Spotlight on José Zalabardo
13 June 2013
This week the spotlight is on Dr José Zalabardo, reader in the UCL Philosophy Department and appointed Head of Philosophy from January 2014.
What is your role and what does it involve?
I’m a reader in the Philosophy Department. I teach undergraduate and postgraduate courses and I supervise research students. I was Departmental Tutor for several years. In 2014 I’ll take over as Head of Department.
The rest of my time is devoted to philosophical research. This involves some reading, some talking and some writing, but mostly staring at a blank page or computer screen trying to make ideas flow.
How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?
I’ve been at UCL for 13 years. Before that I was a lecturer at the University of Birmingham for six years. That was my first real job.
What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?
My book Scepticism and Reliable Belief, which came out last year. Idealist philosophers used to accuse their realist opponents of making knowledge impossible: if reality is radically independent of us, they argued, then we can have no knowledge of it.
Ever since I started doing philosophy I was attracted to this train of thought, but when I tried to spell it out in some detail things got messy and complicated, as they always do.
In the book I try to articulate and assess this line of reasoning in light of what strikes me as a plausible account of the nature of knowledge. The book is more technical than I would have liked, but I think I provide correct answers to some important questions. I’m proud of that.
Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list
I am revising a book manuscript on Wittgenstein’s Tractatus-Logico-Philosophicus. The Tractatus is an enigmatic book, strangely beautiful, but hard to understand. I had studied it a long time ago but then moved on to other things. A few years ago I became interested in it again, thanks to a PhD dissertation I was supervising.
Thinking of the relationship between Wittgenstein’s ideas and Russell’s theory of judgment enabled me to see Wittgenstein’s work in a new light. For the first time ever, there were sections of the Tractatus I felt confident I understood.
In my book I develop this approach to provide an interpretation of Wittgenstein’s main ideas. I think it will help others understand what Wittgenstein was trying to do.
What is your favourite album, film and novel?
I have many favourite films. Film is important to me. One that comes to mind is Kieślowski’s A Short Film about Killing. Light entertainment has never been my thing.
My favourite novel (actually novel cycle) is Max Aub’s El Laberinto Mágico. I believe only the first instalment has been translated into English, as Field of Honour.
It’s hard to compare music of different genres, so I’ll have to split the album question into three. One classical album that I listen to repeatedly is the Fitzwilliam String Quartet’s set of Shostakovich quartets. A jazz album that I keep playing, always discovering new things in it, is Monk’s Dream. I’m also still attached to the pop music of my youth. One album that reliably transports me back to those days is Television’s Marquee Moon.
What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?
I can never remember jokes.
Who would be your dream dinner guests?
Juliette Binoche, Isabelle Huppert, Sam Davies (the sailor), Brian Eno, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Jaime Gil de Biedma.
What advice would you give your younger self?
The questions that were too hard for the great philosophers of the past are probably too hard for you. Take this into account when you choose your projects.
What would it surprise people to know about you?
There are very few Zalabardos. With the help of another Zalabardo, I have managed to trace most of them back to a common root in the 16th century, twelve generations back, in the mountains between Rioja and the Castilian plateau.
What is your favourite place?
The Essex coast, where I’ve sailed for the last few years, and the Aragonese Pyrenees, where I walked as a young man.