Response and Responsibility

  • January 6-7, 2015
  • Princeton University

What does it mean to respond to Greco-Roman antiquity? What forms of responsibility does a responsive relationship to the past entail? Are orientations of responsibility towards the otherness and difference of the past necessarily in tension with orientations of responsibility towards the “now” of the present, or do they inform one another in productive ways, and how? What does it mean to be responsible to long-dead cultures or one’s own time anyways? Or is response as responsibility better understood in terms of responsibility to specific others, or to oneself?

The term “reception” is often criticized for casting relationality to the past as inherently passive. It’s possible that “response” simply inverts the hierarchy in reallocating agency to the reader (as in an overly reductive notion of “reader response” theory). In this workshop, however, we want to use the term “response” to probe the implications of reframing reception as a particular kind of embedded act, and one in which we are ourselves implicated. Even if we suspend the idea that antiquity speaks back to those who follow—though there may be something to be gained from wagering just that—response still implies a mode of attention formed by the belief that one is being addressed, such that the question of what the Other wants from me is never far away (and of course may be front and center). Framed in this way, response raises questions both about the claims the past makes on us and other claims that the call of the past heightens or diminishes— questions, that is, of responsibility. These claims can also be understood as invitations to reimagine the future, insofar as responsibility to oneself or another is also an open-ended call to grow into and through a new or renewed relation. Here again we can ask what is at stake in framing responsibility in terms of obligation or invitation, and whether these terms exist in tension. Finally, it is worth probing how the concepts of responsibility and response are inflected differently within different disciplinary traditions, including philosophy, political theory, literary studies, anthropology, and history, in addition to classics.

This workshop builds on previous workshops on “classical knowing” and “materialisms,” offering another strategy, besides knowledge, for thinking about our relationship to the past and how that relationship has itself been historically constituted; it aims to provide, too, new impetus to think about how these relationships are embodied and material. It also builds on workshops on “Untimeliness” and “The 1920s” in the questions it raises about historicity and method, while putting front and center questions about self-formation and the politics and ethics of studying the past.

We will again have precirculated, short (ca. 2500 words) “position papers” and ten-minute responses (a format that is now available to meta-analysis…). It is entirely open how you wish to take up the problem (case study, disciplinary critique, personal narrative, etc.): we ask only that you have an eye on provoking discussion and debate. The sessions will start with the response; the author will be invited to reply, and then the rest of the time is spent in discussion.


Tuesday, January 6


Session One

Phiroze Vasunia (UCL)
Response: Rachel Bowlby (UCL/Princeton)

Coffee Break

Session Two

Miriam Leonard (UCL) and Bonnie Honig (Brown)
Response: Melissa Lane (Princeton)


Session Three

Jim Porter (Irvine/Berkeley)
Response: Leah Whittington (Harvard)

Coffee Break

Session Four

Tony Grafton (Princeton)
Response: Alastair Blanshard (Queensland)

General Discussion

Wednesday, January 7


Session Five

Mark Payne (Chicago)
Response: Simon Goldhill (Cambridge)

Coffee Break

Session Six

Brooke Holmes (Princeton)
Response: Constanze Güthenke (Princeton/Oxford)


Session Seven

André Laks (Univ. Panamericana)
Response: Alexander Nehamas (Princeton)

Coffee Break

Session Eight

Tim Whitmarsh (Cambridge)
Response: Dan-el Padilla Peralta (Columbia)

General Discussion