Conference News!

Guldaldersalen (the "Golden-Age" room) Hotel Prindsen

It’s spring and I am here in Denmark. Not Copenhagen this time, Roskilde, at the beautiful Hotel Prindsen, where, I understand from Peter Tudvad, Kierkegaard probably stopped to eat on his way to Jutland in the summer of 1840!  The hotel actually dates back to the 17th century. I’m here for the annual conference of the PsyArt Foudation. The PsyArt Foundation is a really cool group of which I am now a member by virtue of having paid my conference registration fee. There’s a great group of people here, very international. There are scholars and psychotherapists from Iran, Hungary, Israel, the Czech Republic, Finland, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany and France (to name just a few of the countries represented), as well as from the U.S., and, of course, Denmark.

The conference is being sponsored jointly by the PsyArt Foundation and Roskilde University. It was organized, at least in part, however, by Bent Sørensen from Aalborg University. Bent very thoughtfully provided his cell number to all the conference participants. That came in handy this morning when I woke up after the session at which I was scheduled to present my paper had actually started. I’d already missed the bus from the hotel to the university and I had not yet showered or dressed. “No worries,” Bent said, cool as a cucumber. “I’ll move your presentation to the end of the session. Just get a cab over here as quickly as you can.” I made it and the presentation was well received despite the fact that I had not yet even had a cup of COFFEE!

My presentation was not actually about Kierkegaard, so I won’t tell you about it here. It is part of a larger book project that I’ll start on as soon as I finish with Fear and Dissembling. There was a presentation on Kierkegaard at the conference though. It was by Rainer Kaus from the Psychology Dept. of the University of Cologne. The title was “Søren Kierkegaard’s Concept of Existence.” Here is the abstract:

“Kierkegaard’s thesis on truth and existence is complex. His major focus is on subjectivity as the bearer of truth. For Kierkegaard, subjectivity is put into the polarity of reason and sacrifice and culminates in a radical turning-away from the official doctrine of Christianity, represented by the institutionalized church and its teachings. Kierkegaard’s presentation of the development of the concept of the subject’s interiority and its existence in the world evidenced a high degree of seduction by linguistically aesthetic means. The central question remains whether, in the face of dwindling religiosity and the institutional erosion of all churches, as well as the confusing diversity of all the psychoanalytic perspectives (which, in turn, are seeking a unity), Kierkegaard still has something essential to contribute in the twenty-first century.”

I was unfortunately unable to hear the presentation, but I understand from other participants that it was good. Another scholar, Murray Schwartz, from Emerson College in Amherst, MA, told me that he is going to mention Kierkegaard in his presentation “Jonathan Lear as Psychoanalytic Interpreter,” so Kierkegaard seems very popular with this crowd. If you are looking for new venues for presenting your work, you should consider submitting a paper to the PsyArt Foundation for next year’s conference. It’s going to be in Ghent, Belgium. That could be a nice ghetaway, don’t you think?

The Kierkegaard Car, etc.

The Kierkegaard Car

Check out the new license plate my husband thoughtfully got for me. Here is a link to the site where you can order one for yourself for just under $20! I’ve got another link I think you will like. A thoughtful reader emailed me recently that my translation of Kierkegaard’s Repetition and Philosophical Crumbs is now available in an electronic edition through Google Books for $9.99. Is that cool or what! I promised I’d have an index for that book by this spring. I don’t need to do one now though because you can search the electronic edition and find anything you want. Electronic searches are much more effective at finding stuff than is a standard index. Still, if you bought the book on the assumption that you would be able to download the index I promised and you are put out because now you are going to have to spend another $9.99 to get a searchable edition of the book, just send me a scan of your receipt and if the date you purchased the book is after the date when I promised the index and before the date of this post, then I will send you a check for $9.99.

I’m not trying to make more money by encouraging you to buy the electronic edition. I’m just trying to save myself some unnecessary work. I’d rather be writing than spending my time producing an index. I love writing, not only am I working on the book Fear and Dissembling, I’ve also got a blog on my website where I post short essays on various topics ranging from religion to popular culture. You should check that blog out if you have not already. The most recent post “The Life of the Mind” actually mentions Kierkegaard. I’d be interested in any case, to see what other philosophers think of it.

I’m sorry I have not yet come with the promised post on Peter Tudvad’s excellent Stadier på antisemitismens vej: Søren Kierkegaard og Jøderne (stages on the way of anti-Semitism: Søren Kierkegaard and the Jews). This has been a busy term for me. We’re on quarters, so we just finished our spring term and I’m actually still grading exams. It was a wonderful term though. I teach two courses a term, but for the first time in my academic career, I had only ten students in each class and that made for a truly wonderful teaching experience. Why was I so busy with only twenty students total? Because for the first time I was able to allow every student the opportunity to rewrite every paper and quite a few students took advantage of that opportunity. It made more work for me, but it also made the term more satisfying for both the students and myself because they learned more and that made it clear to me that I was actually making a positive difference in their lives. That’s the point of teaching, of course, making a positive difference in one’s students’ lives. It is usually far from clear, however, that one is having such an effect. Sometimes I worry that I am actually having the opposite effect. That is, sometimes I worry that I am undermining their self esteem by giving them what they feel are low grades on their essays and because I do not normally have enough time to allow them to rewrite more than the first essay, I worry that this reduced self esteem will be the most significant thing they will take out of the class. I could quit having them write essays, I suppose, but then what would be the point of their paying the approximately $40,000 a year that it costs to go to Drexel? I’m not THAT entertaining. I feel as if I would be participating in an enormous fraud if I didn’t have them write essays, so I keep doing it, even though I often worry that I’m starting something that the rest of their instructors are not going to be able to finish.

That’s the real scandal in higher education if you ask me. Yes, it is horribly unfair to the legions of adjuncts and other “contingent faculty” that they are not paid better for their labor. There’s been very little discussion, however, of the injustice (if not outright fraud) of requiring students to pay tens of thousands of dollars to get a “college education” that, because it so often delivered by overburdened instructors who do not have much time to devote to their students, is often less effective at developing students minds than would be watching public television. If I were in college now, I’d scream bloody murder if my instructors didn’t assign essays, and lots of them, and if I didn’t get extensive feedback on them and have as many opportunities as I wanted to discuss that feedback with the instructor. Faculty sometimes complain that too many students are in college simply to get that piece of paper we call a degree, but colleges and universities actually encourage that attitude by cramming too many students into classes with instructors who do not actually have time to teach. The message of that experience is that colleges and universities are in the business of selling degrees rather than of developing minds. Students aren’t stupid. They get it. That’s something Louis Menand fails to acknowledge in his recent piece in The New Yorker, Live and Learn” (for more on Menand see my Reading Notes The Life of the Mind“).  Students don’t understand the value of the humanities because we repeatedly send them the message that the humanities are not important, that the reason they are in college is to get the piece of paper called “a degree.”

I say “we,” but I probably shouldn’t because Drexel is actually a lot better in that respect than are many colleges and universities these days. I teach two courses a term, and Drexel will allow a course to run with as few as twelve students and sometimes, under special circumstances such as a particular course being required for a major, with even fewer than that. We are the exception though, not the rule, so those of us in higher education should stop complaining that our students don’t care about anything but getting that piece of paper and ask ourselves whether we aren’t encouraging that attitude and what we might be able to do to change it.