Philip Weinstein: Author & Professor Emeritus at Swarthmore College & Visiting Professor at Harvard University (Spring 2016)

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Bio:

Philip Weinstein is Alexander Griswold Cummins Professor Emeritus at Swarthmore College and Visiting Professor this spring (2016) at Harvard University.  He has been awarded three National Endowment of the Humanities Fellowships, as well as a Fellowship from the American Council on Learned Societies.  He is the author of eight books of literary criticism, ranging throughout 19th and 20th century Western (European, Anglo-Irish, and American) literature.  Many of his publications focus on the work of William Faulkner; from 2000 through 2003, he was President of the William Faulkner Society.  The aesthetics and ideology of Western modernism (as manifested in philosophy and fiction) are his broadest research and teaching interests.  No less, American racial turmoil--as manifested especially in the work of Faulkner and Toni Morrison--is the subject of both his writing and his current teaching at Harvard.  In 2011 the Society for the Study of Southern Literature bestowed the Hugh Holman Prize on his Becoming Faulkner as the best book that year on Southern letters.

What do you do best?

I bring literature to life for folks who want that to happen and need some help.

What makes you the best?

I'm not the best, but I succeed because--ever since my late teens--I've been in love with literature and determined to convey to others how and why works of art specifically matter.

What are your aspirations?

I'm a teacher and a writer, and I've spent the last 5 decades doing both as best I can.  When the students in my courses reach the end of a class-session more focused, attuned, and invested--more alive--than when they entered an hour or two earlier, then I know I'm doing what I'm here to do.

Biggest Success?

Addressing Swarthmore College's graduating classes in 1990 and again in 2015: in both instances, looking out at a sea of happy faces (the seniors and their families) and passing on to them whatever home truths I've been able to discern from my own life journey, I felt the privilege of spending my life in the presence of vibrant young people on the voyage out.

Most Challenging Moment?

In my late 20s I suffered enough to make me wonder if I'd succeed at either my vocation or my adult life.  Over the years I have learned that everything I suffered from was at the same time a gift I needed to recognize, and then to use.  Since then I've found that distress is a powerful common bond.  The great writers reveal its fundamental place in our humanity, and students of all ages respond to literature's dilemmas as enabling lenses for grasping their own.

Favorite Motto?

"Become who you are. - Nietzsche

Favorite People?

Among the living, my wife Penny and my two daughters, Liz and Kate.  Among the dead, three different categories: first, my mother whose generosity and curiosity opened up my mind and heart.  Next, the strongest writers (Tolstoy, Faulkner, Proust, among others) who transmute the insoluble enigmas of their lives into the inexhaustible resonance of their art.  Finally, two black leaders during the past century's racial turmoil--Mandela and King--whose courage and grace have no equal.

Favorite Places?

Martha's Vineyard, where I am fortunate enough to live.  Paris and Rome, where I am fortunate enough to visit, over and over again, without exhausting their treasures.

Favorite Products?

I love good wines--especially the burgundies of France and the brunellos of Italy.  No less, I count on traveling every year to one or the other of those countries.

Current Passions?

How to talk to young people about the mysteries of passing time.   Achievement matters, for sure, but the poetry and passion of life center on how the mind and the heart frame--and reframe--one's sense of what is at stake.