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Radical Atheism: Derrida and the Time of Life (Meridian: Crossing Aesthetics) Paperback – September 3, 2008
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"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)
"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)
"With exceptional care and insight, Hägglund construes the vital implications and enduring positions of Derrida's work." (Avital Ronell New York University)
"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)
"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)
"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)
"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)
"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)
"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)
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: www.martinhagglund.se
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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. Thus the deconstructive move toward what comes, into the temporal dismantling of the absolute is an act Derrida undertakes with full regard for the living, surviving singular being he engages. While Caputo is too overloaded with his piety (which he accuses Levinas of), Hagglund's approach is too analytically dispirited to capture Derrida's affirming longings.
Second, he seems to argue that if one holds on to some kind of absolute -- a "radical investment" of Laclau's type -- that this investment cannot be both circumscribed in terms of its reach into one's decisions and commitments, and circumscribed in time such that one can move beyond them. Such investments, it seems to me, are harbors for survival, for a time, and are ways to locate one's own passions and efficacies in complex, dynamic social and natural milieus. Hagglund, in citing Laclau's limitations, for instance, seems to argue that such an investment disables one's ability to act against totalitarianism or repression (see p. 197 for example). I see Laclau's notion of democracy as being well aligned with a living, passionate engagement at the site of repression -- at a particular point in time, with respect to a specific context or situation -- of a person who is also able to let go and act in a generative way that is prepared to gives way to what comes, suspending any pretense to absoluteness (or maybe subscribing to a momentary, fully invested and engaged Hegelian absolute, which then passes on into the next moment, starting all over again, in the mode of "oui, oui.")
Thus Hagglund's account seems static to me. It seems bound to an ideology of existence that borders on a postivistically polarized notion of human capability: either one is amenable to being released into the flow of temporality, or one is locked into an absolute. May I suggest that what we pray for is to fully live in what we engage, and then let the tears come as it passes and as we pass on, as we soldier on in this ever-mortal living of ours. I feel this is what Derrida prays for as he writes in "Circumfessions", (as cited by Hagglund, p. 147), "you stand in for anybody, my god... you are a mortal god, that's why I write, I write you my god [in order] to save you from your own immortality."
An excellent read. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a fresh, readable interpretation of one of the 20th century's most radical and important philosophers.
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.