ENG 470: Topics in Literary Theory and Criticism
Spring 2010 • English DepartmentUniversity of Maine
Dr. Steve Evans

The Master-Slave Dialectic: Theorizing Domination, Desire, Recognition, and Knowledge after Hegel

In this seminar we’ll study Hegel’s famous theory of the “master-slave dialectic” from a variety of standpoints. We’ll begin with Hegel’s own arguments, in The Phenomenology of Spirit and elsewhere, concerning “the struggle to the death for recognition” and the division of labor and enjoyment that it inaugurates. The writings of the Marquis de Sade will serve as a kind of scandalous counterpoint to Hegel in this initial exploration. We’ll turn next to the distinctive interpretations of Hegel’s key concept offered by four major figures in the tradition of Critical Theory—Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, and Adorno—paying special attention to the way that class and gender hierarchies structure the possibilities for political, ethical, and psychological experience in capitalist democracies. To conclude, we’ll take up a thread that begins with Alexander Kojève’s celebrated lectures on Hegel and Marx in Paris between 1933-39 and extends to such theorists—many of whom were in Kojève’s audience—as Georges Bataille, Simone de Beauvoir, Jacques Lacan, Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu, and Roland Barthes. We’ll pay renewed attention to the connection between power and knowledge in this final section, using the “university” as a test case for questioning the persistence of the master-slave dynamic in contemporary education.

Among the primary texts we’ll likely read are Hegel’s The Phenomenology of Spirit, Sade’s Justine, Nietzsche’s The Genealogy of Morals, Adorno’s Minima Moralia, Lacan’s The Other Side of Psychoanalysis, and Barthes’s The Neutral.

Prerequisites: 6 hours of literature or permission of the instructor. Satisfies the general education Writing Intensive requirement. This advanced undergraduate course can be taken for graduate-level credit with the permission of the instructor.

Consult reading syllabus here.