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Zooming in . . .

"Identity,"  as a category associated with subjectivity, individuality and personhood, is as broad, abstract but relevant to our lives as "time" and "space" are.  The general questions we tend to ask about it are:

-- Who am I? What am I?  What defines my self and determines who I am?

-- How are my ¡¥selves¡¦ and my experience communicated or represented to myself or others?  How do communication and representation, in turn, influence my sense of selves? 

-- Who (or what) am I similar to and different from?  How do I relate to the Other, or others, in human society, nature or the universe? 

-- What are the functions of collective identities (such as race, gender, class, family)? Are they supportive or constraining? 

-- Do I act as a responsible social agent, or get acted on by the larger forces such as those of a community, a nation, capitalism and technology?   

Understandably thinkers and theorists in different disciplines and cultures look at these questions differently.  In modern and contemporary (Western) critical theories, there has been a tendency to move away from identity based on sameness, to that of difference; from essentialist and singular definitions of identity, to those of plural identities in process (call it development, construction or fragmentation), always encoded with multiple meanings, fragmented by different discourses and negotiating contradictory positions.  In the era of late modernity and post-industrial capitalism, moreover, while there have been waves of assimilation and erasure of local identities by global capitalism, theorists and activists have also been trying to 'discern' and 'reclaim' identities, and/or to base them on 'experience' or the so-called aesthetic reflexivity.  

To trace this general development out of the intersecting networks of critical discourses, I choose the following fields and topics on identity:

I. Laying the Theoretical Basis:
4 wks:  Identity in Development  ¡V Freud and Lacan, Malanie Klein and D. W. Winnicott.

5 wks:  Identity, Modern Capitalism and Modernity¡V K. Marx & G. Lukacs(fetishism), M. Foucault, A. Giddens, P. Bordieu, W. Benjamin and M. Featherstone.

II. Issues of Identity:

2 wks:  Identity and  Vision¡Vvoyeur & flaneur.  

4 wks: Identity and the Issues of Location, Translation & Migration in Postcolonialism: Liz Bondi (locating identity politics), Adrienne Rich (politics of location), Stuart Hall, etc.

 Objectives and Requirements:

Whether you are a beginner of critical theories or one well immersed in them, I hope that this course can stimulate your interest and thinking in the issues of identity in general, while developing your own studies of certain aspects of identity as they are embodied in your chosen literary/cultural texts.  To achieve this goal, the course not only chooses both primary (or classical) and secondary (or recent) theoretical texts and organizes them by topics, but also ask you to

1) participate actively in discussions in class and on the internet;
2) do a 30-minute (or one-hour) report on a theoretical text with an outline ready for online publication;
3) do a 30-minute report on your project on the issues of identity in a certain text and/or in our cultures; 
4) do a term paper with both theoretical discussion and literary application.

 The requirements are designed in such a way so that we together can develop and improve the following skills:

A. comprehension:

1)      identifying the problem or question the theoretical text addresses;

2)      understanding its argument and how it is developed,

3)      explaining its concepts in our own words, and

4)      relating them to the issues in the literary texts we read, or our own lives;

B. Critique and Articulation:

1) Identifying and critiquing the critical text¡¦s assumptions;

2) Articulating (relating, negotiating and embodying) related theories.  

 (Ref. ¡§Five Skills a Good Theorist Must Master¡¨

http://www.wam.umd.edu/~jklumpp/comm652/skills.html)  

Note: A look at another syllabus can help you understand how broad the field of identity can be: Politics of Identities: Theories of Human Subjects, Selves and Identities  http://hermes.hrc.ntu.edu.tw/csa/syllabi/identity_politics_wang.html

 

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