English | Research in Interdisciplinary Studies
L758 | 29454 | Kreilkamp

L758  29454   KREILKAMP (#4 & Post-1800)
Research in Interdisciplinary Studies

9:30a – 12:30p W


Michel Foucault declared, several decades ago, that “modern man is
an animal whose politics calls his existence as a living being into
question” (The History of Sexuality).  Jacques Derrida more recently
observed that "even in what seems to be the most spiritual or
intellectual spheres, the genetic figure of “life” survives, however
enigmatic the apparently figural link remains between what is called
natural life and spiritual or mental life.  We will have to learn
how to learn, all over again, to take it more and more into account"
(For What Tomorrow); Georgio Agamben, that “the principle of the
sacredness of life has become so familiar to us that we seem to
forget that classical Greece… did not even possess a term to express
the complex semantic sphere that we indicate with the single
term “life””(The Open).  As these quotations suggest, in recent
years questions regarding what might be summed up as “life and the
living” have emerged as fundamental within the humanities and social
sciences.  In this course, we will consider a broad range of mostly
19th-century British texts, alongside 20th and 21st century works of
theory and criticism, in an effort to understand and explore this
I imagine our conversations moving among these broad and
overlapping topics or rubrics: (1) The biological:
Aristotle’s “bios” vs. “zoe,” nutritive, vegetal, natural,
reproductive, and political life; the living, animated, vivacious
vs. the dead, unanimated, unliving.  Natural history and evolution.
Sexuality and childbirth.  Where do living/unliving distinctions
traverse texts and discourses, and where do they break down or
become ambiguous?  (2) The biopolitical: defined by Foucault as the
control and oversight of populations through the management of
biology and “life.”  How do living/non-living distinctions organize
political categories of rule, sovereignty, control, supervision? (3)
The “zooanthropological:” Derrida’s term, by contrast with the
biopolitical, for questions of human/non-human distinction and non-
distinction as they relate to structures of meaning.  (4) The
characterological: in a more literary register, questions
of “character” and personhood.  What defines a person, character, or
living being in literary texts?  How are the “life” and “death” of
fictional persons imagined and specified?
I have not yet narrowed down a final list of potential readings,
but some likely primary texts include (many of these would be read
in excerpted form): Aristotle, "De Anima;” Thomas Malthus, Essay on
the Principle of Population; Erasmus Darwin, from “Loves of the
Plants;” Coleridge, “Hints Towards a More Comprehensive Theory of
Life” and “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner;” Percy Shelley, “On
Life;” Charles Darwin, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and
Animals; John Ruskin, Unto this Last; a cluster on poetic elegies
with Tennyson’s In Memoriam and G.M. Hopkins’ Wreck of the
Deutschland; George Eliot’s Adam Bede; G.H. Lewes’s Sea-side Studies
and/or Charles Kingsley, The Wonders of the Shore; Thomas Hardy’s
Jude the Obscure or Far From the Madding Crowd, with selected poetry
by Hardy; Olive Schreiner’s The Story of an African Farm or Sarah
Grand’s The Heavenly Twins; Sigmund Freud’s Analysis of a Phobia in
a Five-year-old Boy (a.k.a. the case study of Little Hans).
Secondary/ critical/ theoretical texts may include: Deleuze and
Guattari, from A Thousand Plateaus; Jacques Derrida, The Animal That
Therefore I Am; Georgio Agamben, Homo Sacer (and/or The Open);
Michel Foucault, “Governmentality” and “The Birth of Biopolitics;”
Georges Canguilhem, Knowledge of Life; William K. Wimsatt, “Organic
Form: Some Questions about a Metaphor;” Frances Ferguson, "Organic
Form and Its Consequences;” Denise Gigante, from Life: Organic Form
and Romanticism; Catherine Gallagher, from The Body Economic: Life,
Death, and Sensation in Political Economy and the Victorian Novel;
Elizabeth Grosz, from The Nick of Time: Politics, Evolution, and the
Untimely; Gillian Beer on Darwin; Jonathan Smith, from Darwin and
Victorian Visual Culture; Richard Holmes, The Age of Wonder; Eva
Jablonka & Marion J. Lamb, Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic,
Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of
Life; Donna Haraway’s When Species Meet, Stefan Helmreich and Sophia
Roosth’s “Life Forms: A Keyword Entry.”
Assignments and expectations will include: regular, vocal
participation in discussions; one or two class presentations;
regular 2-page response papers posted to Oncourse before class with
questions and issues for discussion (each seminar member will write
five or so of these); a final seminar paper of approximately 18-24
pages, in preparation for which an early partial draft will be
written in time for a group writing workshop.  Note that although
the primary texts are primarily drawn from nineteenth century
Britain, I welcome students with other interests; a seminar paper
can focus on texts not covered in class.  Once I have the roster, I
will send an email to sound the class out about certain text
selection preferences.
Please feel free to email me with any questions at