ENGL 494 A: Honors Seminar

Biopower in Literature and Theory

Meeting Time: 
TTh 10:30am - 12:20pm
GLD 117
Alys Weinbaum
Alys Eve Weinbaum

Additional Details:

Prof. Alys Eve Weinbaum
English 494A
Winter 2014

Biopower in Literature and Theory

In recent discussions about the shape, scope, and formation of power in the context of economic globalization and neoliberalism the idea of biopower (first developed by Michel Foucault) has gained primacy. In this course we will explore the possibilities and pitfalls of biopower as a description and analysis of power in the contemporary moment as well as its relevance to our understanding the deployment of power over “life itself” at several key points in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, which, of course, witnessed not only colonization and industrialization, but also racial slavery and its demise. In so doing we will construct a genealogy of the term within Foucault’s work and across a variety of philosophical and theoretical texts that directly engage with Foucault. We will also explore recent scholarship that implicitly supplements or in other ways “corrects” Foucault’s theory through engagement with questions of incarceration, sexuality, race, slavery, human reproduction, and the ascendance of the genome. The aim of the course is thus threefold: 1) to excavate a genealogy of the concept of biopower in Foucault’s work; 2) to explore the various ways in which this concept has been set to work by other thinkers; and 3) to collectively expand and refine the concept of biopower with the goal of making the concept useful for our own literary critical purposes. To this end roughly half of the course will be devoted to analysis of carefully selected literary and filmic texts that in some way treat biopower and/or enable us to theorize it further. In this sense we will read literature/film as theory, and, in turn, we will explore the relevance of biopolitical theory to various forms of literary and cultural study.

Authors to be considered will include a selection of the following: Michel Foucault, Giorgio Agamben, Enzo Traverso, Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin, Raymond Williams, Michelle Alexander, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Nikolas Rose, Paul Gilroy, Loic Wacquant, Dorothy Roberts, Herman Melville, Margaret Atwood, Octavia Butler, Michael Bay, Lars Von Trier, Alfonso Curson, and Kazuo Ishiguro.

Requirements: During the course of the quarter students will participate in group presentations, will contribute on a regular basis to reading journals (which will be handed in), and will produce a final research paper of 10-12 pages (including abstract and bibliography).

Catalog Description: 
Survey of current issues confronting literary critics today, based on revolving themes and topics. Focuses on debates and developments affecting English language and literatures, including questions about: the relationship of culture and history; the effect of emergent technologies on literary study; the rise of interdisciplinary approaches in the humanities.
GE Requirements: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Other Requirements Met: 
Honors Course
Last updated: 
March 24, 2016 - 11:25am