Welcome to

David Kolb

[IMAGE of David Kolb]

David Kolb grew up mostly in the New York City suburbs, studied with the Jesuits in New York and Maryland, received his PhD in philosophy from Yale University, taught at at Fordham University, the University of Chicago, Nanzan University in Japan, and has been at Bates College in Maine, as the Charles A. Dana Professor of Philosophy in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at the college. Since 2002 he has devoted himself full-time to writing and lecturing.

Themes in my Writings

I've written essays and books; the sidebar on the left connects you to a listing by theme that includes all the books and those of the essays that are easily available on the web. Most of these are from the last ten years or so. I hope to make more of the current and earlier essays available over time. (For a full listing of published essays, see the Curriculum Vitae.)

Most of what I've written connects in one way or another to questions about what it means to live with historical connections and traditions at a time when we can no longer be totally defined by that history. I've explored this through German philosophers (Hegel, Heidegger) who are themselves concerned with this issue, through architecture and urbanism, where these issues take concrete form, and through experiments in new styles of writing and scholarship. In these different areas one keeps seeing new kinds of looser, linked, and less centered unities emerging in cities, in architecture, in lives, and in texts and ways of writing.

By the way, I am not the author of those excellent works on learning styles and experiential learning that were written by another David Kolb at Case Western Reserve University.

Hypertext and Digital Scholarship

When I heard about fiction writers using non-linear hypertext techniques to disrupt or multiply the narrative line, I wondered what the new kinds of writing might offer to philosophy, and how they would interact with the argumentative line. This led to a series of writings on hypertext and argument, and about non-linear ways of writing argumentative and expository prose. Then I began to wonder about how digital technology and the web were putting pressure on older practices in scholarship and structures in the university. Here are some of the results:

Socrates in the Labyrinth This is a long discussion in hypertext form concerning how non-linear writing might function in philosophy and in presenting argument. It is followed by a series of smaller essays giving examples of various approaches and formats.

Socrates' Apology. A brief hypertext essay that appeared in a 1995 issue of Seulemonde, and discusses questions raised about his views about hypertext and argument.

Ruminations in Mixed Company: Literacy in Print and Hypertext Together. A talk on hypertext and argument rhetoric, given at the Open University in Britain in 1998. This talk includes an early vision for the Sprawling Places project. Not all those plans worked out as expected.

Hypertext as Subversive?. A hypertext essay about new media, hypertext linking, and their effect on universities. It disagrees with some political worries about new media. The essay originally appeared in Culture Machine, in issue 2 on universities as culture machines.

Twin Media: Hypertext Structure Under Pressure, a hypertext essay about experience of writing the Sprawling Places project that combines a book and a hypertext, focusing on the pressures that linear book writing put on scholarly hypertext composition.

Sprawling Places. This is the essay that the previous item talks about. Although it's mostly about places and suburbia, the lengthy hypertext also contains some reflections on its own genesis, and there is a discussion of different kinds of linkage and proximity when I make a parallel between the explicit links in hypertexts and the non-architectural links that make suburbs more complex places than they appear at first to be.

A 1997 interview with me about hypertext, schools, and learning, translated into Italian for Mediamente, a program on Italian public television.

Two papers for the Hypertext08 conference: "Making Revisions Hypervisible" concerns issues that arise when revising hypertexts, and "The Revenge of the Page" studies the way web argumentative hypertexts do not use complex link chains, and whether or not we should give up the ideal of hypertexts that make rhetorical gestures that are accomplished over complex link patterns. I don't think so (surprise!) and I make some suggestions about ways of overcoming the bias towards single-link rhetorical moves that I see built into the structure of node-and-link hypertext. (Required note: These two papers are (c) ACM 2008. These are the author's version of the works. They are posted here by permission of the ACM for your personal use. Not for redistribution. The definitive versions are published in the proceedings of the Hypertext08 conference.)

Hypertext and Philosophy. A set of quotations (mostly from DK) prepared for a class discussion on hypertext, philosophy, and deconstruction.

A brief set of short outline points from a talk on The Prose of Hypertext

For a full listing of published essays, see the Curriculum Vitae

"Places", Urbanism, Suburbia, Architecture

Architecture and urbanism are important on their own, as we try to make a more livable world and discover ways to keep up with our own changes. They are also practical studies in new modes of unity and community.

Sprawling Places. This is the book version of my current project. It disagrees with many negative criticisms of contemporary places. I define and use a criterion of place complexity to make suggestions about improving contemporary suburbs and themed places.

Sprawling Places. This is the hypertext version of the project described in the previous item. Like the book it treats criticisms of contemporary places and proposes a theory of place complexity. It also includes hundreds of images and a variety of narratives and discussions of related topics and philosophical background that go beyond whaat is presented in the more tightly focused book version.

Escaping the Museum: A hypertextual essay on the problem of having people properly experience transformative architecture. Can Arakawa and Gins' radical proposals be places to live instead of objects for contemplation or tourism?

Dialog with the spirits, a series of talks with the spirits of place (genius loci) in Japan and America. (Gathered from the Sprawling Places web site).

A book, Postmodern Sophistications: Philosophy, Architecture, and Tradition This book is not so much about design as about what it means to design or plan, and what sort of position the designer occupies. The first half of the book includes essays about finitude and history in general; the second half concentrates on architecture. It critiques the idea that the philosopher or the architect can float above history, and studies what it means to work and build in an always conditioned dialogue with past language and tradition.

Borders and Centers in an Age of Mobility. This essay questions some ideas from Kenneth Frampton and Karsten Harries about the need for bounded and centered architectural and urban forms today. It was published in an online journal's Festschrift honoring Karsten Harries.

Universal and Particular Persons and Places. This is the text of a talk given at the Philadelphia philosophy consortium meeting about the collision of universal and particular values and identities today.

Public Exposure: Architecture and Interpretation,in Cloud-Cuckoo-Land, Fall 2008 (online architecture journal). This discusses the ways in which buildings and places are exposed to outside factors that destabilize their meanings. It also disputes the idea that the building sits passively waiting for meaning to be imposed on it by an individual or a community.

Real Places in Virtual Spaces. A discussion of the ways virtual worlds can contain socially defined places that function as "real" as areas of physical space.

Oh Pioneers! Bodily Reformation Amid Daily Life. This article discusses Arakawa and Gins' revolutionary views on what architecture can do to change our bodily habits and mode of survival. The article is available as a PDF from the contents page of the special issue the journal Interfaces published on the work of Arakawa and Gins.

Collisions and Interactions: A Philosophical Perspective. This is a short summary comment delivered at the 1998 London conference on Cultural Attitudes towards Technology and Communication.

Before Beyond Function. This is an essay on the ways Hegel sees architecture going beyond building function.

For a full listing of published essays, see the Curriculum Vitae

Modernity Postmodernity and German Philosophy

Most of the essays I've written in this area have dealt with Hegel and/or Heidegger, as well as some other figures from nineteenth and twentieth century German and French philosophy. I've been concerned with how these provocative thinkers should be interpreted and compared with each other, especially on issues relating modern freedoms and unfreedoms. Lately I've been writing more about Hegel trying to evaluate claims about the success of the dialectical process in his Logic, which I find fascinating and helpful. Many of the ideas about new kinds of unity that show up in the essays on hypertext and on contemporary places were suggested by my reading of Hegel. Most of the essays on German philosophers have been published in venues not accessible from the web; listings can be found in the Curriculum Vitae, which also includes references to my essays on other philosophers and topics.

The Critique of Pure Modernity: Hegel, Heidegger and After. This book compares Hegel and Heidegger in general, what each would say about the other, with special focus on their views and worries about the changes that have created our modern or postmodern world.

Postmodern Sophistications: Philosophy, Architecture, and Tradition This book critiques the idea that the philosopher or the architect can float above history, and studies what it means to work and build in an always conditioned dialogue with past language and tradition. The first half discusses contemporary theories; the second discusses architecture.

New Perspectives on Hegel's Philosophy of Religion. This book I edited contains essays by a variety of scholars re-evaluating Hegel's philosophy of religion in the light of a new edition of his lectures.

Before Beyond Function. An essay on the ways Hegel sees architecture going beyond building function.

The Logic of the Critical Process. A paper on Hegel's method, delivered at a panel on Hegel and Critical Theory at SPEP 2001 in Baltimore.

The Necessities of Hegel's Logics. A unpublished (for now) paper delivered at the APA in the spring of 2005, questioning certain claims that Hegel's Logic is a successful presuppositionless self-development of pure categories of thought.


Themes in my writings

Hypertext and Digital Scholarship

"Places", Urbanism, Suburbia, Architecture

Modernity, Postmodernity, German Philosophy

Curriculum Vitae

"Philosophic study means the habit of always seeing an alternative, of not taking the usual for granted, of making conventionalities fluid again, of imagining foreign states of mind"

William James

"Let me introduce the word hypertext to mean a body of written or pictorial material interconnected in such a complex way that it could not conveniently be presented or represented on paper."

Theodore H. Nelson

"Literacy under hypertext must extend not only to the content of a composition but to its hypertextual form as well."

Stuart Moulthrop

"In a culture like ours, long accustomed to splitting and dividing all things as a means of control, it is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in operational and practical terms, the medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium -- that is, of any extension of ourselves -- result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology."

Marshall McLuhan

"The most interesting, indeed the dominating question, in a search for the modern principia is: where, if not in antique forms, or some equivalent substitute, is the source of unity?"

John Summerson

"Centralization, whether expressed as the city, the factory, the school or the farm, now has the enormous power of the machine-age setting dead against it. It is in the nature of universal or ubiquitous mobilization that the city spreads out far away and thin. It is in the nature of flying that the city disappears. It is in the nature of universal electrification that the city is nowhere or it is everywhere."

Frank Lloyd Wright

"No pavilions, no gadgets.
Just confrontations, confrontations.
In cities there should be no highways, because the idea of a city is to go to it, not through it."

Louis I. Kahn

"The Greek spirit was excited to wonder at the natural in nature."

G. W. F. Hegel

"When a man has finally reached the point where he does not think he knows things better than others, that is, when he has become indifferent to what they have done badly and is interested only in what they have done right, then peace and affirmation have come to him."

G. W. F. Hegel

"I do not say that all Hegelians are prigs; I only say that all prigs, if fully developed, should end as Hegelians."

William James

"I mean to devote to this philosophy [Kant's] at least some years of my life. It is above all conception a difficult doctrine and it deserves to be made easier. Its basis, to be sure, is a mass of head-splitting speculations that have no immediate bearing on human life, but the consequences are vastly important to an age like ours which is morally corrupt; one would deserve well of his time if he made those consequences luminous to the world."

J. G. Fichte, in a letter to his fiancée

"No man arrives."

Henry G. Bugbee, Jr.

"I believe long trips are impossible,
that a man can move only by foot to the next town,
that he should be slow
and that the names of other countries
apply to islands that were swallowed
by huge Biblical fish

Stephen Berg