Shakespeare, Tragedy, Ethics

English 890S-05

Professor Sarah Beckwith

Course description:

A first aim of this class will be to explore Shakespearean tragedy as a “lethal attempt to deny the existence of another as essential to one’s own.” So tragedy in Shakespeare’s handling turns out to explore acknowledgment as the home of our knowledge of others and of ourselves. This class explores Shakespeare’s tragedies as a set of meditations on the costs of denying that we share language. Why does this idea become compelling and attractive right then? How is such a denial so much as possible? We will focus on Shakespeare’s late tragedies (King Lear, Macbeth, Coriolanus, Timon of Athens, Anthony and Cleopatra), as well as Hamlet, and Othello. We will also ponder the tragic matrix of comedy in plays such as Much Ado About Nothing, as well as those plays that begin as tragedies but turn aside from that form: The Winter’s Tale, and possibly The Tempest.

A second aim of the class, and closely connected with the first, is an exploration of ordinary language philosophy (Wittgenstein, Austin, and Cavell) in relation to theatre. I see a natural affinity between the practices of theater and the practices of ordinary language philosophy because each practice is committed to examining particular words used by particular speakers in particular situations. Each practice understands language as situation, which is different from “context” because sometimes we only understand the context when we understand what it is that is being said. Ordinary language philosophy makes the very radical claim that we will fail to understand what something means until we understand what it does, until we understand the force of the words used on any particular occasion as, say, entreaty, command, order, suggestion, permission, request, prayer. Each practice understands language as act, as event in the world, and so asks us to extend our conception of the work of language beyond the work of representation, the chief focus of historicism old and new.

We will read some central essays of J.L. Austin, Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, and especially Part 4 of Stanley Cavell’s work: The Claim of Reason: Skepticism, Morality, Acknowledgment, Tragedy where we will attempt an exploration of the intimacy of these four terms to each other. This will help us explore tragedy’s work between “avoidance and acknowledgment.”

This class should be of interest to anyone interested in exploring Shakespeare, tragedy as a genre, theatre, ordinary language philosophy and ethics, and performance studies.

Generally speaking I will be assigning more reading than we can usually read in detail in class every week. Each week we will read some Shakespeare and some Cavell and these will be the focus of the class, but I will also assign some optional extra reading which will always complement the Shakespeare and Cavell texts. Please bring a copy of the Philosophical Investigations and The Claim of Reason to every class in addition to whatever other material is assigned for reading. I don’t like electronic devices of any kind in class, so please make other arrangements for the duration of this course for note-taking, reading etc.



Professor Markos Hadjioannou

Course description:

This course is designed for graduate students and advanced undergraduate students interested in the intersections between film, critical theory, and continental philosophy. It offers a wide-ranging understanding of film philosophy, as an analytic and interpretative mode of understanding cinema as a mode of existential query, cultural production and social interaction.

Over the course of film’s history, we see a number of shifts in how cinema has been interpreted by film critics, philosophers, psychologists, critical theorists, etc. The main issue at hand has been to understand what cinema is, how we can come to interpret a visual culture with such a pervading effect on 20th century society. More recently, this trend has culminated with a subsection of film theory and continental philosophy alike—what has been termed “film-philosophy”. This focus takes as its inspiration the work of Roland Barthes, Gilles Deleuze, Henri Bergson, Stanley Cavell, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Jacques Rancière amongst others. Cinema, for these writers, confronts us with questions of being, belonging, identifying, feeling, responding, and participating in reality, in the world, in our own bodies, and in the societies within which we reside. More so than this, film-philosophy sees film-making as a procedure of philosophical thought—an act of thinking about the world, a (re)presentation of the process of thinking, and an interpretation of the world as an act of thought. In other words, film-philosophy takes as its premise that films are themselves acts of philosophy.

With this in mind, this course will look at how cinema has been discussed by the aforementioned philosophers, but also how their work has impacted the scholarship of contemporary film theorists. Beyond these writers, our weekly meetings will also focus on the film-makers whose works present us with modes of philosophical thinking. Here we will look at a large variety of short-, medium-, and feature-length films, and from experimental, to documentary, and fiction films. Examples include David Lynch, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Agnès Varda, Ari Folman, Michael Haneke, Terrence Malick, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Abbas Kiarostami, Alfred Hitchcock amongst many others.

Simone de Beauvoir: Literature, Philosophy, Feminism

FRENCH 690S.01/ LIT690S.02/WOMENST590S.01 – FRIEDL 216 , Mon 1:25 – 3:55 p.m.

Professor Toril Moi

Course description:

The course will discuss Simone de Beauvoir as feminist theorist and French intellectual, focusing on two major topics: Beauvoir’s understanding of women’s oppression, sex, gender and sexuality; and the relationship between literature and philosophy in Beauvoir’s works, and in existentialism in general.  A key topic connecting the two topics is the concept of the Other. We will pay specific attention to Beauvoir’s development of a whole range of different concepts of otherness. We will also ask about philosophy and literature. What did Simone de Beauvoir think a philosophical novel was?  Why does literature matter in our lives? Why read literature? — We will study a wide range of texts by Beauvoir, including novels, memoirs and travel writing, and, of course, The Second Sex. In addition to Simone de Beauvoir’s works, and relevant commentaries on them, we will read texts (or excerpts of texts) by philosophers and theorists such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Jacques Lacan, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Emmnauel Lévinas, and others. The class will be taught in English, but graduate students in French will be expected to do all the reading in French.

Novel Theory

ENG 860S.01 – Mon 4:55-7:25

Professor Nancy Armstrong

Course description:

This course looks closely at some major theoretical attempts to explain how novels formulated a world that can be inhabited (or not) in specific ways by historically and culturally diverse and variable readerships. Weąll begin with Lukács and Bakhtin and then see what happens to their arguments when challenged in quick succession by structuralism, poststructuralism, and theories of globalization. You will find that not all the theoretical works that we consider qualify as theories of the novel, strictly speaking. Even so, these theories invariably use particular novel forms, however indirectly, to produce critical theoretical models of the modern world, and novels invariably return the favor.

Romantic Aesthetic Theory and Aesthetics

ENG 545S – Wed 11:45 AM -2:15 PM

Professor Robert Mitchell

Course description:

According to a well-known–and largely accurate–narrative, the study of “aesthetics” was invented in the eighteenth century, and then consolidated in the Romantic era. This course is intended to provide an introduction to this narrative of the emergence of aesthetics as a realm of study, and we will accordingly focus on the classic three categories of eighteenth-century and Romantic aesthetic theory–the beautiful, the picturesque, and the sublime–as well as classic Romantic aesthetic methods, such as irony and reflexivity. We will also consider several more “minor” Romantic aesthetic categories that have increasingly come to the fore in recent literary and media criticism (e.g., “the monstrous”). We will employ Immanuel Kant’s monumental and synthetic late work, The Critique of Judgment, as a lens through which we can reflect on both earlier eighteenth-century aesthetic theory and the distinctive emergence of “Romantic” aesthetic theory. While the course will focus on aesthetic theory, we will also parse this theory through case studies drawn from eighteenth-century and Romantic-era literature and art. Readings will be drawn primarily from eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century British, French, and German authors, including Francis Hutcheson, David Hume, Edmund Burke, Uvedale Price, G. E. Lessing, Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Schiller, Jane Austen, P. B. Shelley, Mary Shelley, and G. W. F. Hegel. We will also consider select readings from a small number of key twentieth-century philosophical reflections on Romantic aesthetics, including those of Hannah Arendt, Theodor Adorno, Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, and Jacques Rancière.

Students interested in this course are also encouraged to consider signing up for Professor Gabriel Trop’s GERM 860: Aesthetics and Poetry (which meets on Tuesdays from 4:40-7:10 on UNC’s campus), as these two courses have been designed to complement one another, with Professor Trop’s class also beginning in the eighteenth century but then spending more time on twentieth-century aesthetic theory.

Aesthetics and Poetry

German 860 – Tu 4:40 PM – 7:10 PM – UNC campus, Dey 410

Professor Gabriel Trop

This course will examine the relationship between aesthetics and poetry starting in the eighteenth century and continuing into the twenty-first century. Baumgarten’s Philosophical Reflections on Poetry (1735) launches the birth of aesthetics by rethinking the philosophical status of poetic objects: not only does poetry become an appropriate object of philosophical discourse, but it produces and embodies its own particular media-specific form of truth. This seminar will follow threads that link aesthetic discourses, poetic practices of production and reception, the precise yet elusive form of poetic objects, and the discursive and philosophical fields of meaning and truth-production–ethical, political, scientific–in relationship to which poetic objects position themselves. Authors include: Baumgarten, Kant, Hölderlin, Schelling, Novalis, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Benjamin, Lukàcs, Celan, Rancière, Badiou, among others. Class discussion in English, readings in English (the German and French originals will be available for those who can read these languages). This course, which emphasizes the continental aesthetic tradition and will include later nineteenth- and twentieth-century contributions, has been designed to complement Professor Robert Mitchell’s class on aesthetics at Duke which will be held on Wednesdays 11:45am – 2:15 pm.

Incomprehensible Certainty: Iconic Vision and Theological Aesthetics

Professor Thomas Pfau

Course description:

In this seminar, we will explore the role of images in theology, phenomenology, and aesthetics – both ancient and modern. Our guiding hypothesis will be that the power and efficacy of images is closely bound up with their distinctive ontology – one that cannot be effectively assimilated to propositional, mimetic, or otherwise referential models of cognition. While the rise of modern epistemologies and, concurrently, of modern aesthetics has tended to construe the image as a subsidiary version of “representation” (Vorstellung), Platonic, Patristic, and Byzantine accounts of the eikon tend to characterize images, and the phenomenology of their experience, in far more supple and richer language. Here the apprehension of the image qua icon is not animated by a protocol of cross-referencing and verification but, instead, by its transformative and revelatory impact on the beholder. What accounts for this impact are several factors: 1) a formal element, such as the return of “inverse [or “reverse”] perspective” in early-20th century Eastern Orthodox icon theory; 2) the situational dynamic of the image, such as its embedding in, or alluding to, ambient liturgical frameworks and purposes; and 3) the factor of the image’s materiality, such as the modernist image’s reaffirmation of sound and color as the principal sources of the image’s capacity for unveiling, and entangling the beholder in, truths that inaccessible to propositional and verificationist models of cognition.

Our readings will interweave Platonic, Patristic, and Byzantine accounts and defenses of images with the arguments of modern phenomenology – arguably the one strand of philosophical inquiry in the modern era most receptive to, and articulate about, the metaphysical dimensions of the image. Among the authors we will consider are the following: Plato, Plotinus, Origen, Eusebius, Gregory of Nyssa, Pseudo-Dionysius, Maximus the Confessor, St. John Damascene, Theodore the Studite, and Photius in the “pre-modern” era. Within modern philosophy and theology, we will explore phenomenological and theological accounts of the image by reading selections from Pavel Florensky, Husserl, Heidegger, Gadamer, Merleau-Ponty, von Balthasar, and Marion, as well as select aesthetic criticism by Robert Pippin, David Freedberg, Michel Henry, David Morgan, et al.

The last five sessions of the seminar will focus on two artistic figures whose aesthetic objectives are profoundly and productively entwined with their religious and theological concerns: Gerard Manley Hopkins and Paul Cézanne. In the case of Hopkins, our focus will be on his notebooks and nature sonnets of the mid-1870s, startlingly innovative writings whose formal and material organization traces the dynamic nature of image-consciousness as the locus where temporal and eternal planes of meaning intersect. In the case of Cézanne, we will trace the evolution of a modernist style. Understanding that new approach to visual form – and to the type of response it means to effect – not only involves tracing modernism’s self-conscious departure from mimetic or “realist” conventions; it also challenges us to discern its more oblique or implicit telos, viz., to reclaim a different, pre-modern ontology for the image.