Philosophy, Literature Conference Discusses Works by Melville, Descartes

Posted 05/02/07
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 these books.

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 and Literatures.

For more information or to register go to:

By David Pesci, director of Media Relations