English 203

Graduate Readings: On Life: Life Philosophy and Culture

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Fall 2016 Jones, Donna V.
MW 9:30-11 C57 Hearst Annex

Other Readings and Media

The reading will be composed of both selections and whole texts from the following books.  Items marked with an * indicate chapters or articles found on bcourses:

Elizabeth Grosz, The Nick of Time: Politics, Evolution and the Untimely
Roberto Esposito, Bios: Biopolitics and Philosophy
*  Melinda Cooper, Life as Surplus: Biotechnology and Capitalism in the Neoliberal Era

Friedrich Nietzsche, On The Genealogy of Morals
*  Gregory Moore, Nietzsche, Biology and Metaphor 
Thomas Mann, Dr. Faustus: The Life of the Composer Adrian Leverkühn as Told by a Friend

Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution
D.H. Lawrence, Women in Love
Aimé Césaire, Cahier d’un Retour Au Pays Natal (English and French edition), ed. Abiola Irele
*  Souleymane Bachir Diagne, African Art as Philosophy: Senghor, Bergson and the Idea of Négritude 
*  Mark Antliff, Avant-garde Fascism: The Mobilization of Myth, Art and Culture in France, 1909-1939

Biopower, Biopolitics, Empire and Race
Michel Foucault, Society Must Be Defended
Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go
Octavia Butler, Clay's Ark 
Amitav Ghosh, The Calcutta Chromosome


This course will explore the literary and cultural significance of philosophies of life. To set the course in motion, we shall begin with two provocative works: Terry Eagleton’s The Meaning of Life and Elizabeth Grosz’s The Nick of Time. In exploring the meaning of life, Eagleton takes us on a tour of the many meanings of life. In readings of Darwin, Nietzsche, Bergson and Deleuze, Grosz identifies life with temporality or a way of holding the past, present and future together.

The course will then be divided into three major sections, combining literary and philosophical works: Nietzscheanism, Bergsonism, and Biopower.

Our study of Nietzscheanism will culminate in a reading of Mann’s Dr. Faustus, whose protagonist embodies the temptations and dangers of Nietzschean Lebensphilosophie, but we shall begin with Nietzsche’s own affirmation of life against asceticism. We shall also study the interpretation of his philosophy developed by Georg Simmel, whose influence on cultural studies and philosophy is still underestimated. Anticipating Martin Heidegger, and in response to The Great War, Simmel registers the cultural shift from the affirmation of life to the authentic facing of death.

We shall then move to the study of Bergsonism. We shall read Bergson’s most culturally influential work, not his more strictly philosophical works. We shall investigate the fear of mechanical inelasticity and becoming automaton, his critiques of limits of mechanistic thinking about life, and his valorization of intuition and process as the epistemology and ontology suited to life, respectively. We shall then discuss how these ideas are thematized in works by D.H. Lawrence, Aimé Césaire and Leopold Senghor. But we will also attend to the visual arts to explore how vitalist themes were played out. On the one hand, Bergsonism provided a language with which to appreciate African art; on the other hand, the vitalist themes of Bergson and Georges Sorel were appropriated by the European fascist avant-garde.

The course will conclude with the recent discussion of the nature of life in the theorization of biopower, biopolitics, empire and critical race studies.

This course satisfies the Group 6 (Non-historical) requirement.


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