Issues in Literary Theory: Bodies of Knowledge, Subjects of Theory

FRIT-F564 — Fall 2020

Oana Panaïté
GA 1112
Days and Times
4:55P - 7:10P, W
This course meets in-person every other week
Course Description

Course meets with CTIH-T500 and CMLT-C501.

F564 Issues in Literary Theory / CTIH-T 500 Introduction to the Theoretical Foundations of the Humanities / CMLT-C 603 Contemporary Theoretical Issues and Approaches
Bodies of Knowledge, Subjects of Theory

 “What is the life of a woman philosopher?”, asks Catherine Malabou, while Kwame Anthony Appiah calls “Medusa syndrome” the ideological and institutional gesture of freezing the thinker in his or her racial or ethnic identity, thus restricting the field of topics and approaches at his or her disposal. This seminar will position itself at the intersection between theory as a “liberatory practice” (bell hooks) that allows one to transcend political, ideological or cultural limitations, and theory as a “traveling” or “translating” practice which should always account for how an idea “came to birth or entered discourse” (Said), that is, for the concrete, historical context of its appearance.
The discussions will focus on how theoretical production and reception come to be shaped by the identity (nationality, ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation) of its author, centering around the works of five contemporary thinkers:
Kwame Anthony Appiah – The Ethics of Identity 
Jacques Derrida – The Monolingualism of the Other, Of Hospitality
Édouard Glissant – The Caribbean Discourse, The Poetics of Relation 
Catherine Malabou – Changing Difference 
Achille Mbembe – Critique of Black Reason
These texts will be placed in a dialogue with concepts and models offered by some of their precursors (Plato, Aristotle, Boetius, Montaigne, Hegel, Marx, Sartre) and contemporaries (Irigaray, Deleuze, Lyotard, Rancière, Butler, Badiou, Hallward) concerned with the lived experience of theory, with different relational models involving the universal and the particular, the singular and the specific, and with the bodily manifestations or the necessary disembodiment of the thinking subject. What is the role of biographical (self-)presentation and historical contextualization (describing the thinker as a Frenchman, an Algerian Jew, a Martinican, a woman, or an African) in defining the conditions and terms in which a work is produced as well as received (as Western vs. regional; universal vs. postcolonial, feminist, queer etc.)? What rhetorical strategies participate in the construction, deployment and/or concealment of theoretical authorship? How can a polemical exchange (such as Derrida’s Monolingualism of the Other as an answer to Glissant and Khatibi) shape the content of an argument and its legacy? How does a theoretical text define its addressee (precursor, peer, opponent etc.), and to what ends? Are there objects of knowledge that can/must/should only be theorized by specific subjects – and therefore, inaccessible to others – to avoid the risk of cultural appropriation and ideological misinterpretation?

Course meets in person every other week.