English | Special Topics: Lit Study and Theory
L680 | 24789 | Comentale


2:30p – 5:30p R

TOPIC: MODERNISM AND ANTI-HUMANISM

T.S. Eliot boldly calls for the death of personality, but he insists
on the primacy of emotion in poetry. D.H. Lawrence yearns for the
return of the phallic supermale, yet his novels flirt with the
impersonality of anal eroticism. Faulkner reinvents family romance,
only to show how its basis in traditional property relations is
slowly being eroded by corporatism and the stock market. Everywhere
in modernism we find the ghosts of humanism (as well as liberalism)
struggling with ideas and experiences that exceed the human, with
new psychosexual economies and political allegiances that (for
better or worse) waste no time with bourgeois pieties of selfhood,
expression, and equality. This course will be structured around
modernity¹s fraught reaction against humanism, exploring the largely
contentious efforts by twentieth-century writers and theorists to
forge models of modern being and belonging that override traditional
formulations of the human and humanistic politics. Readings will be
mostly theoretical, ranging widely from the Freudian and the post-
Freudian, Marxist and post-Marxist, to the discursive turn, species-
ism, and cybernetics; we will consider the historical causes that
lie behind these responses and the historical crises they hope to
address; we will evaluate each in terms of its theoretical as well
as its political content, considering cultural and social biases as
well as issues of rhetoric and praxis. More pointedly, we will
consider the dialectical reversals between humanism and its multiple
antagonists, considering how and when they mirror each other, their
potentials to supercede and then cancel out their original claims,
their ability to make promises that they cannot sustain. In the end,
by concentrating on those turning points of twentieth-century
history the rise of Taylorization, The World Wars, Fascism, The
Holocaust, Professionalism, Corporatism, The Gender Wars, etc.  and
their theoretical counterparts, we will try to define the larger
concept of “modernity” that underlies both the humanistic spirit and
then its denial, the persistent force that continues to shape and be
shaped by our fraught critical lexicon.

Students can expect a heavy reading load, focusing on complex, but
essential texts. The course, in fact, is designed for students
seeking an introduction either to modernism or critical theory. We
will spend some time grappling with Freud, reading Three Essays on
The Theory of Sexuality, The Wolfman and Other Cases, and Totem and
Taboo, as well as Marx, specifically The Economic and Philosophical
Manuscripts of 1844, The Communist Manifesto, and parts of Capital.
We will also look closely at the work of their most prominent
inheritors: Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer’s _The Dialectic of
Enlightenment_; Felix Guattari and Gilles Deleuze’s _Anti-Oedipus:
Capitalism and Schizophrenia_; Harold Perkin’s _The Rise of
Professional Society_; and essays by Melanie Klein, Walter Benjamin,
Roland Barthes, Jacques Lacan, Jacques Ranciere, Louis Althusser,
Donna Haraway, etc. We will take a few detours into literature in
order to flesh out our theories and debates: students can expect to
read Wyndham Lewis’s Tarr; D.H. Lawrence’s _Women in Love_; William
Faulkner’s _The Sound and the Fury_.

Writing assignments will be considerably shorter. Students will be
required to share oral responses with the class, to write
definitions of key theoretical terms, and to complete a conference-
length paper.

Note: Please read John Stuart Mill’s _On Liberty_ for the first
class (available at campus bookstores).