Philosopher to deliver lecture on phenomenology


By Matt Ru

Artist, photographer and philosopher Dylan Trigg, a post-doctoral researcher at the University College Dublin focusing on the philosophical field of phenomenology, will deliver a lecture Tuesday at the Krannert Art Museum called “The Place of the Ghost: A Phenomenology of Genius Loci.” The lecture will be held in the auditorium at 5:30 p.m.

Trigg studies a subfield of philosophy known as phenomenology, which primarily aims to describe “experience” and what it means to feel a given emotion or have a given reaction toward something. William Schroeder, emeritus professor of philosophy who has a background in phenomenology, said Trigg’s work is much less theoretical and more practical. He will be attending Tuesday’s lecture and said he believes the lecture has the potential to interest and help students and faculty in a wide range of studies.

“(Phenomenology) is one of the most interesting approaches to philosophy because it gets very down to earth and is closely connected to how people actually live and undergo their lives,” he said. “It’s not abstract, impersonal, theoretical or objectifying. In that way, you can really help people think more deeply about what they’re experiencing, as their experiencing it.”

Melissa Pokorny, associate professor of painting and sculpture, nominated Trigg to give the lecture as part of The School of Art and Design’s “Placemaking” series. Every year, Art and Design has a theme for its visitor lecture series, chosen by a committee that aims to combine suggestions from graduate students and faculty. Speakers are chosen based off their work or research related to the theme, and the talks are open to the public.

Pokorny nominated him because of his important contributions to research on the relationship between humans and places.

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She said in an email that Trigg’s lecture will be directed mostly toward “anyone who likes to think about how we experience the world, how our perception informs that experience, and how our imaginations play a role in the formation of memories of our lived experiences.”

Trigg’s talk will focus specifically on his research as it relates to the significance of place, and what it means for a place to have a life of its own.

“The lecture is an attempt at understanding how a place comes to life and can continue to have a life long after the people who lived there have departed,” Trigg said in an email.

A place, he said, can continue to carry meaning by way of humans “projecting memories and images” onto it or because a “ghost of a place” may go on living there. In his lecture, Trigg said he hopes to help attendees better understand what places are significant to them and what relation they have to those places. He will do this by using his research and photography to explore the relationship between people and a place’s spirit, or “genius loci.”

“Places have a life outside of us, and perhaps philosophy can attend to this strange ‘after’ life,” he said.

Schroeder said phenomenology relates to Trigg’s research of “place” because the branch of philosophy tends to point out the added significance that distance and place take on. For example, the more scientific way of viewing the world would be to say there is a pair of glasses six feet away from a person with a book. The phenomenological point of view would say that the glasses feel far away to the person because they are interested in the book and need the glasses to read. In other words, our purposes dictate the way we view the world.

According to Schroeder, it is vital that scientists and people studying various fields have a good understanding of this more basic way of viewing things before going on to research and apply knowledge in their specific field.

“It’s the most kind of direct everyday understanding of how people relate to world, experience the world and are conscious of the world,” he said.

He said the students studying psychology, geography, dance and art, among other subjects, would most benefit from the information. Psychologists, he said, aim to understand the causes of certain thought processes, geographers aim to understand the relationship of people to place, and dancers and artists aim to draw significant connection between their work and human emotion. Schroeder said the information Trigg has to offer will benefit these fields because it will help show the significance of experience and place as a prerequisite basis for studying the human mind, societal relations and artistic expression.

Schroeder said it is rare that a philosopher can express himself so well through art and that it makes Trigg’s research all the more approachable and interesting. Trigg said he feels art can offer something words cannot and that art and philosophy are intertwined.

“Both art and philosophy, as I see it, are concerned with locating something prior to our full awakening,” he said. “In some cases, art comes to the scene before philosophy does. For example, we know more of the world from the hairs that stand on the back of our necks than the conceptual tools deployed to analyze those hairs.”

By using his research and his photography, Trigg said he hopes to discuss topics like how a strip mall in Dayton, Ohio, can hold a similarly significant feeling for one person as a chateau in France might hold for someone else, or how people feel more at ease when they are alone in an elevator rather than in elevator with one other person in it. He said he will also discuss nostalgia and how it shapes the way we perceive our surroundings and draw significance from our experiences.

“As I see it, art, memory and place are not here to reinforce our sense of well-being in the world,” he said, “but to give us insight into what it means to be human.”

Matt can be reached at [email protected].