*Rather than proceeding in chronological order, we will first read two texts primarily concerned with theorizing aesthetic categories (Kant & Ngai) before turning to dialectical and deconstructive approaches to aesthetic problems raised by modernism (Adorno and Moten)
September 4, Introduction
September 11, Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment
September 18, Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment
September 25, Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment
October 2, Ngai, Our Aesthetic Categories
October 9, Ngai, Our Aesthetic Categories
October 16, Ngai, Our Aesthetic Categories
October 23, Adorno, Aesthetic Theory
October 30, Adorno, Aesthetic Theory
November 6, Adorno, Aesthetic Theory
November 13, Moten, In the Break
November 20, Moten, In the Break
November 27, Moten, In the Break
Aesthetic Theory: Romantic, Modernist, Contemporary
Grad Seminar, Fall 2019, LB 668.2
Wednesday, 6:00 - 8:15pm
At the end of her 2012 study, Our Aesthetic Categories, Sianne Ngai remarks that “it is aesthetic theory that needs resuscitation in our contemporary moment, not the aesthetic as such.” Ngai’s point is that because the forms of sensation and affect we might call “aesthetic” have undergone a hyperbolic expansion in late capitalist culture, aesthetic theory requires new categories and modes of reflection to constitute an adequate critique of structures of feeling. We will approach this problem by studying key formulations of aesthetic theory traversing romantic, modernist, and contemporary cultural moments, focusing on four major texts.
Immanuel Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment (1790) inspired romantic aesthetic theory by according a central philosophical role to aesthetic reflection, by identifying beauty with the experience of singularity, and by developing a powerful new theory of the sublime. Theodor Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory (1970) refashions Kantian critique from a historical materialist perspective, taking seriously the challenge of modernism to concepts of “art” and developing a dialectical theory of how the formal “autonomy” of the artwork is related to historical determinations. Fred Moten’s In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition (2003) asks how blackness bears upon artistic production and reception, with particular attention to structures of temporality, improvisation and ensemble, sexuality and the disruption of origin. Focusing on supposedly “minor” aesthetic categories (cute, interesting, and zany), Sianne Ngai extends aesthetic theory beyond its traditional focus on the beautiful and the sublime, attending to the configuration and subsumption of subjective affects by contemporary capitalist culture.
Throughout the course, we will reflect upon the major concepts and categories the problem of “the aesthetic” brings into play: the distribution of universality, particularity, and singularity; the relation between sensation and cognition; the theoretical analysis of affects; the historical ground of finite experience; and the relationship between capitalism and race. Thus, while our focus will be on aesthetic theory, this course will also serve as an introduction to major problems in critical
theory more generally.
Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason
Reading Seminar, Winter 2020
Wednesdays, 1:00 - 3:00pm, LB 681
*Note: "Reading Seminar" means that there is no formal enrollment or credit, nor any assignments for this course. Participants are responsible only for reading and discussing the text at weekly meetings over the course of one semester. Anyone is welcome to attend.
Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (1781/1787) is a foundational text of modern European philosophy. It is central to understanding the critical vocation of much contemporary theory, whether stemming from the Frankfurt School or from Derridean deconstruction. It is basic to understanding the transcendental phenomenology of Husserl, the existential phenomenology of Heidegger, or the transcendental empiricism of Deleuze. It is a pivotal point of reference for any debate concerning the categories of subject and object. It offers an epochal reframing of concepts of space and time, and Kant’s rethinking of the relation between philosophy and science undergirds many of the epistemological positions developed by contemporary science studies.
This course will provide an opportunity to study Kant’s first critique in depth. Our goal will be to grasp the structural and conceptual developments of the text while also seeking to understand their place in intellectual history and their importance to current philosophical and theoretical debates.
Place: A Deformation
Grad Seminar, Fall & Winter 2017-18
Mondays 6:00 - 8:15 pm, biweekly
A major tension in the development of modernist form is folded into the urban fabric of the capitalist lifeworld: a tension between the communist politics of suprematist and constructivist forms and the seamless integration of the geometrically similar International Style of architecture into capitalist city planning. Taking this tension as a starting point, we will consider its stakes through a case study of the cruciform Place Ville-Marie complex in downtown Montreal. This case study will involve two closely related phases: 1) We will investigate the social history of the development of Place Ville-Marie, the politics of its role within and impact on the city, and the relation of these questions to the architectural form of the complex. 2) Having considered the historical and formal characteristics of the building, we will pursue the possibility of subjecting it to poetic investigation and critique: of taking its formal parameters and historical context as a basis for poetic transformations.
During the second of these two phases, we will make use of the technological resources of the Centre for Expanded Poetics and affiliated labs in Fine Arts, pursuing historically informed and politically critical transformations of the building’s formal parameters through 3D printing, laser cutting, textiles, digital textuality, or risograph printing. Thus, part of our course will involve a workshop format, through which we will learn how to deploy such equipment toward a practice of “critical poetics.” This will also require us to look at related practices in contemporary poetry.
Final projects may take the form of critical essays, text based poetic works, or three dimensional art objects. Our goal is to work at the juncture of critical theory and poetic practice toward a creative relation to modernist history immersed in the politics of form. Students in both critical and creative streams of the MA or Ph.D. program will be encouraged to experiment with new approaches to theoretical reflection and poetic making. Projects will be presented and exhibited at the end of the winter semester.
Sept 5: Introduction
Sept 12: Chapter 1 (pp. 3-15)
Sept 19: Chapters 2 - 3 (pp. 16 - 43)
Sept 26: Chapters 4 - 5 (pp. 44 - 72)
Oct 3: Chapters 6 - 7 (pp. 73 - 101)
Oct 10: Chapters 8 - 9 (pp. 102 - 129)
Oct 17: Chapters 10 - 11 (pp. 130 - 157)
Oct 24: Chapters 12 - 13 (pp. 161 - 182)
Oct 31: Chapters 14 - 15 (pp. 183 - 205)
Nov 7: Chapters 16 - 17 (pp. 206 - 221)
Nov 14: Chapters 18 - 19 (pp. 222 - 244)
Nov. 21: Chapters 20 - 21 (247 - 270)
Nov. 28: Chapters 22 - 23 (271 - 294)
Dec 5: Chapter 24 - 25 (295 - 323)
Lacan's Linguistic Theory of the Unconscious: An Introduction
Reading Seminar*, Fall 2017
Tuesday 6:30 - 8:30 pm, LB 681
*Note: "Reading Seminar" means that there is no formal enrollment or credit, nor any assignments for this course. Participants are responsible only for reading and discussing the text at weekly meetings over the course of one semester. No prior knowledge of Lacan is necessary. Students and faculty from any department or university are welcome.
This seminar will offer an introduction to Lacanian psychoanalytic theory through a close reading of Book III of Lacan's Seminar, which offers perhaps the fullest exposition of his early teaching. Through a startlingly original theory of psychosis, Lacan teaches us how to grasp his distinction between registers of the Imaginary, the Symbolic, and the Real while emphasizing and situating the role of the signifier in the unconscious and in psychoanalytic practice.
Key points of interest will be the relation of Lacanian theory to Saussurian linguistics, Lacan's influential theory of metaphor and metonymy, and the question of how Lacan's attention to the structural articulation of signifiers might inform our reading practices.
Our meetings will begin with an introduction to key concepts and then move to questions and group discussion.
Email: email@example.com to indicate your interest.
Blackness, Freedom, Free Verse
Grad Seminar, Winter 2017
Analyzing the “complicity of slavery and freedom,” Saidiya Hartman asks: “is not the free will of the individual measured precisely through the exercise of constraint and autonomy determined by the capacity to participate in relations of exchange that only fetter and bind the subject?” The key terms of this complex question — freedom, measure, constraint — bear not only upon problems of social determination, but also upon problems of poetic form. Is it possible to link social determination and poetic form, as these pertain to Black history and aesthetics, through the sort of question Hartman asks?
Taking up the bearing of this question upon contemporary American poetry, this course will focus on the relation between Blackness, freedom, and free verse. We will read poetry by Claudia Rankine, Aimé Césaire, Dionne Brand, Jean Toomer, M. NorbeSe Philip, Nathaniel Mackey, C.S. Giscombe, Amiri Baraka, and Evie Shockley leading us into investigations of how the history and experience of racial ascription is at issue in discrepant forms of free verse lyric, open field poetry, and poetic cartography. Interspersed with these volumes, we will discuss theories of Black positionality, performativity, and aesthetics articulated by Hortense Spillers, Saidiya Hartman, Fred Moten, Frank Wilderson, and Neil Roberts.
The Structure of Capital
Reading Seminar, Winter 2016
Meeting weekly, we will undertake a close reading of Marx's Capital, Vol. 1.
1. Introduction: Synthetic Summary - January 8
2. Chapter 1-3 (pp. 125-178) - January 15
3. Chapters 4-6 (pp. 178-283) - January 22
4. Chapters 7-9 (pp. 283-340) - January 29
5. Chapter 10 (pp. 340-417) - February 5
6. Chapters 11-14 (pp. 417-492) - February 12
7. Chapter 15 (pp. 492-643) - March 4
8. Chapters 16-18 (pp. 643-675) - March 11
9. Week Off - March 18
10. Chapters 19-24 (pp. 675-762) - March 21
11. Chapters 25 (pp. 762-873) - March 25
12. Chapters 26-33 (pp. 873-943) - April 1
13. Appendix: Results of the Immediate Process of Production (pp. 943-1085) - April 8
Structure / Form
Grad Course, Winter 2016
How do we define the terms "structure" and "form"? How do we distinguish between these concepts, and how do they function differently in such fields as philosophy, literary criticism, architecture, art, and science?
Beginning with these questions, we will study major concepts of structural and formal determination in Plato, Aristotle, Kant, and Marx. We will then follow these concepts through several key texts on the dialectical constitution of artworks (Adorno), structural causality (Althusser, Miller, Macherey), and formal rupture in poetic language (Kristeva, Moten). We will then conclude with Reinhold Martin's analysis of ideologies of structure and form in corporate architecture, Kate Marshall's account of infrastructure as a narrative figure in American fiction, and Rosalind Kraus & Yves Alain-Bois' delineation of a "formless" trajectory in 20th century art, following Bataille's theory of the informe.
Social Death and Black Positionality
Reading Seminar, Fall 2015
(Fri 2-4, LB 681)
Meeting every other week, we will discuss three major texts theorizing slavery and social death, focusing on the politics of anti-black racism and black positionality in the present.
- Introductory Session
October 9 & 16
- Orlando Patterson, Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study (pp. 1-101; 174-208; 299-342)
Nov. 6 & 13
- Saidiya Hartman, Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in 19th Century America
Nov. 27 & Dec. 4
- Frank Wilderson / Saidiya Hartman Interview
- Frank Wilderson, Red, White, and Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms (pp. 1-91)
Grad Seminar, Winter 2015
"Only the poet, disdaining to be tied to any such subjection, lifted up with the vigour of his own invention, doth grow, in effect, into another nature, in making things either better than nature brings forth, or, quite anew, forms such as never were in nature, as the heroes, demi-gods, cyclops, chimeras, furies, and such like; so as he goes hand in hand with nature, not enclosed within the narrow warrant of her gifts, but freely ranging within the zodiac of his own wit.”
- Sir Phillip Sydney, A Defence of Poesy (1583)
The Greek term poiësis means "an act or process of creation." In the sixteenth century, Sir Phillip Sydney insists upon the "incomparable" title of the poet as "maker" — one who does not only imitate nature but rather makes things either new or better than nature, "ranging within the zodiac of his own wit." And in the twentieth century, Martin Heidegger considers poetry "a kind of building."
These are classical and canonical definitions that still hold new resources for imagining and theorizing the constructive capacities of poetic practice. Our seminar will assemble and explore the field of "Expanded Poetics," asking how far the limits of the "poetic" can be extended beyond the writing of "poems" while still maintaining a significant relation to "poetry" and to the history of poetic form. To this end we will consider various theories of "making" within and beyond the history of poetics while attending to models of form, structure, and image and to practices of material construction in literature, art, architecture, engineering, and the physical sciences. We will also host a number of guest speakers for supplemental evening seminars in addition to our regular classes.