Eileen John, Associate Professor
Hello – I understand that you are considering doing a Philosophy degree at Warwick. We would like you to have a good idea of who we are and what we do. It is my turn to tell you something about myself and the degree I convene, Philosophy and Literature. When I went to university (long ago—I was equipped with a portable typewriter!), I had never studied philosophy and thought I would study English literature. When I encountered philosophy in my first year, it confused and provoked me in a way that felt familiar—it felt like what I’d already been doing with novels and poems. But the experiences were also very different. That got me started in philosophy. I wanted to understand how Leibniz and Virginia Woolf (two of the thinkers who ‘blew my mind’ at that time) could engage me in deeply similar ways.
In my teaching and research now, I still work on that question. I’m interested in fictional characters, for instance. What are they? Could engaging with a fictional entity possibly give me leverage with a philosophical problem? How philosophers and literary artists approach ethical issues also interests me. The Phil/Lit degree does not try to impose a particular view of how philosophy and literature relate, but we do seek students who are interested in their relations. We introduce students to the degree with a module taught jointly by staff in English and Philosophy, with each faculty member bringing different kinds of knowledge and questions to the class. We get to know each other while studying—in my view—fascinating texts. The first-year students have just been reading Yasmina Reza's play Art, as well as some of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, and are about to discuss some short stories by Flannery O'Connor.
The finalists do another module that is specific to the degree and is jointly taught. Right now in that class we are working on Nietzsche's Twilight of the Idols, which includes a sharp, funny, even rude attack on Socrates. The students also write an essay on a topic they choose, and this means we see essays on classic texts and problems and on works I’ve never heard of. I didn’t know, for instance, Elizabeth Smart’s By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, or works by W. G. Sebald, until students wrote about them. My colleague in English and I will be meeting with these students for tutorials (two-on-one) to talk about their essay plans at the end of this term—this is one of my favourite parts of the degree.
If you are considering Philosophy and Literature at Warwick and have any questions, please feel free to be in touch.