Indiana University Bloomington

Archive of Courses


Fall 2015

CTIH-T600, Special Topics in Critical Theory: "Aesthetic Education - Learning To Live."

Professor Eyal Peretz, Comparative Literture

What is the role of art in life? This is the main question animating, implicitly or explicitly, the major artistic creators as well as the fundamental thinkers and theoreticians of art from the second half of the eighteenth century to our own days. Perhaps the most fundamental intuition all these writers share is that a third term needs to be introduced in order to understand the relation of art to life, and this term is education. Art somehow involves, these writers seem to feel, an education; an education in, or perhaps into, life. It is as if there is a special kind of education that only the passage through art can be responsible for—a learning to live. This would seem to mean that until we have not fully experienced, until we have not been educated into, what art is, or could be, we do not yet know what life is, or could be. Yet a fundamental intuition of these modern thinkers is that we precisely have never yet fully known what art is, have never yet been fully educated into it, and that we have never yet fully known what life is, have never fully been alive. The education called aesthetic is therefore extremely mysterious since it is an education into something that is yet unknown, life, with the means of something that is equally unknown, art.
This class will try understand the nature of this mysterious education through two unknowns, and will also try to understand why precisely these terms—art, education, life—have received a newly conceived and prominent place at a certain moment of the experience of Western culture.
Readings may include: Plato, Plotinus, Saint Augustine, Descartes, Diderot, Rousseau, Kant, Goethe, Dickens, Schiller, Wagner, Nietzsche, Bergson, Freud, Artaud, Bataille, Chaplin, Heidegger, Lacan, Foucault, Hadot, Deleuze, Derrida.


Spring 2016

CTIH-T600, Special Topics in Critical Theory: "Discourse."

Professor Joshua Kates, English

If somebody says “Jane had two children and got married,” the speaker will usually be understood to mean that Jane had her offspring and then tied the knot. Yet nothing in the meaning of the words or the rules of language conveys this. The statement’s significance thus belongs to discourse, language in use, as opposed to language as such. Structuralism, and much post-structuralism, by contrast, invokes the opposite language-oriented framework, which largely still predominates in the Humanities today. Moreover, much “big data” and other informatics also assumes the possibility of wholly autonomous rule-governed languages.
The privilege of language over discourse in the Humanities, however, may be on the wane, as new work by Paul Grimstad, Toril Moi, and others attests. Accordingly, this course, investigates the burgeoning alternative that discourse provides to understanding what we in the Humanities do, since language, or some construal of it, arguably lies at the base of all our objects and practices. In the first part of the course, we will look at some foundational texts for conceiving discourse, contributions in what has come to be known as ordinary language philosophy: those of J. L. Austin, John Searle, H. P. Grice, and others. After possibly looking at the impact these authors had within the structuralist/post-structuralist context itself (in work by Jacques Lacan and Michel Foucault), we will investigate discourse-based approaches to written texts, literary fictions, and associated practices. We will address such issues as is there “fiction” (and if so what is it); how to conceive texts and contexts; how to understand metaphor, and are there literal meanings.


Fall 2016

CTIH-T600, Special Topics in Critical Theory: "Collectivity."

Professor Claudia Breger, Germanic Studies

Questions of collectivity have assumed new urgency in the face of 21st-century crises, from September 11th and the following wars to the instabilities produced by neoliberal governance. The news from too many parts of the world has been dominated by violent political manifestations of the urgency to create collective identifications based on nation, ethnicity, or religion, and ongoing heightened debates around immigration—in particular in Europe, but also the U.S.—have in part contributed to such ‘collective closures.’ But of course, there is also a broad range of counter-voices, in the political and cultural realm as well as that of theory. Thus, scholars from a range of disciplines have developed reflective new perspectives on the topic since the turn of the millennium. These perspectives range from reconceptualizations of universalism, cosmopolitanism, and conviviality to investigations of collective affect in Deleuzian contributions to the ‘affective turn,’ and from Bruno Latour’s suggestions for ‘reassembling’ the collective and Jacques Rancière’s ‘refiguration of the sensible’ towards an otherwise unseen ‘shared world’ to new interest in Stanley Cavell’s ‘Claim to Community.’ What these heterogeneous approaches share is a reorientation beyond the (perceived and actual) limits of modern and postmodern critiques of collectivity, towards more affirmative takes.

In this course, we will investigate these contemporary perspectives in some detail, striving to develop our own conceptualizations of how various forms of collectivity work and how their claims might be evaluated. Towards that goal, we will also include comparative glances at selected older texts that contributed to the modern and postmodern critique of collectivity. And importantly, all the theory ‘proper’ will be probed, concretized, at moments imaginatively displaced and improved by discussions of resonant literary, cinematic and essayistic works.


Spring 2017

CTIH-T600, Special Topics in Critical Theory: "The New Realisms."

Professor Rebekah Sheldon, English

Theoretical inquiry is a period of transition. The assumptions that have grounded the methods, motives, and objects of disciplines across the humanities and social sciences have begun to shift. Where theory of the 80s and 90s made language, discourse, culture, and knowledge privileged key terms, now we find resurgent materialisms of all kinds. Where theory then sought to analyze processes of signification and subjectivization, theory now seeks to grasp science, ecology, objects, and bodies in the fullness of their material realities.

This now-familiar story is the subject of this course. In its most heroic version, this is a story of liberation in which a group of intellectual renegades released us from our limiting obsession with epistemology and enabled us to embrace the unmediated real. We will examine this story, consider its appeal, and witness its fit with the actual practices of theory, both then and now. Our task begins, therefore, with the highest of high theory (Foucault, Derrida, Said), their primary antecedents and acclaimed interlocutors. Our goal will be to understand the shared orientations that cut across different schools of thought (poststructuralism, deconstruction, cultural criticism, social constructivism, etc) and different areas of investigation (feminist theory, queer theory, postcolonial studies, critical race studies etc). Though these have many names, we will bridge them under the rubric of antifoundationalism. We will devote the first half of the semester to articulating the stakes of antifoundationalism, how those stakes informed its characteristic methods, and how they were informed in turn by its theories of political change. We will then look at some rumblings of discontent before turning, in the second half, to the major areas of new realisms such as affect studies, new materialism, ecophilosophy, and speculative realism. By the conclusion of the semester, students will understand those practices criticized under names like paranoid reading, correlationism, and lava-lamp materialism, will be able to explain the ambitions of those modes, and will have a strong sense of the new realisms.


Fall 2017

CTIH-T500, Introduction to Critical Theory

Professor Johannes Türk, Dept. of Germanic Studies

The term “theory” is derived from the Greek word theoria, which means “contemplation, viewing, sight.” By the time it is imported into English, it has come to signify “conception” or “scheme.” Although it can be used in the sense of method or explanation, its stakes are higher. Theory asks us to abandon the shores of preconception and set sail for the possibilities of thought. Theory also entertains a close relationship to a way of life as the compound bios theoreticos shows and encloses an appeal to change your life. This class is meant to introduce you to fundamental concepts and problems of theory. We will explore core dimensions of thought from mimesis to aesthetics, language, and politics, and ask how concepts shape our grasp of what can be experienced, understood, thought, and felt. Readings will include texts reaching from Plato and Aristotle to Heidegger, Freud, Derrida, and Rancière.


CTIH-T600, Special Topics in Critical Theory: "Hegel and the Humanities: Language, Thought, and World in the Science of Logic."

Professor Patrick Dove, Dept. of Spanish & Portuguese

In this course, we will make our way deliberately through Hegel’s opus magnum, the Science of Logic, with an eye to understanding how Hegelian thought has informed a range of intellectual traditions over the last two centuries. We will also explore how a reading of Hegel’s major work today might open up new ways of articulating what it is that we do in the humanities. Hegel’s insights into the deep interrelatedness of domains that we often take to be separate or even diametrically opposed—language and logic, thought and reality, concept and object, being and nothingness, the spiritual and the material, activity and passivity, and so on—offer a site for reexamining prevailing ideas about the humanities and their role in the university and in society as a whole.  
One of our main goals will be to explore what Hegel’s effort to produce a systematic account of the relationship between thought and being can say to us today. Hegel’s Logic offers a strong account of thinking as both an end in itself and as a mode of relating to the world that cannot be fully separated from the objective reality it seeks to grasp. While the Logic provides us with an opportunity to develop new ways of explaining what we do, it also presents a forceful critique of humanism itself and of the Subject of humanism in particular.
Each week we will read approximately two chapters of the Logic. This reading will be supplemented by selections from the work of other thinkers that will help us to situate Hegel’s thought in a specific context. Many of the selections will be derived from intellectual traditions that are informed by Hegelian thought and which understand themselves as either pursuing or pushing back against Hegelianism: for instance, Marxism and post-Marxism (Althusser, Laclau), Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis, Heidegger and post-Heideggerian French thought (Derrida, Nancy), Levinas, post-colonialism and subaltern studies (Fanon, Said, Spivak, Mignolo), and theoretical reflections on the historical crisis of the modern university (Bill Readings and Willy Thayer). We will also discuss recent scholarship that has sought to contest or problematize the general anti-Hegelian tenor of post-war Continental thought: Judith Butler’s Subjects of Desire, Peter Osborne’s The Politics of Time, Slavoj Zizek (any title would do), Catherine Malabou’s The Future of Hegel, and Warren Montag’s Althusser and his Contemporaries.


Spring 2018

CTIH-T600, Special Topics in Critical Theory: "War and the Political."

Professor Edgar Illas, Dept. of Spanish & Portuguese

This course will analyze a variety of theoretical approaches to the question of war and politics. We will explore one fundamental hypothesis, namely that war is an ontological event, that is, an event, or perhaps the event, that produces new social orders of being. Thus, rather than studying theories of war from a political science or a military perspective, our approach will be based on theoretical reflections about the continuation and also the gap between conflict and political order. The course, in other words, will revolve around a series of notions that try to conceptualize the abyssal transition from contentious disorder to stabilized order. We will start by examining classic theorizations of war, from Heraclitus all the way to Francisco Vitoria’s linkage between theology and politics in the concept of just war and to Hobbes’s connection between the war-of-all-against-all and the State. But our main focus will be on contemporary notions, which will include, among others: Heidegger’s polemos, Carl Schmitt’s nomos, Pierre Clastres’s societies-for-war, Deleuze and Guattari’s war machine, Derrida’s force of law, and Carlo Galli’s global war.
This last notion of global war points at the relevance of our topic. The fact that globalization has materialized as an endless state of exception and conflict has made it all the more urgent to think on the ontological function of war. The theoretical constellation of our course will not necessarily enable us to devise the possibility of peace, but at least it can help us dissipate the Clausewitzian “fog of war” that seems to define our global condition.
Assignments will consist of short compositions, one class presentation, and one final paper.


Fall 2018

CTIH-T600, Special Topics in Critical Theory: "The Will in Question."

Professor Jennifer Fleissner, Dept. of English

Despite its usual association with autonomous, rational action, the concept of the will has in fact possessed a checkered and often counterintuitive philosophical career.  Most simply, perhaps, a direct opposition seems to inhere between will conceived as restraint of instinct and particularity in writers such as Kant and Hegel, and will understood as force or desire in others such as Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.  Such tensions might be said to reflect the complexity of conceiving the core modern category of human freedom.  It is often noted that the Greeks did not possess a single term that expressed "will," and the concept's genesis is often traced to early Christianity (and Stoicism), particularly the writings of Augustine.  Already in Augustine, however, the will appears both as what links human beings to God and as the site of original sin; moreover, to experience it is to reveal a mysterious source of division within oneself.

In this course, we will survey the lengthy historical trajectory of writings on the will, culminating with its reappearance in the work of some contemporary theorists, who remain strongly at odds on the subject.  We'll begin with the precursor discussions in Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics before turning to Augustine's Confessions, then move forward into modern philosophy with selections from Spinoza on conatus, Kant on practical reason, Rousseau's The Social Contract, and Hegel's Philosophy of Right.  We'll next examine the reaction against some of this work by Schopenhauer, and then Nietzsche's reaction against Schopenhauer.  We'll also consider the way will begins in the nineteenth century to emerge as a site prone to psychological maladies by looking at the influential writings of William James.

For the twentieth century, readings will include Heidegger's critique of Nietzsche and Hannah Arendt's important overview Willing, in addition to shorter pieces by such writers as Deleuze and Agamben; analytic philosophers such as Donald Davidson and Harry Frankfurt; and contemporary cultural theorists such as Eve Sedgwick, Lauren Berlant, Elizabeth Povinelli, and Sara Ahmed.


Spring 2019

CTIH-T600, Special Topics in Critical Theory: "Meaning and the Transcendental from Kant to Meillassoux."

Professor Joshua Kates, Dept. of English

Transcendental arguments were invented by Kant, as a new, specifically modern form of philosophy. They are of special interest to literary scholars and others working in the humanities, as they centrally concern meaning: what can or cannot possibly be said about the world, selves, nature, God, and so on. In this course, we examine four textual intersections where meaning and the transcendental are prominent, beginning with the opening chapters of Kant’s first Critique. (When useful, primary texts will be supplemented by more recent readings highlighting the broader implications of the positions in question.) After establishing the transcendental as a basic notion in Kant (including the standing of space and time), we turn to the conjunction of Edmund Husserl’s writings (particularly his late ones) with Jacques Derrida’s, especially the latter’s early work. Though Husserl ultimately opposed his own view of the transcendental to Kant’s, much Derrida scholarship assimilates the two. When these differences are taken into account, it turns out that Derrida’s notion of writing, or ecriture, stands at a much further distance from our ordinary conceptions of language and meaning than is usually understood.

Having arguably reached a limit, then, when it comes to all traditional views of meaning, we next examine Wittgenstein’s talk of the transcendental in his early writings, especially when speaking about ethics. In this case, the term “transcendental” applies not to meaning per se, but specifically to what “does not let itself be expressed” in language. Wittgenstein’s identification of the transcendental at once with the ethical and what cannot be said not only is an ongoing subject of debate (centered on Cora Diamond’s so-called “resolute reading”), but it opens the door to investigating those alternative modes of expression (figures and narrative) found in literary writing. Finally, we take up Quentin Meillassoux’s rejection of the transcendental tradition in toto, and his accompanying critique of what he calls “correlationism” in his After Finitude. We will consider how meaning and truth are handled by Meillassoux and explore how his self-named speculative realism looks in light of the considerations raised by those previously discussed. 


Fall 2019

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

Professor Michel Chaouli, Dept. of Germanic Studies

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, and 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 include texts by Kant, Schlegel, Novalis, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Benjamin, Arendt, Adorno, Althusser, Ricoeur, Foucault, Deleuze, and Butler.


Spring 2020

CTIH-T600, Special Topics in Critical Theory: "Ethnographies of Media."

Professor Ilana Gershon, Dept. of Anthropology

This course takes as its central themes the cultural practices surrounding different media.   Early on, we will consider foundational theorists in the anthropological study of media – Saussure, Bakhtin, Goffman and Anderson.  We then turn to theories of medium specificity - trying to determine what traits define performed stories, writing, animation and television with a focus on what differentiates them from other existing modes of representation. How is the spoken word distinct from the written word? What are the defining traits of animation?  Even with these medium-specific approaches, we will be exploring how their development required a mode of comparison across media.   As we deal with these theories, we will show how they each moved from descriptions of the properties of specific medium to analyses of cultural change. It is at this intersection where this course most clearly explores the relationship between theory and practice.  The class will explore how different social organizations shape people’s uses and interpretations of media.  As the course continues, we will examine more deeply media theories and practices which consciously explore the intersections between expressive media rather than marking the borders between them.  We will explore notions of interface, affordance, narrative, character, space and spectacle, globalization, and cultural hierarchy as they relate to the interplay between different media systems and practices.


Fall 2020

CTIH-T500, Introduction to Critical Theory: "Bodies of Knowledge, Subjects of Theory."

Professor Oana Panaïté, Dept. of French & Italian

What is the life of a woman philosopher?” asks Catherine Malabou, while Kwame Anthony Appiah calls “Medusa syndrome” the ideological and institutional gesture of freezing the thinker in his or her racial or ethnic identity, thus restricting the field of topics and approaches at his or her disposal. This seminar will position itself at the intersection between theory as a “liberatory practice” (bell hooks) that allows one to transcend political, ideological or cultural limitations, and theory as a “traveling” or “translating” practice which should always account for how an idea “came to birth or entered discourse” (Said), that is, for the concrete, historical context of its appearance.
The discussions will focus on how theoretical production and reception come to be shaped by the identity (nationality, ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation) of its author, centering around the works of five contemporary thinkers:

Jacques Derrida – Le Monolinguisme de l’autre,Of Hospitality
Édouard Glissant – The Caribbean Discourse, The Poetics of Relation
Achille Mbembe – Of the Postcolony
Kwame Anthony Appiah – The Ethics of Identity
Catherine Malabou – Changing Difference

These texts will be placed in a dialogue with concepts and models offered by some of their precursors (Plato, Aristotle, Boetius, Montaigne, Hegel, Marx, Sartre) and contemporaries (Irigaray, Deleuze, Lyotard, Rancière, Butler, Badiou, Hallward) concerned with the lived experience of theory, with different relational models involving the universal and the particular, the singular and the specific, and with the bodily manifestations or the necessary disembodiment of the thinking subject. What is the role of biographical (self-)presentation and historical contextualization (describing the thinker as a Frenchman, an Algerian Jew, a Martinican, a woman, or an African) in defining the conditions and terms in which a work is produced as well as received (as Western vs. regional; universal vs. postcolonial, feminist, queer etc.)? What rhetorical strategies participate in the construction, deployment and/or concealment of theoretical authorship? How can a polemical exchange (such as Derrida’s Monolingualism of the Other as an answer to Glissant and Khatibi) shape the content of an argument and its legacy? How does a theoretical text define its addressee (precursor, peer, opponent etc.), and to what ends? Are there objects of knowledge that can/must/should only be theorized by specific subjects – and therefore, inaccessible to others – to avoid the risk of cultural appropriation and ideological misinterpretation?


CTIH-T600, Special Topics in Critical Theory: “The Plane of Immanence: Between (Spinozian) Difference and (Hegelian) Dialectics.”

Professor Edgar Illas, Dept. of Spanish & Portuguese

This course will analyze the question of immanence in some of its theoretical formulations. Specifically, we will study how immanence is the product of a conceptual and historical effort that emerges in modernity to activate the autonomous and self-generative agency of the world. In other words, the effort of immanence to conceive the world without the banisters of transcendence aims to empower the realm and movement of human history.

The course will focus on three, interrelated issues. First, we will examine the general nexus between immanence and transcendence as one of the conceptual pairs that structure philosophical reflection (along with being/non-being, thought/world, subject/object, realism/idealism, etc.). Second, we will study the two central approaches to immanence through its two main thinkers: Spinoza, who conceives immanence as a set of modulations of difference, and Hegel, who inserts dialectics into the plane of immanence. We will also read two corresponding contemporary advocates of these positions in the thinking of immanence: Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari as defenders of Spinozian difference, and Slavoj Žižek as defender of Hegelian dialectics.

The correspondences between these thinkers will also allow us to reflect on a third essential issue, namely the historical and conceptual break between modernity and postmodern globalization. Our working hypothesis will be that, while Spinoza and Hegel set the terms for thinking immanence in modernity, Deleuze/Guattari’s and Žižek’s rewriting of their conceptions attempts to think a historical—or just paradoxical—present that both continues and breaks with the modern order. In this respect, immanence becomes a particularly useful notion to understand our global present and its temporal foldings. To examine these questions, we will complement the readings with other reflections on immanence by Miguel de Beistegui, Pierre Macherey, Catherine Malabou, Gregor Moder, Warren Montag, and Antonio Negri, among others.

Main texts: Spinoza. The Ethics; Hegel. Encyclopaedia Logic; Gilles Deleuze. Pure Immanence. Essays on a Life; Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. What is Philosophy? Slavoj Žižek. Less than Nothing. Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism.

(Possible) Secondary Texts: Miguel de Beistegui. Immanence: Deleuze and Philosophy; Pierre Macherey. Spinoza or Hegel; Catherine Malabou. The Future of Hegel: Plasticity, Temporality and Dialectic; Gregor Moder. Hegel and Spinoza. Substance and Negativity; Warren Montag. Bodies, Masses, Power: Spinoza and His Contemporaries.


Spring 2021

CTIH-T600, Special Topics in Critical Theory: "Theory for Troubled Times."

Professor Joan Hawkins, Media School

This course will attempt to revisit poststructuralist and  postmodern theory within the contemporary context, and specifically to look at 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). In their introduction to the Panic Encyclopedia (St. Martin’s Press, 1989), editors Arthur and Marilouise Kroker and David Cook explain why they’ve chosen panic as their dominant motif. “Panic is the key psychological mood of postmodern culture,” they write.  Given the number of books and essays which appeared on the subjects of paranoia, panic, chaos, and schizophrenia in the fin-de-siècle period, it would seem that academic scholars, artists, and lay readers agreed. We were, and still are, it seems, living in a nervous time.

We willl read theory and see films which attempt to address the issues we confronted—and still confront—(sometimes on a daily basis) in everyday life: ambient fear, panic, paranoia, conspiracy theory, 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 we’ll be reading were written by academic theorists and scholars for an academic audience, a number target readers outside the academy. And our class discussions will revolve as much around the dialogue between these two kinds of theory (or target audiences)—academic and nonacademic—as it will be structured around the topics/themes themselves.

Readings include: 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. There will also be a film series that includes experimental and self-reflexive documentaries and cinema/video essays by Godard, Laurie Anderson, Derek Jarman and Harun Farocki as well as more mainstream films like Suture and David Cronenberg’s Videodrome and Crash.


CTIH-T600, Special Topics in Critical Theory: "Pascal: Before Theory, in Theory, after Theory."

Professor Hall Bjørnstad, Dept. of French and Italian

What happens when a reader informed by recent theoretical inquiries approaches an early modern text? Will the theory illuminate the text or only colonize it? Is the absence of present-day concerns desirable or even possible while reading texts from the past? Conversely, to what extent can the engagement with earlier texts prove helpful, even essential, for our thinking about more contemporary concerns? How does our theoretical understanding of the past as new beginnings, roots, genealogies, prehistories, thresholds, reoccupations or ruptures inform the purpose of the work we do in the humanities and our contribution to the thinking about contemporary problems? This graduate seminar explores questions like these through an in-depth study of the last six years’ critical reception of an especially contested early modern canonical text, namely Blaise Pascal’s Pensées.

Our work with Pascal (1623-1662) and his posthumously published Pensées [Thoughts] (1670) will in fact demonstrate that this is an ideal object of such an interdisciplinary, theoretical inquiry, for at least three distinct reasons: First, through the genuine interdisciplinarity of Pascal’s own inquiry in the Pensées, drawing on Pascal’s own cutting-edge, often foundational, contributions to what today we would call STEM disciplines (geometry, probability theory, decision theory, hydraulics and informatics), together with human psychology and theology. Second, through the malleability and instability of the text itself (what we know as the Pensées is an amorphous mass of fragments found after Pascal’s death and since then classified and reclassified by editors and scholars, leading to vastly different works published under the same title), which makes it an ideal case for theoretical discussions of the very notion of what a text is, and what a work is, engaging with approaches ranging from critical book history to questions of authorship (Foucault, Barthes). Third, and most important, because of the central place assigned to Pascal and his historical moment in so many canonical reflections on the predicament of modernity. This last perspective will be developed in the last part of the semester, when we will explore the hypothesis according to which Pascal is a threshold figure whose thinking manifests unresolved tensions between tradition and modernity, hierarchy and autonomy, authority and experience, feeling and reason, sacred and profane. We shall thus consider the ways in which this threshold of modernity helps us think about our own (post)modernity and its theories.

Readings will include: (a) texts by Pascal; (b) works by Friedrich Nietzsche, Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Jacques Rancière and others; (c) texts explicitly on Pascal by Walter Benjamin, Erich Auerbach, Paul Valéry, Maurice Blanchot, Lucien Goldmann, Louis Marin, Paul de Man, Pierre Bourdieu among others; (d) recent secondary texts by scholars grappling with the issues important to our class. The final project will either be a traditional research paper or a “book review essay,” where a minimum of two critical texts are assessed in a way that highlights and reflects on the relationship between recent critical inquiries in the humanities and an early modern text (by Pascal or another early modern writer). The course will not require any prior knowledge of Pascal or his historical context, and all readings and class discussion will be in English.


Fall 2021

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

Professor Patricia C. Ingham, Dept. of English

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

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

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

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: “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: "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: "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, was and remains central across many disciplines in the humanities: not only in past and present philosophy (including aspects of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s and Roderick Chisholm’s writings), as well in literary theory and criticism (being both Michel Foucault’s and Jacques Derrida’s first philosophical language), and in linguistics (Roman Jakobson) and cognitive science (Francisco Varela).

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 explores what phenomenology is or might be while identifying some of the specific analyses, practices, and commitments that continue to give it life, despite, and across, these controversies. We will primarily 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 may close by dipping into two recent adaptations of the theory in sexuality studies and critical race theory. Grades are dependent on class participation, some sort of class presentation yet to be determined, and a final seminar-length research paper (@20 pages).