COMP 374
Shadows of Plato's Cave: Image, Screen, and Spectacle
Last Offered Fall 2015
Division II
Cross-listed ARTH 526 / ARTH 505 / COMP 374 / PSCI 374
This course is not offered in the current catalog or this is a previous listing for a current course.

Class Details

In Book VII of the Republic, Socrates famously asks his interlocutors to picture people living in a cave, bound in chains and able to see only shadows on the wall. Thus begins the presentation of perhaps the most influential metaphor in the history of philosophy. One might even claim that when Plato deployed the metaphor in an extended allegory, he constituted the fields of both philosophy and political theory. In repeatedly examining the allegory over the centuries, later thinkers have elaborated their approaches not only to Plato but also to the nature of politics and the tasks of thinking. This class begins with the Republic’s cave and other key Platonic discussions of appearances, visual representation, and (literal and metaphoric) seeing, asking how Plato’s approaches to image, politics, and theory/philosophy shape each other. Building on those inquiries, we next take up important twentieth and twenty-first century returns to the cave, engaging such figures as Heidegger, Strauss, Arendt, Derrida, Irigaray, Rancière, and Badiou. Finally, we examine recent theories of screen and spectacle–read both for their resonances with and departures from debates over the Platonic legacy–and case studies in the politics of both military and racial spectacles in the U.S. The question of what is an image and what images do will run from the beginning of course to the end. Beyond the authors mentioned, readings may include such authors as Allen, Bruno, Clark, Debord, Friedberg, Goldsby, Joselit, Mitchell, Nightingale, Rodowick, Rogin, Silverman, and Virilio. Insofar as it fits student interest, we will also explore the cave’s considerable presence in visual culture, ranging from Renaissance painting through such recent and contemporary artists as Kelley, Demand, Hirschhorn, Kapoor, Sugimoto, and Walker, to films such as The Matrix.
The Class: Format: seminar
Limit: 19
Expected: 12
Class#: 2025
Grading: no pass/fail option, no fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: regular glow posts and three 7- to 8-page essays or one 20-page final paper
Extra Info: may not be taken on a pass/fail basis; not available for the fifth course option
Prerequisites: one prior course in political theory, art history, cultural/literary theory, or philosophy or permission of the instructor
Enrollment Preferences: majors in political science, comparative literature, and art history, as well as students (up to 4) in the graduate program in art history
Distributions: Division II
Notes: meets Division 2 requirement if registration is under PSCI; meets Division 1 requirement if registration is under COMP or ARTH
This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
ARTH 526 Division II ARTH 505 Division I COMP 374 Division II PSCI 374 Division II
Attributes: PSCI Political Theory Courses

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