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Michael Stoff, Director 305 East 23rd St, CLA 2.102, (G3600) Austin, TX 78712-1250 • 512-471-1442

Fall 2009

T C 302 • A History of the Self - W

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
43700 MW
9:30 AM-11:00 AM
CRD 007A

Course Description

What does it mean to say "I," and where does that “I” come from? Does the self, or the I, exist in the body, or is it something purely mental and immaterial? Do I have one self that stays with me over time, or do I constantly generate a new self with all my actions and thoughts? What happens if I lose my self? Or if part of my self is unconscious or beyond my control? Importantly, why does it matter how we understand the self? That is, what implications does our conception of the self and its stability or instability have for our understanding of political, cultural, and historical developments?

This course examines these questions and their evolution throughout the history of European philosophy and social theory from roughly1600 to the present, with special emphasis on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It asks how and especially why people have thought about the formation of the self - and its dissolution – over time, and about the changing historical circumstances that have motivated thinkers to return constantly anew to the matter. While we will work primarily with European philosophical and social-theoretical traditions, we will also read and discuss more literary and historical texts that help us to see what the stakes have been in historically-specific approaches to understanding the self.

Grading Policy

Three short (3-4 page) papers 45% (each at 15%)
One oral report (10-15 minutes, with text) 15%
Ten weekly response papers (1 page) 10%
Final Take-Home Exam 20%
Class Participation: 10%


René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy
Friedrich Nietzsche, selected excerpts and aphorisms
Hedwig Dohm, Become Who You Are!
Sigmund Freud, The Ego and the Id
Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness (short excerpt)
Jacques Lacan, "The Mirror Stage"
Michel Foucault, Technologies of the Self (excerpts)
Judith Butler, "Introduction" to Bodies that Matter
Donna Haraway, "A Manifesto for Cyborgs"
Nick Mansfield, Subjectivity: Theories of the Self from Freud to Harraway

About the Professor

As a European intellectual historian, my academic interests reside at the intersection of philosophy, social theory, public activism, and theories of gender and sexuality. I have recently completed a book entitled Against Morality: Subjectivity and Sexuality in fin-de-siècle Central Europe, and am now working on the history of materialism from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. I have also begun a project that is a direct product of a teaching need: a collection of writings by women on the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche from roughly 1890 to 1930.

After receiving my Ph.D. in European intellectual history at Cornell University in 2001, and before arriving at the University of Texas in August of 2003, I was the grateful recipient of two post-doctoral fellowships. The first was a fellowship from the Mellon Foundation and awarded by the German Studies Department at Cornell, and the second was from the Center for European Studies at Harvard University. Since coming to UT, I have enjoyed teaching courses such as "History and the Unconscious," and "Marx and Nietzsche," as well as staples such as “Western Civilizations in Modern Times.” When I am not teaching, I am usually researching in Germany, sometimes in Berlin and more recently in the culturally-rich towns of Weimar, Jena, and Gotha.

Of course I do take time off from teaching and researching once in a while. And when I do get a break from work, I like to run, bike, and play with my dog (who doesn't like to run or bike). I also enjoy skiing, but life in Texas has made that a bit more difficult! My favorite, more sedentary activity in Austin is to visit the Alamo Drafthouse, where I will usually happily view almost anything they are showing.


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