2018 - 2019

Communicating with Objects 

In terms that anticipate Marx on commodity fetishism or Adorno on the culture industry, Wordsworth’s 1800 preface to Lyrical Ballads inveighs against a “craving for extraordinary incident” produced by “the increasing accumulation of men in cities” and gratified by “the rapid communication of intelligence.”  To this situation he opposes the conditions of “humble and rustic life,“ where the passions of men are incorporated with the beautiful and permanent forms of nature” and “men hourly communicate with the best objects from which the best part of language is originally derived.”

We may smile at Wordsworth’s idealizations of rural life, but his expansive attention to the different ways in which people may “communicate with objects” – to the problematic, we might say, of object relations – is as prescient and instructive as his critique of an urban culture coming to be dominated by the production, circulation, and consumption of commodities and mass media. The 2018-19 Rifkind Center faculty invites its participants to reflect on and discuss the changing role of objects – natural, fabricated, historical, conceptual – in their fields of study and cultural production. Historical study arguably awards more attention to material culture than ever before; our former colleague David Jaffee’s last book, The New Nation of Goods: Artisans, Consumers, and Commodities in Early America, 1790–1860 (2010), may serve as one example among many. Bill Brown’s influential 2001 essay, “Thing Theory,” is a well-known instance of a related turn in literary studies, which he places in the context of “a new materialism within which the thingness of an object cannot be abstracted from the field of culture.” (See the online description (http://ccct.uchicago.edu/object-cultures) of the “Objects Culture Project” which he currently directs for a suggestive overview.) More broadly, concerns with the materiality of language and the history of print have been central to literary studies now for decades. The relations of works of art to both natural objects and other man-made ones have long preoccupied both the working artist and the art historian and assume a new urgency and complexity in the de-materializing context of digitalization. The ways in which objects and representations circulate in modern society is obviously central to the work of MCA, and the very distinction between objects and representations is a long-standing problem in philosophy, whether from the analytic or the continental sides. I hesitate to venture a generalization about music but would imagine that the question of the relationship of music to the objects through which it is produced and recorded has been made more acute with the ascendancy of digitalization.

Readings for the group will be largely shaped by the interests and backgrounds of the participants but could include works by Marx, Lukács, Adorno, Benjamin, Debord, Freud, Klein, Winnicott and Bowlby.

Guest Speaker: Joshua Wilner, English

2016 - 2017


Over the past decade and a half emotions have moved to the forefront of scientific investigation, humanistic inquiry, and artistic practice. This development owes much to research in the neurosciences, which has challenged scholars in the arts and humanities to reframe their endeavors in light of the new perspectives opened up by the neural age. But other developments have played their part as well: the rise of social media and of new social movements, the global phenomenon of “terror”, and the impact of on-going processes of dislocation, conflict, and trauma in the early 21st century.

Standing at the intersection of science, the humanities, and the arts, emotions have emerged as interdisciplinary objects par excellence. This seminar is open to faculty who engage with the topic of emotions from a wide range of perspectives. Participants may explore the representation and mobilization of emotion in art, literature, film and music; the question of whether emotions have a history, and conversely, whether they make history; the implications of emotions studies for philosophical practice; and the role played by fear, empathy, passion, and guilt, in politics, religion, and war.


  • William Reddy, “Historical Research on the Self and Emotions”, in Emotion Review 1,4 (2009): 302-315

  • Jan Plamper, The History of Emotions: An Introduction (Oxford 2015), Intro, chs. 1, 3

  • Jesse Prinz, “The Emotional Basis of Moral Judgments,” Philosophical Explorations 9,1 (2006)

  • Jesse Prinz, The Emotional Construction of Morals (Oxford 2007), ch. 2

  • Ruth Leys, “The Turn to Affect: A Critique,” Critical Inquiry 37 (2011)

  • Joseph Ledoux, TBA

  • Giuliana Bruno, Atlas of the Emotions: Journeys in Art, Architecture and Film (Verso 2002), selections

  • Corey Robin, Fear: History of a Political Idea (Oxford 2004), Intro, ch 1-3

  • Sianne Ngai, Ugly Feelings (Harvard 2005)

Guest Speakers
Jesse Prinz (CUNY Graduate Center)
Joseph LeDoux (NYU)
Ruth Leys, Johns (Hopkins University)

Participant List

  1. Andrea Weiss, Documentary Filmmaker & Nonfiction Author

  2. Andreas Killen, Professor of History

  3. Chad Kidd, Publishing Author

  4. Elazar Elhanan, Assistant professor of Jewish Studies

  5. Elizabeth Mazzola, Professor of English

  6. Jeffrey Blustein, Professor of Bioethics and Professor of Philosophy

  7. John Blanton, Assistant Professor of History

  8. Jonathan Pieslak,  Professor and Composer

  9. Hidetaka Hirota, Visiting Assistant Professor of History

  10. Václav Paris, Assistant Professor of English

2015 - 2016


Millions of people today live outside the nations of their birth. Whether because of war and conflict and their aftermath or because of economic or political duress, migration has remade the demographic, social, economic, political and cultural landscapes of many societies around the world. The Rifkind seminar sought to interrogate experiences of migration, deportation, exile – and their aftermaths – through multiple disciplinary lenses. Participants focuses on, for example: representations of the migration experience in memoir and fiction; studies of how and when new migrants are incorporated into existent societies or create new ones; or of current approaches to immigration, citizenship and societal membership, including debates over “multi-culturalism” and “pluralism.” Some focused on a specific geographical or temporal context or on more general questions of philosophy or policy.


  • Seyla Ben Habib and Judith Resnick, Migrations and Mobilities. NYU Press, 2009

  • Selya Benhabib, The rights of others: aliens, residents, and citizens. Cambridge University Press, 2004

  • Tara Zahra, The Lost Children. Harvard University Press, 2011

  • Akram Khater, Inventing Home: Emigration, Gender and Middle Class in Lebanon. University of California Press, Berkeley, 2001

  • Thomas Naill, The Figure of the Migrant. Stanford University Press, 2015

  • Hannah Arendt, “We Refugees.” Menorah, 1943

  • Hsiao-Hung PaiScattered Sand: The Story of China’s Rural Migrants. Verso, 2013

  • Woodward and J.P. Jones, III. 2005. “On the Border with Deleuze and Guattari,” In B/ordering Space, H. van Houtum, O.

  • Kramsch, and W. Zierhofer, eds. Hampshire: Ashgate, pp. 233-48.

Guest Speakers:
Timothy Snyder (Yale University)
Tara Zahra (University of Chicago)
Akram Khater (North Carolina State)
Jennifer Yusin (Drexel College)

Participant List

  • Beth Baron, Professor of History

  • Chad Kidd, Assistant Professor of Philosophy

  • Daniel Gustafson, Assistant Professor of English

  • Elazar Elhanan, Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies

  • Elizabeth Mazzola, Professor of English

  • Ellen Handy, Professor of Art

  • Katherine Ritchie, Assistant Professor of Philosophy

  • Michelle Y. Valladares, Lecturer in Poetry, English

  • Mikhal Dekel, Professor of English, Seminar Leader

  • Robert Higney, Assistant Professor of English