Marrano Universalism: Benjamin, Derrida, and Buck‑Morss on the Condition of Universal Exile

The following paper was presented at the 2015 Telos Conference, held on February 13–15, 2015, in New York City. For additional details about the conference, please visit the Telos-Paul Piccone Institute website.

In my short essay, I would like to outline a new strategy of the universalization of history, which emerges from the analysis of modern Jewish practice of philosophizing. I call it a Marrano strategy, by building an analogy between the religious practices of the late-medieval Sephardic Jewry, which was forced to convert to Christianity but kept Judaism “undercover,” and the philosophical intervention of modern Jewish thinkers who spoke the seemingly universal idiom of Western philosophy but, at the same time, impregnated it “secretly” with motives deriving from their “particular” background.[1] Yet, they did not do it in order to abolish the universalist perspective, but to transform it; for the last heirs of this “Marrano” line, Walter Benjamin and Jacques Derrida, the proper universalism amounts to an after-Babel project of mending the broken whole from within, horizontally, without assuming the lofty position of a general meta-language, but through the effort of multi-linguality.

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The Status of the Political in Derrida’s Work

As an occasional feature on TELOSscope, we highlight a past Telos article whose critical insights continue to illuminate our thinking and challenge our assumptions. Today, Robert Ramos looks at Jonathan Blair’s’s “Context, Event, Politics: Recovering the Political in the Work of Jacques Derrida” from Telos 141 (Winter 2007).

In “Context, Event, Politics: Recovering the Political in the Work of Jacques Derrida,” Jonathan Blair asks us to reconsider the standard narrative that has been used to categorize and also mischaracterize Derrida’s work. This is the position that Derrida’s early work begins with the institution of deconstruction and that at a point in the late 1980s Derrida’s thinking experienced a shift or a turn from deconstruction and to an explicit focus on the ethical and the political. Against this narrative, Blair argues that the question of politics appears as early as 1970.

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Chiasms in Meditation or Toward the Notion of Cartesian Fiction

Juan Carlos Donado’s “Chiasms in Meditation or Toward the Notion of Cartesian Fiction” appears in Telos 162 (Spring 2013). Read the full version online at the Telos Online website, or purchase a print copy of the issue in our store.

In constant friction with readings that are either completely oblivious of the notion or merely mention the fictional aspect of Descartes’ Meditations, this essay attempts to philosophically thematize the concept of fiction, based on a now famous interpretation by Michel Foucault. We will attempt to make a robust case for constructing the concept of Cartesian fiction as a philosophically crucial category, which cannot be absent from an analysis that pretends to capture the thrust of Descartes’ writing in the Meditations. We will address how fiction plays a determining role in defining certain philosophical pillars of Cartesian thought, such as the concepts of radical doubt, truth, and the extension of rationality itself. We will closely read various key moments of Meditations I–II to illustrate why fiction can be viewed as the hermeneutical catalyst that unlocks the interpretation of certain “chiasms,” which Foucault well identified within the Meditations as the crossing between two discursive lines, that of the system and that of the exercise. At the same time and by the same token, the focus on the concept of fiction will serve to provide our own interpretation of the meditating subject’s encounter with madness, an encounter that spurred a heated debate between Foucault and Jacques Derrida.

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The End of the World Designed with Men in Mind

The following paper was presented at Telos in Europe: The L’Aquila Conference, held on September 7-9, 2012, in L’Aquila, Italy.

How should we conceive the distinctive character, the “particular rarity,” of the wearing and growing of the contemporary world? How should we come to terms with our time? What words can we find that are fitting for its specificity when so many of the words we have found fitting hitherto, especially promising words about the course of human history and its political hopes, its hopes in the political (modernity, Enlightenment, civilization, socialism, etc.) sound more and more like the road signs of another age?

Are we not floundering today? Isn’t this, at least in part, what we need to understand, to make intelligible? So we might look out for writings, wherever they come from, that speak to and speak from this world, a world which today, it seems, more than ever, “wears as it grows.”

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