2019-2020 Course Offerings

Fall:  101, 200C, ANT 210 (200B Equivalent)

Winter: 200A, 200B, FRE 211 (200B Equivalent)

Spring: 200A, 200B, 200C, 

For general catalog descriptions, click here.
For expanded course descriptions, see below.

Fall 2019

Critical Theory 101. Intro to Critical Theory      [Cross-listed with COM 141]
Stefan Uhlig

Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9:00-10:20A
233 Wellman

CRN: 36777

Course Description: This course provides an introduction to the history and recent situation of critical theory in comparative literary studies. We begin by exploring what led critics in the 60s and 70s to borrow methods from adjacent disciplines like linguistics, anthropology, or continental philosophy. We conclude by asking where theory stands now, and what has changed since the discovery of Paul de Man’s wartime writings seemingly confirmed popular suspicions about deconstruction. In between, we examine the basic questions addressed by structuralism, Foucault’s discursive histories, race theory, psychoanalytic readings, Derridean difference, Marxist criticism, gender theory, and de Manian deconstruction. I will, in each case, combine exemplary theoretical texts with primary texts or (moving) images that help us test our understanding of the arguments.

Prerequisite: One upper division literature course or consent of instructor (shuhlig@ucdavis.edu).

GE credit (New): Arts & Humanities, World Cultures and Writing Experience.

Format: Lecture/Discussion - 3 hours; Term Paper.

  • All readings will be posted on Canvas

Critical Theory 200C. History of Critical Theory
Kriss Ravetto-Biagioli

Mondays 1:10 - 4:00p
Art Annex 112
CRN: 63462

Ghosts of Technology: This course traces the relationship of technological inventions such as the camera, the gramophone, and the Turing machine to human perception.  It explores how emerging media disrupt sense perceptions, creating doubles, forms of re-animation of the dead, memories, or historical events, and specters and ghosts in the machine. We will analyze the impact of the ghostly on the social imaginary and modes of communication. Readings from Plato, Mettrie, Riskin, Freud, Lacan, Kittler, Hansen, Marriott, Rotman, Steigler, and Andy Clark.


ANT 210: FIELDWORK IN ART HISTORY  (Pre-Approved 200B Equivalent)
Tarek Elhaik

Wednesdays, 3:10-6p
Shrem Manetti Museum seminar room 1001
CRN: 63005

The seminar has three objectives: 1) to revisit key debates in aesthetic anthropology; 2) to reanimate the minor tradition of anthropologists' writings on modern and contemporary artists; and 3) to design a new style of conducting and curating anthropological fieldwork in art history.  The seminar will meet at the Shrem & Manetti museum (room 1001).  

Winter 2020

Critical Theory 200A. Approaches to Critical Theory
Tobias Menely

Thursdays, 3:10-6:00p
248 Voorhies
CRN:  50467

Etymologically, to theorize means to look contemplatively, to examine from a distance, to speculate. To be a theorist, for the Greeks, is to stand apart and consider, whether one is viewing the stage, the stars, or the underlying forms of things. Critique, by contrast, assumes an active and invested relation to a determinate historical situation. Modern criticism developed, Terry Eagleton suggests, in bourgeois opposition to the absolutist state. Critical theory, then, is defined by a constitutive tension between two imperatives: to contemplate, tarrying with the negative and the abstract, and to judge, as an intervention in structures of
power. This seminar will survey modern critical theory, emphasizing links between foundational texts and current debates in the critical and speculative Humanities, particularly as scholars are drawing on, and reworking, canonical critical theory in response to the
economic, political, and planetary crises of the twenty-first century.
Required Texts
Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious
Eduardo Kohn, How Forests Think
Michael Marder, Energy Dreams
All other readings will be provided as PDFs in the Canvas Files tab or as links to online publications. Please bring a printed copy of all readings to class, at least all PDFs, unless you have a carefully considered electronic workflow that allows you to mark electronic texts and take reading notes in a separate document.

Critical Theory 200B. Problems in Critical Theory
Neil Larsen

Wednesdays 3:10pm-6:00pm
822 Sproul
CRN: 77476

Marxism and ‘Wertkritik’: can there be a critique of the value-form without a critique of the standpoint of labor?

This seminar will offer to students an intensive introduction to two of the most important trends in recent Marxist critical theory: (1) that known in German as Wertkritik, probably best translated into English as the ‘critique of the value-form’; and (2) a closely inter-related critique of the purportedly emancipatory standpoint of labor. To regard ‘abstract’ labor as not only, per Marx’s Capital, the substance of value but as itself simultaneously a form or mediation of the value-abstraction may not now arouse much controversy. But does not so-called ‘concrete’ labor also, inevitably, succumb to the gravitational pull of the value-abstraction as well? As the producer of ‘use values’ can ‘concrete’ labor finally be anything more than the necessary ‘other’ of abstract (‘exchange’) value, trapped within the latter’s primacy, i.e. its essential power of subsuming the ‘concrete’ as one of its own necessary forms of mediation? Just as ‘use value’ is reduced to the status of abstract (‘exchange’) value’s real world material embodiment, does not the same social logic govern ‘concrete’ labor as well. To echo Norbert Trenkle’s argument in “Value and Crisis: Basic Questions,” isn’t labor as such already a kind of abstraction that has been isolated from the rest of social activity and social being as a whole? And is not ‘abstract’ labor itself therefore the abstraction of an abstraction?    

There can be little question about essential sources when it comes to this radical critique of labor: the late Moishe Postone and his seminal 1996 work, Time, Labor and Social Domination (Hereafter, TLSD) Along with a handful of shorter works by Postone (including his celebrated essay on anti-Semitism) it will be the goal of this seminar to read, study and discuss TLSD –if possible—in its entirety. Sources in the case of Wertkritik are both more numerous, wide-ranging and yet also more problematic in that access to them most often requires a reading knowledge of German—a definite plus but by no means a prerequisite for joining this seminar. English translations of Wertkritik are still relatively few, but they are certainly sufficient in number for our purposes. The earliest of English-language sources of Wertkritik probably remains the readily available pamphlet, Manifesto Against Labour [German original:Manifest Gegen Die Arbeit](1999) collectively authored by the German journal krisis.  Our main source will be the compendium of essay-length Wertkritik literature, Marxism and the Critique of Value (trans. and eds., Larsen, Nilges Robinson, & Brown; MCM’ Press,2014) including English translations of work by many of Wertkritik’s most representative and prolific theorists, among them Robert Kurz, Roswitha Scholz, Norbert Trenkle, Ernst Lohoff, Claus-Peter Ortlieb and Karl Heinz Lewed. We may sample parts of Anselm Jappe’s 2017 The Writing on the Wall:the Decomposition of Capitalism and its Critics and perhaps also passages from Jappe’s much admired biography of Guy Debord.  To the extent possible we will also examine work by value-form critical theorists outside the stricter theoretical boundaries of Wertkritik proper, e.g., Werner Bonefeld (who now writes in English) and Michael Heinrich, author of Introduction to the Three Volumes of Capital and the recently translated first volume of Karl Marx and the Birth of Modern Society

Most if not all seminar readings are already available online and free of charge, and students can expect to spend little if anything on seminar literature.

Questions?  Contact Prof. Neil Larsen at nalarsen@ucdavis.edu

FRE 211
  (Pre-Approved 200B Equivalent)
Toby Warner

Thursdays, 1:10-4:00p
109 Olson
CRN: 76455

FRE 211: Theories of Translation

What is translation? How can we understand and study the various semiotic phenomena that are gathered under its name? Over the past few decades, a rich vein of scholarship in literary studies has attended to the ethical, political and poetic dimensions of failures of translation, or untranslatability. Meanwhile, scholars working in fields such as anthropology and science and technology studies have developed sophisticated conceptual repertoires for studying the generative powers of translation in its various guises. In this course we will examine the friction and productive sparks that emerge between these approaches. We will put theories of translation more familiar to students in literary studies (Benjamin, Jakobson, Derrida, de Man, Apter, Bhabha, Butler, Cassin, Spivak, Venuti) into conversation with approaches from the critical social sciences (Talal Asad, Bruno Latour, Michael Silverstein, Elizabeth Povinelli, Susan Gal, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro). Theoretical readings will be complemented with case studies that may include work by Michel Leiris, Yambo Ouologuem, Amos Tutuola, Mariama Bâ, Abdelfattah Kilito and Aimé Césaire. Reading knowledge of French will be helpful but not mandatory.

Spring 2020

Critical Theory 200A. Approaches to Critical Theory
Timothy Lenoir
Thursdays, 1:10-4:00pm
1246 Social Sciences
CRN: 59259

The course will be a deep dive into contemporary media theories emphasizing computational and algorithmic media, media materiality, and the construction of the posthuman situation. Co-evolving with economic globalization and the financialization of more and more human activities, media in increasingly myriad forms saturate our lives. Digital media are becoming all-pervasive and indeed invasive. In numerous areas of our daily activities, we are witnessing a drive toward a fusion of digital and physical reality; a new playing field of ubiquitous computing in which wearable computers, independent computational agent-artifacts, and material objects are all part of the landscape. From social media to data-mining to new sensor technologies, twenty-first century media work largely outside the realm of perceptual consciousness, yet at the same time inflect our every sensation. We live in an environment where machines talk to machines before talking to us. The sensibilities inherent in such regimes of software cultures are indeed beyond the normal accounted for 5 senses that media theory has traditionally recognized; our new media call into play elements of sensibility that greatly affect human selfhood without in any way belonging to the human. We will examine the work of contemporary media theorists who draw on the speculative empiricism of philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, process philosophy, and the new materialism in developing concepts for understanding and addressing the posthuman condition in new media culture.

The course will be based on readings from Alfred North Whitehead, William James, Henri Bergson, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Gilbert Simondon, Brian Massumi, Bruno Latour, Isabelle Stengers, Jussi Parikka, Mark Hansen, Steven Shaviro, Luciana Parisi, Rosi Braidotti, and Wendy Chun.


Critical Theory 200B. Problems in Critical Theory
Joshua Clover
Tuesdays, 3:10-6:00pm
396 Voorhies
CRN: 83846

CRI200B Problems in Critical Theory

Classical Political Economy

In this course, we will read the major texts of western political economy as it coalesces alongside the generalization of capitalism. In addition to a “knowledge of the classics,” this will give us an opportunity to consider attempts to grasp the novelty of capitalism, the extent to which political-economic texts sought to grasp the kernel and/or to provide ideological cover, and a sense of the theoretical landscape in advance of Marx’s critique. This course will be conducted remotely. There will be assigned reading each week; a virtual hangout once a week (at the currently scheduled class time); and virtual office hours. Each student will be responsible, starting in week 3, for helping to prepare a discussion guide for that week’s virtual hangout, to be posted one day in advance. 

Major Texts, more or less in order

NB: with the exception of Week Two (online links), all texts are available as PDFs and/or ePubs from the professor

Read listed texts for that week (so, read Quesnay in preparation for Week Two, etc).

Week One: opening discussion

Week Two: Quesnay, Tableau Economique; Kuruma, History of Political Economy: Physiocracy

Week Three: Smith, Wealth of Nations, Books I-II

Week Four: Smith, Wealth of Nations, Books II-IV (first half of IV only)

Week Five: Ricardo, Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, I-XVII

Week Six: Ricardo, Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, XVIII-end

Week Seven: Malthus, Principles of Political Economy, Book 1, Chs. I, II, IV, V

Week Eight: Malthus, Principles of Political Economy, Book 2, it’s short!

Week Nine: Samuel Bailey, Critical Dissertation on the Nature, Measure, and Causes of Value

Week 10: stack overflow


Critical Theory 200C. History of Critical Theory
Kris Fallon
Mondays, 2:10-5:00pm

112 Art Annex
CRN: 59260


While the surface of contemporary politics often has the appearance of a technologically driven dystopia (from social media and smartmobs to deep fakes and deep state surveillance), the abstract questions at work turn on some of the oldest questions of individual rights and  political sovereignty: who has the right to speak, how, when and where can we speak out, etc. Indeed, how these questions are posed and the varying, contested answers they produce offer an opening to some of the most enduring questions in the human experience, including the nature of subjectivity, the status of language and speech, the relationships between the citizen and the state. In various forms, these questions appear again from the earliest articulations of Athenian democracy, to the formation of modern constitutions, to contemporary calls for Facebook and Twitter to limit political spending and censor political advertisements. Using these fundamental questions as a guiding framework, this course will explore the history of critical theory from its early roots in Plato and Aristotle through to current  discussions of freedom of speech and the rights of assembly.  Readings will include selections from PlatoAristotle, Augustine, Rousseau, Mill, Austin, Arendt, Derrida, Butler, Hartman, Federici, and others.