Gillian Rose

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This page is about the philosopher Gillian Rose. For the geographer, see Gillian Rose (geographer).

Gillian Rose
Born(1947-09-20)20 September 1947
London, England
Died9 December 1995(1995-12-09) (aged 48)
Alma materSt Hilda's College, Oxford
Columbia University
Free University Berlin
St Antony's College, Oxford
Era20th-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
Analytic school
Social philosophy
InstitutionsUniversity of Sussex
University of Warwick
Main interests
Law, ethics
Notable ideas
The "broken middle"

Gillian Rosemary Rose (née Stone; 20 September 1947 – 9 December 1995) was a British scholar who worked in the fields of philosophy and sociology. Notable facets of this social philosopher's work include criticism of neo-Kantianism and post-modernism, along with what has been described as "a forceful defence of Hegel's speculative thought."[1]

Life and work[edit]

Gillian Rose was born in London into a non-practising Jewish family. Shortly after her parents divorced, when Rose was still quite young, her mother married another man, her stepfather, with whom Rose became close as she drifted from her biological father. These aspects of her family life figured in her late memoir Love's Work: A Reckoning with Life (1995). Also in her memoir, she writes that her "passion for philosophy" was bred at age 17 when she read Pascal's Pensées and Plato's Republic.[2]

Rose attended Ealing grammar school and went on to St Hilda's College, Oxford, where she read PPE.[3] Taught philosophy by Jean Austin, widow of the philosopher J. L. Austin, she later described herself as bristling under the constraints of Oxford-style philosophy. She never forgot Austin remarking in class, "Remember, girls, all the philosophers you will read are much more intelligent than you are."[4] In a late interview, Rose commented of philosophers trained at Oxford, "It teaches them to be clever, destructive, supercilious and ignorant. It doesn’t teach you what’s important. It doesn’t feed the soul."[5] She graduated with upper second-class honours.[6] Before beginning her DPhil at St. Antony's College, Oxford, she studied at Columbia University and the Free University, Berlin.

Rose's career began with a dissertation on Theodor W. Adorno, supervised by the Polish philosopher Leszek Kołakowski, who wryly spoke to her of Adorno as a third-rate thinker. This dissertation eventually became the basis for her first book, The Melancholy Science: An Introduction to the Thought of Theodor W. Adorno (1978). She became well known partly through her critiques of postmodernism and post-structuralism. In Dialectic of Nihilism (1984), for instance, she leveled criticisms at Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, and Jacques Derrida. Later, in her essay "Of Derrida's Spirit" in Judaism and Modernity (1993), Rose critiqued Derrida's Of Spirit (1987), arguing that his analysis of Heidegger's relation to Nazism relied in key instances on serious misreadings of Hegel, which allowed both Heidegger and Derrida to evade the importance of political history and modern law. In an extended "Note" to the essay, Rose raised similar objections to Derrida's subsequent readings of Hermann Cohen[7] and Walter Benjamin,[8] singling out his notion of the "mystical foundation of authority" as centrally problematic.[9]

After her first appointment as a lecturer in sociology in 1974 at the School of European Studies (the University of Sussex), Rose became a Professor of Social and Political Thought at the University of Warwick in 1989, a position she held until her death in 1995. As part of her thinking into the Holocaust, Rose was engaged by the Polish Commission for the Future of Auschwitz in 1990, a delegation which included theologian Richard L. Rubenstein and literary critic David G. Roskies, among others. She wrote about her experience of this commission in her memoir Love's Work and in Mourning Becomes the Law and Paradiso. One of her colleagues on the commission, Marc H. Ellis, has written about Rose's experience as well.

At a crucial moment in our deliberations on the historical knowledge of the Polish guides, Rose spoke, out of turn and off the subject, of the nearness of God. This was a violation of etiquette, and worse. Rose was suggesting that the anger of these delegates, for the most part Holocaust scholars and rabbis, was a retrospective one that, paradoxically sought the Holocaust past as a safe haven from inquiries of the present conduct of the Jewish people.[10]

Rose died in Coventry at the age of 48 of ovarian cancer.[11] She made a deathbed conversion to Christianity through the Anglican Church.[11] She left to the library of Warwick University parts of her own personal library, including a collection of essential works on the History of Christianity and Theology, which are marked "From the Library of Professor Gillian Rose, 1995" on the inside cover. Rose is survived by her parents, her sister, the academic and writer Jacqueline Rose, her half sisters, Alison Rose and Diana Stone, and her half brother, Anthony Stone.


Rose's papers are held by Warwick University Library in the Modern Records Centre.


Dialectic of Nihilism (1984)[edit]

Rose's third book, Dialectic of Nihilism, is a reading of post-structuralism through the lens of law. Specifically, she attempts to read a number of thinkers preceding and constituting post-structuralist philosophy against Kant's "defense of the 'usurpatory concept' of freedom",[12] that is, his answer to the question of "How [Reason] is to justify its possession" of freedom[13] "through pure reason, systematically arranged."[14] Rose's primary foci are Martin Heidegger, to whom she devotes three chapters, and Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, and Jacques Derrida, to whom she devotes one chapter apiece. In addition, however, she scrutinises a few of the neo-Kantians (Emil Lask, Rudolf Stammler, and Hermann Cohen), Henri Bergson, and Ferdinand de Saussure and Claude Lévi-Strauss. Her central argument is that with the post-structuralists a "newly insinuated law [is] dissembled as a nihilistic break with knowledge and law, with tradition in general."[15] Describing this situation in the case of Foucault, Rose writes, "like all nihilist programmes, this one insinuates a new law disguised as beyond politics."[16] Concomitantly, Rose contends that similar fates befall the neo-Kantians and other thinkers who try to transcend or ignore the problems of law. According to Rose, the neo-Kantians seek to resolve the Kantian antinomy of law "by drawing an 'original' category out of the Critique of Pure Reason, be it 'mathesis', 'time', or 'power'", yet remain unable to do so because "[t]his mode of resolution ... depends on changing the old sticking point of the unknown categorical imperative into a new vanishing point, where it remains equally categorical and imperative, unknowable but forceful";[17] while other thinkers—including Lévi-Strauss and Henri Bergson—"fall into the familiar transcendental problem"[18] wherein the "ambiguity in the relation between the conditioned and the precondition is exploited."[19]

The philosopher Howard Caygill—also Rose's literary executor—has taken issue with her readings of Deleuze and Derrida in Dialectic of Nihilism, going so far as to call some of them "frankly tendentious".[20] In a more critical review of the book, Roy Boyne, too, argues that Rose failed to do justice to these figures. "She operates on the highest plane of abstraction", Boyne writes, "for it is only at that level that the polemic makes any sense. Were she to drop down a level or so, she would see that the position she is so concerned to defend is not under attack from the quarters to which she addresses herself."[21] However, Caygill insists that "Whatever the shortcomings of the readings in Dialectic of Nihilism and the unfortunate and unnecessary borders it raised between Rose's thought and that of many of her contemporaries, it did mark a further stage in her retrieval of speculative thought."[22] Scott Lash has asserted that the "real weakness of Dialectic of Nihilism is its propensity toward academic point-scoring", the result of which, according to Lash, is Rose's "devoting some half of its length attempting to discredit the analysts under consideration with their own assumptions, rather than straightforwardly confronting them with her own juridical prescriptions."[23] Yet Lash considers her chapters on Derrida and Foucault to be partial remedies to this issue.


Already in 1995, Rowan Williams commented, "Gillian Rose's work has had far less discussion than it merits."[24] In the decades following Williams' statement others have reiterated the sentiment. Nevertheless, Rose's work has made inroads among a number of important thinkers, not the least of them Williams himself, whose revaluation of Hegel in the 1990s has been attributed to Rose's influence.[25] On the philosophy of Hegel, in a text of 1991, Slavoj Žižek writes, "one has to grasp the fundamental paradox of the speculative identity as it was recently identified by Gillian Rose."[26] Žižek here refers to Rose's second book Hegel contra Sociology (1981); subsequently, his Hegelianism was dubbed "speculative" by Marcus Pound.[27] In turn, Howard Caygill observes of Hegel contra Sociology: "This work revolutionized the study of Hegel, providing a comprehensive account of his speculative philosophy that overcame the distinction between religious (‘right Hegelian’) and political (‘left Hegelian’) interpretations that had prevailed since the death of the philosopher in 1832."[28] And the work is still cited in Hegel scholarship.[29] When John Milbank published Theology and Social Theory in 1990, he cited Rose as one of the thinkers without whom "the present book would not have been conceivable."[30] Marcus Pound recently found that "Rose was the Blackwell reader for Milbank’s Theology and Social Theory. The Rose archives at Warwick include the letters Milbank and Rose exchanged on the subject. In particular she pushed him to clarify the nature of the subject which underpinned Theology and Social Theory. In response Milbank wrote 'The Sublime in Kierkegaard'."[31] In 2015 the journal Telos released a special issue on Gillian Rose, gathering responses and critiques to her work from Rowan Williams, John Milbank, Peter Osborne, and Nigel Tubbs.[32]



  • The Melancholy Science: An Introduction to the Thought of Theodor W. Adorno (1978)
  • Hegel contra Sociology (1981)
  • Dialectic Of Nihilism: Post-Structuralism and Law (1984)
  • The Broken Middle: Out of Our Ancient Society (1992)
  • Judaism and Modernity: Philosophical Essays (1993)
  • Love's Work: A Reckoning With Life (1995)
  • Mourning Becomes the Law: Philosophy and Representation (1996)
  • Paradiso (1999)

Essays, articles and reviews[edit]

  • "How is Critical Theory Possible?", Political Studies 24.1 (March 1976), 69–85.
  • Review of Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, in The American Political Science Review 7.2 (June 1976), 598–9.
  • Review of Susan Buck-Morss, The Origin of Negative Dialectics and Zolton Tar, The Frankfurt School, in History and Theory 18.1 (February 1979), 126–135.
  • Review of Thomas McCarthy, The Critical Theory of Jürgen Habermas, in British Journal of Sociology 31.1 (March 1980), 110–1.
  • "A ghost in his own machine", review of Points...: Interviews, 1974–1994 and Spectres of Marx by Jacques Derrida. The Times 27 July 1995.
  • "The Final Notebooks of Gillian Rose", Women: A Cultural Review 9:1 (1998), 6–18, edited by Howard Caygill.
  • "Beginnings of the Day: Fascism and Representation", paper in Modernism, Culture and 'the Jew' (1998) [the book is dedicated to Rose]


  1. ^ From the back cover of the 2009 Verso Books reprint of Hegel contra Sociology.
  2. ^ Rose, Gillian (1995). "Love's Work". The New York Review of Books. p. 128.
  3. ^ Caygill, Howard (2004). "Rose, Gillian Rosemary (1947–1995)". In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.
  4. ^ Rose (1995). p. 129.
  5. ^ Lloyd, Vincent (2008). "Interview with Gillian Rose". Theory, Culture & Society, Vol. 25 Issue 7/8. p. 207.
  6. ^ "Rose [née Stone], Gillian Rosemary (1947–1995), philosopher | Oxford Dictionary of National Biography". doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-60360. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  7. ^ Derrida, Jacques (1991). "Interpretations at War: Kant, the Jew, the German". New Literary History 22. pp. 39–95.
  8. ^ Derrida, Jacques (1990). "Force of Law: The 'Mystical Foundation of Authority' ", in two Parts. Cardozo Law Review vol. 11, 5–6. pp. 919–73; 973–1039.
  9. ^ Rose, Gillian (1993). Judaism and Modernity. Blackwell. pp. 79–87.
  10. ^ Ellis, Marc H. (2000). "Questioning Conversion: Gillian Rose, George Steiner, and Christianity." In Revolutionary Forgiveness: Essays on Judaism, Christianity, and the Future of Religious Life. p. 231.
  11. ^ a b Wolf, Arnold Jacob (1997). "The Tragedy of Gillian Rose." Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought 46, no. 184.
  12. ^ Rose, Gillian (1984). Dialectic of Nihilism. Basil Blackwell. p. 12.
  13. ^ Rose (1984). p. 12.
  14. ^ Kant, Immanuel (1781). Critique of Pure Reason. Trans. Norman Kemp Smith. Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. A xx/p. 14. Cited in Rose (1984). p. 12.
  15. ^ Rose (1984). p. 7.
  16. ^ Rose (1984). p. 173.
  17. ^ Rose (1984). p. 4.
  18. ^ Rose (1984). p. 129.
  19. ^ Rose (1984). p. 111.
  20. ^ Caygill, Howard (1998). "The Broken Hegel". Women: A Cultural Review, Vol. 9 Issue 1. p. 24.
  21. ^ Boyne, Roy (1986). "Book Review: Dialectic of Nihilism: Post-Structuralism and Law". Contemporary Sociology, Vol. 15, No. 3. p. 437.
  22. ^ Caygill (1998). p. 24
  23. ^ Lash, Scott (1987). "Book Review: Dialectic of Nihilism, Post-Structuralism and Law". Theory and Society, Vol. 16, No. 2. p. 308.
  24. ^ Williams, Rowan (1995). "Between Politics and Metaphysics: Reflections in the Wake of Gillian Rose." Modern Theology, Vol. 11, No. 1 p. 16.
  25. ^ Myers, Benjamin (2012). Christ the Stranger: The Theology of Rowan Williams. T&T Clark International. p. 52.
  26. ^ Zizek, Slavoj ([1991] 2008). For They Know Not What They Do. Verso Books. p. 103.
  27. ^ Pound, Marcus (2008). Žižek: A (Very) Critical Introduction. Wiliam B. Eerdmans. pp. 49-51.
  28. ^ Caygill (2004).
  29. ^ See, e.g., Browning, Gary K. (ed.) (1993). Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit: A Reappraisal. Kluwer; Marasco, Robyn (2015). The Highway of Despair: Critical Theory after Hegel. Columbia University Press.; Tubbs, Nigel (2008). Education in Hegel. Continuum.
  30. ^ Milbank, John ([1990] 2006). Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason. Blackwell. p. viii.
  31. ^ Pound, Marcus (2015). "Political Theology and Comedy: Žižek through Rose Tinted Glasses." Crisis and Critique, Vol. 2, No. 1 p.185, note 53.
  32. ^ Gillian Rose. Telos (Winter 2015).

Further reading[edit]

  • Bernstein, Jay, "Philosophy Among the Ruins", Prospect 6 (1996), 27–30.
  • Caygill, Howard, "The Broken Hegel: Gillian Rose's retrieval of speculative philosophy", Women: A Cultural Review 9.1 (1998), 19–27.
  • Jarvis, Simon, "Idle Tears: A Response to Gillian Rose" in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit: A Reappraisal (edited by Gary K. Browning, Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1997), 113–9.
  • Kavka, Martin, "Saying Kaddish for Gillian Rose, or on Levinas and Geltungsphilosophie" in Secular Theology: American Radical Theological Thought (edited by Clayton Crockett, London and New York: Routledge, 2001), 104–129.
  • Lloyd, Vincent, Law and Transcendence: On the Unfinished Project of Gillian Rose (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).
  • Lloyd, Vincent, "On the Use of Gillian Rose", The Heythrop Journal 48.5 (2007), 697–706.
  • Rose, Jacqueline "On Gillian Rose" in The Last Resistance (London: Verso, 2007).
  • Schick, Kate, Gillian Rose: A Good Enough Justice (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University, 2012).
  • Shanks, Andrew, Against Innocence: Gillian Rose's Reception and Gift of Faith (London, SCM Press, 2008).
  • Tubbs, Nigel, Contradiction of Enlightenment: Hegel and the Broken Middle (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1997).
  • Williams, Rowan D. "Between Politics and Metaphysics: Reflections in the Wake of Gillian Rose", Modern Theology 11.1 (1995), 3–22.

External links[edit]