Guest Post by Charles Lewis – Rorty as Thersites: A Bibliographical Note

Abstract: In this note Charles Lewis draws attention to an item missing from bibliographies of Richard Rorty, namely a satirical article published under the pseudonym “Thersites Minor” in the journal MLN. The article illustrates Rorty’s amused interest in the antics of contemporary literary theorists.

There is an item that seems to be absent from current bibliographies of the work of Richard Rorty — namely a short article published in the MLN Comparative Literature issue for 1979. The reason, no doubt, is that it was published under a pseudonym — and indeed an appropriate one given Rorty’s satirical intent. It might be regarded as a scurrilous annex to the essay on Derrida that he had published the year before, one that parodies the tortured style of some of the latest literary theorists.

I have found only two references to the article, both of them apparently oblivious as to its true author. One is in a review of Charles Segal’s book Dionysiac Poetics and Euripides’ Bacchae, where Carl A. Rubino notes that Segal “chooses a notable series of short texts to head each of his chapters: […] evocative passages culled from Plato, Hölderlin [etc.],” while adding in a footnote:

For a satiric view of ‘liminal quotations’ and other excesses of contemporary criticism, see Thersites Minor, ‘How to be a New [sic] Critic: Metonymic Mumblings or a Generative Grammar [sic] of Apposite Apothegms’ […]. It is a pleasure to report that Segal generally avoids the excesses targeted there.

The article is also included in UC Irvine’s Critical Theory Offprint Collection, MS.C.007 (1939–1994), Box 15, catalogued (amusingly enough) as “Minor, Thersites, undated; Physical Description: 1 item”; on the other hand, three items for “Rorty, Richard” are listed under Box 18.

How do I know that the article is by Rorty? Continue reading

Distancing Masking Sheltering by Martin Heidegger

In what follows we shall try to think about quarantine and Covid-19. This thinking does not presume to offer medical advice, still less to pronounce on the strife between freedom and social distancing. This venture in thought does not view the quarantine as a mere means to slow the spread of the virus; rather it seeks to understand the unconcealing of quarantining from out of the virusing of the Virus. We ask:

What is it to quarantine?

How does Covid-19 belong to quarantining? Continue reading


Young Saul questioned Russell on names,
And refuted quite all of his claims.
A name’s not a description,
It’s just a baptism.
And with that Russell went down in flames.


Charles Taylor found fault with modernity
Because it had short-changed fraternity.
The Self, he opined,
Was much more than just Mind.
With deep meaning it must be combined.


Robert Brandom inclined to infer
The commitments he thought that there were.
But his normative attitudes
Struck many as platitudes,
Which complaint he dismissed as a slur.


The philosopher Rawls would commence
By sparing the worst-off some pence.
Robert Nozick demurred,
Thought Rawls’ notions absurd.
And that was their principal difference. Continue reading

Finding a Way

Late in 1971, when I was 16, during a visit to the Santa Ana Public Library (in Southern California), I had a dramatic aesthetic experience.

At this point I had read fairly widely. I knew Hawthorne, Twain, Thoreau, Whitman, and Melville, Kafka and Sartre, Huxley and Orwell (Down and Out in Paris and London as well as Animal Farm). I’d read (or read at) Russell and Wittgenstein, Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud, and people like B.F. Skinner, Buckminster Fuller, Arthur Koestler, Lewis Mumford, Marshall McLuhan, Tom Wolfe, and Joan Didion. I’d seen paintings by Picasso and heard Stravinsky, Wagner, and Morton Subotnick.

I was always on the lookout for more, though I didn’t always have a clear idea of what I was looking for.

That afternoon in 1971, however, I did know. I had come for a copy of Molloy, which I wanted to read after having seen a PBS broadcast called Beginning to End in which the Irish actor Jack MacGowran, dressed in a thick black cloak, stands in the Mojave Desert and recites passages from the works of Samuel Beckett.

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A Post-Collegiate Gap Year

It was an academic year, 1979–80, but I wasn’t a student. I graduated from the University of California, Irvine in June 1979 and drove a Volkswagen van to New York City, where I lived in Manhattan until July 1980 with no responsibilities whatsoever.

I spent a few weeks getting settled. I parked the van in front of a building in Morningside Heights and hauled my belongings up to my temporary apartment. They consisted of books, records, a stereo, an IBM Selectric typewriter, a signed lithograph by Roy Lichtenstein, and a modest wardrobe.

The next morning I looked out the window and saw that the van was gone. The police told me that it was probably taken by some kids and burned. When I asked why they would do that the cops looked at me as if I were an idiot for failing to understand that they had nothing better to do.

The van had served its purpose; I’d planned on selling it anyway. (My father, who had paid for it, said in his wry way that he would “absorb the loss.”) In a few weeks I found an apartment at Broadway and 111th, one block down from Tom’s Restaurant of Seinfeld fame and a few blocks from Columbia University.

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