CT 200 / Political Science 214
This seminar explores the philosophical grounds and political implications of critique. Working from the problematic of the political disrepute into which critique has lately fallen, we will study premises and practices of critique in Socrates, Marx, Nietzsche, Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse, Habermas, and Foucault. Texts include: Plato, The Last Days of Socrates (Penguin), Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols (Oxford), Tucker, ed. The Marx-Engels Reader (Norton, 2nd edition), Kelly, ed. Critique and Power: Recasting the Foucault-Habermas Debate (MIT).
CT 205 / History 208B
The Classical Frankfurt School: The First Generation of Critical Theory
Readings included texts by Georg Lukacs, Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Leo Lowenthal and Herbert Marcuse.
Ethics and Aesthetics in Nietzsche
Judith Butler, T.J. Clark
This seminar will examine Nietzsche’s account of decaying systems of morality and his thoughts about possible futures. Key texts will be On the Genealogy of Morals and The Will to Power. In addition we shall explore Nietzsche’s changing conception of the aesthetic dimension in human life—not just Nietzsche’s evolving views on art, but his notion of the aesthetic as a specific and pervasive form of human practice and self-understanding problematically entwined with ethics and the life of consciousness. We will make some reference to The Birth of Tragedy (and Nietzsche’s grounds for repudiating that early work), and consider what role Nietzsche reserved for art and aesthetics when prevailing norms of truth seemed no longer credible. We will think about Nietzsche’s own work and what possibilities it opened up for artworks of the early 20th century. Did Nietzsche leave to the art of the earlier 20th century the question of what form art might take in an era when the test of Truth was no longer available? Did the task of art become to avoid, in such circumstances, either a glib acceptance of its “merely aesthetic” mission or its spurious self-elevation to religion or philosophy? The case of Picasso will be relevant here, and will be considered (selectively!) with Nietzsche’s ideas in mind.
CT 240 / Italian Studies 204
Contemporary Trends in Critical Theory: Desire, Pleasure, Enjoyment, and Their Politics
This course examines the genealogy and value of the libidinal vocabulary within some of the most urgent debates occurring at the contemporary intersection of political and psychoanalytic thought. We will start by exploring Freud’s and Lacan’s respective theories of desire, examining in detail the constitutive relationship of desire to loss/lack. We will continue by considering Deleuze and Guattari’s response to these psychoanalytic theories in A Thousand Plateaus. We will discuss their notion of a productive desire, which has proved to be widely influential on other theorists from Hardt and Negri to Braidotti. In considering the metamorphosis and political transformations of the concept of desire, we will examine the drift of desire toward love in its Spinozist and Christian resonances, as articulated by Negri in his essay “Kairos, Alma Venus, Multitudo.” Next, we will analyze the notion of pleasure in Foucault’s late work, particularly as elaborated in the second volume of his History of Sexuality. Why does Foucault deliberately abandon the vocabulary of desire in favor of one centered on pleasure? What are the political and biopolitical consequences of his choice? At the end of the course, we will consider the emergence of enjoyment as a necessary concept in Lacan’s later works, including a selection of Seminars VII and XVII, in order to assess his discussion of capitalism as the political organization of enjoyment.
Works by Freud, Lacan, Deleuze and Guattari, Foucault, Negri, and Braidotti.
Postcoloniality and the Question of Difference
This course centers around the question of difference as it has come to be conceptualized and debated in recent postcolonial literature produced on the non-Western world. The readings for this course aim not so much at geographical representation as at thematic exploration of how the problem of “Third World difference” has been conceptualized in a variety of disciplines. Postcolonial critique, when it first emerged, was largely focused around questions of colonialism and nationalism, particularly how one might understand and explore postcolonial modernity against dominant models based on the experience of Western European societies. In this earlier moment, the question of difference was primarily posed as one of distinction between the West and non-West, the power of the former to misrepresent the latter. In recent years, these earlier debates have yielded a new problematization of difference as a site of epistemological, political, and ethical struggle internal to postcolonial societies. While the condition of postcoloniality cannot be thought outside the epistemic and philosophical assumptions undergirding Western knowledge production today, this new scholarship has increasingly sought to explore forms of life whose historicities, temporalities and practices depart from modular forms of Western modernity. While in the first couple of weeks we will touch upon a few key texts from the earlier debate, majority of our time will be spent reading recent work that centers around the following themes: interventionist and representational modes of power; production of sexual difference and identity; techno-economic rationalities; criminality, politics, and affect.