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Christina Tarnopolsky

Associate Professor

Photo of Dr. Tarnopolsky

christina [dot] tarnopolsky [at] mcgill [dot] ca

Research interests

Classical Political Philosophy; Contemporary Social Theory; Emotions and Politics; Aesthetics and Politics.

Selected publications:


Prudes, Perverts and Tyrants: Plato’s Gorgias and the Politics of Shame. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010

Articles and chapters:

“Recognizing Our Misrecognitions: Plato and the Contemporary Politics of Recognition.” (Chapter) Forthcoming Winter 2011 in Anagnorisis: The Mode of Knowledge: Classical Recognition Before and After Aristotle. Ed. Teresa Russo, University of Alberta Press.

“Plato’s Politics of Distributing and Disrupting the Sensible.” (Article) Forthcoming December 2010. In Theory and Event, 14.3.

“Mimesis, Persuasion and Manipulation in Plato’s Republic.” (Chapter) August 2010 in Manipulating Democracy: Democratic Theory, Political Psychology, and Mass Media, Ed. John Parrish and Wayne S. LeCheminant, Routledge Press.

“The Pedagogies of Shame.” In Cabinet: A Quarterly Magazine of Art and Culture. No. 31, Fall 2008.

“Plato on Shame and Parrhesia in Democratic Athens.” (Chapter). In Bringing the Passions Back In: The Emotions in Political Philosophy, Ed. Rebecca Kingston and Leonard Ferry, University of British Columbia Press, 2008.

“The Bipolar Longings of Thumos: A Feminist Rereading of Plato’s Republic.” (Article.). In Symposium: The Canadian Journal of Continental Philosophy, 11 no. 2, Fall 2007.

“Platonic Reflections on the Aesthetic Dimensions of Deliberative Democracy.” (Article). In Political Theory, 35 no. 3, Spring (June) 2007: 288-312.

“Reply to Green.” (Critical Response), Political Theory, Spring (April) 2005: 273-279.

“Prudes, Perverts and Tyrants: Plato and the Contemporary Politics of Shame and Civility.” (Article), Political Theory, Summer 32 no. 4, (August) 2004: 468-494.

Current Research Projects:

1. Aesthetics and the Representation of Politics

This project examines the various senses of mimesis in Plato’s Republic in order to understand the three interrelated forms of aesthetic agency, which Plato (and Hannah Arendt) felt were necessary for critical democratic citizenship: the poet and his genius (Republic 2), the actor and his virtuosity (Republic 3), the audience/spectator and his judgment (Republic 10).

2. Joyful Mourning vs. Militaristic and Consumerist Melancholia: This project examines the various ways in which responding to or preparing for death can ground the particular way of life of a democratic polity.


In the days after 9/11 the media moved quickly to edit out any footage of the twin towers that showed people jumping to their death. The Bush administration has banned footage showing the returning coffins of U.S. soldiers who have been killed during the Iraqi War. At the same time, the Internet provides a growing proliferation of particularly lurid and graphic images of people dying in any number of tragic, heroic, accidental or intentional ways. It seems that death is an event that haunts our sensorium precisely because it is the one event that we cannot ever fully experience with our senses, until our very ability to do so is simultaneously annihilated with its occurrence. For this reason, we obsessively try to observe death and get closer to it even while we turn away and hide from this supposedly horrific truth about human existence.

From Socrates to Foucault, death and the myriad ways of dying have also been at the center of political thought. Socrates felt that life was a preparation for death, while Plato thought that philosophy’s main purpose was to teach people how to die. Hobbes attempted to ground civil and political society on the universal fear of violent death. Nietzsche was fascinated and horrified that the image of the ‘dying Socrates’ had captivated the Athenians as well as the generations that followed Socrates. He worried that Socrates had killed off the tragic view of existence, which itself contained the Silenian wisdom, ‘best of all is never to have been born, and second best …is to die soon’. Finally, Foucault explored the fact that modern power, had shifted away from power over death to power over life.

This book explores why and how it is that images of death can actually ground or affirm a particular way of life for a polity. I explore this theme through the lens of Plato’s Republic, Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy, and Foucault’s History of Sexuality, Volume 1. I argue that all of these works perform, even while they attempt to explain, the different ways that mourning (and the iteration of death that it involves) can ground a way of life that comes to terms with, even while failing to fully overcome, the past. Finally, I bring their insights to bear on the contemporary sensorium of death to understand its implications for contemporary democratic agency.