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John Wild: A Gentle Giant

21 September 2021

Dear Professor Wild:

You died far too young, but even had you lived a long a Professor Gadamer, you would still be dead today. I miss you a lot. I did not appreciate you when I was at Yale. I'm still trying to study phsnomenology. Would you have taken me under your wing as a graduate student had I been in better shape to be able to study back then?

I don't know. But I wanted to write to you today. I think I have an email from Professor Ronald Bruzina, who died recently himself, praising you for having introduced existential philosophy to America, but also noting that he felt you writing were not as deep as might be. I'm trying to read his book "Edmund Husserl and Eugen Fink: Beginnings and endings in phenomenology 1928-1938", which really is 'deep'. I wonder what you would have thought of it. Also reading another book: "Husserl and the idea of Europe", and thinking about the relationship between phenomenological reduction and the lifeworld. "The lifeworld" was central to your thinking, I think.

I read you said: 'We are a conversation.' That's what I think I think, too: That anything that would get 'behind' or 'under' the conversation we are must just be part of it. So it seems to me there are two philosophical tasks: first, to study the conversation we are itself and nurthure it qua convversation. And, second, to try to think through the problem of constitution of experience in which the conversation we are occurs, as part of that conversation, of course. What would you have to say about this?

I won't take any more of your time now, Professor Wild. I think of you.

"You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone." (Joni Mitchell)

This page, to be written, will be about Yale Philosophy Professor John Wild (1902-1972) and me (BMcC) – and Aristotle.

For starters: I (BMcC) graduated from Yale College 1968. I am subject to false memories, but here's what I believe: On my departmental examination, Professor Paul Weiss wrote: "Puerile". I had taken two courses from Professor John Wild, and Wild had told me that he liked me because he thought my relation to philosophy was that philosophy should be in service to living and not just generating jargon. I graduated Yale "Honors with exception al distinction" in Philosophy. I believe, with no evidence why (and not-Levinas-ean evidence how...), other than Weiss's annotation, that the proximal reason for the "honors" or perhaps even for graduating at all (Überhaupt), must have been benevolent intervention by John Wild.

Later, in my studies at Teachers College, I was to encounter a similar situation in my departmental enabling examination, where one Professor judged that even the very topic of my paper should not qualify to be a paper topic, but nonetheless I passed. (My paper was about the ethics of discourse.) I think I may know who the damning teach was in this case, but am not at all sure. I think my savior in this case, again without my having any evidence, was Professor Louis Forsdale, who was another Gentle Giant.  

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