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The Philosophical Library Diotima

The question of the representativeness of the Western canon is high on the agenda. Not only in museums or on the opinion pages, but certainly in art schools as well, this debate is vividly present. Students and teachers no longer always recognise themselves in a canon that is predominantly white and male, and that belongs to a social upper class.

In the field of art theory (and philosophy in general) the question is as pressing as elsewhere. It is not as if the questions of the great canonical art philosophers of the past have suddenly become irrelevant. But one wonders whether these are all the questions that art theorists can and should ask themselves.

Has there not an important field been left unexplored, because the accompanying experiences were not part of the biographies of the small minority that was able to speak?
Yes, there is a countermovement. Today, there is undeniably a renaissance of women thinkers. But often the same names are mentioned. Especially in the Dutch-language area, philosophers such as Hannah Arendt and Simone de Beauvoir are very present. In contrast, there is much less trace (in Dutch) of Iris Murdoch, Susanne Langer, Simone Weil, Julia Kristeva, Angela Davis, Yuriko Saito, Audre Lorde, Isabelle Stengers, Sara Ahmed, Karen Barad, Gloria Anzaldúa, or the countless others.

This research project follows the initiative of the book series called Filosofische Bibliotheek Diotima, started by publishing house Letterwerk in 2021. The series pays attention to the beautiful and unfortunately still untranslated books of (among others) the above-mentioned authors.

The project is named after the Greek philosopher Diotima. She is emblematic for the problem this research project wants to address: we only know her work through the testimonies of other (male) philosophers, such as the beautiful argument on love that Plato puts in her mouth in his work Symposium.

Embedding

The research project is embedded in the Academy’s broader plans in three ways:

  1. Diversity. The Academy would like to update, nuance, and broaden its programme. This includes questioning the Eurocentric canon of the current curriculum. Through guest lectures, presentations, and debates this research project can broaden the cultural frame of reference of students, researchers, and teachers. In this respect, the project ties in with the ongoing ‘Inclusive Arts’ project (coordinator: Indra Wolfaert). Like the staff members of this ongoing project, the project aims to build an inclusive learning environment at the Academy. 
  2. Nexus between education and research. The results of the research flow directly into education. The expertise gained is shared with students through guest lectures and debates; with fellow researchers through internal presentations and publications; and with fellow teachers through the department of theory and the working group nexus theory-practice (see next point).
  3. Nexus between theory and practice. Practice and theory seem opposites, but they are not. This project wants to create more connections between the theoretical and the practical parts of the curriculum. One way of doing this is by integrating studio teachers and researchers in the project’s internal advisory board. Secondly, the feedback from students during guest lectures and debates will be a valuable input for the editorial staff of the book series. Finally, the expertise in the field of book design and graphic design (among fellow lecturers and students) will be used as much as possible to design the books of Filosofische Bibliotheek Diotima.

Methodology

The research project consists of (a) exploratory research for, and (b) editorial work on, the art theory section of Filosofische Bibliotheek Diotima. In order to fulfil these tasks, a methodology with several elements is indicated.

  1. Consultation round. The selection of non-canonical authors from the field of art theory (and the broader philosophical field) is done in consultation with a broad group of experts. In preparation of the Diotima project, a start was already made with the composition of a group of teachers, researchers, journalists and students from the field of philosophy and feminism. They showed enthusiasm for the project and are willing to participate in a thorough consultation.
  2. Scientific advisory board. On the basis of the results of the consultation round, a smaller group of specialists from the expert group will be called upon to form the scientific advisory board of the Filosofische Bibliotheek Diotima. They will be consulted on every new title and can give useful advice on the most urgent titles to translate, as well as on suitable candidates for translations or introductions.
  3. Internal Advisory Board. In addition to the Scientific Advisory Board, an Internal Advisory Board will be composed. This board will supervise the embedding of the project in the context of the Academy. The internal advisory board suggests possible collaborations and interesting opportunities to make the developed expertise widely available within the school (at the nexus of theoretical and practical education).

Output

The collaboration with Letterwerk allows the results of the research to be disseminated more widely through the Dutch-language book market. This ensures that the works find their way to the wider (art) philosophical field in the Netherlands, Brussels and Flanders. In that field, more attention has recently grown for non-canonical authors, especially in the field of public philosophy. The fact that the publications of Filosofische Bibliotheek Diotima will be available in general bookshops is an asset to further feed this debate.

A second form of output is formed by the guest lectures, readings and debates that will take place in connection with the publication of new works.

Thirdly, it is to be expected that the experiences with the nexus theory-practice will lead to a number of reflections that may be reflected in article publications, a book publication, or a lecture series. This output will be nurtured by, and realised in cooperation with, the project’s internal advisory board.
 

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