Graduate Student of the Month - David Tracey
I am originally from London, Ontario, where I completed my BA in continental philosophy in 2010 with Drs. Steve Lofts and Antonio Calcagno, at King’s University College at the University of Western Ontario. In 2011, I completed my MA in philosophy at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, in Leuven, Belgium, and, in 2013, I completed an advanced MPhil, also at Leuven. My master’s thesis, supervised by Dr. Paul Moyaert, concerned the role of psychoanalysis in the Frankfurt Critical Theory School. My Mphil thesis, supervised by Dr. Rudi Visker, concerned the notion of exceptionality in the work of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. I began my doctoral degree in philosophy at Memorial in 2015, under the supervision of Dr. Joël Madore, and my current interests include phenomenology, existentialism, psychoanalysis, and the thought of Friedrich Nietzsche.
How and why did you decide to attend Memorial for your graduate degree?
I knew that I wanted to return to Canada after my years in Belgium, since I had felt ‘away from home’ for some time. My general area of interest, Continental or European philosophy, is not very widely studied across Canada, but Memorial is home to a number of faculty members with interests in Continental thought. Ultimately, it came down to a decision between Memorial and the University of Guelph. I decided that the faculty’s particular interests at Memorial offered the best fit for me, and moreover, I welcomed the opportunity to explore a province that was new to me, while remaining in Canada.
What drew you to explore philosophy originally?
It was very natural. I had little concern for academics until I discovered philosophy, after which I cared for little else. Every time I’ve tried to venture outside of philosophy, e.g., when I’ve taken a psychology or sociology class, I was always told that I was being ‘too philosophical’ by asking certain questions. Hence, I feel that I was naturally channeled into philosophy. As a discipline, philosophy is open to questioning its own most fundamental premises and assumptions, and, as such, it has never disallowed me from addressing the questions and topics in which I am most interested.
Can you tell us a bit about your current projects?
I’ve been researching the thought of Friedrich Nietzsche for some time now. Most of my current projects are papers I’ve written for journals and conferences on Nietzsche’s thought, particularly concerning elements that have gone overlooked by previous scholarship. Recently, I’ve had an article published by Analectica Hermeneutica, entitled ‘Nietzsche and the Idea of god: is god good or bad for your psychological health?’ This paper concerns the practical, psychological, and historical value of religious belief according to Nietzsche – a notion that often goes overlooked in favour of his supposed rejection of the value of faith. I also have a forthcoming publication entitled ‘Nietzsche’s Tragic Apollo’ which will be published in ‘Nietzsche’s Gods: Critical and Constructive Perspectives’ by de Gruyter in 2019. This paper revisits the value of Apollo for Nietzsche in reaction to the scholarly bias towards the importance of Dionysus for Nietzsche. And further, my upcoming presentation at the annual meeting of the Friedrich Nietzsche Society in Newcastle, England, is entitled ‘On the Possibility of a Politics of the Eternal Return.’ This paper attempts to lay out the potential political implications of Nietzsche’s notion of eternal return.
Finally, my doctoral dissertation concerns Nietzsche’s psychology – a notion which, again, often goes overlooked by interpreters who take Nietzsche to be engaged in classic philosophical projects such as metaphysics and epistemology. Specifically, my work concerns the psychological value Nietzsche places on the human will to find meaning in our lives. I argue that this human will to meaning is much more fundamental to Nietzsche’s thinking than other commentators have suggested.
A supervisor can be key to the success of any grad student. What does your supervisor (Dr. Joël Madore) bring to their role as your advisor and mentor?
What first drew me to Dr. Madore was his professionalism. The level of formality he maintains keeps me secure in my belief that he will always respond to my work attentively and rigorously. Further, he has a broad range of expertise in works that form the requisite background material to my areas of interest, including his expertise in Immanuel Kant and recent French thought, on which he has published extensively. As such, he is often able to point me back on track wherever a gap in my knowledge reveals itself. I have a tendency to move on to new topics and questions as I discover them, and he often manages to reign me back in to the core topic at hand. Moreover, and perhaps counter-intuitively, it has been crucial to my development that he and I do not always agree on whatever matters we may discuss. This has forced me to hold my work to the highest standards, since my arguments must convince someone who is very ready to tell me exactly where they have missed the mark. And finally, it was Dr. Madore who first sensed in me an interest in Nietzsche’s thought, before even I myself was aware of it. I suspect that this interest would have gone untapped were it not for his encouragement.
Are you involved in any organizations on-campus or off? If so, can you explain and detail such involvement?
Off campus, most of my energy is spent at the meetings of various philosophy societies or organizations. For example, in 2016 I presented a paper entitled ‘Behind the Walls or in the Wings: On Lacan’s Relation to Anti-Oedipus’ at the 55th Annual Society for Phenomenology and Existentialist Philosophy (SPEP) Conference, in Salt Lake City, Utah. I also attend and present at the yearly meetings of the Friedrich Nietzsche Society, and I have attended our Memorial European Summer School in Philosophy (MESSP) for the past three years, in Krakow, Leuven, and Galway, respectively, all of which have been fantastic. I have also been involved in organizing a number of conferences here at MUN, including our philosophy graduate conferences in both 2016 and 2018, and I have spoken at various conferences here at MUN, including conferences on ‘Kant and Education’ and ‘The Idea of God.’
I also spend a number of hours a week working at our campus Writing Centre, where I tutor fellow graduate students in their English and writing skills. This is rewarding work in which I get to see clear progress and improvement from hardworking students, and my experiences there have afforded vast improvements to my own writing abilities.
I have been the leader of the Jockey Club for roughly a year now, a position we blasphemously refer to as ‘the pope.’ The Jockey Club is a weekly reading group that has been meeting since the early 90’s. We meet in a downtown pub where a speaker introduces a chosen article, which we then discuss openly; my papal responsibilities include moderating our discussions and seeking out presenters and articles. Before my time as pope, I also enjoyed introducing a number of articles for the group. (All are welcome! Fridays, 5:00PM, Peter Easton Pub.)
Finally, this past February, I gave the St. John’s Public Lecture in Philosophy at the Ship Inn pub. The public lecture series is an opportunity for academics to engage and converse with members of the public without presupposing any academic or philosophical background. My talk was called ‘The Act of Philosophy.’ In my lecture, I argued that philosophy is not only a collection of ideas and texts but that it is also an act in which we engage. As such, I advocated not only for the importance of teaching students the texts and ideas of philosophy, but also, for the importance of teaching students how to do philosophy, or, how to engage in the act of philosophy.
What do you like most about being a graduate student at Memorial?
Our departmental community is wonderful. I am constantly exposed to new thinkers or material and my skills are continually tested and sharpened against the wits of others in conversation. There is almost always a fellow graduate student to whom I can pose whatever question I may have, and our ongoing conversations – in the department, the jockey club, or at the pub – allow each of us to improve our understanding of some notion, or even learn something new altogether.
What do you hope to do after completing your graduate degree?
In spite of the depressingly unlikely odds, all of my efforts are focused on becoming a professor of philosophy. I had the pleasure of teaching my first course this past year and it was an excellent experience. I would love to have the freedom to continue my research and to introduce philosophy to anyone who is interested.