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Radical Atheism: Derrida and the Time of Life (Meridian: Crossing Aesthetics) Paperback – September 3, 2008

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Editorial Reviews


"Martin Hägglund has produced an exceptional work. It is peerless and groundbreaking in its originality and contributes the most consistent, compelling and complete articulation of Derrida's work. In summation Radical Atheism is daring and persuasive in opening up materialist and atheistic vistas for future deconstructive analysis. Derrida is portrayed as a philosopher concerned with the thick of life in its vicissitudes. It offers a forceful account of how Derrida meditates on questions of life and death, good and evil, politics and the meaning of mortality. It will prove attractive to all readers of Derrida, professional and student alike and undoubtedly will become a definitive starting point for understanding deconstruction."—Patrick O'Connor, Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology

"In the very insightful and intelligent book by Martin Hägglund. his analysis reaches what we could call the zero degree of deconstruction, the point at which deconstructive logics show their internal potential and cannot be assimilated to any of the various discourses—ethicist, religious, and so forth—which have tried to hegemonize it."—Ernesto Laclau, Diacritics

"In his important and hard-hitting new book, Martin Hägglund lucidly delineates the argument by means of which Derrida problematises the desire for plenitude in its various guises, and on the strength of this clarity of insight offers trenchant critiques of a number of interpretations of Derridean thought that simplify or distort it. Hägglund goes on to show in a sharper light even than Derrida elected to do how [time] provides the basis for the latter's treatment of the most far-reaching topics, starting with life itself. Hägglund has shown superbly how Derrida's account of time underlies his explorations of these ethical topics, and how unlike traditional ethical postures the results are."—Derek Attridge, Derrida Today

"Hägglund writes so well, argues so persuasively, and clears the interpretative field in such a confident and strident manner that if one is willing to engage this work it is hard not to be swept up by it and won over to its side. Indeed it is difficult not to think that Hägglund has figured out Derrida's logic like no one else really has, that he has not so much put Derrida's thought in a nutshell as completely cracked the nut, and that no one will be able to understand Derrida's work adequately without coming to terms with the arguments Hägglund makes in this work. Arguing by means of both a judicious use of Derrida's own works and a relentless critique of many well-known commentators on Derrida, Hägglund shows the deficiencies of all other interpretations of Derrida that fail to take into account the full implications of the trace and radical finitude."—Michael Naas, The New Centennial Review

"Radical Atheism is the most accurate, insightful, and complete account anyone has produced so far of Derrida's thought. Hägglund refutes a whole panoply of influential misreadings of Derrida, and he does so with a flair and clarity rarely attained by writers on deconstruction."—Henry Staten, The New Centennial Review
"Like the best of philosophers measured by Nietzschean standards, Hägglund could be characterized as marvelously 'untimely'. [A] superlative conceptual-theoretical analysis."—Adrian Johnston, The New Centennial Review
"What distinguishes Hägglund's book is the philosophical acumen with which he delineates its consequences and the rigour with which he deploys them against the faux amis of deconstruction. Whether or not one finds the philosophy that Hägglund expounds compelling, the rare virtue of his book is that it forces us to assess that philosophy correctly."—Nathan Brown, Radical Philosophy
"Martin Hägglund's Radical Atheism is a tour de force . . . It lives up to [its] bold claim, offering a remarkable tour of Jacques Derrida's diverse and demanding oeuvre via lucid arguments and clear prose. Hägglund demonstrates an impressive command of Derrida's corpus, marshaling these materials skillfully and effectively in rigorous, firmly grounded textual analyses . . . [It is] certainly worthy of the attention it continues to receive, both for its own merits and because any discussion of Derrida and religion will now have to attend to and contend with Hägglund's powerful text."—William Robert, Sophia
"A commanding and refreshing interpretation of Derrida which promises to be a crucial intervention in critical disagreements over Derrida's legacy.Radical Atheism is an important and prescient volume.It re-assesses Derrida's work and its philosophical futures with care, vision, and scholarly rigour, serving to regenerate interest in Derrida for a generation of philosophers for whom his name has fallen out of fashion."—Danielle Sands, Parrhesia
"In this explosive little book on Derrida.Hägglund extracts and explicates what he claims is the core idea of Derrida's work, writing without the piousness, esoterism, or obliqueness that has critically imprisoned his subject. Hägglund's refutation of the idea of an ethical turn in deconstruction is definitive and his association of Derrida's thought with radical atheism is compelling."—Brian Rajski, The Voice Imitator
"Especially admirable.Martin Hägglund's Radical Atheism: Derrida and the Time of Life is a decisive rejoinder to those seeking to capture deconstruction for religion."—Jonathan Culler, preface to the 25th anniversary edition of On Deconstruction
"Impeccably argued, Radical Atheism is bound to have a significant impact on Derrida scholarship. By developing the logic of survival, Hägglund convincingly demonstrates that Derrida is essentially a philosopher of life, but of the only life there is—the life of finite beings—and hence a radical thinker of temporality. It is a very courageous book as well that critically takes issue with the negative theologians' appropriation of Derrida and makes the unprecedented argument that Derrida's reflections on the temporal conditions of life in general imply that God, if there is any, necessarily is mortal." —Rodolphe Gasché, SUNY Buffalo
"With exceptional care and insight, Hägglund construes the vital implications and enduring positions of Derrida's work." —Avital Ronell, New York University

About the Author

Martin Hägglund is a Charlotte W. Newcombe Fellow in Comparative Literature at Cornell University. He is the author of Chronophobia: Essays on Time and Finitude, which was published in Swedish in 2002. In Spring 2009, CR: The New Centennial Review will publish a special issue devoted to his work. Visit Martin Hagglund's website:


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Product Details

  • Series: Meridian: Crossing Aesthetics
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press (September 3, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804700788
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804700788
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #473,386 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Martin Hägglund is Professor of Comparative Literature and Humanities at Yale University. He is the author of Dying for Time: Proust, Woolf, Nabokov (Harvard UP, 2012) and Radical Atheism: Derrida and the Time of Life (Stanford UP, 2008). His work has been the subject of a special issue of CR: The New Centennial Review, Living On: Of Martin Hägglund.

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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Michael H. Shenkman on March 7, 2013
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This is a superb book, well written, and an excellent guide along one of the main threads of Derrida's work. I especially appreciate an account of atheism that does not replace one idealist fiction with another, but instead drives toward an atheism fully ensconced in mortal survival -- Hagglund's key term -- and thus open to the disruption of any finalized accomplishment. I would recommend this book as a seminal text in getting beyond the facile and ideological atheisms of the likes of a Hitchens or Harris or Dawkins.
My hesitations in fully subscribing to Hagglund's approach are twofold. First, a sense that his narrative misses an essential quality in Derrida's writings, that is the passion. And secondly, that his notion of radical atheism is too narrow and static, bordering on the kind of conceits that degrade the work of the atheistic popularizers I mentioned above. Combined, the two concerns point to a certain blind spot in Hagglund's work.
As to the first concern: the analytical approach of Hagglund's text misses out on the "prayers and tears of Jacques Derrida." I refer, of course to the title of Caputo's splendid work on Derrida's "religion without religion." While I agree with Hagglund's concern about re-theologizing Derrida (negatively theological or not), Caputo does capture the emotional and passional pull that permeates Derrida's work. Derrida always writes in contexts, mostly appreciative, but some (as in the case of Limited, Inc.) necessarily polemical. What else is there to do with the positivists like Searle? Writing while immersed in a most caring deconstruction, Derrida's drive to turn any argument based on an absolute against itself also includes a sense that the absolute does make a claim on one's sense of what is at hand.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Hiker Bob on November 5, 2014
Format: Paperback
One of the most tiresome trends in contemporary philosophy is the effort, however strained, to drag almost every thinker into some sort of "theism". Heck, there are even books on the "piousness" of Nietzsche. The result is usually such a lukewarm and limpid religiosity that it hardly seems worth the effort. The late Jacques Derrida, despite his lifelong avowals of unbelief, has suffered this abuse as much, or even more so, than most. Which is why Hagglund's book is such a breath of fresh air. Surveying his work from beginning to end, he demonstrates--conclusively, in my view--that Derrida was an atheist from start to finish, and no amount of textual gymnastics can alter that. And unlike many atheists, who deny God out of intellectual honesty but in their hearts wish that there really could be "peace in the valley" in some heavenly home, Derrida was "radical", which to Hagglund means that he affirmed this mortal life in all its finitude, its sorrows as well as its joys, its failures as well as its achievements, and eschewed immortality as nothing more than an eternal death.

Derrida has always been difficult for me; I often viewed his philosophy as hair-splitting over trivialities. But Hagglund does a masterful job of unpacking the subtlety of his thinking, and has inspired me to look deeper into his work. A highly recommended book.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By taniesha on May 29, 2011
Format: Paperback
This is perhaps the clearest account of Derrida's thought I've ever read. Achieving such a high level of clarity when dealing with "ultratranscendental" topics could have been no simple task, so Hagglund deserves commendation. I am confident that anyone who reads this text will have very little trouble understanding it (though the ideas are themselves quite intricate) and will come away with a much better understanding of Derrida and his relationship to several other philosophers. I certainly have benefited from reading it. The text doesn't even seem to be overtly pursuing an argument of its own in a way that might skew the reader's understanding of Derrida--but that might just be the result of a genius' ability to disguise his artifice. In any case, it's a really pleasant read.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Rex Styzens on July 26, 2011
Format: Paperback
I agree wholeheartedly with the first customer review. This book is all those things he finds and much more. Especially, it is an excellent place to begin study of what is now a wide-ranging discussion of Derrida.

Maybe it is too much to expect in a single study, still, Hagglund's interpretation (IMHO, and I have not studied as many of D's texts as he has) includes a glaring omission. It has been 25 years since I read D's "Ousia and Gramme" that sets the tone for what Hagglund employs as the fundamental element in D's phenomenology--"time," understood as calculation. (D treats time like a bookkeeper--the bottom line is necessarily something counted.) D mistakenly interpreted Heidegger in that essay as having offered no alternative to "vulgar" time. That allows D to modify Aristotle's analysis of time so that the ecstasies of past, present, future become determinant (perhaps as "absolute"? horrors!). Consequently, Hagglund's interpretation ignores Heidegger's conception of "world," not as the planet nor as context but as pre-given for human self-understanding.

Hagglund's rhetorical insistence that D's "autoimmunity" be understood in terms of violence (e.g., rather than mere "conflict") provides drama that D appreciated. But it has already allowed Hagglund's detractors to use the equally valid rhetoric of negotiation available in D to discredit Hagglund (e.g., John Caputo, "The Return of Anti-Religion: From Radical Atheism to Radical Theology," "Journal of Culture and Religious Theory," 11.2 (2011).). Only time will tell whether the style difference becomes sound and fury without settlement.

Most unfortunate is that Hagglund's interpretation lends itself to a caricature. Heraclitus told us that we cannot step into the same river twice.
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