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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

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 TBC.

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); Thomas Pfau, ‘Introduction’, Romantic Moods: Paranoia, Trauma and Melancholy 1790-1840 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005)

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, ‘Ladders of Love’, 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 (Dr Emma Francis)

Week 8: Feminisms 2 (Dr Emma Francis)

Week 9: Nature, Ecology, and Thatcherism (Professor Michael Gardiner). Reading: Required: 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).