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The Affordances of Guilt

ENGL 590.401
also offered as: GSWS 589, COML 590
Thursday, 12-3:00pm


Scholars working in gender and sexuality studies have embraced pride, shame, rage, irony, and earnestness as theoretically and politically productive affects; guilt, by contrast, is more usually attributed to others rather assumed by the self. Whether in the venerable academic tradition of unmasking the blind spots and bad faith of individual scholars or entire fields, or in more recently ascendant call-out and cancel culture, discerning others’ guilt is a means of proclaiming one’s own righteousness. In this course, we will consider how our scholarly projects and political investments might look different if we embraced guilt—in the sense of both culpability and contrition—not as a cynical dismissal of intellectual consistency or social justice, but as a consciousness of how easily and often we fall short of these goals. To this end, the seminar will examine philosophical, psychoanalytic, feminist, queer, and trans writing that speaks from an assumption of failure, complicity, and compromise rather than one of moral authority (Frederic Nietzsche, Melanie Klein, Emmanuel Levinas, Jacques Derrida, Eve Sedgewick, Judith Butler, Jasbir Puar, Jack Halberstam, Jennifer Nash, Maggie Nelson, Claire Hemmings, Kadji Amin, Elizabeth Freeman, Madhavi Menon, Amber Musser, Lee Edelman, Fred Moten and Stefano Harney are some possibilities). All students will give one class presentation and write a conference-length research paper.



fulfills requirements