French Theory Since 1989

(Here is the syllabus for my spring doctoral seminar at NYU cross-listed between MCC and Comp Lit. Consortium students in the New York area are also welcome to join us.)

New York University
Department of Media, Culture, and Communication
French Theory Since 1989
(Special Topics in Critical Theory)

Course number MCC-GE 3010-001 / COLIT-GA 3013-001


Prof. Alexander R. Galloway
Office Hours: Tu 2:30-4pm; Th 9-11am
Class Location: East Building, Room 741
Class Time: Thursdays 2:00 - 4:50 pm.

Course Description

In recent decades French and Francophone theory has exerted considerable influence on the world stage. French intellectual exports from the post-World War II period, particularly in the area of feminism, semiotics, and post-structuralism, helped form an entire generation of theoretical inquiry in the English-speaking world. Even today, after the high water mark of postmodern theory has receded, the significance of figures like Michel Foucault or Roland Barthes has not so much faded as insinuated itself deeply into literary canons and course syllabi across the humanities and liberal arts.

This course focuses on recent French theory and philosophy published roughly during the last two decades, work that in some way deviates from the “greatest generation” of 1960s and '70s theory. Our aim is to avoid some of the more familiar texts from the past, and instead seek out a new collection of thinkers (not all of whom are French), and indeed a new incarnation of critical and philosophical questions more apt for the contemporary landscape.

Reading texts by Alain Badiou, François Laruelle, Catherine Malabou, and others, we first examine the contemporary situation, specifically how best to understand the materiality of bodies, societies, and worlds. Then, during the final three weeks of the seminar, each student will select a longer volume, from the five enumerated below, and pursue individual/group inquiry.

We treat this group of authors and texts as a divergent conversation of numerous voices, not a unified school with a single set of interests. Several themes will structure the conversation, including postfordism, materialism, identity, power, and the body. The course will benefit from a number of recent English translations, and students are encouraged to consult the original French texts if their language skills allow it.

Required Books

  • Alain Badiou, Manifesto for Philosophy [1989], trans. Norman Madarasz (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999).
  • Luc Boltanski and Ève Chiapello, The New Spirit of Capitalism [1999], trans. Gregory Elliott (London: Verso, 2005).
  • Gilles Châtelet, To Live and Think Like Pigs [1998], trans. Robin Mackay (New York: Sequence/Urbanomic, 2014).
  • François Laruelle, Intellectuals and Power: The Insurrection of the Victim [L’ultime honneur des intellectuels] [2003], trans. Anthony Paul Smith (Cambridge: Polity, 2014).
  • Catherine Malabou, Ontology of the Accident: An Essay on Destructive Plasticity [2009], trans. Carolyn Shread (Cambridge: Polity, 2012).
  • Catherine Malabou, What Should We Do With Our Brain? [2004], trans. Sebastian Rand (New York: Fordham, 2008).
  • Achille Mbembe, On the Postcolony [2000], trans. A. M. Berrett, et al. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001).
  • Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency [2006], trans. Ray Brassier (London: Continuum, 2008).
  • Beatriz Preciado, Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era [2008], trans. Bruce Benderson (New York: The Feminist Press, 2013).

Course Assignments

Reading -- All students are expected to read the assigned texts in advance of class, except for texts marked “optional.”

Discussion Leaders -- All students are required to act as a discussion leader for two different weeks during the semester.

Writing -- Each student will write a midterm and final paper, each approximately ten pages long. Suggested paper topics will be provided. All papers should be on par with doctoral level work and should demonstrate a close reading of the required materials and exhibit a methodology of critical analysis.

Grading Requirements
Each student will be evaluated based on the course assignments. All students will be expected to do the course reading, and to write two papers of approximately 20 pages total. Grades will be determined according to the following formula: 70% papers; 30% in-class participation.

Part I -- Bodies, Societies & Worlds

January 29 -- Course Introduction.

February 5
Gilles Châtelet, To Live and Think Like Pigs.
Razmig Keucheyan, “The Defeat of Critical Thinking (1977-93),” from Left Hemisphere (PDF).

February 12
Boltanski & Chiapello, The New Spirit of Capitalism (pp. 1-101, 167-272, 345-365, 419-457).

February 19
Achille Mbembe, On the Postcolony.

February 26
François Laruelle, Intellectuals and Power.
François Laruelle, “The Truth According to Hermes: Theorems on the Secret and Communication” (PDF).

March 5
Catherine Malabou, What Should We Do With Our Brain?
Karen Barad, “Nature's Queer Performativity” (PDF).

March 12
Catherine Malabou, The Ontology of the Accident.
Catherine Malabou, “The Phoenix, the Spider, and the Salamander,” from Changing Difference (PDF).

March 26 -- Midterm paper due today
Beatriz Preciado, Testo Junkie.
Optional: Virginie Despentes, King Kong Theory [2006], trans. Stephanie Benson (New York: The Feminist Press, 2010).

April 2
Alain Badiou, Manifesto for Philosophy.

April 9
Alain Badiou, “Thinking the Event,” from Philosophy in the Present (PDF).
Alain Badiou, “The Point as Choice and as Place,” from Logics of Worlds (PDF).
Alain Badiou, “Eight Points, to Start With” and “Only One World,” from The Meaning of Sarkozy (PDF).

April 16
Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude.

Part 2 -- Individual/Group Inquiry

April 23, April 30, and May 7
Each student will select one of the following books and pursue individual or group inquiry as necessary. Students will report each week on their reading progress, allowing for group discussion of problems and questions, as well as for planning the final paper.

  1. Alain Badiou, Being and Event [1988], trans. Oliver Feltham (London: Continuum, 2005).
  1. Tristan Garcia, Form and Object: A Treatise on Things [2010], trans. Mark Allan Ohm and Jon Cogburn (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014).
  1. François Laruelle, Principles of Non-philosophy [1996], trans. Nicola Rubczak and Anthony Paul Smith (London: Bloomsbury, 2013).
  1. Bruno Latour, An Inquiry into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns [2012], trans. Catherine Porter (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013).
  1. Isabelle Stengers, Thinking with Whitehead: A Free and Wild Creation of Concepts [2002], trans. Michael Chase (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011).

Friday, May 15, 5pm -- final paper due.