Contemporary Civilization is an exercise in reading politics. But it is also a course that makes multiple claims about how reading is (or, should be) connected to political action and mobilization. Throughout the syllabus, reading appears as a crucial site for transformative political potential: learning to read well, critically, and independently is seen as a necessary condition for political freedom. The CC syllabus is filled not only with arguments about why reading is important to shared political futures, but also brims with advice about how one becomes a good reader, and offers various techniques for the same. Many speak to the struggle and the difficulty of reading well.
None of this will come as a surprise to Columbia alumni whose nostalgia Contemporary Civilization often carries the sense of loss - or maybe sting of guilt - for not having been able to really "finish the reading." (Yet this topic and experience, we might note, is not one that is regularly taken up as a point of discussion in most CC classes!)
Taking this core experience of CC as a beginning point, this mini course will focus on texts that pose questions about the politics of reading in Contemporary Civilization. We will pay particular attention to passages where authors confidently make claims for the power of certain kinds of reading practices for the attainment of power, freedom, and social transformation -- and to other texts that are more circumspect or critical. We will see how "reading" is a frequent site where authors identify a crucial connection between personal self-formation and collective political action and identity. We might explore the particular transformations in the CC texts, wherein sectarian religious reading practices are translated into putatively universal and secular styles of reading. And we will use these texts to think about the conditions of reading today, in our particular political climate.
Readings will include texts by Niccolò Machiavelli, Martin Luther, Rene Descartes, Immanuel Kant, Mary Wollstonecraft, David Walker, and James Baldwin.
Session 1 | Wednesday, January 11
Session 2 | Wednesday, January 18
Session 3 | Wednesday, January 25
Refreshments will be served.
Class Fee, which includes entry to all three sessions:$160 for Alumni and guest $100 for Young Alumni in class years 2013-2022, and guest.
Image: Old Woman Reading: Gerald Dou : source: https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/rijksstudio/artists/gerard-dou/objects#/SK...