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The Human Condition: the Body in Art 19th Century - Present


Admission requirements

A BA degree in Art History, Cultural Studies or Literary Studies.


The notion that we cannot be ourselves unless we are different from everyone else is not only relatively new, but also a contested one. Not all cultures emphasize uniqueness and self-sufficiency, and Kaja Silverman argues in Flesh of My Flesh that this is in fact only half of the story: it is not just that individuals are doomed to be rivals and enemies, but we also share a basic ground, we are of the same flesh, not just as human beings but also biological organisms, made of the same organic material as nature and the universe at largeRosi Braidotti’s book The Posthuman points towards a different direction: due to increasing globally linked and technologically mediated societies, digitization, robotics, advanced prosthetics, genetically modified products, etc., the distinction between the human and its (non-natural) others has blurred, exposing the non-naturalistic structure of the human. How can we position art and cultural practices of the past two centuries and within a global framework in these two at first sight opposing points of view? How do artworks negotiate the human condition vis à vis sameness and otherness as discussed by Silverman and Braidotti, respectively? How can art help us to understand where we are as human beings? The two books will be scrutinized and taken as our main frame of reference.

A wiki will accompany the MA course The Human Condition and is designed to facilitate an interactive approach to our debate. Throughout the course, the two key texts and additional ones will be presented and discussed by the students. In order to stimulate the discussion and to make sure the presentations extend our shared critical understanding of the texts, instead of merely summarizing them, we will use a wiki.
A wiki is open to (and indeed specifically designed for) extension and amendment by the students. The basic structure of the wiki is there, but the content is meant to be provided by you. We would like contributions from you in the following sections:

  • analysis of the assigned literature, presented and discussed during the first part of the course

  • lexicon of terminology in need of defining and clarifying, all pertaining to the human condition and/in art;

  • individual student research projects; your personal project will be accessible in the navigation menu on the wiki, along with a list of project of the others.

Course objectives

  • students have obtained a thorough insight in the contemporary debates on the human condition related to art and artistic/cultural practices;

  • students have acquired a sharp insight in the different theoretical positions that play a role in the contemporary debate and in art/artistic practices: art theory, art history, media theory, philosophy;

  • students have learnt to problematize these theoretical positions and on the basis of these insights will be able to formulate relevant research questions;

  • students have become acquainted with some important contemporary art works that intervene in or reflect on issues of the human condition and the body;

  • students are able to initiate and execute a research project on a particular artwork/theme, in which they position themselves critically in contemporary scholarly and artistic debates, and in which they explicitly frame their own reading/approach.


Please consult the timetable on the MA Arts and Culture website.

Mode of instruction

  • 2 hours seminar (study of literature/theoretical texts; presentation of research; discussion)

  • Excursion to museum

Course Load

The total course load is 280 hours (10 ec):

  • Seminars: 2 hours per week x 13 weeks = 36 hours

  • Excursion + preparation = 8 hours

  • Studying compulsory readings for seminars = 70 hours

  • Working on wiki (13 × 2 hrs) = 36 hours

  • Preparing oral presentation = 40 hours

  • Writing of final course paper, 4.000 words = 90 hours (rereading texts, collecting research material, searching and reading additional literature, composing and writing of paper)

Assessment method

  • Presentation, participation in class, discussion, collaborating in organizing the wiki: 50%

  • Final paper 50%

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average. Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the paper is to be revised after consultation with the teachers.


Blackboard is used to inform students and to post assignments, texts, visual material.
In addition, a wiki is used as a framework for collaborative writing and analysis

Reading list

To be read beforehand:

  • Rosi Braidotti, The Posthuman. Cambridge, Polity Press 2013, isbn 978-0-7456-4158-4

  • Kaja Silverman, Flesh of My Flesh. Stanford, Stanford University Press 2009, isbn 978-0-8047-6208-3


Students are required to register for this course via uSis, the course registration system of Leiden University. General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Studeren à la carte


Mw. Prof. dr. C.J.M. (Kitty) Zijlmans
Mw. Dr. L.M.F. Bertens