Over the past decade, theory has shifted its focus from problems of language and discourse to questions of the real, the material, and the biological. At the forefront of this turn have been feminist and queer theorists who have argued for an understanding of nature, matter, and the body as more than pre-cultural givens, fixed constants “inscribed” or molded by culture. Where an earlier generation of theorists emphasized the “socially constructed” nature of the physical world (sex is not gender!), more recent scholars have highlighted the active and constructive power of matter itself. The feminist philosopher Elizabeth Grosz, for instance, has proposed that we view nature “in terms of dynamic forces, fields of transformation and upheaval, rather than as a static fixity, passive, worked over, transformed and dynamized only by culture.” Similarly, the physicist and gender theorist Karen Barad describes a world in which objects, including humans, emerge through “material-semiotic” encounters always already imbued with meaning. Such writers challenge our sense of the opposition between nature and culture, matter and meaning in order to develop theories of identity, consciousness, and agency that take into account more fully the dynamic materiality of our existence.
This four-week course will provide an introduction to recent work traveling under the moniker “new materialism.” In contrast to Marxian and ancient materialisms,”new materialisms” draw on the lineages of feminist science studies, post-humanist theory, and process philosophy. We will explore such lineages along with this burgeoning field of thought through a series of short essays and book extracts drawn from writers such as Donna Haraway, Eve Sedgwick, Elizabeth Grosz, Karen Barad, and Mel Chen. What do the motions of atomic particles have to do with desire, sexuality, and everyday life? What new possibilities for politics emerge when we consider matter as lively and active, rather than static and passive? What happens when matter and meaning collide?Photo Credit: http://abstractgeology.wordpress.com/about/
For his exploration of concepts such as subjectivity, anxiety, and absurdity, the nineteenth-century Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) is frequently regarded as the father of existentialism. In this four-week course, we will undertake a rigorous introduction to Kierkegaard’s thought by focusing on four texts, two pseudonymous and two published under Kierkegaard’s own name. We will begin with Fear and Trembling (an imaginative meditation on the Akedah, the story of the binding of Isaac in Genesis) and The Concept of Anxiety (an examination of dread and freedom—or the dread of freedom). Then we will turn to The Present Age (a critique of the passionlessness of a society dominated by useless chatter and the overcoming of authentic subjectivity in “the crowd”), concluding with excerpts from Works of Love (edifying discourses on the biblical commandment You shall love your neighbor as yourself). This course will also provide crucial background for understanding many significant figures in twentieth-century philosophy and theology, including Martin Heidegger, Emmanuel Lévinas, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Karl Barth.
“Well – what remains to be written after that?” wrote Virginia Woolf of Marcel Proust in a 1922 letter. A century after the publication of Swann’s Way, the first volume of the monumental novel, In Search of Lost Time, Proust continues to speak to us as compellingly as ever. From the experience of train travel to the strangeness of kissing to the logic of snobbery, Proust’s novel conducts a vast phenomenology of human experience. At the same time, it’s also an unflinching chronicle of a particular era, as the glittering decadence of the belle époque gave way to the horrors to the First World War, and rapidly changing modern life came to include new inventions like the telephone, the automobile, and the aeroplane, as well as the advent of film.
In this course, we will work our way carefully through Swann’s Way, recovering Proust from the clichés and caricatures in order to discover why he continues to be important today. Considering his novel from the viewpoints of aesthetics, philosophy, and history, we will look at the thinkers and artists with whom he was engaged, as well as the social and cultural context in which he was writing. Our questions will include: how does Proust bridge realism and modernism, the nineteenth and twentieth centuries? What are his insights into problems about the nature of memory, time, and perception, as well as sexuality, desire, and social relations? What are the formal innovations of his work, and what is his legacy in literary history? What can he tell us about Paris at the turn of the twentieth century, and what can reading him tell us about our own turn of the century today?
Enroll early for a free copy of Swann’s Way (the Lydia Davis translation, courtesy Penguin Books!)
No class May 21
Far from a canon of consistent ideas, the history of psychoanalytic theory is marked by conflict, splits and vicious debates that have important clinical and historical implications. This course will survey a selection of these theoretical and clinical polemics via a reading of primary and secondary sources from classical Freudian theory, ego psychology, Kleinian, Lacanian, object relations, and contemporary relational approaches. Readings will include Freud, Anna Freud, Melanie Klein, Jacques Lacan, Donald Winnicott, and others. We will focus on key conceptual differences between these different psychoanalytic schools, with close attention to clinical technique as well as theories of mental life.