How can we understand and study twentieth century modernity? What are the issues that the twentieth century puts on the map for the critic of this period? This seminar proposes a materialist approach to the twentieth century in a literary, cultural, and theoretical perspective. Keeping in mind the economic and historical conditions put in place by monopoly capital and later by postFordism, we will discuss a number of critical knots. These will include: changed concepts of time and space and their consequences for the subject and her body; nature at the time of imperialism and of the intense rationalization of experience; secularization and the concern with the withering of the aura; the spectacle and new regimes of visuality; work and productivity vs. laziness and waste; the modern and its proximity to revolution; technology and the human; gender and performativity; historical materialism, Gothic marxism, and postmarxism; materiality and hybridity. The texts we read show how, during the twentieth century, the discourse of Enlightenment (centered on rationalization, the domination of nature-as-other, and the dialectical relation of subject and object) becomes undone, both in the cultural and political events of the time, and in a post-Nietzschean theoretical discourse that becomes full fledged later in the century, with Foucault and Deleuze, for example. The task of the seminar is to navigate this particular cultural shift, as it is inscribed in different textualities, and to discuss the twentieth century as the age when the crisis of human exceptionalism takes the centerstage.
Readings will include texts by Walter Benjamin, Ernst Bloch, Louis Althusser, Susan Buck-Morss, Alain Badiou, David Harvey, Michael Taussig, Sanford Kwinter, Perry Anderson, Bruno Latour, Donna Haraway. Fiction by Virginia Woolf, Djuna Barnes, Andre’ Breton and others.