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Tom Carlson

This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom 1024 766 Tom Carlson

This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom

Thursday, March 12, 2020 at 2 p.m.
Friday, March 13, 2020 at 10 a.m.
Friday, March 13, 2020 at 2 p.m.

Robertson Gymnasium 1000A

In these three seminar sessions, we will hold an extended discussion with the author of This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom (Pantheon, 2019), where Martin Hägglund challenges received notions of faith and freedom. The faith we need to cultivate, he argues, is not a religious faith in eternity but a secular faith devoted to our finite life together. He shows that all spiritual questions of freedom are inseparable from economic and material conditions. What ultimately matters is how we treat one another in this life, and what we do with our time together. Hägglund develops new existential and political principles while transforming our understanding of spiritual life. His critique of religion takes us to the heart of what it means to mourn our loved ones, be committed, and care about a sustainable world. His critique of capitalism aims to demonstrate that we fail to sustain our democratic values because our lives depend on wage labor. Explaining why capitalism is inimical to our freedom, the book argues that we should instead pursue novel forms of democratic socialism.

Reading

TBD

Professor of comparative literature and humanities at Yale University and a member of the Society of Fellows at Harvard University, Martin Hägglund is the author of three highly acclaimed books, and his work has been translated into eight languages. In his native Sweden, he published his first book, Chronophobia, at the age of twenty-five. His first book in English, Radical Atheism, was the subject of a conference at Cornell University and a colloquium at Oxford University. His most recent book, Dying for Time: Proust, Woolf, Nabokov, was hailed by the Los Angeles Review of Books as a “revolutionary” achievement. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2018.

This event is co-sponsored by UCSB’s Comparative Literature Program, Department of English, and Graduate Center for Literary Research.

Atmospheres and Affective Climate Change 1024 650 Tom Carlson

Atmospheres and Affective Climate Change

Friday, February 21, 2020 at 2 p.m.

Robertson Gymnasium 1000A

In recent years a growing number of thinkers from a variety of disciplines (e.g. philosophy, geography, anthropology, literary studies, cultural studies, and environmental humanities) have begun turning their attention to the phenomenon of atmosphere. Indicating the characteristic tone or pervading mood of a surrounding environment or object, atmospheres (e.g. of a room, a neighborhood, a party, or an artwork) are an ordinary feature of everyday life, even as their elusiveness poses a challenge to conceptualization. And in spite of their hazy immateriality, atmospheres can have very real effects. As forms of affective air condition, they prime us to act in particular ways, making some things sayable or thinkable while foreclosing other possibilities. Drawing on a range of theoretical perspectives, this seminar will consider what atmospheres are, what they can do, and what we can do with them. We will be particularly concerned with the question of how atmospheres are produced, the challenges they pose to our notions of causality and agency, and the political possibilities of what we might call “affective climate change.”

Reading

Dora Zhang, “Notes on AtmosphereQui Parle 27:1 (June 2018): 121-155.

Diana Coole, “Rethinking Agency: A Phenomenological Approach to Embodiment and Agentic Capacities,” Political Studies 53 (2005): 124-142.

Nigel Thrift, “Intensities of Feeling: Towards a Spatial Politics of Affect,” Geografiska Annaler 86 B (2004): 57-78.

Jonathan Flatley, “How a Revolutionary Counter-Mood Is Made,” New Literary History 43:3 (Summer 2012): 503-525.

Assistant Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley, Dora Zhang is author of Strange Likeness: Description and the Modernist Novel, which is forthcoming in 2020 from the University of Chicago Press, as part of the “Thinking Literature” series. She received her PhD in Comparative Literature from Princeton University and her BA in philosophy from the University of Toronto. With research interests in Anglo-American and European modernist fiction, literature and philosophy, novel theory, affect theory, visual cultures, aesthetics, and ecocriticism, she has published on topics including Proust and photography, Woolf and the philosophy of language, Roland Barthes’s travels to China, and the role of atmosphere in everyday life. Her work has appeared in Representations, New Literary History (where her article “Naming the indescribable” won the 2013 Ralph Cohen Prize), Modernism/modernity Print Plus, and Qui Parle, as well as Public Books, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

This event is co-sponsored by UCSB’s Comparative Literature Program, Department of English, and Graduate Center for Literary Research.

Hooked: Art and Attachment 991 882 Tom Carlson

Hooked: Art and Attachment

Friday, February 7, 2020 at 2 p.m.

Robertson Gymnasium 1000A

Based on her forthcoming book of the same title, this talk makes a case for “attachment” as a key word for the humanities. The word directs our attention to what carries weight: it has both affective and ethical force. Drawing on a range of examples, Felski discusses two important aesthetic ties: identification and attunement. Finally, she clarifies how the language of attachment is relevant to pedagogy and interpreting in the classroom.

To prepare for the lecture and discussion, participants are invited to read the second chapter of Hooked: Art and Attachment, “Art and Attunement.”

William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of English at the University of Virginia, Rita Felski is author The Limits of Critique (University of Chicago Press, 2015), on the role of suspicion in literary criticism, which was widely reviewed and the subject of forums in PMLA, Religion and Literature, and the American Book Review. She has recently completed Hooked: Art and Attachment, which will be published in fall 2020 by The University of Chicago Press, and she is starting a new book on the contemporary Frankfurt School and its relevance for literary studies. Felski has longstanding interests in feminist theory, modernity and postmodernity, genre (especially tragedy), comparative literature, and cultural studies. In 2016 she was awared a Niels Bohr Professorship by the Danish National Research Foundation to lead a large research project on “Uses of Literature: the Social Dimensions of Literature.”

This event is co-sponsored by UCSB’s Comparative Literature Program, Department of English, and Graduate Center for Literary Research.

Why We Drive: Towards a Philosophy of the Open Road 1024 952 Tom Carlson

Why We Drive: Towards a Philosophy of the Open Road

Lecture: “Driving as a Humanism”

Wednesday, January 29, 2020 at 4 p.m.
Mosher Alumni House, Alumni Hall

In the much-hailed driverless future, we’re told that human beings are to become passengers. If this is to be our fate, let us ask what we are being asked to give up. Driving requires a form of intelligence that is socially realized; the road is a place where we have to accommodate one another and learn to cooperate. It is in such small-bore practical activities that we acquire the habits of collective self-government, according to Tocqueville. Automation promises to replace trust and cooperation with machine-generated certainty, on the supposition that human beings are incompetent. Ultimately, this entails a transfer of political sovereignty to a cadre of technocrats, allowing a more isolated picture of the human subject to be operationalized. For this to go smoothly, human beings must be re-educated toward greater passivity and dependence, and less pride.

Seminar One: “Automation as Moral Re-education” and “Street View: Seeing like Google”

Thursday, January 30, 2020 at 2 p.m.
Robertson Gymnasium 1000A

Readings can be obtained by emailing lmatnip@ucsb.edu

Seminar Two: “The Motor Equivalent of War”

Friday, January 31, 2020 at 2 p.m.
Robertson Gymnasium 1000A

Readings can be obtained by emailing lmatnip@ucsb.edu

An alumnus of UCSB, where he majored in Physics, Matthew Crawford is author of the bestselling Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work (Penguin Books, 2009) as well as of The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015) and the forthcoming Why We Drive: Toward a Philosophy of the Open Road (Harper Collins, 2020). Having received a PhD in Political Philosophy from the University of Chicago, where he was a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Committee on Social Thought, he is currently a Senior Fellow in the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture.

The Strange End of the Catholic-Protestant Conflict and the Genesis of Europe’s Harsh Religious Pluralism 968 726 Tom Carlson

The Strange End of the Catholic-Protestant Conflict and the Genesis of Europe’s Harsh Religious Pluralism

Monday, December 9, 2019 at 6 p.m.

Robertson Gymnasium 1000A

A series of recent controversies has raised many questions about Europe’s treatment of its religious minorities. Why do societies that claim to respect religious freedom and tolerance so routinely discriminate against Muslims, Jews, and others? This talk will explore the origins of Europe’s contemporary thinking about religious pluralism to the recent peace between Catholics and Protestants. It will show how this development, which unfolded between the rise of Nazism in the 1930s and the era of decolonization in the 1960s, helped shape both the scope and rigid limits of the continent’s religious landscape.

Udi Greenberg is an associate professor of history at Dartmouth College. He is the author of the award winning The Weimar Century: German Émigrés and the Ideological Foundations of the Cold War (Princeton 2015) as well as many articles on religion and politics.

Perfection and Disaster 1024 768 Tom Carlson

Perfection and Disaster

Friday, December 6, 2019 at 2 p.m.

Robertson Gymnasium 1000A

In this essay I am less concerned with developing a cogent and persuasive argument than I am in posing and exploring a question. My question is a simple one: what’s the sense in talking about moral or political perfectionism in a world facing cataclysmic environmental collapse? At what kind of perfection might one aim in a world fundamentally out of balance: a world of mass extinction and dwindling biodiversity, collapsing ecosystems, super-sized droughts and storms, extreme heat waves, rising and rapidly warming and acidifying oceans and seas, massive displaced populations, increasingly limited access to clean water and adequate food, spreading pandemic disease, and the economic collapse and political chaos that such cascading disasters will bring in their wake?

Reading

Andrew Norris, “Perfection and Disaster.”

Modalities of the Perhaps: Secularity, Post-humanism, Uncertainty 1024 767 Tom Carlson

Modalities of the Perhaps: Secularity, Post-humanism, Uncertainty

Monday, December 2, 2019 at 6 p.m.

Robertson Gymnasium 1000A

Even as multispecies and post-humanist scholarship expands definitions of being, it nonetheless restricts other-than-humans to entities that previously went under the sign of the “natural.” Secular attachments to the material and the visible as the site of the real make it difficult to think the “supernatural” alongside nature-culture. And yet, many otherwise-secular folk consistently have stories – experiences – that do not square with secular- modern notions of the real. What might these stories tell us about the secular, about the ghostly undercurrents that weave back and forth beneath its stark distinction between natural and supernatural, visible and invisible, reality and superstition, truth and falsity? How might post-humanism, read against the grain and alongside other non-secular traditions, offer a framework to rethink non-human worlds and our entanglements with them? Might a true post-humanism propose that there exist nonhuman worlds we cannot possible know, given our sensory limitations? Finally, how might we as scholars write this uncertainty in ways that refuse the terms of secular academic narrative, including the quest for certainty and argument?

Mayanthi Fernando is Associate Professor of Anthropology at UC Santa Cruz. Her research interests include Islam and secularism; liberalism and law; gender, sexuality, and the body; and humanism and its others. Her first book, The Republic Unsettled: Muslim French and the Contradictions of Secularism (Duke University Press, 2014) examines the intersection of religion and politics in France. She is currently working on a second book on the secularity of post-humanism and the possibilities for thinking the nonhuman more capaciously and less secularly.

Attending to the Lessons of the Pond: Henry David Thoreau’s “Revery” 1024 768 Tom Carlson

Attending to the Lessons of the Pond: Henry David Thoreau’s “Revery”

Thursday, November 21, 2019 at 2 p.m.

Robertson Gymnasium 1000A

In the forced labor camp of attention that is society today, many find that being attentive leads to distractedness, their mind literally pulled apart. Looking carefully at the inverse, one might suspect, then, that some of what gets called distraction or daydreaming might belong to a deep attentiveness and focus. In 1845, for two years, Henry David Thoreau made his life an experiment in such a hypothesis when he stepped back from everyday life in Concord, Massachusetts, and went into the woods to live in the neighborhood of Walden Pond and learn from it….what exactly? To hoe seven miles of beans? To contemplate the shifting colors and vague shapes on the surface of a lake? Distraction or attention?

Reading

Author of the award-winning Arts of Wonder: Enchanting Secularity—Walter De Maria, Diller + Scofidio, James Turrell, Andy Goldsworthy (University of Chicago Press, 2013) and of Levinas and the Philosophy of Religion(Indiana University Press, 2001), and translator of several works by Jean-Luc Marion (most recently, In The Self’s Place: The Approach of Saint Augustine, Stanford University Press, 2012), Jeffrey L. Kosky is Professor of Religion at Washington and Lee University.

Meaning and Melancholia: Leo Tolstoy, Max Weber, William James 150 150 Tom Carlson

Meaning and Melancholia: Leo Tolstoy, Max Weber, William James

November 15, 2019 at 2 p.m.

Robertson Gymnasium 1000A

For a century now, Max Weber’s famous description of the genesis of the modern world as a gradual process of “disenchantment,” offered in a 1917 lecture entitled “Science as a Vocation,” has been adopted as a shorthand for the withdrawal of religious traditions. With the phrase, Weber had sought to name the effect of the extension of calculation to all domains of human life—and more specifically a crisis of meaning in the sciences created by a concept of progress. But the paradigm of this crisis of meaning Weber finds, oddly, in Leo Tolstoy’s Confession, which recounts the writer’s crisis of faith and his eventual return to God.

Fifteen years before Weber’s lecture, the American philosopher William James, in a set of lectures published as The Varieties of Religious Experience, wrote at length about Tolstoy’s Confession, identifying it as a paradigm of religious melancholy, and as a state of mind that can lead to an experience of regeneration. James, too, spoke of “disenchantment” but he parsed the fact/value distinction differently, because he sought not to substitute religion with the ethics of teaching but to establish a permanent place for religion alongside science in human life.

In this seminar, we will discuss Tolstoy’s text, and the divergent interpretations formulated by Weber and James. Those pressed for time should focus on Lectures VI and VII in The Varieties of Religious Experience, where the Tolstoy is cited at length.

Reading

Leo Tolstoy, A Confession (Oxford, 1940).

William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (Longmans, Green, and Co, 1902), Lectures VI and VII: “The Sick Soul”; Lecture XX: “Conclusions”.

Max Weber, “Science as a Vocation,” in David Owen and Tracy B. Strong, ed., Max Weber: The Vocation Lectures (Hackett, 2004).

Denying Reality: A Polanyian Theory of the Contemporary Crisis 810 455 Tom Carlson

Denying Reality: A Polanyian Theory of the Contemporary Crisis

November 8, 2019 at 2 p.m.

Robertson Gymnasium 1000A

The present global environmental situation seems to be one of crisis, a failure to secure a human future. Is this fundamentally a failure of knowledge or of affect (care, love)? I use Michael Polanyi’s conception of (tacit) knowledge, reality, and discovery to suggest that understanding our present situation involves appeal to conditions that are not only empirical but normative and, in some sense, religious—as indicated by the growing discourse of “climate apocalypse”—and that it makes sense to think of this normative dimension as part of the reality of our situation (and that a failure of affect might profitably be conceived as a failure to recognize some reality). I also want to propose, using Polanyi’s ideas of inquiry and research, that that an adequate comprehension of that situation demands a disciplined practice of attention and integration—not only of its practical components (environmental, psychological, political etc.) but also art, literature and other cultural productions which both refer to and constitute “our humanity,” and especially of those works that reflect the deep and threatening tensions within the human, from Moby-Dick to the art of Lee Bontecou. Finally, I argue that the failure to attend to our humanity as a historical and normatively conditioned reality is itself an integral aspect of the crisis.

Reading

Lin Atnip, “Denying Reality: A Polanyian Theory of the Contemporary Crisis.”

Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy, Preface & Chapter 4: Skills.

Recommended

Farhad Manjoo, “It’s the End of California as We Know It,” New York Times, October 30, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/30/opinion/sunday/california-fires.html.