Spring 2019 - HUM 321W D100

The Humanities of Critical Thinking (4)

Class Number: 5743

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Th 1:30 PM – 5:20 PM
    SWH 10075, Burnaby

  • Exam Times + Location:

    Apr 18, 2019
    3:30 PM – 6:30 PM
    AQ 5018, Burnaby

  • Instructor:

    Alessandra Capperdoni
    Office Hours: Office hours: 5:30 – 6:30pm AQ 5111 or by appointment
  • Prerequisites:

    45 units.



A study of the counter-traditions within western civilization. Compares and contrasts diverse traditions within western culture that critique its central value systems. It will focus on the attempts of great artists and thinkers to break with tradition, and the subsequent creation of new ideas and forms of experience and expression. Writing/Breadth-Humanities.



What is violence? What effects does it produce at the level of singularities and of the social? When does violence transform into “terror”? In this course we will discuss different approaches to the study of violencein the work of critical theorists and creative writers from the 20th to the 21stcentury to interrogate the role of political and economic institutions, and more broadly of power, in the material and discursive deployment of violence. We will bring our analysis to bear on the reading of past and contemporary events and responses to such events (e.g., Holocaust, refugee crises, street violence, “terrorism”, elision of electoral rights, urban segregation, racism, Black Lives Matter, sexual violence, violence of language and images, new colonialisms, or environmental violence, to name only a few) to deconstruct mainstream assumptions of liberal democracies about sovereignty, civil rights, and citizenship.

We will pair readings in critical/cultural theory to narratives about genocide (the Nürnberg trials, Rwandan testimonies, and the testimonies made available by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada), as well as works of fiction and non-fiction. Primo Levi’s memoir will take us to the horrors of Auschwitz during WWII, while the stories of Franz Kafka and Albert Camus will help us analyze the complex relation of the Law to subjectivity. Michael Ondaatje and Dionne Brand will help us reflect on the realities of genocide, recent or ongoing, such as Sri Lanka’s State terrorism in Ondaatje’s novel and the legacy of slavery in the US and Canada in Brand’s novel. We will also read historical accounts of colonial violence in Latin America, South Africa during the Apartheid system, and the former Soviet Union in Chernobyl.

In addressing the effects of terror and violence, its relation to the displacement of individuals or populations, as well as its enduring scars on the affective potential of individuals, we will consider the imagining of a “polis” to which human movement is constitutive, rather than exceptional, as a critical intervention in the “closure of meaning” that a culture of violence often enacts.


  • Attendance and participation 10%
  • Presentation 15%
  • Short paper (4-5 pages) 15%
  • Final research paper (10 pages) 30%
  • Final exam 30%



Primo Levi, If This is a Man/The Truce. Abacus, 1987. ISBN-10: 0349100136.
Giorgio Agamben, Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive. Zone Books, 2002. ISBN-10: 189095117X.
Michael Ondaatje, Anil’s Ghost. Vintage, 2001. ISBN-10: 0676973612.
Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others. Picador, 2004. ISBN-10: 9780312422196.
Dionne Brand, At the Full and Change of the Moon. Vintage, 2000. ISBN-10: 0676972586. 

Additional Readings 
provided by the instructor on Canvas (Excerpts or chapters): Antonio Gramsci, Franz Kafka, Georg Lukács, Walter Benjamin, Primo Levi, Franz Fanon, Hannah Arendt, Michel Foucault, Elaine Scarry, Gilles Deleuze, Angela Davies, bell hooks, Judith Butler, Giorgio Agamben, Emmanuel Levinas, Michael Taussig, Steve Biko, Jacques Derrida, Albert Camus, Adriana Cavarero, Cristina Sharpe, Elspeth Probyn, Slavoj Žižek, Svetlana Aleksievich, trial and genocide narratives.

In-class film screenings:
Battle of Algiers. (1967, 122 min) Dir. Gillo Pontecorvo. 
The Night Porter. (1974, 117 min) Dir. Liliana Cavani.
Standard Operating Procedure (2008, 116 min). Dir. Errol Morris.
Incendies. (2010, 130 mins). Dir. Denis Villeneuve.

Registrar Notes:

SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html