Course Archive

Click below for full descriptions of courses recently offered by Center faculty.

ENG648: What is Psychoanalytic Thinking?

PROFESSOR TIM DEAN

Psychoanalysis is a hermeneutic, an ethics, and a clinical practice. But it is also a particular form of thinking, one that goes beyond logics of rationality to take account of the non-rational logic of the unconscious. How does psychoanalysis alter what counts as mental work, once thinking exceeds consciousness and the cognitive? What part does the body play in thinking? What is the relation between thinking and sex? How does psychoanalysis revise Cartesian dualism?

This seminar will address these questions by reading a number of Freud’s early works — The Interpretation of Dreams, The Joke and Its Relation to the Unconscious, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality — and by considering how his various commentators have read them. The course will lead up to the Center for the Study of Psychoanalysis & Culture’s spring symposium, “What Is Sex?” (April 25, 2014), by foregrounding questions of sexuality and sexual difference. How can psychoanalysis think sexual difference without falling into heteronormative and thus ideologically biased conceptions of sexuality or sexual practice? In addition to fundamental texts by Freud, we will read work by the symposium’s presenters to help us consider these issues: Leo Bersani (The Freudian Body; Is the Rectum a Grave?); Kathryn Bond Stockton (Gender/Queer/Race theorist, University of Utah); Philippe van Haute (psychoanalyst, Belgium; Confusion of Tongues); Patricia Gherovici (psychoanalyst, Philadelphia; Please Select Your Gender); Eugenie Brinkema (film theorist, MIT; The Forms of the Affects). The symposium provides an ideal opportunity for students enrolled in the seminar to get involved with the work of the Center for the Study of Psychoanalysis & Culture; it also offers an opportunity to learn about academic professionalization by assisting with arrangements for the symposium and the published volume that will come out of it.

Please Note:

[1] This course is coordinated with Professor Steven Miller’s spring 2014 seminar; the courses are designed to be complementary. In preparation for the spring symposium, you may take either course or both.

[2]  The course may be taken Intensively or Extensively, but not as an Audit.

[3] No prior knowledge of psychoanalysis will be assumed. The course will be introductory but demanding.

[4] Course requirements include seminar participation, attendance at the spring symposium, 2 in-class presentations based on the assigned reading, & a final research paper (20-25 pp).

ENG653: Psychoanalysis and Sexual Difference

PROFESSOR STEVEN MILLER

Freud’s theory of sexual difference is the best known and most widely maligned aspects of psychoanalysis. Even people who have never read a word of Freud know that he was wrong about women; that he could not think beyond the Oedipus complex; or that psychoanalysis is inherently heteronormative. Right or wrong, however, there is no question that Freud’s writings on sexual difference remain the most unflinching attempt to determine the roles of femininity (and masculinity) in the lives of individual subjects and in ethics, aesthetics, religion, and politics. At the very least, these texts remain essential for their sheer audacity if not their truth. The best course of action, in this case as in all others, is patiently to read the texts themselves. Our seminar, then, primarily aims to provide the time and space for such a reading. It is designed, in other words, for everyone who has an interest in psychoanalysis and, perhaps even more, for those who believe that they are not interested in psychoanalysis.

In the course of the semester, we will emphasize several dimensions of the psychoanalytic theory of sexual difference:

1) Its place within “the psychoanalytic movement.” Perhaps more than any other question that Freud elaborated in his lifetime, the question of femininity began and remained the focus of collective work and debate among a large number of both male and female analysts from across Europe. To this day, in fact, the peculiar force of this question lies in the tradition of collective work whereby it was initially formulated. In this seminar, we will thus go beyond Freud to read — and hopefully have time to discuss — the work of all of his interlocutors from the 1920s and 1930s: Karl Abraham, Ruth Mack Brunswick, Helene Deutsch, Anna Freud, Karen Horney, Ernest Jones, Melanie Klein, Josine Müller, Joan Riviere, and Johann van Ophuijsen.

2) Lacan’s writings and seminars on sexual difference.

3) The relationship between Freud’s theory of sexual difference and his general theory of sexuality. Indeed, this seminar will offer students a ground-level introduction to fundamental concepts of psychoanalysis.

4) The way in which questions femininity and masculinity arise in the clinic of psychoanalysis. We will read pivotal cases histories by Freud and others that elucidate the role of femininity and masculinity in neurosis, perversion, and psychosis. It is in the clinic, before and after all, that we encounter the problem of sexual difference as it is actually lived by singular subjects.

5) The relationship between the feminine and the death drive, with special attention to the extraordinarily vexed question of feminine violence.

6) Psychoanalytic approaches to questions of transsexuality.

ENG563: Autistry

PROFESSOR JOSEPH VALENTE

Because story telling represents one of the most profoundly social practices in which human beings of all cultural backgrounds participate, the recent explosion in autobiographies, memoirs and self-profiles composed by subjects on the autistic spectrum casts, or should cast, significant doubt upon the widespread popular and scientific assumption that the essence of ASD (autistic spectrum disorder) resides in a hardwired hence incurable social incapacity or disconnection. Beginning with a critique of the cognitive, neurological and genetic evolutionist constructions of autism that promote the social dysfunction thesis (theory of mind, Kohler’s phenomena, weak central coherence etc.), my course, “Autistry,” will examine the formal, thematic and stylistic features of recent, quasi-canonical autistic life-writing, with an eye to determining

a)  how social differences, rather than social deficits, may be understood to define the autistic condition

b)  what the sources — sensory, cognitive, hermeneutical — of those social differences might be

c)  how biopolitical norms act to transform those differences into real social disabilities, while simultaneously underwriting the theories of autism that define it as innate, inherited and irremediable

d) what often stymied creative potential those social differences comprise

Taken in aggregate, the personal and developmental narratives to be studies indicate that autism manifests not in socio-symbolic default but in alternative modes of semiotic production and reception, an expressive/interpretive divergence from neurotypical norms not unrelated to the difficult verbal and visual experimentation regularly prized in the aesthetic documents and artifacts of the last century. Hence the titular pun on “artistry.”

In anticipation of the Psychoanalysis and Cognitive Disability Conference, to be organized by Professor Dean and myself here at UB, we will also be looking at some recent psychoanalytic interventions in the recent debates over the heterogeneous etiologies and potentials of autism.

COL721: Kristeva and Arendt - On Affect In Politics And Art

PROFESSOR EWA P. ZIAREK

This seminar provides both an introduction and an in-depth engagement with the thought of Julia Kristeva and  Hannah Arendt. Most explicit in Kristeva’s  volume Hannah Arendt, which opens her trilogy on the feminine genius, the encounter between these two major women theorists and philosophers raises the question of affect/language in political and aesthetic practices. Because of the widespread influence of her theories of abjection, disgust, mourning, sadness and horror, Kristeva is widely recognized as the main psychoanalytic thinker who brought the question of affect — the least often discussed dimension of the drive — into the domain of cultural analysis, which now includes the so called “affect studies.” By contrast, Arendt is reticent on the issue of affect and passion; however, in her last unfinished work, Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy, she turns to Kant’s aesthetic theory as the basis for rethinking affect and judgment in political life. In fact she proposes to reinterpret Kant’s Critique of Judgment as the missing fourth critique of political reason.

The juxtaposition of Arendt and Kristeva will provide the opportunity to examine the role of affect in a wide-ranging number of cultural phenomena: in political and aesthetic revolutions; intersubjectivity and community; political and aesthetic judgments; natality, femininity and motherhood, as well as in literary practice and interpretation. Our readings will include:  Kristeva’s Revolution in Poetic Language, Powers of HorrorBlack Sun,” “Stabat Mater,” and Hannah Arendt; and Arendt’s The Human Condition, On Revolution, and Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy.

Requirements: Active participation in class discussion, oral presentations, research paper.

ENG648: Working Through Repetition

PROFESSOR JOAN COPJEC          

When Foucault let out his famous sigh, “perhaps one day this century will be known as Deleuzian,” he was expressing admiration for two books of “exceptional merit,” Difference and Repetition and Logic of Sense. This seminar will focus on the first — arguably Deleuze’s greatest work and a great book on psychoanalysis.

We will consider Difference and Repetition’s considerable contribution to psychoanalysis, its interpretations of the death drive, pleasure, and sexuality and compare its reading to other readings of the drive. We will also focus on the question of negation and Deleuze’s sustained quarrel with Hegel.

In many ways, this seminar takes off from where my spring 2012 seminar, “Gadgets and Habits,” left off. But I do not intend to repeat myself, nor to treat the last seminar as a prerequisite for this one.

Besides Different and Repetition and a few other short texts by Deleuze, we will most likely also consider texts by the following: Freud, Lacan, Foucault, Laplanche, Žižek, and Malabou.

ENG653: Derrida, Lacan

PROFESSOR STEVEN MILLER

Perhaps because intersubjectivity has been too quickly identified with communicative action or perhaps because it has given way to facile radicalization in the form of the ethical relation to the other, it is no longer possible to measure the importance of this concept within a range of discourses — especially those of phenomenology and psychoanalysis. In this course, therefore, we will elaborate the decisive role that the question of intersubjectivity plays in the early work of both Jacques Derrida and Jacques Lacan and explore its relation to their respective approaches to philosophy, psychoanalysis, politics, and literature. For both thinks, at stake in the question of intersubjectivity leads back to “scene” or the “situation” at the basis of philosophical and psychoanalytic knowledge. After reading Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations and selections from Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, we will focus on Derrida’s “Introduction” to Husserl’s Origins of Geometry and Speech and Phenomena, Lacan’s Seminar II: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis and Seminar on The Purloined Letter, and then Derrida’s reading of Lacan in Le facteur de la verité.

ENG653: Queer Theory

PROFESSOR TIM DEAN                                               

This course examines the founding texts and concepts of the heterogeneous field of study known as queer theory. We will begin by considering the premise that “queer” is more than a catchall term or synonym for “lesbian and gay,” and we will proceed by taking seriously the various critiques of identity that have emerged during the past half century. We will try to grasp the conceptual and political implications of “queer” as not a new identity but that which undermines identity. This is not a course in lesbian and gay studies, neither is it a course in cultural studies or popular representations of sexuality, though we will try to consider the full range of contemporary erotic practices.

In order to trace a genealogy of the concept of queerness, we will return to the beginning of the twentieth century and the basic texts of psychoanalysis, primarily Freud’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. After reading Foucault’s introductory volume of The History of Sexuality as something other than a critique of psychoanalysis, we will assess how sexuality might be analyzed outside the framework of psychology, as well as beyond that of identity. We will pay attention to the imbrication of sexuality with race, class, and nationality; and in thinking about sexual embodiment we will consider the intersection of queer theory with disability theory.

In addition to Freud and Foucault, reading includes work by: Hilton Als, Lauren Berlant, Leo Bersani, Judith Butler, Arnold I. Davidson, Tim Dean, Teresa de Lauretis, Samuel Delany, Lisa Duggan, Lee Edelman, Elizabeth Grosz, Judith Halberstam, David Halperin, Scott herring, Guy Hocquenghem, Robert McRuer, Gayle Rubin, Eve Sedgwick, Michael Warner, Monique Witting.

ENG648: Gadgets and Habits

PROFESSOR JOAN COPJEC

This seminar will be a study of the psychology and technology of habit and attention as they developed in the late 19th and early 20th century and as they formed the background of Freud’s speculative theory of drive.

We will attend to the problem of attention as it arose in response to the distractions and attractions of modern life. In this context modern subjectivity came to be conceived as a capacity to tune out — to shield itself against — stimuli, or: in Walter Benjamin’s words, as “reception in the state of distraction.”

Jonathan Crary’s art historical, Deleuze and Bergson-inspired Suspensions of Perception will be considered alongside Felix Ravaisson’s Of Habit and Freud’s essays on the drive. We will also look at some work on early cinema, conceived by film theorists as the “cinema of attractions,” and some of Bernard Stiegler’s work on cinematic time. In other words, cinema will be the exemplary modern “gadget” or technology on which our theoretical investigations will focus.

The main theoretical question will be: at what point — and how — does the capacity to tune out cede its powers to the prosthetic devices designed to assist it. 

COL713: Luce Irigaray

PROFESSOR EWA P. ZIAREK

This seminar provides an in-depth engagement with the work of Luce Irigaray, one of the most influential and the most controversial feminist theorists of sexual difference. In a 1995 interview, Irigaray describes three phases, or three aspects, of her work on sexual difference. The first one is often associated with a feminist critique of the monologism and indifference of the Western philosophies of the subject, which is incapable of acknowledging the feminine otherwise as a deficient copy or a negation of the hegemonic masculine subjectivity. Often associated with the experimental form of Irigaray’s writing, the second aspect of her thought is intertwined with an attempt to recover and redefine female subjectivity and the female imaginary beyond the masculine parameters. And finally the third, and the most controversial, element of her thinking represents an ongoing effort to create an ethics and a culture of sexual difference. Beginning with the early work of Irigaray, in particular with This Sex Which Is Not One (1977), this seminar will trace the evolution of Irigaray’s thought. Our  readings will include, among others, An Ethics of Sexual Difference, Je Tu Nous: Toward a Culture of Difference; I Love to You; Être Deux; Sharing the World, as well as some of Irigaray’s most influential critics and interpreters, ranging from Spivak to Butler.

Requirements: active participation in seminar discussions, class presentations, research paper.

ENG648: The Critical and the Clinical

PROFESSOR STEVEN MILLER

This seminar borrows its title from a book by Gilles Deleuze (Critique et clinique) in order to pose anew questions about the relation between psychoanalysis and critical theory. For political reasons relating to the hegemony of brain science over the field of psychological research, Freudian psychoanalysis has in recent times been studied primarily in those departments of the university where the critical project — the project upon which the institution of the modern university itself was founded — remains an urgent task. However, the work done in such quarters has primarily upheld psychoanalysis as the analysis of culture, rather than as technique, or clinic. Although a series of recent publications, such as Bruce Fink’s A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis, or Joël Dor’s The Clinical Lacan, represent laudable attempts to remedy this historical oversight, one begins to sense that the question of “theory and technique” has been ill posed. The seminar will therefore seek to elucidate the question of the relation between the critical and the clinical, starting from the assumption that  the clinic is not simply the special domain of “clinicians,” but is somehow essential to grasping the specific critical project of psychoanalysis. Lacan suggested as much when he insisted, not only that the unconscious is structured like a language, but also that this language is an encrypted address to the analyst, and then formalized the link between structure and address in the “discourse of the analyst.” We will explore two main approaches to the question. First, we will try to discover whether psychoanalytic technique itself implies a critical project. To this end we will read selections from Freud’s Studies on Hysteria, Papers on technique, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, The Interpretation of Dreams, Lacan’s first seminar, and his écrits on “treatment,” in addition to some works of Sándor Ferenczi, such as his “clinical diary.” Then we will examine Lacan’s engagement with Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason. Secondly, in addition to reading Foucault’s Birth of the Clinic, we will discuss the work of several philosophers (Nietzsche, Rosenzweig, Deleuze, Derrida) whose engagement with the philosophical tradition turns upon a thinking of the clinic.

ENG648: Psychoanalytic Criticism

PROFESSOR JOAN COPJEC

In this seminar we will read Lacan’s most overtly political seminar, “The Underside of Psychoanalysis,” which was delivered in 1969-1970 in response to the student uprisings of May ’68. This is the seminar in which the famous “four discourses” are developed, naming the “university discourse,” alongside the “discourse of the master,” the “discourse of the hysteric” and the “discourse of the analyst.”

Lacan does not attempt to quash the student rebellion, as some conservative old fossils did, nor does he side with the radicals as some avuncular, liberal-minded professors attempted to do. Rather he out-radicalizes the students, accusing them of being unwitting flunkies of the university against which they pretended to be in revolt. Of all the lessons Lacan will draw in the seminar — philosophical, political, analytic — none is more fascinating or timely than the one that exposes the links between the university and capitalism.

The focus will be on this rich seminar, but we will also read a number of texts by theorists who were students in May ’68: Jacques-Alain Miller, Alain Badiou, Jean-Luc Nancy, Jacques Rancière, among others.

ENG583: Poetics of Difficulty

PROFESSOR TIM DEAN

This course investigates different forms of poetic “difficulty,” understood broadly as the workings of language at the outer reaches of intelligibility. With “difficulty” as our rubric, we will consider the poetry and poetics of Emily Dickinson and Hart Crane, asking questions such as the following:

—    What is the place and function of “difficulty” in modernist aesthetics?


—    How has "difficulty" come to be aligned with the avant-garde?


—    How should we understand tensions between “difficulty” and democratic access?


—    How does the question of poetic “difficulty” map onto public/private distinctions?


—    How does “difficulty” challenge conventional forms of publication?


—    How might categories of gender and sexuality inflect our understanding of “difficulty”?


—    What is the relation between “difficulty” and queerness?


—    What is the relation between “difficulty” and mental illness?


—    How might poetic “difficulty” be understood as a dialect of the linguistic unconscious?


—    How might we develop an ethical as well as a hermeneutical relation to “difficult” poetry?

In coming to grips with different kinds of poetic “difficulty,” we will read a number of philosophical as well as poetic texts, asking both how “difficult” theory might connect with “difficult” poetry, and how certain poetries might be understood as forms of theory in their own right — how, that is, “difficult” poetry manifests heuristic and speculative values that illuminate theoretical problems (as well as the reverse). In other words, we will be reading a lot of theory as well as a lot of poetry.

Dickinson and Crane will offer us test cases, and we will attempt to become familiar with their canons, their careers, and the critical industries produced around their work. However, students enrolled in the course may write final papers on “difficult” poets other than Dickinson and Crane.

Visits from poets Lucie Brock-Broido (The Master Letters) and Allen Grossman will be integrated into the course.

Course Requirements: Participation in class discussion, oral presentation, and final research paper (25 pages)

ENG648: Affectivity and Political Radicalism

PROFESSORS JOAN COPJEC and ERNESTO LACLAU

This seminar is about politics and passions and the various ways they intersect. The underlying premise is that political radicalism, in its classical forms and as exhibited by “new social movements,” demands analysis not just of events, acts, and ideology but also of the passions that shape and are shaped by them.

 We will begin with a definition of the subject, with presentations by both Copjec and Laclau.

 The section of political radicalism presented by Professor Laclau will address the changes in the notion of political subjectivity which were involved in the strategic oscillation of the radical political discourse of the West. The thesis is that strategic mutations have always involved considerable changes in the ontological presuppositions on which political action is based. Most of these changes are not explicit and have to be traced through new articulations of the various moments of strategic calculation. Reference will be made to the class-based discourse of classical Marxism, to the various versions of Leninism, anarchism, the Gramscian turn, and finally to more contemporary attempts at a new approach to politics: Fanon on anti-colonialism, 1968 mobilizations, multiculturalism, Italian autonomism, anti-globalization movements, etc. A set of proposals will be put forward concerning the notions of antagonism, politico-hegemonic articulations, and strategic issues concerning subjectivity in the contemporary world.

 In her section of the seminar, Professor Copjec will focus on two major concepts: catharsis and shame. We will discuss the reasons why a catharsis of the emotions became a political and aesthetic goal during the classical period; why catharsis was taken up and abandoned by psychoanalysis; and how some theorists are attempting to recuperate the notion today. We will then shift our attention to the sudden explosion of interest in the phenomenon of shame in an attempt to determine what motivates this interest in queer theory and elsewhere and develop our own understanding of this quintessentially social passion.

ENG653: Queer Theory

PROFESSOR TIM DEAN

This course examines the founding texts of the new, heterogeneous field of study known as queer theory. We will begin by considering the premise that queer is more than a catchall term or synonym for gay and lesbian, and we will proceed by taking seriously the various critiques of identity that emerged in France during the past half century. This is not a course in lesbian and gay studies, neither is it a course in cultural studies or popular representations of sexuality, though we will try to consider the full range of contemporary erotic practices. In order to trace a genealogy of the concept of queerness, we will return to the beginning of the twentieth century and the basic texts of psychoanalysis, primarily Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. From Freud we will move to Michel Foucault, reading all three volumes of The History of Sexuality and essays on sexual ethics and the care of the self. We will also read one novel, Allan Stein, by Matthew Stadler. 

Topics for discussion include:

—    “gay” versus “queer”

—    essentialist versus constructionist accounts of sexuality


—    minoritizing versus universalizing views of homosexuality


—    the historical emergence of the concept of sexuality


—    techniques of normalization


—    the authority of experience


—    politics beyond identity politics


—    the aesthetics of self-formation, self-care, self-replication, and self-dissolution


—    polymorphous perversity


—    psychoanalytic versus psychological concepts of fantasy and desire


—    transgender phenomena


—    intergenerational sex


—    the range and limits of queer critique

Secondary readings include work by: Lauren Berlant, Leo Bersani, Judith Butler, Arnold I. Davidson, Tim Dean, Teresa de Lauretis, Samuel Delany, Lisa Duggan, Elizabeth Grosz, David Halperin, Guy Hocquenghem, Gayle Rubin, Eve Sedgwick, Michael Warner, Montique Wittig.

ENG648: Psychoanalysis and the Politics of Truth

PROFESSOR STEVEN MILLER

This seminar will revolve primarily around the detailed discussion of Lacan’s Seminar XVII (1969-70), L’Envers de la psychanalyse — soon to appear in an English translation under the title, “The Other Side of Psychoanalysis.” This seminar has already become well known as the place where Lacan first elaborates the complex machinery of the so-called “four discourses” — of the Master, the Hysteric, the University, and the Analyst. The growing number of recent commentaries (published and unpublished) on the seminar-certain of which I hope we will be able to take into account-have rightly stressed its timeliness: although Lacan had already spoken of the events of May ’68 while they were happening during his seminar of the previous year (D’un Autre à l’autre), his later seminar mounts a systematic critique of the political economy of the university in response to the emergence of the student as a political actor. And yet, this critique is only one limited aspect of the seminar. If the seminar as a whole can be read as a response to a specific political rupture, it is a response that is wide-ranging and untimely (in the strong Nietzschean sense). For Lacan, the events of ‘68 ultimately have the status of a symptom that shows that “the political” has become inseparable from the field of knowledge production, modern techno-science — a field which the clinical practice of psychoanalysis has already transformed, making the scientific project turn precariously upon the desire for a knowledge about the truth of the subject. The attempt to elaborate the politics of this desire leads Lacan (once again) “back to Freud,” or even beyond Freud (the Freud of the Oedipus Complex) to the discourse of the hysteric. In her discourse, Freud encounters the stakes of transference as the desire to know, while Lacan finds the traces of a political epistemology that might found a critique of the present. Interestingly, the way that leads toward such an epistemology (precisely because the hysteric is the “guide”) goes through a decisive revaluation of the status of the symbolic father.

In addition to our reading of Lacan’s seminar, therefore, we will approach this whole series of problems through discussion certain early texts of Freud on hysteria, transference, and analytic technique (Studies on Hysteria, Analysis of a Case of Hysteria); certain later texts on politics and the father (Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, Moses and Monotheism); various texts on logic and epistemology (Hegel, Heidegger, Russell, Frege, Wittgenstein, Benjamin, Deleuze, Foucault, Badiou, and J.-A. Miller); and a few on the function of knowledge in the labor-process (Aristotle, Marx, Nancy).

Requirements: active participation in class discussions, 20-minute oral presentation, 25-page seminar paper.

COL734: Feminist Theories of Natality

PROFESSOR EWA P. ZIAREK

This seminar will explore Hannah Arendt’s influential theory of natality, while questioning her distinctions between public and private, bios and zoe, biological and historical time, work and action, which structure her work and ultimately limit the notion of natality itself. Although these distinctions have been already questioned by feminist philosophers and critics, this course will complicate previous discussions by considering natality in two seemingly incompatible contexts: feminist psychoanalysis (in particular, the work of Kristeva and Irigaray) and biopolitics, which targets the life of populations and individual bodies (in particular, Agamben’s Homo Sacer). We will explore whether and to what extent the enabling political condition of natality (the second order, i.e. the entry to the political) is indebted to the first order of the libidinal “experience,” time and work of the female bodies engaged in the creation and preservation of the conditions for the public speech, thought and action. The fundamental questions we will consider is how democratic politics of natality has to be reformulated once the full impact of the biopolitical is taken into account. And conversely, how we can reformulate Agamben’s notion of potentiality in terms of natality.

Our reading set will include selected texts by Arendt, Kristeva, Irigaray and Agamben. Requirements will include seminar presentations, participation in class discussions, and the final research paper.

ENG648: Rhetoric, Psychoanalysis, and Politics

PROFESSOR JOAN COPJEC and ERNESTO LACLAU

The aim of the seminar is to analyze the rhetorical logics structuring a plurality of contemporary discursive spaces. In the last 50 years there has been a rhetorical turn in many field, including epistemology, philosophy, psychoanalysis, political theory, mass communications and literary theory. The form of this turn has been a putting into question of the possibility, for theoretical thought, of generating its own closure without an appeal to tropological  movements that introduce rhetoricity into the very structuration of the conceptual medium.

This seminar will systematically explore the various forms of this rhetorical turn. In the first section we will present an outline of the transition from Old to New Rhetoric — i.e., the constitution of a rhetorical corpus in the classical period and its continuity until Romanticism; the reasons for its decline in the early 19th century; and, finally, the conditions of the emergence of a New Rhetoric in the last 50 years. The remainder of the seminar will be devoted to a reconsideration of key concepts of psychoanalysis and political theory in light of these developments in rhetoric. The categories of the real, fantasy, and sexual difference will be the main focus of the psychoanalytic section, while sovereignty, representation, and hegemony will be the focus of the discussions of politics and political theory. Along the way, a number of topics, essential and tangential, will be touched on, including the relation between rhetoric and ontology and the role of metaphor in contemporary epistemology and the philosophy of science.

The first section will be taught jointly by Copjec and Laclau; the psychoanalytic section by Copjec, and the political section by Laclau.

ENG683: The Films of Abbas Kiarostami

PROFESSOR JOAN COPJEC

This seminar is an introduction to the films of the contemporary Iranian filmmaker, Abbas Kiarostami. In recent years his highly-laurelled films, exhibited at major international film festivals, have brought Iranian cinema to the attention of the world. My intention is to retain some attention for this national cinema while focusing on Kiarostami’s work, which remains unique despite having developed out of similar conditions and sharing many features and concerns.

Among the notable features of Kiarostami’s films are their exquisitely beautiful images of the Iranian landscape; their pared-down action and radical elimination of all mythological elements of traditional Iranian literature and ideology; and their often documentary format. These features have led many critics to compare Kiarostami to the Italian neo-realist, Roberto Rossellini, yet the conditions of Kiarostami's cinema are quite different. We will examine the critical comparison and the background of Iranian culture and politics that throw it into question.

Students signing up for the seminar will be required to attend the film screenings scheduled for the undergraduate course, “Iranian Cinema,” which meets Thursdays at 3:30 pm. (N.B.: you may not take this seminar if you are unavailable for Thursday’s meeting.) Wednesday’s seminar meeting will be devoted to screenings of other Kiarostami films not shown in the undergraduate class; to individual presentations by students; and to discussions of related theoretical materials. These meetings will often be shortened to compensate for the extra hours of classroom time required.

ENG679: Basic Concepts in Psychoanalysis

PROFESSOR TIM DEAN

This course functions as an introduction to psychoanalytic theory, specifically, Freud and the French rereadings of Freud in Lacan and Laplanche. We will focus particularly closely on Freud’s writings on culture and aesthetics, guided by the question of how psychoanalysis can be used non-reductively for literary and cultural study. Thus we will consider psychoanalytic accounts of fantasy, sublimation, transference, the drive, the uncanny (and theories of aesthetic affect), the enigmatic signifier, and the cultural unconscious, asking not how psychoanalysis can be applied to literature but rather how a psychoanalytic account of subjectivity might revise our sense of how we — as readers, viewers, critics, collectors, and teachers — relate to aesthetic and cultural forms. 

Readings by Freud include Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Civilization and Its Discontents, Totem and Taboo, Papers on Technique, “The Uncanny,” and “Negation”; readings by Lacan include The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis (Seminar XI) and The Ethics of Psychoanalysis (Seminar VII); readings by Laplanche include Life and Death in Psychoanalysis, Essays on Otherness, and (with J.B. Pontalis) “Fantasy and the Origins of Sexuality.”  Secondary  readings by Leo Bersani, Peter Brooks, Helene Cixous, Joan Copjec, Mladen Dolar, Teresa de Lauretis, Shoshana Felman, Neil Hertz, Julia Kristeva, Jacques-Alain Miller, Charles Shepherdson, and Slavoj Žižek, among others.

This course is open to students with minimal previous experience with psychoanalytic theory, as well as to more experienced graduate students.

ENG648: The Destitution of the One

PROFESSOR JOAN COPJEC

Okay, call it “The Impersonal.” That’s what it seems to be called by a number of thinkers at the moment. That’s what Leo Bersani calls it in Caravaggio’s Secrets. We will begin with a reading of this text and some essays by Laplanche on the concept of the “enigmatic signifier” to try to determine the genesis of the notion of the impersonal from this particular psychoanalytic route. The notion seems to result from the fierce attack on the ego which Lacan initiated, but rather than remaining at the level of simple assault, this “impersonal turn” signals a positive attempt to articulate what the subject is beyond ego. The ego has fascinated us for so long, however, that everything else seems colorless, vague. Bersani’s book is itself rather enigmatic, on first blush. But beneath this colorless, “generic” exterior may lie the sexiest nexus of ideas to come along in a long time.

After looking carefully at Bersani and essays by others who have begun to follow in his path, I want to turn to another enigmatic texts, a philosophical one this time: Plato’s Parmenides. Here we encounter a destitution of the One that undoubtedly had consequences for psychoanalytic thought, eventually grounding Lacan’s assault on the ego.

ENG648: Freud/Lacan — The Fundamentals

PROFESSOR JOAN COPJEC

Psychoanalysis is, once again, under attack by people who do not know the first thing about it. Rather than confront a series of ludicrous charges intent on linking Freud to the faddish “recovered memory syndrome” and other pseudo-scientific notions, our response will be to confront psychoanalytic theory directly. Does it even make sense, for example, to speak of recovering memories in the Freudian system? No, it does not. Freud is not Plato. And traumatic memories record events that never happened and for that reason cannot be recalled.

Since no book has done more to set the record straight than Jacques Lacan’s Seminar XI: The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, it will become our central text. The first published translation of a Lacan seminar, it has by now become familiar to many. We will assume that it is possible to take a look at it once again and find fresh insights into it as well as into Freud, whom we will read alongside Lacan. The unconscious and repetition; the gaze as drive object; the death drive; the Other: these are concepts you have no doubt encountered in your reading. But do you know what difference it makes to the notion of the unconscious to say that it is repetition? Is there any way that it would make sense to designate the gaze as male? Whose gaze is it, anyway? What impact does it have on the great deus ex machina of feminist theory: the distinction between sex and gender? For that matter, what impact does it have on current cultural studies notions of the body, or: what is a “Freudian body”? Does the Other exist? What would it mean for ethics to answer “no”? The most basic question we will ask is: what is original to psychoanalysis, where can we locate the rupture between philosophy and psychoanalysis, for example?

If we do our job properly and really take up Lacan's seminar as if for the first time, we ought to accommodate first-time readers along with umpteenth-time readers in our discussions. As a matter of fact, this will be the criterion by which I will measure the success or failure of the seminar.

ENG648: Deleuze on Cinema

PROFESSOR JOAN COPJEC

The primary focus of this seminar is the two-volume contribution of Gilles Deleuze to the theory of cinema: The Movement-Image and The Time-Image. But we will also take a look at other theories of film in order to understand what Deleuze is not saying or, more polemically, what he is opposing. Clearly, he wanted to steer the theory of film in a different direction from the one Christian Metz and Screen staked out from the mid-1970s through the end of the 1980s. The Metzian/Screen position is so extensive, however, that we will do little more than sketch it out through readings of a few isolated texts.  We will pay more attention to the work of Andre Bazin and Stanley Cavell — to What Is Cinema? and The World Viewed — who offer distinctive views of cinema.  Short films or film clips will be screened from time to time in class. At other times I will ask you to view videos or DVD’s on your own, since we will need to reserve class time for discussion of the theory.

ENG648: Women and Ontology

PROFESSOR JOAN COPJEC

Beginning with a screening of Straub & Huillet’s History Lessons and one or two films by Pasolini, we will discuss the notion of history that tolerates the strange anachronisms that people these films and define their very structure. Alongside the films, we will read Freud’s Moses and Monotheism, some essays by the political philosopher, Claude Lefort, and Alain Badiou’s St. Paul.

But history, event, the real, the semblant will not be our only concerns. We will want to know how the body might be said to incarnate infinity and what all these temporal wanderers have to do with such a body.