Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Monday, March 10, 2014

My Upcoming Summer Intensives at Berkeley

Session A/RHET 103A: Are We Not Men? Patriarchal Convention and Conviction in Classical Antiquity

Rhetoric was conceived in antiquity as the art of speaking well. But the act of speaking, peer to peer, was always also a doing of deeds, and even well done it could do you in -- whether one was declaiming in the assemblies and courts of the radical democracies and anti-democracies of the Greek city-states, or drawing up ideal Republics in dreamy discourses among scholars, or engaging in the rough and tumble of state-craft and electioneering in the all too real and corrupt Republic of Rome, or circulating satires among snickers in the shadow of Emperors. In Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Quintilian especially, engagements with rhetoric delineated critical, deliberative, civic, pedagogical visions of human agencies fraught with inhumanity.

The societies of Greek, Roman, and Christian antiquity were also conspicuously patriarchal, in which Homeric heroes made history and conquered death with great words and deeds in an aspirational fantasy of masculine agency, horrific rape cultures in which women were conceived as beasts, slaves and dutiful wives, a patriarchy finding perhaps its quintessential expression in the Roman paterfamilias, the authoritarian male head of the household who held the power of life and death over his children, female relatives, and household slaves. But in philosophy and in poetry, in Greek tragedies and in Roman comedies we find glimpses of a considerably richer and more complicated world of gendered relations, erotic imagination, and human possibility, we encounter profound anxieties, ambivalences, and resistances to patriarchal practices and prejudices.

Although we will be reading texts in which philosophy declares its opposition to rhetoric's opportunism and deceit, we will read them as rhetorical skirmishes in the politics of truth-telling. Although we will read discourses on civic deliberation, we will read them as anxious testaments to ubiquitous corruption and violence. Although we will be reading orations aspiring to a world of Heroes and of Men, we will read them as brutal reflections on a world in which many were not heroes and many were not men. We will be reading works by Aristophanes, Aristotle, Augustine, Marcus and Quintus Cicero, Euripides, Gorgias, Herodotus, Homer, Juvenal, Libanus, Ovid, Petronius, Plato, Plautus, Quintilian, Sappho, Seneca, Suetonius, Terence, and Thucydides. All of the readings will be available either online or in a course reader.

Session D/RHET 20: Who Holds the Keys? Facts, Figures, and Fetishisms

To survey contemporary critical theory is to ask the question, "Who Holds the Keys?" Who are the ones who know how to decipher inscrutable texts, expose longstanding deceptions, illuminate complex social formations, unlock intractable histories? But when we ask just what it is to know these things, and how we know them, and how we know who knows them, we come to realize that our initial question contains within it troubling answers to other sorts of questions, questions about what we think it means to be a "who" and not a "what" in the first place. “Interpretation” derives from the Latin interpretatio, a term freighted with the sense not only of explication and explanation, but also translation. What are the vocabularies and conventions that govern intelligible acts of interpretation, translation, argumentation? What are the conventions through which we constitute the proper objects of interpretation? Who are the subjects empowered to offer up interpretations that compel our attention and change our convictions? Who holds these translation keys?

We will discover that for many of our conversational partners in these investigations, our questions will turn out to turn, astonishingly enough, on various construals of the phenomenon of the fetish. We will discover early that theories of the fetish define the turn of the three threshold figures of critical theory from philosophy to post-philosophical discourse: Marx, Freud, Nietzsche (commodity, sexuality, ressentiment). Fetishism recurs deliriously thereafter in contemporary critical accounts, feminist, queer, anti-racist, post-colonial, technoscientific, and we will survey many of these. Fetishism may be indispensable to the constitution of the social, the adjudications of the cultural and subcultural, and to representational practices both artistic and political. Is the devotion of the critical to the separation of facts from fancies itself fetishistic? Is fetishism a kind of figurative language, an anti-figurative mode, or a perverse kind of literalization? What are we to make of the way distinctions between fetishism, figuration, and facticity can themselves always be drawn fetishistically, figuratively, and factually? We will be reading texts by Carol Adams, Theodor Adorno, Louis Althusser, Hannah Arendt, Roland Barthes, William Burroughs, Judith Butler, Walter Benjamin, Guy Debord, Frantz Fanon, Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle, Michel Foucault, Sigmund Freud, Paul Gilroy, Stewart Hall, Donna Haraway, David Harvey, Franz Kafka, Naomi Klein, Bruno Latour, CS Lewis, Karl Marx, Laura Mulvey, Friedrich Nietzsche, Valerie Solanas, Gayatri Spivak, Oscar Wilde, Raymond Williams, and Slavoj Zizek. All of the readings will be available either online or in a course reader. Where we end up together will, of course, be very much a matter open to interpretation.

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