Interview: Cycling and Philosophy

Jesús Ilundáin-Agurruza
Mike Austin
Mike Austin
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We recently caught up with Jesús Ilundáin-Agurruza and Michael W. Austin, the editors of Cycling – Philosophy for Everyone, released last year. We caught up with them recently and asked them a few questions about their editorial approach, and sound out why cycling is surprisingly complex and philosophically rich.

Why did you decide to edit a book on cycling and philosophy?

A colleague wrote that Ilundáin had found his calling with this project. But he’d rather say the book and the calling found him serendipitously when he saw the series editor Fritz Allhoff’s call for proposals.  Mike Austin was first to sprint for it and get the nod, but graciously offered to edit this as a tandem. It made sense because our combined experience meant we would steer the project in the right direction (and we think it has covered philosophically fascinating terrain).

What are some of the central concerns of the book, and why are they important?

One of our main goals was to capture the experiential and philosophical richness that cycling embodies. It is a seemingly simple activity that offers a surprisingly complex nature when examined philosophically. Another concern was to use the appeal of cycling—cyclists are a very passionate group of people—to stimulate philosophical and intellectual thinking in a way that was fun yet rigorous. As Plato said, we never learn anything we do not enjoy and have fun engaging. This book certainly is a tour de force for cycling enthusiasts. We also included some fictional vignettes as a sort of warm up that indeed have resonated with readers.  Additionally, we wanted to showcase high-caliber philosophy. To this end, the chapters cover cycling from the perspectives of metaphysics, ethics, phenomenology, and a plethora of ideas and movements. In the end, all of these are about bringing a philosophical awareness and discourse out into the street: we all stand to win by having a more prominent presence of philosophy in public life, and this “philosophy for everyone series” is perfect for that.

And what is it that draws you (personally) to this topic?  How are you involved in cycling?

As we write in the introduction or our chapters make clear, cycling has become interwoven with who we are: we aren’t only professors of philosophy or family men, but we are also athletes who embody this facet on two wheels—which, as Austin details in his contribution, are easier on the body than, say, running. For Ilundáin, pedalling is one more way to think through knotty philosophical issues besides the computer screen or the printed page, while racing handily takes care of any surplus energy (thus facilitating a less intense and “over the top” lecturing in classes).

What sort of reaction do you hope it will get?

We’d love for the book to become a sort of cult classic for cyclists of all “persuasions,’ from the dedicated racer to the casual “hop on the saddle just in the summer” rider. There is something for anyone who’s ever pedalled around in its pages, as many of the reviews are pointing out (even in cycling-mad and particular Denmark!). In fact, even for those who’d rather seat and ponder on armchairs instead of small saddles, the book offers stimulating applications of philosophical ideas and methodologies—it may even entice them to turn the cranks a bit!

Did anything in particular strike you through the process of working with the contributors to the book and with the material they produced (things you learned, surprises, etc.)?

It was inspiring, humbling, and motivating.  Editing a book on a subject you are so passionate about is truly a joy. For Austin, who is a latecomer to the sport, it was great fun reading about it from a variety of different perspectives, from the Olympic hopeful to the Icelandic commuter. The book really did make him want to get out on the road. Ilundáin found the process to be a bountiful source of insights and revelations about his own cycling practices as well as philosophical mores.  He’d often think, “Why didn’t I think of that?” and be truly grateful that someone had shown him a better way. Moreover, there was a sense of congeniality that felt like the draft of a big peloton, in the sense that the enthusiasm of those involved with the project was so contagious. And this applies to all, contributors and editing team at Wiley-Blackwell, who made the process extremely professional yet fun. Finally, it has allowed us to meet some very good, thoughtful philosophers who share our obsession, er, passion. Being part of a larger whole is a great way to endure and delve the rigors of philosophical thinking and the headwinds on the road.

What’s your current project? What’s next?

For Ilundáin-Agurruza a couple of projects with Wiley-Blackwell:  One is an entry on Spain’s foremost 20th Century philosopher, Ortega y Gasset, for their upcoming International Encyclopaedia of Ethics.  The other, if the book gets a green light, will be a chapter he will co-author on sailing and philosophy. For Austin, two more co-edited books in the Philosophy for Everyone series are on the way, one on fatherhood and another on coffee. He’s also working on a book-length project on the topic of humility.

If you weren’t a philosopher, what would you be?

Austin would be a professional soccer player for Arsenal, or ride for Team Garmin, at least in his dreams. In reality, he’d try to find some other way to get paid to think, write, and teach.  Ilundáin believes that some wishes can be dangerous if they were to become true. Since luckily for him the time to be a master swordsman or professional cyclist are not in the cards, writing novels or acting (in either case to explore or “inhabit” multiple perspectives) would be alternate dream occupations.

If you were to do this all over again, would you change anything? What have you learned in editing this book that might help you in future projects?

While we are very pleased with how it has turned out, and wouldn’t make any major changes in terms of content, we think that just as it is a good idea to carry a spare tube, it  is prudent to give oneself extra time and space for projects to deal with “unpredictable” surprises that tend to blossom when deadlines are tight.

Author: Mr Cooper

I am a teacher. I love THINGS. THINGS are the doorway into knowledge and understanding.

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