Indiana University Bloomington



Fall 2018

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

Professor Jennifer Fleissner, Dept. of English

Wednesdays, 1:00 - 4:00 p.m., Woodburn Hall 108

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

Wednesdays, 5:45 - 8:15 p.m., Lindley Hall 019

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. 


CTIH-T700, Independent Study in Critical Theory (1-4 credit hours, Fall and Spring term)

Students may receive credit for work done in the Center reading group. Interested students should get in touch with the convener(s) of the reading group and agree on the expectations commensurate with the credit hours they wish to receive. Students should then contact the Center's scheduling officer, Melinda Bristow, to receive permission to register for the course.


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