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Department of English Studies

Academic Staff

Dr Michael Mack

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 46224

(email at michael.mack@durham.ac.uk)

Teaching and Research

My research focuses on the mind-body divide, questions of stereotyping and exclusion (and integrative diversity) in literature, philosophy and medicine, and I am delighted to continue this work at Durham, from January 2010. It is a privilege to be joining a remarkably strong, friendly and top-ranked department in English Studies.

At Durham I am honoured to be part of a English Studies department that is unique in its openness towards the multi-disciplinary study of literature and students wishing to pursue undergraduate or postgraduate work in our area will find a very rich, stimulating, and excitingly interdisciplinary environment. I will be trying to contribute to the department's strength in research and teaching in the fields of literature and medicine; literature and philosophy and literature and religion/theology. I look forward to collaborations with students and faculty from Theology, European and Film Studies (German, Italian and French) and Philosophy. In the first four years I will be based at the Wellcome Trust funded Centre for Medical Humanities. This is a research led post and I hope to able to develop a new module on "Medicine, Literature/Cinema and the critique of Bio-politics" at end of my research position. In my teaching I attempt to test, advance and or critique some of my research findings. This research informed teaching contributes to a lively and engaged atmosphere of learning. In this way students are part of an ongoing and exciting process of thinking (rather simply learning the rules and skills of a craft).

I have taught at the University of Chicago, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the University of Calgary, Syracuse University, the University of Sydney and the University of Nottingham. I have published three books: "Anthropology as Memory. Elias Canetti and Franz Baermann Steiner's Responses to the Shoah" (2001);  "German Idealism and the Jew. The Inner Anti-Semitism of Philosophy and German Jewish Responses" (2003), which was shortlisted for the prestigious Koret Jewish Book Award 2004 and has been produced as an audio book (2009); and "Spinoza and the Specters of Modernity: the hidden Enlightenment of Diversity from Spinoza to Freud" (2010). I have published over forty articles in international journals across the disciplines of English Studies, Medical Humanities, History, Philosophy, Theology, Anthropology and Critical Legal Studies. At the master’s and doctoral level I have taught seminars in Literature and Philosophy; Literature and Holocaust Studies; Literature and Psychoanalysis as well as on Literature and Religion.

I have just completed my third book "Spinoza and the Specters of Modernity". This book offers a novel approach to one of literary theory's most notorious problematic: that of binary oppositions. It grounds this problematic within a social and philosophical context where it can be re-envisions for innovative ways of addressing issues that impact our society and culture at large. It does so by focusing on how in a Spinozan building of self and society opposites are not fundamental. Oppositions do not oppose each other but are complementary to each other. Spinoza’s legacy seems to be a ghostly one: it opens up a space where apparently incompatible entities visit each other as if one were haunting the other. The spectre whom Marx conjured up in his "Communist Manifesto" (1848) had already made an appearance in the hugely influential "On the Doctrine of Spinoza" with which Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi provoked the Spinoza controversy in 1785. Jacobi makes clear that he endeavours to put an end to the haunting with which Spinoza’s ghost seems to keep Europe enthralled. Jacobi attempts to turn the indefinable spectre of Spinoza into the clearly definable doctrine of Spinoza. Jacobi sets out to clarify matters by pinpointing the exact structure and shape of Spinoza’s teaching so that it can be opposed (as "atheistic", "nihilistic" and "immoral"). The book shows how unsuccessful Jacobi’s attempt was. Far from having put an end to Spinoza’s legacy, Jacobi in fact provoked a controversy that hugely increased the appreciation of the writing, life and thought of the Dutch Jewish philosopher within the literary and larger public sphere from Goethe to George Eliot, to Freud and beyond. The book delineates this legacy as a blueprint for human flourishing in the literary, religious, political, and medical sense. It is concerned with human flourishing mainly because the driving motor behind Spinoza’s rational inquiry is the discovery of ways through which humanity avoids violence, destruction and self-destruction.

At the moment I am poised to start work a new book project tentatively entitled "Hannah Arendt's Philosophy of Birth and the social texture of Literature". This project explores a new approach to the study of literature via an innovative reading of Hannah Arendt's philosophy of birth. Her theory of birth struggles with the quasi-biologist ideology of Nazism. She develops a narrative perspective on how to study literature, politics, medicine and society. Beauty plays a momentous role in her political philosophy: it denotes the unique capability of every individual to create a sense of being at home in the world. One could say that birth is the biology of creativity and creativity is our birth right. It distinguishes our individuality without which there would not be society. Human flourishing depends on beauty understood as birth (or creativity): and that not necessarily in a literal sense (Hannah Arendt did not have children) but as the diverse and sometimes contradictory way creativity connects us to and enfolds us within our society, our culture and the world at large."

Selected Publications

Articles: magazine

Books: authored

Books: sections

Journal papers: academic

Show all publications