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Walter Benjamin: Theory for Gleaners

Semester and Year SP 2016
Course Number IDSEM-UG1590
Section 001
Instructor A.B. Huber
Days W
Time 12:30 PM - 3:15 PM
12:00 AM - 12:00 AM
Units 4
Level U
Foundation Requirement   HUM


Same as COLIT-UA 852.


Long before the advent of green politics, and before recycling and repurposing became fashionable, there were people surviving with little fanfare on discards, and theorists meditating on the revolutionary possibilities of refuse and junk. This seminar introduces students to the work of Walter Benjamin, who is both a central figure in critical theory and an early, powerful commentator on the politics and aesthetics of trash. We begin with Agnès Varda’s film The Gleaners and I, and explore the relation between theory and the recycling of ideas, images, and objects, especially those that have been overlooked or abandoned. As a refugee himself, Benjamin knew intimately how whole populations can be dispossessed or cast off. Following his thought, we ask what displaced subjects and discarded objects might teach us about the larger economies of capitalism, modernity and the city, but also about human desire, need and frailty. Our primary text is Benjamin's expansive and unfinished work of citations and brief commentaries, The Arcades Project (1927-1940), but we will read Freud, Marx, and the Frankfurt School to contextualize the work historically and theoretically. What did Benjamin make of dross, and what can we glean from his thought for our own times?

Course Type

Interdisciplinary Seminars (IDSEM-UG)