Comparative Literature Graduate Course Descriptions


Spring Quarter

Dept Course No and Title Instructor
The idea/question of ‘The Present’ has been addressed in various ways in the Western philosophical tradition—or in what Habermas might call The Discourse of Modernity—from, say, Kant to Foucault, as something central to the self-consciousness of Modernity. 
The course begins with some interrogation of the methodological problems involved in thinking about The Present in our time.

Can the Present be identified with certain dates, on the calendral model, like a century or even a decade? Is it something of a caesura between a Past and a Future, too fleeting and unformed and ineffable to be known as History, properly speaking? Is it too close to us, too ingrained into our subjectivity, hammered too strongly into our unconscious, for any reliable understanding of it, while what we believe we know is rendered all the more unreliable by the mediatic world that we inhabit, the Hyperreal, the Society of the Spectacle, and so forth? Or, is it that the Present is all that we can really know since it is only the real and the concrete, that which we ourselves value or endure, that can be properly imagined?

Louis Althusser says somewhere that history is of course made up of countless facts but only a very few of those facts are really historical. What are those few facts that frame the History of The Present? Our Present.

Conceptually, the Present could perhaps be viewed best as the temporality of an existing field of force, a terrain of structures and agencies as they exist within that temporality, generating processes and events (including thought events) that may or may not be connected causally but do intersect in ways obvious as well as imperceptible. We shall interrogate the field of force that is our own Present, across disciplinary boundaries of economy, politics, culture, literature, religion, geography.

Students should read the following texts before coming to class:

1- Alain Badiou, The Century, ‘Search for a Method’, pp. 1-10.
2- Fredric Jameson, ‘Periodizing the 60s’, in The Ideology of Theory: Essays 1971-1986, Volume 2: Syntax of History (pp. 178-208)
3- Aijaz Ahmad, ‘ Literature Among the Signs of our Time’, in In Theory (pp 43-72)
4- Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes, 1-17, 559-585.
While the management of life through conflict is ever more prevalent today, current political discourse instructs us to avoid disagreements at all costs, sanctifying consensus as the “best practice” of politics. Given this disavowal of conflict, this seminar takes on the task of reconsidering the theorization of conflict and disagreement, their political implications and potentials, and the role they play in theory itself. What is the place of conflict in politics? Is it an exception, an interruption in the regular flow of things, an anomaly to be played out or resolved? Or is conflict the very precondition for political thought and action? How are we ruled and constituted through and by conflict? The present political moment in the U.S. seems to exemplify the reduction of social conflict to defunct liberal multiculturalism, on the one hand, and to nationalist xenophobia and its quest for unity beyond class antagonisms, on the other. However, could social conflict be theorized otherwise?

In this seminar, we will explore the ways in which Western philosophy has conceptualized the modern subject as conflicted, perhaps even as predicated on a certain internal conflict. Articulating the specific forms of these inner conflicts and their political effects (particularly in terms of race and gender), we will examine how this conflicted subject is mirrored in Western theorizations of the public sphere as conflicted and how these in turn have given rise to the impasse of articulating political communities either as unified and antagonistic or as chaotic multitudes and crowds. We will further examine whether there exist alternative possible conceptions of conflict that allow a different perception of the many beyond these forms. How may conflict produce communication or change without falling into the traps of the regulated movement of the dialectics, the annihilating motion of war or the stalemate of stasis? In exploring these topics, we will pay special attention to the role that conflict plays in theory itself and to theory’s self-perception as advancing by way of conflict.

Readings may include: Hobbes, Rousseau, Burke, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Freud, Schmitt, Arendt, Foucault, Frantz Fanon, Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Rancière, Talal Asad, Saba Mahmood, Wael Hallaq, Ernesto Laclau, Wendy Brown and Jasbir Puar.
This course will be devoted to a reading of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit (in A.V. Miller's translation) in its integrality over two years. This spring, picking up the most significant passages in each section, we will read the Preface, the Introduction, Consciousness and Self Consciousness.

This class has two main objectives:

  1. Develop a familiarity with one of the most fundamental and influential texts of the  philosophical tradition, and acquiring a satisfactory command of its main concepts.

  2. Bring to light Hegel's anticipations of some central issues in contemporary thinking, including those raised by speculative realism.

This year's leading thread will be « Subjectivity and Death ».
In the contemporary world, it has become very important for us to be able to distinguish between "global" and "universal." This course will try to confront this problem through cartography, fiction, film, and political writing.

One of my interests for the last decade or so has been to look at the word "Development." This has led me to the word "Research," in what is universally referred to as "R&D," that is to say "Research and Development." - "Development" is global. Global democracy is a declared aim. What is the relationship between "Development" and democracy in the context of the universal/global split? We will connect to the fact that democracy as bodycount majority requires the presence of a democratic society. I prefer "general to "universal." All human social groups, including children as a separate social group, think that something resembling the sphere of life they consider "experience" applies to the generality of humankind: however vaguely defined or not defined at all. We have to work with this if we want to consider what to do with universals, rather than concern ourselves with a critique of the imposition of Eurocentric universals globally. If tracking the universalizable without universalizing is an approach, who can collectively teach or learn this approach?  We require uniformity for the functioning of democratic structures and ethical obligations. Statistics are not unnecessary for the operation of social justice.

In this context, we have to think how the everyday "supplements" these requirements. This will oblige us to ask the question: who is the generalized subject or "I" of our classroom? I will consider the subaltern, those who are being globally denied the right to intellectual labor, today and for millennia, and what our obligation is when we generalize from our own limited context. Disability as part of the definition of the democratic subject, and the fact that the "present" continually vanishes will be issues in our class.

A one-page reaction paper to the day's reading or viewing must be submitted by 5pm the day before. The final paper will be 13 pages excluding a research bibliography. No incompletes.

Lecture Dates:

  • 5/17/17 

  • 5/19/17

  • 5/22/17

  • 5/24/17

  • 5/26/17

  • 5/31/17

  • 6/2/17

  • 6/5/17

  • 6/7/17

  • 6/9/17

Prof. Arlene R. Keizer, Comparative Literature, English, and African American Studies

This graduate seminar delves deeply into established and new work in black feminist theory.  We will read significant portions of five major texts: Hortense Spillers’ collection Black, White, and In Color, Nicole Fleetwood’s Troubling Vision: Performance, Visuality, and Blackness, Darieck Scott’s Extravagant Abjection: Blackness, Power, and Sexuality in the African American Literary Imagination, Michelle Wright’s Physics of Blackness: Beyond the Middle Passage Epistemology, and Uri McMillan’s Embodied Avatars: Genealogies of Black Feminist Art and Performance.  Each week, seminar members will discuss the critical/theoretical texts in relation to a literary work, an experimental film, a performance, or a work of visual art.  In week 4, students will be expected to choose the subject of their own black feminist investigation, which need not have been written, created, or performed by a black woman artist/writer.  Significant portions of the second half of the class will be devoted to work-shopping students’ drafts.  This course may be taken as a seminar or pro-seminar.