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Organization, Regulations, and Courses 2023-24

ENGL 64.08 Matters of Life and Death: A Theory Course

The universal right to live is one of the basic precepts of modern morality. But everyone knows that this sole declaration guarantees nothing, that too often this principle, and the idea that life is inherently valuable, has been made into an alibi behind which atrocities are committed, such as murderous colonial practices, racially motivated executions, human bondage, cultures of rape, and war profiteering. But hypocrisy or faithlessness aside, is it possible that we have never really understood what we mean when we speak of an entitlement to life, or even the value of life such? If life is valuable, and supremely significant, could it be because we think nonliving matter is without value? And yet, no living being is entirely independent of the nonliving—we are composed as much of nonliving matter as of thriving communities of microorganisms. Moreover, as subjects of law, institutions, and culture, we regularly invest ourselves in non-vital symbolic systems that will outlive us, like building a future for others or leaving a legacy behind. And just as often, these symbolic forms of life can be used against the living and decide the conditions of what counts as life. In this course, we will rigorously inquire about the hidden processes behind the "mattering" of lives (and deaths) in different contexts. Consulting works of philosophy and theory, as well as a few literary “cases,” we will explore topics such as nihilism, the impact of capital on the “worth” of existence, the value of nonwhite lives, the death drive, suicide, the politics of grieving, and the pursuit of death as a way of life. 

Degree Requirement Attributes

Dist:TMV; WCult:W

The Timetable of Class Meetings contains the most up-to-date information about a course. It includes not only the meeting time and instructor, but also its official distributive and/or world culture designation. This information supersedes any information you may see elsewhere, to include what may appear in this ORC/Catalog or on a department/program website. Note that course attributes may change term to term therefore those in effect are those (only) during the term in which you enroll in the course.

Department-Specific Course Categories

Junior Colloquium: Course Group IV