2010-11 Catalog

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Offering Description

Mediated States of Modernity: Distraction, Diversion, and Ambivalence

Fall quarter

Faculty: Kathleen Eamon philosophy, Julia Zay media arts, video, gender and queer studies

Fields of Study: aesthetics, art history, cultural studies, media studies, moving image, philosophy and writing

Fall: CRN (Credit) Level 10367 (16) So - Sr  

Credits: 16(F)

Class Standing: Sophomore - Senior

Offered During: Day

Prerequisites: At least 1 quarter of humanities coursework.


One of the ways that historians and theorists distinguish modernity, and mass and popular culture more specifically, is by describing the ways in which it ushered in a new age of sensation. Using Marx's notion of the "social hieroglyph" as a model for looking at everyday life, we will splice together visual culture studies, cinema studies and 19th and 20th century aesthetic philosophy in an investigation of some of the defining mental and emotional states of attention produced by and for emerging cultural forms, such as cinema, radio, amusement parks, the arcade, and the language of modernist art. We will construct our own partial and fragmented or, to borrow Benjamin's phrase, "little" history of modern senses and sensibilities.

In particular, we'll focus in on in-between states of attention that are easily dismissed as unremarkable but that, precisely by going unremarked, play a central role in our mediated public lives. Public intellectuals of the 20th Century like Freud, Benjamin, Kracauer, Gorky and others examine these states closely in their descriptions of everyday life in terms that make evident both the dangers and potentials of these modes of attention. We'll model our approach on the studied "ambivalence" that characterizes the attitude of Frankfurt School figures like Benjamin and Kracauer towards popular or mass culture, thinkers who are not indifferent but who sustain a truly divided, thus complicated, understanding of how one inhabits a mass-mediated, capitalist, industrialized, post-traditional culture - neither submitting to its demands nor removing oneself entirely, one ought to engage it playfully. We'll explore how we ourselves are always both submitting and resisting the ideological forces of mass culture.

Some examples of the states we have in mind are: amusement, distraction, diversion, boredom, play, and so on. These states are often "located" in terms of specifically modern places, such as the cinema, amusement parks, and urban centers, and we will ask what kinds of audiences or what kind of "public" gets constituted by these states and contexts. Although our focus will be largely turn-of-the-century to mid-century (the last one, that is), we will follow our line of thought into more recent times with thinkers like Susan Sontag and David Foster Wallace.

We will also develop our own practice of paying close attention to everyday life and meta-attention to our modes of engagement with it in our weekly observation exercises and field study. This work will inform both our traditional and our experimental essay-writing as we attempt to yoke the observational with the lyrical and theoretical modes. In summation, we will read and write a lot, watch films, look at art, listen to both music and sound, mix lecture with seminar and workshops with fieldwork.

Maximum Enrollment: 50

Required Fees: $10 for tickets to the Olympia Film Festival.

Preparatory for studies or careers in: film studies, humanities, media, philosophy, visual culture studies, and writing.

Campus Location: Olympia

Online Learning: Enhanced Online Learning

Books: www.tescbookstore.com

Program Revisions

Date Revision
October 6th, 2010 Fees updated.