PHIL 329: Philosophy after Auschwitz

PHIL 329-001: Philosophy after Auschwitz
(Spring 2021)

01:30 PM to 02:45 PM MW

Enterprise Hall 178

Section Information for Spring 2021

As thinkers such as Derrida and Agamben have argued, the genocidal violence perpetrated against the Jews and other groups by Nazi Germany in the 20th century --- iconically represented by ‘Auschwitz’ --- is a defining event for European political and philosophical modernity.  In short, how one responds to Auschwitz becomes the decisive question for 20th-century European thought.  

On this course, we will approach this question via Derrida’s insistence on ‘Auschwitz’ or the Shoah as the name for a singular and unrepresentable event, and Giorgio Agamben’s claim that the Nazi concentration camps exemplify what he calls a logic of ‘inclusive exclusion’ that is central to the politics of western modernity.  We will examine how this logic manifests in processes of de-humanization that legitimate genocidal violence, putting this into dialogue with Adriana Cavarero’s account of the concentration camps as the site of a specific form of political violence, one that destroys the singular uniqueness of human beings together with the plurality that makes such uniqueness possible.

In the second part of the course, we will use Derrida, Agamben and Lyotard to examine the problem of testimony and responsibility in relation to Auschwitz.  We will also examine selected works of art and literature to ask what it might mean to bear witness to ‘Auschwitz’ as an unrepresentable event and inexpressible horror. 

As a point of access and guiding thread running through the course, we will read first person survivor accounts, such as Primo Levi’s, If This Is a Man, Tadeusz Borowski’s, This way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, and Charlotte Delbo’s None of Us Will Return.


Course Information from the University Catalog

Credits: 3

Examines the philosophical questions that arise in the wake of the Nazi concentration camps concerning genocide, political modernity, and conceptions of the human. Investigates how the logic of the camp made possible systematic genocidal violence against the Jews and other groups, and the ways in which that logic manifests in other forms and on other bodies before and after Auschwitz. Draws on writers and philosophers such as Primo Levi, Giorgio Agamben, Hannah Arendt, Maurice Blanchot, and/or Adriana Cavarero to analyze the ethical and political questions posed by the camps, and uses literature, film and art to engage with the complexities of bearing witness to horror and the unrepresentable. Limited to three attempts.
Specialized Designation: Mason Impact., Topic Varies
Recommended Prerequisite: 3 hours of PHIL or Permission of Instructor.
Schedule Type: Lecture
This course is graded on the Undergraduate Regular scale.

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