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GE211 Modernity and its Discontents

Module Code: GE211
Module Name: Modernity and its Discontents
Module Coordinator: Dr Christine Achinger
Term 2 in 2022-23
Module Credits: 15

Module Description

This module introduces students to four key theorists and critics of modernity and of Enlightenment conceptions of the subject, Marx, Nietzsche, Simmel and Freud, and provides a useful theoretical background to modules focused more strongly on literature and culture of the period since the late 19th century.

For much of the 19th century an optimistic outlook on modern, post-feudal society was widespread. Modernity seemed to bring liberation from old social and religious constraints, and the powers of human reason, the refinement of moral sensibilities and scientific and technological progress promised to improve humanity’s lot. In the course of the 19th century, and intensifying in the decades around the turn of the century, however, this belief in the blessings of modernity became increasingly more problematic. This module will engage with four key theorists and critics of modernity and of Enlightenment conceptions of the subject, Marx, Nietzsche, Simmel and Freud, whose work can be seen as emblematic for this development. An engagement with some of their key works will introduce students to Marx's criticism of alienation and socially produced unfreedom in capitalism, to Freud’s and Nietzsche’s challenges to the idea of the human being as primarily rational, to their theories of the dark and unknown regions of the self and to their critique of bourgeois morality. We will study Freud’s and Simmel’s accounts of the connection between modernity and neurosis, Simmel’s analysis of life in the modern city and Marx's and Simmel's accounts of the role of the economy, value and money in modern culture and its consequences. The module thus provides a useful theoretical background to modules focused more strongly on literature and culture of the period since the late 19th century.

Core reading:

Marx: Extracts from the "Ökonomisch-Philosophische Manuskripte" (1844), Grundrisse (written 1857-61) and Das Kapital, vol. I (1867)

Nietzsche: Extracts from Zarathustra (1883-85) and Die Genealogie der Moral (1887)

Simmel: "Die Großstädte und das Geistesleben" (1903)

Freud: Das Unbehagen in der Kultur (1930)

Please note: We will read all primary texts in German, ab initio students will be able to consult translations alongside the original. This module is recommended for students with an interest in philosophy and social theory.

Delivery

The module will be taught through a 2hr in-person mixed lecture and seminar.

Assessment Method:

For 2022-2023:

4000-4500 word essay