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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON THE THOUGHT OF KARL MARX. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for Robert Paul Wolff Marx."




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Tuesday, August 7, 2018

PREVIEWS OF COMING ATTRACTIONS


As I have several times mentioned, come fall I shall be flying up to New York each Tuesday to teach a course at Columbia University.  Jerry Fresia asked to see the syllabus, so I thought I would post it here after saying a few words about how the course came to be.

Something more than a year ago, I was elected to a group at Columbia called The Society of Senior Scholars.  The society is a group of thirty or so retired professors, most but not all retired from Columbia, who are interested in continuing to teach.  The Society has its roots in Contemporary Civilization, a legendary General Education course created at Columbia in 1919, which is required, along with other courses, of every Columbia undergraduate.  Some members of the Society teach sections of CC, as it is referred to, while others teach elsewhere in Columbia.

I am, I believe, the only member of the Society who does not live in the Greater New York area.   CC meets twice a week, for two hours each time, and it would be impossible for me to come to the city twice a week, so I cast about for something else to teach.  One of the people who had nominated me for the Society suggested that I create an upper level interdisciplinary course that could serve for a small group of Juniors and Seniors as a sort of capstone or consummation of their undergraduate education.  I jumped at the chance and very quickly came up with a proposal for a course dealing with a range of materials that I have been thinking about, teaching, writing about, and recording YouTube videos about for the past forty years.  The theme of the course that I proposed is the phenomenon of ideological distortion, mystification, and rationalization that characterizes all of the disciplines grouped together as Social Sciences and that distinguished them from the Natural Sciences and also [although this is debatable] from the Humanities.  I called the course Mystifications of Social Reality.

The folks I was talking with at Columbia were enthusiastic about the proposal, but there was a problem.  I am not a member of any department or other regularly established Columbia body [the Society does not count, for some obscure reason], so I am not authorized to offer a course.  This bureaucratic obstacle had everybody stumped until someone said, “Of course, if you co-teach it with a faculty member, there will be no problem.”  So, whom could I get?

The person who nominated me suggested a very senior member of the faculty of the famous Columbia School of Journalism who is also, as it happens, an Adjunct Member of the Sociology Department, a man named Todd Gitlin.  I was absolutely delighted by the suggestion.  Todd has had a long and brilliant career as a strong voice and active presence on the left in America, starting when he served as the third president of Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS as everyone knows it.  He has published many books and it would be simply delightful for me to collaborate with him on the course.  It all so happens, unbeknownst to the person who made the suggestion, that in 1960, fifty-eight years ago, Todd was my student at Harvard!

So there it is.  On Tuesday, September 4th, Todd and I will meet a small class [limited to 20] in a room yet to be decided, and launch Mystifications of Social Reality.  Later today, I will post the syllabus we have settled upon.



4 comments:

Jerry Fresia said...

Those lucky students who probably don't know how lucky they are. I say this, and have mentioned this many times - probably because I still can't believe that I turned down a chance to take a class with James Baldwin! Anyway, I look forward to the syllabus, understand why the course can't be taped, etc, and wish you too well. I also like reference to the "trick" of doing magic and at the same time convincing students that their voice is important too.

Anonymous said...

Professor Wolff,

Would you be kind enough to direct your audience to a good background over alienation?

Is alienation the main problem?

What are your thoughts on alienation, Marx, Trump?

Jim said...

To Jerry Fresia --

Not knowing how lucky one is -- therein lies the rub. I too voluntarily turned down an opportunity to meet and interact with James Baldwin. It was not a class, but a private social event and reception where he did a reading. My excuse in my "rebellious" youth was that I believed I should not be required to wear a suit and tie to attend the formal event. I have been kicking myself ever since and have attempted to make up for it by finding opportunities to seriously engage with Baldwin's written works. I know now that each individual must reinvent the wheel and reach their own method or strategy of dealing with life over time. Nevertheless, the old dictum "youth is wasted on the young" looms large over my younger days -- to the point where I am regretful and at at times bitter about it. I have been thinking about how to communicate this experience to my students but have yet to find an effective vehicle. I keep trying.

-- Jim

Jerry Fresia said...

Jim,

How nice it is to hear your story; I feel slightly less stupid now; although I didn't even have the excuse of needing to express solidarity with those who don't wear ties to work. And I like your remedy: engage with Baldwin now.