Some of what goes on at Critical Theory and the Arts

Book collection donated to Critical Theory and the Arts

IMG_0829The Department of Critical Theory and the Arts is honored to receive as part of its library holdings the book collection of Elizabeth Gero-Heymann, psychoanalyst and Holocaust survivor.

Generously donated by Laura Kleinerman (psychoanalyst, IPTAR), the collection includes the collected works of Freud and Goethe, artist biographies and monographs, psychoanalytic journals, novels and many other books accumulated in a life that spanned two centuries (Gero-Heymann lived to age 105).

Elizabeth Gero-Heymann studied with Otto Fenichel in Prague. She fled mainland Europe for London in 1939; her parents perished in Berlin.

In London, Gero-Heymann worked closely with Anna Freud. After the war ended, she came to the United States where she established her own practice in New York City. She was eventually invited to join the New York Freudian Society (now the Contemporary Freudian Society) as a training analyst. She was elected Vice President of the Society at age 87.

“POLITICAL RESPONSIBILITY” by Antonio Y. Vazquez-Arroyo, Professor of Political Philosophy at Critical Theory and the Arts

Political Responsibility — Responding to Predicaments of Power
Antonio Y. Vazquez-Arroyo
Published by Columbia University Press

“Scholars in the humanities and social sciences have turned to ethics to theorize politics in what seems to be an increasingly depoliticized age. Yet the move toward ethics has obscured the ongoing value of political responsibility and the vibrant life it represents as an effective response to power.

Sounding the alarm for those who care about robust forms of civic engagement, this book fights for a new conception of political responsibility that meets the challenges of today’s democratic practice. Antonio Y. Vázquez-Arroyo forcefully argues against the notion that modern predicaments of power can only be addressed ethically or philosophically through pristine concepts that operate outside of the political realm. By returning to the political, the individual is reintroduced to the binding principles of participatory democracy and the burdens of acting and thinking as a member of a collective. Vázquez-Arroyo historicizes the ethical turn to better understand its ascendance and reworks Adorno’s dialectic of responsibility to reassert the political in contemporary thought and theory.”

Claire Bishop (art historian, critic) at Critical Theory and the Arts, on the Situation of Performance Art in Museums

Claire Bishop (art historian, critic) visits with Bettina Funcke (writer, publisher) and students in the Critical Theory and the Arts seminar on the “Situation of the Arts” to discuss a work in progress, an essay about performance art in museums. Working title, “Black Box, White Cube, Fifty Shades of Grey.”

Claire Bishop is a professor of contemporary art at The Graduate Center, CUNY, and a regular contributor to Artforum. Her books have been translated into over 18 languages. Publications include, Radical Museology, or, What’s Contemporary in Museums of Contemporary Art?; Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship; 1968-1989: Political Upheaval and Artistic Change; Participation; and Installation Art: A Critical History.

At Critical Theory and the Arts, Summer 2016 — Oliver O’Donnell (UC Berkeley) on Donald Judd, John Dewey and American Pragmatism (postponed)

Oliver O’Donnell (UC Berkeley) will visit with students at Critical Theory and the Arts this Summer, to discuss Donald Judd, John Dewey and the place of pragmatism in American aesthetics and art practices.

Oliver O’Donnell studies modern art and intellectual history with a special emphasis on the historiography and philosophy of art history. His dissertation, “Art Histories of Consequence: Pragmatism and Art Historical Method from Formalism to Semiotics” investigates intersections between paradigms of art historical research and Pragmatist philosophy from the 1890s to the 1970s.

Architecture critic, Nicolai Ouroussoff, visits the “Situation of the Arts” in January

Writer and critic NICOLAI OUROUSSOFF, former head architecture critic for the New York Times, is currently at work on an overarching social history of 20th-century architecture that promises to be the first of its kind.

OUROUSSOFF will meet with BETTINA FUNCKE and students in the Situation of the Arts seminar at Critical Theory and the Arts to discuss the decisive moment in modern architecture when architecture fused opportunistically with fashion and developments in the visual arts to produce a mechanism for the camouflaged assertion of architecture as brand.

The graduate seminar will draw on studies of the collaborations between Miuccia Prada and Rem Koolhaas, and the Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, as well as on writings by Naomi Klein, Hal Foster and Pier Vittoria Aureli.

Plans for Saskia Sassen to join the SERIOUS TIMES LECTURE SERIES in academic year, 2016-2017

….to discuss the most obvious thing in the world, which no one can solve: How can it be, nation by nation, that a minority is so handily capable of inflicting so much damage on so many people? Almost anything one thinks of would serve as documentation: Most Americans today, for instance, want gun control–we don’t have that. Most Americans today are deeply disturbed by the reality of the transformation of the climate–we can’t respond. Most Americans are in favor of labor unions—labor unions are being destroyed.

And when our focus moves internationally we discover parallels in every instance, nation by nation—as if, one might speculate—that is what nations exist to do. Is that possible? And, if so, is there anything the disenfranchised can do in opposition? In the structure of global capitalism, could nations conceivably function in another way?
These are questions that SASKIA SASSEN—whose work specializes in cities and nations—will discuss with graduate students at CRITICAL THEORY AND THE ARTS. Central to our seminar will be Professor Sassen’s recent, “Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy.” As she writes, “The organizing thesis is that our global modernity is marked by systemic expulsions of all sorts: we are beyond simply more inequality, more poverty, more refugees in the global south, and so on. And it is often our complex intermediary processes, requiring talent and knowledge, which are facilitating such expulsions.”

SASKIA SASSEN is the Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology, and chairs The Committee on Global Thought at Columbia University.

Jay Sanders with Critical Theory and the Arts students at Laura Poitras’ “Astro Noise”

Jay Sanders (curator) will host the seminar on the “Situation of the Arts” at the Whitney Museum for a discussion and viewing of Laura Poitras’ first solo museum exhibition. “Astro Noise,” organized by Jay Sanders, is a series of immersive installations that expand on Poitras’ documentary film and journalism work investigating mass surveillance, the war on terror, occupation and torture.

Laura Poitras (filmmaker, journalist and artist) has been a seminar guest at Critical Theory and the Arts in previous semesters. Citizen Four, the third installment of her post-9/11 trilogy, won an Academy Award for Best Documentary. She has received many honors for her work in film, including a MacArthur Fellowship, Guggenheim Fellowship and a Peabody Award. Her reporting on NSA mass surveillance based on Edward Snowden’s disclosures won the George Polk Award for national security journalism, and shared in the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

Martin Scherzinger (composer, media theorist) visits “Situation of the Arts” this Spring — “Software Physiognomics” — “Applied Adorno?”

William de Kooning wrote an enigmatic, brilliant and deservedly famous essay, “Content is a Glimpse.” What “glimpse” meant in de Kooning has important correspondences with what Adorno and Benjamin hoped to make out of the rather archaic idea of ‘physiognomy,’ a physiognomical glimpse, an eye for how an object’s appearance turns out to be no less a matter of essence. And if we continued on a roll here, students of Hegel will immediately recognize that a considerable tradition of thought was at stake in this conceptualization of physiognomy.

With slight revision of order these associations provide us with either, Adorno, Benjamin, de Kooning, Hegel; or, alternately, physiognomy, glimpse, appearance, essence. Either way, they serve to introduce the seminar in the “Situation of the Arts” that Martin Scherzinger, composer and media theorist, will be leading. The discussion is meant to be a kind of ‘applied’ Adorno for our own times, with the essential caveat that these reflections be no less distant from, than they bear proximity to Adorno’s work. Department chair, Robert Hullot-Kentor, will host the seminar.

Rob Nixon to join the Serious Times Lecture Series at Critical Theory and the Arts

In Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, professor of English and Environmental Studies at Princeton University, Rob Nixon, investigates a key aspect of the human failure to respond to what is now—after so many decades of research, evidence and acute warnings—the reality of the destruction of a habitable Earth:

“By slow violence” — he writes in the introduction to his book — “I mean a violence that occurs gradually and out of sight, a violence of delayed destruction that is dispersed across time and space, an attritional violence that is typically not viewed as violence at all.”

Rob Nixon’s study of this massively incremental destruction sets at the center of our focus the calamitous implications on the situation of the impoverished and colonialized.

Rob Nixon is a frequent contributor to the New York Times; his writing has also appeared in The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, London Review of Books, Times Literary Supplement, Village Voice, The Nation, The Guardian, Outside, Chronicle of Higher Education, The Independent, Critical Inquiry, PMLA, Social Text, Slate, South Atlantic Quarterly, Transition, Cultural Critique, Contemporary Literature, Journal of Commonwealth and Postcolonial Studies, Ariel, Modern Fiction Studies, New Formations, Public Culture, Black Renaissance/Renaissance Noire.

Other works include, London Calling: V. S. Naipaul, Postcolonial Mandarin (Oxford University Press); Homelands, Harlem and Hollywood: South African Culture and the World Beyond (Routledge); Dreambirds: the Natural History of a Fantasy (Picador).

Students meeting with Iria Candela, Curator of Latin American Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Iria Candela, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s first curator of 20th and 21st century Mexican, Central American, Caribbean and South American Art, will meet with the students of Critical Theory and the Arts at the museum. They will discuss how this new regional focus emerged in the context of contemporary art, what the new department requires of the museum and how Candela developed her own approach to the establishment of this new part of the institution.

Iria Candela was formerly the international arts curator at the Tate Modern, where her parting exhibition was a wide-ranging presentation of Kasmir Malevich’s work. She has written widely in the arts, including important monographs on Joan Miro and Donald Judd. Iria Candela participated as an outside examiner at last year’s Critical Theory and the Arts MA thesis presentations.

Ariana Reines, Felix Bernstein, Jay Sanders and the “Situation of the Arts”

Felix Bernstein (artist, writer) and Jay Sanders (curator) join Bettina Funcke and students of Critical Theory and the Arts in the Fall, 2015 session of the Proseminar on the “Situation of the Arts” to talk a bit about the situation of contemporary poetry. Bernstein’s musical performance work, “Bieber Bathos Elegy,” debuts at the Whitney Museum in January, 2016. His Notes on Post-Conceptual Poetry was published earlier this year (Insert Blanc Press), and Burn Book (Nightboat), a book of poems, is forthcoming.

Earlier in the semester, the group was joined by poet, artist and playwright, Ariana Reines, for a discussion of poetry, performance, and Semiotext(e), with readings selected by Reines. Her works of poetry include The Cow (winner of the Alberta Prize from Fence Books), Coeur de Lion, Mercury, and Thursday; Telephone, a play, was performed at The Cherry Lane Theatre, NYC. As a performance artist, she has presented at Le Mouvement (Switzerland) and the Whitney Museum.

Plans for Moishe Postone (U. of Chicago) to visit the Serious Times Seminar, 2016-2017

Plans are in the works for Professor Moishe Postone (University of Chicago) to return to the Serious Times Seminar at Critical Theory and the Arts, 2016-2017, to discuss the current transformation of labor in the “knowledge economy” and related developments in social theory. Professor Postone’s discussion will contribute to the program’s ongoing interest in how changes in technology and production are resulting in new forms of individual identity and how the ideal of the tech-savvy entrepreneur is changing the idea of what an “artist” is today. Moishe Postone was previously a guest of the Serious Times Lecture Series in the program’s inaugural year.

“Charisma and Costumes of the Neoliberal Artist”

A continuation of the Serious Times discussion, “The Contemporary Artistry of the Oldest Profession: Labor in the Knowledge Economy and a Solidarity of Self-Infliction.” On the changing figure of the artist in the 21st century. A comparison of labor and art.


“Adorno contra Badiou — Pro Beckett Pro Stein”
Summer, 2016 discussion and gathering at Critical Theory and the Arts

An examination of Adorno’s and Badiou’s writings on Samuel Beckett–and the implications of their writings for the work of Gertrude Stein–as focal points for understanding the sharp divergences of these two philosophers and social critics. Participants include:

Barbara E. Will, Professor of English and Associate Dean, Dartmouth College

Jean-Michel Rabate, Professor of English and Comparative Literature, UPenn; President, American Samuel Beckett Studies Association

Jeremy Cohan, sociologist; graduate associate, Critical Theory and the Arts

Jamieson Webster, The New School; psychoanalyst, IPTAR

Robert Hullot-Kentor, faculty and program chair, Critical Theory and the Arts

Architect Georg Windeck — IS THAT AN ELEPHANT HIDING UNDER A PEBBLE? Sky Line Towers of Corruption in New York City

In the words of the New York Times, a “flood of capital has created colonies of the foreign super-rich” in major financial centers world wide.* Vast pools of capital, frequently of corrupt origin, are seeking ways to elude control by nation states and hide from observation and taxation.

Strangely, and absurdly as well, in Manhattan much of this hidden treasure is now secreted away in a group of vast towers looming over Central Park and the entire city along 57 St. in Midtown.

Brazen is one thing. But, these economic actors and, sometimes, literally bandits are so confident of their grip on the world, so sure they will go unchallenged, that they now proudly display their winnings with confident impunity as a kind of independent Landmark Committee for the Corrupt domination of New York City’s skyline and the capacity of capital to elude the laws of nation states.

If that is an elephant hiding under a pebble, that’s one big pebble.

Architect GEORG WINDECK, will discuss this bewildering new direction in architecture in the SITUATION OF THE ARTS Seminar this Fall.


*Read the New York Times article, “Stream of Foreign Wealth Flows to Elite New York Real Estate” 

Adorno’s Philosophy of Language

Visiting scholar, SEBASTIAN TRAENKLE (Berlin) will present a discussion of T. W. Adorno’s “Theses on the Language of the Philosopher,” at CRITICAL THEORY AND THE ARTS in November. This early, fragmentary and enigmatic statement of Adorno’s philosophy of language remained an orienting statement of Adorno’s thoughts on language through the whole of his later philosophy. SEBASTIAN TRAENKLE is currently writing a dissertation on the concept of metaphor in the work of Hans Blumenberg and Adorno.

MA Critical Theory and the Arts — Program Open House


2016-2017 and beyond

Wednesday, November 4th, 5-6:30pm
133 West 21st Street, 6th floor, Rm 600

Open House for the curious, the enthused but no less for those bored at heart and on the job who are hoping finally to figure out why life may seem so dull when it is obviously so interesting—and what can be done about that. Our Open House is an informal, usually small gathering. A chance to hang around and see what the Department is like. The MA Chair will talk about the Program; faculty will chime in; and former students will stop by, if they’re available.

To register: write us at, or sign up through SVA Admissions, here:

The Department will follow-up with registrants by e-mail. If you’re curious about joining the Program in 2016-2017 or some next year, we see you there.

The Contemporary Artistry of the Oldest Profession: Labor in the Knowledge Economy and A Solidarity of Self-Infliction

For starters, the rise of the “Knowledge Economy” means the emergence of a broad swath of labor devoted to transferring human knowledge to machines intended to wipe out the workers who do the job. This has produced a vagabond existence for many millions of such workers. For them–meaning, frankly, many of us–the vestiges of available human solidarity amount to not much more than proud stylizations of self-infliction.

It is nothing new in the history of labor for workers to seek to escape a burden imposed from above by transforming the imposition into something done immediately to oneself: the internalization of domination is indeed the “Oldest Profession.”

But, these new forms of imposed self-infliction in the “Knowledge Economy” are turning out to present radically new impediments to any possible kind of social organizing.

This seems paradoxical since the products of the “Knowledge Economy” are generically known as “Social Media” and function in the mobilization of a vast population in a “Sharing Economy.” But, it is just these paradoxes—of a ‘social media’ that is more akin to an electronic wind tunnel, and a ‘sharing economy’ that is effectively a socialism of the expropriated—that can best be understood in terms of new structures of self-infliction.

Of special importance is the fact that these workers, when they have a job, often think proudly of themselves as “artists.” Thus, the “contemporary artistry of the oldest profession” is here meant literally.

The SERIOUS TIMES LECTURE SERIES in 2015-2016 will host RICHARD GREENWALD—writer, historian, urbanist and critic, and former union organizer (Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences at Brooklyn College)—who is working on a book on these new forms of work in the “Knowledge Economy” and the corresponding emerging impediments to social organizing to discuss his research in round table seminar with graduate students and faculty.

The Administration of Suffering in the United States — FRANCES FOX PIVEN, LOIC WACQUANT AND FOUCAULT

Social activist and theorist, FRANCES FOX PIVEN (CUNY, Graduate Center) will join the SERIOUS TIMES LECTURE SERIES at CRITICAL THEORY AND THE ARTS to discuss the situation of the impoverished in the United States.

How is a kind of social peace maintained in a country where almost 50 million Americans live in households suffering extreme social precariousness and food insecurity? How is social conflict neutralized here and kept from developing?

Fox Piven sought to understand this situation in her and Richard Cloward’s important, Regulating the Poor (1971). At CRITICAL THEORY AND THE ARTS, she will discuss her work in relation to the recently published contrasting theory of social manipulation in UCLA sociologist Loic Wacquant’s Punishing the Poor, who has himself commented importantly on Foucault’s theory of social control in Discipline and Punish.

Can contemporary art address this reality?


The convergence of the arts may be the most striking aspect of art in the late 20th and early 21st century. Today, artists, almost as a rule, combine their many talents in hybridizing permutations: music is combined with sculpture, architecture with performance art, photography with painting and video with installation. At the same time, art in modernity has been marked by a strong tendency toward autonomy: just as the realm of art as such has tended to assert its separation from the rest of society, so the various arts have tended to assert their distinction from one another. In this seminar, we develop the background in art history to understand the significance of the ‘convergence of the arts’ and explore this central dynamic of the arts of our time, considering how the imperative toward what Clement Greenberg called “self-definition with a vengeance” came to take hold, and how the counter tendency toward the mixing of the arts has been shaped and shadowed by the drive toward artistic autonomy. This dynamic seems to be central to essential forces of invention and disintegration in contemporary art.

Upcoming at Critical Theory and the Arts…

ALHELI de MARIA ALVARADO-DIAZ (PhD, Columbia University) will join the department faculty of Critical Theory and the Arts in the Serious Times Lecture Series. She will be leading a discussion of Pierre Rosanvallon’s THE SOCIETY OF EQUALS.

We are pleased to announce that ROSINE KELZ (PhD, Oxford University) will be joining the department faculty this Fall. Her book, The Non-Sovereign Self, Responsibility and Otherness, is forthcoming from Palgrave Press, 2016.

ASAF ANGERMANN, Adorno scholar, joining the Summer semester’s Comprehensive Thesis Colloquia

ASAF ANGERMANN (PhD., Philosophy, Frankfurt) soon to be affiliated with Yale University, joins CRITICAL THEORY AND THE ARTS this summer to participate in student conferences and the Summer Colloquia. Asaf is a contributing editor to the German edition of T. W. Adorno’s “Collected Writings,” and recently published the much awaited correspondence between Adorno and Gershom Scholem (Suhrkamp).

McKENZIE WARK on “Third Nature”

McKENZIE WARK (Media Theory, New School) is a writer and public intellectual; his widely admired and impressive essays and books—most recently MOLECULAR RED (Verso)–address contemporary social and political issues in a way that is at once intellectually astute, highly informed and pragmatically engaged. CRITICAL THEORY AND THE ARTS is pleased to announce that McKENZIE WARK will be joining the SERIOUS TIMES LECTURE SERIES to discuss “THIRD NATURE”.

Summer semester Spinoza; Freud, Beckett, and other upcoming plans

RAUL ESTABAN DE PABLOS ESCALANTE, (Professor of Philosophy, University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras Campus, College of Humanities, Philosophy Department). Professor Escalante is joining us this summer as a visiting research faculty at Critical Theory and the Arts.

“Freud on the Dialectic of Enlightenment: The Origins of the Civilizational Tendency toward Barbarism” with BRIAN KLOPPENBERG (Psychoanalyst. International Psychoanalytic Institute for Training and Research, New York City)

“A SOLIDARITY OF SELF-INFLICTION”: The Rise of Human Capital, Transformed Labor and New Impediments to Social Action.” A Colloquium with Professor RICHARD GREENWALD (Dean, School of Humanities & Social Sciences, Professor of History), Jeremy Cohan (NYU) and Robert Hullot-Kentor (Chair, Critical Theory and the Arts)

Professors BARBARA A. WILL (Professor of English and Associate Dean, Dartmouth College); JEAN-MICHEL RABATE (Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania; a founder and curator of Slought Foundation in Philadelphia; president of the American Samuel Beckett Studies Association); JEREMY COHAN (Sociology, NYU); JAMIESON WEBSTER (New School for Social Research and Psychoanalyst); ROBERT HULLOT-KENTOR, (Chair, Critical Theory and the Arts).

Talgam is the winner of the 11th Concours International de Piano d’Orléans, in which he received 1st prize, as well as the Denisov prize and the Claude Helffer prize. Talgam’s performances of contemporary music with various ensembles, including Ensemble Modern, Axiom ensemble and the Israeli Contemporary players have brought him into close contact with figures such as Pierre Boulez, Peter Eötvös, Helmut Lachenmann and N.A. Huber. Festival appearances include the Lucerne Festival, Gaudeamus Muziekweek, Mänttä music festival as well as Lincoln center’s annual FOCUS festival. A versatile performer of both contemporary as well as traditional repertoire, Imri Talgam has played throughout the world, including Finland, Germany, France, Spain, Belgium, Holland, Britain, Mexico and the U.S. Recent appearances include venues such as Theater des Bouffes du Nord, Salle Pleyel, KKL Lucerne, Alice Tully hall and Kiev’s Ukraine hall, both as soloist and in collaboration with ensembles and chamber groups. In Israel he has appeared as soloist with several major orchestras, such as the Haifa symphony orchestra and the ISO.

Academy Award-winning filmmaker LAURA POITRAS in discussion

Academy Award-winning filmmaker LAURA POITRAS joined students and faculty at CRITICAL THEORY AND THE ARTS last week to discuss her films. JAY SANDERS (Whitney Museum) and art writer BETTINA FUNKE led the discussion in the SITUATION OF THE ARTS PROSEMINAR. POITRAS’ work includes the 2014 Academy Award winning Citizenfour, about NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden as well as films concerning the post-9/11 American ‘war on terror’: My Country, My Country (2006) and The Oath (2010). The discussion last week focused on the contemporary challenge presented by documentary film as a form.

“Nonprojections for New Lovers” PAUL CHAN and students at the Guggenheim

In March 2015, PAUL CHAN met with students of CRITICAL THEORY AND THE ARTS at the Guggenheim Museum for a morning’s exploration and discussion of his current installation, “Nonprojections for New Lovers.” PAUL CHAN has just won the 2014 HUGO BOSS PRIZE awarded to artists who have made a visionary contribution to contemporary art. PAUL CHAN’S work stirs many issues close to the questions and investigations of Critical Theory and the Arts, most importantly, ‘What is art today?”

Paul Chan

Playwright-director RICHARD MAXWELL on “The Evening” and “Theater for Beginners”

In late March, as part of the SITUATION OF THE ARTS PROSEMINAR, CRITICAL THEORY AND THE ARTS students went together to The Kitchen to see The Evening, Richard Maxwell’s first installment of a Divine Comedy-inspired triptych now in the works. The following week, Richard Maxwell joined the students here in the Department’s seminar room to discuss themes of the play – existence, isolation, death, and redemption. Richard also led the students through some theater exercises, and discussed the inspiration and methods of his work, partially outlined in his new book, Theater for Beginners.

CRITICAL THEORY / CRITICAL MUSIC? A discussion of Charles Ives

Late March, professor STEPHEN BLUM joins CRITICAL THEORY AND THE ARTS and ROBERT HULLOT-KENTOR, the program chair, to discuss the thesis that there is a form of critical theory implicit in the music of Charles Ives. The focus will be Ives’ “Concord Sonata,” (1915/1947), often referred to as “perhaps the most important composition of any American.” Can there in fact be a theory—a critical theory—of society implicit in music? Professor Blum has been teaching the work of Ives at different moments in his career over several decades and early in his career, performed both Ives’ first and second sonatas. Professor Blum’s contemporary specialization as an ethnomusicologist is Iranian music.

Why America needs a new Left

ELI ZARETSKY (New School), author of “Secrets of the Soul: A Social and Cultural History of Psychoanalysis,” “Why America Needs a New Left: An Historical Argument,” and his broadly read, “Capitalism, the Family and Personal Life” joined Jeremy Cohan and program chair, Robert Hullot-Kentor at CRITICAL THEORY AND THE ARTS mid-March for a wide ranging discussion of contemporary realities in the SERIOUS TIMES LECTURE SERIES.

Visiting scholar Oliver Decker — on Capitalism and Authoritarianism

Professor OLIVER DECKER (Universities of Leipzig and Hanover, Center for the Study of Right Wing Extremism)

CRITICAL THEORY AND THE ARTS is pleased to have visiting with us Professor Oliver Decker, a social psychologist, trained both as a psychoanalyst and in the tradition of critical theory social research. Throughout the Spring 2015 semester, Professor Decker is giving a series of seminars in which students are devising research projects concerning questions at the intersection of contemporary art and society.

Professor Decker lead a special seminar for the department faculty and students to meet and discuss Professor Decker’s own research into the contemporary rise of right wing political extremism. Professor Decker’s thesis is that there is an authoritarian dynamic implicit to societies structured by the dynamic of capitalist growth patterns. If this is correct then what seems to be today’s fringe phenomenon of expanding right wing extremism—unfortunately evident today throughout Europe and America—is considerably more than that: it gives insight into a fundamental aspect of modern society in the rise of capitalism.

Does Natural Beauty have Legal Standing? with environmental lawyer, ALBERT BUTZEL


The Defense of “Storm King”

Astonishingly, the answer is “yes.” American law in most every instance grants “legal standing” in civil court—that is, the right to have a complaint heard by the court—only on the basis of an interest originating in injury of various kinds, especially physical, emotional or pecuniary injury. But in an extraordinary moment, on December 29th 1965, the New York State Court of Appeals blocked Consolidated Edison from constructing what would have been one of the world’s largest hydroelectric plants on the banks of the Hudson River, at STORM KING mountain, and devastating the region. In the precedent setting decision, the court ruled that “the preservation of natural beauty” can be represented in court—that natural beauty does have legal standing—as a legitimately specific interest. That mountain is now STORM KING STATE PARK and the court case that defended the park is itself referenced as having founded the origin of environmental law.

But the extraordinary precedent that was set in the struggle to protect Storm King has largely languished. Judges have since failed to recognize it or uphold it.

In March 2015, students and faculty at CRITICAL THEORY AND THE ARTS discussed the case—the puzzle of natural beauty and the law— with Albert Butzel, the distinguished environmental lawyer who led the struggle to protect Storm King over 15 years. Robert Hernan, formerly Assistant Attorney General of NY State, New York State Dept of Law, and Senior Council for Commissioner Initiatives in the New State Department of Environmental Conservation, also joined the discussion.

Why was the Storm King case able to prevail in the moment when it did, and why have the several precedents set by that case continued since then to languish in the courts?

The discussion is part of our study in aesthetics of the relation of natural beauty to art beauty. Storm King State Park, bordered by the Storm King Art Center—one of the largest sculpture parks in the world—and the social and political disputes in which the entire region is situated, present every aspect of the questions concerning aesthetics and contemporary social conflict.

storm king con edisonstorm king walkway

In the “Situation of the Arts” seminar, so far this year…

Over the course of the year, nine artists will have joined writer and critic, BETTINA FUNCKE and Whitney Museum curator, JAY SANDERS—who together direct our Proseminar on THE SITUATION OF THE ARTS—for small-scale and serious discussions of their work along with occasional visits to their studios. This year opened with a triangle of the situation of the arts, a film, a dance, an exhibition: A double screening of Laura Poitras’s long-form documentary films My Country, My Country (2006) and The Oath (2010) launched the year, followed by choreographer Sarah Michelson leading a dance class with the students, and curator Scott Rothkopf touring us through his Jeff Koons exhibition at the Whitney Museum. We also invited students to attend the book launch of John Knight who then came to discuss his art in situ with us and we met Christopher Williams during an installation of his gallery show in Chelsea to discuss his exhibition at MoMA and the books he made along the survey show. Together these positions offered a deep insight in issues of the formation of American art in the 1980s and how these artists evolved over the next three decades in a changing cultural and political landscape of the U.S.

The Spring 2015 semester began with an intimate discussion with poet, performance artist, and translator Ariana Reines discussing poetry, how we gather, and the processes of writing. We will meet Paul Chan in his exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum, curator Yasmil Raymond from the Dia Art Foundation will visit us to discuss her current projects and Dia’s Minimalist history. In addition we will meet playwright and director Richard Maxwell whose new theater piece we will go to see at The Kitchen.

MARTIN JAY, DAVID LEVINE, and a sum-up of other goings-on at Critical Theory and the Arts, ’14-’15

-Distinguished critic and intellectual historian, MARTIN JAY (UC Berkeley)—author of The Dialectical Imagination, Downcast Eyes, Marxism and Totality and many other works on critical theory—ushers in the Spring semester with a visit to CTA in early January for a lawless open seminar with students and faculty. No papers. No readings. No preparations. Just spur-of-the-moment questions for spur-of-the moment answers.

-Distinguished environmental activist ALBERT BUTZEL visits CTA to discuss his lifelong effort to protect the environment, what the law can and cannot accomplish in these struggles, and what room there is—or isn’t—for innovative legal strategies in contending with corporations. In particular, we will discuss the effort to save Storm King Mountain in the 1960s-70s, and Albert Butzel’s central role in establishing what truly deserves to be called a landmark case of environmental defense that became, in fact, the basis of much modern environmental law.

-Dr. STEPHEN BLUM, Professor of Musicology at CUNY, talks about the compositional practice of Charles Ives and Gustav Mahler. In particular, Professor Blum intends to discuss how Ives and Mahler transformed and recomposed quotations and fragments from popular and traditional music in several of their major works.

-OBIE Award winning artist and writer–DAVID LEVINE–teaches “ON THE SPECTACLES” this Spring at Critical Theory and the Arts. David’s work includes performances at MOMA, Mass MOCA, Documenta xii, Gavin Brown@ Passerby, Tanya Leighton Gallery, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and the Watermill Center; video, photographic, and installation work at Blum and Poe Gallery (LA), Untitled Gallery (NY), Galerie Feinkost (Berlin), ISCP (New York), TPW Gallery (Toronto), Matadero (Madrid), HAU2 (Berlin), and Goethe Institute New York. Beyond his OBIE Award (2013), he has received grants from: NYSCA, NYFA, Florence Gould Foundation; German Federal Cultural Foundation; and fellowships from: Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, MacDowell Colony; Village Voice OBIE award, 2013

-2014-2015 Artist-in-residence JEANNE SILVERTHORNE returns to continue a discussion that started at the tip of the Fall semester, on the possibility of several extinctions underway in the situation of the arts and artists: “post-studio” production and social media challenge many of the fundamental assumptions of a private practice including notions of interiority, the creative potential of some degree of isolation, intimacy and the presupposition of an immediate, individual relationship with a viewer—all realities that are now vanishing.

-Pianist AARON LIKNESS (our resident performer) prepares four concerts for this academic year that will introduce students to experimental compositional work of the 20th century. The first concert marks a turning point in the emergence of musical experimentalism, including pieces by Erik Satie, Claude Debussy, and composers from the New York School, including Morton Feldman and Earle Brown.

-Architect GEORG WINDECK (Cooper Union/Critical Theory and the Arts) presents a seminar in Fall 2014, “Art City, City Art: On Site.” The seminar originates in Max Weber’s observation that “without cities, there is no art history.” Professor’s Windeck’s seminar investigates one aspect of Weber’s observation by studying the relation between the built environment of art institutions in NYC in their complex relation to other urban functions and structures. Recently, seminar lectures have prepared students for studies of Roosevelt Island, the Cloisters, and the memorials, monuments and towers of Lower Manhattan. Professor Windeck’s seminar amounts to a consideration of New York City itself; readings and discussions draw on contemporary urban and architectural critics: a very large topic.

-2014-2015 Guggenheim Fellow artist MOWRY BADEN joins program chair, Robert Hullot-Kentor, in the second half of his seminar on “The Arts, their History, and the United States.”

-Sociologist, JEREMY COHAN (CTA) will be in Chicago this year working on a study of the history of the Chicago Teachers Union and what this union’s complex history has to do with the situation of education in Chicago–a matter relevant to the situation of education nationwide. In Spring 2015, however, Jeremy returns to NYC to lead a mid-semester seminar at CRITICAL THEORY AND THE ARTS on Richard Hofstadter’s distinguished, THE AMERICAN POLITICAL TRADITION. Hofstadter called this ‘visibly a young man’s book’. Perhaps that’s what it took to espy the infrastructure of American politics–rancor, moralism, love of property, lack of system, suspicion of democracy–and to raise the pen in protest against heroes who don’t deserve the honor. We, with Hofstadter, ask: Can we pry open the narrow bounds of citizenship?

– CTA faculty member JOHN CLEGG (economist, activist) heads up the Spring session of the “Serious Times” Proseminar, with plans for a series of discussions on money and capitalism.

-Visiting professor OLIVER DECKER (Leipzig), a sociologist and psychoanalyst, presents to the students on the history of social research, and get them started on a social research project of their own.

Adorno’s “Aesthetic Theory” and Elisabeth Lenk

IRIS DANKEMEYER (Philosophy/Literature: Berlin) joined department chair, Robert Hullot-Kentor to discuss Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory and the related reflections on this work by one of Adorno’s last doctoral students, whom Adorno considered especially brilliant, ELISABETH LENK. Central to the discussion was Adorno’s thesis that the problem of contemporary art is “to make things of which we cannot say what they are.”  It was an occasion to introduce American students to one of the very few women of Adorno’s circle of students who took a leading role in Critical Theory.

Political Radicalism, Dissent, and Law in the United States

Historian and constitutional law expert, Professor MILTON CANTOR, will be joining CRITICAL THEORY AND THE ARTS this November to discuss how the American judiciary system increasingly came to function in the round up and quashing radical political protest and dissent beginning in the 1900s of anarchists, IWW, and labor unionists, right up through the present.

On the Possibility of Beauty and the “End of Art”

PROFESSOR ISABELLE KLASEN will be visiting from Bochum, Germany for the first several weeks of the Fall, 2014 semester at CRITICAL THEORY AND THE ARTS. Professor Klasen is a philosopher, artist, and lecturer at the Institute for Philosophy (Bochum), and co-founder of the Institute for Social Theory (Bochum). She will be giving a seminar on the possibility of beauty — or the experience of the Beautiful — in art today, drawing on Adorno, Lyotard, and Danto’s extensive writings on the situation of the subject in the post-modern, sublime condition, and stemming from Hegel’s continually controversial claim of the “end of art”.

Distinguished environmental advocate and lawyer ALBERT K. BUTZEL visits the department

Albert K. Butzel, a New York City environmental lawyer, will visit with the students at CRITICAL THEORY AND THE ARTS  in the Spring 2015 semester. Mr. Butzel specializes in anti-establishment lawsuits, and was instrumental in successfully organizing public citizens against a proposal to build a power plant in the Hudson Highlands in the Storm King Mountain case. The ruling held that groups with “special interest in aesthetic, conservational, and recreational aspects” had legal standing to be included in the class of ‘aggrieved’ parties. This was the first decision of a court to grant standing on such terms, and is considered to be the basis of modern environmental law.

Click here for a New York Times profile of Albert K. Butzel by Jan Hoffman:

What is at stake in a metaphor?

SEBASTIAN TRAENKLE (philosophy, University of Leipzig) recently joined faculty and students at the CRITICAL THEORY AND THE ARTS department to present, “WHAT IS AT STAKE IN A METAPHOR.” The paper drew on aspects of Sebastian’s dissertation, which is a comparative study of the aesthetics and philosophy of language in T. W. Adorno and Hans Blumenberg (author of The Legitimacy of the Modern Age) by focusing on “metaphorology”: a critique of the philosophical and social functionality of metaphorics in expressing and constituting knowledge. The very provocative paper quickly made the case that there is a great deal at stake in a metaphor and the open discussion that followed the paper made brought some participants to conclude, as Sebastian had suggested, that virtually everything might be at stake in a metaphor.

CRITICAL THEORY AND THE ARTS congratulates sculptor—MOWRY BADEN—on being granted a 2014-2015 Guggenheim Fellowship

The department of Critical Theory and the Arts warmly congratulates our departmental ally and friend MOWRY BADEN on being granted a Guggeneheim Fellowship this year to continue the development of haptic sculptures that utilize ingeniously—mysteriously—accelerated condensed packets of air to investigate the body’s sensorial resources for aesthetic phenomena. Baden is a well-known contemporary artist and sculptor of experimental experiential objects that address human sensory experience. Mowry Baden will again be a visitor to Critical Theory and the Arts in 2014-2015.

Martin Jay to “Answer Every Last Question”

Martin Jay will return to the department in January, 2015 to join students and faculty of Critical Theory and the Arts in an attempt to “Answer Every Last Question.” No paper will be presented. Questions only, to the final gong.

JEANNE SILVERTHORNE: Sculpture, Studio and Extinction

Critical Theory and the Arts is fortunate to have with us in 2014-2015, as our first artist-in-residence, Jeanne Silverthorne whose own work as a sculptor has long and centrally been concerned with the possibility of several extinctions: “post-studio” production and social media challenge many of the fundamental assumptions of a private practice including notions of interiority, the creative potential of some degree of isolation, intimacy and the presupposition of an immediate, individual relationship with a viewer—all realities that are now withering away. Is there a future for studio work; is there a way to acknowledge the new realities that are supplanting it without jettisoning the studio? And, of all that is threatened along with what has historically been the figure and work of an artist, Silverthorne’s practice is alert to the recognition that art, which is now capable of mobilizing unprecedented forces of manufacture, has itself become complicitous in the production of a world-wide carbon footprint that presages environmental extinction.

Performance of works by John Cage, Morton Feldman, Earle Brown, Satie, Webern, and Schoenberg

As the second part of a two-part class on 20th-century musical composition, AARON LIKNESS, the department’s resident pianist, will perform work by JOHN CAGE, MORTON FELDMAN, EARLE BROWN, ERIC SATIE, WEBERN, and SCHOENBERG.

Feldman, Palais de Mari
Feldman, Piano Piece for Philip Guston
Cage, Etude Australis No. 10
Schoenberg, Six Little Pieces, Op. 19
Webern, Variations, Op. 27
Satie, Avant-dernières pensées or Gnossiennes
Cage, Dream
Brown, December 1952

Lygia Clark, Poetics and Art

RACHEL PRICE (Princeton University, Dept. of Spanish and Portuguese) will join students and faculty at Critical Theory and the Arts to discuss the work of Brazilian artist LYGIA CLARK.

LYGIA CLARK will be the subject of a major retrospective at MoMA beginning in May. Ahead of this important exhibition, Professor Price will situate Clark’s work in the context of poet-critic Ferreira Gullar’s 1959 “Theory of the non-object” and other period developments in concrete and neo-concrete poetics and art.

AK THOMPSON, “Walter Benjamin and the Dialectical Image Today”

AK THOMPSON joins Critical Theory and the Arts to discuss Walter Benjamin’s theory of dialectical images.

“When Shock Is No Longer Shocking: Walter Benjamin and the Dialectical Image Today”

In Convolute N of the Arcades Project and in his “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” Walter Benjamin elaborated a brief but systematic account of what he called “dialectical images.” According to Benjamin, such images were notable for their capacity to produce moments of revelatory shock in which the viewer could come face to face with “a revolutionary chance in the fight for the oppressed past.” By constellating disparate fragments of historical experience and compressing them to a single point of reckoning, Benjamin imagined that the dialectical image could enjoin viewers to consider what would be required to act upon history as such.

Although his conceptualization remains an invaluable analytical tool, Benjamin himself never outlined the precise means by which such images could be consciously produced (rather than merely discovered) by those seeking revolutionary change. Nevertheless, it’s possible to find visual approximations of important aspects of the dialectical image’s epistemic premises in Diego Rivera’s “Man at the Crossroads” (1933) and Picasso’s “Guernica” (1937). Conceived as responses to fascist ascent in the interwar period, these images gain new relevance in our contemporary moment, which has been characterized by the wholesale reiteration of fascist themes.

Nevertheless, since the dialectical image is inseparable from the “now of its recognizability,” these images no longer resonate as they once did. For this reason, generating an image capable of living up to Benjamin’s concept demands that we account for the significant perceptual transformations that have occurred between the 1930s and our own endless present. By reading the epistemic demands of the dialectical image through Frederic Jameson’s analysis of the cultural logic of late capitalism, it becomes possible to begin envisioning what such an image might look like today.

On the Emancipation of Dissonance

Next week, AARON LIKNESS, the department’s resident pianist, will discuss the emancipation of dissonance in early 20th-century music to provide an introduction to the music and ideas of the New York School of composers, including the work of John Cage, Morton Feldman, Earle Brown, and Christian Wolff. Aaron’s discussion will also develop the relation between these developments in music and what happened in the visual arts in New York City in the same period. The presentation will prepare us for Aaron’s evening concert of a selection of these composers’ work.

Visions of the future, Skyscrapers of the past

Architectural critic and Cooper Union faculty member, GEORG WINDECK, joined faculty and students for a second week to continue his discussion of New York City architecture, this time using the history of Rockefeller Center as the focal point to consider the aesthetics and technologies that emerged in the first half of the 20th century in the construction of New York City’s once famous skyscrapers. WINDECK’S presentation showed that the ‘visions of the future’ drawn up by architects as models for utopic city life actually originated in periods of economic depression when considerable numbers of architects were unemployed, and that the plans for innovation were often displaced by the same economic chaos in which the plans were developed. Rockefeller Center was itself an instance of an ideal plan that was then put aside by the economic exigencies of the day.

BARRY C. LYNN — Elusive Monopolies and Global Upheaval

BARRY C. LYNN recently returned to the Critical Theory and the Arts department and the Serious Times Lecture Series to discuss with students and faculty his recent work on the development of contemporary monopoly corporations. His books, END OF THE LINE and CORNERED investigate the destruction of markets that fulfill human needs and their replacement by ‘arbitrage’ corporations, such as Walmart and Target, that seize economic control by disaggregating production—that is, sending production off-shore—and using computerized techniques for dominating the mechanisms of commodity distribution. The drive for ‘efficiency’—which LYNN shows to be by no means a self-evident value—hyper-rationalization, the opportunistic manipulation of prices, in the global market since the 1990s, has defeated the much touted promises of globalization. Instead, a precariously fragile web of powerful but elusive monopolies and closed markets has emerged that can be all too easily disrupted by political, economic, and environmental upheaval. LYNN has struggled to present the treacherously perilous situation that has emerged. The globalized economy is now such that the shock to one node in the production cycle is felt by all, the imaginable consequences of which are potentially catastrophic. That the mechanisms of these systems have been made mostly invisible by corporations that are now adept at eluding national regulation and oversight has prevented governmental and political assessment of the reality of our situation: “our,” here meaning the hardly conceivable world as a whole.

“Junk and the Ground it is Built on: What’s Wrong with NYC Architecture?” with architect, GEORG WINDECK

GEORG WINDECK, an architect and faculty member at The Cooper Union, visited the program this past Tuesday and talked on “”Junk and the Ground it is Built on: What’s Wrong with New York City Architecture?”

This question can be more directly answered than one might guess. As Professor Windeck explained, the tawdry, meretricious city architecture is a function of a conflict between architectural values, on one hand, and, on the other, the fact that almost all major buildings in NYC are constructed on rented land. Speculation on the value of this land inevitably triumphs over the architectural value of what might be constructed on it. By economic calculation, longevity of well constructed buildings is the last concern on anyone’s mind in what is actually built here. This is why every building that hits the NY City skyline seems to say, right on its shiny facade, “Going Out of Style!” Windeck pointed out that this construction of junk on rented land amounts to a radical inversion in the historical relationship of humankind to land and place. Professor Windeck will be back next week to continue this discussion of New York City architecture.

NICHOLSON BAKER visit, January 2014 — introduction by Robert Hullot-Kentor

“What Everyone Knows about Nick Baker”

Everyone knows that Nicholson Baker played the bassoon for many years, wanted to be a composer, and is still enraptured by Debussy’s “Cathedrale Engloutie.” His father taught him to stand on his hands—even on one hand—while listening to the entirety of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.” As a boy growing up in a household without watches or clocks, his responsibility, on request, was to call the 1-800 number for the exact time. He traces to this chore and setting his finger for a free ride on the counterclockwise return of the rotary dial, his love of the telephone. We know, authoritatively, that in his youth Baker was prophesized to become an even a greater writer than his hero, John Updike. His mother told him so—plainly under his pressure. We know from his many books and, in national broadcast interview as well, that Nicholson Baker willingly talks about his grandfather, his mother, his father, his children and his sweetheart wife of a lifetime as if we were all welcome to know them and perhaps already do. Nick is a large man, who gets nose bleeds easily, wishes he didn’t need to wear a beard, and struggles with psoriasis. In the middle of the night, out of consideration for the possible contingency of his wife’s bare feet later on the bathroom tiles, he sits down on the toilet seat to urinate. We sense an encompassing privacy even when he is unavoidant of any detail of body, life or mind; in the rudest matters, he is incapable of vulgarity. He has written three erotic novels that are the most compelling rebuttal to original sin since Rousseau. One of those erotic novels, Fermata, is dedicated to his father, a perhaps historically unprecedented deed. Reading Nicholson Baker, we are aware that he will unflinchingly romance, under devoted scrutiny, a potato, a milk carton, or a flat screen computer monitor. To universal bewilderment, he has asserted in the New Yorker that Korean manufactured flat screen monitors could bring world peace. He knows that “human” means—if it means anything at all—no pushing. He knows, no less, (though I don’t think he would ever say or write it) that human history, regarded from most any angle, is a fathomless sea of blood. Pulling onto a busy highway in a Kia with faulty breaks, he feels marvelously enjoined with the whole of humanity. He has an active imagination. His tenderness originates in the perception that this is the only world we will ever have and that, what we do to each other, is in every instance, what we have indeed done to each other. The intentional excess of tenderness says, point blank, that we should all know this. He applied to Harvard University for a PhD in philosophy, and was turned down because he had only taken three philosophy classes, two of them in his first year of music school, a line of reasoning about which he later remarked, in modestly Socratic superlative: “What is that for a reason?” A close reader of his—to date—15 books might well observe that Nick Baker never ever mentions William Maxwell, whom I frankly prefer to John Updike. That these are just the very first words of all that we know about Nicholson Baker, and that any of his readers might go on and on, innumerably listing off all that we know about Nicholson Baker, seems to me a prodigious achievement; for those willing to turn the pages, as Wallace Stevens might have said, the light of his imagination constantly becomes a light in the many minds—and it is my good fortune to be able to thank him for that on the part of the many people who might wish to have the moment to thank him for his work.

20th-Century Composition: a Fall semester discussion to be continued in the Spring

This past Tuesday, our department’s pianist—AARON LIKNESS—met with the graduate students one last time before the Winter Recess begins in preparation for composer and pianist, STEFAN LITWIN’S presentation in early January, which will be the first of three monthly classes culminating in a discussion of 20th-century composition.

More about Aaron Likness:

More about Stefan Litwin:

Enlightenment and “Fear Itself”

This week, IRA KATZNELSON joins the last Fall semester meeting of the Serious Times Lecture Series at Critical Theory and the Arts to discuss his new book, Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time.

“The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” -Franklin Delano Roosevelt

“Enlightenment, understood in the widest sense as the advance of thought, has always aimed at liberating human beings from fear and installing them as masters. Yet the wholly enlightened earth is radian with triumphant calamity.” -T. W. Adorno

Some of Nicholson Baker’s bio


Nicholson Baker is one of the most interesting, ingenious and prolific writers of our day. Among his many novels are “Vox,” “Mezzanine,” “House of Holes,” “A Box of Matches” and recently, “Traveling Sprinkler.” His essayistic work includes, “How the World Works,” “The Size of Thoughts,” and “Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper.” And he is also the author of “Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization.” This is the book we will especially be discussing with Nicholson Baker, interested to know how it is related to his work of fiction.

Listen to four of Baker’s recent Protest Songs at

A discussion of what it is to do environmental activism

MARK A. IZEMAN, Director, New York Urban Program and Senior Attorney, Urban Program met with students at CRITICAL THEORY AND THE ARTS on December 3rd to discuss his own work in environmental activism.

Mark is the author or co-author of many publications, including The New York Environment Book. He started out as a research associate in NRDC’s New York office in 1989. After graduating from New York University School of Law in 1992, he clerked for a federal judge and returned to NRDC a year later as a staff attorney. From 2006 to 2009, Mark lived in Moscow, Russia and continued to work for NRDC on energy efficiency and climate change issues. He received his undergraduate degree from Brown University.

Statement from the NRDC Website:

NRDC–NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL– is the nation’s most effective environmental action group, combining the grassroots power of 1.4 million members and online activists with the courtroom clout and expertise of more than 350 lawyers, scientists and other professionals.

The New York Times calls  us “One of the nation’s most powerful environmental groups.” The National Journal says we’re “A credible and forceful advocate for stringent environmental protection.”

Our dedicated staff work with businesses, elected leaders, and community groups on the biggest issues we face today. Our priorities include:

Curbing Global Warming and Creating the Clean Energy Future
Reviving the World’s Oceans
Defending Endangered Wildlife and Wild Places
Protecting Our Health by Preventing Pollution
Ensuring Safe and Sufficient Water
Fostering Sustainable Communities

ERIC FONER at Critical Theory and the Arts — introduction by Robert Hullot-Kentor

November 13, 2013 

It is more than a pleasure to welcome Eric Foner this evening, to join us in conversation and discussion at Critical Theory and the Arts. – And more than a pleasure, as well, to introduce Eric Foner to several of our faculty, to our wonderful students, and to allies of the department, who are all here at the table with us. — For your own curiosity, Professor Foner, you are following a visit from Michael Katz—and a discussion of the sorry puzzles of American welfare—and preceding Ira Katznelson, to discuss his new book, ‘Fear Itself.’ He will be with us in early December.

We all much appreciate Jeremy Cohan, the moderator of the Serious Times Lecture Series for organizing this evening’s discussion. I’ll be turning things over to Jeremy in a moment.

It is customary in an introduction to name the works, honors and awards of a distinguished guest. But, I suspect that Eric Foner has heard this all, so often enough before, and in such loftier circumstances, that, here in our clubhouse, we can abbreviate the long list of his many books and accomplishments to saying that even a small part of what Eric Foner has written would for most of us amount to a lifetime’s worthy accomplishment.

But, the reason that Eric Foner’s work matters as it does; what makes it remarkable, apart from the shear number of achievements—is the extraordinary convergence we find in it of the most considerable powers of intellectual erudition, on one hand, and of historical motivation, on the other. Throughout his many works, Eric Foner is not only writing about history; he knows himself to have been born into history—not only into its realia and forces, in which endlessly more people founder than otherwise, but he knows himself to have been born into a struggle for the self-consciousness of the impulses in history and, with the self-conscious recognition of these impulses, no less the received obligation to craft the energies and talents to do justice to them.

What these impulses are is not easily described. Difficult as it is, however, Walter Benjamin attempted to say something about them in “On the Concept of History,” when he wrote that the possible transformation of the world is lodged not in dreams of utopia but in the memory of enslaved ancestors.

Eric Foner, for his part, in his essay, “My Life as a Historian,” is effectively glossing Benjamin when Foner comments—in telling how he came to spend nine years in the archival research and writing of his magisterial Reconstruction—that, “If Reconstruction was born in the archives, it was written from the heart.” Anyone reading the book is consistently aware of this. The volume’s entirely sustained human voice through its many often difficult pages would not otherwise have carried; and neither would we readers find ourselves reading, and then repeatedly reading the volume’s last sentences, on p. 612, that after Reconstruction “nearly a century elapsed before the nation again attempted to come to terms with the implications of emancipation and the political and social agenda of Reconstruction. In many ways, it has yet to do so.” It is true, just as you say, Eric Foner, from the heart, and even thirty-five years after the writing of your book: it has yet to do so.

Thank you for joining us this evening. To Jeremy…

Read about Eric Foner at:

SPRING 2014, STEFAN LITWIN, Lectures/Performances

Music and Aesthetics at SVA MA in Critical Theory and the Arts:

Contemporary composer and pianist–STEFAN LITWIN, the newest member of our faculty–will present three lecture/presentations of his own compositional work and the work of others in January, February and March. In Europe, Stefan Litwin’s presentations and performances have brought him widespread acclaim and interest.

“There are not many musicians who are able to combine the creativity and sensitivity of a real artist (composer/performer) with the philological rigor and interpretive skills of a major scholar in the humanities. Stefan Litwin’s playing is utterly brilliant. He is both a genuine virtuoso and a poet at the piano with deep insights into the crucial relationship between emotion and structure, extreme subjectivity and extreme sense of order.

Litwin’s compositions – and especially those for piano – display an originality of thinking in music that is remarkable. A work like the piano piece »Lyon 1943 (Pièce de résistance)« is in its expressive intensity a disturbing monument, an example of a political instrumental music in the succession of Stefan Wolpe.”

(Reinhold Brinkmann)

Psychoanalysis–Sociology–and Critical Theory

“A Cultural History of Fetishism” and “The Obsolescence of the Authoritarian Personality”

Plans in the works for academic year, 2014-2015:

We are making plans for psychoanalyst and sociologist—OLIVER DECKER—to present two brief seminar series on“The Cultural History of Fetishism: From Roman idolized bodies to Marx’s concept of the commodity Fetish”; and “The Obsolescence of the Authoritarian Personality and the Changing Meaning of Social Violence.”

“THAT FLOATING BRIDGE,” Reading and Reception at Critical Theory and the Arts

THAT FLOATING BRIDGE — First of the Year, Volume 5 — edited by Benj Demott

Readings by:

  • Novelist, Scott Spencer (“Endless Love”)
  • Writer, Fredric Smoler (“Before the Flood”)
  • Poet, Alison Stone
  • Editor/Writer, Benj DeMott
  • Others

Benj DeMott is editor of First of the Year, and a discussant at our Serious Times Lecture Series.

Peter Eleey, Laura Poitras, Nicolai Ouroussoff and others…

In the “Situation of the Arts” 2013-2014, led by curator and writer, Jay Sanders, and writer, publisher, Bettina Funcke:

  • A tour of the new Mike Kelly exhibition at MoMA PS1 with curator, Peter Eleey
  • A discussion with filmmaker Laura Poitras focused on “the level of the problem” in contemporary art
  • A seminar visit with writer and critic, Nicolai Ouroussoff, who is busy writing the first social history of 20th-century architecture
  • A meeting with the curators of the Whitney Biennial, 2014
  • A visit to the new Christopher Wool exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum, and discussion with the exhibition’s curator, Katherine Brinson.

Roundtable Discussion,”Fear Itself: The Social Production of Fright and Its Impact”

Distinguished historian, IRA KATZNELSON, joins a roundtable panel at the Serious Times Lecture Series in December to discuss the historical reality of fear, its origins and social impact with psychoanalyst, Jay Frankel; political scientist, Antonio Y. Vazquez-Arroyo; sociologist, Jeremy Cohan; social philosopher, Devi Dumbadze; and department chair, Robert Hullot-Kentor. The discussion will focus on Ira Katznelson’s recent Fear Itself (2013).

“The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.”
-Franklin Delano Roosevelt

“Enlightenment, understood in the widest sense as the advance of thought, has always aimed at liberating human beings from fear and installing them as masters. Yet the wholly enlightened earth is radian with triumphant calamity.” -T. W. Adorno

Ira Katznelson is currently the Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History at Columbia University. Katznelson is an Americanist whose work has straddled comparative politics and political theory as well as political and social history.

Publications: Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time; Liberal Beginnings: Making a Republic for the Moderns (with Andreas Kalyvas); and When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America. Earlier books include Black Men, White Cities: Race, Politics and Migration in the United States, 1900-1930, and Britain, 1948-1968; City Trenches: Urban Politics and the Patterning of Class in the United States; Schooling for All: Class, Race, and the Decline of the Democratic Ideal (with Margaret Weir); Marxism and the City; Liberalism’s Crooked Circle: Letters to Adam Michnik; and Desolation and Enlightenment: Political Knowledge after Total War, Totalitarianism, and the Holocaust.

“Rituals of Rented Island” at the Whitney Museum — curated by faculty member, Jay Sanders

Whitney Museum Exhibition
Rituals of Rented Island: Object Theater, Loft Performance, and the New Psychodrama—Manhattan, 1970–1980
October 31st, 2013–February 2nd, 2014

Curated by MA Critical Theory and the Arts faculty member, Jay Sanders. The students in the “Situation of the Arts” proseminar will take a private tour of this new exhibition at the museum, opening on Oct. 31.

On Charles Ives’ writings and music

In November, Aaron Likness, our program’s pianist, will perform Charles Ives’, “Concord Sonata.” Following his performance Aaron will lead a special seminar to discuss Ives’ Essays before a Sonata.

Michael Katz (historian, social theorist) visits the Serious Times Lecture Series — “America’s Archaic Poverty”

The Proseminar on Serious Times  begins its Fall 2013 calendar with a visit from historian and social theorist, Michael Katz. He will join seminar leaders, Jeremy Cohan and Antonio Y. Vazquez-Arroyo, to discuss:

“America’s Archaic Poverty”

The United States is the richest nation in history. Yet even though productivity has more than doubled since the mid-seventies, poverty has only increased. A redistribution of wealth in the USA would conceivably guarantee everyone a full half year surcease from labor (see Juliet Schor, The Overworked American). Yet poverty instead now claims twenty-two percent of all children nationwide.

Much of the political-economic situation in relation to poverty in America is very old. Especially persistent is the sharp division between social insurance and welfare, with welfare reserved for the haunting and ragged figure of the undeserving poor. They are the weak willed; the morally corrupt; those who, exclusively through their own lapse and fault, have fallen away from the good company in god’s always economically ascending chariot of the elect and thus tumbled onto the hard times exclusively reserved for their kind. These are the people who do not deserve “insurance”—the kingdom secured for the true hearts, the veterans, the aged who had worked their share, the widowed, and so on.

Alongside these longstanding matters, we face new developments: a retrenchment of social provision over the last forty years has reached a scale that would have seemed impossible from earlier vantages that once assumed that history was on the side of the beleaguered.

Michael Katz will speak to us about the persistence of “the undeserving poor” as a concept in American social action, political psychology, and national mythology. He will help us inquire why policy continues to insist on a now outdated “individual responsibility” and what the emotional valence of “poverty talk” reveals about the country’s studied obtuseness to its reality. Alongside examining this deep-rooted orientation, he will guide us through some of the transformations that have taken place since the seventies with the establishment of the “war on welfare” as consensus politics. Is the whole project of “welfare,” thus far conceived, a bust? If so, what happens to the “surplus population” created by the society? How will persons live?

We hope to make some headway in questions of continuity and transformation, and the way in which poverty condenses truths about the nature of the society as a whole.

Historian, Milton Cantor, on “Radicalism and American Law”

Milton Cantor will discuss his new book on radicalism and American law later this year with students in Critical Theory and the Arts. He is the author of many works including, The Divided Left: American Radicalism in the Twentieth Century; Sex, Class and the Woman Worker; Black Labor in America; and American Working Class Culture.



RICHARD LEPPERT will join students in the Critical Theory and the Arts program later this year to discuss:

“Six Notes on Subjectivity and Abjection: From Virginia Woolf to Luciano Berio”

Professor Leppert teaches at the University of Minnesota, in the department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature. He is the author of many books on the visual arts, film, and music, including, recently, Sound Judgment: Selected Essays; Beyond the Soundtrack: Representing Music in Cinema; The Nude: The Cultural Rehtoric of the Body in the Art of Western Modernity and Theodor W. Adorno: Essays in Music.

Conversations with Thomas Hirschhorn, Josephine Pryde, Paul Chan and others, 2013-2014


THOMAS HIRSCHHORN meets with students at the Gramsci Monument.

Artist, JOSEPHINE PRYDE discusses recent work with the Situation of the Arts Seminar.

PAUL CHAN in open conversation.

Historian, MICHAEL KATZ discusses the history of poverty and failed social policy in the United States.

MASSIMILIANO GIONI, curator at the New Museum, receives students at the CHRIS BURDEN exhibition.

Critic SVEN LUETTICKEN, (Amsterdam), joins Bettina Funcke, and Whitney curator, Jay Sanders in the Situation of the Arts seminar.

Composer/Pianist STEFAN LITWIN, open rehearsal of recent composition, EL ONCE, and RZEWSKI’S “The People United Will Never Be Divided.”

Psychoanalyst, JAY FRANKEL’S seminar begins.

STEFAN LITWIN joins program chair, Robert Hullot-Kentor for a performance/discussion of “Vanishing Controversy in the Arts and Musical Differentiation.”

Visiting professor, CHRISTOPH HESSE, presents lecture series on the development of the idea of the “CULTURE INDUSTRY” since Marx and Nietzsche.

Some more to know about Stefan Litwin, composer, pianist, and upcoming guest at our program’s discussion of the “Vanishing Critical Engagement in the Arts and Musical Differentiation”:

Born 1960 in Mexico City, studied piano, interpretation and composition in the United States and Switzerland.

Solo Work
Solo recitals and performances with renowned orchestras and conductors, including Christoph von Dohnányi, Michael Gielen, and Marek Janowski.

Chamber Music
With Irvine Arditti, Kolja Blacher, Eduard Brunner, Bruno Canino, Manuel Fischer-Dieskau, Alban Gerhardt, Ib Hausmann, Aurèle Nicolet, Michael Riessler, Gustav Rivinius, Christian Tetzlaff, Jörg Widmann, the Arditti-, Danel-, LaSalle-, Minguet -, Pellegrini Quartets, and Ensemble Resonanz.

Lecture Recitals
On numerous topics, including music by Beethoven, Ives, Nono, Schoenberg, Schubert, and Schumann.

With Claudia Barainsky, David Cordier, Rosemary Hardy, Henry Herford, Roland Hermann, Salome Kammer, Gisela May, David Moss, Sebastian Noack, and Yaron Windmüller.

New Music
Collaboration with composers Luciano Berio, Herbert Brün, Michael Gielen, Alexander Goehr, Johannes Kalitzke, Jonathan Kramer, Luigi Nono, Frederic Rzewski, Mathias Spahlinger, Jörg Widmann, Jürg Wyttenbach, and Hans Zender.

Litwin’s compositions include pieces for piano, orchestra and larger ensembles, as well as chamber and vocal music. In many cases his works focus on sociopolitical issues, whereby the ability to remember (as in ars memoria) is given an essential role.

Television and radio productions in Europe and the United States. CD recordings for Deutsche Grammophon, Auvidis/Montaigne, Arte Nova telos, Cala records, cpo, col legno, hänssler.

Sven Lütticken, critic, joins Bettina Funcke and Jay Sanders in the “Situation of the Arts” this October

Sven Lütticken teaches art history at Vrije University Amsterdam and Freie Universität Berlin. His works include History in Motion: Time in the Age of the Moving Image (2013), Idols of the Market: Modern Iconoclasm and the Fundamentalist Spectacle (2009) — both published by Sternberg Press — and Secret Publicity: Essays on Contemporary Art (NAi Publishers, 2006). His critical, historical and theoretical writings on modern and contemporary art and culture have been published widely in journals and other publications. Lütticken has a blog and calls himself a Sunday-curator.

Link to Sven Lütticken’s blog: 

Paul Chan discusses his “Selected Writings”

Paul Chan was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. Next to animation and video, drawings, and language-based works, he engages in discussions around art and its relation to the world, including politics and war, through poetry, critical writing, activism, theater, and most recently, book publishing.

He joins us to discuss selected texts from his forthcoming book, Paul Chan: Selected Writings:

“Wanderlusting,” 2012
“The Unthinkable Community,” 2010
“X jxm vlr rpb pelria ilpb vlr,” 2011
“Duchamp or Freedom: A Comedy,” 2012
“On Not Knowing Stuart Sherman,” 2013

“Vanishing Critical Engagement in the Arts and Musical Differentiation”

Composer and pianist STEFAN LITWIN joins program chair, Robert Hullot-Kentor to discuss the contemporary situation of music with MA students and faculty at Critical Theory and the Arts at SVA NYC.

A peculiarity of the contemporary situation in the visual arts as much as in music–and there is an exactly homologous situation in the political situation of the nation–is that, while strong feelings and no less intense opposing tendencies are involved, thinking controversy is rarely engaged. There are, of course, exceptions. But in public, the effort to talk seriously and discerningly is often met with outright distress, as if a presumed treaty and solidarity has been unfairly shattered.

Why the situation is thus, is not obvious. But one aspect is clear: the terms and concepts in which controversy was once joined have withered. They seem archaic, forgotten, and wearingly inapposite. The struggle between ‘modernism’ and ‘post-modernism,’ for instance–to take several of the most obvious–or “representational” versus “non-representational” art, not only did take place a century ago, but might as well have happened many centuries ago.

In music, similarly, the struggle over “popular” and “classical” music—words at whose mention generations of critics once tumbled to the grappling mat to struggle over the perceived fate of music—-are now inertly obscure. Which is “popular,” which is “classical” music? What even can be presumed of the idea of “music” at all? We could barely say what “radio” is, let alone what “music” is.

Perhaps this vanishing of a critical language amounts to an achievement and an arrival at the proverbial open, Elysian fields of making and fashioning, where anything might happen and does. Or, perhaps, it represents an absolute loss of tension in what anyone is prepared to think or make. Certainly, this is not a question to be answered in any single afternoon.

But, all the same, is it possible, in this loss of critical language, to make distinctions in–in this case–musical composition? What are the possibilities for critical perception that can be made by a listening, examining, musical sensorium and intelligence keyed to nothing else than an impulse for, and obligation to, musical differentiation?

This is the question that composer and pianist, STEFAN LITWIN will consider when he joins program chair, Robert Hullot-Kentor for a discussion with faculty and students in the program in Critical Theory and the Arts, this October.

Nicholson Baker to discuss “Human Smoke”

The novelist, essayist, and musician, Nicholson Baker, meets with the MA students and faculty at Critical Theory and the Arts in January to discuss “Human Smoke,” his much admired, much disputed and altogether controversial study of the legitimacy of war, which profoundly challenges how World War II is remembered. Whatever position one finally takes in this dispute–which deserves a great deal of thinking and has been joined from all sides–his independence of mind and desire for anything but war, his undiminished sense of the bloody, mangling reality and utter waste of war–in a nation that has been almost constantly at war since WWII–marks as exceptional his work as a writer and public intellectual. Participants in the Serious Times Proseminar will also want to talk with Baker about how it can be that he wrote this considerable volume–close to 600 pages–and in fact writes all of his many novels and essays in his car (a Kia with bad brakes).

Touring Chris Burden’s “Extreme Measures” with New Museum curator, Massimiliano Gioni

Chief Curator of The New Museum and curator of this year’s Venice Biennial, Massimiliano Gioni, will take the MA students through the museum-wide exhibition of American artist, Chris Burden.

Since the 1970s, Burden has pushed the limits of sculpture and performance, focusing on weights and measures, boundaries and constraints, where physical and moral limits are called into question. 

Readings with artist Josephine Pryde in mid-September, 2013

Berlin- and London-based artist Josephine Pryde has worked with photography, impromptu objects, and installation and is a relevant voice of her generation, engaging in activism, criticism, fashion, and feminism in subtle, stubborn and hilarious ways. Her pictures have depicted credit cards, sheep, models, and chicken and more recently affect-laden photos of teenagers contemplating pregnancy, photos of a young boy, and close-ups of fabrics. She has also taught and written about art for some time.

For her visit, she has suggested a discussion of readings by Alexander Garciá Düttmann, Shulamith Firestone, and Jordan Bear’s article on Julia Margaret Cameron’s Collaborations.

Political scientist and historian, Ira Katznelson, scheduled to meet with the Serious Times Proseminar near the close of the Fall Semester

Ira Katznelson is currently the Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History at Columbia University. Katznelson is an Americanist whose work has straddled comparative politics and political theory as well as political and social history.

Publications: Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time; Liberal Beginnings: Making a Republic for the Moderns (with Andreas Kalyvas); and When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America. Earlier books include Black Men, White Cities: Race, Politics and Migration in the United States, 1900-1930, and Britain, 1948-1968City Trenches: Urban Politics and the Patterning of Class in the United States; Schooling for All: Class, Race, and the Decline of the Democratic Ideal (with Margaret Weir); Marxism and the City; Liberalism’s Crooked Circle: Letters to Adam Michnik; and Desolation and Enlightenment: Political Knowledge after Total War, Totalitarianism, and the Holocaust

Historian ERIC FONER visiting in November, 2013

Eric Foner is the DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University. He received his doctoral degree at Columbia under the supervision of Richard Hofstadter. Foner is one of a handful of writers to have won the Bancroft and Pulitzer Prizes in the same year. Foner’s publications have concentrated on the intersections of intellectual, political and social history, and the history of American race relations.

Publications include: Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War; Tom Paine and Revolutionary America; Nothing But Freedom: Emancipation and Its Legacy; Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (winner, among other awards, of the Bancroft Prize, Parkman Prize, and Los Angeles Times Book Award); The Reader’s Companion to American History (with John A. Garraty); The Story of American Freedom; and Who Owns History? Rethinking the Past in a Changing World. His books have been translated into Chinese, Korean, Italian, Japanese, Portugese, and Spanish. His most recent book, The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery, was awarded the Bancroft Prize, the Pulitzer Prize for History, and The Lincoln Prize.

Historian MICHAEL KATZ visiting in October, 2013

Michael Katz is Walter H. Annenberg Professor of History and Research Associate in the Population Studies Center in the Department of History at the University of Pennsylvania. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow and a resident fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study, the Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies (Princeton), the Russell Sage Foundation, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; he also has held a fellowship from the Open Society Institute. His work has focused on the history of American education; the history of urban social structure and family organization; and the history of social welfare and poverty.

Publications: Recent books include Why Don’t American Cities Burn and the forthcoming book The Underserving Poor: America’s Enduring Confrontation with Poverty. Earlier works include In the Shadow of the Poorhouse: A Social History of Welfare in America; Reconstructing American Education; The Social Organization of Early Industrial Capitalism; The “Underclass” Debate: Views from History; Improving Poor People: the Welfare State, the “Underclass” and Urban Schools as History; and The Price of Citizenship: Redefining the American Welfare State. 

“Precedents and Remnants of the Culture Industry” with visiting scholar, Christoph Hesse

This month, the MA Critical Theory and the Arts class of 2013-2014 meets with guest scholar, Professor Christoph Hesse. The topic under discussion is:

“Precedents and Remnants of the Culture Industry” 

Adorno and Horkheimer’s essay on the culture industry, “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception,” (Dialectic of Enlightenement, 1947) is as famous as it is now presumed, and as presumed as it is in fact now little understood. The term, “culture industry,” coined long ago in that essay, has lost any critical edge.

In this series of lectures, Christoph Hesse, one of our visiting professors this year, wants to capture anew the critical impulse of the idea of the “Culture Industry,” as a materialist critical theory opposed to what was once called ‘conformist’ traditional theory, by following the development of the idea from Marx, through Nietzsche, Freud, Kracauer and Benjamin, and other forerunners of the concept in Weimar Germany.

Student Colloquium at Critical Theory and the Arts this June

–“The First Annual I.I. Rubin Conference on Ideology Critique, Critical Theory and the Arts, Class of 2k13”–

MA students in Critical Theory and the Arts, in the summer months primarily engaged in preparing their Comprehensive Thesis, have organized a conference with several members of the department faculty, including Jeremy Cohan, Jay B. Frankel, Devi Dumbadze and Robert Hullot-Kentor. The topic concerns ideology, art and identification with the aggressor. Students and faculty will present brief papers for round table discussion.

Francis Cape’s “Utopian Benches” at Murray Guy / “WHAT TALK WILL BEAR”

Francis Cape has an installation of his “Utopian Benches” coming up this summer at Murray Guy in Chelsea, from June 27th to August 2nd. The benches are meant to present a situation of potential discussion.

Robert Hullot-Kentor will join Francis in initiating these discussions, this one on the topic of “What Talk Will Bear.” Graduate students from the Program in Critical Theory and the Arts will be there to participate as well.

Dr. James Hansen visits the Serious Times Lecture Series on Earth Day, 2013

Before MA students began writing their Comprehensive Thesis Projects this summer, we had one last visitor to the Serious Times Lecture Series, DR. JAMES HANSEN, the world-renowned climatologist and former director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Below is a description of the discussion that took place between Dr. Hansen and the students in the MA program.



Not long ago, social critics on the left were easily able to drive a critical wedge into capitalism’s dynamic of transmuting every surplus into scarcity by insisting on the utter, even ineluctable abundance of capitalist manufacture. A title from 1970, such as Murray Bookchin’s “Post-Scarcity Anarchism”, characterized this critical approach–capitalism’s own success was fated to making capitalism itself obsolete.

But this vision of an inexhaustible human productivity relied on the ancient image and reality of an inexhaustible nature: nature as the horn of plenty, an infinite cornucopia that manufacture needed merely to learn to tap to bring to all an abundance beyond what anyone might ever use.

This cornucopia, the vision of it, is now gone and with it the entire utopian tradition of thought. No doubt, there is less imagination today because there is less to imagine. Humanity will never again, in the entire rest of its history, exist in a stable climate. The most urgent questions have become—not how we might somehow dispose of our overwhelming productivity—but the ways in which we might limit the effects of the global catastrophes that we are already well in the midst of.

Critical Theory and the Arts has invited DR JAMES HANSEN to help us understand these contemporary realities. How much has the climate warmed and how much warmer can we expect it to get? What are our prospects?

DR JAMES HANSEN heads the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, a part of the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. He has held this position since 1981. He is also an adjunct professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University.

Professor Hansen is best known for his research in the field of climatology, his testimony on climate change to congressional committees in 1988 that helped raise broad awareness of global warming, and his advocacy of action to avoid dangerous climate change. In recent years, Hansen has become an activist for action to mitigate the effects of climate change, which on a few occasions has led to his arrest. In 2009 his first book, Storms of My Grandchildren, was published.

Jay Sanders and students at “Frozen Lakes”

At the end of February, Jay Sanders and the MA students visited Artists Space for a closed discussion and tour of the exhibition, “Frozen Lakes,” with Artists Space curator, Richard Birkett.

“What is Cubism?” art historian Sebastian Zeidler at the MA program

“In the fall of 2013 a seminar on the Cubism of Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso will be convened at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts in Washington. In preparation for it, the participants have been asked to produce a reply to the question, ‘What Is Cubism?’

The fact the question should be asked at all is reason enough to give one pause, for a quarter-century ago it seemed to have been settled for good. To be sure, the answers were varying widely at the time, depending on whether one was asking a semiologist or a social historian; but everyone did indeed have an answer ready. Today, that is no longer the case. As the methodological battles of the 1980s and 1990s have faded away, so have the certainties about the work of Braque and Picasso which they used to generate. One hundred years after its inception, Cubism looks more elusive than ever before.This talk will attempt to turn that elusiveness into a virtue by looking at the art anew and from an unfamiliar perspective. Its focus will be double. It will extract a set of theoretical terms from the art criticism of Carl Einstein, writer, friend of Braque, and co-founder of Documents magazine. These terms will then be made productive for a close visual analysis of some of the most hermetic paintings by Braque from 1911/12. The discoveries that will emerge in the process will demonstrate graphically that the longer one stares at a Cubist painting the less familiar it becomes.

Discussion after the talk might extend out to Picasso. We still refer to the Cubism of “Picasso and Braque,” as though the latter was simply the understudy of the former. Looking at a number of paintings of Guitars which Picasso made at Sorgues in 1912 can help invert that hierarchy. Picasso’s passion was certainly different from Braque’s, but it was not for that reason better than his.”

Spyridon Papapetros (Princeton University) presents “The Prearchitectonic Condition: Modern Architecture and Prehistory”

“Can there be a world without architecture? Is there an “arche” that precedes the appearance of tectonics? Such prearchitectonic condition was envisioned by a number of architectural writers during the late 1940s, when, confronted with the ravages of World-War-II as well as specters of modern architecture’s ending, modernist architectural historians tried to answer these fundamental questions by studying the earliest traces of human creativity in prehistoric art and architecture. During the first decades after the war, historians such as Sigfried Giedion and Bruno Zevi reinterpreted a number of recently discovered prehistoric monuments, yet only to corroborate theoretical principles that were already in use by modernist critics. This presentation focuses on Giedion’s research on prehistory, parts of which date from the 1940s and leading up to his 1957 Mellon lectures on “Constancy and Change in Early Art and Architecture,” as well as the publication of the first volume of The Eternal Present in 1962 titled “The Beginnings of Art.” Emphasis is given on archival documents from Giedion’s visits to prehistoric sites, the early drafts of his manuscripts, and his correspondence with archaeologists and paleoanthropologists, such as Edmund Snow Carpenter, Abbé Lemozi, Abbé Breuil, and André Lehroi Gourhan, who later wrote a rather negative review of Giedion’s book in an anthropological journal. Following Gourhan, Giedion’s greatest strength was also his weakness, namely the quasi-photographic treatment of his material—a type of viewing which could capture surface similarities, but failed to penetrate into the fundamental discontinuities of each layer. Abstraction, transparency, simultaneity and movement were the formal principles detected by Giedion on the rock tracings of the Aurignacian and Magdalenian periods, and visually rhymed by the historian next to the works of modern artists, such as Braque, Harp, and Klee, within a process of reciprocal Gestaltung. A similar form of simultaneity applied to Giedion’s historiographic method: by juxtaposing the fossils of prehistory with the prognostications of post-histoire, Giedion invented a pre/post/erous history—not only a prehistory but also a new history—of modern architecture. The study of prehistoric origins could uncover not only causes of modernity’s present crisis, but also signs of architecture’s futures past.”

“American Empire and the Contemporary Political Situation” – Joshua B. Freeman

In March, 2013, the MA students met with Joshua Freeman (CUNY Graduate Center/History), author of American Empire, 1945-2000: The Rise of a Global Power, the Democratic Revolution at Home and Working-Class New York: Life and Labor since World War II.

How did the United States shape a global empire; how did its imperial role reshape the United States; and how do we understand the causes and reality of its decline? In his new book American Empire, Joshua Freeman, much admired for his history of New York City in Working-Class New York, describes the post-war confluence of imperial expansion, extraordinary economic growth, and the “democratic revolution” at home. Prof. Freedman will help us navigate the murky waters of American imperialism, and understand its significance for domestic political life.

“Post Sandy – Too Late?” James E. Hansen at Critical Theory and the Arts

Not long ago, social critics on the left were easily able to drive a critical wedge into capitalism’s dynamic of transmuting every surplus into scarcity by insisting on the utter, even ineluctable abundance of capitalist manufacture. A title from 1970, such as Murray Bookchin’s “Post-Scarcity Anarchism”, characterized this critical approach–capitalism’s own success was fated to making capitalism itself obsolete.

But this vision of an inexhaustible human productivity relied on the ancient image and reality of an inexhaustible nature: nature as the horn of plenty, an infinite cornucopia that manufacture needed merely to learn to tap to bring to all an abundance beyond what anyone might ever use.

This cornucopia, the vision of it, is now gone and with it the entire utopian tradition of thought. No doubt, there is less imagination today because there is less to imagine. Humanity will never again, in the entire rest of its history, exist in a stable climate. The most urgent questions have become—not how we might somehow dispose of our overwhelming productivity—but the ways in which we might limit the effects of the global catastrophes that we are already well in the midst of.

Critical Theory and the Arts has invited DR JAMES HANSEN to help us understand these contemporary realities. How much has the climate warmed and how much warmer can we expect it to get? What are our prospects?

DR JAMES HANSEN heads the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, a part of the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. He has held this position since 1981. He is also an adjunct professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University.

Professor Hansen is best known for his research in the field of climatology, his testimony on climate change to congressional committees in 1988 that helped raise broad awareness of global warming, and his advocacy of action to avoid dangerous climate change. In recent years, Hansen has become an activist for action to mitigate the effects of climate change, which on a few occasions has led to his arrest. In 2009 his first book, Storms of My Grandchildren, was published.

“Dispossession and Domination” – Moishe Postone (historian) and Barry C. Lynn (journalist, writer)

The experience of economic domination may be—and certainly is by most—felt as an all-encompassing structure of manipulation. Whichever way one turns, that way is blocked. Whatever one would like to plan for oneself, the situation has already made more than enough plans for what it intends to do with each of us, with how each of us is to be used or discarded with regard to purposes that are rarely our own.

This experience makes it difficult to comprehend that the powers that one encounters at every turn have long been in the midst of severing any engagement with actual social planning. Economic domination and national planning—whether with regard to infrastructure, work, innovation, housing, education, health, the financial structure, the natural environment itself—which were once unitary in corporate America, have over the past thirty years been in a process of extricating themselves from each other.

These corporations act according to one principle: that dispossession has become the fiercest form of possession. This is not the ‘dispossession of the commons’ in which capitalism originated. It is a form of capitalism that is powerful by disaggregating itself of factories; disaggregating itself of employees and even of needing to have a street address: it dominates the mechanisms of distribution and from that vantage is able to manipulate outsourced producers as well as its trapped ‘customers’.

This form of corporation does not so much use the state as its functionary, but aims to elude state control and functional collaboration with the state—even on the level of foreign policy—and instead seeks to act as an autonomous state with disregard to national boundaries. “Congressional gridlock,” the inability of congress to act and to engage the real problems of the nation, is fundamentally a function of this transformation of the corporation

This technique of domination has penetrated every level of American life. The place of cell phones in daily life functions as a small-scale model of the same “just in time” production that opportunistically uses everyone in their range on short notice. The exact same dynamic is evident in the art world, where the rise of a curatorial mechanism is taking precedence over what anyone makes or sees. And it is this same society-wide mode of production that has made any attempt to criticize, contest or transform national life so difficult, right into our faltering ability to imagine anything other than what we already have.

In our day of discussions, Barry Lynn will help us understand the new “arbitrage corporation” and its monopoly forms, and Moishe Postone will be on hand to think with us about how his interpretation in his seminal work on Marxism gives us further insight into these social transformations.


Barry C Lynn, End of the Line and Cornered; several recent articles are also circulating.

Moishe Postone, Time, Labor and Social Domination; several interviews and articles are also circulating.