Strategies for Visual & Critical Studies

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  • Engage with canonical philosophical texts and critical theories
  • Consider their ramifications

This course surveys key texts, concepts, and theoretical approaches influencing the study of visual culture and the production of visual criticism. It offers an opportunity for students to engage in these conversations, while gaining the ability to use theoretical resources in their own work. Much of our course will be devoted to learning the languages of critical analysis and determining how theory intersects with the visual and critical arenas. The course is by design interdisciplinary, drawing upon the theoretical advances made in fields as diverse as philosophy, linguistics, art history, psychoanalysis, and literary studies. Given the abstract nature of our readings, one of our challenges will be to determine how, if at all, these texts actually facilitate a discussion of the visual. The guiding thesis of this course is that the visual is situated within larger fields of cultural production, which require carefully defined strategies to make explicit their ontological, epistemological, historical, and political assumptions.

Strategies for Visual & Critical Studies will help students acquire certain essential skills. It will outfit students with methods of critical analysis while enabling them to refine their written and verbal communication skills. It will help students to develop an ethical perspective on contemporary visual culture and thereby deepen visual literacy. The course facilitates  collaboration across the disciplines and promotes creativity in critique and communication.

Selected Readings:

• Mieke Bal, “Visual Essentialism and the Object of Visual Culture,” Journal of Visual Culture (April 2003)

• Roland Barthes, “Rhetoric of the Image” from Image, Music, Text

• Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” from Illuminations

• Douglas Crimp, "Getting the Warhol We Deserve," Social Text (Summer 1999)

• Michel Foucault, excerpts from The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1

• Donna Haraway, “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective,” Feminist Studies (Fall 1988)

• Jacques Lacan, “The Mirror Stage” from Écrits

• Karl Marx, excerpts from The German Ideology

• Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” from Visual and Other Pleasures

• Edward Said, excerpts from Orientalism

• Gayatri Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?” from Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture