Monday, September 24, 2007

Mid-Term Exam

Here is the mid-term exam due in a few weeks. We have not yet read together all the texts described in this exam, but I recommend that you pick at least one of the questions early, so that you only have to deal with one question the last week before it's due. We'll be screening a film on the day the exam is to be handed in and so there won't be any preparation for you to worry about that last weekend before the exam's due. Start work now and please don't expect to wiggle out of this deadline without very good reasons -- you should have ample time to complete the exam on time with this kind of advance notice.

Pick two of the following Four Questions. For each of the two Questions you have chosen, produce a short essay (4-5 pp.) that substantiates your claim through a close reading of the relevant text under discussion in a way that responds to the that Question.

Question One:

How might one make a good case that despite what appears to be a rampant and relentless megalomania in his Ecce Homo, Nietzsche is actually rather modest in the claims he makes in the book? Substantiate this claim with material from the text. What insights might this modesty provide us as we try to determine what Nietzsche’s ambitions are for the interpretive method of “affirmation” he offers up in Ecce Homo?

Question Two:

In his 1888 Preface to The Communist Manifesto, Frederick Engels attributes to Marx a “proposition which, in my opinion, is destined to do for history what Darwin’s theory has done for biology[.]” This proposition is as follows:

“[I]n every historical epoch, the prevailing mode of economic production and exchange, and the social organization necessarily following from it, form the basis upon which is built up, and from which alone can be explained, the political and intellectual history of that epoch; that consequently the whole history of mankind (since the dissolution of primitive tribal society, holding land in common ownership) has been a history of class struggles, contests between exploiters and exploited, ruling and oppressed classes; that the history of these class struggles forms a series of evolutions in which, nowadays, a stage has been reached where the exploited and oppressed class -– the proletariat –- cannot attain its emancipation from the sway of the exploiting and ruling class –- the bourgeoisie -– without, at the same time, and once and for all, emancipating society at large from all exploitation, oppression, class distinctions and class struggles.”

First, describe simply and in your own words the basic propositions that characterize Marx’s unique contribution to the interpretation of history from this viewpoint. And second, describe the status of these propositions in Barthes' Mythologies and propose how any change in their status for Barthes might have an impact on his own interpretive project as a Marxist or post-marxist critical theorist.

Question Three:

In his essay “Psychological Notes Upon an Autobiographical Account of a Case of Paranoia,” Freud offers up an interpretation of the autobiography of Dr. Daniel Paul Schreber. Near the conclusion of his reading of Schreber’s story, Freud makes the last of a series of curious claims on a similar theme: “It remains for the future to decide whether there is more delusion in my theory than I should like to admit, or whether there is more truth in Schreber’s delusion than other people are as yet prepared to believe.” How and why does the figure of Schreber seem to pose such a challenge to Freud’s larger effort to portray the project of psychoanalytic interpretation as a scientific practice? Are there other places in the text in which Freud seems to play out this ambivalence to Schreber’s own interpretation of the world and of his own place in it? Why might this matter so much Freud in the first place?

Question Four:

In the Preface to the 1970 edition of his Mythologies Roland Barthes says that his ambition for the book was to “account in detail for the mystification which transforms petit-bourgeois culture into a universal nature.” In the extended theoretical essay “Myth Today,” at the end of the volume, Barthes spells out this transformation in greater detail. In a key section of that culminating essay, “Myth as Depoliticized Speech,” Barthes writes:

[M]yth has the task of giving an historical intention a natural justification, and making contingency appear eternal. Now this process is exactly that of bourgeois ideology… [M]yth is the most appropriate instrument for the ideological inversion which defines this society… [:] What the world supplies to myth is an historical reality, defined… by the way in which men have produced or used it; and what myth gives in return is a natural image of this reality… The world enters language as a dialectical relation between activities, between human actions; it comes out of myth as a harmonious display of essences. A conjuring trick has taken place; it has turned reality inside out, it has emptied it of history and has filled it with nature[.]

In the series of shorter essays that make up the bulk of the volume, Barthes offers up interpretations of a host of phenomena, popular icons, events, attitudes, and so forth. In each essay he exposes the way something that is actually a contingent and specific product of historical circumstances (which might therefore be open to contestation and reform in the ongoing social struggle of history) has come to assume the status of the natural, the inevitable, the taken-for-granted, the best of all possible worlds, the best workable solution, and so on. But although each short essay testifies in its own way to the ideological accomplishment of naturalization, the fact is that the force of “nature” for each of the objects of his interpretations is a bit different in the specific work it seems to do, and in the specific forms it seems to take.

Pick two of the objects Barthes interprets in his shorter essays. First, show how these essays both illustrate the more general thesis that myth is naturalization, and then point to some significant differences in the way “the natural” seems to function more specifically in each of your chosen examples.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Invitation to Our Blog

I've invited everybody to the blog, or at least I've tried to do so. If you have not received an invite, or if you have had trouble logging in, e-mail me from the e-mail account that you use most often and I'll re-send your invitation. I may have misinputted your e-mail address or screwed with case-sensitivity or some such thing. Accepting the blog invitation should be a relatively simple matter of clicking a link and providing some information at your first log in. To post content to the blog type in the address for blogger and it should ask you to log in or automatically will take you to our blog, at which point you should be able to post content. To read the blog just type in the address for our blog itself. If there are any problems, we can talk about them at our next meeting. Don't worry, there are always little problems to deal with here and there, it's not a big deal. Feel free to experiment, post whatever you like, see you all soon.


Critical Theory A, Fall 2007

Instructor: Dale Carrico;
Course Site:

Course Objectives:
Contextualizing Contemporary Critical Theory: Kantian Critique, the Frankfurt School, Exegetical and Hermeneutic Traditions, Literary and Cultural Theory from the Restoration period through New Criticism, from Philosophy to Post-Philosophy: Marx, Nietzsche, Freud.
Survey of Key Themes in Critical Theory: The Problem of Scientificity, The Problem of Rhetoric, Linguistic Turns, Cosmopolitanisms, Theory and Emancipation.
Survey of Key Critical Methodologies: Critique of Ideology, Post-Marxism, Psychoanalysis, Foucauldian Discourse Analysis, Critical Race Theory, Gender Theory, Science and Technology Studies, etc.

Grade Breakdown:
Attendance/Participation 15%
Co-facilitate Class Discussion 15%
Mid-Term Exam: 35%
Final Exam: 35%

Week One | August 28
Administrative Introduction, Personal Introductions.

Week Two | September 4
Introduction to Critical Theory: History, Themes, Problems
Oscar Wilde, "Soul of Man Under Socialism"

Week Three | September 11
*Nietzsche: Ecce Homo
Why I Am So Wise
Why I Am So Clever
Why I Am a Destiny (or Fatality)

Week Four | September 18
Marx on Commodity Fetishism, from Capital

Naomi Klein, No Logo, selection

Week Five | September 25
Sigmund Freud, on the Psychotic Doctor Schreber (Handout)

Week Six | October 2
*Roland Barthes, Mythologies, Purchase Book

Week Seven | October 9
Carpenter (dir.), They Live, In-Class Screening
Hand in Take Home Mid-Term Exam

Week Eight | October 16
*Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, Purchase Book

Week Nine | October 23
*Michel Foucault, History of Sexuality, Purchase Book

Week Ten | October 30
*William Burroughs, "Immortality"

Week Eleven | November 6
*Valerie Solanas, "SCUM Manifesto"

Week Twelve | November 13
*Franz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, Purchase Book

Week Thirteen | November 20
*Carol Adams, “Preface” & “On Beastliness and Solidarity," Handout

Week Fourteen | November 27
*Judith Butler, Undoing Gender, Handout

Week Fifteen | December 4
*Donna Haraway, “A Manifesto for Cyborgs

Week Sixteen | December 11
Closing Remarks
Hand in Take Home Final Exam

Co-facilitating Discussions and Writing a Precis

One of the key assignments for our course will be your co-facilitation of class discussion of an assigned text. This assignment also requires that you generate a précis of the text you are taking responsibility for. This precis should provide a point of departure for your contribution to the discussion in class, and you will also hand it in to me at the end of the session.

Think of this precis as a basic paraphrase of the argumentative content of a text.

Here is a broad and informal guide for a precis, consisting of question you should ask of a text as you are reading it, and again after you have finished reading it. Don't treat this as an ironclad template, but as a rough approach to producing a precis -- knowing that a truly fine and useful précis need not necessarily satisfy all of these interventions.

A precis should try to answer fairly basic questions such as:

1. What is the basic gist of the argument?
2. To what audience is it pitched primarily? Does it anticipate and respond to possible objections?
3. What do you think are the argument's stakes in general? To what end is the argument made?
a. To call assumptions into question?
b. To change convictions?
c. To alter conduct?
d. To find acceptable compromises between contending positions?

4. Does it have an explicit thesis? If not, could you provide one in your own words for it?
5. What are the reasons and evidence offered up in the argument to support what you take to be its primary end? What crucial or questionable warrants (unstated assumptions the argument takes to be shared by its audience, often general attitudes of a political, moral, social, cultural nature) does the argument seem to depend on? Are any of these reasons, evidences, or warrants questionable in your view? Do they support one another or introduce tensions under closer scrutiny?
6. What, if any, kind of argumentative work is being done by metaphors and other figurative language in the piece?
7. Are there key terms in the piece that seem to have idiosyncratic definitions, or whose usages seem to change over the course of the argument?

As you see, a piece that interrogates a text from these angles of view will yield something between a general book report and a close reading, but one that focuses on the argumentative force of a text. For the purposes of our class, such a precis succeeds if it manages
1. to convey the basic flavor of the argument and
2. provides a good point of departure for a class discussion.