Interesting Review of Hägglund’s Radical Atheism

I have expressed some reservations about Hägglund’s book in the past, but I do think it is a rather refreshing read, even if I disagree for the most part with its primary argument – here’s take on the book by Brian Rajski:

“[T]he openness to the other cannot be an ethical principle since it is not a matter of choice. Openness to the other answers to the openness to the unpredictable coming of time and is thus the condition for whatever there is. . . . Furthermore, nothing can guarantee that it is better to be more open than to be less open to the other (or vice versa). . . . The decision concerning how one should relate to the other can therefore not be dictated by an ethical injunction, but must be reinvented from time to time. Far from providing an ethical ground, the deconstructive thinking of alterity thus politicizes even the most elementary relation to the other.” In this explosive little book on Derrida, Martin Hagglund rejects the appropriation over the last twenty years of deconstruction as an ethical, political, or religious project. He denies that there is an “ethical turn” in Derrida’s thought (usually located around the publication of Specters of Marx), arguing Derrida’s work is informed by a single logic from start to end. 

4 thoughts on “Interesting Review of Hägglund’s Radical Atheism

  1. Mikhail,

    If it’s not a pain, it would be cool if you have a link to where you disagreed with it in the past or explained how the guy goes wrong.

    Hagglund’s claim is even more similar to Harman than the reviewer lets on. Harman also argues that Heidegger falls into inconsistency when he simultaneously holds that certain categories descriptively hold for all beings but are also somehow normatively hold especially so for the beings he wants to praise. This is exactly what Hagglund seems to be saying about Derridean “openness” (“The ultratranscendental description of why we must be open to the other is conflated with an ethical prescription that we ought to be open to the other.”)

    Anyhow, I’m really interested to see how this very issue jives with your take on Derrida and “the ethical turn.”


  2. Jon,

    I didn’t do a fair amount of posts on Hagglund, I read his book over a Christmas trip, I think, and I found it to be interesting but misinformed in terms of Hagglund’s claims that Derrida was all about. Any such assessment is prone to be an overstatement, I think, but especially if the tone of the book is something like: “All of these people who were reading Derrida before me were wrong, because they completely misread him to say A while it is pretty obvious that he was all about B.”

    However, the cited review above makes a number of different subtle points against Hagglund that makes me want to reread the book and see for myself.

    I think the book would have been a much more interesting encounter with Derrida if Hagglund prefaced it by saying something like: “I wonder what would happen if we read Derrida this way?” i.e. what sort of effects are produced if we posit that Derrida never meant to say anything ethical and lacked a dimension of normativity?

    A quick search of PE brings up this post where I wrote about Hagglund, but again I don’t think it’s fair to say that I have really tried to engage the book.

    • I don’t know if it will be very helpful, I think it was one of those immediate reactions to the book and I never really posted anything after I finished it. It sounds more critical than I think I actually feel about it.

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