Current Schedule

We are pleased to announce the Literature & Philosophy Workshop’s Spring 2019 schedule. All discussions take place at 5:00 p.m. in Foster 305 or Foster 505 (location in parentheses after each event title); a light reception follows in every case. Please direct your questions to Andrea Ray (aeray@uchicago.edu) or Paul Cato (pcato@uchicago.edu).

 

April 11th: Gerad Gentry (Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Philosophy of Law, Lewis University), “Reframing the Point of Transition from Critical Idealism to Absolute Idealism” (Foster 505)

In this paper, I argue that Hegel adopts Kant’s synthetic a priori principle of purposiveness from the third Critique as the logical form of reason needed for two key identities: (1) freedom and necessity, and (2) the a priori and a posteriori domains of reason. As the key to these identities, purposiveness thereby provides the Logic with its transition from critical to absolute idealism. I suggest that the method by which these identities are given display how the transition achieved remains consistent with the Kantian discursive limits of reason.

 

April 18th: Mat Messerschmidt (PhD student, Committee on Social Thought), “Genealogy and Revaluation in Nietzsche” (Foster 305)

In this paper, I examine two conflicting tendencies in Nietzsche’s appraisal of nineteenth-century Europe. On the one hand, he sees it as a period imbued with the “historical sense,” such that it understands itself, in a more sophisticated and comprehensive way than did previous periods, as being inescapably the result of its cultural predecessors. Nietzschean genealogy is itself a methodological example of this attitude, as it understands present paradigms and intellectual habits in the light of a history of values. On the other hand, the nineteenth century is also the century of the “death of God,” an event which makes possible the “revaluation of all values.” Such phrases suggest aspirations toward a radical break with history, a hope for a sort of freedom that would allow us to be the “poets of our lives,” to create ourselves anew from the ground up. In considering the simultaneous presence of these mutually contradictory senses of what it means to be modern, I argue that the best route to understanding Nietzsche is not to attempt to charitably reconcile these conflicting tendencies, but rather to accept that such reconciliation is impossible, and to ask what is gained by adopting such an impossible stance.

 

May 2nd: Jue Hou, (PhD student, Committee on Social Thought), “Writing Death, or, the Materiality of the Signature” (Foster 305)

A comparative study of corporeal inscriptions, this paper investigates the intersection of language, death, and the surface/depth of the body. Taking as my departure a medical case in which the ambiguity of a tattooed message translates into an ethical dilemma, I intend to approach bodily writings as sites where language, communication, and mortality conjoin and contest with each other. What is defacement? What can/do tattoos do? What do corporeographies, understood as a kind of border writing that inhabits the fleshy interface, tell us about the surface/depth model of subjectivity?

 

May 9th: John Gibson (Professor of Philosophy, University of Louisville), “Metaphor and the Aesthetics of Insight” (Foster 505)

The late Arthur Danto claimed that through a special act of identification, “an artwork becomes a metaphor for life, and life is transfigured.” The act of identification that Danto has in mind is character-based, such as when one sees “oneself as Anna Karenina, Isabelle Archer, or Elizabeth Bennett.” My interest here is in a broader act of identification: how might the literary work itself function as the primary vehicle of figurative identification and, ultimately, of that grander achievement Danto mentions: a transfiguration of “life,” which I cast as an expansion of our possibilities for ascribing sense to the world beyond the work of art. This, I argue, offers a novel way to address central problems in the debate on artistic cognitivism. The approach I argue for effectively replaces the narrowly epistemic search for varieties of warranted belief and propositional knowledge with an account of how the formal and aesthetic features of art can yield a distinctive variety of metaphorical understanding.

NB: Joshua Landy (Professor of French and Comparative Literature, Stanford University) will serve as respondent.

 

May 16th: Eliza Little (PhD candidate, Committee on Social Thought), “Boredom as a Propositional Attitude: Reading Alberto Moravia with Hegel” (Foster 305)

This paper brings together twentieth century Italian author Alberto Moravia’s novel Boredom [La Noia] and Hegel’s account of finite cognition in his Philosophy of Spirit in order to inquire into the structural role that belief plays in the objective validity of our perceptions of the world. In Boredom, Moravia’s narrator Dino finds himself afflicted with a chronic case of the titular condition, which he describes as “a malady affecting external objects and consisting of a withering process; an almost instantaneous loss of vitality.” I draw on Moravia’s descriptions of Dino’s boredom and its consequences for his experiences and actions in order to develop a broadly Hegelian account of the way in which subjective psychological states result from and bear on objective facts about the world. I argue that, in Dino’s case, boredom is not simply a contingent psychological situation. Rather, this affect describes a structure of mental intentionality, a propositional attitude, that reflects the social, political and economic circumstances in which he is embedded. I fill out my view with a somewhat heterodox reading of Hegel on empirical perception, and a discussion of the cognitive significance of the proposal that “fetishism” (Hegel, Marx) can intercede in our judgments about the empirical world.

 

May 23rd: Skomantas Pocius (PhD candidate, Committee on Social Thought) “What Makes the Free Spirit Free?” (Foster 305)

The paper discusses the “free spirit,” an important character type in Friedrich Nietzsche’s work, and offers an interpretation of the freedom of the free spirit. I begin by briefly considering Nietzsche’s early conception of the type, before outlining the changes his conception undergoes. I then highlight two aphorisms significant for a thorough understanding of freedom of spirit, one in On the Genealogy of Morals, the other in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which have been unduly ignored in secondary literature. They depict two quite different free spirits who nevertheless share the slogan “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.” I suggest the slogan is key for understanding Nietzsche’s considered view of the freedom of the free spirit, which, I argue, lies in a kind of freedom from prohibition. At the end I explain how these two examples challenge certain interpretations of the free spirit in the literature.

 

May 30th: Christy Brandly (PhD candidate, Political Science/Slavic Languages and Literatures), “The Political Problems of Emergence and Sovereignty in the Shakespearean Works of Ivan Turgenev” (Foster 305)

A central theme in the history of political thought has been the problem of social production and reproduction, and this theme has often been explored through the analogy of modes of political rule and modes of familial authority. Ivan Turgenev, I argue, explores this theme in all of his major works in the 19th century, using familial tensions (especially amongst Russia’s landed classes) as a lens to examine the political changes taking place in Russia’s Alexandrine era of anti-autocratic reforms. In my paper, I place Turgenev in conversation with Hannah Arendt and William Shakespeare, starting from the former two authors’ references to the latter’s work as a methodological guide for their thinking and writing. By doing this, and by providing related readings of Turgenev’s “Hamlet of the Shchigrovsky District” (1849) and “King Lear of the Steppes” (1870), I hope to give a compelling account of how literature, in general, and Turgenev’s works, in particular, may have been performing the role political philosophy and dramatizing the political problems of sovereignty and the “emergence of the new” in 19th-century Imperial Russia.