From Plato to Post-modernism: Understanding the Essence of Literature and the Role of the Author

Course No. 295
Professor Louis Markos, Ph.D.
Houston Baptist University
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Course No. 295
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Course Overview

Any lover of Shakespeare, or of the Romantic poets, can concede that poetry is pleasurable. But is it good for us, and can it teach us anything?

These questions may seem odd, but they have beguiled and engaged eminent critics for millennia. What we call literary criticism is really a debate over a few key questions:

  • What is poetry's wellspring? God? Nature? The human self?
  • Is poetry superfluous to human progress?
  • Are the literary arts a vehicle to higher truths or a pack of lies?
  • Is the author a divinely inspired rhapsode or a mere artisan, "manufacturing" meaning?

To answer these questions, this course engages an enormous range of material. You'll follow the strands of this "conversation" between philosophy and the literary arts down the millennia, profiting from in-depth analyses of works by Plato, Aristotle, Horace, Sir Philip Sidney, Dryden, Pope, Wordsworth, Shelley, Coleridge, Matthew Arnold, T. S. Eliot, Northrop Frye, Foucault, Derrida, and more.

You'll concentrate on critical reflections about poetry—the oldest of the literary arts, and also come away with lessons on how to understand literature, and all of the arts, more generally. More importantly, you'll be prepared to join in these critical conversations yourself.

What and Wherefore Is Poetry?

Plato believed that poems were lies, and there was no place for poets in Plato's Republic. To him, poets were unreliable, substituting dreamlike visions for the true essences of the world that a responsible philosopher should seek. If the only authentic beauty is the truth found in nature, he asked, then what use is man-made beauty, fabrications loaded down with fantasies and lies?

Ever since Plato laid down this challenge, the critical theorists in this course have striven to prove that poetry is more than pretty phrases, that it has the power to instruct and improve its reader:

  • Aristotle argued that the sufferings of the tragic hero in Greek drama arouse in us a cathartic surge of terror and pity, even as his fate teaches us moral lessons.
  • Longinus introduced the idea of the poetic sublime. Unlike rhetoric, which merely persuades, the sublime overwhelms its audience, literally carrying the audience away to a higher realm of experience.

What Makes a Poet?

Most of the thinkers in this course elevate the poet to a privileged place among his fellows. The poet, they argue, feels more deeply, more empathetically, and holds the verbal keys to a kingdom of higher consciousness. In these lectures, you'll meet the poet in many guises:

The Divine Poet: In his "Defense of Poetry," Sir Philip Sidney likens the poet to a supernatural creator. While the carpenter must fashion his works from the materials at hand, and the historian must work with mere facts, the poet has the power to transcend the laws of nature. He transforms beasts into cyclopes, men into heroes, bronze into gold.

The Poet as Alchemist: The German Friedrich Von Schiller described the poet as the inspired individual who could fuse humanity's divided nature into one, an alchemist who could combine our wild, lustful, Dionysiac drives and harmonize them with our Apollonian urge towards order.

The Voice of the Common Man: William Wordsworth carved for the poet a more modest role, rooted in the world. Rather than handing out wisdom from on high, his poet was "a man speaking to men," rejoicing in life, in touch with elementary feelings and durable truths.

The Poet at Play: John Keats also championed the poet as a unique being, not for possessing truth, but for his ability to "play" with it. Keats praised the poet's sensitivity of feeling, his capacity to empathize with multiple, contradictory "truths" simultaneously, to "be content with half-knowledge... capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason."

The Poet as Product: Beginning with Freud and Marx, a less flattering view of the poet emerged—the view of the poet as a product of, and a prisoner to, his own subconscious suppositions. The poet's "truths" in this view are bound up with an ideological substructure, or a polarizing male-centered worldview, or indeed any outlook built upon a particular, personal, and biased understanding of history and society. This condition of radical subjectivity is the foundation upon which the postmodern platform will later be built.

The Role of the Critics

We have a distorted view of critics today, and often see them as antagonists to artists, or even as frustrated artists themselves. Classically, however, critics were allies of the arts, and served as a liaison between the poet and the audience, pushing art forward and aiding its development. This course will introduce you to the great critics of the Western tradition—those who have aided poets in their efforts to create and audiences in their quest to understand. For example:

Matthew Arnold: This Victorian sage believed that great literature is the product of a creative fusion between a great poet ("the man") and what he called an epoch of expansion ("the moment"). It was the role of the critic to define the zeitgeist for the wider artistic community, to prod them past the shackles of fashion and convention that render a period stale and inactive.

W. K. Wimsatt and Cleanth Brooks: These two critics were pioneers, yet seen as doctrinaire and elitist for dictating how we should understand poetry. The poem must not be understood, they argued, through the author's motivations ("the intentional fallacy"), nor through its effect on the reader ("the affective fallacy"). Moreover, a poem must never be understood as having a simple paraphrasable meaning, or "plot summary." Rather, every word in a poem is a vital ingredient with a meaning all its own to be uncovered through close individual study.

Out of the Ivory Tower

If these critics' theories about poetry seem somewhat convoluted and dense with jargon, this trend has only accelerated with the rise of Postmodernism. Can Structuralism, Poststructuralism, Historicism, and Deconstructionism really offer us a satisfying account of poetry's importance?

Actually, these ideas are exciting, challenging, and very much part of the conversation that began in ancient Greece so long ago. But for most readers, their fruits remain out of reach behind a wall of proprietary language, leaving the layman locked out.

This is why Dr. Louis Markos's approach to these theories is so valuable. As he tackles these intricate and labyrinthine theories of language, one of his primary goals is to define and explicate the often esoteric terminology associated with modern and postmodern theory.

When the veil is lifted, you'll find that the postmodernists are really continuing the conversation that Plato started millennia ago, and attempting to answer the same questions. If poetry, and language itself, is purposeful, then what are its ends? And if it has meaning, then by what means?

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Thinking Theoretically
    Why think about literature in a theoretical way? What makes literary theory so important? The critic and scholar M. H. Abrams thinks that all critical approaches to literature fall into one of four categories. Learn his highly useful classificatory scheme. x
  • 2
    Plato—Kicking out the Poets
    Ironically, Plato is both the first literary critic and the first hostile critic of literature. He has Socrates banish the poets from the ideal city that Plato describes in the Republic. In this lecture, we shall consider why Plato kicked out the poets, why he should not have kicked them out, and what his enduring legacy has been to all those theorists who have followed him. x
  • 3
    Aristotle's Poetics—Mimesis and Plot
    Aristotle took Plato's negative understanding of mimesis (imitation) and converted it into a powerful method for creating poetry (and particularly tragic drama) that is worthy of philosophical consideration. Aristotle's notion of plot as a unity has also been pervasively influential throughout the history of Western literature. His favorite example was Sophocles's Oedipus Tyrannos, a play we shall examine in some depth. x
  • 4
    Aristotle's Poetics—Character and Catharsis
    Along with a coherent plot, a good tragedy needs character and catharsis. Continuing to illustrate with examples from Oedipus, we shall explore the nature of the proper tragic hero. We shall then explore the nature of Aristotelian catharsis and how to understand this well-known term. x
  • 5
    Horace's Ars Poetica
    This famous epistle-in-verse by the Roman poet Horace contains his (perhaps tongue-in-cheek) rules and regulations for writing great poetry. What is the meaning of Horace's central notion of artistic "decorum"? Why does he stipulate that poetry must teach as well as please? How does he view the critic and the poet? x
  • 6
    Longinus on the Sublime
    The 1st-century writer known as Longinus not only delineated the true nature of "sublimity" but set down rules for achieving it. We analyze his approach to theory and his influential conception of the ideal audience for sublime literature. Finally, we watch with awe as Longinus mounts a direct refutation of Plato's Republic that not only converts Plato's negatives into positives, but recasts Plato himself as one of the most sublime poets ever. x
  • 7
    Sidney's "Apology for Poetry"
    We explore Sidney's great 1595 essay defending the divine origin and social utility of poetry. We discuss both Sidney's "positive" moment (his praise of poetry) and his "negative" moment (his refutation of the main arguments made against poetry). x
  • 8
    Dryden, Pope, and Decorum
    Here we consider two landmarks of British neoclassicism: John Dryden's "Essay of Dramatic Poesy" (1668) and Alexander Pope's "Essay on Criticism" (1711). Dryden advanced the still-influential notion of the three dramatic unities. Pope had strong views on the proper role and nature of the critic, and memorably insisted that nature is the final source, end, and touchstone of art. Pope is especially marvelous to read because he wrote his "Essay" in brilliant verse which itself hews to all the canons of neoclassical decorum. x
  • 9
    Burke on the Sublime and Beautiful
    Burke is most widely remembered as a statesman and political thinker. But in his early Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757), he laid the intellectual groundwork for Romanticism. With Burke, aesthetics takes a subjective turn. He defined sublimity and beauty by their effects on the subjective self that experiences them. x
  • 10
    Kant's Critique of Judgment
    If Burke's Inquiry helped introduce epistemology into the world of aesthetics, then Kant's Critique of Judgment (1790) transformed that introduction into a full-blown science. What is the meaning of Kant's central assertion that aesthetic judgments constitute a subjective universality? Can it be the case that such subjective judgments are felt equally by all people at all times? x
  • 11
    Schiller on Aesthetics
    Friedrich Schiller is a Kantian with a twist. He turns the master's thought in a new, more fully Romantic direction, seeking nothing less than the reunification of the emotional (Dionysiac) and rational (Apollonian) sides of our being. Explore his remarkable notion of the "play drive" and its linkage to beauty, culture, and the place of poetry in human life. x
  • 12
    Hegel and the Journey of the Idea
    The "Introduction" that Hegel wrote for his Philosophy of Fine Art (1835) completes Schiller's Romanticization of Kant. Hegel, in effect, posits a Platonic Form (the Idea), which, rather than remain in the world of pure Being, seeks to enter our World of Becoming. With Hegel as our guide, we shall follow this Idea as it moves through three phases, the Symbolic, Classical, and Romantic, in search of a full, sensuous incarnation. x
  • 13
    Wordsworth, Coleridge, and British Romanticism
    Leaving our study of Continental thinkers, we look at British Romanticism. The wellspring text here is the product of the extraordinary friendship between William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Learn how their Lyrical Ballads (1798) works a transformation in earlier views of mimesis, epistemology, and decorum. And if you've ever wondered where the idea of the willing suspension of disbelief comes from, this lecture will tell you. x
  • 14
    Mr. Wordsworth's "Preface"
    In 1800, Wordsworth added a Preface to Lyrical Ballads, radically redefining both the nature of poetry and the poet, and their function in society. We focus especially on such key Wordsworthian formulations as poetry as the "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings," the poet as a "man speaking to men," and the role of poetry as an antidote to society's "degrading thirst after outrageous stimulation." x
  • 15
    Coleridge—Transcendental Philosopher
    Coleridge was the most learned of the Romantic poet-theorists. His Biographia Literaria (1817) adapted German philosophy to British Romantic theory, and he founded modern Shakespeare studies. Explore Coleridge's vital distinction between the natural and the transcendental types of philosophical itinerary, and weigh his hopes for a convergence of the two. x
  • 16
    Shelley's Defense of Poetry
    Percy Bysshe Shelley's A Defense of Poetry (written 1821 but published posthumously in 1840) gives us the full and final word on Romantic theories of synthesis and inspiration. Shelley exalts the poet to new heights of glory and offers powerful arguments in defense of the moral and social usefulness of poetry. x
  • 17
    The Function of Criticism—Matthew Arnold and T.S. Eliot
    Objective criticism shifts the emphasis from the poet to the poem, elevates the critic's role, and creates for poetry a separate, aesthetic space. A pair of seminal essays paves the way: Matthew Arnold's "The Function of Criticism at the Present Time" (1864) and T. S. Eliot's "Tradition and the Individual Talent" (1917). You will master Arnold's famous distinction between epochs of concentration and epochs of expansion, and ponder Eliot's anti-Romantic call for a return to tradition and a new, depersonalized view of the poet. x
  • 18
    The Status of Poetry—I.A. Richards and John Crowe Ransom
    Following the path of Arnold and Eliot, the New Critics set out to defend poetry against positivist notions that threatened to render it useless and irrelevant. In Practical Criticism (1929), I. A. Richards crafted a distinction between emotional belief. John Crowe Ransom was in favor of an ontological view of poetry that treated the poem as a concrete universal composed of both a "paraphrasable core" and "lively local detail." x
  • 19
    Heresies and Fallacies—W.K. Wimsatt and Cleanth Brooks
    Beginning just after World War II, Wimsatt and Brooks gave New Criticism its most radical form. They rejected both the Romantic notion that a poem is the expression of a poet, and the neoclassical idea that a poem should be judged by its effect on the reader. What was their own view? Is there truth to the charge that the New Critics were elitists who reduced poetry to a rarified and purely private experience? x
  • 20
    Archetypal Theory—Saint Paul to Northrop Frye
    A way of reading as old as the Bible received a stunning rebirth in 1957 when Northrop Frye published his masterful Anatomy of Criticism. What is this "typological reading"? How did Frye go beyond the New Critics to lay out a complex and compelling system to help explain the wider patterns and forces that underlie all great poetry from the Hebrew prophets to T. S. Eliot? x
  • 21
    Origins of Modernism
    During the last century, a paradigm shift occurred that laid the basis for modern (and postmodern) theory. Why does it make sense to call the old paradigm logocentrism? What are its essentials? How did Freud, Darwin, Marx, and Nietzsche challenge it and open the door for a radically new way of viewing the nature of reality, of meaning, of thought, and of art? x
  • 22
    Structuralism—Ferdinand de Saussure to Michel Foucault
    A key theoretical offshoot of modernism is structuralism. Originating in the linguistic studies of Saussure, it reached its full flowering in the historical studies of the late Michel Foucault. From this lecture, you will learn to define the often-obscure terminology and to decipher the elaborate theories of these much-discussed interpreters of literature. x
  • 23
    Jacques Derrida on Deconstruction
    Jacques Derrida, who first presented his theories to an American audience in his (in)famous lecture, "Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences" (1966), seeks to go the structuralists one better. Refusing to invert established binaries, Derrida seeks instead to deconstruct them. We contrast deconstruction with both Platonic and Christian thought, and outline the main terminology associated with post-modern theory. x
  • 24
    Varieties of Post-modernism
    In our final lecture, we shall trace how the post-modern theories of Derrida are played out in the writings of Paul de Man, Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, and Stanley Fish, as well as in the modern critical schools of New Historicism and Feminism. x

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Your professor

Louis Markos

About Your Professor

Louis Markos, Ph.D.
Houston Baptist University
Dr. Louis Markos is Professor in English at Houston Baptist University, where he also holds the Robert H. Ray Chair in Humanities. He earned his B.A. in English and History from Colgate University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in English from the University of Michigan. Professor Markos specializes in British romantic poetry, literary theory, and the classics and teaches courses in all three of these areas, as well as in Victorian...
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From Plato to Post-modernism: Understanding the Essence of Literature and the Role of the Author is rated 4.0 out of 5 by 47.
Rated 1 out of 5 by from speed lecturing. I've purchased many courses from TLC and have been pleased with all of them. This one, however, was astonishingly bad. The first introductory lecture is fine, but after that you get 23 lectures of absolute speed talking. I mean really hurried wandering with no real cohesion and very few threads that tie the lectures together. It is just too much dense ground to cover in 24 lectures. The only positive I can point to is the professors obvious enthusiasm for the topic.
Date published: 2015-04-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Truly Interesting Course AUDIO DOWNLOAD The course title is misleading, as Professor Markos focuses on poetry which, until relatively recently, has been more highly regarded than prose. It should be noted, however, that Plato’s dialogues and Shakespeare’s plays also make it into the course. For the most part, Professor Markos concentrates on the “milestones” in literary theory, from Plato’s banishment of poets from his ‘Republic’ to deconstruction and other varieties of post-modernism of recent times (for this 1999 course). Plato not only looms large in Western philosophy, but also in literary theory, as do other philosophers. In fact, this course has a considerable amount on philosophy and theology. Professor Markos early on identifies himself as an evangelical Christian, and he notes that Christianity undergirds much of western thought into the 20th century. To me, he seems fair-minded. Nevertheless, those offended by the mention of religion in general, the Bible, Christianity in particular, or the name of Jesus, will find much off-putting in the course. All are frequently referenced, including, for instance, the use of literary typology by Jesus and St. Paul. As a nice twist on matters near the end of the course, Professor Markos shows how post-modernism, notably in the work of Jacques Derrida, takes up where a contemporary rival of Plato, Gorgias, and subject of one of Plato’s dialogues, leaves off. Rejecting the metaphysical and theoretical orientation that has dominated Western thought since Plato, Derrida “…is simultaneously breaking with the two main traditions of Western philosophy: Platonism and Christianity” (Course Guidebook, Page 127). Moreover, “…most postmodern theorists are antiessentialist: they do not accept the canon as being essentially superior and refuse to privilege poetry over prose or even to make distinctions between aesthetic and popular culture” (Page 148). This is really an interesting story with many twists and turns over more than two thousand years. I now have a much better sense of post-modernism’s break with traditional thought. Professor Markos is a good presenter, sometimes a bit too enthusiastic for my taste, but certainly very engaging and thought-provoking. His lecture style includes a considerable amount of interesting analogies (such as, the similarity of Sophocles’ ‘Oedipus’ and the movie ‘High Noon’ in their use of time, and the relevance of George Lucas’ ‘Star Wars’ movies to the discussion of archetypes). I also liked Professor Markos’ treatment of critics and how important they can be (though not always!), and his discussion of Harold Bloom’s ‘Anxiety of Influence’ in showing what often spurs authors to creative work. Perhaps the best lectures for me, besides the final ones on post-modernism, were the three on Wordsworth and Coleridge, the subject of Professor Markos’ dissertation. This is a course I am going to refer back to as it provides a useful foundation for my reading and well complements several of my other TC courses. The Guidebook is exceptionally good. One can benefit greatly even by reading the glossary straight through, as I did, as some entries are a half page in length and complement the lecture notes. The splendidly annotated bibliography is also much appreciated.
Date published: 2015-04-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful course I enjoyed this course very much. Professor Markos knows how to engage his audience and few teachers have his clarity. The course content is also excellent and meaningful, my only complain is it should be longer!
Date published: 2014-10-30
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Too tied up with his religion I have listened to dozens of course from this company, most were excellent and all were worthwhile. That is all except this course, which is the first one I sent back. Of all the subjects to hear from a narrow theological perspective, I think that postmodernism is about the last. Surely the professor realizes that his viewpoint is idiosyncratic among literary scholars; an honest teacher may take a perspective from outside the mainstream but ought to acknowledge such views. I survived listening to most of the course, but when I found myself alternately angering and then giggling at the presentation I gave up. The lecturer is not a trustworthy source for an intellectual explanation. I did reject the alternative theory that this course is a parody, perhaps a psychological experiment to see if people get the joke. Will The Great Courses company next offer evolution by a "intelligent design" advocate, or astronomy as seen from a flat earth? Overall, not funny enough to be worth buying.
Date published: 2014-10-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I Learned a Lot These are great lectures for anyone interested in the Western intellectual tradition. Although I have an academic background in philosophy from an ivy league college I learned quite a bit from this course. In particular, professor Markos gave the best explication of deconstruction that I have ever come across. I noticed that the professor received a number of negative reviews for his overt commitment to Christianity. This is pretty standard for the Teaching Company whose clients have an obvious liberal/agnostic bias. Also, I think that the professor’s speaking style, which also drew quite a bit of comment, is irrelevant, given the importance of the subject matter.
Date published: 2014-03-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Aesthetic Journey to the Center of One's Mind I recently completed the analog version of the 24-part lecture course entitled "From Plato to Postmodernism". A look at the first part of the course title easily shows the "breadth" of such an historical journey. The second part of the title "Understanding the Essence of Literature" reveals the "depth" of such a philosophical undertaking. And finally the last part of the title "and the Role of the Author" sketches this intersection of the breadth and depth within the conscious heart and mind of the "poet-prophet-philosopher-critic" -- I seriously cannot at this time decide what to call this charged experience that is offered at this dynamic symposium offering intellectual and emotional food and drink. The listener is presented with a comprehensive fourfold-typology of poetry and literature – the Arts in general. Here you will explore the mimetic / imitation of nature; the pragmatic / audience response and decorum; the expressive / poet’s inner reach of experience, and poetry as beauty in-itself. This artistic typology is cross-referenced with three major historical epochs: classical / neoclassical; German idealistic philosophy / Romanticism; and modernism / postmodernism. The time-frames traveled reveal creative authors and the wide-artistic views offer literary schools of thought that analyze and synthesize the various dialogues. From Plato to Postmodernism (creative construction to creative deconstruction, etc.) won’t disappoint but will incessantly stimulate and motivate one’s inner core to explore what the aesthetic experience is in one’s life… An aesthetic high-5 to the professor – another door has opened!
Date published: 2013-10-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Bravo Dr. Marcos Having studied in the field of humanities all my life, not professionally but for the sheer pleasure of it, hopefully I developed a reasonable taste (in the sense of Burke, lecture 9) and have some appreciation of sublime (in the sense of Kant, lecture 10), so let me assure you that this course was truly cathartic experience for me (in the sense of Aristotle, lecture 4). Dr. Marcos is true intellectual and is great teacher. I believe his course expresses, mostly, his own unique opinions, is the original high quality research work, in the way of overall design, integration of parts and leading to the final dénouement of post-modernism (lecture 4). The whole course was designed as a kind of Greek drama, however and regrettably with missing apotheosis. I, for one, would be glad to continue conversation on this subject further with Dr. Marcos. The accusations of Dr. Marcos’s religiosity, and I do not know whether it is true, should they be proven true, as far as I am concerned, are an advantage rather than a weakness. It endows him with certain unique perspectives, through hermeneutics of the Bible, the opinions that are very relevant to the critical theory. Without his intimate knowledge of the Bible, we all would be poorer, deprived from another layer of interpretive content. Regardless of our personal believes, the Bible is a part of our common history, common source, one of our logoi (despite of derridian repudiation of logo-centrism, lesson 23). And, despite of loss of authorship (in the sense of Barthe, lecture 22), Dr. Marcos is definitive author of the course. His authoritative, fluent, well spoken and performed, friendly and encouraging attitude is admirable. We need to remember that this is an introductory course and some of the subject matter was dealt with from high level to be made accessible to an unprepared audience. Nevertheless, I saw no great sacrifices in the quality of material.
Date published: 2013-08-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thorough and Concise Without Being Simplistic First, those who call this course Fundamentalist are clueless about the meaning of that term. At least twice Markos criticizes the often negative Fundamentalist attitudes toward poetry, imagination and literature. He does identity himself as a Christian, and brilliantly contextualizes western European literary criticism in its obvious and heavily Christian-influenced context. I completed a graduate degree in the humanities, and several of the profs were abysmally ignorant of the Christian content and influence on the literature they tried to teach--poorly in most cases. Not to provide the necessary theological, religious or philosophical Christian ideas found in Pope, Burke, Coleridge, et. al. is like trying to fully comprehend Rumi or Hafiz without some understanding of Islamic religion and philosophy. But such is par for the course in this postmodernist age of rootless education sans context and meaning. Markos' lectures will move you from the shallow and into the deep end of the literary swimming pool. I have talked with Ph. D. students who haven't a clue how Burke and Kant set the stage for Romanticism, etc. He is enthusiastic, and does get a little shrill at times, but I prefer that by far over some of the Teaching Company lecturers who seem are clearly reading their lecture notes in a monotone style. If you want to understand literature from a literary critical perspective--get this course. I purchased the book he recommends and am listening to his lectures for the second time and will listen again. I am just disappointed it is not on DVD.
Date published: 2013-01-15
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Christian Propaganda This is not what I signed up for. If I wanted this kind of "lecture" I would go to church.
Date published: 2012-11-07
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Content good; rife with fundamentalism Good content for a complex subject matter but I was totally turned off by Dr. Marcos' proselytism. He also has a tendency to patronize the listener like they just got out of high school.
Date published: 2012-01-13
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Good topic, problematic presentation I know a bit about literary theory, having studied it in graduate school, so I must admit to disappointment with this course, my first disappointment among the Great Courses. The topic is important for anyone interested in literature, but I found it difficult to get past problems with presentation, especially in the final unit of the class. Though Professor Markos brings an undeniable energy and enthusiasm to the class, his lecture style is just too over-caffeinated and breathless at times; too often I end up tired out listening rather than exhilarated.. Also, the examples are not as precise or enlightening as they need to be for this kind of difficult, abstract subject matter. Why not use a familiar literary work, like a Shakespeare play, as a touchstone throughout the class? The intrusion of Christian fundamentalism into the lectures, something that gets more intrusive as the class moves on, too is distracting, and by the time one gets to the end of the class, it's downright distorting. Sure, it soon becomes clear where Professor Markos is coming from and he has a right to his perspective. But with controversial material like this, there's the duty of presenting the subject matter responsibly and dispassionately before interjecting your own point of view. With modernism and postmodernism Professor Markos too often just gets it plain wrong because he sees these developments as relativistic or nihilistic (except for New Criticism and archetypal criticism, which he aligns with conservative Christianity). There are just too many errors for the final quartet of lectures to be regarded as reliable: Frye's Anatomy of Criticism offers a literary paradigm structured on genres and the seasons, but what gets emphasized is that Frye was an ordained minister; Paul de Man didn't create the idea of semiology as Markos claims, Ferdinand Saussure did; Stanley Fish is hardly the relativist he's made out to be; Foucault's notion of "power-knowledge" is far more structuralist than post-structuralist; the concept of gender, so foundational to feminist criticism, gets reduced to a ham-handed claim that contemporary feminist critics deny that there are differences between the sexes; Derridean deconstruction involves a far more sophisticated confrontation with binaries than Markos presents; and so on. Lawrence Cahoone's presentation of modern and postmodern philosophy in his course "Modern Intellectual Tradition" is far more accurate in its presentation, a model of how to address this kind of material responsibly. I really wanted to like this course, I really did, but I can't recommend it. I'm afraid I must agree with eriknuds. Markos's presentation of early figures is at least mostly accurate (hence my two stars), but if you want to find out about twentieth-century developments in literary theory, you'll definitely want to look elsewhere.
Date published: 2011-10-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of few courses I've taken more than once I loved this course so much I purchased the suggested textbook ("Critical Theory Since Plato") and ultimately listened to the entire course twice. Granted I find the subject matter fascinating, but the lecturer's dynamic presentation style made the lectures enjoyable and informative even beyond this outside interest. Just think of the subject matter here: this course is an examination of theoretical/critical writings about *other writing*, and yet the lecturer found a way to tell this history in an exciting and vibrant way. That's pretty spectacular. Too--I mean no offense, but I'm confused by eriknuds's comment about Christian fundamentalism in the course. The lecturer does come from a Christian college, but he admits this up front, and while his examples do perhaps draw a lot from that background, I don't think he positioned these examples in a way that was unwarranted, given the subject matter; and certainly, never did so in a way that I thought was intended to preach or judge. Indeed there will by necessity be a lot of Christian scholars given that scholasticism in particular, and Western philosophy more generally, are indebted to Christian thinkers. There's a difference between acknowledging or even embracing this lineage, and selling the thinkers' thoughts as such. Perhaps eriknuds struggled with this?
Date published: 2011-09-12
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Mangled by christian fundamentalism I managed to extract some facts from the material, but it was at times really hard because of all the christian fundamentalist, creationist and factually false anti science, anti evolution sentiments he expressed to various degree in - I think - every lecture, while sometimes snickering a bit derogatorily, even. The extremely numerous biblical references, and the use of biblical dogma as examples of comparison, and the use of these as if they were uniformly regarded as indisputable and literal truths, were just nonsensical. For the reasons stated above, the above audio book was in my opinion not a good example of teaching excellence, not even a good example of professional behavior, and this would likely have been my last TTC audio book ever had it not been for my previous good experiences with TTC.
Date published: 2011-06-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Challenging and rewarding course Bravo Dr. offer depth and breath in this course. I believe it is not only valuable for developing an appreciation of literature (poetry in specific) but also philosophy...its an excellent course for those interested in the history of ideas or philosophy in general. I have studied and made use of Aristotle's poetics for years and yet you manage to paint a slightly new picture are not merely rehashing but giving opinions of you yourself have was immediately apparent to me that you are intimately familiar with the primary resources. Many teachers merely name drop but it is evident that you have closely read most of the very difficult primary texts comprising this inquiry. A professor who is an individual is rare these days, an endangered species you might say...perhaps this is why many have given bad reviews...they are threatened by your courage to be a nail that sticks up. I find myself generally to be an opponent of the Bible, but your honesty about your bias was fair and direct. Better an honest disagreement than dishonest complicity. After all to have a bias is human, to hide it or be prejudiced against a foreign bias is contrary to the spirit of philosophy and toleration. Therefore I find some of the reviewers below less than fair. Your course adds greatly to the breadth of perspective among the TEACHING COMPANY courses. bitte weiter so Herr Markos!
Date published: 2011-05-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from commendation I avoided literature like the plague when I was a young man. I didn't have the time for it until I read a book that convinced me that I was dead wrong. So, I am a late bloomer where literature is concerned and cannot get enough of it but I do not have the time to pursue it formally the way I would like. The Great Courses have remedied that problem for me by providing Louis Markos' course. I have listened to it several times and plan to listen to it again in the near future. It is precisely what the doctor ordered. Thanks Louis!
Date published: 2010-11-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Initial Adjustment While I do not always agree with what Professor Markos says, I find his lectures enlightening. The comments made in other reviews about his references to the Bible and religion were not irritating to me even though I might be classified as a Deist. Professor Markos speaks rapidly, which is a bit of an initial adjustment, but I became used to his style. It is best to listen to this course intently with few distractions. I listen to it while walking and find Professor Markos to be an excellent companion while doing so.
Date published: 2010-09-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The material was thought provoking and well presented. The frequent biblical, christian and anti-science references however became distracting.
Date published: 2010-09-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Christian Logos Still Manages to Vindicate Gorgias As this is a course about the role of the author, its only appropriate that one examines the text of the reviewers! I note that a couple of reviewers are scathing about what they regard as Professor Louis Markos’ “distorting” (‘BettyB’) and “right [wing]” (‘Commutingactuary’) Christian fundamentalism. ‘Commutingactuary’ also finds “bad delivery, disorganised lectures”, and concludes he is “just plain bad”. Ouch! I strongly suggest ‘Commutingactuary’ steers well clear of TTC lecturers Phillip Cary, or S. James Gates because Markos is JFK by comparison. As to BettyB, it is a real pity, especially given that she is an English Professor, that we couldn’t have had a bit more exposition from her about Markos’ alleged unfairness to Derrida and Foucault. Although I’m atheist, I can’t see the Christian distortion which she says is so apparent. What I can hear is Markos telling me at a couple of points in the series that, yes, he is a Christian; and I hear him demonstrating a good grasp of the impact of Christian theology on western consciousness but distortions no, I can’t hear them. The conclusion of this lecture series is so good one hesitates to give it away but suffice to say that far from condemning Derrida and Foucault, Markos pays them the ultimate recognition of tying them into a remarkable web of aesthetic dialogue which stretches back to the pre-Socratics. This is a quite wonderful historical synthesis. As I’d read the negative reviews before I bought the series I was anticipating some condemnation by Markos of the post-structuralists and deconstructionists – but it never came. He does say in a light-hearted vain than Plato and Augustine trounced poor old Gorgias so badly that it took 2,000 years for him to recover but – what Markos is really emphasising is that – recover he did! The fact that Markos does not make such a condemnation is puzzling but I would say it is a testament to the strength of his personal faith that he is able to survey ideas which so fundamentally challenge his personal belief in the Christian logos without trying to proselytize against them. I’m not sure that I’d go so far as ‘Achilles’ to suggest that what one must take from this course is “an objective standard against which we can measure our subjective experiences” - Markos is too aware of the shifting nature of aesthetic taste to fall into that trap - but I would say that Markos’ historicism is illuminating, and a useful handrail for feeling one's way through subjective miasma. I find myself agreeing and disagreeing with ‘Proanon’. I disagree with his/her judgement that the modern thinkers section of the course was ‘scattered and difficult to grasp’. I found it the most rewarding whereas the early parts on Plato and Aristotle and Kant were a bit tedious by comparison. I do agree that Markos' views about modern music are a tad elitist (but truth be known I do agree with him!) Proanon’s complaint about Markos occasionally shouting reflects the comments made by others about Markos’ enthusiasm. Some of his chattiness can be a bit distracting but overall I found his enthusiasm infectious. I will certainly be listening to this again. 4.5 stars overall.
Date published: 2010-08-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course from a true teacher Professor Markos is a true and excellent teacher. I have at least 50 of these courses, and though I hardly write reviews, I felt that I had to take my hat off and bow, low, to Dr. Markos. I am graduating with my degree next semester in English Subject Matter; Dr. Markos helped me in many ways. He reminded me to love and not hate the literature--especially of dead white men; he helped me get a hard earned A in my Lit. Crit. class; he gave me an example of why I wanted to be a teacher myself, and most important, he gives a great example of what it is to be a good and decent human being. As an atheist, I didn't mind at all Dr. Markos' insertion of his beliefs now and again. It had no bearing on the facts he kept pounding out, lecture after lecture. Dr. Markos knows his stuff. The Teaching Company courses vary as to the level and depth of material they cover, and Dr. Markos easily gives his listeners their money's worth. From key ideas to important and lost meanings to words and phrases, Dr. Markos makes sure his students understand everything by mixing abstract conceptions with concrete examples. He moves fast, but there is so much material being tossed out, each lecture deserves multiple replays anyways! Dr. Markos loves what he does. One clear reason that I have listened to this course 3 times (and certain lectures much more than that) is because Dr. Markos' love of subject and respect for his students come shining forth lecture after lecture. I hope that Dr. Markos is doing well these days, and though we will never meet in church, I am so grateful that I have met him through this course. Michael
Date published: 2010-05-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb Lectures! Professor Markos thoroughly understands his subject and presents it simply to us. He says, "What does that mean?", "Let me explain that", and "Another way to say that is". Yes, the pace is swift, which is preferable to bogging down in the jargon of this enormous field. What an exhilarating overview! My mind is opened to new areas I want to further explore. Dr. Markos is a truly superb, gifted teacher! Let's have many more courses from him.
Date published: 2009-08-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Standing on the shoulders of giants. As BettyB and Communityactuary correctly illustrate, if you are one who has been swept away by the relativistic currents of the post-modern rivers of thought, this course will cause your ego much pain. However, if you have so cultivated yourself that your self-importance has been subordinated to the absolute truths that the great men and Great Tradition have so benevolently bestowed upon us, you will find that this course is breathtaking in its scope, sequence and quality. Professor Markos is excellently prepared to lead us on a journey of discovery following the example of Plutarch as he states in the beginning of his biography of Nicias “I shall endeavour to bring together; not collecting mere useless pieces of learning, but adducing what may make his disposition and habit of mind understood.” Professor Markos brings the critics and the issues alive so that the clear illustrations of the “habits of mind understood” can greatly aid us in our own understanding of literature and its role in the human condition and particularly as it relates to the Great Conversation. A distaste for this course speaks much more about the offended ego than about the quality of the course. It is a tragedy to pass this up because you might be uncomfortable with an “objective standard against which we can measure our subjective experiences.” Some great philosopher said “all learning begins in wonder.” Humility is a requirement for any learning of value. Come to this course and check you ego at the door and you will be in for a great ride!
Date published: 2009-08-11
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Distorted Views I am an English Professor and have had to deal with literary theory, Professor Markos is enthusiastic, and he covers a lot of material. But his Christian Fundamentalism distorts significantly the theories of structuralists and postmodern theories, especially Derriada, and Foucault. This is really robs listeners of a fair presentation.
Date published: 2009-07-28
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Another Markos Dud I have well over 100 TC courses, and Prof. Markos is by far the worst instructor in the course catalog- bad delivery, fundamentalist christian right philosophizing, disorganized lecures- just plain bad.
Date published: 2009-07-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great, if you can keep up. This is an excellent course. But it is important to know that Dr. Markos uses a fairly rapid delivery. I loved it but some people may not feel comfortable with the pace. The great news is that the amount of information imparted per unit of time is amazing. Well worth it. Dr. Markos is one of the best.
Date published: 2009-06-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent information, excitable professor I should open my review with the caveat that I am not the greatest fan of literary criticism. With that said, this series offers a thorough, in-depth look at how the study of Western literature has developed through the ages. True, the information becomes increasingly scattered and difficult to grasp as he moves into modern, post-modern and destructuralist theories, but I suspect this has as much to do with the inherent difficulty of those particular theories (how, after all, do you teach about a theory that refuses to confine itself to a particular meaning?) as anything else. In that sense, the lectures themselves reflect the content, which may not be a bad thing at all. I did have a little trouble listening to Professor Markos, however. After a rather rehearsed and mechanical beginning, he warms to his topic and lectures with enthusiasm and verve. Unfortunately, he gets a little TOO enthusiastic at times, to the point that the tension and energy in his voice began to register as "shouting" to my ears. Which in turn made it difficult to listen: his enthusiasm became a barrier rather than an enhancement. (Your mileage may vary on this point; personally, I do not respond well to being shouted at, even in a positive manner.) Atheists, agnostics, and others holding reservations about Christianity might also find themselves slightly off-put by the very strong Christian themes used in many of his examples. On the other hand, the professor is quite up-front and honest about his own views on the subject, and I found, after a brief period of mental adjustment, that this made it easier to separate the professor's personal opinions from the theoretical information. Plus, religion IS a powerful part of Western philosophy, theory and literature, and the professor is not hesitant to address that side. (In addition, this was the first I had ever heard of Saint Paul being viewed as a literary critic; that alone was a fascinating topic!) With that said, Professor Markos does have a bit of an elitist/classicist bias (such as the pot-shots he takes at modern music trends) that might trigger the occasional exasperated roll of the eyes. All in all, a good lecture series with a great deal of fascinating information, but not meant to simply be listened to; the reader must occasionally mentally sift through and sort out the professor's own biases from the core information. Which, in and of itself, is a useful mental exercise. Just remember to keep a finger on the "decrease volume" button when he really starts to work himself up!
Date published: 2009-05-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Baffled by Lit Crit? Get this course! If you're into poetry (the focus is on poetry, being the highest literary medium) and wonder what the literary critics/lit majors are blathering on about when they expound upon some text, this course is a great way to get to understand them. Its focus is more on classic "theory" than late twentieth century criticism, which is probably for the reason that postmodern criticism is so full of jargon as to make it incomprehensible, even by professionals I hazard to guess. Prof. Markos does cover some recent theory, but I get the impression he's breezing over it a bit - witness his "poststructuralism/postmodernism - more or less the same thing" comment in one of the later lectures. What the course really gains from is Prof. Markos's enthusiasm for the subject, and his desire for the listener to get excited about it too. For this I am prepared to forgive the overly rehearsed sounding opening to each lecture - I have the audio version, but it sounds like he's reading the opening lines each time. Despite my little jabs, this is one of the courses I have got the most from over the years. Demystifies the subject very well.
Date published: 2009-04-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant Course I thought this course was brilliant, the best I have heard from the Teaching Company, and I certainly hope there will be more from this lecturer. I have just started listening to it the second time through, and recommend this course for anyone interested in art in any form. It has clarified my own views and where they fit in a historical sense, and have helped me to understand the broad spectrum of approaches to art in general. My only criticism is that I felt Markos was rushed at certain points - I would have loved for him to have time to go deeper into certain subjects, and have time to explain how the various theories have been applied to specific works from the past and present. Louis Markos moves fast and with enthusiasm, and I would certainly buy any follow on or more in depth courses by him.
Date published: 2009-04-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Literary Criticism: How Did We Get Here? The professor is very enthusiastic about his subject and that can't help but transfer to the listener. Other courses on literature deal with specific works of literature, this deals with various thinkers who have developed theories of literature and its analysis. This provides a good introduction to a big topic. I learned a lot by listening to it. I read some of the suggested texts.
Date published: 2009-01-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Truly great This is the only course you really need to understand the evolution of artistic thought. I am half way done with it, and is so, so stimulating. Professor Marcos is a great speaker and just the amount of information he offers is unique even for the Teaching Co. If you write or want to understand how ideas regarding the arts have evolved throughout history, this course is much recommended.
Date published: 2008-12-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from These courses are great as refreshers for everything I forgot since college.
Date published: 2008-10-17
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