Asia/Europe: What is Self-Consciousness?

What is Self-Consciousness? Primitivism, Deception, and Modernity
Tuesdays 9-11 (KJC-112), Winter Semester 2013

Course description:
Every idea of the modern includes a concept of the primitive. Primitive humans, we are told, inhabited a world without self-consciousness: in daily life, no gap between action and belief (Mircea Eliade); in aesthetics, no “representation,” only presentation (Heidegger); and in history, no fracture between the event and its possibility (Hegel). This course ranges across many of the central theorizations of modernity in order to ask questions about the nature of our contemporary self-understanding as moderns. We will begin with six weeks on modernity, before turning to the nexus of primitivity, animality, and metaphor. The last two weeks will be focused on the history of debates over metaphor and cosmology in Chinese writing, which will serve us as an extended case study. Because the concept of modernity lies at the heart of contemporary understandings of global history, the course is designed to serve as a theoretical background for the general problem of the transcultural as a concept, to ask how such a concept has been modified by—but perhaps also includes in advance—theories of history, of truth, and of self-consciousness.

Work and grading:
I will be asking you for roughly 6000 words of written work during the course. These words will be divided as follows:

  1. Three micro-presentations (600 words each), to be made in class. We will discuss these on the first day, as they will begin next week.
  2. 1200 words of in-class writing (ungraded), the first 300 of which will happen on the first day of class.
  3. One 3000-word paper to be written at the end of the course.

For the presentations and the final paper, I would prefer if you submitted your work to me in Garamond or Times New Roman, double-spaced, so that I can comment on things as necessary.

Equal access:
I encourage qualified people with disabilities to participate in this class, and am committed to the policy that all people shall have equal access to the course without regard to personal characteristics not related to ability, performance, or qualifications. If you anticipate needing any type of accommodation in this course or have questions about physical access, please tell me immediately, so that I can work to make your participation possible.

Daily syllabus. Have everything read before class. If you are short on time read the documents in the order listed.

Oct 15              Introductions


Oct 22
Max Weber, from The Protestant Ethic and the ‘Spirit’ of Capitalism
Karl Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach”
Peter Hamilton, “The Enlightenment and the Birth of Social Science”

Oct 29
Marshall Berman, “All That Is Solid Melts Into Air”
Walter Benjamin, “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire”

Nov 5
Takeuchi Yoshimi, “What is Modernity?”
Stuart Hall, “The West and the Rest: Discourse and Power”
Hayot, “The Planet and the World,” and “Universalism as a World View”

Nov 12
Dipesh Chakrabarty, from Provincializing Europe
Paul Gilroy, from The Black Atlantic

Nov 19
Enrique Dussel, “World-System and Transmodernity”
S.N. Eisenstadt, “Multiple Modernities”

Nov 26
Gregor McLennan, “The Enlightenment Project Revisited”
Bruno Latour, from We Have Never Been Modern


Dec 3
Martin Heidegger, “The Origin of the Work of Art”
Mircea Eliade, “Archetypes and Repetition” and “The Terror of History”

Dec 10
Ernst Cassirer, Language and Myth

Dec 17
Ernst Cassirer, “What is Man?”

Jan 7
Terence Turner, “‘We Are Parrots,’ ‘Twins are Birds’: Play of Tropes as Operational Structure”
Naomi Quinn, “The Cultural Basis of Metaphor”

Jan 14
Jacques Derrida, “The Animal That Therefore I Am (to Follow)”
Jacques Derrida, “And if the Animal Responded?”

Jan 21
Pauline Yu, “Metaphor and Chinese Poetry”
Yong Ren,  “Cosmogony, Fictionality, Poetic Creativity: Western and Traditional Chinese Cultural Perspectives”

Jan 28
Haun Saussy, “The Question of Chinese Allegory”
Martin Svensson Ekström, “Does the Metaphor Translate?”

Feb 4
Final Thoughts

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The Future of the University: A Vision

Some people think MOOCs are bad, some people think they’re good (though I know almost none of the latter). But what you really need to know is: what’s going to happen to the university in the next twenty years as a result of innovations in content delivery?

Luckily for you I have had a vision of the future. I don’t like some of it, but I think it’s accurate. If I were a dean or a university or college president I would be thinking about what I could do right now to respond to the changes that are coming. And if you teach in a university, or attend one, or plan on having friends or children who do, then you need to know what’s coming, because it will affect (and indeed transform) the entire institutional structure of higher education in the United States (and probably worldwide). I’ve put it all in an eay-to-read Q&A format, so no excuses for not following along.

As a bonus at the end I’ll tell you what’s happening to public education at the K-12 level, and offer some suggestions on how to keep the most disastrous vision of the future from coming true.

Continue reading

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Something you probably didn’t know about satellite radio

So let’s be clear: satellite radio is MUCH MUCH better than regular radio. If you drive as part of your job you should get satellite radio immediately.

That said something you probably didn’t know is that satellite radio has a pornography channel. I listened to it for about 15 minutes (at least that’s what I’m admitting to) during an 11-hour car drive from Springfield, Illinois to State College and heard two kinds of shows:

1. A show with three female hosts in which one of them discussed in detail a three-way she had with her two roomates. The description was surprisingly graphic, and then the other hosts were asking things like, “tell me exactly how you were positioned–were his balls in your mouth or just banging on your chin?” and so on… and then exclaiming things like “oh that’s so hot” and so on. Kind of amazing.

2. Another show in which people call in and tell the hostess what they’d like to do to her. “If I were there I’d be doing bla bla bla,” followed by “Oh, that sounds amazing–I wish you were here right now, I’d totally suck up all your cum,” etc. I honestly could only listen to this for about 20 seconds before becoming too embarrassed so I have no idea how the show goes beyond that.

Still: amazing!

Source: Printculture

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Through the Mirror

For the LA Review of Books, a review of two recent collections of Claude Levi-Strauss’s thoughts on Japan:

TIME MAKES US ALL ANACHRONISMS to ourselves. As we get older, we are all left behind by a history we had once been sure we were making. We struggle, in our aging bodies, to recall the embodied force of fitter, sharper selves.

The problem is worse, presumably, if you live to be 100, like the late anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss (born in 1908, he finally passed away in October 2009). By then, you may have lived long enough, as Lévi-Strauss did, to see your upstart theories kill their most visible father (Jean-Paul Sartre), dominate the village for decades, produce a litter of influential children (Althusser, Foucault, Bourdieu), and gradually fade into respectability, granting you the privileged gestures of institutional and governmental recognition — Nicolas Sarkozy visiting you at home on your birthday, for instance — that we use to bury something while praising it.

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Who’s Afraid of China?

I’ll be giving a keyonte at Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s first annual Asian Studies Undergraduate Research Conference, title “Who’s Afraid of China?” One of the pleasures of writing the talk was the opportunity to go back to these sentences, which I wrote in 2002, whose context was the shift caused by 9/11, in which we went from potentially being enemies of China (you’ll remember the Belgrade embassy bombing of 1999 and the spy plane controversy of 2001) to being allies in the war on Muslim terror.

The insistence on Chineseness as a particularly odd combination of ancient past and scientific future has clearly demonstrated its ability to resurface when needed. Should the geopolitics change again, we will find ourselves right back in the middle of more “coming conflict” literature, perhaps this time forced to work against it in the face of events that will make its predictions seem all the more prescient.

I don’t make predictions much, but this one has come delightfully and perfectly true, so I feel obliged to brag about it. Of course, no one since 1600 would have ever lost money betting on the eventual appearance of anti-Chinese Yellow Perilist sentiment, which will make my back-patting fairly mild.

Source: Printculture

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When Beautiful Dreams are Bad Dreams

Working my way through Conor Friedersdorf’s collection of 2012′s best nonfiction, I have come across a piece by Joshua Foer on a man named John Quijada, who has invented a language, Ithkuil, that attempts to fulfill the age-old dream of a perfect language.

At one point Foer describes what happened after Quijada read Lakoff and Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By:

For Quijada, this was a revelation. He imagined that Ithkuil might be able to do what Lakoff and Johnson said natural languages could not: force its speakers to precisely identify what they mean to say. No hemming, no hawing, no hiding true meaning behind jargon and metaphor. By requiring speakers to carefully consider the meaning of their words, he hoped that his analytical language would force many of the subterranean quirks of human cognition to the surface, and free people from the bugs that infect their thinking.

“As time went on, my goal began changing,” he told me. “It was no longer about creating a mishmash of cool linguistic features. I started getting all these ideas to make language work more efficiently. I thought, Why don’t I just create a means of finishing what all natural languages were unable to finish?

The piece is fascinating (though Foer’s prose is only really average, if by “average” you’ll allow me to refer to the general high quality of New Yorker prose). But it does go to show that dreaming big almost always means dreaming crazy. Quijada’s story is wonderful, and Foer includes just enough of the history of invented languages (you can get more, and have more fun, reading Arika Okrent’s book) to give the whole thing context.

Some flavor of both the lovely, bold, joyful craziness of it all and the desperate grasping for control that accompanies it can be gathered from these two paragraphs, which succeed one another immediately and appear three-quarters of the way through the piece:

He opened a closet and pulled out a plastic tub filled with reams of graph paper documenting early versions of the Ithkuil script and twenty-year-old sentence conjugations handwritten in marker on a mishmash of folded notepads. “I worked on this in fits and starts,” he said, looking at the mass of documents. “It was very much dependent on whether I was dating anyone at the time. This isn’t exactly something you discuss on a first or second date.”

Human interactions are governed by a set of implicit codes that can sometimes seem frustratingly opaque, and whose misreading can quickly put you on the outside looking in. Irony, metaphor, ambiguity: these are the ingenious instruments that allow us to mean more than we say. But in Ithkuil ambiguity is quashed in the interest of making all that is implicit explicit. An ironic statement is tagged with the verbal affix ’kçç. Hyperbolic statements are inflected by the letter ’m.

Source: Printculture

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Air pollution in China: alpha/omega?

Useful and interesting discussion at China File on “airpocalypse now.”

Quote from Alex Wang to set up the discussion:

My own view is that China’s tipping point, in a sense, already arrived a few years ago. But the official response has been wholly inadequate to the task. Fundamental weaknesses in the way that China has approached its environmental protection efforts mean that the environmental crisis has continued to run amok.

Put all this in the “why I’m down on China” file, whose contents explain why my family will not be spending my 2013-14 sabbatical there.

Source: Printculture

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Multigenerational social mobility

…is apparently less fluid than we tend to think. A really useful piece from the Economist updates us with the latest research from a variety of social scientists, and also–incredibly usefully–includes links to all the research it cites.

Money quote:

A second method relies on the chance overrepresentation of rare surnames in high- or low-status groups at some point in the past. If very few Britons are called Micklethwait, for example, and people with that name were disproportionately wealthy in 1800, then you can gauge long-run mobility by studying how long it takes the Micklethwait name to lose its wealth-predicting power. In a paper written by Mr Clark and Neil Cummins of Queens College, City University of New York, the authors use data from probate records of 19th-century estates to classify rare surnames into different wealth categories. They then use similar data to see how common each surname is in these categories in subsequent years. Again, some 70-80% of economic advantage seems to be transmitted from generation to generation.

It should by the way be mandatory for articles in newspapers and magazines published online to include links to the scientific papers to which they refer.

Source: Printculture

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Penn / Feb 21 and 22

Two talks coming up at Penn: one, a second try at “Academic Writing, I Love You. Really, I Do,” this time with, lesson learned, purely extemporized (from notes) entractes (on Thursday Feb 21), and, on Friday, a roundtable and talk for the Penn Humanities Forum, whose graduate student organizers have honored me with their invitation. Talk will be brand new work on “Scale, Hierarchy, and the Problem of World Literature.”

Plus I’ll get two see my many friends and colleagues, including Paul and Kevin and hopefully, if she’s in town, Heather.

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Princeton: Com 373, Eng 384: World Literature: Comparative Cosmologies

We normally imagine that the cosmological impulse to describe a total world (of the kind that appears in Plato’s Timaeus) disappears as the field of knowledge is split up, via modern life, into its new parts (religion divided from astronomy, philosophy from physics, biology from history). But what happens when the impulse to cosmology, which we think of as pre-modern, crosses over the modern divide? Are we still world-makers and world-thinkers (about, for instance, “globalization”)? This course begins with a quick overview of premodern cosmological thought; develops tools for thinking cosmologically in the modern age; and then pivots to a series of modern literary works, asking what kinds of worlds they build. We will do cosmological analysis, more or less, on texts that live in a world “beyond” cosmology, asking what they tell us about literature in general, and about the concept of “world literature.” Novels from England, Germany, Sweden, Japan, Argentina, India, and Hong Kong; all readings in English translation.

Click here for the syllabus.

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