Zij en Wij – Het Omarmen van de Paradox

Wat heeft hedendaagse filosofie te bieden in deze tijd waarin populisme van allerlei kanten op de loert ligt? In dit artikel ga ik in op werk van Boris Groys, Emmanuel Levinas en Bracha Ettinger om twee benaderingen van de Ander te analyseren.

Veel van de huidige politieke ontwikkelingen spelen zich af rond het fenomeen dat in de continentale filosofie wel met ‘het probleem van de Ander’ wordt aangeduid. Emmanuel Levinas omschreef dit ongeveer als volgt: Er is iets dat zich buiten mijn eigen wereld bevindt, waar ik niet langer omheen kan, waar ik iets mee moet. Het is anders, het is niet-ik. Dit probleem komt naar voren rondom het vluchtelingenvraagstuk, bij de discriminatie van vrouwen, en in Europese discussies zoals BrexitContinue reading “Zij en Wij – Het Omarmen van de Paradox”

The Soundtrack of Writing

It’s dangerous to reflect once it’s finally going the way you hope. Writing seems like a delicate balance of happiness, frustration and a sense of urgency. Is it me, did something change, or I am I just (finally!) ready to write my PhD, after two-and-a-half years of reading and preparing?

Building momentum, struggling through meters of books, reading complete oeuvres and random books that happen to exist. Reading systematically and hap-snap, but most importantly: taking notes. My notebooks don’t only provide the background that help me now, but will also be the most valuable archive of my own thinking, my development. Future-me will laugh at them, recognising turns in my thinking due to Agamben, Wittgenstein, Badiou, Blanchot.

Working at the library, early, the first to arrive...
Working at the library, Staatsbibliothek Berlin, early, the first to arrive…

An interesting aspect of writing is rhythm. Everything is music (sorry, Jim, not sound). The importance of a rhythm to propel one’s writing forward, music without words, music that is more than background, more than closing off the world around. It’s a beat that moves, the lets the words flow. It keeps out the superego, that would refuse every single word as none reflect the truth that is to be said. That cannot be said. Which is precisely why one needs to go on, either in first person singular, or in the formal we/they.

The present-me is happy. Is only concerned with this moment, one word at the time. Reaching the end of this project, already thinking and constructing the next. Always continuing, faithful only to the illusion of the philosopher-me.

Language. Always language. Something that I don’t understand, which is always beyond understanding, always framing us. Which makes me want to re-read Benjamin. Again. Always already again. While I spend my days here, speaking German and English, writing in English, thinking in Dutch/English/German, reading French/Dutch/German/English.

But always dreaming of the beyond.

Antelme’s ‘The Human Race’ – Not Just Another Reductio ad Hitlerum

Français : Paris 13e arrondissement - Place Ro...
Français : Paris 13e arrondissement – Place Robert-Antelme – plaque de rue (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve read a lot of books written by people who survived death camps in the Second World War. A couple years ago I visited Buchenwald. Last year I read Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer project, Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive. Homo Sacer III. In it, reference was made to a book by Robert Antelme, which according to Agamben was one of the most interesting witness accounts ever written. Finally I got hold of a copy of the book, and I must say I agree with Agamben.

L’Espèce humaine, the human race, is unlike any accounts I’ve read before. I’ve wondered why this is so. Perhaps because Antelme was already a writer when he became a prisoner, first at Buchenwald, then at Gandersheim (a factory-camp) and later in Dachau where he was freed. Primo Levi turned to writing out of necessity, of having to give a voice to what he experienced. Antelme is aware of the unspeakableness of what is happening to him and the people around him, from the very first moment. His account is incredibly reflective on his own role, his own place in the world and on the mechanisms that keep him sane and alive.

One thing that is worth mentioning, as it is the main claim of Antelme’s book and is also reflected in the title, is how the SS machinery was focussed on taking the human out of their prisoners. According to Antelme, they failed to do so. They could not stop them from being human, although they could make the situation so that the prisoner himself could choose to stop being human. But in every word, in every step they took on the death march to Dachau, every time someone choose not to laugh when a guard or Kapo would hit a prisoner, the humanness would show. And with it, the eventual defeat of the SS.

Other interesting aspects of this book which made me aware of aspects that I wasn’t aware of, is the distinction between political prisoners and ‘convict’-prisoners. In most camps the distribution of food and other things was in charge of political prisoners, whereas in gandersheim everything was controlled by (German) convicts. Who eventually were given a uniform and guns to escort the 500-something prisoners by foot to Dachau, where only around 150 arrived.  (Whatever happened to this group of convicts after the deliberation?) Another thing that struck me, was the manner in which Antelme forced himself to not think about his life before the camp too much, as he knew it would drive him insane.

Some people wonder why I read books like this. Not just one, but as many as I can find. Levi, Wiesel, Antelme, they all have a very personal story to tell, but one that is very much related to my own story. I live in this world, I take one step after the other, every moment aware of what has been and what can be. I was born the year Marguerite Duras published a book on the days she looked after Antelme, her husband, after his return to Paris. (Which I am intending to read, as soon as I can find a translation of it.) I am living in a time in which some guards are still alive, and free. But I am also living in a time in which less and less people care about others, as long as they are not involved or harmed, they couldn’t care less. I am not saying we should linger on in the past.

But I do wonder, why in ethical, political or philosophical discussions people tend to get angry when you bring up the ‘Nazi-argument’. It seems as if I need to except that this episode in history was a state of exception, that it cannot be brought up as a reasonable argument, as it will discredit or enforce every theory. But bringing up the possibility of extermination camps and the discrediting of specific groups of people is very actual. It is not a ‘reductio ad hitlerum’. It is a very important aspect of human history. And unfortunately, it is not only history, as signs of it happening again cannot be denied. Not only in war situations, but also in countries that use their right to national sovereignty as a cover to destroy peoples that don’t fit their world.