M-W-F 10:30-11:20
D 42

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Fear of Self
Political Theory

course description:

This class begins with the presumption that the role of the theorist, to quote Michel Foucault, is to "keep watch over the excessive powers of political rationality." In other words, the way we think about government and governmentality, the rationalities we use to legitimate their existence, need watching. In a world increasingly structured by the terms of a political logic that orders life processes (what Foucault refers to as "biopower"), how do we theorists watch over these excessive powers?

Michel de Montaigne, Audre Lorde, and Simone de Beauvoir model a type of writing that restores power to the writer by thinking oneself out of the logic of the prevailing rationality, with its Cartesian split of mind and matter, individual and state, and into the possibilities of an embodied and emancipated self. We will look at how the form of the essay, what Cynthia Ozick called a "warm body," allows for a voice that changes over reflection, disturbing the classifications and divisions of political rationality.

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the readings:

Montaigne, Essays
Michel Foucault, Discipline & Punish
Michel Foucault, "Omnes et Singulatim: Towards a Criticism of 'Political Reason'"
Audre Lorde, Sister/Outsider
Simon de Beauvoir, The Second Sex

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papers and weekly assignments:

We, too, shall be engaged in writing essays, trying our hand at making sensible a subject matter that is, at times, barely intelligible. Like Montaigne, we'll sit down with a text, jot down a quotation, and then begin our verbal explorations. We'll get inside a passage and palpate its interior. We'll adopt an expression and pursue a metaphor.

In order to develop your scrutinizing sensibilities, you will write two one-page essays each week for most of the semester. The first one-page (double-spaced) essay of the week will explore a passage from the day's readings. The second one-pager will explore a passage from the reading and will tie in a theme from a classmate's one-pager.

Exploring a passage is a fairly specific activity. First copy down the quotation. As you do so, pay attention to what words are used, what metaphors are employed, and what images are invoked. Move inside of the world created by this passage, palpate the meaning from the inside and then extend it gently into your experience. Exploring a passage does not mean quoting someone else and then running off in an entirely different direction. It does not mean springboarding into a random free association. It means letting the words in a book settle in your imagination and then seeing how your mind responds.

The weekly schedule will run as follows: At the end of Monday's class, you will exchange a one-pager with a classmate. On Fridays, you'll hand in a one-pager that engages with both the reading and your classmate's essay. The interdependent nature of this assignment means that you can't afford to blow off an assignment. First, it will jeopardize someone else's process. Second, it will jeopardize your standing in the class.

Along with these one-pagers, you'll also be growing two five-page essays and one extended essay. The five-page essay might be an extended argument, or a meditation, or maybe just a rant. It should be focused on a particular theme or a particular author; there just isn't room for taking on more. The ten-page essay should be beyond one position, one side, or one solution. It should be an experiment in multiplicity, of weighing and considering various positions, of moving out of polemics and into the hallowed halls of philosophy, of thinking beyond your personal preferences and into a larger synthetic whole. (Note: The Writing Portfolio people call the extended essay a "research paper.")

My hope is that by developing a writing practice, you'll create a more powerful self. Part of this has to do with epistemology: I don't believe that we fully understand something unless we're able to put it into our words. But the business of writing also has to do with ontology. We write ourselves into existence.

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grading criteria:

Show up. Write. Read with a pen in your hand. Have a thesauraus near by. Let your brain stretch in new directions. Be a Foucaultian for a day, an existentialist overnight. Let Montaigne inspire you to be as honest about your lived experience as he is about his kidney stones. Let yourself be enormous in print, succinct in prose.

Students who miss more than three classes will see a drop in their grade. Failing to pass in one of the three essays translates into a D. Don't take this class if you can't stay on top of the daily assignments.

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