Ethan Kleinberg is Class of 1958 Distinguished Professor of History and Letters at Wesleyan University, Editor-in-Chief of History and Theory and was Director of Wesleyan University's Center for the Humanities. Kleinberg's wide-ranging scholarly work spans across the fields of history, philosophy, comparative literature and religion. Together with Joan Wallach Scott and Gary Wilder he is a member of the Wild On Collective who co-authored the "Theses on Theory and History" and started the #TheoryRevolt movement. He is the author of Haunting History: for a deconstructive approach to the past and Generation Existential: Martin Heidegger’s Philosophy in France, 1927-61, which was awarded the 2006 Morris D. Forkosch prize for the best book in intellectual history, by the Journal of the History of Ideas and co-editor of the volume Presence: Philosophy, History, and Cultural Theory for the Twenty-First Century. He is completing a book length project titled The Myth of Emmanuel Levinas, on the Talmudic Lectures the French-Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas presented in Paris between 1960 and 1990.
He received his B.A from UC. Berkeley and his Ph.D. from UCLA. For high school he attended Windward School in Los Angeles.
In 1998 he was a Fulbright scholar in France. In 2003 he was the recipient of Wesleyan University's Carol A. Baker ’81 Memorial Prize for excellence in teaching and research. In 2006 his book Generation Existential: Heidegger’s Philosophy in France, 1927-1961 was awarded the Morris D. Forkosch prize for the best book in intellectual history by the Journal of the History of Ideas. In 2011 he was Directeur d’études invité at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris. In 2018 he was Professeur Invité at the Université Bordeaux Montaigne. He was named the 2020 Reinhart Koselleck Guest Professor at the Center for Theories of History, Bielefeld University.
This book argues for a deconstructive approach to the practice and writing of history at a moment when available forms for writing and publishing history are undergoing radical transformation. To do so, it explores the legacy and impact of [(deconstruction)] on American historical work; the current fetishization of lived experience, materialism, and the "real;" new trends in philosophy of history; and the persistence of ontological realism as the dominant mode of thought for conventional historians.
Arguing that this ontological realist mode of thinking is reinforced by current analog publishing practices, Ethan Kleinberg advocates for a hauntological approach to history that follows the work of Jacques Derrida and embraces a past that is at once present and absent, available and restricted, rather than a fixed and static snapshot of a moment in time. This polysemic understanding of the past as multiple and conflicting, he maintains, is what makes the deconstructive approach to the past particularly well suited to new digital forms of historical writing and presentation.
When we think of Heidegger's influence in France, we tend to focus on such contemporary thinkers as Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Jean-François Lyotard. In Generation Existential, Ethan Kleinberg shifts the focus to the initial reception of Heidegger's philosophy in France by those who first encountered it. Kleinberg explains the appeal of Heidegger's philosophy to French thinkers, as well as the ways they incorporated and expanded on it in their own work through the interwar, Second World War, and early postwar periods. In so doing, Kleinberg offers new insights into intellectual figures whose influence on modern French philosophy has been enormous, including some whose thought remains under-explored outside France. Among Kleinberg's "generation existential" are Jean Beaufret, the only member of the group whom one could characterize as "a Heideggerian"; Maurice Blanchot; Alexandre Kojéve; Emmanuel Levinas; and Jean-Paul Sartre. In showing how each of these figures engaged with Heidegger, Kleinberg helps us to understand how the philosophy of this right-wing thinker had such a profound influence on intellectuals of the left. Furthermore, Kleinberg maintains that our view of Heidegger's influence on contemporary thought is contingent on our comprehension of the ways in which his philosophy was initially understood, translated, and incorporated into the French philosophical canon by this earlier generation.
Presence: Philosophy, History and Cultural Theory for the 21st Century, a volume co-edited with Ranjan Ghosh
The philosophy of “presence” seeks to challenge current understandings of meaning and understanding. One can trace its origins back to Vico, Dilthey, and Heidegger, though its more immediate exponents include Jean-Luc Nancy, Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, and such contemporary philosophers of history as Frank Ankersmit and Eelco Runia. The theoretical paradigm of presence conveys how the past is literally with us in the present in significant and material ways: Things we cannot touch nonetheless touch us. This makes presence a post-linguistic or post-discursive theory that challenges current understandings of “meaning” and “interpretation.” Presence provides an overview of the concept and surveys both its weaknesses and its possible uses. In this book, Ethan Kleinberg and Ranjan Ghosh bring together an interdisciplinary group of contributors to explore the possibilities and limitations of presence from a variety of perspectives—history, sociology, literature, cultural theory, media studies, photography, memory, and political theory. The book features critical engagements with the presence paradigm within intellectual history, literary criticism, and the philosophy of history. In three original case studies, presence illuminates the relationships among photography, the past, memory, and the Other. What these diverse but overlapping essays have in common is a shared commitment to investigate the attempt to reconnect meaning with something “real” and to push the paradigm of presence beyond its current uses. The volume is thus an important intervention in the most fundamental debates within the humanities today.
Generation Existential: Heidegger’s Philosophy in France, 1927-1961, 2005 Cornell University Press. Paperback edition, 2007. Chinese translation with author’s foreword (Beijing: New Star Press/Xin Xing, July 2008).
Presence: Philosophy, History and Cultural Theory for the 21st Century, a volume co-edited with Ranjan Ghosh, November 2013, Cornell University Press.
“Just the Facts: the Fantasy of a Historical Science”, History of the Present: a journal of critical inquiry (University of Illinois Press), Vol. 6, No. 1 (Spring 2016).
“History and Theory in a Global Frame”, introduction to History and Theory Theme Issue on “Historical Theory in a Global Frame,” co-authored with Vijay Pinch, Volume 54, No. 4, December 2015.
“Not Yet Marrano: Levinas, Derrida and the ‘ontology’ of Being-Jewish”, in Traces of God: Derrida and Religion, Edward Baring and Peter Gordon eds., October 2014, Fordham University Press. “To Atone and to Forgive: Jaspers, Jankélévitch/Derrida and the possibility of forgiveness” in Jankélévitch and Forgiveness, Alan Udoff ed., February 2013, Lexington Press, Rowman and Littlefield.
“Academic Journals in the Digital Era: An Editor’s Reflections”, Perspectives on History, 50:9/ December 2012.
“The Trojan Horse of Tradition”, introduction to History and Theory Theme Issue on “Tradition and History”, Volume 51, No. 4, December 2012.
“Back to Where We’ve Never Been: Heidegger, Levinas, Derrida on Tradition and History”, History and Theory, Volume 51, No. 4, December 2012.
“The New Metaphysics of Time”, introduction to History and Theory Virtual Issue, August 2012. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1111/%28ISSN%291468-2303/homepage/virtual_issue__the_new_metaphysics_of_time.htm
“In/finite Time: tracing transcendence to Emmanuel Levinas’s Talmudic lectures”, International Journal of Philosophical Studies special issue on Emmanuel Levinas, Volume 20, Number 3 (2012).
“Of Jews and Humanism in France”, Modern Intellectual History volume 9, Number 2, (August 2012).
“The Letter on Humanism: Reading Heidegger in France”, in Situating Existentialism, Robert Bernasconi and Jonathan Judaken eds. (June 2012, Columbia University Press).
“A Perfect Past? Tony Judt and the Historian’s Burden of Responsibility”, French Historical Studies, Volume 35, Number 1 (Winter 2012).
“To Atone and to Forgive: Jaspers, Jankélévitch/Derrida and the possibility of forgiveness” in Jankélévitch and Forgiveness, Alan Udoff ed. (forthcoming from Lexington Press, Rowman and Littlefield).
“Freud and Levinas: Talmud and Psychoanalysis Before the Letter”, Freud’s Jewish World, Arnold Richards ed., (New York: Macfarland Press, January 2010).
“Presence In Absentia” in Storia della Storiografia 55 (2009).
Review of François Cusset, French Theory: How Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, and Co. Transformed the Intellectual Life of the United States, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, 2008-09-07 (http://ndpr.nd.edu/review.cfm?id=14085)
Review essay of Allan Bass, Interpretation and Difference: The Strangeness of Care (Stanford University Press, 2006), Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association 56, 3, Fall 2008.
“Interdisciplinary Studies at the Crossroads”, Liberal Education, 94, no. 1, Winter 2008.
“Haunting History: Deconstruction and the Spirit of Revision”, History and Theory, 46, no. 4, December 2007.
“New Gods Swelling the Future Ocean”, History and Theory, 46, no. 3, October 2007.
“The Myth of Emmanuel Levinas” in After the Deluge: New Perspectives in French Intellectual and Cultural History, Julian Bourg, ed., Lexington Press, Rowman and Littlefield, 2004.
“Kojève and Fanon: The Fact of Blackness and the Desire for Recognition” in French Civilization and Its Discontents, Tyler Stovall and George Van Den Abbeele, ed., Lexington Press, Rowman and Littlefield, 2003.
- History and Theory: Expanding the Intellectual Network
- Wesleyan History Department
- History and Theory editorial page
- Video of lecture on Freud and Levinas at Center for Jewish History
- Kleinberg's article Interdisciplinary Studies at a Crossroads
- Kleinberg’s review of Francois Cusset's French Theory
- "Haunting History: Deconstruction and the Spirit of Revision" in History and Theory