HUMS 269: Poetry and Ethics Amidst Imperial Collapse
How can we live well in periods of instability, when the founding ideas of our civilization come under threat? What does it mean to be ethical in a situation you cannot control? Can bewilderment be a virtue? What role might poetry play in living a good life?
We will explore these questions through the work of Du Fu (712–770), long considered China’s greatest poet. Born into the richest and most powerful empire the world had ever known, Du Fu witnessed the sudden collapse both of the Tang state and of the ideals that had oriented the lives of its elite. In his poetry, he grapples with the problem of how to live a good, ethical life—and what a good, ethical life looks like—when conventional ideas about ethics and politics break down.