English | Studies in Literary Theory and Criticism
L707 | 24481 | Kates

12:20p – 3:20p W


Along with furnishing an introduction to the thought of Jacques
Derrida—in its last phase, in  particular—this course undertakes to
begin building a working understanding of the status of the
political in our era. Much literary work today has an overtly, or
implicitly, political cast. Yet what politics is and how it is to be
understood in this and other contexts are rarely confronted directly
as questions. Is there a specificity to politics—to political life
and political discourse—that separates them from other forms of
human endeavor?  Does what some call modernity alter this character?
Does a new, perhaps global specificity of politics emerge in our own
era? How do movements such as post-structuralism and Marxism relate
to these issues?

As currently conceived, the course will begin by reading a short but
seminal text that attempts to identify the defining features of the
political: Carl Schmitt’s The Concept of the Political. (This work
was crucial to the thought of the young Walter Benjamin, as well as
other thinkers of the 1920’s and 30’s, and is currently undergoing a
revival.) From there, we turn to two major works of Derrida’s from
the 90’s: The Politics of Friendship and Spectres of Marx. In the
first, Derrida, in direct dialogue with Schmitt as well the rest of
the tradition of political philosophy, attempts to reconceive the
notion of the political in line with that shift that he has long
believed our entire intellectual framework is undergoing, a shift
which he attempted to foster as well as sum up in his early works
through such notions as a generalized (or archi-) “writing” and the
effacing and effaced work of “the trace.” In the second work,
Derrida continues his confrontation with the political, with an eye
to our own moment in its specificity and the status of Marx’s legacy
therein. In Spectres, Derrida further lays out his unique
understanding of technology and technicization (which some believe
to be his central contribution to understanding the present
situation) in connection with what he calls mondialisation (his
alternative understanding of globalization), while exploring the
contemporary legacy of Marx—all this, through a study of the figure
of spectres, or ghosts. (Derrida’s engagement with Hamlet, a framing
device of the book, dovetailing with its concern for spectres, has
already become well-known among critics and theorists.) Finally, in
order to get an alternative (perhaps more orthodox) Marxian analysis
of Marxism and its relation to the current situation, we will
conclude by reading Fredric Jameson’s recent book on modernity, A
Singular Modernity:Essay on the Ontology of the Present, perhaps
supplemented by selections from his pathbreaking Postmodernism.

I am very open to inflecting this itinerary in directions of
particular interest to participants, either in advance (you may
email me at jkates@indiana.edu) or as our work progresses. It is
possible to bring in other conceptualizations of the political (for
example, those of Hannah Arendt and Michel Foucault), to deepen the
Derrida component (going back to his earlier works where some of
these notions are first conceived), as well as pursue linkages to
participants’ field-specific interests (post-colonialism, most
notably; topics relating to intimacy and friendship; 19th-century
studies—Derrida focuses on Marx’s relation to the young Hegelians
who had great importance for George Eliot among others; the 18th
century and its conception of politics and the foundation of modern
nations; early moderns, in particular via the reading of Hamlet;
and, finally, literary modernism, which Jameson explicitly connects
to his interpretation of modernity). Should participants wish to
pursue some of these connections, weekly presentations exploring
these themes are one possible way to go. Apart from that, and from
the work necessary to grapple weekly with these texts (some of which
are very difficult to understand), probably including a very brief
weekly assignment, this course requires a 20-25 page paper at the