CulP 340-01  (Fall 2003)
SWQ 133: T & Th 2:40-3:55
Professor Jose Bowen                                             

Introduction to CulP: Humanities


'It is good to know something of the customs of various peoples, in order to judge our own more objectively, and so that we do not make the mistake of the untraveled in supposing that everything contrary to our own customs is ridiculous and irrational.  But when one spends too much time traveling, one becomes at last a stranger at home.'

Ren■ Descartes


 'Thinking is a public activity.'

Clifford Geertz




Course Information                                                               page 1

                Contact Information

                Course Aims and Objectives

                Class Format

                Course Policies

Schedule of Topics and Readings                                    page 5

Course Materials                                                                    page 8

Assignments                                                                           page 12 

Reading Notes                                                                        page 19


Course Information


Contact Information

Professor Jos■ Bowen

      Office:                              New North Performing Arts Suite (old UIS area)

      Office Phone:                 202-687-0969 (direct)


      Office Hours:                 Tuesday and Thursday 1:30-2:30 and by appointment


You do not need an appointment to see me.  I am in the office when I am not teaching most Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.  There should also be time after class most days to answer questions.  However, if you want more than a minute, try an appointment; I go to lots of meetings, but you can always call me in the office or email me.  You can call me at home if it can't wait, but please remember that I have a family.  Please try not to call before 9am or after 9pm.  (Remember, I'm a musician.) Home Phone: 703 749 0130.  Call me, I will always make time for you.



Course Aims and Objectives

(1) In order to understand the implicit assumptions of our own culture, we need both to examine other cultures (as Descartes points out above) and to make our own culture 'anthropologically strange.'  (This latter idea from ethnographer Alfred Schutz.)  This is harder than it seems.  Won't the assumptions of our own culture influence our judgement of others?  (And for that matter whose culture is 'our own culture'?)  How do we know that what seems like 'common sense' to us is not just cultural bias?  Common sense, sometimes called 'essentialism' tells us that things generally have one stable, unchanging and usually obvious meaning. (Previous examples of common sense include burning witches, not allowing women to vote, and avoiding Jews for fear of infection.)  While it might seem perverse at times, 'theory' (or what is called epistemology in philosophy) is really about questioning the assumptions of common sense.  How do we really know?  Don't worry: after the despair has passed over the demise of any single 'objective' viewpoint from which to understand all things (since we cannot step outside our own culture or our own theory of knowledge), we will investigate how all of us mediate the different cultures in our own lives and how we can discover meanings in others.


(2) Since there is no single theory of culture that explains everything (there are in a sense, many ways of knowing), we will read a range of theories about how to analyze culture and politics.  While much of your other SFS courses will provide you with fluency in a variety of cultures, your aesthetic and critical understanding of that 'content' will be enhanced by having an 'analytical tool kit' full of often conflicting theories of culture.  Specifically, in this course you will encounter the theories of Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Levi-Strauss, Clifford Geertz, Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, Edward Said and many others.  You will also gain some understanding of the different approaches to understanding culture and (cultural) texts (e.g. semiotics, structuralism, post-structuralism, deconstruction, psychoanalysis, hermeneutics, phenomenology, Marxist and feminist theory) common in the social sciences (e.g. anthropology and sociology) and the humanities (e.g. literature, philosophy and history). 


 (3) This course will study culture in its broad sense, as both the whole way of life and as the production and circulation of meaning.  Since our way of seeing and hearing is also a way living, the two are inextricably connected.  In investigating how culture is embodied in all communication and description of experience (including the arts) and how meanings are created and contested, we will learn how culture is political. 


 (4) We will, therefore, apply these theories to a wide variety of cultural content in a series of case studies. We will examine the complexity of understanding any 'other' (culture, person, idea, artwork, gender) and using different modes of explanation (aesthetics, history, philosophy, psychology), we will search for meaning in a variety of cultural 'texts' (social, scholarly, religious, artistic).  Since my field is music, we will examine a few musical examples, in additional to literary, visual and multimedia texts.  No specific musical training is required. Our interest in Elvis and popular music will largely be in how it is represented. You will learn a bit more about Wagner's music (and we will go to see Placido Domingo sing in Die Walk˘re), but we will mostly be concerned with Wagner's use of myth (we will also read L■vi-Strauss and Freud on myth) and the many different ways of interpreting this work.  We will also be talking about television, films, fashion, and early twentieth-century Egypt, where we will compare different types of texts and different modes of knowing.


 (5) As you have no doubt encountered, the mode of discourse (the way we talk about things) in a university can be rather removed from the real world.  (For more on discourse, see the notes on Foucault below.)  Much of the 'learning' you do during at GU happens outside of the classroom and in very different modes. While we can discuss ordering at McDonald's historically (fast food as post-World War II phenomenon), or nutritionally (the economic and ecological significance of beef), most of us would be shocked if our order of shake, fries and burger were disallowed because it contained much cholesterol!  In other words, in democratically-inclined and consumer-oriented American discourse, the consumer is always right.  Academic (and much business, medical and legal) discourse is rather different.  'Do you like it?' is a fair question, but it usually only requires a 'yes' or 'no' answer and most of you have already mastered this form of cognitive development.  The academic question tends to be 'Do you understand it?' which requires a more complicated answer.  While McDonald's does not require you to explain your selection or provide proof, academic discourse requires evidence. [1]   This can be seen most obviously in the use of footnotes in a 'logical' or 'scientific' mode of inquiry.  In this course, we will focus on demonstrating mastery and understanding of a text by producing our own controversial and complicated cultural texts (your papers).   Our goal is to get beyond right and wrong, black and white, and like or dislike to find a new way of discussing our views and opinions.


 (6) While aim 5 is in fact a 'real world' skill, we will also attempt to practice some more specifically 'transferable' skills.  As teaching is both an important skill and a great way to demonstrate mastery, you will all be required to pass along your knowledge by leading class discussion and producing summary materials for your classmates.



Class Format

2:40-3:55 Tuesday and Thursday SWQ 133 (Reynolds)


This course requires that you read, discuss and write about some very complicated ideas and issues.  I will attempt to say as little as possible (don't worry I will also find this nearly impossible).  For each class, one person will provide a written short paper about some aspect of the reading we are to discuss.  Everyone will be required to read this paper and be prepared to discuss both it and the week's readings.  A second person will be responsible for leading us through the discussion of both.  You must come fully prepared to participate each week and the quality of your preparations (not the quantity of your remarks) will make up 10% of your grade.


Georgetown currently employs a 5+5 semester system.  Most of your courses are 3 units like this one.  In general, we assume that means 3 hours of class time and 6 hours out of class per week.  Since Georgetown uses '50 minute hours' so you have 150 minutes of class time and 300 minutes of study time to give 7.5 hours/class/week.  That's well under a 40-hour week, which is pretty good and explains how a former roommate of mine made it to the pub by 6 every day.  (Georgetown is considering going to a 4+4 system which would increase the amount of work per class, but the goal is still about a 40-hour week. By the way, if you find a job that is less than that a week, take itáor let me know. My 75-year-old mother has a 'part-time' job in a department store for 37 hours per week.)


I have tried to assign only 4 hours of out-of-class work per week (that gives you at least an extra hour to sleep). Practice SLOW READING: many of these readings will require that you read them slowly and often more than once. 

Course Policies


1. Attendance is mandatory at Georgetown and this course will be impossible if you don't attend.  Since this is for your major, Georgetown policy mandates that repeated absence will result in the loss of one cumulative grade (four absences) or even a failing grade for the semester (six absences).  Please see me if you must  miss more than two classes. 


2. Further, this course is a seminar and it is about discussion.  You must come prepared to each class.  You do not always have to speak, but if you never speak I will start to pepper you with questions and it may hurt your grade.  I reserve the right to begin each session with a specific question aimed at any individual.  (Yes I hated this as an undergraduate, but it works.)  These are big difficult questions and passionate discussions are the only way to work out these ideas.


3. Bring readings to class.


4. Because we will be discussing sensitive topics, this class will require respect for unusual and difficult ideas.  EVERYONE's beliefs will be challenged by something in this courseátrust me.  So please respect others as they wrestle with their own assumptions about life.  Your turn will come.


5. Deadlines are firm and your classmates are counting on you, so plan ahead.  THERE WILL BE NO LATE WORK OR MAKE-UPS except as allowed by University rules for extreme illness, conflicts with other scheduled exams, and religious holidays.  (Travel arrangements or work schedules are not sufficient reason to reschedule work.)  Late work or make-ups are allowed only with prior notice: you have lots of ways to contact me and you should do so early; special arrangements require advance planning.  (I'll also be suspicious if you join a religion on Thursday with a holiday on Friday!)  If your class discussion papers are late, there will be no credit; everyone else must read your paper before class so it can't be late.


6. Any work not submitted will receive a zero grade.


7. You are expected to know, understand and follow the guidelines in the University's Undergraduate Honor System.


8. I can't read your mind.  I (like most of your other instructors) crave your feedback.  If something is not working, let's change it.  I can't do anything to fix your complaint if I don't know about it; PLEASE TELL ME!   You do NOT need an appointment to stop by at office hours!!


9. I spent weeks working on these course notes so I would not have to lecture in class.  Read them before you do the reading for each class.

Schedule of Topics and Primary Readings

* = This reading can be found on Electronic Reserves.  (The rest are in required texts or online.)

Ř = There will also be a student 'Classroom Position Paper on this reading which you will be required to read before coming to class. See Assignments for more information.

Complete information about topics and readings (including sources, page numbers and important recommended reading options) can be found in the Reading Notes section (below). You must read this section before doing the readings or coming to class. 


August, 28: Introduction: Theory and Culture

            Barry, 'Introduction' in Beginning Theory

            *Ren■ Descartes, Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason and Seeking Truth in the Field of Science (1637)



September 2: Language and Liberal Humanism

            Barry, 'Theory before ?theory'-liberal humanism' in Beginning Theory

            *ŘLudwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, no. 54-92.


September 4: Semiotics and Structuralism

            Barry, 'Structuralism' in Beginning Theory

            *ŘClaude L■vi-Strauss, 'The Structural Study of Myth'


September 9: Signs and Seeing

            *ŘE.H. Gombrich, 'Truth and the Stereotype' in Art & Illusion

            *Stewart Hall, 'The Work of Representation'


September 11: Mythologies

            ŘRoland Barthes, Mythologies

                             Please bring to class an advertisement from a magazine, television or newspaper and be prepared to 'decode' it for us.


September 16: Performance: Narrative & Eli?n Gonz?lez

            *ŘM[ikhail] M[ikhailovich] Bakhtin, 'Discourse in the Novel'


September 18: Performance: Culture & Interpretation

            *ŘClifford Geertz, 'Thick Description: Toward and Interpretive Theory of Culture'

            'Darmok' (1991) episode from Year 5, Star Trek, The Next Generation


September 23: Culture Decentered: Post-Structuralism & Deconstruction

            Barry, 'Post-Structuralism and Deconstruction' in Beginning Theory

            *ŘJacques Derrida, 'The Exorbitant Question of Method'

            PAPER ONE DUE


September 25: Culture Recentered: Cognition & Evolution

            *Noam Chomsky, 'Perspectives on Language and Mind'

            *ŘSteven Pinker 'An Instinct to Acquire an Art' in The Language Instinct

            Joseph Carroll, 'Steven Pinker's Cheesecake for the Mind'






September 30: Freud

            Barry, 'Psychoanalytic Criticism' in Beginning Theory

            ŘSigmund Freud, 'The Infantile Recurrence of Totemism' Totem and Taboo


October 2: Lacan: Language and the Self

            Flitterman-Lewis, 'Psychoanalysis, Film and Television' in Channels

            *ŘJacques Lacan, 'The Insistence of the Letter in the Unconscious'


October 7: The Other as Object (Post-Colonialism)

(Maria Luise WagneráGuest Professor)

            *ŘEdward Said, 'Introduction' in Orientalism (New York: Vantage Books, 1979), p. 1-28.

            Naguib Mahfouz, Palace Walk (1956) (Orientalist Readings)


October 9: The Other as Object (Gender and Essentialism)

            Barry, 'Feminist Criticism' in Beginning Theory

            E. Ann Kaplan, 'Feminist Criticism and Television'

            Spirited Away and/or Bend it Like Beckham

            Naguib Mahfouz, Palace Walk (1956) (Feminist Readings)


October 14: History and Politics

            Ř*Herodotus, The Histories (c. 440 BC), Book 2 (Egypt)

            *M. V. Seton-Williams, A Short History of Egypt


October 16: Literature and Politics

            ŘNaguib Mahfouz, Palace Walk (1956)


            PAPER TWO DUE


October 21: Marx and Ideology

            Barry, 'Marxist Criticism' in Beginning Theory

            ŘKarl Marx, Part 1 of Vol. 1 of  The German Ideology

            *Raymond Williams, 'Base and Superstructure' in Marxism and Literature


October 23 Marx Applied

            *ŘAntonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks)

            *Raymond Williams, 'Hegemony' in Marxism and Literature


October 28: Wagner I

            Plot Summaries, Thematic Guides and Das Rheingold (DVD)


October 30: Nietzsche

            ŘFriedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy  (1886)

8pm, Walsh Black Box: Euripides, The Trojan Women (Nomadic Theatre, $8)


November 4: Phenomenology and Ethnography

            *ŘAlfred Schutz, 'The Stranger: An Essay in Social Psychology' (1944)

            Robert C. Allen, 'Audience-Oriented Criticism' in Channels, 101-134


November 6: Phenomenology and Hermeneutics

            *ŘHans-Georg Gadamer, 'The Ontological Foundation of the Occasional and the Decorative' in Truth and Method p. 144-169


November 11: Narratives in Die Walk˘re

            *Fr. M. Owen Lee, Wagner's Ring: Turning the Sky Round

            *Deryck Cooke, I Saw the World End: A Study of Wagner's Ring

6:30pm (!) DAR Constitution Hall: Die Walk˘re


November 13: NO CLASS

I will be at the American Musicological Society Annual Meeting in Houston


November 18: Interpreting Walk˘re

            *George Bernard Shaw, The Perfect Wagnerite

            *Robert Donington,  Wagner's ?Ring' and its Symbols

            *Jean Shinoda Bolen, Ring of Power: Symbols and Themes Love vs Power in Wagner's Ring Cycle and in Us: A Jungian Feminist Perspective

            PAPER THREE DUE


November 20 & 25: Foucault

            ŘMichel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1 (1978)






December 2: Genre and Popular Music

            Jane Feuer, 'Genre Theory and Television' in Channels, 138-160.

            *Johan FornËs, 'The Future of Rock: Discourses that Struggle to Define a Genre' in Popular Music 14/1 (1995), p. 111-125

            Shania Twain, Up! (Country, Rock and Bollywood mixes)



December 4: Rock and Sexuality

            *ŘSimon Frith and Angela McRobbie, 'Rock and Sexuality'

            *Sue Wise, 'Sexing Elvis'


PAPER FOUR DUE (before scheduled final)




Course Materials:


A. Required Books

I have really tried my best to keep costs down, but you really need all of these books.  We will read most of them from cover to cover.



1. Peter Barry, Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory, 2nd edn. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002) $19.95 ISBN 0-7190-6268-3


2. Roland Barthes, Mythologies (1957) tr. Annette Lavers (New York: Hill and Wang, 1972) $9.95


3. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, tr. Clifton P. Fadiman, (1927); (Dover Reprint 1995) $1.50 ISBN: 0-486-28515-4


4. Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo, tr. A. A. Brill (1918); (Dover Thrift Editions, 1998) $2.50 ISBN: 048640434X


5. Naguib Mahfouz, Bayn al-Qasrayn (1956); Palace Walk, English tr. William Maynard Hutchins and Olive E. Kenny (New York: Anchor Books, 1990) $9.95  ISBN 0-385-26466-6


6. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: Volume 1, An Introduction, tr. Robert Hurley (1978); (New York: Vintage Books, 1990) $11.00 ISBN 0-679-72469-9



B. Opera Tickets

We are going to see Placido Domingo in Richard Wagner's Die Walk˘re on Tuesday, November 11th at DAR Constitution Hall.  This is not as nice as the Opera House at the Kennedy Center (so make sure you do that another time).  The 'opera' starts at 6:30pm! (Note already how unlike a normal opera this is.)  You need to arrive by 6pm.


I have arranged a block of seats in the cheapest section where we can see supertitles (although I would still bring your libretto).  They are $65.  (Yes, those are the cheap seats, so you already know something about the culture of opera.  If money is a problem, see me.)  You need to purchase your ticket directly from the Washington Opera! You need to reference account 436699, ask for Ryan Lewis and say that this is for my course.  You can do this either:

1. By Mail:

Send a cheque for $65 (payable to The Washington Opera) to

         The Washington Opera

         attn: Group Sales

         2600 Virginia Ave NW, Suite 104

         Washington DC 20037


2. Email:

Send VISA, MC or AmEx credit card info to, with the same reference info and ask that $65 be put on your card.


3. Phone:

Call Ryan Lewis at 202 295 2494 and give him your credit card info.


I reserved 25 seats, so if you want to bring someone with you, go ahead and buy 2 tickets.  I will give the tickets out in class the week before.


There is parking at the Colonial on 18th and G, with a shuttle, but a cab or public transportation will be much easier.  Do allow for Washington rush houráyou are going right next to the White House.  If for some reason you can't make that night, order your tickets NOW for the Nov 5 or Nov 8th show.  Prepare yourself and be on time.



C. Recommended Additional Material


1. Robert C. Allen ed. Channels of Discourse, Reassembled: Television and Contemporary Criticism, 2nd edn. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992) $19.95 ISBN 0-8078-4374-1

You will also find this book in the bookstore.  I highly recommend that you buy and read this book; you will find sections of virtually every chapter in the recommended reading.  It covers the same ground as Barry, which ultimately is broader and more general.  But Barry is also shorter, sometimes overly compact and more literary.  The longer essays in this book will fill in many gaps and give you another shot at the material.  If reading Lacan and looking at Barry's 10-page summary allows you to master this form of analysis, then great, but I find these more detailed explanations and examples very useful. One caveat, however: the topic of analysis in this book is television and since the book is in its second edition (an indication of how popular it has been), many of these TV shows will be ancient history to you.  I find that TV has not changed that much and the chapter on genre analysis (game and cop shows, soaps, and sitcoms) still works. 


 2. C. G. Prado, Starting with Foucault: An Introduction to Geneaology (Westview Press, 2000) $20 ISBN: 0-8133-9078-8

Well this book has just gone between printingsáso yesterday it was easy to find and I don't know about tomorrow.  Foucault is in many ways the central author of our course and of modern theory.  There are lots of introductions to his work: there must be a Foucault for Dummies etc. I think this is one of the best short introductions, so I recommend it if you can find it.


3. Wagner

(a) Deryck Cooke, An Introduction To Der Ring Des Nibelungen (Decca, Polygram Records, 43581) $29.49  ASIN: B00000424H

(b) Die Walk˘re, conducted by Erich Leinsdorf with Birgit Nilsson, Jon Vickers and Gre Brouwenstijin (1961); (Universal, issued 2002) $25  ASIN: B00006469P

Don't panic.  This is not a music course or a course on Wagner; we are simply taking advantage of the Washington Opera production of Die Walk˘re with Placido Domingo occurring locally.  After Jesus, more books have been written about Richard Wagner than any other person, so you get a sense of how important and divisive he is to Western thought and not just music.  (Most of your ideas about what makes a good rock experience come from Wagner, and there is a reason why The Grateful Dead are Wagnerheads too.)  You need to learn enough about Wagner to understand (1) the production you are going to see, (2) Nietzsche's thesis on what is real in the world and (3) the different interpretations of Wagner we will read.  A couple of CDs will help.


Die Walk˘re is the second part of the world's longest (and often loudest) piece of music: Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung), a four-night, 17-hour epic about everything. The second part (Walk˘re-the bit we are going to see) is the easiest and most compact in a way, but it DOES require that you understand the first part, Das Rheingold.  While I'll suggest you watch this on DVD in Gelardin and I have CDs with the main melolodies for you, the single best tool for learning the Ring is the Deryck Cooke 2-CD set listed above (a).  It is in the library as is my my stuff, but this is a great intro CD. 


If you want to have a CD set in your room here are some ideas.  (We have both DVD versions in the library and I would not buy the DVD until you have learned the music and seen some of both productions.)  For your first Wagner, I would get a modern orchestral recordings, (i.e. one conducted by Levine, Haitink, Solti, B╦hm, Karajan, or Barenboimáprobably in that order) of just the second opera of the cycle, Die Walk˘re. The best value is probably the newly-released version of Walk˘re by Erich Leinsdorf with Birgit Nilsson, Jon Vickers and Gre Brouwenstijin ($25).  Lateráif you become a fanatic-- you can explore older scratchy recordings by FurtwËngler, Keilberth and Knappertsbusch, but probably not as first purchases.  If you must have a complete set, here are some recommendations (on the next page), but note the price differences!


Wagner Complete Ring Cycle CD Sets:



Clemens Krauss at Bayreuth from 1953  (Gala 999791) $55

There are some reservations about Astrid Varnay's Br˘nnhilde from the connoisseurs, but this is an excellent performance and it is easily the best bargain around.  The sound isn't bad for an old recording (it'll be fine if you are used to MP3), but none of these budget sets are hi fidelity.


Wolfgang Sawallisch, Bavarian State Opera from 1980s (EMI 72731) $90

This got strong reviews both for and against, but it is the cheapest modern recording with good sound.


Georg Solti, Vienna Philharmonic from 1958-65 (London 455 555) $145

This was the first studio Ring and is universally praised.  It still stands up against the most modern recordings and it is a little cheaper.


James Levine, Met from 1989-1994 (DG 45354) $175

Mixed reviews for the singing despite the multiple Grammy awards, but the orchestra is absolutely fabulous here and it is the most dramatic recording in fully modern sound.  This is the recording I'll use in class.




(c) Libretto and Guidebook

Richard Wagner, Walk˘re: translation and commentary by Rudolph Sabor, (Oxford: Phaidon, 1997) $15 


Richard Wagner, The Valkyrie,  English National Opera (ENO) Guide #21 (London: John Calder/ New York: Riverrun Press Inc 1986) $8


If you get a CD set, you will probably get a libretto too, but both of these are excellent little guidebooks that include a complete libretto.  It is a good idea to listen to the entire opera with the guidebookáor take it with you to the opera.  I prefer the new Sabor translation and the motives are easier to follow in this guide as well.





            Classroom Preparation                                     10%

            Discussion Leader Preparation                       20%  (10% each)

            Paper One                                                             10%

            Paper Two                                                             15%

            Paper Three                                                          15%

            Paper Four                                                            15%

            Classroom Position Paper                                 15%



Classroom Preparation                                                             10%

Do the reading, show up and say something.  You do not have to speak in every class (although you should try).  Quality matters, but you are encouraged to make outrageous assumptions, silly remarks and questionable assertions.  I reserve the right to ask anyone not participating pointed questions about the reading at anytime, and yes I probably never got over that first day as a freshman when Professor Gordon Kraig looked down over his glasses and asked me what I thought of Nietzsche.  Sorry, but it builds character.


Discussion Leader Preparation                                               20%

Twice during the semester you must arrive prepared to lead the discussion about the assigned text. (10% of your grade for each time.) You should probably bring a handout with key terms or the key points outlined.  You will not get to cover everything in class (we will never be that obsessive) so your handout should also function as a quick guide for review and should include page references.  I will expect you to be able to sustain a discussion for about 30 minutes, so you should also be prepared with leading questions.  While not absolutely required, it is expected that you will meet with me several days before the session for which you are preparing (I'll buy the coffee) and discuss what you think the key concepts are and how we will structure that class period.


Papers (General Directions)                                                  15% each

Each paper must be between 1000 and 1500 words (about 3-5 pages), not including footnotes.  Each paper requires a real title, your name, the date, the word count, numbered pages and double spacing.  Specific topics are below and will be further discussed in class, but all papers must have a thesis (or argument) of your own design, and complete and proper footnotes if you cite material or even ideas not from your own head.  For further information about how I grade see my grading policy and (my personal) 10 commandments for writing (below).  There is roughly one paper per unit of the course.




Paper One: SIGNS and STRUCTURE                                   10%

Due September 23rd in class.

Pick almost any cultural object, event or idea (ask me if you have questions) and do a semiotic analysis of it.  Do not pick anything too close to the examples Barthes gives: soap powders, the Eiffel Tower and the striptease have been done.  It can be a literary, film or television work (although I ask that you check this with me first as these topics can be more difficult), but TV and magazine ads are great.  Try looking at something you take for granted: menus, baseball, shopping malls, the Washington monument, frozen pizza, a museum exhibit, cars (or a specific car), soccer moms, fashion, rap or reality TV.  Now tell me not only what it means, but how it means.  What is the code and how did you break it?  You do not need footnotes (but use them if you cite something) and do NOT start with an exposition of semiotics or Roland Barthes.  I know about that.  Analyze something yourself.  Your first paragraph should have a thesis (e.g. baseball represents American community values while football is all about American competition), which should be supported by at least three distinct arguments, probably in three paragraphs (e.g. baseball is played in a park, not a stadium, baseball is about going home, not taking territory, and anyone can play baseball).  You should anticipate counterargument (but baseball is all about individual statistics) and try to counter them in the essay.  Then give us a conclusion, which should be remarkably similar to your opening thesis in the first paragraph.  I was once told that the best essays began by taking the final paragraph of the first draft and then starting over.  Try it.


Paper Two: SUBJECT and OBJECT                                     15%

Due October 16th in class.

This unit is about more than just how everyone has a different point of view; it is about how we conceive of ourselves in the first place and how we conceptualize anything else.  Is the self a biological (Chomsky, Pinker and Freud), linguistic (Lacan), or cultural construction (Said)?  Is it possible to be both an insider and an outsider? (We will return to this question with Schutz and others.)  Is there a way to circumvent these limitations?  Is self-awareness a useful tool?  Is it enough?  What is the difference between self and subject?  Is all of this a Cartesian trap?  Pick at least two different authors and create a thesis that explores one of these issues.  (Remember 'compare and contrast' is not a thesis.)  You may also apply two different thinkers to Mahfouz or Herodotus.  How does the conception of self direct either work?  What is the subject of either work?


Paper Three: KNOWLEDGE and POWER                           15%

Due November 18th in class.

How do Marx, Nietzsche and the other authors in this section change the fundamental question?   Upon what is knowledge really based?  Your thesis should involve either (a) rereading one of the authors from the previous sections and one of the authors in this section (for example, how are Said or Barthes not aware of their own ideology?), or (b) examining one of the recent authors from a semiotic or Freudian perspective (for example, how does Wagner create meaning or who is the subject in Wagner?).  Ask big questions.  Have Niezsche and Wagner succeeded in changing the rules of the game?  Do Wittgenstein's 'games' have anything to do with Schutz's 'strangeness'? Why does everyone keep creating new terms?  Do they really reflect a change in the nature of the questions or just in the argument?  What do masculine and feminine mean in Walk˘re?  Or try turning Die Walk˘re into a weekly reality show: update the choices to give them modern meanings.  How would this show work?


Paper Four: FOUCAULT, SEX & POPULAR MUSIC                      15%

Due December Exam Day in my box in New North.

Given more time, both race and gender would be more explicit parts of this course.  (Take my Jazz History course if you want a history of race in twentieth-century America.)  I would argue, however, that to 'theorize' either gender or race, requires an understanding of both Freud and Marx and that these questions will be part of the implications of both theories.   Your final topic can be anything to do with Foucault, sexuality (or race), and music, or all three at once.  (If we decide to discuss some other current topic, that would work too.) Is Foucault simply a post-modern relativist or is this the ultimate synthesis of everything we have read and a way forward.  (You could ask the same question about Gadamer.)  Is popular music really so fundamentally about sex?  Provide a complex reading of your favorite band or artist using more than one of the authors we have read.  (A TV show would work too.)  Provide a feminist analysis of something that demonstrates how Freud (while utterly masculine) is so important to gender theories.  We didn't have time for gay and lesbian theories either, but you can explore that here if you'd like.  Read the chapter in Barry and ask what would a Queer history of rock and roll would be like.  How would Foucault read the history of rock and roll?  Ultimately you want to ask, what is CulP: how are culture politics linked in the study of everything?  Is CulP a unique way of looking at the world?


Classroom Preparation Paper                                                            15%

Due 24 hours before your scheduled class.

This is a paper on any subject to do with the author you are assigned, but it must NOT be an expository summary.  This is NOT the place to give us a summary of Marx's ideas.  (That is what you do when you lead class discussion.)  Rather, this is a paper like all of the other ones: it must have a thesis and argue for something.  So pick some aspect of Marx from the reading and a topic we have been discussing and tell us why (or why not) Marx helps.  You should generally focus on what is different about your author.  (I.e. expect more resistance if you argue, semiotics is a totally Marxist approach and we didn't really need to read Marx.)  You can tell us how your author changes the fundamental question or apply your author to a specific example.  We will argue about your thesis in class.  Most students both love and hate this assignment.  Since you are writing for your peers, this will really test if your ideas are clearly expressed or not.   So I am sorry for the pressure, but the extra editing you give this assignment, will improve your writing.  Start early!

Bowen: Statement on Grading

Everyone has his or her own system and it is crucial to understand for whom you are writing.  ('Know thy audience' is also one of the first rules of show business.)  While it would be foolish to pretend that I am any more objective than anyone else, my job as a teacher is to attempt to guide you to a writing and presentation style which will serve you well in the real world. 


First, that means I am looking for clear and readable prose.  Yes, academic writing is usually formal, but don't use sentences that are longer than you need: good writing is clear writing.  That's tip number one.


Second, your paper must have a thesis.  This should be clear as you read about the individual assignments and my (very personal) 10 Commandments below, but in general, people want to know what you are going to write about in the first paragraph and it needs to be something new and original.  Do not summarize material that is readily available elsewhere; present us with a new way to understand your subject.


Third, presentation matters. An academic essay is only an essay; the presentation does not have to be posh.  Presentation in an essay means a clean copy with no typos and no crumpled paper, but also something that is well organized and easy to follow.  The footnotes should be easy to find and in a proper format for an academic essay (see below).  Avoid the temptation to use a fancy font or import a watermark from the web; spend your time creating good paragraphs.  If you remember that good writing is part of the presentation (it is what carries your thoughts!) then even in a simple essay, presentation is more than half of the grade.  I use a system of roughly  a third for content (what you have to say), a third for writing (how you say it and grammar) and a third for presentation (taken broadly to include citations, proper use of quotations, typos etc.)  This is my attempt be more transparent, but content, writing and presentation, are intertwined, so I will also attempt to follow these guidelines:


F:  outside of word limits, no thesis, off topic, little evidence of effort, and/or poor writing.

D: outside of word limits or grammatical problems, but displays effort and has a topic if no thesis: most summaries of other information would land here.

C: within word limits, uses proper citations, with a coherent thesis (stated as an assertion), but stylistic and/or grammatical problems, poorly argued and/or paper does not contain enough original argument (i.e. too much summary).

 B: meets all expectations with no major grammatical problems and contains a distinctive thesis, backed up   with appropriate examples and illustrations, and, if necessary, addressing   potential counter-arguments.

 A: everything above, but also contains an argument that is creative and advances our understanding of the topic and/or demonstrates a superior command of the concepts, terms and issues, and whose prose is beautifully crafted, rigorous and engaging. 



Writing Guides

If you do not already have a copy of a standard writing guide (Kate Turabian's Manual for Writers or The Chicago Manual of Style) then get one. For music students I often recommend one of these.

(1) D. Kern Holoman, Writing about Music: A Style Sheet from the Editors of 19th-Century Music (Berkeley and London: University of California Press, 1988)

(2) Richard J. Wingell, Writing about Music: An Introductory Guide, 2nd edn. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1997

Holoman has been the standard for many years and it is excellent and easy to use.  (It is due for a new edition soon with a companion volume on writing about recordings by,Ďuh,.. me.) Wingell, however, is a longer book.  It covers most of the same ground on footnotes and punctuation, but adds additional sections on how to do research, overcoming writer's block, effective writing, and making the best use of your word processor.  If you follow the citation guidelines in either book you'll be fine.



Bowen: 10 Commandments of Essay Writing


 'A man who has the knowledge but lacks the power clearly to express it is no better off than if he never had any ideas at all.'   (Pericles in Thucydides II.60)


I'd like to think that most of these apply to all forms of self-presentation (reports, job applications, resumes, etc.) now and forever and not just to essays.  But of course they are idiosyncratic to me.  They are, at least, based upon years of rejection, occasional success and lots of feedback, and now you will know (I hope) what to expect from me.


1. Obey word limits.  You can break rules but you must have a truly stellar reason for doing so.


2. Looks matter.  Remember your work is your calling card.  (Try looking for a job in your jeans with a crumpled resume!)  Fancy folders are not required (they don't hurt either) but the work must be word-processed and free of typos.  It must be a clean copy and you must learn to use a spell-checker.  Other people (not me, of course) will conclude that you are either stupid or lazy.  (I can't spell to save my life, but I try to keep it a secret.)


3. Pretend it isn't just a school essay: give it a real title.


4. Skip the 'I believe' stuff.  We already know that.  Your name is at the top so skip the 'I feel' and just tell us Beethoven is a lousy composer.  Then tell us why.



5. Grammar counts, so keep a rule book handy.  (In general, don't capitalize jazz, blues, swing, bebop, fugue, opera buffa and other style names unless they are proper nouns.  We tend to always capitalize Baroque, but the situation is more confusing with classic and romantic music.  Find a good rule book and be consistent.)


6. Edit. Edit. Edit.  The computer is your friend.  (It is virtually a certainty that you will have a computer on your desk when you arrive for your first job.)  You must edit your writing.  No, this is not a fast procedure, but there is no excuse for incomplete sentences, run-on sentences and stuff that just doesn't make any sense.  Get rid of gibberish and unnecessary repetition.  This means cut! Cut! Cut!


7. Don't announce. Yes, you can say what the paper will do, but avoid unnecessary phrases like:

'We take 'In a Sentimental Mood' as our first study and potentially have an area for substantial discussion. And the similarities are our first point of discussion.'


8. Argue for something,  You need to convince the reader of something. You wouldn't want your lawyer to get up and say, 'well, I don't think he did it...probably not.' Rather, you want 'he must be innocent because...'  Therefore, each paragraph must make a point (usually a single point) that advances that argument.  If it doesn't, cut it!  Single sentences rarely make good paragraphs.  Your paper must articulate a single thesis or argument.


9. Use footnotes for facts that didn't come out of your head.  (See a writing handbook on 'plagiarism.')  If you need a reference for every sentence then you are not doing enough original work!  There are two kinds of sentences: (1) statements of fact, and (2) your argument based on those facts.  You don't need a lot of them, but most papers need some footnotes and some real examples (hard facts).  You need to argue from facts admitted into evidence by you.


10. Have a friend proofread your work for typos, grammar, punctuation, logical coherence, structure and argument.  He or she need not know anything about the subject!  (If your friend says 'it is great at it is,' get some new friends.  Up to a point, the more people who critique your paper before you hand it in the better.  Yes, even you parents can fulfill this function.  (It makes us feel useful and relevant to your life.)
Course Notes:


August, 28: Introduction: Theory and Culture

            Barry, 'Introduction' in Beginning Theory, p. 1-10.

            *Ren■ Descartes, Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason and Seeking Truth in the Field of Science (1637), tr. Laurence J. Lafleur (Bobbs-Merrill Educational Publishing, 1960), Part IV, p. 24-30. (ELECTRONIC RESERVE)


Further Recommended Readings:

            Allen, from 'Introduction' in Channels of Discourse, p. 11-16.


Make sure you have all the books and a syllabus.  Sign up for dates to do both your leading of class and your class paper.  Look at the structure of the course and ask yourself what each section is about: keep asking about this in class too until you get an answer that satisfies you.  Then start on next week's work.  If you get behind, you will hate yourself.


There will be lots of new terms (I've tried to put them in bold below).  While all disciplines have jargon, most of these new terms are ones that have stuck so you have to know them.  At least some of the time, the terms exist because the new word was needed to summarize a new concept.  A very large part of your education in this course will be to be able to master these terms and the concepts behind them.  While no list of terms can substitute for some serious slow reading, I would bookmark a couple of good websites:


All of these web sites include good information, silly and irreverent glosses on complicated material (please keep a sense of humor during this course and make sure you check out the 'theory action figures' at, introductions to the most famous authors and concepts, terms, links to other sites on individual authors and other fun stuff.  There is plenty here to keep you busy and if you get stuck on a concept, try here first.  If you must look for other general sites (I will send you to more specific sites later) stick to university faculty sites.  Let me know if you find something really good.


Even if everything for the week seems clear after reading Barry, I would take a look at Allen or at one of these web pages.  Most of these concepts are slippery and a second opinion or another viewpoint can work wonders.


You should also review Descartes' famous formulation of the basis of all modern science (especially if you have never read it).  The bit everybody quotes ('I think, thereforeĎ') isn't the most important bit! Note the title of the chapter!



Semiotics is a powerful philosophical idea that has taken root in both literary and cultural theory.  Since Descartes, philosophers have largely thought about the world as consisting of some combination of these four parts: self, ideas, the real world and language.  (Not everybody thinks you need all four.)  Until the twentieth century, language was the least discussed of these (Descartes didn't even mention it), but we have since been making up for lost time.  Semiotics is a way of thinking about language as a system of signs, but is has become a way of looking at not just culture, but virtually everything as structures of signs.



September 2: Language and Liberal Humanism

            Barry, 'Theory before ?theory'-liberal humanism' in Beginning Theory, p. 11-36

            *ŘLudwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (1945); tr. G. E[lizabeth] M. Anscombe 3rd edn. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2001), no. 54-92 (p. 23-37). (ELECTRONIC RESERVE)


We've got two things to do today.  First, we are going to read an unusual thinker (Wittgenstein) who helped to put the study of how language works at the center of philosophy.  What sorts of questions does Wittgenstein ask?  How is he different from other philosophers you have read?  What are games and family resemblance?


Second, we need to provide a bit of background.  We will review Descartes and the modern (Cartesian) conception of the world.  Barry covers a lot of ground, but this history of the rise of English as a discipline is the basis for much later theory (which will react against some of the assumptions of 'New Criticism').  If you want to know more or something isn't clear, the next best place to look is:


            Terry Eagleton, 'The Rise of English' in Literary Theory: An Introduction, 2nd edn. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), p. 15-46. PN94, E2 1996  (REGULAR RESERVE)


This is a now standard reading of this history.  Eagleton is a well-known British Marxist and this book is a bit of a polemic, BUT he does explain things very clearly and saves most of this own views to the end.  (It is also useful to know the specific point of view of the writer, so you know it is Marx hereáand soon you will know what that means.)


David Lodge (a British theorist who also writes hilarious novels about academica) parodies the old style of English literature in his novel Small World

'Ď the function of criticism was to assist in the function of literature itself, which Dr. Johnson had famously defined as enabling us better to enjoy life, or better to endure it. The great writers were men and women of exceptional wisdom, insight, and understanding.  Their novels, plays and poems were inexhaustible reservoirs of values, ideas, images, which, when properly understood and appreciated, allowed us to live more fully, more finely, more intensely Ď It was the job of the critic Ďto bring out the treasures into the light of day.  Of course, he [!] needed certain specialist skills to do this: a knowledge of history, a knowledge of philology, of generic convention and textual editing. But above all he needed enthusiasm, the love of books. It was the demonstration of this enthusiasm in action that the critic forged a bridge between the great writers and the general reader".


The 'New Criticism' of the 1930s and 40s tried to turn English into an academic discipline, largely by saying literature wasn't just part of history.  If literature could be studied in isolation with its own methods and tools, it must be worthy of its own faculty, right?


Much of the 'theory' we will study in this course grows out of a desire to compensate for this isolation of literature (and art and music too by the way).  As David Lodge writes again, the purpose of the new emphasis on theory was to

'Ď wage undying war on the very concept of ?literature' itself, which was nothing more than an instrument of bourgeois hegemony, a fetishistic reification of so-called aesthetic values erected and maintained through an elitist educational system in order to conceal the brutal facts of class oppression under industrial capitalism.'


There are lots of terms in there we will encounter later, but the good news is that both of these extreme views (represented by the two professors in the novel) are largely a vanishing breed.  While we are all open to a variety of approaches now, new theory continue to emerge.  Hey there is even 'meta-theory' now or the theory of theories!  So remain skeptical, but also continue to ask hard questions.  What is literature?  How do we know what something means?



September 4: Semiotics and Structuralism

            Barry, 'Structuralism' in Beginning Theory, p. 39-49

            *ŘClaude L■vi-Strauss, 'The Structural Study of Myth' in Structural Anthropology (1958); tr.  Claire Jacobson and Brooke Grundfest Schoepf (New York: Basic Books, 1963) vol 1, p. 206-230. (ELECTRONIC RESERVE)


Nobody much likes L■vi-Strauss anymore, and you too may conclude that he tries too hard to make the methodology work.  But as with many thinkers who so radically break the mold, the influence remains on both those who refine the system and those who reject it.  Ask yourself where else this all might be applied and question your own assumptions.  If theory does not change you own view of the world a little, it isn't worth doing.


While initially a linguistic theory (and part of the 'turn to language' we have been discussing) Structuralism has changed the fundamental question from what something means to how it means.  (Note also how it demonstrates an 'intentional fallacy' that a text means whatever its author wants it to mean.)  This move to analyze 'texts' (and not just aesthetic 'works') means that we can look for structures of meaning in all sorts of things from myth to fashion and food.


While most of us can except the basic ideaáthat meaning is imbedded in lots of things by the arrangements of signsádo these structures reflect society or the human mind?  (That is the Big Question to which we'll return at the end off this unit.) 


When you read L■vi-Strauss, look for these basic features of structuralism:

systems of difference: meaning is created through the difference between signs (you can define a cap by its difference to a hat)

binary oppositions: nature/culture (the big one in L-S), male/female, up/down

signifier/signified: another binary? but where is the 'thing itself'?

myth: what are the implications for suggesting that the meaning of Oepidus is in the structure of the myth?  Does that make it universal?


If the basic terms of structuralism still do not make sense, then read this article in Channels.  It is GREAT!


            Ellen Seiter, 'Semiotics, Structuralism, and Television' in Channels, p. 31-60


I HIGHLY recommend it as additional reading if you have not had loads of structuralism and semiotics before.  Her examples will make all of this mean something and hopefully you will also get an idea of how these ideas might apply to other forms of culture (TV in this case).  When you do your own analysis (paper one) this is the first place I'd return for ideas.




September 9: Signs and Seeing

            *ŘE.H. Gombrich, 'Truth and the Stereotype' in Art & Illusion: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1960) p. 63-90. (ELECTRONIC RESERVE)

            *Stewart Hall, 'The Work of Representation' in Representation: Cultural Representation and Signifying Practices, ed. Stuart Hall (London: Sage Publicati0ns/Open University, 1997), p. 15-30, 65-66. (ELECTRONIC RESERVE)


Both of these authors directly apply semiotics to visual texts.  The word 'representation' is carefully chosen.  Why?   Is there a difference between looking at a work of art and an advertisement?  What else might be 'representations?'


September 11: Mythologies

            *ŘRoland Barthes,  'The World of Wrestling' 'Soap Powders and Detergents' 'Myth Today' in Mythologies (1957) tr. Annette Lavers (New York: Hill and Wang, 1972) p. 15-25, 36-38, 109-159. 


This book isn't long; if you can read the entire thing, do.  It is a classic.  Everyone has his or her favorite chapters, although some are particularly French.  So does the 'Steak and Chips' chapter make sense to you?  ('Chips' by the way is the British word for 'French Fries.')  In an attempt to apply this semiotic method, you MUST bring to class an advertisement from a magazine, television or newspaper and be prepared to 'decode' or 'read' it for us.



September 16: Performance: Narrative & Eli?n Gonz?lez

            *ŘM[ikhail] M[ikhailovich] Bakhtin, from 'Discourse in the Novel' in The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, ed. Michael Holquist, tr. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin: University of Texas, 1981), p.270-275, 281-282, 288-294, 324-325 (ELECTRONIC RESERVES)


I want to talk about Eli?n Gonz?lez today, but first we need to understand about formalism, narratology (narrative theory) and Bakhtin, who is often called a Russian Formalist, but who is also deeply influenced by semiotics. The chapter on 'Narratology' in Barry is good and his chapter on 'Stylistics' is provides related background, but I think the first part of the chapter in Channels is the best thing to read first:

            Sarah Kozloff, 'Narrative Theory and Television' in Channels, p. 67-79 (Read the rest of this chapter and the chapters on if you want more background.)


I think you will get the idea fairly quickly.  Narrative theory is, in a way, another version of the structuralist binary oppositions we saw in L■vi-Strauss. This time it is form and content.  Narratologist Seymour Chatman (Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film, Cornell University Press, 1978) uses summaries to show that while there are over 1000 chronicled versions of the Cinderella story, we would all summarize them in similar ways. There are different ways of telling the story, but they are all versions of the same story.  Do you buy this argument?  (Think back to Wittgenstein and family resemblance.)  


Now think about how Bakhtin applies and complicates all of this: make sure you understand his terms:

            unitary language

            unifying, centripetal and stratifying forces (in language)




If you have been wondering how all of this applies to music, the answer to the Cinderella question, or even how it all ties together, I highly (!) recommend this article which uses Gombrich, Bakhtin, narrative theory and Wittgenstein, all within the first few pages and applies them to the concept of music performance:


            *Jos■ Antonio Bowen, 'The History of Remembered Innovation: Tradition and Its Role in the Relationship Between Musical Works and Their Performances' (The Journal of Musicology, Vol. XI, No. 2, Spring 1993), 139-173 (ELECTRONIC RESERVE)


(Americans are often thought to be deficient when it comes to irony, but ironyáthe exclamation point above is an indication of irony--is a word and a form you should enjoy when possible. Opps, sorry, I did it again.)


Eli?n Gonz?lez

Then we will attempt to apply all of this to the Eli?n Gonz?lez 'story.'  Again, ask yourself if all of the different narratives are 'versions of the same story' (i.e. is there a single underlying story) or if there is any single narrative that can be told? 


You might remind yourself of the 'facts' or events in the case:

(although even in this 'neutral' version of 'events' does the CHOICE of first event seem significant?)


Then look at a few different web sites and look for different perspectives on this 'story.'


(You can probably find better ones, so let me know!)  Rather than ask 'which of these versions is the most objective?' consider what semiotic questions you might ask. How do these different stories reflect the different authors? How are different meanings created from the same 'story'?  There is a recent academic article on this which might also provide some new questions:


            *Sarah Banet-Weiser, 'Eli?n Gonz?lez and ?The Purpose of America': Nation, Family, and the Child Citizen' in American Quarterly 55/2 (June 2003), p. 149-178. (ELECTRONIC RESERVE)


September 23: Performance: Culture & Interpretation

            *ŘClifford Geertz, 'Thick Description: Toward and Interpretive Theory of Culture' in The Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 1973), p. 3-30.

            'Darmok' (1991) from Year 5, Star Trek, The Next Generation (DVD: Disc 1, please watch this episode before coming to class.)


After L■vi-Strauss, Clifford Geertz is one of the best-known anthropologists of the last century.  If your interests are remotely related to anthropology or sociology, I'd buy this entire (paperback) collection.  The last chapter 'Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight' is an important example of how anthropology 'reads' (interprets) other cultures even when simply trying to 'describe.'  In other words, there is no 'pure' ethnography.  All cultures are loaded with assumptions we don't see, so learning about another culture means learning about our own assumptions as well as those of the new culture.  (This is a paraphrase of Alfred Schutz's position and also takes us into phenomenology, to which we will return in a few weeks, but who said the archeology of knowledge was neat?)


We'll think about this by looking at a really alien culture from Star Trek: TNG.  (You can watch the DVD in the library or on line if I can get it set up in time.)  You may have noticed that the aliens in Star Trek are not always that alien.  Linguistically, the 'universal translator' never met a language it couldn't translate, right?  So ask yourself: do you understand the speech Patrick Stewart gives at the end?  How did you learn this language? The same way Captain Picard does?  Which is what exactly?  Could it be duplicated in a textbook?  What does all of this say about the power of metaphor in your own language.  If you have learned a foreign language, think about how you were taught idioms.



September 23: Culture Decentered: Post-Structuralism & Deconstruction

            Barry, 'Post-Structuralism and Deconstruction' in Beginning Theory, p. 61-80

            *ŘJacques Derrida, 'The Exorbitant Question of Method' in Of Grammatology, tr. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976) p. 157-164 (ELECTRONIC RESERVES)



This week is hard.  There is no doubt about that, but don't assume that means it isn't real, important, influential or potentially life altering.  Most folks thought that Einstein, Schr╦dinger and Heisenberg were just playing around with imaginary problems, but most of it is now undergraduate basic science.  Abstract problems are often an important way to think and move forward; it is worth practice if for no other reason. 


Luckily, you have already read Bakhtin, who deals with similar issues in languageáwith a bit easier conceptual framework (in my view).  Now you need to read the seven pages of Derrida from Of Grammatology á very slowly. Refer back to Barry (pages 68-69) as needed. 


I also strongly recommend that you read this other very short text:


            *Jacques Derrida, 'Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences' from Writing and Difference, tr. Alan Bass (1978) (ELECTRONIC RESERVES)


This is the 'big bang' of post-structuralism.  It was originally delivered at a conference at Johns Hopkins in 1966 and has been reprinted in lots of places included Modern Criticism and Theory, ed. David Lodge (London & New York: Longman, 1988), p. 107-123 and Teaching L■vi-Strauss, ed. Hans Penner (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1998), p. 207-226.  (Now why would it be there?)


The big question in both essays is: if signs are systems of difference and language really refers back to more language, how can we say when we are ever tied to a 'reality'?  Rousseau and L■vi-Strauss are both trapped by their own language as are we, so everything we can say about either text, is really only something about language and how language is used.


We have a whole day to talk about this, but please struggle on your own with it and come with your own questions. 




September 25: Culture Recentered: Cognition & Evolution


In 1859, Darwin's Origin of the Species sparked a revolution in the social sciences and psychology; just as many feared, the understanding of everything from music and education to sexual behavior and, of course, language, could now be understood using Darwin's theories.   In the 20th-century, however, social theorists like »mile Durkheim argued that while the evolution invented the brain, the brain invented culture and so 'cultural autonomy' became a key ingredient in the social sciences. 


This is a gross oversimplification, of course: by looking for common structures in all human cultures, L■vi-Strauss, for example, was hoping to uncover fundamental features of humanity.  While not explicitly biological, structuralism, does seem to mesh with ideas of biological determinism.  (How else could all cultures end up with an Oedipus myth?  While Steven Pinker (below) cites Oedipus as one of the human universals, his attack on structuralism is that learning about another culture is not learning anything new.  While the surface might be different, the deep structure has to be the same because that is limited by biology and the human brain.)  For many, the real nail in the coffin for Darwin, was Derrida and post-structuralism. While Darwin has made something of a comeback in the social sciences, the humanities have continued to consider culture autonomous and to see culture as constructed rather than biologically given.  (We will return to the essentialism debate when we talk about gender in a few weeks.)


While largely ignored in the humanities, Noam Chomsky began leading what he calls a second cognitive revolution (the first being Descartes') and what is generally called cognitive science. Chomsky argued that children do not simply imitate adult speech.  While they have not heard enough sentences to deduce the rules of grammar from scratch (his 'poverty of stimulus' argument), they produce new sentences they have never heard.  So they must already know the generative rules; the reason all human languages are similar and any child can learn any language is because there is a language organ in the brain (a claim now supported by neurological evidence). Chomsky calls this Cartesian linguistics and Pinker calls it the 'language instinct.'


I recommend that you read all of this from the master himself:

            *Noam Chomsky, 'Perspectives on Language and Mind' in On nature and Language (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002) p. 45-60. (ELECTRONIC RESERVES)

This isn't a hard article, but Chomsky focuses on language and the mind.


His former student, Steven Pinker, now professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT, has been more willing to draw out the political implications of this work.  Like Carl Sagan, Pinker is a populariser, but he is a good one and his work has been hugely influential in spreading this gospel.  Make sure you start by reading this article and interview:



The implications may be less obvious to you since you have only just encountered post-structuralism, but we have been studying in the last few weeks how language shapes our thoughts.  Much of cultural studies (i.e. disciplines like sociology, anthropology, English and music) rests on this notion that the human mind is molded by culture, and not biology, and that culture is inscribed in our stories, clothes, religion and mostly language.  Pinker claims that Chomsky's theories turn this all on its head.  So make sure you read:

            *ŘSteven Pinker 'An Instinct to Acquire an Art' in The Language Instinct (New York: William Morrow and Co., 1994), p. 15-24 (ELECTRONIC RESERVES)


His new book is sparking even more controversy.  Having shown social science and the humanities the way to restructure their disciplines, Pinker now sets out to show politicians how they can only fix the rest of our problems by letting go of three false assumptions: (1) the blank slate, or the belief that institutions can change human nature, (2) the noble savage idea that violence is learned behavior and (3) the ghost in the machine, or the notion that you have an immortal soul  which is the locus of free will.  (All of this is spelled out in the web interview above.)  There is enough to offend almost everyone in the book and he attacks both the left and right.  Marxists get it for believing people can change and the right for trying to tell scientists what to do about stem cells.  He sometimes makes a lot of sense (recovering common sense is one of his refrains), but you might not agree with everything he says about both gender (admitting biological differences does not justify discrimination) and violence (admitting men are naturally violent doesn't mean we can't reduce violence, but TV shows don't make any difference).  Pinker argues that the right accepts our greedy and competitive human nature, while the left tries to make life more fair by denying or suggesting we change human nature.  (At least it seems they agree on human nature as defined by PInker.)  Ask yourself whether your belief in the ability of humans to change or do good is related to your political/religious beliefs or in the scientific evidence.   I recommend we all read a short section where he brings the argument to a conclusion; DO go back and read these books as they are readable and entertaining.

            *Steven Pinker, 'The Holy Trinity' in The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (Viking Press, 2002); (Penguin, 2003), p. 121-135. (ELECTRONIC RESERVES)


This 'evolutionary psychology' has led to the formation of a range of new fields. First look up Professor Francis Steen's cite on cognitive cultural studies at UCLA:


                        (Follow this to the debate page and read the page 'From Structuralism to Cognitivism'.)

Then look up the work of Professor Joseph Carroll, who is trying to create a Darwian literary theory at the University of Missouri-St Louis. Since he generally supports Pinker and wants literary theory to adapt to this new science, his critique of Pinker is especially interesting.  Please make sure you read:


            Joseph Carroll, 'Steven Pinker's Cheesecake for the Mind' in Philosophy  and Literature 22 (1998), p. 478-85 You can download a PDF or read this on line at:





September 30: Freud


Freud is fun and even if he is a bit out of favor these days, we carry around a lot of his assumptions in modern life. Freud gave us the id (unconscious) and the ego (conscious) self and the idea that the self is constructed through traffic between the two.  (Later theorists will complicate this.)  Ironically, while there is no question his 'phallocentrism' is impossible to ignore today, his theories of gender (that they are constructed socially and in the mind and not just given in the body) are the bedrock for all feminist theory.  (Go figure.)


The first thing to read is:


            Barry, 'Psychoanalytic Criticism' in Beginning Theory, p. 96-120.


This is a quick review of the basics, but you should know what the various stages of childhood are (oral, anal, phallic, pre-Oedipal, Oedipal, and post-Oedipal) and some basic terms (pleasure principle, reality principle, repression, and  sublimation). Think also about how Freud's dream analysis might appeal to literary and especially film critics.  (How is watching a film like watching a dream?)


Our reading will allow us to see Freud putting his ideas to use for cultural analysis.  (Ask yourself how the psychic lives of children, neurotics and 'savages' similar?) You need to read all of this section.


            ŘSigmund Freud, 'The Infantile Recurrence of Totemism' Part 4 of Totem and Taboo (1913)


What are totems and exogamy? Is totemism a social or religious system (both or neither)?  How does Freud introduce psychoanalysis into this and when does he move from recounting others to making his own interpretations? So according to Freud what is God?  What are the totems of  Christianity? Those who care for patients and study 'primitive' cultures largely ignore this book, but for cultural historians and literary critics it is a central book.  Why?


Note this local exhibit:


ALSO, please note that we are going to be referring to our novel over the next few weeks.

            Naguib Mahfouz, Palace Walk, (1956)


You need to FINISH this novel by October 14, so start now.  We will also be discussing the first half next week.
October 2: Lacan: Language and the Self


Lacan is tough, but he really makes Freud work.  He also connects Freudian thought with all of the semiotic thought we discussed in the first unit.  Lacan argues that we only come to know our self as distinct from the world through language and representations.  So language precedes a knowledge of self.  (How is this different from Descartes?)  For Lacan this involves a series of losses, so that absence is at the heart of subjectivity.  One of our first 'losses' is a fall from androgyny to sexual difference at birth: 'It's a girl.'  So it isn't the recognition that you don't have a penis, but rather a social and linguistic category that becomes part of your subjectivity. Also for Lacan, identity is in the unconscious, but this unconscious is structured like language.


Hard? You bet, so start by looking again at the Lacan material in Barry and then reading this more detailed explanation:


            Flitterman-Lewis, 'Psychoanalysis, Film and Television' in Channels, p. 203-239.


Then you are ready for the real thing.  Slow reading will help.

            Jacques Lacan, 'The Insistence of the Letter in the Unconscious' in Modern Criticism and Theory, ed. David Lodge (London & New York: Longman, 1988), p. 79-106 (ELECTRONIC RESERVES)


And don't forget to keep turning the pages in Mahfouz!




October 7: The Other as Object (Post-Colonialism)

Professor Maria Luise Wagner, guest lecturer


If the self is a construct, then how it is constructed will determine how it views objects.  This (Freudian) idea proves central to the exploration of all sorts of (constructed) difference (e.g. primitive/cultured, black/white, straight/gay) and the two we will examine this week: East/West and masculine/feminine.


            *ŘEdward Said, 'Introduction' in Orientalism (New York: Vantage Books, 1979), p. 1-28. (ELECTRONIC RESERVES)


If your field of interest is the East, or any 'other' really, you should read the entire thing, but certainly read the introduction carefully and the afterword if you can manage as well.


They key text behind this one is:

            Franz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, tr. Constance Farrington (New York: Grove Press, 1966)

This was the hardest thing to cut, but if you want to read the world's angriest book, there it is.


We get to do a little music this week, so listen to the excerpts from:


            Dream of the Orient (Archiv CD, 2003) Concerto K╦ln (playing Mozart) and Sarband (playing traditional Turkish music)


How does Mozart construct the Turks?


You should now have read about half of Mahfouz so we can begin to talk about how Mahfouz constructs himself (or HIS Egypt).  Is there an Orientalist reading?



October 9: The Other as Object (Gender and Essentialism)


There isn't enough time to talk about constructions of race and we are coming back to gender and sexuality later in the term.  So this session is really a chance to digest what we have done so far and to consider a paradox of feminist theory.


Start by reading the two glosses on feminist theory:


            Barry, 'Feminist Criticism' in Beginning Theory, p. 121-136.

            E. Ann Kaplan, excerpt from Feminist Criticism and Television in Channels, p. 251-262.


If you like to surf, also look at this brief account of the different schools of feminist thought:


Both Barry and Kaplan talk about essentialism, which is the idea that things are what they are because that is their nature or 'essence'.  Common sense, philosophy and much of the social sciences (after Steven Pinker) are essentialist.  The opposite view is that systems, cultures, beliefs and meaning are relationaláthat things have meaning only in relation to other things.  Both structuralism and post-structuralism are relational in this sense, although as we saw, Derrida ultimately demonstrated that structuralism was essentialist at its core.  (I.e. that things at the core were fixed to an unchanging reality.) 


In the same way that feminist theory has had to wrestle with its dependence on the phallocentric Freud, Kaplan describes how most feminist criticism is essentialist.  In other words, that women are essentially different than men. Is there something innate that is different, or are women simply trained to be different? This (first position, that women are naturally different), of course, sounds reasonable enough, but it goes against most of the other streams of critical and cultural thought. 


Racism is an obvious form of essentialism, but is Pinker's and Chomsky's position that people (and by extension groups of people) are biologically, genetically or naturally the same, also an essentialist position?  Pinker would argue 'so what' if it is, it isn't 'contaminated' by sharing a premise with racism.  Think again about The Bell Curve argument that the difference between black and white IQ scores  is partly genetic.  So you can see that while 'cultural relativity' gets a bad rap, admission of essentialism is worse.  (What is 'cultural relativism' by the way?)  Did you expect (assume) that feminist criticism took a relative position and are you surprised that it ended up essentialist?


We will spend most of the time discussing the ramifications of this argument.  (Think of what it means for music, for example.)  We will also visit with the women in Mahfouz and if you have not seen the movies Spirited Away and Bend it Like Beckham, do.  Both of these movies involve other cultures, but in what ways are girls coming of age stories different from those of boys?  (Think of The Secret Garden and The Little Princess too.)  Is this a biological or cultural ddifference?


This is also a good time to discuss what we mean (again) by culture and politics.  Is one of them more essentialist than the other?



October 14: History and Politics

This week we are going to talk about Mahfouz and Egypt, so make sue you have finished the entire book:


            Naguib Mahfouz, Palace Walk (1956)


As you will have noticed, Palace Walk begins as a domestic novel; it seems to be utterly about the life of a single family.  We don't even know when the story starts.  Gradually, however, history enters the novel.  How does this change the novel?  Do you begin to wonder what the 'real' history is?  So in order to talk about this, first read a modern historians account of this period: 


            *M. V. Seton-Williams, A Short History of Egypt (London: The Rubicon Press, 1989), p. 40-53. ELECTRONIC RESERVES


Then you need to read this account of ancient by the Greek writer Herodotus:


            ŘHerodotus, The Histories (c. 440 BC)  Book 2 excerpts. I will send you an edited version of  this as a rtf file for you to print.  If you want to buy the book,, the best is:  tr. Aubrey de S■lincourt (Penguin Books, 1954-OOP), p.140-181  or you can find all of book 2 on the web:

How do these three modes of history writing compare?



October 16: Literature and Politics    


            ŘNaguib Mahfouz, Palace Walk (1956)





Finally, an entire day to talk about this novel.  What are the politics of this novel?  Can you tell? Can you judge these characters by their own standards, or only your own?  How can you tell?  While this is an Egyptian novel (written in Arabic), it has been said that is an entirely European novel.  In what way is this true?  How does the entrance of politics and history change the novel? 


Mostly though, I want to discuss what we learn about Egypt.  Is this a good way to learn about Egyptian society?  Or would it be better to read an ethnography, written by a Westerner? What differences might there be?  Some of this may lead us back to discussion of what is literature and art and how is it different from other sorts of knowledge. 


October 21: Marx and Ideology


You have all heard of Marx and probably have read a good chunk of him already, but just to remind you: Marxism isn't Communism. Well OK, it was.  Marx's philosophical and political doctrine (Communism) that in 19th-century capitalism, property, wealth and power were controlled by relatively few individuals, leaving the rest of us alienated and forced to work as economic units, did demand that state ownership would bring about the end of a class society.   (I.e. the belief that human nature can be changed when you change the material or cultural conditions is central to Marx)   This is sometimes called orthodox Marxist or (better) 'Vulgar Marxism' because art and ideas are determined only by the material culture.


But Marx was also a philosopher who wanted to argue against the typical German philosophy of his time which was idealist.  Hegel and Schopenhauer were both convinced that it was ideas that were the most real and important things.  Marxism is materialist: the material (economic) base (the means of production) shapes the superstructure (the culture).  WELCOME TO CULTURAL THEORY!    This idea is an enormous change with all preceding thought and opens the door for virtually everything we have been talking about.  Note (1) that this materialism isn't biological and eventually leads to the position that we need to study everything in culture (from fashion to TV) so that we can understand how ideas are formed.  (This is the position Chomsky and Pinker were attacking.)  (2) The position of most Marxist critics is that culture (the superstructure) is related to (and not completely determined by) the material base.  (Do you agree?  Might you be a closet Marxist?!)  For a structuralist Marxist, the base is simply the deep structure.


 Another big Marxist idea/term is ideology: the values, ideas, images, and the system of thought (rationale) about how we live our lives. So, Marx might ask, why do we stick to capitalist ideology if it privileges relatively few in our society?  Because capitalism (as an ideology) is very good at fooling us into believing we might be better off in the future, if we eat at McDonald's we will get a nutritious and fun meal, and if we by a Toyota, the girls will be all over us (guys).


Do you see the relationship with semiotics?  Marxist definitions of ideology imply a level of 'false consciousness'.  Ideology is literally how we see the world; it is our reality.  We accept social and economic relations because we can't really see them. So Marxist critics try to see through ideologies (uh how do you get outside of an ideology without entering another?)  


So those are the big terms to look for.  Now read:


            Barry, 'Marxist Criticism' in Beginning Theory, pp.156-171

Another great short explanation of these key concepts is in:


            *Raymond Williams, 'Base and Superstructure' in Marxism and Literature (Oxford University Press, 1977), p. 75-82. (ELECTRONIC RESERVES)


Now you are ready for the main event.  You should already have a sense of what 'The German Ideology' means.  We are reading this bit of early Marx because is the most dense concentration of influential ideas for how all of us (and not just Communists) look at the world today.  It is also the only place we all of Marz's conception of history spelled out.


            ŘKarl Marx, 'Feuerbach: Opposition of the Materialist and Idealist Outlook' Part 1 in Vol. 1 of  The German Ideology in The Marx-Engels Reader, 2nd edn., ed. Robert Tucker (New York: Norton, 1978), p. 146-162.  This is the standard edition and easily available, but the entire thing is also available on line: (You need to read all of part A online.)


This is short, but dense, so slow reading will be required.





October 23 Marx Applied


Now that you have found, I know your life is complete.  Well, almost, now we have to apply Marx's theories.  There are lots of important folks we should probably be reading: Althusser, Adorno and Benjamin are guys you should know, and I feel guilty for cutting them (really), but I figured you wanted to go home in December.  The Italian communist Antonio Gramsci was sentenced to prison in 1928 where he died in 1937.  He wrote in prison and we will be reading from these famous prison notebooks.,  He was politically active so much of his thought is geared toward practical explanations of the intricacies of Marxist thought.  Much of his terminology has become standard, especially his notion of hegemony, which Gramsci contracts with the direct political control he calls rule.  Hegemony is a refinement of Marx's ideology.  It is all of the beliefs and values (the world view) of the ruling order, but it appears as natural, so we all accept it as common sense.  (The classic example in music is still very much with us.  It tells us that Bach, Beethoven and Brahms wrote timeless much that will always be with us, and is worth studying, and that rock, hip-hop and popular music is a passing fad, which appeals only to young people driven by hormones.  This is taken as given, when it is really an ideology, but a hegemonic one.  It is one class trying to make their music seem 'naturally' better.) 



For a complete and clear definition of hegemony, read:


            *Raymond Williams, 'Hegemony' in Marxism and Literature (Oxford University Press, 1977), p. 108-114. (ELECTRONIC RESERVES)


Then look at how some off these ideas are applied in:


            Mimi White, 'Ideological Analysis and Television' in Channels, p. 161-179.


Finally tackle Gramsci himself and be prepared to discuss both what is new here and how is might all be applied.


            *ŘAntonio Gramsci, 'The Study of Philosophy' (Selections from the Prison Notebooks) in The Modern Prince and Other Writing, tr. Louis Marks (New York: International Publishers, 1957), p. 58-89 (ELECTRONIC RESERVES)



October 28 - November 11: Wagner

Wagner is an intense experience.  This is not entertainment.  As Nietzsche will make very clear, this is a direct encounter will the world's most powerful forces and truths.  And it is long.  (Enlightenment is not quick and painless.)  Wagner is best taken initially in small doses, so I am going to spread out the initial introduction.  Do NOT put this off until the day before the show.  You cannot speed up the time it takes to watch a DVD or listen to a CD.  You are trying to absorb an entire culture.  You need to have STUDIED the melodies AND the plot before you arrive on November 11th, or you will not get it!!!


The second part (Walk˘re-the bit we are going to see) is the easiest and most compact part of Wagner's four-part Ring of the Nibelung, but it DOES require that you understand the first part, Das Rheingold.  As I will explain in class, 'understand' here means not just knowing the plot and who is who, but having experienced the music which symbolizes or describes or carries the real meaning (according to Nietzsche) of each character, event and object.  This basically means learning a small number of related melodies and knowing to what they refer. 


As we will discuss on Nov 6 (Hermenutics), learning is not a linear process.  As you learn more about the Ring, you will ask new questions and your understanding will change.  So you can do these things in any order (although this numbering suggests an order), but you really need to (a) start before class today and (b) do all four of them BEFORE you come to class on November 11th.


1. Read several plot summaries.

This is too much to take in all at once, so read another every time you get confused.  Don't worry too much about Siegfried and G╦tterdËmmerung (nights 3 and 4) although you should have a sense of how the whole things fits together: there is no happy ending! Start with the one on Electronic Reserves.


2. Watch the OperaVox version of Das Rheingold (DVD 47 in Gelardin)

This is a 30 minute animated version of Das Rheingold by Hibbert Ralph made for BBC Channel 4 Wales with the Welsh National Opera: quick and painless.


3. Study the melodies

There are web sites, CDs, DVD-Rs and my sampler discs in the library to help you learn the basic melodies and how they relate to characters, events and things.


4. Watch all of Das Rheingold   

We have two versions on DVD and/or VHS.  I would start with the 1990 MET Otto Schenk version conducted by James Levine (VHS 2198 and also on DVD 435).  It is very traditional.  For the other extreme, look at the 1980 Bayreuth production by Patrice Ch■reau with Pierre Boulez conducting (DVD 434).  If you think of the gold as a natural resource and how this is used in the pursuit of power and wealth, the environmental eco-reading here will make more sense.)


The alternative to this is to listen to the CDs and read the libretto at the same time to the music.  If you buy or check out the Sabor translation, you can see the names of the motives (played in the orchestra) listed next to the text.  This is also a GREAT way to learn the motives.  Stop when you need to figure out who is who.  (If you read music, you could also do this with the score, but I think an annotated libretto is much better at this stage.)


Wagner Resources:

I've listed below some basics.  If you want a complete list of what we have, look at the web page for my Wagner course:


Basic Texts and Summaries (all on book reserve)

            Richard Wagner, Rheingold and Walk˘re: translation and commentary by Rudolph Sabor, (Oxford: Phaidon, 1997) (ML410.W14.R413.1997)

            Roy Thomas & Gil Kane  with Jim Woodring, Richard Wagner's The Ring of the Nibelung: The Complete Graphic Novel, Originally published in 4 parts.   (New York: DC Comics, 1989); rept. edn (El Cerrito, CA, 1997)  (PN6727.T45 R5 1991)  YES, a comic book for credit!  A GREAT way to learn the plot!! 

            Charles Osborne, The Complete Opera of Richard Wagner (North Pomfret, VT: Trafalgar Square Pub., 1991) (ML410.W13 O18 1991) A very compact summary and analysis of the 'The Rhinegold' (pages 179-199)

            Ernst Newman, The Wagner Operas (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1949) rept. edn. (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991) (MT100.W2.N53 1949) Newman gives a much longer and more detailed analysis than Osborne: 'The Rhinegold' (pages 451-492)


Web Everything you'd ever need in one web site: plots, family trees, motives and video clips.  And you thought MY syllabus was OTT, check this out.


Sound and Video

You can find everything we have in Gelardin by searching for Rheingold and Walkure in George.  There are also two CD-Handout sets in Gelardin which I created.  One is called 'Thematic Groups' and the other is 'Walkure'.  They correspond to the handouts below, which also correspond to the numbering in Sabor.  Start with the basic set and learn the Rheingold motives first. 


Rheingold - Introduction





                  2-Rhine       3-Erda           5-Gold       6-Thunder     7-Rainbow (Bridge)


   8- Innocence (Rhinemaidens)    - -    9-Sanctuary (Sleeping Br˘nhilde)


11-Rheinmaidens' Lament                 10-(Rheinmaidens') Joy

                     12-Grief (Servitude)

13-Power of the Ring (Oppression (Ring as Chord) = Grief + Gold's Dominion)


15-Forge (Nibelungs)                                                                                      14-Heiajaheia!



Power                                                                                                                     Love

24-Sword                                                                                                18-Freia (a+ b)                                                                                                                                                              19-Fasolt's Love (sexual?)

25-Treaty (Spear)                                         20-Liebesnot/Love's Distress (Love)

                                                                                        21-Lack of Love in Nibelheim


Renunciation of Love


31-Liebe-Tragik (Loge's Version/Futility/Woman's Worth




33-Alberich's Curse       34-Curse (bones)       36-Walhall (Valhalla)

13-Power of the Ring (Ring as Chord)



39-Loge 1            40-Loge 2            41-Loge 3





Other Characters

50-Giants        51-Dragon         52-Fafner as Dragon

53-Alberich           55-Nibelungen Hate


October 30: Nietzsche

            ŘFriedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy  (1886)

8pm, Walsh Black Box: Euripides, The Trojan Women (Nomadic Theatre, $8)


Nietzsche is a terribly important thinker and is essential for understanding everything from Freud to Foucault.  It is short, so make sure you read the entire book.  Nietzsche will certainly challenge many of your basic assumptions about rationality and God.   Ask yourself:  How does he change the basic Cartesian questions?  (In other words, how does Nietzsche break down the subject/object  dichotomies?) What does he mean by Apollonian and Dionysian? What is the method of this book and how it is different from other philosophical works you have read? What are the characteristics of Euripidean tragedy? Why does he pick on Socrates, Christianity and science?  So what does Nietzsche think art is for and what can art do that science cannot?  What is objective art? How does Wagner's 'art' work? What are the moral implications and how does Nietzsche reverse the usual (Kantian) separation of  morality and aesthetics? How can pessimism be strong? What are the implications for culture and politics?


After talking about Nietzsche's reading of Greek theatre we will go to see the Nomadic production of the The Trojan Women at 8pm in the Walsh Black Box.



November 4: Phenomenology and Ethnography

Since Descartes, the idea of knowing anything has been on rather shaky ground.  German philosopher Edmund Husserl tried to provide philosophy with a firmer footing.  Like Descartes, he rejected the common sense view that objects exist independently of ourselves in an external reality.  Husserl's answer to 'what can I be sure I experience,' is that I have ideas (in my mind) about external objects.  I perceive something.  So while I can't be sure they exist, I can be sure I perceive them.  The flip side of this, is that thinking (or consciousness) isn't just thinking.  It is thinking of something.  Husserl said that consciousness intends the world; if we want certainty, we can only be sure of how we see the world and not that it really exists 'out there.'  So all we really have are the phenomena in our minds and hence phenomenology is this study of what we perceive in the world.  (This is actually a pretty clever way around Kant's problem of getting to phenomena!)


The hard part is that (for Husserl) this isn't just individual perceptions, 'pure' phenomena are universal.  To grasp any phenomenon fully is to understand its essential and unchanging nature.   (You are correct to wonder how what looks so relativistic becomes to essentialist!)  Phenomenology posited itself as a science of human consciousnessásearching less for knowledge than at how knowledge was created.  In other words, the human subject is at the center of study again.  In some ways, it is a science of subjectivity.  Phenomenologists ask how do we know anything?


As you have already encountered, this is a fundamental question in all fields, but it comes here because of its relationship to Nietzsche.  There is something deeply irrational about all of this and that is represented by a change in the question from how do we know something to how do we understand something.  This is also the basic question of hermeneutics.  If you are still confused (I don't blame you) it might help to read the notes for the next class session or there is a good explanation of how all of this fits together here:


            Terry Eagleton, 'Phenomenology, Hermeneutics, Reception Theory' in Literary Theory: An Introduction, 2nd edn. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), p. 47-78. (ELECTRONIC RESERVES)


While most phenomenology is pretty impenetrable, Alfred Schutz is a relatively easy read.  He (a bit like like Geertz) is known as a phenomenological anthropologist or sociologist and his concern is this essay is how to do ethnography.


            *ŘAlfred Schutz, 'The Stranger: An Essay in Social Psychology' (1944) in Collected Papers, Vol. 2: Studies in Social Theory (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1964), p. 91-105.


On one level, Schutz is asking the question: how do we learn about another culture without 'going native'? We've discussed this problem in a few different ways.  Think about Said's orientalism or the Marxist issue of seeing through ideologies.)  It is also what is behind the Descartes' quote on the first page.  In other words, if you learn enough to really see my world view, doesn't that knowledge change you? 


The other place where phenomenology has made a big splash is in literature and then film studies.  Everything we have been talking about to this point has concentrated on the writer or the text.  Well what about the reader?  So reader-response criticism, reception theory or audience-oriented criticism (in film and TV studies) all ask what does the reader perceive?  So again the assumption is that we can't know what the author meant or what the text itself really means.  All we know for certain is what it means to readers and viewers.   So this is a better base for research.  Read at least the beginning of this chapter:


            Robert C. Allen, 'Audience-Oriented Criticism' in Channels, 101-134



November 6: Phenomenology and Hermeneutics


Meanwhile, back at the philosophical ranch another methodology called hermeneutics has had its own history.  (If you did not read the Eagleton summary last week, you probably should now.)  The Greek word 'hermeneia' (interpretation) is related to Hermes, who was the messenger god.  Significantly, Hermes was charged with transforming what was beyond human understanding into a form we could grasp.  'Hermeneuein' means to translate or explain.  The translation of the Bible immediately presented a problem that was theological and linguistic at the same time (it is the translator who determines what the text really means in the new language, so translation is also interpretation).  So hermeneutics was initially the theory of biblical exegesis, but it became a general methodology and a science of understanding, which brought it to phenomenology.


There are four big German hermeneutic guys you need to know: Scheiermacher, Dilthey, Heidegger and Gadamer.  Friedrich Scheilermacher (1768-1834) was also the most important German theologian of the 19th century and the father of modern Protestant thought.  He described the process of understanding as a hermeneutic circle.  We understand something by comparing it to something we already know, but the more we know the easier these comparisons become and the more we understand.  So the more context we have (i.e. these notes) the more understanding we will have.  This is both a gradual and a seemingly impossible problem.  How can we grasp the part if we need to understand the whole first?  (As the whole influences the meaning of the parts and vice-versa.)  This dialectical process (Schleiermacher was a rough contemporary of Hegel's) between the whole and the parts is circular. But how do you get in?  Well, Schleiermacher said you had to start with an intuitive leap.  You essentially have to start with a guess and jump into the circle somewhere.  You will notice this is still a central pedagogical idea today.


Wilhem Dilthey (1833-1911) saw this method as generally applicable to the study of the human sciences in a way that could produce objective knowledge while avoiding the mechanistic and reductionist methods of the natural sciences. Dilthey famously said 'nature we explain (erkennen), man we must understand (verstehen).  The goal is to understand how we comprehend the experience of existence.  We call this phenomenological hermeneutics.  


Dilthey created three categories of experience: ideas (pure thought content), actions, and expressions of the lived experience (everything from gesture to art).  Understanding is where one mind (ideas) grasps another mind.   Schleiermacher and Dilthey both believed that a common human nature guaranteed eventual understanding.  (STOP and think about this; despite all of this cultural autonomy stuff, doesn't this notion of a shared humanity still underlie all of our attempts to understand other books, art, and cultures?)  Initially, Dilthey argued that because historical figures felt the same things we felt, we could penetrate through history and understand anyone based upon our own humanity. 


But Dilthey rejected this position and soon decided that humans are historical beings, and that human nature is not fixed.  Texts and actions (and therefore human nature) are a product of their times or place and understanding their meaning means understanding the values and beliefs (the weltanschauung, or world-view) of the period.   Interpretation, therefore, involves recreating the circles of meaning the author experienced at the time.  If you understand the social, political and historical context, you eventually get the whole; i.e. you understand the person and/or the text as if it were you. 


For more on these two, check out this MIT website:


This is an enormously seductive (and ultimately conservative) position and it was taken up by Dilthey's followers Betti and E.D. Hirsch.  In his 1967 book Validity in Interpretation, Hirsch argued that a book means what its author intended it to mean.  This provided an objective standard; if your interpretation differed from that of the author, you were wrong.  (This is essentially the opposite approach from reader response.  Obviously, it is also the opposite position from that of most theorists today who claim there is an 'intentional fallacy.'  In other words, Hirsch's common sense premise is a loser from the start.)   The method was Dilthey's; if you understand enough about the historical period, you can learn to think like a person from that era.  Hirsch was concerned that if a text had infinite possible interpretations it had none, but all of this had political ramifications.  Along with William Bennett (yes that William Bennett) he began to lay out the required curriculum for understanding the great works first in The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy and then in a series of books What Your First Grader Needs to Know, What Your Second Grader Needs to Know etc.  This is an enormously conservative idea (for a Marxists, it is the ultimate hegemony!) Why?


Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) was a student of Husserl who went the other way and put understanding as the foundation of existence; all understanding is temporal, historical, and intentional.  Like Husserl, Heidegger wanted to take us away from Cartesian subject-object limitations and claimed that understanding was the pre-structure of the world in which our interpreting would happen.  In other words, consciousness must exist before self-consciousness.  Apprehending the world is the foundation of consciousness and it is here that Heidegger locates Schleiermacher's hermeneutic leap.  The world in which we exist is the all-encompassing whole into which we are thrust, just by existing.  The meaning of words and things is referential to this whole.  For Heidegger, this whole contains all of the possibilities of the realization of Being.  So we do not give objects 'meaningfulness' but rather, the world supplies this with the ontological possibility of words and language.  Ouch! (Does your brain hurt yet?)  This is called existential or ontological hermeneutics, because hermeneutics has gone from being a method of interpretation to an existential understanding of what it means to be in the world.  Yes, there is more  if you want it: ttp://


At last we come to Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002) whose phenomenological hermeneutics redirects Heidegger's project.  Gadamer acknowledges that everyone has his or her own hermeneutic horizon: your own knowledge and experience. This is a bit like a personalized worldview.  Yes your view is influenced by your time and place, but it is also unique, hence a new term, horizon.  Your horizon can and will change when it encounters other horizons, so exposure to other cultural traditions can allow you to transcend your own limitations. 


Philosophically put, Gadamer also argues that Being exists before Self, so the subject-object dichotomy is a poor starting place.  Meaning is not to be found but is a part of living.  So, for example, art cannot be 'outside' of experience; it is part of it.  (Gadamer says it is a presentation of Being itself.)  So it is not we who interrogate the work of art, but the work whose questions makes us reexamine our own self in relation to Being (our horizons).  It is not our task to reduce the work to a measure of our being, but to be open to the Being it presents to us.  Methodology, therefore, destroys the power of art, and if all of this sounds like Nietzsche and Wagneráyou got it. 


As we encounter new horizons, we expand out concept of Self and of Being.  Understanding is less a grasping the other horizon or understanding the speaker's intention and more an awareness of our own immediate horizon and the difference between what it is becoming.  (This dialectic should alert you to the influence of Hegel.)  History, therefore, is the place where our past or prejudices are stored. There is no neutral starting place, no prejudice-less objectivity (they represent a priori limitations).  In other words, there are no neutral questions we can ask about another text or person, each question frames an answer. (Think about how easy it is to ask the wrong question on a first date!)  But as we learn more, our questions can get better, our own history or world-view can be overcome by repeated attempts to know the other. So Gadamer's method is to rub these two horizons against each other. In confronting a different worldview, the interpreter notices his own worldview and becomes more self-aware (self-consciousness).  As we seek for the fundamental question in the other worldview, we simultaneously transcend our own horizon as we pull the other text, person or things toward our worldview.  In seeking the key question, the interpreter repeatedly transcends his or her own horizons while pulling the text beyond its original horizons until a fusion of the two horizons occurs. So the meaning of any text, person, culture or object will change over time as different people interrogate it.  (Again, think about the dating game.  Different people will bring out different things in you.  And yes, you are changing at the same time.  Beautiful huh?)  More at;


Gadamer wrote dozens of books, but the big one is called Truth and Method.  It is a huge book (570 pages) but I think we will be safer if we focus on a small area and a more specific problem.  Since we have read Nietzsche on art and are in the midst of trying to understand Wagner, this passage on understanding art should make sense:


            *ŘHans-Georg Gadamer, 'The Ontological Foundation of the Occasional and the Decorative' in Truth and Method p. 144-169 (ELECTRONIC RESERVES)



November 11: Narratives in Die Walk˘re


6:30pm (!) DAR Constitution Hall: Die Walk˘re


You don't need to do nearly as much work to learn Die Walk˘re as you did to learn Rheingold, but you must at least know the main new motives (and how they are formed from the basic ones) and the DETAILS of the plot.    (Note that more of the drama will now be narrated rather than shown, so you will be getting the same story from different points of viewáwith commentary from the orchestra.)  I would, though, listen to most of the opera with the libretto before you go.


Review and use the web sites and materials listen before.  After you have done some initial listening, you should read these two texts for class:


            Fr. M. Owen Lee, Wagner's Ring: Turning the Sky Round (New York, Limelight Editions, 1990), p. 47-62. (ELECTRONIC RESERVES)

            Deryck Cooke, I Saw the World End: A Study of Wagner's Ring, (London: Oxford University Press, 1979) p. 299-342 (ELECTRONIC RESERVES)


Then review the thematic guides and see if you can make sense of these additional thematic guides below.


Die Walk˘re:  Act 1

Once we get to Walk˘re, you will need to learn a few more motives.  Note that the number of new motives continues to go down and that that even move of these are derived from the basic motives above.


New Motives

Wotan's Will

1(25)-Treaty (Spear)                                                                                                      



         4(28)-Wotan's Frustration                                                                                   



5(18)-Freia (a+ b)

6(20)-Liebesnot/Love's Distress (Love)  (Two Parts)


7(56)-Sieglinde (Compassion)



9(48)-WËlsungen (Volsungs)

10 WËlsung Ordeal (Woe of the WËlsungen)

         (Wotan, Siegmund, Sieglinde, and Seigfried)


Main Motives


                                          Storm + Thunder + Siegmund

Scene 1

                                          Siegmund (3)

                                          Sieglinde (7)

                                          Love (6)

                                          WËlsung Ordeal (10)

                                          Love gets stuck (Horror/Incest)

            Scene 2 

                                          Hunding (8)

                                          11-Atonement (Hunding's Rights)-28  

                                                                                          'Sacred is my house.'

                                          WËlsungen  (9)

                                          12(3)- Erda

            Scene 3

                                          13-Purpose of the Sword

                                          14-WËlse! (Wotan) -- Nothung (Need)

                                          15-Winterst˘rme (Spring Song)

                                          16-Bliss (O s˘sseste Wonte)


Love's Distress? (Renunciation of Love)




Die Walk˘re:  Act 2


New Motives

(The numbers correspond to the initial thematic motives CD.  Those without numbers are not in Sabor)


16-(Valkyrie) Ride 

17-Valkyrie Cry (Hojotoho)


Withered Love (Fricka's Reproach) =Mutation of Love (20)

28-Wotan's Frustration

Need of the Gods (Struggling Against Fate)

46-Fate (Destiny)                                  

47-Death (Annunciation of Death)

49-Siegfried (Noble or Heroic in Siegfried)


Die Walk˘re:  Act 3, Scene 3


Opening (Sabor, 169)  [Levine, 4:6]

28-Wotan's Frustration

29-Wotan's Child


30-Br˘nnhilde's Reproach (not in Sabor)

Siegmund's Rebellion

16-(Valkyrie) Ride 



Versions of Love (Sabor, 172)

31-Br˘nnhilde's Love for Wotan (Compassion?)


(Sabor, 176) [Levine 4:8]




Wotan's Farewell/Magic Sleep

44-Oblivion (Magic Sleep) (Sabor 178) [Levine 4:8, 3'00'] Score 284


42-Magic Fire + 44-Magic Sleep + 16-Ride + 9-Sanctuary (Sleeping B)

(Sabor 180) [5'25']


Wotan's Farewell [Levine, 4:10, 3'00']

Ending Combos: Sabor 182-184



Thematic Groups in Der Ring des Nibelungen (TOTAL)

"...there is scarcely a bar in the orchestral part which is not developed out of preceding motives."                                                 R.W. to A. R╦ckel 1/25/54




                  2-Rhine       3-Erda           5-Gold       6-Thunder     7-Rainbow (Bridge)

4-G╦tterdËmmerung (Twilight of the Gods/Downfall)


8- Innocence (Rhinemaidens)    - -    9-Sanctuary (Sleeping Br˘nhilde)

11-Rheinmaidens' Lament                 10-(Rheinmaidens') Joy

                     12-Grief (Servitude)

13-Power of the Ring (Oppression (Ring as Chord) = Grief + Gold's Dominion)

15-Forge (Nibelungs)                                                    14-Heiajaheia!

                                                              16-(Valkyrie) Ride     17-Valkyrie Cry (Hojotoho)


Power                                                                                        Love

24-Sword                                                                                                18-Freia (a+ b)                                                                                                                                                              19-Fasolt's Love (sexual?)

25-Treaty (Spear)                                         20-Liebesnot/Love's Distress (Love)

         26-Storm                                                            21-Lack of Love in Nibelheim

         27-Siegmund                                                           22-(Love's) Enchantment

         28-Wotan's Frustration                                    23-Assurance (Redemption)

29-Wotan's Child

30- Br˘nnhilde's Reproach-----31-Br˘nnhilde's Love for Wotan

Renunciation of Love


33-Liebe-Tragik (Loge's Version/Futility/Woman's Worth)



35-Alberich's Curse 36-Curse (bones) 37-Gold's Dominion 38-Walhall (Valhalla)




39-Loge 1              40-Loge 2                    41-Loge 3         42-Magic Fire

43-Tarnhelm              44-Oblivion (Magic Sleep)         45-Wanderer

46-Fate (Destiny)                                   47-Death (Annunciation of Death)


16,17-Valkyries             48-WËlsungen              49-Siegfried            



Other Characters

50-Giants     53-Alberich                      56-Sieglinde (Compassion)



November 13: NO CLASS

I will be at the American Musicological Society Annual Meeting in Houston


November 18: Interpreting Walk˘re                   PAPER THREE DUE

            George Bernard Shaw, The Perfect Wagnerite: A Commentary on the Niblung's Ring (London, Constable & Co., 1923); rept. edn. New York: Dover, 1967), p. 28-41 (ELECTRONIC RESERVES)

            Robert Donington,  Wagner's ?Ring' and its Symbols.   (Boston: Faber & Faber Limited/ New York: St. Martin's Press, 1963), p. 124-129, 134-143 (ELECTRONIC RESERVES)

            Jean Shinoda Bolen, Ring of Power: Symbols and Themes Love vs Power in Wagner's Ring Cycle and in Us: A Jungian Feminist Perspective. York Beach, Maine: Nicolas-Hayes, 1999), p. 59-85 (ELECTRONIC RESERVES)


Wagner's Ring has been interpreted in many different ways, but here are three different readings.  See if you can identify what schools of criticism lay behind these.  Now is also a good time to ask yourself about what limitations you'd like to apply to interpretation.  (Are there natural limits in what Gadamer, Freud or Marx propose?)



November 20 & 25: Foucault


Michel Foucault is a major dude.  His influence is everywhere (just try Googling him!) but he is hard to classify.  Barry puts him in the chapter on 'New Historicism.'  He is also certainly a post-structuralist.  He is in many ways the ultimate anti-essentialist since he refutes the common sense notion that people have a single 'true' identity that at its core is an unchanging essence. Nah! This is just the way we talk about ourselves.  Identity is communicated to others by how you communicate with others.  It is relational (yes in the same way Gadamer describes) and we can have lots of them.  Foucault calls this discourse, which is not only the mode we use to talk about things, but a particularly authoritative way of describing.  There are multiple discourses or modes of discourse (see course aim no. 5).  They are propagated by specific institutions and divide up the world in specific ways (medical, legal, critical and psychological, for example).  


People don't have power either.  Power is a technique or action; it is something exercised, not possessed.  Knowledge is always related to power since any description also regulates what it describes. It isn't just that descriptions are biased, but that the terms used and the questions asked reflect the power relationships.  This should remind you of Gadamer, but Foucault adds agency (the power to act).  Discourses promote specific kinds of power relationships, which usually favor the 'neutral' person telling the story.  So it isn't just that questions bias the answer or that everyone tells the story in a way favorable to themselves (it is that too), but mostly it means that the fundamental question is who gets to tell the story, so everything is really about power.  To participate in discourse or culture is to enter into these complicated webs of power.  (Think about why these models of multiple identities and discourses might be so useful.)


So once again, the identities, feelings, and consciousness we take for granted are really only defined in relation to specific discourses.  This is true of art works and historical objects too: they don't just exist in the past, they are part of what defines it.  (So a novel about madness also helps define what madness is.)   Further, while we can only know ourselves and other things through knowledge regulated through the various discourses, we can come to understand the histories of ideas, what Foucault calls genealogy. This is what most of his books do: they examine the history of some idea in what looks like a straightforward history, but they are really telling a very particular story.  This is part of what makes Foucault so difficult.  He does not tell you what he is doing.  He won't say, 'hey, I am looking for power relationships.'  It looks like history, but it isn't.  (That said, all of his books are pretty different, so the most we can say is that he seems to want to hide his method.) 


All of that is a pretty poor introduction to Foucault, but I am hoping that having read Gadamer will make him easier.  This isn't to say they are related (the French and German philosophical traditions are so very different) but they both place the realm of knowledge in between what we normally think of.  Foucault writes:

The human sciences are not, then, an analysis of what man is by nature; but rather an analysis that extends from what man is in his positivity (living, speaking, labouring being) to what enables this same being to know (or seek to know) what life is, in what the essence of labour and its laws consist, and in what way he is able to speak. The human sciences thus occupy the distance that separates (though not without connecting them) biology, economics, and philology from that which gives them possibility in the very being of man.

Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (New York: Pantheon, 1970), 353-54


Now you know why we have two days on this.  Start by reading Barry. 


            Barry, 'New Historicism and Cultural Materialism, p. 172-189.


Then dive into our main text.  This is a great book and you will love it.

            ŘMichel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1 (1978)


There are lots of these Foucault for Dummies books and sites, but I do recommend one particular book:

         C. G. Prado, Starting with Foucault: An Introduction to Geneaology (Westview Press, 2000) $20 ISBN: 0-8133-9078-8

The chapter 'The Faces of Truth' would make a good single place to start.  Do NOT, however, just come into class just spouting stuff from compendiums.  Foucault method IS his material so he requires you to engage with him on the specific material and so will I.



At last we come to the end.  I wanted to talk about the image of Beethoven, art and technology (which would have given us a place to do Benjamin) or even the interpretations of the Abraham and Isaac story in different religions and cultures, but I eventually settled on something to do with popular music.  We can discuss if we want to change this last weekásome current event may look appealing.  Whatever we do will be an application of what we have learned.  (I hope you appreciate that the reading is lighter for this last week.)


December 2: Genre and Popular Music

            Jane Feuer, 'Genre Theory and Television' in Channels, 138-160.

            *ŘJohan FornËs, 'The Future of Rock: Discourses that Struggle to Define a Genre' in Popular Music 14/1 (1995), p. 111-125 (ELECTRONIC RESERVES)

            Shania Twain, Up! (Country, Rock and Bollywood mixes)


The idea in genre theory is that a sitcom is different from a cop show.  But what about rock and pop, or rock and country?  Does what we have learned change the sorts of questions you might ask to answer this question? What does the discourse on rock tell us?  Are genre definitions internal (essentialist) or constructed?


December 4: Rock and Sexuality

            *ŘSimon Frith and Angela McRobbie, 'Rock and Sexuality' in On Record: Rock, Pop & the Written Word, ed. Simon Frith and Andrew Goodwin (London: Routledge, 1990), p. 371-389. (ELECTRONIC RESERVES)

            *Sue Wise, 'Sexing Elvis', 'Rock and Sexuality' in On Record: Rock, Pop & the Written Word, ed. Simon Frith and Andrew Goodwin (London: Routledge, 1990), p. 390-398. (ELECTRONIC RESERVES)


There is plenty to talk about here, but since he did read Foucault on sex, let's see if we can sort out how it plays out in popular music.  If you want a summary of the course you might look at these chapters:


            John Fiske, 'British Cultural Studies' in Channels, p.284-321

            James Hey 'Afterword' in Channels, p. 354-386


We have danced around British Cultural Studies which is a combination of many of these ideas, but especially semiotics and Marxism. Simon Frith belongs to this general school of thought.  It might also look as if everything is the same after this semester, so James Hey tried to identify the differences between theories.



Good luck on the final paper.

[1] This example and characterization of modes of discourse is taken from James M. Curtis 'The Case for an Anthropological Pedagogy'  from Tomorrow's Professor Listserv Msg. #228.


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