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September 3, 2002

Conference to study ties of philosophy, literature

By Eric Rangus

The question, “What work of literature has most influenced my work?” will be answered by a half-dozen professors from around the country during the Loemker 2002 Conference, titled “Literature and Moral Wisdom,” to be held at Emory, Sept. 13–14.

According to the subject matter, those works come from a wide variety of sources. Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, the Marquis de Sade’s 100 Days of Sodom, James Joyce’s Ulysses and the Emmy Award-winning television show The X-Files are among the texts to be explored over the two-day conference. All events will be held in the Azalea Room of the Emory Conference Center.

Sponsored by the philosophy department and named for innovative professor Leroy Loemker, this installment of the 4-year-old series aims to investigate how the arts—primarily literature and film—nourish the belief that the mind and the body are entwined in the thought process.

Loemker, a specialist in German philosophy, began his tenure at Emory in 1929. He was one of the first Charles Howard Candler professors and served as dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences from 1946–52. He died in 1985.

According to co-organizer Cynthia Willett, the conference is an ideal way to showcase the interdisciplinary aspects of philosophy.

“There’s a broader humanistic aspect involved,” said Willett, associate professor of philosophy. She collaborated with Massee-Martin/NEH Distinguished Teaching Professor and fellow philosophy Associate Professor Pamela Hall on the conference organization.

“This is not just an academic endeavor,” Willett continued. “This is also a way to think about how these things practically affect our lives.”

Over two days, six speakers from around the country from disciplines that include philosophy, creative writing and women’s studies will explore the convergence of art, film, literature, thought and culture.

Douglas Kellner, Kneller Chair in Philosophy and Edu-cation at UCLA, will kick off the conference at 4 p.m., Sept. 13, with his address, “Pynchon, 2001 and The X-Files: Cultural Studies Beyond the High/Low.”

Kellner, an expert on social theory, politics, history and culture will discuss the varied discipline of cultural studies using the texts of literature (Pynchon), film (Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey) and television (The X-Files) as examples of how culture can circulate between so-called “high” and “low” forms.

From there, the conference’s subject matter only becomes more provocative. Other topics include how narratives affect morality, the distillation of literary works into narrow philosophical categories (like ethics, political theory or metaphysics) and a discussion of several themes of Salman Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses, which was branded as blasphemous by the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Jim Grimsley, senior writer-in-residence in the creative writing department, is the lone Emory faculty member scheduled to speak. He will wrap up the conference Saturday, Sept. 14, with his appropriately titled banquet address, “De Sade and the Dinner Table.” He will cover de Sade’s use of meals in 100 Days of Sodom.

The Loemker Conference series began in 1998 and is held every two years. The last event, in 2000, was a conference on stoicism.

For more information on the Loemker Conference, contact the philosophy department (404-727-6577) or visit the website,