Spring 2019 Inside-Out Exchange HC 421H: Ethics and Literature: Tolstoy's Anna Karenina

Spring Term, 2018-2019

Professor: Steven Shankman

4.00 credits

  • CRN 32533: Tuesday, 18:00 - 20:50 @ OSCI Salem (Monday 4/1 only, 17:30 - 20:20 @ CHA 201)

This course is open only to CHC students, and requires an application, interview, and instructor approval to register for this course.  If you are not familiar with the Inside-Out Program, please check out the information on the Honors College website and watch the Inside-Out documentary “On the Inside Looking Out”.

An Information Session will be held on Thursday, February 7 at 4 p.m. in 101 Chapman Hall. The Application is available on Clark Honors College Canvas, under "Resources & Opportunities…”  Applications will be due by 5:00 p.m. Friday, February 15. Interviews will be held during Week 7, and students will be notified of their standing by end of Week 8.  

This class will be held on Tuesdays, 6:00-8:50 p.m., inside the Oregon State Correctional Institution (OSCI) in Salem; transportation will be provided.  We'll leave campus sharply at 4:00 p.m. and return by 10:30 p.m. The first day of class will be held on Monday, April 1, 6:00-8:20 p.m., in 201 Chapman Hall.

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) is one of the greatest and most influential masters of the novel. The Russian literary classics of the nineteenth century, including the novels of Tolstoy, made a profound impression on Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995), perhaps the greatest modern philosopher of the centrality of ethical obligation to what it means to be human. We will carefully read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, paying special attention to what the novel has to say about ethics understood in Levinas’s sense: my inescapable responsibility for a unique and irreplaceable other. We will read Ethics and Infinity, a reasonably accessible and brief series of interviews with Levinas, and we will look for connections between Tolstoy’s fiction and Levinas’s thought. We will consider how Anna’s otherness is sacrificed, in Tolstoy’s novel, to a notion of religion that is divorced from ethics, a notion of religion that Emmanuel Levinas labels as “primitive”: “Everything that cannot be reduced to an interhuman relation,” Levinas writes in Totality and Infinity (79), "represents not the superior, but rather the forever primitive, form of religion.” Anna's husband Karenin’s dogmatic – and, perhaps paradoxically, at the same time “primitive” - understanding of Christianity makes it impossible for him to hear Anna’s voice, to see her face, to register her otherness, her alterity. Tolstoy’s critique of conventional religion as a silencing of lost voices is sounded again and again throughout the remainder of his career as a writer and thinker.  

This is an Inside-Out class: half the students (“inside” students) will be prison inmates and the other half will be University students (“outside” students).