The purpose of Humanities 415 is to develop a deeper understanding of the contemporary period by studying how expressive forms (i.e., texts and practices) including literature, cinema, and visual culture engage with social and historical circumstances.
Our present is the outcome of a long process reaching back many thousands of years to the origins of human society.
While elements of the past may lose their practical or symbolic relevance and recede into obscurity, some of the forces and conditions that produced this world persist as what Raymond Williams called “actively residual” variables.
Capitalism is easily the most significant socio-cultural structure shaping our common situation. Though very recent, the triumph of capitalism on a global scale has utterly remade the world and the people in it.
As a way of organizing and reproducing social life capitalism has colonized every space on the planet including the human psyche in a quest for endless economic growth. It is so ubiquitous we sometimes fail to recognize the extent to which it determines our attitudes and action.
Every day capitalism’s champions— its preachers and flunkies— expound its virtues and attempt to explicate its ambiguities. “The Market,” they insist, possesses instinct and intelligence, responding to events and speaking ultimate truths. Or else The Market’s like the weather, a simple fact of existence; a principle, governing reality; an algorithm whose workings may be manipulated in order to meet human needs. All such claims are ideological in the sense that they seek to mystify power by arguing, in essence, that’s just how it is. Or, in the words of one of the most effective apologists for capitalism of the 20th century, There Is No Alternative.
Since capitalism first appeared roughly two centuries ago, people have argued it relies upon or results in the exploitation, objectification, and alienation of humans, animals, and our finite natural world.
Among the criticisms of global capitalism is is its tendency to
promote violence (imperialist, criminal, and structural)
generate spectacles which deform the social into a virtual realm of appearances
liquidate the past and limit our visions of the future
This semester we will explore all of these claims. Our project is to examine culture in order to assess society, to defamiliarize what we take as given. How do authors, artists, and film makers use the past to clarify our understanding of the present? How does the imagination– individual, collective– become a social force?
To start we’ll generate a lexicon of keywords drawn from cultural theory and formal analysis.