Courses at Mary Ward Centre, London

26 September – 12 December 2019: The Philosophy of Nietzsche

This course presents an introduction to Nietzsche’s philosophy and an analysis of his basic concepts. Starting with a discussion of his early works The Birth of Tragedy and Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks, we will go on to chart the metamorphoses of Nietzsche’s thought leading to the production of his central work Thus Spake Zarathustra, in which he develops his mysterious notion of eternal recurrence. After a sustained discussion of Zarathustra, we turn to his later works Beyond Good and Evil, The Genealogy of Morality, and the fragments collected in The Will to Power, with the aim of clarifying the ideas of will to power, master and slave morality, and the notion of the Overman. Throughout the course, we will come back to the central enigma in Nietzsche’s work: how are the ideas of eternal recurrence and will to power to be connected to each other? It is this problem that is pursued in some of the major 20th century interpretations of Nietzsche, notably by four commentators who were philosophers in their own right – Martin Heidegger, Karl Löwith, Pierre Klossowski and Gilles Deleuze. The goal of the course is to arrive at an assessment of the value of these major interpretations.

13 Jan – 30 Mar 2020: Nihilism, Phenomenology and Existentialism

Beginning with a historical account of nihilism (looking at texts by Gorgias, Jacobi, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Camus, Beauvoir and Deleuze), this course proceeds to a discussion of phenomenological and existential approaches to the meanings of being and nothingness (Heidegger, Sartre, Camus, Beauvoir and Merleau-Ponty), concluding with a discussion of Badiou and Severino on Parmenides.

30 April – 16 July 2020: Aesthetics of Transgression

UPDATE: This course has been cancelled due to coronavirus. My next course is scheduled to take place in Spring 2021 (‘Schelling’s Philosophy of Mythology’).

What is it that makes a work of art or literature ‘transgressive’? Is there a ‘tradition’ of aesthetic transgression, and if so, when did it start? Is it a phenomenon of modernity, or can transgression in art be traced right back to Lascaux, as Georges Bataille contends? Is some form of transgression inherent to the artistic imagination? This course is structured around an investigation into the ideas of two major 20th century theorists of transgression, Bataille and Pierre Klossowski, both of whom wrote transgressive works of fiction, as well as constructing highly sophisticated theoretical accounts of the meaning and the historical, sociological and cultural roots of the phenomenon of transgression. Bataille sought to combine anthropological and existential insights into the relation of transgression to taboo and morality; Klossowski presented critiques of Bataille’s theory and highlighted the religious and theological aspects of transgression. Their ideas combined to exert a powerful influence over Michel Foucault, whose work on transgression will also be examined in this course. Our focus will be on Bataille’s and Klossowski’s novels (Story of the Eye; Roberte ce Soir), and on their voluminous writings on art and literature. Bataille’s book on the art of Lascaux caves remains unparalleled, and is possibly the best point of entry into his own work; Klossowski later became a painter, and subsequently devoted numerous essays to the subject of eroticism in visual and dramatic art. It is hard to deny that these two thinkers present the most sophisticated and influential accounts of transgression in art and literature, and some knowledge of their work is essential for any reader or viewer seeking to navigate their way through the perplexities and provocations of the aesthetics of transgression.

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