Eric Ritter is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Vanderbilt University, Nashville. His research focuses on Continental Philosophy, Social and Political Philosophy (especially punishment and mass incarceration), Ethics, Philosophy of the Americas (especially pragmatism), as well as Philosophy and Film.
Ritter is currently working on the research project Reconstructing Memory, Reconstructing Whiteness, in which he addresses the question – drawing on both Michel Foucault and James Baldwin’s analyses of myth and history – of how memory is "made" and "remade" in different eras of history. More specifically, he asks for the ethics of public memory (re)construction in democratic societies, like the United States, which purport to hold out a multiethnic future as an ideal but have violent, racist, and repressed pasts. Among his publications are "Stanley Cavell and the Everyday of Thinking" (The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, 2021), "Emerson's Abolitionist Perfectionism" (Philosophy and Social Criticism, 2021), and "The Industry of Mass Incarceration" (Critical Quarterly, 2020).
Three Quick Questions:
In a few words, can you tell us about your current research interest?
I always have a few projects going at the same time. I’ve done a lot of work with organizations working to end our addiction to mass incarceration in the United States. This work has led me to think about "ethics" historically: for example, how community-based accountability practices challenge the retributive, racialized framework of "moral responsibility" reinforced by our massive networks of prison and prison-like institutions. I’m also interested in the intersections between aesthetics and activism more generally, but I do not think this question can be usefully answered in abstraction from engagement with concrete creative works.
How do you relate the term poiesis to your work?
Many in my field of philosophy still seem to think that poesis and reality are opposed terms. Of course, there is such a thing as "fantasy" in the escapist sense, that is, fantasy that removes us from engagement with social reality. But philosophy, art and poesis can actually counter fantasy and return us to a confrontation with what is really happening. And what is really happening may in fact be stranger than fiction!
Which film or other audiovisual format has resonated with you lately and why?
I can’t stop thinking about C'MON, C'MON starring Joaquin Phoenix and directed by Mike Mills. It’s a movie about childhood: why it’s so important to dream, play and imagine like a child, and how hard it can be to do so, especially when a future is uncertain. It’s also a movie about the impossible expectations placed on motherhood in our society, the way we ask mothers to singlehandedly heal ourselves and our relationships. It’s very much a "perfectionist" film, in something like Stanley Cavell’s sense of the term.