Barely Modern: Aesthetics and Philosophies of Disillusionment

Spring 2018 quarter

Taught by

aesthetics and philosophy, critical theory, psychoanalysis
cultural anthropology

Our program will explore a set of surprising ideas and identities that emerged in reaction to the perceived clutter, alienation, and violence of early 20th century modernity. Europe and the U.S. will serve as the focus of much of our inquiry; we will also consider modernity’s detractors in Asia, especially those invested in new anti-colonial nationalisms. We will take particular interest in aesthetic, social, and epistemological movements aimed at stripping down and baring all: so-called “primitivism” and minimalism; naturism and socialism; and the emerging disciplines of psychoanalysis, sociology, and cultural anthropology. How did these movements articulate their disillusionment? What kinds of imaginaries—of the past, of nature, of community, of decadence, of the unconscious, of the “savage”—shaped everyday practices, critical philosophies, and utopian visions? We will look at both what seem to be “naive” responses (e.g., nudism as health and hobby) and their “knowing” re-inscription as artistic and theoretical strategies (e.g., minimalism and decadence). Although our gaze will be directed to the past, we will find there uncanny echoes of our own contemporary social and political worlds. 

We will approach our studies through a range of materials, looking at modernist and anti-modernist texts, art, and design, as well as more contemporary critical theory, cultural studies, anthropology, and history. Possible areas of focus include the sociology of Georg Simmel, Freud’s psychoanalytic theories, Picasso’s primitivism, Gandhi’s philosophies, Le Corbusier’s architecture, Franz Boas’ anthropology, the photography of Edward Curtis, and the performances of Josephine Baker. Students will conduct close readings and regular written work. Each student will also choose, develop, and pursue a substantial primary source–based research project.

Program Details

Fields of Study

aesthetics anthropology history philosophy

Preparatory For

aesthetics, anthropology, history, and philosophy


Spring Open

Location and Schedule

Campus Location


Time Offered


Online Learning

Enhanced Online Learning


$30 for entrance fees.