What is love? A group of freshman will attempt this spring to answer
that eternal question by taking an analytical look at the heady
emotion in the introductory literary studies course Critique
Students will work to discern the meaning of love through a critical
analysis of select literary works from antiquity to the modern period,
ranging from the spiritual Hindu text The Bhagavad-Gita to
Shakespeares Romeo and Juliet and Kierkigaards
The Fear and Trembling, among other selections.
The class is taught by Lili Zhang, an Emory doctoral student in
comparative literature and a native of China. Zhang said the idea
for the course evolved out of her first impressions of America and
the cultures liberal use of the word love.
When I came here five or six years ago, I noticed people used
the word love widely, not specifically for loving
in a romantic sense, Zhang said. Americans use it more
often and more casually than in China. What does love mean when
it is used superficially and so often?
I watched ahow do you call it? A soap opera,
Zhang continued in her heavily accented English. Everybody
was saying I love this, I love that, I
love you. I felt a little uncomfortable, like [the word] is
a little bit abused.
Zhang has begun the class with two of the pillars of the Western
literary canon: Sophocles Oedipus Rex and the Bible.
In the latter, she said she is using the story of the Garden of
Eden to illustrate that, in Judeo-Christian mythology, love and
knowledge originally stood in opposition to each other: Adam and
Eve partook of the Tree of Knowledge, then were expelled
from the garden and had to compensate for paradise by using love
for each other and for God.
In the modern world, Zhang said, love becomes
knowledgeinstead of action.
Zhang said many of her 13 students chose the class because they
thought it was a critique on the concept of love, rather
than the word itself.
When students are reading the works, I want them to think
analytically and critically about love instead of aesthetically,
Zhang said. I want to give them some distance from the word
and escape the inherent meaning they each have for it. I want them
to understand how love, as a social construct, defines
the individual feeling of love.
While students will specifically analyze the topic of love, the
course provides an introduction to literary studies combined with
an intensive writing approach. Completion of the course with a passing
grade fulfills Emorys freshman writing requirement.
Other required reading includes Shakespeares Othello,
The Kreutzer Sonata by Leo Tolstoy, The House of Mirth
by Edith Wharton and Civilization and Its Discontent by Sigmund
Freud. Required course work includes one presentation, five short
papers and a final paper.