Our moment is one of deep and abiding violence. From the military and political violence of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and the war on terror, to the imaginary violence of Grand Theft Auto and The Dark Night, the contemporary world finds itself in a period of deep introspection about the role of violence in our social makeup. While we are accustomed to encountering violence as spectacle in popular culture, this course focuses on fictional and cinematic investigations of violence that attempt to tell us something about the role that force plays in our society—depictions that make violence speak. By exploring a range of artistic and philosophical texts that attempt to define violence and plumb its sources, this course will equip students with the skills to make the mute violence endemic to our culture meaningful.
In order to do this, assignments will be geared toward arming students with a vocabulary for making their own arguments about the forms violence takes and its function in society. We will seek to expand the idea that violence is strictly synonymous with physical force and investigate the relationship between the state and violence through readings in philosophy and sociology, from Thomas Hobbes to Walter Benjamin. These readings will supplement short fiction and cinematic texts from artists such as Franz Kafka, Joseph Conrad and Fritz Lang, which will enable us to discuss the function of violence in specific contexts. Writing assignments will take a variety of forms, including short, informal writing assignments, and 4-5 longer, formal essays, through which students will gain the ability to situate their own understanding of violence within disciplinary and discursive contexts, respond to and question theories of violence, and explore the ways in which relations of force are implicit in dominant assumptions about the world. Ultimately, we will question the means by which war and peace are waged.