Spinoza pic

Politics of Materiality

Mon,Th 1:30-2:50
Dalrymple 43

course description
course guidelines
course calendar
political theory

course description:

All the authors in this class share the assumption that we are material beings deeply tied to the material world. When we deny our connection to the air we breathe, the pavement we walk on, and the worms in our blood, we make ourselves crazy. Happiness comes from accepting our mortality, our immanence, our material selves. Beginning with Plato, Western philosophy has promised immortality, transcendence, a life beyond matter. As such, the authors for this class constitute a genealogy of heretics.

But our interest is not just genealogical but progressive. How does materialism help us to rethink current political and environmental disasters? How does a recognition of the power of things help us to realign ourselves with the world we live in? How does materialism constrain nationalist and factional interests? Besides looking at how contemporary philosophers have addressed these questions, we'll try our hand at developing a politics of materiality of our own.


Lucretius, The Way Things Are

Spinoza, A Spinoza Reader, edited by Edwin Curley

Karl Marx, Selected Writings (Hackett Edition)

Hardt & Negri, Empire

David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous


Over the course of the semester, you'll write three five-page essays. These are not research papers, and they should not be summaries. They are thoughtful, organized responses to the work under discussion. They should delineate issues, propose interpretations, raise questions, and provoke thought.

I'll be looking at all your papers and getting them back to you with comments in a timely fashion. Any paper can be resubmitted for another look. This is what I'll be looking for:

*engagement with the readings;
*clear statement of the argument;
*precise and vivid language;
*intellectual honesty.

In other words, the writings should be engaged and honest; written with a reader in mind and full of all your brilliance.

grading criteria:

Show up. Write. Read with a pen in your hand. Have a dictionary near by. Let your brain stretch in new directions. Consider changing a deeply-held belief. Develop a political vocabulary. Cultivate an aesthetic for materialism.

Class attendance is crucial. If you have to miss a class, please let us know. Students who miss more than two 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 assignments.