CTIH-T500, Introduction to Critical Theory
Professor Johannes Türk, Dept. of Germanic Studies
Wedesdays, 4 - 6:15 p.m., Ballantine Hall 235
The term “theory” is derived from the Greek word theoria, which means “contemplation, viewing, sight.” By the time it is imported into English, it has come to signify “conception” or “scheme.” Although it can be used in the sense of method or explanation, its stakes are higher. Theory asks us to abandon the shores of preconception and set sail for the possibilities of thought. Theory also entertains a close relationship to a way of life as the compound bios theoreticos shows and encloses an appeal to change your life. This class is meant to introduce you to fundamental concepts and problems of theory. We will explore core dimensions of thought from mimesis to aesthetics, language, and politics, and ask how concepts shape our grasp of what can be experienced, understood, thought, and felt. Readings will include texts reaching from Plato and Aristotle to Heidegger, Freud, Derrida, and Rancière.
CTIH-T600, Special Topics in Critical Theory: "Hegel and the Humanities: Language, Thought, and World in the Science of Logic"
Professor Patrick Dove, Dept. of Spanish & Portuguese
Tuesdays, 4 - 6:15 p.m., Global & International Studies Building 0013
In this course, we will make our way deliberately through Hegel’s opus magnum, the Science of Logic, with an eye to understanding how Hegelian thought has informed a range of intellectual traditions over the last two centuries. We will also explore how a reading of Hegel’s major work today might open up new ways of articulating what it is that we do in the humanities. Hegel’s insights into the deep interrelatedness of domains that we often take to be separate or even diametrically opposed—language and logic, thought and reality, concept and object, being and nothingness, the spiritual and the material, activity and passivity, and so on—offer a site for reexamining prevailing ideas about the humanities and their role in the university and in society as a whole.
One of our main goals will be to explore what Hegel’s effort to produce a systematic account of the relationship between thought and being can say to us today. Hegel’s Logic offers a strong account of thinking as both an end in itself and as a mode of relating to the world that cannot be fully separated from the objective reality it seeks to grasp. While the Logic provides us with an opportunity to develop new ways of explaining what we do, it also presents a forceful critique of humanism itself and of the Subject of humanism in particular.
Each week we will read approximately two chapters of the Logic. This reading will be supplemented by selections from the work of other thinkers that will help us to situate Hegel’s thought in a specific context. Many of the selections will be derived from intellectual traditions that are informed by Hegelian thought and which understand themselves as either pursuing or pushing back against Hegelianism: for instance, Marxism and post-Marxism (Althusser, Laclau), Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis, Heidegger and post-Heideggerian French thought (Derrida, Nancy), Levinas, post-colonialism and subaltern studies (Fanon, Said, Spivak, Mignolo), and theoretical reflections on the historical crisis of the modern university (Bill Readings and Willy Thayer). We will also discuss recent scholarship that has sought to contest or problematize the general anti-Hegelian tenor of post-war Continental thought: Judith Butler’s Subjects of Desire, Peter Osborne’s The Politics of Time, Slavoj Zizek (any title would do), Catherine Malabou’s The Future of Hegel, and Warren Montag’s Althusser and his Contemporaries.
CTIH-T600, Special Topics in Critical Theory: "War and the Political"
Professor Edgar Illas, Dept. of Spanish & Portuguese
Wednesdays, 4:00 - 6:30 p.m., Woodburn Hall 204
This course will analyze a variety of theoretical approaches to the question of war and politics. We will explore one fundamental hypothesis, namely that war is an ontological event, that is, an event, or perhaps the event, that produces new social orders of being. Thus, rather than studying theories of war from a political science or a military perspective, our approach will be based on theoretical reflections about the continuation and also the gap between conflict and political order. The course, in other words, will revolve around a series of notions that try to conceptualize the abyssal transition from contentious disorder to stabilized order. We will start by examining classic theorizations of war, from Heraclitus all the way to Francisco Vitoria’s linkage between theology and politics in the concept of just war and to Hobbes’s connection between the war-of-all-against-all and the State. But our main focus will be on contemporary notions, which will include, among others: Heidegger’s polemos, Carl Schmitt’s nomos, Pierre Clastres’s societies-for-war, Deleuze and Guattari’s war machine, Derrida’s force of law, and Carlo Galli’s global war.
This last notion of global war points at the relevance of our topic. The fact that globalization has materialized as an endless state of exception and conflict has made it all the more urgent to think on the ontological function of war. The theoretical constellation of our course will not necessarily enable us to devise the possibility of peace, but at least it can help us dissipate the Clausewitzian “fog of war” that seems to define our global condition.
Assignments will consist of short compositions, one class presentation, and one final paper.
CTIH-T600, Special Topics in Critical Theory: "The Will in Question"
Professor Jennifer Fleissner, Dept. of English
Tuesdays, 4 – 6:30 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.
CTIH-T600, Special Topics in Critical Theory: "Significance (Meaning/Bedeutung)"
Professor Joshua Kates, Dept. of English
Time and place to be announce
Many literary scholars view literary studies and the humanities as currently undergoing a post-linguistic turn: a turn to flatness, a rejection of all of structures, sweeping away the fascination with language and the signifier that until recently fueled so much critical inquiry. The present course is sympathetic to aspects of this view. At the same time, some common concerns subtend both the linguistic preoccupations of poststructuralism and those that claim to go beyond it. One such concern is significance or meaning, no longer simply understood as primarily belonging to language. Whether taken to derive from language, or to arise from things and other non-human agents, significance, or meaning, distributes identities across networks, among actors and individuals, and also, in some cases, texts and performances.
This course, accordingly, surveys significance or meaning in three crucial sites, two of which answer to the current departure from language and the linguistic proper. We will inquire into significance in: Husserl/Derrida; Frege/Wittgenstein; and Heidegger early/late. Heidegger’s thought, among other things, is critical for some strands of object-oriented ontology (OOO); to Frege/Wittgenstein are owed the templates of meaning found in Stanley Cavell and in Ordinary Language Philosophy (OLP). (We will engage with this last development, without diving too deeply into Wittgenstein’s, or especially Frege’s, writings.) Both OOO and OLP represent turns away from the focus on the linguistic as such. Yet this notion, significance (meaning/Bedeutung) is central to the work of that Ur-poststructuralist, Jaccques Derrida, in his first setting out of his own position by way of Husserl’s. After surveying all three moments, in the order listed above, students should able to make informed interventions in the current post-linguistic turn and start to envision their own ways of reading, understanding, and interpreting literature and its subject matters.
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.