Tim Lacy on how the great books idea might be repurposed in a socialist context, the point being that we need to rethink the ossified notion that “great books” = conservatism. It doesn’t! Great Books Socialism? Intellectual Traditions Matter for Movement Building and Identity Formation
How Austerity Killed the Humanities – In These Times.
“Those debates of the ‘80s and ‘90s were heated. Indeed, they were a major front in what came to be known as “culture wars” between merciless foes. Yet all sides in these culture wars believed a humanities education—history, literature, languages, philosophy—was inherently important in a democratic society. In short, the humanities were taken for granted. In our current age of austerity, this is no longer the case. Many Americans no longer think the humanities worthy of public support. This is especially true of conservatives, who in their quest to cut off state support to higher education have abandoned the humanities entirely.”
Check out this 1986 Paris Review interview with E. L. Doctorow, who recently passed away at the age of 84.
Artwork by Matt Kish
Mark Anderson, Professor of Philosophy at Belmont University, has written and blogged his entire book about Melville, Plato, and Nietzsche. You can read the book online, free. It includes commentary for every chapter in Moby-Dick — way cool for readers of Melville and gluttons for philosophy. As Anderson says,
“This site is home to a book too unusual to interest your typical risk-averse publisher. Moby-Dick as Philosophy: Plato – Melville – Nietzsche blurs the disciplinary boundaries between literary criticism, history of philosophy, and philosophical meditation. It is a work of original creative philosophy.”
In “Reviving the Female Canon” at The Atlantic Susan Price looks at efforts being made to increase the exposure of worthy female authors in philosophy and history.
Despite the spread of feminism and multiculturalism, and their impact on fields from literature to anthropology, it is possible to major in philosophy without hearing anything about the historical contributions of women philosophers. The canon remains dominated by white males—the discipline that some say still hews to the myth that genius is tied to gender.
Andrew Janiak, an associate professor of philosophy at Duke University, was a graduate student in the 1990s when he came across Kant’s startling reference to Madame Du Châtelet. “I remember thinking: Did he really mean Madame?” Janiak said. “It was the only time I’d seen a philosopher refer to the ideas of a woman.”
Now, Janiak and a team of Duke students and researchers, along with colleagues at Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania, have launched a site that features the forgotten voices of women philosophers, giving academics and students a rare opportunity to study and promote their work. Project Vox, as the site is called, posts texts and translations of 17th-century women philosophers’ work, as well as suggested syllabi for college courses featuring that work. The site is open-source, meaning that faculty and students from around the world can contribute and use materials, and has a 10-member international advisory board. According to Janiak, “a long list of folks” has already contributed or requested syllabi from the project, which went live in March.
Project Vox currently features information about Margaret Cavendish, Anne Conway, Gabrielle Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, the Marquise Du Châtelet, and Lady Masham. Articles such as this one point out the ongoing need to reassess the canon and correct for historical biases and blindness.
In the NY Review of Books, Janet Malcolm digs into Anna Karenina and explains how Tolstoy casts a spell of effortless narration on his readers. This relates to an idea I had when reading the novel a few years ago, namely, that realist fiction should be understood as a genre filled artifice (and I do not disparage it for that quality — it’s high praise). It does not throw up a mirror to life and merely describes what is seen. It casts the illusion that what you are reading is real. Tolstoy is one of our grand wizards in that regard.
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” Turns 100 at the Poetry Foundation. This article provides some backstory on how Eliot’s early modernist poem came to be published.
The Penguin Checklist Project is an excellent resource for fans and collectors of Penguin Classics. It’s also an interesting resource for anyone interested in the canon (what gets in, what goes out, and when).