S 2019

A Sweeping History Of Energy Transitions That Revolutionized The World (10 weeks)

Wednesday May 8 to Jul 17 ( 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM )

Coordinator: William Meisel
Co-coordinator: Edward Robin

The history of energy challenges over the last four centuries tells the story of humanity itself over that time period.  Pulitzer-prize winning author Richard Rhodes tells how wood gave way to coal and coal made room for oil, as coal and oil are now making room for natural gas, renewable energy and nuclear power.  Rhodes looks back at progress through the eyes of such figures as Queen Elizabeth I, James Watt, Benjamin Franklin, Edwin Drake, Henry Ford, Rachel Carson and many others.


He highlights the successes and failures that led to each breakthrough in energy production:  from animal and waterpower to the steam engine, from internal combustion to electricity and the harnessing of wind, sunlight & nuclear fuels.  He reveals how we learned from such trials, mastered their transitions and capitalized on their opportunities.  Rhodes also confronts the challenge of global warming --- the largest transition in history --- finding a dangerous gap between the limited market penetration of renewables and the urgency of the threat.

The New York Times book review states, “Rhodes’s talent is making the scientifically complex accessible to the proverbial lay reader with clarity and without dumbing down the essentials of his topic.”  In the process he details how this half-forgotten knowledge from our past can inform our way in the future.

An Age of Migration

Wednesday May 8 to Aug 7 ( 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM )

Coordinator: Linda Rice
Co-coordinator: Maren Henderson

The 20th and 21st centuries have seen massive migration movements enabled by new transportation and communication technologies. There are numerous reasons to migrate including income disparity, globalization, climate change, war and religious differences.

This S/DG will examine eight major migrations in the 20th and 21st centuries. In addition we will consider the capacity of states to control migration, security issues, human trafficking, political perspectives, the benefits and sacrifices of the migrants and the future of migration.

For half of the sessions we will use a core book, "The Age of Migration " by Castles and Miller (4th edition). In the remaining sessions there will be references from the coordinator and participants will find their own online references.

Additionally, each week, we will consider and discuss one current article published on the issue of migration.

Biological Basis for Behaviour

Wednesday May 8 to Aug 7 ( 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM )

Coordinator: George Lauer
Co-coordinator: Leo Roos

Using time travel as an organizing principle, Robert M. Sapolsky, in his book Behave, addresses human reaction to stimuli and concludes that nature reigns over nurture. “Seconds before our action, it is neuroscience that investigates what is going on in the brain; minutes to days before is the domain of endocrinology (hormonal fluctuations). Days to months before, we focus on the brain’s ability to learn and rewire itself.”

However if every human action is inescapably caused by preceding events in the world, including events from centuries to millennia before (chapter 9) and events in the brain, how do we account for free will? Can humans be moral beings? Should our justice system recognize the biological drivers of behavior? How should we think about religion? These issues too will be discussed.
In summary this SDG will help you understand the eternal response "the devil made me do it" -- and, perhaps conclude, he did.
Sapolsky’s book is fairly non-technical although some neurological terms and ideas are used. In addition Sapolsky has at least two full lectures entitled "Human Behavior Biology" on endocrinology and neurosciences for the non professional on YouTube.

Fiction/Nonfiction: Marilynne Robinson

Thursday May 9 to Aug 8 ( 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM )

Coordinator: Doug Green
Co-coordinator: Margaret Bowles

Marilynne Robinson is a lauded author of fiction.  Her first novel Housekeeping was widely praised. Readers were smitten.   Her trio of novels Gilead, Home, and Lila are haunting, beautiful and rich sagas of early 20th century American families, with stories reaching back to the Civil War.  When I read Gilead I talked about it with friends for a year. Robinson’s novels had appreciative reception and many awards— nominated for, and winning too, the Pulitzer, the National Book Award, among others. For fiction Robinson is well known. We will read her four novels with appreciation and enjoyment.  


Perhaps less well known are Robinson’s many books of essays and lectures. Though her nonfiction is not too obscure: a well read American, enamored of her writing, famously invited her to his House for a discussion that started with his praise for Gilead but mainly discussed the issues of her essays. https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2015/11/05/president-obama-marilynne-robinson-conversation/


These essays extend, with explanations, the ideas and sensibilities of her novels.  They address her ideas of history, literature, religion, current politics, empathy and humanism.


Well written and engaging, Robinson's nonfiction and fiction are both valuable and inspiring; together they expand the breadth of her ideas and sensibilities, and our appreciation.  In this SDG we read the four novels alternating with the essays recently published, essays written in the last few years, pertinent to our lives now.    

Gravity: The Force That Explains Everything (2nd 7 weeks)

Tuesday Jun 25 to Aug 6 ( 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM )

Coordinator: Larry Bloxham

Note: The core book (and thus, the SDG) is intended for non-scientists.  There is no math required and no prior background beyond general knowledge.  If you want a meatier proposal, I can re-write this using Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity by Carlo Rovelli as the core book.  That would turn it into 10 or 14 weeks   

Gravity is a weak force, not a strong one. Yet, on a large scale, it is so irresistible that it controls the evolution and fate of the universe. Newton's Theory of Gravitation was a revolution in scientific thought, and it was successful in many ways: explaining the motion of the planets and ocean tides and predicting the existence of Neptune, an undiscovered planet at the time. Newton's theory held sway until Einstein showed that gravity is warped space-time, allowing scientists to explain the anomalous motion of Mercury and to predict the existence of black holes and the big bang. The detection of a gravitational wave in 2015 confirmed Einstein's prediction of it a hundred years earlier.

Today, physicists realize that gravity is still not fully explained by Newton and Einstein, and they are embarking on a search for a deeper theory of gravity: a quantum theory of gravitation. Assembling the pieces in the puzzle of quantum gravity will result in a seismic shift in our understanding of space-time and fundamentally alter our view of reality. 

In this  SDG, we will discover how we got to this point, standing on the brink of a vast undiscovered landscape of physics. We will begin with Newton, move through the centuries to Einstein and complete the study with a look at physicists struggling to uncover the quantum theory of space-time that will move us beyond Einstein.  

Guilty Pleasures: Seriously Sinister Fictional Villainy (2nd 7 weeks)

Tuesday Jun 25 to Aug 6 ( 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM )

Coordinator: Renee Hurewitz

At over 900 pages our core book of stories is, in the words of one reviewer, "a monument to bad behavior . . . equally impossible to pick up and put down." We start with the Victorians—with Bram Stroker's "Dracula's Guest"—and end up with truly nasty moderns such as "Too Many Crooks" by Donald Westlake. In between we cross paths with 19th-century Americans (the apparently innocent Washington Irving's "Story of a Young Robber"), Edwardians ("The Hammerpond Park Burglary" from H.G. Wells), early 20th-century Americans ("The Willow Walk" by Sinclair Lewis), between-the-world-wars writers (Ben Hecht, "The Fifteen Murderers"), and pulp era classics (including "After-Dinner Story" by William Irish, otherwise known as Cornell Woolrich and the source for Alfred Hitchcoks's Rear Window and two films by François Truffaut).

    Wait! There's more! We can't forget post-war/not quite modern notables such as Earl Stanley Gardner ("The Cat-Woman") and Robert Fish ("Sweet Music"). 

History of U.S. Foreign Relations 1776- 1945

Monday May 6 to Aug 5 ( 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM )

Coordinator: Paul Markowitz
Co-coordinator: Sam Pryor

This SDG will use U.S. foreign relations as the lens through which to tell the story of America's rise from thirteen disparate colonies huddled along the Atlantic coast to the world's greatest superpower.  This course will cover America's interaction with other peoples and nations of the world.  This story is one of stunning successes and sometimes tragic failures which illuminates the central importance of foreign relations to the existence and survival of the country and highlights its ongoing impact on the lives of ordinary citizens.  It will further show how policymakers defined American interests broadly to include territorial expansion, access to growing markets, and the spread of "the American way of life."  Statesmen such as Benjamin Franklin, Woodrow Wilson, and Harry Truman played key roles in America's rise to world power.

The core book for this SDG will be the first part of award-winning From Colony to Superpower by George Herring which is part of the distinguished Oxford History of the United States.  Herring argues that United States foreign policy has been "spectacularly successful," but he notes that its claims to being morally superior, a light to all nations, has frequently given way to great-power actions.  And, though enjoying all the benefits of a great power, it has been sadly unaware of the limits of that power.

How Democracies Die. A Look around the world and how to rescue our own Democracy (10 weeks)

Monday May 6 to Jul 8 ( 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM )

Coordinator: Toni Delliquadri
Co-coordinator: Jack Mc Donough

Is America's Democracy in Danger? Democracies are always fragile. For the first time in U.S. history, a man with no experience in public office, little observable commitment to constitutional rights, and with clear authoritarian tendencies is elected President.Why? 

How Democracies Die, by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, The People Vs. Democracy by Yascha Mounk and Can It Happen Here?  Authoritarianism in America, edited by Cass Sunstein are recent books to sound the alarm on how democracies can die-- not at the hands of military force, but by the acts of elected leaders who subvert the process that brought them to power, often under the guise of efforts to improve democracy by combating "corruption", cleaning up the electoral process, making the judiciary more efficient, censoring the press as "the enemy of the people", buying off the media  and rewriting the rules of politics to tilt the playing field against opponents, often labeled as the "elite" who are against "the people".

These books and essays discuss the importance of democratic norms and their breakdown as rooted in intense partisan polarization, which goes beyond policy differences and has moved into an existential conflict about our race and culture.

Levitsky and Ziblatt look at other countries to show that polarization can kill democracies, but can teach us that breakdown is not inevitable or irreversible . Mounk illustrates how two core components of liberal democracy--individual rights and the popular will are at war with each other, people have become disillusioned with our political system, and willing to turn to authoritarian Populist leaders.

This SDG will examine the current turmoil in democratic government in America,  the recent turn toward authoritarianism, the creation of and role of polarization of people in subverting democratic norms, values and governance. We will analyze the authors' ideas and prescriptions for what citizens must want and actively do to ensure 'it can't happen here'.

Lincoln,TR, FDR and LBJ - Leaders Made or Born? (2nd 7 weeks)

Thursday Jun 27 to Aug 8 ( 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM )

Coordinator: Sheri Ross
Co-coordinator: Tricia Flumenbaum

Are leaders born or made? Where does ambition come from? How does adversity affect the growth of leadership? Does the person make the times or do the time make the person". Much more than in her narrative histories, Goodwin here explicitly takes up the formation of her subjects’ characters and how their most notable qualities equipped them to lead the country during trying times.Join this SDG utilizing Doris Kearns Goodwin's seminal work to provide us with fodder for discussion to create a roadmap for aspiring and established leaders in every field.... because as the author notes: In today's polarized world stories of authentic leadership take on a singular urgency. We can benefit from reminders that even flawed mortals can, in times of national emergency, achieve great things

Literature from Israel

Wednesday May 8 to Aug 7 ( 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM )

Coordinator: Karen Fishel
Co-coordinator: Gerda Benzeev

ISRAELI LITERATURE offers visions of human existence from a wide range of cultural perspectives.  We will trace early 20th century writing as the Zionist movement grew;  continuing with Israeli contemporary novels and concluding with a 2017 American Jewish writer’s novel placing American Jews in Israel.  Each story and novel explores self-definition and the question of what it means to be a human being.  

Movies of the Coen Brothers

Tuesday May 7 to Aug 6 ( 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM )

Coordinator: Stanley Rubin
Co-coordinator: Linda Kelemer

From their black comedy-drama “A Serious Man,” a movie that touches on Jewish identity in America and portrays the Job-like view of life that is embedded in Jewish culture, to their Academy Award Winning Best Picture “No Country for Old Men,” the Coen Brothers’ movies frequently amuse, sometimes horrify, but always entertain us.  Rising above our chuckling and our squirming as we watch, the movies challenge us to examine the subtle differences between sometimes surprisingly ambiguous choices of right and wrong, of good and evil.  This SDG examines 14 of their movies that portray eternal themes that we frequently encounter, yet often ignore or overlook as we scurry about in the conduct of our daily lives.  Each week, SDG participants will be expected to: view the assigned movie; gather additional material that discusses and critiques the script, actors, methods and themes employed by the film makers; and, discuss and share that knowledge with their colleagues.  “Step out of your car…” (and, for SDG members, out of your comfort zone), as the amoral villain Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) commands the unsuspecting motorist in “No Country for Old Men,” and into the filmography of the Coen Brothers’ movies.

(A note to reviewers: this is an updated version -- some new and different movies -- of a highly successful SDG coordinated by Paul Markowitz during the Winter, 2013 term.  We checked with Paul to make sure that our submission was "not stepping on his toes."  He approved of our submission and recommended that we submit.)

Outsider Art (1st 7 weeks)

Thursday May 9 to Jun 20 ( 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM )

Coordinator: Bill Clarkson

Outsider Art was originally thought of as art generated by the mentally ill, with the notion that the state of mental illness would generate a pure art form not tainted by “cultural” creation.  This idea coincided with the development in the 40’s of non-representational art and the interest, or craving for connection with unobstructed imagination. 

The originator of the study of Outsider Art was a man named, Jean Dubuffet.  His search was focused on, “art forms emanating from obscure personalities, maniacs; arising from spontaneous impulses, animated by fantasy, even delirium; and strangers to the beaten path of catalogued art.”  He named this art, Art Brut.

In this course, we will discuss the origins and development of Outsider Art which is no longer exclusively identified with the mentally ill.  These artists are often isolated in rural communities, impoverished, caught up in religious fervor, or driven by inner visions. 

Their stories are as varied as the art they create, but their drive is to create a physical representation of their inner world.  Come along with us to explore this creative, disturbing and magnificent world.

Peter and Catherine: The Greats (12 weeks)

Tuesday May 7 to Jul 23 ( 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM )

Coordinator: Ken Korman
Co-coordinator: Barbara Shuwarger

Peter and Catherine: The Greats

Course Description

1672: Russia was a backwater country mired in traditional medieval customs. June 9 of the same year Peter, son of Tsar Alexei was born. Known to us as Peter the Great, he instituted radical political, social and educational changes and took Russia kicking and screaming into the modern world. He built a modern army, created a navy, opened up a privileged aristocracy, brought the church under state control and adopted the European calendar. Peter played a pivotal role in the creation of a whole new Europe in which Russia was to play a crucial part. To what extent were the seeds of change already there? How successful were these reforms? At what cost did these benefits come?


Four years after Peter died, Catherine was born, a German princess, who then through marriage and political intrigue, came to rule and even enlarge the already vast Russian Empire. Her long reign was marked by public turbulence and controversy, as well as many private love affairs, inspiring both admiration and criticism in her subjects and later by historians. She was famous for her intellectual brilliance and pursuit of the ideals of the Enlightenment, but her actual achievements fell short of her declared intentions. Was she a hypocritical, self-serving tyrant and sex symbol or a politically astute autocrat, fighting to survive and to maintain order?


In this SD/G we’ll examine the lives and unique personalities of these two Great Tsars of Russia. We’ll study the time period in which they lived, the social, political and cultural development of Russia and their participation in the international arena. And we shall explore the part they played in the modernization of Russia and their impact on the whole of Europe. And we’ll try to answer the question: Do Peter and Catherine still deserve to be called “The Greats

President McKinley: Calm Voice in Turbulent Waters--10 Weeks

Tuesday May 7 to Jul 9 ( 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM )

Coordinator: Jay Christensen
Co-coordinator: Eugene Osher

Some of our most forgotten presidents have been individuals who contributed in their own way to making this country great.  In McKinley's case we often do not remember his experiences in the Civil War, his forging of the Spanish-American War, and his important election in 1896.  This 25th President of the United States beat William Jennings Bryan and achieved his victory with a significant popular majority.  He was only one of eight presidents who came from Ohio, and McKinley adopted the Ohioan thinking with Mark Hanna. 

Many of the programs started by McKinley were fulfilled by Theodore Roosevelt’s administration.  On William's watch he annexed Hawaii and made America control the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico.  He made sure the rest of the world understood America was becoming a global and economic power.  According to one author, he promoted the interests of blue-collar workers and presided over a growing country with industrial might.  Because of McKinley’s stature, he chose Theodore Roosevelt to be his running mate.

Think of McKinley as a principled man with strong moral convictions.  We should also remember that McKinley opposed slavery and came from a family of abolitionists.  McKinley came of age when the nation debated the importance of tariffs and whether the wealth was equally distributed.  He never insulated himself from the American people.

Within the last year or so, a new book (our core book) has emerged as resurrecting McKinley as one of the better presidents of our country.  In the core book the author reminds us that McKinley never cared who got the credit.  Come and talk about McKinley’s "heavy quiet" that influenced the way people thought about issues and American progress.  It should not be forgotten that McKinley had tremendous devotion to his frail wife during his presidency and before. 


Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neill Side by Side

Monday May 6 to Aug 5 ( 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM )

Coordinator: Fariba Ghaffari
Co-coordinator: Judith Munoz

Loneliness, the condition into which we are born, and from which we spend much of our lives trying to escape — whether through love and sex, or alcohol or drugs or even, yes, art — is a theme that resounds throughout the works of Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams, two of America’s greatest playwrights, if not the two greatest.

Charles Isherwood

In this SDG we will examine 7 plays of each of these two giants of American Theater, analyze in depth and compare their style.

The Big Ones, How Natural Disasters Have Shaped Us and What We Can Do About Them (10 weeks)

Monday May 6 to Jul 8 ( 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM )

Coordinator: Bob Moore-Stewart

 This course is based around the April, 2018 book of the same name, by  Southern California seismologist, Dr Lucy Jones.  Her first chapter title is:  Imagine America Without Los Angeles.  It’s about the San Andreas Fault and the earthquakes that we are subject to in our home city.  Ignore at your own peril.  Further chapters deal with volcanoes, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, and fires, from locations all around the world.  Three of the chapters deal with California directly. How many of you know what the greatest natural disaster in California has been in the last 160 years?  It was not an earthquake, not a fire, but it was a flood in 1861-62, located near Sacramento at the confluence of the Sacramento River in the American River.  It caused a lake throughout the  length of the entire central valley and up to 60 miles wide. 

 Well learn some geology, to help explain earthquakes and volcanoes.  Throughout the book, Dr. Jones discusses not only particular natural disasters, but also the preparation or lack of preparation for such a disaster, and how it affected the outcome for the community.  How to minimize damage and maximize chances for survival have been the focus for Dr. Jones’s research and work for many years both at Caltech and public boards she has led or  participated in, here in Southern California.  We will also make this a focus of the course, both the survival of the community and individuals and their homes. 

The Dark Years: France 1940 - 1945

Monday May 6 to Aug 5 ( 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM )

Coordinator: Alice Lewis
Co-coordinator: Stanton Zarrow

German forces began their invasion of France on 10 May 1940. Just over a month later, on 14 June, German soldiers entered Paris with almost no opposition. No one expected France to collapse so quickly and so completely. The governments of other defeated nations went into exile and continued to fight from exile.The case of France was different and disappointing, even shameful.The French government chose not to go into to exile but instead abandoned their democratic republic to anti-democratic, anti-republican Frenchmen who quickly made peace with Germany.

To the French people, the years from 1940 to 1944 are known as "the dark years." This SDG is an exploration of those years. In order to understand the story, we must start with the historical, social and cultural context in which the unexpectedly rapid disintegration of the country unfolded. Northern France was occupied and harshly ruled by the Germans while Petain's nominally French government in Vichy, abolished democratic institutions, persecuted Jews, Freemasons, and Communists, and forced half a million others to work in German factories. In the immediate aftermath of the war, historians and politicians created "the Resistance myth" in which the "real" France was embodied in de Gaulle's Free French and the Resistance movement.Starting in the 1970's, historians' focus shifted to the complexity of Vichy. By the 1990's, a much deeper view of the Resistance, included the complicated internal disputes, began to surface. 

The goal of this SDG is multifaceted: to understand how so many French people became collaborators; to understand what it was like to live under German occupation, as well as in Vichy; to consider the role and dimensions of the Resistance; and to consider why and how historians write history as they do. 

The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine (1st 7weeks)

Thursday May 9 to Jun 20 ( 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM )

Coordinator: Ruhama Goldman
Co-coordinator: Zane Lang

So far, all the efforts of the United States and other to cajole the Israelis and the Palestinians to enter into a peace treaty have been unsuccessful. In this seven week SDG, we will examine the mindsets of the parties to the conflict.  We will explore whether they really want peace, what are the costs of peace for each of the parties, and if they don't want peace, what are their real objectives. If the parties don't want peace, is external pressure (force) the only thing that may resolve the Israeli - Palestinian conflict?

Our core book was written by Senator George Mitchell who served as a special envoy for Middle East peace from 2009 to 2011.  Senator Mitchell is intimately familiar with the positions of both sides and gives an insider account of how the negotiations between the parties have progressed and regressed through the years.

The Republic by Plato (10 weeks)

Wednesday May 22 to Jul 24 ( 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM )

Coordinator: Christine Holmgren
Co-coordinator: Larry Ceplair


The Republic is the first and arguably the greatest work on political philosophy.  (Alfred North Whitehead famously stated that all Western philosophy was a footnote to Plato.)  In it Socrates, Plato’s teacher, presents the case for the good life and the perfectly administered society.  (Albeit, some writers, like Karl Popper, have called it a blueprint for a closed or authoritarian society.)  Plato’s writing is poetical, and the book is replete with timeless images:  the allegory of the cave, philosopher kings, and the ring of Gyges (the inspiration for Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings), among others.  We will use the translation by C. D. C. Reeve (Hackett paperback).

U.S. Government, Politics, and Public Policy

Monday May 6 to Aug 5 ( 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM )

Coordinator: Peter Hantos
Co-coordinator: Dianne Hantos

In this SDG, we will examine the American political system focusing upon its public policies. This course will focus on the big picture.” What are the driving forces and persistent tendencies of American politics? Who governs America -- how, when and why?

This study group will use as a core text We the People:  An Introduction to American Government, 12 ed. by  Thomas E. Patterson, Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press in the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
The SDG will address questions, including: Why are American elections awash in money? Why has the power to start wars shifted from Congress to the president? Why does the United States have more people in poverty and yet spend less on social welfare than other major democracy? What accounts for the party polarization that characterizes today’s politics? Why is income inequality on the rise in America? Why has global trade become a controversial foreign policy issue? In the process of addressing such questions, we will engage in analytical reasoning using case studies.

What You’re Really Arguing About When You Argue About Politics / The Elephant Brain

Tuesday May 7 to Aug 6 ( 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM )

Coordinator: Art Smukler
Co-coordinator: Rudy Sabaratnam

Human beings are primates, and primates are political animals. Our brains, therefore, are designed not just to hunt and gather, but also to help us get ahead socially, often via deception and self-deception. But while we may be self-interested schemers, we benefit by pretending otherwise. The less we know about our own ugly motives, the better - and thus we don't like to talk or even think about the extent of our selfishness. This is "the elephant in the brain." Such an introspective taboo makes it hard for us to think clearly about our nature and the explanations for our behavior. The aim of this book, then, is to confront our hidden motives directly - to track down the darker, unexamined corners of our psyches and blast them with floodlights. Then, once everything is clearly visible, we can work to better understand ourselves: Why do we laugh? Why are artists sexy? Why do we brag about travel? Why do we prefer to speak rather than listen? Our unconscious motives drive more than just our private behavior; they also infect our venerated social institutions such as Art, School, Charity, Medicine, Politics, and Religion. In fact, these institutions are in many ways designed to accommodate our hidden motives, to serve covert agendas alongside their "official" ones. The existence of big hidden motives can upend the usual political debates, leading one to question the legitimacy of these social institutions, and of standard policies designed to favor or discourage them. After this SDG you won't see yourself - or the world - the same after confronting the elephant in the brain.

Outside of the policy prescriptions, most of the information contained in The Elephant in the Brain can be read more or less apolitically. 

What's Love Got to do With It -- Marriage in Literature

Wednesday May 8 to Aug 7 ( 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM )

Coordinator: Frances Ehrmann
Co-coordinator: Donald Spuehler

Literature provides some brilliant examples of what's in store when the honeymoon is over. Being a newlywed is fun for those involved, but a marriage only really becomes interesting to others when it starts to unravel.  There is perverse beauty in marital breakdown, and writers who show us this, from Flaubert to Updike, are worth celebrating. But then again, there are some good marriages that last a lifetime. In this SDG, we will read about both kinds.

            Marriage is a template for living together and procreating that has been implanted in us by the Bible, by history, by literature, by custom. The traditional family, with the male as the breadwinner, and the female staying home, now comprises less than one quarter of U.S. households. Yet, we still subscribe to the fairy tale of it – all those white weddings – and give it tax breaks. Lesbians and gays subscribe to it as enthusiastically as heterosexuals. Most of us hunger for monogamy, even as we yearn for its opposite. What is this ideal so many of us feel we must live? Surely only fiction can tell.