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Coming Soon:

Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Friday, April 2, 2021


(1) I have been spending a good deal of time watching the trial of Derek Chauvin, the police officer who killed George Floyd by leaning on his neck with his knee for nine minutes. It is enormously upsetting. It is also quite astonishing. I have never seen or read of a trial in which the crime was so meticulously recorded on videotape from many different angles. It is even the case that the police hierarchy has decided to throw Chauvin under the bus. If the jury does not bring in a guilty verdict this country is going to erupt and so it should.


(2) Well, I have completely struck out in my effort to arrange to teach my course on Marx, Freud, and Marcuse next year. I approached the philosophy department at Columbia at the suggestion of a senior member of that department to ask whether they would be willing to host the course. I was not asking them to pay for the course – that I could arrange through the Society of Senior Scholars. The negative response I got from the chair, after she had brought the proposal before the department, was oddly hostile and defensive. I have no idea what is going on but it was a flat rejection that, according to the chair, was “not negotiable.” I very much fear that like a loaf of stale bread or a pound of rancid butter, I have passed my sell – by date. As at least some of my blog readers will understand, this is not cheerful news to receive when you are 87.


(3) Paris remains closed and as the days pass I grow anxious about whether we will be able to return one more time in June or July before selling our apartment. I seek out Netflix miniseries set in Paris and binge watch them, but it is not the same, alas.


William Wordsmith said...

We philosophers in our youth begin in gladness, but thereof come in the end despondency, anger and disappointment at unreasonableness..

s. wallerstein said...

I suspect that the problem was your subject matter more than your age. If you had proposed Descartes, Hume and Kant, they probably would have oked the course. Marx and Marcuse are far too radical and Freud is no longer "in" in academic circles. I don't know if you can question capitalism at Columbia University.

On the other hand, if your name was Roberta, you were 87 and you had offered a course on Simone de Beauvoir, Foucault and Judith Butler, you would have had fewer problems.

David Zimmerman said...

Sorry to hear that Professor Moody-Adams was so snarky.

LFC said...

The problem may not be the subject matter so much as the department. Philosophy depts are not much interested in Freud, I think, or Marcuse. Tommie Shelby, a philosopher, teaches or has taught Marx, but that may also be somewhat unusual in a philosophy dept.

So the proposed course might have gone over better in the pol sci or sociology depts.

I disagree w s. wallerstein's view that the problem is that Marx is seen as "too radical." Marx is widely taught in U.S. universities. Why else would there be this forthcoming new translation of Capital celebrated by that series of talks one of which was given by s. wallerstein's classmate Terrell Carver?

s. wallerstein said...

Professor Wolff's approach to Marx is fairly radical compared with most academic Marxism. I listened to all of Terrell's talk on Marx and his vision of Marx, while very knowledgeable and insightful, is less hard on capitalism than that of Professor Wolff. I began to listen to another talk in the same series, that on alienation, and that was just plain academic and I got bored. And when you combine Marx with Marcuse, you get a very radical brew, a lot more radical than the brew you get when you mix him with Hegel.

Rueban B said...

I am four decades younger and struggle to run a graduate course in my University on Rawls, Dworkin, and Hart. Sadly. It is a sign of the times.

Christopher J. Mulvaney, Ph.D. said...

Would UNC be an alternative venue for your course? Or, create an independent online course (via zoom). We can get the word out - let the undergrads and grad students at Columbia know about it, the STEPEC students at UMASS, etc. Come to think of it, I bet there are more than a few faculty who would assign the class as an independent study for interested students.

LFC said...

My guess also would be that Pr. Wolff could teach this a little closer to home in NC if he wanted to. There are lots of colleges and univs in the area, and some of them probably have programs for undergrads (whether they call them honors programs or something else) that have seminars like this (i.e., relatively focused in theme).

Alternatively, Pr. Wolff could decide that he's "been there and done that" w Marx, Freud, and Marcuse and decide to teach stuff he's never taught before, or not for quite a while. There are a lot of possibilities, obviously. The possible downside is that it wd require more preparation, I suppose.

Anyway, if you've published and taught as much as Pr. Wolff has and you have his kind of c.v., I think you basically don't have a "sell-by date". As long as you're still in command of your faculties, you can teach, on this sort of adjunct, distinguished-visiting-professor, whatever basis, somewhere. That's my guess, at any rate (and if cost is a barrier you can offer to do it w just expenses covered).

F Lengyel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Rapko said...

I could cover an e-wall with snarky e-rejections, but I'm surprised to read that you were treated that way. Surely it's the combination of an insufficiently 'woke' topic and the constitutional nastiness of your average petty academic/administrator: a life of small-minded reckonings in little rooms.

Eric said...

Since it was a senior member of the philosophy department who suggested to Prof Wolff that there might be an opportunity to teach a course, perhaps that person has a better sense of how the faculty's internal discussions about the course proposal played out and to what degree the final decision was a reflection of the consensus of the faculty versus the preference of the chair.

We're still living in a COVID-19 world now. Would the department have been more open to the suggestion if Prof Wolff were based in the NYC area, rather than commuting from NC? Or were the objections mainly to the subject matter of the course, as suggested in some of the comments here?

Jim said...

Professor Wolff --

My experience has been that without the support of the Chair (or in some cases, the Dean), you are pretty much out of luck in realizing the fruition of any personal proposals -- even if it would ultimately benefit the students.

On another note, news of the impending sale of your Paris apartment has dashed my dreams of someday renting it. Who new that the COVID world would last as long as it has?

-- Jim

Matt said...

Philosophy depts are not much interested in Freud, I think, or Marcuse.

It's impossible for me to know why the class proposal wasn't accepted. I don't have any personal insight here, and in my experience the reasons can be completely idiosyncratic, and may come from a number of different levels in the hierarchy, as Jim notes. But I'm a bit skeptical of the idea that the subject matter as such was the problem here. The philosophy department has at least two people who teach or write on Freud (a junior and a senior person), a few people who work on 19th and 20th Century German philosophy, and two people who work on critical theory (though not Marcus) including, arguably, the most important current member of the Frankfurt school, Axel Honneth. That said, small differences of interpretations of figures can lead to strong feelings, so who knows.

LFC said...

I didn't look up the members of the Columbia philosophy dept, and what they work on, before writing my earlier comment re Freud. If I had I prob wd have phrased it differently.

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