Fall 2008

Core Courses

Critical Theory 205
Critical Aesthetic Theory

Anthony Cascardi

The aims of this seminar are several fold: to track the ways in which the goals of “critical theory” were from its earliest days associated with the project of an aesthetic critique; to assess the degree to which critical theory was (or was not) consistent with the major texts of Western aesthetics (Kant, Hegel, etc.); and finally to engage and evaluate the “return” of aesthetics since the 1970’s in light of cultural conceptual challenges to the paradigm of Western Marxism. We will devote special attention to the problem of reflective judgment, to the nature and limits of materialism, and to the ongoing negotiations between romanticism and modernism, including postmodernism. During the semester we will read some of the “founding” texts of modern Western aesthetics in detail, but the course will be construed as an investigation of the relationships between critical theory and aesthetics rather than as an introduction to or survey of the philosophy or theory of art. We will work collaboratively as much as possible. Students will be responsible for leading one class meeting in an informal way. Papers treating some question raised directly by the materials read and discussed in the course will be due as follows: paper topics submitted for review and approval by November 5; final papers due in both electronic and hard copy by December 10. Papers submitted after December 10 will be read as they are received but grades will be recorded as “I”. In addition to the following books (on order), there will be a selection of readings from works by Hume, Habermas, Marx and Engels, Walter Benjamin, Terry Eagleton, Jay Bernstein, and Fredric Jameson.

Required Books: Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory; Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment; Friedrich Schiller, Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Mankind; Friedrich Hegel, Introductory Lectures; Hannah Arendt, Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy; Herbert Marcuse, The Aesthetic Dimension: Toward a Critique of Marxist Aesthetics; Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment; Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle; Guy Debord, Comments on the Society of the Spectacle.

Critical Theory 240
Ecocriticism Meets Biopolitics

Anne-Lise Francois

This research seminar addresses two areas of literary and critical theory concerned with animal/human divides and the relationship between place, language and politics. “Biopolitics” commonly refers to the politicization of those areas of life that the human shares with other animals, and to the interest the modern state takes in “making live” and in the regulation and rendering productive of life functions–through statistics on population, sexual habits, health, sanitation, etc. “Ecocriticism” usually designates the study of literature in relation to something called “nature,” and is often defined by narratives of human destructiveness, difference and lost connection. What insights can these two fields bring to bear on one another and what role does the study of literature and linguistic experience play in either? How and why has the ethical turn toward nonhuman others—evident in the emerging field of animal studies—coincided with the industrialization of food production and modern consumerism? Other topics will include: the conflict between “modernity” and “modernization” and the role of marginalized communities; agriculture as a border-space between “culture” and “nature”; fantasies about ecological disaster, social catastrophe, and science’s (or poetry’s) ability to save or destroy humankind.

Readings by: David Abram, Adorno and Horkheimer, Giorgio Agamben, Hannah Arendt, Jonathan Bate, John Berger, Lawrence Buell, Judith Butler, Mike Davis, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Donna Haraway, Geoffrey Hartman, Vicki Hearne, Martin Heidegger, Fredric Jameson, Franz Kafka, Naomi Klein, Bruno Latour, Timothy Morton, Michael Pollan, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Gary Snyder, Raymond Williams, Cary Wolfe.

Book list: Wordsworth and Coleridge, Lyrical Ballads; Mary Shelley, Frankenstein; Henry David Thoreau, Walden; J. M. Coetzee, The Lives of Animals.

Films: Ridley Scott, Blade Runner; Werner Herzog, Grizzly Man.