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The Public Intellectual in an Era of New Media

ENGL 294.301
instructor(s):
TR 10:30-12
fulfills requirements:
Sector 1: Theory and Poetics of the Standard Major
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major
Elective Seminar of the Standard Major

This course will survey contemporary representations of the public intellectual as one who maintains vigilant skepticism towards received wisdom. The syllabus will explore theoretical positions, political manifestos, films, blogs, and cultural practices reflecting the heterogeneity of current thinking on this topic. The course structure will emphasize conversation and class participation. No familiarity with literary theory or contemporary art is required and all students are welcome.

The late Edward Said argued that a public intellectual should be "someone whose place is to raise embarrassing questions, to confront orthodoxy and dogma, to be someone who cannot easily be co-opted by governments or corporations.” We will also consider questions such as the relationship of intellectual practice to political activism, and the effect of new media and internet technologies on our traditional understanding of the role and reception of the public intellectual. Instead of looking for public intellectualism only in professional politics and town halls, we will give attention to new techniques and arenas of representation--for instance, blogs, internet journalism, and even Second Life. We will also examine questions of cultural prestige as we consider the relationship of public intellectualism to celebrity. In the process, students will come to better understand the relationship between traditional definitions of the public intellectual and the work of contemporary artists, academics, and journalists.

Some of the historical authors we will read include Benjamin Franklin, Karl Marx, Emile Zola, Paul La Fargue, Jean-Paul Sartre, Antonio Gramsci, and Henry David Thoreau. Contemporary theorists we will read include Edward Said, Pierre Bourdieu, Bruno Latour, Gayatri Spivak, and Michael Warner. We will also engage the work of theorists such as Slavoj Zizek, and Alain Badiou through audio and video documentation. Some of the artists and curators whose work we will consider include Hans Haacke, the Yes Men, Teddy Cruz and the in_site05 festival along the border with Tijuana, and the geopolitical interventions of the research collective Multiplicity. Some of these individuals will visit the class over the course of the semester to engage us in conversation.