English 381b
Raji Mohan
MW 2:30 – 4p.m
HU III

Textual Politics:
Marxism, Feminism, and Deconstruction


This course will focus on theories relating language to culture, history, and power. We will begin with Roland Barthes' argument that textual meaning is not rigidly defined, certain, and fixed but rather is open-ended and ever-unfolding. We will then proceed to various theories that explore the processes by which meanings are produced through semiosis or networks of signs linking particular bits of language to other bits and to whole networks or meaning. Our inquiry will be further centered on what this notion of language implies for the political and historical significance of the work of reading and writing. To this end we will explore theories of ideology, subjectivity, language, literature, and culture as they were articulated in what we now call the poststructuralist mode and moment. Here are some of the questions that we will be investigating: Is it possible to map social concerns such as political struggle and economic conflicts on to an investigation of the way language works? Can we understand literary concepts such irony, ambiguity, and symbolic resonance at the minute level of how words relate to one another? Is there a historically specific meaning to indeterminacy? What are the political uses of indeterminacy? Is there such a thing as an identifiable "sex-signature" that marks feminine writing? If so, is this a mark of writing always and only performed by women? How does textuality challenge, reflect, or shape the workings of misogyny, heterosexism, and social hierarchies? What happens to writing, analysis, and argument in the wake of the transformation in language that Barthes, Derrida, Kristeva, and Cixous celebrate?

We will investigate these questions through a reading of theoretical texts and test out their implications for our work as readers against a selection of texts such as Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry, Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Jane Campion's The Piano, and selected advertisements.


Required Texts:
Louis Althusser, "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatus"
Mikhail Bakhtin, Selections from The Dialogic Imagination
Roland Barthes, "Theory Of The Text," "From Work To Text," and "Myth Today"
Catherine Clement and Helen Cixous, Selections from The Newly Born Woman
Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology
Terry Eagleton, Ideology
Luce Irigaray, “The Power of Discourse and the Subordination of the Feminine”
Peggy Kamuf, ed. A Derrida Reader: Between the Blinds
Julia Kristeva, Desire in Language
Marx, Selections from German Ideology and Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon
McClintock and Nixon, “Racism’s Last Word”
Kelly Oliver, ed. The Portable Kristeva
Mary Poovey, "Feminism and Deconstruction"
Trinh T Minh Ha, Woman Native Other
V.N. Volosinov, Selections from Marxism and the Philosophy of Language
Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature
Monique Wittig, "The Mark of Gender," and "One is not born a Woman"


Course Requirements:
Active participation in class discussions; three position papers (1 page long); two short essays (3-5 pages long), and one final essay (10 pages long)

Pre-requisites:
Two 200-level English courses or consent of the instructor.

Class enrollment is limited to 15