The Gavin David Young Lectures in Philosophy are funded by a bequest made by Jessie Frances Raven in memory of her father, Gavin David Young. G. D. Young (1825–1901) arrived not long after the founding (1836) of the colony of South Australia in 1848. He became prominent in business circles (in mining, banking and shipping). He seems not to have contributed directly to our subject, although there is some evidence of his interest in it. Ms. Raven’s bequest is for ‘the promotion, advancement, teaching and diffusion of the study of philosophy … ’
The series of lectures began in 1956, when Professor J. J. C. Smart invited Gilbert Ryle to give the first of them. Ryle was then Waynflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy at Oxford and his Concept of Mind was the most prominent book on its topic in that decade. The department has been fortunate in continuing to enlist philosophers of similar outstanding international distinction to present the lectures. Many of them owed to the series their first visits to Australasia and all of them travelled elsewhere in the region. The series has played a not insignificant role in giving Australasian philosophy the high profile that it now enjoys.
‘German philosophy’ had an early presence in Australia, given the fact that the first professor of philosophy at the first Australian university (Francis Anderson, Challis Professor of Logic and Mental Philosophy at the University of Sydney, 1891–1921) was a representative of that late nineteenth-century ‘British Idealist’ movement that took as its starting points the classically ‘German’ philosophies of Kant and Hegel. But just as British Idealism was to be eclipsed in the English-speaking world by ‘analytic philosophy’, in Australia the outlook represented by Francis Anderson was not to last. By the second half of the twentieth century, and in particular with the influence and reputation of David M. Armstrong and (the British born but Australian settled) J. J. C. Smart, Australian philosophy would come to be strongly identified with the type of materialist approach to metaphysics that seemed the antithesis to that of the ‘Germans’. As a consequence, one is unlikely to find much that bears directly on the interests that Anderson shared with his German forbears within the current incarnation of the journal of which he was the first editor (albeit, under a different title), the flagship Australasian Journal of Philosophy.
Nevertheless, despite the presence within most Australian philosophy departments of the somewhat negative outlook that analytic philosophy has had more generally towards ‘German philosophy’, ways of philosophising that take their bearings from the tradition of Kant and Hegel can still be found strongly represented within the Australian philosophical landscape. Historically, this probably owes much to the upheavals that, as elsewhere, affected Australian university campuses and intellectual life in the 1960s and ’70s. In particular, in the highly politicised context of opposition to Australian participation in the Vietnam War, the reception of neo-Marxist ideas brought with it a revival of interest in the intellectual world from which Marxism itself emerged. Once more the line of thought running from Kant to Hegel and beyond was taken seriously. Moreover, around the same time, interest in the mostly German ‘phenomenological’ movement of the twentieth-century was taken up by a range of philosophers unsatisfied with what they saw as the limitations of analytic philosophy. There now seemed the possibility of an alternative to the mainstream, and since that time much ‘German’ philosophy has been carried out within this broad framework.
Here a point of clarification as to the meaning of ‘German’ in ‘German philosophy’ may be appropriate. Not all Germanophone philosophers, of course, will be thought of as ‘German’ in the sense discussed here. Gottlob Frege, for example, the revolutionary innovator in logic, is not usually thought of as ‘German’, even if, as some would claim, his ‘Kantian’ heritage is clear. Moreover, Kant himself is taken seriously by many mainstream analytic philosophers working in particular areas, especially practical philosophy and aesthetics, but in ways that tend to extract him from his ‘German’ context. Rather, what characterises ‘German philosophy’ in the sense discussed here has more to do with ways in which Kant’s conception of human freedom came to be associated with ‘historicist’ approaches to human social existence in the period after him. This is most obvious with the ‘German Idealists’—Fichte, the early Schelling, and Hegel—but it also runs through the more ‘existentialist’ approaches of the later Schelling, Nietzsche and Heidegger, as it does in the attempt of Marx to ‘invert’ Hegelian Idealism into a ‘dialectical materialism’.
While the interest in the Marxism of the 1960s and ’70s has definitely waned, it is notable that interest in many of these other areas that, as it were, came in on the coat-tails of Marx, has not. Thus it is often the case that one will find on the curriculum of Australian philosophy departments at least one or two undergraduate units with some distinctly ‘German’ content—most commonly units devoted to ‘phenomenology and existentialism’, or to some type of ‘critical’ social philosophy or approaches to culture. At some centres, however, interest in German philosophy has been consolidated to a greater degree, with distinct teaching and research programs growing around it. Probably the most prominent department of philosophy in this regard at the present is that at the University of Tasmania, following the appointment of Jeff Malpas to the chair of philosophy. After a prototypically ‘Australian’ philosophical training (as a student of Smart at the Australian National University), Malpas had found his way, via the philosophies of less German-adverse analytic philosophers like Donald Davidson, into Heideggerian phenomenology, and from there to Kantian ‘transcendental philosophy’ (see, e.g. Malpas 2006; and Crowall and Malpas 2007). The place of German philosophy at the University of Tasmania was further strengthened by the appointment of Marcelo Stamm, who had been trained by Dieter Henrich, one of the philosophers responsible for the revival of ‘German Idealism’ in Germany itself in the latter part of the last century (Stamm 1998). A series of research projects have allowed Malpas and Stamm to establish a collaborative network with leading philosophers in Germany, such as the Fichte scholar Günter Zöller, and local ‘Continental’ philosophers such as Andrew Benjamin, thereby locating Hobart squarely within the ‘German’ map. (Benjamin is the author of numerous books in aesthetics and critical theory—see, e.g. Benjamin 2006.)
The presence of the German philosophy currently taught and researched within philosophy departments in the Sydney region can be partly traced back to the ‘disturbances’ within the Department of Philosophy at the University of Sydney in the early 1970s. Wallis Suchting, together with Michael Devitt, introduced into the Sydney curriculum a form of ‘scientific’ Marxism that had eventually brought in more general ‘Continental’ (French and German) philosophy in its wake (see Suchting 1986). In the late 1970s, the appointment of the Hungarian philosopher György Markus led to a consolidation of interest in German philosophy (Markus 1978, 1986), as did that of Paul Crittenden, with his work on Nietzsche. Originally postgraduates supervised by Markus, Paul Redding and John Grumley went on to teach and undertake research in aspects of the German tradition within the department—Redding mainly exploring contemporary ways of interpreting Hegel’s epistemology and metaphysics (Redding 2007), and Grumley working more in the context of contemporary critical social theory (Grumley 2004). Recently, Hegel’s approach to philosophy has been taken into the field of the philosophy of religion by postdoctoral fellow, Paolo Diego Bubbio, trained in the Italian tradition of Hegelian and hermeneutic thought.
At the University of New South Wales, Paul Patton, since taking up the chair of philosophy in 2002, has engaged in and promoted work not only in French philosophy, but also in Kant and Nietzsche (see, e.g. Patton 1993). The German presence in that department has further been strengthened by the appointment of Simon Lumsden (also originally from Sydney), who engages Hegel with the more ‘French’ approaches to subjectivity and politics, and, more recently, of James Phillips, a research fellow who works on Kant and Heidegger. At Macquarie University, German philosophy has also maintained a strong presence, after an early interest in European philosophy had been promoted by Max Deutscher, Luciana O’Dwyer and Ross Poole. Presently, German philosophy is there pursued by Nicholas Smith from the U.K. (working on critical social theory and hermeneutics: Smith 1997), by the French and German trained Jean-Phillip Deranty (working on Hegelianism and neo-Hegelian approaches to ‘recognition’: Deranty 2009), and by another former Markus supervisee from the University of Sydney, Robert Sinnerbrink (working on Hegel and Heidegger: Sinnerbrink 2007).
While the philosophy department at the Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National University in Canberra has always been singularly ‘Australian-analytic’ in orientation, philosophy as practiced within the ‘Faculties’ has long given a strong place to the German tradition. There, the earlier influence of Richard Campbell was probably crucial (Campbell 1992), and more recently, Udo Thiel, born and trained in Germany, and Bruin Christensen, with postgraduate training in Germany, have kept the German tradition alive. Thiel has worked extensively on Kant’s philosophy of mind and consciousness, and Christensen in the areas of neo-kantianism and phenomenology (Christensen 2008).
In the Melbourne region, within the Philosophy Program at La Trobe University, Toula Nicolacopoulos and George Vassilacopoulos have pursued collaborative work on the political dimensions of Hegel’s philosophy (Nicolacopoulos and Vassilacopoulos 1999), while Jack Reynolds works in critical social theory. At Monash University, interest in German philosophy has been pursued more within the Centre for Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies than in the Department of Philosophy itself. There, work at the intersection of critical theory and German philosophy has been done by philosophers Andrew Benjamin and Alison Ross especially (Ross 2007), and Germanist scholar Kate Rigby. In the Melbourne region generally, German philosophy has also been vigorously pursued and promoted by the ‘Melbourne School of Continental Philosophy’, a group of philosophers which has been loosely associated with the Department of Philosophy at the University of Melbourne, mainly through the link of Marion Tapper, a philosopher whose long-term interest in Kant and phenomenology goes back to her training in philosophy at Macquarie University. Among the journals helping to keep German social philosophy alive in Australia, mention should be made of the long-standing Thesis Eleven, edited from the Melbourne region.
In New Zealand, German philosophy has been strongly represented within the philosophy department at the University of Auckland, mainly through the teaching and research of Julian Young, well-known for his work on Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Heidegger (Young 2006), and Robert Wicks, working on Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, as well as Kant and Hegel (Wicks 2008).
In general, it is probably true that German philosophy is stronger at present in the Australasian region than it has been at any time.
Elizabeth Grosz’s philosophy can be divided into three broad, overlapping periods, beginning with a form of ‘corporeal feminism’ (Colebrook 2000; Grosz 1985, 1993), followed by an extension of feminist questions of embodiment and sexual difference into questions of space and time (Grosz 1994), and then a turn to life and evolution (Grosz 2007, 2008). These three periods are mutually reinforcing themes rather than changes in direction, and all develop and intensify an ongoing commitment to a positive conception of life. Grosz’s recent work, which takes Darwinian theories of evolution to argue that processes of sexual selection proceed by display, is in some ways anticipated by her earliest work that argued for the ways in which a body’s ‘morphology’ or its perceived contours enabled and inflected experience and expression. In this regard Grosz’s career runs against the grain of twentieth-century philosophy and anticipated the current ‘affective’ or ‘vitalist’ turn in Continental philosophy as well as the theories of embodied cognition that have led to a perceived overcoming of the divide between Continental and analytic philosophy. It needs to be noted that while identified with ‘Continental’ philosophy in Australia, Grosz read French philosophers such as Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze and Luce Irigaray without considering them as versions of ‘textualism’ or the ‘lingusitic paradigm’. Her work in the late 1980s and 1990s is more in tune with the attention to life and systems that marks contemporary Continental philosophy. It also needs to be noted that while the distinction between analytic and Continental philosophy is now being hailed as defunct, and this by way of a return to livings systems theory in the works of Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger, Grosz has always read ‘Continental’ philosophers through questions of epistemology, embodied cognition and the relations between science, art and philosophy.
Educated in the philosophy department at the University of Sydney before its split into departments of General Philosophy and Traditional and Modern Philosophy, Grosz’s work is typical of Australian work in the French tradition in its clarity of style and attention to fundamental questions of political theory, knowledge and the possibility of interdisciplinary understanding. Grosz’s work on Luce Irigaray, for example, did not focus—as North American and British feminists were to do—on ecriture feminine (an approach that was mired in the opposition between a female writing that flowed from an essential body, and a constructed femininity). Instead, she insisted that Irigaray’s account of the emergence of the experiencing subject through bodily relations would require us to think of selves beyond the opposition between a body as it is in itself (biological essentialism) and a body as mere vehicle for mind (simple constructivism). Grosz pursued the problem of the body both as lived and lived in visual and imaginary relations through a series of writers, including Jacques Lacan, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Gilles Deleuze. Although Australian feminists of the 1980s were attendant to the body as a contributing element in the imagination of what it is to be a self, Grosz’s work was marked by a sense of the body as unruly or volatile: the body was not simply a medium through which selves live their world but is also inflected by its spatial, cultural, sexual and temporal relations. And although she was one of the first feminists and first philosophers working in English to stress the significance of the work of Deleuze, Grosz never adopted Deleuze as a paradigm or theory and instead pursued the problems articulated in Deleuze’s corpus as a whole: the problem of the virtual (which Grosz defined as a dimension of all temporal experience), the problem of creative evolution, and the problem of the relation between the thinking self and that which lies beyond thought.
One useful way of reading Grosz’s corpus is to see that despite the fact that her work appears to be dominated by proper names and exegesis—her first book was an introduction to Jacques Lacan, her second an introduction to French feminism—her readings of key figures in Continental philosophy went against the grain of some standard notions of late twentieth-century French thought. Both Lacan and the French feminists who were the subjects of Grosz’s work had been interpreted from a primarily linguistic point of view (Moi 1985). Lacan, to the present day, is often regarded as having established the primacy of the Symbolic order—the system of language through which we articulate all our desires (Zizek 2007)—while French feminism is frequently regarded as misguidedly essentialist insofar as it argues for a positive notion of sexual difference beyond the gendered coding of bodies. Despite clear changes of direction and emphases, the original contributions of Grosz’s mature work can be discerned in her early, seemingly introductory texts. First, the book on Lacan paid attention to the necessary, and not simply transitional, stage of the Imaginary in psychic development. While language—or the Symbolic order—is essential in establishing the status of the self as a subject, or one who can be recognised by others in ongoing relations and interactions, this general system is preceded by the establishment of a basic unity or sense of oneself as an integrated whole. Lacan’s own research had attended to the ways in which animals mirror and mimic each other, becoming captivated by images of bodily unity. In her early text on Lacan, Grosz anticipates her later writings on display, embodiment and morphology (or the ways in which bodily motilities and borders will contribute to the mode of subject and its relation to other subjects).
Judith Butler, whose work is often contrasted with Grosz’s (Cheah 1996), argues that selves are formed through subjection to a system of differences (language and gender norms), and that the self is primarily gendered—distinguished as male or female—while ‘sex’ can be known ex post facto as that which must be posited and presupposed as the ground of gender, but known only from the position of gender (Butler 1990). Grosz, by contrast, emphasises sexual difference, and draws upon Lacanian psychoanalysis to challenge Lacan’s own argument that ‘woman does not exist’. For Lacan, woman is the fantasised object of desire that is posited as what must have been prohibited; woman is only known as lost, as the object that precludes one from enjoyment. Grosz, however, draws upon Lacan’s own concept of the Imaginary to formulate the concept of morphology that will challenge this masculinist assumption that woman is outside the symbolic and subject relations. Before one enters linguistic relations there must be a basic assumption of oneself as a unified body, capable of speech; this is given both through the image one beholds of oneself in the mirror, and also through the way one is regarded by others. Grosz draws upon the work of Irigaray to argue that the visual, tactile and affective potentials of one’s mode of body will therefore play a constitutive role in the way in which one lives and imagines the style of relations to others. In her second book, Sexual Subversions (1989), Grosz argued for a positive theory of sexual difference that charted a path between strong biological determinism on the one hand, and social constructivism on the other. It is not the case that bodies are neutral blank slates or passive material supports upon which culture inscribes difference; nor is it the case that a body’s sexual, genetic or anatomical make-up will determine a social gender. Selves are at once irreducibly sexual, for their sense of their own bodies and potentials are given in the way they desire and view other bodies; at the same time the sexual is neither reducible to gender nor familial reproduction. Grosz was one of the first philosophers to reject the sex/gender distinction that had been dominant in feminist philosophy and sociology. Whereas Judith Butler rejected the notion of a material or embodied sexuality before the social relations of gender and argued that sexuality (and matter) were necessarily presupposed by gender but could not be known outside those presuppositions other than negatively, Grosz argued that the position of woman, or the position of a subject who was not placed within the symbolic order as the other of a prohibited or lost feminine, could be considered as a positive (if yet to be fully articulated) subjective possibility.
In the second phase of her work Grosz extended this argument of feminist philosophy to advance a strong theory of embodiment. Although modern philosophy has tended to be increasingly anti-Cartesian in its rejection of any notion of mental substance, favouring materialist accounts of persons, Grosz formulated an anti-Cartesian account of embodiment that did not simply assume the materialist position but questioned the ways in which matter had been defined as other than mind. In Volatile Bodies (1994) she argues, again, for human beings as essentially embodied, with notions of the self, its possibilities and its relations being inflected with the visual, tactile and affective sense one has of one’s physical relations with others. But she also contests the idea of the body as a stable material entity; for the experience of the body as a self in relation to others requires an ongoing negotiation of borders, a production of an inside in relation to an outside.
It is this argument that relations produce, rather than being produced by, selves that allowed for a strong presence of the visual and artistic in Grosz’s work. Her book on architecture (2001), for example, does not see the production of buildings and cities as work undertaken by subjects who remain distinct from their creations. Rather, all space is distributed and lived according to bodies who, in their relations to each other, are at once effected through spatial relations at the same time as the spaces those selves inhabit create different modes of self and time. There are not spaces that contain bodies, nor bodies that construct spaces, but relations among bodies over time that unfold certain patterns and possibilties that architecture both responds to and ramifies. In her Wellek Library Lectures on art (2008), Grosz makes a radical departure from the history of aesthetic theory, as she refuses to consider art as either defined institutionally through conventions or essentially through some notion of art as a specifically human practice of reflexivity or creative expenditure. Drawing on theories of Darwinian sexual selection, and Deleuze’s theory of life as beginning with the territory or the creation of a field of relations, Grosz makes two broad claims regarding art and life. First, art is not a display and ornament added on to an otherwise functional life, for without processes of display and visual allure animals would not select or be attracted to each other. These processes of expression and presentation in the animal world already place living organisms in a creative relation to their milieu, so that an animal can either deploy camouflage to survive in the present or visual and aural abundance to attract a mate, with the functionality of the latter process being open to all sorts of variation beyond the survival of the present organism or population. Second, once art is no longer defined as a cognitive, self-reflexive exercise or as a social construct, Grosz can argue for the significance of contemporary Australian indigenous art which she sees to be producing a relation to sensations and materials that is markedly distinct from the meta-artistic and self-referential practices of Western and postmodern aesthetics. The significance of this work on art goes beyond aesthetics, however, for it raises questions about the relation between humanity and animality that refuse both a biological continuism (for there is something distinct about art and display) and a metaphysical separation (for there is also something of animal life in all art). Here, again, as in all her work, Grosz sails between the Scylla of material reduction and the Charybdis of a simple dogma of human distinction.