Theory and Criticsm

HISP-S512 — Spring 2023

Patrick Dove
WH 108
Days and Times
T 4:45P-7:15P
Course Description

Prerequisite: Hisp Graduate Student

This course provides a foray into the theoretical humanities. We will focus on a set of key questions and debates that have shaped reflection on how we understand and move about in our world on the one hand, and on how cultural production (literature and visual culture in particular) reflects and mediates such understanding on the other hand. The course purposefully does not seek to be a survey offering a comprehensive coverage of the intellectual traditions and methodologies that could be associated with theory in the humanities. The primary goal is to explore how “theory” names and responds to unresolved tensions, conflict, and disagreement—both within fields of intellectual inquiry and between cognition and world. With this in mind, we will explore two distinct ways of understanding what theory is and what it purports to do. On one hand, theory can be equated with knowledge production and the aim of accounting for how things work; at its extreme point, this sense of theory aspires to be all- encompassing. On the other, we can also find claims upon theory in thinkers who are concerned precisely with calling into question this all-encompassing drive, and for whom intellectual inquiry is driven by the thought of the impossibility of bringing thought and being (or the world) into full agreement with one another. In his essay “The Resistance to Theory,” Paul de Man enigmatically writes that “nothing can overcome the resistance to theory since theory is itself this resistance.” The guiding double hypothesis for this course is that theory and resistance cohabitate, so to speak, albeit without ever coming together to form a unity or a stable ground. In that respect, any theoretical inquiry worthy of the name is fundamentally opposed to all dogma, doctrine, and discipleship. Theoretical inquiry bears a double responsibility: to the singular in its alterity and its refusal of all systematic capture on the one hand, and to the name and to the concept on the other hand, without which the singular would fall into oblivion.

We will pursue this thought of a double responsibility by exploring a handful of core problems or debates that have preoccupied various intellectual traditions without any final, decisive resolution: language and the signifierliterature; difference; the human and technology; and history. We will read selections from thinkers associated with Continental philosophy, Marxism and post-Marxism, Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis, feminism, subaltern/postcolonial studies, queer studies, and deconstruction. Alongside these theoretical readings, we will look at cultural texts and contexts (short stories, poems, photographs, and films) that provide opportunities to work with the conceptual terminology and methodologies presented in the theoretical readings.

Students are encouraged to experiment with bringing the trends in contemporary thought that we will be exploring into productive dialogue with their own research interests. By the same token, we will take seriously de Man’s assertion that what we call “theory” can only thrive in proximity to something that resists it, resists explanation, and that “theory” therefore paradoxically names both a project dedicated to generating the conditions for understanding and attentiveness to a singular truth or reality that resists subjugation to any universal idiom. The attempt to navigate these two irreconcilable calls is, in my view, what imparts to theoretical practice its own unique excitement and urgency.

Our discussions will be organized in seminar format, with each student responsible for presenting or leading class discussion on a topic to be chosen in consultation with me. Along with the presentation, students will write a short response paper; after receiving comments from me, this response paper may provide the starting point for the final research paper.

HISP-S 512    #31244    4:45P-7:15P            T              WH 108          Prof. Patrick Dove

Interested in this course?

The full details of this course are available on the Office of the Registrar website.

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