Dr. Elizabeth Scarbrough

FIU - Philosophy Department

These are a few of my favorite…novels 2020

Before the winter holidays I was asked by several students for reading recommendations. I tried to think about recent books that (a) I enjoyed and (b) I would have especially enjoyed when I was in college. I can’t say these are my favorite novels of all time, but they’re pretty good (for the time being). I’m going to add another list of book that are end of the world / pandemic related. These books should be more of an escape from our current circumstances. So here are some novels to feed your soul while you study:

Ruth Ozeki, A Tale For The Time Being

“A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.”

A TALE FOR THE TIME BEING: When I asked folks for their advice for this list, I was so thrilled to learn I wasn’t the only one who loved this book. I’ve enjoyed Ozeki’s other books as well (especially My Year of Meats), but this one has a special place in my heart. The plot device of the book is pretty silly – I’ll admit – but it works. The tale follows two ‘time beings’ (people) – separated by a continent and time. One is a teenage girl in Japan, and another in a middle-aged writer in British Columbia. The writer stumbles upon a literal time capsule that washed up on her beach (thus the silly plot device); the capsule includes the teen’s diary. What follows is the story of three women: the writer, the teen girl, and the girl’s Zen Buddhist Grandmother (who the teen turns to for guidance). <Warning: discussions of suicide>

Bernardine Evaristo, Girl, Woman, Other

this is not about feeling something or about speaking words
this is about being

GIRL, WOMAN, OTHER: I’m not alone in loving this book. It won the Man Booker Prize in 2019 (which is a pretty big deal). The book follows twelve different people (girls, women, and others) focusing on the Black British experience. I was invested in some of their stories more than others (Amma!) but I read this in almost one sitting. Each person’s story is told in different prose. It is not a difficult book, but raises difficult themes. <Warning: some sexual violence>

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

It’s a very Greek idea, and a very profound one. Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it. And what could be more terrifying and beautiful, to souls like the Greeks or our own, than to lose control completely? To throw off the chains of being for an instant, to shatter the accident of our mortal selves? Euripides speaks of the Maenads: head thrown I back, throat to the stars, “more like deer than human being.” To be absolutely free! One is quite capable, of course, of working out these destructive passions in more vulgar and less efficient ways. But how glorious to release them in a single burst! To sing, to scream, to dance barefoot in the woods in the dead of night, with no more awareness of mortality than an animal!

THE SECRET HISTORY: Another professor reminded me of this book – how fantastic it would have been to read as a college student! Donna Tartt is best known for The Goldfinch (don’t judge a book by its movie – The Goldfinch was such a terrible movie). The Goldfinch (the book) was good – but The Secret History is better. When I searched for an (albeit bad) image of this book the search tag that appeared was “dark academia books.” It’s dark. It’s a mystery. It’s about Classics students who love their professor a little too much – and take it a bit too far. So fun – I think you’ll enjoy! <Warning: violence>

Madeline Miller, Circe

“When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.”

CIRCE: You don’t have to know anything about Greek myths, or have read (or liked) Homer’s Odyssey to love this book. To be reductive, the book is a retelling of Odysseus’ time spent with Circe (daughter of a god) on a remote island on his way back from the Trojan War. Many of us who remember our mythology know how the story will turn out, but have never heard it from Circe’s perspective. Like most good books, this one speaks to universal themes- loneliness, power, loss, romance and betrayal. Men – if you can’t live with them, might as well turn them all into swine.

I’m happy to give you more personalized recommendations – you only have to ask! And if you do end up reading any of these recommendations, please let me know what you thought! (escarbro at fiu.edu)


Image description: Robert E. Lee Monument in Richmond’s historic Monument Avenue. It now stands as the only remaining Confederate statue on Monument Avenue. Projected on the statue is the image of George Floyd. Graffiti adorns the plinth – some of which reads: ACAB, BLM, HOW MUCH MORE BLOOD?

Monuments have been in the news and on my mind for some time. I recently wrote a guest post on Aesthetics for Birds on tearing down racist monuments. I also have an article forthcoming in The Philosopher’s Magazine on putting these monuments in a monument graveyard.

This Friday I am excited to host a panel discussion at the American Society for Aesthetics called “Monuments.” This panel was inspired by an interview I heard with Dr. Michele Moody-Adams (Professor of Political Philosophy and Legal Theory at Columbia University) on the UNMUTE podcast.

Our panel will features two artists and two philosophers. Artist, writer, and museum professional Shaun Slifer will be presenting his work on historical markers. Artist Sandow Birk will also present some of his work on imaginary monuments. Dr. Moody-Adams talk is entitled, “Why Monuments Still Matter,” and we will have a presentation from Dr. Gary Shapiro, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Richmond. His talk is titled, “Report from Richmond: Public Art, National Trauma, Being with the Dead.”

I can’t wait for this panel – it was organized well before protestors around the world this summer toppled monuments so it feels more relevant than ever. Information about the conference can be found here.

If this is a topic you are interested in, might I suggest two additional resources:

All Monuments Must Fall: A Collaboratively Produced Syllabus

Monument Lab

Top 5 (Top 5 Documentaries)

First I want to say that the name of this post is a reference (homage?) to an underrated Chris Rock movie, Top 5.

But today I wanted to talk about “Top 5” lists. Recently I wrote two Top 5 lists for Aesthetics For Birds: my top five movies of the past ten years and top five novels of the past ten years. Aesthetics For Birds did a series of top five lists for movies, writing, art, TV shows, games, music, and a really fun top ten anything list

Well, my movie list (with brief justificatory summary) was overwhelmingly non-English speaking and male. On the foreign language heavy focus of my list: I’m with Bong Joon Ho whose Golden Globe speech implored folks to get beyond the “1-inch tall barrier of subtitles.” Your world literally opens up if you watch world cinema. However, I do feel uncomfortable with the maleness of the list I presented. 

When I think of some of my favorite documentaries of the past ten years, my list is overwhelmingly English-language but not that more gender-balanced. So I urge you to read everyone’s lists over at Aesthetics for Birds, and I’d like to add a list of five favorite documentaries of the past ten years below (in no particular order): 

  1. Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Herzog, 2010)
  2. I am not your negro (Peck, 2016)
  3. Exit Through the Gift Shop (Banksy? 2010)
  4. Faces Places (Varda and J.R., 2017)
  5. Shirkers (Tan, 2018) 

I’m not including The Act of Killing on this list, since it made my overall best of the last ten year list (but The Act of Killing is a favorite documentary of mine). And I’m not even sure if these are the documentaries I think are *the best* but they are the ones I’ve enjoyed watching the most. 

Some honorable mentions: Finding Vivian Maier, Leviathan, Kedi, and The Black Power Mixtape. 

These are a few of my favorite (Basel) things…2019

Art Basel (Miami) was this past weekend. No surprises there – the ‘bananna incident’ made international news. I didn’t make it to Basel-Basel (the actual art fair in the convention center) in time to see Comedian. It had been eaten/taken down before Sunday. However, when I walked around the convention center there were plenty of dude-bros with bananas taped to their shirts and other such mockeries.

Art Basel is the main art fair during #ArtWeek here in Miami. Many folks come down for the parties or for the ancillary art fairs. Basel-Basel (as I call it) is the largest of these fairs and, to my mind, the point of the whole shebang. Basel is huge. Worldwide galleries come to the Miami Beach Convention Center to shop their wares. Some galleries have artworks ‘reasonably’ priced in the thousands of dollars, while some of the bigger ‘fine art’ galleries sell artworks in the millions of dollars (to the best of my knowledge I didn’t see anything in the tens of millions of dollars). I enjoy the spectacle and I enjoy asking questions of the gallerists. Some of the gallerists see themselves as curators of their shops, with exhibits that have themes and interesting juxtapositions. Others are there to increase the value and visibility of the artworks they display (or to sell those artworks).

I will have another post about my favorite things I saw during #ArtWeek here in Miami but these are a few of my Basel-Basel favorite things:

Woods – Fairfield Porter

1.Fairfield Porter – Woods
This was my favorite thing. I saw it from across the room and was immediately attracted to it. It reminded me of the woods I visited as a child with my Grandpa in Skowhegan, Maine. I walked up to the gallerists (not knowing who the painter was) and asked where this was painted. He said – “Most likely Maine.” A beautiful Basel moment.

It was priced at $250,000 (negotiable) at the fair but a quick google search revealed that right before the fair it had been listed at $95,000. I was familiar with some other Porter paintings – typically landscapes with people in them (very New England-y) but these woods are luminous.

Story Quits – Faith Ringgold

2.Faith Ringgold – Story Quilts
The night before I went to Basel-Basel I went to the Faena Forum to watch digital shorts on the shore (they had set up a projector on a boat and the audience was able to watch the movies sitting on the sandy beach). One of the shorts was the BBC documentary on Faith Ringgold. So I was properly primed to see some of her pieces in person. The story quilts didn’t disappoint. Painted fabric surrounded by quilting, Ringgold’s quilts have a distinct style. Stunning! The gallery displaying the quilts decided to only display Ringgold’s work which also included her painting A Man Kissing His Wife (pictured at the top of this post). 

Untitled – Helen Lundeberg

3.Helen Lundeberg- Untiled
This was also displayed in a gallery that only exhibited one artist, Helen Lundeberg. I like her abstract works (1950s on). There is something very architectural about her hard-edge paintings. This one reminds me of the arches at the Pacific Science Center.

Purple Patch – Hans Hoffman

4.Hans Hoffman – Purple Patch
This too struck me from across the room. It was in one of the ‘fine art’ galleries which also displayed Miro, Henry Moore, Chagall, and others. Big names for big collectors. It was ‘competitively priced’ at $675,000 (which surprisingly did seem cheap for such a large Hoffman). It took me some time to find the purple patch!

Moral Monsters and Magnificent Movies

Hi all! I wrote this years ago when I was working at the Grand Illusion Cinema and thinking about these issues (Midnight in Paris must have just come out). This week in class we will be talking about the artwork of moral monsters, so I thought I’d dust this off to give my students some context on the directors I would be discussing. There is a really good Aesthetics for Birds roundtable on this very issues which you can find here.

“Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that every nasty thing ever said about Woody Allen is true. What would that then imply about his movies? Can the man and his work be separated, or are the two inextricably entwined? And if they are entwined, are you – the movie goer – doing something wrong in enjoying and supporting the film? 

These sorts of debates have been going on in the super-tiny bubble world of philosophical aesthetic for decades and have been pushed to the forefront by the recent attention given to Allen’s personal life. It is important that this is not the first time in American cinematic history someone’s character has been invoked to besmirch artistic achievement.

In 1999 Eliz Kazan received lifetime achievement award at the Academy Awards despite providing names of fellow actors and directors to the House of Un-American Activities Committee in 1952. Kazan, who had been a member of the Communist Party for two years (1934-1936), turned “friendly witness” for the HUAC and named several of his friends and colleagues associated with the Communist party, effectively ruining their careers. Kazan believed either he testified or he would never make a movie in Hollywood again. His first hit after this affair, On The Waterfront, was written by (Budd Schulberg) and acted in (Lee J. Cobb) by other HUAC informants. What does Kazan’s moral digression show? Many believe it showed a true lack of loyalty, but can we see any of that in On The Waterfront? Perhaps. Brando’s character named names against corrupt labor leaders, and is doing so is valorized. Thus, the rat (in this case) is vindicated. As Jules Dassin stated, a screenwriter that Kazan blacklisted, “There is no way for the films of Kazan to be amputated from the rest of him.”[i]

The classic example given in these cases is that of Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will. Generally regarded as a cinematic masterpiece, the movie glorifies the Nazi party. We might be able to say that while the technical achievements are no less marvelous, the movie would have been better –all things considered– if it hadn’t heralded a morally despicable cause. Or, is what we like about the picture precisely the bizarre juxtaposition between artistic exemplariness and its extreme moral wickedness? 

And of course who can forget Roman Polanski’s rape of an underage girl while in Jack Nicholson’s hot tub. The man still won the best picture Oscar for The Pianist, although he could not re-enter the United States to accept the award. Here we might ask: do Polanski’s movies glorify rape or rape culture? Does the morally objectionable thing he did seep into his work somehow? I would argue no; there is nothing in The Pianist that glorifies rape culture. In fact, the movie reminds us of what Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil,” and I would say the “banality of good,” – it reminds us how people are capable of unfathomable cruelty and unexpected kindness in almost equal measure. Further, Polanski’s Repulsion is a movie that, I believe, demonizes rape culture. The protagonist of the film (if you could call her that) is perpetually terrified and lashes out in violent ways. We learn she has become this way because of what men have done to her. It is, I believe, an anti-rape movie — one made by a rapist.

And finally, Woody Allen. Ah, Woody Allen whose movies often have a ‘Woody Allen’ character in them: Alvy Singer of Annie Hall, Isaac of Manhattan, Harry Block of Deconstructing Harry, and Mickey of Hannah and Her Sisters, just to name a few. It is much harder in the case of Woody Allen to separate the man from his work because the man is literallyinhis work. In the grand tradition of other auteur directors, his work is about his life. We believe Guido Anselmi (played by Marcello Mastrioanni) is some sort of wish fulfillment on behalf of Fellini in his 8 1/2. Similarly I suspect Woody Allen’s ‘Woody Allen’ characters are half fact, half fiction. Again we can ask: is there anything about Allen’s films that glorify rape culture, sexual abuse, or child abuse? And it is here where you have to be familiar with the movies to come up with an answer. Isaac in Manhattan has a sexual relationship with a seventeen year old, the ultimate conclusion of which is (perhaps) that the child is more grow-up than the man. (See Joan Didion’s 1976 scathing review of Manhattan for more on this theme)[ii]. As a young woman watching this movie for the first time at 17, I found the premise incredibly creepy. ‘Who would want to date that guy?’ I thought. 17-year-old me shrugged it off as yet another man living out in film what he couldn’t and/or shouldn’t do in life. (To be fair to auteur directors with wish fulfillment, at least Guido’s banished women staged a revolt!) 

What’s interesting to see is how people responded in these three cases. In the case of Kazan, people who attended the Oscars but who were outraged that the man was receiving an award refused to clap when he was honored: a small, silent protest captured aptly by the cameras for the viewers at home In the case of Polanski, a documentary film was made examining his arrest and subsequent abscondment (Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, 2008). And in the case of Woody Allen, some people have boycotted his films since the first allegations of child abuse came out (for example, my mother), but most have ignored the issue. 

Do you praise the work and demonize the man? Do you boycott anything related to Woody Allen, as my mother has done for decades? Do you watch the movies, and discuss the moral implications with your friends afterward? Do you try to separate, the best you can, the artist from their artwork? This is your – the movie goers — choice. Being reflective about this choice is a good first step.”


[ii]Find it here: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1979/aug/16/letter-from-manhattan/

Here are some relevant articles:

On John Wayne, Cancel Culture, and the Art of Problematic Artists

Aesthetics for Birds: The Art of Immoral Artists

Dylan Farrow’s Open Letter

What Do We Do with the Art of Monstruous Men?

Imaginative resistance and the Woody Allen problem

Philosophy Podcasts

One of the joys of a long commute (ha!) is the opportunity to listen to Podcasts. To be perfectly honest, lately I’ve been listening to “David Tennant Does a Podcast With….” but I thought I’d put together a list of philosophical podcasts for students.

In what follows is a non-exhaustive list of some of my favorites and some recommendations from other philosophers.

UNMUTEA Podcast where philosophy and real-world issues collide.
Hosted by Myisha Cherry, the podcast focuses on diverse philosophers. “It is called UnMute because we want to give a platform to people and topics that have been silenced.” I really liked Episode 037 with Dr. Michele Moody-Adams discussing monuments and memorials, but UnMute has loads of great topics.

This is one of the more popular philosophy podcasts – with over 400 ‘bites.’ There is also an ‘Aesthetics Bites’ version. Nigel Warburton interviews well-known philosophers on a wide variety of topics. Try a bite from May 30, 2017: Aaron Meskin on The Definition of Art.

NO NARROW THING– “The podcast that gets philosophical about everything.
For full disclosure, I went to grad school with one of the hosts, Dustyn Addington. The podcast is fun and thoughtful. I’d recommend #30: “Microaggressions and Trans Identity with Sam Sumpter.”

HI-PHI NATION (SLATE) – “A show about philosophy that turns stories into ideas.
Another very popular podcast produced by SLATE. It is very well produced and probably sounds a bit more like what you think a podcast would sound like.

PARTIALLY EXAMINED LIFE – “A philosophy podcast by some guys who were at one point set on doing philosophy for a living …
Another popular podcast, airing episodes for over ten years. There are episodes dedicated to discussing the work of particular philosophers. For example, Episode 16 was on Danto’s work (and I guess the hosts joked that Danto would never listen to it- but he did and he liked it!).

PHILOSOPHY TALK (NPR) – “The program that questions everything…except your intelligence.
Technically a show on NPR, you can listen to the old shows online as if it were a podcasts. This was the first all philosophy show I was every aware of (and hosted by pretty famous professional philosophers).

And here are some recommendations from friends:

VERY BAD WIZARDS – “A philosopher and a psychologist ponder human morality

NEW BOOKS IN PHILOSOPHY A podcast from the New Books Network – you can search through books based on subject (which is a nice feature).

ELUCIDATIONS – A University of Chicago Podcast

HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY (without any gaps)

CONVERSATIONS WITH DIOTIMA: History of Women Philosophers and Scientists While not techically a podcast, you can click on episodes which will bring you to YouTube.

BBC4 Radio’s “IN OUR TIME” has programing on philosophical themes. This one is on Aristotle’s Biology.

CONTRAPOINTS – Again while not technically a podcast, a YouTube series with some philosophical themes (fun, some explicit language).

Best movies of 2018?

Best films of 2018?

The Golden Globes have come and gone, so have the SAG awards. But we’ve yet to get to the Oscars so it means that it is the perfect time for film year in review! It’s so hard for me to come up with my top films in a ranked list, so I’ll mention some films I liked in three tiers, but allow the films to remain unranked within each tier. That being said, my favorite film of the past year is probably ROMA. I was lucky enough to see it at a movie theater and I think that made all the difference. It’s a beautiful film, which requires a large screen and undivided attention (in my opinion).




The Rider (this movie is not getting enough love!)



The Favourite

Leave No Trace

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Sorry to Bother You

Happy as Lazzaro




If Beale Street Could Talk

First Reformed

Eight Grade


The Other Side of the Wind




Films I still need to see that might change this list:
Cold War


The Wife

I am not a witch



Enjoy – or rage at my quasi-rankings! Either way come chat with me about these films. I have office hours Tuesdays-Thursdays.


It’s beginning to look a lot like…time to sign up for Spring courses!

Since starting my career at FIU, I’ve been teaching Philosophy of Film every spring. It is probably my favorite class to teach. I get to introduce students to some of my favorite films and learn theirs. For those of you who don’t know, my first career was in TV production, at Henninger Media. I know a bit about TV and Film production from that time in my life (and from making student films in college). One of my favorite memories from college is hiding out in our library during closing time (literally hiding) so we could use the Steenbeck and edit our films all night! I’ve also spent a fair amount of time working at art house cinemas (as a manager and as a 35mm projectionist). I miss my West Coast cinemas (The Grand Illusion in Seattle and The Clinton Street Theater in Portland) – so teaching this film course is the next best thing!

Here’s the flyer for the course. The images are taken from movies we will be watching for the course.

These are a few of my favorite (Basel) things…

Art Basel (and Art Week) has come and gone and I thought I’d share a few of my favorite things. This list is composed of items I’d purchase (if (a) I had the money, (b) I felt that private ownership of art treasures was morally unproblematic). In a world where philosopher-teachers made enough to purchase fancy art, here are a few works I wouldn’t mind hanging on my mantel:


  1. First up is this small Alberto Burri. I saw a Burri retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum and was blown away. His work is so visceral. This piece uses paint, plastic, and I believe vinavil and combustion cellotex. For scale reference, it was slightly larger than a sheet of paper and I think $140,000 (a steal compared to the other artworks on this list). If only.


  2. Second is this really beautiful Marc Chagall. I was staring at it when they put the “red dot” on the tag (the red dot means the painting sold). While I don’t know the exact price it sold for, it was estimated to sell for over $2 million dollars. Chagall’s work is so beautiful and important that it worries me that so many of his paintings are in the hands of private collectors. We will just have to trust the largess of the rich and assume they will continue to exhibit his work. There is, obviously, an incentive for private collectors to exhibit their artworks: the more they exhibit and loan their art, the more the art appears in exhibition catalogs, and the more the art appears in the catalogs and the press, the more it appreciates in value. So, with that in mind, I hope you get a chance to see this beautiful Chagall in person!


  3. For my third pick, I choose this Gabriele Münter. A German painter, this canvas was huge (which was unusual for her). It’s titled “The Letter (The Invalid)” and was painted in 1917. I can’t quite describe why I find it so striking, but I do. This one was too (alas) outside my financial reach at $3 million (I don’t think it sold). While she was one of the founding members of the Blaue Reiter group (1911) her work has been overshadowed by her relationship with Vassily Kandinsky – a common story for women in art history.



And now you know my mundane (but expensive) taste in art!


Art Basel (or Art Week) is almost here…and while it might seem like traffic-fueled insanity, it is worth checking out. We are incredibly lucky to be living in a city with such a thriving art scene. Basel, unfortunately, sometimes feels like it is more about the money and less about the art. Well, we don’t have to make that mistake!

Art Basel itself is specifically the event held at the Miami Beach convention center. It is the “Basel” in Art Basel. The convention center is huge and it is impossible to see everything in a day. It is also overrun with people. AND it is expensive (for a discount, buy your ticket ONLINE ahead of time). That said, it is still worth checking out. 200+ of the top galleries bring their wares to sell at this convention. These galleries usually have tons of art and they have to curate a small selection of what they have to bring to Miami Beach. What they decide to bring is telling – it will show you the (projected) direction of the art market. Art Basel is all about money – go into it with that attitude. I enjoy walking up and down the stalls, seeing pieces of artist I love (e.g., Brancusi, Gerhart Richter) and then asking the gallerists there how much the paintings/sculptures/photographs/installations sell for. It’s fun to guess ahead of time. A posthumous recasting of a bronze Brancusi? $1 million or 5? You can download the Art Basel app for more information.

Art Basel – Day ticket $50 (if purchased online, $60 door). Students can purchase onsite tickets with student ID for $45 (and they WILL check your student ID, so don’t forget it!) Design Miami/ is right across the street from Art Basel and you can purchase combo tickets for both.

Below are some suggestions for things to check out this Art Basel 2018. Those in BOLD are FREE!

  1. ART BASEL – DEC 5-9 – $45-60, THURS 3-8pm, FIR&SAT 12-8, SUN 12-6
  2. RAW POP UP – DEC 6-9 ($16-$1,000 tix – 20% ticket discount with STUFFTODOINMIAMITIX code). 21+, late night.
  3. Little Haiti Art Week Launch – December 2nd, Laundromat Art Space, 12-4 pm FREE
  4. Art Center / South Florida Open Studios, Bruch & Tour, Sat Dec 8 9am-11 am FREE
  5. Meet Christo at TASCHEN Miami – Dec 6 6:30pm-9pm, FREE with RSVP
  6. ART POP at FIU’s Frost Museum, Thursday, Dec 6, 4-7pm FREE
  7. SATELLITE ART SHOW, December 6-9, $25 tix
  8. Aqua Art Miami, Dec 6-9, $25 tix
  9. NADA Miami, Dec 6-9, $20 (New Art Dealers Alliance) not-for-profit!
  10. Mana in Wynwood has two events: Piñata Miami, $30 & Red Dot $25
  11. SCOPE $40-200 tix
  12. PULSE $25-100 tix
  13. Art Miami, Dec 4-9, $35-$275
  14. Untitled, Miami Beach, Dec 6-10, $15-25 tix

Here are some FREE events during Art Week!


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