Philosophy: destined to lick up its own vomit?

It seems like everybody wants to somehow mark the limits of philosophical thinking.  Historically, perhaps, this came from those who stood outside the reaches of philosophy. My students–especially the Christian fundies–always mock the pretensions of philosophers by rejecting the search for total knowledge even when I insist that philosophy is much humbler than that.  Reason, history, experience…philosophy are still at work, they’re just stripped down,  reworked, perhaps even a bit overmodest.  I don’t think anybody would begrudge that the impetus for encyclopeidac knowledge is passe, and certainly in the context of the last fifty or sixty years, the idea that we can make some sort of neat and progressive discovery based on some sort of grounding method used to seem so antiquated what with the talk of violence and metaphysics, geneaology, deconstruction, ordinary language, positivism, empiricism and on and on.   We do philosophical work and then seem to not know more than we know. “Reality is completely incomprehensible.” “I don’t even understand my own experience.”  Yet, nobody has really suggested we jump ship and move our desks into the math department (as Kant would have us do).  Philosophy’s impotence demands some sort of critical turn.  Since someone just told me that Hegel is coming back (did he ever leave?) into some sort of vogue it seems ironic for me to suggest that every since Hegel’s system philosophy has been recoiling, but at least it’s been recoiling in delight.   Continue reading


Traversing the Alltag

In the final paragraphs of the “New Thinking,” playing around with the German word Alltag, Rosenzweig writes:

Everyone should philosophize once.  Everyone should look all around from his own standpoint and life-point.  But this vision is not an end in itself.  The book is no attained goal…it must itself be taken responsibility for, rather than bearing itself or being borne by others of its kind.  This responsibility occurs in the everyday of life.  Except that to know and live it as All-tag [everyday or day of the All], the life-day of the All had to be traversed (Philosophical and Theological Writings, 137).

When Rosenzweig mentions “the book is no attained goal,” it is an allusion to the completion of the Star of Redemption, that is, the end of that text’s systematic determination of “the All” is not the final goal or endgame. Rather, its readers must take responsibility for the All in the everyday of life. This is interesting.  One can certainly catch a glimpse of the Levinasian aspect of Rosenzweig–or better, Levinas’s reading of Rosenzweig– here, but I think (and perhaps it’s because Pollock’s excellent book on Rosenzweig is still somewhat fresh in my head having read through it a month or so ago) that’s to miss the point or ignore Rosenzweig’s debt to and rethinking of the systematic impetus of German Idealism, especially Schelling.  It also sheds light on Rosenzweig’s overarching concern with adult education, translating the Bible and Jeduah Halevi as well as the day to day issues of communal Jewish life.  As Rosenzweig famously said in a letter to Martin Buber: “I see my future only in life, not in writing.”


I’ve been reading through the two volumes of Rosenzweig’s letters and diary entries here and there for good while, but  in a footnote in the first chapter of Benjamin Pollock’s so far quite interesting Franz Rosenzweig and the Systematic Task of Philosophy I came across an something I haven’t yet seen.   As Pollock notes, Rosenzweig was rather unimpressed with the majority of the Neo-Kantians (except for Hermann Cohen, really), who he thought were simply confused about the relationship between a “system” and the task of philosophy.  Hence the need to return to the  approaches of German Idealism to get clear on the systematic task of philosophy. In this letter his ire is directed towards Rickert

Spinoza refutes Descartes, Leibniz refutes Spinoza, Kant refutes Leibniz, Fichte refutes Kant, Schelling refutes Fichte, Hegel refutes Schelling, and Hegel, through the advance of history is more than refuted, he is judged. But Nietzsche does not refute Schopenhauer and I do not refute Nietzsche.  He who still busies himself today with refutations (e.g. Rickert with Nietzsche, for what is the philosophy of value other than a struggle against the transvaluation of values?), proves in so doing that he is not a philosopher.

Geez.  How awkward.  I mean Rickert purportedly helped Rosenzweig publish his article, “Oldest System-Program.” Moreover, as Pollock notes (I wouldn’t know since I’m not that familiar with Rickert): “Rickert’s own systematic work contains key themes and concepts too many of which pop up in Rosenzweig’s Star for such overlap to be coincidental” (64).  Yet…

Infinity: Qualitative and Quantitative

Came across this passage from a letter Franz Rosenzweig sent to Hans Ehrenberg in 1918:

What does the irrational number mean in relation to the rational?  For rational numbers, infinity is an always unattainable limit, a forever improbable magnitude, even if it is of the order of certainty, of permanent truth.  With irrational numbers, on the contrary, at each of its points that limit comes up against rational numbers, almost physically, with the presence specific to numbers, thus liberating it from its abstract, linear and one-dimensional nature (from which its hypothetical status also proceeds), to confer a “spatial” totality and an obvious reality on it.  In the form of the infinitesimal number, infinity is the secret spring, forever invisible, of the rational number and its visible reality.  On the other hand, through the irrational number, infiinty is manifested, becomes visible, while forever remaining an alein reality: a number that is not a number, or so to speak a “non-number.”

What an interesting (and oddly clear) passage.  It’s a rather succint statement of  Rosenzweig’s conception of redemption (and critique of Hegel) and sheds a some light on how Rosenzweig approaches some of the problems  towards the end of the Star, e.g. progress, messianism, election and history.  Anyway, at long last I have gotten a hold of Stephane Moses’ recently translated The Angel of History: Rosenzweig, Benjamin, Scholem.  Time permitting, I’m hoping to throw together some thoughts about Moses’ text and more broadly, Rosenzweig sometime soon.

Badiou, Rosenzweig and the word “Jew”

Mostly a thinking out loud post based on some visceral reactions, really. I have heard the charge of antisemitism directed at both Badiou and Zizek for sometime now, and while I’m not completely unsympathetic to such claims, they do tend to misinterpret and simplify both thinkers, which of course, have the effect of missing the mark completely. Now, in particular, with regards to Badiou and the term “Jew,” this seems to me to be an old problem of particularism vs universalism rather than the typical knee jerk reactions towards the state of Israel (see here and here). In this sense, it’s hard not to think of Isaac Deutscher, who remarked in a speech he gave to the World Jewish Congress in 1958:

Religion? I am an atheist. Jewish nationalism? I am an internationalist. In neither sense am I therefore a Jew. I am, however, a Jew by force of my unconditional solidarity with the persecuted and exterminated. I am a Jew because I feel the pulse of Jewish history; because I should like to do all I can to assure the real, not spurious, security and self-respect of the Jews.

Now because I’m without shame, here’s my original comment pertaining to the above passage. This is a very interesting response, and really, a very Jewish one. This begs a number of questions: Is it ever possible to reconcile ethnic fidelities with a commitment to “universal human emancipation? ” Is the only option to simply choose sides, that is, either a nationalist (particularism) or a “non-Jewish Jew” (universalism/cosmpolitanism)? But here’s the thing, if Judaism is a particular community/ethnicity/religion with a universal aims/goals/ramifications (e.g. a light unto the nations) to begin with then there is no choice to be made, the “Jew” as such would not have to choose either/or, but then again, perhaps I’m just not very dogmatic.

I still have the same response, but I often find myself feeling somewhat uncomfortable when I hear Badiou discussing these issues. In an article I dug up on, “The Uses of the Word “Jew,”” Badiou writes this: Continue reading

Love Me! Rosenzweig, Love, the Subject

Wildly Parenthetical’s questions about the possible role of “peace, love and understanding” (Sorry, couldn’t resist the Elvis Costello reference) in Levinas’s ethical rapport has gotten me thinking about Franz Rosenzweig. For perhaps one of the clearest influences of Rosenzweig on contemporary philosophy is to be found in Levinas’s ethical inversion of the etymology of philosophy from the love of wisdom to the wisdom of love (in the service of love). However, I think that Levinas tends to merely transpose God’s demanding love with the love of the other by substituting the ontological status of absence with ethical proximity, which seems to me, a “cool” “Heideggerization of Rosenzweig.” That said, the “here I am” that Levinas associates with love, subjectivity and philosophy clearly has it source in Rosenzweig’s chapter on revelation in the Star of Redemption, but “cashed out” it’s a bit different. What follows is just some commentary/summary/fragments on Rosenzweig’s conception of revelation, what he calls the “ever-renewing birth of the soul.” The second part of the Star moves from logic/cognition into temporality/testimony. The elements in the first part of the Star need an inner transformation so they may be sources of power for revelation and not simply “conceptual pieties.” Being (in the most restrictive sense, to be contrasted with existence) signifies the correlation of acting with experience lies beyond reason and is fulfilled in the realities, e.g. creation, revelation and redemption. Now, whenever I read Rosenzweig I get a bit uncomfortable with all the theological language, but there is certainly something interesting at work behind all of it that can shed some light on the inter-subjective rapport. However, it is good to read Rosenzweig broadly as hammering away at the pretensions of idealism–albeit the regressive movement of the text is rather Hegelian. Continue reading