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Trust Exercise: A Review

I’m curious about the current run on novels of teenage coming-of-age and how these novels aim to capture this contemporary #metoo moment. Anna Burns’ The Milkman captures the peculiar attentiveness of a late adolescent to the impasses of her daily life in a world that seems bent of gaslighting young women. In Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng has a young teenage girl narrate a family drama that captures the xenophobic class tensions of contemporary American life. In Conversations with Friends, Sally Rooney dives into the details of friendship between women in their twenties trying to be friends and lovers before they really understand what motivates them (I guess reviewers thought this was a book about adultery — that seemed incidental to me). Asymmetry is a writerly coming of age story of a woman having a fling with a much older and more established writer. These are four of the last six novels I’ve read. Each of these stories is narrated by young girls and women early in their lives. The other two, Salvage the Bones — one girl’s account of the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina — and Euphoria – based on the life of Margaret Mead – are also novels narrated by girls or women about the central experiences that bring them into themselves.

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What I Learned from Taking 30 Days Off from Drinking

Yesterday was the last of 30 days of me being alcohol free. I haven’t had a drink yet today, but I’m no longer holding myself to not drinking. I decided to take a break from drinking because I realized that my “I smoke when I drink” line had ceased to mean that I don’t smoke that often and had started to mean I drink a lot to accompany the cigarettes I want. It had become hard for me to have a drink without a cigarette. So really, I took the month off to stop smoking. I was surprised by what I learned.

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Milkman, by Anna Burns

I finished 2018 Man Booker Prize winner Milkman by Anna Burns and I have three thoughts.

It is the listiest novel I’ve ever read. The lists become expected and rhythmical. I bet there are more “alsos” in this book than any other recent novel.

Also, no one living has a name in this book, which I understand to be about the ways we are roles and relationships in our lives, often misnamed or underconsidered ones. The title character is not even a milkman, so there is another character named “Real Milkman.” I found it striking that in a book of characters named by the roles, the title character is not. In fact, the role becomes more of a nickname for him in a way that the narrator disallows for everyone else. Somebody McSomebody might be the closest someone else comes to having a name that is more of a nickname. And really, that was my favorite way of naming someone that seemed to perfectly capture their role and yet also to be about making the name a placeholder. At first, it wasn’t clear whether this referred to a specific person or just to any old somebody who did a thing that any old somebody would do. But later it becomes clear that this person is a particular person to whom particular actions are ascribed. And it also seems notable that this person is one of the most personally aggressive and violent to the narrator.

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Ruled or Represented?

It’s Election Day in the United States. It’s a national civics lesson in which we celebrate democracy and the role of the people in governing themselves. In the United States, this civics lesson describes our form of government as a representative democracy. People vote for representatives. The person who gets the majority wins and is supposed to represent the interests of the voters. This is the form in which Americans “share in the rule,” the phrase Aristotle uses to describe what citizens do in political life to distinguish political life form master rule where the ruled do not participate in the rule but are entirely subject to rule. Both the sharing in the rule and the ruling for the sake of the ruled are markers, Aristotle tells us, of political rule in contrast to master rule. 

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Teaching Aristotle’s Metaphysics as a Five-Act Shakespearian Play

Ryan Johnson contacted me after my posts (here and here) on teaching Aristotle through active teaching exercises to tell me about his own active Aristotle classroom. I think you will share my enthusiasm for his creative approach. This is his account of how he teaches Aristotle’s Metaphysics.

For me, metaphysics is a practice. While theoretical, it is still something you do. If a qualifier is helpful, let’s call it lived metaphysics. I learned this from reading ancient metaphysics, especially Aristotle’s τὰ μετὰ τὰ φυσικά. This sense of metaphysics as a lived practice inspired how I teach Elon  University’s Ancient Philosophy class. The constant theme of our class is: metaphysics is not a rarified, merely theoretical discipline, but is an activity, a practice. Metaphysics is something you really do. The question was how to turn this into a class.

Here are the four main ways I teacher ancient metaphysics as a practice. First, I turned Aristotle’s Metaphysics into a five-act Shakespeare-inspired play and used that to structure the course. Second, I turned Act I, which focuses on the moments in pre-Socratic philosophy that Aristotle discusses in Book I, into a series of experiential learning exercises. I developed these with the always creative and inspiring Rob Leib of Florida Atlantic University. Third, the students’ semester-long writing assignment was to write their own metaphysical treatises, as well as critique each other’s treatises and then re-write their own in response to their peers’ critiques. Fourth, students performed what I call metaphysical ekphrases. Read more

Comments for SPEP Panel on Online Harassment

These are the remarks I’ll be given at the SPEP Advocacy Committee’s panel on Online Harassment at the SPEP Meeting at Penn State on October 19, 2018.

I was asked to speak on this panel in light of my experience as a series editor at the APA blog. I edit the Women in Philosophy series on the blog. As a series editor and as someone who has been a woman in philosophy on the internet for many years, I’ve spent some time thinking about comment moderation, diverse and inclusive posting, and dealing with trolls. For the record, the views I am sharing here are my own and not mine in any official capacity as part of the APA.

The first point I want to make is that I think blogs meant to serve a community require the same careful and nuanced thinking about what parameters and practices foster inclusive community as the scholarship that philosophers engage in about community requires. I’ve been thinking deeply about inclusive community for almost two decades. I have two points of departure. From Aristotle, I think we learn that community following a certain notion of nature has to remain concerned with what its purpose is and whether it is achieving its end in order to actually achieve it. This purpose is evidenced by who it includes. Aristotle counsels communities to be more just and more stable by being more inclusive. Who a community includes tells you what goals the community pursues and what it thinks is just. Who posts on a blog, whose other posts are linked to, who posts regularly in comment sections, these things tell you what goals the community pursues and what it thinks is just. Read more

Report on the GLCA Ancient Philosophy Research and Teaching Collaborative Initiative

Crossposted from the Great Lakes College Association Center for Teaching and Learning blog.

The GLCA Ancient Philosophy Research and Teaching Collaborative Initiative began in 2014 when several of us in the GLCA who work in ancient philosophy began a series of conversations about how we might take advantage of the resources we share across the consortium for teaching and writing in ancient philosophy. In particular, we thought that ancient philosophy was a good site from which to think about pedagogy since these ancient thinkers were interested in questions of what it means to learn and to teach. These thinkers take seriously the problem that the person who does not know tends to be unaware of what she does not know, so the learning process becomes a paradox: how does a person enter a learning process if she does not realize that she needs to learn? Realizing one needs to learn at some level involves already knowing that which one needs to learn because to recognize this point suggests you know the knowledge you lack is missing. How can you identify it as missing if you do not know it? If you know that you miss it and therefore in some sense know it, then you don’t need to learn it because you know it. Some in-between space is required which allows the movement from not knowing to recognizing ignorance and fostering a desire to know.

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In My Feelings: Why it is Affectively Hard to Acknowledge One’s Own Oppression

The last several weeks have been difficult for many women. We saw a Senate accept weak lies from a self-entitled man. We saw many many people including for many of us, people we know, excuse accusations from a very credible witness because they didn’t reach the level of beyond reasonable doubt even though this is a job interview rather than a court of law, and even though people of color are robbed of the presumption of innocence when they are shot down by police. We saw a sitting U.S. President mock a woman for having honest memory lapses in her account of a traumatic attempted sexual assault. We saw, as Martha Nussbaum noted, white men and their supporters being outraged at being called to account for their bad behavior. Despite all the reasons that this nominee should have been disqualified, we saw a partisan push to confirm him as the next justice on the Supreme Court.

I broke down crying twice on Friday when I realized this confirmation was happening. I cried because this confirmation sends the signal that elected officials in the U.S. government and many of their supporters do not care about the trauma women suffer from sexual assault. They think it is the nature of boys. They think it is not that big of a deal. They think women are weak for complaining. They are mad that women have been strong by speaking up. They think if sexual assault could derail a nomination then no man could be nominated. They think that would be a bad thing.

It was a long time since I cried in the face of these realities. I’ve been thinking about why I don’t walk around emotionally distraught more often. It would be impossible to live if one let oneself feel how bad the oppression is all the time. In order to protect ourselves, in order to survive, people who experience not only oppression but the reality that their oppression does not matter, that it is not a concern to others, have to find ways to low-key ignore the oppression. Personally, I have to ignore the many many times men: explain things to me rather than recognize my expertise, assign my ideas to a man, try to shut me down and condescend to me in professional settings, make me feel like I am whining and complaining when I raise questions about diversity and inclusion, assign to me exaggerated claims about gender-related inequality in order to dismiss them. Together, we have to ignore the ways the Senate just conspired to silence women and make us feel like we are exaggerating our concerns.

In order to protect ourselves, we have to ignore how really egregious it all is. From ignoring it in order to protect ourselves, it is a short road to start to think, for our own sanity, that it isn’t really that bad. If it were that bad, we couldn’t possibly deal with it. Since we don’t want to think of ourselves as victims all the time, since we don’t want to suggest that we aren’t strong enough to deal with things, and since we don’t want to acknowledge that yes this state of things continues to do real harm to us, we live and act as if it really isn’t that big a deal. We can still function. We are strong. We have not been undone by all the injustice. If this is the case, we wonder, perhaps it is not that bad. It can’t be that bad right? If it were, how could we go on?

I think this response is a kind of self-care. But I’m concerned that this response approaches a place where it becomes acceptance for this behavior, allowance of it. I wonder even if the inability to deal with what it would have to mean for oneself and how really wronged one has been is what drives all these white women to support men like Kavanaugh. I think they are wrong. But I can see how that position is a short road from here. I want to say to all those women, you can still be strong and capable and they can still have done and continue to do great harm to you and to other women. Acknowledging the wrong does not lessen us as women.

But acknowledging the wrong can make it hurt more. I don’t always have the strength for that. But I do have comrades-in-arms who can get mad for me when I just have to ignore the wrong. I am happy to be mad for my friends. I think an intersectional feminism involves feeling that hurt for others beyond our immediate place. Share the wrath. Stand up, fight back.

Buying a House: The Home Improvement Project That Should Not Have Been

I think it was last March now that I looked at the bricks on the street-facing front of the porch and thought, that paint is practically coming off of the bricks on its own-I bet I could scrape it down to bare brick! Jeff was away so no one was here to talk me down. I found a scraper and got to work. Forty hours and several months later, the first layer of paint was off, only to discover an unscrapable layer underneath as well as a wall in need of a serious pointing job. I should have left it alone.

It turns out that the bottom layer can be taken off with a serious power-washing effort and some potent chemicals, but this approach destroys the surface of the brick. That might not matter so much in an internal brick wall, but external brick walls need that surface to protect them from moisture and wind. Read more

Aristotle in the Active Classroom: Group Activity 2

I’m on a roll folks. After I did the last group activity, I was inspired to do another, and I think this one was even more successful in getting students to think about Aristotle’s Metaphysics. For this game, I distributed envelopes to every group. In the envelopes were two sets of flashcards that I had made. One set was the same in every envelope. It included all of the four causes, the ways of being, and the candidates for substance. In the other set were instances of one of these.

Students had to figure out to which of the first set the second set belonged. Some of the sets of instances could belong to more than one category, for example, the genus set, which included animal, plant and planet, could also be considered universals. One set that was particularly hard for students was that of substance, in which I included various “thises” – Dr. Trott, the tree on the mall, their pet dog Spot. Students had to report out to the whole class to which of the first set their instances belonged and they had to explain why. Some students struggled, but the class was asked to help them figure out the right answer.

Even more than the first exercise, this one got students invested in understanding the material, drawing distinctions and thinking about how Aristotle offers them a vocabulary to explain the world. It also helped them see what wasn’t clear to them in the process of having to apply their learning to concrete examples. And it gave them an opportunity to explain to one another in a more informal setting and to raise questions to one another in a low stakes environment.