Jan Plug

On the Brink: Language, Time, History, and Politics

Plug-On-the-Brink.pngBy (author) Werner Hamacher
Edited by Jan Plug

This collection of essays by one of the foremost figures in contemporary theory takes as its theme the edge or limit between language, time, history, and politics. These are essays that are all on the brink, the very extreme at which one can no longer define where one is located, neither on the cliff, say, nor over the edge. To be on the brink is to take up that extreme limit, the point of contamination or indetermination where language, time, history, and politics all converge upon one another.

On the Brink begins with a consideration of Kant’s treatment of time as representation and of Hegel’s treatment of the writing of history and the end of art, all while taking up other key figures in the history of philosophy. The book then moves to an exploration of language in a variety of manifestations, from translation to complaint and greeting. It concludes by analyzing political and social questions that continue to haunt us today—the conception of work, not least in National Socialism, and our relationship to democracy. Taken together, Werner Hamacher’s essays offer trenchant historical, political, and rhetorical interventions into the history of philosophy, literature, and our contemporary political situation. 2020, Rowman and Littlefield.

The Supermaket of the Visible

the-Supermarket.jpgBy (author) Peter Szendy
Translated by Jan Plug

Already in 1929, Walter Benjamin described “a one hundred per cent image-space.” Such an image space saturates our world now more than ever, constituting the visibility in which we live. The Supermarket of the Visible analyzes this space and the icons that populate it as the culmination of a history of the circulation and general commodification of images and gazes. From the first elevators and escalators (tracking shots avant la lettre) to cinema (the great conductor of gazes), all the way down to contemporary eye-tracking techniques that monitor the slightest saccades of our eyes, Peter Szendy offers an entirely novel theory of the intersection of the image and economics.

The Supermarket of the Visible elaborates an economy proper to images, icons, in other words, an iconomy. Deleuze caught a glimpse of this when he wrote that “money is the back side of all the images that cinema shows and edits on the front.” Since “cinema,” for Deleuze, is synonymous with “universe,” Szendy argues that this sentence must be understood in its broadest dimension and that a reading of key works in the history of cinema allows us a unique vantage point upon the reverse of images, their monetary implications. Paying close attention to sequences in Hitchcock, Bresson, Antonioni, De Palma, and The Sopranos, Szendy shows how cinema is not a uniquely commercial art form among other, purer arts, but, more fundamentally, helps to elaborate what might be called, with Bataille, a general iconomy.

Moving deftly and lightly between political economy, aesthetic theory, and popular movies and television, The Supermarket of the Visible will be a necessary book for anyone concerned with media, philosophy, politics, or visual culture. 2019, Fordham University Press.

Of Stigmatology

stigmatology.pngOf Stigmatology elaborates for the first time a general theory of punctuation. Beginning with punctuation marks in the common sense, Peter Szendy goes on to trace the effects of punctuation more broadly, arguing that looking and hearing are not passive acts of reception, but themselves punctuate the images and sounds they take in. Szendy reads an astonishing range of texts and traditions, from medical auscultation to literature (Chekhov, Sterne, Kafka), philosophy (Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Derrida), psychoanalysis (Lacan), and film (Raging Bull, The Trial, Fight Club).

Repeatedly, what Szendy finds in these works is a punctuation that marks experience itself, that seeks (and ultimately fails) to bind the subject to itself. This is the stigmatology of the punctuation mark on the page that structures texts from ancient to digital, as well as the punchuation of experience, as though at the hands of a boxer. 2018, Fordham University Press.

They Have All Been Healed: Walser, Benjamin, Agamben, Sebald, the Brothers Quay

plug-book-cover.jpegWhere do the characters in Robert Walser’s works come from? The question is posed by Walter Benjamin, who quickly provides an answer in what remains the most provocative reading of the Swiss German modernist to date: emerging from the night of madness and myth, Walser’s figures “have all been healed.”  If we want to come to terms with the process of healing, Benjamin maintains, we must dare to approach Walser’s Snow WhiteThey Have All Been Healed takes up and extends Benjamin’s assessment by tracing figures of healing throughout major works by Walser, from his masterpieces The Walk and Jakob von Gunten to the highly enigmatic The Robber.  It does so at the same time to trace critical and theoretical, philosophical, and even filmic tradition that, explicitly or not, works out the theological implications of Benjamin’s key word, Heilung, as a conception of salvation.  The readings offered here recast one of the major authors of the twentieth century by taking the risk of an experience with Walser and his most provocative readers that equally offers a new conception of what is understood by healing and salvation. 2016, Northwestern University Press.  

Plug - BordersBorders of a Lip: Romanticism, Language, History, Politics

This book recasts questions about the overlapping boundaries of language, history, and politics that have been at the center of critical and theoretical debates in the study of Romantic literature and thought. While poststructuralism and deconstruction have been accused of privileging language over history, the New Historicism and other historicist and cultural approaches to literature have attempted to restore history's place in the study of literature. Taking its title from a reading of the word Lippe in Kleist's Die Hermannsschlacht, Borders of a Lip is drawn to neither of these poles, but instead to their meeting place or coincidence: the site of a border, a political or national boundary, even the boundary that is the political, the lip that is also the place of language. Through readings of Kant, Wordsworth, Kleist, Mary Shelley, Yeats, and Lyotard, the book examines the convergence of language and history that takes place in their work. Instead of placing language and history in absolute opposition, making the border an unbreachable limit, the book explores how crossing these borders (re)defines the political. 2003, SUNY Press.

Plug - EyesEyes of the University: Right to Philosophy 2 (trans.)

Completing the translation of Derrida's monumental work Right to Philosophy (the first part of which has already appeared under the title of Who's Afraid of Philosophy?), Eyes of the University brings together many of the philosopher's most important texts on the university and, more broadly, on the languages and institutions of philosophy.

In addition to considerations of the implications for literature and philosophy of French becoming a state language, of Descartes' writing of the Discourse on Method in French, and of Kant's and Schelling's philosophies of the university, the volume reflects on the current state of research and teaching in philosophy and on the question of what Derrida calls a "university responsibility." 2004, Stanford University Press.

Plug - Phil 1Who’s Afraid of Philosophy?: Right to Philosophy 1 (trans.)

This volume reflects Jacques Derrida's engagement in the late 1970s with French political debates on the teaching of philosophy and the reform of the French university system. He was a founding member of the Research Group on the Teaching of Philosophy (Greph), an activist group that mobilized opposition to the Giscard government's proposals to "rationalize" the French educational system in 1975, and a convener of the Estates General of Philosophy, a vast gathering in 1979 of educators from across France. 2002, Stanford University Press.


Plug - To SayThat is to Say: Heidegger's Poetics (trans.)

This is the first authoritative, book-length study of what Heidegger called "thinking poetics." That Is to Say conducts its analysis of Heideggerian poetics by expounding the sense of language from the perspective of fundamental ontology. This project is carried out in readings of the pertinent chapters of Being and Time, the lectures on Hölderlin, "The Origin of the Work of Art," and On the Way to Language. The book is guided by a question that no other writer on Heidegger has yet asked: Why should poiesis provide a privileged access to the specificity of the poetic? 1998, Stanford University Press.


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