BLACK SABBATH AND PHILOSOPHY
Author: Bill Irwin, a graduate of Fordham University who completed his doctorate at State University of New York in Buffalo.
Available through: Amazon, Barnes & Noble for $17.95 and iTunes for $9.99
Sure, you see a Periodic Table of Elements on a professor's office wall every now and again, but do you see the Periodic Table of Heavy Metals every day?
You will if you're visiting King's College professor Bill Irwin. This rock-loving educator is a series editor for The Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series, which include books that link philosophy to Seinfeld, The Simpsons and the Matrix.
Today, 11/11, is Metal Day, and Black Sabbath used the most metal day of them all last year (11/11/11) to announce its reunion. Celebrate the rockers, as well as this silly holiday, by taking a look at Black Sabbath and Philosophy, which Irwin not only edited but wrote a chapter for.
Times Leader: You kicked this genre off in 1999 with Seinfeld and Philosophy. What made you sit down and say, ‘Yeah, these two things go together?
Bill Irwin: It actually came out of the classroom here at King's. With philosophy I'm always looking to find common ground with students, speak a common language, to meet them halfway, or sometimes even more. Philosophy is a bit strange and offputting to some people. At the time students knew Seinfeld so I could start a discussion with, Well, Socrates is a little bit like Jerry Seinfeld in this way… and get the ball rolling.
TL: Was it hard to get such a quirky idea off the ground?
BI: I was turned down by every publisher I could approach until I landed where I am now. And actually, I found out through friends and friends of friends teaching in other colleges that they were inclined to make connections between pop culture and philosophy, so we started with Seinfeld to kind of memorialize that way of teaching, and it just kept growing.
TL: As you said, philosophy can be scary to some people. Are these books good for beginners who are interested but feel a bit of that fear?
BI: I'm pleased to say I get emails from people all over the country, in fact all over the world, who say things like, I always knew there was something to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Seinfeld, the Simpsons, whatever, and this really helped me to conceptualize it and make sense of it. It's not something to be afraid of. Really, philosophy started off with Socrates in the marketplace in Athens striking up conversations and arguing with people on the street. It's sort of a shame that it's become so much the thing of the ivory-tower intellectual. It really starts with your average person in the street, about the questions that matter to them the most.
TL: What does your chapter in Black Sabbath and Philosophy deal with?
BI: It's about Black Sabbath and existentialism, which is grouped around European philosophers. It seems like an unlikely pairing with this British heavy-metal band from the 1970s, but it works. It's about a world view, and I define it roughly as this philosophy that's attempting to overcome feelings of alienation and despair through acts of freedom and self-creation. What we have in Black Sabbath is really a band whose title reflects not just a kind of occult with a gloomy outlook but a band that is capturing the despair of alienated young people during their time, and rather than lying down and taking it or saying, There's nothing I can do, they're creating something, their music, in response to it.