The Modern Revolution
TUESDAY / THURSDAY 4:10 PM – 5:25 PM in HUM 582
Dr. Robert C. Thomas
E-mail: theory at sfsu dot edu
Office HUM 416 | Office Hour: 2:10 – 3:10 THURSDAY
The course covers philosophical and cultural issues of modernism/modernity, roughly from 1850 – 1945. We will undertake a careful examination of select primary (modern) theoretical texts (Nietzsche, Benjamin), works of literature (Walser, Kafka), artwork (Duchamp), film (Lumiere, Méliès, Vertov), and secondary engagements with modernism / modernity by Celeste Olalquiaga, Michel Foucualt, and others. We will follow the convention of the catalog description in looking at modernisms from, roughly, the mid-19th century to the early/mid 20th century. We will study the history of Dada / Dadaism in relation to the present, watch surprising films like Walter Murch’s 1985 adaptation of the turn of the century work of L. Frank Baum, Return to Oz (which we will read in light of modernity, commodification, and monstrosity, among much else), and study Todd Haynes’ untimely comparison of glam rock with high modernism, Velvet Goldmine. We will study the construction of the modern subject through discursive practices, which Foucault referred to as “technologies of the self”—for example, those on pornography, sexuality, and gender.
How do we think about the modern? Is it the new, the avant-garde, a break with the past, the everyday? What does it mean to think about a peculiarly “modern” life? (Which can be another way of saying, what is the “present” of a particular era.) And what of progress, enlightenment, technology, discipline, acceleration, and the subject? (Which can be another way of saying modernity or, 400+ years of capitalist development.) This course will think modernism/modernity as a philosophical problem rather than a historical object. We will strive to think modern thought as something immanent to (i.e. not outside) the “presents” it traverses. In this reading, the counter-modern, the a-modern, the alternatives to, and the excluded of modernity will be viewed as fully a part of modern life itself. This is because the problem of modernity is something we are continuing to work through, today. To paraphrase Michel Foucault, we will ask ourselves what it might mean to think the modern, simultaneously, as a philosophical problem, a relation to life, and a critique of the present.
Required Texts (available at the bookstore)
Essays (available online)
Films (shown in class)
Early Modern Cinema and Short Films
Additional Reading (optional)
For those who wish to do additional research, the journal Modernism/modernity is a good source of recent scholarship in the field.