Janus-Faced, Part 1: Stuff I’m Proud of from 2014
Janus is the Greek god of doors and gateways, beginnings and endings, looking back and looking ahead. To be Janus-faced is to recognize that the ending is a beginning, and the beginning an ending, to hold together what has come with what will come.
So much for the lofty start. Here we are: year end reviews. Everyone’s doing it. I don’t like to be a cliché, but I do like to look back in order to look ahead and to do so in a way that addresses what was significant to me rather than the kind of thing I would put on a salary review. I realize that what I don’t like about these kinds of things is how much they are about individuals–what I did this year–when what seems important is what we collectively have done, or more, how what we’ve done has been collectively accomplished. So I’m trying to think about how the things that I did were also collective efforts.
1. This blog. I blogged more than once a week since my blog started in May. I have had almost 8000 hits mostly from the US, but also a sizable following from Canada, Brazil, the UK, Australia and India (so the British Empire? plus Brazil, hmm, that’s interesting). I blogged about traveling, ancient philosophy, cats, books I’ve read, the current state of the field of philosophy, politics, race, digital humanities and more. I was motivated by Chris Long’s charge to organize one’s online presence. I couldn’t have been successful here without blogs that served as models to me, like its-her-factory and readmorewritemorethinkmorebemore. I’m also appreciative to people who shared my posts and commented — Meghant Sudan, for example, engaged me to great length on Facebook about my post on Greece for the Greeks.
My top five posts were:
v. On Thomas Pangle’s New Book: Reading as Eristic in which I discuss this Straussian reading of Aristotle’s Politics.
iv. A Cat Story. Talk about clichés: this post gets referenced more than anything else I’ve ever written, which proves that if you want to get read on the internet, just post cat pictures.
iii. The Banality of Evil: Anti-Feminism and the Left. A post I wrote after watching the Arendt film and wondering why American politics is hellbent on demonizing its foes. I think it’s because we are Manicheans all.
ii. Object Oriented Phiasco. In which I offer a window into the dynamics of the field of philosophy by describing this internet confrontation between practitioners of object oriented ontology. As I write, “This current situation is exemplary of how a philosophical position becomes a brand that becomes defended, regardless of whether it is legitimate, for the sake of defending and protecting the status of its practitioners.”
i. Policing Philosophy’s Borders No More. This post had almost 1000 hits and was linked to by NewAPPS and Daily Nous. I analyze philosophy’s compulsion to universalize as the reason that philosophical investigations that cannot be universalized are deemed not philosophy. Confessing my own tendencies to try to make of diverse philosophy something I can access, I pile on to the criticism of those who need philosophy to always be about them in order to be philosophy.
3. I along with Kevin Miles from Earlham College and Lee Trelawny-Cassity from Antioch College won an almost-$50k grant from the Great Lakes Colleges Association for our Ancient Philosophy Research and Teaching Collaboration. We held our first undergraduate workshop funded by the grant in November, which you can read about here. Jacob Howland was a model keynote speaker, attending the whole conference and giving generous and insightful feedback to each undergraduate presenter. During the Q&A after his lecture, it was clear that we had come to create a community of thinkers around Plato’s Republic, which like Socrates does in the dialogue, was exactly what we had set out to do.
4. I presented my first disciplinary crossover paper at the American Political Science Association in August. As an undergraduate, I majored in government (a term for political science that I still prefer) and political philosophy (an interdisciplinary degree with the philosophy, government and English departments). My favorite professor, a political theorist who is now an artist in Chicago, Jim Miclot, would describe conferences he attended as populated by old bald men shuffling around talking about how they spent the whole semester on the first page of Plato’s Republic. I think he was referring to Allan Bloom. It was a strange event, not least because the conference hotel had a fire the night before and many people had to sleep on the front lawn and later in big ballrooms, but also because there was only about 12 minutes to present a 25 page paper. I guess most people at the APSA write papers full of charts and so it only takes 15 minutes to articulate the argument. Philosophers, especially philosophers who are arguing about how to read a text, fixate on the specific details of the argument. So this made it hard to condense into a twelve minute presentation. But I got interesting feedback from John Lombardini who now teaches at the College of William and Mary in that very same department where I got my undergraduate degree.
5. Finally, this year I began working on my second book project. It’s on Aristotle’s biology, which gives me the opportunity to think more about the politics of Aristotle’s biology and to think more carefully about Aristotle’s account of matter. I gave several talks last spring on some of the complexities and pecularities of Aristotle’s account of sexual reproduction and sexual differentiation, including the keynote at the Pennsylvania Circle of Ancient Philosophy at Villanova University. I’m looking forward to continuing this work. My new department at Wabash along with some colleagues in classics very graciously came out for a trial run of the keynote which solidified my sense that this is a good place to be.
I’ll post tomorrow about looking ahead. Thanks for following along this year.