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Dean’s Lecture Series

2017-18 Academic Year: Fall Semester

Lectures are free and open to the public and are followed by a question-and-answer period.

Recordings and transcripts of lectures are available on the SJC Digital Archives site.

"Divided Souls: An Introduction to The Merchant of Venice"

Matthew Davis, St. John’s College, Santa Fe

Friday, August 25, 7:30 p.m., The Great Hall

Set largely in modern, commercial Venice, Shakespeare’s play features several characters who are at odds with themselves, none more so than Antonio, the melancholy Venetian merchant. Shakespeare contrasts the drab, sea-level world of Venice with Belmont, a place of beauty, comedy and music, whose primary resident, the classically named Portia, turns out—instead of Antonio or anyone else in Venice—to be the hero of the play. Does the modern, commercial world put us at odds with ourselves, alienating us from our deepest concerns and our ability to pursue them? Does the classical world offer us a possible remedy?

“God and Philosophy in Descartes’ Meditations

Henry Higuera, St. John’s College, Annapolis

Friday, September 1, 7:30 p.m., The Great Hall

It would seem that philosophy must rely solely on unaided human reason—at least philosophy in the purest sense. In this regard it must face two serious challenges. First, it seems that there are matters beyond the capacity of human reason to come to definitive conclusions about. Compounding this first challenge are claims that there are divine sources of being and of truth that are beyond reason and thus beyond any possible refutation based on reason. I hope to show that Descartes takes these challenges very seriously and, contrary to appearances, nevertheless tends to side with philosophy as against revelation.

"The Doubleness of Self-Consciousness: The Political-Theological Theme in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit"

Paul Wilford, Boston College

Friday, September 8, 7:30 p.m., The Great Hall

Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit is an infamously complex and grandly ambitious work that claims to bring philosophy to the goal “where it can lay aside the title love of knowing and be actual knowing.” At the heart of this ambition is an investigation into the peculiar character of the self-conscious being and what would be required for such a being to be “at home in the world.” The lecture aims to explore the grounds of the dual character of self-consciousness, the basis of its seemingly irreconcilable longings, and Hegel’s attempt at harmonizing our competing demands for political recognition and religious satisfaction.

Paul T. Wilford teaches political philosophy at Boston College. He received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from Tulane University in 2016. He holds a B.A. in liberal arts from St. John’s College as well as a B.A. in Classics and an M.Phil. in Political Thought and Intellectual History from King’s College, Cambridge University. He is currently working on a book on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.

"The Intermittencies of the Self: Philosophic and Poetic Inquiries into the Nature of Selfhood (Or: Is Literature the Most Important Activity a Human Being Can Engage in, and Should You Dedicate Your Life to It?)"

David Carl, St. John’s College, Santa Fe

Friday, September 15, 7:30 p.m., The Great Hall

Apollo’s temple at Delphi enjoined visitors to “know thyself,” and the search for self-knowledge is generally taken as among the first goals of philosophy in both the East and the West. But what is this self we are trying to know? What kind of thing are we asking about when we ask, “Who am I?” What if the best way to approach this question were not by trying to find an answer, but by working to move beyond our everyday sense of the “I” that asks the question in the first place? We will consider a range of responses to the problem of selfhood, focusing on how Schopenhauer’s philosophy and the poetics of Fernando Pessoa formulate a theory of aesthetic experience which responds to the challenge of dismantling the I of the self, in order to see more clearly what it may be concealing.

"Lincoln’s Eulogy: A Constitution Day Talk"

Frank Pagano, St. John’s College, Santa Fe

Wednesday, September 20, 3:15 p.m., The Junior Common Room

Lincoln seemed to have only praise for the founders and the framers. About the fundamental questions of American government, especially slavery, Lincoln claimed to follow them entirely. In fact he revised the founding understanding and implicitly criticized the founders, especially Thomas Jefferson. Some of this criticism is contained in Lincoln’s Eulogy of Henry Clay. In it Lincoln showed that Jefferson had no solution to the problem of the existence of slavery in the United States. Jefferson’s Lockean principles as expressed in the Declaration of Independence clearly announced that slavery is wrong. But the same principles, once the wrong was committed and a society practiced slavery, led to the conclusion that the self-preservation of the enslavers does not allow for the freeing of those wrongly enslaved. This wrong put the enslavers and the enslaved in the state of nature with respect to each other. Lincoln reconsidered the relationship between the enslaved and enslavers. It was a matter of sentiment and sentiments may be altered. Ironically it is Lincoln’s efforts to transform the sentiments grounding the antipathy between the races that contemporarily provides the evidence for his racism.

"The Beauty and Complexity of Islamic Geometric Patterns: Historical Development and Traditional Design Methodology"

Jay Bonner, Independent Scholar and Ornamental Design Consultant

Friday, September 29, 7:30 p.m.

This lecture and book launch will cover the historical development and traditional design methodology of Islamic geometrical design.

Jay Bonner is a consulting specialist in the field of Islamic architectural ornament, as well as an unaffiliated scholar of Islamic geometric design. He received his MDes from the Royal College of Art in London in 1983, and has lived in Santa Fe since 1992. Since receiving his master’s degree, he has worked as an architectural ornamentalist specializing in Islamic geometric and floral design. Most of his projects are in the Middle East, but he has also worked on projects in the United Kingdom and the United States. He has provided architectural ornaments for many international projects, including: the expansion of the al-Masjid al-Haram (Grand Mosque) in Mecca, Saudi Arabia; the expansion of the al-Masjid an-Nawabi (Prophet’s Mosque) in Medina, Saudi Arabia; the Abraj al-Bait Clock Tower in Mecca, Saudi Arabia; the Tomb of Sheikh Hujwiri in Lahore, Pakistan; and the Ismaili Centre in London, England. His work for the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca includes the ornamental design for the marble minbar for the Kaa’ba Courtyard. More recently, he has been engaged as the senior ornamental consultant for the American Institute of Mathematics Research and Conference Center in Morgan Hill, California. This large mathematics complex is designed in the style of the Alhambra, and is in the early stages of construction.

As an unaffiliated scholar of Islamic geometric design, he is committed to the revitalization of geometric patterns through the teaching of traditional methodological practices. To this end, he has lectured and taught design workshops and seminars at many universities and conferences in North America, Europe, North Africa and Asia. He has published multiple peer-reviewed papers and contributed to multiple books on this subject.

"From Unreadability to Unreading: in the shadow of Pierre"

Eyal Peretz, Indiana University

Friday, October 6, 7:30 p.m., The Great Hall

This lecture is part of the Carol J. Worrell Series on Literature

This lecture will consist of a reading of Herman Melville’s enigmatic novel, Pierre, or the Ambiguities, in juxtaposition with an examination of the question of the self-portrait in Rembrandt.

Eyal Peretz works at the intersection of literary theory, philosophy, psychoanalysis and film studies. His work is an attempt to redraw the relations between philosophy and the arts by examining various ways in which works of art and philosophical texts enter into a new type of dialogue in the age that has been defined as post enlightenment. This age, from the point of view of these interests, is characterized by two main intellectual projects: the rise of Aesthetics, thus of the introduction of the question of the significance of art into the heart of philosophy, and what has been called the critique of metaphysics, thus the critique of the logic guiding classical philosophy from Plato to Kant. His first book, Literature, Disaster, and the Enigma of Power: a Reading of Moby-Dick (Stanford UP 2003) examined the relations between literature and philosophy within this context. His second book, Becoming Visionary: Brian De Palma’s Cinematic Education of the Senses (Stanford UP 2008), dealt with philosophy and film. In the mean time, he co-edited with E. Sun and U. Baer The Claims of Literature: The Shoshana Felman Reader (Fordham University press, 2007). His current project is a reading of various writings by the major enlightenment philosopher and writer, Denis Diderot, a transitional figure between enlightenment thinking and post-enlightenment. He proposes to examine the significance of dramatic theater for the rethinking of philosophy’s relation to the arts.

"Poetic Justice and Lyric Memorialization"​

Kenneth Haynes, Brown University

Friday, October 20, 7:30 p.m., The Great Hall

This lecture is part of the Carol J. Worrell Series on Literature

The poet Geoffrey Hill (1932–2016) created a distinctive body of poetry in which the problem of witness—of how to remember the dead—was at the center of his attention. The specific nature of this problem changed throughout his career, however, as he responded to different threats contaminating the act of witnessing, such as the imperfect motivations of the witness, the indifference or condescension of potential audiences, and the nature of aesthetic creation itself. In his search for poetic justice, Hill developed a number of lyric styles locating the act of true witness in the midst of different forms of false witness.

Kenneth Haynes is Professor of Comparative Literature and Classics at Brown University, where his main fields of interest are the classical tradition in English and American literature, the poetry of Geoffrey Hill, and the German philosophical tradition. He has published editions, translations, and works of criticism in these areas.

"Goat Songs and Underworlds: Classical Influences on Contemporary Poetry"

David Mason, Colorado College

Friday, October 27, 7:30 p.m., The Great Hall

This lecture is part of the Carol J. Worrell Series on Literature

The lecture will begin with a sense of what makes classical mythology and literature perpetually relevant, and then examine its influence on such poets as Michael Donaghy, A.E. Stallings, Dana Gioia, and Cally Conan-Davies, as well as various translators.

David Mason was Poet Laureate of Colorado from 2010 to 2014. His books include Ludlow: A Verse Novel, The Country I Remember, Arrivals, News from the Village, The Scarlet Libretto, Sea Salt: Poems of a Decade, 2004-2014 and Davey McGravy: Tales to be Read Aloud to Children and Adult Children. In 2018 he will publish a new collection of essays, Voices, Places, and The Sound: New and Selected Poems. Mason divides his time between Colorado, Oregon, and Australia.

"Humanity Dehumanized: Hegel’s Reflections on the Enlightenment and the French Revolution…and their other Legacy"

David Levine, St. John’s College, Santa Fe

Friday, November 3, 7:30 p.m., The Great Hall

This lecture addresses a small chapter (9 pages) in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit—“Absolute Freedom and Terror”—that considers the epochal transformation of thought exhibited during the Enlightenment and the French Revolution (1789). This event was accompanied, we remember, by the horrendous Reign of Terror. Hegel wonders: How can such noble aspirations—“Liberty, Equality, And Fraternity”—lead to such dreadful consequences? How can idealism lead to terror?

Hegel’s thesis can be stated simply (though his language is hyper-technical): The conceptual and spiritual transformation that emerges in the mid-18th century that we call the Enlightenment leads both to the French Revolution and its Reign of Terror, that is, a certain kind of thinking leads to violence.

Nowadays we may all want to think that such a dark period of our Western spiritual history is simply past history, that we’ve somehow gotten beyond it and that we are the better for our having outlived and learned about such terrifying events. Perhaps the historical events are past, but Hegel’s account makes us wonder whether the philosophical change in the structure of our thinking given expression there (“unrealized, abstract universals”) too has been transcended. Or is there still a vestige of that transformation that yet shapes our thinking today?

“Sylvan Historian: Time in Keats’s Ode on a Grecian Urn

Marsaura Shukla, St. John’s College, Santa Fe

Wednesday, November 8, 3:15 p.m., The Junior Common Room

This lecture is part of the Carol J. Worrell Series on Literature

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,”–that is all/ Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know. These last lines of Keats’s Ode on a Grecian Urn have long puzzled readers. Does Keats agree with the statement he puts in the urn’s mouth? What might it mean to say that beauty is truth? Is this equation a hint about what poetry, or all art, is or isn’t? Is this poem an argument and the last lines, a conclusion that one either rejects or accepts? My reading of the poem centers on Keats’s thinking about time and our place in it as the context in which to engage these questions about beauty, truth and poetry.

This lecture is paired with a free public Community Seminar. See the Community Seminars and Lecture Series for more information and registration.The Community Seminars and Lecture Series is supported by the Carol J. Worrell Series on literature.

"What Distinguishes a Person from a Word? An Invitation to the Thought of Charles Sanders Peirce"

Grant Franks, St. John’s College, Santa Fe

Friday, November 17, 7:30 p.m., The Great Hall

Charles Sanders Peirce (1839 - 1914) has been called “the most original and versatile of American philosophers and America’s greatest logician.” Because of the tumultuous character of his life, his ideas were never focused in a single grand work, but his many articles and scattered writings present a vision that continues to inspire new research. He is often—accurately—designated the “Father of Pragmatism,” but that label is severely misleading to those who take “pragmatism” to mean “unprincipled opportunism.” Peirce’s “pragmatic maxim” was the foundation of a theory of meaning and from it he launched a profound elaboration and revision of the critical philosophy of Immanuel Kant. With no knowledge of Peirce or pragmatism presupposed, this talk will try to show why one might want to undertake a reading of the works of this eccentric and challenging thinker.

"The Poetic Art of the Possible: Shakespeare’s Tempest"

Janet Dougherty, St. John’s College, Santa Fe

Friday, December 1, 7:30 p.m., The Great Hall

This lecture is part of the Carol J. Worrell Series on Literature

As Duke of Milan Prospero devoted himself to liberal studies and neglected to govern his city. Having lost his dukedom he has acquired supreme power on an unknown island, and he must use that power to reform the politics of Naples and Milan from afar. Can Prospero’s liberal arts tempered with Machiavellian realism right the wrongs done to himself and his daughter, secure her happiness and establish good government? Prospero loves to attend to the imaginary republics Machiavelli excises from the political art. Love, kindness and forgiveness have no place in the consequently constricted world of politics. But Prospero’s skill in creating images, informed by love and forgiveness, is also a political art: he governs in such a way as to create new possibilities for happiness for most of the individuals he outwits and manipulates. In the end he gives up his magic art, or at least its accoutrements, but does he give up the art they allowed him to practice? Do the possibilities for happiness and good government that emerge on Prospero&rsdquo;s island remain? They do if they are real.

This lecture is paired with a free public Community Seminar. See the Community Seminars and Lecture Series for more information and registration.The Community Seminars and Lecture Series is supported by the Carol J. Worrell Series on literature.

"Nietzsche’s Culture War: The Unity of the Untimely Meditations"

Shilo Brooks, University of Colorado, Boulder

Friday, December 8, 7:30 p.m., The Great Hall

In a letter written six months before his mental collapse at the age of forty-four, Friedrich Nietzsche called his Untimely Meditations “the work of youth in a certain sense, [which] deserves the greatest attention for my development.” Scholars agree that the four essays, which Nietzsche began writing when he was only twenty-nine, are exceedingly important for understanding how the young professor became a towering philosopher. It is surprising, therefore, that a book length study of the Untimely Meditations has never been published.

Shilo Brooks teaches in the Herbst Program of Humanities in Engineering at the University of Colorado. His new book, Nietzsche’s Culture War, examines Friedrich Nietzsche’s critique of modern politics, culture, and science. He has also written on liberal education and the role that philosophy and the humanities should play in STEM education. He was previously a fellow in the Program on Constitutionalism and Democracy at the University of Virginia, where he taught courses on American politics and economics. He was also a visiting assistant professor at Bowdoin College, where he taught political theory. A graduate of the Great Books program at St. John’s College, he earned his PhD in political science from Boston College.