Indiana University Bloomington



Fall 2016

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

Professor Claudia Breger, Germanic Studies

Th, 4 - 6:30 p.m. (cross-listed with Germanic Studies G505 and Cultural Studies CULS-C701)

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.

The course is jointlisted between Germanic Studies, the Theory Center and Cultural Studies. It is taught in English, and all materials will be available in English/with English subtitles, although Germanic Studies majors and minors are strongly encouraged to read originally German texts in that language. Most readings (shorter and longer excerpts) will be available online, but please acquire a copy of the following books:
Gilroy, Paul. Postcolonial Melancholia. Columbia UP 2006 (paperback 978-0231134552; $16.96).
Latour, Bruno. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Paperback Oxford UP 2007 (978-0199256051$30.26-or any alternative edition). Özdamar, Emine Sevgi. The Bridge of the Golden Horn. Serpent's Tail 2009 (paperback: 978-1852429324; $17.80). – German edition: Die Brücke vom Goldenen Horn. Kiepenheuer & Witsch 2002 (paperback: 978-3462031805, starting at $7.68 on amazon).


Spring 2017

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

Professor Rebekah Sheldon, English

Wednesdays, 5:45 - 8:45 pm, Wylie Hall 111 (cross-listed with English L 657)

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.

Assignments will consist of one short and one long essay as well as short, informal writings.


CTIH-T700, Independent Study in Critical Theory (1-4 credit hours)

Students may receive credit for work done in the Center reading group. To be aranged with the convener(s) of the reading of group.


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