The fundamental mission of this curriculum is for it to play a leading role in the development of a Left culture, both intellectually and practically. This mission and its flexible curriculum is a counterpoint to the credentialing and vocationalizing functions of the conventional universities. Our emphasis will be underscored by an imaginative historical materialism, one which will never be dogmatic or static and be malleable enough to undergo revisions and rethinking when the times and new forms necessitate such variations and change. The curriculum is to be comprehensive and transdisciplinary in approach. It will be divided into five basic domains, all of which will cross fertilize with each other in classroom discussions, pedagogical strategies, and within diverse practices in the world. The overarching objective of this newly formed institution is for the curriculum, the texts and teaching methods employed to be transformative and cadre building in nature and to substantially bridge the intergenerational gap between the old left, new left, and a newly emergent left.
In order to combat knowledge specialization, we propose five key domains of Knowledge study which will consistently engage the forces and events that have shaped human societies. History and Historical materialism will be at the base of any curriculum and parallel to this approach will be the pursuit of philosophical and theoretical considerations of Nature, the study of the practices of human groups, simultaneously in the sense of anthropology and in their representations in Art, Science, Philosophy, and Literature. We thus propose the following five domains grounded in the science of History and not separated by discipline and specialization but interactive.
History and Historical Materialism would serve as the basis for any knowledge inquiry- we will never engage in ahistorical approaches to the conditions of the production of knowledge nor to the non-historical approach to concept formation. We are fundamentally bound to the materiality of the text and what that implies beyond what is alive in the texts of Marx by taking into account some of the fertile areas opened by the post-structuralist tendency of the last thirty –five years.
A fundamental domain would be the study of philosophy in order to ground students and teachers alike in the processes of concept formation and ideation in the light of the historical context in which they arose from the ancients to the moderns. A comprehensive study of the ancient world and philosophical speculation and logic would commence with the 600 B.C.E. period in which the Judaic, Chinese and Ionian origins of philosophy begin. The Greek atomists will also be engaged for their levels of direct intuition, tragic sensibility and influence on modern materialism. These readings alongside consistent encounters with the Platonic dialogues and Aristotelian treatises will encourage and foster the craft of the art of substantial conversation and learning, the concept of critique and the structures of argumentation that underlie the disciplinary practices of our time.
The history of philosophy can be divided for the curriculum into an epochal approach to three basic pillars of inquiry – the ancient, the medieval and the modern. Crucial texts from each of these epochs should be given a contemporary heuristic function of materialist analysis, hermeneutical phenomenology, deconstruction and materialist archival research must be engaged in a dialogic and praxis oriented fashion. The ongoing debates between realism (and critical realism), idealism and materialism , not to mention the return of a new nominalism ( vis a vis the digitalization of everyday life) will be consistently engaged.
1.2 Literature, Music, Film, and Art
A broad category but one in which the studies in the novel, novella, essay, poetry, cinema and the making and the history of painting and sculpture would provide a background in the expressive arts. The great works of modernity would be actively studied and the arguments surrounding the role of aesthetics in the formation of the self, the author as producer, socialist realism, abstract expressionism, experimental novel, magic realism, for whom does one write? would dominate the question of literature and art as social knowledge. Another pressing question would involve the exhaustion of radical forms in all of these fields of production and expression and interrogate what limits these forms must overcome. The guiding motivation of this domain is to strengthen the workings and rigors of the critical and radical imagination and aid in the creation of new literary, poetic, artistic and musical forms adequate to our times.
1.3 Political Economy and Political Theory
Although a discipline of Modernity and often an adjunct to Economics departments, the practice of political economy can find its roots in Aristotle and its university presence later in the Scottish Enlightenment in the works of Adam Ferguson and Adam Smith. All three volumes of Marx’s Capital and the Theories of Surplus Value will be studied systematically through the economic and political arguments contained within. The great debates of 20th century Marxism around the labor theory of value, the transformation problem, expanded reproduction, the contemporary problematics around fictitious capital and derivatives. Is political economy (with aesthetics) as Mallarme suggested, one of the two sciences we possess?
Contemporary debates on economic reasoning and the decline of Labor Unions and hence the historical representation of labor can be taught. As for political theory, the Politics of Aristotle could provide the groundwork for political theory which would include careful study of Machiavelli and Hobbes through the modern critiques of inverted totalitarianism and civil society by Wolin and Foucault.
1.4 Psychoanalysis and the goals of founding a materialist theory of subjectivity
A very undertheorized and often neglected field of inquiry and practice has been the history and clinical practice of Psychoanalysis (from Freud- the English object relations school to Lacan’s radical reworking and repositioning of Freud’s texts). The historical confrontations with Behaviorism, Cognitivist-Behaviorism, idealist analytical psychology inter alia must be addressed and the consistent struggle towards a materialist theory of subjectivity needs engagement. Authors such as Sartre (Existential Psychoanalysis), Vygotsky, and of course the radical anti-colonialist Franz Fanon must be encountered through their writings and through experimental practice.
1.5 Science and studies in Ecology and Technology (SET)
Crucial to any advanced curriculum is the active study of the period known as the Enlightenment (Aufklarung and Lumiere). Given the Kantian Copernican revolution in thinking alongside the development of Newtonian physics and the advances in 19th century mathematics, the understanding of the modern scientific project and a rigorous critique of it is necessary to our curriculum. General studies like Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolution, Koyre’s From the Closed Universe to the Infinite Universe, Whitehead’s Science and the Modern World, Dewey’s The Quest for Certainty, Feyerabend’s Against Method, Boris Hessen’s classic 1931 paper, “The Social and Economic roots of Newton’s Principia,” and Bachelard’s The New Scientific Spirit all serve as foundational texts for scientific inquiry and epistemological breaks in the history of thinking. Accompanying these crucial texts would be the study of mathematics as crucial to understanding that Mathematics is the realization of the rational and gives body to “pure” thought. Introductory studies such as Dirk Struik’s A Short History of Mathematics will provide the historical context of mathematics in the development of the forces and relations of material production.
A strong dialectical approach to the world of calculative rationality, positivism and the relationships to ecological forces and the dominance of the technological epoch will be a continuous subject matter through readings on the dependence on fossil fuels, carboniferous capitalism, technological determinism and the everyday effects of the increasing dependence we have on technology.
In general, it is imperative that these provisional domains be interrelated and not be considered independent or one being superior to another. We are attempting to make agents of learning through an open-ended and creative Historical Materialism (Marxism and the Philosophy of Praxis). To reiterate, we need to perceive and engage Philosophy, Literature and Science in their respective Historical contexts and in a prospective style.
We also need to make education a new practice one that matters that confronts vocational and credentialing tendencies so dominant. In the words of our contemporary, Marx, we must engage in relentless critique of everything existing and the concept of critique must be constantly engaged in seminars and study groups that could emerge from this alternative curriculum and free university project.
We invite you to an open and critical discussion on these domains and the movement of this ambitious and very crucially critical project at this historical conjuncture.
Learn about the Center for Critical Thought’s core mission.