Monday, February 13, 2012

Round Two

Our break has ended, and a new term has begun. The department secretary will be posting our first term grades on Wednesday, at which point we'll be able to see who will need to come back in August to retake failed examinations or rewrite failed papers.

Most of the courses being offered this term are in a seminar format, which means both smaller class sizes and higher expectations for enrolled students. A difficult choice looms: I have room in my schedule for two seminars, but there are three relevant options:

  1. An intensive course on disgust. Fascinating and exciting material, taught by an intimidating (but wryly funny) professor who has leveled some very serious demands regarding course attendance and preparedness. I expect it'll be engaging and a lot of fun. The only question I have, the one preventing me from locking it in to my schedule, is: how relevant would this be for my thesis? 
  2. The Husserl Archives Seminar. This would probably be the most directly useful for my research, but it will also probably be the most dry and boring of the three. Might just have to bite the bullet and take it anyway, my apprehensions about reading large quantities of Husserl notwithstanding. 
  3. Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations. This class will meet for extended sessions once a month until the summer, and promises to dig deeply into the later work of Ludwig Wittgenstein. He's the original reason for my philosophical interest in language; I would love to deepen my acquaintance with him, but given his location in the canon (he has primarily been appreciated and appropriated within the analytic tradition in philosophy), this seminar would probably diverge the most widely from my current philosophical interests and research. 

As you can see, concern for the thesis provides this semester's dominant theme. Hopefully my research panic doesn't edge out my commitment to classes for this term; it will probably be important to come up with both a sense of boundaries and a regular work schedule in order to avoid dropping any of the various balls I'm going to try to juggle. 

Bonus round: here's a picture of me and roommate Dan at the Eiffel Tower just over two weeks ago: 

"Look, my cowlick is gone!"

Write us letters and emails; we are hardy boys but it is going to be a tough fight, and our souls are sensitive to the rain and the slush and the existentialism that apparently soak this town during the winter months. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Wisława Szymborska, 1923-2012

I heard a guy say once that philosophers have the ability to become enduring companions, closer than close friends, for how much we allow them to speak into and give shape to our lives. This seems even more true of poets than philosophers, to chance a clean distinction (one that the poet I love dissolves, time and again). The most personal and deeply felt aspects of living in this world don't translate well into propositions, but in blessed moments, they may come to some kind of partial articulation—a fly-away instant of real meaning—through verse. Today I lost one of my companions, a Polish woman I never shook hands with, but whose words have been resonating in my mind and heart for years.

Wisława Szymborska is a poet I met between the brown covers of a book that someone had crammed into a low shelf at a used bookstore. Love hit me pretty hard, pretty fast. For the sake of brevity, I might call out a single theme in her work that's left a mark on me—namely, her reflections on time. Her poems frequently manage to bring out the radical uncertainty and contingency of human life, the speckdom of ours in a dark universe where eternity provides bookends for the whole of human civilization, while still holding on to a tiny thread of hope. That tiny thread was its own paradoxically ineffable argument, a tassel from the hem of Job's rent garments; the possibility of redemption in Szymborska's perspective still seems more solid and trustworthy than glib certainties in anyone else's.

What else could a clumsy writer say to honor a brilliant interpreter of human experience? She's been a beautiful and gracious companion to me since our first encounter years ago, and I look forward to many years of companionship still to come. God bless you, Mrs Szymborska. The world is better for your having been in it.

Portrait of the Artist as a Compassionate Human Being