If you happened to enter the KTS Red Room late one Monday evening in the fall, sliding through the heavy doors to seat yourself in a chair partially hidden by curtains, you would find yourself enveloped in Heidegger’s thought.
Daniel Brandes, delivering an explanation of Heidegger’s view of art, would be seated at the front of the room with a mug and books on the table before him. You might find yourself next to an attentive student fingering a pen while they listen, or perhaps next to Susan Dodd as she flips through her book on Heidegger.
If you were a little braver, you would tiptoe your way to the back of the tiered classroom, sitting down in a chair behind classics professor Eli Diamond, dressed in a grey sweater and holding a drink from Second Cup.
“I was immediately delighted,” Brandes said about having Diamond sit in on the fall semester course.
“I think very highly of Eli, I think he’s one of the top minds at King’s or Dalhousie, so I’m very gratified to have him in the class, and flattered that he’s interested in the class. So I was overjoyed at the prospect of our doing this together.”
Although other professors, such as Dodd and Warren Heiti, have dropped in on classes from time to time, Diamond was the only one to attend nearly the entire course during his parental leave last semester.
“It’s been nice to have the class because as much as I love playing tag and hide and go seek all day, it’s also nice to once a week be reconnected to that kind of intellectual work and intellectual discussion,” Diamond said in October.
Although this wasn’t the only academic pursuit Diamond took during the semester – he continued teaching with the Halifax Humanities program, and supplied FYP lectures on The Bacchae and presocratics – it was certainly the most unusual.
Auditing courses isn’t unheard of in the academic community, but administrative and teaching duties often prevent professors from attending lectures and interacting with other areas of expertise, something that both Diamond and Brandes wish to see more of.
“It will create a shared stock of knowledge and enrich our conversations with one another,” Brandes said about Diamond’s involvement in his course. “We have happy hour in the Foundation Year Programme every Friday afternoon, and we talk about the week gone by, but we rarely have an opportunity to talk at length about the ideas that occupy us in our own research and in our own work.”
“The faculty members have been incredibly deferential, even though they’re friends of mine,” he added.
“Outside of this class we can be combative with one another and more playful, but in this class, they’ve been as deferential, as respectful as the students, and questions are posed at the end of the class, the conversation is had after I have finished my lecture. So, I think the students in the class have seen them as other students of Heidegger’s texts.”
That is one of the things Diamond enjoyed most about the course. Although part came from the opportunity to engage with contemporary philosophy – as a former contemporary studies student turned classics professor, he said it was “nice to be able to move forward in time” – a large portion was simply the chance to be a student again.
“One of the depressing things when you get to start teaching as opposed to being a student is that you never get to take classes anymore,” Diamond said. “I really miss that since I’ve stopped being a student and I’ve started becoming a professional student. In a certain sense you always remain a stu- dent, you’re always learning, so just to have this one term opportunity to sit in a class and soak it in – it’s been wonderful.”
He said that he tried to do what he asks students to do – learn what the work is saying before criticizing it. Although “fairly suspicious and skeptical of Heidegger”, particularly noting Heidegger’s unorthodox reading of ancient philosophers, he let Brandes lead the class through the process of understanding his philosophy.
“I try not to be too disruptive of things,” Diamond said during his time in the course, “I like to sit back and wait for a pause in the conversation, to make sure I’m not taking the floor from a student, they’re the ones who are actually in the class, so they have the first priority.”
However, he still considered himself on the same level as his other students.
“I would have expected much more just sheer confusion, but people are pretty experienced in contemporary philosophy, and it’s not their first time thinking through these questions,” Diamond said.
“It’s operating at an astonishingly high level, and I don’t feel I’m any further advanced in the conversation than they are.”
Now, back to his customary role of professor behind a desk strewn with books and papers, the same feeling remains.
“I loved being a student again,” Diamond said. “I mean, I really liked reading something along with someone who’s a real expert. Who’s able to guide you through all the scholarly detail that’s generally in it, so you don’t necessarily have to do all that work and yet you’re exposed to it.”
Though the course primarily revived the contemporary in Diamond’s philosophical diet, it also had an application to his career. He gained techniques that he plans to incorporate into his Plato seminar this term – a seminar that five or six of his fellow classmates from Brandes’s course are also taking.
To some, adding work to a semester off seems uninviting. For Diamond, it’s simply what he bargained for.
“The idea of it (philosophy) being something that you do when you go to work and then when you don’t have to be a work you’re not doing it, it’s just not the way philosophy works. You’re always thinking about these questions anyway,” he said.
“So I think to be thinking about them in a group of very intelligent students with a masterful teacher leading the charge, it’s not work in any way.”