Best American Essays, Part 1

GENINT 721.676

Osher (50+). In this course, we read essays that take on subjects of profound and universal significance.

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The essay is an expression of the human voice addressing an imagined audience, seeking to shift opinion, to influence judgment, to appeal to another in his or her common humanity. As Joyce Carol Oates puts it, the essay “is the ideal literary form to convey the vision of who we are and where we are going.” The essays we read in this course—direct and intimate—take on subjects of profound significance, retaining, at the same time, the power of a personal address. For example, W.E.B Du Bois’s “Of the Coming of John” is a chilling prophetic work that traces the journey of a seemingly ordinary black boy from southeastern George, sent north to be educated in a Negro school, who returns more foreign to his former relatives and neighbors than a Georgian white man. H.L. Mencken’s “The Hills of Zion” is a passionate repudiation of evangelical Christianity and anti-intellectualism; and Henry Adams’s “A Law of Acceleration” strikes a disturbingly contemporary note in its contemplation of a mechanist universe reduced to a series of relations, and mankind itself reduced to “motion in a universe of motion.”

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