Commonplaces of Academic Life: NDPR Review of Levinasian Meditations

Since I wasn’t all that interested in reading it to begin with, I completely forgot Richard Cohen’s  Levinasian Meditations had already been published until I saw this review by Martin Kavka in the NDPR just now.  The review certainly  makes for some interesting reading.   While Kavka admits Cohen broaches some important, if not crucial topics in Levinasian scholarship (and beyond), there seems to be a defensive tone that runs through the whole book:

Levinasian Meditations, in its structure, embodies a claim frequently found in scholarship on Levinas, namely that Judaism and its other-centered ethics, through its countercultural stance, can play a role in saving the modern West from the historical evils that have resulted from the West’s tendency either to create social commonalities through political violence or to erase social difference through genocide and ethnic cleansing. Those who read these essays seriatim will quickly infer that many of them are, at least in part, responses to unnamed others who have offered dismissive responses either to Cohen’s approach to Levinas or to Levinas’s philosophy tout court. It strikes me as very possible that readers of Levinasian Meditations will misinterpret it as a result. Continue reading

Academic Fencing: Review and Counterreview.

Margaret J. Osler‘s recent review of Catherine Wilson‘s new book – Epicureanism at the Origin of Modernity – is feisty to say the least. According to Osler,

A good history of Epicureanism in early modern thought would be a welcome addition to the existing literature. Unfortunately, this is a gap that Wilson’s book does not fill. It suffers from a number of problems — some systemic and some detailed — that undermine its reliability. Her view of seventeenth-century issues is blinkered because she restricts her analysis to an account of philosophers who hold a place in the modern canon of the history of philosophy. This limitation coupled with a tendency to make anachronistic judgments prevents her from examining the abundance of alternatives that competed with Epicureanism in seventeenth-century philosophy. Further, she neglects to consider other traditions — such as late Scholasticism, alchemy, Renaissance humanism, Copernican astronomy, and Galileo’s new science of motion — that contributed directly to the development of a corpuscularian philosophy and an empirical and experimental approach to natural knowledge. Her own patently intolerant attitude towards theology prevents her from understanding that theological presuppositions were virtually axiomatic for most of the philosophers of the period.

That’s pretty rough, don’t you think? “She neglects to consider other traditions” is the most annoying move in the above citation – the book clearly limits itself to Epicureanism, therefore the charge that one neglects other traditions is preposterous, but let’s read on. Continue reading

Review of Badiou’s Being and Event: Too Theological?

As anybody that reads this blog in even a less than cursory way, it’s clear that I have some problems with Badiou’s work, particularly methodological and interpretative ones. That said, there’s something in Badiou that keeps me coming back for more. Regardless, the NDPR has a fine review of Badiou’s Being and Event by Peter Dews, who concludes by noting:

As we saw at the beginning of this review, it is not easy — even for proclaimed philosophical atheists ­– to avoid recycling religious and theological tropes in their very effort to break with the past. But Badiou goes one step further than this, since his philosophy plays deliberately and provocatively with religious language (not just the language of fidelity, but of ‘conversion’, and even of ‘grace’). Some of his most admired militants of the event belong to the religious sphere, such as Pascal and Saint Paul. And on some occasions, in Being and Event, he admits the possibility of religious truth (e.g., p. 399) — even though this disrupts his own categorization of truths. The problem is that Badiou’s transposition of the notion of fidelity from the sphere of love (to which he concedes that it directly refers (p. 232)), the misdirection of his passion for the unconditional towards happenings in the mutable socio-historical world, brings with it the dangers of dogmatism and exclusivism, if not worse. And it also raises one final issue. Badiou repeatedly declares that God ‘does not exist’ (e.g., p. 277). But the whole of Being and Event is an intense and intricate exploration of what does not exist — namely the event, for which there is ‘no acceptable ontological matrix’ (p. 190). Furthermore, Badiou’s own thinking cannot help but lead towards the question: why ought we to become subjects, why should we commit ourselves to a life of fidelity? Indeed, Badiou himself later poses this question in terms of the ‘fidelity to fidelity that defines ethical consistency’ (Ethics, pp. 49-50). And although this may not be Badiou’s answer, it is not clear what aspect of his system would rule it out as a response: because we are called by God, who is the event of events.

This seems to be particularly ironic, because it resembles Badiou’s criticism of Levinas in Ethics, namely, that Levinas is a theologian masquerading as a philosopher. The whole review nicely contextualizes Badiou’s work in light of the controversies in the 19th century about the superseding of religion, esp. Feuerbach. Read the full review here.

(not)Reading, Reviewing, Blogging

I received the latest issue of n+1 over the weekend. I haven’t looked at it too closely just yet, but this passage caught my attention in a longer section called “Book Review Nation:”

…nearly ten years after their advent, the Amazon reviews are still essentially anonymous, unfiltered glimpses into the habits of red-blooded American readers…With notable exceptions (and it’s not hard to spot them), the reviewers have no institutional affiliation; no investment of ego; no recompense; and, most important of all, no one goes on Amazon to write up a book he hasn’t read. That’s what blogs are for.