Courses

Fall 2022

COL 525SEM: Theories of Embodiment in the 20th and 21st centuries : Aporias, Contentions, Transformations
Anne Berger
Monday 12:30pm-3:10pm
Clemens 904
Class# 23478

From the life sciences to cultural theory, from philosophy to politics, the human body has been the focus, object or target of unprecedented attention in the 20th and 21st centuries. Psychoanalysis, phenomenology, cultural anthropology, gender theory, neurosciences,  ecocriticism, have all provoked important shifts in the epistemology of the body. They have enriched our understanding and experience of embodiment, while upsetting traditional Western dualisms and partitions, beginning with the nature/culture and body/mind divides. From the so-called natural body to the trans or cyborg body, from the speaking body of psychoanalysis to the joyful body of second-wave feminism, from biopolitics to body art, from the human organism to the ecology of the living, this course will revisit some chapters in the history of these shifts. Special attention will be paid to the ways in which they have affected gender theory or have been compounded by it, in an attempt to ascertain their stakes for both feminist and postfeminist thought and politics.    

COL 525SEM: Frankfurt School
Richard Cohen
Wednesday 4:10pm-6:50pm
Clemens 708
Class# 23382

In the 20th century aftermath of Stalinist oppression in the Soviet Union and the stability, prosperity and spread of Capitalism almost everywhere else, a group of progressive scholars of politics and culture associated into what has come to be called the “Frankfurt School” - including Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, Walter Benjamin, Erich Fromm and the Eugen Habermas - initiated a profound critical reassessment of Western social, cultural and politics values, rethinking Marxist orthodoxy, deepening the critique of Capitalist ideology, and re-evaluating the import and impact of technology and mass culture.  Today’s globalization, ubiquitous capitalist commodification, administrative mentality, standardization and surveillance – unprecedented in human history - renders their analyses and diagnoses even more relevant.  We will examine selected readings from key works of the above authors. 

COL 711: The Law of Subjectivity: Through the Rabbinic and Christian Literature to the Biblical Law Today
Sergey Dolgopolski
Monday 6:30pm-9:10pm
Clemens 708
Class#A 20666 Class#B 20667

The seminar addresses the formation of the modern notions of subjectivity through its elements: subject-agent and subject-ness. Course work articulates retrojections of these elements into interpreting Biblical/literary texts in their interrelationships from Late Antiquity -- through the tacitly elided Middle Ages -- to the modern literary and theoretical discourse dominated, as it has been, by initial embrace and consequent rejectio (“de-centering “) of the subject and subjectivity. The programmatic move of the course is beyond both comparative theology and political theology towards an archeology of subjectivity in Christianities, Judaisms and Islams. That means (1) to advance beyond analyzing common theological themes and concepts in Jewish, Muslim and Christian corpora of thought through late antiquity and middle ages to modernity; (2) to move beyond the formative role of these themes and concepts outside of the traditional themes of theology, i.e. in the secular political and literary discourses; (3) to pave a way towards displaying the creation of new philosophical and rhetorical concepts in Church fathers, rabbis and Muslim theologians, leading as they do to the modern sense of “subjectivity,” consciousness, recollection and memory. That move also means looking for philosophy and literature beyond the tradition of Aristotelianism, (Jewish, Muslim and Christian alike) from which the notion of the modern “subject” allegedly stemms. These less traditional places include Church fathers and the corpora of the two Talmuds in conversation with Syriac and Arabic Aristotelianism. In this new framework of inquiry, the course will re-access such modernist thinkers of western literature in relation to Bibles: Auerbach, Rosenzweig, Taubes, Derrida, Heidegger, Foucault and De Libera. The guiding question of the analysis will be heterogeneous conceptual developments in these corpora, consolidating as they do in the formation of a notion of subjectivity (subject-agent) in modern philosophy and literature alike. 

COL 723: Poetry, Event, Computation
Krzysztof Ziarek 
Wednesday 12:30pm-3:10pm
Clemens 708
Class#A 23188 Class#B23189 

Against the backdrop of computation and AI, the course will explore the poetic valence of language and event. Guiding us will be the question: what happens in reducing the event of being to information and computational manipulation? Our central concern will be with language, its poetic dimension, and its ambiguous (ir)reducibility to information.  What happens to the non-repeatable singularity of the moment in the age of informational flatness and computational portability? What is the role of silence as "dis-information," that is, as disrupting and freeing experience from its enframing into information? Readings will include poetic texts (Cage, Howe, Kim), philosophical reflection on technology, language, and aesthetics (Benjamin, Heidegger, Stiegler), as well as texts on the changing understanding of information (Pieter, Goguen, Weaver).    

COL 724: Practices of Truth-telling: ‘Race’, Resistance, Refusal
Devonya Havis
Monday 3:30pm-6:10pm
Clemens 708
Class#A 23190 Class#B23191 

Conditions governing what can be claimed as truth or falsity have always been sites of contestation. In recent years this already complex terrain has become even more fraught – especially for those communities whose racialized bodies are subjected to intimate, yet structural, violent constraint. This seminar will explore truth-telling as a ‘practice’ that not only disrupts an unjust status quo but also crafts possibility from impossibility. Utilizing the Blues, Jazz, narratives, and other vernacular phenomena, we will examine how such practices critique invidious processes of racialization and offer theoretical insights into fostering a world that can be otherwise. Toward this end we will read such thinkers as James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Saidiya Hartman, Zora Neal Hurston, and Michel Foucault, among others. The following provocations will be touchstones in our interdisciplinary investigations: What teachings are offered by persons who have needed to be skillful in crafting possibility from impossibility? How might we understand living under conditions of constraint as an existence that is more than oppression? How might such concepts as freedom and justice be transposed by those communities who have been historically marginalized? Course requirements: Class discussions; Rotating designated student discussion leaders for class meetings; preparation of a conference-style paper or theoretical case study of a discrete practice of truth-telling that invokes resistance/refusal.

COL 726: The Ends of Philosophy
Rodolphe Gasche
Tuesday 12:30pm-3:10pm
Clemens 708
Class#A 23631 Class#B23670 

In this seminar we will explore the ends of philosophy in the double sense of its aims, as well as its completion, crisis, or death. The authors we will read on the claim that philosophy has come to its end include Karl Jaspers, Martin Heidegger, and Jacques Derrida. Wilhelm Dilthey’s essay “What is Philosophy?” will provide us with a philosophical account of the aims of the discipline. 

Spring 2022

COL 112: Cross-Cultural Explorations: Encounters with Western, East Asian, and African Cultures

Alexander Sell
Monday, Wednesday 3:30pm-4:50pm
Frnczk 454
Class# 18341

The principal objective of this course is the study of the diversity of Western, East Asian, and African cultures from the Renaissance to the Modern Age. Although we will explore cultural diversity in its various expressions in politics, religious thought, social customs, everyday beliefs, and scientific advances our primary focus will be the study of art, literature, and big ideas. One of the central concerns of this course will be different cultural and historical conceptions of the human and its relation to nature, politics, and science. In the first part of the course we will examine the different formations of humanism in the Western cultures from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment; from Romanticism to Marxism. In the second part of the course we will focus on the non-Western ideas of the human and humanity and their expression in religions, political organizations, and artworks. We will begin with Daoism and Confucianism and their impact on Chinese ethics, philosophy, politics, and culture during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties. We will also briefly discuss the Cultural Revolution and Maoism in 20th century China. We will follow the influence of Confucianism in Japanese culture and its confluence with Zen and the Shinto Revival. In the context of politics we will focus primarily on the Tokugawa Shogunate. In the context of the arts we will analyze the place of the human in nature as reflected in Japanese landscape paintings, poetry, and woodblock prints. We will conclude our course with the discussion of the devastation of colonialism and the struggle for independence in Africa. We will analyze the influence of traditional (for example, masks and music) and modern African cultures (Fanon, Achebe, and Soyinka) in the contemporary world. This course is the same as COL 112 and course repeat rules will apply. Students should consult with their major department regarding any restrictions on their degree requirements.

COL 200: "We the People": On Democracy and Justice in America
Donald Cross
Monday, Wednesday 8:00am-9:20am
Clemens 119
Class# 22765

This course explores issues central to democracy. First, it examines the relation between democracy's claim to protect and promote both universal freedom and universal equality. Second, it considers the unresolvable tension between popular sovereignty ("we") and individual rights ("I"). Third, it considers the limitation of democracy in its necessary calculus of citizenship, the dual question of both how to count and who counts. Fourth the course takes up the role of narrative (recounting and accounting, telling) in establishing citizenship and the tradition or legacy of democracy. The course focuses on detailed readings and discussions of founding and foundational documents of the United States' democratic experiment: declaration of independence, articles of confederation, constitution of the United States, debates on the constitution; writings of Jefferson, Douglass, Lincoln, Stanton and Anthony, Larsen, MLK, Morrison; and major supreme court decisions concerning citizenship, racial equality, reproductive rights, rights to privacy, same sex marriage. In sum, "We the people" asks what it means to be a citizen and why democracy is at once the worst and the best form of government. In sum, in its consideration of the language of democracy--of citizenship and rights--"We the People" asks what it means when African-American novelist Toni Morrison remarks, in Beloved, that the story of slavery and of a mother's desire to "free" her daughter is "not" one "to pass on." What does it mean not "to pass on" the haunted narrative of our cultural and legal inheritance.

COL233: Literature and Happiness
Marc Johnson
Tuesday, Thursday 3:30pm-4:50pm
Baldy 105
Class# 19423

We all want to be happy. But what is happiness? This course will investigate the answers given to this question. We will be reading, writing, and talking about a wide variety of short texts from different fields such as art and literature, journalism, neuroscience, philosophy, psychology, religion, and sociology. We will study visual media as well. Through literary and philosophical analysis, some of the questions we will try to answer will be the following: What makes us happy? Do we deserve to be happy? Can we create our own happiness? What is the relation between happiness, virtues, pleasure, and friendship?

COL 704: Derrida and Death
Shaun Irlam
Tuesday 11:00am 1:40pm
Clemens 708
Class#A 21905 Class#B 21906

The political theory of modernity is replete with speculative narratives regarding the origins and interpellation of person, citizen and subject as the pre-eminent political and social units constructing the modern nation-state conceived as a state defined by rights.  The past century has further seen the rise of a discourse of human rights as a supplementary idiom around the fate of the citizen when civil rights miscarry, fail to materialize or are deliberately withheld. Thus Agamben reflects on the condition of ‘bare life’ as a state of being distinguished by the absence of rights.  However, political theory has almost nothing to say about how the biography of the Citizen might end (whether prior to the end of the natural life of the citizen or even upon his/her death) and even less to say about any miscarriage or withdrawal of those last rites that constitute and consecrate the proper end of the subject.

How does the state record the end of the subject? What are the rights of the dead? Do the dead retain rights, and if so, to whom or what do these rights attach in the absence of the physical body. To what narrative structure do kin of the deceased appeal when they speak of seeking “closure”?  Under what circumstances does the subject end improperly and what can Derrida’s work teach us about any of these issues?

We will read selections from Hegel and Blanchot as well as a broad selection of Derrida’s texts exploring these questions including Margins of Philosophy, The Gift of Death, Glas, The Work of Mourning, Demeure, The Animal That Therefore I Am and The Beast and the Sovereign, vol. II

COL 705: Concept, Idea, Ideal
Rodolphe Gasche
Tuesday 2:00pm-4:40pm
Clemens 708
Class#A 21907 Class# B 21908

This seminar will be entirely devoted to Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. However, in distinction from traditional interpretative readings of this crucial work which proceed in line with Kant’s own structuring of the book into a transcendental doctrine of the elements and a transcendental dialectic (with all their numerous subdivisions), and finally a transcendental doctrine of method, I will choose a different path. As the title of the seminar: CONCEPT, IDEA, IDEAL, suggests, a title which which should have also included sensible INTUITIONS (Anschauungen),  I intend to read the treatise in relation to the different representations (Vorstellungen) of the mind distinguished by Kant in conformity with the tradition. The goal of the seminar is to produce a rigorous understanding of these notions;  what the powers of the mind are that are involved in their production; what their differences are with respect to one another; what qua representations of the mind they accomplish; and of how they relate to one another in the process of the  formation of determined knowledge. A carefully selected number of passages that will be read closely will allow us to highlight the path breaking accomplishment of Kant’s First Critique for modern philosophy.

COL 707: Toward a Critique of the Present: Myth and Enlightenment from Kant to QAnon
Noam Pines
Tuesday 4:10-6:50pm
Clemens 120
Class#A 24613 Class#B 24614

In critical thought, the concept of myth designates a representation of reality that lies outside the purview of rationality, and in which the heteronomous authority of tradition remains firmly entrenched. Consequently, the objects that draw their meaning from myth are not merely abstract ideas, but political and social realities. Recently, the mythical has resurged in public discourse with the rise of authoritarian political figures. Under their political leadership, the spread of governmental misinformation, “fake news,” and conspiracy theories has reproduced knowledge gaps necessary for the perpetuation of oppressive power relations. In this context, the seminar will focus on key historical reactions to myth by means of a critique of the present known as “Enlightenment.” Readings include Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Lukacs, Benjamin, Adorno and Horkheimer, and Foucault.

Past course offerings