Seminar: “On the Philosophical Determination of Literature: From Hegel to Bataille to Blanchot” by Jason Winfree of California State University, Stanislaus
Hosted by the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Bombay from the 28th of March to the 3rd of April to be held in the Seminar Room at the Jalvihar Guest House.
Seminar titled “On the Philosophical Determination of Literature: From Hegel to Bataille to Blanchot” by Jason Winfree of California State University, Stanislaus. Hosted by the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Bombay from the 28th of March to the 3rd of April to be held in the Seminar Room at the Jalvihar Guest House.
The schedule for this workshop, which will comprise of five 2-hour seminars, will be as follows:
Seminar I, 28th March, Wednesday, 5.30 to 7.30 pm
Reading Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, 178-195
Seminar II, 29th March, Thursday, 5.30 to 7.30 pm
Bataille on Literature and History I: Reading his correspondence with Kojeve
Seminar III, 30th March, Friday, 5.30 to 7.30 pm
Bataille on Literature and History II: Reading “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” (1936)
Seminar IV, 2nd April, Monday, 5.30 to 7.30 pm
Blanchot on the Possibility of Literature I: Reading Literature and the Right to Death
Seminar V, 3rd April, Tuesday, 5.30 to 7.30 pm
Blanchot on the Possibility of Literature II: Reading Literature and the Right to Death
About the Speaker:
Jason Winfree is Professor of Philosophy at California State University, Stanislaus, and Chairperson of the Department of Philosophy and Modern Languages. He has authored numerous articles in continental philosophy on topics including community, history, and literature. He is the coeditor of The Obsessions of Georges Bataille, and is currently completing a manuscript on Georges Bataille and the issue of community.
A brief synopsis of each of these seminars is given in the following page.
This group of text seminars aims to trace the influence of Hegel’s work on the post-war conceptions of literature set forth by Bataille and Blanchot. The motivating question is: How might literature respond to philosophy’s demand for self-knowledge? Or what does the philosophical aspiration to self-knowledge look like in literary terms? In this, we will see how the question of literature is entangled with a host of other concerns, including the status of consciousness and discursive thought, freedom, history, action, sovereignty, and the comprehension of existence.
Text Seminar 1: Reading Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, 178-195
Here we’ll focus on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirt, sections 178-195. These passages are notorious in the history of western philosophy, anchoring both Marx’s conception of revolution and Sartre’s treatment of the other person. For our purposes, though, we’ll be reading these sections with an emphasis on the role of desire and death in the production of Spirit. Our aim will be to first situation these sections within the larger trajectory of the Phenomenology of Spirit, and second to understand the productive character of negation and its role in Hegel’s conception of self-consciousness and history. We will focus on clarifying the logic, stakes, and articulation of Hegel’s claim that Spirit must undergo death, that is, incorporate death and detach itself from the order of natural existence, in order to truly know itself. We will also pay close attention to the way in which this claim is governed by the relation of servitude and sovereignty, since these themes play important roles in the inheritance of Hegel’s work in France that we will treat in subsequent seminars. Other key questions raised by this reading include: what is the relation of self and other? To what extent is violence required for history to progress? To what extent might recognition be taken as a paradigm for ethics? What do these passages tell us about Hegel’s conception of freedom? What is the relation of work and self-consciousness?
Text Seminar 2: Bataille on Literature and History I: Reading his correspondence with Alexandre Kojeve
The next two text seminars will treat Bataille’s conceptions of literature and history in the 1930s as framed by an inheritance and reconfiguration of Hegelian categories. We will begin by looking at two short preparatory texts where Bataille addresses Kojève’s interpretation of Hegel. In the first—titled “Hegel, Death, and Sacrifice”—we will track Bataille’s insistence that death cannot be immediately experienced and hence requires subterfuge, and we will pay close attention to the role literature plays in relation to this. We will then supplement this account with Bataille’s famous letter to Kojève (“Letter to X”), where Bataille links unemployed negativity to the end of history. This seminar will enable us to mark the imbrication of literature, death, and history, which is essential to Blanchot’s reception of Hegel below. Other key questions raised by these readings include: What is the relation of the human being to the animal? What is meant by the end of history? What are the limits of Aristotle’s definition of the human being as the animal that possesses speech, the rational animal? In what manner does sacrifice define human being?
Text Seminar 3: Bataille on Literature and History II: Reading “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” (1936)
Bataille’s 1936 essay, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” begins as a meditation on the fragmented character of contemporary human life. Bataille understands that fragmentation in terms of unemployed negativity, that is, in terms of the now historically specific incapacity of human being to produce itself through the meaningful transformation of its world. This is most evident in what Bataille identifies as the bifurcation of truth and meaning, which is exemplified in the one-sided character of scientific and artistic achievements, respectfully. Reading this essay, we will pay close attention to the legacies of sovereignty that persist in artworks, and by extension, literature, and we will try to give an account of Bataille’s understanding of that persistence in contrast to transformative action and determinate negation. This will enable us to mark the reconfiguration of key Hegelian categories, including the place of art in the development of Spirit, the human being’s relation to negativity, the essential character of our relation to others, and the role of consciousness. Other key questions posed by the reading include: what is the nature of community? What is the relation of myth and history?
Text Seminars 4 & 5: Blanchot on the Possibility of Literature I & II: Reading Literature and the Right to Death
These seminars will be devoted to reading Blanchot’s essay, “Literature and the Right to Death.” In that essay, Blanchot claims that literature begins when it becomes a question, and he understands that question in terms of enduring and gaining from death the possibility of speaking. Our first session will focus on the obvious links between this claim and the texts from Hegel and Bataille studied in the earlier seminars. Here we will look at Blanchot’s treatment of what he calls the bad faith of the writer, the relation of literature and history (especially revolution), and the relation of literature and action. Our second session will focus on Blanchot’s account of literary language that follows from this. Here we will work to exposit the meaning of Blanchot’s claim that literature attempts to reveal the very possibility of signification, again paying close attention to the role death plays in that attempt. We will ask about the suitability of literature for grasping the absolute and we will try to determine the extent to which Blanchot’s conception of literature preserves or reconfigures something of Hegel’s notion of sovereignty and Bataille’s notion of “total existence.” Other issues arising in the reading include: the relation of spoken (everyday) and written (literary) language, the difference between death and dying, the difference between existence and existents, the possibility of absolute freedom, and the distinction between committed literature and a commitment to literature.