Zillah Eisenstein

My writings, thoughts, and activism.

Seminar: Elsewheres (Fall 2010)

Course Expectations: It is expected that all students be present at each class, prepare
presentations for class discussion of the reading materials, and complete two writing
projects dealing with the queries of the course.
Theoretical Underpinnings
This course asks you to think `deeply’ about what you see and the way you see it; what
you look at and what you don’t, and why. In this sense I ask you to theorize both a
notion of `presence’ and `absence’—specifically in terms of queries about color and race;
sex and gender; colonialism and `the’ west, civilization and modernity, and so on. I want
you to think as inclusively as you can, as well as theoretically.
Theory is the ability to imagine and envision beyond the self—and beyond
individualized contained moments. Theory, in this sense, allows one to think big—with a
history, with a future, with an understanding of the political narratives that operate both
silently and loudly. My aim is to push my students to draw connections wherever this
may be possible so that they will see in enlarged and inclusive fashion. Part of the aim of
the course is to take students to new sites for understanding and enriching the meanings
of political—power-filled–life.
The General Focus of the Course
The course has evolved out of and along with my newest research, travel, and writing
related to the deconstruction and reconstruction of the so-called WEST/NON-WEST and
their constructions of the sex/gender; color/race divides. I want students to rethink their
thinking about what the terms west and non-west mean. I want you to do this both
historically and contemporarily. In other words—given the origins of democratic theory-
– are these origins `truly’ and `simply’ of the west? More specifically, what place does
the colonization of the Tainos, and the practice of the African slave trade, play in these
formulations? And, I want you to think about this question—today—during the
globalization of capitalism when ideas travel and change continuously. What is the
vested political interest, of both the powerful and the powerless, in this divide? How do
the events of September 11, 2001 and its aftermaths in Afghanistan and Iraq inform this
discussion?I also want to then take this divide—WEST/NON-WEST and pluralize it further by
diversifying the very notion of unity and diversity themselves. Once diversity becomes a
part of each side of the construction, the neat divides of positivism are challenged from
within. The next query is to rethink how these discussions impact on the very idea/s of
democracy, individuality, and freedom. The focus here is to unsettle the intellectual
borders that have become naturalized and normalized: same/difference; self/other;
nature/culture; white/black; sex/gender, etc. I will pluralize each side in such a way as to
unsettle the clarity of the border-lines between modernity and antiquity.
This course continues to develop from my writing and teaching which uses multicultural/racial and intercultural/racial visionings as well as fluid notions of sex and
gender to see the body, especially female bodies in more complex, diverse fashion. I use
the body—or bodies—as a racialized and sexualized site to re-look at the notion of
universality and real democracy from places outside or critical of `the’ western canon. By
`seeing’ complex bodies I hope you will be encouraged to entertain an inclusivity that
follows from this starting point. And of course, the conundrum is that there is no singular
body–meaning across cultures and nations–and yet the human body speaks in entirely
similar ways in `other-than-western’ form.
A Few General Themes to Explore
Several of the themes that I wish to probe are: pluralizing the notion of the political
across the boundaries of public and private, east and west, liberal and Marxist, feminist
and anti-racist. We will explore the similarities and differences between colonialism and
global capitalism; the notion of western as much more diverse and owing much of what it
is to so-called non-western sites. I will examine the role of the slave-trade in the
determination of enlightenment theory and the place of the slave woman’s body in this
process. We will challenge the bordered arenas of sex, gender, color and race. We will
question the place-origin of the idea of `freedom’. Students will develop a notion of what
I term POLYVERSAL identity and humanity depending on the way they travel through
and use the materials of the course.
Some More Specific Themes:
More specifically the readings engage the following:
1. A redefinition of democracy as a polyversal historical construction
2. A viewing of the wars of/on terror and their aftermath for the viewings of the
globe that they open and close
3. An examination of diasporic visions of rationality in Islamic thought
4. A discussion of a recoding of universality to embrace multi-inter- and polyglot
5. Theorize the intersections of racialized gender and engendered race especially in
the slave trade
6. Examine the particular relations of global, and translocal cultures for a richer
notion of inclusivity 7. Utilize while developing methodologies of the 21
century: translation,
comparison, translocality, interpretative traveling
8. Embrace the relationship between power-locations and the embrace of nonimperial universalisms
9. Rethink the relationship between the constructions of sex and gender; and color
and race in fluid, open, contextualized ways
Essential Readings—Books at I. C. Bookstore
1. Zillah Eisenstein. AGAINST EMPIRE
2. Kenzaburo Oe. HIROSHIMA
3.Martin Bernal. BLACK ATHENA
Vol. 1 Preface, introd., chap iv, chap.v pp. 225-246, chap vi pp.281-297, chap
vii, chap viii pp. 337-344, chap. vix pp. 367-373
4. Jack Weatherford. INDIAN GIVERS
5. Arundhati Roy. POWER POLITICS
6. Marcus Rediker. THE SLAVE SHIP
7. George Breitman, ed. THE LAST YEAR OF MALCOLM X
8. Ahmed Rashid. JIHAD
9.Salmun Rushdie. THE WIZARD OF OZ


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