Critical Theory 205 / German 256:1
Problems in Literary Theory
Wednesdays, 12-2 pm, 201 Wheeler
This course will examine 1930s Frankfurt-School thought. Topics will include the exchanges between Adorno and Benjamin on the autonomy of art and the philosophy of history.
Critical Theory 240
Recent Critical Theory of Society and Economy
Fridays 2-5 pm, 186 Barrows
We will read several recent critical theoretical accounts of society and the economy. Problems that we take up will include the following: Habermas’ analysis of the multi-dimensionality of economic crisis, Baudrillard’s study of the semiotics of the commodity form, Postone’s investigation of run-away growth and the treadmill of production, Deleuze and Guattari’s rethinking of desire, flow and territory in relation to the axiomatics of capital, Brown’s study of the after- life of the nation-state form in an age of globalization, Foucault’s and Rajan’s different conceptualizations of biopower in relation to the economy, Hardt’s and Negri’s claim of the centrality of biopolitical production to modern capitalism, Boltanski’s and Chiapello’s study of the roles of social and aesthetic critiques in the remaking of capitalism, Desai’s attempted recuperation of Marx as a theorist of globalization, and essays by various authors drawing out the global implications of the recent financial crisis. Reading excerpts will be drawn from the following works: Jürgen Habermas, Legitimation Crisis; Jean Baudrillard, Symbolic Exchange and Death; Moishe Postone, Time, Labor and Social Domination: a Reinterpretation of Marx’s Critical Theory; Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus; Wendy Brown, Walled States, Waning Sovereignties; Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics; Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri, Commonwealth; Kaushik Sunder Rajan, Biocapital: The Constitution of Postgenomic Life; Luc Boltanski & Eve Chiapello, The New Spirit of Capitalism; Luc Boltanski, On Critique: A Sociology of Emancipation; Meghnad Desai, Marx’s Revenge: The Resurgence of Capitalism and The Death of Statist Socialism: Essays from the three volume collection on the financial crisis, edited by Georgi Derluguian and Craig Calhoun.
Rhetorical Theory: Violence and the Grounds of its Critique
This seminar explores a number of theoretical and historical texts that engage the problem of violence in relation to politics. The main questions that guide our inquiry are: What are the grounds from which theorists and historians approach the question of violence? When the works are critical of violence, what are the grounds guiding the work of critique? To address these questions, the first part of the seminar considers texts that inquire into the possibility of ethics in the midst of violence, destruction and devastation. This part should equip us with a set of reflections and methodologies for thinking about violence and politics. In the second part, we focus on a number of canonical political theory works and examine their approach to the question of politics and violence. In this part, we are mainly concerned with the conditions of possibility of these works, including their critical sensibilities. With the help of other texts primarily from the discipline of history, we will finally examine a number of twentieth century political projects that were institutionalized in relation to violence and that represented some of the legacies of modern political theory.
Required Reading: Jonathan Lear, Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation (Harvard University Press, 2008); Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Humanism and Terror: The Communist Problem, Transaction Publishers; 2 edition (August 29, 2000); Stanley Cavell, Cora Diamond, John McDowell, Ian Hacking & Cary Wolfe, Philosophy & Animal Life, Columbia University Press (November 26, 2009); Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract and The First and Second Discourses, Yale University Press (March 1, 2002); Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, Oxford University Press, USA, Reissue edition (June 15, 2009); Immanuel Kant, Perpetual Peace and other Essays on Politics, History and Morals, Hackett Pub Co. (February 1, 1983); Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, SoHo Books (September 10, 2011); Carl Schmitt, A Theory of the Partisan: Intermediate Commentary on the Concept of the Political, Telos Press Publishing (July 1, 2007); Dan Edelstein, The Terror of Natural Right: Republicanism, the Cult of Nature and the French Revolution, University Of Chicago Press (November 15, 2010); Mark Mazower, No Enchanted Palace: The End of Empire and the Ideological Origins of the United Nations (Princeton University Press, 2008); Sam Moyn, The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History, Harvard University Press (September 15, 2010).
Marxist Literary Theory
Tuesdays, 3-6:30 pm, 202 Wheeler
In the early 1990s, literary theorist Fredric Jameson responded to journalists who were at once proclaiming the emergence of a rejuvenated capitalist “new world order” and asserting the death of Marxism. “It does not seem to make much sense,” he wrote, “to talk about the bankruptcy of Marxism, when Marxism is very precisely the science and the study of just that capitalism whose global triumph is affirmed in talk of Marxism’s demise.” What we can infer from Jameson’s comments is the idea that historically Marxism has been useful not only for the critique of social systems, but for the study of literature and culture, as well. Two decades later—and with the political, economic and environmental contradictions of the “new world order” now in plain sight—critics might benefit once again from reassessing the appropriateness of Marxism for the study of literature and culture. This course will provide the opportunity for such a reassessment by focusing on the ways that Marxist social thought in the past ninety years has contributed to theories of literature and culture. We will attempt to understand and theorize the relation between the material conditions of social life and aesthetic forms. The goal of the course is to provide a broad introduction to the range of Marxist analysis and critique in contemporary literary and cultural studies. In the first part of the course, we will read several classic works of Marxist theory to ground our study historically. In the second part of the course, driven partly by student concerns and interests, we will analyze the compatibility of Marxist literary theory with feminism, critical race studies, and postcolonial studies. Book list: Jameson, F., Marxism and Form: Twentieth-century Dialectical Theories of Literature; Adorno T., et. al., Aesthetics and Politics; Sartre, J-P., Search for a Method; Vološinov, V. N., Marxism and the Philosophy of Language; Williams, R., Marxism and Literature; Derrida, J., Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International; Althusser, L., For Marx; a course reader. Recommended: Lukács, G., Realism in Our Time (out of print).
Traditions of Critical Thought: French Theory
Thursdays, 2-5 pm, 4226 Dwinelle
The purpose of this course is to introduce students to canonical texts and issues in French theory. The course is designed to match a certain number of texts from the 1960s and 1970s with extracts from classical philosophical works, the knowledge of which is presupposed by these authors. So we will read selections from Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind along with Sartre, Marx along with Althusser, etc. The course also has a thematic organization that allows for the introduction of specific terms and categories that students need to know, such as “commodity,” “ideology,” “genealogy,” “semiology,” etc. The principal rubrics are #1 History/Ideology/Culture, which includes readings by Althusser, Marx, Sartre, Barthes and Foucault, #2 Genealogy, which includes readings by Foucault and Nietzsche, #3 The subject and the other, which includes readings by Hegel, Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Monique Wittig, #4 The subject and language, which includes readings by Saussure, Benveniste, Jakobson, and Derrida (his poststructuralist critique of the sign) #5, Psychoanalysis, with readings from Freud, Lacan and Deleuze (his critique of Freud) and finally #6, the critique of metaphysics, with Derrida’s essay “La Différance” which presented a rigorous critique of phenomenology. The goal of the course is to present materials that will enable students to learn to read critically material they have felt excluded from for lack of background in “theory.” Part of the work of the course will be to contextualize each work studied and to engage students with rigorous critical discussion of it.
Habermas Part II: Critical Debates
Fridays, 2-5 pm, 201 Wheeler
No intellectual of our time has generated as many productive controversies as the leading figure of the second generation of the Frankfurt School, Jürgen Habermas. Embodying in his own practice the principles of communicative rationality he so avidly defends on the level of theory, Habermas has responded to an extraordinary number of interlocutors, and in so doing raised the level of intellectual discourse in several different contexts. This course will combine readings of several of his own seminal texts with an examination of the rebuttals and counter-rebuttals they have engendered.
Film 240/German 265
The Essay Film
Mondays, 1-6 pm, 226 Dwinelle Hall
This seminar explores the emergence and formal variety of the essay film, which has recently caught the attention of film scholars. A hybrid genre of non-narrative cinema, the essay film mixes documentary and experimental forms to “think through” philosophical, ethical, and film-theoretical issues with a high degree of self-reflexivity. We will analyze representative essay films from the 1960s to the present by Alexander Kluge, Harun Farocki, Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders, Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, Gustav Deutsch, and Helke Sander, and bring these German works into dialogue with classic essay films by Chris Marker, Jean-Luc Godard, Agnes Varda, Chantal Akerman, Guy Debord, et al. Readings will include texts from phenomenology, semiotics, and critical theory, as well as current reflections on new media. All films will have English subtitles.
Socio-cultural Critique of Education
Mondays, 1-4 pm
This course is designed to introduce students to a social and cultural critique of education and society. As a survey course, it examines the theoretical and practical nature of a critical theory of education. Additionally, the nature of power will be examined and the way that social groups position themselves in such relations. This understanding will be instructive for our ability to confront the contours of inequality and the everyday effects of “privilege.”
Human Rights, Sovereignty, and Postcoloniality
In this course we will explore how the concept and practice of human rights is predicated on the doctrine of political sovereignty and its differential exercise across nation-states. Taking the Arendtian argument that there are no human rights without political rights as our point of departure, we will ask the following questions: Why is political sovereignty crucial to the realization of human rights? How is political sovereignty differentially weighted between western and non-western nations? How does this affect the practice and conceptualization of human rights? What is the promise of human rights in the current political moment? How does “the postcolonial condition” force us to reconceptualize the truth of human rights? Some of the authors that we will read are: Giorgio Agamben, Antony Anghie, Hannah Arendt, Sam Moyn, Mark Mazower, Erica Bornstein, Vinh-Kim Nguyen, Mahmood Mamdani, Jens Bartelson, Siba Grovogui, Martti Koskenniemi, Sally Merry, Jane Cowan, and others.
Philosophy of History
Wednesdays, 2-4 pm
Readings will include texts from Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Collingwood, and Foucault as well as discussions of these materials.