Tutors Talk Books: Patricia Locke
Tutors Talk Books is a series of interviews with St. John’s College tutors. In this interview, we caught up with Patricia Locke, a tutor at St. John’s since 1984. Her full bio can be found at the bottom of this article.
When did your interest in the great books begin?
Well, I think when I was about 12 years old. I was reading lots of kids books before that, but when I was 12 my uncle gave me a copy of The History of Art by Janson, which I didn’t ever read; I just looked at the pictures. But it made me think ‘Now it’s time to read real books.’ So I started on Jane Austen, War and Peace, all of Henry James. High school was spent primarily reading all of someone, so that I could really stay with a certain voice or style, inhabiting a world for a while. My high school was terrible, a big, huge, public high school, so I had plenty of time to read. So that really started me off. It wasn’t a “great book” in itself, but it signaled to me that it was time to read things that were important to me.
What was it that attracted you to St. John’s?
I was working on my dissertation on Hegel at Boston College and I realized to truly understand Hegel I would need to read the books that Hegel read. That meant history of philosophy, yes, but also people like Leibniz and Newton. And I knew would never make it through Principia by myself, so I wanted to come to St. John’s (to do) the reading list that belonged to Hegel. On the other side, I really wanted to be able to read books with people and have a conversation.
How has the program affected you on an academic or personal level?
It’s a hard question to answer because it’s been my entire adult life. But I think, if I’m still thinking about the book side of things, it’s had the effect of making me aware of how connected many books are with each other. Not just a direct conversation between one philosopher and another, but some kind of transversal line cutting through different fields, different time periods. The more that I do the program—and I’m almost finished doing the whole program—the more connections I can see through different parts of it. That has been wonderful because I really like to have a wide view. The other thing that happens is every single year we’re assigned classes that are a different combination every time. So that helps me really see different connections. We’ll never see this constellation of classes again, and I’ll never have these students talking about these issues again. So every time I read a book at St. John’s it’s unique to that particular constellation of students. It never gets old. I always learn new things.
Are there any particular books or authors that had a profound effect on you?
Well, Hegel. The first time I read the Phenomenology of Spirit I realized Hegel describes how my mind works. So he’s been probably the biggest influence. But I guess the other program authors that have been important to me are Baudelaire and Proust and Faraday.
What were you doing on your recent sabbatical?
I spent my sabbatical painting in the south of France and writing a book on Proust. I’m thinking about Proust as a kind of phenomenologist. It’s a philosophical take on Proust’s novel In Search of Lost Time.
You’ve been involved in other books, too, right? Writing them and editing them? Can you talk about that?
One of the effects of being at the college is, early on, I couldn’t keep up with German philosophy. So I thought in order to maintain a philosophical, intellectual life, I would pay more attention to 20th-century French phenomenology since I’m doing language classes. I really fell in love with Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Most of my own writing and thinking outside the program is in French phenomenology. I did edit and wrote the introduction for a book on Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy applied to spatiality.
Are you still working on the book you were writing on sabbatical?
I’m hoping it will be finished by the end of the summer. So that’s good. It’s been a while. I’m now thinking of another effect of the program on me. I spent three years in Santa Fe doing preceptorials in the Eastern Classics. I was introduced to quite a few spectacular books that I hadn’t read before. Mainly the Daoist texts, the Mahābhārata and Dogen. My next plan when I finish the book on Proust is to look at Dogen in the light of Merleau-Ponty. In the meantime, I’m very keen on the study groups on biology that have been going on at the college and reading contemporary papers, so I’ve been doing some more work from a phenomenological perspective.
For people who aren’t familiar with phenomenology, can you explain what it is?
It’s a method of thinking about lived experiences. Trying to put a parenthesis around what we have assumed about the world and genuinely experience it, and then reflect on our understanding from direct experience. Looking at the phenomenon. So it’s a pushback against Descartes.
What do you hope students take away from their experience at St. John’s or your work with them?
Right now I’m doing two language classes, sophomore and senior language, and I hope those students will have more skill in reading more deeply. I know they all love to read. They wouldn’t be here if they didn’t love to read, but to be able to access deeper levels of subtlety and nuance is something I hope for them.
What is your involvement with the Marchutz School of Art (in France)?
I went on my last sabbatical to the painting school there. I consider them very close cousins of St. John’s as far as their outlook on the world and their way of approaching art. Now I am an academic advisor for their (master of fine arts) program.
Do you see a connection between painting and art, and the great books?
Yes. For me, since I still paint from nature, entering into a world, inhabiting that world, activating the imagination and the ways of paying attention that poetry, novels and art call us to do make them very close to each other.
About Patricia Locke
Patricia Locke has taught at St. John’s College since 1984, with a majority of that time spent in Annapolis. She also taught for three years in Santa Fe. Prior to arriving at St. John’s, Locke received her bachelor’s degree from Gonzaga University, and her master’s and PhD in philosophy from Boston College. She also was a teaching fellow at Boston College and an instructor at Assumption College.