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Fall 2016

     In Search of the Real: Literature and Realism (CL 771)

Back to reality! This might be the motto of several contemporary thinkers: Graham Harman’s “speculative realism” and Karen Barad’s “agential realism” strive to reinvent a more material relation to reality, things, objects, and meaning. Yet what kind of reality is shaped through these theoretical frames? Is realism the disguise of an unmentionable fiction? Through the analysis of novels and short stories (J.-K. Huysmans, H.P. Lovecraft, Georges Pérec, John Steinbeck, Mark Twain), poems (Ezra Pound, George Oppen, Charles Reznikoff, Rosemarie Waldrop), films and art works (John Carpenter, Francis Ford Coppola, Jean Renoir, David Lynch, Trevor Paglen), theory-fiction (Nick Land, Reza Negarestani), literary theory (Roland Barthes, Fredric Jameson, Georg Lukács, Guy de Maupassant, Paul de Man, Raymond Williams), psychoanalysis (Julia Kristeva, Jacques Lacan), and other contemporary theoretical texts (Hannah Arendt, Karen Barad, Graham Harman, Jussi Parikka), we will consider if works of art represent reality or confront the impossibility of exhausting its description.

     Calling Planet Earth. Introduction to Environmental Humanities (CL 203)

We live on Earth, but do we know exactly what the Earth is? Is it a mere planet wandering in a cold universe? The quasi-living ecosphere some thinkers call “Gaia”? Or a sort of “spaceship” that geoengineers can enhance and pilot? Drawing on literature (J.G Ballard, J.M. Coetzee, U. Le Guin, Sun Ra, M. Shelley), cinema (Into the Wild, Koyaanisqatsi, Promised Land, 2001: A Space Odyssey), philosophy (H. Jonas), science (P. Crutzen, L. Margulis, J. von Neumann), anthropology (T. Ingold, C. Levi-Strauss), and theorists who shaped the environmental thought (R. Carson, W. Cronon, B. Latour, A. Leopold, C. Merchant, R. Nixon, H.D. Thoreau), this class investigates the crucial issues of our terrestrial condition. If we want to address the environmental problems that humans are confronted with (climate change, loss of biodiversity, technological risks, environmental inequity), we need to change our representations of nature, humans, and technology.

Spring 2016

     New Materialities: Things, Objects, and Agency 

(Faculty Development Seminar: Website)

     Weird Lit.: Humans, Cyborgs, and Animals (Comp. Lit. 202)

This class will focus on the singular forms of being that people literature: humans and also non-humans, a vast category including animals, insects, cyborgs, and robots. We will pay attention to the weird characters that we encounter in novels: Don Quixote (Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote), Bartleby (Herman Melville’s “Bartleby”), a “blind but wise” old woman (Toni Morrison’s “Nobel Lecture”), and a Colonel beyond Good and Evil (Francis F. Coppola’s Apocalypse Now). We will meet a famous monster (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein), neurotic superheroes (Alan Moore’s Watchmen), robots more human than humans (Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot), the prophet of the Overhuman (Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra), the frightening “horla” (Maupassant’s The Horla), a dog who cannot resist the call of the wild (London’s The Call of the Wild), and a cosmic entity concealed under the ocean (Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu”). These readings will lead us to reconsider the representations we have of humans, animals, and technological beings.

Fall 2015

     What is Theory? Literature and Philosophy (Complit. 371 )

What is theory? Why does theory scare us? And why do we urgently need theory? To investigate these questions, this class will deal with the relation of theory to metaphysics, abstraction, ideology, and critique. We will work on basic philosophical texts (Plato, Whitehead, Marx, Althusser, Arendt, Deleuze, Lévinas), contemporary theory (Spivak, Rancière), psychoanalysis (Freud), literary theory (Woolf, Bataille, Breton, Williams, Hall, Jameson, Morrison, Cixous, Culler) and films (Godard, Iñárritu). We will explore the materialist dimension of theory, that is to say the necessity for theory to recognize an exteriority – praxis, nature, the unconscious, the real, history, etc. – that escapes the empire of pure speculation. We will identify the uses of theory as the necessary detour without which it’s impossible to inhabit – and transform – the world.

     Environmental Studies (Lecture Course – Nelson Institute)

Human beings are not only in the environment, for the environment is in them: the goal of this class is to shed some light on this surprising statement. What does it mean? Is it a joke? Definitely not: this statement describes our reality, our past and our coming daily-life. If you doubt, just think about any environmental issue: heat waves issuing from climate change (Madison summer 2012), hurricanes (Katrina 2005), etc. Whatever the problem, we discover the same reality: we are not separated from our milieu of life. What happens “outside” touches our inside very concretely.

To explore the situation of humans in our ecological era, this class will focus on cultural representations of human beings, technologies, nature, and non-humans (animals, plants) coming from cinema, literature and theory. These representations call intro question the same thing: what is the place of human beings vis-à-vis nonhuman beings? Does technology make human beings into gods, into supermen? Would human beings like to be Cyborgs? Or are human beings animals for good? In short, to think the environment as an entanglement of nature and technology is to think the puzzling question of the place of human beings.

Summer 2015

     Literature of the Environment: Speaking for Nature (Envir St 307 – Nelson Institute)

The goal of this course is to think about the ways humans represent the Earth. Is the Earth an artificial and passive object that we can modify at will? Or should we consider the Earth as a quasi-living entity? 1/ First, we will shed some light on different approaches to the Anthropocene, that is to say the geological period that began when human activities became able to have a major influence on the climate and on all environments: what is the place of nature when human beings wholly transform the Earth? 2/ Then, we will focus on geoengineering (the attempt to master climate change thanks to the technological optimization of the climate). We will consider what representations of nature undergird climate engineering projects and the dangerous environmental consequences that such projects could entail; 3/The third part of the course will be devoted to space exploration and Terraforming (the process of transforming a hostile environment into one appropriate to human life) in sci-fi literature and cinema: is the fictitious notion of Terraforming a model for geoengineering?

Spring 2015

     Life, Technology, and the Outside. An Investigation of New French Theory (English 795)                                        

Is the Outside a mathematizable domain absolutely separated from human subjectivity? Or is it the condition of the possibility for the individuation of living beings? Is biocentrism a theoretical weakness? Or the requirement for thought? Does technology split life and thought? Or constitute their intimate relation? Focusing on Catherine Malabou’s, Quentin Meillassoux’s, and Bernard Stiegler’s philosophy, the course will highlight the ontology at stake in contemporary French theory. Vitalism, realism, and materialism, life and existence, the empirical and the transcendental, nature and technology, biology and mathematics, immanence and the outside, will be explored and defined during the course.

     Welcome to the Apocalypse! Cinema & Ecology (English 457)

In this course we will describe the functions of cinema in an age of environmental disasters. Every session will be devoted to an eco-apocalyptic movie that we will question with a text coming from cinema studies (André Bazin, Siegfried Kracauer), catastrophe theory (Jared Diamond), ecology (Paul Crutzen), ecocriticism (Frederick Buell), psychoanalysis (Sigmund Freud, Slavoj Žižek), philosophy (Alain Badiou, Walter Benjamin), and literature (Ursula Le Guin). For each film (Noah, The Day after Tomorrow, Soylent Green, The Walking Dead, etc.) we will investigate if it records, distorts, or projects reality (even if these three operations can obviously be combined). Indeed, we might think that eco-apocalyptic cinema only imagines possible events: would its own goal be to distract us from the necessary coming of these events? Would it try to falsely avert, thanks to the imaginary, the real dangers that threaten us? Is eco-apocalyptic cinema just a smoke screen that covers over real ecological problems? Or is it possible to argue that cinema is able to show us what we might not be able to see without it? Fueling our fears and our paranoia, cinema sometimes enables us to think what we refuse to think: the extinction of human beings, or at least the irreversible deterioration of the living conditions of human and non-human populations. Cinema tries to deliver justice with images when we refuse to see and to act politically to avoid catastrophes.

Fall 2014

     Environmental Studies (Lecture Course – Nelson Institute)

Human beings are not only in the environment, for the environment is in them: the goal of this class is to shed some light on this surprising statement. What does it mean? Is it a joke? Definitely not: this statement describes our reality, our past and our coming daily-life. If you doubt, just think about any environmental issue: heat waves issuing from climate change (Madison summer 2012), hurricanes (Katrina 2005), etc. Whatever the problem, we discover the same reality: we are not separated from our milieu of life. What happens “outside” touches our inside very concretely.

To explore the situation of humans in our ecological era, this class will focus on cultural representations of human beings, technologies, nature, and non-humans (animals, plants) coming from cinema, literature and theory. These representations call intro question the same thing: what is the place of human beings vis-à-vis nonhuman beings? Does technology make human beings into gods, into supermen? Would human beings like to be Cyborgs? Or are human beings animals for good? In short, to think the environment as an entanglement of nature and technology is to think the puzzling question of the place of human beings.

Summer 2014

     Experiencing the Anthropocene (Nelson Institute)

This course has two goals. The first one is to think about the ways humans mediate (represent, assess, and symbolize) the Earth in the era of the Anthropocene. We will consider accounts of the Earth as a “living” being that can react negatively when we don’t “respect its laws.” We will also consider accounts of the Earth as a sort of sophisticated machine – a Spaceship – that we can master if we can understand its mechanisms. The second goal of the class is to give students an opportunity to speak about their own experiences of the Anthropocene. After all, the Anthropocene is not only a concept, but also a concrete change that affects Madison ecosystems! After familiarizing ourselves with the meaning of the Anthropocene and the diverse sorts of responses scientists, artists, and humanists propose to it, students will be asked to consider and create responses that index their own experience of the Anthropocene by working with technological and artistic media (both of which students will be trained to use). We will discuss the technological and artistic mediations students produce to understand how they locally respond to the global event called the Anthropocene.

Spring 2014

     Functions of Public Intellectuals: Why Take Sides?

Broadly speaking, a public intellectual is someone who is trained in a specific area of knowledge and who decides to write and to speak to a “public” larger than a community of specialists. The goal of this class is to question the passage from the “inside” (the University, theoretical research, a peculiar discipline) to the “outside” (the public, the putting into practice of a theory, a universal address). The analysis of the passage from “inside” to “outside” will not lead us to reject these notions, but to complicate their location and their articulation. The main questions of the course will be: what is and where is intellectuality? What is political intellectuality? An act and if so what kind of act?

To answer these questions, I will divide the course into three parts:

– 1/ Universal, organic, specific: we will examine several definitions of the intellectual: “the committed intellectual” (Jean-Paul Sartre), “the organic intellectual” (Antonio Gramsci), and “the specific intellectual” (Michel Foucault). We will analyze “representations of the intellectual” (Edward Saïd) and the question of the “subaltern” (Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak). Here the goal will be to develop a concept of political intellectuality.

– 2/ Committing arts: Drawing on the works of Judith Butler, Toni Morrison, and Jacques Derrida, we will question the relation between intellectuals’ interventions and their practices of writing in the area of interconnected communication. Focusing on several poets and filmmakers (Mahmoud Darwish, Victor Hugo, Aimé Césaire, André Breton, Osip Mandelstam, Allen Ginsberg, and Jean-Luc Godard), we will try to understand the relation between artistic intellectuality and political interventions;

3/ The production of intellectuality: Starting with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “American scholar,” we will investigate the role of the university and its specific mission towards the public. We will study what Paolo Virno calls “mass intellectuality” and Donna Haraway “situated knowledges”. We will describe the emergence of a specified intellectuality, neither massive or universal, nor reducible to the figure of the specific intellectual.

     Weird Lit.: Humans, Cyborgs, and Animals (Lecture Course)

This class will focus on the singular forms of being that people literature: humans and also non-humans, a vast category including animals, insects, plants, cyborgs, and robots. We will pay attention to the weird characters that we encounter in novels: Don Quixote (Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote), Bartleby (Herman Melville’s “Bartleby”), a “blind but wise” old woman (Toni Morrison’s “Nobel Lecture”), and a Colonel beyond Good and Evil (Francis F. Coppola’s Apocalypse Now). We will meet a famous monster (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein), neurotic superheroes (Alan Moore’s Watchmen), the prophet of the Overhuman (Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra), the frightening “horla” (Maupassant’s The Horla), and we will attend to the transformation of Gregor Samsa into an insect-like creature (Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis). We will also try to understand why robots can become more human than humans (Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot). These readings will lead us to reconsider the representations we have of humans, animals, and technological beings.

Fall 2013

     Environmental Studies (Lecture Course – Nelson Institute)

Human beings are not only in the environment, for the environment is in them: the goal of this class is to shed some light on this surprising statement. What does it mean? Is it a joke? Definitely not: this statement describes our reality, our past and our coming daily-life. If you doubt, just think about any environmental issue: heat waves issuing from climate change (Madison summer 2012), hurricanes (Katrina 2005), etc. Whatever the problem, we discover the same reality: we are not separated from our milieu of life. What happens “outside” touches our inside very concretely.

This is our contemporary condition: we have a Facebook account, we keep texting and we are technologically addicted, yet we have some difficulty accepting our ecological interconnection. The challenge of this class is the following: instead of passively watching apocalyptic movies, instead of only complaining about dark ecological futures, we will strive to understand that environmental issues reveal that our “nature” is deeply tied with what we do, what we produce, what we consume, that is to say our ways of life. This understanding is the only way to propose pragmatic solutions to ecological threats.

To explore the situation of humans in our ecological era, this class will focus on cultural representations of human beings, technologies, nature, and non-humans (animals, plants) coming from cinema, literature and theory. These representations call intro question the same thing: what is the place of human beings vis-à-vis nonhuman beings? Does technology make human beings into gods, into supermen? Would human beings like to be Cyborgs? Or are human beings animals for good? In short, to think the environment as an entanglement of nature and technology is to think the puzzling question of the place of human beings.

Spring 2013

     Outsides of the Thought

One of the basic watchwords of our time is the following one: “there is no outside”. Is this a true ontological statement and a useful political description? Or does it dissimulate something: a fear? An exo-phobia? Of course, we can understand why we have to be wary of the notion of the Outside: it seems to be the source of all idealisms, all the constructions of illusory worlds. To stand, to believe oneself to be standing outside of the world, is the best way to feel exempted of all obligation vis-à-vis this one, of all necessary political intervention. But what is politics without an outside, if not the mere acceptation of the world as it goes? And what is art without outside, if not a commodity? And what is thought without an outside, if not simulation and calculus? In order to answer these questions, we will analyze figures of the Outside – the unconscious, the Real, chaos, otherness, wilderness, etc. – in theory (psychoanalysis, philosophy, and quantum physics) and praxis (politics and art). We will read Nietzsche, Freud, Lacan, Foucault, Deleuze, Heisenberg, Harman, Morton, Bennett, Snyder and Cronon. We will study art works (Godard, Innaritu, Lars von Trier, Blanchot, Auster and Greg Egan) and political texts (Marx, Laclau).

     What is Theory? Philosophy and Literature

This class will try to answer two questions: 1/ What is theory? To investigate this first question, we will think about the relation of theory to similar notions, including metaphysics, deconstruction, abstraction, etc. We will also highlight the different uses of theory (theoretical, political, pragmatic, etc.). We will work on basic philosophical texts (Plato, Aristotle, Whitehead, James, Lévinas, Deleuze, Badiou), contemporary theory (Harman, Alaimo), literary theory (Eagleton, Sartre, Breton) and films. With Aimé Césaire and Toni Morrison, we will see how theory echoes with politics and poetry. At the end, our goal will be to identify the current combat zones of theory: what nowadays are the main fault lines along with theorists divide? Our second question will be: 2/ What is the function of the intellectual today? We will work on different notions and concepts: “the American scholar” (Emerson), “the organic intellectual” (Gramsci), “the engaged intellectual” (Sartre), “the specific intellectual” (Foucault), “mass intellectuality” (Virno), “situated knowledge” (Haraway) and the role of “the public intellectual”.

Fall 2012

     Cinema at the End of the World

In this course we will try to describe the functions of cinema in an age of environmental disasters. Every session will be devoted to an apocalyptic movie that we will question with a theoretical text coming from cinema studies (Bazin, Kracauer), catastrophe theory (Zizek, Diamond), psychoanalysis (Freud) and philosophy (Husserl, Benjamin). For each movie, we will investigate if it records, distorts or projects reality (even if these three operations can obviously be combined). Indeed, we might think that apocalyptic cinema only imagines possible events: would its own goal be to distract us from the necessary coming of these events? Would it try to falsely avert, thanks to the imaginary, the real dangers that threaten us? Or is it possible to argue that cinema is able to show us what we might not be able to see without it? Fueling ours fears and our paranoia, cinema sometimes enables us to think what we refuse to think: the extinction of human beings, of life. Cinema tries to deal out justice with images when we refuse to see and to act politically to avoid catastrophes.

     The Concept of Nature. From Heraclites to Latour via Hugo

In this course we will question why many contemporary thinkers try to get rid of the concept of nature. Of course, it’s necessary to reject several fantastical (and ideological) versions of nature when they are used to legitimate unequal, racist, sexist and humanist politics. But concerning the ecopolitical field, I argue that an “ecology without nature” (T. Morton) or “against nature” (Zizek) gives force to another fantasy: the fantasy of one-artificial world where everything can be constructed, reconstructed, changed and linked at will. Drawing on a number of crucial theoretical texts (from Aristotle to Whitehead), romanticist and surrealist poems (Hugo, Nerval, Novalis, Péret, Breton), novels or tales (Dillard, Hoffman), we will attempt to produce alternative conceptions of nature able to break the walls of our claustrophobic world.  We will explore how nature can be used as a tool able to open societies and cultures to their contingency, their inside otherness as well as their real outsides.

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