Ethics, Æsthetics, Ecology, Education

What We Teach

What We Teach

OICR offers a curriculum based, first and foremost, on instilling respect for the world and a sense of wonder in the world indistinguishable from that very respect.  Hannah Arendt, notably, pinpointed this wonder as the heart and soul of theory, its original source.  She is a major figure in everything we do in OICR, and our work begins with the masterpiece she called The Human Condition.  We also draw heavily on the major work of Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, both individually and collectively, beginning with Dialectic of Enlightenment.  The inimitable philosophy of Gaston Bachelard is a mainstay of the program, and of his many beautiful works at the intersection of science and poetry, we often begin with the magnificent study entitled Earth and Reveries of Will.  Marshall McLuhan is key to understanding the changes that technology has wrought, his fundamental work being Understanding Media.  Georg Simmel is a monumental mind and major figure, demanding one’s attention on any subject.  The enormous range of his interests is laid out in the collection The Sociology of Georg Simmel as well as his more-recently published work on art, culture, and religion.  More quotidian is Henri Lefebvre and his examination of the small details of daily life in his aptly titled Critique of Everyday Life as well as his study inspired by Bachelard, Rhythmanalysis.  

One cannot do any serious work without a thorough understanding of the work of Walter Benjamin, especially his critical essay on media, “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Mechanical Reproducibility.”  Offering a model for how to be a public intellectual is the great Susan Sontag, beginning with the collection entitled Against Interpretation.  We are great admirers of the entire oeuvre of Suzanne Langer.  A good introduction to her work is Philosophy in a New Key.  We end this short list with a few polyglot thinkers, one of whom, the Czech media theorist Vilém Flusser, wrote in many languages on many topics.  We suggest one basic book for starters, Towards a Philosophy of Photography; Slavoj Žižek (we cosponsored his visit to PDX a few years ago) and his compelling work The Parallax View; and, finally, the most remarkable and learned philosopher and theorist writing today, Giorgio Agamben, beginning with the deceptively simple collection entitled Profanations.  Among the many other thinkers and writers we read and study are Mikhail Bakhtin, Peter Sloterdijk, G.K. Chesterton, James Baldwin, Bernard Stiegler, Richard Wright, Judith Butler, Catherine Malabou, Jacques Lacan, Jacques Ellul, Hans Belting, A.N. Whitehead, Elaine Scarry, Paul Virilio, Julia Kristeva, and Emmanuel Levinas, among many, many others.  Occasionally, we read people whose work is neither beautiful nor profound but necessary.  (For detailed information on our curriculum, please see the enclosed booklet whose cover features our Supplemental Application Procedure.)

In addition to reading and studying the work of some of the major minds of all time, we often bring significant contemporary figures to Portland—scholars, theorists, political leaders, writers, artists, filmmakers, activists, and public intellectuals.  In the past, these figures have included French philosopher Jacques Rancière, cartoonist Joe Sacco, Pulitzer-Prize winner Elizabeth Kolbert (with Literary Arts), Iranian filmmaker Anahita Ghazvinizadeh (with the Andisheh Foundation), Editor-in-Chief of Bloomberg News and former Clinton speech writer David Shipley, writer Lewis Hyde of Harvard University, writer Rebecca Solnit, artist Martha Rosler (with the School of Art + Design, Portland State University; Contemporary Art Council, Portland Art Museum; Department of Art, Lewis & Clark College; Archer Gallery, Clark College/Clark Art Talks; Disjecta Contemporary Art Center; and Hotel Modera), philosopher and founder of object-oriented ontology (OOO) Graham Harman, graphic novelist Art Spiegelman, Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek (with the Center for Public Humanities), filmmaker Mo Scarpelli (with Barang Films), Columbia University Professor of Art History Claire Bishop, writer and Editor-in-Chief of Cabinet Magazine Sina Najafi, former head of the Drawing Center in New York and professor at NYU Nina Katchadourian, Scottish sculptor Geoffrey Mann (with Reed College), sculptor Alison Saar, installation artist Betye Saar, Director of the Center for Integrated Media at CalArts Tom Leeser, Frankfurt-based film critic Heike Kuehn (with the Northwest Film Center), and Korean photographer Atta Kim, among many, many others.

Notably, most of these visits are not limited to a single talk or lecture; rather, our students and associates are presented with the remarkable opportunity of spending extended periods of time with guests, often working together with them on various ideas and projects of contemporary concern.  Visitors often join us at Caldera for 4–5 days.  These are intense days.  We eat together, study together, and discuss major, often contentious questions.  We consider these sessions to be, in and of themselves, models for developing processes of challenge, contest, and negotiation—the very essence of the political. 

We have established a number of alliances that will benefit our students, including, most notably, one with the University of Iowa’s International Writers Program.  Directed by Christopher Merrill, the IWP is perhaps the most distinctive such program in the world.  Our collaboration will provide the Institute with the opportunity to create relationships with writers across the globe and to work on establishing models for interaction, cultural dialogue, and international diplomacy in an unprecedented way.  We are currently in discussions regarding possible alliances with the McLuhan Institute in Toronto as well as a new design and architecture program in Naples.