Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanks Be to God for Robert Brandom

Yesterday morning while riding the bus to work I was re-reading a section of Robert Brandom's Articulating Reasons: An Introduction to Inferentialism in preparation for my seminar on Philosophy of Language & Interpretation. And I experienced one of those wonderful philosophical moments of transport, where I had this sense of being caught up in something new and important and significant, and grateful for a life than enables me to call this my "work." I sometimes have nostalgic whiffs of this sensation when I'm reading old, marked-up copies of my books where the marginalia takes me to another time and place--like when I'm reading my battered, dog-eared copy of Derrida's Of Grammatology and can remember picking it up at the University of Waterloo bookstore, then plunging into its strange waters.

I had also just finished watching American Beauty (for about the 612th time), which ends with Lester Burnham's testimony that sounds like a page out of the Heidelberg Catechism:

"It's hard to stay mad when there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once, and it's too much; my heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst... And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it. And then it flows through me like rain, and I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life."

So, in that spirit of gratitude, I wrote this little litany of thanksgiving to open our Philosophy of Language class. (The little shot at Rorty is a bit of an inside joke--jokes in prayers are OK, right? ;-)

We Give You Thanks

L: We give you thanks, gracious Lord,

for the leisure we enjoy

in our philosophizing,

grateful for what Aristotle would call

our moral luck,

but which we name as graced privilege.

All: We give you thanks, sustaining Lord,

for the gifts of friendship we enjoy,

in these halls, around this table,

in the welcoming space of the Jellema room,

for a community that nourishes our imagination.

L: We give you thanks, creating God,

for making and sustaining a world

that gives birth to our wise conversation partners,

and we’re grateful that your world has gifted us

with Ludwig Wittgenstein and Robert Brandom,

even Richard Rorty.

You must take delight in their wranglings and questions,

their probing, idiosyncratic attempts to make sense

of our incessant words.

We are grateful to be part of their conversation,

to listen in and talk back.

All: We give you thanks, loving God,

for that geeky thrill of

being immersed in new ideas

and that strange delight in

being awash in unfamiliar concepts,

that makes us feel like uncanny explorers

of foreign territories.

L: We give you thanks, Word of life,

for giving us the words to give thanks—

You who are the Word become flesh,

speaking to us in the baby talk of our

furtive mumblings.