EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Benjamin in Jerusalem

The Middle East as crisis and critique

This month, two conferences and one exhibition dedicated to Walter Benjamin’s legacy are descending on Ramallah, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv. Because of an unhealthy mix of political considerations, security measures, and academic snobbery, I will partake in none of them, despite my deep roots in this troubled land and my recent book on Benjamin. …

EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Let’s Change the Future

On reclaiming our humanity in times of fear

I have a strange feeling, like I’ve been here before.

Everything looks familiar. The highly coordinated Islamist attack on a “Western” nation; the bloodthirsty demand for revenge; the calls to war abroad and the suspension of liberties at home; the simplification of the world into …

Arts & DesignEssays

Why Comedy Matters

When moral or political decisions are at stake, we often make use of catch-phrases drawn from a repertoire of available drama and literature. For we understand that both our actions and how they are perceived depend on how we frame them. Comedy, of all genres, appears to be the one we covertly use all the time without, meanwhile, fully appreciating its ability to portray and explore the intensity and integrity of our interactions with others. When Caesar began the civil war in Rome, he proclaimed: “The die has been cast.” According to Suetonius, he said it in his native Latin ( alea iacta est). But Plutarch reports that he used Greek (anerrhiphtō kybos), thus quoting a now lost comedy by Menander, the originator of the so-called New Comedy. In a letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul also turns to Menander, quoting the comedy Thaïs: “Bad communications corrupt good characters.” …

EssaysLiberal Democracy in QuestionTheory & Practice

Heidegger’s Black Notebooks: Extreme Silencing

The Black Notebooks (Die Schwarzen Hefte), containing Martin Heidegger’s assorted thoughts from the 1930s and 40s, throw new light on the self-aggrandizement into totalitarianism of the most German of all philosophers.

The Freiburg professor of philosophy was not yet 50 years old when, in 1937 and 1938, he retraced his way of thought (Denkweg): He conjoined manuscripts of his various books, talks and lectures in a factual (sachlich) and discerning manner, with a view to ascertaining how all of it should be continued, including a publication strategy. Buoyed by the feeling that he had already achieved the “authentic” breakthrough by 1936, as he wrote to his brother Fritz in 1948, he was henceforward convinced of his ability to lead Western philosophy into a form of “thinking” purified by a history of being and event (or enowning) (seins-und ereignisgeschichtlich geläutert) and thus freed …