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Agents, Spectators, and Social Hope

Richard Rorty and American Intellectuals

Marek Kwiek

Rorty wrote his Achieving Our Country as a philosopher, intellectual, academic and citizen, and each of these perspectives lead to a different emphasis in reading his book, and to a different story (and ‘storytelling’ is one of the themes of the book). The emergent pictures vary: the philosopher tells a story of the growing isolation and cultural sterility of analytic philosophy in the United States of America after the Second World War; the intellectual tells a story of the political bareness and practical uselessness of (the majority of) American leftist intellectuals in the context of the emerging new global order at the turn of the 21st century; the academic tells the story about humanities’ departments at American universities, especially departments of literature and cultural studies, and their students, and contrasts their possible future fate with the past fate of departments of analytical philosophy and their students; and, finally, the citizen tells a story about the nationhood, politics, patriotism, reformism (as well as the inherent dangers and opportunities of globalization). Rorty plays the four descriptions off against one another perfectly and Achieving Our Country represents him at his very best: Rorty is passionate, inspiring, uncompromising, biting and very relevant to current public debates. Owing to the intelligent combination of the above perspectives, the clarity and elegance of his prose, and (although not revealed directly) the wide philosophical background provided by his new pragmatism, the book differs from a dozen others written in the 1990s about the American academy and American intellectuals. It also sheds new and interesting light on Rorty’s pragmatism, providing an excellent example of the application of his philosophical views. One has to note that, generally, it is almost impossible to think of any piece written by Rorty outside of the context of his philosophy, and Achieving Our Country is no exception to this rule.

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Marek Kwiek

Thinking about the ‘identity crisis’ of the modern institution of the university, I was wondering about the following most general questions: does the current passage to late modernity and to the information age, the decline of the role of the nation-state and the increasing power of processes of globalisation mean the inevitability of the radical reformulation of the social mission and tasks of the institution of the university? Does the university (in North America and Central Europe alike) come through the transitory crisis of public trust and of its founding values or through the dramatic crisis of its own identity in a radically new global order? Is it so that in the face of globalisation and its social practices the process of the ‘corporatization’ of the university and the account of its activities in terms of business rather than education are irresistible? Is the response to the decreasing public trust in and decreasing financial support of higher education generally on the part of the state to be found in new ideas (by reformulating once again the philosophical foundations of the modern university) or in its new organisation (by following the explicit recommendations provided by such supranational organisations as the OECD, the World Bank, or UNESCO)? Surprisingly enough, these questions are of equal significance to North America and to a Central and Eastern Europe experiencing vast social and economic transformation. In both parts of the world the most common reflection upon the future functioning of higher education is the following: ‘things will never be the same’.

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After Philosophy

The Novelist as Cultural Hero of Modernity? On Richard Rorty’s New Pragmatism

Marek Kwiek

Let us begin with a generalisation: Richard Rorty’s approach to literature is consistently – to use his own opposition – ‘solidarity-related’; what he calls the ‘other side’, literary self-creation, remains programmatically and intentionally undiscussed. One gets the impression that literature, and the novel in particular, is being burdened with an (‘unbearable’) heaviness of responsibility. Does the novel in Rorty’s reflections appear as a source of multifarious metaphors, of whole worlds born out of a writer’s imagination? Is there in it another dimension, where mundane obligations no longer bind the human being and where one can give rein to usually hidden desires and passions? The answer is in the negative.