Stakes of Speech: Self-Revelation and Theatricality

July 9, 2012 - July 18, 2012
The Humanities Center, Lehigh University

United States

Main speakers:

Steven G. Affeldt
Le Moyne College
Gordon C.F. Bearn
Lehigh University
Victor J. Krebs
Pontifical University of Peru

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Stipend for all Participants: $500. Accommodations provided for all participants, free of charge.

Applications due May 1, 2012, Decisions made May 8, 2012.

1.  Seminar Description
It was to have been a revolution. Wittgenstein hoped to turn our (philosophical) lives around, or upside down.  But the fires of Wittgenstein’s revolution were no match for philosophy's fantasy of rigorous science and his work was soon assigned its narrow place on the shelf of formal semantics: an appendix of pragmatics. The fires cooled to embers guarded—perhaps smothered—by a dwindling band of devotees.

Thankfully some continued to write as though nothing had happened in analytic philosophy of language.  And now the years of work and the shelves of books by Stanley Cavell and Rush Rhees seem finally to be reigniting those old revolutionary hopes, not only in philosophy but throughout the literary humanities.

As taken up by Cavell and Rhees, the heart of Wittgenstein’s effort to revolutionize our lives lies in his binding the intelligibility of speech to self-revelation: to revealing the positions from which we speak and the multiplicity of cares, interests, expectations, and more that give shape and direction to our lives. Such revelation is not inevitable.  Nor is the only alternative the sensible silence that comes of recognizing that you can’t, and shouldn’t, talk to everyone about everything.  On the contrary, the revolutionary urgency of Wittgenstein’s work is rooted in confronting the myriad forms of emptiness and nonsense that spring from trying to evacuate the self from our words and to mean without disclosing ourselves.

This summer, we will spend an intensive and collegial week exploring some of the questions provoked by this picture of what is involved in speaking intelligibly.  How should the demand for self-revelation or the presentation of the self be understood?  What are its presuppositions and implications?  What kinds of factors and forces (linguistic, psychological, aesthetic, inter-personal, cultural, social, political, etc.) that shape the possibilities of self-presentation and so intelligibility?  Does the demand for self-revelation insinuate, or even essentially involve, a concern for audience?  If so, does this attractive Wittgensteinian picture begin to smack of theatricality and stagework and so of insincerity and inauthenticity?  Must it endure a Beckettian fate where "damnation lies not in a particular form of theater, but in theatricality as such" (Cavell, MWM, p. 160)?

2. Financial Support
The generous support of the Lehigh University Office for International Affairs and the Philosophy Department of Lehigh University make it possible for us to offer each participant in this seminar:

  • A stipend of $500
  • Free dorm style accommodations across the street from the Lehigh Humanities Center where we will be meeting.
  • Lunches on every meeting day and dinners at the opening and closing of the seminar.

3.  Eligibility
Although there are places for only 10 participants, this seminar is open to any graduate student, faculty member, or independent scholar who expresses an interest in its themes.

4.  Application
Send a CV along with a letter to Gordon C.F. Bearn at [email protected] articulating how the themes of this seminar engage your research interests either in philosophy, or in the literary humanities more broadly, or in both.

Deadline: e-mail applications should be sent by May 1, 2012 to [email protected]
Notifications: We will notify all applicants by May 8, 2012.

5.   Further Information
For further information feel free to contact any of the three leaders of this seminar:

Steven G. Affeldt, Le Moyne College  ([email protected])
Gordon C.F. Bearn, Lehigh University ([email protected])
Victor J. Krebs, Pontifical University of Peru, Lima ([email protected])

A detailed schedule for the seminar and a list of readings for each meeting is available at the seminar website:

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May 1, 2012, 10:00am EST

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