C LIT 530
A study of the main attempts to come to an understanding of the humanities and the nature of historical interpretation in a cultural context.
Now that the end of theory has been declared, or anathemas against it, at the same time we’re experiencing—after years of devastating critique—a return of the aesthetic, beauty, “the force of art” or ”the singularity of literature,” and the redemptive aspects of its “peculiar language,” it may be worth thinking, too, while it’s still in limbo, about the literary in theory, or rather its literariness, or the poetics of it and its peculiar language. Which makes it something more, something other, than the trickle-down versions of theory in the ideological warp of going scholarly discourse. From writing degree zero through metaphors of the text to chiastic or mirror structures, there were qualities of mind, feeling, voice, speculation, style that we associate with literature, however obscure or elusive that more or other may be—and without the acceptable platitudes about otherness or hybridity, no less those subject positions which could almost make you prefer a transcendental signifier.
Speaking of which, and crossing cultures: in the Koran, where there is “no god but Him, the Mighty, the Wise One,” we learn that “it is He who has revealed to you the Book. Some of its verses are precise in meaning—they are the foundation of the Book—and others ambiguous. Those whose hearts are infected with disbelief observe the ambiguous part, so as to create dissension by seeking to explain it.” That, unfortunately, is the curse of theory, whose literariness consists in keeping the ambiguity alive, even in the course of trying to explain it. That, in turn, is the art of theory—the art itself dubious to the degree that it disguises its claim to truth. The disguise may be such, however, as with the cryptographic Derrida, that it makes you think of theory as neither fact nor fiction, neither the Real nor the Imaginary, but rather at some enlivening limit, indiscernible as it may be, where the dichotomies break down, and you’re not sure what you’re thinking—the thought that escapes you precisely what keeps it going.
And that should be what’s happening in the seminar, in discussion and presentations, as well as in what and how you write. The texts are still to be chosen, but will be drawn from the now-canonical theorists, perhaps going back to Nietzsche and Heidegger, then the grain of the voice in Barthes, Lyotard, Kristeva, Adorno, Benjamin (in the Arcades), the schizophrenic Deleuze, the virulent Bataille, through Baudrillard’s simulations to one or another more recent, maybe Agamben.
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