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Pascal at 400: A Critical Prospective

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Organizer: Chad Córdova

Co-Organizer: Pierre Lyraud

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Pascal at 400: A Critical Prospective

While those with whom he was engaged in complex dialogue, like Montaigne and Descartes, have been the subject of critical rereadings and returns – ones that have often fostered or reflected developments in and beyond philosophy and literary studies —, the work of Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) has been comparatively neglected over the past several decades. Pascal scholarship continues to grow steadily, to be sure, and this especially in France, where he is studied as part of school curricula and remains an eminent name in the national canon. But the Pensées and other texts once eagerly read by the likes of Nietzsche, Heidegger, de Man, Althusser, et al. seem to not have continued to attract the attention of newer generations of theorists or of critics working within the most recent paradigms of theory and philosophy. As we approach the 400th anniversary of Pascal’s birth, then, we face the task not so much of looking back at the history as of beginning to imagine the futurity of his singular styles of writing and thinking. Not a retrospective: this anniversary requires a prospective — a rediscovery, even — of Pascal. 

What is the currency and the future of Pascal, especially beyond France? What has been done and seen, and what remains the unread and unthought still dormant in his work—uncharted pathways for new readings, new theorizing, and fresh looks at older ideas and problems? In approaching these questions, this seminar is particularly interested in papers that discuss or encourage ways of reading Pascal in light of other disciplines and modern or current developments in literary studies, philosophy, theology, mathematics, and the sciences. We also invite interventions that engage critically with the historiography or reception of Pascal in order to open up future paths, showing us, for example, how different traditions, writers, or thinkers uncovered, or occluded, aspects of his work. We welcome, too, papers that undertake to rethink Pascal from the ground up, as it were, bringing us to revisit seemingly old and dusty questions, such as those of: genre (is the Pensées philosophy? theology? literature? etc.); textuality and writing practice (what was Pascal writing for? are his texts fragments or is there a better way of thinking about them?); politics (royalist? crypto-revolutionary?); theology (an Augustinian mystic? a Jansenist?); and so on. Proposals are encouraged from researchers at any stage of their career, including advanced graduate students.

By bringing together papers from a diverse range of perspectives covering an open-ended expanse of time, we hope to assemble a new mosaic that will both offer a critical assessment of Pascal studies and encourage younger scholars from a broad spectrum of disciplines to reread and engage with his works today.

Organizers: Chad Córdova (Emory U.); Pierre Lyraud (U. Montréal); Hall Bjørnstad (IU. Bloomington)

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