Fall 2007 Course Offerings

SHUM 404 The Task of the Cleric: Improvisations in Discipline

(also SPAN 404, COML 406.01) 
Fall. 4 credits. Limited to 15 students.  
S. Pinet.  
T 10:10-12:05

This seminar will explore three main topics –translation, cartography and economy– through two thirteenth-century Spanish works of mester de clerecía, the Libro de Alexandre, and the Libro de Apolonio. While all of these are decidedly Spanish (Castilian) works, their obvious links to a general Western European romance and epic tradition offer ample opportunity to reflect on questions of sources, authority, originality, as well as the close analysis of the practices that reveal developments –especially in the visual arts, politics, and economy– contemporary to their composition. Readings will include a variety of theoretical materials on translation, space/place, cartography, and political economy by authors such as Michel de Certeau, Marcel Mauss, Paul Zumthor, George Steiner, Walter Benjamin and Fredric Jameson, among others.

Simone Pinet is Assistant Professor of Spanish and Medieval Studies at Cornell University. She has published articles on the Poem of the Cid, the Libro de AlexandreAmadís de Gaula, Cervantes’s theater and Don Quijote, on a variety of topics such as maps, monstrosity, spatiality, poetics, tapestry-weaving, chivalric ideology, islands, translation, and the emergence of the novel.  She is also the author of the chapter on literature and cartography in Spain in volume three of the History of Cartography series, of a book on the figure of Merlin in medieval Spanish literature (El baladro del sabio Merlín, 1997), and another on insularity and fiction in medieval and early modern Spain (Archipelagoes, under review). Her study on space in the Poem of the Cid received the John K. Walsh award for best article published in La corónica in 2005. Her current research concerns mester de clerecía.


SHUM 408 Improvisational Economies

also ANTHR 407) 
Fall.  4 credits.  Limited to 15 students.  
J. Mantz. 
R 2:30-4:25. 

Most of us are familiar with Marx’s arguments about the dehumanizing character of the industrial labor process, and how the commodification of labor in modern capitalism has forged systems of economic and social alienation, inequality, and regimentation. The most important implication of this argument for humanistic studies of political economy is the degree to which the capitalist labor process removes (or at least radically stratifies) the human potential for creativity and free expression. Critics of this notion sometimes argue that the categories of industrial labor that Marx discussed in the 19th century have less saliency in today’s post-industrial, or more recently, digital world; and new opportunities for human creativity and expression are emerging as we enter a new phase of informational experience. While the legitimacy of this claim is confronted by the fact that access to the liberties promised by digital technologies is highly disproportionate on any global scale, it is certainly true that the concept of labor needs rethinking for the contemporary era. In reworking the concept of labor for the digital age, this seminar considers the extent to which labor has been a site of human contestation over meaning and purpose; how laborers have forged new systems of economic improvisation and creativity, even under the most mechanized and exploitative of regimes; and what the impact of these divergent human labor experiences are for our contemporary world. We begin with a discussion of the different ways in which the concept of labor has been categorized and what implications the disciplinary division of labor has had for it. We then turn our attention to an analysis of socioeconomic types of labor, with the intent of exploring how different kinds of productive experiences are regimented, as well as how human beings in myriad ways attempt to establish meaning in their economic lives. Finally, we consider past and present attempts to obviate the state or regulatory authority altogether, and rely instead on innovation, creativity, and cooperation in more voluntaristic labor regimes.

Beginning in 2007, Jeffrey W. Mantz is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at George Mason University. From 2003-07, he was an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at California State University, Stanislaus, and from 2001-03, he was an Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Vassar College. He holds a PhD from the University of Chicago. His research interests are in the political, economic, and cultural changes underlying the digital age. He conducts research in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Caribbean, for which he has received many grants and published a number of articles.

SHUM 415 Environmental Interventions

(also STS 415, INFO 419, VISST 415) 
Fall.  4 credits.  Limited to 15 students.  
P. Sengers.  
T 2:30-4:25

This course explores the environment as a scene and technology design as a tool for improvisational political action.    We will trace the work of artists, designers, and programmers who are expanding the role of information technology (IT) from a modernist tool for representing and controlling the environment to an open-ended medium for situated consciousness-raising, networking, and reflecting about the environment.   These systems aim for a new relationship to the environment: rather than containing the environment or environmental problems, they make room for more flexible, improvisational interactions between humans and the natural environment and its inhabitants.    Indeed, environmental problems are compelling, but difficult or perhaps impossible to fully model on a global scale; they require us, instead, to improvise tactics and actions in response to ongoing problems and opportunities. We will analyze the cultural and political issues involved with the environment and their potential for IT-based interventions using a variety of on-the-ground strategies.  The course will include a collaborative group project leveraging students from different disciplinary backgrounds to develop an environmental intervention of their own.  No experience with computers or other technologies is required.

I am an assistant professor in Information Science and Science & Technology Studies at Cornell, where I lead the Culturally Embedded Computing group.   I develop new kinds of interactive technology that respond to and encourage critical reflection on the place of technology in culture. I use insights from cultural analysis of IT to identify and rethink the assumptions underlying technologies, to build systems to support critical reflection on emotional and social experiences, and to develop new techniques for designing systems, including the use of self-experiment in design and new forms of evaluation for open-ended systems. Previously, I worked as a research scientist in the Media Arts Research Studies group at the German National Computer Science Research Center (GMD) and was a Fulbright Scholar at the Center for Art and Media Technology (ZKM) in Karlsruhe, Germany. In August 1998, I graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with a self-defined interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Artificial Intelligence and Cultural Theory.


SHUM 416 Poetry and Totality

(also COML 406.02, ENGL 407.01)
Fall.  4 credits.  Limited to 15 students.  
C. Nealon.  
W 2:30-4:25.  
For centuries, the humanities have offered "poetry" as the metaphor for what distinguishes them from the sciences. In this metaphor, "poetry" is meant to indicate an illuminating totality of experience, a kind of knowledge that gives you a holistic  
understanding of the world. But from the time of the Cold War, "totality" has come to be seen as a figure for totalitarianism, or for the shutting-down of open-ended, ongoing experience. Both ideas about totality are deeply ingrained in contemporary poetry, though they are contradictory. How do contemporary poets navigate this contradiction? To answer this question, we will read a variety of recent and contemporary poetry, as well as theories of totality, including Agamben, Arrighi, Debord, Hardt and Negri, Jameson, Postone, Shutt, and Zizek.

Christopher Nealon is Associate Professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of Foundlings: Lesbian and Gay Historical Emotion Before Stonewall (2001), and The Joyous Age(poems, 2004). His current work is in contemporary aesthetics and critical theory.


SHUM 418 On the Inner Voice

also COML 406.03, ENGL 407.03, FREN 418, COGST 418)
Fall. 4 credits. Limited to 15 students. 
D. Riley. 
R 12:20-2:15.  
Is the ‘inner voice’ spontaneous, imposed, or a dictated improvisation? We shall be reflecting on this topic [in its poetic, but more often in its extra-literary incarnations] via readings in phenomenology, the history of aphasiology and the history of consciousness, recent developments in neurology, and in philosophies of language and of the self.  The emphasis will range from theories of the inner voice’s location, to its vulnerability or durability.  Detailed readings will be suggested on a weekly basis, as the course evolves.

Denise Riley is currently Professor of Literature with Philosophy at the University of East Anglia, UK. Her recent writing is concerned with the immediate emotionality of language, and has included investigations in the philosophy of language, in social philosophy, and the nature of self-presentation and irony. Her main books are War in the Nursery: Theories of Child and Mother [1983]; ‘Am I that Name?’ Feminism and the Category of Women in History [1988]; The Words of Selves: Identification, Solidarity, Irony [2000]; The Force of Language, with J-J. Lecercle [2004]; and Impersonal Passion: Language As Affect[2005].  She has published many collections of poetry, including Penguin Modern Poets 10, with Douglas Oliver and Ian Sinclair, [1996], and Denise Riley: Selected Poems [2000].  She edited Poets on Writing; Britain 1970-1991[1992] and co-edited the Language, Discourse, Society Reader [2004].  She was formerly Writer in Residence at the Tate Gallery, and will be working at Tate Britain on a project on the sublime.  Her teaching includes European modernism and art movements, European philosophy, and poetry and poetics.  She has also taught on stoicism, for the London Consortium. Now she hopes to extend her work on the nature and history of understandings of the inner voice and inner speech, and how they enter into our ideas of what’s interior and what’s outside.


SHUM 419 Imagining Contemporary Asia

also ENGL 407.02, ASIAN 423)
Fall.  4 credits.  Limited to 15 students.  
W. Wee.  
R 10:10-12:05

This seminar will revisit some of the arguments on globalization and cultural change/re-formation that have emerged, and reconsider them in relation to rapid development in East Asia since the 1980s that has led to the significance of “East Asia” as a region. Specifically, we will consider the fact that globalization creates/strengthens trade within regions and how increased regional trade circulations may contribute toward an emergent and improvised cultural imagining of an Asian Modern in the realms of cultural identity, cultural production, and visual art exhibitions. The seminar will keep in mind that the omnibus term “Asia” is a historic colonial/postcolonial problematic, and made to cover a great range of cultural and social diversity. There will be an examination of the critical scholarship that has emerged from East Asia itself since the 1990s. The “framing” readings will range widely and include Chen Kuan-Hsing, Sun Ge, Wang Hui, Koichi Iwabuchi, Fredric Jameson, Peter Katzenstein, and Tsuang-yi Michelle Huang. The seminar will then proceed to look at various artistic productions—“high” and “mass” cultural products—and consider the contrasting and similar attitudes towards a putative contemporary “East Asia”.

C. J. Wee Wan-ling is an associate professor of English at the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He has published books on British literature and culture in relation to colonialism (Culture, Empire, and the Question of Being Modern, 2003), modernization in Asia and culture in relation to globalization (The Asian Modern: Culture, Capitalist Development, Singapore, in press), and edited an anthology on cultural change in Southeast Asia in the 1980s-90s (Local Cultures and the “New Asia”: The State, Culture, and Capitalism in Southeast Asia, 2002). He is co-editing, with Jon McKenzie and Heike Roms, an anthology that addresses the recent global development of cultural performance research (Contesting Performance: Global Genealogies of Research, in preparation). His current research focuseson the relationship between contemporary visual art, theatre, and urban culture in Singapore in relation to the larger region.


SHUM 477 Improvising Across Disciplines

(also HIST 477/677, COML 477)
Fall.  4 credits.  Limited to 15 students.  
D. LaCapra.  
M 2:30-4:25

How does one best understand the concept and practice of improvisation?  How is it related to processes of repetition, displacement, conversion, trauma, and radical change?  How does one situate the notion of creation ex nihilo, and does it refer to an improvisational form?  Is cliché the opposite of improvisation or does a crucial form of improvisation involve the recycling and possible renewal of cliché?  What is the differential role of improvisation in religion, philosophy, politics, literature, and historiography?  Is improvisation a specifically human capacity, serving as another criterion to divide the human from the animal?  In addressing these questions, the seminar will pay particular attention to the (improvisational?) relation between the secular and the sacred, including the recent turn to the “postsecular” as well as the more or less “creative” return of political theology.  Readings include Flaubert, Nietzsche, Beckett, Heidegger, Woolf, Kristeva, Derrida, Agamben, Badiou, and Zizek.  Some attention will also be paid to the music of Art Tatum.

Dominick LaCapra has a joint appointment in History and Comparative Literature and is a member of the graduate field of Romance Studies and the Program in Jewish Studies.  His primary interests are in modern European intellectual and cultural history as well as in critical theory.  He has taught and published on a diversity of topics and major intellectual figures (among them Durkheim, Derrida, Foucault, Heidegger, Habermas, Wittgenstein, Stendhal, Flaubert, Woolf, Mann, and Gaddis).  He has also worked in the areas of trauma and Holocaust studies.  The most recent of his twelve books are History and Reading (2000); Writing History, Writing Trauma (2001); and History in Transit: Experience, Identity, Critical Theory (2004).