Critical Theory 200/Rhetoric 240G:1
Nineteenth Century Philosophy
The nineteenth-century is a long and complicated century as is its history of philosophy. This course will investigate certain of the critical philosophical interventions—primarily German—in the fields of ethics, politics, and epistemology. Our aim will be double. On the one hand, we will engage in a survey of the major thinkers of this period: Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Marx, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Freud. On the other hand, we will concentrate specifically on the dialectical relation of these authors. We will attempt to reconstruct, through textual exegesis and commentary, the dialogues ignited by their works, especially the movements from the Kantian “Copernican Revolution” and its aspirations towards an autonomous reason to Hegel’s “absolute idealism” to the critiques and philosophical perspectives and methodologies that emerge in their aftermath. The course will begin with an examination of two important philosophical precursors—Descartes and Hume. We will also commit to a reading of the Germans by one French philosopher, Gilles Deleuze, whose monographs on Hume, Kant and Nietzsche concentrate particularly on the nexus of knowledge, sensation, subjectivity and ethics.
Course enrollment will be limited to graduate students in the Rhetoric Department and in the Critical Theory Designated Emphasis.
Requirements: The requirements will depend on class size. However, roughly speaking, they will include: 1) at least 3-5 short reader-response papers on a specific passage from the weekly reading; 2) one in-class oral presentation of 30 minutes; 3) one formally prepared commentary on the in-class presentation; 3) a final paper of 15 pages.
Tentative Reading List: A number of books are available for purchase at the ASUC. A class space will also contain additional readings. If you choose to purchase your books elsewhere, please be certain to acquire the edition and translation selected for the course. R. Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy (selections); Hume, Treatise on Human Nature (selections); I. Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, Cambridge University Press; I. Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, Cambridge University Press; G.W.F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit, Digireads.com; A. Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation (selections); K. Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts and The Communist Manifesto in Selected Writings, edited by David McClellan, Oxford University Press; S. Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling, Cambridge University Press; F. Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals, Cambridge University Press, and “On the Use and Disadvantage of History for Life”; S. Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, paperback, Norton; Gilles Deleuze, Empiricism and Subjectivity; Kant’s Critical Philosophy; Nietzsche and Philosophy; W. Kauffman, Hegel: Text and Commentary, Doubleday.
Critical Theory 240:1/Comp Lit 258/Rhetoric 240G:3
Kafka and his Commentators
Tuesdays, 3-6 pm, 7415 Dwinelle
Note: The first class on Aug. 31 will be held in 370 Dwinelle
Admission will be determined by professor through a process to be outlined at the first meeting.
Several fundamental concepts for critical theory are introduced and provoked through Kafka’s writing: the problem of time and history, the human animal, objects and objectification, authority and law, language, theology and progress and their scattered remnants. In this course, we will focus on the short fiction and parables of Kafka as well as the essays, fragments, and correspondence of critical theorists such as Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin. We will also consider the more sporadic appearances of Kafka in the work of Hannah Arendt, Georg Lukács, Gershom Scholem, and Jacques Derrida as they each negotiate key questions of modernity, authority, and history. Kafka’s literary writings confounded historical and interpretive schemes of thinking and posed challenges for theoretical reflection on historical time, law, and writing itself. Kafka’s stories were often also letters, or diary entries, and similarly, some of Benjamin’s most important theoretical reflections on Kafka were articulated in correspondence with Adorno and Scholem. Adorno’s own writing registered the loss of historical continuity in new modes of philosophical writing. We will consider how such genres of writing cross-cut the relation between Kafka and his critical commentators, asking how this affects the relation between theoretical reflection and literary writing. Although this course will read Kafka mainly in relation to the correspondences and essays of Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno, and others working within the orbit of critical theory (including Derrida and Deleuze), it will also consider the genres of theory that emerge to fathom new constellations of history. For instance, how do the specific interpretive impasses enacted in Kafka’s work challenge theoretical writing to come to terms with the fragment and the ruin, and with the limits of progressive narration? Along the way we will ask, did Kafka changed critical writing, of criticism more generally, and critical theory more specifically? If so, how do we now reflect upon genres of critical theory?
The seminar will work with both the original German and English translations. Texts: Kafka, Parables and Paradoxes, Schocken Books; Kafka, The Complete Stories, Schocken Books; Kafka, Letters to Milena, Schocken Books, or Letters to Friends, Family, and Editors, Schocken Books; The Correspondence of Walter Benjamin: 1910-1940, eds. Gershom Scholem and Theodor W. Adorno; Theodor Adorno & Walter Benjamin: The Complete Correspondence 1928-1940, University of Chicago Press; Walter Benjamin, Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, introduction by Hannah Arendt, Schocken Books; T. Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life, Verso.
Recommended: Kafka, The Trial (Viking Press); Kafka, The Blue Octavo Notebooks (Schocken); Clarise Lispector, The Passion According to G.H. (U Minnesota Press); Helene Cixous, Reading with Clarice Lispector: The Poetics of Blanchot, Joyce, Kafka, Kleist and Tsvetayeva (U Minnesota Press); Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guatarri, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature (U of Minnesota Press).
The course reader will include: (1) Adorno, “A Portrait of Walter Benjamin” and “Notes on Kafka” from Prisms (MIT Press); (2) sections from Gershom Scholem, The Messianic Idea in Judaism (Schocken Press) and (3) Walter Benjamin, The Story of a Friendship (Jewish Pub. Society of America); (4) Hannah Arendt, “Preface” and “What is Authority?” from Between Past and Future, (Viking Press); (5) Georg Lukacs, “Franz Kafka or Thomas Mann?” from The Meaning of Contemporary Realism (Merlyn Press); (6) Jacques Derrida, “Before the Law” in Acts of Literature (Routledge).
Critical Theory 240:2/Rhetoric 240G:4
Total War, Terror and Critique
Fridays, 2-5 pm, 189 Dwinelle
In this seminar we will consider how changes in the form and logics of modern warfare produce, and perhaps reflect, profound changes in aesthetic forms and a broad array of cultural discourses. We will ask what kinds of report might authorize the totalization of war, and what forms of representation and critique remain possible as war becomes more total. Is there a connection between the advent of total forms of warfare and an ideology devoted to the rapid report of facts and information from afar? Is partial or fragmentary language an answer to total war? Some writers condemned poetry after Auschwitz (Adorno) and even those who did not tended to doubt the power of verse: “a poem makes nothing happen” (Auden), “no lyric ever stopped a tank” (Heaney). But what precisely do we want language to do or say when confronting violence or its aftermath? In this seminar we return to the critical essays of Walter Benjamin for help in this regard; readings from Theodor Adorno, Hannah Arendt, W.H. Auden, Ernst Bloch, Sigmund Freud, Gyorgy Lukacs, Alfred Metraux, and W.G. Sebald, as well as contemporary theorists, will permit us to place and refine our questions about politics and aesthetics. In the second half of the course we will focus on the U.S. air war over Germany and Japan, where ‘Shock and Awe’–a particularly American form of terror– was first named and tested. In that context we will move between media and disciplines both (turning to history, theory, photography, poetry, and literature) in order to consider how visual and literal representations of violence might proceed without mimetically reproducing its calamitous effects, or minimizing its force and magnitude. Texts: Nicholson Baker, Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization; W.G. Sebald, On the Natural History of Destruction; Rey Chow, The Age of the World Target: Self-Referentiality in War, Theory, and Comparative Work; Samuel Weber, Targets of Opportunity: On the Militarization of Thinking; Bombing Civilians: A Twentieth-Century History, Yuki Tanaka (Editor), Marilyn B. Young (Editor); Adorno, Can One Live After Auschwitz?: A Philosophical Reader, Rolf Tiedemann (Editor), Rodney Livingstone (Translator); Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, Volume 3: 1935-1938; Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, Volume 4: 1938-1940.
Critical Theory 240:3
Self Defense: Embodiment, Violence and Subjectivity
Mondays, 2-5 pm, 102 Latimer
Note: The first class will be held Sept 13. No class meetings will be held on Aug 30 or Sept 6 (Labor Day)
The concept of self-defense belongs to the “social contract” philosophical tradition, which defines self-defense – related to the question of self-preservation – as the first natural law. Thomas Hobbes and John Locke conceptualize self-defense in different ways: Hobbes understands and illustrates the materiality of conatus as vital principle of self- preservation (and thus, self-defense), whereas for Locke, the theoretical foundation of the right of property (first of all the property of the own body) legitimates the right to carry a weapon in civil life. In this tradition, self-defense is both the real effect and the means (or at least, a means) of the modern understanding of the self. Because the issue of self- defense has been interpreted and confounded with the right to “legitimate defense” of myself (as my primary property) and my goods, we will have to understand how this conceptual confusion (legitimate-defense vs. self-defense), serves an exclusive understanding of who has the right to self defense. That is to say, who has the right to constitute oneself as a subject worthy of protection, to become a true subject? And who holds the right to judge in fine when “self defense” becomes “illegitimate violence” ? Self-defense becomes a crucial stake in the fight to social, racial and sexual violence during modern period before represents one of the main issues mobilizing or dividing social movements during the last century. How we can understand this cultural translation of the principle of self-defense, challenging the self-ownership tradition, in order to conceptualize a self-defense where the self isn’t given, a priori, but created and constituted by a saving violence, a “detox” (Frantz Fanon)? Much more than the mere issue of right-to-life preservation, a violence per se could generate what I call a kind of “bodily reflexivity”: I defend [myself], I am… When only objects of normative violence exist before a liberatory uprising, and when only the use of violence achieves subjectivity, self-defense becomes an immanent consciousness. Using the work of Frantz Fanon, we will ask why Fanon abandons the Hegelian and Sartrian dialectic of the self, to forge a new conception of the self linked to the lively experience of violence, defined as “absolute praxis”. We will work on historical trails: from slave rebellions, colonial insurrections, anti-fascist working-class movements and Black Power organizations to feminist and queer self-defense mobilizations. Our goal will be to elaborate a genealogy as well as a phenomenology of a careful violence construed as bodily, muscular, self-consciousness.
Texts: Thomas Hobbes, De Homine and De Cive; John Locke, Two treatises of government – cf. Second Treatise; John Locke, An Essay concerning Human Understanding – cf. II, XXVII, “Of identity and diversity”; Frantz Fanon, Peau noire, masques blancs, Paris, Seuil, 1952 – Black Skin, White Masks, trans. Richard Philcox, Grove Press, 2008; Frantz Fanon, Les Damnés de la terre, Paris, Maspero/La Découverte, 1961 – The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Richard Philcox, Grove Press, 2005; Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture, Routledge, 2004; Michel Foucault, “Il Faut défendre la société”, Paris, Gallimard, 1997, “Society must be defended”: Lectures at the College de France, 1975-1976, Picador, 2003; Steve Biko, I write what I like, University of Chicago Press, 2002
Other Documents: Bernard Goldstein, Ultime Combat, Paris, Zones édition, 2008 – Five Years in the Warsaw Ghetto, AK Press, 2005; Stokely Carmichael, Charles V. Hamilton, Black Power, Random House,1967; Valerie Solanas, Scum Manifesto.
War and American Cinema: Theoretical Reflections
Tuesdays, 4-6 pm and Wednesdays, 10 am-1 pm (meets Sept. 1-22 only), 226 Dwinelle
A compact seminar that will introduce students to the grammar of Hollywood war films from the silent era to today. The focus of the seminar will be the dialogue between critical theoretical texts on issues of representation and re- enactment of war and close readings of paradigmatic film sequences. One of the premises is that Hollywood serves as a site of negotiation for the American history of military conflict, producing narrative resolutions and aesthetic formalizations for real events of war. The films to be discussed will, therefore, be read in relation to their historical context but also as an expression of genre development. At stake in our discussion will be how American cinema reworks actual events into cultural artifacts, both in relation to the historical events they depict and as a reflection of the cultural concerns of the time they were produced. At the same time, we will focus on the murky interface between a critical interrogation of political conflict and the aesthetic spectacle mainstream entertainment affords.
Political Science 216/Anthropology 250X:3
Democracy, Secularism, Violence
Wendy Brown and Saba Mahmood
Wednesdays, 4-7 pm, 15 2224 Piedmont
This seminar will examine current debates in anthropology, political theory, and religious studies to query how practices of secularism inflect democracy and humanitarianism, and how those practices also represent, carry or cover violence. Readings will include both classical texts in political theory (Locke, Mill, Marx, Bayle, Schleiermacher, Blumenberg,Weber), and contemporary debates (Sullivan, Taylor, Asad, Keane, Connolly, Mazower). The course presumes a facility with theoretical inquiry (it is not an introductory theory course) and a commitment to interdisciplinary thinking about religion and politics. Course enrollment will be determined by instructors on the first day of class. No pre-enrollment is possible.
Comparative Literature 202B
Three Marxian Poets? Germany And The Americas? Brecht, Vallejo, Zukofsky
Mondays, 2-5 pm, 210 Dwinelle
The German Bertolt Brecht, the Peruvian César Vallejo, and the American Louis Zukofsky exert–within their lifetimes, and in their posthumous reception to this day–special influence on experimental-modernist and marxian (as well as broader Left) traditions of poetry, poetics, and criticism. Like many artists who come of age early in the 20th century, these poets effectively begin their careers with romantic and symbolist poetics all but second nature to them; they proceed to adopt and extend “advanced” formal and thematic experimentation as intended critique, radicalization, and modernization of romanticism and symbolism themselves, and as an intended contribution towards the development of modern poetry’s capacities dynamically to engage, from the Left, a dramatically altered social landscape. In sustained readings of these writers’ poetry and criticism (and with some attention to their work outside poetry), this seminar will invite response to many aspects of the poetic art under study, while highlighting the consideration of what seems or doesn’t seem particularly marxian–or for that matter, particularly Left–in the poetry. These poets’ formidable imaginative energies and intellectual reach; their terrific feel for how to work with and stretch inherited poetic forms and genres; their singular formal-technical innovations at the level of line, syntax, phrase, syllable, accent, and even phoneme; their virtuosic abilities with traditional and novel orchestrations of lyric musicality; and just their sheer overall poetic talent and ambition will allow us to see, among other things, how their rigorous investigations and enactments–in verse and criticism–of the compound question “what is poetry, what is aesthetic experience, what is modernism, what is Marxism, what might–or should, or should not–bring them all together?” will yield intriguing, often unexpected results (and not only in terms of the relationships obtaining in modern poetry among pleasure, estrangement, judgment, form, structure, genre, aesthetic autonomy, sociohistorical content, and ethical-political commitment). In addition to their own poetry, we will read poems by some of Brecht’s, Vallejo’s, and Zukfosky’s precursors, colleagues, and heirs; and we will spend considerable time evaluating the national–and, perhaps especially, the international or supra-national–claims made by and for the three poets’ work, including claims about the bridges they wished to help construct (not least, among the literary-artistic-political cultures of Germany and the rest of Europe, Latin America, and the United States). We will in addition read–trying to work out our own interpretations while seeking as well to reconstruct the interpretations made (and then presumably put artistically into motion) by Brecht, Vallejo, and Zukofsky themselves–those marxian writings that most influenced the three poets; this will above all mean the canonical writings of Marx and Engels, but also some key works of Karl Korsch, Georg Lukács, Walter Benjamin, Vladimir Mayakovsky, José Carlos Mariátegui, John Reed, and Sidney Finkelstein. The ways that Brecht’s, Vallejo’s, and Zukofsky’s poems appear finally to grasp or transform these 19th and 20th century marxian texts may prove telling, not only vis-à-vis modern poetry and Marxism, but also with regard to this particular poetry’s German-European, Peruvian-Latin American, and American character. /(Note: We will read Brecht’s and Vallejo’s poetry in English translation, though we will frequently refer to the original German or Spanish texts of the facing-page editions that have been ordered; knowledge of German and/or Spanish, while not required, will of course be helpful.)
Format: Seminar discussion; student presentations; some lecturing by instructor.
Required Texts: César Vallejo, The Complete Poetry: A Bilingual Edition, Edited and Translated by Clayton Eshelman (University of California Press, January 2007); The Communist Manifesto: A Road Map to History’s Most Important Political Document, Phil Gasper, ed. (Haymarket Books, Oct 2005); Bertolt Brecht, Poems 1913-1956, Edited by John Willett (Methuen, 1987); Brecht on Art and Politics, ed. Tom Kuhn and Steve Giles (Methuen Drama, 2003) [This text is optional/recommended]; Louis Zukofsky, A [c. 1978; 1978 UC Press; Johns Hopkins U Press 1993]; Louis Zukofsky, Complete Short Poetry [paperback] (c. 1991; Johns Hopkins Univ Press Paperback editions, 1997); Louis Zukofsky, Selected Poems, ed. Charles Bernstein (Library of America, 2006); Louis Zukofsky, A Test of Poetry, foreword by Robert Creeley (Wesleyan University Press, March 2000); a course reader containing more poetry, criticism, theory, and philosophy (including additional texts by Brecht, Vallejo, and Zukofsky, as well as writings by Kant, Hegel, Marx, Benjamin, Korsch, Duncan, Oppen, Niedecker, Levertov, Paz, Zurita, and others).
The Contexts of the Prison Notebooks
Tuesdays, 10 am-12 pm, 321 Haviland
Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks are often read as one version of the return to Hegel that swept across Marxist thought in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution. As such he is often presented as an Italian analogue to Lukács and Korsch and a precursor of “critical theory”. But such a reading misses much of what is most original in his thought (including his embryonic analyses of the key political differences between Western and Eastern Europe). In this class we attempt to establish the distinctiveness of Gramsci’s version of Marxism by reconstructing the specific polemical contexts of his fragmentary masterwork. The class will investigate Gramsci’s reaction to Bukharin, Croce, Hegel, Gentile, Labriola, Lenin, Marx, Machiavelli, Michels, Mosca, and Sorel. It will thus attempt to place Gramsci’s thought in both a specifically Italian and broader European tradition, and interrogate the connections between these two. The class is appropriate for students interested in social theory, critical theory, and Italian studies.