On a Man Who Died from Reading Too Much Heidegger, or Richard Rorty and the Question of Reading

If, as is sometimes held, Wittgenstein wrote as if he had read nothing, while Heidegger wrote as if had read everything, then the common opinion about Richard Rorty is that he wrote as if he had misread everybody.

In my talk, I will show that this opinion, while not entirely unjustified, needs to be nuanced by a recognition that in his work, Rorty in fact endorsed, theorized, and employed several different types of reading. Moreover, I will argue that there are interesting lessons for intellectual historians, literary scholars, and philosophers to be learned from Rorty’s historical and intercultural hermeneutics, and that he powerfully anticipated the currently fashionable criticisms of “symptomatic reading” and “theory” (including, quite surprisingly, those made speculative realists).

In reconstructing Rorty’s position, I am going to consider how it was shaped by various biographical factors such as the influence of his parents (Trotskyist writers associated with the circle of the New York Intellectuals), and the fact that his career coincided with the rise of analytic philosophy and poststructuralism in America. Alfred North Whitehead, A.J. Ayer, Rudolf Carnap, Jacques Derrida, Harold Bloom, Frederic Jameson, and Hans-Georg Gadamer, among others, will all make an appearance in my talk, in which I will also explain what reading Heidegger had to do with Rorty’s death. (Malecki)

Wojciech Małecki is Assistant Professor of Literary Theory at the Institute of Polish Philology, University of Wrocław, Poland. His research interests include American pragmatism, continental philosophy, aesthetics, philosophy of the body, popular culture, and the achingly cool fields of the new materialism and speculative realism. He is the author of Embodying Pragmatism (New York: Lang, 2010), the editor or co-editor of three collections of essays, and sits on the editorial board of Pragmatism Today and the Eger Journal of English Studies. He has published numerous book chapters and articles in journals such as The Oxford Literary Review, Foucault Studies, Angelaki, Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie, Journal of Comparative Literature and Aesthetics, and others.