We have long since lost our faith in the idea that human beings could achieve human happiness in some future ideal state-a state that Thomas More, writing five centuries ago, tied to a topos, a fixed place, a land, an island, a sovereign state under a wise and benevolent ruler. But while we have lost our faith in utopias of all hues, the human aspiration that made this vision so compelling has not died. Instead it is re-emerging today as a vision focused not on the future but on the past, not on a future-to-be-created but on an abandoned and undead past that we could call retrotopia.
The emergence of retrotopia is interwoven with the deepening gulf between power and politics that is a defining feature of our contemporary liquid-modern world-the gulf between the ability to get things done and the capability of deciding what things need to be done, a capability once vested with the territorially sovereign state. This deepening gulf has rendered nation-states unable to deliver on their promises, giving rise to a widespread disenchantment with the idea that the future will improve the human condition and a mistrust in the ability of nation-states to make this happen. True to the utopian spirit, retrotopia derives its stimulus from the urge to rectify the failings of the present human condition-though now by resurrecting the failed and forgotten potentials of the past. Imagined aspects of the past, genuine or putative, serve as the main landmarks today in drawing the road-map to a better world. Having lost all faith in the idea of building an alternative society of the future, many turn instead to the grand ideas of the past, buried but not yet dead. Such is retrotopia, the contours of which are examined by Zygmunt Bauman in this sharp dissection of our contemporary romance with the past.
The election of Donald Trump as president of the United States sent shockwaves across the globe. How was such an outcome even possible? In two lectures given at American universities in the immediate aftermath of the election, the leading French philosopher Alain Badiou helps us to make sense of this extraordinary occurrence. He argues that Trump's victory was the symptom of a global crisis made up of four characteristics: the triumph of a brutal form of global capitalism, the decomposition of the established political elite, the growing frustration and disorientation that many people feel today, and the absence of a compelling alternative vision. It was in this context that Trump could emerge as a new kind of political figure that was both inside and outside the political order, a member of the Republican Party who, at the same time, represents something outside the system. The progressive political challenge now is to create something new that offers people a real choice, a radical alternative based on principles of universality and equality. This concise account of the meaning of Trump should be read by everyone who wants to understand what is happening in our world today.
This biography of Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) tells the story of a Jewish boy from Algiers, excluded from school at the age of twelve, who went on to become the most widely translated French philosopher in the world - a vulnerable, tormented man who, throughout his life, continued to see himself as unwelcome in the French university system. We are plunged into the different worlds in which Derrida lived and worked: pre-independence Algeria, the microcosm of the École Normale Supérieure, the cluster of structuralist thinkers, and the turbulent events of 1968 and after. We meet the remarkable series of leading writers and philosophers with whom Derrida struck up a friendship: Louis Althusser, Emmanuel Levinas, Jean Genet, and Hélène Cixous, among others. We also witness an equally long series of often brutal polemics fought over crucial issues with thinkers such as Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan, John R. Searle, and Jürgen Habermas, as well as several controversies that went far beyond academia, the best known of which concerned Heidegger and Paul de Man. We follow a series of courageous political commitments in support of Nelson Mandela, illegal immigrants, and gay marriage. And we watch as a concept - deconstruction - takes wing and exerts an extraordinary influence way beyond the philosophical world, on literary studies, architecture, law, theology, feminism, queer theory, and postcolonial studies. In writing this compelling and authoritative biography, Benoît Peeters talked to over a hundred individuals who knew and worked with Derrida. He is also the first person to make use of the huge personal archive built up by Derrida throughout his life and of his extensive correspondence. Peeters' book gives us a new and deeper understanding of the man who will perhaps be seen as the major philosopher of the second half of the twentieth century.
We are living in an open sea, caught up in a continuous wave, with no fixed point and no instrument to measure distance and the direction of travel. Nothing appears to be in its place any more, and a great deal appears to have no place at all. The principles that have given substance to the democratic ethos, the system of rules that has guided the relationships of authority and the ways in which they are legitimized, the shared values and their hierarchy, our behaviour and our life styles, must be radically revised because they no longer seem suited to our experience and understanding of a world in flux, a world that has become both increasingly interconnected and prone to severe and persistent crises.
We are living in the interregnum between what is no longer and what is not yet. None of the political movements that helped undermine the old world are ready to inherit it, and there is no new ideology, no consistent vision, promising to give shape to new institutions for the new world. It is like the Babylon referred to by Borges, the country of randomness and uncertainty in which `no decision is final; all branch into others'. Out of the world that had promised us modernity, what Jean Paul Sartre had summarized with sublime formula `le choix que je suis' (`the choice that I am'), we inhabit that flattened, mobile and dematerialized space, where as never before the principle of the heterogenesis of purposes is sovereign.
This is Babel.
'Even the biographical individual is a social category', wrote Adorno. `It can only be defined in a living context together with others.' In this major new biography, Stefan Müller-Doohm turns this maxim back on Adorno himself and provides a rich and comprehensive account of the life and work of one of the most brilliant minds of the twentieth century. This authoritative biography ranges across the whole of Adorno's life and career, from his childhood and student years to his years in emigration in the United States and his return to postwar Germany. At the same time, Muller-Doohm examines the full range of Adorno's writings on philosophy, sociology, literary theory, music theory and cultural criticism. Drawing on an array of sources from Adorno's personal correspondence with Horkheimer, Benjamin, Berg, Marcuse, Kracauer and Mann to interviews, notes and both published and unpublished writings, Muller-Doohm situates Adorno's contributions in the context of his times and provides a rich and balanced appraisal of his significance in the 20th Century as a whole. Müller-Doohm's clear prose succeeds in making accessible some of the most complex areas of Adorno's thought. This outstanding biography will be the standard work on Adorno for years to come.
The pace of modern life is undoubtedly speeding up, yet this acceleration does not seem to have made us any happier or more content. If acceleration is the problem, then the solution, argues Hartmut Rosa in this major new work, lies in "resonance." The quality of a human life cannot be measured simply in terms of resources, options, and moments of happiness; instead, we must consider our relationship to, or resonance with, the world. Applying his theory of resonance to many domains of human activity, Rosa describes the full spectrum of ways in which we establish our relationship to the world, from the act of breathing to the adoption of culturally distinct worldviews. He then turns to the realms of concrete experience and action - family and politics, work and sports, religion and art - in which we as late modern subjects seek out resonance. This task is proving ever more difficult as modernity's logic of escalation is both cause and consequence of a distorted relationship to the world, at individual and collective levels. As Rosa shows, all the great crises of modern society - the environmental crisis, the crisis of democracy, the psychological crisis - can also be understood and analyzed in terms of resonance and our broken relationship to the world around us. Building on his now classic work on acceleration, Rosa's new book is a major new contribution to the theory of modernity, showing how our problematic relation to the world is at the crux of some of the most pressing issues we face today. This bold renewal of critical theory for our times will be of great interest to students and scholars across the social sciences and humanities.