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Perspectives II, Modernism and the Arts

philosophy department

Six credits philosophy
Three credits fine arts
Three credits literature core

By the time the students begin Perspectives II, they will have already explored the most fundamental questions of meaning and value found in the great philosophical and religious traditions of the West. Perspectives II confronts the student with the classical question: Can one discover a common cultural vision informing the literature, music, painting, sculpture and architecture of a specific historical period? The specific historical period selected is the one that bridges the late 19th and 20th century and has often been characterized as the age of modernism. Students will explore each of the five areas in order to identify and relate some distinctive features that appear with the emergence of twentieth-century culture.

In addition to grappling with the issue of Modernism, the students will also have the opportunity to explore through the various artistic media questions of a philosophical and religious nature. Reading Doestoevsky's Crime and Punishment or Brothers Karamazov, alongside Flaubert and Nietzsche or Eliot's Wasteland, Ash Wednesday and Four Quartets, alongside Kafka and Woolfe, opens the student up to the possibility of encountering a distinctly religious response to the dilemmas of modernism: the fragmentation of culture and fracturing of the notion of self. Musically, special attention is given to the spiritual roots of Jazz, a source that is made explicit in W. E. B. DuBois' Sorrow Songs.

Reading List

First Semester: Literature and Music

  • Poetry: Baudelaire, selections from Flowers of Evil
  • Novel: Flaubert, Madame Bovary, Dostoyevsky, “Notes from the Underground," Crime and Punishment, Tolstoy, “The Death of Ivan Illych"
  • Poetry: T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land, Ash Wednesday, Four Quartets
  • Novel: Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man; Woolf, Virginia, To the Lighthouse; Kafka, The Trial; Ellison, Ralph, The Invisible Man
  • Wagner as the seminal ‘premodern’ composer: Wagner, Tristan and Isolde
  • Sources and development of the Wagnerian style and approach to opera: Gluck, Alceste and Orfeo
  • Beethoven, overtures and vocal selections
  • Weber, Oberon
  • Wagner - influence and reaction
  • Brahms, Variations on a Theme by Haydn
  • Tchaikovsky, Swan Lake, act three
  • Verdi, Falstaff, act one

Second Semester: Music and the Fine Arts

  • Debussy as a transitional figure: Debussy, Prelude a l’Apres-Midi d’un Faune and Iberia
Modern Music
  • Stravinsky, Petrouschka and The Rite of Spring
  • Schoenberg, Five Orchestral Pieces and Pierrot Lunaire
  • Berg, Wozzeck, act one
  • Webern, Six Bagatelles for String Quartet
  • Music of Lousi Armstrong, Bessie Smith, “Count” Basie, “Duke”
  • Ellington, Billie Holliday, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker
  • W. E. B. Dubois “Sorrowful Songs”
Fine Arts
  • The engaged artist: Courbet, Manet, Degas, Monet
  • Post-Impressionism: the great tradition re-examined--Seurat, Gaughin, van Gogh, Cezanne
  • The early twentieth century as continuation: Expressionism (Kandinsky); Cubism and futurism (Picasso and Braque); Non-objective trends (Mondrian); Color (Matisse and Miro)
  • Sculpture: Rodin, Boccioni, Brancusi, Moore, Giacometti
  • Architecture: Richardson, Gropius, LeCorbuier, Wright