Revisiting The Western Classics
In the face of the rising popularity of “new materialisms,” this class examines the emergence of the notion of “matter” in classical antiquity. In short, matter, from the Latin ‘materia’ (related to mater, mother) is transmitted from Aristotle’s Greek innovation hulê (literally, wood). We will undertake close readings of key ancient primary texts, including various Presocratics, Plato’s Timaeus, Aristotle’s Physics, Metaphysics, and Generation of Animals, and Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura, tracing the discourses of materiality that arise in concert with tropes of sex and gender. The guiding question here is: what can matter’s genealogical ties to the feminine tell us about the materialization of bodies and genders? At the same time, we will attend to the topographies and texture of ancient thinking about nature and materiality in the context of the emergence of metaphysics more broadly. Alongside a narrative of “emergence” we will also consider hermeneutic questions – what are the ethico-political stakes of a “retrieval” of antiquity and how can we determine our relationship to these distant texts? And how does a consideration of ancient modes of thought help to enrich contemporary discourses of matter and gender? To help orient our study we will draw on recent thinkers including Irigaray, Kristeva, Althusser, Loraux, Sallis, and Cavarero as well as critically engaging Bachofen’s 19th century conception of Mutterrecht. Some background knowledge of psychoanalytic theory is advised, as is knowledge of Greek, however all readings will be in translation.