February 27, 1960 |
|Main interests||Politics, Ethics, Post-Religion, Aesthetics|
Simon J. Critchley (born February 27, 1960) is an English philosopher currently teaching at The New School who writes primarily on politics, religion, ethics, and aesthetics. Critchley works from within the tradition of continental philosophy. He argues that philosophy commences in disappointment, either religious or political. These two axes may be said largely to inform his published work: religious disappointment raises the question of meaning and has to, as he sees it, deal with the problem of nihilism; political disappointment provokes the question of justice and raises the need for a coherent ethics.
Critchley was born on February 26, 1960 at Hertfordshire, London. Growing up in the 70s, Critchley described himself as a hippy. However, he still attended academic high school. He became a fan of the punk rock band Ramones as a teenager, and gained an interest in poetry and political activism as a young man.
Critchley studied philosophy at the University of Essex (BA 1985, PhD 1988) and at the University of Nice (M.Phil. 1987). Among his teachers were Robert Bernasconi, Jay Bernstein, Frank Cioffi, Dominique Janicaud and Onora O'Neill. His M.Phil. thesis dealt with the problem of the overcoming of metaphysics in Heidegger and Carnap; his Ph.D. dissertation was on the ethics of deconstruction in Emmanuel Levinas and Derrida.
Following a period as a university fellow at Cardiff University, Critchley was appointed a lecturer in philosophy at Essex in 1989, becoming reader in philosophy in 1995, and professor in 1999. Since 2004 Critchley has been professor of philosophy at the New School for Social Research. He held the position of chair in philosophy at the New School from 2008–2011, and became the Hans Jonas Professor of Philosophy in 2011. He has held visiting professorships at numerous universities, including Sydney (2000), Notre Dame (2002), Cardozo Law School (2005) and at the University of Oslo (2006). In 2009 he was appointed a part-time professor of philosophy at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, where he runs a summer school and teaches in philosophy and liberal arts. Critchley is also a professor of philosophy at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland.
Selected Works 
The Ethics of Deconstruction (1992) 
Critchley’s first book was The Ethics of Deconstruction: Derrida and Levinas (Blackwell, 1992), which argued for an ethical dimension to deconstruction. Rather than being concerned with deconstruction in terms of the contradictions inherent in any text — an approach typical of the early Derrida and those in literary criticism aiming to extract a critical method for an application to literature — Critchley concerns himself with the philosophical context necessary for an understanding of the ethics of deconstructive reading. Far from being some sort of value-free nihilism or textual free-play, Critchley showed the ethical impetus that was driving Derrida’s work. His claim was that Derrida’s understanding of ethics has to be understood in relation to his engagement with the work of Levinas and the book attempts to lay out the details of their philosophical confrontation.
Very Little... Almost Nothing (1997) 
Critchley’s second book, Very Little... Almost Nothing (Routledge, 1997) develops in a very different direction and shows his concern with the relation between philosophy and literature and the problem of nihilism.
Ethics-Politics-Subjectivity (1999) 
Ethics-Politics-Subjectivity (Verso, 1999) is a collection of essays that includes his debate with Richard Rorty, as well as series of essays on Derrida, Levinas, Jacques Lacan, Jean-Luc Nancy. These essays also show a pronounced political and psychoanalytic turn to Critchley’s thinking. A new edition of the book appeared in Verso’s Radical Thinkers series in 2009.
Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction (2001) 
Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2001), is both an introduction to that tradition of thinking and an essay in meta-philosophy, which lays out the way in which Critchley sees the role of theory and reflection. In the book, Critchley addresses the perennial question of the two major Western philosophical traditions, that of analytical and continental philosophy. Critchley argues that the professional opposition between analytic and Continental philosophy is something that needs to be transcended. Critchley accepts that there is risk within continental philosophy of obscurantism, just as there is a risk of scientism in much analytic philosophy. But the primary purpose of philosophy is to understand ourselves, our world and, as Hegel puts it, to comprehend one’s time in thought. Critchley offers the example of the ‘will of God’ as the prime example of obscurantism, but within continental philosophy also the ‘drives’ in Sigmund Freud, ‘archetypes’ in Carl Jung, the ‘real’ in Jaques Lacan, ‘power’ in Michel Foucault, ‘différance’ in Jacques Derrida, the ‘trace of God’ in Emmanuel Levinas, and the ‘epochal withdrawal of being in and as history’ in Martin Heidegger.
On Humour (2002) 
Since 2000, Critchley has turned his attention to what he calls ‘impossible objects’: humour, poetry and music. His On Humour (Routledge, 2002) continues the meditation on nihilism begun in Very Little…Almost Nothing; but he continues it in a very different key, analysing the meaning and importance of humour. Critchley argues that humour is an oblique phenomenology of ordinary bringing about a change of situation that exerts a powerful critical function. On Humour has been translated into eleven languages and has exerted considerable influence over debates around the role of humour in contemporary art practice.
Things Merely Are (2005) 
In Things Merely Are (Routledge, 2005), Critchley examines the relation between philosophy and poetry through an extended meditation on the poetry of Wallace Stevens. Critchley’s particular focus in Stevens’ very late poems, which attempt to describe what poetry can and cannot say about a subject-independent reality. Critchley is referenced in the commentary on Stevens's poem Another Weeping Woman. The book also contains Critchley’s influential essay on Terence Malick’s The Thin Red Line.
Infinitely Demanding (2007) 
Infinitely Demanding (Verso, 2007) is the most systematic overview of Critchley's philosophical position. It combines a meta-ethics based on the concepts of approval and demand with a phenomenology of ethical experience and ethical subjectivity. At the centre of the book is a theory of ethical subjectivity based on the relation to an infinite demand. Critchley extends his analysis into discussions of aesthetics and sublimation and into political theory and practice. Critchley argues for an ethically committed political anarchism. Infinitely Demanding has been translated into 8 languages. The book has led to some heated polemics, notably with Slavoj Žižek (see below, the Critchley–Žižek debate). “Infinitely Demanding” is the topic of a special issue of the journal Critical Horizons (August 2009).
The Book of Dead Philosophers (2009) 
An extended defense of the idea that to philosophize is to learn how to die, The Book of Dead Philosophers was published by Granta in the UK (2008), Vintage in the US (2009) and Melbourne University Press in Australia (2008). It has been translated into 17 languages. “The Book of Dead Philosophers” was widely reviewed and discussed (see below). It was on The New York Times Best-Seller List in March 2009 and was a top ten bestseller in Greece in Summer 2009. The aim of “The Book of Dead Philosophers” is to examine, defend and refine the ideal of the philosophical death in the context of a culture like ours that is defined by a denial of death. However, the deeper intention of the book is to challenge and revise the way we think about the history of philosophy. More specifically, the book tries to conceive of the history of philosophy as a history of philosophers and thereby rethink the way in which approach the relation between the activity of philosophy and an individual life, between conceptuality and biography.
How to Stop Living and Start Worrying (2010) 
How to Stop Living and Start Worrying (Polity, 2010), a sort of anti-self-help book, is a series of conversations between Critchley and Carl Cederström from 2009 and 2010, originally based on Swedish television series. The conversations are intended to provide an overview and introduction to Critchley's life and work. They are based around a series topics: life, death, love, humour and authenticity. The volume also contains a discussion with Tom McCarthy.
Impossible Objects (2011) 
A collection of interviews with Critchley over the past 10 years, edited by Carl Cederström and Todd Kesselman, published by Polity Press in 2011. Recent Reviews: The Guardian Steven Poole, Et cetera: non-fiction reviews We Make Meaning Review for PopMatters.com
Faith of the Faithless (2012) 
From the paradox of politics and religion in Rousseau to the political stakes of the return to St. Paul in the work of Heidegger, Taubes, Agamben and Badiou, via explorations of politics and original sin in the work of Carl Schmitt and John N. Gray, Critchley examines whether there can be a faith of the faithless, a belief for unbelievers. Expanding on his debate with Slavoj Žižek, Critchley concludes with a meditation on the question of violence and the limits of non-violence. The Faith of the Faithless - Experiments in Political Theology was published by Verso in 2012.
He argues that liberal democracy is the political expression of deism.
Stay Illusion: The Hamlet Doctrine (2013) [The Hamlet Doctrine (UK)] 
The forthcoming book on Hamlet with co-authored with Jamieson Webster that deals with the play in the light of various 'outsider' interpretations, such as those of Carl Schmitt, Walter Benjamin, Friedrich Schelling, Hegel, Nietzsche, Freud, and Lacan.
The Stone 
The Stone is an opinion series in The New York Times, moderated by Simon Critchley, that features the writings of contemporary philosophers on issues both timely and timeless - art, war, ethics, gender, popular culture and more. Recent contributors include J.M. Bernstein, Arthur Danto, Nancy Sherman, Peter Singer, Natasha Lennard, Nancy Bauer, Todd May, Martha Nussbaum, Peter Railton, Galen Strawson, Feisal G. Mohamed, William Egginton, Andy Martin, Gary Gutting, and Critchley. Other articles by Critchley in The New York Times also include Beyond the Sea, How to Make It in the Afterlife, and Coin of Praise.
On May 21, 2011 The New York Times brought back The Stone, due to its widespread popularity. In the first new entry since January, Critchley discusses the aims of the column and the role of philosophy in contemporary culture (The Stone Returns). Critchley's recent contributions to the The Stone include Let Be: An Answer to Hamlet’s Question, a collaboration with Jamieson Webster that traces the logic of action in Shakespeare's Hamlet and Euro Blind, a discussion of Sophocles and the so-called “tragedy" of the European debt crisis. More recently Critchley contributed a three-part essay, Philip K. Dick, Sci-Fi Philosopher and an article titled Why I Love Mormonism. The latter received widespread attention and reactions from the Mormon community varied. Several articles were written in response including, Is God Infinite? Are We?, Mormonism: The Last Acceptable Predjudice, Philosophy Professor: 'Why I Love Mormonism', A Public Conversation about Mormonism, Time to Take Interest in Mormonism and Mormon Media Observer: Papers post robust defense of Latter-day Saints.
The Guardian series on Heidegger's Being and Time 
In an essay series for the British newspaper The Guardian, Critchley explores Martin Heidegger’s magnum opus, Being and Time, first published in 1927. The importance of Heidegger’s work, Crtichley explains, is not limited to philosophy, but has poured over into such diverse areas as architecture, contemporary art, social and political theory, psychotherapy, psychiatry and theology. Yet, because of his political commitment to National Socialism in 1933, when he assumed the position of Rector of Freiburg University in south-western Germany, Heidegger continues to arouse controversy, polemic and much heated misunderstanding: How could arguably the greatest philosopher of the 20th century also have been a Nazi? What does his political commitment to National Socialism, however long or short it lasted, suggest about the nature of philosophy and its risks and dangers when stepping into the political realm? Critchley argues that such political questions cannot be properly confronted without coming to terms with Being and Time. The Guardian Series is a concise attempt to understand and feel the persuasive power of this seminal text.
- Critchley's webpage at The New School for Social Research
- Simon Critchley Faculty page at European Graduate School (Biography, bibliography, photos and video lectures)
- SimonCritchley.org website with interviews, reviews, bibliography of work etc.
Selected bibliography 
- (1991) Re-Reading Levinas, ed. with Robert Bernasconi, Indiana University Press, Bloomington.
- (1992) The Ethics of Deconstruction: Derrida and Levinas, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, (2nd edition, 1999)
- (1996) Deconstructive Subjectivities, ed. with Peter Dews, State University of New York Press, Ithaca, NY.
- (1996) Emmanuel Levinas: Basic Philosophical Writings, ed. with Adriaan T. Peperzak and Robert Bernasconi, Indiana University Press, Bloomington.
- (1997) Very Little... Almost Nothing: Death, Philosophy, Literature, Routledge, London & New York (2nd Edition, 2004).
- (1998) A Companion to Continental Philosophy, ed. with William J. Schroeder, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford.
- (1999) Ethics-Politics-Subjectivity: Essays on Derrida, Levinas, and Contemporary French Thought, Verso, London (Reissued, 2007).
- (2001) Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press.
- (2002) The Cambridge Companion to Levinas, ed. with Robert Bernasconi, Cambridge University Press.
- (2002) On Humour, Routledge, London.
- (2004) Laclau, A Critical Reader, ed. with Oliver Marchart, Routledge, London.
- (2005) On the Human Condition, with Dominique Janicaud & Eileen Brennan, Routledge, London.
- (2007) Infinitely Demanding. Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance, Verso, London & New York.
- (2008) The Book of Dead Philosophers, Granta Books, London; Vintage, New York; Melbourne University Press, Melbourne.
- (2008) On Heidegger’s ‘Being and Time’, with Reiner Schürmann, edited by Steven Levine, Routledge, London and New York.
- (2008) Der Katechismus des Bürgers, Diaphanes Verlag, Berlin.
- (2008) Democracy and Disappointment: On the Politics of Resistance (DVD) - Alain Badiou and Simon Critchley in Conversation, Slought Books, Philadelphia.
- (2010) How to Stop Living and Start Worrying, Polity Press.
- (2011) Impossible Objects, Polity Press.
- (2011) International Necronautical Society: Offizielle Mitteilungen
- (2012) The Faith of the Faithless, Verso.
Critchley has also edited the following book series:
- Thinking the Political (Routledge)
- Blackwell Readings in Continental Philosophy (Blackwell)
- Thinking in Action (Routledge)
- How to Read... (Granta, London, and W.W. Norton, New York)
- "Simon Critchley's top 10 philosophers' deaths" at guardian.co.uk (Wednesday 11 June 2008)
- W.D. (2010). In Clifford Thompson. Current Biography Yearbook (71st ed.). New York: H.W. Wilson. pp. 117–121. ISBN 978-0-8242-1113-4.
- Wilson, Blake (February 25, 2009). "Living With Music: A Playlist by Simon Critchley". ArtsBeat. Retrieved May 18, 2013.
- "About the Summer School". TilburgPhilosophySummerSchool.com. Retrieved 18 May 2013.
- "Politics Is The New Religion?", Rollo Romig, The Daily Beast, 19 February 2012
- See Crtichley's contributions from May and August of 2010: "What Is a Philosopher?", a reassessment of the ancient art, and "The Rigor of Love", which asks whether the experience of faith be shared by those unable to believe in God?
- Part 1: Why Heidegger Matters, Part 2: On Mineness, Part 3: Being-in-the-world, Part 4: Thrown Into This World, Part 5: Anxiety, Part 6: Death, Part 7: Conscience, Part 8: Temporality