COOL CLASSES: “Beauty Problems: Rhetoric, Aesthetics, and Philosophy”

This visual studies course examines a series of problems that beauty and other sensuous pleasures make for philosophy, film, and contemporary art.

Course name: “Beauty Problems: Rhetoric, Aesthetics, and Philosophy”

Taught by: Assistant Professor of Visual Studies John Muse

Says Muse:

The class is about beauty and aesthetic pleasures of all kinds, particularly when the latter are deemed problems, either because they are difficult to describe, account for, share, or because they are considered decadent, frivolous, mere delights, distractions, and, thus, unserious. I hope the students leave the class able to attend to both of these problems and able to write persuasively about them, perhaps creating beauty problems of their own.   

We’re engaging with works I’ve shared before: Plato, Ovid, Hans Christian Andersen, Immanuel Kant, Laura Mulvey, Harun Farocki, Isaac Julien, Kobena Mercer, and Elaine Scarry—and with some that are new to me: Ocean Vuong, Junichiro Tanizaki, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, MacKenzie Wark, Richard Prum, Anne Anlin Cheng, and Fred Moten.  We’re writing many blog posts, a paper, and an exam, and now we’re beginning to work on creative projects, which includes a swamp monster allegory, a screendance work, a Rashomonesque staged performance of a scene from a Platonic dialogue, a survey of beauty-enabling campus bathrooms, and more. 

This course intrigues me because I don’t really know how to talk about beauty, about pleasures that may only be my own. I don’t know whether art, film, fiction, poetry, etc. remains or should remain places for beauty; I don’t know whether all of our “shoulds” should rule our pleasures. In visual studies, we often talk about visual pleasure—and talk about the way visual pleasure is talked about and written about—but I think in this course we lean into the weirdness of this talk and writing and into experiences that are very difficult to talk and write about. That’s my hope.

Learn about other courses offered by the Visual Studies Program.

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