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January 16, 2009

people who flop at Oxford

Reading Ingrid Rowland's very enjoyable and insightful biography of Giordano Bruno, a parallel occurred to me:

In 1583, in mortal danger from the Inquisition, a European exile comes to Oxford University in search of a professorship. He has wild and evocative ideas, writes brilliantly, but has not organized his thought into a consecutive or comprehensible system. He is equally adept at fiction, poetry, philosophy, and magic. He disdains the mainstream mode of philosophy (Arisoteleanism) and refuses to use the standard method of analysis (syllogistic logic). He hates the vulgar crowd but has egalitarian and libertarian theoretical ideas. English dons seem to him provincial, naive, and ill-mannered; he dispenses backhanded compliments about their distinguished academic garb while privately noting that they know more about beer than true philosophy. They find him laughable--passionate, irascible, nonsensical, and almost impossible to understand because he insists on pronouncing Latin like Italian. (Whereas they pronounce it like Elizabethan English.)

In 1934, a young philosopher comes to Oxford in search of a teaching job and a refuge from Nazi Germany. He has radical but somewhat inchoate ideas. He largely shuns the logical positivism and empiricism that are mainstream at Oxford and dabbles in phenomenology, music, sociology, and other disciplines. He writes beautifully and allusively but also elusively. He is a Marxist with very refined aesthetic principles. Oxford academics find him "a bit of a comic figure" (A.J Ayer), partly on account of his "anxiety." He finds them naive. "It is quite impossible to convey my real philosophical interests to the English, and I have to reduce my work to a childish level."

Giordano Bruno, Theodor Adorno: two guys who got "job talks" at Oxford that never panned out.

January 16, 2009 7:59 PM | category: Shakespeare & his world , academia | Comments


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