Robert Service’s New Biography of Trotsky


There’s a review of it in The Times.  I remember reading his 2002 biography of Lenin with great interest, and I haven’t had a chance to read his Stalin biography (never had much interest in Stalin actually). In any case, an anecdote: Trotsky liked to hang out in Cafe Central in Vienna (as I have learned recently) and apparently when the Austrian Ministry of Interior received a request from Russia to squash the revolutionary activities in Viennese cafes, the minister reacted with laughter asking: “Who do they think will make a revolution? Herr Trotsky from Cafe Central?” Herr Trotsky, of course, did go and make a revolution later on and The Times has a nice picture of him and Lenin:

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Faceless Life


When prodded for some details about his biography Michel Henry responded:

I would like to tell you how much I feel stripped away by the very idea of a biography. For one who thinks that the true self for us all is a no-worldly self, foreign to every empirical or objective determination, the attempt to approach him through these kinds of reference points seems to be problematic. The history of a man, the circumstances which surround him, are they anything other than a sort of mask, more or less flattering, that he and others agree to put on his face–he who, at bottom, has no face.

I think I like this…

New Book – Sofia Gubaidulina: A Biography


Indiana Press released Gubaidulina’s first ever biography, this should be a great read as anyone who was ever exposed to Gubaidulina’s music would be eager to learn more about this strange lady – definitely going on my “Wish List”!

Sofia Gubaidulina
Sofia Gubaidulina
A Biography
cloth
$39.95
Michael Kurtz
Foreword by Mstislav Rostropovich
Translated by Christoph K. Lohmann
Edited by Malcolm Hamrick Brown
A comprehensive biography of one of the most influential composers of the 20th century Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina (1931– ) has achieved international acclaim for her unique musical oeuvre which draws on Eastern and Western musical traditions and reflects a deep-rooted belief in the mystical and religious qualities of music. Continue reading

Philosophy as Biography?


It’s fairly well-known (I think??) that when asked about the life of Aristotle, Heidegger retorted that all we need to know is that Aristotle was born, he thought, he died.  That is to say, who cares about the life of Aristotle, it’s irrelevant to understanding what he wrote down on paper.  Derrida suggested (somewhere) that the “official” biography of anyone is problematic because it serves to freeze that person’s image, and in turn, produces a truth that give rise to a predominant perception of that particular person for, well, who knows how long.  Derrida counters such a view of biography (however successful) with a more fragmentary and “novel/radical/interesting” (whatever that means) reading of a philosopher’s writings that may actually contain and “reveal” a more more accurate biography than the “official-minded” biographies.  Yet, there may be a better way.  Osip Mandelstam wrote something to the effect that, “It is enough for us to tell of the books one has read, and his biography is done.” Emmanuel Levinas provides us with some sparse details–an “inventory” as he calls it– of his biography in “Signature,” and pauses to note that his biography was “dominated by the presentiment and the memory of the Nazi horror.” This business about philosophy and biography isn’t really new, Diogenes wrote a biography of a bunch of philosophers, and that was a while ago after all.  I recall some biography of Nietzsche suggesting he was a closeted homosexual and that’s why he was so filled with vitriol against Christianity and the conventional morality that goes along with it.  I don’t know, how much should we pay attention to philosophers lives as a way to illuminate their writing?  Here’s a rather odd answer in the form of a biographical reflection by Alain Badiou,”Philosophy as Biography,” which appears in the latest issue of The Symptom:

Nietzsche wrote that a philosophy is always the biography of the philosopher. Maybe a biography of the philosopher by the philosopher himself is a piece of philosophy. So I shall tell you nine stories taken of my private life, with their philosophical morality… Continue reading

Theodor W. Adorno: One Last Genius (New Book)


Theodor W. Adorno

One Last Genius

Detlev Claussen

Translated by Rodney Livingstone

This Is Not an Adorno T-Shirt: New Adorno Biography and Review


This morning I came across this passage from Adorno‘s introduction to Negative Dialectics:

The un-naive thinker knows how far he remains from the object of his thinking, and yet he must always talk as if he had it entirely. This brings him to the poing ot clowning. He must not deny his clownish traits, least of all since they alone can give him hope for what is denied him. Philosophy is the most serious of things, but then again it is not all that serious.

It’s hard not to think of a certain Slovenian thinker when I read this, but from all accounts, Adorno was not a clown. Harvard UP has published a new book about Adorno by Detlev Claussen entitled Theodor Adorno: One Last Genuis (the HUP website has some exerpts). Here’s the blurb from Harvard University Press:

He was famously hostile to biography as a literary form. And yet this life of Adorno by one of his last students is far more than literary in its accomplishments, giving us our first clear look at how the man and his moment met to create “critical theory.” An intimate picture of the quintessential twentieth-century transatlantic intellectual, the book is also a window on the cultural ferment of Adorno’s day—and its ongoing importance in our own. The biography begins at the shining moment of the German bourgeoisie, in a world dominated by liberals willing to extend citizenship to refugees fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe. Detlev Claussen follows Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno (1903–1969) from his privileged life as a beloved prodigy to his intellectual coming of age in Weimar Germany and Vienna; from his exile during the Nazi years, first to England, then to the United States, to his emergence as the Adorno we know now in the perhaps not-so-unlikely setting of Los Angeles. There in 1943 with his collaborator Max Horkheimer, Adorno developed critical theory, whose key insight—that to be entertained is to give one’s consent—helped define the intellectual landscape of the twentieth century. In capturing the man in his complex relationships with some of the century’s finest minds—including, among others, Arnold Schoenberg, Walter Benjamin, Thomas Mann, Siegfried Kracauer, Georg Lukács, Hannah Arendt, and Bertolt Brecht—Claussen reveals how much we have yet to learn from Theodor Adorno, and how much his life can tell us about ourselves and our time. Continue reading

Joakim Garff, Søren Kierkegaard: A Biorgaphy (Review by Tatiana Patrone)


This is a review of Garff’s huge (pages-wise and achievement-wise, including the ability to make a paperback that is as heavy as a hardback) biography of Kierkegaard by Tatiana Patrone of Ithaca College.  It was published in the recent issue of Metapsychology Online Reviews  (October 23rd, 2007 – vol. 11, no.43) – enjoy!

“Even though Kierkegaard’s journals and published writings seem to tell us almost too much, we have no idea what he was really like” (13).  In his carefully crafted and finely written biography of Kierkegaard, Joakim Garff tells a fascinating philosophical story of Kierkegaard’s life, a story that is bound to interest and to captivate not only philosophers who have long been attracted to Kierkegaard’s thought, but also to anyone who would like to take a look at a great thinker’s life.

Kierkegaard’s corpus is vast and yet, as Garff says, “we have no idea what he was really like.”  Indeed, Kierkegaard himself wrote:  “after my death, this is my consolation:  no one will be able to find in my papers one single bit of information about what has really filled my life” (101).  Garff argues that from the moment Kierkegaard started to write he was very careful to come up and to maintain a myth of himself, an interpretation of his own life story (philosophical and social, romantic and familial), a story that he presents to his future biographers and readers, a story in which every thought and every word is masterfully expressed and documented ‘just right.’  In fact, Garff claims, Kierkegaard was not manipulating his reader; on the contrary — he himself saw his life as a narrative to be uncovered and told in such a way that it would make certain sense to him as the one who was living this life.  That is, looking back at his own past, Kierkegaard was always in the business of recollecting it rather than merely remembering it (97).  Garff goes as far as to remark that in this, “deception and self-deception walk faithfully hand in hand” (202).  However, the picture of Kierkegaard that Garff paints is quite moving — Kierkegaard’s seriousness with respect to his life projects and to how they were to be taken by his contemporaries and by his successors both inspires and humbles.  In this picture, Kierkegaard does not appear to be writing in bad faith; on the contrary — he comes off as a philosopher who treats philosophizing and reflection upon one’s life and work with utmost earnestness. Continue reading