An original philosophical account of relational ontology drawing on the work of Descartes, Kant, Fichte, Hegel, and Heidegger
Andrew Benjamin, Towards a Relational Ontology: Philosophy’s Other Possibility

In this original work of philosophy, Andrew Benjamin calls for a new understanding of relationality, one inaugurating a philosophical mode of thought that takes relations among people and events as primary, over and above conceptions of simple particularity or abstraction. Drawing on the work of Descartes, Kant, Fichte, Hegel, and Heidegger, Benjamin shows that a relational ontology has always been at work within the history of philosophy even though philosophy has been reluctant to affirm its presence. Arguing for what he calls anoriginal relationality, he demonstrates that the already present status of a relational ontology is philosophy’s other possibility. Touching on a range of topics including community, human-animal relations, and intimacy, Benjamin’s thoughtful and penetrating distillation of ancient, modern, and twentieth-century philosophical ideas, and his judicious attention to art and literature make this book a model for original philosophical thinking and writing. [Read More]

Andrew Benjamin is Professor of Philosophy and Jewish Thought at Monash University, Australia and Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Humanities at Kingston University, London. He is the author of several books, including Working with Walter Benjamin: Recovering a Political Philosophy and the coeditor (with Dimitris Vardoulakis) of Sparks Will Fly: Benjamin and Heidegger, also published by SUNY Press.

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Does Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Poor Folk and Other Stories speak to our troubled economic era?
Portrait of Fyodor Dostoyevsky by Vasily Perov (1872).
Portrait of Fyodor Dostoyevsky by Vasily Perov (1872).

In November 1844, Dostoyevsky finished writing his first story. He confides in Diary of a Writer that he had ‘written nothing before that time’. This was 22 years before the publication of Crime and Punishment, and 36 years before The Brothers Karamazov. Having recently finished translating Balzac’s Eugénie Grandet, he suddenly felt inspired to write a tale ‘of the same dimensions’. But he was not only prompted by artistic aspirations. Poverty also played a part. In a letter to his brother, Mikhail, just a few months earlier, he mentions being satisfied with a work-in-progress, and his hopes for greater financial stability: ‘I may get 400 rubles for it,’ he wrote, ‘and therein lie all my hopes.’

First published in 1846, Poor Folk was both a critical and financial success, with one prominent critic hailing Dostoyevsky as the next Gogol. It is a short epistolary novel that traces a five-month love affair. And while it certainly owes something to Balzac’s masterpiece, the role that money plays in determining people’s fates has a distinctly Dostoyevskyan bite. Financial difficulties plagued the Russian novelist’s career, and are a recurrent theme throughout his work, from the destitute student of Crime and Punishment to The Gambler, written to pay off gambling debts. The writer confessed having money troubles in letters to his brother, and hoped Poor Folk could offer some kind of reprieve. It is through his pen, he says, that he hopes ‘to save the whole situation’, considering suicide as perhaps his only other alternative. Money, then, was one of the novelist’s chief motivations, and one of his signature themes. (more…)

Last week I was recently invited to give a paper at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. Here are a few snaps from the trip…
The coast of St Andrews, Scotland.
The coast of St Andrews, Scotland. Photograph: Rhys Tranter

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Professor Robert Darnton
Professor Robert Darnton
In a 2011 interview, I asked the American cultural historian and academic librarian how he sees the future of the printed word…

In The Case for Books you wrote that ‘the explosion of electronic modes of communication is as revolutionary as the invention of printing with moveable type’. How do you feel this revolution is changing the way knowledge or information is spread?

Robert Darnton, The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future
Robert Darnton, The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future

Well, first I should say that the word ‘revolution’ is used very loosely, in general, so I said that after some hesitation. I mean, I’ve read about revolutions in menswear and revolutions in football styles of defence and so on. So, I don’t want to weaken the term. And, it’s a term that can be used in lots of different ways. But let’s say that the assertion is that the means of communication are changing as rapidly, as dramatically, today as they did in Gutenberg’s day. And, in fact, we’ve learned a lot about Gutenberg’s day: the change, perhaps, was not quite as rapid as people had thought when they refer to it as a revolution. We know, for example, that manuscript publishing continued for three centuries after Gutenberg, and really flourished. So, that’s by way of preface to what I was saying. But your question is how does this change, whether revolutionary or not, affect the way communication penetrates into society.

Well, you know, you have to just sit on a bus, or in a subway if you’re in New York, or London, or Paris and watch people with their smartphones or their various handheld devices. The phrase is sometimes used: ‘people are always “on”’. That is, they are always online, they’re always communicating. There has, I think, been a restriction of a kind of blank space in life: a time when people, so to speak, did nothing. Of course, they were never doing nothing. But it meant that there was a time in which they weren’t consciously communicating, but letting the world go by. Now, there’s a lot to be said for letting the world go by. You could sit and observe things, and maybe be exposed to surprises. But now I think there is this sense of constantly exchanging messages. Doing it all the time. That’s different, I think, qualitatively, from anything that ever existed before, even though people were exchanging gossip at the village pump. So, I think it is a very profound change in the way we live our lives, and it’s made communication and information more central than they ever were. (more…)

The Freud Museum in London will host a staged and interactive performance from 1pm on 14 June 2015

freudmuseum_CivilizationandItsDiscontents_marathonreadingThe Centre for Creative and Critical Thought at the University of Sussex together with the Freud Museum London are pleased to announce a marathon reading of Sigmund Freud’s classic text, Civilization and its Discontents.

Readers will include philosopher Simon Glendinning, poet Ruth Padel, musician Jocelyn Pook, psychoanalyst Anouchka Grose, novelist Deborah Levy, performer Cathy Naden, and other academics, writers and psychoanalysts. Click here for the full list >

The event is free with an admission ticket to the Freud Museum. There are no tickets and audience members can come and go as they please. This is a staged reading and interactive performance.

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