Chris Barker teaches political thought at Southwestern College. His most recent articles can be found at Contemporary Political Theory (forthcoming); History of European Ideas; American Political Thought; and Law, Culture and the Humanities.
What excites you about philosophy?
Teaching political philosophy in a political science department frames the questions that I ask and answer. This is often good, because political science locates us in the everyday world of actual practices, but sometimes philosophy suffers when constrained by the familiar. In any event, I really enjoy showing students things that I’ve learned about social and political phenomena and the vocabulary to describe them. ‘Non-domination’ and ‘retributivism’, for example, or ‘demagoguery’ and ‘freedom’. You can tell when students see what you see. Then, the thorough ones excitedly puzzle out the explanatory power of their new framework and search out its limits. Their questions and my own both drive and satisfy me.
What is your favorite thing that you’ve written?
It’s always the article that is “currently under review.”
What are you most proud of in your professional life?
To take my current research as an example, I really do not like to cabin questions (say, about discourse/rhetoric/emotions/political contexts) within one discipline. “Can you draw out Leviathan with [one] fishhook? Or press down his tongue with [one] cord?”
What is your favorite sound in the world?
Running water? I definitely have some guilty memories of soaking my feet under the tap in pre-but-near-water-shortage Southern California when I was in graduate school. Also (and by no means in second place), Bach’s music.
What is your favorite book of all time?
It has to be Plato’s Republic. What a stunning achievement in comprehensiveness of vision.
What is your favorite film of all time?
The first great movie that I saw was Through a Glass Darkly, which also introduced me to Bach’s cello suites. I don’t have one favorite film, but I really enjoy Once upon a Time in the West, which is one of Sergio Leone’s long, funny “trinity of human types” films. They all have great scores and charismatic performances. I think about them as dramatizations of Plato’s tripartite soul, except that the angry, thumotic type is always “bad” rather than a friend to reason. It’s interesting to see how the clownish and ugly types behave, and how different they are from the “bad.” If only a contemporary Sergio Leone would set a version of the good, the bad, and the ugly in a liberal arts classroom!
What’s your most treasured memory?
To stick with the movie theme, is there not some “asa nisi masa”/rosebud memory to which I return in troubled times? I think that there is one, although I may have stolen it from Rousseau: I am looking up at the cumulus clouds in the August sky, the sun hot on my face, quite far from shore in a deep Canadian lake. Evergreen trees on the verge of the lake mount to form a thickly walled and dense amphitheater, as if cupping the infrequent sounds of the water and the steady sunlight. “The present alone is our happiness,” eh?
What time of day are you most productive and creative?
Find out more about Chris here.
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