My argument will be that far from indicating a self-evident virtue which we can simply affirm and apply, tolerance is an unstable and inexplicit concept that can be made to perform a variety of rhetorical tasks, some of which might even be better described as intolerance. I will review some of the established ideas about tolerance, both positive and negative, and I will give close attention to the somewhat unexplored phenomenon of tolerance from below, i.e. tolerance exercised by those not in positions of power. I will further discuss what we can learn from literature-- here in the form of two or three short poems by Wordsworth-- about the obligations we have to others who are problematically strange or different from ourselves.
David Simpson is a Distinguished Professor of English at UC Davis. His areas of research interest are Romanticism and literary theory. He is a member of the editorial board of Cambridge Studies in Romanticism and of Modern Language Quarterly. He is the author of numerous books, most recently Situatedness; or Why we Keep Saying Where We're Coming From (Duke UP, 2002), 9/11: The Culture of Commemoration (UChicago P, 2006); Wordsworth, Commodification, and Social Concern: The Poetics of Modernity (Cambridge UP, 2009); and Romanticism and the Question of the Stranger (UChicago P, 2013).
Lecture to be followed at 6:30pm by light refreshments in the 3rd floor foyer of the Sir Roland Wilson Building (upstairs from the theatrette).