Anthropology and the Experience of Limits|
Spring 2012 not offered
This course considers the possibilities of an anthropology of transgression, excess, and unreason. This would be an anthropology of all things cultural that work outside of the logic of function and utility, that is, of actions and events that, while eminently social, exceed reason and rational explanation. We will take as our point of departure the work of Georges Bataille and his notion of "profitless expenditure" (dépense), with which he worked to develop a political economy that no longer has production and rationality as its core principles but rather consumption, excess, and waste. For this "general economy," as he called it, in opposition to a "restricted economy" focused on utility, he drew from the anthropology of his time and its study of so-called primitive societies organized around complex systems of gift-giving, collective ritual, and periods of wasteful consumption (festivals, for example). Ultimately, Bataille sought to formulate a critique of the early 20th-century European political and economic order that emphasized individualism, rationality, and profit and that, he believed, was breeding disenchantment with liberal democracy, fostering totalitarian impulses, and leading to war and calamity.
Students will use research methods of anthropology as an interpretive discipline.
||Gen Ed Area Dept:
|Course Format: Seminar||Grading Mode: Graded|
||Fulfills a Major Requirement for: (ANTH)
Georges Bataille, VISIONS OF EXCESS, SELECTED WRITINGS, 1927-1939, ISBN: 0816612803
Georges Bataille, THEORY OF RELIGION, ISBN: 0942299086
Plus other readings by Bataille, Hegel, Kojève, Durkheim, Marcel Mauss, Lévi-Strauss, Roger Caillois, Michel Leiris, Derrida, Foucault, Julia Kristeva, and Hélène Cixous, as well as ethnographic or ethno-historical texts by Inga Clendinnen, Alan Klima, and Michael Taussig.
|Examination and Assignments: |
Short conceptual papers, class presentations, and final research paper.
|Additional Requirements and/or Comments: |
Class readings and discussions will be organized around topics such as dépense and the festival; gift-giving and sacrifice; taboo and transgression; formlessness and adjection; erotism; and subjectivity, excess, and the experience of limits. Students will develop research projects on these and other topics of their interest, which could include theoretical and ethnographic explorations of, for example, particular festivals, games of chance, religious experience, the writing of poetry, nonreciprocal giving (organ donation, surrogate motherhood), and the experience of extreme sports and high-risk adventure tourism.