Director of Media Relations
AMHERST, Mass.—Louis Menand, critic and author of The Metaphysical Club, an exploration of American pragmatism, will speak twice on Thursday, April 4 at Amherst College. His first talk, “The Liberal Arts, the Doctorate, and the War,” at 4:30 p.m. in the Cole Assembly Room in Converse Hall, is sponsored by the local chapter of the American Association of University Professors. Menand will speak again at 8 p.m. in the Babbott Room in the Octagon, sponsored by the Amherst College Creative Writing Center and the Scott Turow Foundation. Both talks are free and open to the public.
The Metaphysical Club (2001) considers the distinctly American philosophy that emerged from the dislocation of the Civil War, by exploring the lives of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., William James and Charles Sanders Peirce, who began calling themselves The Metaphysical Club in 1872. They didn’t take notes, but they did leave an idea that philosophy might be useful in the practice of people’s lives, an idea that informed their writings and the work of the philosopher John Dewey, the fourth major thinker Menand discusses.
The Metaphysical Club closes with Holmes’s remarkable dissent from the1919 Supreme Court decision in the free-speech case of U.S. v. Abrams. Of the Constitution, Holmes wrote, “It is an experiment, as all life is an experiment.” Reviewing Menand’s book, John Banville wrote in the Irish Times, “The two main practical results of pragmatism Menand sees as the institution of academic freedom, in which Dewey played such a significant role, and the codification of the right to free speech, as formulated primarily in Holmes’s juridical writings on the constitution. The democracy that the pragmatists championed was one in which not only the right people, but the wrong people, too, shall have their say.” He called The Metaphysical Club a “most perceptive, elegantly organised and beautifully written book.”
Menand has been an associate editor at The New Republic, literary editor at The New Yorker and a contributing editor at The New York Review of Books. Currently a staff writer at The New Yorker and a distinguished professor of English at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, Menand has taught at Princeton, Columbia, and the University of Virginia School of Law. He is the author of Discovering Modernism: T. S. Eliot and His Context (1987), and edited The Future of Academic Freedom (1996) and Pragmatism: A Reader (1997). He co-edited America in Theory (1988) and volume seven of The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism (1989).
The Amherst College Creative Writing Center puts on a yearly reading series featuring both emerging and established authors. See the Center’s Website for more information.