Philosophy, Literature Conference Discusses Works by Melville, Descartes
A scholar in philosophy and a scholar in
literary studies can pick up the same book, read the same words, and come
away with completely different perceptions about the contents and messages
of the text. It is this phenomenon that is the focus of a conference being
held at Wesleyan from May 9-10, titled, “Philosophy and Literature: Reading
Across the Disciplines.”
The idea behind the conference is to gather scholars from both academic
areas and compare how each interpret the same text.
This is the first year of our conference and the positive response has far
exceeded our expectations,” says Ethan Kleinberg, associate professor of
history, associate professor of letters, and the conference coordinator. “We
have over 30 Wesleyan faculty participating and faculty and graduate
students register from as far away as Yemen and Europe. Perhaps most
encouraging, Wesleyan students have also shown great enthusiasm for the
event and plan to attend the public lectures and then form student
workgroups that will parallel the faculty sessions.”
The conference will feature a presentation on a single literary work during
each morning. In the afternoons, participants will form working groups to
discuss the presentations, the works discussed and their own approaches to
The first day’s presentation will be on Herman Melville’s Bartleby the
Scrivner, which will be led by Arthur Danto, Emeritus Johnsonian
Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University, and Susan Suleiman, C.
Douglas Dillon Professor of Civilization and Professor of Comparative
Literature at Harvard University.
On the second day, Rene Descartes’ Meditations will be discussed by
Rebecca Goldstein, professor of philosophy at the Radcliffe Institute,
Harvard University, and David Konstan, John Rowe Workman Professor of
Classics and Humanistic Tradition at Brown University.
On the final night there will also be a dinner with an address by Richard T.
Vann, emeritus professor of History and Letters at Wesleyan University and
senior editor for History and Theory.
“This conference is different from many others because it sets out to
explore what philosophers and literary scholars actually do when they
interpret a text,” Kleinberg says. “Wesleyan University is the perfect place
for such an undertaking because of its commitment to interdisciplinary
scholarship and teaching.”
The conference is being supported by the Raymond E. Baldwin Lecture Fund and
a Mellon Workshop Grant, as well the College of Letters, and Wesleyan’s
departments of English, German Studies, Philosophy, and Romance Languages
For more information or to register go to:
By David Pesci, director of Media Relations