In Memoriam: Richard Tieszen (1951-2017).

(Note: the following is not directly related to the theme of this blog, but it is directly related to me, to my work, and to what goes on here.)

My colleague, mentor, and friend, Professor Richard Tieszen passed away this week (March 28, 2017). I feel compelled to write about it because of all that Dr. Tieszen, Rick, meant to me and to the development of my intellectual and professional life.

I first met Rick in the spring of 1995. He taught Logic and Critical Thinking and my roommates convinced me to take his course, because, they argued, he’s really smart and you’ll learn about fallacies! The course was held in a large auditorium-type room; Dr. Tieszen was in the front, waiting for everyone to sit—he was thin and lanky and wore his long hair in a ponytail, as, I imagined, all philosophy people must. (Needless to say, as I looked down at Rick I could not imagine myself ever doing what he did. For one, philosophy, I thought on that first day, must be a “white” thing, and two, I could never sport a pony tail! I was wrong about the first thing, but not about the second). I was immediately drawn to his teaching style, the depth of his knowledge, and the confidence he exhibited—the confidence! He spoke with confidence, he spoke with patience and knowledge! I followed him to his office, just wanting to hear more from him, and he spoke to me about my major, my interests (which were not in philosophy), and in the process he showed me the first signs of that generous spirit that I would come to know and esteem for years and years to come.

I next took a number of courses with him on Edmund Husserl—the first, and the most important philosophy course I ever took, dealt with Husserl’s Logical Investigations, the other with his later work (the Cartesian Meditations and the Crisis). I got swept up by Husserl’s talk of intentionality in the 5th Logical Investigation and by Rick’s enthusiasm for it. It was contagious. In the second course, I spent the semester struggling with the 5th Cartesian Meditation, where Husserl talks about intersubjectivity, empathy, anological apperception, and the other. It is also the place where Husserl seems to get stuck in the problem of the other, since his arguments can’t seem to get him out of the enclosures of the same and he ends up with a problematic solipsism (problematic because it affects the apparent validity of the rest of his project!). Rick noticed my struggle and saw me wrestle with the problem. I was young and didn’t know shit (I still don’t know shit). But he guided me through the problem, pointed out some possible routes of escape, and led me to José Ortega y Gasset, whom he said, “I think you’ll like.”

I would go on to spend the next few years reading Ortega through Husserl and Husserl through Ortega, confusing myself in the process, but sinking deeper into the phenomenological tradition until that’s all I wanted to do. Rick was always there to answer my midnight questions, offering motivation and unconditional support, in spite of the strange direction that my interests were taking.

One day in the late 1990s I walked into his office and told him I wanted to write a paper on the phenomenology of the Chicano experience. I did this with trepidation, since I knew that Rick didn’t bother himself with those kinds of questions. His work dealt with pure phenomenology, the eidos of number, the foundations of logic, categorical intuition, and other items that, no matter how much smart I can pretend to be, will always be over my head. He was enthusiastic about the project and encouraged me to pursue it, gave me some direction, and promised to read the finished work once I was done. A few years later that paper would become my first publication and the beginning of a career dealing with questions of culture, history, and identity. I owe it all to Rick.

Toward the end of my tenure at the University of New Mexico, where I was working on my PhD, I could think of no one else I wanted as the External Reader of my dissertation. That work was on what I called Husserl’s phenomenological epistemology, and it dealt with Husserl’s theory of intuition in Ideas I, his famed Transcendental Turn of 1906, and the notion of epistemic justification that we could extract from his overall project. Rick read all of my chapters, gave me feedback, defended my position against certain other members of my committee, and allowed me to write something of which I was proud and that I couldn’t have successfully completed without his help.

When I returned to San Jose State in 2006, this time as a tenured-track assistant professor of philosophy, Rick had to remind me a few times that his name was, in fact, “Rick,” and not “Dr. Tieszen,” which out of my deep respect for him, I kept calling him for a while longer, even though we were now colleagues and neighbors.

I saw Rick for the last time in late January of this year. I knew he was sick, but his spirits were high and we talked about my manuscript with Oxford and my upcoming talks, my current writing projects, my kids; he told me about all the writing he had been doing the past year and about the upcoming book, about which he was really excited. He hoped to be back to teaching this fall. He asked me if I wanted to take some books from his bookshelf, since he was cleaning up his office. I took the two-volume German edition of Husserl’s Logical Investigations. I don’t know why I reached for those, but now it only seems fitting, I think, that I did. After all, that’s how it all started—from the Logical Investigations to Mexican historicism seems like a weird, circuituous route, but it happened, and I have Rick to thank for that.

I will miss him. He was kind. He was brilliant. He was confident. But most of all, he was generous. He gave me so much.

Rest in Peace. cas

One response to “In Memoriam: Richard Tieszen (1951-2017).

  1. A beautiful memorial for a beautiful scholar, educator and human being. It is a testament to the real Dr. Tieszen that is lacking in other “memorials” I’ve found online in the wake of his passing, and it is one that can only be expressed by those who had the privilege of knowing and working with Dr. Tieszen–those of us who were fortunate enough to experience his generosity first-hand.

    One thing that resonates from your post is Dr. Tieszen’s enthusiasm for new, and non-traditional approaches to phenomenology (and philosophy in general) that is exemplified in the work you do and is reflected in the work that all of us “non-traditional” philosophers do. Considering the state of academic philosophy today and the aversion of traditional philosophers to “change things up” beyond superficial tokenism (that I suspect is due to their own fear and insecurity), Dr. Tieszen was a pioneer of genuine support precisely because, as you stated, he was confident and fearless with his own work. He was not threatened by the work or success of “non-traditional” philosophies; he embraced it, nurtured it, and defended it, as you’ve demonstrated here. Traditional philosophers would do well to follow his lead. I have little optimism that they will, but your memorial to Dr. Tieszen gives them no excuse to say they don’t know how. Thank you!

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