Archive for Foucault

ICFA 36 paper: Here at the end of all things: An Archaeology of Return

Posted in Conferences, Here at the End of All Things, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on 24 March 2015 by Ben

Here is my paper from this year’s International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, on the problem of ending in fantasy and John Clute’s conception of return.

Here at the end of all things”: An Archaeology of Return

Benjamin J. Robertson

This paper considers the final stage of John Clute’s grammar of “full fantasy,” first known as healing in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, and renamed as of 2011 when Clute questions “healing” as a useful term in Pardon this Intrusion and substitutes “return” as a “placeholder.” (116). It argues, first, that return is an irreducibly problematic and contradictory concept—not necessarily through any fault of Clute’s, but because of the historical problem of the end to which return is bound—and, second, that the extent to which fantasy involves return derives from its own historical condition.

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What we talk about when we talk about werewolves: Genre and Genus, Wer- and Wolf

Posted in Conferences, Here at the End of All Things, papers, The Generic, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 18 April 2014 by Ben

Following is the transcript of my talk for Morrisville State College’s Science, Technology, and Society Symposium on monsters. I was given the topic “Abominations” and, as you will see, chose to speak about werewolves, among other things. I am definitely humming some of the hard parts here, but will leave it at that. You can download a PDF of the talk here.

What we talk about when we talk about werewolves: Genre and Genus, Wer- and Wolf

Benjamin J Robertson

My epigraph is from Angela Carter’s short story, “The company of wolves:

Those slavering jaws; the lolling tongue; the rime of saliva on the grizzled chops–of all the teeming perils of the night and the forest, ghosts, hobgoblins, orgres that grill babies upon gridirons, witches that fatten their captives in cages for cannibal tables, the wolf is the worst, for he cannot listen to reason.

Introduction: why talk about werewolves?

It’s weird to me to be talking about werewolves, because they terrify me. Or perhaps it’s not so weird. Perhaps I am talking about them because they terrify me. In a short encyclopedia entry on the relationship between horror and science fiction, Leslie Fiedler writes:

[I]f many of us tend to speak apologetically, defensively, self-mockingly about our fondness for horror fantasy, this is primarily because of a cognitive dissonance that lies at the heart of our response, a conflict deep in our psyches between what we, as heirs to the Age of Reason, think we know to be so and what we ambivalently wish or fear to be true. We are convinced that the universe we inhabit is fully explicable in terms of ‘natural’ cause and effect and that once we understand their ‘laws’ we will be the masters of our fate. But we also suspect that we are the playthings of occult forces that we can never understand and that, therefore, will always control our destinies.

Perhaps I am talking about werewolves despite the fact that my father let me watch An American Werewolf in London when I was far too young. Perhaps I am talking about them despite the fact that I still get a tiny bit creeped out by the full moon when I am walking my dog late at night. Perhaps I am talking to you about werewolves today despite the fact that doing so forces me, a grown man in theory, to acknowledge my own fear of something I know for certain not to be real.

Or perhaps I am talking to you about werewolves because of all of these things, because such discussion is productive, because it reveals something important about who we are in 2014, about what we think, about what we are capable of. Perhaps, along with Fiedler, I am talking about werewolves because I believe that if I understand them, if I understand horror, I will become master of my fate. If knowledge of equates with control over, then perhaps I believe, along with humanity, that I can avoid horror altogether by knowing it. I take as one of my core assumptions that humans do precisely this: order the world for themselves so that they might escape or ignore horror, so that they might forever forget that existence is not their understanding of it.

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Old syllabus: Posthuman Media

Posted in Teaching with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 1 February 2014 by Ben

Following a discussion with Marc Weidenbaum via Twitter, here is the syllabus for an old course: Posthuman Media.


Empires of Disbelief: ICFA 35 proposal

Posted in Conferences, Here at the End of All Things, papers, The Generic, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 30 October 2013 by Ben

I’m working in this general area right now for Here at the end of all things. I actually used the voice recorder on my phone to take notes on this subject as I walked to school yesterday. First time I have ever done that. I would do it again.

Empires of Disbelief

This paper begins with the remarkable coincidence of several historical events (“historical”, here, in a Foucauldian sense). First, John Clute argues in Pardon this Intrusion that fantastika can be traced to the early nineteenth century; the genres of fantastika “are intimately connected with the becoming visible of the engine of history, round about 1800, when the future began.” Second, we have Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, first published in 1807 and a singular influence on Western notions of history as progressive and significant. Third, Foucault traces the advent of disciplinary power to roughly the same period. As the human being entered History (Hegel) as an individual who is the same as all other individuals (Foucault), it began to narrativize its position within that history through forms that could face the end whether that end was understood to be apocalyptic or Paradisaical. These accounts dovetail, I argue, with the project of Western Empires to at once offer a sort of carrot to individuals in the form of a promise of meaning for their lives (the completion of humanity, the Rapture—what Clute would call Healing or Return) as well as the the constant denial of such an end in order to maintain their existence (humanity is never complete, history never actually ends in its perfection, the Rapture never occurs). Over the course of the past two centuries, individuals in the West (a term I use advisedly not to refer to a given unity but to a construction) have been denied what they have been promised so often that rather than believing in the future, they find themselves in a state of what Bernard Stiegler calls “disbelief.”

With reference to key fantasy texts from the last several decades—such as Richard Morgan’s The Steel Remains, China Miéville’s The Scar and Iron Council, Felix Gilman’s The Half-Made World, Patricia McKillip’s In the Forests of Serre—as well as secondary/theoretical texts from Clute, Foucault, Deleuze, and Stiegler, this paper investigates how the Story that fantasy “wishes to tell” (of Healing, in Clute’s sense of the term) has, despite constant retellings, become impossible. Of course, Healing has always been impossible, but I argue that Empire now no longer even requires it as a carrot. Whereas the West formerly relied on coherent individuals (in Foucault’s sense) who desire insertion into the History (or Story) or Empire as individuals , it now maintains itself despite the fact that people (as what Deleuze calls “dividuals”) no longer believe in such metanrratives of progress and freedom. With seemingly no possible way out of this situation, we can turn to the impossibilities of fantasies such as those listed here (among others) as models for ways of thinking that resist and overcome our disbelief.

Primary sources

Gilman, Felix. The Half-made World. New York: Tor, 2011. Print.

McKillip, Patricia A. In the Forests of Serre. New York: Ace Books, 2003. Print.

Miéville, China. Iron Council: a Novel. New York: Del Rey/Ballantine Books, 2005. Print.

—. The Scar. New York: Ballantine Books, 2004. Print.

Morgan, Richard K. The Steel Remains. Del Ray trade pbk. ed. New York: Ballantine Books, 2010. Print.

Secondary sources

Clute, John. Pardon This Intrusion: Fantastika in the World Storm. N. p. Print.

Clute, John, and John Grant. The Encyclopedia of Fantasy. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1999. Print.

Foucault, Michel. The Archaeology of Knowledge ; and the Discourse on Language. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Pantheon Books, 1982. Print.

Kojève, Alexandre. Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit. Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press, 1980. Print. Agora Paperback Editions.

Stiegler, Bernard. Taking Care of Youth and the Generations. Trans. Stephen Barker. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 2010. Print. Meridian : Crossing Aesthetics.

—. Uncontrollable Societies of Disaffected Individuals. Trans. Daniel Ross. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012. Print. Disbelief and Discredit 2.

Fall 2013 Course: Topics in Advanced Theory: History after History

Posted in Teaching with tags , , , , , , , , , , on 5 March 2013 by Ben

I have been complaining today on Twitter about having to order my fall textbooks now. It feels too early. More to the point, I know what I am teaching in terms of topic/course numbers, but I have not fully worked out what material to cover. I think about material intermittently, but of course never write anything down. Even if I had written things down, they would be likely of little use when it comes time to put the course together. So, instead of doing some heavy research and giving the matter as much thought as I would like, I tend to wind up ordering books based on how much we can read in a given week and in the term overall and how much books will cost students (under $100 is necessary, under $80 ideal).

So here is my class on History after History, a 3000 level course that falls under the heading “Topics in Advanced Theory.” I think that this material is all relevant, and is all in my wheelhouse, so to speak. That said, I would like some more time to consider. I still can fiddle a lot here, as there is lots of room around the books for other essays (whether I eliminate some of those proposed here or just add). I would think that Haraway would fit here nicely, especially her considerations of myth and animality. Also relevant would be the Paul Gilroy of The Black Atlantic. Both of these thinkers would provide a nice corrective to the whiteness and maleness of this reading list. I know nothing about postcolonial scholarship in this area, but assume it must be out there. That would help as well, so I will see what I can do between now and August, when the decisions about what to read have to become final.

ENGL 3116-002: Topics in Advanced Theory

History after History

“History” has never been “the past,” but a way of thinking about the past. Rather, it has been a way of connecting the past, present, and future in the context of the human so that the passage of time takes on meaning. We call this meaning “progress.” But if humanity ceases to progress, or if it recognizes that such progress is a human construction and not a natural fact, what happens to history? Surely events will continue to happen, but will they still mean in the same way?

This class considers what posthistory looks like. We will study several accounts of the dominant form of historical thinking, that of GWF Hegel, and then consider the strengths, shortcomings, and alternatives to this manner of thinking. Walter Benn Michaels and Francis Fukuyama will provide the Hegelian point of view. Giorgio Agamben will provide the critique of that point of view. Michel Foucault and Vilém Flusser will provide philosophical, and Octavia Butler and Kim Stanley Robinson speculative/fictional, alternatives to that point of view.

Evaluation will be based on short response papers and a final project.


Possible Reading List:

Giorgio Agamben: The Open

Walter Benjamin: “On the Concept of History”

Octavia Butler: Parable of the Talents

Vilém Flusser: Post-History

Francis Fukuyama: “The End of History?”

Michel Foucault: The Archaeology of Knowledge & “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History”

Fredric Jameson: “Postmodernism and Consumer Society”

Walter Benn Michaels: The Shape of the Signifier

Friedrich Nietzsche: from Thus Spoke Zarathustra and The Genealogy of Morals

Kim Stanley Robinson: Red Mars


Summer 2012 Course: ENGL 4038: Foucault & Deleuze: From Knowledge and Discipline to Control and Networks

Posted in Teaching with tags , , , , , , , , , , on 7 January 2013 by Ben

Here are the course materials for a class I taught in Summer 2012 on Foucault, Deleuze, networks, and power. The class was a senior capstone seminar and the students did really outstanding work on a very difficult subject.

The focus here was on Deleuze’s reading of Foucault, especially the latter’s transition from considerations of discourse to non-discursive formations during the period between Archaeology of Knowledge and Discipline and Punish (something that Deleuze makes much of in the first two or three chapters of Foucault).


ENGL 4038: Foucault & Deleuze Syllabus

ENGL 4038: Foucault & Deleuze Daily Schedule