Monday, October 31, 2011

"Epictetus and Stoicism," Department of Philosophy, Rochester Institute of Technology, April 26-27, 2012.

The RIT Philosophy De-partment invites papers that address any topic on or related to Epictetus and Stoicism, including, but not limited to: happiness, tranquility, detachment, reason, fate, volition, agency, what is (and is not) under our control, our moral purpose, virtue, cosmic order, divine providence, death, the Stoic sage, Epictetus as teacher, influence of earlier thinkers on Epictetus, Epictetus’s influence on later thinkers (including writers of our own time), the "practical" philosophy of Stoicism, and comparisons and contrasts with other traditions (such as Buddhism, Epicureanism, Christianity).

Please note that selected conference papers will be considered for publication in a collection of essays on Epictetus: his Continuing Influence and Contemporary Relevance to be published with RIT Press.

Keynote Speaker: Katja Vogt (Columbia University).

Papers should be 4,500-5,500 words in length (35-40 minutes reading time), and prepared for blind-review. Please submit full papers as email attachments to:

Submission Deadline: January 15, 2012.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Wheeler, Michael. "Martin Heidegger." (STANFORD ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY).

Martin Heidegger (1889–1976) was a German philosopher whose work is perhaps most readily associated with phenomenology and existentialism, although his thinking should be identified as part of such philosophical movements only with extreme care and qualification. His ideas have exerted a seminal influence on the development of contemporary European philosophy. They have also had an impact far beyond philosophy, for example in architectural theory (see e.g., Sharr 2007), literary criticism (see e.g., Ziarek 1989), theology (see e.g., Caputo 1993), psychotherapy (see e.g., Binswanger 1943/1964, Guignon 1993) and cognitive science (see e.g., Dreyfus 1992, 2008; Wheeler 2005; Kiverstein and Wheeler forthcoming). . . .

"Rhetoric and Performance," Nineteenth Biennial Conference, International Society for the History of Rhetoric (ISHR), Chicago, July 24-27, 2013.

The Society calls for papers that focus on the historical aspect of the theory and practice of rhetoric. The special theme of the conference will be “Rhetoric and Performance.” Papers dedicated to this theme will explore the theory and practice of rhetorical delivery, the historical contexts of rhetorical performance, the performativity of rhetorical texts, and other related topics.

Papers are also invited on every aspect of the history of rhetoric in all periods and languages and the relationship of rhetoric to poetics, literary theory and criticism, philosophy, politics, art, religion, geographic areas and other elements of the cultural

Prado, C. G. Review of Jeff Malpas, ed. DIALOGUES WITH DAVIDSON. NDPR (October 2011).

Malpas, Jeff, ed.  Dialogues with Davidson: Acting, Interpreting, Understanding.  Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011.

This is an impressive collection, though one defying brief review. It consists of an illuminating Foreword, a clear, stage-setting Introduction, twenty articles in three topical sections, and an extensive Bibliography. The orientation of the collection turns on Jeff Malpas' attempt to cast Donald Davidson's work as broader than the narrowly analytic corpus many take it to be: e.g., Ernest LePore. (xviii) Another collection in this vein, to which I refer below, is Ludwig 2003.

Two comments on the orientation before turning to the articles: first, no one, including the philosopher in question, can legitimately limit interpretation of and extrapolation from a philosophical corpus. Second, that said, I had the privilege of meeting Davidson and commenting on his "A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs" two years before its publication. (Queen's University, 9/27/84). I drew a parallel between him and Gadamer that Davidson resisted. He seems later to have changed his mind to some extent, but I suspect he would be ambivalent about several of this collection's articles, despite their being as intellectually productive as they are convincingly supportive of Malpas' view of Davidson's work.

I proceed by saying a bit about each article and more about those I found most interesting. I will say now that this is a book anyone interested in Davidson should own.

A preliminary point: the collection's articles are "dialogues" with Davidson; discussion of his work in relation to continental thinkers is not about one-way or reciprocal influences but about parallels in philosophical thought. It is one thing to draw parallels, though, and another to exploit them: a difference evident in the more and less successful articles. . . .

"Communism, a New Beginning?," Cooper Union, New York, October 14-16, 2011.

Organised by Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek.

A new conference with leading thinkers to discuss the continued relevance of the communist idea.

"The long night of the left is coming to a close" wrote Slavoj Zizek and Costas Douzinas in their introduction to The Idea of Communism.   The continuing economic crisis, the shift away from a unipolar world defined by American hegemony, and the ecological crisis mean that growing numbers of people are keen to explore an alternative, and to re-discover the idea of communism. With the advent of the Arab awakening millions have sought new ways to overcome corruption and dictatorship.

Responding to Alain Badiou's proposition of the ‘communist hypothesis’, the leading thinkers of the left convened in London in 2009 to discuss the perpetual, persistent notion that, in a truly emancipated society, all things should be owned in common. Two years later, the discussion continues—this time in New York.

Pub: Gianni Vattimo, et al. HERMENEUTIC COMMUNISM.

Vattimo, Gianni, and Santiago Zabala.  Hermeneutic Communism: from Heidegger to Marx.  New York: Columbia UP, 2011.

For information on the book:

Having lost much of its political clout and theoretical power, communism no longer represents an appealing alternative to capitalism. In its original Marxist formulation, communism promised an ideal of development, but only through a logic of war, and while a number of reformist governments still promote this ideology, their legitimacy has steadily declined since the fall of the Berlin wall.

Separating communism from its metaphysical foundations, which include an abiding faith in the immutable laws of history and an almost holy conception of the proletariat, Gianni Vattimo and Santiago Zabala recast Marx’s theories at a time when capitalism’s metaphysical moorings—in technology, empire, and industrialization—are buckling. While Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri call for a return of the revolutionary left, Vattimo and Zabala fear this would lead only to more violence and failed political policy. Instead, they adopt an antifoundationalist stance drawn from the hermeneutic thought of Martin Heidegger, Jacques Derrida, and Richard Rorty.

Hermeneutic communism leaves aside the ideal of development and the general call for revolution; it relies on interpretation rather than truth and proves more flexible in different contexts. Hermeneutic communism motivates a resistance to capitalism’s inequalities yet intervenes against violence and authoritarianism by emphasizing the interpretative nature of truth. Paralleling Vattimo and Zabala’s well-known work on the weakening of religion, Hermeneutic Communism realizes the fully transformational, politically effective potential of Marxist thought.

Read the interview here:

Fritzman, J. M. Review of Thomas Nenon, ed. KANT, KANTIANISM, AND IDEALISM. NDPR (October 2011).

Nenon, Thomas, ed.  Kant, Kantianism, and Idealism: the Origins of Continental Philosophy.   Vol. 1 of The History of Continental Philosophy.  8 Vols.  Gen. Ed. Alan D. Schrift.  Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2010.

This is the first of eight volumes in the series The History of Continental Philosophy. In his introductory chapter, Thomas Nenon notes that, in contrast to analytic philosophy, continental philosophy developed through a deep and sustained dialogue with Kant's philosophy and those thinkers influenced by it in France and Germany during the nineteenth century. He is correct; Kant's philosophy begins its rehabilitation in analytic philosophy with the 1966 publications of Jonathan Bennett's Kant's Analytic and Peter Strawson's Bounds of Sense: An Essay on Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. He also observes that, although Kant's philosophy has now been appropriated by both analytic and continental philosophy, the other philosophers discussed in this book have generally been ignored in analytic philosophy.

Nenon writes that the French Revolution was taken by Kant to directly challenge two of the fundamental beliefs of the Enlightenment. The first belief was that enlightenment is compatible with order, stability, and the gradual reform of political and social institutions. The second was that progress in any one area of human endeavor would be mirrored by progress in other areas. Nenon suggests that there were two chief responses to this challenge. The "romantic view" of Fichte, the early Hegel, and Marx maintained that progress will result in the elimination of the state. The "realist position" of the later Hegel held that the rational state is not only required for progress but is itself an instance of that progress.

Following this introductory chapter, there are ten that discuss specific philosophers. . . .

"Storytelling: Global Reflections on Narrative," Prague, Czech Republic, May 13-15, 2012.

Human life is conducted through story, which comes naturally to us. Sharing stories is arguably the most important way we have of communicating with others about who we are and what we believe; about what we are doing and have done; about our hopes and fears; about what we value and what we don't. We learn about and make sense of our lives by telling the stories that we live; and we learn about other lives by listening to the stories told by others. Sometimes, under the influence of the culture in which we are immersed, we live our lives in ways that try to create the stories we want to be able to tell about them.

Members of many professions, including medicine, nursing, teaching, the law, psychotherapy and counseling, spend a great deal of their time listening to and communicating through stories. Story is a powerful tool for teachers, because it is a good way of enabling students and other learners to integrate what they are learning with what they already know, and of placing what is learned in a context that makes it easy to recall. Story plays an important role in academic disciplines like philosophy, theology, anthropology, archaeology, history as well as literature. Narrative methods for the collection of data are increasingly used in research in the social sciences and humanities, where the value of getting to know people in a more intimate and less distant way – almost as if we are getting to know them from the inside, begins to be viewed as having some value. Some academics have begun to realise the value of storytelling as a model for academic writing.

Most of us have lots of experience of relating to other lives through narrative forms, including the nursery stories we encounter as children; the books we read and the movies we watch. When we are moved by a play or a film or by a novel, we are moved because we begin imaginatively to live the lives of the characters that inhabit them. If we are lucky we will encounter as we grow up, fictional stories that stay with us like old friends, throughout our lives that we will revisit again and again as a way coming to terms with and responding to experiences in our own lives.

Storytelling: global reflections on narrative, will provide a space in which stories about story can be told, and in which the use of stories in the widest possible range of aspects of human life, can be reported. Abstracts are invited for individual contributions and for symposia of three closely related papers. They may address any aspect of story or narrative, including, for example:
Story as a pedagogical tool in academic disciplines such as history; anthropology, psychology, theology, cultural theory, medicine, law, philosophy, education, and archaeology.

Narrative and the gathering of stories of lived experience, as a research approach in any area of academic, professional and public life.

The place of story and storytelling in the practice of journalism; PR advertising; conflict resolution; architecture; religion; tourism, politics and the law, and in clinical contexts such as medicine, psychotherapy, nursing and counselling.

Finally abstracts may feature storytelling in any aspect of culture, including music (from opera to heavy metal, folk and sacred music); fine art; theatre; literature; cinema and digital storytelling.

Laruelle in London: the London Graduate School Seminars, December 2011/May 2012.

Starting this winter, Professor François Laruelle will give two annual seminars and workshops on Non-Standard Philosophy at the London Graduate School. The first of these events will be on December 6th and 7th 2011, and the second will take place in May 2012.

Professor Laruelle has taught at both the University of Paris X, and the Collège international de philosophie, and is the author of over twenty books, including Les Philosophies de la différence (1986), Principes de la non-philosophie (1996), Le Christ futur (2002), and, most recently, Le Concept de non-photographie and Anti-Badiou (both 2011) – all of which have either just appeared or will soon appear in English translation.

Over this forty year period, Laruelle has constructed one of the most demanding, methodical, and provocative intellectual practices in contemporary theory – an absolutely immanent materialism of thought. The purpose of these series of talks at the LGS will be both to cover the conceptual background to Non-Standard Philosophy and to explore its consequences for theory throughout the arts, sciences, and humanities. There will be one evening seminar open to members of the public, followed by one daytime workshop which will be open to all postgraduates working in areas related to this field.

Further information, including all dates, times, and locations for each workshop and seminar, will soon be available through Professor John Mullarkey -

Documentary: THE RIGHT TO PHILOSOPHY, October 29, 2012.

A Documentary by Yuji Nishiyama: The Right to Philosophy: Traces of the International College of Philosophy

What are we allowed to believe about the Right to Philosophy, about the Future of the Humanities?

Saturday 29 October 11:00―14:00  
The Cinema, Birkbeck College, 43 Gordon Square, London
Followed by a panel discussion with the director Yuji Nishiyama (Tokyo Metropolitan University)T

This is the first documentary film on the International College of Philosophy (Collège international de Philosophie: CIPH), founded by, among others, Jacques Derrida and François Châtelet in 1983 in Paris.

Through interviews with the key figures in the CIPH, the film explores the "question of the institution", the relationship between philosophy and institutions—a topic that was central for deconstruction as elaborated and practiced by Derrida. The aim of this film is to consider the possibilities of the humanities in general and philosophy in particular under the current conditions of global capitalism.

Among its many provocations, the film contrasts the notion of "intersection" established by the Collège with that of the inter-disciplinarity of Cultural Studies or Comparative Studies departments in the Anglo-Saxon academic landscape. Enlightening and provocative, this film is essential viewing for those engaged in the humanities.

"A wonderful cinematic documentary open to many contexts, an exceptional film about the topic of philosophy that demands a viewing from multiple angles."―Naoki Sakai

This screening is organized as part of the international symposium ‘Humanities After Fukushima’, which is inspired by the film and tries to address issues surrounding humanities education and research in the age of crisis.

For more details please visit our event registration site:

See the trailer here:

"Varieties of Continental Thought and Religion," Ryerson University, June 15-16, 2012.

We invite submissions from scholars and graduate students based in Canada and abroad on the topic of Continental Thought and Religion. The general theme of the conference is meant to reflect the variety of articulations of religion that have emerged in contemporary European thought. While the focus of the conference is continental thought, we nonetheless conceive the latter in an interdisciplinary manner (including literary theory, social and political thought, psychoanalysis, and religious studies). We also encourage submissions from people interested in exploring possible connections with analytic philosophy.

Confirmed Speakers: John Caputo (Syracuse U.), Bettina Bergo (U. de Montréal), more to be announced in the near future.

In addition to our keynote speaker, John Caputo, we will have four commissioned workshops comprised of two papers and a response, and a series of themed panels. We invite submissions of three-page proposals for essays for the following themed panels with included possible topics:

Phenomenology of Religion
The thought of Chrétien, Henry, Lacoste, Levinas, Marion, and Ricoeur
Topics: the gift; the work of art; appearance and transcendence; call and response

Religion and Politics
The thought of Agamben, Asad, Connolly, Derrida, de Vries, Girard, Habermas, Schmitt, and Taylor
Topics: political theology; the post-secular; sovereignty; religion and violence; pluralism

Religion and Speculative Realism
The thought of Brassier, Harman, Laruelle, and Meillassoux
Topics: materialism; correlationism; nihilism; the things themselves; divine inexistence; ‘future Christ’

Beyond Theism and Atheism
The thought of Caputo, Kearney, Kristeva, Milbank, Vattimo
Topics: kenosis; anatheism; weak theology; a/theology; radical orthodoxy

Continental Thought, Religion, and Aesthetics
The artwork of Bresson, Caravaggio, Celan, Chagall, Dostoyevsky, Dumont, Artemisia Gentileschi, Kahlo, Kapoor, Kiarostami, Kiefer, Malick, Newman, O'Keefe, and Stevens
The thought of Cavell, Cixous, Critchley, Irigaray, Marion, Nancy, and Rancière
Topics: transcendence in art; image and icon; creativity and creation; representation and idolatry

Immanentism and Religion
Agamben, Badiou, Bergson, Deleuze, James, Foucault, Keller, and Žižek
Topics: self-organization; the event; plurality; bio-power; polydoxy

History of Continental Thought and Religion
Spinoza, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Freud, Benjamin, Heidegger
Topics: death of God; reason and faith; scripture and philosophy; religion and fantasy; onto-theology

Please send only one three-page (double-spaced) proposal on one of the above themes and any questions to by December 31, 2011

Monday, October 10, 2011

Garner, John V. "Castoriadis, Cornelius." (INTERNET ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY).

Cornelius Castoriadis was an important intellectual figure in France for many decades, beginning in the mid-1940s. Trained in philosophy, Castoriadis also worked as a practicing economist and psychologist while authoring over twenty major works and numerous articles that span most of the traditional philosophical subjects, including politics, economics, psychology, anthropology, and ontology. While his works exhibit a vast range of specialized expertise, his oeuvre can be understood broadly as a reflection on the creativity of individuals and of society, on the opposition of traditional ontology to the fact of radically creative humanity, and, perhaps most importantly, on the dangerous political and ethical consequences of a contemporary world that has lost sight of autonomy, that is, a world that ignores the urgency to give limits or laws to itself.
Influenced by his understanding, and often criticism, of traditional philosophical figures such as the pre-Socratics, Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Marx, and Heidegger, Castoriadis was also influenced by thinkers as diverse as Sigmund Freud, Max Weber, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Georg Cantor. Castoriadis had dynamic intellectual relationships with his fellow members of Socialisme ou Barbarie (including Claude Lefort and Jean-François Lyotard, among others) as well as with leading figures in mathematics, biology, and other fields.

Perhaps above all, Castoriadis will be remembered for his initial support and then break with Marxism, for his subsequent call for Western thought to embrace the reality of creation in a radical sense (and, in particular, to embrace the fact of human creativity at individual and societal levels), and, finally, for his defense of an ethics and politics based on autonomy, or giving the law to oneself, which is never the autonomy of an isolated being but always involves beings who relate to others and are aided by institutional supports. In the end, for Castoriadis, the central question of philosophy, and the source of philosophy’s importance, is its capacity to creatively break through society’s closure and ask what the relevant questions for humans can be or ought to be. . . .

Groarke, Louis F. "Aristotle: Logic."  (INTERNET ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY).

Aristotelian logic, after a great and early triumph, consolidated its position of influence to rule over the philosophical world throughout the Middle Ages up until the 19th Century. All that changed in a hurry when modern logicians embraced a new kind of mathematical logic and pushed out what they regarded as the antiquated and clunky method of syllogisms. Although Aristotle’s very rich and expansive account of logic differs in key ways from modern approaches, it is more than a historical curiosity. It provides an alternative way of approaching logic and continues to provide critical insights into contemporary issues and concerns. The main thrust of this article is to explain Aristotle’s logical system as a whole while correcting some prominent misconceptions that persist in the popular understanding and even in some of the specialized literature. Before getting down to business, it is important to point out that Aristotle is a synoptic thinker with an over-arching theory that ties together all aspects and fields of philosophy. He does not view logic as a separate, self-sufficient subject-matter, to be considered in isolation from other aspects of disciplined inquiry. Although we cannot consider all the details of his encyclopedic approach, we can sketch out the larger picture in a way that illuminates the general thrust of his system. For the purposes of this entry, let us define logic as that field of inquiry which investigates how we reason correctly (and, by extension, how we reason incorrectly). Aristotle does not believe that the purpose of logic is to prove that human beings can have knowledge. (He dismisses excessive scepticism.) The aim of logic is the elaboration of a coherent system that allows us to investigate, classify, and evaluate good and bad forms of reasoning. . . .

Nicholls, Tracey. "Frantz Fanon."  (INTERNET ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY).

Frantz Fanon was one of a few extraordinary thinkers supporting the decolonization struggles occurring after World War II, and he remains among the most widely read and influential of these voices. His brief life was notable both for his whole-hearted engagement in the independence struggle the Algerian people waged against France and for his astute, passionate analyses of the human impulse towards freedom in the colonial context. His written works have become central texts in Africana thought, in large part because of their attention to the roles hybridity and creolization can play in forming humanist, anti-colonial cultures. Hybridity, in particular, is seen as a counter-hegemonic opposition to colonial practices, a non-assimilationist way of building connections across cultures that Africana scholar Paget Henry argues is constitutive of Africana political philosophy.

Tracing the development of his writings helps explain how and why he has become an inspirational figure firing the moral imagination of people who continue to work for social justice for the marginalized and the oppressed. Fanon’s first work Peau Noire, Masques Blancs (Black Skin, White Masks) was his first effort to articulate a radical anti-racist humanism that adhered neither to assimilation to a white-supremacist mainstream nor to reactionary philosophies of black superiority. While the attention to oppression of colonized peoples that was to dominate his later works was present in this first book, its call for a new understanding of humanity was undertaken from the subject-position of a relatively privileged Martinican citizen of France, in search of his own place in the world as a black man from the French Caribbean, living in France. His later works, notably L’An Cinq, de la Révolution Algérienne (A Dying Colonialism) and the much more well-known Les Damnés de la Terre (The Wretched of the Earth), go beyond a preoccupation with Europe’s pretensions to being a universal standard of culture and civilization, in order to take on the struggles and take up the consciousness of the colonized “natives” as they rise up and reclaim simultaneously their lands and their human dignity. It is Fanon’s expansive conception of humanity and his decision to craft the moral core of decolonization theory as a commitment to the individual human dignity of each member of populations typically dismissed as “the masses” that stands as his enduring legacy. . . .

Burnham, Douglas, and George Papandreopoulos. "Existentialism." (INTERNET ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY).

Existentialism is a catch-all term for those philosophers who consider the nature of the human condition as a key philosophical problem and who share the view that this problem is best addressed through ontology. This very broad definition will be clarified by discussing seven key themes that existentialist thinkers address. Those philosophers considered existentialists are mostly from the continent of Europe, and date from the 19th and 20th centuries. Outside philosophy, the existentialist movement is probably the most well-known philosophical movement, and at least two of its members are among the most famous philosophical personalities and widely read philosophical authors. It has certainly had considerable influence outside philosophy, for example on psychological theory and on the arts. Within philosophy, though, it is safe to say that this loose movement considered as a whole has not had a great impact, although individuals or ideas counted within it remain important. Moreover, most of the philosophers conventionally grouped under this heading either never used, or actively disavowed, the term ‘existentialist’. Even Sartre himself once said: “Existentialism? I don’t know what that is.” So, there is a case to be made that the term – insofar as it leads us to ignore what is distinctive about philosophical positions and to conflate together significantly different ideas – does more harm than good.

In this article, however, it is assumed that something sensible can be said about existentialism as a loosely defined movement. The article has three sections. First, we outline a set of themes that define, albeit very broadly, existentialist concerns. This is done with reference to the historical context of existentialism, which will help us to understand why certain philosophical problems and methods were considered so important. Second, we discuss individually six philosophers who are arguably its central figures, stressing in these discussions the ways in which these philosophers approached existentialist themes in distinctive ways. These figures, and many of the others we mention, have full length articles of their own within the Encyclopedia. Finally, we look very briefly at the influence of existentialism, especially outside philosophy. . . .

Robinson, Bob. "Michel Foucault: Ethics."  (INTERNET ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY).

The French philosopher and historian Michel Foucault (1926-1984) does not understand ethics as moral philosophy, the metaphysical and epistemological investigation of ethical concepts (metaethics) and the investigation of the criteria for evaluating actions (normative ethics), as Anglo-American philosophers do. Instead, he defines ethics as a relation of self to itself in terms of its moral agency. More specifically, ethics denotes the intentional work of an individual on itself in order to subject itself to a set of moral recommendations for conduct and, as a result of this self-forming activity or “subjectivation,” constitute its own moral being.

The classical works of Foucault’s ethics are his historical studies of ancient sexual ethics in The Use of Pleasure and The Care of the Self, in addition to the late interviews “On the Genealogy of Ethics” and “The Ethics for the Concern of Self as a Practice of Freedom.” The publication of his final three lecture courses at the Collège de France in 1982-3 considerably enhance how those texts are to be understood and provide original resources. The Hermeneutics of the Subject provides greater insight into the ancient ethics of caring for self and how Foucault perceives it in relation to the history of philosophy. Both The Government of Self and Others and The Courage of Truth – his final courses, respectively – make it manifest that he considered the ancient ethical practice of parrhesia or frank-speech central to ancient ethics and, indeed, important to his own philosophical practice.

The significance of this so-called ‘ethical turn’ for Foucault’s philosophy is displayed in the controversial terms through which he ultimately expressed the purpose of his work. He lays claim to the spirit of the tradition of critical philosophy established by Immanuel Kant, and Foucault purports to exemplify this spirit by disclosing, or telling the truth about, the historical conditions of the contingent constraints that we impose on ourselves and, in doing so, opening possibilities for autonomous ethical relations. Foucault’s claim to the spirit of critical philosophy has received, and continues to receive, criticism and considerable discussion in the scholarly literature. Of central concern are the compatibility of his claim to critical philosophy as an ethical practice and his broader views about subjectivity, and whether his critical analysis of modern ethics is meant to be merely descriptive or also evaluative.

The primary focus of this article is the nature of ethics as Foucault conceives it, and it is unpacked by discussion of his published historical studies of ancient Greek and Roman ethics. The article then considers his treatment of the ancient ethical injunction of the care of the self and parrhesia, transitioning into a presentation of, and opinions about, his alleged ethical turn and the contentious role that ethics might play in his critical philosophy. . . .

Philosopher's Zone: "The Mind of Jacques Lacan." September 24, 2011.

Jacques Marie Emile Lacan, who died in 1981, was a French psychoanalyst and follower of Freud, but his influence has extended far beyond the boundaries of psychiatry: to philosophy, critical theory, literary theory, sociology, feminist theory, film theory and clinical psychoanalysis. And all this despite a literary style of forbidding complexity. This week, we take courage and try to penetrate his thought.

Philosopher's Zone: "A Very American Philosophy." September 17, 2011.

Pragmatism was a philosophical doctrine devised by Americans and to a large extent for Americans. This week, we examine its origins, the stories of the men behind it, what it means and its enduring significance, not just for America but for the world.

Taylor, C. C. W., and Mi-Kyoung Lee. "The Sophists." (STANFORD ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY).

The Greek word sophistēs, formed from the noun sophia, ‘wisdom’ or ‘learning’,has the general sense ‘one who exercises wisdom or learning’. As sophia could designate specific types of expertise as well as general sagacity in the conduct of life and the higher kinds of insight associated with seers and poets, the word originally meant ‘sage’ or ‘expert’. In the course of the fifth century BCE the term, while retaining its original unspecific sense, came in addition to be applied specifically to a new type of intellectuals, professional educators who toured the Greek world offering instruction in a wide range of subjects, with particular emphasis on skill in public speaking and the successful conduct of life. The emergence of this new profession, which was an extension to new areas of the tradition of the itinerant rhapsode (reciter of poems, especially of Homer), was a response to various social, economic, political and cultural developments of the period. The increasing wealth and intellectual sophistication of Greek cities, especially Athens, created a demand for higher education beyond the traditional basic grounding in literacy, arithmetic, music and physical training. To some extent this involved the popularization of Ionian speculation about the physical world (see Presocratic Philosophy), which was extended into areas such as history, geography and the origins of civilization. The increase in participatory democracy, especially in Athens, led to a demand for success in political and forensic oratory, and hence to the development of specialized techniques of persuasion and argument. Finally, the period saw the flourishing of a challenging, rationalistic climate of thought on questions including those of morality, religion and political conduct, to which the sophists both responded and contributed. It is important to emphasize the individualistic character of the sophistic profession; its practitioners belonged to no organization, shared no common body of beliefs and founded no schools, either in the sense of academic institutions or in that of bodies of individuals committed to the promulgation of specific doctrines. In what follows we shall illustrate the diversity of sophistic activities, while considering the extent to which we can nevertheless identify common themes and attitudes. . . .

Mulhall, Stephen. Review of Michael Watts, THE PHILOSOPHY OF HEIDEGGER. NDPR (October, 2011).

Watts, Michael.  The Philosophy of Heidegger.  Montreal: McGill-Queen's UP, 2011.

This book enters what is by now a rather crowded field: that of providing an introduction to Heidegger's thought (as opposed to a detailed critical engagement with any specific element of it). It aims to survey at least the main themes of Heidegger's writings early and late, rather than focusing exclusively on a particular text or phase of thinking within that immense body of work; and because it also aspires to a certain immediacy and accessibility of style, it tends to avoid detailed engagement with either the established secondary literature or the broader philosophical debates that literature invokes. Both the strengths and weaknesses of the book follow more or less directly from these choices of focus and method.

The structure of the discussion is clear at a general level. After a very brief summary of the main events of Heidegger's life, the second chapter presents Heidegger's interest in the question of (the meaning of) Being as the thread that holds together his life's work; then chapters 2 to 7 present some of the central concepts and themes of Being and Time; chapters 7 to 11 examine a handful of dominant issues in the later writings (covering the period from the 1930s to the 1970s); and the book ends with the now obligatory chapter on Heidegger's politics.

Since there isn't a conclusion, and only a very brief introduction, the reader is given no explicit account of the specific aspects of Heidegger's thought that particularly interest the author, or of what distinguishes the perspective Watts brings to bear on the material from those of any other commentator on Heidegger (not even from those who have similarly attempted to provide an introduction to Heidegger's thought). One might wonder whether the individuality of the treatment rather comes through implicitly, in the choice of concepts or topics to focus upon: but it is hard to believe that anyone faced with the (admittedly unenviable) task of covering the basic elements of Heidegger's thinking would not feel obliged to attend to readiness-to-hand and authenticity, guilt and conscience, truth and meaning in Being and Time, and to art and poetry, technology and Asian thought with respect to the later essays and lectures. Judging by the preliminaries and (as it were) the contents page, then, it's not at all obvious what is meant to distinguish this introduction from its many competitors. . . .

"Storytelling Scholarship: Beyond Sensemaking and Social Constructivist Narrative," 21st Annual Conference of SC’MOI: Standing Conference on Management and Organizational Inquiry, Providence, Rhode Island, April 12-14, 2012.

The 21st annual conference of SC’MOI (The Standing Conference on Management and Organizational Inquiry) is now accepting papers on organizational storytelling that include going beyond sensemaking and social constructivism to ontological approaches to storytelling with materiality. How to unite narrative and the antenarrative perspectives, with autoethnography, embodiment, critical pedagogy, organizational (post critical) ethnography, discourse analysis, environmental ‘green’ story, historicality, and cross-cultural places (Being-in-the-world)?

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Tierney, John. "The Left-Leaning Tower." NEW YORK TIMES July 22, 2011.

Why are conservatives such a minority at so many graduate schools? Conservatives like to blame liberal bias. Liberals like other explanations.
One — the most tactful hypothesis — is that conservatives just aren’t interested in academic careers. Another — the most smug hypothesis — is that conservatives are just too close-minded and dimwitted.       

Now, fortunately, we have something beyond hypotheses, courtesy of scholars who have been taking a close look at their colleagues. Some even conducted a small sting operation that they believe is the first field experiment on political bias in academia. The perpetrators include Neil Gross, a professor of sociology at the University of British Columbia, whose previous work showed that Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 4 to 1 among professors, by at least 6 to 1 at elite universities, and by still higher ratios in departments of the humanities and social sciences. . . .

Epstein, Joseph. "What Killed American Lit." WALL STREET JOURNAL August 27, 2011.

The Editors of The Cambridge History of the American Novel decided to consider their subject—as history is considered increasingly in universities these days—from the bottom up. In 71 chapters, the book's contributors consider the traditional novel in its many sub-forms, among them: science fiction, eco-fiction, crime and mystery novels, Jewish novels, Asian-American novels, African-American novels, war novels, postmodern novels, feminist novels, suburban novels, children's novels, non-fiction novels, graphic novels and novels of disability ("We cannot truly know a culture until we ask its disabled citizens to describe, analyze, and interpret it," write the authors of a chapter titled "Disability and the American Novel"). Other chapters are about subjects played out in novels—for instance, ethnic and immigrant themes—and still others about publishers, book clubs, discussion groups and a good deal else. "The Cambridge History of the Novel," in short, provides full-court-press coverage.

"In short," though, is perhaps the least apt phase for a tome that runs to 1,244 pages and requires a forklift to hoist onto one's lap. All that the book's editors left out is why it is important or even pleasurable to read novels and how it is that some novels turn out to be vastly better than others. But, then, this is a work of literary history, not of literary criticism. Randall Jarrell's working definition of the novel as "a prose narrative of some length that has something wrong with it" has, in this voluminous work, been ruled out of bounds.

Most readers are unlikely to have heard of the contributors to "The Cambridge History of the American Novel," the majority teachers in English departments in American universities. I myself, who taught in a such a department for three decades, recognized the names of only four among them. Only 40 or 50 years ago, English departments attracted men and women who wrote books of general intellectual interest and had names known outside the academy—Perry Miller, Aileen Ward, Walter Jackson Bate, Marjorie Hope Nicolson, Joseph Wood Krutch, Lionel Trilling, one could name a dozen or so others—but no longer. Literature, as taught in the current-day university, is strictly an intramural game.

This may come as news to the contributors to The Cambridge History of the American Novel, who pride themselves on possessing much wider, much more relevant, interests and a deeper engagement with the world than their predecessors among literary academics. Biographical notes on contributors speak of their concern with "forms of moral personhood in the US novels," "the poetics of foreign policy," and "ecocriticism and theories of modernization, postmodernization, and globalization."

Yet, through the magic of dull and faulty prose, the contributors to The Cambridge History of the American Novel have been able to make these presumably worldly subjects seem parochial in the extreme—of concern only to one another, which is certainly one derogatory definition of the academic. These scholars may teach English, but they do not always write it, at least not quite. A novelist, we are told, "tasks himself" with this or that; things tend to get "problematized"; the adjectives "global" and "post"-this-or-that receive a good workout; "alterity" and "intertexuality" pop up their homely heads; the "poetics of ineffability" come into play; and "agency" is used in ways one hadn't hitherto noticed, so that "readers in groups demonstrate agency." About the term "non-heteronormativity" let us not speak.

These dopey words and others like them are inserted into stiffly mechanical sentences of dubious meaning. "Attention to the performativity of straight sex characterizes . . . The Great Gatsby (1925), where Nick Carraway's homoerotic obsession with the theatrical Gatsby offers a more authentic passion precisely through flamboyant display." Betcha didn't know that Nick Carraway was hot for Jay Gatsby? We sleep tonight; contemporary literary scholarship stands guard.

The Cambridge History of the American Novel is perhaps best read as a sign of what has happened to English studies in recent decades. Along with American Studies programs, which are often their subsidiaries, English departments have tended to become intellectual nursing homes where old ideas go to die. If one is still looking for that living relic, the fully subscribed Marxist, one is today less likely to find him in an Economics or History Department than in an English Department, where he will still be taken seriously. He finds a home there because English departments are less concerned with the consideration of literature per se than with what novels, poems, plays and essays—after being properly X-rayed, frisked, padded down, like so many suspicious-looking air travelers—might yield on the subjects of race, class and gender. "How would [this volume] be organized," one of its contributors asks, "if race, gender, disability, and sexuality were not available?" . . . .

A stranger, freshly arrived from another planet, if offered as his introduction to the United States only this book, would come away with a picture of a country founded on violence and expropriation, stoked through its history by every kind of prejudice and class domination, and populated chiefly by one or another kind of victim, with time out only for the mental sloth and apathy brought on by life lived in the suburbs and the characterless glut of American late capitalism. The automatic leftism behind this picture is also part of the reigning ethos of the current-day English Department.

As a former English major—"Indeed! What regiment?" asks a character in a Lionel Trilling story—I cannot help wondering what it must be like to be taught by the vast majority of the people who have contributed to "The Cambridge History of the American Novel." Two or three times a week one would sit in a room and be told that nothing that one has read is as it appears but is instead informed by authors hiding their true motives even from themselves or, in the best "context-centered" manner, that the books under study are the product of a country built on fundamental dishonesty about the sacred subjects of race, gender and class.

Some indication of what it must be like is indicated by the steep decline of American undergraduates who choose to concentrate in English. English majors once comprised 7.6% of undergraduates, but today the number has been nearly halved, down to 3.9%. . . .

Herring, Scott. "Literature Brings the Physical Past to Life." CHRONICLE August 20, 2011.

Recently, literary theorists have been making another of their occasional efforts to restore a trace of earthly reality to criticism. This time those efforts have taken the form of Darwinian literary studies, which attempt to relate the universal impulse to tell stories to human nature, as shaped by evolution.

My guess is that those theorists are motivated partly by a desperate realization that, in the process of deconstructing the profession, we in the literature business have shot ourselves not in the foot, but in the head. At a time of contracting education budgets, the public is no longer willing to pay for courses titled "Bat[woman] and Cat[man]: Queering the Canonical Comix."

If nothing else, people may appreciate the application of scientific thinking to a field that has known little of it. Americans admire practicality, and our profession has become esoteric and politicized. Today's literary scholarship too often serves as a vehicle for politics, and even professors who care little for public opinion are eager to indoctrinate students in their views. We seem to have given up on the notion that literature itself can be useful. But in doing so, we are forgetting a crucial function of the books we study.

History gives us the facts, sort of, but from literary works we can learn what the past smelled like, sounded like, and felt like, the forgotten gritty details of a lost era. Literature brings us as close as we can come to reinhabiting the past. By reclaiming this use of literature in the classroom, perhaps we can move away from the political agitation that has been our bread and butter—or porridge and hardtack—for the last 30 years.

Besides literary Darwinism, I suggest another way that scholars can ground their studies in reality: Start with a piece of the physical world. . . .

Withy, Katherine. Review of Martin Heidegger, INTRODUCTION TO PHILOSOPHY. NDPR (September 2011).

Heidegger, Martin.  Introduction to Philosophy -- Thinking and Poetizing.  Trans. Phillip Jacques Braunstein.  Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2011.

In the winter semester of 1944, Martin Heidegger began what would be his final lecture course at the University of Freiburg -- indeed, his last official lectures as a professor. Translated here, Einleitung in die Philosophie -- Denken und Dichten (Introduction to Philosophy -- Thinking and Poetizing) asks after the inner relationship of philosophy and poetry, thinking and poetizing. Pursuing this question does not 'introduce' (einleiten) us to philosophy; by our essence, we are already 'in' philosophy. But we are not at home in our philosophizing essence, and so we need a guide (Anleitung) in this "unknown region" (p. 3). Our guides in this course are Nietzsche, the poetizing thinker of homelessness, and Hölderlin, the thoughtful poet of homecoming. An encounter with Nietzsche's poetizing thinking and with Hölderlin's thinking poetizing will guide us towards a dwelling in our essence. Heidegger had spent much of the previous decade in confrontation with both Nietzsche and Hölderlin; here, he finally promises to think them together. Unfortunately, this promise is not fulfilled. . . .

Thompson, Iain. Review of Martin Heidegger, COUNTRY PATH CONVERSATIONS. NDPR (September 2011).

Heidegger, Martin.  Country Path Conversations.  Trans. Bret W. Davis.  Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2010.

Heidegger wrote these rich, fascinating, and deeply hopeful philosophical dialogues in the middle of what was probably the darkest period in his life. The time between November 1944 and February 1946 centered around Germany's defeat in the Second World War. It began with the 55 year-old Heidegger's conscription into the Volkssturm or German Territorial Army (along with all the other remaining German men between the ages of 16 and 60), where he spent several exhausting weeks digging trenches in the Alsace region between Germany and France (as the Nazis desperately sought to defend their borders from advancing Allied troops). It ended with Heidegger's dismissal from Freiburg University by the French de-Nazification committee and his subsequent psychiatric hospitalization for depression. In the interval, Heidegger supervised the hiding of his voluminous philosophical manuscripts in a cave (after the bank where they had been stored in a vault was reduced to rubble by an Allied air raid on Messkirch); his two sons both went missing in action in Russia (and became captives in Russian prisoner of war camps); his two year-old love affair with Princess Margot of Saxony-Meiningen came to threaten his marriage (when his wife Elfride demanded he choose between them; Heidegger chose Elfride but the Prince and Princess were divorced in 1947); and he lost drawn-out trials with the local and French de-Nazification committees. All these stressful events, especially the last two, precipitated the depressive crisis for which he was hospitalized.

And yet there was also a brief period of calm in the eye of this storm. As soon as Heidegger was discharged from the Volkssturm in December (for the recurrent "heart problems" that now look like psychosomatic symptoms of severe anxiety), he fled on his son's bicycle from the city of Freiburg (where he lived and taught) to his hometown of Messkirch (some 75 miles away!) so as to stay out of the grasp of the French Army. Heidegger spent the next few months writing in Messkirch and teaching at the nearby Wildenstein Castle (an idyllic site high in the hills above Beuron, with a panoramic view of the Danube river valley below), where has was soon joined by what remained of Freiburg University's philosophy department. The philosophy faculty taught joint seminars to about 30 women students and also helped the local farmers bring in their hay harvest in order to earn their own keep (food and other necessities being extremely scarce).

Heidegger felt truly in his element here, and even planned to have one of the towers of Wildenstein Castle restored with hopes of working there in close proximity to the Princess. (He paid a year's rent on the tower but the shortage of laborers and materials made the project impossible to complete at the time. Still, the romantic, Hölderlinian idea of living and working in a tower looms large in the second of these dialogues, "The Teacher Meets the Tower Warden [or, better, the Tower Dweller] at the Door of the Tower Stairway."[1]) While lecturing primarily on Heraclitus and Hölderlin, on such timely topics as the spiritual riches that material poverty can help disclose, Heidegger also discovered Daoism (recognizing profound affinities with his own views, on the basis of which he hoped one day to conduct a dialogue with the East).[2] It was during this temporary reprieve -- a brief stay (or Aufenthalte) in the midst of intense historical, political, and psychological turmoil -- that Heidegger wrote his first philosophical dialogues, the Country Path Conversations. In them, the thinker seeks to make sense of some of the troubling events through which he was living by placing them in the broader context of the "history of being," that is, his growing understanding of the way metaphysics focuses and transforms Western humanity's basic sense of what it means to be. . . .