EXAM PART 1
Part 1 of our exam entails developing a total of three short responses pointing to particular reading selections from this semester. A complete part 1 should include one response from each of our three themes, designated here by sets of questions beginning with “A” “B” & “C”. There are several options within each theme. Two in each case are reprised questions, closely resembling one’s previously taken up in weekly short responses. Each theme also includes one entirely new question addressing an author and text that we have not previously written about. At least one of your three selections should draw from the set of new questions (the 3rd in each theme).
In all cases each response should demonstrate your understanding of the text and prompt at hand, making clear your interpretation of the question while also attending to key details of the arguments, questions and meanings expressed and conveyed by the text and its author(s).
REPRISED & REVISED QUESTIONS
A1) Throughout The Gift, Mauss urges us to consider how older practices of exchange-through-gift can offer potentially instructive lessons for contemporary Western cultures that have largely forgotten or relegated those traditional ideas to the realm of superfluous sentimentality. In Mauss’ view, what might modern cultures learn from traditional Maori or Polynesian ways? What is at stake in welcoming or rejecting such lessons?
A2) In her “Partners and Consumers, Making Relations Visible” Strathern introduces some culturally situated considerations about identity while attending to questions of the gift and economies of exchange. As she explores placing lessons taken an from anthropological study of difference into dialogue with her own cultural frame-of-view (late 20th century consumer culture), what stands to be learned about the other and about ourselves?
B1) In his Beyond the Pleasure Principle Freud approaches and situates ‘repetition compulsion’ in respect to several registers of experience ranging from child development, to war trauma, from the therapists couch, to the realm of everyday habits. Taking at least one of these registers to examine and engage a bit further, do you see merits or limits in Freud’s approach, the questions posed, and/or conclusions drawn?
B2) From our reading of Lacan’s Seminar Book II one might find a number of points of convergence and agreement, and also some potential divergence or even dispute between Lacan and Freud. In either, or in both cases (apparent agreements or disputes), how does Lacan’s contribution to this discussion change the meaning or significance of that which seems to be at stake? (amplifies, confirms, complicates, challenges or redirects what Freud presents to us?) With what implications?
C1) In his 17 March Society Must be Defended lecture Foucault describes the paradox of biopolitics, as a politics of life, that nonetheless finds the (apparently contradictory) need to mobilize and justify lethal violence, which brings him back to the discussion of state racism as a unique variation on an older theme.
Briefly discuss what you think Foucault means by his assertion about state racism being prevalent in the modern biopolitical state.
What function does it fulfill? What additional problems does it introduce?
C2) With Agamben’s biopolitical appraisal of Western modernity’s dilemma the transformation of the exceptional into the norm is taken as a most serious challenge. From our reading of his Homo Sacer, briefly describe some of the distinctive features of Agamben’s assessment of our situation that help illustrate or bring home the implications of that challenge.
A3) After working through a close reading of Mauss and his interpretation of Maori tradition, Sahlins, in his “The Spirit of the Gift,” turns to the political philosophy of the Gift and declares, somewhat provocatively, “The Essai sur le don [Mauss’ book on the Gift] is a kind of social contract for the primitives.” Briefly explain what Sahlins means by this. How in, his account, does the social contract play out similarly or differently for Westerns like Mauss vs. the Maori. What lesson might we take from these suggestions?
B3) Referring significantly to the dilemma that serves to focus Freud’s attention in his Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Malabou employs a careful tracking of Freud’s thinking on the elastic vs. plastic characteristics of the circumstances of organic existence. Briefly discuss and explain what appears to be at stake in her contrasting of plasticity and elasticity as these concepts may be related to the psychic apparatus, libido, and the death drive. What possible new light is shed on Freud’s efforts?
C3) In the excerpts we looked at from their Commonwealth, Hardt & Negri take an interest in the biopolitical theme introduced through Foucault’s later work, while situating their own efforts in contrast to some notable contemporary thinkers who’ve also in various ways attempted to come to terms with the challenges and opportunities we face today.
Besides shared ground with some of their colleagues, briefly describe and discuss what might be distinctive in their approach. (and how the approach taken might possibly matter?)
PART 2 of our exam features a single reflection that builds upon your part 1 short responses, but now with emphasis shifting toward comparing, contrasting and (where applicable and relevant) reaching beyond to bring other related course texts into the discussion. Part 2 will also appropriately include consideration of implications or possible points of contact with familiar issues in public life and the world today.
While some interconnections between texts are likely already signaled in part 1 responses, part 2 should make somewhat more deliberate use of the opportunity to explore continuities and differences between and among texts. Certainly within our course themes, some continuities are deliberately planned (that’s almost the definition of a theme). A number of authors agree at least on what counts as a compelling question. How exactly they express it and how they go about pursuing an answer distinguishes their efforts. But even beyond the more obvious thematic links, I believe one can find interesting shared concerns broadly across many of our texts. While in some instances connections can be fairly directly expressed by an author, the more operative question here is how your own interpretations of various texts may help raise questions for or shed light upon other texts or point toward issues that cut across some portion of these works.
While part 2 invites an extension of your consideration of course texts (with attention still upon the specificity of our course readings), I am hoping it will also include an occasion to think about implications for life today. What sort of promise or limitation might you find in questions framed, analysis presented and conclusions asserted or implied through the readings and philosophical conversations that we’ve been exploring? What challenges or opportunities might be found for possibly productive consideration of informed action moving forward?
EXAM PART 1