Realism and Naturalism:

6) Modernism

* very short intro to Modernism
* Modernism (Wiki-intro):
* Modern art:

7) Post-Modernism

* Modernism and Post Modernism:
* Postmodernism:
* Postmodernism -
   part 1:
   part 2:

Let us focus on some Romantic Poets and their Innovative Ideas about the Self.
Among the most famous Romantic Poets are: 

1) William Blake
2) William Wordsworth
3) Samuel Taylor Coleridge
4) John Keats
5) Percy B. Shelley
6) George Gordon, Lord Byron

Please read the following poems:

1) William Blake

* "London":
* "Auguries of Innocence":

2) William Wordsworth

* "Tintern Abbey":
   -> see some images of Tintern Abbey:
* "Intimations of Immortality":
* "To a Skylark":
* "Resolution and Independence":

3) Samuel Taylor Coleridge:

* "The Eolian Harp":
* "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner":
* "Kubla Khan:

4) John Keats

* "To Autum:
* "Ode to a Nightingale":
* "Ode on a Grecian Urn":

5) Percy B. Shelley

* "To a Skylark":
* "Ozymandias":

6) Lord Byron

* "She Walks in Beauty":
* "Love and Death":

... and comment of the following questions:

1) What are some of the important values expressed or implied in these poems?

2) What do these values imply about the poets' concept of self?

3) Please compare these ideas about the self with ideas of the previous periods (Enlightenment, Renaissance) as well as with the following periods (Realism & Modernism).

4) Then compare our/your own current view of the self with each of these eras: which ideas about the self - and the universe - do we/you still subscribe to and which ones have we dropped? Why do you think is this so?

Please feel free to come up with your own ideas about the development of ideas about self in the Western World.
If you have some knowledge about Eastern Approaches to the Self please compare these ideas now to those developed in the West!

Essays about the Self

Please comment on the following three essays and the views of the individual expressed in them:

1) Mirandola, "Oration on the Dignity of Man"
2) Fausto-Sterling, "The Five Sexes"
3) Olsen, "Tell Me a Riddle"

Think in particular on which aspects of the individual each writer focuses on and try to understand this focus in the context of the writer's time, culture, and value-system.

Plato's Dialogues

Plato is one of the great thinkers of Western civilization. What does he have in common with great thinkers from the East? Please take some time to think about what Plato has to offer us today and comment in particular on the values discussed in "Euthyphro," "Apology," and "Crito" as well as on the form (dialogues).

The Epic of Gilgamesh

This is one of the oldest literary works - and we still read it and find it interesting today. Please think about what makes good literature timeless - and comment on the main questions and themes raised in Gilgamesh.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

What Words Cannot Express - Elie Wiesel's Night

Elie Wiesel was 15 when he witnessed the horror of the Holocaust. Although he has repeatedly stated himself that that experience cannot be expressed in words, he has spent the past 60 years of his life trying to communicate it. Night - originally composed as a more than 800-page-long manuscript written in Jiddish and first released as a 250-page-long  memoir under the title Un di Velt Hot Geshvign ('And the World Remained Silent') - was first published in 1958 in French as  La Nuit - was Elie Wiesel's first work about this topic.

Please read Night - or listen to the audiobook (link below) - and watch the following interviews, in which Elie Wiesel talks about the Holocaust and how it has changed his life.

Free Audiobook of Elie Wiesel's Night (19 parts):
part 1:
-> please follow the prompts for the other parts!

Text of Elie Wiesel's Night available at:

Elie Wiesel in One on One (2 parts):
part 1:
part 2:

Oprah and Elie Wiesel in Ausschwitz (6 parts):
part 1:
part 2:
part 3:
part 4:
part 5:
part 6:

Background reading:

Please also check out the Elie Wiesel Foundation of Humanity:

The Individual & the Environment

Dear All,

Please look at the following short clips and websites/texts and let the rest of us know what you think of them - and how you are planning to integrate your new knowledge into your daily life.

Thank you,


Here the links:

1) The Story of Stuff Project

a) The Story of Stuff:

b) The Story of Change:

c) The Story of Electronics:

d) The Story of Bottled Water:

The Story of Stuff Project Website:

2) Climate Change

a) NBC News: Was Sandy a Warning:

b) Bill McKibben: Global Warming's Terrifying New Math:

c) Al Gore Warns on Latest Climate Trends (Talk - 2009):

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Challenges to the Individual's Basic Rights - Margaret Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale

Throughout history some people have tried to impose themselves and their ideas and values on others, often with the help of violence. What happens to a person and her understanding of self when all her rights are taken away and she is forced to live in a political system that disrespects life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Margaret Atwood explores this question in her novel A Handmaid's Tale, which has also been turned into a movie (in 1990).

Please read the novel AND watch the movie and comment on both or either. Please also feel free to raise questions that you find interesting and that you would like us to discuss in more detail.

Here the link to the movie (please ignore the German subtitles):

In case you would like to experience Margaret Atwood live: she will be in 3 events at the Vancouver Writers Festival on October 20th!
If you miss the Writers Festival - but would like to get to know her a bit more, please watch the following interview:

As you know, Margaret Atwood is also an excellent poet, and most of you are familiar with at least some of her poems. If you would like to hear her read some of her poems and other short works, please check out the following recordings:

Please feel free to add more links in addition to your comments and questions!

Thank you!


Sunday, 14 October 2012

What the Bleep Do We Know? - A New View of Reality - and the Self

What the Bleep Do We Know and its continuation Down the Rabbit Hole show a radically new way of perceiving and interacting with the world. In fact, the change is so dramatic that it has been called a shift in paradigm.

Please think about the impact that this shift has for all of us and for our perspective(s) on the individual.

Here some of the relevant links:

What the Bleep Do We Know? - the original movie:

What the Bleep - Down the Rabbit Hole - slightly expanded version; includes intro about science & spirituality:

alternative link:

Bleep website: 

Other links of relevance to this topic:

Deepak Chopra: Down the Rabbit Hole - Beyond the Matrix (only a bit over 2 minutes!):
see also:

And if you would like to get an easy-to-understand intro to Quantum Mechanics, please click on the following link:
and if you want more:

... and here some consequences that this new science has for our view of the self:

Feel free to post your thoughts and comments about this topic here!

Thank you,


Thursday, 20 September 2012

Taking Responsibility

Dear All,

We have talked about the fact that it is our job as "educated" people to take responsibility for our world and to do whatever is in our power - and there is much that IS in our power - to make it a better place for all.

I would therefore like to invite you all to share your ideas about what you, as an individual, will do to take responsibility for this planet.

Since tomorrow, Friday, September 21st, is international Peace Day, I would also like to invite you to think about what you can do during the next weeks and months to create more peace in this world. We will have another FDU Peace Day coming up on November 23rd, and I hope that many of you will contribute and help spread peace in all areas of life.

If you would like some additional information about International Peace Day, here some links:

And for those of you who are new to FDU Vancouver and would like to know what we did for our previous FDU Peace Days, please check out the following website:

Please share your projects and ideas about creating more peace as well as about taking responsibility in this world with the rest of us!

Thank you!


Sigmund Freud - Civilization and Its Discontent

Dear All,

As explained in my previous post, Sigmund Freud lived in a time that was characterized by dramatic change caused by the Industrial Revolution and its aftermath. This change - that led not only to the breakdown of a whole way of life but also to that of a whole value system - is the context that made Freud assume that human nature was inherently violent and aggressive and that the main task of civilization consisted in controlling these aggressive drives. 

Since most 19th and early 20th century European societies were extremely repressive and characterized by fake/double moral standards, his work came as a big shock as well as a revelation to his contemporaries because it held the mirror up to the hidden side of society. However,  Freud's work is also somewhat dated because it does not question the typical western dualistic world view and therefore constructs dichotomies everywhere instead of acknowledging the interconnectedness of everything with everything else.

Because Freud is, in many ways, so much a child of his time, please find out a bit more about the changes that took place in 19th and early 20th century Europe in connection with the Industrial Revolution and the 1st World War before reading Civilization and Its Discontent. This will allow you to  understand both the revolutionary power that Freud's ideas had during his time (and after) as well as the limitations of his basic assumptions. 

Feel free to include your own thoughts, ideas, and criticism  when you post the summary of "your" chapter of Freud's Civilization and Its Discontent as comment to this post! 

Freud's Civilization and Its Discontent can be accessed at:

Thank you,


The Industrial Revolution and Its Consequences: New Ideas about the Self

The Industrial Revolution - which had already begun in the 18th century and then spread and accelerated in the last quarter of the 19th century - changed the way of life fundamentally for large parts of the population in Europe. The machine started to become the controlling factor in people's lives: in fact, it seemed that people were starting to become 'Slaves of the Machine' at that time - as they would later also become Slaves of the [big machineries of the rapidly growing] Corporations. 

Since labor was cheap, those who found work in the factories were exploited to their physical and psychological limits and beyond. Adults and children alike were not only forced to spend long hours performing repetitive, mindless tasks (the invention of the light bulb made it now possible to extend work hours into the evening year round), they also lost their former connectedness with the natural world by being forced to live in overcrowded cities with awful living conditions. 

What these living and work conditions looked like, becomes very clear in the following documentary that gives the children of the revolution a voice: 

Part 1:
Part 2:
Part 3:

The Industrial Revolution did not only tear people away from their rural communities - and in most cases even from their families - but also put a sudden end to their formerly cyclical lifestyle that had been in harmony with the seasons and natural body rhythms for activity, rest, and sleep. Instead of living healthy natural lives, children and adults alike were now also subjected to what George Woodcock called "the Tyranny of the Clock." The permanent physical exhaustion caused by 14-hour long work-shifts,  the feeling of social uprootedness, and the constant struggle for the means necessary for basic survival - as well as the new alienated work experience - led to bewilderment and disintegration of all former truths, traditions, and values, as well as to a loss of the experience of a meaningful life. 

In a world where machines reigned and degraded humans to subservient particles of some unknown power that controlled everything, nothing made sense any more and nobody could be trusted. Life in such a world became void of any meaning other than sheer survival of the strongest and fittest. Education and other "leisurely" activities, such as reading, writing, music, sports, or arts, were only possible for people who happened to belong to the higher classes.

Philosophers, scientists, writers, and artists of that time - even if they were not part of the working class themselves - saw and felt the effects of the Industrial Revolution everywhere. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels analyzed the situation in The Capital and tried to encourage the working class to take control over the means of production and thus regain a certain amount of independence. Herbert Spencer and Charles Darwin came up with their ideas of the "survival of the fittest" and Friedrich Nietzsche concluded "God is dead." 

When the power of machines was added to traditional warfare techniques, the escalation of violence, destruction, brutality, and horror in the two World Wars (WW1: 1914 to 1918; WW2: 1939-1945) was more than most people could handle psychologically and led to a fundamental distrust not only in a benevolent, meaningful universe but also in civilization itself. 

Not only philosophers but artists as well were looking for new values and new forms of thinking that might be better able to express the new life: Impressionism, Expressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Futurism, Dadaism, Surrealism - and, of course, ultimately Modernism - are some attempts to answer the crisis.

Here some of the names of some of the important philosophers and other thinkers of the 19th and early 20th century:

Georg Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831):
philosopher & cultural critic

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860):
most influential work: The World as Will and Representation

Auguste Compte (1798-1857)

Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872)
philosopher and anthropologist
most influential work: The Essence of Christianity

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)

Charles Darwin (1809-1882):
biologist or "Naturalist"
most influential work: On the Origin of Species

Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)
philosopher and cultural critic
most important contribution: forerunner of Existentialism

Karl Marx (1818-1883):
philosopher and social scientist, economist, and political reformer
most influential work: The Communist Manifesto  and The Capital (in collaboration with Friedrich Engels)

Friedrich Nietzche (1844-1900):
philosopher and cultural critic
most influential ideas: dichotomy between Apollo & Dionysus, death of god, will to power

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939):
founding father of psychoanalysis & cultural critic
Influential in particular: his research in the field of the unconscious mind and his theory about dreams

Henri Luis Bergson (1859-1941):
philosopher and writer
key idea: creative revolution

Carl Jung (1875-1961):
founder of analytical psychology & writer & visual artist & philosopher
most important: his work about the collective unconscious & his theory of archetypes

Albert Einstein (1879-1955):
theoretical physicist and philosopher
most important contributions: discovery of the photo-electric effect (with its influence on quantum physics) and the theory of relativity

T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)
most famous works: "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," "The Hollow Men," "The Waste Land," "Four Quartets"

Although only Sigmund Freud is represented on our official course syllabus, it makes sense to understand his ideas in the context of his time, in particular in the context of the ideas that were discussed during his life time. So please keep the other thinkers of his time and their contributions in the back of your mind when you read Freud's Civilization and Its Discontent (which was published  in 1929).

For further information about Freud, please click on the links below:

! Introduction to Freud's Theory of Human Nature  (in Comparison to Marx's Theory):

! Illustrated  Introduction to Freud's Theory about the Id, Ego, and Superego

! Introduction to Freud's Theory of Dreams: 4 parts

Short Introduction to Freud and his Theories about Sexual Development:

Open Yale University Introduction to Freud:

More information about Freud's Contemporaries:

Carl Jung:

Short into to his main ideas:

! Documentary about his theories and work:

Short Clips about Jung's Ideas about Anima, Animus, and Archetypes:

Talk by Jung:

Please post your comments about these 19th and early 20th Century thinkers here!

Thank you,


PS: If a link doesn't work, please copy and paste into your browser. Please feel also free to search for more information yourself! You can either use a regular search engine (such as Google) if you prefer general-interest approaches to the topic or Google Scholar or one of the library catalogues if you prefer more academic information!

Adam Curtis - Century of the Self

Dear All,

You have all watched part 1 of Adam Curtis' documentary Century of the Self, which is entitled "the Happiness Machines." I would like to invite you to comment on the film and the issues raised in it. 

Thank you!


If you would like to watch the documentary again, here the link:

Some Key Questions about the Self

Dear All,

Welcome to this Blog - that is connected to my section of Core 1001 - Perspectives on the Individual (Fall, 2012, FDU Vancouver).

Since the objective of this course is to encourage you to develop your own philosophy of the self, I would suggest you keep a journal, in which you record your ideas about the topic. 

We have talked a bit about different philosophical concepts of the self at the very beginning of this class. Please think about these models - and others we will discuss later - and try to evaluate them by comparing them to your own ideas and personal experiences about "the self." 

Feel free to include insights you have gained about "the self" in other context, for example, through your familiarity with certain spiritual traditions (e.g. Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Islam, Sufism, Judaism, Christianity, Shintoism, Shamanism, Indigenous Spirituality etc), or, of course, by reading novels, stories, poems, and myths, as well as by listening to certain kinds of music, by looking at certain works of art, or by watching dance performances or movies etc.

Questions you can keep asking yourself - and answer in your journal in interaction with the course texts and other texts and/or ideas you come across this term - include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Who am I?
  • What is it that defines me? or: What is it that makes me me?
  • How important are my thoughts, words, and actions in defining who I am?
  • What role do stories, experiences, and memory play in giving me an identity?
  • Does my identity depend on the body I inhabit? If yes, what happens to my identity when my body changes?
  • What exactly is it that changes about my identity over time and what remains the same?
  • Is there a difference between the way I see myself and others see me? If yes, what does this imply?
  • Is it important for the way I see myself to take into consideration what others think of me? If so, why? If not, why not?
  • In what ways/areas is my life pre-determined? What are the choices I have in this situation?
  • In what ways/areas am I free to do what I wish? Where are the limits of my freedom and why?
  • What can I do to change my identity - or the things I CAN change about my identity? What can I do to live with whatever I cannot change about myself?
  • Do I have a "spirit" or "soul"? How do I know? What follows from that for my life and/or my actions?
  • What is consciousness? Where is it located? Who - and/or what - has consciousness?
  • What does the fact that science has proven that animals and plants have the same consciousness that we as humans possess mean? Why do so many humans ignore this fact?
  • What constitutes life (life in general and the life of an individual human/animal/plant)?
  • What is the purpose and meaning of life in general - and of my life in particular? 
  • What do I want to do with my life?
  • What is my relationship to the world (planet, other people & animals, the future, etc)?
  • What are my responsibilities to the world (planet, other people & animals & plants, the future, etc)?
  • What is important to me?
  • What do I love doing?
  • How can I serve the world best with my own specific talents?

I hope you will enjoy thinking and writing about this topic - and get to know yourself and the world you live in more intimately!


Some general introductory - and easy to read! - information can be found at the following sites: