Seminars in Criticism and Theory

Consent: Sex and Governance in the Age of Revolution (Stefani Engelstein)

Now is not the first period of rampant interest in consent. This seminar will explore the ways in which consent came to serve as the foundation of both political and marital legitimacy in the 18th century. Women's contractual agency remained ambiguous in both cases, embedding discourses on rape and disenfranchisement within political theory. We will focus on constructions of will, desire, reason, autonomy, political voice, and law in theory and literature, and will examine their legacy for liberalism. Particular attention will be paid to the reciprocal authorization between political theory and the emerging field of biology. We will also engage with current debate on consent. Readings to include Locke, Rousseau, Kant, Schiller, Fichte, Marquis de Sade, Heinrich von Kleist, Percy Shelley, Hannah Arendt, and Carole Pateman. Students will have the opportunity to suggest readings. Readings available in German and English. Discussions in English.

Classics of Literary Criticism (Thomas Pfau)

This course will examine some of the great literary critics of the 20th century, writers whose ability to produce focused, inspired, and influential readings of major works of literature has been widely recognized. Our focus will be on studying, and learning from, exemplary readings of major literary works. In other words, this is not a course in literary theory. Readings of landmark critical texts will be combined with selections of canonical texts of English and continental European literature. While the syllabus has not yet been finalized, we will almost certainly attend to the following critics/literary works: William Empson and Stanley Fish on Milton’s Paradise Lost; Erich Auerbach, T.S. Eliot, and Charles Singleton on Dante’s Divine Comedy; Christopher Ricks, John Bayley, and Cleanth Brooks on Keats; Frank Kermode and Rene Girard on secrecy and desire in the nineteenth-century novel; Geoffrey Hartman and Alan Liu on Wordsworth; Jean Starobinski and Paul de Man on Rousseau, and Walter Benjamin on Goethe’s Elective Affinities.

Difference/Indifference: Texts and Contexts in the Eighteenth Century and Beyond (Gabriel Trop)

This seminar explores the way in which aesthetic and philosophical texts "account for differences," focusing on the legacy of eighteenth-and early nineteenth-century literature and philosophy. Special emphasis will be placed on interrogating the limits of the Cartesian subject as it emerged in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In response to the supposed separation of the subject from the exterior world, certain eighteenth-and nineteenth-century thinkers seek out processes of "indifferentiation" (as opposed to mere indifference) that call into question not merely subject-object boundaries, but instances of discrete separation as such. We will examine the diverse strategies developed by artists and thinkers to overcome (or embrace) the perceived threats and problems of subjectivism through figures of difference, identity, and indifferentiation, reading literary works by Goethe, Novalis, Hölderlin, Rilke, and Musil, along with philosophical and theoretical texts by Descartes, Fichte, Hegel, Schelling, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Barthes, Deleuze, Luhmann, Derrida, and Badiou. Readings available in German or English; class discussions in English.

Nietzsche, Freud and Benjamin: On History (Eric Downing)

This course examines the positions of Nietzsche, Freud, and Benjamin on human history. It focuses on close readings of primary texts, with were, how these ideas related to their broader projects, and how their ideas of history compare both with each other and with other, relatively contemporary positions on history. Readings include Nietzsche's vom Nutzen und Nachteil der Historie für das Leben and Zur Genealogie der Moral; Freud's Totem und Tabuand Das Unbehagen in der Kultur; and Benjamin's "Theologisch-politisches Fragment," "Ueber den Begriff der Geschichte," and several other essays.

Frankfurt School Critical Theory (Henry Pickford)

This course serves as an introduction to the “Frankfurt School” and Critical Theory, with particular emphasis upon rationality, social psychology, cultural criticism and aesthetics. Through close readings of key texts by members of the school, we will work towards a critical understanding of the analytical tools they developed and consider their validity.

German Aesthetics after Adorno: The Case of Alexander Kluge (Richard Langston)

The posthumous publication of Adorno’s Ästhetische Theorie in 1970 was the last great deliberation on aesthetics to emerge from the founding generation of the Frankfurt School. With the ascendancy of a second generation of theorists after Adorno’s death, aesthetics was relegated—save a few notable exceptions—to its margins. While aesthetics has in recent years made a comeback among affiliates of this tradition (especially those interested in networking Adorno with French thought, for example), little has been made of those notable exceptions to emerge since the seventies. A “self-proclaimed unskilled laborer” of the Frankfurt School, Alexander Kluge is one such notable exception who has been continually toiling away (with the partial assistance of sociologist Oskar Negt) since the sixties at studying, testing, revising and extending Critical Theory through the media of literature, film, television, and philosophy. This graduate seminar introduces students to both the core of Frankfurt School aesthetics as well as Kluge’s most important work in all four of these media. It will also trace the development of German aesthetic thought after Adorno, the nature of Kluge’s unique aesthetic interventions, as well as the array of intertexts (e.g., Benjamin, Benn, Bloch, Brecht, Deleuze, Fontane, Foucault, Habermas, Kleist, Luhmann, Musil, Sloterdijk) subtending these interventions.

German Political Thought (Jakob Norberg)

This course serves as an introduction to German political and social thought. No previous knowledge is required. We will read short but important and influential texts by, for instance, Immanuel Kant, J. G. Herder, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Max Weber, Georg Simmel, Carl Schmitt, and Hannah Arendt. Our discussions will cover the central concerns and key concepts of the German tradition of political and social thought, such as autonomy, state, society, people, and community. The seminar is intended as a complement to studies in German literary and intellectual history

German Cinema: Frankfurt School, Film, and Film Theory (Inga Pollmann)

This course aims to provide students with a thorough introduction to the work of Frankfurt School theorists, especially Siegfried Kracauer, Walter Benjamin, and Theodor W. Adorno. We will consider their critical engagement with modernity, and the role of cinema and other mass media in and for modernity. Our focus will be on the complex and often ambivalent status of cinema for Frankfurt School theory, for though cinema epitomizes for Frankfurt School theorists key elements of capitalism and mass culture, it also contains possibilities for a critical, “playful,” and liberatory engagement with life in modernity. We will place these authors’ writings in a broader cultural and film-theoretical context and consider especially their dialogue with Georg Lukács, Béla Balázs, Rudolf Arnheim, Russian montage theorists Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov, as well as French film theorists, including Jean Epstein and Germaine Dulac. Finally, we will spend some time thinking about the legacy of Frankfurt School thought in film theory and critical theory more generally. The course also will include separate film screenings of seminal films that constitute major theoretical touchstones for Frankfurt School theorists, including works by F. W. Murnau, G. W. Pabst, Charlie Chaplin, Eisenstein, Vertov, Alain Resnais, Alexander Kluge, and others.