Dutton despised the turgid prose that he believed dominated academic writing and frequently linked to articles that lamented its dominance. As editor of the journal Philosophy and Literature, he even launched a “Bad Writing Contest” in which correspondents submitted the most egregious examples of such prose that they had found in an academic text. Since Dutton also hated critical theory’s influence on scholarship—which he considered little more than an academic fad—it was not surprising that theorists such as Homi K. Bhabha, Frederick Jameson, and Judith Butler were all awarded the bad writing prize (the difficulty of their prose, however, certainly didn’t help). Dutton rejected many of his academic colleagues focus on discourse, power, and difference, and instead used his perch at Arts and Letters to champion the human universalism implied by much work in evolutionary psychology—an entire field treated with skepticism by most scholars in the social science and the humanities. (His recent book, The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Evolution, applies insights from evolutionary psychology to aesthetic theory.)
The apparent contrarianism conveyed in the articles on Arts and Letters helped make it a formative influence on my own intellectual development. I started reading the site at the age of 18 and it introduced me to the world of public intellectuals. I devoured essays by the likes of Christopher Hitchens, Andrew Sullivan, and Martha Nussbaum. Arts and Letters convinced me that serious public discourse required style, sophistication, and skepticism. I began reading the site as a fairly dogmatic liberal, but its frequent links to conservative intellectuals and unclassifiable political heretics helped me to constantly reassess my own positions. Perhaps most importantly, Arts and Letters introduced me to an expansive and evolving intellectual community. In fact, my exposure to the site probably played an important role in my decision to pursue American intellectual history as a graduate student.
Since it has exerted such a strong affect on my intellectual development, it’s been sad for me to gradually give up on reading the site, and it seems as though I’m not the only one. Some of this has to do with the proliferation of new sites competing for intellectually-engaged readers, but I believe there are broader reasons for its relative decline.
Over the years, however, I came to understand my professor’s position. Once I started to actually read writers such as Foucault, Derrida, and Butler, I realized that many of the denunciations launched against them—frequently promoted on Arts and Letters Daily—were unfair, to say the least. I still refuse to genuflect toward any intellectual authority, but such theorists have triggered debate because their ideas are often profound, complex, and troubling—they need to be treated with intellectual seriousness. Of course, all of these figures are worthy of critique, but this is very difficult to do well in an op-ed format often better suited for polemical takedowns.
This brings me back to my original question about academics navigating the world of public discussion. Many scholars already cringe when they are forced to trim their research down to fit a 10-page conference papers; an op-ed generally cuts that material down to 2 pages. Translating specialized academic training into the often intimate, humorous, and generalist medium of blogging represents a serious challenge, but in the past few years, many have risen to meet it. These sites generally succeed because they refuse to dumb down expert knowledge even as they make it more accessible, avoid fruitless polemics, treat claims to infallibility with skepticism, and make valuable contributions to public debate. Even though I stopped reading it, these are all points that, at its best, Arts and Letters Daily continues to encourage.
Schelling's Practice of the Wild: Time, Art, Imagination: 2015.11.11 : View this Review Online ... https://t.co/dAWs5cKLA0 #philosophynws
Creativity is not some subjective factor but is the mysterious life of nature expressing itself as life, the animating force of which is time. Across all six chapters, Wirth argues that the wonderful strangeness of nature calls for the practice of the profoundest love, calls for the practice of the wild.
The wild is described as imagination, and it is at the heart of all images. Citing John Sallis, Wirth claims that the wild is 'monstrous,' not as an aberration but as that which trespasses the limits of mere explication (26). And here Wirth announces the purpose of his work: to liberate the imagination, die Einbildungskraft, from the fantasy that it is a faculty of representation (153) and, consequently, to take up the perplexing question of what is an image or Bild. Contrary to the Platonic tradition still embedded in modern discourse, he will argue that the imagination is the font of all thinking and the principle of creativity that is formative of the very opening upon things. He will present the image as a 'revelation' without representation. Wirth sees the problem of the image and imagination as a contemporary problem and, rather than merely reporting what Schelling says, purports to think through this problem with Schelling in a mutual practice of the wild, thereby rendering Schelling our contemporary, a project that, in my judgment, is utterly prodigious. He interfaces the thought of Schelling with some of the major figures of contemporary continental philosophy, principally Deleuze but also Heidegger, Derrida, Nancy, Sallis and others, as well as recent Schelling scholars such as Bruce Matthews and Lore Hühn. Writers of literature are also present and decisive, especially Melville but also Flaubert, Musil, Kundera, Coleridge, Hölderlin, and others. Clearly master of more than one book or tradition, Wirth thinks through this problem also with the Eastern traditions, principally that of Mahāyāna Buddism and Taoism. Much like that of Schelling, Wirth's thinking in this book is expansive, original, rich, and daring enough that it renders quite difficult a limited review.
Following the later Schelling, Wirth divides Schelling's philosophical itinerary into two periods, that of negative philosophy (the Naturphilosophie and earlier) and that of positive philosophywhose themes were foreshadowed in the Ages of the World (1815) and the Freedom essay (1809) and developed in the later works on revelation and mythology (the Berlin lectures, 1842-43). He sees the task of negative philosophy as overcoming the alienation of nature found in modern philosophy by intuiting "the infinite within the finite and . . . the ungrounded ground from which thinking arises" (118) while pointing out that it cannot account for the sovereign life of imagination, natura naturans. Positive philosophy displaces pure reason in favor of the cognition of actual experience and denies that the ungrounded ground is simply an abstraction (223). It provides a careful genealogy of past experience and a vigorous discernment of the present, and affirms the coming into the finite of the infinite as something found in the creativity of inspired living art.
Granting that philosophy always has an analytical task, Wirth nonetheless argues that, more importantly, it must cultivate the largesse and creativity that the imagination unleashes in the form of revelation and its poetic expression in mythology. In fact, in his second chapter on the "Solitude of God," he makes claims that may be taken as audacious and scandalous, namely that revelation is the ground for the possibility of philosophy, that it belongs first to philosophy more than it does to religion and is, in fact, first philosophy, "naming the very revelatory force of revelation itself" (32), a force that Wirth will call the monstrous solitude of God. Following Schelling, he announces a prophetic philosophical and ecologically responsive religion. He goes on to make what many traditional theologians and Schelling scholars would think is an outrageous claim, namely that prophesy points to Foucault's new age of curiosity. (39) Reviewed by Patrick Burke, Gonzaga in Florence
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Please tell us a little about how you go about writing a book such as how much pre-planning you do, how much time you spend per day writing?
Between books I spend as much time away from the keyboard work as I can. I do other things, sailing, fishing, traveling, playing music. But while I'm doing other things I'm getting some mental notes down, some ideas of who's going to do what, and why, for my next book. I'm always watching people, listening to what they're saying, and more importantly, why they're saying it. At the same time I'm searching old historical accounts, bank robberies, train robberies, hangings, shootings, weather conditions and whatnot. I try to keep a foot in the 1800s Victorian era social mores and customs, so I keep my story sounding authentic. Once I settle in to write, I have the story pretty much done, I just need to write it down. That's about six to eight hours a day or more until I get the satisfactory ending. Of course the story throws me some surprises in the actually writing. A character I had all set to die will become so good or so bad that I decide to keep them around for a book or two, or in some cases a whole new series. Sometimes, at the end I realize that the story took on a whole different focus or slant or meaning than I had in mind. Generally that's when I recognize that I've done my best job.