Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts/ Illustratie Simone Golob
Jenny Slatman inspired by Françoise Dastur
As a child, Jenny Slatman (1969) could watch with bated breath while her grandmother peeled potatoes. “The movement of her hands. Beautiful.” The tensed muscles of runners also induced admiration. The human body is the leitmotiv through Slatman’s career; she is an associate professor of philosophy in the department of Health, Ethics and Society. It also shows in her present research into how people deal with bodily impairments as a result of breast, head or neck cancer, and in her recent book Our Strange Body, philosophical reflections on identity and medical interventions.
Nevertheless, it is the French philosopher Françoise Dastur (1942) who inspired Slatman the most. “She is one of the few women in academic philosophy. She combines intelligence, passion and a keen eye for everyday details.”
Slatman studied physiotherapy. “I didn’t have pre-university secondary education; so medicine was not an option.” She finished but felt she was still very “young and uncertain”. She moved to the west for a study of philosophy at the University of Amsterdam. “Physiotherapy is very positivistic; the clinical lessons, the theory. You can treat someone with a backache for backache. It was that black and white. I had my doubts, I wanted a study that had more perspectives.” Philosophy was an immediate hit. She graduated and started - also in Amsterdam - a PhD on Merleau-Ponty, a French phenomenological philosopher. And yes, she had already read something by Françoise Dastur, but a meeting? Not yet.
“I had been a PhD student for only two months when my supervisor very enthusiastically sent me to a conference where Dastur was one of the speakers. I was very green and uncertain, but I did dare to ask her a question. What was the question? Oh dear, I can’t remember. Her lecture was, as far as I can remember, about death. She had written La mort: essai sur la finitude, about the meaning of death.” Slatman kept in touch, invited Dastur to a conference in Amsterdam and in 1997 she went to the Université Paris XII to do some courses. Dastur was one of the professors. “There is something really powerful about her, she doesn’t like to be in the limelight. She makes her point in a wonderfully elegant manner, in her lectures as well as in her writings. She is anything but loud. She is also very good analytically.”
Slatman searches for a YouTube video. Dastur, a woman with shoulder-length grey hair – “there is something Indian about her” – is prominently pictured. In the background is a typical French landscape. “She and her husband live in the Ardèche.” The video is about the area, about drilling for shale gas. “She made it a philosophical discussion.” Then: “She has a beautiful voice, doesn’t she?” Slatman explains some things. She can follow the French, no problem. “I was never really good at it, but Dastur never made an issue about that, unlike other lecturers. She knew that it was quite difficult for non-French students.”
This is a series in which scientists talk about the person who inspired them most