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Professor Publishes Philosophy and Literature Book

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Lt. Col. Steven E. Knepper, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the department of English, rhetoric, and humanistic studies at Virginia Military Institute. In his new book, "Wonder Strikes: Approaching Aesthetics and Literature with William Desmond," Knepper explores the philosophy of contemporary philosopher William Desmond.—VMI Photo by Marianne Hause.

Lt. Col. Steven E. Knepper, Ph.D., associate professor in the department of English, rhetoric, and humanistic studies, recently published his first book, “Wonder Strikes: Approaching Aesthetics and Literature with William Desmond.” It is the first book-length examination of the prominent contemporary philosopher William Desmond’s approach to aesthetics, art, and literature.

Desmond is originally from Ireland and is currently the chair of the philosophy department at Villanova University, as well as the Thomas A.F. Kelly visiting chair at Maynooth University in Ireland. He believes that philosophy, religion, and art all begin in wonder. Desmond has conducted research in German idealism, metaphysics, philosophy of religion, and aesthetics, and has published multiple books.

“Wonder Strikes would serve very well as an overall introduction to my work,” said Desmond. “If I say this is an excellent book, perhaps I am prejudiced, but if so, it is because the book is excellent, and its author deserves praise.”

Knepper first became interested in Desmond’s work after reading some of his essays about wonder. Knepper began corresponding with Desmond and found him to be gracious and encouraging. “My original plan was to write a few essays on his philosophy, but it was Desmond himself who encouraged me to turn the work into a book. He truly is a wonderful man,” said Knepper.

“Desmond’s philosophy states that half of what we are as human beings is how we are aware of things, how we take in our world,” said Knepper. “We are porous and receptive by nature, that is we feel experiences. For example, if we are scared, thrilled, or excited, our skin crawls, we get goosebumps,” he continued. “But often, we fall into routines and don’t pay attention to what is happening in the world around us, and we become less porous and closed-off. When that happens, there is a cost to us individually, as it makes us lonely and depressed. There is a cost to us collectively as well, as we don’t pay attention to other people’s needs and fail to care for them.”

Knepper notes that Desmond does not avoid life’s problems in his philosophy but does emphasize the importance of friendship, hope, and helping others.

Knepper’s favorite part of his book is the chapter on laughter: “Redemptive Laughs and Festive Rebirth.” He writes that, according to Desmond, there are many reasons for laughter. One reason, noted by many philosophers, is that it may make one feel superior to laugh at another person’s expense, which is not honorable. Another reason for laughter is that something unexpected happens and takes one totally by surprise. Desmond argues that good humor, including the ability to laugh at oneself, signals a virtuous character. Good humor prevents self-righteous pride and improves a bad situation. Knepper explained, “Imagine VMI cadets on a long rainy march, and one of them cracks the right joke at the right time. Immediately the situation improves because they are laughing. The physical training hasn’t changed or gotten any easier, but the mood was lightened.”

Wonder Strikes is published by SUNY Press, a leading publisher of scholarly works in areas of aesthetics and literature. Copies may be purchased online at Amazon.com and Sunypress.com. Knepper holds a Doctor of Philosophy degree in American literature from the University of Virginia. He received the Thomas Jefferson Award for Teaching in 2016.

  • Marianne Hause VMI Communications & Marketing