Core Courses

Critical Theory 200

A seminar in 19th century philosophy and social theory concerned with key texts undergirding critical theories in the 20th century. This seminar may include Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, and/or Weber, and will be organized around the concept of "critique" and "critical theory."

Critical Theory 205

A seminar on the Frankfurt School in conjunction with other critical trends, e.g., Adorno and Benjamin and aesthetic theory, or social theory from Bloch to Habermas.

Critical Theory 240

A seminar on contemporary critique and critical theory. This course may include critical race theory, postcontinental political theory, norms and values in critical theory, seminars on the tradition of critique and theology, comparative forms of critique, geopolitical conditions of theory-formation, critical theory and Marxism, critique and the problem of political dissent and citizenship, gender and race in relation to critical practices, psychoanalysis, and literary and art theory and criticism.


Additionally, students in the DE are required to complete two electives from a wide selection of cross-listed courses offered each year. Electives include those listed on this site, but students can also request credit for other courses taken, especially if taught by DE-affiliated faculty.

Fall 2022

Core Courses

The following courses satisfy Critical Theory Designated Emphasis core course requirements.

Comparative Literature 225 (Critical Theory 205)
Critical Art, Critical Theory: Modern Poetry and Frankfurt School Aesthetics

Robert Kaufman
Wednesdays 2-5 pm / 4125A – Dwinelle
Class #: 30337

[Note: Although this seminar emphasizes the importance of 19th and 20th-century poetry and poetics to the development of Frankfurt School aesthetics, criticism, and theory, and likewise considers more recent dialogues between later 20th and 21st-century poetry/poetics and Frankfurt-oriented criticism, the seminar is also co-listed as a Comparative Literature 225 seminar. Whether enrolled through Comparative Literature, or through the Critical Theory Program, students are welcome to take the seminar as a survey of some major texts in Frankfurt aesthetic, literary, and cultural theory more generally, provided they are willing to study and engage actively with the modern poetry and poetics that will be treated as the seminar’s primary literary field, along with the seminar’s related critical-theoretical and philosophical-aesthetics materials.] Seminar Description: Readings in modern, and above all modern lyric, poetry (much of it from the U.S., but also from Latin America, Europe, Asia, Africa, the Near East) in relation to major Frankfurt-School texts on aesthetics, criticism, and social theory that emphasize the significance of literature (as well as the other arts) and especially poetry. Focused concentration on the writings of Walter Benjamin and Theodor W. Adorno, and on their development of Kantian, Hegelian, and Marxian traditions of aesthetics and critical theory. Sustained attention to how and why poetry turns out to be so crucial to the Frankfurters’ (and, in particular, to Benjamin’s and Adorno’s) overall analyses of modernity, mechanical/technical/ technological reproduction and reproducibility (in both the socioeconomic and artistic-aesthetic spheres), and critical agency. Consideration of how Frankfurt-School concerns and legacies might engage the changed sociopolitical circumstances and artistic-aesthetic tendencies—-and the changed poetry—-of the last three decades; analysis in turn of how later-modernist and contemporary poets’ work may challenge Frankfurt analyses of and assumptions about poetry, aesthetic experience, and critical agency themselves. Tracing of the poetry, aesthetics, critical-theory, and sociopolitical histories leading to Adorno’s controversial statements from the late 1940s through 1969 about “poetry after Auschwitz” (including the ceaseless, prominent international debates those statements caused and have continued to occasion in the poetry-world, the other arts, criticism, and the cultural sphere more generally). Readings of poetry throughout the course will tend to emphasize formal, stylistic, and philosophical-theoretical matters in order to highlight the question of how–and to what degree–artistic technique, in relation to aesthetic form and aesthetic experience (especially lyric experience), may offer stimulus toward and insight into historical, sociopolitical, and ethical understanding and engagement. Some treatment of Romantic and nineteenth-century poetry, and of 21st-century poetry, but the seminar will focus primarily on twentieth-century, modernist poetry (including modernist poetry written and published during the apparently postmodern period). As a shared project throughout the semester, the class will read and continue discussing together in a sustained manner a facing-page, French-English volume containing Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal / The Flowers of Evil [1857] and Le Spleen de Paris/Petits Poèmes en Prose [1869]; and also poetry by a number of contemporary poets, likely including Nathaniel Mackey, Claudia Rankine, Barbara Guest, Michael Palmer, Emmy Pérez, Myung Mi Kim, D.S. Marriottt, Roberto Tejada, and others (e.g.: Vallejo, Duncan, Brecht, Lorca, Mayakovsky, Ponge, Éluard, Rilke, Neruda, Ginsberg, Hansberry, Zurita, Celan, various Surrealists and Objectivists, W.C. Williams, Moore, Bishop, Stevens, Paz, Olson, Levertov, Creeley, Ashbery, Paz, O’Hara, Adonis, Monchoachi, Rich, Darwish, Avidan, Morejón, Césaire, Pizarnik, Bachmann, Castellanos, Daive, Albiach, Pasolini, et al.). [Additional Note: Texts of critical theory, philosophy, aesthetics, and/or criticism will be presented in English translation, though, with texts not initially written in English, we will frequently consider the German, French, Spanish, etc., originals. Poetry not originally composed in English will be read and discussed primarily in English translation, but we will almost always also consult a poem’s facing-page (or at-hand, xeroxed) original language–most often German, French, or Spanish (as well as other languages, depending on students’ poetry selections). Knowledge of other languages–especially German, French, and/or Spanish—-is not required, though it will prove very helpful.]

Elective Courses (Critical Theory 290)

The following courses satisfy Critical Theory Designated Emphasis elective requirements.

Rhetoric 200 (Critical Theory 290)
Classical Rhetorical Theory and Practice: History and Theory of Rhetoric

James Porter
Tuesdays 2-5pm / Dwinelle 7415
Class #: 25753

This seminar offers an introduction to classical rhetorical theory from Homer to Augustine. Secondary readings will be drawn from scholarship in Classics (Vernant, Loraux, Svenbro) and from modern philology, philosophy, and theory (Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Adorno, S. Weil, R. Bespaloff, Arendt, R. Jakobson, J. L. Austin, Foucault, Rancière, Blumenberg, Balibar, J. Butler, Latour). Topics will include speech and writing; rhetoric and philosophy; language and reality; persuasion, seduction, and epistemological critique; literal and figurative meaning; agency and responsibility; aesthetics, politics, and religion. More details will be made available on bCourses. The final syllabus will be determined at the first session to reflect student preferences. No prerequisites. Open to graduate students from all departments including Critical Theory DE students. Classics students will be encouraged to read texts in the original. Requirements: bi-weekly blog post responses; one to two in-class presentations or responses (depending on the class size); a final research paper geared towards the participants’ own research fields.

Italian 235 (Critical Theory 290)
Decolonizing the Republic of Letters: Literature and Violence from Columbus to Vico

Diego Pirillo
Tuesdays 2-5 pm / Dwinelle 6331
Class #: 32512

In dialogue with post-colonial theory, indigenous studies and global history, this seminar interrogates literary and philosophical texts in light of the current debate on the decolonization of knowledge and education. After tracing the Renaissance discourse about conquest and empire triggered by Columbus and the Iberian globalization, we’ll focus on the controversy around slavery and the dispossession of Indigenous people, considering how the Republic of Letters enabled and was at the same time produced by the violence of Euro-American colonialism. Readings will include both early modern authors (such as Columbus, Ariosto, Montaigne, Vico) as well as classics from critical theory (such as Arendt, Fanon, Said, Trouillot, Greenblatt, Subrahmanyam).

History 280D (Law 267.4) (Critical Theory 290)
Law & History Foundation Seminar: American Legal History

Christopher Tomlins
Mondays 2:10-5 pm / 2240 Piedmont Avenue, Room 102
(first class is Monday, August 22)
Class #: 25753

Instructor Consent Required for Enrollment

As in previous years, Law 267.4 will explore the central themes of American legal development, while also investigating the way legal history has matured as a field of study or “discipline.” But we are living in interesting times, in which the varied exploitations of colonialism, racism, and capitalism have been made the subject of intense examination and argument. So this semester I want to give explicit attention to the question of how history – as theory, as philosophy, as method, or simply as narrative – can help us understand the role that law has played, and plays, in the construction of our times. The course will concentrate on the legal history of the United States, but it will begin and end with pointed glances at two other Anglophone common law jurisdictions – England and Australia. And, to set our discussion of theory and method in legal history off with a bang, we will begin with work by Louis Althusser, one of the most famous Marxist philosophers of the twentieth century, which poses the issue of how we should think about law as a phenomenon. In other words, what is law? Considered as a field of study, legal history is as much history as it is law, and history is primarily a discipline of the book. For this reason, I have chosen to make Law 267.4 a course that focuses on books. Over the course of the semester our goal will be to develop a thorough grounding in American legal history’s formative literatures by reading a wide selection of the field’s best work, ranging from classics that have structured the field, stirred controversy, and inspired generations of scholars (like James Willard Hurst’s Law and the Conditions of Freedom and Morton Horwitz’s Transformation of American Law, 1780-1860), to the best work of the current generation of field leaders (like Laura Edwards’ The People and their Peace and Kunal Parker’s Legal Thought Before Modernism), to notable recent work by rising scholars (like Karen Tani’s States of Dependency and Ken Mack’s Representing the Race). We will accumulate considerable knowledge of the empirical substance of American legal history, but we will also give close critical attention to the very different ways in which scholars have chosen to write the history of American law (and the very different subjects about which they have considered it appropriate to write).

Anthropology 250X (Critical Theory 290)
Wittgenstein and Anthropology

Charles Hirschkind
Wednesdays 12-2 pm / Anthropology/Art Practice Bldg 221
Class #: 30232

In this class, we will explore some of the writings and ideas of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. It has often been noted that Wittgenstein’s style of philosophy, in his later writings, relies on a highly anthropological sensibility for what he calls the “grammar” of specific forms of life. What does a Wittgensteinianism sensibility contribute to our understanding of the practice and potentials of ethnographic description? What did he mean by the claim that he couldn’t “help seeing every problem from a religious point of view,” and how might this claim allow us to better grasp (practice) this sensibility? How might an engagement with the work of this philosopher afford us a unique perspective on contemporary or longstanding debates within the discipline of anthropology? We will explore these and other questions through a close reading of some sections of the Philosophical Investigations, the Remarks on Frazer, and some of the Reflections on Aesthetics and Religious Belief, as well as works by other commentators.