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Monthly Archives: October 2017

BILLY BUDD, SAILOR AND OTHER UNCOMPLETED WRITINGS – Publication of the Final Volume of the Northwestern-Newberry Series: The Writings of Herman Melville

As of today, October 29, the paperback edition of “Billy Budd, Sailor and Other Uncompleted Writings is available on Amazon as well as the Northwestern University Press website. The hardcover is still in production, but should be available by the end of November. Click here for the NUP catalog page, or here for the book on Amazon.

It has taken a very long time (more than 45 years) to process the 1,000 or so manuscript leaves for publication in the final volume of the fifteen-volume Northwestern-Newberry Writings of Herman Melville series. It was just over 35 years ago that I sat daily as a graduate student from June 8 through August 6, 1982, Monday through Saturday, at the Houghton Library at Harvard transcribing the 335 leaves of the Parthenope (formerly “Burgundy Club”) poems and prose pieces contained in fifteen folders (including the folder containing “Pausilippo” removed by Melville for publication in Timoleon). From July 30 to August 2, 1982, I transcribed what I eventually came to realize was the theretofore unknown and untranscribed, “House of the Tragic Poet.” At the time, I thought surely someone had transcribed this piece previously. But as I worked in the following years on my dissertation with my advisor, Harrison Hayford, we finally determined that “House of the Tragic” poet was in fact a new piece. In the summers of 2013 and 2015, to prepare the reading and transcription texts for the now published final volume, I did a fresh literal transcription of these same manuscripts, as well as new transcriptions of the manuscripts of “Rammon,” “Story of Daniel Orme,” “Under the Rose,” and around 36 uncollected poems unpublished at the time of Melville’s death on September 28, 1891.

Many funding issues delayed the work needed to complete the final volume of the Northwestern-Newberry Writings of Herman Melville series. Sadly, the series General Editor, Harrison Hayford — who began the Northwestern-Newberry publishing project in 1965 — passed away in 2001. But happily by 2010 Northwestern University Press could commit the funds needed to print the final volume, and the editors of the final volume — Hershel Parker, Thomas Tanselle, Alma A. MacDougall, and I — found time in our personal schedules, over a five-year period beginning in 2012, to bring to a successful conclusion the project of publishing the final volume.

Completion of the volume was the result of a sustained collaboration among the editors. Hershel Parker, General Editor, wrote the “Historical Note,” coordinated the editorial process, and negotiated the restart of the project with Northwestern University Press. G. Thomas Tanselle, Bibliographical Editor, who has contributed to each of the NN volumes, was again tireless in the effort he devoted to this final volume. He wrote the “General Note on the Text, produced all of the editorial appendices for BILLY BUDD and WEEDS AND WILDINGS, proofed and checked for accuracy the components of all the other the editorial appendices (discussion notes, lists of emendations, all transcriptions, notes on individual pieces, related documents), and corrected and revised the heretofore standard reading and transcription texts of BILLY BUDD (Harrison Hayford and Merton M. Sealts, Jr., Univ. of Chicago, 1962) and WEEDS AND WILDINGS (Robert C. Ryan, dissertation, 1967). Alma A. MacDougall has acted as the supervising editor for all the NN volumes published since 1982 [ISRAEL POTTER (1982), THE CONFIDENCE-MAN (1984), THE PIAZZA TALES (1987), MOBY-DICK (1988), JOURNALS (1989), CLAREL (1991), CORRESPONDENCE (1991), and PUBLISHED POEMS (2009)]. For this final volume, Alma served as Executive Editor and reviewed for accuracy all reading and transcription texts, historical notes, discussion notes, emendation lists, illustrations, created the index, and prepared the final printer’s copy for the press.

Hershel Parker, who succeeded Harrison Hayford as the series General Editor, suggested that we might think of the publication of the final volume as a birthday present for Harry Hayford on what would have been, on November 1st, his 101st birthday. Happy Birthday, Harry!

Harrison Hayford


Kant Confessed His Suspicions about the Limitations of His System, but Persisted Anyway

Immanuel Kant

It is a mark of courage or at least bold if not heroic confidence that Kant forged ahead with his attempt to describe the mechanisms and functions of human cognition, even though he suspected that some of the descriptive ideas he invented would probably never be scientifically verified.

In a section of the Critique of Pure Reason, titled “The Schematism of the Pure Concepts of the Understanding” (chapter 1 of book 2 of the “Transcendental Analytic”) he wrote:

This schematism of our understanding, in its application to appearances and their mere form, is an art concealed in the depths of the human soul, whose real modes of activity nature is hardly likely ever to allow us to discover, and to have open to our gaze.

Preceding this pessimistic observation, Kant had been explaining his hypothesized “schema” as rules for how to conjoin or link an a priori concept that is not dependent on sensual experience with an object of perception obtained through the senses. He uses several examples to illustrate. With the example of a triangle he asserts that associating the concept of triangle with an empirically apprehend image of a triangle is effected by means of set of innate rules or instructions that he calls a schema. A “schematism” according to Kant is an application of a set of rules whereby a pure, a priori concept of understanding such as space, time, triangle, or number is correlated with an empirically constituted object or idea.

But in the interjected “aside” to the reader quoted above, Kant expresses his suspicion that “nature is hardly likely ever to allow us to discover” the “real modes of activity” that constitute the functioning of those schema, or rules for linking the inner, mental world of pure concepts with sensibly perceived objects or empirically derived ideas.

Kant may have been trying with his schema — sets of rules for linking a priori concepts with sensually perceived objects — to (among other things) heal the body/mind split of Descartes. If Kant was right about “nature” being likely to never allow us to “gaze” upon schema, then neuroscientists who today address the hard problem of consciousness by mapping the areas of the brain that correlate with subjectively reported states of consciousness (qualia), observed behavior, or visible correlates of autonomic nerve activity, these neuroscientists may then, like Kant, worry that they too will likely never succeed in actually “gazing” on the mechanisms (schema, rules) that link inner consciousness experience with the exterior world of things.

More than 230 years following the publication of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, many philosophers and cognitive scientists working with or following the ideas of philosophers like Daniel Dennett, prefer not to invent and use terms or ideas like Kant’s “schema” — the hypothesized (invisible, postulated, unverifiable) rules for how we link or associate inner concepts with perceived objects. They avoid and argue against using scientifically unverifiable ideas or hypotheses. They, like Dennett, will for the sake of argument deign to take up for discussion ideas that are not susceptible to empirical proof (cf. the ether and phlogiston hypotheses), but then, after discussing and exposing their vacuousness and unusability, summarily drop them, and urge others to do the same.

Daniel Dennett

Knowing what terms or ideas to avoid using in attempting scientifically to solve the riddle and mystery of consciousness is important. Knowing what not to do or think is progress. But the hard problem of consciousness (what is like to be somethingqualiaJohn Searle’s Chinese roomMary the color-blind super scientist) is still unsolved. Notwithstanding his occasional use of non-verifiable ideas like “schema” and “schematism,” Kant’s attempts in the Critique to heal the mind-body split deduced by René Descarte in his Meditations, argue against the empirical skepticism expressed by David Hume in his Treatise and Enquiry, and correct or balance the radical empiricism of John Locke’s Essay surely contain many useable ideas that can be “operationalized” by neuroscientists, cognitive researchers, and philosophers of consciousness in their attempt to solve, understand, and explain the “hard problem” of consciousness.

Robert Paul Wolff

Robert Paul Wolff

A book published many years ago by Robert Paul Wolff, Kant’s Theory of Mental Activity: A Commentary on the Transcendental Analytic of the Critique of Pure Reason (Harvard University Press, 1963; Kindle [Society for Philosophy and Culture, 2013]) is the best commentary I have yet read on Kant’s Critique. Wolff has also recorded and published on YouTube a very helpful nine-part lecture series on the Critique.


October 2017
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Politics, Culture, Philosophy
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