a review of Simon Critchley’s The Faith of the Faithless
Although an atheist and, in his previous books, a diagnostician of “disappointment,” Critchley is by no means a pessimist. Perhaps his philosophy, like René Descartes’, pursues a path through doubt towards an affirmation of faith. This movement can even be mapped onto the course of his career. His major early work, the neo-nihilist treatise Very Little… Almost Nothing, asserted the essential “finitude,” or limitedness, of the human condition. But later books, like Infinitely Demanding, argued that this finitude could form a foundation for complex ethical commitments. In its way, The Faith of the Faithless fulfils the arc of those earlier arguments, fleshing out a positive political philosophy from a “disappointed” premise: nurturing belief from non-belief.
read the rest at the Los Angeles Review of Books
a review of Daniel Levin Becker’s Many Subtle Channels
I’ll come clean: from what I’ve read of the Oulipo’s output, I’m a bit ambivalent. A case in point would be Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual. I first read this book completely naively, unaware that its plot was modelled on a sequence of chess moves mapped by a mathematician. I enjoyed it immensely. But as soon as I knew how it had come about, it lost its allure. I couldn’t read it without being reminded of what seemed like an annoying authorial trick, a self-congratulatory gimmick. Of course, the fault was entirely mine; my reading of Perec was weighed down by my own presuppositions about how literary works should behave. But it’s worth being clear, when it comes to the Oulipo, that I’m neither an expert nor necessarily a believer. Fortunately, Daniel Levin Becker is both…
read the full review at Berfrois
a review of Terry Eagleton’s The Event of Literature
Eagleton’s broad brush strokes are both a strength and a weakness. They’re a strength in that they enable him to uncover the commonalities between a diverse set of thinkers and theorists. But, here as elsewhere, Eagleton has a weakness for straw men. At his most glib, Eagleton isn’t as funny as he thinks he is: ‘if the theorists are open-neck-shirted, the philosophers of literature rarely appear without a tie,’ runs one dreary routine. A more serious shortcoming is that his rhetoric of robust ‘common sense,’ which deploys everyday counter-examples against the confusions of theorists and philosophers alike, often only holds up at this anecdotal level. In such cases, when Eagleton ranges competing ideas against each other, it’s pretty clear that he’s the one pulling the puppet strings.
read the rest at Review 31
a review of Boris Groys’ Introduction to Antiphilosophy
Groys’ book begins with an inventive metaphilosophical argument. Philosophy, he claims, is conventionally characterised as a ‘pursuit of universal truth,’ purified from everyday experience. In contrast, ‘antiphilosophy’ arises to problematise such pursuits, ascribing philosophical value to events and sensations routinely encountered in the lifeworld. It insists that philosophy isn’t our sole, privileged point of access to ‘philosophical’ content, which is instead embedded in ‘ordinary practices’ like laughter (for Bakhtin) and gift-giving (Mauss), among other examples. The originality of Groys’ approach lies in an asserted analogy between antiphilosophy and post-Duchampian ‘anti-art…’
read the review at Mute
a review of Eli Friedlander’s Walter Benjamin: A Philosophical Portrait
Benjamin is often read as a literary figure rather than a philosopher. Texts like “Theses on the Philosophy of History” show him at his most aphoristic; the latter features a famous fragment describing “the angel of history” who is “propelled into the future” by “a storm blowing from paradise.” As many of Benjamin’s texts are assembled from disparate scraps and notes, some recent scholarly studies have mistaken this aspect of his style as fully reflective of his thought. As one critic remarked, Benjamin is often typecast as “a naturally unsystematic man, a hero of fragmentation.”
read the review online at Bookforum