My current research examines various aspects of history of ideas following on from my work on philosophical anthropology in the eighteenth and twentieth centuries. One aspect of this is the relationship between philosophy and psychology in the eighteenth century, and in particular the challenge that the developing discipline of psychology poses to rationalistic and aprioristic approaches to philosophy. I am examining the work of writers like Johann Georg Sulzer (1750s), Christian Gottfried Schütz (1770s), Johann Nicolas Tetens (1770s), and Johann Karl Wezel (1780s), to present the methodological and epistemological attitudes of psychologists and to explore their philosophical implications.
A second project is to explore the writings on the 'everyday' in a similar period (second half of the eighteenth century). Starting with the key figure of Johann Gottlob Krüger, I present and analyse the ideas of German medics and thinkers in the middle of the eighteenth century, and identify and highlight some remarkable parallels between their methodological and epistemological positions and attitudes and those of Henri Lefebvre. The eighteenth century writers choose deliberately 'everyday' topics - the weather or diet, for instance - over discussions about philosophical grounds or ontology, and a preference for practical knowledge above speculative accounts of reality. The similarities with Lefebvre extend to a similar critique or rejection of traditional epistemological or metaphysical approaches that proceed by abstract deductions and that aim for overly systematic account of knowledge, for instance a rejection of substantialist ontology in preference for relational accounts of our grasp of reality
A third project focusses on the nexus of modernity and modernism. In an untranslated essay entitled 'Copying Nature' [Nachahmung der Natur] (1957), Hans Blumenberg conceives of modernism as the apotheosis of modern human reality, which he defines as in some way essentially human-made, as a 'human accomplishment'. This conception of reality contrasts with the dominant 'naturalist' view that sees reality as more or less objectively given, or as what Robert Wallace calls 'a result of a good fit between man's instincts and his environment'. (Wallace 1985, xv) This conceptualisation of reality as human-made accords with Blumenberg's sense of reality as comprised of language, discourse, myth, metaphor, and rhetoric. He cites surrealism in particular, which he views, because of its creatively counter-factual quality, as emblematic of this specifically human reality. The impetus for this essay is that Blumenberg's conceptualisation of surrealism in these terms appears to add a new category to Richard Sheppard's otherwise seemingly comprehensive analysis of the (nine) different types of response that the various modernisms make in the face of the - to varying degrees nihilistic - experience of modernity, from classical modernisms' turns to mysticism, aestheticism, and nostalgia, to primitivism or the conception of artistic work as allowing ecstatic release, or the aspiration to an ideal socialist future or futurism's 'modernolatory' celebration (Sheppard 1993, 34-38). My contribution explores how Blumenberg's idea allows us a better understanding of the philosophical dimensions of surrealism. I begin with the assumption (associated with Benjmain) that, by virtue of its interrogation of modes of reason, surrealism is intensely interested in the nature of reality, and in particular the nature of modern reality. We will explore Aragon's focus on change as an essential characteristic of modernity, in what he calls 'the vertigo of the modern'.
In line with Blumenberg's focus on creativity, the change referred to here seems to be a driving force for the surrealists, not least in the form of innovation in aesthetic techniques.
But I will argue that the value of Blumenberg's remarks is that they draw attention to the fact that we cannot simply characterise surrealism as emancipatory and anti-rational, because its ideas have significant overlap with the instrumentalism that seems to characterise modern human reality. We will also see that they - Blumenberg and the surrealists - share an underlying sense of the disorder that underlies reality, as well as skepticism about our capability of articulating the nature of human reality. But I will argue that there is a fundamental divergence in their ideas, most obviously in the tension between the pragmatism that underlies Blumenberg's ideas and Breton's poetics of disinterest. This is related to diametrically opposed conceptualisations of culture, with Blumenberg viewing it as dependable social relations, whilst the surrealists view it as an obstacle to be overcome or a constraint to be thrown off. Returning to the question of ontology, I will suggest that, rather than being emblematic of reality, the surrealists are more interested in derealisation. Evidence for this is their interest in contradiction and an attempt to unpick the antinomial concepts of reality. As such, I will conclude that Blumenberg's elliptical remarks conceal deeper differences that suggest considerable incompatibility between their respective positions.
My most recent research project, culminating in a monograph entitled Anthropology's Interrogation of Philosophy from the Eighteenth to the Twentieth Century (Lexington Books, 2018), analyses the parallels between the philosophical anthropology that is associated with Kant, Herder and Ernst Platner in the late C18th and philosophical positions taken up by those associated with philosophical anthropology in the C20th, for instance Max Scheler, Helmut Plessner and Karl Loewith. The discussion will touch on anthropology's critique of Kantian philosophy, its reflections on the subject-object relation, its alleged adherence to naturalist epistemology, and its conception as a 'doctrine of nature' inimical to history. Thinking associated with anthropology will be seen to mobilise a critique of dualism and apriorism which I take to suggest ways beyond the dichotomy of subject and object. Key discussions include Husserl and Scheler's approaches to phenomenology and apriorism, Herder and Heidegger's contrasing attitude to the philosophy of being, and Hans Blumenberg and Charles Taylor's contrasting attitudes to the attitude of anthropology as a theorisation of modernity.
My thesis, which was published in 2006 as a book entitled Art at the Limits of Perception: The Aesthetic Theory of Wofgang Welsch (Lang 2006), presents and discusses the function and value of art that is seen to operate at the extremes of perception. In the tradition of the pre-Kantian conception of aesthetics as an analogon rationis, I read the modulations of the sensory (absence as well as excess) as comparable interrogations of artistic representation, applying these categories to late twentieth century theatre, in particular that of Samuel Beckett, Peter Handke and Heiner Müller.
This discussion of the limits of perception overlaps with aesthetic theory's enduring interest in the sublime, which has also been a focus on my recent research. I have just had an article accepted for publication in the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, entitled 'The limits of the sublime, the sublime of limits: hermeneutics as a critique of the postmodern sublime'. In the paper I cite both Hegel and Adorno in support of a reading of the sublime as a theoretical figure that insists that identity and meaning are generating by limits and friction between meanings. I contrast this with the tendency, running from Kant to Lyotard, to read the sublime as evidence for one or other exclusive position, such as the supremacy of reason, the total failure of representation, or the absolute aesthetic value of the sublime art object.
I have published an edited book and articles on contemporary German theatre. Recent work has included articles on the contemporary Austrian dramatist Ewald Palmetshofer, entitled 'Phenomenology and the Postdrmatic: Case Study of Three Plays by Ewald Palmetshofer'. This was included in the edited collection Postdramatic Theatre and the Political: Internaitonal Perspectives on Contemporary Performance (Bloomsbury, 2016). Another article, about the contemporary German dramatist Martin Heckmanns, entitled 'Unbestimmtheit als Methode: Die endlosen Stücke von Martin Heckmanns', reads the techniques of thematic and linguistic indeterminacy that characterise his work as a political strategy and as a comment on the status of the artist as a source of political authority.