Yale University School of Art
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Critical Studies 949, Diving into the Wreck: Rethinking Critical Practices
E.I.K. Wednesday, 3:30 – 5:30 pm

Required for First Year Graduate Students Yale School of Art

This course borrows its title from Adrienne Rich’s poem written in 1973 at the beginning of the second wave of feminism, in the wake of the civil rights movement, amid the student protests against the Vietnam War, and in reflection of the author’s own process of self-discovery and personal emancipation. As a work that focuses on the isolation of life as it does on a sense of shared community, Rich’s poem brings forth a perspective that there can be no understanding of the “wreck” without becoming one with the wreck. It is possible to see how this self-motivated, even self-legislated, impulse toward autonomy is mirrored within the very constitution of a work of art that is bound by the dialectic between autonomy and dependence, individuality and collectivity, randomness and resoluteness (Jacqueline Rose), expression and rationality (Adorno). Taking Diving into the Wreck as a point of departure, the course aims toward a cultivation of consciousness that extends self-knowledge into a sense of a community through the act of critical reflection.

The course reading list will include a wide array of selected and suggested authors, artists, thinkers, and cultural producers with the writings of Herbert Marcuse (Eros and Civilization, Tolerance of Repression, Essay on Liberation, Counterrevolution and Revolt) introduced throughout as a central thread. It was Marcuse who in his 1937 essay entitled Philosophy and Critical Theory introduced the category of the “critical” as: “that, amidst today’s desperation, indicates that reality that follows the direction given by constructive concepts, which comprehend not only the given reality but simultaneously, its abolition and the new reality that is to follow.” It is perspective on affirmative society and the “critical category” that holds significant relevance today – “in summoning a critique of current conditions and the analysis of their tendencies as to necessarily include future oriented components, with the contexts that transcend the realm of established conditions.”

Diving into the Wreck aspires to promote a larger collective and longer conversation around the consideration of “critical relevance” with respect to and outside one’s studio practice (critical practice/critical engagement) given the widened field of “rage” and a largely dehumanizing backdrop – with a staggering increase in social and economic inequality as well as a rise in and support for authoritarian populist political movements, in the ease with which a vocabulary of narrow ethno-nationalisms is applied, with the emergence of what Adorno foresaw as “authoritarian personalities” who, in turn, expound on racist and xenophobic agendas, with continued violent oppression that calls for a new language in feminism, with the proliferation of racially motivated police violence and incarceration, state violence, and among others prescient issues, the question of human sexuality no longer located, according to the writer and activist Jennifer Finney Boylan, “about who you want to go to bed with, but it’s who you want to go to bed as.”

The course will adopt a lecture/seminar approach with twelve sessions scheduled on Wednesdays from 3:30 – 5:30 pm throughout the Autumn semester and led by Dean and Professor Kuzma with the additional participation and engagement of Visiting Professor Peter Osborne (on the critical history of the artistic present): the poet, essayist, and author Claudia Rankine (on the Racial Imaginary); Scholar and Professor of Performance Studies Fred Moten (on Resistance of the Object); artist Walid Raad; artist Naeem Mohaiemen among others.

It is required that enrolled students attend each session, have read the requested readings in advance and submit a designated assignment at the end of the semester.

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