Verena Erlenbusch is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Memphis. She works mainly in Political Philosophy and Contemporary European Philosophy as well as on questions of diversity in philosophical practice and pedagogy.
What excites you about philosophy?
My training is actually not in philosophy, strictly speaking. I have a diploma in Political Science from the University of Salzburg and a DPhil in Social and Political Thought from the University of Sussex. So my work is quite interdisciplinary. What I like most about philosophy are the kinds of questions it allows me to ask and the concepts it lets me generate. Because philosophy questions many of the assumptions that other disciplines accept as their starting points, it helps me bring together a number of different traditions, sources, modes of inquiry, and so on in a coherent way.
What do you like to do outside work?
Back in the day, I used to be a competitive ballroom dancer. Now, I kickbox. I’m also a baker. Initially, I took up baking because I really missed Austrian bread, cake, and strudel when I moved to the UK to do my graduate work. Now, I find it relaxing. Using my hands to produce food for my family and friends is a nice contrast to doing philosophy. Plus, the outcome is usually pretty tasty.
What’s your favorite book of all time?
My favorite academic book is Foucault’s The History of Sexuality Volume 1. I read it in a Gender Studies class in undergrad, and it had a profound impact on my thinking. I had read some Wittgenstein before, and Foucault gave me the tools not only to identify the rules of the game of discourse, but also to map the board on which the game is played. It’s a relatively small book, but it performs many of the methodological moves characteristic of Foucault’s genealogical projects. It showed me how questioning our assumptions and changing the questions we ask about various phenomena can lead to surprising insights and a more inclusive understanding of these phenomena.
My favorite “non-academic” book is Die Vertreibung aus der Hölle (The Expulsion from Hell) by the Austrian writer Robert Menasse. I use scare quotes because not only is the book about an academic, but, among other things, about the life of Spinoza’s teacher, Samuel ben Menasseh ben Israel. Menasse (notice the name!) weaves together a historical narrative about Spinoza’s teacher Menasseh ben Israel and Jewish life in early modern Europe with commentary on Austria’s failure to come to terms with its relationship to Nazism and anti-Semitism. The product is an incredibly rich reflection on history, (auto-) biography, memory, forgetting, and existential homelessness.
What’s your favorite film of all time?
I’m a little embarrassed to say, but my favorite film of all time is The NeverEnding Story. I’ve probably watched it a couple hundred times and know the entire script (in German, though not in English) by heart. The movie, and Michael Ende’s book of the same name on which it is based, really resonated with me. I think I was very much like the protagonist, Bastian, a shy kid who is bullied in school and finds solace in books. The movie also features a luck dragon (it’s not a dog!), which I hope to replicate soon. As a kid, I loved the movie so much that my parents took me to visit the set at the Bavaria Studios in Munich, where I rode on Falkor’s back. And in case anyone is wondering, yes, I like the song, too.
If you could have a one-hour conversation with any philosopher or historical figure from any time, who would you pick and what topic would you choose?
Zohra Drif. She was a member of the FLN (Front de Libération Nationale) and participated in anticolonial resistance during the Algerian Revolution. I’d love to talk to her about her criticism about an increasingly popular kind of historical revisionism, which expresses regret for violence against innocent European civilians during the revolution, and its complicity in perpetuating colonial violence by denying the innocence of the colonized. Drif is still alive, so if she doesn’t count as a historical figure, I’d pick Thomas Hobbes. I’d like to ask him if he actually recognizes himself in the canonical interpretation of his work.
Find out more about Verena here.
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