Blogvember post 21… about a philosopher

@ Tell me about your favourite lecturer/tutor at University and why were they so memorable?

For today’s post I am mining suggestions from my pals on Twitter. Today @eatshootblog has been in my thoughts. She was featured in a story about cycling today in her role as editor of Canberra Cycle Chic in The Canberra Times, as was @damonayoung for laughter. Damon is one of my favourite Australian working philosophers, and I wish I could write about weighty topics as he does, with proper time and care. He loves fountain pens too and often posts lovely photos of them on Twitter.

I am not going to write about either laughter nor cycles. That is actually quite enough about bikes for this blog – even if @eatshootblog takes fantastically gorgeous photos of bikes and describes riding her own bike as like drinking a gin and tonic, I don’t actually like them at all. The hat hair alone is enough to put me off. Apparently, you only need to write about bikes and caffeine to attract more negative commentary than you do if you write about cars and Canberra.

Today, I am going to tell you about my favourite lecturer at university.

When I first went to university, I went to Macquarie University. After about the first two minutes of first year, I realised that everything other than the philosophy I had enrolled in, was a total waste of time. Finally, in philosophy, I had a name and a canon for everything I had been thinking about for, well, for my whole life. I loved every single minute of every single lecture and tutorial. It was sheer unadulterated bliss. Not only the first year course taught by the professor, he was the foundation professor. He had been at Macquarie since the beginning.

At the end of second year our thoughts turned to how best to make the most of our final year. There was a course on the books called ‘Seminar Unit B’. What was this course? Cath, my friend and fellow traveller in philosophy, went to ask.

Max told us. ‘It’s whatever you like. We don’t always offer it, but if you’re interested we will. Just tell me what you’d like to read and we will read it. Then at the end of the semester you can write an essay.’ What? This was a course? We couldn’t believe our luck!

We immediately enrolled. What a gift! Then each week we would turn up, our class of two for a session with the Professor. Sometimes he would forget to turn up. We would slink down the wall outside his office, sitting on the floor talking about what we had read. Sometimes he would just be late and in a flurry of apologies let us in. Every time was a magical tour. His office was stacked with books, with papers and with paintings, two and three deep in places. We often dreamed of liberating them all and hanging them all over the department. He is the archetypal professor, down to the monkish hair and the eccentric clothes. He always wore amazing shoes, and bought clothes in Europe. The sort of clothes I had never imagined. When he laughed his whole body would shake and he would throw his head back and guffaw. Those tutorials were the most liberating and important intellectual discussions of my whole life. There was nothing we couldn’t discuss. No theory too outlandish, no connection too tenuous. The rigour and the depth to those talks, I have never experienced again.

Max supported me through my honours year and assisted my first publication. He also rescued my PhD when I thought that I would never finish it. He nurtured a dissertation topic that few believed was worthy of such a substantial piece of scholarship and he gave me countless hours of his time freely to ensure that I passed. I owe Max Deutscher an enormous debt of gratitude.

He taught me how to think, and how to study philosophy. He gave me insight into how deeply you need to think about things to really get to their core. To the heart of the matter.

The last time I saw Max was at his house. I was walking away with the final pieces of my thesis intact and ready to be written up. I spoke to him afterward, when the result was in and I knew that I had passed. He is without a doubt the most significant figure in my intellectual life.

You can listen to his wonderful words here (vale Alan Saunders). And read about his latest book here.

Max Deutscher studied philosophy (University of Adelaide) and then Oxford (1960-63) with Gilbert Ryle. Appointed Foundation Professor at Macquarie University in 1966; published on themes of remembering, inferring, and physicalism. After involvement in Vietnam protests, wrote Subjecting and Objecting (1983), papers on Sartre, Ryle, and Husserl, and then a series of essays in conceptual analysis after deconstruction. A free-lance philosopher since 1998, he has published Michèle Le Dœuff: Operative Philosophy and Imaginary Practice (2000), Genre and Void: Looking Back at Sartre and Beauvoir (2003), and Judgment After Arendt (2007). His work (since the 1970s), in its concern with themes of European philosophy from Hegel to Derrida, continues to draws upon the varied traditions of analytical philosophy.