Rhetoric of the Self
120 001 | CCN: 32947
Selfhood, Subjectivity, and Ethics: From the First Person to the Third Person to the Other
Instructor: James I. Porter
Location: Genetics & Plant Bio 107
Date / Time: Tu/Th 2:00pm - 3:29pm
Intuitively we have a self and we are selves, but what does this actually mean? Is your self your mind, your body, your soul, your psyche, your person, your racial, cultural, or political identity? Do you “own” your self? Or is it conditioned from without? The answer since Kant involves the idea that individuals are in control of their essential identities (autonomy of the will and rational core functions) and that ethical conduct is conditioned by these factors alone. After Kant, writers and thinkers began to challenge this premise by working through enriched notions of otherness, collective identity, and ecological responsibilities, all of which point to the limits of selfhood and subjectivity, and many of which eliminate the notions of the singular “self” and curtail (decenter) the category of “the human.” As it happens, the most recent theories recall some of the earliest approaches to the problem in the West before the self was opposed to an Other (Nature and the Polis). In this course, we will sample some of this literature, viewing it not as an academic problem but as a problem that affects how all of us reflect on and conduct our lives today and that can help see us through to a new, richer, and unbracketed ethics.
Readings will include excerpts from Greek and Roman authors (Homer, Heraclitus, Plato, Marcus Aurelius) to Montaigne, Kant, Diderot, Nietzsche, and Freud to more recent theory, e.g., Levinas, Blanchot, B. Williams, Balibar, Esposito, Deleuze, S. Wynter, S. Best, J. Butler, T. Morton, K. Barad, J. Zylinksa, and readings from the Environmental Humanities series.
Requirements: bi-weekly blog assignments, in-class presentations, a short midterm essay, and a final essay or project (optionally, a group project).
No Prerequisites. Students from all disciplines are welcome and invited to bring their own interests and expertises to the class and to test them against the readings and the discussions.