Today’s New APPS Interview is with Beth Lord, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Dundee.
Thanks for doing this interview with us today, Beth. Let’s start with your personal practice of philosophy. What are the pleasures and pains of philosophy for you?
The proportion of my time spent actually doing philosophy is probably very little, but those times are highly affective. I find philosophical writing difficult, anxiety-inducing, and even painful, but I think a life without these feelings, which probably accompany any intellectually worthwhile activity, would be much less rich. Moments of clarity, when I finally figure out how to resolve a problem or interpret a passage, are very satisfying.
No gain without pain, to use the athletic saying. Of course there’s no guarantee that pain leads to gain, but that’s a story for another time! Tell us about isolation vs group work: how does that work for you?
Today’s New APPS Interview is with Linda Martín Alcoff, Professor of Philosophy at Hunter College and CUNY Graduate Center.
Thanks very much for doing this interview with us today, Linda. Let’s start with your personal practice of philosophy. What are the pleasures and pains of philosophy for you?
Philosophy is a major addiction, let’s just call it out for what it is. As an adult, I took a three year break from philosophy, after I dropped out of college, worked various jobs, and did a lot of political activism, but I found myself mulling over Heidegger’s critique of Cartesianism on my day job, and daydreaming about Pascal when I was supposed to be putting out a newsletter.
Did your coworkers ever notice?
I think they thought I was just in my usual stupor. Like all other addictive behaviors, philosophy is neither pleasure nor pain, but compulsion. Time never passes so quickly as when I am reading and writing philosophy.
Yeah, there’s nothing like that absorption. How about collaborations?
I enjoy both solitary and collaborative work. Collaborations stimulate my brain, forces me to become articulate about half-formed ideas, while solitary work allows me to mull over ideas at my own pace.
Today’s New APPS interview is with Ruth Chang, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Rutgers University.
Thanks for doing this interview with us today, Ruth. Let’s start with your personal practice of philosophy. What are the pleasures and pains of philosophy for you?
Well, like many philosophers, I have an ambivalent relationship with philosophy. I love it, but it’s hard work and frustratingly difficult to make any real progress. When I succeed in deceiving myself into believing that I am making progress, it’s great! And the old saying is true: ‘What? I’m being paid to do this?’ Or maybe more accurately in this dire economy: ‘What? I’m being paid not-enough to do this?’
How did you come to study philosophy? Can you tell us a little about your childhood?
I grew up in Minnesota in a very Wonderbread and mayonnaise suburb. I think being one of three non-white families in the town had a big impact on me. A lot of my philosopher friends are ‘outsiders’ in one way or another, and it shows in our philosophy. I first encountered philosophy when I picked up Plato’s Republic at a pretty early age. It was unlike anything else I had ever read. Before then, I had wanted to become a geneticist – and even tried to do a transplant on a rat in my Dad’s lab.
There’s a long tradition of the Minnesota outsider: Bob Dylan, the Coen brothers… When did you know you wanted to study philosophy?
Today’s New APPS interview is with Kelly Oliver, W Alton Jones Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University
Thanks for doing this interview with us today, Kelly. Let’s start with your personal practice of philosophy. What are the pleasures of philosophy for you?
I love reading difficult philosophical texts because I feel like a detective following clues. I am especially drawn to philosophy that takes up big questions about the meaning of life, particularly as they relate to social issues.
Today’s New APPS Interview is with Jonathan Kramnick, Professor of English at Rutgers University.
Thanks very much, Jonathan, for doing this interview with us today. Why don’t we start by talking a little about how your work brings philosophy and literary study together?
Thanks for the opportunity, John! I'm very happy for the chance to talk with you here. I think the simplest way to answer your question is that I'm interested in how literary form approaches problems that are also of importance for philosophy and at times the cognitive sciences. For example, my recent book, Actions and Objects from Hobbes to Richardson (Stanford, 2010), is about what counted as an action in the long eighteenth century. It puts poetry and fiction alongside philosophical essays while also drawing freely from contemporary philosophy of action and mind, including figures like Anscombe, Davidson, Chalmers, and so on. These are household names in analytic philosophy of course but are somewhat unusual in literary study, where the philosophical points of reference are more commonly from the Continental tradition. I know this is a hot button issue in your discipline and one this website is particularly interested in having a nuanced take on. I'm happy not to have that burden and just to work with the philosophy I find most compelling and useful.
Indeed, the way the analytic vs continental thing was refracted through philosophical reaction to the literary theory appropriation of French thought in the 1970s and 1980s is a long, complex, and really quite over-determined story. So I can imagine it’s a breath of fresh air for you to get outside all that and just plain read some other people.
Today’s New APPS Interview is with Alexis Shotwell, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Laurentian University.
Thanks for doing this interview with us, Alexis. Let’s start with your personal practice of philosophy. What are the pleasures and pains of philosophy for you?
By disposition, my writing practice is less solitary than many philosophers. That means that I like writing in cafes and libraries, I work through ideas best by talking them out with others, and I genuinely love conferences. I do tether myself to my desk when I need to grit my way through a particular stage of the writing, but a lot of the time my best work happens in ways that don’t look like work from outside.
I make sure to grumble and groan a lot about how hard my work is!
Oh, it’s not that I don’t struggle with writing and talk about it! But I rarely have writing blocks, and I’m good at patching together small by-the-way bits of writing time. This is irritating to people like my partner – a writer but not a professional academic – who have the feeling that I pull articles from whole cloth out of the air.
I find collaborative writing and all forms of philosophical interaction extremely pleasurable. When I collaborate and it goes well (as it certainly did for the book), I definitely feel like the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In the midst of collaboration, I can think in ways I simply couldn’t on my own; it is very exciting. I find solitary writing excruciatingly painful and a huge test of my will power, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love it. There is nothing that makes me feel as fulfilled as writing. I’ve never bought into this idea that it’s somehow obvious that pain is bad, even subjectively. I’m totally down with pain.
To adapt the old line about politics, you may not be interested in pain, but it’s interested in you! Tell us something of your daily practice if you would.
Today’s New APPS interview is with Tommie Shelby, Professor of Philosophy and of African and African American Studies, Harvard University.
Thanks very much for doing this interview with us today, Tommie. Let’s start with your personal practice of philosophy. What are the pleasures and pains of philosophy for you?
I’ve always enjoyed the solitary side of philosophy--the reflection, reading, and writing. It’s fair to say that I live much of my life inside my head, often getting lost in thought when I should really be focusing on my wife, kids, or some practical task. I’d say I find philosophy most painful when I’ve worked long and hard on a problem only to discover that I’ve barely scratched the surface or that my solution won’t work.
Today’s New APPS interview is with Eric Winsberg, Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Florida.
Thanks, Eric, for doing this interview with us today. You’re known for philosophy of science and philosophy of physics. Were you bookish, artsy, athletic as a child? Or were you always tech-oriented?
Pretty much. I was born in NYC, but moved to Montreal before I really reached consciousness. I wasn’t particularly bookish, artsy or athletic as a kid. I was mostly into science and technology. If I read, it was mostly science stuff.
Scientific American, Popular Science and Popular Electronics. I was really into Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series, and read his book. And of course as a teenager I loved Gödel, Escher, Bach, and The Emperor’s New Mind. The earliest favorite book of mine that I can remember was A Drop of Blood.
Today’s New APPS interview is with Cressida Heyes, Canada Research Chair in Philosophy of Gender and Sexuality at the University of Alberta.
Thanks for doing this interview with us, Cressida. Let’s start with your personal practice of philosophy. What are the pleasures and pains of philosophy for you?
I’m an introvert by nature, so although I enjoy others’ company often enough, I also need to spend periods of time each day alone, thinking my own thoughts, recharging. Doing philosophy seriously for a long time means that one’s mental landscape only gets more and more complex and interesting, so I suspect there’s a self-reinforcing dynamic here. I like working things out in my head.
Today’s New APPS Interview is with Lee Braver, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Hiram College.
Thank you, Lee, for doing this interview with us. Let’s start with your personal practice of philosophy. Do you work alone for the most part?
Doing philosophy is a primarily solitary activity for me—except in the sense that reading is like having conversations with the greatest minds, as Descartes says. My mind is sharpest in the morning so I try to do as much as possible then, after I’ve gotten my kids off. Writing is especially important for me to do in the morning, when my mind is still limber and open, while I can read and do work for classes in the afternoons. I like listening to music while I work. Piano music generally goes best with writing for me—Bach, Keith Jarrett, James Booker all work well.
Pleasure in reading is quite close to a necessary condition for success in philosophy, wouldn’t you say? I suppose there are exceptions, but it would be hard to think how it would be worth it if reading weren’t a thrill for someone. Anyway, has your writing changed over the years?
Today’s New APPS Interview is with Samuel Wheeler, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Connecticut.
Thanks very much for doing this interview with us, Sam. Let’s start with your personal practice of philosophy. What are the pleasures and pains of philosophy for you?
A great pleasure for me is what it’s like when I’m working on a paper that has some interesting ideas that I haven’t entirely thought through. The experience of writing an original paper (rather than an assignment, such as “could you write a chapter on Y for our guide to X”) is very much like what I experienced as a painter and print maker during my art-major and post-art-major period—you’re thinking about nothing else, night and day, problems come up, you mull over them, your muse kicks in with an idea, and you go on writing until you hit the next problem.
Yes, there’s a great pleasure in that kind of immersion.
I also enjoy steep learning curves in new stuff that connects with my training, but requires reading lots of interesting and unfamiliar people. In order to write about Derrida, I read, for the first time, a lot of Hegel, Husserl, Saussure, Freud, and Heidegger. A long process, but pretty exhilarating.
Yes, with Derrida, there’s a huge tradition to become familiar with. The same with any great philosopher I imagine.
What is your daily practice? Do you have a set routine?
Today’s New APPS Interview is with Berit Brogaard, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Psychology at the University of Missouri – St. Louis.
Hello, Brit, thanks for doing this interview with us. Let’s start with your personal practice of philosophy. What are the pleasures and pains of philosophy for you?
One of the things I love most about philosophy is the writing process. I love to write and work on outlines for new papers or books. When I know I have two hours an afternoon to just work on my papers, I feel like a little kid on Christmas Eve waiting for Christmas morning to arrive.
Have you always found pleasure in writing?
Yeah, writing has always been my passion. I started out as a writer back in Copenhagen. I published three collections of poetry, a children’s book about Darwin and a young adult novel. I quickly realized that I wasn’t going to get rich by writing books in a language spoken by only 5 million people.
Well, I’m not sure you’re going to get rich in philosophy either! Unless you write a best-selling logic textbook I guess.
Oh yeah. I forgot about that. Anyway, I gave up my writing career and decided to focus on my studies at the university instead. I soon realized that my passion was writing, not just fiction, but just about anything I knew anything about. So philosophy was a perfect field of study for me.
Today’s New APPS Interview is with Kris McDaniel, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Syracuse University.
Thanks very much for doing this interview with us today, Kris. Let’s start with your personal practice of philosophy. What are the pleasures and pains of philosophy for you?
I love philosophy and I recognize that I am extremely lucky that I have a job that lets me do it. I have the usual work-related anxieties that I suspect a lot of us have, especially ones relating to writing. When working on something I worry that it isn’t very good but that someone will beat me to it.
I’ve never heard of such a thing. But let’s push on: what about the rhythm of your writing?
I tend to write in bursts. When I find myself with something to write about, the bulk of the paper is generated in an initial flurry, followed by months of tedious rewriting. Once a decent draft comes into being, I pester people for comments. Eventually something gets sent off to a journal. And then I wait for the next burst, always with a bit of anxiety that the most recent burst is the last.
Well, so far there’s always been a next time. Let’s hope that continues! What about co-writing?
My first professional presentation (at the pacific APA) was co-written, and I’ve published two papers that were written with my colleague Ben Bradley. I enjoyed the co-writing process and experienced less of the usual writing-related anxieties as well.
What is your daily practice? Do you have a set routine?
Thank you for doing today’s interview with us, Neil. Can you tell us a little about your research areas?
I work in two main areas: free and moral responsibility and neuroethics. Neuroethics is itself a broad field, ranging from applied ethics to philosophy of mind and experimental work. These different fields involve different work practices. In Australia, I work at a neuroscience institute. My colleagues are scientists, mostly with little interest or patience for philosophy.
Yeah, it seems to be a point of pride with many of them – though not all.
Unfortunately, they associate philosophy with ‘ethics’ and ‘ethics’ with form-filling for ethics committees (as we calls IRBs). Since I’m in Australia most of the time, when I’m doing philosophy – especially free will, which is such an American debate - my colleagues are people I meet very occasionally. I keep up with them through their writing and through a blog, Flickers of Freedom. This means I am in some ways at a disadvantage: I don’t tend to hear their papers at conferences in colloquia. But the internet enables me to keep up in a way that once would have been impossible for an Australian.
There’s no more Antipodes!
There’s a well-known book about Australian history called The Tyranny of Distance. The internet has helped to overthrow that tyrant. But nothing makes up for a loss of face-to-face contact. When I do neuroethics, my colleagues at the Florey Neuroscience Institutes are obviously more relevant. They are involved in the empirical work I do.
The New APPS interview with Alessandra Tanesini, Professor of Philosophy at Cardiff University, will run in two parts. Part II is here; Part I was last week.
Philosophy and other humanities are under increasing pressure to justify their existence in universities on short-term economic criteria, sometimes in number of majors or tuition income, sometimes in terms of outside grants. How is this pressure manifest at your university? How do you respond to it, practically and theoretically?
In the UK this is an enormous issue; we are entering a phase that is likely to change British Higher Education beyond all recognition. The big hike in students’ fees is what has made the headline news, but there are other changes that in my view will prove as significant. I believe that education is a public as well as a private good. The education of students benefits society as a whole and also the individual recipients. However, it does not automatically follow from this that education should be paid for by the public pursue. Road infrastructure is a public good in the same way but it does not seem inappropriate for users to pay to use a bridge or a motorway. What matters most in my view is not so much whether the cost of education comes from general taxation or whether individual students have to make a substantial contribution to the cost of their education but whether the arrangements, whatever they might be, do not put off people from disadvantaged backgrounds. In this regard a graduate tax, if practicable, might have been a better option than a rise in fees since there is evidence that people think of student loans as debt but would not think of a graduate tax in the same way. Financially speaking there probably is little difference between the two given the way students’ loans are being set up.
Many colleagues here bemoan the loss of the government teaching grant and the whole move to a private financing of higher education. I have to confess that I don’t wholly agree.
Today’s New APPS interview is with Alessandra Tanesini, Professor of Philosophy at Cardiff University. This is Part I; Part II will run next week.
Thanks very much for doing this interview with us, Alessandra. Let’s start with your personal practice of philosophy. What are the pleasures and pains of philosophy for you?
New (to me) ideas and thoughts give me the greatest pleasure. They can come to me when reading others’ work, when engaging in conversation with students or when thinking about or writing my own research. The greatest productive pain is when I struggle to organize my thoughts into a paper.
How do you experience solitary study and writing vs collaborative writing?
I love reading and writing on my own in my study surrounded by my books, especially when no other tasks are making pressing demands on my time. I have written a few joint papers, and the experience has been very different every time. I have never however written anything jointly with a non-philosopher; I suspect that that would be yet a different experience.
What about conferences?
I must confess that as I grow older I enjoy conferences, especially big ones, less. I love the exchange of ideas but I think that small workshops are so much better for that. I do not leave Cardiff often these days and when I do I miss my daily routines. It would be ideal if everyone came to Cardiff instead. Gosh… I am getting old.
So are we all! What is your daily practice? Do you have a set routine?
Today’s New APPS interview is with Graham Harman, Professor of Philosophy and Associate Provost for Research Administration at the American University in Cairo.
Thanks very much for doing this interview with us today, Graham. Let’s start with some general questions about the affective side of things. What are the pleasures and pains of philosophy for you? How do you experience solitary study and writing, collaborative writing, camaraderie at conferences?
Here I’m a split personality. On the one hand I spend tremendous amounts of time alone, and even require this for basic sanity. I have many thoughts to sort out, and can’t do it when I’m having too many conversations. For example, I rarely make telephone calls. So I have a very introverted side in that respect. You probably have to, if you’re writing a lot.
Yet on the other hand, many people have described me as outgoing, friendly, a builder of networks, and so forth. This is also true. Tremendous energies can be unleashed if you simply encourage other people in what they are doing and feed off the energies they are already unleashing, rather than trying to impose your will on them through critique or any sort of high-handed negation.
If someone has an interesting idea, I try to build on it by linking it to something I’m doing myself, and then suddenly you have a temporary partnership that takes you somewhere you never expected. That’s why I like university administrative work more than you might expect. People receive encouragement from others too rarely, and I like to give it to them as much as I can.
Let’s narrow the temporal focus a bit. What is your daily practice of philosophy? Do you have a set routine?
Hello, Paul, thanks very much for doing this interview with us. What’s your personal practice of philosophy?
I’d say that the practice of philosophy is, for me, actually quite impersonal. In certain ways I try to remove myself from what I write, to aspire to a kind of objectivity.
How so? Objectivity is quite a heavy term, isn’t it?
It isn’t the objectivity of natural science or the attempt to take a “view from nowhere” (which, as we all know, is problematic), but it’s related, maybe more like the impersonality of mathematics. That’s because, as Badiou would say, philosophy is somehow related to truth. And truth is, in some sense, impersonal. Or maybe better, it’s something like what Wittgenstein says in the foreword to the Philosophical Remarks, that he’s trying to grasp what is essential, and that this is opposed to the technological and constructive spirit of the dominant culture of his time.
Thanks so much for doing this interview with us today, Del. Let’s start with your personal practice of philosophy. What are the pleasures and pains of philosophy for you?
One of the pains of philosophy for me is actually finding the time to work. As you know, I teach at a small, private liberal arts university. My teaching load is 3/2. I always have two preps, often not squarely in my area of scholarship, and I frequently develop new courses or thoroughly revise old ones. I spend many hours each week preparing, grading, and meeting with undergraduates. In addition to that, I’m expected to do a lot of committee work, and, at mid-career, I usually have a leadership role. These activities can be very rewarding, but much of the time they work against writing. This is the reason why it takes me close to a decade to write a book.
But they are excellent books! I’ve learned so much from both of them. What about the daily practice of writing; who do you bounce your ideas off of?
In a small department with a primarily analytic focus, I also don’t have a lot of opportunity for philosophical discussion with colleagues. Most of my work has gone on in virtual isolation. Nobody saw any of the text of Bodies and Pleasures until I had five of the seven chapters finished. In many respects that was a very personal text; I was very hesitant to share it until it had been developed enough to sort of justify its approach.
On the other hand, I saw several conference papers whose content ended up in your second book.
Yes, working on Racism and Sexual Oppression in Anglo-America was different in that respect. Once I figured out the form it would take, I called on friends like Ellen Armour and Todd May to read it as I wrote. But these friendships are, unfortunately, long-distance.
Today’s New APPS Interview is with Ezequiel Di Paolo, Ikerbasque Research Professor at the University of the Basque Country, San Sebastian, Spain. The subject of today’s interview is the new collection Enaction: Toward a New Paradigm for Cognitive Science (MIT Press, 2010), of which Di Paolo is a co-editor, along with John Stewart and Olivier Gapenne.
Many thanks, Ezequiel, for taking part in this interview. Let’s set the stage for those readers who may be relatively new to this field. Enaction is a developing “third way” in cognitive science, beside the two dominant paradigms of classical computationalism (cognition works via the rule-bound manipulation of discrete symbols) and connectionism (cognition works via the emergence of global states in neural networks). From the enactivist viewpoint, computationalism and connectionism are united in their functionalism. Can you tell us in what ways enaction takes its distance from functionalism as a basic presupposition in cognitive science?
The dominant paradigm in cognitive science has been functionalism in its computational-representational form. Connectionism is a correction to how this had initially been understood in AI (rules implemented via symbolic manipulation) but remains placed well within the functionalist paradigm.
What is interesting to me about functionalism is not its conception of the mind as a form of computation (whether in our brains or bodies or extended in the world, it doesn’t make a big difference). What I find interesting is that simply saying that the mind is a form of information processing is to say very little. What kind of computation, specifically? Is computation as a concept co-extensive with cognition? Why not? What makes some systems cognitive and not others?
In order to answer such questions we must first realize that functionalism is precisely designed to avoid them! And this is exactly the power of the information processing metaphor and the use of representational language. It doesn’t say anything, but it allows a research discipline to function.
Asking big questions like what is cognition?, what is meaning,? what is behavior?, what is agency?, what is the social?, subverts the functionalist project because such questions point to its “foundational crime”. Like nation states and the rule of law, scientific disciplines also function by a consensual blindness about their origins. We conspire not to look at the fact that our disciplinary edifices are often built over a mud of ignorance. It’s impolite to ask a biologist about the nature of life, a physicist about what is matter or a cognitive scientist about what is the mind. I have done it and the first reaction is invariably one of consternation, as if I had mentioned something obscene.
How does enaction address these unasked fundamental questions?
Thank you for doing this interview with us, Elizabeth. You don’t shy away from a critical engagement with the disembodied nature of classical AI, but you don’t do it from an exteriorizing and distancing relation. Instead you seek a more positive, empathic rapport with the history of the subject and its major figures. Can you tell us more about this decision?
Much of this emerged from the archival nature of the project. I spent a lot of time in archives looking at correspondence and marginalia and early drafts of papers written by AI pioneers like Alan Turing, Walter Pitts, and Warren McCulloch. I also looked at logbooks and correspondence and reports written in the early computer labs (in the US and the UK).
While I certainly saw material that sponsored a disembodied notion of AI, I also saw a lot of concerns (both quotidian and intellectual) about the nature of the body in relation to mind, especially emotion in relation to mind. I was struck that there was more “feeling” in these materials that a conventional critique of the disembodied nature of AI usually acknowledges.
That was one of the key realizations of the project: interest in emotion in AI and computer science didn’t just drop from the sky in the mid 1990s. Rather, there is a history of engagement with emotion in AI from the very beginning. This is a minor history of random notes, not to be found in every place, but nonetheless it is a history that significantly refigures the claims that the current interest in emotion and computation is new.
And from this a number of important political and intellectual questions follow: What interests are being served when someone argues that emotion has only recently arrived in AI? If this interest is not new, then what presumptions and expectations are being imported, silently, from older work? Is all AI affective? If so, then what affects have counted the most, and to what ends?
Today’s New APPS interview is with LA Paul, Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina.
Thanks for doing this interview with us, Laurie. Let’s start with your personal practice of philosophy. How do you experience solitary study and writing?
I love solitary writing. Facing a challenge or a problem in my work and then overcoming it—when this actually happens—is one of my favorite intellectual experiences.
What about collaborations?
I have also done collaborative work with Ned Hall on causation. We have a blast, wrangling through ideas and then co-writing chapters in our book. After we talk through the ideas, one of us will write a draft, then the other will rewrite/heavily revise, and then the other will rewrite/heavily revise, and so on, until it’s done.
What about conferences?
As for conferences, I like small, m&e focused ones the best, where I can talk to other metaphysicians and hear about their projects. They always give me great, very pointed feedback on mine. I learn so much from other philosophers.
What is your daily practice? Do you have a set routine?
Today’s New APPS interview is with Levi Bryant, Professor of Philosophy at Collin College. He blogs at Larval Subjects.
Thanks for doing this interview with us today, Levi. Let’s start with your personal practice of philosophy. What are the pleasures and pains of philosophy for you?
I suppose that for me the pain of philosophy is when it is absent. Klossowski’s Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle has always resonated deeply with me as my thought goes through various rhythms of intensity and withdrawal. I go through periods where no thought comes to me. At such times I feel as if I’m dead and I’m unable to do much beyond sleep and eat. The world becomes pale and gray. At other times thoughts come with great intensity and it’s all I can do to get them out. I quite literally experience these periods in my body. My heart races, there’s a certain breathlessness, I find myself pacing back and forth quite a bit. Peirce talks about how signs literally grow like a plant, and that’s exactly what it feels like. One idea leads to another and suddenly there’s a torrent of words. Strangely, despite the amazing enjoyment such periods give me, I also find them acutely painful. It’s as if I have to find ways to subdue myself or I’ll burn up.
How do you experience solitary study and writing?
I don’t really think of philosophy as a solitary activity. I’m not even sure if I’m the one doing the philosophy. In Anti-Oedipus Deleuze and Guattari talk about a schizophrenic unconscious that’s haunted by a sort of glossolalia. It’s filled with all sorts of tribes, national myths, history, discourses, images, expressions, and so on. This seems right. I’m often unsure as to just why I have certain things in my head or where they came from. I experience them as if they came from elsewhere. They’re snippets of philosophy that I’ve read, television documentaries, newspapers, novels, films, and so on. I just try to pass them along a little. I gave up trying to be original long ago. To me it seems that the moment you strive to be original nothing happens. Originality is always retroactive. Instead I’ve authorized myself to repeat, to share what I’ve found beautiful, fascinating, frightful, and so on. I want others with whom I can discuss these things and share them.
So there’s already quite a crowd, to quote the beginning of A Thousand Plateaus. What about upping the ante and collaborations between people who are already multiple?
Today’s New APPS interview is with François Raffoul, Professor of Philosophy at Louisiana State University.
Hello François, thanks for doing this interview with us today. Let’s start with your personal practice of philosophy. What are the pleasures and pains of philosophy for you? Is it solitary or communal practice in your life?
This is a difficult question. Philosophy brings tremendous pleasures, but also anxiety… I might be tempted to say that for me philosophy is a fairly solitary exercise, as if there were a certain isolating quality to philosophical reflection, perhaps even an individuating quality. Yet, I must also admit that the work consists mainly in engaging in a dialogue with texts, authors, thoughts and ideas, a work based on an opening to and listening to what comes to thought, an experience with the question… Nonetheless through this dialogue I still feel that I am discovering and developing a certain singularity, even if what I find is not simply mine. I experience writing as a difficult, intense, personal and even intimate process, a discovery of self where what is most crucial to me is being articulated. This is perhaps why I am not entirely comfortable with the exposure to a public domain, such as conferences (or this interview!).
But we see each other at a few conferences every year.
I do enjoy conferences, precisely for the camaraderie, but engaging philosophical dialogues there is more difficult for me. As Deleuze puts it What is Philosophy? (thanks to Eyal Peretz for this reference), “philosophers have very little time for discussion. Every philosopher runs away when he or she hears someone say, ‘let’s discuss this’. Discussions are fine for roundtable talks, but philosophy throws its numbered dice on another table. The best one can say about discussions is that they take things no farther, since the participants never talk about the same thing. Of what concern is it to philosophy that someone has such a view, and thinks this or that, if the problems at stake are not stated? … Communication always comes too early or too late, and when it comes to creating, conversation is always superfluous… Philosophy hates discussions” (p.28ff).
Thanks for doing this interview with us today, Jason. Can you tell us a little about how you came to study philosophy?
I grew up in Syracuse, New York. My father was a sociology professor at Syracuse University. He had started out a PhD program in philosophy, but left when he was told that the questions he asked were never interesting (he subsequently unfailingly described academic philosophy as “that discipline in which the interesting questions are not considered interesting”).
Well, I can’t say I completely disagree! In any case, what did your father teach?
He taught the theory courses in the Sociology Department at Syracuse – Durkheim and Weber, of course, but also Aristotle and Hegel. He was an implacable foe of analytic philosophy and economics. Naturally, my brother became an economist and I went into analytic philosophy.
I grew up in the kind of household in which it was impossible not to know that philosophy existed. My father read Rousseau’s Confessions to my brother and me when I was quite young. He also read many of Plato’s dialogues to us when we were young. As I discovered later, he was constantly quoting the Nicomachean Ethics without what I would today describe as appropriate attribution. Much of my reading as a youth was Frankfurt School – Origins of Totalitarianism, that sort of thing.
Thanks very much for doing this interview with us today, Mark. Let’s start with your personal practice of philosophy. You’ve recently published a book with Rebecca Kukla, ‘Yo!’ and ‘Lo!’: The Pragmatic Topography of the Space of Reasons (Harvard, 2009). Can you tell us how you approach collaborations?
I’ve always found a great deal of joy in collaboration – that is really trying to think through issues with another philosopher; not the sort of “let’s prove I’m smart” argument that is all too common in the field – and have moved more and more towards that in recent years. I’ve now published with, I think, 8 different people, and am planning projects with others. The process is different with different collaborations, but Rebecca and I, while drawing on earlier individual work, argued through every single point of the book. Then one of us would draft a section, passing it back and forth several times. And the final writing was always done with both of us in front of the screen going over every word together. There is a kind of intellectual intimacy - something rather like a collective mind - that arises from this sort of work that is really quite amazing.
What about conferences? I was disappointed at not being able to meet you in person at the now infamous Snowmageddon APA!
Yes, that was a disaster all around. I am perhaps weird in really liking conferences of almost all sorts. Big APAs let me see friends and colleagues that I see only once a year, and smaller focused conferences are enormously intellectually stimulating.
Do you have a set routine in your daily practice of philosophy?
Today’s New APPS interview is with Taylor Carman, Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University (Barnard College).
Thank you for doing this interview with us, Taylor. Let’s start with your personal practice of philosophy. What are the pleasures and pains of philosophy for you?
The pleasure of philosophy is, for me, the pleasure of cutting through confusion, evasion, and distraction and getting right to the bottom of some very basic question or problem. “A whole cloud of philosophy condensed into a drop of grammar," Wittgenstein said. Unlike Wittgenstein, though, I think philosophical progress, getting to the bottom of things, sometimes increases rather than dispels the halo of mystery surrounding ourselves and the world.
How do you experience solitary study and writing, collaborative writing, camaraderie at conferences?
For me, philosophical writing is a very solitary activity, but it would wither away if it weren’t sustained by conversation, exchange, and – even more important – long-standing intellectual friendships.