Spring 2011 Course Offerings

SHUM 4951 Photography and Decolonial Imagination

(also ARTH 4951, ASRC 4951, COML 4067, HIST 4951, VISST 4951)
Spring.  4 credits.  
Limited to 15 students.  
J. Bajorek  
M 12:20 - 2:15

This seminar will examine the role played by photography – historically and in the present – in the complex and layered visual, public, and political spaces of several modern West African polities. We will draw on recent work in art history, visual anthropology, urban sociology, and African studies, while also attending to the social, cultural, and political dimensions of aesthetic and philosophical approaches to photography. Historical data will be considered in light of broader theoretical questions, including questions about photography’s power to foster investments by non-state actors in official and state-sponsored practices of the image and its power, alternatively, to produce visual publics with non-state investments; the aesthetics of anti-colonial and independence movements; the relationship between popular and state-sponsored photographic practices; broader questions about cultural and political dimensions, as well as technical or technological dimensions, of memory regimes. Specific topics to be addressed include African exceptionalisms in photography theory (Okwui Enwezor, Angelo Micheli, Erika Nimis, Olu Oguibe, Christopher Pinney, Stephen Sprague); the relationship between theories of photography and theories of technology or, conversely, theories of perception and of imagination (Roland Barthes, Walter Benjamin, Henri Bergson, Liam Buckley, Elizabeth Edwards, Jean-Paul Sartre); Ariella Azoulay’s theory of the ‘civil contract’ and possibilities for its application in diverse geographic and cultural spaces; specific problems confronting photographic archives in postcolonial contexts and spaces; the explosion of ‘African photography’ on the international art market; the place of photographic archives in multi-layered discourses, emergent both on and off the continent, about modernity, self-fashioning, and national and cultural memory. 

Jennifer Bajorek is Senior Lecturer in Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths’ College, University of London. Previously, she was a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities at the University of California, Berkeley, having completed her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine. She has written and published on a broad array of topics in comparative literature, philosophy, and critical and social theory, and on photography and photography theory. Her publications include Counterfeit Capital: Poetic Labor and Revolutionary Irony (Stanford, 2009); with Eric Trudel and Charlotte Mandell, an edition and translation of the literary theory and political writings of Jean Paulhan, On Poetry and Politics (Illinois, 2008); essays in Critical InquiryDiacritics, and History of Photography; and translations of Sarah Kofman, Bernard Stiegler, and Jacques Derrida. Her current research is on aesthetic and political dimensions of photography, with special interest in practices and conceptions of photography that go beyond the image or the field of the visual and in the emergence and disintegration of photographic visual publics. In a series of linked writing and teaching projects, she is exploring the significance of non-European photographic traditions for our understanding of the aesthetic dimensions of political phenomena such as nationalism and democracy. She has ongoing projects with photographers and photographers’ archives, personal and family collections, and cultural institutions in Senegal and Benin.

SHUM 4952 Exotic Scents: Cross-Cultural Aesthetics of Smell

(also ASIAN 4495) 
Spring.  4 credits.  
Limited to 15 students.  
J. McHugh
T 10:10 - 12:05

This course is a cross-cultural exploration of the aesthetics of smell, the technologies of affecting smell (i.e. perfumery), and the demand for exotic aromatics. We will consider the theory of the aesthetics of smell in a variety of regions and periods including, for example, the work of Kant, early South Asian sources, as well as more recent studies by perfumers, philosophers, and anthropologists. We also explore the long-globalized art of perfumery and the important international demand for exotic aromatics such as musk and sandalwood. Students will pursue individual research projects, and they are highly encouraged to bring their own area-expertise to the seminar.

How does the aesthetics of smell differ from other sensory modalities? Within Western aesthetics, we shall consider how Kant dismissed smells and perfumes, before looking to more recent work by scholars such as the historian Alain Corbin, the perfumer Roudnitska, and the philosopher Clare Batty. Moving beyond these Western intellectual contexts, we will also explore the understanding of smell in medieval South Asia, as well as through the important anthropological studies of Howes and Classen. Here, we will also examine the complex theories of smell and odors in the late-antique Mediterranean (Ashbrook-Harvey). Ideally, in our examination of the aesthetics of smell, we will take a short smelling-class with a perfumer to introduce students to the issues involved in thinking with actual smells.

Not only does the seminar take a cross-cultural perspective on the aesthetics of smell, but we will also focus on the importance of exotic aromatics and perfumes in global olfactory material culture. From the writings of Theophrastus to Jacques Guerlain’s perfume Shalimar, European olfactory aesthetics has long gained prestige from acknowledging the Eastern origins and exotic Oriental aura of key materials, such as spikenard and sandalwood. Medieval South Asians, on the other hand, celebrated the Western regions as the fragrant lands of frankincense and coral. We will consider discourses and practices involving exotic perfumes in several areas, including Medieval Europe (Paul Freedman), China (Edward Schafer), as well as the history of musk in Islam (Anya King). What is the connection between the exotic and the aesthetic in perfumery? How do such non-Western discourses of luxurious foreign lands complicate our notions of a Western Orientalist point of view?

As the study of many of these questions is still quite neglected, this course provides students in a number of disciplines opportunities to make original and important contributions to their fields.

James McHugh is Assistant Professor of South Asian Religions at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. James’ teaching and research interests include the material culture of South Asian religions, the senses and religion, as well as Sanskrit religious and technical texts. Currently he is producing a monograph on the sense of smell and the use of aromatics in early and medieval South Asia. James is also interested in gemstones and minerals, as well as the theme of old age as represented and theorized in Sanskrit texts.

SHUM 4953 The Political Lives of Things

(also ANTHR 4153, ARKEO 4153, ARTH 4953, CLASS 4602)
Spring.  4 credits.  
Limited to 15 students.  
A. Smith
W 2:30 - 4:25

Our political lives are rife with objects (red tape, rubber stamps, etc.). Yet we rarely inquire as to how these things have shaped our sense of authority and our attachment to the polity. This seminar explores the materiality of political life by drawing broadly on contemporary works in art history, social thought, media studies, archaeology, socio-cultural anthropology, and literary theory to piece together a sense of the political lives of things. The goal of the course is to juxtapose the sense, sensibility, and sentiments of objects with the production and reproduction of authority. In so doing, the course opens an interdisciplinary dialogue on both the nature of our relationship with things and our ties to our political communities.

Each week of the seminar will open with an introduction to a single “critical assemblage”, a group of objects that will serve as a focal point for discussion. These critical assemblages will be drawn broadly from an array of sources, prehistoric and modern, instrumental and representational. The goal of this pedagogical technique is to encourage students to not only establish a conceptual vocabulary for theorizing things, but also a methodology for engaging with them. As a result, students will emerge from the class not only knowing how to read about things, but to read them directly and thus frame the formal and aesthetic features of the world around them. This is, in effect, training students to be archaeologists of the everyday, to note the histories and sociologies embedded in the vast material world that suffuses their lives. 

Adam T. Smith (PhD U Arizona 1996) is currently Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. He is an archaeologist specializing in the Bronze and Iron Ages of the South Caucasus and central Eurasia, with a particular focus on the role of landscapes and material culture in the production of complex polities. He is co-director of the joint American-Armenian Project for the Archaeology and Geography of Ancient Transcaucasian Societies (http://www.aragats.net), a long term archaeological field project centered in Armenia. His teaching interests include courses on archaeological theory, landscapes, material culture, and the prehistory of Eurasia. His recent publications include: 

2009 The Archaeology and Geography of Ancient Transcaucasian Societies I: The Foundations of Research and Regional Survey in the Tsaghkahovit Plain, Armenia(with R. Badalyan and P. Avetisyan). Oriental Institute Press, Chicago.
2005 Prometheus Unbound: Southern Caucasia in Prehistory. Journal of World Prehistory 19(4): 229-279.
2004 The End of the Essential Archaeological Subject. Archaeological Dialogues 11(1): 1-20.
2003 The Political Landscape: Constellations of Authority in Early Complex Polities. The University of California Press, Berkeley.

SHUM 4954 Yellowface

(also AAS 4954, COML 4068, ENGL 4077, FILM 4954)
Spring.  4 credits.  
Limited to 15 students.   
Y. Huang
T 2:30 - 4:25

This seminar is a study of the cross-cultural flows between China and the West via literature, translation, and cinema. It focuses on yellowface as racial ventriloquism performed by writers, translators, actors, directors, and other cultural go-betweens. The most notable yellowface performance is obviously in Hollywood films (Charlie Chan, Fu Manchu, and David Carradine’s “Kung Fu” series), but it is also increasingly evident in the self-representations by contemporary Chinese filmmakers. We will also examine poetic translations, wisdom products (philosophy, aphorisms, and fortune cookies), and other areas of culture, high and low, elite and popular.

Professor of English at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Yunte Huang is the author of “Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History” (W. W. Norton, 2010), “Transpacific Imaginations” (Harvard University Press, 2008), “CRIBS” (Tinfish Press, 2005), and “Transpacific Displacement” (University of California Press, 2002). He teaches American modernism, Asian American Literature, and Transpacific literature

SHUM 4955 Sensation + Indigenous Intent

(also AMST 4955, ARCH 4308, ART 4955, ARTH 4955, VISST 4955) 
Spring.  4 credits.  
Limited to 15 students.   
J. Rickard
R 10:10 - 12:05

How does the sensory hierarchy of a culture relate to its social order? This class will consider the multitude of ways in which vision is linked to the other senses by virtue of being embedded in complex cultural processes. Reading across recent critiques in anthropology, art history, performance studies, philosophy, Indigenous studies and visual theory this class will explore an intercultural analysis of the senses demonstrated through performance art, new media and expressive culture.

Encounter / counter visual expressive Indigenous cultures as part of a global aesthetic of repossession. Indigeneity today is about youth culture, up from the street but not main-street. Throat singers meet hip-hop, Maori moko confronts colonialism, Kayapo viral media subverts dispossession and all through the visual mark, spoken word or performative act. Embedded in Indigenous cultures globally are radical challenges to the west's imaginary of itself and others. The rise of experimental films, performances and expressive acts based on observations of the physical and a speculative world reveal content impacted by colonial narratives, yet anticipatory of an unexpected future. Emergent theories on Indigeneity will be connected to current theoretical concerns.

A history of the senses will be established (C. Classen, D. Howes, S. Pink) while deconstructing of the centrality of vision (R. Chow, E. Edwards, M. Merleau-Ponty, T. Smith) to rethink artistic agency as embodied gestures or sensation (C. Fusco, C. Jones, C. Noland). Performance and new media artists; Rebecca Belmore, James Luna, Kent Monkman, Skeena Reece and more will discussed. 

Jolene Rickard, Ph.D., is a visual historian, artist, and curator interested in the issues of Indigeneity within a global context. Recent projects include; Banff Residency for the Painter House Conversations (Canada), Te Tihi Scholar/Artist Gathering (New Zealand), curator for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian – NMAI (Washington, D.C.), exhibitions at the of the Canadian Museum of Civilization, (Canada), Barbican Art Center, (London), Museum der Weltkulturen, (Frankfurt), essays included in; Hide: Skin as Material and Metaphor, NMAI: DC, 2010, Res: Anthropology and Aesthetics 52, Fall 2007, Rebecca Belmore: Fountain, Jolene Rickard and Jessica Bradley, (Canadian entrant for the Venice Biennale 2005,) co-published by the Morris and Helen Belkin Gallery and Kamloops Art Gallery (Canada). Rickard is currently a recipient of a Ford Foundation Research Grant and is conducting research in the Americas, Europe, New Zealand and Australia culminating in a new journal on Indigenous aesthetics and has a forthcoming book on Visual Sovereignty.

She is an associate professor in the History of Art Department, served as Interim Chair for the Art Department 2009-2010 and is an affiliated faculty member in the American Indian Program at Cornell University.

SHUM 4956 Transatlantic Decadence

(also COML 4069, FREN 4956, SPAN 4956)
Spring.  4 credits.  
Limited to 15 students.  
B. Bosteels
R 12:20 - 2:15

In this course we will revisit the periodization of the turn of the century in terms of decadence and dandyism in Europe and Latin America. The working hypothesis is that European decadence cannot be understood apart from the dynamics of colonial expansion and interimperial warfare, echoes of which resonate even in as aestheticized and seemingly hermetic a universe as the house-museum of Des Esseintes in Joris-Karl Huysmans’s definitive A rebours, often described as the “Bible” of decadence. Conversely, the periodization of decadence in Latin America cannot be limited to the problem of epigonism, which according to some early critics would have produced a kind of decadence to the second degree: a decadent imitation of decadence. Instead, imitation is already a central concern of European phenomena surrounding the period of decadence more largely speaking, but this in turn becomes particularly evident only from the vantage point of the obsessive themes of dependence, autochthony, and universality that are unavoidable in the Latin American context. Thus, we will read canonical statements from Baudelaire, Barbey d’Aurevilly, Marx, and Nietzsche side by side with essays and novels from across the Atlantic, including the Cuban José Martí, the Colombian José Asunción Silva, the Venezuelan Manual Díaz Rodríguez, and the Uruguayans José Enrique Rodó, Delmira Agustini and Roberto de las Carreras. Theoretical texts informing our underlying framework include Georg Simmel, Carl Schmitt, Fredric Jameson, Angel Rama, Julio Ramos, Sylvia Molloy and Rita Felski.

Bruno Bosteels is Associate Professor of Romance Studies at Cornell University. Before coming to Cornell, he held positions as an assistant professor at Harvard University and at Columbia University. He is the author of Badiou o el recomienzo del materialismo dialéctico (Palinodia, 2007), Alain Badiou, une trajectoire polémique (La Fabrique, 2009), Badiou and Politics (Duke UP, 2011), and Marx and Freud in Latin America (Columbia UP, 2011). He is currently preparing a manuscript entitled, After Borges: Literature and Antiphilosophy as well as finishing a short book on Marx’s correspondance with Arnold Ruge, La Révolution de la honte (La Fabrique, 2010). He is also the translator of several books by Alain Badiou: Theory of the Subject (Continuum, 2009), Can Politics Be Thought? followed by An Obscure Disaster: On the End of the Truth of State, and What Is Antiphilosophy? Writings on Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Lacan (both for Duke University Press). 

He is the author of dozens of articles on modern Latin American literature and culture, and on contemporary European philosophy and political theory. His research interests further include the crossovers between art, literature, theory, and cartography; the radical movements of the 1960s and 1970s; decadence, dandyism, and anarchy at the turn between the 19th and 20th centuries; the communist hypothesis; cultural studies and critical theory; and the reception of Marx and Freud in Latin America. He currently serves as the general editor of diacritics.