English 7520

Topics in Contemporary Culture:
Darwin, Marx, and their Legacies

Fall 2006, Monday, 6pm-9pm, 165 Old Main
Steven Shaviro (313-577-5475; 5057 Woodward, room 9309; office hours Monday 3-5pm and by appointment)

Course Description

This class starts from the premise that Charles Darwin and Karl Marx, arguably the two most influential thinkers of the nineteenth century, are still absolutely indispensable for understanding the world today, in the twenty-first. Although neither Darwin nor Marx would have described himself as a cultural theorist, their arguments and ideas are at the center of what we know today as cultural studies. The class will look at writings by Darwin and Marx, together with more recent works in their traditions. Together with Darwin, we will look at recent writing (by Richard Dawkins, Stephen J. Gould, Stuart Kauffman, Susan Oyama, Lynn Margulis and others) on the implications of evolutionary theory, and on the differing interpretations of its consequences for our conceptualization of life in general, and for the understanding of human society and culture today in particular. Together with Marx, we will look at more recent writing (by Adorno, Debord, Althusser, Virno, Negri, and others) that endeavors to work out the logic of social relations under capitalism, and the consequences of this logic for contemporary culture. 

Schedule of Classes

1.September 11
Darwin, The Origin of Species

2.September 18
Darwin, The Descent of Man
(optional) Darwin, TheExpression of the Emotions in Man and Animals

3.September 25
Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene
Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin, "The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm" (available here or here)
An exchange between Steven Pinker and Stephen Jay Gould
Elizabeth Grosz, "Darwinian Matters: Life, Force, and Change" (from The Nick of Time)

4.October 2
Matt Ridley, The Agile Gene
Morse Peckham, "Darwinism and Darwinisticism"
Franco Moretti, "On Literary Evolution"

5.October 9
Jonathan Marks, What It Means to Be 98% Chimpanzee
Jonathan Marks, "The Realities of Races"
Richard Lewontin, "Confusions About Human Races"
Armand Marie Leroy, "A Family Tree in Every Gene"
Alan Goodman, "Two Questions About Races"

6.October 16
Susan Oyama, Evolution's Eye

7.October 23
Lynn Margulis, Symbiotic Planet
Stuart Kauffman, At Home in the Universe

8.October 30
Marx and Engels, Communist Manifesto
Marx, "Theses on Feuerbach"
Marx, Preface from A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy
Marx, "The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte"
Marx, "Wages, Price, and Profit"

9.November 6
Marx, General Introduction to Grundrisse
Marx, selections from Capital
Marx, "Results of the Immediate Process of Production"

10.November 13
Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia

11.November 20
Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle

12.November 27
Louis Althusser, from For Marx: "Contradiction and Overdetermination"; "On the Materialist Dialectic"; "Marxism and Humanism"
Louis Althusser, "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses"

13.December 4
Paolo Virno, A Grammar of the Multitude
Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire, section 3.4, available online here.

14.December 11
Kojin Karatani, Transcritique

Class Requirements

The following books are available at Marwil Books:

Class requirements include participation in discussion, leading class discussion twice during the semester (once during the Darwin/Darwinism half of the class, and the other time during the Marx/Marxism half), and writing two 7- or 8-page papers. The first paper, on Darwin/Darwinism, is due on October 30; the second paper, on Marx/Marxism, is due on December 18.

Extra note: There are two lectures this semester which are particularly relevant for this class. Attendance at both is strongly urged and highly recommended.