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Spotlight on Philosophy & Literature (April)

eileen johnDr Eileen John

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. I have just been reading essays from that class on Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, which students discuss with real insight and sophistication. They are thinking about how beauty is experienced in a society structured by racial and economic hierarchies.

At the end of the degree, students 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. This week a colleague in English and I will be meeting with 3rd-year students for tutorials (two-on-one) to talk about drafts of those essays—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.

Student views

Enrica Bellomo, BA Philosophy (final year)

enrica"When I was first starting to receive offers from the universities I had applied to, everything was still very daunting. I remember feeling particularly excited when I got my offer from Warwick, as it was one of my top choices. However, I still was not really sure what to expect and what it actually meant to study Philosophy at the University of Warwick.

I knew I wanted to study Philosophy, but what made me want to come study this subject at Warwick? I was not able to attend the open days—due to me being an overseas student—, therefore I based this decision on other things. For example, I looked at the university rankings, and I listened to what people around me and online had to say. This allowed me to get a better picture of what the university was actually like. I got the impression of Warwick being a university with a very good reputation and high quality of teaching, a very international university, and a university that allows its students to pursue whatever interest they might have (thanks to the student’s union, the sports centre, etc.).

Now that I have been at Warwick for almost three years I can say that studying Philosophy at Warwick has been a great experience. The university and the department allow you to gain access to a wide range of opportunities and provide you with plenty of support. For example, the Philosophy department gives its students a lot of flexibility when it comes to choosing modules; you can focus on a particular interest or learn about many different things. As a student you can also attend very interesting talks organized by both the department and the Philosophy Society (run by fellow students) to learn more about material that might not be covered in the modules offered. Additionally, the Philosophy Society organizes academic support sessions and weekly social gatherings. Furthermore, the university offers excellent study abroad programmes, where you can choose to spend a year in a lot of different places around the world, and learn a lot about yourself and a new culture."