Representing the Human - Sharon Sliwinski
How does a human being come to be human? This course will approach this question from a blend of disciplinary and theoretical perspectives: political, psychical, philosophical and poetic. Our course is launched by signal developments in the field of human rights scholarship that address the invention of universal rights as an issue of cultural representation (as much as a history of political or legal struggle). For human dignity and rights to become self-evident, Lynn Hunt has proposed, “ordinary people had to have new understandings that came from new kinds of feelings.” The first half of our course therefore engages the history of the development of those “interior feelings” (Diderot’s term) which gave rise to representations of the human as possessing a unique, inalienable dignity.
In the second half, our course will take a right turn to follow Derrida’s late work on the deconstruction of traditional determinations of the human. The detour takes us to what the philosopher calls a “thinking concerning the animal,” a poetic activity which the academy traditionally deprives itself of. On one hand Derrida exposes a surprising proximity between the beast and the sovereign, figures connected by the fact that neither are subjected to the law. On the other hand, the philosopher provides his own curious answer to the question of how the human becomes human by casting himself as “the animal that therefore I am.” We will try to flesh out the significance of this conceptual turn by engaging several of Freud’s case analyses which involve animals and Kafka's The Metamorphosis. We end, therefore, with another key question: What does it mean that some of the most enlivening narrations of the human condition involve a sustained thinking concerning the animal?
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