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First-Year Writing Seminar: Obsession

Semester and Year FA 2016
Course Number FIRST-UG425
Section 001
Instructor Jordan Stein
Days MW
Time 2:00 PM - 3:15 PM
Units 4
Level U
Foundation Requirement  


Open to Gallatin first-year students only.


Andy Warhol famously said of Campbell’s Soup, “I used to drink it. I used to have the same lunch every day, for 20 years, I guess, the same thing over and over again.” Martin Luther obsessively confessed his sins in response to tormented thoughts of religious transgression. An Ethiopian girl named Bira could not stop eating the mud bricks that composed her house. We also find obsession in works of literature and film. In Shelley’s  Frankenstein , for example, Victor Frankenstein is obsessive in his quest to create life, and the monster that he creates is obsessed with enacting revenge. In this class, we will study hoarders, collectors, hypochondriacs, addicts, fanatics and perfectionists. We will consider such questions as: What does it mean to be obsessed with an object or idea? Why are some obsessions praiseworthy whereas others are representative of pathology? What distinguishes obsession from states such as desire and delusion? Does society influence how we categorize health and disease? Do we control, or are we controlled by, our obsessions? What are the differences between practice, habit, ritual, repetition and compulsion? Examination of these questions will lead us to consider the laws of sympathetic magic, the artwork of Andy Warhol, Freudian psychoanalysis, and the role of the emotions in rational thinking. Readings will include Freud’s  Case Studies , Fraser’s  Golden Bough,  a memoir on obsessive-compulsive disorder, Descartes’  Methods on First Philosophy , Shelley’s  Frankenstein  and Bronte’s  Wuthering Heights . Because this is a writing course, students will develop argumentative writing skills and participate in the peer review process. We’ll also visit the Museum of Modern Art to view Warhol’s  Campbell’s Soup Cans  exhibit.

Course Type

First-Year Program: Writing Seminars (FIRST-UG)