Wednesday, April 12, 2006

...and philosophy?

It had to happen one of these days....

"It" is my having purchased one of those ...and Philosophy books--Harry Potter and Philosophy: If Aristotle Ran Hogwarts, to be exact. I did so reluctantly. One of the chapters of my forthcoming book on book culture, Equipment for Living, concerns the global proliferation/circulation of Harry Potter volumes and, in part, attempts to think through the philosophy of reproducibility in light of them. Given the subject matter, I figured I ought to own what's probably the only publication currently out there to lay claim to "Harry Potter" and "philosophy."

It's clear that the book, and I assume the ...and Philosophy series as a whole, is intended for an introductory undergraduate audience. That's not a criticism. In fact, the idea behind the series seems to me consonant with cultural studies' commitment to "meeting people where they are." In this case, the "where" clearly is the terrain of the popular; the Potter book joins volumes on The Matrix, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Woody Allen, The Simpsons, Star Wars, Seinfeld, and a whole host of other ...and Philosophy titles. The book is pretty boiled down, however, and to my mind tends to underestimate its audience more often than not. What's peculiar about the volume, moreover, is that some of the chapters read to me much more like run-of-the-mill cultural criticism (which is not to say cultural studies) than philosophy per se. Chapter 8, on discrimination, indifference, and social justice in Harry Potter, is a standout in that regard.

I don't know to what extent the Harry Potter volume is representative of the ...and Philosophy series, so I'm reluctant to make generalizations about the books and their intentions. I guess I'm inclined to say that I appreciate the spirit of the series, though I'm unsure of the depth of its content. I'd be curious to hear what D&R readers think about the series and/or specific volumes. I assume many of you, like me, have an interest in philosophy, cultural studies, and the popular and have been intrigued at some level by these books--books which seem to be taking up more and more of the scant shelf space in the philosophy section of my local bookstore.

No comments: