Summer Faculty Workshop

by William Storrar

June 9-13, 2014

John Bowlin, Princeton Theological Seminary and James Wetzel, Villanova University

Confessional Improvisation:

Wittgenstein and Cavell after Augustine

An intensive workshop to read texts and discuss work in progress, led by John Bowlin, Princeton Theological Seminary, and James Wetzel, Villanova University. Five scholars will be invited to participate in the workshop. Professors Bowlin and Wetzel will share responsibility for the morning sessions, which will focus on selections from Augustine, Wittgenstein, and Cavell. The afternoon sessions will be led by individual members of the workshop and will focus on the work in progress (an article or book chapter) that each has prepared and distributed in advance.

Key texts:

Augustine, Confessions
Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (4th ed.)
Cavell, Little Did I Know: Excerpts from Memory

Supplementary texts:

Wittgenstein, Tractatus (especially the intro)
Cavell, Philosophical Passages (“Notes and Afterthoughts on the Opening of Wittgenstein’s PI”)

Basic issues:

  • Confession as an (anti) autobiographical genre 
  • The possibility of a secular appropriation of confession 
  • The desirability of such an appropriation 
  • Philosophy with and without confession
  • Confession with and without philosophy 

  • From Cavell, Little Did I Know (p. 21):

    Something is already happening here that takes me particularly by surprise. It was an important, relatively late moment in my recurrence to passages in Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations that produced the recognition in it of what I might call Wittgensteinian irony. In a passage I have in mind, Wittgenstein recognizes that “our investigation” “seems only to destroy everything…important” but insists that he is “destroying nothing but a house of cards” (§ 118). Read more persistently, however, the moment conveys a recognition of inner development, expressed explicitly in a phantasm of the rubble of a destroyed city (“leaving behind only bits of stone and rubble”). (I recall that Thoreau shows himself to have acquired wood for his new cabin by demolishing an old shack.) I do not leap to the conclusion that my attraction to philosophy was as to an intellectual region from which I might avert or provide reparation for scenes of inner devastation. I do, however, now intend to bear in mind the thought that this has been a cause of my particular attention to the words of Philosophical Investigations.


    We invite applications from tenured and pre-tenure scholars in philosophy, theology, religious studies, and related disciplines. Successful applicants must cover their travel to and from Princeton. Lodging and meals will be provided during the workshop. Applications should include a current CV, a letter of interest, and a proposal of no more than 750 words that bears on the workshop’s themes, figures, and texts. All applicants will receive a decision by March 1, 2014. Please note, successful applicants must submit their workshop papers for circulation by June 2, 2014.

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