The Obscure Object of Desire
Last Updated: 03/11/2010
Major areas of study include philosophy, film studies, ethnography and writing.
Class Standing: This all-level program accepts up to 25% freshmen as well as supporting and encouraging those ready for advanced work.
This program is a philosophical inquiry into everyday experience and cinematic art. At its core is the search for what we're calling "the missing object" that is crucial to human fulfillment. We will focus on the theories of thinkers who organize their projects around this idea. The class will apply this line of thought to the interpretation of social life by conducting ethnographic research and studying a rich diet of films.
Our key figures will be the philosopher Immanuel Kant, the political economist Karl Marx, and the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. For Kant, philosophy is a project driven by deep-seated demands made by reason, demands that require us to ask questions we cannot answer, and search for the unconditioned ground of all being even though we know we cannot find it. If he is interested in finding the unseen in reason, Marx wants to help us to see what remains unseen in society, in our political and economic lives, which he sees as increasingly controlled by these unseen forces. Freud's project can be construed as a parallel investigation of the conditions of the possibility of consciousness, and his interests range from the very private to the structures of authority that make up "civilization" itself. In addition to these three thinkers, we will consider related ideas of folklorist Vladimir Propp, critical theorist Walter Benjamin, and various film critics. Our texts will be explored in depth through seminars, lectures and writing.
We will connect these ideas to the representation of lived experience in movies. Among the films we might view, discuss and write about are Metropolis, It Happened One Night, Tokyo Story, Vertigo, Masculine Feminine, Chinatown, and That Obscure Object of Desire. This part of our work will culminate in the ninth week of the quarter, which we will spend at the Seattle International Film Festival.
Each student will also undertake a field project, choosing something from ordinary life to document-for instance, a living room, a person's clothing, a set of stories, or a ritual practice. Faculty will give instruction in ethnographic method, and students will draw on our philosophical studies to interpret their research.
Credits: 16 per quarter
Special Expenses: $85 for movie tickets.
Program is preparatory for careers and future studies in humanities, arts, media, writing and education.