Fall 2016 English Graduate Courses

350:698 - Seminar: Theory and the Mind-Body Problem

Course No:  350:698
Index: 18033
Distribution Requirement:  B
Thursday - 1:10 p.m.
MU 207

Seminar:  Theory and the Mind-Body Problem

Colin Jager

Within the past decade, various critical voices have been developing a set of critical paradigms that move beyond overt appeals to reason and cognition. Surface reading and other forms of post-critical interpretation seek to bypass familiar definitions of “critique” and symptomatic reading. New materialism likewise aims to supplement or surpass traditional Marxist methods of analysis. Affect theory calls attention to the communal and pre-rational nature of feelings. Finally, ecocriticism, posthumanism, and entanglement theories variously remind us that the human being cannot be extracted, conceptually or politically, from the environment(s) with which it interacts. At stake in all of these current critical interventions is one of the thorniest of problems in the western tradition: the mind-body problem. How do mind and body interact, and what is the relationship between them? Can the mind be reduced to the brain? If so, how do a few pounds of grey matter produce the rich world of phenomenal experience? This course aims, then, to explore some of the newest developments in the theoretical humanities in the context of this longer conceptual history. After initial readings in the philosophical tradition from Descartes, Spinoza, Hume, Reid, and Kant, we will turn to four 20th-century criticisms of mind-body dualism: phenomenology (Maurice Merleau-Ponty), embodied cognition (J.J. Gibson and others), philosophy of language (C.S. Peirce), and strands of feminist thought (Val Plumwood, Carolyn Merchant, Donna Haraway). Next we will consider some of the philosophical issues surrounding questions of consciousness and realism (Galen Strawson, David Chalmers, Charles Taylor, Hubert Dreyfus), before turning our attention, finally, to some more recent endeavors in the theoretical humanities: new realism and speculative realism, vitalism and entanglement, new materialism, affect theory, and eco-criticism. Readings for this final section may include work by Graham Harman, Jane Bennett, Tim Ingold, Karen Barad, Stacy Alaimo, Timothy Morton, Steven Shaviro, Rosi Braidotti, Bruno Latour, Eduardo Kohn, and Phillipe Descola. The idea is not to propose that each of these writers are saying the same thing—they clearly aren’t—but rather to demonstrate that each is working with and against a set of background conditions deeply embedded in our intellectual habits, and that getting clear on the conceptual issues can help to clarify the political stakes of these various projects.

Requirements: seminar-length paper, class presentation, and annotated bibliography.