This seminar explores the role and function of concepts of embodiment (including race, gender, and sexuality) in definitions of the human. The first part of the seminar is devoted to devising a theoretical repertoire drawn from theorists not primarily known for their interest in gender, but who have provided influential theories of the social, disciplinarity, sovereignty, the biopolitical, and the posthuman. In the second part of the seminar, we will use these theories to think through issues of agency, sovereignty, and power in relation to species, gender, sexuality, and race. We will focus on two literary case studies composed of a cluster of intertexts: the stories of Philomel and Cressida across the medieval and early modern periods in English and in French (all French texts available in English translation). Literary authors include Chaucer, Chrétien de Troyes, Shakespeare, and translators of Ovid; theorists include Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, Agamben, Latour, and Grosz. Throughout the Term we will consider the tension, in both theory and literary representation, between being and becoming.
Students will complete a major research project grounded in their own primary research areas and that engages with the theoretical paradigms offered in the course. Requirements include an annotated bibliography, an oral presentation of research questions, and a final paper. The class will culminate in the presentation of student research with the goal of preparation for publication.
Although the case studies for the course will be located in the medieval and early modern periods, no prior training in those areas is assumed, and the seminar should be useful to any student interested in gaining a broader understanding of contemporary theory and developing a methodological tool kit for engaging with both literary texts and historical issues in any period.