Fall 2017 Schedule

September 28th: Parysa Mostajir (PhD candidate, Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science), “Experience and Literature”This paper provides a pragmatist argument for the importance of literature in a healthy and progressive human life. Using Dewey’s alternative-‘empiricist’ theory of the human being as a dense and complex experiencing subject, I argue that aspects of human experience, such as the emotions, aesthetics, ethics, and imagination, can confront challenges and stagnations that are best explored and resolved with artistic pursuits, such as creative literature. Challenging the common presupposition that language has a primarily referential function, I argue that the artistic, evocative employment of language can provide a form of experiential enrichment unattainable through rational discourse.


October 12th: Joseph Simmons (PhD candidate, Social Thought), “Poetic Prophecies of War in Wilfred Owen and W. B. Yeats”

This paper considers conceptions of poetic authority in the writing of Wilfred Owen and W. B. Yeats, especially their poems in “Dulce et Decorum Est” and “Lapis Lazuli.” After drawing a series of contrasts between the two poets’ self-conceptions, it examines a tension common to the poetry of both, namely, that between the didactic and the expressive.


October 26th: Lauren Bergier (PhD candidate, Social Thought), “The Muse Called Grace”

This is a new translation and commentary of Paul Claudel’s fourth Ode, “La Muse qui est la Grace,” from his Five Great Odes (1903-1908). This Ode is a dialogue between the Poet and his angry Muse, who argue like old lovers. Many critics have seen their exchange as representing the antagonism between Romantic paganism and austere Christian asceticism, but it would be more appropriate to speak to speak of their exchange as agonistic, like an athletic contest that brings out the best in both athletes; and also, to a great extent, as erotic.

The poem and its accompanying essay should be read in advance.


November 9th: Susan James (Kohut Visiting Professor in Social Thought from Birkbeck College, London), “On Self-Transformation:  Ovid’s Warning to Spinoza” (Foster 505)

Philosophising has sometimes been construed as the realisation of a superlatively powerful way of life. By gaining understanding, the wise man sloughs off the limitations of everyday human existence and achieves a form of knowledge akin to that of God.  Moreover, the increased power and joyfulness that understanding brings is not offset by loss.  There are no significant costs attached to philosophical self-transformation.

In this first draft, I try to show that something is suppressed in arguments of this kind.  I contrast two views of self-transformation: the philosophical one described above; and a more pessimistic picture found, for example, in Ovid’s  Metamorphoses.  With these two models in mind, I turn to Spinoza and ask how he regards the philosophical life.  His conception of blessedness, I suggest, is implicitly poised between the two, although he says very little about the kind of loss that a philosophical life might involve.  In an attempt to give a fuller account of it, I draw on J.M. Coetzee’s recent novels,  The Childhood of Christ and The Boyhood of Christ. 


November 16th: Michal Zechariah (PhD student, English), “Divine Vision in Paradise Lost

The third book of Milton’s Paradise Lost presents an age-old interpretive challenge — how should readers of the poem understand the representation of the Father’s divine vision as he surveys his creation and looks into the future “from his prospect high” (3.77)? Whereas past critical accounts have, for the most part, focused on the problem of representing an infinite God in poetry and what gets lost in the translation, I explore what Milton’s materialization of the Father reveals about the nature of God. This in turn requires a discussion of active and passive aspects of divine vision and perception at large in the poem, as well as a consideration of possible metaphysical and ethical dimensions of sight. My emerging conclusion is that Milton allows his God a measure of provisional finitude in relation to his creation, with sight understood as a site for human participation in the divine.

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