Mellon Teaching Seminar
participants should click on the link at the right hand side of the page for registration information and course outline. The deadline is 18 January 2013.
Peter de Bolla (Professor of Cultural History and Aesthetics, Faculty of English, University of Cambridge)
Clifford Siskin (Henry W and Alfred A Berg Professor of English and American Literature, New York University/ Leverhulme Visiting Professor at CRASSH)
Candidates for doctoral degrees are expected to undertake research that is a ‘contribution to knowledge’. It is left unclear as to whether such contributions are to be large or small, significant or insignificant, but the silent assumption is that PhD candidates should be in the business of advancing knowledge. We don’t want any old stuff. But how can knowledge be made to advance?
This course invites graduate students from across the disciplines in the humanities and social sciences to participate in an experiment. We believe that advancements in knowledge are most likely to occur if we attend to the concepts we use for making sense of the world and ourselves. Indeed once we have a better grasp on the structure of concepts themselves, once we ascertain how their architectures enable and disable knowing, we may be able to identify where, why and how specific concepts block understanding thereby leading to knowledge getting stuck. Or, conversely, we may be able to identify what is within the internal wiring of a concept that leads to our understanding in this case. Both of these scenarios, we believe, may also help us identify concepts that are used up, that no longer do what we want them to, or those that need replacing or augmenting. They may also lead us to conclude that we need to build a new conceptual form.
But how do we go about doing that? Our aim is to attempt some answers in an experimental concept lab. Although the group will be directed to some concepts that we have thought about and consider ripe for this experimental treatment, we expect participants to bring some candidates themselves. This is a practical, joint venture in devising a methodology and a practice for advancing knowledge at a moment when it threatens—to use Francis Bacon’s word for an earlier problem of advancement—to stall.