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.

Continue reading →

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.

Continue reading →

Is Linguistic Justice Translatable? On the Significance of Translation for Universal History

The aim of this short paper is to offer a critical response to Philippe Van Parijs concerning his notion of linguistic justice as worked out most extensively in his book Linguistic Justice for Europe and for the World (2011). I thus begin by elucidating his conception of linguistic justice by presenting two basic theses on which it rests: first, he attempts to demonstrate the need for a lingua franca in the “globalized” (or rather “globalizing”) world today (i.e., advocating a common language for the entire world); and second, he seeks to justify the exceptional and unprecedented position the English language is now in to serve as the de facto lingua franca for this globalizing world. Given the general theme of history for this conference, I shall present Van Parijs’ thoughts with a particular focus on its historical aspects and implications. Accordingly, the first part of my discussion will center on the idea of lingua franca in relation to history. As a critical response to Van Parijs’ view, I subsequently take up the question of translation and discuss in the second part the significant role translation can and must play in our contemporary, multilingual world. Such an analysis will be carried out by examining some of the important contributions made in the hermeneutic tradition on the question of translation. In particular, the works of George Steiner, John Sallis, and Paul Ricoeur will be considered. By doing so, I wish to demonstrate in this paper that it is not English as the lingua franca that serves linguistic justice, but rather our openness to translation that must be seen as a fundamental principle of linguistic justice.

Continue reading →

Adorno and the Difficulties of Tradition Today

It is hard to imagine what Adorno’s corpus would look like without the deep scars left by his period of exile in the United States during the Second World War. Despite its catastrophic genesis, his exile played a constitutive role in the development of his thought, and made him, among many other things, a savagely insightful commentator on American life. This commentary on America is marked by a dialectic of fascination and disgust with his newfound home, perhaps the most “radically bourgeois country” (75) in the Western world. In particular, he was fascinated by America’s lack of cultural tradition. In his essay “On Tradition,” America serves as a model of a society ravaged by bourgeois rationalization, proudly celebrating its lack of tradition by rejecting “old world” values as archaic, irrational, and pompous. The relatively short history of the nation compounds the problem, further disconnecting us from any substantial sense of tradition or historical consciousness. We are proudly the country of the nouveau riche, possessed of power and wealth bereft of tradition and culture. This literal lack of history and evaluative rejection of tradition places America at ground zero of the crisis of tradition. Tradition survives in America in its most degraded and mutilated forms, manufactured in artificially aged consumer products and conservative “traditional” family values. The recent wave of gauche typographical décor emblazoned with the actual word “TRADITION” seems designed to confirm Adorno’s worst accusations.

Continue reading →

Reflections on “Pure Religion” in Benjamin’s Thought

The following paper was presented at the Seventh Annual Telos Conference, held on February 15–17, 2013, in New York City.

In the following, I wish to offer two reflections on the question of religion in Benjamin’s thought, the first of which pertains to the subject of translation, the second of which pertains to history. I will address the former first, for it is here, namely in Benjamin’s concept of “pure language,” that I have derived the eponymous notion of “pure religion.” These reflections will conclude in the form of open-ended questions, which I will elucidate at this time in order to orient my audience with regards to my stakes. The first question is whether the translatability of religious scripture is a condition of possibility for the multiplicity of world religions, and if so, what might the implications of this be. The second question, which I will distill from the first, is whether historicity, or what is in Benjamin the strife between historical materialism and historiography, grounds the essence, or “purity,” of religious experience.

Continue reading →

On Translating Ernst Jünger’s The Adventurous Heart: An Interview with Thomas Friese

Ernst Jünger’s The Adventurous Heart: Figures and Capriccios is now available for the first time in English translation from Telos Press. Maxwell Woods spoke with the book’s translator, Thomas Friese, about the challenges of translating Jünger into English as well as the increasing relevance of the author’s writings to our current social and political landscape. Purchase your copy of The Adventurous Heart here.

Maxwell Woods: In your preface to The Adventurous Heart, by Ernst Jünger, you write that “this book hooked me on the author for life.” What is it about this particular book that you found so captivating? Do you find yourself returning to this book in your studies of Jünger? Of Jünger’s work does this book hold a special place for you?

Thomas Friese: First impressions obviously have special value, and The Adventurous Heart was my first encounter with Jünger. It was an ideal start, since this book is a concise introduction to the worldview of the mature author. Ideally, all new readers would come to Jünger via this book—there are certainly worse ways, which are unfortunately also more common—i.e., through Der Arbeiter or Storms of Steel, or, worse still, through clichéd second-hand opinions.

Continue reading →