Research

My MA is in anthropology (Durham), and my PhD in philosophy (Staffordshire). I started life as an anthropologist, travelling to the University of Pattimura in Ambon, Indonesia, in 1994 on a research project under the auspices of LIPI, the Indonesian Institute of Sciences. I was in Indonesia to study the work of contemporary sculptors. My book Stealing With the Eyes: Imaginings and Incantations in Indonesia is a portrait of three of these sculptors, a travel memoir, and a reflection on the uneasy enterprise that is anthropology.

My PhD thesis (“Naive Phenomenology: Thinking Ethics Through Stories”, Staffordshire University 2007) was an attempt to think about storytelling as a kind of phenomenology, using the spinning of tales as a philosophical method that might provide a way of thinking through ethics without thinking in terms of foundations. This led eventually to two books. The first, Finding Our Sea-Legs: Ethics, Experience and the Ocean of Stories (Kingston University Press, 2009) developed the storytelling strand. It is a curious kind of philosophy book, crammed full of talking fish, woodpeckers, drunken Indonesian gods and other such unphilosophical beings. The second book, Levinas, Storytelling and Anti-Storytelling was more respectable, and used storytelling as a method for deconstructing the work of Emmanuel Levinas, whilst also holding this same method to account in terms of Levinas’s ethics.

Since finishing my PhD, I have worked increasingly at the borderlands of philosophies, stories and cultures. The research for my experimental novel-of-sorts, Sixty-Four Chance Pieces: A Book of Changes – a collection of linked stories based on the hexagrams of the Yijing 易經 – led me on a long detour into Chinese philosophy. As well as the book, I’ve written on Chinese and Western comparative philosophy and literature (with a particular interest in the Yijing and the Wenxin diaolong 文心雕龍, The Carving of Dragons and the Literary Mind, a sixth century writing manual).

I have a number of projects on the go at the moment. The first is an interdisciplinary book on the theme of hospitality, cutting between philosophy, anthropology, history, literature and the sciences. I’m also continuing my work exploring creative writing beyond the restrictive and arbitrary boundaries imposed upon it by its situation within departments of English Literature, in particular through the study of Chinese writing manuals.

 

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