The Onassis Foundation Fellowship in Ancient Greek Studies is a scholarship program funded by the
Onassis Foundation, which was established in 1975 by Aristotle Onassis to honor the memory of his son Alexander. Since 2014, under the directorship of Simon Critchley, the program has granted continuity to one of the core intellectual activities of the Philosophy
Department at The New School for Social Research by funding both students and faculty. As a result, Mirjam E. Kotwick joined the department as the Onassis Lecturer in Ancient Greek Thought and Language in 2016. Also, each year the Onassis Foundation Fellowship in Ancient
Greek Studies grants three years of funding to two PhD philosophy students who work on ancient Greek thought, especially drama, philosophy, political theory, history, and poetry.
Dissimilar approaches and usages of theater in philosophy caught my attention since my first approach to philosophy when, after dedicating most of my life to theater, I decided to go back to academia with a question in mind, which is as central to the practice of theater as it is usually skillfully avoided—what is theater?
With the image of “world is theater” in mind, I address strands of thought from Plato’s ban of the poets till today that trap theater in overly sharp dichotomies—from the paradigm of community to the paradigm of fakeness. This dissimilarity, which comprehends not only philosophy but also theory of theater and performing arts studies, points out that, as Peter Brook says, fragments of theater have been scattered everywhere. As a result, understandings of theater that take the part for the whole have rendered theater an empty container that can be modeled according to the needs of one’s arguments. Broadly speaking, my research consists on answering the above mentioned question by picking up theater’s scattered pieces with the aim to make manifest that theater, despite having been declared dead or exhausted, still triggers vivid discussions. As such, it becomes a tool for addressing philosophical questions but, most importantly, it provides the grounds to bring into philosophical discussion elements that were banned together with the poets—vividness, evanescence, co-presence, and the difficulty to deal with a discipline that seems to resist definition and classification. Ultimately, it provides the grounds to interdisciplinary approaches to, as Beckett would say, “life long questions” that have received “ all time answers”.
In this context, the Onassis Foundation Fellowship for Ancient Greek Studies has not only provided the means to develop my research, but also the tools. In Spring 2016 I had the chance to T.A for Professor Simon Critchley for the course “Reading Greek Tragedy.” As well, in September 2017 I started learning Ancient Greek with Professor Mirjam E. Kotwick. Furthermore, the Onassis Foundation has made available their archive in Greek performing arts, which I hohpe to be able to explore rather sooner than later.
I completed my PhD in 2014 in Greek Philology at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich, Germany. In 2015 I held a DAAD postdoctoral research fellowship in the Department of Classical Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. In 2016 I joined the faculty at the NSSR as the Onassis Lecturer in Ancient Greek Thought and Language.
As Onassis Lecturer I teach ancient Greek language courses at beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels, and also lead graduate seminars in Ancient Greek Thought. In my language classes I like to combine intensive training in Greek grammar with the exercise of reading ancient Greek authors of various genres and styles in the original Greek. I have led seminars on “The Ancient Quarrel between Philosophy and Poetry,” “Death in Ancient Greek Thought,” and “Aristotle’s Search for Wisdom”. My approach stems from an appreciation for a close reading of the texts and reconstruction of the argument, as well as sensitivity to their textual situation and cultural context.
My research is at the intersection of Greek philology, ancient philosophy, and literary studies, and I do innovative work on the transmission and reconstruction of texts of ancient Greek philosophy and literature. In my first book, I investigate the ancient tradition of Aristotle’s Metaphysics and detail how its reception in antiquity impacted and even changed Aristotle’s work as it is preserved in our medieval manuscripts. My recently published second book is on the Derveni Papyrus, a fascinating papyrus text that blends ancient myth and presocratic physics and challenges the established intellectual and religious history of early classical Greece. Published and forthcoming articles treat topics such as Orphic poetry, philological methodology, and allegorical interpretation.
My research concerns the notion of passivity. Passivity has, unlike its antonym, received little attention within Western canonized philosophical thought. Instead of focusing on the wakeful, conscious, active parts of human existence, my research is indebted to
considering ways of being that belong to the sleepful, unconscious, and passive parts of our being in the world. One of the main parts of my dissertation aims at developing the ontological grounding of passivity, and here I turn to Ancient Greek thought and language, and particularly the writing of Aristotle.
Aristotle’s notion of potentiality in his Metaphysics book Θ offers access to an ontology that creates space for passivity. Reading Aristotle’s notion of potentiality in relation to continental philosophers such as Martin Heidegger and Giorgio Agamben makes it possible to understand ways of
being that are rooted in passivity, such as sleep, as not mere privation of waking, but as being something in itself. Aristotle teaches us that being is not one-dimensional: it is not pure actuality. As Heidegger stresses in his reading of Aristotle, being folds over itself not twice or thrice but four
times. It is not until we begin to acknowledge the Ancient understanding of the four-foldedness of the being of human beings that we can begin to grasp the passivity inherent to being itself. I argue that allowing this passivity to catch our attention, to take up the space that traditionally has been acquired
solely by activity, has important ontological, ethical, as well as political consequences for how we imagine our being in the world.
Without the support of the Onassis Foundation, I would not have been able to conduct this research which is deeply rooted in Ancient Greek philosophy but also in Ancient Greek language. I am therefore also thrilled to have had the opportunity of being taught Ancient Greek by
Onassis Lecturer Mirjam E Kotwick. Learning Ancient Greek undoubtedly continues to deepen my understanding of Aristotle’s thought as well as the tradition that has nourished it.
Zygmunt Bauman, in his groundbreaking work Liquid Modernity, asserted that “Being always, at any stage and at all times, ‘post-something’ is also an undetachable feature of modernity.” Following the spirit of this insight, my main research agenda is inspired by the desire to explore whether our current political predicaments –predicaments which routinely reduce us to passive consumers of the never-ending deaths spilling out of ubiquitous headlines- are, at least in part, the result of a self-defeating act of social introspection, which insists on – explicitly or implicitly – pushing us to the verges of a ‘post-solidarity’ era. At the same time, the attempt to approach our current Western political condition in these terms begs the (central) question: what is solidarity? In the context of my research, answering this question does not simply entail providing a ‘valid’ or appealing account of what solidarity ought to be but rather a meticulous engagement with the ways in which the crafting of solidarity over time has come to potentiate or inhibit the horizon of Western political innovations. Simply stated, my goal is to trace a genealogy of ‘solidarity,’ for the sake of exposing the assumptions and discontinuities that accompanied the conception(s) and application(s) of the term throughout time. Yet, my genealogy would have a particular ‘bent,’ as a crucial assumption of my approach to this topic is that an important absence to be noted in the existing theoretical discussions concerning the nature/role of solidarity involves the neglect of spectacularization and its effects over the ways in which different historical communities have conceived of solidarity.
The ultimate goal of my intervention is a careful analysis of the ethical and epistemological tensions that underpin the difficulties we face in trying to live together. In doing this, it is crucial to take note of the extent to which these tensions are a product of our inability to learn from our past, and it is in this way that turning our gaze towards our Greek ancestors seems an unavoidable step in the quest to understand and address our current predicaments.
As a recipient of the Onassis Fellowship, I have worked as facilitator of the Greek Reading Group since Fall 2015. I try to organize the GRG in a way that combines the teaching of Greek grammar (especially in the first two semester) and the translation of original texts. In the first year, we translated canonical passages from Aristotle’s Categories, Politics and Nichomacean Ethics, along with some fragments from the Stoic and Pyrrhonic traditions. More recently, we’ve focused on individual texts. In the last two semesters we read Oedipus Rex and Plato’s Crito. Ocasionally, we also meet during the summer and winter holidays. The tradition of our Philosophy Department’s GRG is one that I try to keep alive; it is an extremely useful tool for anyone interested in Ancient thought or philosophy.
I divide my reasearch activities into three projects. First, I’ve recently finished the qualifying paper “Pragmatic Perspectives on the Principle of Non-contradiction and Bivalence”. In this article, I offer a pragmatic reading of three arguments Aristotle presents in MetaphysicsIV 4 in defense of the Principle of Non-Contradiction (PNC), followed by a similar analysis of Aristotle’s defense of the limitation of the applicability of the Principle of Bivalence (PB). Second, in my work (in progress) “Decidability, Non-contradiction and Bivalence in Sextus Empiricus” I explore the problem of the justification of standard logical principles (like PNC and PB) in the Pyrrhonic tradition. Third, my dissertation project addresses a classical problem that can be traced back to Aristotle, namely the problem of substance. Aristotle’s metaphysical project can be summarized (very simply) as the claim that in order to explain processual change there must be a substrate of change which is not identified with any of the transitory phases of change. In contemporary metaphysics, the problem of permanence takes many forms (e.g. Are we in a position to discriminate between essential and inessential properties of objects? What is the difference between a thing and an event? Is the world composed of enduring particulars, or is it reduced to a mosaic of discrete events? Do dispositions or propensities constitute an ontological category in its own right?). In my dissertation, I examine the problem of permanence from a phenomenological perspective. Specifically, I am interested in giving an account of how the identity of objects and their properties is justified from the point of view of our ordinary, pre-scientific experience. Within this framework, part of my aim is to discuss whether a notion of substance that retains Aristotelian motives is necessary (or dispensable) to explain the problem of sameness.
I’m interested in how our material and inner lives are formed, transformed and performed by the sea as both something and a thing of nothing. How does the mirror of the sea reflect, deflect and act on us, the world, even philosophy? Working as an Onassis Fellow, I have been encountering problematics such as processes of de-territorialization and the problem of nihilism, the nature of the political and its encounter with the maritime, modes and limits of mimesis, metamorphoses of genres, interpretive possibilities to historicity, as well as rituals of sacrifice and liminality.
With the generous support of the Onassis Foundation, I’m currently finishing my dissertation, “The Sea and the Mirror: Essayings in De-territorialization and Mimesis.” It traces the pressing and repressed material and symbolic presence of the ocean (the Mediterranean and the Atlantic) from Plato to Heidegger, employing the maritime as a hermeneutic lens to understand the drive of philosophy as both response to and moment within the impetus of western colonization. It examines how philosophy has again and again constructed itself as a genre in opposition to the movement of de-territorialization and the fluidity of mimesis. It does so via the method (meta, “after” + hodos, “way, journey”) of a series of essayings (in the original sense of trial, measure, attempt) across a geopolitical topography of discourses. These include philosophical texts drawn from a constellation of historical topoi at the critical moments of their encounter with the maritime: fifth-century Athens (Plato/Euripides), late republican and early imperial Rome (Augustus/Plautus), Elizabethan England (Shakespeare), enlightenment continental Europe (Kant/Rousseau) and inter-war Germany of the twentieth century (Husserl/Heidegger). In my next project I will deepen my dissertation research by considering the role of error and the place of the errant in philosophy and how the maritime has been utilized as a site of errancy, sin and failed expiation (hamartia and katharsis in the Greek context).
As an Onassis Fellow, I have run the discussion seminar to Simon Critchley’s lecture course, Tragedy’s Philosophy.
I have been fascinated by Ancient Greece and Ancient Greek philosophy since I was an undergraduate at St. John’s College. Since then, I have continued this pursuit, being inspired in my research both by the canonical texts of Hellenic philosophy but also by the wider culture, the art, politics, and history of Greece in which these writings emerged. My interest in the exchange between these two sides of Greek life comes through clearly in my Liberal Studies MA Thesis, which focused on the role of Homer as Plato’s bête noire in the Republic and Ion.
My current research project is focused on the study of the emergence of philosophy as a genre in 4th Century BCE Athens, and especially on Plato’s engagement with poetry, both in the Republic and in other dialogues. I plan to examine the seeming contradiction of Plato’s criticism of poetry as imitative in book X of the Republic itself occurs in a mimetic image of a philosophical dialogue. With this as my motivating question, I am also pursuing the related goal of reconciling the nature of poetry described in the Republic with other accounts of poetry found in in such dialogues as the Ion, Phaedrus, and Protagoras. In analyzing Plato’s intentions in constructing and intertwining his arguments in this way, I hope to understand both the significance of Plato’s quarrel with philosophy and in a broader sense the often porous boundary between philosophy and poetry.