Spring 2015

Core Courses

CT 200 / Rhetoric 240G
The Philosophy of Critique

Prof. Ramona Naddaff
Wednesdays, 3-6 pm, 7415 Dwinelle

This course will investigate certain of the critical philosophical interventions in the fields of ethics, politics, and epistemology from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries.  Our aim will be double.  On the one hand, we will engage in a survey of the major thinkers who queried and defined the notion of “critique”: Descartes, Hume,  Kant, Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche.  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.  We will also commit to a reading  of one French philosopher, Gilles Deleuze whose monographs on Hume, Kant and Nietzsche concentrate particularly on the nexus of knowledge, sensation, subjectivity and ethics.

CT 205 / Comparative Literature 221 / Rhetoric 221*
Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory

Prof. Robert Kaufman
Tuesdays, 2-5 pm, 4104 Dwinelle

This seminar (cross-listed as Comparative Literature 221 and Rhetoric 221) is not an introduction to Adorno; rather, it involves sustained reading and discussion of Adorno’s last major text, Aesthetic Theory (1970). 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—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 (to mention only a few!!!). Aesthetic Theory likewise assumes that readers have at least some familiarity with Kant, Hegel, Marx and Engels, Lukács, and Benjamin, as well as with Adorno’s own earlier works.

Our first one or two class sessions will be devoted to an extremely brisk sketching of the earlier texts, figures, and political/artistic/critical movements, along with a history of underlying concepts and practices. The major part of the semester’s undertakings—our close, careful reading of Aesthetic Theory–-will then seek, starting in the second or third session, to understand, interpret, and respond to the text’s treatments of modern art’s development on its own terms, and in relation to sociopolitical history, as well as to various traditions of aesthetics and critique (above all, to Kantian, Hegelian, and Marxian criticism). 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 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.

*Also qualifies at CT 240 core course. Please contact rlindahl-lynch.cir@berkeley.edu.

CT 290.2 / Anthropology 250X*
Secularism and Secularity

Prof. Saba Mahmood
Tuesdays, 9 am – 12 pm, 219 Kroeber

Recent scholarship in the disciplines of history, anthropology and philosophy has definitively challenged the once-influential account of secularism as the separation of church and state, religion and law, and ecclesiastical and political authority. Instead scholars argue that modern secularism entails fundamental shifts in conceptions of self, time, space, ethics, and morality, as well as a reorganization of social, political, and religious life. In this course, we will explore the relationship between political secularism and secularity: while the former pertains to the modern state’s regulation of religious life, the latter refers to the set of concepts, norms, sensibilities, and dispositions that characterize secular societies and subjectivities. We will read authors from the disciplines of anthropology, literary theory, history, theology, and philosophy.

*Also qualifies at CT 240 core course. Please contact rlindahl-lynch.cir@berkeley.edu.

Elective Courses

CT 290.1 / Comparative Literature 253
Walter Benjamin’s “A Critique of Violence”

Prof. Judith Butler
Tuesdays, 2-5 pm, 308B Doe Library

This elective will conduct a close reading of Benjamin’s important text, considering the relationship between mythic and divine violence, the strike and the messianic, and the meaning of legal violence. We will consider his view on the coercive dimensions of law and subject-formation as well as his understanding of critique, making reference to short works written during that period. In the second part of the semester, we will consider critical theoretical texts that directly or indirectly comment on Benjamin or on the issue of legal violence. Those readings will include essays by Robert Cover, Hannah Arendt, Giorgio Agamben, and Frantz Fanon.

CT 290.2 / Anthropology 250X
Secularism and Secularity

Prof. Saba Mahmood
Tuesdays, 9 am – 12 pm, 219 Kroeber

Recent scholarship in the disciplines of history, anthropology and philosophy has definitively challenged the once-influential account of secularism as the separation of church and state, religion and law, and ecclesiastical and political authority. Instead scholars argue that modern secularism entails fundamental shifts in conceptions of self, time, space, ethics, and morality, as well as a reorganization of social, political, and religious life. In this course, we will explore the relationship between political secularism and secularity: while the former pertains to the modern state’s regulation of religious life, the latter refers to the set of concepts, norms, sensibilities, and dispositions that characterize secular societies and subjectivities. We will read authors from the disciplines of anthropology, literary theory, history, theology, and philosophy.

*Also qualifies at CT 240 core course. Please contact rlindahl-lynch.cir@berkeley.edu.

CT 290.3 / Film 240 / German 214
Comedy and Critique

Professors Anton Kaes and Deniz Göktürk
SEM, Mon 1-4 pm, 226 Dwinelle
Lab, Mon 4-6 pm, 226 Dwinelle

This seminar will examine the social dynamics of laughter across multiple media. A basic impulse of comedy — from slapstick to mockumentary to standup — is to temporarily destabilize and critique the status quo by revealing its unquestioned assumptions and contradictions. In this way the comic mode has affinities to critical theory. It is no surprise that Benjamin, Kracauer, and Adorno wrote repeatedly on Chaplin and on the social function of comic interventions. More recently, comics intervene by mobilizing tactical role-play and inviting the audience to join in their game of exposure. Classic texts on comedy by Freud, Bergson, Benjamin, Adorno, Brecht, and Bakhtin, as well as their forerunners from classical antiquity to German idealism, will help us think through representative examples from various national cinemas and the internet.

CT 290.4 / Education 280B
Sociocultural Critique of Education

Prof. Zeus Leonardo
Mondays, 1-4 pm, 4529 Tolman

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.”

French 274
Traditions in Critical Thought: French Theory

Prof. Eglantine Colon
Wednesdays, 1-4 pm, 4226 Dwinelle

This seminar will introduce students to recent theoretical texts written in French and investigate their relationships with the “French Theory” of the 1960s and 1970s.  Starting with a few key readings in French Theory, we will map out the different theoretical positions and philosophical traditions that the term covered, while also interrogating this very denomination to replace it in the American context of its creation, and the French context of its production. This will be a point of departure for a study of major theoretical texts written in French from the 1990s onwards, which will be contextualized in relation to earlier tendencies in French thought (reading, for instance, Rancière with and against Althusser, or Mbembe in relation to Foucault and Deleuze), and analyzed in relation to the more recent theoretical trajectories they participate in creating. After an introduction to contemporary theory centered on Derrida’s Spectres de Marx (1993), the seminar will be organized in four sections, which are designed to cover some of the central texts and issues in contemporary theory. #1 The question of community in a post/neo-Marxist, neo-capitalist context. #2 Race and biopolitics. #3 Globalization. #4 Contemporary renewals in the relations between philosophy, the aesthetic and the political, through some of Jacques Rancière’s key writings. For their oral presentations, students will be asked to study theoretical texts in relation to a literary or cinematic work. Ample room will be devoted to refining the methods we use when bringing texts and images in dialogue with theory. In addition to oral presentations, students will write a final research paper related to their own area of specialization.

We will most likely read (the entirety or excerpts of) the following texts:

Catherine Malabou, La plasticité au soir de l’écriture ; Jacques Derrida, L’écriture et la différence; Michel Foucault, Histoire de la sexualité I, La volonté de savoir; François Cusset, French Theory; Jacques Derrida, Spectres de Marx; Maurice Blanchot, La communauté inavouable; Jean-Luc Nancy, La communauté désœuvrée & La communauté affrontée; Giorgio Agamben, La communauté à venir; Achille Mbembe, Critique de la raison nègre; Etienne Balibar & Immanuel Wallerstein, Race, Nation, Classe. Les identités ambiguës; Jean-Luc Nancy, La création du monde ou la mondialisation; Jacques Rancière, La leçon Althusser; La mésentente; Politique de la littérature, La fable cinématographique.

*The seminar will take place in English. Readings will be in French.
*CT Students, please register through French 274.
*Also qualifies at CT 240 core course. Please contact rlindahl-lynch.cir@berkeley.edu.

Sociology 202B
Social Space and Symbolic Power in Bordieu

Prof. Loic Wacquant
Thursdays, 4-7 pm, 402 Barrows

A systematic dissection of the epistemological principles, methodological stance, theoretical tools and empirical enquiries of Bourdieu in relation to classical and contemporary strands of social theory.

*CT Students please register through Sociology 202B.
*By instructor permission only.

Comparative Literature 258/ German 205
Mysticism and Modernity

Prof. Niklaus Largier
Tuesdays, 3-6 pm, 282 Dwinelle

So-called ‘mystical’ forms of thought and experience have played a major role in the history of modern philosophy and literature from Hegel to Georg Lukàcs, Martin Heidegger, Georges Bataille, and Jacques Derrida, and from Novalis to Robert Musil, Paul Celan, Ingeborg Bachmann, Pierre Klossowski, and John Cage (to name just a few). In this seminar we will read and discuss key texts written by Eckhart of Hochheim (Meister Eckhart), Mechthild of Magdeburg, and Hadewijch of Antwerp, some of the most significant medieval figures in this tradition. During a second phase of the seminar we will turn our attention to baroque mysticism, especially Angelus Silesius and Jacob Böhme. Based on the class discussion and on individual student interests, we will then look into the ways how these texts have been read by 19th and 20th century authors and explore the impact they had on the formation of modern concepts of (and discussions about) subjectivity, affect, and agency. Depending on student interests, we will decide on a final version of the syllabus at the first meeting of class.