Winter 2019

January 10th: Susan McWilliams (Professor of Politics, Pomona College), “American Road Trip Stories and American Political Thought” (Foster 505)
Since long before the age of the automobile, Americans have been writing and reading road trip stories. What might road trip stories reveal about American political thought? How might reading American road trip stories as a form of political thought help us to theorize American political belief and practice?


January 24th: Emma Lunbeck (PhD student, Committee on Social Thought), “On Stasis: Freud’s ‘Rat Man’ and Penelope’s Loom” (Foster 305)

This paper examines the pattern of doing and undoing. In Freud’s ‘Notes Upon A Case of Obsessional Neurosis’ (known as the Rat Man case history), this pattern is presented as a symptom of the patient’s pathology. In Homer’s Odyssey, it enters the narrative as Penelope’s famous ‘trick’: she stalls her suitors by weaving during the day and unweaving at night. I offer a close reading of the resonances between these two texts.


February 7th: Alexander Sorenson, (PhD candidate, Germanic Studies), “The Light and the Water: Between Hidden Order and Works of Love in the Early Writing of Adalbert Stifter” (Foster  305)

This paper is adapted from a dissertation chapter that examines the symbolic function of water and light in the early work of the Austrian writer Adalbert Stifter (1805-1868). The chapter argues that in Stifter’s writing these two natural elements—and particularly their more disconcerting manifestations, such as solar eclipses and deadly floods—are used as motifs to represent a particular relationship between law, as perceived in the natural world as well as in the human community, and self-sacrifice.


February 21st: Florian Klinger (Associate Professor of Germanic Studies), “Hannah Arendt on Judging” (Foster 305)

Roughly, the presentation will argue that Arendt’s use of the notion of judging occupies a site where unmarked/philosophical and marked/political thinking intersect.


March 7th: Michael Thomas (Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Susquehanna University), “Forms of Sensibility in James Baldwin’s Nobody Knows My Name” (Foster 505)

This paper explores three central tropes of Baldwin’s writing: witnessing, coming out of the closet, and private life as interpretive activities that lay the foundation for a politics of intersubjective, intersectional engagement. These tropes in Baldwin’s writing each follow from his own personal struggles with racial hatred, sexuality, and his role as an artist. In Nobody Knows My Name, they allow the reader to trace Baldwin’s attempts to situate himself and his art through bearing witness to the world around him. Its first section is devoted to an examination the problem of identity, race, and American mythology as he returns to the US from Europe. In the second, Baldwin meditates on aspects of his own personality and art through engagement with other artists of the time. Viewed theoretically, this movement between positions in the essays provides a model of intersubjective engagement as a practice of honesty about one’s position and identity, taking seriously others’ interior lives, and bearing witness to the beautiful and ugly truths about our shared world.

At the heart of this model is an understanding of these literary tropes as forms of sensibility, ways of deepening one’s sense of reality by taking seriously the inner lives of others and understanding how their perspectives are framed relative to our own. By viewing the intersection of biography, context, and technique in these essays, we can treat Baldwin’s tropes as practices of investigating the inner lives of others, coming to terms with the ways we evade the darker sides of ourselves and our environment, and developing the capacity to bear witness to the reality of our shared situation.

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