Chinese and Bagpipe Music

As many who know me will be aware, I’ve spent a good deal of the last three or four years trying to make some inroads into the Chinese language. This is, in part, related to my various research interests, and in part related to the book I’ve been working on exploring the Yijing, or Chinese Book of Changes, as a kind of Calvino-style literature machine. And although progress has been perhaps a little slow, Chinese being—as China scholar David Moser once famously pointed out—damn hard, I’m fairly happy overall with how it has all been going. I’m terribly rusty on conversation, to be sure—living here in the UK, I don’t have as much practice as I would like—and my reading ability goes up and down, but I can pick my way through academic articles in Chinese, at least on a good day, or if I do it in the morning when my mind is fresh; and I’m finding the experience of getting to grips with Chinese immensely fruitful. And, more to the point, fun. Read more

Snorghs, Sailors, Philosophy and Mood

With apologies for cross-posting from my personal website; but I’m very pleased to have received this morning two copies of the Spring Issue of Interdisciplinary Humanities journal, which includes my essay on “What the Snorgh Taught me about Emmanuel Levinas”. It’s a fairly personal essay/paper about the questions around children’s literature, creative writing, research and philosophy. The paper started out when I began to realise that the process of writing my children’s book, [amazon_link id=”1407116525″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]The Snorgh and the Sailor[/amazon_link] was (whatever Martin Amis might say about children’s literature) one that fed back into my philosophical writing, opening up new questions and lines of inquiry.

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What the Snorgh Taught me about Emmanuel Levinas

Interdisciplinary Humanities: Children's Media Spring Issue 2012
Interdisciplinary Humanities: Children’s Media. Spring Issue 2012
I’m very pleased to have received this morning two copies of the Spring Issue of Interdisciplinary Humanities journal, which includes my essay on “What the Snorgh Taught me about Emmanuel Levinas”.

“Philosophers are often more like Snorghs than they are like Sailors, which is to say that they generally prefer solitude, their own soup, routine, gloom and drizzle to high adventure, storytelling, good cheer, and companionship…”

The paper is available via EBSCO’s Academic Search Premier. If anybody who doesn’t have access to EBSCO wants a draft copy, get in touch and I’ll send one.

Philosophy at a Gallop

Every summer I try and make a point of launching into a Big Fat Philosophy Book that I have, for some reason or another, not got round to reading before. My ideal holiday reading, in other words, is not a thriller or an airport blockbuster, but instead is something appetisingly dense like Merleau-Ponty’s [amazon_link id=”0415278414″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]The Phenomenology of Perception[/amazon_link]. Merleau-Ponty is my choice for this summer, because this is a book that I have made use of, talked about and skirted round for years, but one that I have not actually ever read from beginning to end. Read more

Philosophers, Cleverness and Storytelling

I’m very happy to have just signed a contract with Bloomsbury for a book about Levinas and storytelling called Levinas, Storytelling and Anti-Storytelling. The book comes out some time early next year, all being well, and it’s been a long time in the making. It aims to read Emmanuel Levinas, the French-Lithuanian philosopher of ethics, both as a storyteller of ethics, and as somebody who calls storytelling to ethical account. There is an intriguing tension here. On the one hand Levinas talks about ethics (almost despite himself) by recourse to the telling of stories; but on the other hand he raises all kinds of interesting questions about the ethical dangers of certain kinds of storytelling. Read more

My Secret Life as a Writer of Romance

Well, it looks like I’ve been found out and my cover as a writer of romance novels has at last been blown. This morning I headed over to, where I saw the following:

Dixon's Bluff?
Dixon's Bluff
Dixon’s Bluff, 1993 Sally Tyler Haynes

Now, my German is far from excellent, but if I were to translate Rüssel und Hase, the title on the cover in the picture, I would probably not translate it as “Dixon’s Bluff”. Instead, I would translate it as “Trunky and the Hare”; or, taking artistic license, I might decide that it should be translated as “The Snorgh and the Sailor.” I can’t help fearing that those hoping for intimate moments will find themselves disappointed by the tale of the seafaring Snorgh, in German.

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Research, or something like it (Part I)

Every few years, here in UK academic circles, there is a curious circus known as the REF, the “Research Excellence Framework”, a bizarrely arcane ritual of humiliation where academics struggle to demonstrate that their research is not merely good (one might have thought that being “good” was a sufficiently high demand, although apparently this is not so) but is instead excellent. And because this is a rigorous exercise, scholars are asked to prove their excellence in research by submitting to learned boards of their peers a range of “outputs” that are scrutinised using the best scientific and divinatory methods, so that these works may be awarded stars. Not real stars, of course; not even the kinds of stars that are handed out to primary school children, shiny sticker-stars, but just notional stars, the Platonic forms of stars that are more true and real than any actual star or representation of a star could ever be. Read more

Woodbrooke Borders and Crossings Conference

Just a quick post from Birmingham, where I’m attending the “Borders and Crossings” conference at Woodbrooke Quaker study centre. The conference stars in the most civilised fashion imaginable with tea and cake from 3pm. I’ll be giving a paper on the Wenxin Diaolong 文心雕龍 (“Literary mind and the carving of dragons”) and the notion of shensi 神思, often translated as ‘imagination’. I’ve written a blog post with some preliminary reflections over on my blog, The Myriad Things. I’ll post over there again as thoughts occur to me whilst at the conference.

Two Tribes of Storytellers

Next week, I’m away in Birmingham at the lovely Woodbrooke Quaker Study Center for their Borders and Crossings/Seuils et Traverses conference on travel writing. I’m not exactly a travel writer myself, although much of my writing—both in fiction and in philosophy—has a preoccupation with crossings, passages, movement and travel; and so I’m hugely looking forward to a week in such wonderful surroundings talking about how, as Rebecca Solnit puts it, stories are travels and travels are stories. I’m hoping that the week will be, in spirit at least, half-conference, half-retreat. It is something—after a busy few months—that I could well do with. Read more


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