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  • What “the Black Jacobins,” as CLR James famously dubbed the Haitian revolutionaries, threatened was nothing less than the overthrow of an already global colonial and imperial project, both in its political forms and at its economic roots. How can we understand the Haitian Revolution today? How did it shape questions of emancipation and freedom both in political thought and in political struggle? What does a close examination of the Haitian Revolution contribute to contemporary discussions of race, capitalism, abolition, national liberation, and freedom? What’s at stake in reflecting on Haiti as a paradigmatic case — of revolution, of political transformation, and of politics itself?
  • What is literary criticism and why does it matter? This course is an introduction to major questions and debates about how to value, interpret, and understand literature and criticism alike. What does it mean to criticize? How does literary criticism differ from literary theory—and to what extent are they aligned? What are the stakes, intellectually, culturally, and politically, of criticism today? What is criticism good for? How is it different from literary theory? What role does criticism play in developing accounts of the worth of literature? How do different debates about criteria of value—aesthetic, ethical, political—get worked out in contests about what and how to read?
  • Addressing questions ranging from metaphysics to epistemology, psychology to aesthetics, morality to politics, Plato originated a system of philosophy that constitutes a kind of DNA of Western thought. In some sense, we can’t help but think through Plato—even if, in the wake of Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, and the revolutions of modern science, we think against him. But what, exactly, constitutes Platonic thought? Among the questions we will address are: What is the nature of reality? Does it have a rational structure, and if so, how can we come to know it? What is the relationship between the rational order of things and the messy empirical reality we experience in our everyday lives?
  • Onto the archaic skeleton of an Arthurian romance, with its chivalric setting and doomed lovers, Wagner grafted a portrait of self-destructive sexual obsession that scandalized his contemporaries, fusing together pantheistic erotic mysticism, the metaphysical pessimism of his idol Schopenhauer, and a vision of human psychology that, as Thomas Mann noted, anticipates Freud. This heady worldview was conveyed by, or rather seemed to arise directly out of, music whose restlessness and intensity, alternating hypnotic sensuality with outbursts of searing dissonance, could move its listeners to trance or breakdown. What explains Tristan’s extraordinary power?
  • Is sexual “liberation” possible in a capitalist society? Or, is repression, beyond any political impediments to sexual freedom, an inescapable function of the structure of capitalism—of laboring, domestic reproduction, and commercialization? Can anything be done to improve the quality of sexual life in capitalist society? Or is sexual behavior simply a product of biological factors? In this course, we will read an array of thinkers, both within and outside the psychoanalytic tradition, as we grapple with questions of sexuality, repression, social conditioning, and the meaning and possibility of sexual liberation in capitalist society.

THE BROOKLYN INSTITUTE FOR SOCIAL RESEARCH is an interdisciplinary teaching and research institute that offers critical, community-based education in the humanities and social sciences. Working in partnership with local businesses and cultural organizations, we integrate rigorous but accessible scholarly study with the everyday lives of working adults and re-imagine scholarship for the 21st century.

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