Michelle Boulous Walker on the difficulty of practicing philosophy in modern institutions, and an alternative approach that might encourage a more careful and attentive relation with the world
Could you tell me a little bit about yourself, and what inspired you to write Slow Philosophy?
I’m a philosopher who works in the European tradition. I have a background in political theory and an ongoing commitment to feminist politics. I’ve been teaching for some years now, and this has provided me with the opportunity to re-read key texts with my students.
For example, I’ve read Plato’s Symposium and Phaedrus countless times with both undergraduate and graduate students. The joy of re-reading is what first alerted me to the power of slow reading because for me slow philosophy is partly about the quality of attention that comes through repeated engagements with a work or text. Each time I’d return to Plato’s dialogues I’d uncover new possibilities – new meanings that were possible partly because of the new frames I was bringing to his work. (more…)
Michael Lackey on the popularity of the biographical novel, and what it can tell us about the relationship between literature, history and truth
What motivated you to write The American Biographical Novel?
Through my reading of biographical novels, I noticed a shift in the nature of literary truth. In Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad illuminates the colonial mentality that enabled Europeans to plunder Africa and to abuse Africans with impunity. Conrad represents that mentality through Kurtz, and as the narrator says, “all Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz.” In essence, if we want to understand the European mentality that justified colonization and its horrific outcomes, we can look to Kurtz for some answers. But with the rise of postmodernism, there has been growing skepticism about the traditional literary symbol.
Put simply, postmodernists question the value of an overarching truth claim, because they realize that someone constructed that truth for an ideological or political reason. This approach to truth impacted the traditional literary symbol, so a postmodernist could easily say: “Look, Joe, you constructed the character of Kurtz in order to promote your own ideological agenda. Therefore, I don’t see any reason why I should consider a character like Kurtz as symbolic of the European mind.”It is my contention that biographical novelists were becoming increasingly aware of the problems with the traditional literary symbol, but they also did not want to get rid of the literary symbol, because they realized that it could be effectively used to expose the structures and conditions of oppression. (more…)
Espen Terjesen’s beautifully drawn essay on Bernhard’s writing
I’m very excited to share a beautiful and concise ‘graphic essay’ on the work of Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard. The essay was written, drawn, and designed by Espen Terjesen, an illustrator, cartoonist, pixel artist, teacher/lecturer, and writer working in Bergen, Norway. In addition to the original essay, Terjesen has also been kind enough to provide me with an English translation.
Terjesen’s work not only presents themes from Bernhard’s writing with striking, icy accompaniments, but offers a playful approach to the traditional academic essay. By combining elements of literary criticism with the graphic novel, Terjesen’s reading of Bernhard becomes, in itself, a creative act. What we are left with is something both thought-provoking and accessible.
To see the strip in its original format, please find links to Terjesen’s essay at the bottom of this post. In its complete form, the essay includes a number of footnotes and recommended reading. You can click any of the images to enlarge them. Enjoy! (more…)