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With Ludwig Wittgenstein’s arguments against private language, and Roland Barthes’ proclamation of the death of the author, the notion of a signature or name which can guarantee the meaning of a text—even a name like Wittgenstein or Barthes—has imploded, collapsed upon itself. Authorship has been swallowed up, twisting deep within the belly of that most wretched beast, postmodernism.
And yet, we still sign our names on contracts. We still cherish the names of certain authors, and bandy them about like the lost prayers of the American academic. Perhaps most importantly, we still attach our name, our seal of approval, to the texts we write, and the presentations we give.
Is this simply habit? Yearning for days of yore, when the stamp of the King produced the same effect as his very word? For a time when a name (especially our own name) felt tight, unique, and not as just another character string within an exponentially expanding bandwidth of useless information?
A name is as a trace—evidence of various forces (in a de-cidedly Nietzschean sense) which come together, at a cer-tain time, to hybridize and create the fictional locus we recognize as the self. Our names, the graphemes as well as the phonemes, contain within their trace the trajectories of innumerable influences, acquaintances, and ignorances. Our names carry our neighborhoods, our politics, our loves and our losses. In short, our names are our ‘shorthand’ for the nebulous complexities that are each and every human subject, in this and in all times and places.
In this volume, the reader will find the names and texts, and the words and thoughts, of a handful of (then) ambitious undergraduate philosophers. It is not possible to elucidate what is at stake within the names of each of these men and women, much less any one of them specifically. In place of vain attempts at such an impossible task, I would like to, instead, pull out and examine one common thread imma-nent within all of these names—that of the experience of philosophical inquiry, and especially as it relates to the Oneonta Undergraduate Philosophy Conference.
I do not mean to hyperbolize, nor to deify, but to say that the Conference at Oneonta is as an oasis within a vast desert is not too great a comparison to make. For those of us for whom philosophy is more than simply hobby or vocation—for those of us for whom philosophy is a calling—the Conference at Oneonta is perhaps the first entrypoint into a world where such a calling is not only accepted, but understood. Over a span of two days, young thinkers from distinctly different backgrounds push one another towards better and deeper thought. Viewpoints previously unencountered are digested and integrated towards the end of a more comprehensive picture of one’s inquiries.
The aims of philosophical thought and a thoughtful life, being quite unvalued by society—I cannot count the number of times I’ve been asked, “Philosophy? Whaddaya gonna do with that?!”—find at the Undergraduate Conference at Oneonta sustenance, nourishment, and a medium in which to flourish and grow. In terms of my own development, it was a crucial step taken in Oneonta, with my first public presentations of my work (and reception of the first public criticisms!), as well as in terms of the friends I’ve made through my experience there. The beauty of the Conference lies in the idea that philosophical discourse need not simply appear within the confines of the Conference room, but in the hallways, the diner, and the local “watering hole.” For two days, Conference participants exist in a world in which the utility of inquiry is not questioned but fostered, not shunned but valorized. It is, to say the least, a very pleasant world in which to, even if temporarily, reside.
For my own part, I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge a number of people and institutions for the parts they have played in my own situation, and the immanence they hold within my own nametrace. First, to SUNY Oneonta and the President’s Office, innumerable thanks are due for financial and moral support of the Conference. To Dr. Douglas Shrader and the rest of the Philosophy Department at Oneonta, not only for the invitation to pen this student preface, but for the opportunities afforded me at two Undergraduate Conferences, as well as the encouragement. To my own undergraduate teachers—John Gilmour, Emrys Westacott, Beth Ann Dobie, Bill Cas-sidy, and Bill Dibrell—for their erudition, their friendship, and their undying patience. Finally, to LB, for the fact that her signature, her name, still etches itself within my own, even to this very day.
John R. Hartmann
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