Core Courses

Critical Theory 200

A seminar in 19th century philosophy and social theory concerned with key texts undergirding critical theories in the 20th century. This seminar may include Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, and/or Weber, and will be organized around the concept of "critique" and "critical theory."

Critical Theory 205

A seminar on the Frankfurt School in conjunction with other critical trends, e.g., Adorno and Benjamin and aesthetic theory, or social theory from Bloch to Habermas.

Critical Theory 240

A seminar on contemporary critique and critical theory. This course may include critical race theory, postcontinental political theory, norms and values in critical theory, seminars on the tradition of critique and theology, comparative forms of critique, geopolitical conditions of theory-formation, critical theory and Marxism, critique and the problem of political dissent and citizenship, gender and race in relation to critical practices, psychoanalysis, and literary and art theory and criticism.


Additionally, students in the DE are required to complete two electives from a wide selection of cross-listed courses offered each year. Electives include those listed on this site, but students can also request credit for other courses taken, especially if taught by DE-affiliated faculty.

Fall 2020

Core Courses

The following courses satisfy Critical Theory Designated Emphasis core course requirements.

Comparative Literature 221/Rhetoric 221 (Critical Theory 205)
Aesthetics as Critique, Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory

Robert Kaufman
Wednesdays, 2-5 pm, Online
Class #: 31403

This seminar (which is cross-listed as Rhetoric 221 and Critical Theory 205) is not an introduction to Theodor W. Adorno’s work; rather, it will involve sustained reading and discussion of Adorno’s last major text, which he was still finishing at the time of his 1969 death: Aesthetic Theory (1970). We will be reading Robert Hullot-Kentor’s English translation of Ästhetische Theorie; though we will sometimes briefly consider the original German text, knowledge of German is not required (though it would of course prove very helpful).

What makes possible such sustained reading of a dense, famously difficult work, is at least some familiarity with figures, texts, and artistic, aesthetic, and political movements that Aesthetic Theory assumes its readers to have had some acquaintance with, including–among many others–Kant, Hegel, Marx and Engels, Lukács, the French Revolutions of 1789, 1830, 1848, and 1871, Lenin, the Bolshevik Revolution, Marxism-Leninism, Romanticism, Realism, Symbolism, Naturalism, Modernism, Dada, Surrealism, Avant-Gardism, Social and Socialist Realism, Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, Postmodernism!!!

It’s worth knowing that Adorno’s final text is written with the expectation–-though it won’t be our expectation or prerequisite–-that its readers will have previously encountered, for example, the following texts: Kant’s Critique of Judgment; Hegel’s Lectures on the Fine Arts and Phenomenology of Spirit; Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach, Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, and Das Kapital (esp. the chapter-section “The Secret of Commodity Fetishism”); Marx and Engels’ The German Ideology and The Communist Manifesto; Walter Benjamin’s “One-Way Street,” “The Storyteller,” “Surrealism,” “The Author as Producer,” “Conversations with Brecht,” “The Work of Art in the Age of its Technical Reproducibility [Mechanical Reproduction],” “The Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire,” “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire,” “On the Concept of History [Theses on the Philosophy of History],” The Origins of the German Play of Mourning, and The Arcades Project; as well as Adorno and/or Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment, “On Lyric Poetry and Society,” “Cultural Criticism and Society,” “Commitment [Engagement],” “The Essay as Form,” “Parataxis”, Minima Moralia, and Negative Dialectics. (Take a deep breath, and then realize that, depending on how you feel at any given moment, it gets better–-or worse: that is, what you’ve just read has been, incredibly enough, a very minimal listing!)

Meanwhile, Aesthetic Theory offers sustained and repeated yet often extraordinarily compressed responses to some celebrated political and aesthetic/critical-theory debates, and does so on yet another assumption: that Aesthetic Theory’s readers are aware not only of these debates, but of the histories of key concepts and phenomena at issue within them, such as: the status of objectivist conceptuality vs. aesthetic quasi- or extra-conceptuality; the notions, in art and critical theory, of the constellation and force-field; the concepts of use-value, exchange value, and reflective-judgment value; mechanical/technical/technological reproduction’s value, over/against aesthetic value; art’s political commitment (or engagement) vs. its aesthetic/artistic autonomy; mass, popular, and conceptually undetermined culture; relations among subjectivity, critical agency, and class consciousness.

And finally, Aesthetic Theory presumes that among the artists we as readers will know include Cervantes, Shakespeare, Goethe, Schiller, Heine, Hölderlin, Shelley, Byron, Dickens, Robert Browning, Swinburne, Mörike, Rilke, Stefan George, Baudelaire, Flaubert, Zola, Rimbaud, Mallarmé, Ibsen, Strindberg, Eliot, Pound, William Carlos Williams, the Surrealists, Brecht, Lorca, Sartre, Joyce, Beckett, Celan, Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Wagner, Berg, Webern, Schönberg,Weill, Eisler, Boulez, Cage, Stockhausen, Goya, David, Ingres, Delacroix, Gericault, Courbet, Manet, Cezanne, Monet, Picasso, Braque, Grosz, Gris, Léger, Pollock, Kline, Rothko, Guston…

Our first four sessions or so will be devoted to an extremely brisk sketching and discussion of the earlier texts, figures, political/artistic/critical movements, and concepts mentioned above (starting with the Kant and continuing through writings by Adorno and his Frankfurt School colleagues). The major part of the semester’s undertakings–-our close, careful reading of Aesthetic Theory–-will then seek, starting probably in our fifth session, to understand, interpret, and respond to the text’s treatments of modern art’s development on its own terms, and in relation to mostly Kantian, Hegelian, Marxian, and earlier Frankfurt Critical-Theory traditions of aesthetics and critique. We’ll pay ongoing attention to how and why the imaginative, potentially intersubjective activity traditionally understood to be at the heart of aesthetic experience turns out, with various twists, to be crucial too to Adorno’s overall analyses of modernity, mechanical/technical/technological reproduction and reproducibility (in both the economic and artistic-aesthetic spheres), and critical agency. We’ll also consider how Aesthetic Theory’s concerns and legacies might engage the changed sociopolitical circumstances–and the changed artistic-aesthetic, critical-theoretical tendencies­—of the last four decades. Among the seminar’s emphases will be an ongoing inquiry into how attention to artworks’ formal, stylistic, and philosophical-theoretical dynamics (the relation of artistic technique to aesthetic form and aesthetic experience) may offer stimulus toward, and insight into, historical, sociopolitical, and ethical understanding and engagement.

Film 240/German 256 (Critical Theory 205)
Frankfurt School and Critical Media Theory

Tony Kaes
Mondays, 1-4 pm, Online
Class #: FILM 240—33578; GERMAN 256—33479

This research seminar will focus on Frankfurt School theories of film, photography, radio, and television as well as the culture industry in general. We will engage in close readings of texts by Siegfried Kracauer, Walter Benjamin, Leo Löwenthal, and Theodor W. Adorno, and also bring their works into dialogue with examples from media history, then and now. Some of the questions we’ll ask: What stakes did the classic Frankfurt School have in the analysis of media? How do their writings respond to the changing historical contexts from Weimar culture to German fascism, and from American exile to German postwar society? To what extent do present-day digital and social media challenge some theoretical assumptions of the Frankfurt School? How can we envision a critical media theory today?

Ethnic Studies 250 (Critical Theory 240)
Structures of Latinx Feeling: From Latin American to Latinxymposia in Trans Method

Raúl Coronado
Thursdays 10 am-1 pm, Online
Class #: 23979

Political philosophers, literary critics, and intellectual historians have revealed that, rather than being a timeless, universal concept, interiority has a history, and one that began to congeal in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. What is this history of feelings and affect that are bound within the confines of one’s body? Focusing on the history of writing, how may we study Latin American-Latinx writing as leaving traces of the author’s soul, of their interiority, of their feeling and affect? Our class will begin with some of the classical texts in this discussion and then turns to the Latin American-Latinx experience to test some of these hypotheses. Topics may include: the history of political rights and the rhetoric of the Rights of Man; the making of the public sphere and the configuration of ideal citizen-subjects; the history of writing and presence; and the emergence of a queer Latinx public sphere in the 1980s.

History 280/Rhetoric 240 (Critical Theory 240)
Studies in Comparative History: Ruins of History

Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann & Samera Esmeir
Tuesdays, 4-7 pm, Online
Class #: HISTORY 280—31322; RHETOR 240—23517

What is historical time? In this course, we seek an answer to this question by reading the works of German historian and theorist, Reinhart Koselleck, along with a range of writings on history and temporality from Ibn Khaldun to François Hartog to contemporary anthropological, postcolonial and literary scholarship on eschatology, catastrophe, tradition, trauma, remembrance and resilience. Departing from the modernist conception of time as linear and progressive, we begin by investigating the historical making of this understanding, and its partial synchronization of the world, but devote most of the seminar to unpacking other ways of relating to time, inhabiting and remaking the world, being attuned to the ongoing presence of the past, and anticipating the future. By attending closely to Koselleck’s theory of historical times, while presenting it next to other writings on historical and non-historical temporalities, we aim to shed light on the plurality of times that inform different forms of life, beyond the present. Finally, during times of ongoing destruction, the readings in this seminar will help orient us to the ruins of history as not merely the remains of a more holistic past existence, but as sites of obstinacy and possibility. The principal writing assignments are weekly summaries and a research paper.


Elective Courses (Critical Theory 290)

The following courses satisfy Critical Theory Designated Emphasis elective requirements.

Classics 239
Writing Disaster: Tragedy, Ecology, and Psychoanalysis

Mario Telò
Mondays, 2-5 pm, Online
Class #: 33410

In this course, we will explore the meanings or non-meanings of catastrophe and crisis—whether psychological or environmental—by considering a genre, Greek tragedy, that attempts to represent the unrepresentable. Two plays that have deeply influenced the modern imagination—Euripides’ Hippolytus and Bacchae—will be our primary texts, along with works of reception by Sarah Kane, Wole Soyinka, and others. We will use Arendt, Blanchot, Butler, Derrida, Freud, Levinas, Žizek, and various forms of ecocriticism such as apocalypticism and eco-deconstruction to set up an eclectic theoretical framework. What’s the relationship between psychological crisis and ecological disaster? How does tragedy affect our experience as subjects in the midst of ongoing ecological crisis? Are there non-representational ways to write disaster? Can tragedy help us confront the current time despite, or because of, its “contagious” affective impact? The course is open to graduate students in Classics, Critical Theory, and other programs in the Humanities. (The Classics students are required to read the primary texts in Greek.)

Education 280A (Proseminar)
Sociocultural Critique of Education

Zeus Leonardo
Tuesdays 1-4 pm, Online
Class #: 29018

These interdisciplinary seminars address a series of questions. In what ways can philosophical, sociological, anthropological, historical, and psychological forms of inquiry be brought together to bear on the analysis of learning, on schooling, and on education more generally? What do we mean by critical and interpretive theories, and what are their relations with social practice? How can education come to constitute itself otherwise than in its current form?

English 250
Symposia in Trans Method

Grace Lavery
Fridays 9 am-12 pm, Online
Class #: 21685

Is there a trans method? Should there be? These two questions will guide our study of work by trans writers, artists, and activists, both within the historical institution of “trans studies” (conceived of as distinct from and even oppositional to queer theory) and in the far larger archive of critical and creative writing by trans people working in spaces outside (and often oppositional to) the University. The course will proceed in two-week chunks; on the first week of the pair, we will read work by trans writers, and on the second, we will host a symposium with the authors of the work we will have read, with class participants offering short conference-style responses to the class reading. Confirmed symposium participants include Jules Gill-Peterson, Torrey Peters, Marquis Bey, Morgan Page, Emma Heaney, Cáel Keegan, Eva Hayward, Jeanne Vaccaro, Maxe Crandall, and Jordy Rosenberg, with more participants still to be confirmed. Additionally, we will read work by Riley Snorton, Che Gossett, Tourmaline, Susan Stryker, Dean Spade, Judith Butler, Kay Gabriel, Sheila Jeffreys, Sara Ahmed, Gayle Solomon, and Sandy Stone.

German 205/Comparative Literature 215
Medieval and Renaissance Mysticism

Niklaus Largier
Thursdays, 2-5 pm, online
Class #: COMLIT 215—31537; GERMAN 205—30951

So-called ‘mystical’ forms of thought and experience have played a major role in the history of modern philosophy and literature from Hegel, Kierkegaard, and Schopenhauer to Lukàcs, Heidegger, Bataille, Benjamin, and Derrida; and from Novalis to Musil, Kafka, Celan, Bachmann, Klossowski, and Cage (to name just a few). In this seminar we will read and discuss key texts written by some of the most significant medieval figures in this tradition. We will focus on forms and styles of writing; problems of negative and affirmative theology; and configurations of speculative, affective, and sensual moments. During a second phase of the seminar we will turn our attention to baroque mysticism (Angelus Silesius and Jacob Böhme). Based on the class discussion and on individual student interests, we will then explore the ways how these texts have been read by 19th and 20th century authors and how they allow us to think about the formation and transformation of modern concepts of the sacred, subjectivity, affect, critique, and agency. Depending on student interests, we will decide on a final version of the syllabus at the first meeting of class. All texts will be available in original languages and in English translation.

History of Art 290
Comparative Conceptualisms– LA/MENA [Latin America/Middle East/North Africa]

Julia Bryan-Wilson & Anneka Lenssen
Tuesdays, 2-5 pm, Online
Class #: 31561

This seminar explores how conceptual art—that is, art devoted primarily to generating and manipulating ideas rather than visual appearance—has been made and used by artists in Latin America, the Middle East, and other territories of non- and anti-First World engagement with perceptual and material absences arising from political and economic change. It aims to proceed as a decentered inquiry. Whereas one history of Conceptualism might begin in the early 1960s amid shifts in language theory and white-cube museum politics in the North Atlantic art world, often seemingly resulting in esoteric and even elitist works, this course focuses on accounting for the many other impetuses to contemporary artists’ turns to conceptual redefinition, including populist and democratic activism, underground communication, radical institutional critiques, and affective work with desirous sensoria. Building on the instructors’ expertise in histories of such conceptualisms in Latin America and the Middle East, we will explore a transnational assembly of sites, networks, and artistic trajectories that produce and distribute conceptual art outside the presumed market “centers” of London and New York. Case studies include so-called postwar conceptualism in Beirut; insurgent work from Argentina and Brazil during times of dictatorship; Iranian “information arts;” institutional critique in the West Bank; and the Palestinian-Chilean artist Alfredo Jaar. Throughout, we pursue a strategy of critical comparative studies that pivots on a Global South/Global South axis.

We ask: What are the parameters for conceptual strategies to disrupt circuits of value and meaning in the art world at different scales, with “local” audiences or in capitalized spaces at-large? To what extent do the stakes of conceptual practices shift in different historical conjunctures? Can we tell a history of conceptualism without assuming the norms of political or market representation associated with certain anti-capitalist or antiwar struggles? What are the expanded (or, perhaps, contracted) possibilities for following changes in modern and contemporary art from the perspective of “concept”?

Class sessions will be conducted as a collective discussion of the assigned readings. Toward that end, we will inspect specific artworks together as well and designated discussion leaders will prepare and present slides of selected works.

Political Science 215
Topics in Contemporary Political Theory: Political Theory for Our Times

Wendy Brown
Wednesdays, 10 am-12 pm, Online
Class #: 26535

In this course, we will read contemporary political and social theory focused on major challenges of the political present: climate change, rising authoritarianism, democracy on the ropes, extreme socio-economic inequality and precarity, and (perhaps) the damages wrought by the Coronavirus pandemic. We will focus on questions of approach and epistemology as well as the specifics of the arguments. Among possible thinkers we will read are Partha Chatterjee, Enzo Traverso, Andre Singer, Achin Vanaik, Eva von Redecker, Jedidiah Purdy, Levitsky and Ziblatt, Alyssa Battistoni, Wolfgang Streeck and Martin Saar. However, this list is due to change between now (April 2020) and September.

Students are expected to have some background in critical theory.

Students may enroll now but if the course is over-subscribed at the first session I will ask all students to write a brief application statement, with no priority given to pre-enrolled students. The seminar will be limited to 15.

Portuguese 275
Education and Form

Nathaniel Wolfson
Mondays, 3-6 pm, Online
Class #: 25731

Why do figures of pedagogy and learning populate Brazilian modern and contemporary literature and art? How have critics, writers and artists experimented with ideas and practices of pedagogy as part of their investigations with form? This seminar explores the relation of the concepts of formation and education in aesthetic theory and practice. We’ll examine a range of works and approaches: modernist encounters with autochthonous Brazilian culture in novels of education from the 1920s; impacts of technologies of automation (from the electric typewriter to machine learning) and self-correction on aesthetic practices from the 1950s onward; historical attempts at large-scale public strategies for education and critical reflections on learning under conditions of precarity; alternative forms of learning and teaching enacted outside traditional educational institutions: carnival, hospitals, prisons, etc. We will think with critics, psychologists, and theorists of critical pedagogy including Paulo Freire, Suely Rolnik, Darcy Ribeiro, Antônio Cândido, Mario Pedrosa, Nise da Silveira, Gina Ferreira, Osório Cesar, Abdias do Nascimento, and Fred Moten; and traverse literary and artistic work by Mario de Andrade, Moacyr Scliar, Lygia Clark, Hélio Oiticica, João Cabral de Melo Neto, Carolina Maria de Jesus, among others.

Slavic 239
Twentieth-Century Slavic Literary Theory: Traveling (Slavic) Theory

Djordje Popović
Fridays, 3-6 pm, Online
Class #: 32990

The seminar will focus on a limited number of texts and critical interventions that have emerged as the most frequent points of theoretical reference in contemporary Slavic cultural and literary studies. We will read these texts closely and will attempt to place them within a broader theoretical context, one that goes beyond Slavic shores and often involves long-standing methodological debates in intellectual history. We will begin by reading between the lines and through the footnotes of such important works as Svetlana Boym’s The Future of Nostalgia (2001), Susan Buck-Morss’s Dreamworld and Catastrophe (2000), and Sharad Chari and Katherine Verdery’s “Thinking between the Posts: Postcolonialism, Postsocialism, and Ethnography after the Cold War” (2009). These in turn will take us to works by Adorno, Althusser, Benjamin, Heidegger, Marcuse, Said, Schmitt, and others. To use Boym’s work as an example of the type critical reading we’ll practice, the point of the seminar will be not only to understand the typology of nostalgia, but also to discern the impact of Heidegger’s ecstatic temporality on the distinctions she draws. A portion of the seminar will be reserved for one or two other widely-read texts in the Slavic critical milieu, which we’ll then examine in a similar fashion. These will be selected by those participating in the seminar to reflect their own academic interests and disciplinary formations (one can think here of a number of important contributions made by Boris Buden, Charity Scribner, Darko Suvin, Galin Tihanov, Maria Todorova, Katherine Verdery, Alexei Yurchak, and many others). Evaluations are based on participation, several response papers, and a term paper.