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November 25th, 2008 at 11:04 am

Philosophy in Turbulent Times Reviewed in the London Review of Books

Elisabeth Roudinesco, Philosophy in Turbulent TimesElif Batuman offers a very interesting and spirited review of Elisabeth Roudinesco’s Philosophy in Turbulent Times: Canguilhem, Sartre, Foucault, Althusser, Deleuze, and Derrida in the London Review of Books.

In the review Batuman considers Roudinesco’s unique take on each thinker and their work. The review also highlights some of the more surprising and occasionally sordid events covered in Philosophy in Turbulent Times, including Althusser choking his wife to death and Sartre’s failed attempt to write a screenplay for John Huston’s biopic on Freud. John Huston and Jean-Paul Sartre?:

The Huston-Sartre collaboration fell apart in 1959, when Sartre travelled to Huston’s home in Ireland to work on the script. The two didn’t work well together. ‘There was no such thing as a conversation with him,’ Huston later recalled. ‘He talked incessantly, and there was no interrupting him. You’d wait for him to catch his breath, but he wouldn’t.’ Meanwhile Sartre, in his letters to Simone de Beauvoir, described Huston as ‘perfectly vacant, literally incapable of speaking to those whom he has invited’. Evidently he didn’t realise that Huston was waiting for him to catch his breath. The philosopher went on to compare Huston’s ‘inner landscape’ to ‘heaps of ruins, abandoned houses, plots of wasteland, swamps’: ‘He is empty,’ Sartre concluded, ‘except in his moments of infantile vanity, when he dons a red tuxedo, or goes horseback riding (not very well).’ (Huston, of the infantile red tuxedo, was equally bemused by Sartre’s wardrobe, its stark invariance: ‘I never knew if he owned one grey suit or several identical grey suits.’)

In the review Batuman focuses on Roudinesco’s recognition of what the death of Derrida means and the impact of this generation of thinkers:

It’s about the end of something: the end of a big adventure, and the dissolution of a group of companions who witnessed the Holocaust and the gulag, who lived and died believing that the pen was as mighty as the sword, and of whom Derrida was ‘the last survivor’. This chapter [on Derrida], like the one on Deleuze, is only ten pages long, but it doesn’t seem cursory. It doesn’t pretend to present Derrida’s contribution to the discourse of Freudianism, Marxism, politics or ‘the subject’. Instead, it is an elegy to a generation, and a meditation on the melancholy condition of friendship: the shared knowledge that, in Derrida’s words, ‘one will see the other die.’

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