Feb 26, 2016

Closing Up Shop Here

Having added a number of other projects to my workload, I've found myself lacking the time to build this blog out in the ways, or to write entries as often, as I'd have liked.  So I've decided that it is time to close up shop on this blog.

I'll be continuing writings in several of my other blogs - Orexis DianoētikēHalf Hour Hegel, and (if I find the time) Heavy Metal Philosopher. I'll also be publishing posts regularly in Stoicism Today, for which I am the editor. You can also find updates about my events, projects, and publications on my website, ReasonIO.

May 27, 2015

Reflections on the Existentialism Course First Time Around

It's been several weeks since the first version of the 12-week online Existentialist Philosophy and Literature class, hosted by Oplerno, finished up.  Since then, I've been pretty lost in all the other work and projects in which I've been engaged -- the Half Hour Hegel series, new Critical Thinking videos, some writing projects, the Understanding Anger lecture series, teaching an online Philosophical Foundations course, and building a new Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences for the Global Center for Advanced Studies.

I thought that, in order to get some new proverbial "wind in the sails" for renewed writing in this blog, I might bring matters to a close by carving out some time (from a schedule in which that's a rather scarce commodity) for reflection upon the course itself -- which I do plan to expand and offer again for interested students later on this year.

Mar 6, 2015

Starting From A Standpoint: Rilke's Notebooks Of Malte Laurids Brigge

One theme that consistently runs through the literature associated together under the rubric of "Existentialist" is that of philosophizing -- or indeed starting to think, to write, to decide at all -- from the standpoint that one has been afforded.  This can be construed as beginning from the concrete, from the individual, from a situation -- there's a number of different now-classic ways to frame this general idea.

This week in the online Existentialism class I'm currently teaching, we've been studying Rainer Maria Rilke's works -- starting with the Letters to a Young Poet, then examining some of his poetry, and ending the week by looking at his novel, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge.  Early on in that work, there's a passage quite literally filled with possibilities (paragraphs beginning with "Is it possible. . . "), and towards the end of it, a both plaintive and resolute conclusion gets drawn.
But if all this is possible, if there is even so much as a glimmer of possibility to it, then something must be done, for pity's sake.  Anyone- anyone who has had these disquiting thoughts -- must make a start on some of the things we have omitted to do; anyone at all, no matter if he is not the aptest to the task:  the fact is, there is no one else.
He applies it to his own (i.e. the narrator stand-in's) case:
This young foreigner of no consequence, Brigge, will have to sit himself down, five flights up, and write, day and night: yes, that is what it will come to -- he will have to write.

Feb 19, 2015

Ideas Wrestled With As Realities - An Existentialist Theme

As I was preparing earlier today for one of my videoconferencing class sessions -- I provide several of these per week for my students in my online Existentialist Philosophy and Literature class -- I was rereading some Dostoevsky.  As we've got just a week for each of the eleven thinkers covered in the course, we're studying the Notes from the Underground and the "Grand Inquisitor" chapter from The Brothers Karamazov.  (As a side note, I'd love to find some way to work in portions of the Possessed/The Demons into the week as well!)

It's quite common for anthologies and classes to focus in on the "Grand Inquisitor" section, and understandably so -- it both provides some wonderfully crafted complex literature, and also embodies certain motifs that will become classically associated not only with Existentialism but also with critique of totalitarianism.   The two chapters immediately preceding -- "The Brothers Get Antiquated" and "Rebellion" -- are also masterful discussions, where Dostoevsky is at his best unfolding the hearts, minds, and relationships of his characters, interlacing them with genuine dialogues bearing on ideas.  And it is in ideas specifically that I'm particularly interested here, specifically what Ivan Karamazov says about a certain kind of approach to ideas.

Feb 4, 2015

A Great Kierkegaardian Passage on Irony

In a passage from his Point of View of My Work as an Author, Kierkegaard recalls a time in which, "the entire population of Copenhagen became ironical -- and just so much the more ironical in proportion as the people were more ignorant and uneducated." 

Lest that immediately raise hackles (which Kierkegaard would himself predict) on the part of the right-thinking of our own culture (whether they be late-modern bobos, their hipster successors, or even earnest defenders of everyperson's hidden abilities just waiting for expression) -- cries of "Who is this guy to make rules about who can be ironic or not?"  "Who died and made him the arbiter of true and fake irony?"  Who is he to call other people ignorant and uneducated?" -- it might be worth bearing in mind that Kierkegaard did quite literally write the book, as one says, on irony, namely his doctoral dissertation, The Concept of Irony!  So, presumably he had given the topic quite a bit of reflection and observation, and just possibly. . . might be right about it.

Feb 3, 2015

The Oplerno Class Has Started!

The first section of the long-awaited online course Existentialist Philosophy and Literature -- offered for credit with Oplerno -- got started earlier this week!  I'm quite excited about it -- it's a small section this time around, but with some very interested, interesting, and dedicated students, with whom I've already started meeting through videoconference sessions (using a tool called BigBlueButton).

This week, we're going through all of the preliminaries, working out any kinks in the technology or confusions about the class structure.  Come Sunday, though, we begin studying our first Existentialist thinker -- Soren Kierkegaard -- we'll focus on a short essay, "The Crowd Is Untruth," and then go through his classic work, Fear and Trembling.

Jan 26, 2015

"We Are Building God" -- Rainer Maria Rilke on the Divine

A week back, on another wintry Monday night, I gave a lecture on Rainer Maria Rilke's views on various topics connected with the divine -- God, religion, solitude, death, life, love, and poetry -- at a local Unitarian Universalist congregation.  Some of the 20-odd people who came for the talk weren't members of the congregation.  Many were regular participants in the Glimpses of Existence library talks.  There were even a few who had heard or read about the talk in other ways, and came to learn, and talk, about Rilke.

It was quite a cozy setting, as it turned out by chance -- a regular meeting that was not on the calendar, as the pastor discovered at the last minute, was being held in the main chapel -- so the UUCC graciously offered us a rustic, comfortable meeting room for the venue.  It fit rather well some of the key themes we discussed -- there's something about simple, long-lived in furnishings that conduces to thinking about things like solitude, or the darkness of soil, or our ongoing relationships with those who have passed on from life to death -- or about how we might think about God and our connection to Him.  It's a good space and place in which to do what one might call practical metaphysics.

If you'd like to watch, or listen to the talk, here it is:

The passage from which I took the title for the talk comes up in the context of a discussion about childhood, God, and the future, in one of the Letters to a Young Poet.  It runs:
As bees gather honey, so we collect what is sweetest out of all things and build Him. Even with the trivial, with the insignificant (as long as it is done out of love) we begin, with work and with the repose that comes afterward, with a silence or with a small solitary joy, with everything that we do alone, without anyone to join or help us, we start Him whom we will not live to see, just as our ancestors could not live to see us.
It's a challenging conception -- that God might be something that we ourselves, we human beings, have some role in "building," in bringing to fruition, in helping to ripen. It's not only challenging to more orthodox interpretations of that experience and reality that human beings have called God, the divine, and other names as well.  It's also challenging for another reason -- Rilke suggests to us that human beings are radically unfinished creatures, and that the culture we live in isn't going to make it any easier for us to develop depths, to grow into ourselves, to learn and live the sort of solitude necessary for a fully human life.  We can't "build" God in the way he describes, without cultivating a lot of patience, without learning key lessons of existence. . . .

There's a lot more to be said to flesh out these outlines -- and I would like sometime to write a bit about just why I resonate so much with this strange poet, particularly in his views about the divine. . . But, those are for other times, other posts.

Jan 22, 2015

Advertisment Video for the Upcoming Existentialism Course

Earlier this week I created an advertisement video for the Oplerno "Existentialist Philosophy And Literature" course that I've been developing over the last year or so.  If you're interested in taking the course for college credit -- or even just experiencing a Dostoyevskian-whim-level curiosity about what a class might be like, give the video a watch!

I'll have more to say about the class itself as it proceeds -- as I start holding video-conferences with the students, get to see how they tackle the course materials with the aid of the resources I've produced and am providing for them, and most importantly, start reading some of the course papers.

What Oplerno is doing is a rather bold experiment -- we'll see whether this course, one of the very first of theirs to start, will get decent enrollment this first time around or not.  I'll likely be offering it to students as one of my "staple classes" -- opening new sections after each 12-week term comes to a close.  Probably each time around, I'll tweak it by adding some new materials, changing up the paper and discussion forum questions, even switching out some of the course texts -- but all that is in the future.

I do have to say, though, that after about two years of shooting Existentialism course videos, and then looking around for platforms on which I might be able to offer an actual online course, I'm pretty excited.  In less than two weeks, we start!

Jan 8, 2015

Final Glimpses Into Existence Lecture: Gabriel Marcel.

We finished up the year of monthly lectures on Existentialism at the Kingston Library by turning to another one of the French, "third-wave" Existentialist thinkers -- Gabriel Marcel.

He is actually one of my favorites among the Existentialists -- and he's someone whose work I've written a bit about and even translated in the past (I included a two-part article of his in my 2011 book, Reason Fulfilled By Revelation) -- so I was very much looking forward to this lecture! I spent a good portion of it discussing Marcel's distinction between "mystery" and "problem," but we strayed through a number of other Marcellian themes (like his concerns about technology), eventually discussing his reworking of traditional concepts of faith, hope, and charity -- transforming faith into creative fidelity, and rethinking charity as "availability."

As it turned out, a number of the regular participants from the previous eleven lectures showed up for this last session, so the discussions -- which I'd intended to bring everything to a close, in part by noting connections between Marcel and the other Existentialists -- possessed excellent continuity with the series as a whole.

We're now brainstorming about what to do with the lecture series itself.  They turned out to be quite popular -- both in person, in the face to face sessions, and on YouTube itself.  We have a set of twelve videos of lecture and discussion, each from 1 hour and 20 minutes to 1 hour and 40 minutes.  I've developed some handouts that went along with the lectures, and I suppose I could develop additional ones.  Perhaps a reading list, or even discussion questions might be useful as well.

But where should all of this go?  Here?  A different website?  Onto something like a CD or DVD?  It's something worth devoting some reflection and consideration to. . .  so any ideas are quite welcome!

Dec 15, 2014

The Existentialism Course - Coming in February!

As those who regularly follow this blog know, the original impetus was to have a place to work out ideas, develop resources, post new Existentialism videos -- all in preparation for eventually providing an online course on Existentialist philosophy and literature.  The course -- like so many other projects -- has turned out to e a lot longer in the coming than I'd originally projected.  But . . . I have some big news about that!

I've partnered with the education company Oplerno to develop and offer the full version of the course -- a for-college-credit, 12-week, totally online course:  Existentialist Philosophy and Literature.  The course starts on February 1 and runs for 12 weeks -- and enrollment for the course will open in January.  I can promise you that it's going to be intellectually stimulating and provide a great grounding in these thinkers and texts -- and students will come away not only understanding key themes and ideas but will be able to see how they apply to their own lives and our 21st century society.  Anyone who has watched my videos knows the longstanding interest, rigor, and passion that I bring to this particular movement in Philosophy!

We'll be studying eleven key Existentialist thinkers -- the same eleven discussed for popular audiences in my recent lecture series, Glimpses Into Existence -- ranging from first-wave trailblazers like Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, and Nietzsche down to the French third-wave figures of the 30s-60 like Sartre, de Beauvoir, Camus, and Marcel -- hitting on Rilke, Shestov, Kafka, and Heidegger along the way.

The core of the course will be comprised of readings in key texts, coupled with online lesson pages, my Existentialism YouTube videos, and handouts I'll be developing.  Students will get the chance to interact with me personally in up to three video-sessions per week, and with me and their classmates in online discussion forums.  They'll also be writing a number of short papers -- two per week -- which I'll grade and upon which provide feedback.

 The tuition cost runs $500 per student -- which is about 1/3 the cost of similar courses offered elsewhere -- and unlike most other educational institutions, Oplerno is committed not only to keeping costs down for students, but actually paying a decent wage to its professors.  Of that $500 cost for the course, I actually get paid $400 of it (by comparison, for my Marist classes, which charge each student around $1800, I get paid around $140 per student).

This is a 3-credit course, which can be used for transfer credit, if one's institution accepts it (and since Oplerno is a new institution, accredited by the State of Vermont, and currently applying for regional accreditation, you'll want to check with the college or university you want to transfer credit to about specifics). 

For those who want a "Lite" version of the course -- with just some of the materials, set up in a sequence, to study independently at their own pace -- I'll be giving some thought to how that might be set up as well.  For the time being, however, my main effort is going to be focused on getting the full version of the course entirely ready to run on February 1.

So, if you've been waiting for the long-promised course to finally appear -- or if reading this has piqued your interest in studying these texts and thinkers in a course with me -- stay tuned for updates about enrollment come January!  If you think anyone else you know might be interested in this as well -- by all means send them the link, or post this in your social media!