Augustine’s Confessions: Sin, Selfhood, and Memoir
381 Hooper St
Brooklyn, NY 11211
“Soul-sick was I, and tormented, accusing myself severely.” So writes Augustine of Hippo, recounting the transformative anguish that preceded his conversion to Christianity. In his Confessions—an antique work of surprising modernity—he wrestles with questions of pleasure, human will, guilt, and divine grace whilst detailing his resistance to and eventual acceptance of Christian faith. In this course, we’ll read and discuss the entirety of the Confessions, as Augustine narrates his life—from his youth in the Roman provincial town of Thagaste (in contemporary Algeria) to his adulthood as a teacher in Carthage and Rome to his eventual conversion and baptism in Milan; and as he travels intellectually through the works of Latin antiquity, Manichaeism, and Neo-Platonism before returning to the Christianity of his mother.
As we follow Augustine’s struggles with sex, the body, love, friendship, ambition, loss, and the fear of death, we’ll also consider the literary form of autobiography and Augustine’s making of a self in the Confessions through the narration of the past, through the representation of prayer, and through the act of confession, both of sin and of praise. Finally, we’ll discuss Augustine’s concluding arguments on time, memory, and history, in which the contingencies of individual experience are subsumed by claims to general truth. To what extent does Augustine’s quest for self-knowledge through confession resemble, or differ from, the “modern” mode of memoir-writing? Our primary work will be the close reading of Augustine’s Confessions, but also made available for discussion will be readings from Athanasius, Peter Brown, Paul Veyne, Michel Foucault, and Hannah Arendt.
Course ScheduleTuesday, 6:30-9:30pm
November 12 — December 10, 2019
4 sessions over 5 weeks
Class will not meet Tuesday, November 26th.