Spring 2016


Core Courses

Critical Theory 240.1 / Film 240.3 / German 214
Framing Migration

Professor Deniz Göktürk
Thursday, 3-7 pm, 282 Dwinelle

In light of the EU’s and individual nation-states’ policy of enforcing their borders and differentiating between “real” refugees and economic migrants, this seminar will question approaches to research on transnational mobility and cultural diversity through the lens of aesthetic interventions, moving images, and literature. Our focus will be on the role of audiovisual media in projecting and complicating social imaginaries. Theoretical texts by Adorno, Arendt, Balibar, Clifford, Hall, Roemhild, Sassen and many others will complement our diachronic analyses.

Critical Theory 240.2
Philosophies (and Technologies) of Life – Critical Vitalisms

Professor Suzanne Guerlac
Tuesday, 1-4 pm, 4226 Dwinelle

What does it mean to think “life” in the context of technological production and monetization of “life”? How can we think “life” in the Anthropocene Age? Does the current scientific investment in the notion of “emergence” mean an end to the conflict between vitalists and mechanists? These are some of the questions that will guide our attempt to investigate the possibilities of critical vitalism for thinking about the world we live in. A first step will be to look back at Lebensphilosophie in the German context (Dilthey and others) and its subsequent appropriation by Nazi ideology (Klages). Instead of simply reinstating this shame we will attempt to think through it critically and to resituate the question of life in relation to both ecological and technological realities. We will reconsider opportunities (especially those offered by Bergson and Simmel) to think “life” in terms not exclusively human. Toward the end of the semester we will consider efforts toward ”critical vitalism” by people like Brian Massumi, Bruno Latour, and Fréderic Worms (who will be visiting our class for the last two weeks of the semester). We will also consider debates concerning the notion of “emergence” in the context of synthetic biology (Claus Emmeche) and the effects of philosophies of information (Luciano Floridi) on our understanding of “life.”

Critical Theory 240.3 / Sociology 202B
Contemporary Sociological Theory

Professor Dylan Riley
Monday, 10 am-12 pm, 402 Barrows

This course is a review of the Marxist tradition of political thought. The course begins by reviewing the strategic debates within Marxism among such major figures as: Bernstein, Engels, Gramsci, Kautsky, Lenin, Luxemburg, Marx and Trotsky. The class then traces these discussions forward to the high period of neo-Marxist political theorizing in the seventies (Miliband, Poulantzas and Therborn) before examining what Marxisant and non-Marxisant voices have to say about our contemporary circumstances (Anderson, Mann, Wright). Students are expected to have a basic grasp of classical social theory as a pre-requisite for attending the seminar.

Critical Theory 240.4 / English 203
What Does Critical Theory Have to Do with the Postcolonial?

Professor Poulomi Saha
Tuesday & Thursday, 12:30-2 pm, 201 Wheeler

This course considers the relationship between the development of critical theory and the colonized and postcolonial worlds. It asks how and where histories, cultures, and philosophies of the global south appear and intersect with continental philosophy. Rather than pursue this question genealogically, this course is invested in producing a nexus of inquiry through three sites of (post)coloniality – North Africa, the Indian Subcontinent, and East Asia – and a variety of reading practices and methodologies. If, as Tim Brennan has argued, “The telos of the imperial project is reached when the third-world subject is able to deconstruct the epistemic violence of colonialism only by way of Continental theory,” what are the politics and epistemologies that emerge from this consideration? What are its pitfalls? And what alternate ways of reading and thinking about literature, culture, politics, and affect might develop from thinking together the continental tradition and the colonial world?

Readings may include texts from Assia Djebar, Frantz Fanon, GWF Hegel, Walter Benjamin, Karl Marx, Mahasweta Devi, Ranajit Guha, and Jacques Derrida.

Elective Courses

Critical Theory 290.1 / English 250.4
Modernism’s Metaphysics

Professor C. D. Blanton
Friday, 9 am-12 pm, 301 Wheeler

Over recent decades, we have become accustomed to speaking of the ‘cultural logic’ of modernism, using a periodizing term to delineate a larger complex of historical effects, while also insinuating its availability to the integrated descriptions of critical reason. And understood broadly enough, modernism itself seems to comprise a series of variations on the problem of logic or critical reason, ranging from the analytic to the psychoanalytic, from dialectics to phenomenology. It is less clear, however, that one might speak with confidence of modernism’s metaphysics, its attempt to think first causes. Indeed in 1929, Martin Heidegger argued that the enterprise of metaphysics could only be authentically pursued by forswearing logic as such, trading the conceptual claims of Hegelian negation for a more primordial Nothing ultimately designed to banish Western metaphysics altogether.

This course constitutes the first stirring of a counter-hypothesis, testing the proposition that Heidegger’s own modernist moment developed its own distinctive metaphysics, even when it failed or refused to provide a proper metaphysical language. Our reading will tangle in passing with the philosophical traditions already mentioned and more, as well as the discourses of literary criticism that the period spawned. We will attend to the period’s epistemological experiments and the rise (from several directions, both artistic and technical) of inductive modes of knowing. Centrally, however, we will concentrate on four major canonical figures, attempting to grasp the metaphysical consequences of the formal logics they develop as distinctive conceptual styles.

Our largest work will begin with two poets, both of whom seem to press the limits of what a poem can know. For W. B. Yeats, the sequence of volumes following the first war (The Wild Swans at Coole, Michael Robartes and the Dancer, The Tower, The Winding Stair) seem to predicate their boldest visions on ignorance rather then insight, incognition rather than cognition. By comparison, T. S. Eliot’s early work, culminating in Ara Vos Prec and pointing to the more radical experimental break marked by “Gerontion” and The Waste Land, seems to trade vision for the more modest relevance of satire, even as the mode’s underlying referentiality seems to slide into mere inference. In each case, we are confronted with what a poet seems not to know, even as the poem essays a logic that operates behind his back.

We will pursue the larger implication of that division in the work of two novelists. Wyndham Lewis’ Human Age trilogy takes the period between the wars as a logical and historical singularity, a moment when the future is experienced in advance, before it is known, when a second future war emerges as the cause of the first. For Samuel Beckett, Lewis’ unfashionable experiment in teleology is reinscribed as occasionalism, developed from the first trilogy (Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable) to the late Comment c’est (How It Is) as a categorical incommensurability between the physical and the metaphysical.

Critical Theory 290.2 / Spanish & Portuguese 280

Professor Natalia Brizuela
Thursday, 3-6 pm, 225 Dwinelle

The last three decades have witnessed an explosion of critical concern on the question of time in a number of different disciplines: mainly literary theory, film studies, history, contemporary art, postcolonial theory, anthropology and queer theory. The debates around a certain “end of history,” the consolidation of ecological practices and discourses around the now undeniable environmental crises of the present, the complex temporalities of financial capitalism (speculation, debt, new forms of labor) and the experience of a massive acceleration of the time in the all encompassing neoliberal regime, have, in part, generated this critical concern.

This seminar will explore some of these contemporary critical debates around time as we look closely at Latin American and Iberian art, films and literature from the second half of the twentieth century that take up time as a weapon for critique.

Even though this recent emergence of a multidisciplinary critical body of work on time would seem to indicate that it is a problem of the present, the seminar will explore how the concern over time has been central for a number of philosophers of the 20th century: Freud’s unconscious; Gramsci’s hegemony; Benjamin’s dialectical image; Bataille’s accursed share; Adorno’s late style; Foucault’s heterotopias; Ranciere’s time after; Agamben’s time that remains; Didi-Huberman’s surivial and anachronism.

Students will be encouraged to present and write on objects and texts related to their field of research, even if the objects and texts we will look at in the seminar are all from the Luso-Hispanic tradition.

The seminar will be taught in English.

Critical Theory 290.3 / Political Science 212C
Modern Political Theory

Professor Wendy Brown
Tuesday, 2-4 pm, 749 Barrows

This is a survey of 19th and early 20th Century political theory. Thinkers studied are Tocqueville, Marx, Mill, Nietzsche, and Weber.

Critical Theory 290.4 / History of Art 290
The Ethics of Abstraction

Professors Julia Bryan-Wilson and Anneka Lenssen
Wednesday, 2-5 pm, 308B Doe Library

The course will interrogate abstraction as a strategy in 20th and 21st-century art around the globe, and its manifold implications for political projects of being, seeing, and knowing together. We will look at how various artists turn to non-representation as a means for thinking differently about issues as divergent as flatness, vision, progress, decay, identity, violence, solidarity, negation, and protest. How might we read acts of judgment performed by abstract artists, i.e. separating what is alien from that which is intrinsic, as politically activated? How do we account for the ways abstraction has figured centrally not only in modernist art histories, but also in economic and political theories (as in the abstraction of use into exchange value)? How, too, have representation and figuration (as ostensible opposites of abstraction) been positioned as ethical tactics? We will take an object-oriented approach that foregrounds the complexity of movement between “thing” and abstract “effect.” The course pursues comparative readings as well, exploring the turn to abstraction in affinity with Islamic, Jewish, or mystical metaphysics that treat the representation of living beings with suspicion; divergent valences in postwar abstract painting; and contemporary abstraction as it supports coded meanings, eccentricities, and alternative (feminist, queer, marginal, racialized) formations.

Critical Theory 290.5 / English 250.1
Capitalist Crisis and Literature

Professor Marcial Gonzales
Monday, 3-6 pm, 205 Wheeler

Since the global financial crisis of 2007-08 and the onset of the “Great Recession,” a small but growing number of literary scholars have strived to theorize the relation between capitalist crisis and literary studies. Two short articles in the January 2012 issue of PMLA—one each by Christopher Nealon and Joshua Clover, and each entitled “Value|Theory|Crisis”—are prime examples of this kind of innovative research. The purpose of this course will be to test some of the theoretical claims that have been made about the relation between capitalist crisis and literature.

To do this, we’ll read works by Andrew Kliman, Chris Harman, and other Marxist scholars to scrutinize three theoretical claims in particular. One, the recurring economic crises of capitalism should not be understood as anomalies or temporary interruptions in productive continuity; they are rather symptoms of a system in which crisis is the norm, not the exception. Two, since the early 1970s, a period commonly associated with the dominance of neoliberalism, global capitalist production has experienced profound structural stagnation, and the attempts by capitalists to resolve stagnant production with financialization and debt have only prolonged the inevitable and unresolvable recurrence of economic (and hence political) crises. And three, all aspects of social life during the neoliberal period—including literature and cultural production generally—can be understood to one degree or another as formal and/or thematic expressions of capitalist crisis. Sociologist William I. Robinson refers to this third point as “the crisis of humanity.”

Most of the works we’ll read draw on current research in the Marxist theory of value to formulate a critique of economic crisis. During the last few weeks of the semester, however, we’ll read three novels—John Rechy’s City of Night, Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange, and Salvador Plascencia’s The People of Paper—to bridge the divide between theory and literature. Our purpose will not be to study “literary representations” of economic crisis in these novels, but to trace the determinate relation between capitalism and literary form—that is, to explore the ways that capitalist crises have profoundly influenced the internal logic of the literature.

Critical Theory 290.6 / Comparative Literature 202B
Paul Celan and Poetry in the Americas

Professor Robert Kaufman
Tuesday, 2-5 pm, 225 Dwinelle

Approximately the first half of this seminar will involve reading the work of the German-language poet Paul Celan (1920-1970), the figure—along with Theodor W. Adorno—most identified with the “Poetry After Auschwitz” debates. We’ll read Celan’s own poetry, criticism, and writings in poetics, as well as work by some of those he considered important precursors and contemporary colleagues. Reading primarily in English translation (and sometimes looking too at French and Spanish translations), we’ll read extensively in Celan’s poetry, poetics and criticism. We’ll always keep the original German texts before us, and we’ll regularly refer to them in relation to our translated versions, to understand Celan’s prosody in ways that will be comprehensible and helpful even for those who don’t read German. (Ability to read in German—and/or Spanish and French—will of course prove beneficial, but is by no means required for the seminar.) We’ll also undertake readings in some of the aesthetics, critical theory, and philosophy that informs Celan’s work, or that has been significant for its reception history. Among the central issues taken up will be the notoriously “difficult,” “hermetic,” “elliptical,” “obscure” character of Celan’s poetry. We’ll try to evaluate Celan’s claim that the difficulty stems largely from the poetry’s materials themselves, and that his perceived radical experimentalism was simply what was required to bring the materials into form and expression.

Shifting hemispheres, we’ll turn to consider how poetry and poetics in the Americas, starting in the mid-1950s, attempt to understand what Celan is doing in poetry and what he is asking postwar poetry to attempt. Among our queries—which we’ll see various poets likewise raising—will be the degree to which Celan proves translatable (in the literal sense of the translation of his poems into English, French, Spanish; and in the metaphorical sense of attempted translations of his poetry’s poetics, aesthetics, ethics, and politics to contexts that will involve, among other things, the concerns and claims of the working class, anti-colonial, civil rights, feminist, and anti-war movements). We’ll observe this questioning perhaps above all in poets’ processes of thinking, in their poetry and criticism, about what is shared and what’s distinct in the historical experiences of European anti-Semitism and New World slavery and racism: their thinking, in short, about what in Celan’s pathbreaking poetry in the wake of European fascism and genocide can, and cannot, help them as their artistic work develops its own relations to pressing ethical and sociopolitical matters. Suffusing these reflections will be the issue of what kinds of critical agency—if any—might be generated from Celanian poetics, and how such agency would relate to longstanding notions of art’s ethical and sociopolitical commitment or engagement.

In addition to Celan’s work, the poetry we’ll read will range from brief excerpts to more substantial selections by a number of poets including, most likely: Hölderlin, Heine, Dickinson, Mallarmé, Rilke, Sachs, Brecht, Bachmann, Daive, Albiach, Du Bouchet, Césaire, Glissant, Monchoachi, Zurita, Gelman, Pizarnik, Perlongher, Paz, Castellanos, Blaser, Mouré, Brossard, Rothenberg, Duncan, Rich, Levertov, Palmer, Mackey, Rankine, and others. Critical, theoretical, and/or philosophical readings will likely include texts by Adorno, Benjamin, Marcuse, Heidegger, Derrida, Agamben, Lacoue-Labathe, Felstiner, Rothenberg, Bernstein, Carson, and Coetzee. Depending on time, we may also work with some filmic, musical, and visual art in which Celan figures.

Critical Theory 290.7 / Education 240D
History and Theory of Curriculum

Professor Zeus Leonardo
Tuesday, 1-4 pm, 5527 Tolman

This course explores the development of curriculum theory and the role of the curriculum specialist in the United States since the Progressive Period. Emphasizing a survey of classic texts and key figures, the course covers the development of three schools of thought: social efficiency approaches, child-centered approaches, and social reconstructionist approaches. It concludes with a study of curriculum theory since the Reconceptualists.

Critical Theory 290.8 / Education 280B
Sociocultural Critique of Education

Professor Zeus Leonardo
Monday, 1-4 pm, 5527 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.”

Critical Theory 298
Interpretive Approaches in Critical Theory

Professor Judith Butler
Wednesday, 5-7 pm, 425 Doe Library

This course offers advanced study in interpretive approaches within the field of critical theory, focusing on the question of how critical theory enters into the framing of a long-term research project. We will consider the status and limits of theory, the relation between literary and social theory, reading practices, and archival research.

Readings will draw on 20th-century aesthetics and social theory and will include texts by Sigmund Freud, Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Jean-Paul Sartre, Hannah Arendt, and Frantz Fanon.

This course is intended for graduate students who are preparing a long-term research project, a prospectus, or dissertation.

Admission by instructor permission only.

Students enrolled in CT 298 may petition to have this course count as one of their required courses for the DE, by special arrangement. Contact Rita Lindahl-Lynch (rlindahl-lynch.cir@berkeley.edu), Critical Theory Student Affairs Officer, for more information.