For What It’s Worth (HUM415)

Remember: All of the readings since the midterm are listed on the schedule of readings on the course information page. You will not be tested on China Mieville, Saskia Sassen, or Jean and John Comaroff’s articles, though you may use them in a response to a prompt.

This blog is intended to be a resource. You’ll note that there is a search engine on the main page and a drop-down menu called “taxonomy” which lists categories by topic and course title. In order to fully exploit these features, you’ll need a bare minimum vocabulary of key terms.

The best way to prepare for the final exam is to have already done the reading. Because so much of the course focuses on fairly difficult concepts, many of which are implicated in one another, it’s almost impossible for me to produce an effective review that takes the form of a series of slogans. The best way to formulate answers, however, is to ask questions.

What are the defining characteristics of our situation? What difficulties are we confronted by? What do you understand me to mean if I use the word “neoliberalism” or “capitalism” or “ideology”? In what ways does all that is solid melt into air?

Since the midterm we’ve covered a fair bit of ground. Probably the most significant readings have been the two novels, because they exemplify some of the ways contemporary fiction addresses the present. What specific issues concern these authors? How are those concerns thematized or otherwise expressed? Think about content, of course, but also think about form. Reading a novel can be like screening a film. What does it mean? How does it work? How can Lenos and Ryan help us interpret Holmqvist and Montero?

The final two chapters of Hawkes represent both a brief survey of the Postmodern and a summation of the importance of ideology as an analytical tool. Note which ideas Hawkes favors and which he rejects. The case of Baudrillard is instructive, given his gradual deviation from a morally coherent critical practice into a kind of nihilistic joy. Of whom is he the inheritor? Why, specifically, does Hawkes condemn the later Baudrillard (and Foucault and Althusser for that matter) and approve of Slavoj Zizek? No doubt some people would deem Hawkes a conservative and insofar as he seems to want to conserve some fragments of meaning and experience, this is true.

Ellen Wood is important because she indicates that you and I, no matter how detached we might feel, benefit, after a fashion, from the various forms of violence that maintain our social (dis)order. A lie is a kind of violence. So is the dropping of bombs. Or trade policies that exploit inequality. If there were no poor people could there be profit? At the level of the nation and the level of global capitalism there operate what we might call ideological fictions. Do these emerge spontaneously, or are they carefully elaborated by some ruling class?

The issues we’ve been considering are indeed moral issues. And yet, crucially, contemporary capitalism has to do with system, with the impersonal logic of productive forces, with compulsions that are structural in their nature. How is the social configured? What is it shaped like? Can Deleuze give any insight into the transformations that have occured in the last 40 to 50 years? Almost every assignment we’ve read attempts to periodize the present according to shifts in economic life and “common sense.” We no longer live in a world that resembles the one Marx and Engels described. At least not entirely.

Subjects have been turned into objects that think they are subjects. Representation has become autonomous. Humans are over-regulated while Capital runs rampant. What’s outside is inside. You feel the way you do for a reason. Precarity rules, enforced by pre-emption. (If you think about it, pre-emption and speculation operate according to the same future-oriented temporality. They are both concerned with what might happen, with what could happen, rather than what is or has already happened.).

Why is the masterplot of Zombie Apocalypse so appealing? What can you do with that story? Or has the Zombie’s ubiquity destroyed its subversive potential? Can dialectics kill the Living Dead? What will be our salt?