Friday, January 07, 2011

M.A. Theory Course: Objects, Actants, Networks


The world is neither a grey matrix of objective elements, nor raw material for a sexy human drama projected onto gravel and sludge. Instead, it is filled with points of reality woven together only loosely: an archipelago of oracles or bombs that explode from concealment only to generate new sequestered temples. . . . This entails that all contact must be asymmetrical. However deeply I burrow into the world, I never encounter anything but sensual objects, and neither do real objects ever encounter anything but my own sensual facade. --Graham Harman, "On Vicarious Causation"

Nothing and no one is willing any longer to agree to serve as a simple means to the exercise of any will whatsoever taken as an ultimate end. The tiniest maggot, the smallest rodent, the scantiest river, the farthest star, the most humble automatic machines--each demands to be taken also as an end, by the same right as the beggar Lazarus at the door of the selfish rich man. --Bruno Latour, The Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy

There will come a time when it isn't "They're spying on me through my phone" anymore. Eventually, it will be "My phone is spying on me." --Philip K. Dick

As Jeffrey recently shared here, he will be teaching a graduate course in medieval literature this semester with a focus on Agency, Objects, and the Constitution of Life. I, too, will be teaching a similar course, but one that constitutes the second course in a 2-course sequence in modern literary theory that my department requires of all M.A. in Literature students. So the emphasis will be on a lot of reading in theoretical texts and the literary component skews heavily to speculative and science-fiction literature and film. So, this isn't a medieval studies course, although some medieval and early modern scholarship is certainly in here!

Like Jeffrey, I wanted to do a course that would dovetail with GW-MEMSI's conference this March, "Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: Ethics and Objects in the Early Modern and Medieval Periods," and I can honestly say that putting the syllabus together pretty much wore me out, partly because I was delving into so many authors and texts with which I do not have what I would call "deep" familiarity. In other words, I will be encountering many of these texts for the first (or just second or third time) with my students, and I am looking forward to it, if I'm also a bit scared. Some of this may not work out as planned, partly because the "planning," so to speak, has been based on a lot of skimming and cursory reading and hoping that this will all somehow "gel." But I'm excited about it, too. The primary emphasis is on object-oriented studies, with ecology playing a prominent role, and with some side forays into critical animal studies and the post/human. I would love any feed back ITM readers might have:

ENG502 Modern Literary Theory: Objects, Actants, Networks

Here, also, is a comprehensive "working bibliography" that I have put together for the course, and as this is a dynamic, ongoing document, I would appreciate any suggestions for additions--I would like to see this grow over time and become a general resource for everyone interested in object-oriented studies, as well as in related post/human subjects:

Working Bibliography: Objects, Actants, Networks

In the meantime, before I get to plunge into the first session of this course, I'm off to London with Nicola Masciandaro, Michael O'Rourke, and Anna Klosowska for BABEL and the Petropunk Collective's inaugural Speculative Medievalisms "laboratory" at King's College London, the final program for which you can see here:

Speculative Medievalisms: A Laboratory-Atelier

I'm sorry to say [or am I happy to report?] that the event is completely booked with no seats left available, but to whoever will be in the audience, see you soon!


M.K. Foys said...


I'd love to take this, of course, as I'm sure would many other of your colleagues!

May I suggest an addition to your working bibliography?

is useful for students, I've found.

~ Martin

Eileen Joy said...

Martin--thanks for that link! I shall add it to the bibliography post-haste!

Rob said...

Thank you (and Jeffrey) for always being so generous with your syllabi. The bibliography is wonderful. I've spent the last half hour downloading articles and adding things to my wish list. I didn't know Prince of Networks was available for free. Curious that Amazon doesn't advertise that!

Eileen Joy said...

Thank you, Rob, for your kind comments. It goes without saying, too, that my syllabi and bibliographies are free to anyone to piratize and plagiarize. doesn't want you to know a LOT of things are free [this is especially true with their Kindle texts].

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

This looks really great, Eileen. REALLY great. The course should be terrific.

And the bibliography is so extensive; thanks so much for sharing it. A book I've found useful that you might add under Animal Studies is Sarah Franklin, Dolly Mixtures: The Remaking of Genealogy, which looks at the long history of human-sheep interaction but is especially focused on biotechnology in a way that is deeply philosophical, and engaging.

For my own courses I've also provised students with a list of OOO and related blogs, since there are so many, and since following them can give good insight into how that field works (Object Oriented Philosophy; Ecology without Nature; Speculative Heresy; Larval Subjects; Critical Animal; Naught Thought; and Bruno latour's own website).

Eileen Joy said...

Jeffrey: I knew about Sarah Franklin, but had then [somehow] forgotten about her [there are just SO many books], so thanks for the reminder. And just yesterday I was thinking I should add SR blogs to the bibliography, so I shall follow your list, I think, for starters.

Also, everyone may be interested to know that [open-source free books, in addition to other formats, such as print, for a small price] has just released:

THE SPECULATIVE TURN: CONTINENTAL MATERIALISM AND REALISM, ed. Levi Bryant, Nick Srnicek, and Graham Harman, and with essays from all of the above PLUS:

Ray Brassier
Slavoj Zizek
Isabelle Stengers
Reza Negarestani
Quentin Meillassoux
Bruno Latour
Manuel De Landa
John Protevi
Iain Hamilton Grant
Gabriel Catren
Alberto Toscano
Alain Badiou

The book is available here:

Nic D'Alessio said...


I also want to thank you (and JJC) for being so generous with your syllabi, especially at a time when such documents are being heavily guarded for the intellectual property that they are.

I thought I'd offer a few suggestions to your still growing bibliography.

First, under "critical animal studies," I'd add Nicole Shukin's "Animal Capital: Rendering Life in Biopolitical Times (Minnesota, 2009).

Actually, I think a few other books in the Posthumanities series might be usual for your bibliography in general (sorry if you've cited some, but I've missed them).

Second, I think the work of Alphonso Lingis, who was one of Harman's teachers, would also be of value for object-oriented studies. So, too, that of Georges Canguilhem and, more recently, Henri Atlan (b. 1939), a French Algerian theoretical biologist and biophysicist. Some of the writings of these latter two, including much of Canguilhem's that has been hitherto untranslated, is now available through a new series from Fordham University Press, "Forms of Living."

For Atlan, see a forthcoming collection of selected writings: "On Self-Organization, Philosophy, Bioethics, and Judaism" from Fordham

But, most especially, his magnum opus, "Sparks of Randomness," volume 1 of which is now available from Standford UP:

Finally, Jean-Pierre Dupuy has a useful entry on him in "The Columbia History of Twentieth-Century French Thought"

Karl Steel said...

thanks for that Nic, and WOW, thanks for all this, Eileen. That list is astonishing, as is the syllabus.

A practical question: do your MA students go to school full time? Do you teach your MA courses during the day or at night, when, presumably, your students will have finished their day jobs? I have to assemble my syllabi with the knowledge that my students are probably working at least 40 hours a week, that they're often teaching junior or high school, and that therefore I can assign FAR LESS than I'd like.

To the Derrida in animals, by the way, you might want to add The Beast and the Sovereign, and, for early intellectual history, Richard Sorabji, Animal Minds and Human Morals: The Origins of the Western Debate.

Eileen Joy said...

Thanks, thanks, thanks to Nic and Karl for these further bibliographic entries!

Karl: your and my students are pretty much the exact same demographic, and the class is held once a week, at night. The reading load is a bit heavy-ish at first, but then I start winnowing. Indeed, since first posting the syllabus, I have done some cutting already. Sometimes I find that *I* cannot keep up with my own assigned reading, so I know it's even harder for my students. This course will be particularly hard on me as over 75% of it is brand-new to me as well.

Karl Steel said...

. Sometimes I find that *I* cannot keep up with my own assigned reading,
SO GLAD to hear that, not because I wish you failure but because it's good to know you're human. And given the similarity in our demographics, I'm even MORE impressed with your syllabus. I'm definitely pointing my Spring grad students to it.