Telos 179 (Summer 2017): A New Regime?

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When the historian Ken Burns spoke at the Stanford University commencement last June, he delivered an exceptionally political address, including an attack on what he labeled the “Vichy Republicans.” Those Republican leaders who had not distanced themselves from candidate Trump, so Burns, were the equivalent of the Vichy French who collaborated with Hitler. That master metaphor, comparing 2016 to 1933, has continued into the new administration, with the anti-Trump camp labeling itself as “the resistance.” Despite Burns’s historiographical authority, one might question the validity of the underlying equation. No doubt the policies of the Trump administration are more conservative than those of Obama—hardly surprising—but the paradigms of the totalitarianism of the twentieth century are not necessarily the most adequate theoretical tools to analyze early twenty-first-century political phenomena. As emotionally satisfying as it may be for some to try to relive battles of earlier decades, Critical Theory ought to try to do better. We may very well be entering a different political era, a new regime, and not only in the United States. Can we describe it more effectively?

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Adorno and Levinas: From Freedom to Peace

In this essay I attempt to sketch out the possibility of a response to the problem of the relation between ethics and politics in Emmanuel Levinas’s philosophy. Levinas’s ethics as first philosophy is revolutionary, and promising, but it leads to a gap between ethics and politics. This is a genuine problem, since depending on how one problematizes this gap and responds to it, one may end up with different, even opposing, views of Levinas’s thought, ranging from the right side of the political spectrum to its very left. In order to respond to this problem, I examine the possibility of a constructive dialogue between Levinas’s ethics and Adorno’s negative dialectics. In particular, I approach the relation between ethics and politics in Levinas from the standpoint of the question of history.

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Telos 177 (Winter 2016): Rethinking Nature in the Anthropocene

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While the term Anthropocene was used in the USSR already in the 1960s to refer to the late Quaternary era, it rose to prominence more recently when introduced by Eugene F. Stoermer and Paul J. Crutzen. As the very word indicates, this is an epoch when humanity has taken center stage in the sense that its activities now have a major, global, and lethal impact. The shadow of human-caused global destruction and mass death haunts this epoch, and indeed, humanity’s newly acquired capacity for devastation is one of the Anthropocene’s most marked traits. While mass extinctions are hardly new phenomena and while the specter of the extinction of humanity due to some sudden catastrophe was there even before human beings were aware of it in scientific terms, the actual capacity of humanity to extinguish itself along with a large swath of other species on the planet is new, and the stakes of human action are higher.

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Telos 174 (Spring 2016): Philosophy, Literature, Theory

Telos 174 (Spring 2016): Philosophy, Literature, Theory is now available for purchase in our store.

In this issue, Telos turns to a diverse set of philosophers, contemporary and classical, and questions, concerning ethics and politics on the one hand, and literature and aesthetics on the other. More often than not, those distinctions turn out to be difficult to maintain. A case in point is the opening essay, which examines how statements by Levinas have been subjected to political readings in order to impute to him positions that he did not hold. What are the ethics of intentional misreadings? In their meticulously argued analysis, Oona Eisenstadt and Claire Elise Katz demonstrate how the philosopher’s comments in a 1982 radio interview, in the immediate aftermath of the massacres in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon, have been subjected to increasing degrees of misrepresentation, culminating in false accusations that he justified the killings. These insinuations involved fabricating quotations to put words in his mouth. Eisenstadt and Katz expose the poor philology and tendentious politics implicit in such distortion.

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Heidegger’s Being and Time: A Collection of Pretentious and Vague Platitudes

The following article was originally published in the Greek newspaper To Vima on December 21, 1997, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the first publication of Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time.

I consider Being and Time to be one of the overrated books of the century. To be precise, I regard it as a collection of platitudes expressed in pretentious and obscure language. Whoever goes beyond the narrow philosophical perspective and surveys the history of ideas and problems in its totality arrives at this conclusion. Being very one-sidedly educated as a rule, philosophers usually inflate the importance of things that take place in their own field and consider an author original solely because he introduces them to one or two new concepts. In reality, the philosophy of the Modern Era did not create its own problematic but followed, directly or indirectly, in a better or worse manner, the rapid changes that occurred chiefly in the natural sciences to begin with, and subsequently in the social and human sciences. The epistemologically oriented philosophy of the subject was developed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as an attempt to provide answers to questions raised by the mathematical physics of the time (the distinction between primary and secondary qualities, causality, substance). The social and human sciences, whose foundations were laid in the eighteenth century and which came into their own in the nineteenth, introduced a perspective that has proven fatal for philosophy’s vital myth, namely, that of the autonomy of spirit, since they demonstrated its dependence not only on “irrational” and “existential” factors but on “non-spiritual,” socioeconomic, and historical ones too.

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