New: Aesthetics Of Transgression

What is it that makes a work of art or literature transgressive? Is there a tradition of aesthetic transgression, and if so, when did it start? Is it a phenomenon of modernity, or can transgression in art be traced right back to Lascaux, as Georges Bataille contends? Is some form of transgression inherent to the artistic imagination? This course is structured around an investigation into the ideas of two major 20th century theorists of transgression, Bataille and Pierre Klossowski, both of whom wrote transgressive works of fiction, as well as constructing highly sophisticated theoretical accounts of the meaning and the historical, sociological and cultural roots of the phenomenon of transgression. Bataille sought to combine anthropological and existential insights into the relation of transgression to taboo and morality; Klossowski presented critiques of Batailles theory and highlighted the religious and theological aspects of transgression. Their ideas combined to exert a powerful influence over Michel Foucault, whose work on transgression will also be examined in this course. Our focus will be on Batailles and Klossowskis novels (Story of the Eye; Roberte ce Soir), and on their voluminous writings on art and literature. Batailles book on the art of Lascaux caves remains unparalleled, and is possibly the best point of entry into his own work; Klossowski later became a painter, and subsequently devoted numerous essays to the subject of eroticism in visual and dramatic art. It is hard to deny that these two thinkers present the most sophisticated and influential accounts of transgression in art and literature, and some knowledge of their work is essential for any reader or viewer seeking to navigate their way through the perplexities and provocations of the aesthetics of transgression.

Who is this course for

This course is at Advanced level and so would not be suitable for people who are new to studying philosophy. It would be an ideal continuation course for students who have previously studied on our Intermediate level courses and who now want a course that will look at the work of a particular philosopher in some depth. It may also be suitable for people who have had some previous grounding in Philosophy and who now want to study in more depth.
Although you should have some previous experience of studying philosophy it is not expected that you need to have a great deal of familiarity with the work of Bataille, Klossowski or Foucault, as this is what the course will aim to provide.

What does this course cover

We will begin by examining traditions of literary transgression from Sade to Lautréamont, Surrealism and Bataille. Then we will examine the theories about art, transgression and taboo put forward in Bataille's important late texts Lascaux, or the Birth of Art and The Tears of Eros. With some anthropological underpinnings in place, we proceed to an examination of transgression in literature (taking Bataille's readings of Bronte, Kafka and Blake in Literature and Evil as our focus). The second half of the course begins with a discussion of Klossowski's 'The Mass of Georges Bataille', a powerful critique of Bataille's theory of transgression. We assess the influence of Bataille and Klossowski on Foucault. Then we examine Klossowski's approach to transgression in his novel Roberte ce Soir, and his discussions of sexual difference in The Women of Rome. Finally we turn to a series of publications on aesthetics by Klossowski (essays included in La Ressemblance, and the interviews in Le Peintre et son démon; new translations of this material will be provided).

By the end of the course, students should have an understanding of the concept of transgression and why it is important in 20th (and 21st) century theory and art. New pathways between art, literature and philosophy will have been opened up, and new insight gained into hitherto obscure polemics between the two major theorists of transgression, Bataille and Klossowski.

What will it be like

The course is an interactive mixture of tutor exposition and class discussion. Extensive documentation, along with some new translations, will be supplied throughout the course. Powerpoints covering the main points will be distributed after each session. There are opportunities for further discussion and reading outside of the class via the course's Moodle website.

We will assess your expectations of the course in the first sessions. Thereafter, you will be able to monitor your progress on the course through participation in class discussion, questions and answers and in-class exercises. At the end of the course, you will be able to measure your progress against the stated outcomes for the course.

What else do you need to buy or do

Students could prepare for the course by reading Georges Bataille's Eroticism, and his novel L'Abbé C (which is the subject of Klossowski's critical essay on Bataille's theory of transgression).

What this course could lead to

Other Advanced level Philosophy courses at the Mary Ward Centre or other similar establishments. Other courses in the Humanities and Social Sciences with a strong emphasis on theory and the study of the mind and human behaviour(e.g., Psychology, Economics, Sociology, Anthropology, History).

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