French 680 Studies in Literary Theory

Section: 001 Theory, Technology, and the Humanities in the Anthropocene Epoch

Professor William Paulson

In this seminar we will explore the state of the humanities, particularly its theoretical branches, in light of two major contemporary vectors of change: the radically accelerated performance of information technologies and the increasingly decisive human impact on the earth’s biosphere and climate. These developments, while massively connected to human culture, are unthinkable without nonhuman entities, which raises questions about the limits and pertinence of disciplines and theories that have traditionally confined themselves to matters of strictly human culture and society. Among the questions to be discussed: how can (or should) the humanities redefine themselves in a communications environment that is very different from the conditions in which most of the traditions and works studied in humanities disciplines were created? What role can the humanities, and their mode of theorizing, play in fields of activity and inquiry that seem to require participation of the natural sciences?

Intended Audience:

The seminar will be taught in English and is open to graduate students from all fields with an interest in the humanities, but will be particularly as pre-professional preparation for students who expect or hope to make a career in the humanities. It is numbered “French 680” both because of the disciplinary background of the instructor and because it will feature a slightly idiosyncratic emphasis on Michel Serres and Bruno Latour, two French thinkers whose work pertains to the topic.