“Kierkegaard and German Thought” was the title of a conference held last Thursday and Friday at the University of Oregon. The conference was sponsored by the Department of German and Scandinavian and organized by Michael Stern, an associate professor in the dept. It was one of the most interesting and stimulating conferences I’ve been to in years. The speakers included David Kangas and Vanessa Rumble, both highly esteemed Kierkegaard scholars and regulars on what one might call the Kierkegaard circuit (I was on the program as well, but modesty precludes my referring to myself as “highly esteemed”). All the papers were excellent though and it was particularly stimulating to me to hear papers from people with whose work I am less familiar. The other speakers were (in the order of their appearance on the program): Gantt Gurley (Oregon), Charles Scott (Emeritus, Vanderbilt), Michael Stern (Oregon), Michelle Kosch (Cornell), Daniel Conway (Texas A&M), Leonardo Lissi (Johns Hopkins), the aforementioned David Kangas and Vanessa Rumble, and Jeffrey Librett (Oregon).
Gurley (who seems to know as many languages as the fabled Thorleifur Gudmondson Repp) spoke Thursday on Kierkegaard and “The Concept of Byrony.” Scott, whose paper was entitled “The Force of Life and Faith,” spoke on Kierkegaard and Niezsche. Michael Stern, whose paper was entitled “Clouds: The Tyrany of Irony Over Philosophy,” spoke about Socrates in Aristophanes and Kierkegaard. Michelle Kolsch, whose paper was entitled “Fichte and (Wilhelm) on Practical Reasoning,” made a convincing case Fichte was the philosopher Kierkegaard had in mind when writing the second volume of Either/Or, rather than, as some have argued, Kant or Hegel. Daniel Conway examined Kierkegaard and Nietzsche on resentment. I talked about Kierkegaard and German mysticism. (Yes, you will notice I’ve left off mentioned the paper titles. I feared that was becoming monotonous.)
Friday began with Leonardo Lisi’s paper “Antigone’s Silence: Tragedy and the form of History in Kierkegaard.” (Okay, I’m back to paper titles. So long as I’m luxuriating within these parenthesis, I’d like to add that Lisi and Librett have two of the finest speaking voices I’ve ever heard. I’d listen to them talk about anything just to hear those lovely voices. Plus, they’re both scary smart, so they’d be worth listening to no matter what they were talking about). Kangas’s (I think the simple s’ is an affectation. I mean, would anyone say “Kangas’ paper”?) paper was entitled “Of Spirit: On Being Human in Kierkegaard’s Late Discourses.” Kangas’s paper was a particular favorite of mine, not because it was better than the others but because so much of it was directly relevant to my own interests, both in Kierkegaard and in life more generally. Librett went next, though he was listed as last in the program. His paper was entitled “Modalities of Anxiety in Kierkegaard and Heidegger” as was so expertly crafted that it actually made me, if only briefly, want to read Heidegger.
My hands-down favorite paper, however, was Vanessa Rumble’s “Stirrings: Fichte and Kierkegaard on Fate, Freedom and Fault.” The paper was an interpretation of Fear and Trembling as a meditation on trauma that focused more on the various accounts of weaning in the book than on the treatments of the Akedah (for those of you unfamiliar with this term, it refers to the binding of Isaac). I found it absolutely compelling.
The campus of the University of Oregon is beautiful. It is was gorgeous and green, lush with spring folliage and many of the buildings appear to be in the architectural style known as “prairie school.” (The picture above is of Stern at the podium of the room in which the conference was held. Okay, there’s more of the room than there is of Stern, but the room was just gorgeous. The picture doesn’t do it justice.) Conference goers were housed at the charming Excelsior Inn just next to the campus and treated to a delicious gourmet breakfast each morning in the inn’s restaurant. There was a banquet the last day at an excellent restaurant called Marché. The wine was wonderful and the company was even better. I’d like to thank all the folks at U. of Oregon for their hospitality, but especially Mark T. Unno from the Department of Religious studies, who introduced my paper. Professor Unno gave me the loveliest introduction I’ve ever received (which included some nice words about this blog).
I’m going to lobby U. of Oregon to do this every year!