Capstone Seminar Archive

Capstone Seminar Archive


Spring 2014: Rituals and Spectacles of Violence

Profs. Jean-Vincent Blanchard (French, Modern Languages, and Tim Burke (History)

We will interrogate and theorize violence from the opposite end of where violence is pre-emptively viewed as a moral problem to be solved, and instead examine the excessive, spectacular ways in which violence becomes ritualized, aestheticized, performed, and imagined.

Spring 2013: Hero Time Travel

Profs. Rosaria Munson (Classics) and Donnal Jo Napoli (Linguistics)

Starting with Virgil's Aeneid, Dante's Divina Commedia, and several Eugenio Montales's poems, we examine how journeys vary by esthetics, linguistics, and politics of time and place.

Spring 2012: Contested Truth(s) Questions of Modernity in German Philosophy and Literature

Profs. Richard Eldridge (Philosophy) and Hansjakob Werlen (German)

Trace emerging theoretical questions and answers arising from cultural and political life of the last 200 years by study of German texts of literature and philosophy from 1781 to present and Romaantic powets and intellectuals of the Frankfurt School.

Spring 2011: The Classical in Arts and Literature

Profs. Grace Ledbetter (Classics, Philosophy) and Patricia Reilly (Art History)

Simultaneity and monumentality denote diverse relations to time - the now and the then, the transient and the enduring - and underpin many assumptions about the human subject's capacity to make sense of history, society, and politics.

Spring 2010: Simultaneity and Monumentality

Profs. Jean-Vincent Blanchard (French) and Robin Wagner-Pacifici (Sociology)

Simultaneity and monumentality denote diverse relations to time - the now and the then, the transient and the enduring - and underpin many assumptions about the human subject's capacity to make sense of history, society, and politics.

Texts from authors as diverse as Baudelaire, Calvino, Deleuze, B. Anderson, and Gallison will be used to formulate critical definitions of two notions key to understanding the human subject's lived experience.

Spring 2009: Reworking the Cultural Imaginary

Profs. Tamsin Lorraine (Philosophy) and Patricia White (Film and Media Studies)

IPsychoanalytic, phenomenological, and poststucturalist theories of the subject that offer vary ways of understanding who we are, why we do what we do, and the kind of changes in collective practices that might constitute a reworking of what some theorists we consider call the "cultural imaginary" that informs us will be considered. Film and media will be utilized for examples and inspiration to consider what form such reworking might take, and the effects it could have.

Spring 2008: Walter Benjamin, Images & the Politics of Culture

Profs. Jean-Vincent Blanchard (French) and Richard Eldridge (Philosphy)

In a series of books, essays, and fragments, Walter Benjamin developed a complex account of how images and artistic linguistic forms express human indigence. Absent any contact with the divine or with originary being as such, artistic images and words cannot guide us toward utopia, but function rather as shards and fragments that embody intense perceptions of human neediness in relation to evolving social forms and embodied experience. We will trace the development of Benjamin's thinking about art, experience, and language and test his insights against a number of films, including works by Truffaut, Duras, Resnais, and Herzog, among others.

Spring 2007: After Babel: Poetry, Language and Translation

Profs. Sibelan Forrester (Russian) and Steven Hopkins (Religion)

Translation is intimately concerned with interpretation, creating and negotiating meaning as we encounter systems of signification. It is also a term for access to other realms of being. While translation of religious, literary and other kinds of texts has always been a path out of cultural isolation, more recently the term has emerged as a metaphor for all kinds of cultural interchange. This course will sample the explosion of theoretical work on issues of translation, keeping the spiritual and practical dimensions of each theory firmly in mind. Readings will include Willis Barnstone, Susan Bassnett, Walter Benjamin, Umberto Eco, Suzanne Jill Levine, George Steiner, Lawrence Venuti.

Spring 2006: Violence, Politics, and Mediation

Profs. Jean-Vincent Blanchard (French) and Cindy Halpern (Political Science)

This seminar will interrogate and theorize multiple dimensions of the cultural and political violence of the modern and the anti-modern in the contemporary western world. We will explore desire and the body, technology and morality, the visual and the mediatory, power and knowledge as these register and engender the effects of violence and terror in persons, societies and the global intellectual and media environment, and illuminate interactions between political and literary or critical realizations of violence on behalf of modern and anti-modern actors or forces. We looked to understand what modernity and its oppositions entail. Rousseau and Foucault, Nietzsche, Sade and Lacan, Baudelaire and Benjamin, Arendt and Agamben and a variety of other sources and media will be studied.

Spring 2005: Visionaries of Spirit, Masters of Suspicion

Profs. Mark Wallace (Religion) and Phil Weinstein (English Literature)

This seminar will explore - in a dialogical and interdisciplinary format - questions of spirituality as these emerge in literary practice, religious and philosophical texts, and critical theory. Beginning with brief texts from the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, and concluding with Toni Morrison's Beloved, questions will be:  What interpretive issues are raised by the textualizing of spirituality in order to access its meanings? How is the dynamic of interpretation affected by changing hermeneutic norms over different time periods? How do differentials of race, gender, genre, and culture inflect our understanding of spirituality? What shape and force do questions of spirituality take on in a post-Neitzschean culture of radical skepticism?

Spring 2004: Desire and Displacement

Profs. Brian Axel (Sociology and Anthropology) and Carina Yervasi (French)

What is desire? Where did it come from? Where is it going? This course examines the intersection of desire and displacement as elaborated in philosophical, psychoanalytic, and theoretical thought. Primary readings included texts by Neitzsche, Freud, Lacan, Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari, de Certeau, Butler, and Copjec and there were supplementary readings to accompany each primary text.

Spring 2003: Page to Screen, Text to Hyper-Text: Interpreting Digital Cultures

Profs. Timothy Burke (History), and Bruce Maxwell (Engineering)

This seminar is designed to explore the production, circulation, and interpretation of online texts. Do digital media create truly new forms of representation, authorship, and reading that require new strategies of interpretation? Discussions on the history of the transition between established cultural forms and online texts and how much this history has determined the form of contemporary digital culture took place. We examined a variety of online materials, including email, hypertext, multiplayer games, asynchronously-based online communities, e-commerce sites, and IRC or other synchronous chat rooms. Books for the course included Howard Rheingold, The Virtual Community; Julian Dibble, My Tiny Life; Janet Murray, Hamlet on the Holodeck, as well as texts and web-texts from Tim Jordan, Cyberpower, Steven Johnson, and Interface Culture.

Spring 2002: Mind, Body, Machine

Profs. Jean-Vincent Blanchard (French), and Scott Gilbert (Biology)

This seminar focuses on discussion on the relationship between intellect, living matter and technical artefacts by bringing forward concepts of the mind, body and machine from the Ancient Greeks to the Postmoderns. To provide a historical understanding of these issues, we will read from the works of Aristotle, Descartes, La Mettrie, Sade, Marx, and Freud. The course material also includes texts by Jean Baudrillard, Walter Benjamin, Michel Foucault, Donna Harraway, Jacques Lacan, Evelyn Fox Keller, and phenomenologically oriented thinkers. This will allow us to consider the following questions: How are discoveries in biology, medicine and computer technology shaping the human subject? Can we still assume that bodies and machines are distinct, or are cyborgs and cyberpunks among us already? What are the progressive political consequences, but also the perils, of such changes? Who owns the body?

Spring 2001: Interpretation and the Visual Arts

Profs. Michael Cothren (Art History) and Richard Eldridge (Philosophy)

This seminar considers a range of systematic accounts of the powers of mind and interest that are brought to bear in both the production and understanding of visual art. Why do people create images? What is it to understand a picture? How are the productions and receptions of paintings entangled in the sociological and ideological contexts of their creation? What makes a painting matter, in what ways, to what people? How do interpretations draw from the biographies of painters or patrons or interpreters? What makes an interpretation of a painting matter, in what ways, to what people? The principal written texts considered came from the philosophy of art, the foundations of art historiography, and its current practice and post-modern theoretical questioning, including works by Wollheim, Danto, Hegel, Wolfflin, Panofsky, Belting, Carrier, Baxandall, Seidel, and Foucault. Special attention was paid to paintings by Velasquez and Van Eyck, and, to a lesser extent, those of Poussin, Picasso, Manet, Chardin, and Piero dell Francesca.

Spring 2000: Beyond Reason: Nietzsche, Levinas and the Kabbalah

Profs. Nathaniel Deutsch (Religion) and Cynthia Halpern (Political Science)

This course presents opposing and alternative responses to the breakdown of reason and the crisis of metaphysics (and morality) in modern thought, ethics and politics. It explored pre-modern philosophy in relation to mysticism, namely the Kabbalah, as one kind of grounding beyond the rational ontology of the Enlightenment. The study will center on the problems raised by the breakdown of ascetic realism in religion, metaphysics, science and morality in the modern age, as well as the advent of the unrestrained will to power and nihilism, the abyss. Contemporary responses to this breakdown through poststructuralist theories, like those inspired by Benjamin, Levinas, and Wyschogrod will be explored. How to think through the ungrounding of ontology, history and politics, the politics of interpretation, and the difficulties of constructing an ethical-political response to this ungrounding was a primary focus.

Spring 1999: The Optical Unconscious

Profs. Patty White (English Literature) and Bruce Grant (Sociology and Anthropology)

The seminar focuses on ways in which new technologies of vision over the course of the 20th century challenge us to rethink deeply grounded understandings of the link between visuality and truth. Working from foundational readings by Walter Benjamin and Sergei Eisenstein, the seminar will explore ways in which new understandings of individual subjectivity, urban spaces, gender politics and social allegiances emerge from new cinematic perspectives.

Spring 1998: Mapping the Modern

Profs. Robin Wagner-Pacifici (Sociology) and Phillip Weinstein (English Literature)

The course will explore some of the salient issues, achievements, and problems that serve to map Western modernity. Beginning with "prophetic voices" from the mid-19th century, we looked at "urban fables" of early 20th century high modernism, concluding briefly with late 20th century postmodern lenses. Texts chosen from works by Marx, Baudelaire, Nietzsche, and Dostoevskii; Rilke, Kafka, Freud, Joyce, and Woolf; Weber, Simmel, Adorno, Benjamin, and Lukacs; Bakhtin, Arendt, Canetti, and de Certeau; Calvino and Borges; Berman and Harvey were covered.

Spring 1996: Visionaries of Spirit, Masters of Suspicion

Profs. Mark Wallace (Religion) and Phillip Weinstein (English Literature)

The purpose of this seminar was to explore the relationships among spirituality, literary practice, and critical theory in a dialogical and interdisciplinary format. Readings included Kierkegaard's Abraham narrative, Derrida on Kierkegaard, Dostoevskii's Crime and Punishment, Morrison's Beloved, Martin Buber's I and Thou, and essays by Kafka, O'Connor and Levinas.

Spring 1995: Self and Other

Profs. Kenneth Gergen (Psychology) and Mark Wallace (Religion)