Why a return to the real now? The question of what comes after postmodernism and poststructuralism is currently at the forefront of debates in literary studies, critical theory, philosophy, and other humanistic disciplines. The exhaustion of postmodern constructivism is manifest: if universalized, radical constructivism leads to unacceptable consequences, denying the distinctive status of non-linguistic phenomena and undermining the notion of the real as such: “there is nothing outside the text.” But the upswell of fresh interest in realism also responds to real-world events such as climate change: as has been cleverly stated, “it isn’t language that has a hole in its ozone layer.” At the same time, the crisis of the humanities in the STEM research university has made the presupposition of humanistic study more urgent than ever: why are there fields that we recognize as literature, language, culture, art, or religion? A revision of the notion of the real is essential for the welfare of the humanities. Since the rise of modern science, modern realism has essentially been reductive materialism, naturalism, or physicalism: its most important attribute is mind-independence (“the view from nowhere”). Naturalism denies the irreducible reality of mind-dependent phenomena—such as consciousness, experience, myth, or conspiracy theories. Yet what is the singular reality of social and mental constructs? How real, for example, is race? How do things become real that may initially have been constructed? What is the status of taken-for granted, everyday reality?
This course is designed to introduce students to multiple approaches to—as Hubert Dreyfus and Charles Taylor put it—retrieving realism. Among readings will be work by Markus Gabriel, Bruno Latour, Rita Felski, Quentin Meillassoux, Manuel deLanda, Graham Harman, Thomas Nagel, John Searle, Paula Moya, Satya Mohanty, Michael Hames-García, Fritjof Capra, Fredric Jameson, Jeffrey Nealon. As Jameson has noted, realism is a notoriously slippery term. It refers both to a critical problematic—the real as synonymous with knowledge as such—as well as to an artistic style. One particular type of ontologies that merits wider recognition are context-based realisms, which shift the focus from seeing isolated things and individuals to organized patterns and relationships. Contextual realisms reject classical concepts of the real such as autonomous objects, elementary parts, collections of things, the antithesis between appearance vs. (ultimate) reality, and the dichotomy between reality vs. construction. Their place is taken by a new relational set of concepts: actor-networks, factishes, systems, emergent properties, scalar realities, fields of sense, contact realism, etc.
This seminar is co-ordinated with the campus visit of Markus Gabriel (Philosophy, Bonn University), one of the leading figures in the international movement for new realisms, as Walker Ames Lecturer March 4-8, 2019.
Assignments: presentation on readings; 10-15 pg. research paper