William Spanos

Obituary of William Spanos

William V. Spanos, 92, passed away peacefully at Wilson Hospital on December 29, 2017. He is survived by four children: Maria Spanos (and Jim Swallow); Stephania Spanos; Aristides V. Spanos (and Mary, as well as grandchildren Natalie and Isabella); and Adam V. Spanos (and Shohreh Farzan). He is also survived by friend and colleague Susan Strehle, by distinguished colleagues and friends all over the world, and by many former students whose lives he changed and enriched with his passionate commitment to engaged thinking.

Bill published fifteen books of theory, philosophy, criticism, and interpretation, and he edited many more. Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English and Comparative Literature, he joined Binghamton University in 1966 after receiving his PhD from the University of Wisconsin. He was widely respected as the founder and editor of the journal boundary 2 (1972-90); among several edited books, A Casebook on Existentialism (1966; reprinted 9 times and reissued in a revised and enlarged edition) influenced a generation of students' understanding of the philosophy and its global impact. A collection of some of Bill's most important work was published in A Spanos Reader in 2015.

As a young man, Bill served in the U.S. Army during World War II; captured in France and transported to Dresden, Germany, he survived the Allies' firebombing of that city. His memoir, In the Neighborhood of Zero (2010), recalls evental moments that shaped his lifelong resistance to indifferent political power. Bill came to believe that thinking people must "live always in the time of the now that, like a crater, the firebombing of Dresden had opened up to me"—and therefore commit to an ethics of responsibility and care.

Although Bill devoted much of his intellectual life to critiquing dogmatic ways of thinking, toward the end of his life he began to emphasize the positive possibilities for human coexistence. He imagined that people from different backgrounds would learn to relate to each other in "loving strife." In this "community to come," the differences of race, nation, religion, and gender would not be abolished but would become the source of mutual joy and productive collaborations.

There will be a celebration of Bill's life at Binghamton University, to be announced at a future time. Contributions in his memory may be made to a scholarship fund that Bill endowed to support graduate students in English. To contribute online, go to www.giving.binghamton.edu/; click "giving," scroll down below the visible choices to find "Other" at the bottom right, and write in "Spanos Scholarship."