Writing the Unthinkable: Literary and Philosophical Imaginations

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Spring 2018 quarter

Taught by

writing, comparative literature, film and visual culture

This program introduces students to the broad concept of the "unthinkable".  What does it mean to write the unthinkable? How do we know what we know, and, indeed, what cannot be known? What role does language, and other forms of representation, play in making it possible for us to think anything at all? How do we represent that which cannot, or should not, exist? Is there a difference between thinking and feeling? We will raise these and other questions to interrogate those paradoxical gaps between thinking, knowing, and representing.

The program draws from literary theory and philosophy, as well as a vast range of creative writing, to strengthen students’ critical reading, thinking, and writing skills. To that end, we will explore the complexity of human emotional and intellectual responses as powerful mechanisms of both story-telling and of non-narrative ways of knowing. We will read, write, talk, and challenge our own thought systems in order to deepen our understanding of ourselves and of the world we inhabit. We will consider the metaphysical, transhistorical, utopian, and nonidentitarian impulses through a diverse range of writing (creative and critical, fiction and non-fiction) from around the world, from many time periods, and from across various genres and media (including fantasy, science-fiction, memoir, horror, mystery, film, theater, and performance art). These readings may include works from authors such as Franz Kafka, Haruki Murakami, Jorge Luis Borges, Edgar Allen Poe, Ursula Le Guin, Eugene Ionesco, and Samuel Beckett.

A series of process pieces, including weekly reading responses and peer review will structure the flow of the quarter. By the end of the program, students will complete two final projects: a piece of creative short fiction, and an essay in concept-based critical analysis. 

Program Details

Fields of Study

aesthetics literature philosophy writing

Preparatory For

philosophy, literature, creative writing, and literary theory.


Spring Open

Location and Schedule

Campus Location


Time Offered


Online Learning

Enhanced Online Learning