ENGL 456
Topics in Critical Theory: Hegel and the Dialectic Fall 2018 Division I; Cross-listed as COMP456 / ENGL456

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This course is for students of any major who wish to continue studying critical, cultural, or literary theory. Students will give close attention to a single theorist or philosophical school or perhaps to a single question as taken up by several theorists. Prior coursework in critical theory or continental philosophy, no matter the department, is strongly recommended. The subject of this semester’s seminar is the dialectic. “Dialectical” is one of those collegiate words, the kind of word that some people use a lot without knowing for sure what it means. That said, there are a couple of different ways of making sense of dialectics. The word’s nearest synonym is “dialogue.” Broadly, then, “dialectics” is a name for any philosophy that incorporates into itself the back-and-forth of conversation. Modern dialectics, meanwhile, sets out from two ideas: first, that it is impossible to think about anything in isolation, that we understand all things via relation and contradistinction, that we couldn’t call any person “female” if we weren’t also compelled to call some people “male”; and second, that all such conceptual pairs (male/female, black/white, east/west) are less settled than they look. You can’t not divide the world into oppositions, and all such oppositions will collapse. This is an idea that, systematically pursued, can change the way we think about language, ethics, politics, literature, and art. We will read key texts from major dialectical thinkers: Hegel, Marx, Adorno, but mostly Hegel.
The Class: Type: seminar
Limit: 15
Expected: 15
Class#: 1717
Requirements/Evaluation: seminar paper of 25 pages; informal weekly writing; class participation
Prerequisites: prior coursework in critical theory or continental philosophy is recommended but not necessary, no prior coursework in English is required
Enrollment Preference: seniors with background in critical theory
Distributions: Division I;
Attributes: ENGL Criticism Courses; PHIL Related Courses

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