Jul 25, 2024  
College Catalog 2023-2024 
College Catalog 2023-2024 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

GERM 271 - “Dead White Men” in the Era of Antiracism

Cross-Listed as MCST 271  
All readings and class taught in English; no pre-knowledge required. Commenting on the relation between Africa and European philosophy and culture, Kwame Anthony Appiah maintains that the temptation for Africa “to forget Europe is to suppress the conflicts that have shaped our identities; since it is too late for us to escape each other, we might instead seek to turn to our advantage the mutual interdependencies history has thrust upon us.” Appiah’s interracial approach is equally recommendable for the epistemological relation between the European philosophical tradition and contemporary culture-a culture that understands itself as post-ideological and declares any truth to be constructed (except for the inexorable laws of the market). In this culture, we can hear the question: Why should we bother with “dead white men”-who harbored universal truths and a universal self-conscious rational (male and white) subject-now that we understand that truth depends on historical context, that the self is decentered by the unconscious, that identity is constituted by factors such as class, race, and gender, and that truth is interlaced with imagination, ideology, and power? The faultiness of this question consists in presuming a clear-cut distinction or even break between philosophical tradition and contemporary culture, as if the latter had emerged autonomously and had not been shaped in relation and in conflict with this tradition. To gain insight into these mutual interdependencies, both epistemological and racial, in this course we shall pursue a double movement. On the one hand, we shall read closely texts by various “dead white men” as the unconscious (i.e., repressed and, for that matter, possibly all the more powerful) undercurrent of contemporary culture. And on the other hand, we shall read critiques of “dead white men” that point to the racialist unconscious that undergirds their argumentations. Emphasis may be placed on one or several main figures of any period since the early modernity (17th century) (e.g., Descartes, Spinoza, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Heidegger, Sartre, Lacan, Foucault, Deleuze, Derrida) and on their commentators and critics. The course may be offered in different iterations, and under different topics this course may be taken more than once for credit.  Offered occasionally. (4 Credits)