The Centre for Philosophy and Critical Thought, Goldsmiths University of London

Research Centre run jointly between the Departments of Sociology and English and Comparative Literature at Goldsmiths University, London

Philosophy Today 61.4: Werner Hamacher in memoriam

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An announcement from our friends at Philosophy Today: the latest issue, 61.4 (2017), is now available online. It includes a memorial section on Werner Hamacher, who gave a lecture at Goldsmiths in October 2015 in inauguration of the Walter Benjamin London Research Network. 

The volume contains translations of two previously unpublished essays by Hamacher: “The One Right No One Ever Has” (trans. Julia Ng), and “Other Pains” (trans. Ian Alexander Moore). “The One Right No One Ever Has” was originally written for an edited volume from which it was subsequently withdrawn for reasons detailed in the essay’s concluding note. “Other Pains” was a talk whose final form was put together with the help of Shinu Sara Ottenburger, Hamacher’s literary executor. 

Also in the volume are essays written in memory of Hamacher by some of his former students, friends, and colleagues. Details below. 



Philosophy Today – Volume 61, Number 4 – 2017

Peg Birmingham; Ian Alexander Moore; Vilde Aavitsland
Editors’ Introduction – Étienne Balibar and Remembering Werner Hamacher
Angelica Nuzzo
“Living in the Interregnum” – Hegelian Reflections on the “Dynamic Universal”
The essay uses the second moment of Hegel’s “absolute method,” namely, the moment of the advancing action, in order to shed light on the constitution of the dynamic universal in society, politics, and history through the moment of stasis or crisis. In the action that advances or in the middle moment of the method lies the “crisis” of the unfolding process. Dialectically, action advances by stalling and imploding but also by emerging from this frozen state, moving on from it. I indicate the moment of crisis-stasis as the predicament of “living in the interregnum” and examine it by appealing to Thucydides, Gramsci, and Gordimer.
Hasana Sharp
Spinoza’s Commonwealth and the Anthropomorphic Illusion
Balibar presents Spinoza as a profound critic of “the anthropomorphic illusion.” Spinoza famously derides the tendency of humans to project their own imagined traits and tendencies onto the rest of nature. The anthropomorphic illusion yields a gross overestimation our own agency. I argue in this essay that the flip side of this illusion is our refusal to extend certain properties we reserve exclusively to ourselves. The result is that we disregard the power of social and political institutions because they do not resemble us. The anthropomorphic illusion therefore causes us both to overestimate our power as singular individuals and to underestimate the power of social and political institutions. If we understand ourselves and institutions as “transindividuals” rather than on the illusory model of substantial individuality, it is unproblematic to attribute individuality to collective powers, like the commonwealth. 
Cinzia Arruzza
Capitalism and the Conflict over Universality – A Feminist Perspective
In this paper I adopt Étienne Balibar’s distinction between three forms of universality—“universality as reality,” “fictive universality,” and “ideal universality”—in order to retrieve universalism for feminist politics. The paper articulates a proposal for the feminist adoption of a specific notion of universality, which I call political insurgent universality. This notion is not based on a definition of human essence or of women’s nature. It is rather rooted in the “real universality” historically created by capitalism, that is, in the fact that capitalism has generated a world in which people are interdependent and in which capitalist accumulation poses objective universal constraints on social reproduction.
Simon Morgan Wortham
Antinomies of the Super-Ego – Étienne Balibar and the Question of the Psycho-Political
This essay explores Étienne Balibar’s treatment of the conceptual development of a notion of the super-ego in Freud as crucial to Balibar’s own thinking of the connection between politics and psychoanalysis. Via Balibar’s writing, however, it traces the antinomic forces at work in the question of a psychoanalytic supplement of politics, in the process examining not only the psychic conditions of the “political” but also the “politics” of different forms of psychological discourse and debate.
Martin McQuillan
Saint Étienne – Balibar, Grexit, and Universalism
Étienne Balibar has provided a sustained commentary on the politics of Greece and its relation to the European Union. This writing is a practical mobiliza­tion of Balibar’s theoretical work on universalism and European identities. This essay questions some of the assumptions that provide a seeming confidence in Balibar’s decision-making with respect to Greece that are not found elsewhere in his work. It goes on to explore the questions of balance and calculation in Balibar and in writing on politics more generally.
Mark G. E. Kelly
Whither Balibar’s Europeanism?
This article is a critique of Étienne Balibar’s philosophical orientation towards Europe, construed as both an ideal and an institutional reality, in light of recent European crises. I argue that Balibar’s commitment to Europe follows from his longstanding political-philosophical preference for a compromise position between political utopianism and political realism, but that this compromise is ultimately incoherent, combining the ungroundedness of utopianism with the undue self-limitation of realism.
Dimitris Vardoulakis
What Comes Before the Citizen? – Violence and the Limits of the Political in Balibar
Vardoulakis traces the function of violence in Balibar’s theory of the subject/citizen. Doing so, Vardoulakis brings together areas of Balibar’s philosophy that are usually discussed separately, such as his work on Spinoza, his anthropology and his lectures on violence. Finally, Vardoulakis uses the presentation of the way violence figures in all these fields to offer a critique of Balibar’s conceptions of democracy and power.
Étienne Balibar
A New Querelle of Universals
We are witnessing and participating in a new “Querelle of Universals” which has indissoluble political and philosophical characters. It ranges from the incorporation of anthropological differences (of gender-sex, race-culture, normality and abnormality, etc.) into the very definition of the “human” to the contemporary attempts at rethinking the diversity of histories within mankind as a multiverse of translations rather than a failed unity. The essay discusses a series of typical aporias that are relevant to this querelle and proposes a concept of subjectivity which elaborates their productivity.
Werner Hamacher; Julia Ng
The One Right No One Ever Has
The right to have rights was never a right to be had. Hannah Arendt’s famous formulation of the most elementary right of all, the right to participate in the definition of rights, is not a description of a given right that belongs to one or the other form of law, but an indictment of a deficit in the construction of legality on the basis of the right to withdraw legal protection from members of a community, and therefore to refuse rights. The one and only human right thus turns out to be ungrounded in anything but the idea of its being had: a “property right” that traces back to the legal, philosophical and linguistic definitions of “one’s own” since antiquity. Only the gift of the incalculable and of that which cannot possibly be legitimated can ground the autarchic self-relation of having: ungrounded in the rationally organized nature of any given, possessing the right to membership in a political community turns out to be permission to freely transfer this possession to another, without expectation of a return.
Werner Hamacher; Ian Alexander Moore
Other Pains
A translation of Werner Hamacher’s essay “Andere Schmerzen,” which he was unable to complete before his death on July 7, 2017. The essay analyzes the connection between pain and language in the work of Pindar, Sophocles, Cicero, Seneca, Kant, Hegel, and Valéry.
Jean-Luc Nancy; Ian Alexander Moore
Eulogy for Werner Hamacher
Andrew Benjamin
Inexhaustibility at the Outset – Notes on Hamacher and Philology
This paper pursues the way the terms exhaustion and inexhaustibility play a central role in Werner Hamacher’s critical encounter with philosophy. The argument is developed via an engagement with aspects of Hamacher’s interpretation of Friedrich Schlegel’s Fragments. The limitations of Hamacher’s own position become an opening. What is opened up is the possibility of philosophy having become exhausted as a result of its identification with calculation and instrumentality.
Ilit Ferber
Werner Hamacher – Wandering About Language
This text pays tribute to Werner Hamacher’s work. It contemplates Hamacher’s thought about language, especially his criticism of views that measure language according to its propositional and referential functions. Instead, Hamacher foregrounds the importance of language’s interruptions, strikes and disorders, in which language operates independently of anything but itself, thus revealing its innermost core. The text examines Hamacher’s “The Second Inversion,” “Afformative, Strike,” and “Other Pains.”
Julia Ng
Now, Hamacher
Death is ironic; as the archi-semiotician and first historian, death fixes object and meaning in a semiotic complex, separates non-sensuous meaning from bare physical existence, but thereby exposes meaning to the capriciousness of interpretation and tradition. The pause, however, conserves that which does not happen in repose, yet does not interrupt history, and lets history emerge in a movement in which all determination of meaning is suspended. This essay is written in memory of Werner Hamacher, whose life in writing shaped language around its distance and delay from the fixity of sound and sense, which, as he argued, are the subliminal conditions to every communication, presentation, and form in general: formative limits that separate and conjoin that which is and the surplus of un-actuality and incompletion that accompanies each instant of our intentional lives.
Juliane Prade-Weiss
Reading Violence, Lamenting Language – On Benjamin and Hamacher
This article examines the violence inherent to fundamental operations of critical and theoretical thought: to read in order to gain insight into something, and to draw distinctions in spite of experiences contradicting clear dividing lines, notably between what is human and the rest of all beings as “nature,” and between terminological language and other forms of speech, such as lamenting and complaining. Walter Benjamin’s texts both present and reenact this violence. Reading Benjamin, Werner Hamacher expounds these moments of violence as structural necessities. The article focuses on the question of distance as the objective of reading, and of drawing terminological distinctions—an objective, it is argued, that is driven by counteracting dynamics in reading, which follows the dictate of a text, and in excessive modes of speech such as plaintive language, which keeps claiming attention while refusing symbolic substitution in order to insist that it cannot be answered, satisfied, or appeased.
Caroline Sauter
(Under-)Standing For Oneself
This tribute to Werner Hamacher highlights his ideas of understanding and philology, foregrounding his passion for words, his intimate close readings that reveal the hidden gems of a far-distant understanding, his radical version of philology as the love of language in its most literal sense, and his unconditional and incorruptible insistence on Eigenständigkeit: standing and understanding for oneself.
Falguni Sheth
The Discourse of Progress
Rocío Zambrana
Dialiectics of Progress
Amy Allen
Rationality, Normativity, and Critique – Response to Sheth and Zambrana
Amy E. Wendling
Turn Up the Heat – A Look at Shannon Winnubst’s Way Too Cool
Richard A. Lee, Jr.
I May Not Be Cool, but I Am Classy – A Response to Way Too Cool
Shannon Winnubst
Selling T-shirts at SPEP – The Unexamined Ego of Continental Philosophy; Response to Wendling and Lee

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