PHIL 215: “Phenomenology and Existential Thought” (Fall 2016)

Since the ancient Greeks, philosophy has interpreted the drama of human life in terms of knowledge rather than will, truth rather than passion. During the 20th century, phenomenology and existentialism offer the most radical critique of this “intellectualist” view of both philosophy and the self. A new cognitive value is attributed to moods, beliefs, and states of consciousness as well as to some spheres of human interaction such as authenticity, temporality, and intentionality. In this course, we shall explore the great arch of existential and phenomenological thought as developed by such figures as Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, Beauvoir, Fanon, Merleau-Ponty, and Levinas.

PHIL 240: “Philosophy of Art and Aesthetics” (Fall 2015)

The course studies the philosophical debate on art both historically and thematically. We will contrast ancient and medieval conceptions of art with our contemporary intuitions about what constitutes originality and creativity. We will discover that the roots of such intuitions are in the 18th century, when aesthetics is born as the study of the reasons that make some sensory experiences distinctly artistic, beautiful or sublime. However, the idea that art may be an autonomous field of human expression is soon called into question by thinkers such as Hegel and Schopenhauer. We shall follow the legacy of their attempt to de-aestheticize art into the 20th century, in the context of both philosophy’s debate on the nature of metropolis and the modernist revolution in all the arts, but especially in architecture. In the last portion of the course, we shall explore the most radical dismantling of the aesthetic edifice in the work of artists and theorists, including Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, Zaha Hadid, and Peter Eisenman.

PHIL 280: “Spaces of Exception” (Spring 2016)

The totalitarian disregard for human life and the treatment of human beings as superfluous entities began, for Hannah Arendt, in imperial projects and was extended to spaces where entire populations were rendered stateless and denied the right to have rights. In this course, we are going to start from Arendt’s seminal analysis of statelessness and her concept of the right to have rights to study aspects of today’s “migratory condition.” This is a peculiar condition by which inclusion in the political community is possible only by mechanisms of exclusion or intensified precarity. Mapping these mechanisms of identification through exclusion, abandonment, and dispossession will reveal that, like the stateless person, the contemporary migrant is increasingly being included in the political community only under the banner of illegality and/or criminality, unreturnability, suspension, detention, and externalization. This fact pushes millions of people to exist in “islands of exception,” camps and camp-cities on the shores of Malta, Cyprus, or Lampedusa in the Mediterranean, Manus/ Nauru in the Pacific, and Guantanamo in the Americas. Through a critical engagement with the migrant condition, this course examines a range of biopolitical practices, extra-territorial formations, and technologies of encampment (externalization, dispersion, biometric virtualization). The engagement with the physical and metaphysical conditions of these ‘spaces of exception’ where migrants land, are detained, measured, and sometimes drown, calls attention to lives at the outskirts of political legibility while interrogating the regimes of legibility through which migrant lives are apprehended. Besides Arendt, we will discuss novels and texts by Giorgio Agamben, Judith Butler, Zadie Smith, Eyal Weizman, Emmanuel Levinas, Achille Mbembe, Michel Foucault, Suvendrini Perera, V.Y. Mudimbe, Jacques Derrida, and Julia Kristeva.

PHIL 340: “Derrida and His Umbrella” (Fall 2014)

This advanced seminar explores the philosophy of Jacques Derrida and his deconstructive exchanges with thinkers past and present, including Kant, Heidegger, Blanchot, Bataille, Marx, Levinas, and Habermas. The focus of the course will be Derrida’s ethical and political writings. Special emphasis will be given to the cluster of issues that occupied Derrida after the end of the Cold War: these include democracy, hospitality, witnessing and the politics of memory, religion, terrorism, the human and the animal.

PHIL 340: “Frames of the Invisible: Politics of Photography” (Spring 2016)

The transformation of textual into visual culture and the retooling of the cellular phone as a camera have given photography a new political role. From the self-immolation of a street vendor in Tunisia that unleashed the Arab Spring to the images of police brutality in the United States, photographs have mobilized grass root movements of political resistance against atrocity and oppression. The thesis of this seminar is that our visual culture is governed by a “regime of visibility” that regulates the background of what is represented. The snapshots and the photographs taken by ordinary people possess the unique power of eluding this “staging apparatus.” We shall discuss these images as performative statements of moral outrage and appreciate how they expose both patterns of dispossession and the uneven distribution of human suffering across world populations. This will enable us to question whether the ethics of photography, and especially of photographs of human rights abuses, should not be directed at what is shown within the photographic frame but rather at the active and unmarked delimitation that lies beyond it, which limits what we see and what we are able, and unable, to recognize.