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EN975 - Aesthetics and Modernity 2: The Question concerning Violence

This MA module is designed to allow for an exploration of the importance of the question of violence, broadly construed, in relation to the cultural formation of modernity. We will begin from a collocation of issues related to what we can term ‘intellectual violence’ and its hypothetical inscription in ideas of Enlightenment, alongside more direct questions of material violence as determinant of a struggle over what might constitute modernity. The question then devolves onto issues regarding the emergence of the body as a site for politics and especially for potential political violence; and this allows for an investigation of matters related to corporeal aesthetics, beauty and violence, and the ritualised body as a site for sacrifice, confession and witnessing. The emergent bio-political questions can then be related directly to versions of history that are thought to be constitutive of modernity itself; and we can thus explore the question concerning violence (usually occluded) in the formation of a modern aesthetics.


This is a graduate level module. Accordingly, its actual shape will be partly determined by the evolving research interests of the student cohort. We will begin in the first week or two with a consideration of some key questions from Adorno & Horkheimer, and we will simultaneously try to historicise those questions by looking at Voltaire. After that, sessions will be conducted by mutual agreement.


Theodor Adorno & Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment

Voltaire, Candide

Marx, The German ideology; Eighteenth Brumaire

Benjamin, 'Theses on the Philosophy of History' and other selected essays

Beckett, The Unnamable

Agamben, Homo Sacer; Language and Death

Lyotard, The Lyotard Reader

Badiou, Manifesto for Philosophy; Conditions

Arendt, On violence; On revolution; and selected essays

Zizek, Violence

Derrida, 'Circonfession'

Secondary materials might include:

Adorno, Prisms (Spearman, 1967); selections from Notes on Literature (Columbia UP, 1991); Minima Moralia (New Left Books, 1974)

Benjamin, Selected Writings in 4 vols (Belknap Press, Harvard, various dates)

Eagleton, Towards a Revolutionary Criticism (Verso, 1981)

Gibson, Beckett and Badiou (Oxford UP, 2006)

Arendt, Between Past and Future (Penguin, 1977)

Derrida, the Gift of Death (University of Chicago Press, 1995)

Blanchot, Work of Fire (Stanford UP, 1995); Faux Pas (Stanford UP, 2001)

further works by the authors listed as primary texts

Thomas Docherty