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Philosophy and Literature

In the beginning of the semester I had to the last minute panic again. It’s getting to the point where I feel bad about doing the panic because it ought to be so routine. The semester begins, I find out that certain classes are no longer being offered, aren’t what they were advertised to be, or are in conflict with other classes that I am already taking or need to take or whatever; and then I have to figure out a last minute deal to keep full time status while at the same time preserving some amount of sanity in regards to the commute. This semester I landed in the first class outside of the Philosophy department: Philosophy and Literature.

The class billed itself as an inquiry into the relationship between the worlds of philosophy and the worlds of literature. The professor himself expanded on the class by stating that we would further discuss the relationship of an author to the two subjects. So far, so good, however I thought we would be leading toward writings that are considered literature but actually contain philosophical arguments, i.e. the Brothers Karamazov or Notes From the Underground, The Stranger, etc. I figured going into the class that I would write something about the arguments put forth in conspiracy theories.

With the relationship of the author to these worlds I was a little set back but then found my footing. I adjusted what was initially going to be my paper into a discussion of the type of world that a conspiracy theorist perceives himself (it’s almost always a “him”) to exist in. The troubling thing about either of those topics is that there is very little academic literature on the subject but that’s always workable in itself.

As the class progressed I began to have that feeling of dread in which the class was pulled out from underneath me. Instead of reading anything that I thought we would be reading, the subject matter of the works seems to be more critical theory than anything else. If you are ignorant to the concept of critical theory than I truly envy you. Critical theory is a branch of English/Literature departments that personify every stereotype of ultra-left wing socialist academics that hate America. Anytime I hear someone like Glenn Beck talk about how academia is seeking to undermine the United States I know that they aren’t referring to most college instructors, but rather a slim minority of them and most of them work in critical theory. Deleuze is one, Noam Chomsky has been adopted into it, Foucault*, etc.

I will say that since the Fall, I’ve been up on the readings for my classes in a way that I have never been before. In other words: I’m walking into every class having read all of the prime material…secondary material not so much, but the prime it’s down. I owe this to Gwen’s pre-school that gives me eleven extra hours a week in which to do it. All of that being said, for the last three weeks in this class I have no idea what I am reading. I do it, I understand what each individual work has been saying, but I have no idea why I am reading it.

This week, is a rather dense article entitled “When Did the Modern Subject Emerge.” It refers to the idea of the sense of self that each individual has and the difference between ancient (Greek/Roman) understandings of it and the modern conception. It’s a blast, let me tell you. While it is dense, and intellectually challenging I sort of get it. I also sort of have to given that myself and another have to present on the topic during class. What I do not understand is what this has to do with the stated purpose of the class. Do I need to understand the sense of self in order to understand the relationship between philosophy and literature…maybe but it’s not obvious. Do I need to understand this paper to comprehend the author’s relationship to their own work? That’s even less clear.

As this paper seeks to explain the idea of substance, a prime focus in the history of philosophy, I get it. Between Aristotle and Descartes it makes a good deal of sense, but how is the nature of substance related to that of an author unless there is the attempt to claim that the author is the substratum which makes up the work. That would be a stretch because whether the author continues to exist or not matters little to the existence of the work, which is what the entire concept of substratum is. At some point I hope I find traction because March is approaching and I need to get that paper written by the end of it.


*To be fair Foucault isn’t as bad as Chomsky but he’s still bad. His followers on the other hand…even Marx looks at them and thinks, Damn slow it down.

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