interview

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Human Velocity

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 07/06/2024 - 9:59pm in

A conversation with Michael Waters, the author of “The Other Olympians.”

Making Sense of the Missing 

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 22/05/2024 - 9:00pm in

Clair Wills has long been among the most supple and illuminating explorers of the intertwined cultural histories of Ireland and Britain. She works in the intersections between social experience and literary representation, giving as much weight to supposedly ordinary lives as to momentous political events and artistic movements. That Neutral Island: A History of Ireland During the Second World War (2007) captured the moods and tensions of a strange period. The Best Are Leaving: Emigration and Post-War Irish Culture (2015) and Lovers and Strangers: An Immigrant History of Post-War Britain (2017) have opened new ground in the understanding of migrants, both as they see themselves and as they are seen by others. Her new book, Missing Persons, pulls on the threads of her own family’s stories and silences to unravel a dark history of loss and forgetting.

Fintan O’Toole: You’re best known as an explorer of public history, especially of Ireland, England, and migration. But Missing Persons is an intensely personal book about your own family history. What made you decide to enter such intimate terrain?

Clair Wills: We could also put it the other way round, that the public histories I’ve written over the years were attempts to understand personal experiences—though not, of course, my own. I was interested in how Ireland’s neutrality during World War II was experienced by individuals day-to-day, or how it felt to arrive in Britain as part of the great movement and violent displacement of peoples after the war.  

It’s true that in Missing Persons I wanted to excavate a more private history. At the heart of the book is the life (and death) of a person who went missing from my family: my first cousin Mary, who was born in an Irish Mother and Baby Home in 1955 and brought up in an orphanage, and whom I never got to know. I found out about Mary when I was in my twenties, when it was too late to meet her, although she was only seven years older than me.  I spent decades trying to come to terms with the fact that she had been kept secret from the rest of us. Initially I thought the story I had to tell was Mary’s story, and that of her mother—I felt it as a kind of duty, to do justice to the people who had been shunned by the family and forced into institutions. It took me a long time to understand that in fact my story concerned the people who did the shunning. Central to this is my grandmother, who refused to accept my cousin as part of the family, and never saw her son (Mary’s father) again. I wanted to understand how a woman I knew very well when I was a child, a woman I loved, could have consented to a system that to us, a few generations later, seems immeasurably unjust and cruel.  

So it’s an intimate history—literally so in that I’m investigating illicit sex and extramarital pregnancy—but it’s also public. My family was not unusual. Tens of thousands of women and girls were sent to Mother and Baby Homes over the decades, and hundreds of thousands of people shunned them and their children. My grandmother’s views on the importance of respectability and legitimate inheritance were typical. When Missing Persons was published in Ireland in January, I did some media interviews, which nearly always started with a request to tell people about my grandmother, and I ended up feeling that this line of questioning was getting it wrong. I started responding, “My granny is your granny,” and although the interviewers looked a bit surprised, to their credit they got the point: that this is a personal book but it’s about a common, almost universal, situation in which some people were allowed to belong in families and others weren’t, and not only in Ireland.

Your family’s secret lives intersect with public history in Catholic Ireland’s institutional systems for dealing with what it regarded as wayward female sexuality. Can you explain what that system was, how it worked, and why Ireland has only come to terms with it very recently?

The network of institutions that developed to “manage” sex and the consequences of sex included the notorious Magdalene laundries, Mother and Baby Homes, County Homes, orphanages, and Industrial Schools (homes where children were taught “industry,” which for girls like my cousin Mary meant mostly being trained for domestic service). These institutions were run by religious orders (mostly Catholic, though there were some Protestant homes—James Joyce’s story “Clay” is partly set in one of them), but they were funded by the Irish state. Basically they were a cheap way for the state to provide a range of social services, as the nuns didn’t get paid for their work. And those services were all built around forms of incarceration. The Mother and Baby Homes provided a way of tidying the problem of illegitimacy behind closed doors. 

Between Irish independence in 1922 and 1998, when the last of these institutions closed, they were home (at the lowest estimate) to 56,000 unmarried mothers, ranging from twelve-year-old girls to women in their forties, and at least 57,000 babies and small children. There were similar institutions in the United States, Britain, and many European countries; nowhere else were they still in use as late as the 1990s. The proportion of Irish unmarried mothers who were admitted to these homes in the twentieth century was probably the highest in the world—but that is not the only Irish anomaly. Irish women also stayed longer in these homes than women did anywhere else, with the longest stays occurring in the 1940s and 1950s. 

In 2015 a commission was set up to investigate the homes, following the discovery of the bodies of nearly eight hundred babies and small children that had been deposited in a septic tank on the grounds of a former home in Tuam, County Galway. There is a lot to say about the commission, how it operated, and what it found, but I’ll mention the finding that caused the most outrage, which is that the primary responsibility for the treatment of women and children in the homes “rests mainly with the fathers of their children and their own immediate families. It was supported by, contributed to, and condoned by, the institutions of the State and the Churches.”

Even if this statement were true, it gets us nowhere. The attempt to parcel out blame for the treatment of unmarried mothers and their children, either to the institutional system or to families, is a misunderstanding of the nature of this history. What needs to be explained is why people consented to the system. That is what I’ve tried to think about in the book, through the figure of my grandmother and other members of my family: Why did this system make sense to them?

My own feeling is that, outside of legal claims for reparation and redress, “responsibility” is not a useful word to bring to this history, because it quickly falls into binary arguments about blame and guilt. I’ve tried to think in terms of a wider category of “answerability” or obligation. In this wider sense I am answerable to this history. I got to belong when my cousin didn’t; I have suffered the loss of my cousin, but I also benefited in complex ways from her absence. I think that people feel relatively comfortable when I say that I feel responsible for, in the sense of answerable to, this injustice. But not always when I suggest that they are too. That claim would go something like this: You, Fintan, are accountable for what happened. My granny is your granny. Not everyone wants to go there.

One of the things you explore in the book is the way people in a society like that of Catholic Ireland can both hate a system and believe in it at the same time. How did people manage that?

We could be teasing this out for a very long time. The deference to homegrown Catholic authority after independence, a kind of fatalistic acceptance of one’s lot, a genuine belief in the sinfulness of the body—there are lots of reasons. But I don’t underestimate the terrible experiences of loss and pain that families went through by consenting to the system. I became very interested in how sexual secrecy operated in the period before independence. There were all sorts of ways that an unplanned pregnancy could be “managed” informally in late Victorian and Edwardian Ireland—abortion and infanticide, obviously (and it’s worth pointing out here that juries were very reluctant to convict when these came to trial), but also shotgun weddings, informal fostering out, babies brought up by an aunt or a grandmother. 

I think that keeping sexual secrets in this period was a way for women to look out for one another—they had so little autonomy, so little control over their own lives. In the book I wonder whether these habits of secrecy, developed in a period when the authorities and their institutions were associated with alien rule (the police force, the workhouses, the County Homes, and so on), left people with few defenses against the new Irish Catholic institutions that came into operation after independence. Suddenly here was your local priest, or your aunt the nun, or your friends and neighbors saying, the Mother and Baby Home will keep your secret for you. It must have seemed the sensible thing to do, to give up your daughter or your grandchild to the institutions, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t incredibly hard.

We naturally think of remembering and forgetting as opposites, but your book suggests that this is not really so, that much of life is lived somewhere in the liminal spaces between them.

Yes, I think that’s true. The book is about how a kind of violence gets covered over, or disavowed, and remembered at the same time. The church-state institutions that were set up to contain the poor, the sexually wayward, and the mentally ill weren’t in themselves secret, but they were in the business of secrecy. The Mother and Baby Homes and orphanages thrived in the 1950s and 1960s as a way of keeping sex and pregnancy hidden, and the women and children were collateral damage. The system was highly visible, bureaucratic, and officially sanctioned, yet barely talked about, and that contradiction shaped families too, and the way people understood their own experiences. “Whatever you say, say nothing,” the knowing injunction memorialized by Seamus Heaney in a different context, applies here too. In order to uncover how people in my family thought about illicit sex, illegitimacy, and institutions, I ended up following the tracks laid down in family stories and anecdotes. There were so many stories that petered out or that ended in gaps and ellipses and “said nothing.” I tried to interpret those gaps—the missing bits—as places where the past was both preserved and disavowed.  

I’ve been thinking about this history for years, but I only really began to grasp it during the pandemic, when I spent many hours talking on the phone, and sometimes in person, with my mother (who is now in her early nineties). She was cut off and lonely under lockdown rules, and talking about her past became a way of being close to her, even of taking care of her. The tangle of stuff remembered and forgotten had become a kind of burden for her, I think—because the victims of this history aren’t only the people who went missing, but also those who were allowed to belong, and who carry the shame of the violence done in their names.

Your family history seems to contain a contradiction. On the one hand, it goes back a very long way in only a few generations. Yet on the other, it’s full of holes and silences. What are those silences, and how did you become attuned to them?

I wanted to call the book “Making Sense of the Missing.” That was my working title, and I meant two things by it. How did my grandmother and the others who were involved in disappearing my cousin make sense of what they were doing? Where did the sense of shame and the need to keep illegitimacy secret come from, what was the work it did for families? The fact that my family functioned despite, and maybe even because of, its missing persons, the fact that it made enough sense—this is part of my inheritance, and the inheritance of a great many people of my generation. 

So I was also asking, how can I make sense of this now, as the inheritor of that history? I’m part of the historical archive—the remembering and forgetting is in me, whether I like it or not. In the book I try to interpret the gaps and silences and holes in my own understanding and in the stories that were handed down to me. That includes thinking about my own reaction to getting pregnant when I was a student in the 1980s. In fact, one of the things I discovered while writing the book is that not only does my family stretch a long way back in only a few generations (my great-grandparents were born in the 1830s and 1840s), but in every generation we’ve had children outside of marriage. I’m rather proud of that.

In a wonderful phrase, you say of your mother’s life that “history became geography” when she emigrated from Ireland to England. In what ways does migration shape the sense of family identity that you’re exploring?

I think it’s central. The scattered family has long been part of Ireland’s sense of itself. That’s why the rhetoric of the close Irish family is so strong—it’s a reaction to the fact that children were always saying good-bye, often never to be seen again. In the book I trace the movement of my grandfather’s siblings from West Cork to Boston and Peabody and Marblehead in the 1880s and 1890s. (They worked as servants and in glue factories.) And then in the next generation his children went to England. So few people got to grow old in the country where they were born. One of the questions I try to think about in the book is whether that long history of dislocation prepared families for losing their children to the institutions. There was a kind of fatalism to it.

And then there is the impact of poverty. I mean both actual poverty—having to leave home in order to survive—and the shame of that poverty and wanting to overcome it, to distance yourself from it. My grandmother was born in 1891; in her teens she was working as a live-in servant for local farmers, and her older siblings had all gone to America. When she finally got her own home in her early forties she became absolutely wedded to the idea of the family’s respectability. “Respectability” is almost a dirty word nowadays, suggesting a prim and narrow worldview, but it may have been the only kind of dignity available to her. I’ve tried in the book to learn to respect it, ironically enough.

You write of the stories your mother told about the family and all their vivid details, but you also end up bluntly saying that you don’t believe her when she claims that her mother had another baby who disappeared from the record. Was it hard to write that?

I am somewhat ashamed to say, no! I’m not accusing my mother of lying, but of only half-knowing what she knew. When she was a young teenager she worked out that her mother had been pregnant before she was married, in 1920, when she was twenty-eight years old. But she couldn’t talk about it with anyone, least of all her mother. She was hearing all kinds of rumors and half-told stories, and she knew other secrets were being kept from her. She knew there had been a family rift sometime in the 1910s, and she tried to figure out the reason for it. The idea that her mother had fallen pregnant in her teens with another baby, long before she was married, was a story she created to try to make sense of the secrets that were being kept from her. So my mother’s stories may be untrue in a literal sense, but they capture another kind of truth. They register the shame that her mother was having to overcome—not only the shame of sex before marriage, but, perhaps even worse, of having married a Protestant, in 1920, in the middle of the Anglo-Irish war. Can you imagine!

“Legitimate” and “illegitimate” were the horrible terms used about children who were born inside or outside of wedlock. But they also hover over your own sense of belonging in the book—are you “legitimately” Irish? Did writing the book help you to answer that question for yourself?

I talk in the book about the worry I had, over many years, that this story wasn’t mine to tell. I was brought up in England, and my father was English (though he was completely in love with everything Irish, including and first-above-all my mother). My sisters and I were raised with a very strong sense of our Irishness (and my three sisters all live in Ireland now, a kind of reverse migration), but I felt very strongly that the story of my cousin didn’t properly belong to me, though I couldn’t leave it alone. In the end I came to realize that my “illegitimacy” in relation to this history might be exactly what would allow me to uncover the layers of secrets and half-understood stories. 

Then again, I’ve always been interested in the typical. I don’t think I’d ever be able to write a straightforward biography because it would depend so much on thinking about what was unique about someone’s life. I guess this goes back to your question about public and personal histories, and how I don’t really think of them as all that different. I love all the things that are typical about my family, from the numbers of my grandparents’ siblings who emigrated to Boston in the 1890s (the majority of each laboring family’s children), to the thirty-acre farm bought in 1932 just at the time when politicians were extolling thirty acres as the ideal farm size for the new nation, to the five out of seven siblings who emigrated to Britain in the 1950s, to the extramarital pregnancies, the Mother and Baby Home, the County Home, and the Industrial School—my family did the classic things, around the same time everyone else was doing them. And to cap it all off, the most typical thing about my family was that it was not at home—nearly everyone lived elsewhere. So not being legitimately Irish, not quite belonging, is how I might be most Irish, in fact. Perhaps it’s just a rhetorical homecoming, but I like it anyway.

England, for the generations of Irish people that encompass much of your family history, is, as you put it, “both enemy and savior.” Did this doubleness reflect the experiences of the other migrants you wrote about in Lovers and Strangers, your previous book?

When I was writing Lovers and Strangers I became very interested in the temporality of migration, in what it means “to live by way of memory and anticipation, until the two of them become indistinguishable,” in John Berger’s plangent words, so that part of you is always trying to get back to the thing you’ve left behind. And then the country you’ve left changes without you there (or in the case of parts of postwar Poland, for example, simply disappears), and so when you do return you are displaced a second time. Emigrants end up living in two time zones, or at least that was true of postwar emigrants, in an era before the Internet and mobile phones. In the last part of the book I wrote about the impact of this doubled time on the children of immigrants, who have to manufacture a relationship to a past in another country, though it’s no less real for being made up. A Sikh immigrant who arrived in the midlands in the 1970s, the scholar Darshan Singh Tatla, wrote to me saying that was the moment in the book that most resonated with his own experience. 

The experience of migration has these shared, almost universal, aspects, but it is also historical. I often go back to a comment by Raymond Williams in his brilliant book The Country and the City (1973), where he says that we have to be able to account for both the persistence and historicity of concepts—one without the other is no use. That might lead us to consider how the current legal structures around migration, including detention, state pushbacks and the practice of “bordering” (forcing refugees and migrants back across international borders, or sending them to a third country, and refusing them the right to apply for asylum), are rooted in a long history of encounters between the migrant and the settled, the idea of the metropolis and the periphery, the modern and the archaic. But they are always being remade for the present—and right now in obscenely unjust ways.

One of the things I found so brilliantly expressed in Missing Persons is the complexity of the motivations that are wrapped up in the keeping of secrets. There’s shame, of course, but there’s also a kind of thrill, a sense of power.

Recently a friend was tempted to tell me the identity of the well-known figure with whom she was having an affair, and I had to leap in to interrupt her: “No, don’t tell me!” I’ll never be able to keep the secret. I’m a terrible gossip. It’s not an honorable trait, but it has its uses—and my mother was aware of it when she started telling me the family’s secrets. She knew I was going to talk, and the fact that she knew is one reason why I could write the book in the end, despite the feeling of illegitimacy.

So, although I can keep what I’d called “serious” secrets, I’m not discreet. But I recognize the value of secret-keeping. It’s not all about shame—maintaining reserve is one way that people living in small communities can continue to live with one another, for example. And yes, I think there is a kind of power associated with secrets, but also a form of care. When my mother kept the secret of my grandmother’s premarital sexual life she felt she was looking after her—even though my grandmother didn’t know she knew, so it was an unacknowledged form of care. Maybe this has partly to do with a society that makes use of the confessional; there’s a power in telling secrets but also a power in keeping them, and the figure of the priest is a good reminder of that.

But secrets outlive their usefulness, and they become more dangerous in their posthumous incarnations. My family kept the secrets of sex and pregnancy and childbirth for a mixture of reasons, some of which were good. But there is no sense in keeping those secrets anymore. We will never make sense of the missing if we don’t talk about them; we will never accept our own accountability unless we address this history. I guess I’m saying, you have to know when to betray. The book is a betrayal of a family contract. I can’t deny that.

The post Making Sense of the Missing  appeared first on The New York Review of Books.

Why Philosophy? Eli Benjamin Israel

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 22/05/2024 - 7:00pm in

Eli Benjamin Israel is interviewed by Céline Leboeuf.

Why Philosophy?
Eli Benjamin Israel
interviewed by Celine

What is philosophy to you?

In a post-conference beer in Munich last summer, someone brought up that common saying that therapists become therapists to figure out what’s wrong with themselves, and how it is similar with philosophers, particularly for those of us doing ethics. I think it’s very much like that in my own case. I often find myself struggling with what is the right thing to do, balancing duties and wants, and my interests with those of others, and so, philosophy is for me a useful way of exploring these questions, possibly leading to making better decisions, and hopefully hurting less. I particularly like the potential publicity of it, embedded in publishing papers and engaging in discussions with others, so that whatever answers we find to help us be better can perhaps be guiding for others.

How were you first introduced to philosophy?

When I was seventeen, my brother was becoming more religious and decided to leave Art School where he was studying to be an animator to join a Yeshiva and study Torah. In an attempt to share his intellectual journey with me, he gave me a book called Da’at Tevunot (“Knowing the Reasons”) by Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, an 18th-century Italian rabbi and philosopher. It’s a fascinating piece, really, and was my first encounter with philosophical reasoning. I specifically recall Luzzatto’s argument that free will is merely a result of ignorance and his conclusion that in the “world-to-come,” there would be clarity of truth, and thus, no free will whatsoever. I was terrified by that thought, and perhaps it was the starting point of my departure from religion, as well as my journey into philosophy.

How do you practice philosophy today?

I teach and write, of course, but I think a characteristic aspect of my way of doing philosophy is that I treat it as a communal effort. I’m not one for the solitary philosopher holed up in a garret. My office door is always open, and faculty and peers frequently drop by to discuss our ideas, and it often gets loud. I think it keeps my thinking grounded, attuned to the intuitions of others, especially in the early stages of idea development. Most importantly, it helps me in making sure that whatever I have in mind is actually interesting to other people, not just to myself.

What is a philosophical issue that is important to you?

I think consent is a super important, and yet tricky concept that we still need to do a lot of work around, especially since the confusion about what it means and what it takes for it to be expressive of a person’s autonomy too often causes serious harm, especially in intimate relationships. I also think that it’s especially important for men to be part and allies in this conversation, not in a defensive way, but as part of an effort to be more ethical partners.

In my writing, I advocate for how consent, being constitutive of many joint actions, should be thought of not as something one gives, but as a state that the participants in an activity build together. This emphasizes the duties we have as consent-receivers, requiring us to be in the right state and foster the necessary skills to align our actions with our partners’ will.

What books, podcasts, or other media would you recommend to anyone interested in philosophy?

A short book I often recommend to outsiders interested in what philosophy is about, especially in the analytic tradition, is Tom Nagel’s “What Does it All Mean?” which gives a great (and much accessible) introduction to some central questions we are occupied with.

For those within the profession—for leisure, I often listen to “The Panpsycast” podcast. They somehow manage to tailor serious philosophical discussions and interviews with a fun tone that I really like. For work, though, I recommend Sebastian Watzl’s book, “Structuring Mind,” which is not only a well-written analysis of attention, but it is of a systematicity that I find admirable and extremely rare these days. It really influenced the way I think about our moral sensitivities, and I think the book is of worth to people working in all different fields—from mind and ethics, to epistemology, metaphysics, and phenomenology.

This interview of Eli Benjamin Israel was first published at Why Philosophy?

Eli Benjamin Israel is a philosophy PhD student at Temple University, specializing in ethics, moral psychology, and social and feminist philosophy.

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The post Why Philosophy? Eli Benjamin Israel first appeared on Daily Nous.

Why Philosophy? Colin Chamberlain

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 15/05/2024 - 12:39pm in

Colin Chamberlain is interviewed by Céline Leboeuf.

Why Philosophy?
Colin Chamberlain
interviewed by Celine Leboeuf

What is philosophy to you?

There is a feeling I get when I’ve been hiking for hours, and I finally reach a lookout point. I can see. As I emerge from the trees, the landscape snaps into focus. Everything seems clear. The feeling gives me goosebumps. It’s a drug. Philosophy is another source of this feeling for me—the feeling of emerging from obscurity into clarity—though it usually takes more than a few hours to achieve. I am drawn to philosophical problems that are confusing and deep at the same time. I like to work away at a problem—for weeks, months, or even years—where I feel like something important is going on, but I do not yet understand what it is, as I chase the experience of seeing clearly. There is really nothing better than when a piece of philosophy comes into focus. When something deeply confusing becomes clear. This feeling is what it’s all about for me. It’s the joy of philosophy. At the same time, philosophy is often hard and stressful. I often feel like I am not quite smart enough to do the philosophical work I aspire to, which is uncomfortable. The philosophical problems I want to think about are enormous, whereas my brain just seems too small and inadequate to deal with them, and yet I keep toiling away despite the mismatch. The flashes of clarity are worth it.

How were you first introduced to philosophy?

I read Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder as a teenager. From what I remember, the novel tells the story of Sophie’s introduction to philosophy through a correspondence course that begins with some of the first philosophers in Ancient Greece and works its way to the early modern period—the 17th and 18th centuries—in Europe. This is when René Descartes worries about how someone could ever prove to themselves that they are awake and not dreaming. Suppose you pinch yourself to prove you’re awake. Couldn’t you be dreaming the pinch? I loved the way Sophie’s World took philosophers seriously, even when they argued for seemingly outlandish views. Maybe this is when I first experienced that irresistible combination of confusion and depth.

How do you practice philosophy today?

Doing philosophy historically provides me with the friction my thinking needs. Take the self’s relationship to its body. I have a sense of myself as the central fixed point in the swirl of my thoughts, experiences, and feelings (and maybe you do too). I desperately want to understand how this version of myself—the hidden, thinking center—relates to the human body I see in the mirror every morning. But I have no idea how to even start thinking about this problem on my own. The history of philosophy gives me a way to approach it. I can reconstruct Descartes’s view, for example, that the self is distinct from the body and yet intimately joined to it. I can explore the arguments he uses and the problems he runs into. I try to get his views right because my working assumption is that Descartes will have more interesting things to say than anything I could invent on his behalf. That interpretive project helps me avoid spiraling and worrying about a problem unproductively. I can figure out what I think by asking myself where I agree and disagree with Descartes or whoever. What did they get right? What might they have missed? Do their accounts resonate with my own sense of myself?

Admittedly, I could satisfy the need for friction in other ways, such as digging into more recent philosophical literature. But, as Andrew Janiak once pointed out, as soon as we engage with any pre-existing literature by interpreting and reconstructing other philosophers’ views, we are doing the history of philosophy, even if it is the recent history of the last few years. The question for me, then, is not whether to do the history of philosophy—as that seems unavoidable!—but about how far back we want to go. I don’t know that I have a fully principled reason for going all the way back to the 17th century to wrestle with Descartes, Malebranche, and Cavendish, especially since there was so much they just didn’t know about later scientific discoveries. But these figures work for me; I vibe with them in different ways.

What is a philosophical issue that is important to you?

The body is my main issue. I am interested in the fact that our bodies can seem like objects or things to be used and disposed of, and yet fundamental to who and what we are. Sometimes I feel like my body is an alien thing I drag around, other times that it is me. When I was growing up in Canada, I was terrible at sports or really any physical activity. All the other boys played by kicking a soccer ball around or playing catch. I could never figure out how to get my body to do these things. So, I was left out from these male ways of socializing. And I learned to distrust my body. Eventually, I came to inhabit my body more comfortably and recognize myself in it. But I still remember—and sometimes feel—what it’s like to be a stranger in my own skin. How can the body wear both these faces, a stranger’s and my own? That is the issue for me.

What books, podcasts, or other media would you recommend to anyone interested in philosophy?

This is a difficult question because there are so many things I want to recommend! I would like to suggest a few texts from my favorite period—17th and 18th-century European philosophy—because these are the texts that made me fall in love with philosophy. René Descartes’s Meditations on First Philosophy is a classic for a reason. It is written from the perspective of someone grown dissatisfied with his current beliefs—acquired haphazardly from his experience and teachers—who resolves to figure things out for himself. David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion is perfect for anyone wondering if God exists. Nicolas Malebranche’s Dialogues on Metaphysics and Religion provides a wonderful entryway into his system: a glorious cathedral of the mind made from concepts and logical connections. Finally, Margaret Cavendish’s Blazing World is wild in the best possible way: a 17th-century work of philosophical science fiction!

In terms of podcasts, I recommend (1) Peter Adamson’s amazing History of Philosophy Without any Gapswhich tells the long version of the story, and (2) my current obsession, Overthink by David M. Peña-Guzmán and Ellie Anderson, who find philosophical puzzles in unexpected topics, like fashion, laziness, and emotional labor, and make me wish I had been a continental philosopher.

This interview of Colin Chamberlain was first published at Why Philosophy?

Colin Chamberlain is an associate professor of philosophy at University College London, where he’s been teaching since 2023. Before that, he taught at Temple University. Chamberlain did his graduate work in philosophy at Harvard University and his undergraduate work at the University of Toronto. He works on 17th and 18th-century European philosophy, focusing specifically on Descartes, Malebranche, and Cavendish. His academic papers take up questions about self and body, the reality of color, and the contents of experience. He is currently writing a book about Malebranche’s account of embodiment.

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The post Why Philosophy? Colin Chamberlain first appeared on Daily Nous.

Art and Wartime in Ann Hood’s The Stolen Child

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 14/05/2024 - 1:20am in

Author Ann Hood sits down with Emma Minor to discuss how her new novel THE STOLEN CHILD explores the complexities of forgiveness....

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Extravagances of Neoliberalism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 14/05/2024 - 12:55am in

A conversation with Melinda Cooper.

Video: Starmer mocked for robotic reply to Elphicke ‘sex victim is a liar’ question

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 13/05/2024 - 7:54am in

Complete short-circuit leads to accusations Starmer welcomes Elphicke because she hates refugees

Robotic: Keir Starmer’s embarrassing response to serious questions about new recruit Elphick and a sexual abuse victim

Keir Starmer has been rightly derided for an embarrassing, robotic and politically appalling response to a question from an ITV News interviewer about Tory defector Natalie Elphicke’s dire comments about one of her then-husband’s sexual assault victims.

Asked whether she could be said to reflect Labour values in view of her vile description of a victim as a liar, Starmer appeared unable to compute the question, let alone think on his feet and respond appropriately, instead regurgitating a clearly-scripted reply that was criticised by many as amounting to ‘well she hates immigrants, so she’s welcome:

The disgraceful performance was, quite properly, hammered by those who saw it:

Labour under Keir Starmer is a cesspit of racism, the sickest of jokes and a political disaster for this country – and he’s not even slick about it.

If you wish to republish this post for non-commercial use, you are welcome to do so – see here for more.

Why Philosophy? Gabriella LaRose

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 08/05/2024 - 7:26am in

Gabriella LaRose is interviewed by Céline Leboeuf.

Why Philosophy?
Gabriella LaRose
interviewed by Celine Leboeuf

What is philosophy to you?

When I first started studying philosophy, I was met at every turn with some of the most confident folks I had ever encountered. Classes were brimming with students who passionately (and loudly!) argued with tenured professors. Early on, I tried to emulate this because I thought that philosophy was constituted by the same demonstrations of raw intelligence I saw at every turn. I mean, everyone I knew who was successful in philosophy exhibited the same unmatched confidence, persistence, and quickness of mind. Thankfully, this perception of philosophy faded as time went on, and I now think the act of philosophizing is a more natural practice that does not require winners and losers, a scorekeeper, or a chess clock. Philosophy, seen as this natural practice, is the act of reflecting on and articulating problems (and solutions!) to questions we have about the world. Importantly, I see philosophy as something that children can do when confronted with new situations, teenagers can do when navigating their budding adulthood, and we can do as professionals for money. As far as I am concerned, these are all valid instances of philosophizing. While the version of philosophy that professionals do undoubtedly requires more nuance and a deeper pool of literature to pull from, I do not see it as much different from seeking answers to the reflective questions we are all apt to ask.

How were you first introduced to philosophy?

As a naturally inquisitive person, I encountered philosophy in bits and pieces all through my childhood. If you buy my ‘practice’ view of philosophy, I encountered it in the form of asides within my favorite childhood novels and at the dinner table with my family. I have always found myself asking big questions and often found the answers to these questions insufficient. I was on Tumblr dot com as a teen, and so I read small and poignant excerpts from Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus and bell hooks’ The Will to Change to name two influential examples. Later, in college, I was introduced to academic philosophy almost accidentally, by fulfilling various Gen-Ed requirements. I quickly took to reading the classics you might associate with angsty youths—Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Simone de Beauvoir. From there, I have never looked back.

How do you practice philosophy today?

I am currently a graduate student at the University of Arizona. So, it’s my day job (that I love very much!). My areas of interest are philosophy of language and aesthetics, particularly where the two intersect. Luckily, there is a current trend in the aesthetics literature to discuss not only classically interesting topics in aesthetics like music, aesthetic value, and fine art but also Marvel movies, Appalachian murder ballads, and fan fiction. I am lucky enough to be a part of a fantastic community of folks who talk shop with me about fourth wall breaks, jabberwocky terms, and comic books. I try to keep from talking academic philosophy outside of work contexts, but sometimes I find myself going on diatribes about fiction—particularly how cool and philosophically complex it is.

What is a philosophical issue that is important to you?

Diversifying philosophy syllabi. While I am not in the business of telling folks further along in their careers that they need to change, I think there is something valuable in professors taking syllabus diversity seriously. This includes assigning readings from underrepresented groups and also readings from outside philosophy. As a young student, I adored courses where we read poetry alongside environmental ethics, psychology and philosophy of action, and music theory with aesthetics. I think it’s misguided to believe there is only one way to institute rigor in the classroom, and while there is a traditional set of readings “all philosophers must know,” we can challenge students to engage with different perspectives alongside these traditional readings to push their engagement further. Our profession is full of diverse and interdisciplinary perspectives. I think the readings we assign should be just as diverse and interdisciplinary as the students we teach. I cannot recommend these resources enough—Diversifying Syllabi BlogReadings on the Less Commonly Taught Philosophies, and The Deviant Philosopher—if you, like me, want to make diverse syllabi but don’t know where to begin.

What books, podcasts, or other media would you recommend to anyone interested in philosophy?

There is some amazing work being done in the aesthetics space on blogs. So, I recommend anyone interested check out The Junkyard of the Mind (devoted to imagination) and Aesthetics for Birds. I also really like the discussions happening on YouTube over at Philosophers Discussing Art. I am currently enjoying reading Mary Astell’s A Serious Proposal to the Ladies, a 17th-century take on women’s philosophical education. If you want recommendations for works of fiction that spark some interesting philosophical reflection (but are not academically philosophical), I recommend Piranesi by Susana Clarke, Anathem by Neal Stephenson, and Solaris by Stanislaw Lem.

This interview of Gabriella LaRose was first published at Why Philosophy?

Gabriella (Ella) LaRose, is a second-year Ph.D. student in philosophy at the University of Arizona. She earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Tennessee and her master’s from Colorado State University, both in philosophy. Her interests exist at the intersection of aesthetics, metaphysics, and philosophy of language. Away from her armchair, she enjoys spending time with her cats, knitting, taking photos on film, and snowboarding. You can find her personal website here.

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The post Why Philosophy? Gabriella LaRose first appeared on Daily Nous.

A Love Affair Without Sex?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 02/05/2024 - 9:55pm in

Tags 

Film, interview

Slow, the latest film by director Marija Kavtaradzė, is a heartfelt portrait of a couple on terra incognita...

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“Why Philosophy?” Aman Sakhardande

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/05/2024 - 8:35am in

Aman Sakhardande is interviewed by Céline Leboeuf.

Why Philosophy?
Aman Sakhardande
interviewed by Celine Leboeuf

What is philosophy to you?

Before philosophy, I often found myself in this situation: I would be told that some X is right and that if I did not understand X, nothing more could be said to explain it to me. There was some inexplicable reason that X was right which I just did not apprehend. The suggestion always seemed to be that you needed to be a special kind of person to understand X. For me, philosophy has given the lie to this esotericism. It has told me that if some X is ever right, there must be some reason to think this and that you, anybody, has the right to demand that reason and the capacity to understand it. For me, philosophy embodies this right and this principle.

How were you first introduced to philosophy?

There were two moments in secondary school. First, I happened upon Shashi Tharoor’s contribution to an Oxford Union debate. There, he argues (drawing on the history of colonialism in India) that Britain does owe reparations to its colonies. Setting aside empirical questions of how much, in what form, etc., he argues for the principle that reparations are owed, because a grave wrong was committed. In me, there was a latent interest in the history of South Asia which this argument awakened, and in turn, I was placed on a trajectory towards postcolonial theory. Second, due to a surge in mainstream alt-right thinking, I became compelled, almost magnetically, to explore what they were rejecting: “postmodernism” and “Marxism”. Thus, I learned how meaning could emerge from an ungrounded and arbitrary (but socially enforced and reproduced) distinction, and all the radical implications this had for the things that seemed meaningful to us.

How do you practice philosophy today?

I practice philosophy by writing it, by teaching it, and by speaking to others about it. In a previous post, my girlfriend (Veronika Z. Nayir) said that I pushed her towards “thinking out loud” as a manner of philosophizing. But in fact, it was she who convinced me that writing—meditating on what I had to say—is the highest form of philosophy. Since then, I’ve learned that teaching is one of the highest forms of writing because when I write to teach, I write with an explicit view towards how I would field questions from students, which illuminates a text like nothing else. Ultimately, I’ve realized that, for me, speaking is not necessarily the place of thinking(=pain), but rather is the locus of sharing and receiving ideas(=joy).

What is a philosophical issue that is important to you?

A topic I’ve been fascinated with is time, specifically from a phenomenological perspective. Here, my central question is, “How is our consciousness or subjectivity structured such that we can experience temporal passage?” This particular question is not only housed in broader questions about time but also in broader questions about sense. That anything can have meaning for us at all is essentially linked to how we experience time: our ability to hold onto moments as they flitter by makes it possible for us to have that thing we call experience (as opposed to chaos), our capacity to “see” possibilities (which are “virtual”) structures our experience of objects (which are “actual”), and so on. I hope to explore further the structures which condition our sense and experience of things, and maybe even probe into the deeper question: What is “sense” in the first place?

What books, podcasts, or other media would you recommend to anyone interested in philosophy?

I recommend The Reality of the Virtual by Slavoj Žižek. It’s a film-cum-lecture, full of wonderful little philosophical, phenomenological, psychoanalytic, and cultural insights. It completely changed how I look at the world and our situation within it. I also recommend Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s “Translator’s Preface” to Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology. It insistently troubles the concept of sense, and in my view, the outcome is an ethics of thinking, of how to think acknowledging our vulnerability and affirming our complicity. I also love Edmund Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations, in particular, the “Fifth Meditation”, which blew my mind and showed me what pure philosophy could accomplish. And a wonderful philosophy podcast that I always tune in to is What’s Left of Philosophy?

This interview of Aman Sakhardande was first published at Why Philosophy?

Aman Sakhardande is completing his B.A. this year in Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Toronto, where he will be beginning his Ph.D. in Philosophy in the fall of 2024. His primary research interests are phenomenology and critical theory (broadly construed). In particular, he has an intellectual affection for Heidegger and Marx.

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The post “Why Philosophy?” Aman Sakhardande first appeared on Daily Nous.

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