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ENG 653: Critical Theory

Alex Reid, Associate Professor, English 



Course Information Professor Information
Term:Spring 2013 Office: 325 Clemens
Credits: 3 Phone: 645-0691
Meeting Time: M 12:30-3:10 E-mail:
Classroom:  412 Office Hrs: M 10-12:30 W 10-3




Course Description
This course will investigate the emerging field of speculative realism with attention paid to object-oriented ontology. Speculative realism developed over the last decade, though especially in the last four years. In their introduction to The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism, a collection including contributions from most of the major figures in the speculative realist movement, the editors (Levi Bryant, Nick Srnicek, and Graham Harman) note that while the contributors represent a variety of views and approaches, they share a common goal of speculating about reality beyond the context of thought or a human-centric focus.

This activity of ‘speculation’ may be cause for concern amongst some readers, for it might suggest a return to pre-critical philosophy, with its dogmatic belief in the powers of pure reason. The speculative turn, however, is not an outright rejection of these critical advances; instead, it comes from a recognition of their inherent limitations. Speculation in this sense aims at something ‘beyond’ the critical and linguistic turns… In the face of the ecological crisis, the forward march of neuroscience, the increasingly splintered interpretations of basic physics, and the ongoing breach of the divide between human and machine, there is a growing sense that previous philosophies are incapable of confronting these events. (3)

Speculative realism in its various forms is now being actively employed as a method across the humanities. Literary scholars such as Eileen Joy and Jeffrey Cohen have begun to examine the idea of an object-oriented literary criticism and the implications it might have for existing methods. What does it mean to treat “fictions” as real and material? To put Batman and vampires on equal ontological footing with zebras, paper clips, and highways? What does an object-oriented approach bring to the investigation of texts as material objects? How might we theorize the minimal, rhetorical-communicative relations among objects? We will read essays from The Speculative Turn, as well as works by Harman, Latour, DeLanda, Ian Bogost, Quentin Meillassoux, and others.  The object-oriented ontologists also have an active online community, so we will take the opportunity to interact directly with some of these authors.


Extensive students will write response papers and do an in-class presentation. Intensive students will also complete a final project either taking up a speculative realist methodology to investigate a subject of interest to them or investigating a particular concept or issue from our readings.




Required Readings
  • The Speculative Turn eds Levi Bryant, Graham Harman, and Nick Srnicek
  • The Quadruple Object Graham Harman
  • Alien Phenomenology Ian Bogost
  • After Finitude Quentin Meillassoux
  • The Democracy of Objects Levi Bryant
  • Reassembling the Social  Bruno Latour
  • Philosophy and Simulation Manuel DeLanda
  • Vibrant Matter Jane Bennett




Discussion Forum
Write a response to the week’s reading (due Thursday before class) and then write two responses to your classmates posts (due by 9am each Monday).
You will work in pairs to lead conversation for one class discussion. You will be expected to begin with a brief (approx 10 min) presentation.
Final Project
For those taking the course intensively, you will compose a final project in consultation with me, either taking up a speculative realist method to address a research question of interest to you or investigating a particular concept from the readings.




Course Policies
Student Disability Services
Government regulations require that university policies, practices, and procedures not discriminate on the basis of disability. Disability Services coordinates reasonable modifications so that individuals with disabilities can access and benefit from all programs, services, and activities of the university. Please visit the Disability Services website for further information:
Late Assignment Policy
On occasion, students are unable to meet assigned due dates. If you believe you will be unable to meet a due date, you must email me prior to the day an assignment is due. In your email you should explain your situation and identify when you will complete the assignment.
Attendance Policy
As University policy states, “Since the university desires to promote student responsibility, there is no general rule concerning student class attendance; however, every class instructor shall provide to students a course syllabus during the first week of class that specifies attendance policies and dates and times for classes, exams and all other required activities.”


If you know you will be absent on a particular day, please let me know via email as soon as possible. You are permitted one absences. Three or more absences will result in an unsatisfactory grade.




Course Schedule
  • MLK Day, no class meeting
  • Quadruple Object
  • Quadruple Object
  • Speculative Turn, selected essays TBA
  • After Finitude
  • Democracy of Objects
  • Democracy of Objects
  • Alien Phenomenology
  • Tim Morton essays
  • Reassembling the Social
  • Philosophy and Simulation
  • Vibrant Matter
  • Speculative Turn, selected essays TBA
  • Speculative Turn, selected essays TBA
  • Final Projects Due


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