CTIH-T600, Special Topics in Critical Theory: "Reading Freud"
Professor R. Andrés Guzmán, Spanish and Portuguese
Tuesdays, 3 - 5:30, Ballatine Hll 139
Like Freud’s own subject matter, Freudian psychoanalysis refuses to go away, evading efforts to delegitimize, discredit, and forget it. This course endeavors to inquire into what persists in Freudian theory. How has it held up to criticism and, particularly, to more recent scientific discoveries in the cognitive and neurosciences? What are its central concepts and how did they change over time? What are the logical forms that have structured psychoanalytic theory and how can they be activated today (if, indeed, they can be) to challenge some of the prevailing assumptions regarding identity, subjectivity, sexuality, desire, historicity, race, and other central categories in the humanities? How can we put Freudianism to work today as not just an analytical framework but as an active mode of critical thought? The course will first approach these guiding questions via a close reading of the trajectory of Freud’s work: from its neuroscientific beginnings to its case studies on hysteria, its theory of dreams, repression, and the unconscious, the development of sexuality, its theory of artistic and literary production and interpretation, the psychopathology of everyday life, its theory of history, and its account of religion and war. During the last quarter of the semester, we will turn our attention to both critiques and defenses of Freudian theory from theorists such as Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen, Bruno Bosteels, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Frantz Fanon, Sebastiano Timpanaro, Catherine Malabou, Adrian Johnston, Mark Solms, and Slavoj Zizek.
CTIH-T600, Special Topics in Critical Theory: "Where Are We? Jean-Luc Nancy and the Deconstruction of Christianity"
Professor Eyal Peretz, Comparative Literature
Wednesdays, 4:10 - 6:40, Ballantine Hall 141
Jean-Luc Nancy stands as one of the most penetrating philosophical thinkers of our contemporary condition. The aim of this class is, first, to engage with some of the main aspects of his historical analyses of the present moment, and second, to expand beyond him upon some possible implications of these analyses. The main framework for Nancy’s philosophical project is what he came to name in his later work the deconstruction of Christianity. If Christianity is the interpretation of what it means to be that has dominated what came to be known as the West, as well as the world-appropriating expansion carried in the name of the West, the deconstruction of Christianity (which is to be distinguished from secularization) is not simply an effort to dismantle the interpretation of what it means to be that characterized it, but to find within Christianity resources that exceed it, even as they preserve something of its fundamental insights.
Among the topics to be covered: the meaning of deconstruction; the distinction between globalization and mondialization; the question of antisemitism as occupying the essence of the Christian West; the place of the arts within the deconstructive overcoming of Christianity; humanity and its relation to nature.
CTIH-T500, Introduction to Critical Theory: "Formalisms"
Professor Jonathan Elmer, English
Mondays & Wednesday, 1:15 - 2:30, Cedar Hall-Union Street Center C101
This class adopts a variety of approaches to what past thinkers have meant, and what we can mean today, by “form” and “formalism.” We will first try to get a handle on Ferdinand de Saussure’s ideas and the enormous influence they exerted on structuralist and post-structuralists alike, Claude Lévi-Strauss and Roman Jakobson, prominently among them. We’ll then approach form via analyses of genre and mode, looking at work by some of the following: Vladimir Propp, Boris Eikhenbaum, Viktor Shklovsky, Northrop Frye, Jacques Derrida, and Fredric Jameson. A counterpoint will be what the phenomenon of play can teach us about the concept of form: we’ll look at brief texts by Ludwig Wittgenstein, Émile Benveniste, and Giorgio Agamben. Towards the end of the class we will look at contemporary treatments of the idea of form and formalism.
Students will write some short analytic-synthetic papers, and a longer essay, the goal of which will be worked out in discussion with the professor.
CTIH-T600, Special Topics in Critical Theory: "Proust and Narrative Theory"
Professor Herbert Marks, Comparative Literature
Tuesdays, 4:10 - 6:40, Ballantine Hall 219
Over the last sixty years, Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time) has emerged in popular and scholarly opinion alike as the exemplary masterpiece of modern literature. This course is based on the premise that this ascendance and the development of narrative theory as a critical discipline are intimately related. Analytical, lyrical, satirical, self-reflective, the Recherche is a book that defies traditional notions of narrative coherence even as it explores the obstacles to its own realization. It is thus no surprise that many of the most notable theorists of recent decades have written at length on Proust. Through analysis of their work, the course shall attempt to chart the evolution of modern narrative theory and the conceptual premises underlying its shifts in focus and methodology. Students will have the opportunity to read Proust's novel in its entirety in conjunction with a selection of critics ranging from Benjamin, Blanchot, and Poulet to Barthes, Genette, Deleuze, de Man, Kristeva, Descombes, and a few current scholars writing in their shadow.
But the course has a second premise: that among the most important narrative theorists to take Proust's novel as a point of reference is Proust himself. We know that the Recherche had its origin in a projected work of literary criticism, and the novel that eventually subsumed it is shot through with metacritical reflections on style, narrative technique, and the strategies guiding its own composition. Beyond this, however, a close reading suggests that Proust the novelist is philosophically bolder than Proust the theorist, that Proust's deepest ideas on narrative, and on temporality in general, are not to be found in the work's more speculative passages but in the fiction that was constructed to illuminate and, arguably, to refute them. In our discussions, we shall be especially attentive to this auto-critical and metacritical dimension, starting from the position that literary theory is not a discursive practice secondary to imaginative literature but an essential feature of literature as such.
Students will have the option of reading in English or French. Written work will comprise brief bi-weekly responses to be posted on the course website and a twenty-page final essay.
CTIH-T500, Introduction to Critical Theory: “Theory for Troubled Times”
Professor Joan Hawkins, Media School
Wednesdays, 3 - 5:30, O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs PV270
Film screenings on Wednesday evenings, 7 - 10, Wells Library 048
This class will revisit poststructuralist and postmodern theory within the contemporary context, specifically its relationship to panic culture (both the ways in which it theorizes everyday panic and has been used to construct new, anti-intellectual, anti-theoretical panics both within and without the academy).We willl read theory and see films that address the issues we confronted—and still confront—in everyday life: ambient fear, panic, paranoia, conspiracy theory, epidemic contagion, the role of the media and emerging technologies, perpetual war, cyberspace, the status of the body, sex and gender, race, nationalism, culture, and that thorniest of issues—the relativity of knowledge and truth. While many of the texts were written by academic theorists and scholars for an academic audience, a number target readers outside the academy. Our class discussions will revolve as much around the dialogue between these two kinds of theory—academic and nonacademic—as it will be structured around the topics and themes themselves.
Readings will include: Henry Giroux (2021), Race, Politics and Pandemic Pedagogy: Education in a Time of Crisis (London, New York et al: Bloomsbury Academic), Naomi Klein (2023), Doppelganger : A Trip into the Mirror World (NY: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux) to look at some attempts to address contemporary concerns from a theory-friendly perspective. Works by Hal Foster, Lyotard, Baudrillard, Deleuze and Guattari, Brian Massumi, Mark Dery, de Certeau, Bourdieu, Latour, Foucault, Paul Virilio, bell hooks, Donna Haraway, Scott Bukatman, Constance Penley, Fredric Jameson, Lawrence Rickels , Leo Bersani, Virginie Despentes, Avital Ronell, Hardt and Negri, Paul Presciado’s Testo Junky and François Cusset’s French Theory: How Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze and Co Transformed the Intellectual Life of the United States.
CTIH-T600, Special Topics in Critical Theory: “Power: The Ontological Modulation of Being”
Professor Edgar Illas, Spanish & Portuguese
Tuesdays, 4:10 - 7:10, Woodburn Hall 006
This course will study a series of theoretical reflections on the elusive category of power. Power is an everyday facticity of the world, but its nature and causes are less evident phenomena. For one thing, a preliminary definition of power already implies an opposing duality: power defines both the capacity to change a state of things and the dominating force that prevents things from changing. This contradictory manifestation of power and counterpower complicates all orders of domination and all desires of liberation. Rather than analyzing power through the lens of social theory or history, the course will examine the metaphysical and political nature of power as ontological modulation of being. We will explore the figure of modulation vis-à-vis parallel concepts such as politics (as negotiation of being), production (as creation of being), and violence (as destruction of being).
We will study four possible enunciations of the ontological question of power: 1) the Foucauldian paradigm of epistemological and institutional regimes of truth; 2) the Nietzschean conception of power as will and desire; 3) the Heideggerian deconstruction of power as clearing and forgetting of being; and 4) the Spinozian concept of the self-caused substance of God and the world. We will examine the overlapping and differences of this tentative fourfold mapping of the thinking of power, a task that will also involve other thinkers, from Aristotle to Antonio Negri and Fred Moten. Finally, as a case of theoretical practice but also as an act of critical reassessment, we will study the relation between blackness and power. Specifically, we will focus on the connections between the “modulatory force” of the Black Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s and the contemporary theorizations of Afro-pessimism, disempowerment, and ontological death.
CTIH-T600, Special Topics in Critical Theory: “Heidegger’s Being and Time: History and the Darkening of World"
Professor Patrick Dove, Spanish and Portuguese
Martin Heidegger’s 1927 opus magnus Being and Time develops themes and concerns that have become indispensable for intellectual traditions including Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis, Marxism and post-Marxism, deconstruction, subaltern and postcolonial studies, and feminism: Dasein and thrownness; being-toward-death; finitude and quasi-transcendence; temporalization and historicity; the ontico-ontological difference; the history of metaphysics and its closure; and so on. One focal point for the seminar is what Heidegger calls world. This term is a central node in Heidegger’s conceptual vocabulary. While in our everyday language we tend to treat “world” as the most obvious of all referents, for Heidegger “world” names a network that only rarely becomes apparent to us. It is the horizon within which beings disclose themselves to and act in relation to one anothe. Yet as the conditioning possibility for thinking, speaking and acting, world remains inaccessible to thought. Indeed, it would seem that world only becomes available to us as a “thing”—not an object, but as a matter, as something we can mull over and concern ourselves with—in those moments when its integrity and its stability has become doubtful. The seminar will bring Heidegger’s treatment of world and its limits into conversation with contemporary debates concerning the precariousness of our world (e.g., Jean-Luc Nancy, Carlo Galli, and Saskia Sassen on globalization, violence and destruction; Claire Colebrook on climate change and extinction).
CTIH-T600, Special Topics in Critical Theory: "The Paradigm of Play"
Professor Jonathan Elmer, English
“Play is older than culture,” writes John Huizinga in the first sentence of his classic work, Homo Ludens. He’s right: the range and complexity of play behaviors in the animal world remain a challenge to describe, and resistant to explanation by evolutionary theory. Huizinga’s opening salvo also recognizes the way the problem of play draws thinkers to the edge of their disciplinary boundaries, and then carries them beyond.
This course will be primarily about theories of play behavior, and how those theories affect thinkers in philosophy, history, anthropology, linguistics, psychology, hermeneutics, and sociology. The first two thirds of the class will provide a tour through treatments of play by some of the following thinkers: Saussure, Wittgenstein, Huizinga, Caillois, Gadamer, Fink, Bateson, Suits, Turner, Lévi-Strauss, Benveniste, Klein, Winnicott, Piaget, Carse, and Derrida. The last third will look at contemporary theories—those written after the rise of personal computing and computer gaming—by figures like Castronova, Bogost, Myers, McGonigal, Juul, and Jagoda. Students will be invited to explore the theoretical arguments on their own, or test them through an in-depth treatment or some form of play or game.