U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Reading Group Reminder

Just a quick reminder to our readers, especially those in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

On Wednesday, September 18, from 1-3 p.m., I will be joining some of my colleagues in the PhD program at UT Dallas for a roundtable discussion of Francesca Bordogna’s excellent study, William James at the Boundaries: Philosophy, Science, and the Geography of Knowledge (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008).

If you are in the area, have read the book, and would like to participate in the discussion in person, please join us at The Pub on the UT Dallas campus. (The Pub is located at the north end of the Student Union — here’s a link to a campus map.)

If you can’t make it on Wednesday, not to worry — one of my colleagues will be writing up a recap of the discussion along with some questions for further thought, and I’ll post that here on the blog on Saturday.

For now, though, I’ll leave you with this tantalizing preview of Bordogna’s take on her subject, drawn from the book’s introduction:

This book engages variegated aspects of James’s wide-ranging scientific and philosophical activities by examining what I argue is a central thrust in his work:  an insistence on transgressing boundaries separating fields of knowledge, types of discourse, and groups of inquirers….He mixed rhetorical registers and genres, and was notorious for engaging fields, discourses, and practices that newly established scientific and philosophical orthodoxies pushed outside the bounds of proper academic inquiry….He questioned the social and epistemic barriers separating professionals from amateurs, and maintained ostentatious friendships with marginal and controversial figures, never missing a chance to advertise their feats in formal academic circles. James also made spectacular gestures meant to batter established codes of academic propriety, as he did when he invited American philosophers to explore how yoga, alcohol consumption, and other unorthodox techniques could help people attain higher levels of mental and physical energy.  James, in short, was a “serial” transgressor of boundaries.

…My answer, then, to the question of why James carried on transgressive boundary work weaves together James’s views on knowledge production with the forms of social engagement that he considered ideal…I also suggest that much of James’s boundary work aimed to foster social, moral, and epistemological attitudes — that is, a moral and social economy of knowledge — that would enable knowledge producers to create and maintain open, pluralistic, yet intimate communities of inquirers.*

In short, it’s a great book, and we’re looking forward to a great discussion.  Join us in person, or join us here online at the end of the week.


*Bordogna, 4-5, 18.