Simon Critchley’s philosophical antidote to the self-help manual
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Simon Critchley, How to Stop Living and Start Worrying

Since when did happiness, wisdom and contentment become the cornerstones of a fulfilling life? Whatever happened to doubt? Instability? Melancholia? In 2010, Polity Press published How to Stop Living and Start Worrying, a collection of interviews with Simon Critchley which playfully parodies the conventional self-help manual. Through a series of conversations with Carl Cedeström, Critchley sketches an alternative view of the role philosophy plays in our lives today, covering an ambitious range of topics: from science and religion, to poetry and politics, love and humour, life and death.

Critchley, a philosophy professor who teaches in New York, takes us step-by-step through the major themes of his work in an entertaining and accessible way. Each interview takes the form of an informal, improvised chat on a theoretical topic, elucidating terms and concepts with helpful metaphors and memorable anecdotes. Jokes also play a key role in the overall tone of the book, illuminating central ideas with a lightness of touch. (more…)

Ari Braverman (Guernica) talks to philosopher Simon Critchley about the death and legacy of David Bowie

Guernica: Why do you think David Bowie’s music has maintained its appeal for so long—and do you think it will last now that he’s gone?

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Simon Critchley: It will. No doubt at all. On some level when you’re talking about music you have to be vulgar and be able to say, “This is just really good.” A lot of people did what Bowie did, a very few of them before Bowie (Tony Newley, Syd Barrett) the rest of them after, but no one for me came anywhere close to being as good. There’s something about the craft and quality of his work that just makes it better. The technical proficiency of what he did with his voice, given his vocal range (he didn’t think his voice was good enough, back in the day), is often overlooked, the amount of time he spent in the studio just trying to get the right effect. Robert Fripp shares this story about watching Bowie in the studio, trying for hours to get his voice to match the emotion in the music. That’s complete artifice, complete inauthenticity, and yet he’s able to hit those feelings in a way no one else could. And what you feel when you hear that is something simply strong, powerfully true. That’s where he achieved his magic. (more…)

Zak Bronson on Salvage: #1 Amid This Stony Rubbish
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Howl’s Moving Castle (dir. Hayao Miyazaki, 2004)
In his novel Railsea (2013), China Miéville portrays a postapocalyptic world littered with endless layers of leftover consumer waste. Salvors pick through mountains of junk, hoping to uncover secrets from the pre-apocalyptic world. Cut off from the past and lacking any framework for understanding these objects, characters are left sifting the rubble, picking through the remnants of history, and taking what is useful while discarding the rest. As one character explains, “you don’t uncover the past if you’re a salvor: you pick up rubbish.” Railsea provides an example of what Miéville and Evan Calder Williams have termed salvagepunk, a genre of postapocalyptic fiction that ranges from the post-oil catastrophe narratives of the Mad Max series to the collage aesthetic of Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle (2004). In these works, characters attempt to survive by picking through the waste of the Earth, combining and repurposing objects and ideas from the past based on their value within hostile environments.

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An abridgement of Simon Critchley’s landmark essay on the 1999 film
Wittgenstein asks a question, which sounds like the first line of a joke: ‘How does one philosopher address another?’ To which the unfunny and perplexing riposte is: ‘Take your time’. Terrence Malick is evidently someone who takes his time. Since his first movie, Badlands, was premiered at the New York Film Festival in 1973, he has directed just two more: Days of Heaven, in 1979, and then nearly a 20 year gap until the long-awaited 1998 movie, The Thin Red Line, which is the topic of this essay.

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A new title from Bloomsbury

About the Book

Costica Bradatan, Dying for Ideas: The Dangerous Lives of Philosophers (Bloomsbury)
Costica Bradatan, Dying for Ideas: The Dangerous Lives of Philosophers (Bloomsbury)

What do Socrates, Hypatia, Giordano Bruno, Thomas More, and Jan Patocka have in common? First, they were all faced one day with the most difficult of choices: stay faithful to your ideas and die or renounce them and stay alive. Second, they all chose to die. Their spectacular deaths have become not only an integral part of their biographies, but are also inseparable from their work. A “death for ideas” is a piece of philosophical work in its own right; Socrates may have never written a line, but his death is one of the greatest philosophical best-sellers of all time.

Dying for Ideas explores the limit-situation in which philosophers find themselves when the only means of persuasion they can use is their own dying bodies and the public spectacle of their death. The book tells the story of the philosopher’s encounter with death as seen from several angles: the tradition of philosophy as an art of living; the body as the site of self-transcending; death as a classical philosophical topic; taming death and self-fashioning; finally, the philosophers’ scapegoating and their live performance of a martyr’s death, followed by apotheosis and disappearance into myth.

While rooted in the history of philosophy, Dying for Ideas is an exercise in breaking disciplinary boundaries. This is a book about Socrates and Heidegger, but also about Gandhi’s “fasting unto death” and self-immolation; about Girard and Passolini, and self-fashioning and the art of the essay. (more…)