Event Preview: Panel Discussion of Timothy Raylor’s Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes

25 February 2019

This Thursday, you’re invited to a blockbuster book discussion, where the centerpiece is a new volume by the English Department’s own Timothy Raylor! Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes (Oxford University Press, 2019) offers a new reading on Hobbes’ intellectual development, arguing that he was dubious about the place of rhetoric in civil society and came to see it as a pernicious presence within philosophy—a position from which he did not retreat. This week’s event sees a panel including Jorge Brioso, Doug Casson, Clara Hardy, and moderated by Lori Pearson, discuss Tim’s book. Unable to contain our excitement, the editors of the Miscellany ambushed Tim with some questions about his writing and research ahead of the event. Check out his interview below, and please join us this Thursday, February 28th, from 5–6 pm at the Athenaeum for the panel discussion!

Congratulations on the publication of Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Thomas Hobbes, which looks beautiful and compelling! What sparked your idea for the book?

Thank you! The book was sparked by my experience of teaching of rhetoric at Carleton, and, in particular, by the person who taught me how to do that: my late colleague, Owen Jenkins. This opened up for me a very different way of thinking about rhetoric than any I was used to; that led me to reevaluate Hobbes’s understanding of rhetoric and its relationship to philosophy, and thence to a fresh take on his intellectual development.

Can you tell us a little about the process of bringing your book into the world?  What were the most enjoyable and challenging parts, and how long was the journey?

It began as a conference paper in the early summer of 2006. By the end of that summer I’d hoped to have ready for submission a journal article (about the length of a comps paper) solving all the problems I’d raised in my paper. As I dug deeper, paragraphs swelled into sections, sections grew into chapters, and chapters multiplied. The most enjoyable part of the work was the research, which took me to archives and libraries all over Europe. (There’s an unparalleled thrill to be had in turning up at an archive, armed with a letter of introduction and a fistful of promising shelfmarks!) The most challenging part was struggling to catch up, at the start of every summer, with the latest scholarship in the field. Since it’s quite a lively field, I often felt I was running flat-out just to avoid losing ground.

In the course of your research, did you discover anything about Hobbes that surprised you?

Oh yes! Hobbes is full of surprises.  But you’ll have to read the book to find out . . .

You have another Hobbes project in the works, an edition of De Corpore that you’re writing with Stephen Clucas. How’s that going, and what was it like working on the two in tandem?

The edition is coming along very well, thanks. Collaboration is a wonderful way to work—especially when it’s with a colleague of such brilliance and a friend of such long standing as Stephen (we met back in the late ’80s, as postdoctoral researchers in Sheffield). We’re about a year or so from completion, and still hope to meet our goal of taking less time to edit than Hobbes took to write the book–though it’s going to be a close call! Working on two projects “in tandem”? That sounds harmonious and purposeful; nothing at all like lurching desperately between a couple of wobbly unicycles. Happily, one of them’s now parked in the bike rack.

Any words of advice for the compsing seniors and other writers out there working through their own long-form labors of love?

Work hard; find what you love in whatever you’re doing; and don’t expect too much of yourself in nine and-a-half weeks!