Appearance and Reality



Appearance and Reality

How do we distinguish the virtual from the actual, or the factual from the fictitious–and how secure is the boundary between them? The attempt to frame a distinction between appearance and reality has always been a major preoccupation in social, political, philosophical, and literary works, leaving some to question whether ultimate reality is fated to lie beyond our grasp, others to wonder whether there is some way to access reality through appearance, and still others to question or reject the distinction entirely. This course explores the nature and challenges of the appearance/reality distinction via a diverse literature of ancient, modern, and postmodern works. While the idea that “things are not always as they seem” is a very old notion, it has never been more timely, as social media has greatly amplified the power to disseminate views driven by personal values, and opinions packaged as irrefutable fact. In a world permeated by allegations of “fake news” and allusions to “virtual reality,” and where once venerable grand theories can look like little more than competing and self-serving stories, sustained reflection on the validity, salience, and evolving forms of the appearance/reality distinction beckons.


Book list:

Plautus, Amphitruo

Sappho, Poems and fragments

Plato, Republic

Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis [selections]

Grettir’s Saga

Machiavelli, The Prince

Shakespeare, Hamlet

Galileo, “Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina”

Cavendish, The Blazing World

Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality

Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

Austen, Emma

Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment

Melville, Typee

Brecht, Life of Galileo

Laurence, A Bird in the House 

Moore, Gibbons: Watchmen

Herbert, Still Life with Bridle

Coates, Between the World and Me

Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric

Hamid, The Reluctant Fundament

Vowell, Unfamiliar Fishes

King, The Inconvenient Indian [selections]

Marx, The Communist Manifesto


Update: Aug 24, 2020


Lecture Schedule for academic year 2021-22 (coming soon)

Update: August 24, 2020


Reading list with ISBNs (coming soon)


Update: August 24, 2020