Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Stakes of Speech

This sounds almost too good to be true:

Stakes of Speech:  Self-Revelation and Theatricality
A Summer Seminar on Wittgenstein in the Spirit of Cavell and Rhees

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

Seminar Leaders:
Steven G. Affeldt, Le Moyne College.  (
Gordon C.F. Bearn, Lehigh University. ( 
Victor J. Krebs, Pontifical University of Peru, Lima. (

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

Applications due May 1, 2012, Decisions made May 8, 2012
                        Application Information Below

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)?


  1. "Application Information Below"

    I don't see it.

    Where did you copy this from? I did a Google search, and all I found were this blog and a couple of others that copied the text from you.

  2. Sorry, I didn't copy the whole thing. If you click on "This sounds almost too good to be true" you'll find the whole thing, including the information below.

    I copied it from an email sent to (I hope they don't mind me making it more widely known.)

    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 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
    Notifications: We will notify all applicants by May 8, 2012.