Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Friday, October 14, 2016

CONFESSIONS OF A WANNABE

I have led a quiet, protected, uneventful life, or so it has seemed to me.  I was born into a stable middle-class family that was virtually unaffected either by the Great Depression or by the Second World War.  I pursued a conventional educational path leading, with no more than the usual uncertainties, to a tenured professorship at the age of thirty.  My military service, such as it was, occurred during one of those rare moments when the United States was not at war, and though I had some measure of success as an academic and as an author, I did not even quite rise to the level, in Mel Brooks’ classic phrase, of being “world famous in Poland.”  My first series of video’ed lectures, On Ideological Critique, had a quite modest success, drawing more viewers than I had ever seen in a classroom but, judging by the other YouTube clips, so few as not even to be worth taking note of.  Under these circumstances, it was quite easy for me to assure myself that I cared a great deal more about being a good teacher and a clear writer than I did about achieving even a fleeting moment of fame, let alone the fifteen minutes that Andy Warhol had promised.  I compared myself to M. de St. Colombe, playing his viola da gamba for hours on end in a little wooden shack, oblivious to the attractions of Versailles.

Then I began my current series of lectures on the Critique of Pure Reason, and quite inexplicably, they drew thousands of views on YouTube.  In a matter of weeks, my carefully cultivated façade of spiritual purity crumbled, and I found myself anxiously checking the tally of views of each lecture.  The crash of the viewership for the sixth lecture sent me into John Bunyan’s Slough of Despond.  I found myself crying pathetically, like Marlon Brandon in the taxi with Rod Steiger, “I coulda been a contender; I coulda been somebody!”

Fortunately, a long-time reader sent me an email message, in which he recalled me to myself.  Here is what he wrote, in part:  “Your job is to speak to those who remain.  I would remind you that you have mentored individuals, giving them hours of your time.  Do not get snagged on the “popularity” nettle.”


I realized that he was right, and returning to my hut, picked up my viola da gamba, (all of which was made easier, needless to say, by the fact that there was then a sharp uptick in the views of Lecture Six.)

10 comments:

Andrew Lionel Blais said...

I was wondering about your remark that Kant's argument for the causal maxim is the heart of the Critique. What about his analysis of our peculiar fate? I mean our fate to use the categories in a way that appears to yield knowledge of things in themselves, but doesn't? I would think that having devoted as much mental energy to the phenomenon of ideological illusion as you have, you would think that the doctrine of transcendental illusion is at least as important as the argument concerning causality. If not the heart, perhaps the liver. For someone who so often begins with a reference to this or that item within the critical ediface, why has the analysis of transcendental illusion seemed to be sidelined in your relections on Marx, ideology, Freud, and other matters?

Tom Cathcart said...

An explanation for the dropoff in viewers? Are you kidding? The Critique is tough sledding! Or was, 56 years ago when I thought I was kind of smart. Can't even imagine doing it today, when my toughest critique is whether to poach or bake the salmon.

Anonymous said...

"Still govern thou my Song, Urania, and fit audience find, though few." - John Milton, Paradise Lost

LFC said...

I'd be curious about the perspective of contemporary neuroscience on some of the questions Kant was dealing with (according to the sixth lecture), re what physical objects are and how they are perceived, and so on. (Not that I know much of anything about neuroscience.)

[Also tempted to say something about your last point re Kant's ethics, but I won't, at least for the moment.]

John Rapko said...

Professor Wolff, I must say that I find it oddly heartening that somehow as wise as you would worry about something as silly as how many 'views' you have on YouTube.

John Rapko said...

For "somehow", read "someone" in the comment above.

Jerry Fresia said...

And then there are those of us who wish only that we actually had something interesting to say about the Kant lectures. I mean, Kant on YouTube??? Getting hundreds if not thousands to watch a heavy duty lecture on Kant in the age of clicking for pleasure is at the level of landing humans on mars. Plus you have a Wikipedia entry. Geez Louise! (That's the best I can do in terms of tossing in foreign phrases.)

I know you hate the word, but I will use it again: crossover (think analytic proposition:)). It wouldn't take much. Just send in one of your blogs on the campaign to the Huffintonpost and the number of your YouTube viewers will spike. I mean, the line "M. de St. Colombe, playing his viola da gamba for hours on end in a little wooden shack, oblivious to the attractions of Versailles" would be enough to send hundreds to the subscription page.

Anonymous said...

Professor, just a reminder from the internet that your life certainly seems anything but ordinary or quiet-- meeting great name philosophers and teaching at hugely prestigious universities and producing things on the side... Not everyone gets such an interesting hand dealt to them. I won't preach for stoicism, but perhaps it's a good time to reread his fortune-cookie manual and remember what he said about being a philosopher.

David U said...

Given the difficulty of the material, I'm taking full advantage of the fact that your videos can be viewed at any time by following along at a slower and more manageable pace. I'd be surprised if I'm the only one who has neither given up yet nor been ready for each week's lecture as soon as their posted.

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