John Brenkman

is a Distinguished Professor of comparative literature and English at the CUNY Graduate Center, where he coordinates the Critical Theory Certificate Program, and Baruch College, where he directs the U.S.-Europe Seminar. Mood and Trope: The Rhetoric and Poetics of Affect (2020) is published by the University of Chicago Press. He is also the author of Culture and Domination (1987), Straight Male Modern: A Cultural Critique of Psychoanalysis (1993, Reissued 2016), and The Cultural Contradictions of Democracy: Political Thought since September 11 (2007).

Among the journals where his essays have appeared are New German Critique, Qui Parle, Le Meilleur des Mondes, L’Atelier du roman, Social Text, Critical Inquiry, Narrative, and Novel. Forthcoming essays include “Rhetorics of Affect: Notes on the Political Theory of the Passions,” in The Oxford Handbook of Rhetoric and Political Theory, ed. Dilip Gaonkar and Keith Topper (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press) and “Voice and Time,” in With and Without Narrators: Optional-Narrator Theory of Fictional Narration, ed. Sylvie Patron (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press).

Brenkman previously taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Northwestern University. He has been a visiting professor at the Tisch School of the Arts, New York University, and in the Institut du Monde Anglophone, University of Paris 3. He conducted a seminar—Philosophy of the Passions, Rhetorics of Affect—at the School of Criticism and Theory in 2012. At Baruch College he has served as chair of the English department and as interim provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.

He co-founded Social Text, with Fredric Jameson and Stanley Aronowitz, and was an editor for the first seven issues. He also founded and edited the short-lived international literary magazine Venue.


Our seminar, Aesthetics Unbound I and II, will be streaming for the 2021 ACLA!

April 9th and 10th

3:00pm – 4:45pm and 5:00pm – 6:45pm EDT

The question of the scope of aesthetic categories and of the category of the aesthetic reaches from Kant to today. For Kant, the beautiful is manifest in art and nature, the sublime in nature and moral experience. For Adorno, the domains of the aesthetic are art, nature, and eroticism. For Bachelard, dreaming is an aesthetic and artistic experience. Benjamin’s “aestheticization of politics” (fascism) and “politicization of aesthetics” (Brecht) and Rancière’s “distribution of the sensible” make the aesthetic a political category. A renewed interest in the aesthetic has been recharging the links between literary, cultural, and media studies. Whereas the ubiquity of images, sound, and narratives in everyday life in consumer society explode the beautiful/sublime polarity, design aesthetics shapes environments and lifeworlds. Digital and mass media and the forms of aesthetic experience they afford give rise to distinct modes of examining collective perception. The seminar will explore from various theoretical and critical angles the question: How expansive, how delimited, how variable, how coherent should the concept of the aesthetic be?

Schedule and Access –>

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