Winter 2018

January 11th: Danielle Charette (PhD student, Social Thought), “Shakespearean Monarchs in Kierkegaard’s Sickness Unto Death: Royal Case-Studies in Despair” (Foster 305)

Throughout The Sickness Unto Death, Kierkegaard draws upon Shakespeare to illustrate the theatrics of “despair.” For Kierkegaard, Shakespeare’s monarchs enact vivid examples of individual “introversion” in the face of political facticity. I undertake to show the ways in which Kierkegaard’s close reading of Shakespeare came to shape his critique of German Romanticism.


January 18th: Jonathan Culler (Class of 1916 Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Cornell University), “Narrative Theory and Lyric” (Foster 505)

Narrative Theory has generally neglected lyric poetry, but this paper investigates two quite disparate attempts to view lyric through the lens of narrative theory: a narratological project by Peter Hühn and his German collaborators, which maintains that the superior sophistication of narrative theory ought to enable it to illuminate features of lyric poetry, and the pedagogy derived from Anglo-American New Criticism, which which proposed that lyric poems be treated as the discourse of a fictional speaker, whose situation should be elucidated, thus treating the poem as a mini-narrative. The account of these two approaches focuses on their disadvantages.


February 1st: Glenn Most (Visiting Professor of Social Thought and Classics),“Weeping Heraclitus and Laughing Democritus” (Foster 505)

The opposition between weeping Heraclitus and laughing Democritus is a commonplace of Renaissance, especially Dutch, paintings and etchings, and also appears in the literature and philosophy of the period. Where does this opposition come from, how did it arise, and what does it mean?

February 15th: Mat Messerschmidt (PhD student, Social Thought), “Wordsworth and the Hermeneutics of Suspicion” (Foster 305)

This paper offers a close reading of William Wordsworth’s eight-line Lucy poem, “A slumber did my spirit seal.” I engage, at length, two influential deconstructionist readings of the poem, those of Geoffrey Hartman and Paul de Man. Against Hartman, de Man, and other, more recent critics, I argue that Wordsworth does in fact accomplish his stated poetic goal of speaking plainly in this poem, of speaking the ordinary language “really spoken by men” – and that the poem’s pathos comes precisely from his success in doing so. I make the case, more broadly, that Wordsworth’s poetry illustrates a certain limitation of any hermeneutics of suspicion: Wordsworthian verse establishes itself as distinctly Wordsworthian by achieving a certain kind of plainspokenness, but plainspokenness is understood by suspicion hermeneutics to be impossible.



March 8th: Tim Mehigan (Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Queensland), “‘A General Secretariat of Precision and Soul’: Ethics, Knowledge and Literature after the Fourth Revolution” (Foster 505)

*N.B. There is no pre-circulated paper for this event.*

I aim to defend a particular type of thought that emerges from intelligent literature. I argue that this type of thought serves community: it promotes what used straightforwardly to be called philosophical reflection and it sets out both to critique and strengthen our ethical responses to change in the world. While I refer to several examples in defending this view of intelligent literature, I lean particularly heavily on Robert Musil. Musil was a qualified engineer, a doctor of philosophy and psychology, and one of the most important writers of the 20th century. Among many reasons to hold Musil in high esteem is his unfinished masterpiece The Man Without Qualities (1930; 1933), a work that anticipated the arrival of the digital or “fourth” revolution by several decades. I provide an extended reading of a chapter from this novel in order to demonstrate the significance of the special class of literature I defend. I also indicate how such literature does the type of ethical work we cannot be without in a new age of “posthumanism.”



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