What’s been going on?

It appears I haven’t posted in about a month. What’s up?

Well, a cluster of little things. There’s been painting the house, the kids starting school, me starting teaching, etc. I have been rewriting a paper on Nietzsche for the upcoming “Nietzsche on Mind and Nature” conference at Oxford, and arranging travel, etc. That’s next week. And I am working on a book on Spinoza’s philosophy, tentatively entitled God or Nature: Spinoza’s Radical Theology. It is a shift for me, moving from Nietzsche’s thrilling prose to the ever-cautious geometer (who encased his philosophy in an invincible iron maiden, as ol’ Fritz once wrote). I’m not sure readers of this blog will be as interested in periodic updates about the Spinoza project, but that’s probably going to happen from here on out, at least for the next few months.

A more interesting question looming in the back of my mind is along the lines of “What next?” I’ll keep reading Nz, but I don’t have a great urge to write a whole lot more about him. Same even more so for Spinoza, once this project is complete. I think that, bound up with the question, is a bit of soul searching about where I am and who I am. The fact is that I am in a backwater, so far as philosophy is concerned: my colleagues are delightful, and I like where I live and so on, but there’s no way to deny that I am “more than somewhat” removed from the action of contemporary academic philosophy. (The web helps to make up for that, but only to a very limited extent. Hallway conversations are where it’s it. Or that’s what I remember, anyway.) And, since I’ve been in such a spot for 15 years, it has had some effect on who I am as a philosopher. In short, I am turning slowly into a backwater sort of person, the geezer who shows up at a conference in bib overalls and with bits of straw in his hair and strangely opines, “But you’re all forgetting the question of Change! How can you do any of this without settling that first?” Then he stomps off, back to wherever he came from. And everyone goes back to discussing Dretske and closure principles of knowledge, or whatever.

I could probably buck against fate, but I think I’ll just go with it. The virtue of being in an inconspicuous place is that you’re free to pursue your (possibly weird) views of things without feeling compelled to relate it to what more conspicuous people are saying and doing. There’s some pleasure in that, though you have to give up the pleasures of belonging to some wider, professional, academic community, and make do with the delightful people around you, who take an interest in what you write just because, well, you’re you.

Yes, sounds like a rationalization to me too. But the other option — trying to stay conspicuous in and engaged with an intellectual community that seems awfully far away — sounds a bit like trying to be someone I’m not. What I truly revere in Nz and Emerson is that they didn’t let their untimeliness or Americanness (respectively) stop them from trying to express frankly what was on their minds. I certainly am no FWN or RWE, but, hell, I don’t have to be Lance Armstrong in order to enjoy cycling, either. So I’ll just do things my way, and everyone is perfectly within their rights to take no notice whatsoever. Just keep your eyes open for me — I’ll be the guy in the bib overalls.


About Huenemann

Curious about the ways humans use their minds and hearts to distract themselves from the meaninglessness of life.
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9 Responses to What’s been going on?

  1. Kleiner says:

    What a great reflection, and I think you nail the pros and cons of living in the philosophical backwater. Being in a small backwater dept forces you to care about things you would never otherwise care about simply because you care about the people you work with and so are stuck with whatever random interests those few people might have (I would have given materialism much less thought over the last few years had I been at a larger dept).
    By the way, you are kind of like the guy in the overalls except he is a bit better looking.


  2. Huenemann says:

    Thanks, Kleiner. The guy, by the way, is Popcorn Sutton, perhaps the last moonshiner. The thing in his hat is a “coon pecker.”


  3. But “Charlie Huenemann” just isn’t backwater enough. You’ll have to come up with your own backwater name, something as good as “Popcorn Sutton.” How about Sap Fontanel? Wade Jefferson Davis? Cleetus Brandstetter? These are just ideas.


  4. Huenemann says:

    All excellent suggestions! I was considering Deuteronomy Pickett.


  5. Rob says:

    I suspect your current readership is firmly secured through the upcoming bout of Spinoza, which I’m looking forward to… Hope you’ll consider sharing your conference paper, any interesting responses it generated, and anything noteworthy from the presentations you attend. (Cool: at least the abstracts are now available)


  6. Mike says:

    Viva backwater existentialism!

    While you’re in the UK you might want to try some of the beers listed in this thread.


  7. Nikolaj Pilgaard Petersen says:

    Just read ‘Spinoza’s Radical Theology’. Very interesting thoughts – thank you much for sharing them 🙂
    As for the backwater, Rescher remarked (albeit back in 1993, but not obsolete today, I guess) that: “For better or worse, an outsider along the lines of Spinoza or Nietzsche would find it near impossible to get a hearing in the North American philosophical world today.” (‘The Review of Metaphysics’, Vol. 46 , No. 4, p. 721). Don’t know if it coincidental that he chooses these particular philosophers, Spinoza and Nietzsche, to be the one mentioned 😀


  8. Huenemann says:

    Thank you! Nietzsche also wrote, in an early essay, that banishing philosophy as a subject in the university would be the surest way to prompt the development of deeper, more engaging works of philosophy.


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