This course is a survey of the key texts, thinkers, concepts, and theoretical approaches that influence the study of visual culture and the production of criticism. It is an opportunity for students to engage with the ideas that are deployed in these conversations, while gaining the ability to use these resources in their own work. Much of our course will be devoted to learning these languages and determining how they intersect with the visual, allowing us to facilitate the task of criticism. The course is by design interdisciplinary, drawing upon the theoretical advances made in fields as diverse as philosophy, linguistics, art history, psychoanalysis, and literary studies. We will also attend to how these discourses are creatively transformed by those working within a feminist and/or queer problematic. Given the abstract nature of our readings, one of our challenges will be to determine how, if at all, these texts actually facilitate a discussion of the visual. The guiding thesis of this course is that the visual is situated within larger fields of cultural production, which require carefully defined strategies to make explicit their ontological, epistemological, historical, and political assumptions.
Strategies will facilitate the acquisition of certain essential skills. In the first instance, it will outfit students with methods of critical analysis while enabling them to refine their written and verbal communication skills. It will help students to develop an ethical perspective on contemporary visual culture and thereby deepen visual literacy. The interdisciplinary nature of the course is designed to teach collaboration across the disciplines and to promote creativity in critique and communication.
• Mieke Bal, “Visual Essentialism and the Object of Visual Culture,” Journal of Visual Culture (April 2003)
• Roland Barthes, “Rhetoric of the Image” from Image, Music, Text
• Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” from Illuminations
• Michel Foucault, excerpts from The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1
• Donna Haraway, “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective,” Feminist Studies (Fall 1988)
• Jacques Lacan, “The Mirror Stage” from Écrits
• Karl Marx, excerpts from The German Ideology
• Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” from Visual and Other Pleasures
• Edward Said, excerpts from Orientalism
• Gayatri Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?” from Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture