Review Comment

Religion and Postmodernism

May 31, 2004

Taylor, Mark
Religion and Postmodernism

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

At first glance of the the uber-long review given below, I thought to myself, what is this person talking about? But after mulling it over for a bit, I feel the need to clarify and add a few thoughts of my own. Besides, half the class has already reviewed Taylor, so here's my take:

I disagree that Taylor is a mercenary; He is truly engaged in and excited about his work. Whatever success he has enjoyed he has earned, and I don't think that there's a mercenary or dishonest bone in his body. On the other hand, as the other reviewer has pointed out, he has constructed a certain image of himself that is somewhat disingenuous. (I'm not sure how to describe it other than that it involves wearing cowboy boots and throwing around words like "preontological"; whatever that means.)
I think Taylor once made the distinction between being a scholar and a "thinker." I have no doubt that Taylor thinks of himself as a thinker and expects his students to operate as thinkers as well, but he does so at the expense of scholarship. He provides no real critique or historical perspective for much of the syllabus. There is little or no forum for challenging the validity of the arguments of many of the writers (esp. certain of his favorites) or of the claims of postmodernism in general. He is truly the "insider" of postmodernism, and if you plan on challenging his assertions be prepared for a long, drawn out debate that you will lose.

As far as his teaching abilities, Taylor structures the class as a dialogue between the thinkers we have read, which would be fruitful except that very few of us understood the readings to begin with. A class that deals with postmodernism at the undergrad level really needs to be much more straightforward, at least at first, before we can all enter the illustrious "thinker" stage.
Despite all this, I am glad I took this class, because I can honestly say that I learned a lot both from the readings, my classmates and Taylor (in that order). What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Do not take this class if you value your GPA.

Workload:

Insane for a 3 point class. Tons of reading, which you must do, because he will call on you and if you don't have at least something relevant to say, woe unto you. 10 page take home midterm, required weekly discussion section, 10 page final paper, final.

May 29, 2004

Taylor, Mark
Religion and Postmodernism

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

The below review (starting w/ the Seneca quote) was fantastic and, in my opinion, almost completely right on.

The only thing I disagree with is that it's just fine to sit through Taylors class without calling him on his teaching. First of all, as undergrads 99% of us don't really know enough to call out a professor and there's no need to do that sort of thing (I I don't buy the positive feedback argument) because it makes for an uncomfortable class experience for ALL the students. Just sit through the class like I did (and like the reviewer did) - you'll learn a hell of a lot and you'll learn extra because by disagreeing with Taylor you'll help shape your own opinions.

Workload:

An absolutely INSANE amount of work. Completely friggin' ridiculous!! I'm a senior (well, now graduated) and have never had to do so much work for a class. Good reading list though.

May 19, 2004

Taylor, Mark
Religion and Postmodernism

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

seneca once wrote, 'i think there is no one who has rendered worse service to the human race than those who have learned philosophy as a mercenary trade.' a merceneary trade is a rather apt of describing how mark c. taylor teaches philosophy. for taylor, philosophy is a battleground of abstract concepts and the victor is he who can master those concepts and use them as weapons of uselessness. as his student, you will be expected to do the same. taylor's attempts to make this philosophy accountable to everyday life are laughable. to think of taylor as opening your mind to new philosophical ideas is to buy into his fractured system where what you think doesn't matter at all to who you are. taylor is the personification of the hopelessly abstract academic philosopher who snatches on to new vogue ideas in order to write about them and market them as a mercenary, not as a human being. (note the fashionable trajectory of his career and his entrepeneurial pursuits in the world of making education into a marketable business.) taylor's vision of philosophy learns nothing from the texts he supposedly knows so much about. as the other reviewer noted, asking what derrida means means that you haven't really read derrida on his own terms. it means you never learned how to teach; it means that philosophy means nothing to you except as a way to get famous. so don't take taylor's class because he is so smart or because he has such great readings of texts. he cannot be a great philosopher because he does not understand philosophy as a way of life, not just a system of abstractions. if you decide to study with him because the syllabus is just too attractive to pass up or because your intrigued by the hype, by all means resist. refuse to buy into the poverty of philosophy that taylor so well represents. grill him as he grills you in class. as much as i dislike the man's views on philosophy, he will respect you for sticking up for yourself and arguing your position. the fact that i have spent so much energy ranting about him does show he can excite energy. but be braver than i was. don't just vent in a culpa review. even if you don't know as much about the texts, hopefully you know more about being human, and hopefully you can make this class a more pleasant enviorenment than it was for most of us in fall 2003.

April 20, 2004

Taylor, Mark
Religion and Postmodernism

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

I've never written a review before, but I felt the need to comment on the other reviews of Prof Taylor. His class was hands down one of the best courses I have taken at Columbia. Yeah, it was also the hardest and somebody should remind the man that it's a three point class, but it was worth it. I did experience the love-hate relationship with the class that the other reviewer mentions, but in the end I am really glad I took the course. It is intense, but it's rewarding. Also, I found Taylor to care more about his students than any other professor at Columbia, maybe because he's used to teaching at a smaller school. Take ANYTHING with Taylor, you'll be glad you did.

Workload:

intense. the reading is hard and you are expected to have done it well. hard work will be rewarded

March 29, 2004

Taylor, Mark
Religion and Postmodernism

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

I guess I'm in between the other two reviews. Taylor is really smart & probably worth taking a class with, but he is definitely way too intense to make this class enjoyable. I came into the class in love with French Theory and left it slightly disillusioned at how it was being canonized and taught in a way antithetical to its spirit. (What does Derrida mean is such a bizarre question in context, e.g....) Anyway, introduces you to fascinating readings and interpretations, but will probably not be something you look forward to. Decide if it works for you.

Workload:

Some dense reading, some great reading (esp. Bataille & Jabes).
Otherwise as described in other reviews

January 08, 2004

Taylor, Mark
Religion and Postmodernism

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

The above review is pretty much right-on describing Taylor's character, but I still have to reccomend this class. You're just not going to find material like this from anyone else at Columbia, except in a few Art History grad seminars. And, whatever you want to say about Taylor, he really knows his stuff and he does everything he can not only to transmit that knowledge but also to get students as excited about it as he is. He may be resistant to other interpretations, but you're not going to get ahead of him without spending 20 years immersed in these texts.

I reccomend this class to people who A) don't mind getting in over their heads intellectually and B) don't care about their GPAs. Taylor would probably say the same thing.

Workload:

8 page midterm, 12 page final, plus in-class final exam. very dense reading (Lacan, Heidegger). WAY too much for a 3 pointer.

December 20, 2003

Taylor, Mark
Religion and Postmodernism

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

You get a lot out of Taylor's class, but ultimately it takes more out of you. By reputation, Taylor has more moments of arrogance than of brilliance, though both occur frequently. The teaching style can get annoying quickly and classes are often frought with tension. He picks out passages or asks general thematic questions and calls on students to elucidate them, which can be exruciatingly difficult with heidegger, derrida, and the like. Moreover, a lot of interesting discussions that could occur around these texts are subsumed into Taylor's lecture agenda. In class time, Taylor's not necessarily resistent to contrary opinions to his own, he just doesn't care about them. (In your writings it's best to stick to his literal interpretations - he's stubborn.) Most people in the class seem to have a sort of love-hate relationship to it. You learn a lot of interesting things with a man who's an expert on just about everything that happens in Western thought after Hegel, but his resistances, pretentions, over-intensity (control freak, as he readily admits) and faux niceness start to wear on you. He's teaching in the fall here every year for the next five years, but, in the end, I think if you want to learn something from this man you're better off reading his books.

Workload:

10 pg. take home midterm, 10-12 page paper, final. fair amount of dense reading. great syllabus. serious grader.

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