This course traces lines of intersection and divergence between theories of language or textual media and theories of the image. It aims to familiarize students with some of the problems that contemporary theory has inherited from previous attempts to think the relations among looking, seeing, knowing; writing, inscription, and memory. A secondary aim is to complicate dominant stories about the relationship of one set of paradigms, often textual or written, to rationality, communication, and instrumental thinking and the relationship of other, often visual paradigms to affect, embodiment, and a heightened sense of immediacy or violence in the confrontation with radical alterity. Special attention will be given to the place of models of language and of aesthetic experience in the definition of public space and political life, and to the legacies of modernity as seen through the lens of the “new” technologies of memory and of inscription via which it arrives. Given this concern with political and ethical dimensions of these models and paradigms, the course can be considered a 21st-century course in aesthetic theory.
Readings will be drawn from primary texts across a broad range of fields, including philosophy, literary and critical theory, linguistics, optics, and photography history and theory. We will consider the different statuses accorded text and image with respect to epistemological questions: questions about truth, or about the limits of reason and of knowledge. We will ask why these questions cannot be considered in isolation from their ideological and political implications, and we will explore various accounts, given in the theoretical literature, of the power of texts and images actually to determine what we think or know. Marxist theories of the commodity, historical accounts of colonial uses of photography, and theories of race as a visual technology are all equally apropos.
Students are expected to read closely and in depth and to do significant independent research in the relevant bodies of secondary literature in the preparation of the final essay. Successful essays will take into account a range of complications and counter-arguments in relation to a clearly defined problem and set of readings and will simultaneously demonstrate a command of the full spectrum of arguments presented in the lectures over the term. I.e., the lectures are structured in such a way that arguments are cumulative and knowledge requires synthesis, and it is essential that students attend all of the weekly lectures as well as a weekly seminar (see below).
Specific questions will include how philosophies of nature, being, and mind are entangled with art; perception with poiesis; mimesis with idealism; tekhne with fiction and revolution. It is common knowledge why the poets are cast out of Plato’s republic, but why is it that the true statesman, like the true philosopher, can be trusted to use figural language, when the rhetorician and the sophist cannot? Why does Marx’s commodity speak in hieroglyphs, whereas the master trope of ideology is the camera obscura? Why is mass literacy understood to be a baseline condition of modern democracy and yet a mass public transformed by globalization is thought to be readily deceived, perhaps now more than ever before, by pictures? Why could the Romanian revolution, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the first Gulf War only be televised, whereas the dissemination of images from other wars has been confined almost exclusively to the Internet?
Photography will be an important point of reference throughout, allowing us to trace in detail the history of a given technology, and to consider the ways that images and their meanings may or may not be both historically specific and culturally bound. Focused treatment of key problems in the history and theory of photography will highlight the legacy of all these entanglements for European modernity and for the ongoing production and deployment of non-European others. We will explore the obvious yet still undertheorized connections between photography and colonialism and the corollary destabilization of common understandings of photography as the inheritor of Western pictorial traditions (the metaphysical understanding of perspectivalism, the reduction of the physical world into units of information). How does photography help to expose or, alternatively, obscure the time-honored yet continuously shifting connections between race, gender, and other ruses and techniques of power? How best to analyze the collusion and transformation of textual and visual memory regimes in the development of new technologies and regimes of surveillance, war, and power?
Indicative reading list:
Agamben, Giorgio, The Man Without Content (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1999).
Alloula, Malek, The Colonial Harem, trans. Myrna Godzich and Wlad Godzich (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1986).
Azoulay, Azoulay, Death’s Showcase: The Power of Image in Contemporary Democracy (Cambridge, MA: Zone Books/MIT Press, 2003) and The Civil Contract of Photography, trans. Rela Mazali and Ruvik Danieli. (Cambridge, MA: Zone Books/MIT Press, 2008).
Barthes, Roland, “The Reality Effect” (The Rustle of Language) and Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1981).
Bataille, Georges, Manet, trans. Austryn Wainhouse and James Emmons (Geneva: Skira, 1955).
Bersani, Leo, The Death of Stéphane Mallarmé (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1982).
Blanchot, Maurice, “Literature and the Right to Death,” in The Work of Fire, trans. Charlotte Mandell (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1995) and The Writing of the Disaster, trans. Ann Smock (Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1995).
Breton, André, Surrealism and Painting, trans. Simon Watson Taylor (London: Macdonald and Co., 1972).
Crandall, Jordan, ed., Under Fire, Volumes 1-2 (Rotterdam: Witte de With, 2005).
Crary, Jonathan, Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the 19th Century (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992).
de Man, Paul, Allegories of Reading: Figural Language in Rousseau, Nietzsche, Rilke, and Proust (New Haven: Yale UP, 1979) and “Sign and Symbol in Hegel’s Aesthetics,” in The Aesthetic Ideology, ed. Andrzej Warminski (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 1996).
Derrida, Jacques and Bernard Stiegler, Echographies of Television: Filmed Interviews, trans. Jennifer Bajorek (London: Polity, 2002).
Derrida, Jacques, “…that dangerous supplement…” (Of Grammatology) and Dissemination, trans. Barbara Johnson (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1983).
Descartes, René. Optics (selections).
Didi-Huberman, Georges, The Invention of Hysteria: Charcot and the Photographic Iconography of the Salpêtrière (selections);
Dyer, Richard, White: Essays on Race and Culture (London: Routledge, 1997).
Edwards, Elizabeth, Raw Histories: Photographs, Anthropology, and Museums (Oxford: Berg, 2001).
Fabian, Johannes, Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object (New York: Columbia UP, 1983).
Foucault, Michel, This Is Not a Pipe.
Gonzalez, Jennifer, “Morphologies: Race as a Visual Technology,” in Only Skin Deep, ed. Coco Fusco and Brian Wallis (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2003).
Hegel, G.W.F., Introduction to Aesthetics (Oxford: Clarendon, 1975).
Heidegger, Martin, “The Age of the World Picture,” in The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays (New York: Harper and Row, 1977).
hooks, bell, “The Oppositional Gaze,” in Black Looks: Race and Representation (Boston: South End P, 1992).
Keenan, Thomas. “Looking like Flames and Falling like Stars: Kosovo, ‘the First Internet War’”; “Mobilizing Shame.”
Kofman, Sarah, “The Melancholy of Art,” in Sarah Kofman, Selected Writings, ed. Georgia Albert et al. (Stanford: Stanford UP, 2007) and “Rousseau's Phallocratic Ends,” in Nancy Fraser & Sandra Lee Bartky, eds., Revaluing French Feminism: Critical Essays on Difference, Agency, and Culture (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 1992).
Lévi-Strauss, Claude, Tristes Tropiques (London and New York: Penguin, 1992 ).
Lindberg, David, C., “Ancient Theories of Vision,” Theories of Vision from Al-Kindi to Kepler (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1976).
Mallarmé, Stéphane, selected poetry and prose.
Marin, Louis, To Destroy Painting, trans. Mette Hjort (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1995).
Negri, Antonio, The Political Descartes: Reason, Ideology, and the Bourgeois Project (London: Verso, 2006).
Poole, Deborah, “Equivalent Images” (Vision, Race, and Modernity).
Raiford, Leigh, “The Consumption of Lynching Images,” in Coco Fusco and Brian Wallis, eds., Only Skin Deep, (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2003).
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, Confessions (selection from Book One).
Saussure, Ferdinand de, Course in General Linguistics, ed. Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966).
Sekula, Allan, “The Body and the Archive,” in Richard Bolton, ed., The Contest of Meaning: Critical Histories of Photography (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1989).
Sontag, Susan, On Photography (New York: Picador/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1977) and“Regarding the Torture of Others,” in The New York Times, May 23, 2004.
Starobinski, Jean. Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Transparency and Obstruction (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1988).
Virilio, Paul, War and Cinema: The Logistics of Perception, trans. Patrick Camiller (London and New York: Verso, 1989)