Institute for Retired Professionals, New School University, New York City

The City New Yorkers Love to Hate evolved improbably from an arid, literally unstable landscape; but earthquakes haven't stopped millions from seeking another (or last) chance, or just the proverbial place in the sun. The local industry-movies-lured many to reinvent themselves, including great writers. We try to get beyond the familiar putdowns-Tinseltown, Lalaland, or just L.A.-and examine the West Coast experience historically as expressed in many literary and visual forms. Central themes: El Dorado, pueblo history eclipsed by Anglo myths, cultivating "paradise," the politics of water, revivalism in Babylon, autopia: car culture and art, pulp fictions, noir city, writers' revenge: the Hollywood novel, "hyperrealities," from Venice Beach to Disneyland, and architectural styles: craftsman, mission revival, movie set, postmodern.

This study group is for people interested in writing, whether new at it or revising a tenth novel or suffering the agonies of writer's block. Our prescription for all of these: Let the reader in you help the writer in you flourish. We analyze the techniques of admired writers, then attempt to apply them to our own uncertain attempts at fiction, poetry, journalism, memoir, etc. Scanning samples from exemplars like Alfred Kazin, W. H. Auden, Neil Simon, and Virginia Woolf, we writers and would-be writers focus on particular skills these authors are celebrated for (characterization, dialogue, dramatic action, humor, a distinctive "voice"). Short assignments give us a chance to put their craftsmanship to work improving ours. Email access required.

At one time, the study of history consisted of wars and laws, presidents, and kings-and a never-ending succession of dates. That is the history most of us studied in school. But today, we know there are many roads to understanding history. In this study group, we use popular songs (lyrics mainly) to throw light on historical trends and eras. We examine songs in times of war from the Civil War to Vietnam and 9/11, songs of other periods of crisis, from labor strife and the civil rights struggle to immigration and 20th-century urban strife-as well as some special sessions on New Orleans music, the westward movement, and the hard-scrabble existence that created country music. The emphasis is always on illuminating history-not composers, musical styles, or clever lyrics.

After 1792, the leaders of the French Revolution enshrined the Goddess of Reason in Notre Dame, and Temples of Reason were established in many French cities. Religion had been toppled: Reason was now the new religion. The triumph of reason was celebrated in huge festivals. Reason was to be the guide to human conduct and for the understanding of the world. Reason was applied to nature, science, religion, God, history, politics, crime and punishment, gender and race, education, the economy, war and peace. We read excerpts from essays on these subjects by scientists, philosophers, and writers of the time. We conclude with a discussion of the romantic and postmodern critique of the dominance of reason.

African-American writers have found in short fiction a genre that has allowed them to capture their heritage, their sentiments, and their aspirations. By selecting from a range of time periods, we can
investigate their evolving perspectives. We read stories by Chestnutt, Ellison, Baldwin, Dove, and Danticat, among others.

A very popular course in which each week a different member of the seminar takes full responsibility for leading an in-depth discussion of that week's assigned essay from The New York Review of Books. Provision of supplementary information based upon prior study and/or
research stimulated by the assignment is encouraged. The essays selected reflect the range of subject matter in The New York Review, which covers politics, history, science, and philosophy, as well as the literary and visual arts. This course has given many people an opportunity to "test the waters" of leading a study group.

Montaigne said, "One should always have one's boots on and be ready to leave." We study the leaving part and seek to understand the process of dying in order to confront our own fear of death. We look at the many aspects of death: pain, suffering, and bodily disintegration; lingering vs. sudden death; suicide; euthanasia; hospice care; and how to achieve a good death. The death of others, the accompanying grief, and the funeral industry are not subjects of this course. It is our own death we confront through readings and discussion of Nuland's How We Die, Battin's The Least Worst Death, Humphry's Final Exit, Tolstoy's "The Death of Ivan Ilyich," and many other sources. Members of the class are randomly made responsible for preparing one or two questions for class discussion from the assigned readings, which average about 50 pages per week.

The philosophy of science is the investigation of philosophical questions that arise from reflecting on science. We read articles by Rudolf Carnap, Carl Hempel, A. J. Ayer, Ernest Nagel, Paul Feyerabend, Ian Hacking, and other prominent philosophers. These primary source essays survey the foundational questions in the field: What are the proper models of explanation? What is a law of nature? Can one scientific theory reduce to another? Is the appearance versus reality distinction valid? How do scientists reconcile empiricism and the unobservable? This is our second semester looking to answer these questions through close reading and discussion. New class members are welcome. Readings are brief (20 to 25 pages) but require close attention.


Spain's Golden Age, a time of illusion, delusion and intoxication! In the decades after 1492, Spain reached unprecedented heights of power and cultural achievement. But almost immediately, threatened by enemies, real and imagined, the country began its steady political and economic decline. We examine some of the splendid masterpieces created during this period in this militaristic, hierarchical, militantly religious society with a small aristocracy lording over a poverty-stricken peasantry: Calderon's drama Life is a Dream, Cervantes' Don Quixote, the mystic poetry of Sts. Theresa and John of the Cross, and Velazquez' puzzling and hypnotic painting, The Ladies in Waiting.




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