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September 24, 2014

Philosophy reading group

by Jess Guth

For those of you who follow me on twitter – you might have seen me live tweet my day yesterday and the next blog post was supposed to be a summary of that. However, that’s going to have to wait until tomorrow because I did something today which I think is worth blogging about. I think it’s worth blogging about because it is such a simple, yet utterly brilliant idea: I took part in a philosophy reading group. Don’t laugh! I did and it was great.

So often we struggle on our own trying to understand the theories, philosophies and writers that went before. I’ve never really had the opportunity to sit down with people to read specific sections and figure out what they mean and go from there. Usually you get feedback on your application of the philosophies and theories – say through conference papers or similar. This group though is different. The group, as I understand it, isn’t aimed at discussion our own work but steps back from that to help us all get our heads round the philosophers we choose to look at.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. The reading was an extract from Foucault on ‘the Docile Body’ (A chapter from ‘Discipline and Punish’). I have never used Foucault explicitly in my work – probably mainly because I struggle to get my head round it all properly and I’m always scared of making a mistake that will make me look really stupid. I have however, drawn on Judith Butler who seems to draw quite a lot on ideas we also find in Foucault. Anyway, I digress. We only looked at a few pages and yet I feel like I have come away with a far greater understanding of what Foucault’s writing generally is all about. I have more of a handle on how he uses language (bearing in mind of course that we were looking at a translation!) and his key position. It also makes me feel more confident that my thoughts about Foucault were pretty accurate and that I haven’t misunderstood and got it all wrong (which is my default position when it comes to theoretical stuff!)

The really lovely thing about the group was that there was no expectation that anyone knew the answers, we were all just figuring it out together. It was the kind of collaborative, joint, supportive academic work I love. The kind of work that makes you walk away with a bit of a buzz, that makes your brain hurt in a good way and that makes you think about things. I loved it. I’m not entirely sure what I think of Foucault’s work, I’m not entirely sure I understand it all but I am sure that this theoretical stuff is not just something I have to think about – it is now something I want to think about. Thank you to all those who were there. Next time we tackle Nietzsche – just a paragraph of Nietzsche – but then I suspect that a paragraph is really all we can hope to get our heads round in the time we have. It will however be a pragraph more than I understood before and a paragraph more than I could ever hope to understand on my own. So I think I may finally have found a way to overcome my theory issues! I joined a group – who would have thought!

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