Marci Shore

Fellowships

Fellowships
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As a dissident under communism, Václav Havel insisted on the imperative “to live in truth.” Thirty years ago, the Velvet Revolution ushered the dissident playwright into the presidency of Czechoslovakia. In his first speech to the United States Congress, Havel asserted, “Consciousness precedes Being, and not the other way around, as the Marxists claim.” Few of Havel’s American listeners had any idea what he meant. In fact, Havel, like other dissident thinkers, was not countering communism with liberalism, but rather countering a Hegelian-Marxist tradition with a phenomenological-existentialist one. The origins of East European dissident thought can be traced back to Edmund Husserl and T.G. Masaryk in the late 19th century, and the post-Enlightenment attempt to find a grounding for truth in the absence of God. After Stalin’s death, Heidegger’s philosophy became an antidote to what Czesław Miłosz named “the Hegelian bite.” This century-long arc reveals a path from epistemology through ontology to ethics, from a preoccupation with clarity and certitude through a preoccupation with determinism versus responsibility, to a preoccupation with authenticity as a moral stance.

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This projects explores the role of phenomenology—and later, beginning in the 1920s, of the existentialism that grows out of phenomenology—in East-Central Europe through World War II and the Stalinist years; the attempts in the late 1950s and 1960s to create a revisionist Marxism; and later, after 1968, to dissident intellectuals’ efforts to develop a post-Marxist, “anti-political” philosophy. Early 20th-century preoccupations with the distance between subject and object, and the role of the aesthetic object, came in time to seem less urgent than preoccupations with clarifying the boundary between determinism and responsibility, and later between truth and lies. What was at stake at these different moments and how did the stakes change?

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This projects explores the role of phenomenology—and later, beginning in the 1920s, of the existentialism that grows out of phenomenology—in East-Central Europe through the Second World War and the Stalinist years; the attempts in the late 1950s and 1960s to create a revisionist Marxism; and later, after 1968, to dissident intellectuals’ efforts to develop a post-Marxist, “anti-political” philosophy. Early twentieth-century preoccupations with the distance between subject and object, and the role of the aesthetic object, came in time to seem less urgent than preoccupations with clarifying the boundary between determinism and responsibility, and later between truth and lies. What was at stake at these different moments—before the Second World War and after—and how did the stakes change? My project aims to illuminate intersections between ideas and emotions through intellectual friendships. I envision this not as a history of intellectual transfer from center to periphery, from West to East, but rather as a history of encounters.