Dialectical Thinking in the Humanities

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This seminar will explore the uses and limits of dialectical thinking as a critical tool for contemporary humanistic inquiry. Engaging with a literary and philosophical tradition that is nothing else if not comparative, we argue for the persistent value in understanding textual oppositions, contradictions, and self-negations not as conceptual limitations, but as sites of productive restlessness.

Our dialogue might thus begin by considering two questions: how do critical resources from the dialectical tradition (Plato, Aristotle, Boethius, Kierkegaard, Hegel, Marx, etc.) help us to make sense of the often contradictory poetic, political, theological, rational, ecological, and other dimensions of our world? and how do works from within the humanities broadly considered (such as Goethe's aesthetic organicism, the Marxist poetics of Sartre and Brecht, or Schoenberg's dialectics of musical composition) reflect upon and enrich dialectics as a practice of thought?

Ideal presentations will strike a balance between theoretical reflection and detailed critical analysis, drawing attention to the immanent restlessness of a text or texts in order to move beyond historicity as the horizon of meaning. Sample topics might include the value of Benjamin's Trauerspiel for contemporary scholars of German tragic drama, dialectics as ancient and early modern rhetorical device, Badiou's recent poetic hyper-translation of Plato's Republic.

We invite proposals from any scholar working in the humanities as the term is most broadly defined. In keeping with the comparative nature of the convention, we especially welcome contributions that subject to dialectical scrutiny the disciplinary divisions between literature, music, history, philosophy, theology, and art. We hope to organize the seminar as a series of collegial conversations initiated by short presentations or position papers. For this reason, we expect that participants will make their material available for circulation a few weeks prior to the convention.

Email proposals of 500 words to kcavende@brandeis.edu