Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Free-writing a pensive post (Part 3b of 3)

In the last post of this series, HERE, I discussed how things had been going for my health during the last few months.  If you've been following along Part 1 is HERE, Part 2 HERE, and Part 3a HERE. Ironic, maybe, that just recently, actually, I followed up with the heart doc three months after the cardiac ablation surgery. So far so good.  And I am feeling much better.  Now on to thinking about total hip replacement.

In this post I'd like to update my readers on my academic plans, specifically my teaching but also discuss some of this past year's research.

My first First Year Writing Seminar "Meaning of Life" proved interesting.  I've always enjoyed mentoring students and so when asked if I'd be interested to teach FYWS again for fall 2017 I of course agreed.  The theme I created is "An Inquiry into the Good" which seeks to answer the question, "What makes a life a good life?" My Chair was informed by the approving Dean of Humanities that the course sounded so interesting that even she'd like to sign up - so I must be doing something right!  Very excited to teach that.  Here is the course description:
What is “the good life?” Is it having money, success, fame, or power? What is “good,” anyway? Does goodness consist in being just or truthful, in partaking in acts of kindness and beauty? Or is goodness simply what is pleasurable and thus a material matter? What if it were argued that the good we all seek is, of course, happiness. This then begs the question: what is happiness? Is being happy always good, and does goodness necessarily involve happiness? This course explores two interrelated questions: “What makes for a good life?” and “What is happiness?” The course overall conceives of goodness and happiness – whatever those terms might mean – as first and foremost a matter of self-exploration and self-realization. That is, goodness and happiness are both ideals and states to be realized and achieved. Students will read, critically interpret, and write about a wide range of philosophers who have something to say about the nature of a good life and happiness – philosophers including Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Epictetus, Seneca, Augustine, Montaigne, Pascal, Nietzsche, and Schopenhauer, to name a few. In the course of engaging the writings of these philosophers students will have the opportunity to develop critical thinking, research, and writing skills.
Next on the agenda for fall 2017 is Existential Philosophy.  I'll be using Solomon's Existentialism text like usual but am also adding my Speculative Realism text in order to read the chapter on subject-at-center metaphysics.  Given that I am slated to teach a seminar in Phenomenology in the spring of 2018 I am hoping to use the SR text for both classes to get the most use out of it.  And finally for fall is Introduction to Philosophy (one of my favorite classes to teach, actually).

Spring semester has me slated for Ancient Greek philosophy, Introduction to Philosophy, and the seminar in Phenomenology (which I am still debating how best that'd be run).

Speculative Realism: An Epitome is now published.  I am glad that that project is over, for a multitude of reasons.  Probably the most pressing was just how politicized the available literature was, in addition to the sheer paucity of available, but also reputable, literature (meaning, there was hardly any). This made the book tremendously difficult to write.  I saw authors making 90 degree right turns to avoid mentioning this person or that person, or editors of online journals (graduate-student run and reviewed, mind-you) behaving like jerks on Twitter and hence compromising even ever hoping to achieve any semblance of trustworthiness or respectability for whatever they did publish on SR, and overall just ridiculousness that was so laughably bad that I couldn't even believe it was published online to begin with (Figure/Ground was especially terrible with repeatedly interviewing the same people over and over and over again, and one other journal that shall not be named were guilty of this but with the same authors appearing in each and every single issue. But said unnamed journal is just so repetitive in who publishes in it - most articles are within the bubble, and there is nothing new or informative about it. But, I think Figure/Ground is run by undergraduate students which, well, are we now quoting "journals" online run by newly declared philosophy majors?)

One strong case in point was how one of the very few authors who did manage to publish a book on the subject intentionally appeared to avoid using at all costs my interview with Iain Hamilton Grant while simultaneously complaining on Twitter that he was unable to locate a woefully outdated interview with Grant published in PLI over a decade earlier which he was hoping to use for his book. This was perplexing. Further, bowdlerized histories weren't uncommon in the other two books on the subject which were published, and this further frustrated my research.  So, I did what I could.

I saw on Twitter Urbanomic liken the situation to a broken-down abomination clawing its way back to momentary attention just to remind everyone  how it had already come and gone.  True. But also maybe there is another way to put it.  First, perhaps it could be described that in writing the book it would be as if I were showing around curious onlookers the crash site and decade-old remains of a once fancy airliner that had taken off for a flight but immediately had exploded over the runway just as its wheels left ground. The second way to put it (and this is to my own detriment) would be that there once was a conversation occurring in an ornately adorned lecture hall that over a few years happened to empty out.  But yet a decade later there I am in that room, long since abandoned, mumbling to those looking in from the hallway who had become curious hearing me as they passed by. I think this analogy explains why I sometimes feel as though this publication could have been better supplanted by my own thinking on a new topic.

Ah, before I forget. There was yet another comparison which had come to mind in writing the book.  So from the viewpoint of those who adamantly pound on the table and shout "It still exists! It still exists!" I thought: These are the 48 year-olds and their friends who were once star high-school quarter backs, but show up to today's games and shout from the sidelines how the game should be played.  They even attempt to climb over that chain-link fence separating the team from the crowd.  The sad part is, they're not even at their own high-school team's game, as that high-school shut down about ten years ago.

I'm weird, I know.  I just couldn't think of any other way to describe the experience of writing that book.

Anyway, the book-writing process is done and over with - the story told, and I move on to bigger and better things.

Other publications: I wrote something much more fun - a book chapter on the philosophical ecology of John William Miller.  Over winter break one year we had a reading group dedicated to Miller (who I discovered incidentally by reading an essay that Corrington had written about him).  That essay will be published in a book called Nature's Transcendence and Immanence, edited by Oh and Lawrence.  Given that the SR book took up so much time, and also battling my health, those were the only two big projects I could find time to publish. Although, I'd say that I managed to be fairly productive enough all things considered, as a book is no small feat.  And with the Miller/ecology chapter I was glad I could turn it over on time, as I know as a former book editor myself how time is of the essence.

Teaching went very, very well this past fall and currently has been going great (one can read about this semester's classes in the second post of this series).  Actually, it is hard to believe that the spring semester is nearly over.  It feels as though it just began!  That's a good thing, I think.  Great students - and I managed to nab two philosopher majors! Very cool. I was in charge of our "Exceptional Promise in Philosophy Award" which honors undeclared non-majors who have performed very well in our current philosophy classes this semester. It is a confidence boost for them and a good recruitment strategy. But I am honored to give out the award to some outstanding students.  In particular, Continental Philosophy went very well this term, against my expectations. In fact, many students in the class were prone to volunteer excellent examples and other ways in which something might said so everyone could comprehend the theory we happened to be discussing for the day.  Same with Environmental Philosophy and Intro.  Excellent, wonderful students.  I am indeed blessed.

In any case, now I am at the fun part of the crossroads which is determining where I go from here for my next research project.  Classes are set for fall and spring of next year: An Inquiry into the Good, Intro to Philosophy, and Existential Philosophy for fall; and then Ancient Greek Philosophy, Intro, and Phenomenology for spring.

I just need to decide what I'd like to accomplish research-wise next year, or at least what topics I'd be interested in exploring.  I really need to set a new and fresh direction.  Blaze a trail.  I will discuss that in the last post of this series, part "3c."