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From Plato to Postmodernism: Understanding the Essence of Literature and the Role of the Author

Follow "the great conversation" between philosophy and the literary arts down the millennia, from Plato and Aristotle through a host of brilliant writers all the way to our present day.

From Plato to Post-modernism: Understanding the Essence of Literature and the Role of the Author is rated 4.1 out of 5 by 54.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course despite….. I agree with the reviewers who found this to be one of the best TC courses. The professor knows his stuff and obviously loves talking about it. It would have been helpful if he had chosen one or two poems and applied the different modes of criticism to it by way of example. It would help to know how Coleridge and Foucault, for example, would read the same piece. To address the Christianity in it: yes, you absolutely cannot talk about a subject of western culture without a deep and thorough knowledge and understanding of Christianity. Markos appropriately uses examples from the Bible and from Christian thought throughout. However, his biases intrude: evolution is a myth? Come on! He assumes a pro-Christian or active Christian audience. His misogyny is also apparent, though subtle. But with these caveats, I highly recommend the course.
Date published: 2023-04-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A great course This course was given as a gift from a dear friend. It is amazing, really. Very organized and informative. The professor speaks very clearly and slowly so that non-native speakers can easily follow him. I strongly recommend it to English lit. students.
Date published: 2022-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very well thought of The lecturer is well-versed in the material. His lengthy explanations were instrumental to my early development in short story and novel writing. In particular, I found his examination of Aristotle's Poetics and Burke's Philosophical Enquiry into the Sublime and the Beautiful well worth the listen to, and I still recall the lecturer's pith statements as I now write as a professional of Belle Letters. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2022-10-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent handling of the topic (Literary Theory) This course tends to polarize opinions. However, if prospective students view it as a LITERATURE course rather than as PHILOSOPHY; and appreciate that Louis Markos hails from the "religious South"; and take his comments on Postmodernism as part of the Great Debate on that sub-topic: then they might find the course quite illuminating. As I did! Indeed, the course is as much about religious faith, and how to live, as it is about literary criticism - and nonetheless invaluable for that. By the way, students who complain about the Professor's "bias" may be just critical because their teacher doesn't agree with them! Such students may just as well forget about LEARNING and keeping an open mind!!! The 4 stars express my own frustration that the course is only available in MP3 format.
Date published: 2022-03-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Absolutely the best on the subject At one point Dr. Markos says that he aims to give his listeners that "ahaaa" moment with every lecture, he so achieves this that I've listened to the entire series three times, going on four. Covers a very broad range of history with order, insight and clarity. I am more of a visual media artist so all relatable applications were seamless . Thank for preparing the lectures and making them available!!
Date published: 2021-07-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of a Kind I purchased this when it first came out in the 90's and used the rewind button more than on any other course I'd purchases.up to that time: Another way.of saying.Professor Markos is really really smart. I did not have to purchase his recommended textbook back then because I already had most of the texts referred to from various sources in book form. A terrific course and I recommend as well his course on CS Lewis. Other postings criticizing his Christianity remind me of a debate I had with a guy who said knowledge of the Bible was totally unnecessary for higher learning of Great Art or literature- for a reader of this now who has been to a museum- exactly how intelligent is that attitude?
Date published: 2021-04-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Well worth the price. The presenter knows his subject very well and is very enthusiastic in presenting it and wanting the listener to understand and feel about it as he does.
Date published: 2019-12-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course again This is basically a literary(mostly)/art theory course. I have studied literary theory at university and I got to say that Lois markos does an admirable job conveying the important parts of literary theory history. For those who find this course difficult, they are correct. The history of literary theory is a broad and complex subject that can be studied for years after years. What Lois Markos does so well however is that he picks up on the central themes and ideas, and relates this to the context - history. If you have no previous experience in litterature studies, this is likely gonna be a difficult course, or at least time demanding - for a proper understanding you need to do some work yourself as well; that means reading some of the works by the authors. Get yourself a good litterary theory anthology and you will find all the people he speaks about there.
Date published: 2018-01-17
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What’s the best that’s been thought and said about creativity in literature, and by extension in the arts more broadly? To answer that question—and the many others that it leads to—you’ll follow "the great conversation" between philosophy and the literary arts down the millennia, from Plato and Aristotle through a host of brilliant writers all the way to our present day.


Louis Markos

When it comes to learning and to teaching, my motto has always been that of Socrates: The unexamined life is not worth living.


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 poetry and prose, 17th-century poetry and prose, mythology, epic, and film. He received the Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award from the University of Michigan and was named the Opal Goolsby Teacher of the Year at Houston Baptist. Dr. Markos has published several articles and is the author of How C. S. Lewis Can Train Us to Wrestle With The Modern and Postmodern World.

Thinking Theoretically

01: 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.

32 min
Plato—Kicking out the Poets

02: 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.

30 min

03: 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.

30 min

04: 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.

30 min

05: 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?

30 min
Longinus on the Sublime

06: 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.

30 min

07: 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).

30 min
Dryden, Pope, and Decorum

08: 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.

30 min
Burke on the Sublime and Beautiful

09: 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.

30 min

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?

30 min
Schiller on Aesthetics

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.

30 min
Hegel and the Journey of the Idea

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.

31 min
Wordsworth, Coleridge, and British Romanticism

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.

32 min
Mr. Wordsworth's

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."

31 min
Coleridge—Transcendental Philosopher

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.

30 min

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.

30 min
The Function of Criticism—Matthew Arnold and T.S. Eliot

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.

30 min
The Status of Poetry—I.A. Richards and John Crowe Ransom

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."

30 min
Heresies and Fallacies—W.K. Wimsatt and Cleanth Brooks

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?

30 min
Archetypal Theory—Saint Paul to Northrop Frye

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?

30 min
Origins of Modernism

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?

31 min
Structuralism—Ferdinand de Saussure to Michel Foucault

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.

30 min
Jacques Derrida on Deconstruction

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.

30 min
Varieties of Post-modernism

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.

31 min