Areas of Specialization: Ethics, Aesthetics, Psychoanalytic theory, Phenomenology, Existentialism, Philosophy of Language, Early Analytic Philosophy
Areas of Competence: Marx, Speech act theory, Critical Theory, Moral Psychology
My first book ‘Wittgenstein and Lacan at the Limit: meaning and astonishment’ (2019) brings together the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Jacques Lacan around their treatments of ‘astonishment,’ an experience of being struck by something that appears to be extraordinarily significant. Both thinkers have a central interest in the dissatisfaction with meaning that these experiences generate when we attempt to articulate them, to bring language to bear on them. I argue that this frustration and difficulty with meaning reveals a more fundamental characteristic of our sense-making capacities –namely, their groundlessness. Instead of disappointment with language’s sense-making capacities, I argue that Wittgenstein and Lacan can help us find in this revelation of meaning’s groundlessness an opportunity to acknowledge our own involvement in meaning, to creatively participate in it and thereby to enrich our forms of life with language. You can listen to my introductory podcast at the Monocle Weekly radio show on the topic of astonishment here.
My second and forthcoming book focuses on wonder and anxiety as encounters with nothing that can offer us a valuable insight about the kind of being that we are. Here is a short description: Living a life comes with a degree of usualness and familiarity. Waking up, brushing our teeth, reaching for our iPhone, kissing our loved ones, cooking, daydreaming, meeting friends, working; these are some of the simple ways in which we find ourselves always already in the midst of activities, habits and involvements. Although something unexpected or extraordinary, like a divorce or a pandemic, are obvious ways in which this flow of familiarity can be interrupted, this book deals, instead, with cases of being shaken out of the usual when nothing has changed, when the same beings and activities that had so far appeared familiar suddenly feel most unfamiliar. But how can what is most usual become most unusual, when nothing has changed? Anxiety versus fear, wonder versus curiosity are some of the ways in which philosophers have described such moments as encounters with nothing. What does it mean to be anxious in the face of nothing in particular, and to wonder at the mere fact that anything exists, rather than nothing? And why are these moments so significant? For Kierkegaard anxiety is a door to freedom, for Heidegger wonder is a distress that opens us to the truth of Being, and for Wittgenstein wonder and anxiety are deeply connected to the ethical. Bringing into dialogue different voices from philosophy and psychoanalysis, the book argues that encounters with nothing matter because they bring into view what is most inconspicuous and fundamental about the human condition and what makes it possible to encounter anything at all, our distinct capacity for sense-making.
My research plans for the next 5 years involve two main research projects:
Earthlings: a philosophical exploration of fake nature received a research award from Kone Foundation, Finland and it will become my third monograph. Here is a description of my project: Fake nature has become increasingly present: from manmade islands and fake beaches to plans for an artificial moon. At a time when salvaging what is left of earthly nature has become so important, the increase in fake nature projects looks like a baffling paradox. How are we to understand the fact that indoor ski resorts are being built in Dubai, while the Arctic icecap melts at a dangerous rate? Given the increasing presence of synthetic nature and the subsequent blurring of the line between the natural and the artificial, as well as the reality of climate change, ecological destruction, and the worry that life on Earth is becoming unsustainable, this project aims to address the urgent question: what would we lose if we found ourselves surrounded only by copies of nature? Although a growing number of studies show a correlation between being in nature and finding well-being, the precise character and value of ‘nature’ is unclear. How can we understand philosophically the link between nature and happiness? And once this link is appropriately understood, is there any reason to think that a well-made copy of nature couldn’t do the same work?
‘Lived and unlived words: Cavell and Freud on authority and trust in language use’ explores what it means to speak authentically and with first-person authority. Inauthenticity can take different forms. Fakeness, pretentiousness, self-alienation are only some, but a common characteristic that these different forms share is what I call, following Emerson, dispossession – namely, a state where words and actions are unlived or unowned. The worry that comes with dispossession can be expressed in both first and third person: does X mean their words/do I mean my words?; do X’s/my words and actions still carry their original power?; are X’s/my words and actions really X/me (as opposed to a borrowed identity)? The variety of situations in which each of the above disquietudes can arise is as complicated as the overall question of the project: what are the criteria for possessed or dispossessed, lived or unlived, words and actions? How do (we know that) we own and live our words and actions? In this project, I approach these questions by bringing together Sigmund Freud and Stanley Cavell.