This seminar is designed as a rigorous introduction to contemporary critical theorists whose practices are in conversation with Marx, Nietzsche and Freud. The latter introduce methodologies and problematics (eh., history, economy, power, and subject formation) that we will continue to grapple with in responding to such figures as: Balibar, Benjamin, Brown, Butler, Chakrabarty, Derrida, Foucault, Hartman, Lowe, and Mbembi. Four questions will direct our reading of every text. First, and fundamentally, what is the question or question-set that the theorist proposes to answer and what method does s/he employ to do so? This question and methodology determine what is thinkable and so drive the argument. (A recurring question for these theorists is how has history been manifested: in the human sciences, literature, theory, and other practices; in “facts on the ground” which these discourses work to promote, modify or contest; and in the formation of human subjects and social relations. A related question is, what kind of critique is best suited to transforming the historical conditions in which we live.) Second, what is the writer’s argument, how persuasive is it and why? (In evaluating the argument consider not only the assembled evidence but also significant omissions.) Third, what are the argument’s stakes? For instance, what other critical practices or insights does it enable or inhibit? How might you put this argument and/or methodology to use in your own work, why and with what modifications? Four, what other discourses (theories, institutions, social practices, etc.) does this critique engage and on what terms? (While this question provides a point of entry into all of the texts we will examine, I propose to pay particular attention to the ways in which contemporary theorists supplement, revise, and/or contest their predecessors—and for what reasons.)
Active and informed participation in seminar discussions, short critiques of assigned texts, a final paper, and these purchases are required: Freud, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality; Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe and a course packet.