What is your name? Where are you from?
Kansas. I’ve lived all over, but Kansas is the place where I grew up, and to which I always return.
Are you some type of authority on the Western tradition?
I bristle at the notion of being called or thought of as an authority. Even the language of social media bothers me. Yes, by all means, “follow” me on Twitter, but please, do not follow me.
Looking into these topics could serve us well at this time, when there are so many problems in the Western world. It’s not out of a sense of authority that I am stepping forward. Rather, it comes from a feeling that it’s time for me to do my part.
To the extent that it may matter to some, I do have academic credentials as well. I have studied the Western philosophical and literary canon in some depth.
What are your academic credentials?
I have a Ph.D. in German literature. My dissertation was on Goethe’s Urfaust fragment. I also have two M.A. degrees. One is in philosophy, with an emphasis on phenomenology and existentialism. The other is in German literature, with a specialization in the late eighteenth century. I wrote a Master’s thesis on Herder. In addition to my studies in the US, I also spent a one year each abroad at two different German universities during (post-)graduate study.
Anyone interested in more detail, including links to some of my academic work, should check my profile on academia.edu.
What is the goal of the podcast?
This has shifted over time (see longer explanation in “There seems to be…” section below). I started out with a more open-ended, “big tent” philosophical approach in the first season, which you can see if listening to the summary of that season from my presentation at Harvard in 2018.
As I began to see that the “poetic vision” outlined in that season was not merely a response to the problems in thinking by modernity and the Enlightenment, as I had then noted, but also that it was, essentially, an attempt to re-create a modern, poor man’s version of the unity in thinking already present in the Catholic tradition of the sacred, I began taking the “Catholic turn” of the program in season two.
My own devotion to that tradition has strengthened considerably in recent years, and I now consider this work, especially that which is coming in 2020, to be an expression of the fact that I am living within and personally committed to that tradition.
What kind of a podcast is this?
It is a philosophy podcast, rooted in the wider tradition of the Western canon.
Also, given the broad use of the term ‘philosophy’ on the internet these days, I should also like to make something clear.
I mean philosophy in the classical sense — the love of wisdom. Not in the sense of anyone’s personal or life philosophy.
There seems to be a shift in your presentation from Season One of the podcast (August 2017 - April 2018) to Season Two (March 2019 - present), namely, your emphasis on religion and your Catholic faith. Is there anything in particular that brought that about?
Many small things, really, but it all started with my intuition telling me toward the end of Season One that Philip Sherrard (who came from the perspective of the Greek Orthodox tradition) was absolutely correct in his assertion that wholeness presupposes the sacred.
In 2017 I didn’t set out to make a “Catholic” philosophy podcast, as I think is evident from the first season, when I took much more of a big tent approach to the philosophical issues involved in the discussion. Yet I did make subtle nods to the faith, and promoted the work of Meister Eckhart. Many Catholic listeners picked up on these things, and I was actually quite humbled by some of the responses that I had from listeners who appreciated those references.
Yet I also realized during my extended hiatus that my discussion of a poetic approach to wholeness, one that includes the sacred, owed much more to my Catholicism than I had realized. Acknowledging that is a matter of basic intellectual honesty. It is also a recognition of that which the Catholic tradition has to offer us in these troubled times, which many today (including Catholics) have forgotten, or worse, would rather ignore, deny, or even suppress.
That tradition is important not because it is “old,” but because, unlike the intellecual fads and ideologies of today, it connects us to the sacred mysteries of Jesus Christ, and to a dimension of faith, one that is sorely missing in the fragmented and flattened (post-)Enlightenment worldview of technocratic neoliberalism.
It also connects us to the True, the Good, and the Beautiful in a way that calculative thought does not and cannot.
And as I do relate to the Catholic tradition in more than a detached, academic way, I would have no objections or qualms about anyone considering this to be a “Catholic” podcast, although I have no imprimatur, of course.
Yet many of those who have written me with quite deep understanding and appreciation of what I have been doing in the second season are not themselves Catholic.
I’ve always operated with the assumption that people who listen to this program don’t want me to water anything down, or to cater to the trends or fashions of the times, or to hold back when it comes to talking about the truth of any matter.
I see Season Two as building upon Season One by delving more fully into the dimension of faith. I can see why those who do not have such faith might see this as narrowing things down, but in truth, it is more about liberation from the flattened form of thinking that has prevailed since the Enlightenment took its place in the Western mind and began trying to extirpate the sacred.
The more that I see of the technological and ideological flattening of our world into something more akin to an economic equation, the more that I think that it is living tradition of the Catholic Church that points the way out.
Modern thinkers who have been able to describe many of the problems with modern thinking seem still to be stuck in its gears themselves, often, in important ways. Poetic vision gives insight into the problems, but remains fragmented in that it is highly personal and is often of a fleeting nature. And while poetic vision is able to evoke in others glimpses of something other than the technological ‘Enframing’ (the English translation of Heidegger’s Ge-stell), it seems more a dreamlike unity, as opposed to something living and whole in the sense of being a counter or a refuge to this flattened world in which we are living at the moment. The ‘living tradition’ of the Catholic Church, on the other hand, does offer such an alternative, in my opinion.
This realization is at the core of the shift between seasons one and two.
What (type of) traditions are you promoting?
That’s an excellent question.
My formal studies have either been in the Jesuit tradition of presenting philosophy in the context of intellectual history, or in the true tradition of Germanistik as it has classically been taught in Germany, in which one studies the history of the language and literature from its inception to the present.
The ideological extremists in our midst, who want to erase all tradition, are themselves part of a tradition. One with a poor track record. The same goes for some of the would-be “defenders” of tradition.
Ideologies, identity politics, etc., do not interest me. When it comes to these things, the Christian tradition calls for being in the world, but not of it.
I am promoting the Western contemplative tradition. This includes not merely contemplative thought in the sense of philosophy and poetry, but also, as I make clear from the second season onward, the sacred religious tradition, especially and specifically the living tradition of the Roman Catholic Church.