Contemporary European Philosophy (PHIL*3200)
Term: Winter 2013
European culture of the 19th and 20th Centuries witnessed an explosion of revolutionary intellectual and cultural movements, including Marxism, psychoanalysis, existentialism, the birth of sociology, impressionist, expressionist and cubist art, phenomenology, structuralism, surrealism and much more. By the mid-20th Century, European philosophers developed powerful ways of thinking about human experience that drew synthetically upon the insights of all these movements. We will study three of the most powerful philosophers from this time whose work simultaneously pulled together the results of the almost two centuries of European philosophical work since the time of Immanuel Kant’s revolutionary writings in the 1780s and established the context within which European philosophy has continued to grow up to the present. In the first half of the course, we will study in detail Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception. Through this book, we will study the forms of human experience, emphasizing especially the creative and the bodily character of meaning in our experience. With Merleau-Ponty we will study the nature of perception, embodiment, spatial experience, sexuality and language. Our careful study of this work will give us the resources necessary to work effectively with the works of other great French philosophers of the 20th Century, the writing duo of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, and Jacques Derrida. From Deleuze and Guattari, we will study Anti-Oedipus, a book which brings together the deepest insights of psychoanalysis and Marxism in a compelling study of the basic structures of experience. Picking up where we left off with Merleau-Ponty, we will look more deeply into the primitive structures of psychological life ultimately drawing from this the resources for a rich understanding of politics. From Derrida, we will read Memoirs of the Blind, which will take us through a study of the nature of expression into the deepest structures of meaning in our lives and to the very limits of meaning. These texts are all quite demanding, and so studying them is difficult, but it is also very rewarding, for they are also some of the very richest philosophical texts our contemporary culture has produced.
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