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Philosophical Resonance

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Organizer: Ben Roth

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What do we mean when we say that a pair of texts—one literary, one philosophical—resonate?  That a philosopher and an artist share a sensibility, or have a special kinship?  What connections, deeper than an artwork exemplifying an idea, or a theorist pointing to a particular, are we claiming?

The most famous instance of such an overlap of sensibility is probably found in Adorno and Beckett.  One can (almost) imagine Adorno writing Waiting for Godot, can (almost) imagine Beckett writing Minima Moralia.  Other familiar pairs include Bergson and Proust, Montaigne and Shakespeare, Bakhtin and Dostoevsky, Vico and Joyce, Nietzsche and Hesse, Foucault and Roussel.  Wittgenstein and Lydia Davis?  Teju Cole’s Open City and Walter Benjamin?  Ted Chiang and Derek Parfit?  Hannah Arendt and …?

Is such resonance different when a philosopher influences an artist and when an artist is instead the inspiration for more abstract theorizing?  Are there interesting differences in how reference or allusion work, depending on the direction?  How does resonance arise apart from explicit influence?

Do the literary and philosophical works by authors who have produced both (Camus, Sartre, Beauvoir, Unamuno, Iris Murdoch, William Gass) necessarily resonate? Or might such writers turn to multiple modes due to deep tensions in their thinking?  Do differences of form themselves create tensions?  What about when narrative and essayistic modes are combined in the same work (as in Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities and much contemporary autofiction)?

This seminar invites papers that reexamine pairings of philosophers (or other theorists) and literary practitioners (or other artists), reject tired ones toward productive ends, and especially that propose new ones; papers that investigate the continuity or discontinuity of sensibility in individual authors who work across both philosophical and other forms, explore less well known philosophical works by artists or overlooked literary works by philosophers; as well as papers that interrogate the meaning and sources of philosophical resonance more abstractly.

Email Ben Roth ( with any questions.

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