erh-lectures

“Rosenstock-Huessy! When he speaks, it’s like lightning!”

—Paul Tillich to Phillip Chamberlin, 1967

Rosenstock-Huessy commanded the music and magic of speech. He spoke extemporaneously with only a few notes scratched on a piece of paper. The result was lively, forceful, often brilliant, and so compelling that students recorded some 450 hours of his speeches and lectures. Many have found themselves more captivated by his lectures than by his books.

These lectures did not just catch the ears and hearts of four generations of students. Taken together, they represent Rosenstock-Huessy’s own careful attempt to cover major elements of his thought. While addressing many topics for the first time, the lectures also express in English much of his thinking previously available only in German. They are what Rosenstock-Huessy was saying to his American audience in the years in which he was writing Soziologie and Die Sprache des Menschengeschlechts.

Unlike the currently popular polished lectures, carefully scripted and delivered by well-regarded professors, Rosenstock-Huessy speaks without a script. He doesn’t finish every sentence; his grammar and syntax are rough. Argo is offering each recorded lecture together with a transcript. Both are necessary to understand the contents. Statements that seem ambiguous or opaque on paper are often perfectly clear when heard with their original pauses and stresses. By the same token, the tapes are best understood with the transcripts in hand, because not all the recordings are easy to understand.

It is also important to remember that one can’t judge the contents of a lecture series just by its title. Rosenstock-Huessy did not address topics specifically as much as he used them as points of inspiration. He often fails to address in the course of a lecture important points he promised to address at the outset. Consequently, although there are several lecture series called Universal History, for example, he covers a unique set of themes in each series.