ENGL 510 -- Spring Quarter 2006

History of Literary Criticism & Theory IV (w/CLit 510) Weinbaum MW 3:30-5:20

Theories of “Life Itself”

This course will create a genealogy of modern and contemporary theories of “life itself.” We will consider life as a biological, moral, sexual, social, economic, and political entity—one subject to various regimes of power, and itself a source of power, profit, and meaning. During the first part of the course we will treat key theorists of life including Freud, Marx, Nietzsche, Foucault, Giorgio Agamben, Judith Butler, and Saidiya Hartman. In the second part of the course we will turn our attention to the transformation of the concept of life that has been precipitated by the mapping of the human genome and the development of new markets in biological materials and products. Here our focus will be on a variety of writers who have sought to understand the biologization of “nature”, the geneticization of biology, and the instrumentalization of geneticized biology in crafting new regimes of power, new forms of sovereignty, new identities, new circuits of exchange, and new social and political alliances. Among others, we may read Donna Haraway, Octavia Butler, Jenny Reardon, Bruno Latour, Sarah Franklin, and Evelyn Fox Keller. Throughout the quarter our discussion will be animated by the following questions, along side others to be developed by our seminar group: how have various theorists shaped the modern meaning of life? How do various theories of life impact-- even necessitate--particular theories of power? How is subjection to power constitutive to being alive? How has the life/death binary been produced? How do we theorize related distinctions between species-life and species-being, zoe and bios, non-human animal life and human life, free life and life in bondage? How do material transformations in the life sciences force us to recalibrate our understanding of life itself, the power it exerts, and the forms of power to which it is subjected? With few exceptions we will read entire books by each author—usually one per week.

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