Minding the Modern Inaugural Meeting


We’ve just concluded the first meeting of our Minding the Modern reading group, having read the brief exordium in which Pfau lays out the broad arguments and stakes of the book. Attendance was good–more than I had expected–and we energetically discussed the exordium, from making sure that we understood Pfau’s terms and claims to speculating on their importance for the humanities at large, which Pfau explicitly underlines as a second concern for his book. Among other things, we talked about:

  • Our understanding of nominalism and voluntarism, especially in the context of how, as Pfau argues, “theoretical inquiry and practical reason have terminally parted ways” (3).
  • Different understandings of modernity, from Pfau’s own to others centered on ideology, economics, technology, historicity, etc.
  • Pfau’s distinction between scientific and interpretive methods, especially in clarifying his understanding of empiricism as a “value-neutral” operation (4).
  • Melancholy as either a “condition” of modernity or, by contrast, a willed or responsible act.
  • The “subject” versus the “person,” the latter of which, David Ruderman recalled, Pfau favors as terminology.
  • The close reading of Lorenzo Lotto’s Portrait of a Gentleman in his Study (above) as the opening move of Minding the Modern.
  • How Pfau’s objective “to clarify the increasingly confused understanding of what role concepts play in humanistic inquiry, and what constitutes the ground or source of their authority” (4) rings in the context of professionalism, (inter)disciplinarity, and periodicity in literary studies.

All in all, we’re excited to get this adventure going. As our newest faculty member Jake Risinger proposed, we might also look to Pfau’s previous work on melancholy and moods to better understand how melancholy works in this diagnosis of modernity’s malaise. In closing, and in contradistinction to Pfau’s portrait of 16th century modernity, I offer the following portrait of 21st century modernity.

cafe with students and laptops

“Minding the Modern” Reading Group

minding the modern book cover

As Romanticism @ OSU sends its panel to ICR 2014, we’re excited to announce that we’ll be hosting a loose reading group for Thomas Pfau’s magnum opus Minding the Modern: Human Agency, Intellectual Traditions, and Responsible Knowledge (2013). We’ll first meet, having read Pfau’s brief exordium, to discuss how we’d like to proceed as a group. As some of us already imagine, we’ll build a wish list of particular chapters we’d like to talk about. Minding the Modern is a tome, and we’ll try to take it nice and easy over the academic year.

So far, the response has been enthusiastic, and I for one am glad to be talking about how we might raise the stakes of placing Romanticism (which functions as a critical moment in Pfau’s narrative) in much larger histories that tangle with the most difficult questions about the human experience.