What is a Subject?
The question “what is a subject?” looms large in the history of Western philosophy. From Descartes and Kant to Althusser and Butler, philosophers have struggled to come to terms with the nature of subjectivity and its apparent entailments: consciousness, agency, selfhood, and desire. To ask “what is a subject?” however, as black feminist scholars especially have demonstrated, is not only to enter into metaphysical territory, but also to raise ethical and political questions about who and what counts as a subject: woman, slave, animal, thing—these and other figures have, throughout history, constituted the subject by means of negation. What “objects” must be produced and repressed in order for the "subject” to emerge as a descriptive category and normative ideal? What other histories of the subject-object relation might be told? This course will answer such questions through readings of canonical thinkers in the history of subjectivity (Freud, Klein, Fanon, Butler, Foucault, Sedgwick) as well as more recent work in black, trans, feminist, queer, and posthumanist theory (Hortense Spillers, C. Riley Snorton, Jay Prosser, Gayle Salomon, Hasana Sharp). Special attention will be paid to the relevance of questions of subjectivity for the study of literature via scholarship on character, voice, and narration.