“Profit” by Jean-Michel Basquiat

HUM415-01 Contemporary Culture


Sean Connelly, Ph.D.


office hours: 12-1 Thursdays via Zoom and by appt. 

The Project

Humanities 415 studies various cultural forms such as the novel, film, visual culture, and popular music in order to explore key features of contemporary society including identity, the spectacle, and empire

Our objective situation is determined by capitalism, a socio-economic system that has penetrated every space on the planet including the human psyche in its quest for ever-increasing profits.

Since the Industrial Revolution roughly 200 years ago, many people have argued that this system is unsustainable in the longer term because it depends upon the apparently endless exploitation, objectification, and alienation of humans, animals, and a finite natural world.

It is in these senses– its all-encompassing reach, its dependence on life as a raw material– that global capitalism constitutes a totality which is often experienced as both invisible and inescapable, an atmosphere or common sense of “just the way things are”.

Social identities have become commodities. Internalizing the logic of the “free” market, people self-consciously construct their personalities as brands. Increasingly, reality seems to be a mere extension of representation. Predicated on debt and the liquidation of alternate futures, life inside the labyrinth ultimately relies on different forms of violence: structural, military, epistemic.  

With these things in mind HUM415 takes as its object the dark landscapes of modernity. Using methods drawn from the formal analysis of film and literature, we will interpret the cultural manifestations of capitalism’s Gothic character.

If capital is the “dead” form of human activity, the objectification of subjective qualities which then exert control over humanity, then capitalism is an underworld.

For example, money, which is merely a symbol lacking any “real” content or referent, often determines human well-being. Its misallocation clearly leads to damaging outcomes, particularly for the poor, producing negative consequences such as ill health, lack of intellectual development, and shorter lifespans. The dead hand of capital thus closes on the throat of human life, the very subjective human powers to which it owes its existence. Does this mean that money is a vampire? That capitalism is a crypt?