2020 Session Online


“The School of Criticism and Theory is a place to thrive with faculty and graduate students of the highest caliber and latest scholarship - even when it is online.” (Emre Keser,  2020-2021 SCT participant)

“The conception of the summer preview was elegantly conceived. From the introductory lectures, to the abbreviated readings, to the mini-seminars.  It was inspiring during what is a very complex and isolating time for us all.” (Christian Gregory, 2020-2021 SCT participant) 

"The SCT is a nexus that attracts original thinkers from across the globe, a place where collaborative intergenerational exchange of ideas and transmission of experience-based knowledge happen. It works like a universal family working day and night for the cause of humanities…! The 2020 Online Session was filled with diverse heterogeneous vibrant discussion on the issues that have direct bearing on our day-to-day life.” (Santosh G. Maholkar, 2020-2021 SCT participant)

In a special series of remote mini-seminars and lectures, hosted online, faculty members, graduate students and independent scholars from around the world, in the humanities and social sciences, gathered together in the virtual realm to explore recent developments in critical theory - as it pertains to our present moment and in preparation for an intensive six-week in-person course of study in 2021. Sessions were hosted live on Zoom, and selected sections were recorded and will be made available for public viewing later in the year.

  • Hent de Vries, Stanley Fish and Heather Love – Words of Welcome

  • Matthew Engelke – “Magic”

  • Caroline Levine – “Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study”

  • Marina Rustow – “Epistemology of the Archive and the Practice of Archival History”

  • George Yancy – “Whiteness and the Phenomenology of Racial Embodiment”

  • Heather Love – "The Limits of Argument"

  • Stanley Fish – "Speaking in code: why what is intended is always what is said"

Course Descriptions and Reading Assignments

Matthew Engelke
Professor of Religion and Director of the Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life, Columbia University

In this mini-seminar, hosted online, we will discuss a pair of texts that together help set up the framework for the six-week seminar in 2021. In the first session, we dive into the history of magic at a Victorian highpoint. In the second session, we contextualize this Victorian fascination with magic by tracing its doubled forms: that of “the stage” and that of “the savage.” This preliminary engagement will also allow you, as the students, to set out how your interests relate to—and can help inform—the seminar’s shape itself.

Pre-seminar reading:
• EB Tylor, Magic, in Encyclopedia Britannica, 9th edition, vol. 15 (1883), pp. 199-207.
• Graham Jones, Magic’s Reason, University of Chicago Press, 2017. (Read the Intro, Chap. 3, and Chap. 6)

“Absolutely fascinating discussion, which was particularly relevant to my own research. The readings were well selected and spoke to each other in contested ways, and the structure of the seminars, with a little introductory lecture followed by breakout discussions, worked wonderfully.” (Erin McFadyen,  2020-2021 SCT participant)

Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study
Caroline Levine
David and Kathleen Ryan Professor of the Humanities and Picket Family Chair of the English Department, Cornell University

In this mini-seminar, hosted online, we will discuss The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study. We will ask how humanists understand the university as a social and political institution and consider Moten and Harney’s approach as well as alternatives to it. Some questions we’ll discuss: How do Moten and Harney understand what an institution is? What are alternative understandings? How should/can we articulate the relations between aesthetics and politics in this text? How are the arts methodologically, politically, and/or imaginatively important to the work of justice? What role does the university play in producing and reproducing injustice? What agency does the university have, and what agency do a range of people (students, faculty, administrators, community members) have in relation to the university?

Pre-seminar reading:
• Fred Moten and Stefano Harney’s The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study. We’ll read chapters 0-4 for the first session, and chapters 5-7 for the second session.

“Caroline's pre-seminar questions and postings accelerated thought in a rather spectacular way.  There was a great deal of thinking and query in picking apart a complex hybrid work of theory, contemporary critique, and, what, poetry, perhaps?” (Christian Gregory, 2020-2021 SCT participant) 

“I shall always be indebted to Professor Caroline Levine and SCT for these two invaluable interactive sessions that really made us think and rethink our notions of Institution, University, Study, Learning, Institutionalized Pedagogy, Knowledge Practices, Knowledge outside Universities, Machineries of Universities, and Alternative Understandings. The text in discussion was simply amazing, offering a most radical critique of the Present. Ideas born from these sessions will directly and indirectly shape roadmaps for my future academic journey. I will share these learning experiences with my students and will make use of it in the research.”(Santosh G. Maholkar, 2020-2021 SCT participant) 

Epistemology of the Archive and the Practice of Archival History
Marina Rustow
Professor of Near Eastern Studies, Professor of History, Khedouri A. Zilkha Professor of Jewish Civilization in the Near East, Director of the Geniza Lab and Director of the Near East Program, Princeton University

This two-part seminar will preview the 6-week summer seminar in 2021 on the history and practice of archival history. The first session will focus on the Fatimid caliphate and the Cairo Geniza as two case studies of premodern archiving, jettison and text preservation. The second will engage with participants’ archive-based work and the problems they face, with an eye toward honing our conceptual framework and refining the syllabus for our full-length seminar in 2021.

Pre-seminar reading:
• Marina Rustow, The Lost Archive: Traces of a Caliphate in a Cairo Synagogue (Princeton UP, 2020), pp. 1–13 and 381–423
• Ben Kafka, “Paperwork: The State of the Discipline,” Book History 12, no. 1 (2009): 340–53
• Saidiya Hartman, “Venus in Two Acts,” Small Axe 12 (2008): 1–14

“These sessions transformed my understandings of the ‘pastness’ of the past and its presence in the form of an archive as an immediate contact with those who are dead. The questions haunted me.” (Santosh G. Maholkar, 2020-2021 SCT participant)

“These two sessions brought in highly original content based on a publication that could not have been more recent. The fragments we got to discuss really incentivized me to read all the 600+ pages of prof. Rustow's book, "The Lost Archive," which I will surely cite in my thesis as a valuable resource.” (Alexandra Irimia, 2020-2021 SCT participant) 

“Absolutely stunning. A masterclass in mini-seminar planning with an eye for future sessions/syllabus development.” (Anonymous, 2020-2021 SCT participant) 

Whiteness and the Phenomenology of Racial Embodiment
George Yancy
The Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Philosophy at Emory University
; Montgomery Fellow, Dartmouth College

In this seminar style lecture, conducted online, we will explore (for about an hour) a few key concepts integral to Whiteness and the Phenomenology of Racial Embodiment, our larger six-week seminar in 2021. So, we will ask: what is race? More specifically, what is whiteness? Is race an ontic reality (like rocks, stars, and books)? Or, is race a social metaphysical reality? If the latter, what are the implications for how we explore the meaning of race and whiteness? How do we describe a reality that is objective and yet epistemologically false and ontologically vacuous? We will read Peggy McIntosh’s seminal article entitled, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. We will then think through the dynamics of race and whiteness, racial embodiment, privilege, and hegemony through the lens of what has been called critical phenomenology. Indeed, part of our larger seminar is to ask the metaquestion: what does a phenomenology of whiteness/race look like? My hope is that our initial meeting will help all of us to articulate how our philosophical sensibilities and interests regarding race will relate to the longer seminar. In this way, pedagogically, each participant will provide engaging profiles regarding the meaning of race.

Pre-seminar reading:
• White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack

"A thrilling combination of connections between canonical and contemporary theorists, personal anecdote, gorgeous invective, and a kind of recursive re-reimagining of concepts." (Anonymous, 2020-2021 SCT participant) 

“A wonderful lecture and extremely timely. Yancy's arguments and his graceful way of drawing pertinent connections between current events, personal experiences, the assigned reading material, and an impressive range of "superstar" authors in philosophy and critical theory.” (Alexandra Irimia, 2020-2021 SCT participant) 

The Limits of Argument
Heather Love
Associate Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania

In this presentation I address the style and method of recent critical argument against the background of uncertainty about the future of the university. Multiple crises have cast a new and sobering light on debates regarding the ethics of criticism. I survey the state of the field of criticism and theory as it is inflected by generational conflict, a collapsing job market, and a confrontation with the limits of scholarship.

“A great lesson in humility and empathy in scholarship. Truly what SCT and scholarship more at large should be all the time.” (Joe Coyle, 2020-2021 SCT participant) 

Speaking in code: why what is intended is always what is said
Stanley Fish
Davidson-Kahn Distinguished University Professor of Humanities and Law at Florida International University and Visiting Professor of Law at Cardozo University

“There was something incredibly heartfelt about experiencing intellectually lineages and listening to someone so closely tied to the institution.” (Christian Gregory,  2020-2021 SCT participant) 

“Charming, politically au courant, light-hearted, linguistically minded.” (Anonymous, 2020-2021 SCT participant) 

Video Recordings

Hent de Vries, Director

Stanley Fish, Senior Fellow

Heather Love, Senior Fellow


Magic, Session 1

Magic, Session 2


Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study, Session 1

Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study, Session 2


Epistemology of the Archive and the Practice of Archival History, Session 1

Epistemology of the Archive and the Practice of Archival History, Session 2


Whiteness and the Phenomenology of Racial Embodiment, full lecture


Heather Love - The Limits of Argument

Stanley Fish - Speaking in code: why what is intended is always what is said