Indiana University Bloomington



Fall 2021

CTIH-T600, Special Topics in Critical Theory: “The Feeling Body: Psychoanalysis, Phenomenology, and Embodied Cognition.”

Professor Patricia C. Ingham, Dept. of English

Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11:30am - 12:45pm, BH 317

What is the place of psychoanalysis in the age of the brain? If cognitive science once seemed to render psychoanalysis yesterday’s news, recent neuroscientific conceptualizations of embodied or distributed cognition have returned us to perplexing questions familiar from a century of psychoanalytic work: what is the nature of the unconscious? What explains the persistence of psychic trauma in excess of history, or the event? How are we to understand how and why emotional states (depression or anxiety, e.g.) are ‘catching’? What is the role of ‘mirroring’ in art, in mothering, or in our motor neurons?

This course will stage a conversation across three fields: psychoanalysis, phenomenology, and cognitive science, so as to assess a recent set of integrative accounts of body and mind. Rather than duplicate stale oppositions of biology to history, organism to environment, or neuroscience to psychoanalysis, we will read neuroscience alongside psychoanalytic theory. How and why does Norman Doidge’s “Psychoanalysis as a Neuroplasic Therapy” return us to Freudian theory and praxis? What are the implications of Catherine Malabou’s account of ‘negative plasticity’ (in The New Wounded) for a reading of Freud’s account of the repetition compulsion in Beyond the Pleasure Principle?

Attention to the affordances as well as to methodological and evidentiary differences will frame our turn to recent work on embodied cognition, particularly some persuasive models of ’enactivism,’ those mixed accounts that accommodate both the body in environment and the effect of thinking and feeling on accounts of both. We will read Giovanna Colombetti’s The Feeling Body (2014) and Elizabeth Wilson’s Gut Feminism (2017) alongside the standard psychoanalytic theories with which they engage. Topics under discussion include trauma (and trauma theory); aesthetics and aesthetic experience; biologism and its vicissitudes; models of the unconscious; theories of interpersonal attunement; attachment theory. No previous familiarity with either psychoanalysis or neuroscience is expected, but everyone should come with an open mind.


CTIH-T600, Special Topics in Critical Theory: “Derrida’s Of Grammatology and Deconstruction: Coloniality and Post-Coloniality, Technics and the Human, Language and Materiality”

Professor Patrick Dove, Dept. of Spanish & Portuguese

Mondays, 3:15pm - 5:45pm, BH 010

This course will embark on a deliberate and thorough reading of Jacques Derrida’s major work Of Grammatology (1967). A landmark in deconstruction, this book provides a set of fascinating and instructive case studies for understanding both what deconstruction does as a critical practice and how it differs from the institutional discourses with which it engages (Continental Philosophy, political thought, structuralism, to name just a few). A careful reading will thus prepare us to talk about how deconstruction in fact distinguishes itself in subtle but important ways from “similar” concepts such as negation and critique.

By the same token, this engagement with Of Grammatology will help us to appreciate what I will call the historical scope of Derrida’s critical practice. The returns to canonical works and thinkers of the philosophical tradition (Plato, Descartes, Leibnitz, Kant, Rousseau, Hegel) does not seek to undermine and dismiss, as deconstruction is often said to do, but rather to seek out and exploit the internal gaps, lacunae, and intervals within those philosophical discourses and systems. What I call “intervals” are not contradictions in the ordinary sense—they are not resolvable through logic—and their importance for Derrida has to do with an unstated but sustained attempt to repeat the Heideggerian gesture of the Anfang, the articulation of an “other beginning” that would inaugurate a new way of thinking and experiencing history. The deconstructive wager, in other words, is an attempt to reexamine the interrelatedness of present, past and future; an attempt to pose anew the question of what happens in our world and how thought and language are involved and implicated in history.

While Of Grammatology can serve as an instructive guide book for understanding deconstruction as critical practice, it can also be read as an important engagement with the conceptual foundations of European colonialism and modernity, humanism and the distinction between the human and technology, and the question of language in distinction from materiality. The implications and ramifications that Derrida’s text has for these contexts will be developed through supplementary readings by Saussure, Lévi-Strauss and Leroi Gourhan, as well as with works by thinkers for whom Of Grammatology has proven influential, such as Bernard Stiegler’s writings on technics and time, Gayatri Spivak’s early writings on coloniality and subalternity, and Catherine Malabou’s work on plasticity. With each of these “supplementary” thinkers, we can see how Of Grammatology has opened up a space for innovative theoretical work in which the point is neither to reproduce instituted forms of knowledge nor to do away with what has been written and thought in the past, but to return to the archive in an effort to uncover new possibilities for thinking that have not yet been accounted for and assimilated into the tradition.


Spring 2022

CTIH-T600, Special Topics in Critical Theory: “Love.”

Professor Constance Furey, Dept. of Religious Studies

Tuesdays, 4:15 – 6:45 PM, Swain Hall East 010.

This course will examine various theoretical explorations of what we call, simply, “Love.” Hannah Arendt, who wrote her doctoral thesis on love in St. Augustine, declares love a non-political force, crucially and necessarily sequestered to the private realm. The Christian insistence on the binding force of love, she argues, has expanded love’s jurisdiction and diminished the space for politics, properly understood. And yet in recent years, numerous theorists have identified love as a crucial correction to critique and a necessary element of politics. Eve Sedgwick’s call for reparative reading and Slavoj Zizek’s endorsement of a politics of love demonstrate both the importance and the appeal of this move.

This course will take David Nirenberg’s broadside, “The Politics of Love and Its Enemies” (Critical Inquiry 2007) as a starting point, to highlight the reasons why love might be deemed as dangerous as it is powerful in the related realms of politics and critique. The first book, to which we will devote at least three weeks, will be Hannah Arendt’s remarkable and still understudied thesis, Love and St. Augustine (1929; Eng. trans. 1996), with some comparative readings of her arguments about love and religion in The Human Condition. Our plan is to then to explore one genealogy of a politics of love with sources that will include selections from Luther; Hegel’s First Jena Lecture; Nietzsche’s critique of Christianity; Gillian Rose’s Love’s Work: A Reckoning with Life; and Zizek’s brief for Christian love, The Fragile Absolute. Simone Weil and Eve Sedgwick are also likely to find their way onto the syllabus.


CTIH-T600, Special Topics in Critical Theory: “Repetition”

Professor Jennifer Fleissner, Dept. of English

Wednesdays, 11:30 AM - 2:30 PM, Cedar Hall-Union Street Center C101.

The topic of repetition is the abjected other to the notion of modernity as progress. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, from the eighteenth century to the present, it has captured the attention of philosophers, theorists, and artists across various media. This class presents an introduction to some of the most important strands within the conceptualization of this underappreciated subject, demonstrating its continued relevance for thinking through questions from habit to history, compulsion to pleasure, difference to stereotypy. Readings will likely include: Hume, Hegel, and Ravaisson on habit; Kierkegaard on “recollection forward”; Nietzsche on eternal return; Freud and Lacan on the compulsion to repeat; Bergson on laughter and the mechanical; Deleuze on difference and repetition; Snead and Moten on the “cut” in music; and Beauvoir and Butler on repetition and gender. If we have time, we’ll also look at a few salient artistic examples, such as the writings of Beckett, Tom McCarthy’s novel Remainder, and/or Jacques Rivette’s film Céline et Julie vont en bateau.



Fall 2022

CTIH-T600, Special Topics in Critical Theory: "Mysticism and Modernity"

Professor J. Kameron Carter, Religious Studies

In this course we shall query the mysticism internal to critical theory, the mysticism of theory, we might even say theory as (a) mysticism and the theory of mysticism; specifically. This, so we will learn, is a mysticism without a stabilizing center. It is an atheological mysticism, to echo Bataille, a mysticism without God, without the Subject, without the Patriarch Form, without
Man, or at the End of the World (Picture). In so doing, we shall register the impact of mysticisms (medieval, early modern, and non-Western) on modern theories of race, gender, and sexuality, and now increasingly on eco-criticism or on how matter and the earth as such are thought. Here a type of mysticism, we might say, becomes resource to to think the earth beyond the catastrophe and collapse imposed on it via colonial extraction and its afterlives. In all of this, we will be especially interested in the connections between Blackness, poetics, and mysticism as a paradigmatic case for probing the conjunction of mysticism and theory, mysticism and modernity. Indeed, we will consider Black Studies under the rubric of mysticism so as to consider theory under this rubric too.
Ultimately, by putting premodern and modern texts into dialogue, and by thinking modernity and race with and through mysticism, this course invites a consideration of the “secular religiosity” or the parareligiosity of theory itself. In this way, this course challenges the assumption that mysticism and theory are either incompatible or at all apolitical. Might it be that the blackness of mysticism radicalizes the political? Might not the blackness of mysticism unveil the radicality of theory? Finally, might that radicalization bespeak a mystic anarchism?
Possible thinkers to be engaged: Fred Moten, Nathaniel Mackey, José Muñoz, Octavia Butler, Howard Thurman, Arthur Jafa, Édouard Glissant, M. NourbeSe Philip, Denise Ferreira da Silva, Georges Bataille, Jacques Lacan, Simone de Beauvoir, Luce Irigaray, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Luce Irigaray, Ps. Dionysius, Marguerite Porete, Teresa of Ávila, Meister Eckhart, et al.


CTIH-T600, Special Topics in Critical Theory: “Things to Do with Descartes"

Professor Hall Bjørnstad, French & Italian

For decades, the œuvre of René Descartes (1596-1650) was reduced to the birthplace of the cogito and the origin of a distinctly scientistic mind/body dualism. To non-specialists, Descartes would mainly be known as author of a few widely circulated quotations and as a foil, if not the culprit, in stories about the emergence of the many evils of philosophical modernity. However, if the same non-specialists turned to the actual texts of Descartes, and even the most canonical ones like Discourse on Method or the Meditations, they would meet a thematic complexity, a layered historicity and a rhetorical density at odds with any easily recognizable version of “Cartesianism” (as being “clear and distinct,” a-historical and a-rhetorical). Descartes quite simply is much less Cartesian than most of his followers. But if his œuvre is not “Cartesian” in any straight-forward way, what are we to make of it? Indeed, what to do with Descartes? We are still in the midst of a vibrant reassessment and reorientation, through which the scholarship is catching up with what any reader has known was there all along but without the proper tools to start making sense of it. Therefore, this is a propitious moment for a theoretically-informed graduate seminar on Descartes. We will explore a wide selection of texts from Descartes’ body of work (from Discourse on Method and the Meditations, via his treatise on the passions and selections from the posthumously published Le Monde, to his very un-Cartesian dreams), while taking stock of recent developments in the scholarship (including Cartesian poetics, passivity, politics, make-believe, folly, crafts, theater, theology and robotics) and looking ahead to still further “Things to do with Descartes.” All readings will be in English and participants will be encouraged to develop final projects that explore Cartesian “things” at the intersection with their own research interest.


CTIH-T600, Special Topics in Critical Theory: "Marxism: An Ontology of Modes of Production"

Professor Edgar Illas, Spanish & Portuguese

This course will study the Marxist philosophy on the ontology of the modes of social production. Concepts such as labor, class, exploitation, system, conjuncture, praxis, and contradiction constitute the theoretical pillars of Marxism. Rather than focusing on the critiques of capitalism or the histories of class struggle and revolution, we will explore the underlying metaphysics of materialist concepts. We will dwell in the paradox that, while materialism seeks to destroy the illusions of all idealisms (philosophical, religious, moral), it nevertheless cannot escape some of the metaphysical effects of the ontologies of being. To play with Marx's famous motto, the task of transforming the world also implies a form of interpreting it.

The course will trace three main stages or moments of the genealogy of materialist postulates. First, we will begin by analyzing the Hegelian origins of Marxism, particularly the formulation of dialectics and the conception of history as the succession of power struggles between (white) masters and (black) slaves. Second, we will read Marx’s study of capital as a maximum expression of dialectical thinking and the logic of history. Finally, we will look at the efforts of contemporary post-Marxist thinkers such as Louis Althusser, Fredric Jameson, and Kojin Karatani to adjust the analysis of the mode of production to the complexities of the global present. We will examine whether Marxism theoretical concepts are still valid to understand the complex and multilinear logics of globalization. More specifically, we will analyze three crucial contemporary dilemmas: the relation between class and the other competing ontologies of race and gender; the connections and the irreducible differences between exploitation and domination, or between capital and political power; and the shift from a modern temporality of historical breaks to a global spatiality of rearrangements and reorderings.

Our primary text will be Marx's Capital, Volume I, which we will complement with selections from Hegel's Phenomenology. We will read contemporary reconsiderations such as Althusser's “On the Materialist Dialectic” (For Marx) and “Marx’s Immense Theoretical Revolution” (Reading Capital) and Jameson's Valences of the Dialectic. Karatani's The Structure of World History will provide us with a revolutionary reinterpretation of the modes of production as modes of consumption.

Primary Texts
-G.F. W. Hegel. The Phenomenology of Spirit.
-Karl Marx. Capital, Volume I.
-Louis Althusser. For Marx; Reading Capital.
-Fredric Jameson. Valences of the Dialectic.
-Kojin Karatani. The Structure of World History.

(Possible) Secondary Texts
-Susan F. Buck-Morss. Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History.
-Calvin L. Warren. Ontological Terror. Blackness, Nihilism, and Emancipation.
-Sally Haslanger, “Ontology and Social Construction.”
-Antonio Negri. Marx Beyond Marx.


Spring 2023

CTIH-T500, Introduction to Critical Theory: "Genealogy of Critique"

Professor Michel Chaouli, Germanic Studies / Comparative Literature

Critique envelopes us. It is the oxygen of the humanities, ubiquitous and invisible. With each intake of breath, it fills us, but what really do we know about it? Where does it come from, and where does it lead us? We use it all the time, but rarely do we wonder how it uses us nor how it abuses us. This course devotes itself to a close investigation of this powerful practice that subtends nearly everything we do in the humanities. Together we seek to develop a genealogy of critique that maps its many varieties, takes the measure of its power, and gauges its limits. Perhaps it also opens our eyes to new ways of acting critically.

Readings from Kant, F. Schlegel, Novalis, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Benjamin, Ricoeur, H. Arendt, Horkheimer, Althusser, Foucault, Deleuze, Jameson, Sedgwick, Latour, Butler, Zizek, Sharon Marcus, Stephen Best, Rita Felski, Bruce Robbins, and Heather Love.


CTIH-T600, Special Topics in Critical Theory: "Theory and Resistance"

Professor Patrick Dove, Spanish and Portuguese

This course provides a foray into the theoretical humanities, with a focus on key questions and debates that have shaped humanistic reflection on the ways in which we understand and move about in our world. The course purposefully does not seek to be a survey offering something like comprehensive coverage of the intellectual traditions and methodologies that could be associated with theory in the humanities. The primary goal is to explore how what we call “theory” is in fact the name for unresolved torsion or unrest both within intellectual inquiry and between cognition and world. Between, on one hand, theory understood as a form of knowledge production and theory understood as inquiry into how structures designed to govern social relations and subjective processes do not work as intended on the other. And, on the other, between thought and the realities into which it inquires. In his famous essay “The Resistance to Theory,” Paul de Man enigmatically wrote that “nothing can overcome the resistance to theory since theory is itself this resistance.” The guiding double hypothesis for this course is that theory and resistance cohabitate, so to speak, albeit without ever coming together to form a unity or a stable ground. Theoretical inquiry bears a double responsibility: to the singular in its alterity and its refusal of all systematic capture on the one hand, and to the name and to the concept on the other hand, without which the singular would fall into oblivion.

We will pursue this thought of a double responsibility by exploring a handful of core problems or debates that have preoccupied various intellectual traditions without any final, decisive resolution: materiality, language and the signifier, literature, difference, and history. We will read selections from thinkers associated with Continental philosophy, Marxism and post-Marxism, Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis, feminism, subaltern/postcolonial studies, queer studies, and deconstruction. Alongside these theoretical readings, we will look at cultural texts and contexts (short stories, poems, photographs, and films) that provide students with opportunities to work with the conceptual terminology and methodologies presented in the theoretical readings.

The course will encourage students to experiment with how they can bring trends in contemporary thought into productive dialogue with their own research interests. By the same token, we will take seriously de Man’s assertion that what we call “theory” can only thrive in proximity to something that resists it, and that “theory” therefore paradoxically names both a project dedicated to generating the conditions for understanding and attentiveness to a singular truth or reality that resists subjugation to any universal idiom. The attempt to navigate these two irreconcilable calls is, in my view, what imparts to theoretical practice its own unique excitement and urgency.

Our discussions will be organized in seminar format, with each student responsible for presenting or leading class discussion on a topic to be chosen in consultation with me. Along with the presentation, students will write a short response paper; after receiving comments from me, this response paper may provide the starting point for the final research paper.


CTIH-T600, Special Topics in Critical Theory: "Phenomenology"

Professor Joshua Kates, English

Phenomenology, as it emerged in the first half of the twentieth-century, remains central to much of what even today is studied and practiced as theory in Francophone, Anglophone and Germanaphone countries, as well as globally. (I myself have corresponded with students in Iran about Husserlian phenomenology and Derrida’s work on it, not to mention the breadth of interest in Asian and South Asia.)   

What phenomenology is, however, as well as how it is to be practiced, was from its inception a fierce topic of controversy and remains such. This course thus will ask what phenomenology is or might be while also taking on board some of the specific analyses, practices, and commitments that continue to give it life, despite, and across, these controversies. Hence, we will study foundational texts of this movement: by its founder, Edmund Husserl, by Martin Heidegger (Husserl’s erstwhile student and foremost critic), and by Maurice Merleau-Ponty, who came after both and in some respects synthesized the two. We may also look at the tradition Michel Foucault called “objectivist phenomenology” (Jean Cavaillés, Gaston Bachelard, Georges Canguilhem) and we will probably close by dipping into two recent adaptations of the theory: Sarah Achmed’s Queer Phenomenology and Calvin L. Warren’s Ontological Terror: Blackness, Nihilism and Emancipation.



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