American Splendor: The Possibilities and Problems of American Life in Hollywood Films
Course offered Fall 2015
Brett Gary
Associate Professor
Media, Culture & Communication
The Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development
Yemane Demissie
Associate Professor
Film & Television 
Tisch School of the Arts

Literacies of Listening
Course offered Spring 2015
Deborah Kapchan
Associate Professor, Performance Studies
Tisch School of the Arts
Martin Daughtry
Assistant Professor, Music
Faculty of Arts & Science

Description: Philosophy and social theory of the 20th century engaged the body and its sensorium in unprecedented ways. And yet the body remained largely silent until the end of the century, when inquiry turned toward two topics: sound and affect. The co-emergence of these literatures is not pure coincidence: sound and affect re-write the body in similar ways. Both highlight ambiguity, fluidity, and ephemerality—characteristics of what Steven Connor (2004) calls “immaterial corporeality.” Both infiltrate, impact, and exceed the body, revealing it as a permeable zone, a receptive site emplaced within an intersubjective environment that is always already vibrating. Within the rich and growing body of scholarship on sound and affect, we (Deborah and Martin) have each been exploring, in complementary ways, the act of listening. We understand listening to be, minimally: a physiological process, a performative practice, an acoustemological act (i.e., a sound-centered act through which the world is known), a moment of affective capture, and a moment of temporary surrender—both to sounds and to the powers that course through them. Our recent explorations of “literacies of listening” (Kapchan 2009) and “listening acts” (Kapchan 2015, in press) within Sufi communities, as well as “(in)audition,” “auditory regimes” and “thanatosonics” within the context of the Iraq war (Daughtry 2012, 2014 and 2015, in press) have led us to the common set of questions and approaches regarding listening that form the basis for this course.

Indeed, listening has taken on a great deal of responsibility of late. In the context of the rise of religiosities, it is cited as the first step in processes of conversion (Harding 2000:59). It makes the subject vulnerable to an interlocutor, opening a space of inter-subjectivity and empathetic religious response (Frykholm 2004: 10-11). Listening can render the self porous to other aesthetic and often spiritual influences (Luhrmann 2012; Taylor 2010). Further, it can reform the acoustic unconscious, creating new religious sensibilities (Hirschkind 2006; Kapchan 2010). Listening also has its role in non-religious world makings. It is foundational in the first awareness of self-as-sound (Nancy 2007). Through echolocation, listening situates the body within a physical environment and in relation to other sonic agents that populate it. And just as it is forms the self, listening can also deform it or effect its disintegration, sometimes violently (Cusick 2008, Daughtry 2014). Listening, that is, can be instrumentalized to create community, or to dissolve it. Our ears (and skin, and the other corporeal zones that are invigorated by sound) are constant consumers, yet listening challenges the property principle (Kapchan in press). How can one own a vibration, a sound? Together with you we will spend this semester exploring the dynamics, metaphysics, and limits of listening, focusing not only on theoretical works, but on “sound knowledge”: the transmission of affect and insight that occurs through actual listening acts.

Papyrus to PDF: An Introduction to Book History Now
Course offered Spring 2015
Paula McDowell
Associate Professor, English
Faculty of Arts & Science
Charlotte Priddle
Librarian for Printed Books & Faculty
Fales Library and Special Collections, NYU Libraries

This course, co-taught by a librarian and an English professor, provides an introduction to the booming interdisciplinary field of Book History. A scholarly discipline that engages researchers in many different fields of study, Book History addresses more than just books: it investigates the production, dissemination, and readership of all kinds of texts, from Egyptian papyrus to illuminated manuscripts, the Gutenberg Bible to penny dreadfuls, and triple-deckers novels to modern e-books. What unites book historians is a conviction that material artifacts are irreplaceably important. Our course will address a wide range of general topics, punctuated by case studies of particular artifacts and key historical events and intellectual and political debates, addressing topics such as orality and writing systems; the introduction and spread of printing technology; practices and ideas of authorship, readership, and publishing; censorship and intellectual property, and non-book formats.

Course offered Fall 2014
Mary Poovey
Professor, English
Faculty of Arts & Science
Caitlin Zaloom
Associate Professor, Social and Cultural Analysis
Faculty of Arts & Science

Can you put a price on sex? art? love? life? Is time money, or is daydreaming time well-spent? Would you accept a pound of flesh as payment of a debt? Is there such a thing as a free lunch, and what would it taste like? This course explores different—and often conflicting—conceptions of value spanning literature, philosophy, economics, anthropology, and social theory. In it, we seek to convey three fundamental principles: Value is not inherent in things but the result of a social process; value is often determined at the intersection of different conceptions of productive potential; value is conceptualized or measured in different, and often conflicting, ways. We consider important texts in the Western tradition that raise questions about the sources of value and their multiple uses in spiritual, economic, and social life. Readings include selections from Aristotle, Shakespeare, Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham, William Wordsworth, Jane Austen, Max Weber, John Maynard Keynes, Eugene Fama, and Kazuo Ishiguro.