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Martin Kevorkian, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Fall 2008

E 395M • Pragmatism, Modernism, Criticism, and Computers

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
35769 W
6:00 PM-9:00 PM
BEN 1.118

Course Description

From Emerson to the Electronic Word, this course aims to trace out a genealogy of pragmatism as a distinctively American technological practice - one that, as Cornel West explains, results from the distinctive features of American culture: "its revolutionary beginning combined with a slave based economy; its elastic liberal rule of law combined with an entrenched business-dominated status quo; its hybrid culture in combination with a collective self-definition as homogeneously Anglo-American; its obsession with mobility, contingency, and money combined with a deep moralistic impulse; and its impatience with theories and philosophies alongside ingenious technical innovation, political strategies of compromise, and personal devices for comfort and convenience."

We will examine works traditionally taught as philosophy alongside works of literature, seeing both as a form of cultural criticism that attempts to reshape the meaning of America in response to particular social and cultural crises. By evading epistemology-centered philosophy, these writers attempt to employ thought as a weapon that will enable future action. In particular, we will look at how these writers reappraise the revolutionary, romantic impulses that gave birth to a democratic ideal of America, only to grow into legacies of nation building and empire. We will also look at how works traditionally taught as literature function within this critical framework both to comment on and extend this form of cultural critique. Finally, we will focus on how this "critical activity" intimately involves particular notions of pedagogy, learning, and knowledge, and how we can facilitate those educational ideals in our own classrooms.

While the focus is on modern American writers such as William Carlos Williams, Henry James, Robert Frost, and W. E. B. DuBois, the course will by no means be restricted to these writers. Equally at stake, for example, could be an examination of the role of the computer as a means for generating "pragmatic experience," of feminist engagements with Pragmatism, or of the practice of cultural criticism and contemporary Border Studies as they grow out of the writings of American philosophers of the first half of the century. Throughout the semester, however, I hope to explore how Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Computer all function as technologies that inform and critique each other. And given the newness of the field of Digital Literacies and Literatures, I hope that the course is a collaborative one in all of its aspects.


Required Texts:

Seyla Benhabib, Judith Butler, Drucilla Cornell, and Nancy Fraser, Feminist Contentions: A Philosophical Exchange (Routledge; 0-415-91086-2) Kenneth Burke, Attitudes Toward History (U of California; 0-520-04148-8) John Dewey, Democracy and Education (U of Chicago; 0-226-14401-1) W. E. B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk (Penguin; 0-14-039074-X) Ralph Waldo Emerson, Selections from Ralph Waldo Emerson (Riverside; 0-395-05112-6) Henry James, The American (Signet; 0-451-52241-9) William James, Pragmatism (Penguin; B-000-06I4-M6) Paul Jay, Contingency Blues: The Search for Foundations in American Criticism (U of Wisconsin; 0-299-15414-9) Richard A. Lanham, The Electronic Word: Democracy, Technology, and the Arts (U of Chicago; 0-226-46885-2) Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (Cambridge; 0-521-36781-6) William Carlos Williams, In the American Grain (New Directions; 0-8112-0203-5)

Recommended Text:

Cornel West, The American Evasion of Philosophy


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