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IDSEMUG 1590 - Walter Benjamin: Theory for Gleaners

Long before the advent of green politics, and before recycling and repurposing became fashionable, there were people surviving with little fanfare on discards, and theorists meditating on the revolutionary possibilities of refuse and junk. This seminar introduces students to the work of Walter Benjamin, who is both a central figure in critical theory and an early, powerful commentator on the politics and aesthetics of trash. We begin with Agnès Varda’s film The Gleaners and I, and explore the relation between theory and the recycling of ideas, images, and objects, especially those that have been overlooked or abandoned. As a refugee himself, Benjamin knew intimately how whole populations can be dispossessed or cast off. Following his life and thought, we ask what displaced subjects and discarded objects might teach us about the larger economies of capitalism, modernity and the city, as well as human desires, needs and frailties. Our primary text is Benjamin's expansive and unfinished work of citations and brief commentaries, The Arcades Project (1927-1940), but we will read Freud, Marx, and the Frankfurt School to contextualize the work historically and theoretically. What did Benjamin make of dross, and what can we glean from his thought for our own times?.
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Spring 2019, Spring 2018
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