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Deconstruction: Philosophy and Literary Theory

at Brooklyn Institute for Social Research

Course Details
Start Date:

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Online Classroom
Class Level: All levels
Age Requirements: 21 and older
Average Class Size: 14
System Requirements:

You will need a reliable Internet connection as well as a computer or device with which you can access your virtual class. We recommend you arrive to class 5-10 minutes early to ensure you're able to set up your device and connection.

Class Delivery:

Classes will be held via Zoom.

Teacher: Yitzhak Lewis

What you'll learn in this literature class:

What is Deconstruction? The critical term, coined by Jacques Derrida, is notoriously hard to define. Derrida himself insisted  that “deconstruction” is not a method of reading, nor an analytical approach, nor even stable in its own meaning. And yet, deconstruction became the cri de coeur of literary theory in the United States: to its proponents, a necessary excavation of the foundational concepts of the Western tradition; to its critics, a byword of intellectual scholasticism, even charlatanism. In the hands of its most famous practitioners, the so-called Yale School of Paul de Man,  Geoffrey Hartman, J. Hillis Miller, and the visiting Derrida, deconstruction was used to expose a fundamental instability of meaning in a range of literary, philosophical, legal, and religious texts, while feminist deconstructionists like Hélène Cixous and Shoshana Felman used it to interrogate hierarchies of gender, power, and privilege. Yet, for all its emancipatory promise, deconstruction, in undermining the possibility of shared meaning, seemed to strike at the very foundations of politics and solidarity. How, then, can we understand deconstruction—theoretically, philosophically, and politically? What can the Deconstructionists—and their critics—teach us today?

In this course, we will examine the multifaceted and contentious emergence of deconstruction by focusing on the activities of the Yale School and its contemporaries. What were its literary and philosophical applications? What were the motivations that propelled it and the terms of debate surrounding it? What was so provocative about it, for its skeptics and detractors? We’ll explore not just the academic debates over literary interpretation and canon formation that deconstruction inspired, but also the intellectual dynamics and ethical dilemmas of the postwar landscape in which it was situated, including the discovery of de Man’s earlier collaboration with the Nazis. And, decades after its emergence, we’ll seek to situate deconstruction in our time. Is it outmoded as a theoretical practice? Or does it remain, perhaps forever after, an imperative of post-modernity? Readings will be drawn from works by Derrida, de Man, Hillis Miller, Harold Bloom, Geoffrey Hartman, Stanley Fish, Shoshana Felman, and M. H. Abrams, among others.

Remote Learning

This course is available for "remote" learning and will be available to anyone with access to an internet device with a microphone (this includes most models of computers, tablets). Classes will take place with a "Live" instructor at the date/times listed below.

Upon registration, the instructor will send along additional information about how to log-on and participate in the class.

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Refund Policy

  • Upon request, we will refund the entire cost of a course up until 1 week before its start date.
  • Students who withdraw after that point but before the first class are entitled to 75% refund or full course credit.
  • After the first class: 50% refund or 75% course credit.
  • No refunds or credits will be given after the second class.

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School: Brooklyn Institute for Social Research

Brooklyn Institute for Social Research

The Brooklyn Institute for Social Research was established in 2011 in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. Its mission is to extend liberal arts education and research far beyond the borders of the traditional university, supporting community education needs and opening up new possibilities for scholarship in the...

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