Current Schedule

We are delighted to announce the Literature & Philosophy Workshop’s Fall 2016 schedule. All discussions take place at 4:30 p.m., in Foster 305 unless otherwise noted; a light reception follows in every case. Please direct your questions to Eliza Starbuck Little ( or Nicholas Bellinson (

September 29th: Elizabeth Costello (selections)
In preparation for Professor Victoria Kahn’s talk on October 13th, we will read the end of J. M. Coetzee’s novel Elizabeth Costello (“At the Gate”, “Postscript”) and Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s “Lord Chandos Letter”, upon which the postscript is based. This close reading will be loosely moderated by the workshop coordinators, Eliza Starbuck Little and Nicholas Bellinson.

October 13th: “Literariness in Kant, Kierkegaard, and Coetzee” (Foster 505)
Victoria Kahn (Professor of English and Comparative Literature, UC Berkeley)
This essay takes up the concept of literariness in the work of Kant, Kierkegaard, and Coetzee. I argue that any form of writing that rejects the authority of philosophy and, later, theology, for the autonomy of human making acquires the attributes of literature or in our modern parlance literariness. Literariness is one form the questioning of the authority of philosophy or theology , and their corresponding notions of belief, takes in the Western tradition.
Attendance at the previous session is NOT a prerequisite for this workshop… but it is recommended.

October 27th “Sense-Making and Reversal in the Oedipus Tyrannos
Isabela Ferreira (PhD student, Social Thought)
In this paper, I argue that what makes Sophocles’s play a tragedy is not that Oedipus discovers something that he previously did not know, but that in the process, he experiences a breakdown in the categories and laws he formerly relied on in making sense of the world. On my reading, the play divests us of an interpretive vantage point from which the distinction between knowledge and ignorance, being and seeming, can be successfully identified and resolved, by dramatizing a situation in which the most basic principles of human intelligibility are dissolved. Taking as my starting point the original and paradigmatic act of sense-making in the play, Oedipus’s solving of the Sphinx’s riddle, I defend this reading by showing how the understanding Oedipus employs in solving that riddle, and in carrying out his duties as ruler, ultimately falls short when it comes to elucidating the problem of his identity. I conclude by showing how the breakdown Oedipus experiences in his ways of making sense is at the same time productive of a kind of cultural wisdom enjoyed both by the Theban political community within the play and by the play’s Athenian audience.

November 10th: “Poetry, Prayer, and the Music of the Spheres”
Joseph Simmons (PhD student, Social Thought)
What separates poetry from prayer? This paper begins by describing, with glances at Christ and Kant, a difference in the rhythms with which they respond to the cosmic call to judgment: prayer takes up the meter of stewardship, poetry that of mastery. It then turns to British modernism, listening in on a strain running through Gerard Manley Hopkins, W.B. Yeats, and W.H. Auden that modulates uneasily between the two possibilities, unable to resolve fully into one or the other, and perhaps raising the possibility of a tertium quid. Poems to be discussed include Hopkins’ “Spelt from Sibyl’s Leaves,” Yeats’ “The Cold Heaven,” and Auden’s “The More Loving One.”

November 17th: Chapters from John Banville’s new novel (Foster 505)
John Banville (Visiting Professor, Social Thought)
Mr. Banville has generously agreed to share chapters from his new novel, written as a sequel to Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady; a discussion of Henry James and “fiction in general” will follow.