Course Outline - McMaster University

Mark Tansey, Derrida Queries De Man (1990 oil on canvas, 83.75x55”)
Department of English and Cultural Studies
McMaster University
Graduate Course Outline (English and Cultural Studies 774)
Summer Term 2009
Derrida’s Wake: On the Futures of Deconstruction
Office Hours:
Dr. David L. Clark
CNH 210
Thursdays 1:30-2:30 pm
Brief course outline
Jacques Derrida was the foremost philosopher of the second half of the twentieth century, a highly
controversial and prolific thinker whose enormous impact on theory and critical practice in the
humanities—and beyond--continues to unfold in unexpected ways. This three-unit course examines
elements of the nature and influence of Derrida’s work. What has it meant--and what will it mean--to
think with and through Derrida=s complex oeuvre? In what ways has contemporary critical and cultural
theory responded to Derrida=s nameB-his interventions in and interrogations of a broad spectrum of
fields and issues, ranging from the limits of democracy and human rights to the nature of knowledge, and
from the death penalty to the future of the university, the definition of life, and the obligations that obtain
between humans and animals? What then does it mean to characterize Derrida=s workBas Judith Butler
does--as irreducibly oriented towards the future, as “a work to come”? In the aftermath of recent,
anxious pronouncements of the Adeath of theory@ at the hands of social scientific and empirical
incursions into the humanities, the object of this course is to explore the present and future significance
of Derrida=s life, work, and legacy. We will undertake this task by reading an array of relevant texts, but
organized around four over-lapping themes, each of which speaks specifically to the ethical and political
core of Derrida=s project:
Futures of the University
Regarding Animals
On the Nature of Responsibility: Emmanuel Levinas
Spectrality and Marx
In conjunction with Derrida=s writings, we will of necessity be considering materials from thinkers with
whom his work is in a sustained, if complex, critical dialogue, including Karl Marx, Emmanuel Levinas,
Immanuel Kant, and Martin Heidegger.
Although this course involves working with “philosophical” texts (albeit in a non-philosophical
context), and although it falls under the category of “critical theory” and “cultural theory,” no
previous expertise in these areas is assumed or necessary. In other words, students from a broad
variety of intellectual backgrounds are warmly welcomed.
Texts by Jacques Derrida
Derrida, Jacques. Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New
International. Trans. Peggy Kamuf. New York: Routledge, 2004.
…………. Right To Philosophy 2: Eyes of the University. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2006.
................... Adieu: To Emmanuel Levinas. Trans. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas. Stanford:
Stanford UP, 1999.
…………… “The Animal that (Therefore) I Am: More to Follow.” Critical Inquiry 28.2 (Winter,
2002): 369-418.
…………… “Violence Against Animals.” [Photocopy circulated in class]
…………… “And Say the Animal Responded.” [Photocopy circulated in class]
………….... “The future of the profession or the university without condition (thanks to the
‘Humanities,’ what could take place tomorrow.” [Available as chapter in e-book in Mills
Collection, Derrida and the Humanities. Ed. Tom Cohen. Cambridge UP, 2001. 24-57.
Other Readings
Clark, David L. “Bereft: Derrida’s Memory and the Spirit of Friendship.” South Atlantic
Quarterly 106.2 (Spring 2007): 291-324.
………………. “On Being ‘the Last Kantian in Nazi Germany:’ Dwelling with Animals after Levinas.”
Postmodernism and the Ethical Subject. Ed. Barbara Gabriel and Suzan Ilcan. [Pdf circulated to class]
………………. “Towards a Prehistory of the Postanimal: Kant, Levinas, and the Regard of Brutes.”
[Seminar paper circulated to class]
Work and Mark Distribution; Assignment Descriptions
Seminar Participation and Creation (20%)
Instead of delivering formal presentations, members of the class will be encouraged and expected
to create, on an ongoing basis, a lively graduate seminar–i.e. an inquisitive and informed space
of critical labour, discussion, and debate. Although authors of the response papers for each class
are expected to take the lead in discussion, all students will be expected to contribute consistently
and meaningfully to the intellectual life of the seminar—i.e., developing and volunteering
questions and arguments as well as responding mindfully to queries and challenges that are put to
them by their classmates and by their instructor.
Students must be willing and able to:
–read and engage all assigned materials.
–attend all classes and participate in all classes.
–explore and absorb as much related critical material as possible, both seeking this
material out independently and in consultation with their classmates and instructor.
–develop questions and arguments that are directly relevant to the materials at hand, and
actively to introduce these points into the class discussion on a consistent basis.
–listen and respond thoughtfully to the issues raised in class, engaging the issues in ways
that complicate and advance the intellectual life of the seminar.
–foster a developing scene of pedagogy, bearing in mind that a central part of our task is
to teach others and to be taught.
At midterm, students will be given an informal assessment of the quality of their seminar
Response Papers (2 x 15%=30%)
Each student will be responsible for two 500-word (2 pages) responses to the readings,
each of which is worth 15% of your final grade, for a total of 30%. The papers must be
completed and circulated at least 24 hours before the relevant class. (Response papers
are assigned by lottery as seen below. You are free to swap response paper topics, but
each student must circulate two response papers over the course of the term, and there
must be two response papers in circulation per class.) Response papers should provide a
succinct summary of and engagement with some of the text’s most pressing themes,
arguments, and questions. The response paper should be written in such a way to prompt
and provoke discussion in class. Authors of the response papers should be prepared to
take the lead in the relevant class, and to be prepared to discuss the questions and issued
raised in their papers.
Response Paper Allocations
Response Papers
Research Essay (50%)
15-20 page essay. Students are free and encouraged to write a research essay on a topic of their
own choosing. I am happy to discuss your research essay with you at every stage, but all students
are expected to consult with me about their work at least once prior to submitting the essay.
With the approval of the student, essays will be made available on my departmental website.
Essays are due: 2 July 2009.
University Statement Regarding Academic Dishonesty:
Academic dishonesty consists of misrepresentation by deception or by other fraudulent means and can result
in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript
(notation reads: “Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty”), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.
It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various
kinds of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, specifically Appendix 3, located at
The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:
I) Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
(Insert specific course information, e.g. style guide)
ii) Improper collaboration in group work (Insert specific course information)
iii) Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.
All submitted work is subject to normal verification that standards of academic integrity have been upheld. See:
Provisional Seminar Schedule
Introduction: Prefatory remarks
Introduction: Derrida (dir. Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering) screening &
discussion + Clark, “Bereft”
Futures of the University:
“The Future of the Profession…”
[Response Paper 1]
Futures of the University:
“The Principle of Reason”
[Response Paper 2]
Futures of the University
[Response Paper 3]
Regarding Animals:
“The Animal (That) Therefore I Am” (Derrida)
[Response Paper 4]
Regarding Animals
“And Say The Animal Responded” (Derrida)
“Violence Against Animals” (Derrida)
“On Being the Last Kantian in Nazi Germany” (Clark)
“Towards a Prehistory of the Postanimal” (Clark)
[Response Paper 5]
On the Nature of Responsibility: Emmanuel Levinas:
On the Nature of Responsibility: Emmanuel Levinas:
Spectrality and Marx:
Specters of Marx
[Response Paper 8]
Spectrality and Marx:
Specters of Marx
[Response Paper 9]
Last Things
[Response Paper 6]
[Response Paper 7]