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EN9C1 Critical Theory Today

Module leader 2019–2020

Professor Daniel Katz

Module description

Critical and Cultural Theory has never been more vibrant, nor more urgently needed, than today. Work in all areas of the Humanities has long been inextricably intertwined with critical reflection, often drawing from a multiplicity of disciplines, from philosophy and sociology, to literary and visual studies. This module charts key developments in the development of critical and cultural theories, focusing on specific movements or schools, and methodologies, as well as on important figures such as Adorno, Arendt, Brown, Buell, Butler, Derrida, Gramsci, Hall, Lacan, Latour, Mulvey, and Williams. We explore different, often clashing, critical perspectives on culture, from textual, material, philosophical, and other perspectives. These situated, and often transnational, critical platforms, allow us to both map historical developments in the study of the Humanities and focus on specific, particular elements. The interaction between aesthetics, culture, and societal issues remains a permanent concern throughout the module.

The module runs in term 1 of the academic year.


1 x 6000 word essay

Books to Buy

1. Jacques Derrida, Dissemination, Barbara Johnson, translator, either the Bloomsbury Press (2016) or University of Chicago Press (1983) edition (NOTE: we will only be reading the chapter "Plato's Pharmacy." You do not need to buy the book if you can obtain this chapter separately).

2. Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments, ed. Gunzelin Schmid Noerr, trans. Edmund Jephcott (Stanford UP, 2002).

3. Mark Fisher, Ghosts of My Life (Zer0 Books, 2014)

Module outline

Week 1: Introduction: Methodology/Philosophy/Theory: Definitions and Distinctions (Professor Daniel Katz).

Reading: J-M Rabaté, Introduction to The Future of Theory (Blackwell, 2002) (text will be distributed prior to first meeting) and Paul Preciado, "Chapter 2: The Pharmacopornographic Era," from Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era (text will be distributed prior to seminar).

Week 2: Derridean Legacies (Professor Daniel Katz).

Reading: "Plato's Pharmacy," from Jacques Derrida, Dissemination (Athlone Press, 1981), and TBC.

Week 3: Frankfurt School Critical Theory: History, Nature, Enlightenment (Dr. Nick Lawrence)

Reading: Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, “The Concept of Enlightenment” and “Excursus I: Odysseus or Myth and Enlightenment,” Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments, ed. Gunzelin Schmid Noerr, trans. Edmund Jephcott (Stanford UP, 2002): 1-62. Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History.” Selected Writings Vol. 4: 1938-1940, ed. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings, trans. Edmund Jephcott and Howard Eiland (Harvard UP, 2002): 389-400.

Week 4: Environmental Breakdown and Radical Ecology Today (Dr Nick Lawrence)

Reading: Jason W. Moore, “The Capitalocene, Part I: On the Nature and Origins of our Ecological Crisis,” Journal of Peasant Studies 44:3 (2017): 594-630. Andreas Malm, “Introduction: Theory for the Warming Condition,” “On the Use of Opposites: In Praise of Polarisation,” The Progress of this Storm: Nature and Society in a Warming World (Verso, 2018): 1-20, 177-196.

Week 5: An Affective Turn: Aesthetics, Somatics, and Mood (Professor Emma Mason)

Reading (extracts will be provided): Hua Hsu, ‘Affect Theory and the New Age of Anxiety’, The New Yorker, March 18, 2019; Stephen Ahern, ‘A Feel for the Text’ in Affect Theory and Literary Critical Practice (Palgrave, 2019)'; Isobel Armstrong, ‘Thinking Affect’, in The Radical Aesthetic (Blackwell, 2000); Teresa Brennan, ‘Introduction’, The Transmission of Affect (Cornell University Press, 2004); Hagi Kenaan and Ilit Ferber, 'Moods and Philosophy', in Philosophy’s Moods: The Affective Grounds of Thinking (Springer, 2011).

Week 6: Affective Reading: Sympathy, compassion, and critique (Professor Emma Mason)

Reading (extracts will be provided): James Elkins, ‘The Ivory Tower of Tearlessness’ in Pictures and Tears: A History of People Who Have Cried in Front of Paintings (Routledge, 2001); Martha Nussbaum, ‘Compassion: The Philosophical Debate’, in Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions (Cambridge University Press, 2002); Lauren Berlant and Kathleen Stewart, The Hundreds (Duke University Press, 2019); Lisa Ottum, ‘Feeling Nature, reconsidered: Ecocriticism, Affect and the Case of H is for Hawk’, in Affect Theory and Literary Critical Practice (Palgrave, 2019)

Week 7: Feminisms 1: Patriarchy (Dr Emma Francis)

Reading: Sally Alexander and Barbara Taylor, 'In Defence of "Patriarchy"' [1979] reprinted in Sally Alexander, Becoming a Woman and Other Essays in 19th and 20th Century Feminist History (Virago, 1994) pp. 271-274 (text to be supplied in hard copy)

Freidrich Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Chapter II - 'The Family' (1884) - (consult any modern edition)
Heidi Hartman, 'The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism' [1979], reprinted in Linda Nicholson (ed), The Second Wave (Routledge: 1997), pp.97-122 (available via JSTOR from Library)
Charlotte Higgins, ' The age of patriarchy: how an unfashionable idea became the rallying cry for feminism today'. The Guardian, 22.xi. 2018 (access online from Guardian digital archive - open access)
Sheila Rowbotham, 'The Trouble with Patriarchy' [1979] reprinted in Sheila Rowbotham (ed) Dreams and Dilemmas (Virago: 1983) (text to be supplied in hard copy).

Week 8: Feminisms 2: Enlightenment Origins and Transnational Feminism (Dr Emma Francis)
Reading: Fadwa El Guindi, 'Veiling Resistance', [1999] reprinted in Reina Lewis and Sara Mills (eds), Feminist Postcolonial Theory: A Reader, (EUP: 2003), pp. 586-609 (available via e-Proquest from Library)
Francoise Lionnet, 'Feminisms and Universalisms: "Universal Rights" and the Legal Debate Around the Practice of Female Excision in France', [1992] reprinted in Reina Lewis and Sara Mills (eds), Feminist Postcolonial Theory: a Reader (EUP: 2003), pp. 368-380 (available via e-Proquest from Library)
Chandra Talpade Mohanty, 'Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourse', boundary 2, Vol. 12, No. 3. (Spring-Autumn, 1984) pp. 333-358 (available via JSTOR from Library)

Week 9: Definitions of Nature (Professor Michael Gardiner)

Reading (to be distributed by seminar tutor): William Rees-Mogg, The Reigning Error (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1974). Recommended: F.A. Hayek, Economic Freedom and Representative Government (London: Institute for Economic Affairs, 1973); Michael Gardiner, 'Eco-Catastrophe, Arithmetic Patriotism, and the Thatcherite Promise of Nature' (New Formations 93, 2018).

Week 10: Hauntology and History (Professor Michael Gardiner).

Reading: Required: Mark Fisher, Ghosts of My Life (London: Zer0, 2014). Recommended: Katy Shaw, Hauntology (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2018); Belbury Poly, From an Ancient Star (audio) (2009).