Prolific Honors Professor a "Better Scholar" Thanks to Honors

Honors College professor Rob Zaretsky has had a prolific year, publishing two recent books—Albert Camus: Elements of a Life (Cornell UP 2010) and Modern France and its Empire Since 1870 (Oxford UP 2010), co-written with Alice Conklin and Sarah Fishman—and a multitude of recent articles, from “Silence Follows: Albert Camus in Algeria” (Virginia Quarterly Review Winter 2010), “Fifty Years Later, Camus Lives On” (Le Monde Diplomatique January 2010), and “Ever Returning to the Same Sea and her Silence,” (The Drawbridge Winter 2009) to articles on Avatar and the Haitian earthquake in the Houston Chronicle. In a recent New York Times opinion article (“The Tea Party Last Time” February 2, 2010), Zaretsky compared the current Tea Party protesters to the Poujadist movement of 1950s France. He describes how the “political center evaporated” in a “movement that [brought] nothing to the ballot box except anger.”

In relating these personal accomplishments to his work in The Honors College, Professor Zaretsky gives credit to the College, his colleagues here, and his students. “I wouldn’t have written so successfully without the support of Honors and Ted [Estess],” Professor Zaretsky said. He’s quick to point out that the interdisciplinary nature of the College and The Human Situation course have played a role as well: “I’m writing books I would never have written as just a historian. I’m a better scholar and a better writer because of Honors.”

In fact, one of Zaretsky’s earlier books—The Philosopher’s Quarrel: Rousseau, Hume, and the Limits of Human Understanding, written with former Honors College professor John Scott (now a professor in political science at UC Davis), has its origins directly in The Human Situation course. The Human Situation, with its “exchange of ideas among people of very different disciplines” in “mostly an atmosphere of friendship” led to conversations between Professors Zaretsky and Scott that led to a screenplay. After realizing that their goals were more suited to a book, The Philosopher’s Quarrel was the result.

Continuing and contributing to the ongoing conversation, Professors Zaretsky and David Mikics gave a talk in The Honors College Commons asking “Do Intellectuals (Still) Matter?: A Conversation on Albert Camus and Jacques Derrida.” The professors described how Camus and Derrida were both similar and different, and defined what it meant — and still means—to be an intellectual. The well-attended talk, which featured both professors reading from their recent books, drew members of the Honors community and from across the university for open questions and discussion. 

In addition to his writing, Zaretsky continues to teach in The Human Situation, and has been working with Brian Johnston, an English teacher at Sam Rayburn High School in Pasadena, to teach a seminar on the Iliad for high school students in the Estess Alumni Library.