Mark C. Taylor


On his book Field Notes from Elsewhere: Reflections on Dying and Living

Cover Interview of October 29, 2009

In a nutshell

Having taught philosophy and religion at Williams College for thirty-six years and now at Columbia University, I had long considered writing a book that would bring together abstract ideas and the concrete experiences and dilemmas of human life in the form of a philosophical memoir.  For many people, the writings of Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger and Derrida, which lie at the heart of my academic work, are so abstract that they often seem irrelevant.  Since my student days, however, I have always found that these writers illuminate questions we all ask and decisions we all face.  Over the years, my intellectual life has been suspended between Hegel, who is a speculative systematic thinker par excellence, and Kierkegaard, who probes individual subjectivity with unparalleled insight.

I have written many books over the years on subjects as diverse as philosophy, religion, literature, literary criticism, art, architecture, technology, and economics.  In addition, I have published artistic books, done some art and even had an exhibition, Grave Matters, at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.  Though I did not realize it at the time, there is a coherence to all this work that has only become clear as I look back.

Of my latest two books, After God represents an effort to integrate the many strands of my thought.  After God is my most Hegelian book.  Field Notes from Elsewhere is, by contrast, my most Kierkegaardian book.

Field Notes is a meditation on personal experiences, friends, family, teaching and many other topics.  I have also included 120 photographs that are either from family albums or that I took for the book.  Rather than a continuous narrative, I tell the story in 52 chapters, each of which has an AM and a PM section.  The book begins with a meditation on dawn and ends with reflections on dusk.  I regard the book as a cross between a diary, a book of hours and a family photograph album.  Each chapter is a three-or-four-page meditation on paired topics like: Premonitions/Postcards, Abandonment/ Mortality, Pleasure/Money, Solitude/Loneliness, Failure/Success, Imperfection/ Vulnerability, Love/Fidelity, Hope/Despair.