English 7520

Images, Commodities, and Information

Fall 2004, Mondays 6pm-9pm, 333 State Hall
Steven Shaviro (313-577-5475; 5057 Woodward, room 9309; office hours Monday 2-4pm & by appointment)

Images, commodities, and information are ubiquitous in our culture today. Images have proliferated ever since the invention of photography in the early nineteenth century; now, in the wake of cinema, television, and more recently digital video, digital cameras, and digital image manipulation, the image seems to have displaced the word as our dominant mode of thought and communication. The commodity form, too, has proliferated since the rise of capitalism in the Industrial Revolution; it is more ubiquitous than ever today, with globalization, multinational corporations, and the "branding" of nearly everything. And information, which was theorized in its modern form by Claude Shannon in the mid-twentieth century, has taken center stage thanks to its use in telecommunications, computing, and digital replication. Images, commodities, and information have the role today of what Marx called "universal equivalents," providing a sort of common measure for the most diverse objects, practices and experiences.

This class will explore the history and the current impact of images, commodities, and information. Theoretical writings by the likes of Benjamin, Barthes, Sontag, McLuhan, Marx, Adorno, Jameson, and Hayles will be supplemented by works in various media (photography, film and video, new digital media).

The format of the class will be discussion. The requirements for the class include participation in discussion, helping to lead discussion several times during the quarter, and one final research paper (approximately 15 pages). The paper will count for 50% of the grade; participation in class discussions for the other 50%.

Books ordered (available at Marwil Books):

  1. September 13: Introduction

  2. September 20: Universal Equivalents and Reproduction

  3. September 27: Media Theory

  4. October 4: The Poetics of Images and Photographs

  5. October 11: Photography and Everyday Life

  6. October 18: The Politics of Images

  7. October 25: Images and Commodities

  8. November 1: Commodity Logic
  9. November 8: Counter-Logic: Commodity vs. Gift
  10. November 15: Commodities and Power

  11. November 22: Cybernetics and the Theory of Communication

  12. November 29: Information Systems

  13. December 6: The Politics of Information

  14. December 13: Conclusions