On 19 March 2020 Samantha Rose Hill was slated to give the annual Grimm Lecture, the premiere event of the Waterloo Centre for German Studies, a research institute at the University of Waterloo. The coronavirus outbreak necessitated the cancellation of public gatherings and unnecessary travel, but we arranged to have Dr. Hill give her lecture via livestream. We hope you enjoy her lecture entitled “Thinking Itself is Dangerous. Reading Hannah Arendt Now.”
What I want to underscore about Hayek is that he presided over what William Cavanaugh has called a “migration of the holy,” a forced march of sanctity and reverence from the sacred to the ostensibly secular. Inheriting the duty of divine vindication from a waning Protestant hegemony, Hayek illustrates how capitalist economics has always been a kind of theodicy: what seems irrational to mere mortals is actually the emanation of a superior, unaccountable wisdom—a modern analogue to the pre-modern theological concept of providence. In Hayek’s pecuniary ontology, ignorance is bliss and servility is freedom; the more we bow to the logos of the Market in subservience to its mandates, we will be rewarded with riches in the sublunary realm of business. And those mandates are promulgated in the canonical idiom of money, the mercenary emblem of the cosmos. Neoliberalism is not just the highest stage of capitalism; it’s the highest stage of capitalist enchantment, when money comes into its own as the anima mundi of a marketized planet.
"Thucydides’ description of the plague that struck Athens in 430 BC is one of the great passages of Greek literature. One of the remarkable things about it is how focused it is on the general social response to the pestilence, both those who died from it and those who survived."
‘What is a ghost?’ Stephen Dedalus asks in Ulysses, and promptly answers his own question. ‘One who has faded into impalpability through death, through absence, through change of manners.’ Not a figure who is entirely unreal, just one who has become a little faint, lacking in physical immediacy. Perhaps someone who lives in the memory only, not an inconsiderable form of life after all. Or in possibility, a spirit from the future.
When they are not insisting on the absolute non-existence of ghosts, reasonable people are apt to make rather nervous jokes about them. Asked if he believed in ‘ghosts and apparitions’, Coleridge said no. But that wasn’t all he said. The complete sentence was: ‘No, madam! I have seen far too many myself.’ Quoting this passage, Susan Wolfson goes on to remind us that Freud comments on a neat variant of the same gag: ‘Not only did he disbelieve in ghosts; he was not even frightened of them.’ As Dr Johnson said on the subject of the possibility of a post-mortem appearance among the living (he too is quoted in this remarkable book), ‘All argument is against it, but all belief is for it.’ And not just belief. History has a role as well. The superstition, if it is one, had been around for five thousand years, Johnson said; when Byron quoted Johnson in Don Juan, he upped this to six thousand, concluding that ‘Whatever bar the reason rears/’Gainst such belief, there’s something stronger still/In its behalf, let those deny who will.’ The point perhaps concerns not so much the questioned reality of ghosts, or their undoubted persistence in the imagination, as the trouble they cause for reason. It is because they don’t exist in several important senses that they do exist in others. The distinction between the living and the dead matters; we can’t do without it. And yet there are so many ways of crossing the gap that the mythological migrations, the metaphors that are more than metaphors, are not likely to go away.
Rather than give in to the dissolutionist impulse, The Order of Forms wagers that we need to pay better attention to how to build things up. For Kornbluh, the humanist status quo is now too far weighted on the side of particularity against abstraction, hybridity against structuration, dismantling against constitution (or, to borrow from Deleuze and Guattari, the “rhizomatic” against the “rooted”). The method that she introduces, which she calls “political formalism,” is Kornbluh’s attempt to combat the antiformalist tendency that she finds triumphant in much contemporary theory, literature, and philosophy.
Wielding an architectural vocabulary of construction, social space, and design, she marshals a set of allies from Lévi-Strauss to Freud and Lacan, describing their “structuralist” methods as means of both analyzing and building necessary, but changeable, forms. Her final chapter reads Lacanian psychoanalysis itself as a formalist project: the “form” of the clinic is meant to incite a kind of relation between analyst and analysand, one that nonetheless must be invented and reinvented anew — given a new “content” — each time one enters the space. The realist novel, then, should be understood not as mimesis but as model; its spaces — like those of architectural theory and mathematical formalism — are abstract rather than concrete. Realism, in this account, can be mined for its insights as to the inherent constructedness of social life.
I reviewed Gabriel Josipovici's latest book Forgetting for The New Criterion:
Towards the beginning of the British author Gabriel Josipovici’s latest book,Forgetting, he quotes Samuel Beckett commenting on the work of Proust: “Only he who remembers forgets.” A typically pithy statement from a master of the laconic, but what does it mean? On one level, it appears to be literally true. One can’t remember something without first forgetting it, in the same way that an object must first be lost in order to be found. But Beckett also seems to be suggesting something more profound. There are two types of memory at work in Proust. There is our “memory of facts and figures,” writes Josipovici, which can be retrieved with more or less conscious effort, and then there is the involuntary memory “which [lies] dormant for long periods but which may be activated at any time by a sound, a taste, an unexpected movement.” It’s a memory mysteriously “lodged” in our bodies, seemingly forgotten by our conscious minds. Until, in an instant, it’s recovered without us having been quite aware of its loss in the first place. And so the past is suddenly resurrected within us, with more clarity and vigor than the original experience. The recollection of “facts and figures,” by contrast, tends to obscure such lucid awareness. Hence, “only he who remembers forgets.”
One problem, though: Beckett never actually wrote those words. As Josipovici clarifies in footnotes: “At least that’s how I remembered it. On checking, I have found only this: ‘The man with a good memory does not remember anything because he does not forget anything.’” Gnomic, to be sure, but it doesn’t have quite the punch of Josipovici’s misquote. This innocent mistake typifies the entire book: a half-remembered quote about the nature of memory, which, by virtue of being half-forgotten, clarifies itself and moves toward the pith of the original. Forgetting is about this double movement of memory, of simultaneous recovery and loss, both social and personal.
A beautiful, elegiac collection of sixty polaroid photographs by the late, great Soviet film director, Andrey Tarkovsky, is revealed in the book, Instant Light Tarkovsky Polaroids, as realizing the utmost potential of a fleeting, disposable medium. Composed of sixty luminous polaroids taken by Andrey Tarkovsky in Russia and Italy between 1979 and 1984, the beautifully produced series of cameos from the director’s life reveals him to be a master of the still as much as of the moving image. In spite of their technical imperfections, they bear witness to the same way of seeing and visual world as the great films.
“We can express our feelings regarding the world around us either by poetic or by descriptive means,” Tarkovsky explained in an 1983 interview with Hervé Guibert in Le Monde. “I prefer to express myself metaphorically. Let me stress: metaphorically, not symbolically. A symbol contains within itself a definite meaning, certain intellectual formula, while metaphor is an image. An image possessing the same distinguishing features as the world it represents. An image — as opposed to a symbol — is indefinite in meaning. One cannot speak of the infinite world by applying tools that are definite and finite. We can analyse the formula that constitutes a symbol, while metaphor is a being-within-itself, it’s a monomial. It falls apart at any attempt of touching it.”
A wonderfully generous review of my book, DID YOU KILL ANYONE?:
In this clearly articulated, well-organized book, I see the self-portrait of a young man seeking education in what it means to be civilized. But I also see a picture of an entire generation that badly needs this kind of crash course, though without realizing it. Beauchamp was in certain ways a typical kid from the Midwest, but he has become something unusual in our times—a scholarly patriot, an essayist, and a citizen concerned for his country’s future.
Humility is often thought of as a behavioral virtue — a matter of how we relate to God or to our neighbor. But it should also be an epistemic virtue — about how we relate to what we can — and cannot — know about the world, ourselves, and others. Any self-reflecting scholar sooner or later reaches a point where, for all her knowledge and understanding, she realizes the immensity of that which she can neither know nor understand. Indeed, the more insightful she is as a scholar, the more terrifying the dimensions of all that ignorance and incomprehension. Dwarfism is the natural condition of the scholar honest with herself.
This revelation is often prompted by a very specific space: the library. Surrounded by shelf after heavy shelf of “giants,” we may feel crushed. Gradually, however, we become used to our crushed condition, and even attracted to the place; in time, our fascination with it grows and so does our compulsion to linger. We end up making the library our home, taking leave of the world. And before we know it, we end up in a seriously perverse relationship with the library.
Umberto Eco knew the situation only too well. He was enthralled with libraries, their sworn devotee and happy slave. Libraries fill his books. The best part of The Name of the Rose takes place in one, “the greatest library in Christendom,” whose absolute ruler, appropriately enough, is a monster and a deranged mind: Jorge de Burgos (Eco’s tender gesture toward Jorge Luis Borges, whom he greatly admired). Eco’s personal libraries were the stuff of legend; the one in Milan alone allegedly had around 30,000 volumes.
But the numbers, however big, are not the point. For what the library tells you is not that there is that much to read, but that there are no limits as to how much there is to know. The essence of the library is its limitlessness. The more time you spend in it, the more you realize that no time could ever be enough; no matter how hard you strive, you will never know it all. The revelation of your finitude comes with embarrassing pain. And when you have realized that you cannot live without that pain, your perverse relationship with the library has reached its climax. A “normal” relationship with a library would be no relationship at all.
Writer - Critic - Poet - Editor