New Materialisms

Instructor: Pearl Brilmyer
Molasses Bookstore
770 Hart. St
Brooklyn, NY 11237

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?

Course Schedule

Tuesday, 6:30-9:30pm
July 01 — July 22, 2014
4 weeks