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Simon Critchley

Simon Critchley

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Simon Critchley is an English
English people
The English are a nation and ethnic group native to England, who speak English. The English identity is of early mediaeval origin, when they were known in Old English as the Anglecynn. England is now a country of the United Kingdom, and the majority of English people in England are British Citizens...

 philosopher currently teaching at The New School
The New School
The New School is a university in New York City, located mostly in Greenwich Village. From its founding in 1919 by progressive New York academics, and for most of its history, the university was known as the New School for Social Research. Between 1997 and 2005 it was known as New School University...

. He works in continental philosophy
Continental philosophy
Continental philosophy, in contemporary usage, refers to a set of traditions of 19th and 20th century philosophy from mainland Europe. This sense of the term originated among English-speaking philosophers in the second half of the 20th century, who used it to refer to a range of thinkers and...

. Critchley argues that philosophy commences in disappointment, either religious or political. These two axes may be said largely to inform his published work: religious disappointment raises the question of meaning and has to, as he sees it, deal with the problem of nihilism; political disappointment provokes the question of justice and raises the need for a coherent ethics.

Academic career

Critchley studied philosophy at the University of Essex
University of Essex
The University of Essex is a British campus university whose original and largest campus is near the town of Colchester, England. Established in 1963 and receiving its Royal Charter in 1965...

 (BA 1985, PhD 1988,) and at the University of Nice (M.Phil. 1987). Among his teachers were Robert Bernasconi
Robert Bernasconi
Robert L. Bernasconi is the Lillian and Morrie Moss Professor of Philosophy at the University of Memphis. He is well known as a reader of Martin Heidegger and Emmanuel Levinas, and for his work on the concept of race...

, Jay Bernstein, Frank Cioffi, Dominique Janicaud and Onora O'Neill. His M.Phil. thesis dealt with the problem of the overcoming of metaphysics in Heidegger and Carnap; his Ph.D. dissertation was on the ethics of deconstruction in Emmanuel Levinas
Emmanuel Lévinas
Emmanuel Levinas was a Lithuanian-born French Jewish philosopher and Talmudic commentator.-Life:Emanuelis Levinas received a traditional Jewish education in Lithuania...

 and Derrida.

Following a period as a university fellow at Cardiff University
Cardiff University
Cardiff University is a leading research university located in the Cathays Park area of Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom. It received its Royal charter in 1883 and is a member of the Russell Group of Universities. The university is consistently recognised as providing high quality research-based...

, Critchley was appointed a lecturer in philosophy at Essex in 1989, becoming reader in philosophy in 1995, and professor in 1999. He was director of the university's Centre for Theoretical Studies and collaborated closely with Ernesto Laclau
Ernesto Laclau
Ernesto Laclau is an Argentine political theorist often described as post-Marxist.He studied History in Buenos Aires, graduating from the Universidad Nacional de Buenos Aires in 1964, and received a PhD from Essex University in 1977.Since the 1970s he has been Professor of Political Theory at the...

. Critchley was president of the British Society for Phenomenology from 1994-99. In 1997 and 2001 he held a Humboldt Research Fellowship in philosophy at Frankfurt. Between 1998-2004, he was a programme director of the College international de philosophie
Collège international de philosophie
The Collège international de philosophie , located in Paris' 5th arrondissement, is a tertiary education institute placed under the trusteeship of the French government department of research and chartered under the French 1901 Law on associations...

, Paris. In 2006-7 he was a scholar at the Getty Research Institute
Getty Research Institute
The Getty Research Institute , located at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, California, is "dedicated to furthering knowledge and advancing understanding of the visual arts". A program of the J...

 in Los Angeles. Since 2004 Critchley has been professor of philosophy at the New School for Social Research. He was appointed chair of philosophy in 2008. He has held visiting professorships at numerous universities, including Sydney (2000), Notre Dame (2002), Cardozo Law School (2005) and at the University of Oslo
University of Oslo
The University of Oslo , formerly The Royal Frederick University , is the oldest and largest university in Norway, situated in the Norwegian capital of Oslo. The university was founded in 1811 and was modelled after the recently established University of Berlin...

 (2006). In 2009 he was appointed a part-time professor of philosophy at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, where he runs a summer school and teaches in philosophy and liberal arts. Critchley is also a professor of philosophy at the European Graduate School
European Graduate School
The European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland is a privately funded graduate school founded by the non-profit European Foundation of Interdisciplinary Studies. Its German name is Europäische Universität für Interdisziplinäre Studien...

 in Saas-Fee
Saas-Fee is the main village in the Saastal, or the Saas Valley, and is a municipality in the district of Visp in the canton of Valais in Switzerland...

, Switzerland.

Critchley is "chief philosopher" of the International Necronautical Society
International Necronautical Society
The International Necronautical Society is a semi-fictional organization closely modeled on European avant-gardes of the early 20th century. It replays, not without parody, the politically-inflected structures of these avant-gardes, with their manifestoes, committees, splinter groups and purges...

, a semi-fictitious avant-garde network that surfaces through proclamations, "denunciations" and live events. He has collaborated closely with the novelist Tom McCarthy on projects including the society's
Declaration on Inauthenticity and their joint publications on Joyce and Shakespeare. At an event at the Tate Britain art gallery two lecturers purporting to be Critchley and McCarthy were, in mischievous keeping with the inauthentic theme, played by actors. The Declaration of Inauthenticity was presented at the opening of the Athens Biennale by Greek actors in June 2009. Critchley also collaborates with the American psychoanalyst, Jamieson Webster, and French artist, Philippe Parreno
Philippe Parreno
Philippe Parreno is an Algerian artist and filmmaker, born in Oran, and currently living in Paris, France. Parreno's work primarily revolves around the interrogation of the nature of an image, as well as the modes of its exhibition.-Life and work:...


The Ethics of Deconstruction (1992)

Critchley’s first book was The Ethics of Deconstruction: Derrida and Levinas (Blackwell, 1992), which became an acclaimed source on deconstruction and was the first book to argue for an ethical dimension to deconstruction. A second expanded edition was published in 1999 by Edinburgh University Press. Rather than being concerned with deconstruction in terms of the contradictions inherent in any text — an approach typical of the early Derrida and those in literary criticism aiming to extract a critical method for an application to literature — Critchley concerns himself with the philosophical context necessary for an understanding of the ethics of deconstructive reading.

Far from being some sort of value-free nihilism or textual free-play, Critchley showed the ethical impetus that was driving Derrida’s work. His claim was that Derrida’s understanding of ethics has to be understood in relation to his engagement with the work of Levinas and the book attempts to lay out the details of their philosophical confrontation.

Very Little... Almost Nothing (1997)

Critchley’s second book, Very Little... Almost Nothing (Routledge, 1997) develops in a very different direction and shows his concern with the relation between philosophy and literature and the problem of nihilism. A second edition with additional material and a new preface was published in 2004. At the centre of Very Little... Almost Nothing is the problem of the meaning of life and what sense can be made of this problem in the absence of any religious belief. By way of a series of ‘lectures’ on Maurice Blanchot, Samuel Beckett, Stanley Cavell and romanticism, Critchley argues for a conception of meaninglessness understood as the achievement of the everyday, a view which, he thinks, redeems us from the need for religious redemption.

Ethics-Politics-Subjectivity (1999)

Ethics-Politics-Subjectivity (Verso, 1999) is a collection of essays that includes his debate with Richard Rorty, as well as series of essays on Derrida, Levinas, Jacques Lacan, Jean-Luc Nancy. These essays also show a pronounced political and psychoanalytic turn to Critchley’s thinking. A new edition of the book appeared in Verso’s Radical Thinkers series in 2009.

Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction (2001)

Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2001), is both an introduction to that tradition of thinking and an essay in meta-philosophy, which lays out the way in which Critchley sees the role of theory and reflection. It has been translated into nine languages. In the book, Critchley addresses the perennial question of the two major Western philosophical traditions, that of analytical and continental philosophy. Critchley tries to avoid sectarianism, and argues that the professional opposition between analytic and Continental philosophy is something that needs to be transcended. Critchley accepts that there is risk within continental philosophy of obscurantism, just as there is a risk of scientism in much analytic philosophy. But the primary purpose of philosophy is to understand ourselves, our world and, as Hegel puts it, to comprehend one’s time in thought. Critchley offers the example of the ‘will of God’ as the prime example of obscurantism, but within continental philosophy also the ‘drives’ in Sigmund Freud, ‘archetypes’ in Carl Jung, the ‘real’ in Jaques Lacan, ‘power’ in Michel Foucault, ‘différance’ in Jaques Derrida, the ‘trace of God’ in Emmanuel Levinas, and the ‘epochal withdrawal of being in and as history’ in Martin Heidegger. Continental Philosophy has been translated into 9 languages.

On Humour (2002)

Since 2000, Critchley has turned his attention to what he calls ‘impossible objects’: humour, poetry and music. His On Humour (Routledge, 2002) continues the meditation on nihilism begun in Very Little…Almost Nothing; but he continues it in a very different key, analysing the meaning and importance of humour. Critchley argues that humour is an oblique phenomenology of ordinary bringing about a change of situation that exerts a powerful critical function. On Humour has been translated into 10 languages and has exerted considerable influence over debates around the role of humour in contemporary art practice.

Things Merely Are (2005)

In Things Merely Are (Routledge, 2005), Critchley examines the relation between philosophy and poetry through an extended meditation on the poetry of Wallace Stevens. Critchley’s particular focus in Stevens’ very late poems, which attempt to describe what poetry can and cannot say about a subject-independent reality. The book also contains Critchley’s influential essay on Terence Malick’s The Thin Red Line.

Infinitely Demanding (2007)

Infinitely Demanding (Verso, 2007) is the most systematic overview of Critchley's philosophical position. It combines a meta-ethics based on the concepts of approval and demand with a phenomenology of ethical experience and ethical subjectivity. At the centre of the book is a theory of ethical subjectivity based on the relation to an infinite demand. Critchley extends his analysis into discussions of aesthetics and sublimation and into political theory and practice. Critchley argues for an ethically committed political anarchism. Infinitely Demanding has been translated into 8 languages. The book has led to some heated polemics, notably with Slavoj Žižek (See below, the Critchley-Žižek Debate). “Infinitely Demanding” is the topic of a special issue of the journal Critical Horizons (August 2009).

The Book of Dead Philosophers (2008)

An extended defense of the idea that to philosophize is to learn how to die, The Book of Dead Philosophers was published by Granta in the UK (2008), Vintage in the US (2009) and Melbourne University Press in Australia (2008). It has been translated into 13 languages. “The Book of Dead Philosophers” was widely reviewed and discussed (see below). It was on The New York Times Best-Seller List in March 2009 and was a top ten bestseller in Greece in Summer 2009. The aim of “The Book of Dead Philosophers” is to examine, defend and refine the ideal of the philosophical death in the context of a culture like ours that is defined by a denial of death. However, the deeper intention of the book is to challenge and revise the way we think about the history of philosophy. More specifically, the book tries to conceive of the history of philosophy as a history of philosophers and thereby rethink the way in which approach the relation between the activity of philosophy and an individual life, between conceptuality and biography.

On Heidegger’s Being and Time (2008)

This volume (Routledge, 2008) combines Reiner Schürmann's lectures at the New School for Social Research on Heidegger’s Being and Time with Critchley’s New School lectures on the relation between Heidegger and Husserl and his own interpretation of Being and Time. Where Critchley argues that we must see Being and Time as a radicalization of Husserlian phenomenology, Reiner Schürmann's proposal is to read Heidegger ‘backward’, arguing that Heidegger’s later work is the key to unraveling Being and Time. Critchley concludes the volume with an extended critique of Heidegger’s concept of authenticity.

Der Katechismus des Bürgers (2008)

This small volume (Diaphanes, Berlin, 2008) on the problem of politics and religion in Rousseau was first published in German.

How to Stop Living and Start Worrying (2010)

This volume (Polity, 2010), a sort of anti-self-help book, is a series of conversations between Critchley and Carl Cederström from 2009 and 2010, originally based on Swedish television series. The conversations are intended to provide an overview and introduction to Critchley's life and work. They are based around a series topics: life, death, love, humour and authenticity. the volume also contains a discussion with Tom McCarthy.

Impossible Objects (2011)

A collection of interviews with Critchley over the past 10 years, edited by Carl Cederström and Todd Kesselman, which will be published by Polity Press.

Recent Reviews of Impossible Objects:

The Guardian Steven Poole, Et cetera: non-fiction reviews

International Necronautical Society: Offizielle Mitteilungen (2011)

The International Society Necronautical has been nourished by the faded avant-garde movements of the last century, whether artistic, cultural or political. This volume gathers a selection of official communications from the INS from 1999 to 2010, the first time are available in German; meticulously documenting their manifestos, reports, statements, meetings, and trials from 1999 onwards. “We are sometimes asked: How do I join? How does one become a necronaut? Wrong question. As Paragraph Three, lines five and six of the INS’s First Manifesto make clear, willfully pilfering and re-using the tired language of deconstruction, ‘We are all necronauts, always, already.’ Our mission is to disseminate that fact: not as conceptual knowledge but rather in the way that Molly Bloom fills her husband’s mouth with seedcake, then repeats that moment, with a silent Yes.”

The Faith of the Faithless (2012)

Critchley has finished work on an extensive new book called The Faith of the Faithless - Experiments in Political Theology, to be published in 2012.

Selected bibliography

  • (1991) Re-Reading Levinas, ed. with Robert Bernasconi, Indiana University Press, Bloomington.
  • (1992) The Ethics of Deconstruction: Derrida and Levinas, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, (2nd edition, 1999)
  • (1996) Deconstructive Subjectivities, ed. with Peter Dews, State University of New York Press, Ithaca, NY.
  • (1996) Emmanuel Levinas: Basic Philosophical Writings, ed. with Adriaan T. Peperzak and Robert Bernasconi, Indiana University Press, Bloomington.
  • (1997) Very Little... Almost Nothing: Death, Philosophy, Literature, Routledge, London & New York (2nd Edition, 2004).
  • (1998) A Companion to Continental Philosophy, ed. with William J. Schroeder, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford.
  • (1999) Ethics-Politics-Subjectivity: Essays on Derrida, Levinas, and Contemporary French Thought, Verso, London (Reissued, 2007).
  • (2001) Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press.
  • (2002) The Cambridge Companion to Levinas, ed. with Robert Bernasconi, Cambridge University Press.
  • (2002) On Humour, Routledge, London.
  • (2004) Laclau, A Critical Reader, ed. with Oliver Marchart, Routledge, London.
  • (2005) On the Human Condition, with Dominique Janicaud & Eileen Brennan, Routledge, London.
  • (2005) Infinitely Demanding. Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance, Verso, London & New York.
  • (2008) The Book of Dead Philosophers, Granta Books, London; Vintage, New York; Melbourne University Press, Melbourne.
  • (2008) On Heidegger’s ‘Being and Time’, with Reiner Schürmann, edited by Steven Levine, Routledge, London and New York.
  • (2008) Der Katechismus des Bürgers, Diaphanes Verlag, Berlin.
  • (2008) Democracy and Disappointment: On the Politics of Resistance (DVD) - Alain Badiou
    Alain Badiou
    Alain Badiou is a French philosopher, professor at European Graduate School, formerly chair of Philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure . Along with Giorgio Agamben and Slavoj Žižek, Badiou is a prominent figure in an anti-postmodern strand of continental philosophy...

     and Simon Critchley in Conversation, Slought Books, Philadelphia.

Critchley has also edited the following book series:
  • Thinking the Political (Routledge)
  • Blackwell Readings in Continental Philosophy (Blackwell)
  • Thinking in Action (Routledge)
  • How to Read... (Granta, London, and W.W. Norton, New York)


  • Press Releases of the Dead Throughout October 2009 media types around the country will receive cardboard tombstones cutouts to celebrate the release of The Book of Dead Philosophers.
  • The Dead Philosophers' Limbo The Dead Philosophers' Limbo is Susie Burpee's twelve-hour dance to the life of ideas and the death of philosophers as told by the living philosopher Simon Critchley in his book, The Book of Dead Philosophers.
  • Askmelissa.com How do you applaud the launch of Simon Critchley’s Book of Dead Philosophers? With a séance, of course! At least that’s how the Accompanied Literary Society chose to celebrate at an out-of-this-world party at Bobo.
  • Under the name of Critchley & Simmons, Critchley has produced a CD called Humiliation (2004) and a series of short films. This project was launched in an event at the Sydney Opera House in August 2004.
  • Critchley gave the name The Bleach Boys
    The Bleach Boys
    The Bleach Boys are a punk rock band from Hertfordshire who have been playing together since 1977.Originally known as the Fur Coughs, the group's name was given to them by the philosopher Simon Critchley, and is a play on The Beach Boys...

     to a Hitchin
    Hitchin is a town in Hertfordshire, England, with an estimated population of 30,360.-History:Hitchin is first noted as the central place of the Hicce people mentioned in a 7th century document, the Tribal Hidage. The tribal name is Brittonic rather than Old English and derives from *siccā, meaning...

     based band previously known as The Fur Coughs.
  • Critchley himself played guitar in a number of North Hertfordshire bands including The Good Blokes and Social Class 5.
  • Critchley is a devotee of football, and has since a young child been a keen supporter of Liverpool FC. He has taken this life-long love into his philosophical work, giving a lecture in Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki
    Helsinki is the capital and largest city in Finland. It is in the region of Uusimaa, located in southern Finland, on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, an arm of the Baltic Sea. The population of the city of Helsinki is , making it by far the most populous municipality in Finland. Helsinki is...

    , in May 2009 on French football star Zinedine Zidane
    Zinedine Zidane
    Zinedine Yazid Zidane is a retired French footballer. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest players of all time. Zidane was a leading figure of a generation of French players that won the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championship...

    , ”A puppet or a god? On Zidane”, based on Douglas Gordon and Phillipe Parreno's film Zidane, A 21st Century Portrait from 2006.
  • in 2011, Critchley co-directed (with Brad Evans) Ten Years of Terror in recognition of the ten year anniversary of September 11th. Ten Years of Terror examines the theoretical, empirical, and aesthetic dimensions of violence and the ensuing state of terror it produces. This series of reflections by key canonical thinkers such as Saskia Sassen, Michael Hardt, Noam Chomsky, Zygmunt Bauman, and others closely examines the enactment and ramifications of violence in our modern times. The film will be shown at the Guggenheim from September 9th-12th, 2011.

Miscellaneous Links

The Stone: A New Philosophy Column in The New York Times

  • The Stone is a new opinion series, moderated by Simon Critchley, that features the writings of contemporary philosophers on issues both timely and timeless - art, war, ethics, gender, popular culture and more. Recent contributors include J.M. Bernstein, Arthur Danto, Nancy Sherman, Peter Singer, Natasha Lennard, Nancy Bauer, Todd May, Martha Nussbaum, Peter Railton, Galen Strawson, Feisal G. Mohamed, William Egginton, Andy Martin, Gary Gutting, and Critchley. Other articles by Critchley in The New York Times also include Beyond the Sea, How to Make It in the Afterlife, and Coin of Praise.

On May 21st, 2011 The New York Times brought back The Stone, due to its widespread popularity. In the first new entry since January, Critchley discusses the aims of the column and the role of philosophy in contemporary culture (The Stone Returns). Critchley's recent contribution to the The Stone (Let Be: An Answer to Hamlet’s Question) is a collaboration with Jamieson Webster that traces the logic of action in Shakespeare's Hamlet.

The Guardian Series on Heidegger's Being and Time

  • In an essay series for the British newspaper The Guardian
    The Guardian
    The Guardian, formerly known as The Manchester Guardian , is a British national daily newspaper in the Berliner format...

    , Critchley explores Martin Heidegger’s magnum opus, Being and Time
    Being and Time
    Being and Time is a book by the German philosopher Martin Heidegger. Although written quickly, and despite the fact that Heidegger never completed the project outlined in the introduction, it remains his most important work and has profoundly influenced 20th-century philosophy, particularly...

    , first published in 1927. The importance of Heidegger’s work, Crtichley explains, is not limited to philosophy, but has poured over into such diverse areas as architecture, contemporary art, social and political theory, psychotherapy, psychiatry and theology. Yet, because of his political commitment to National Socialism in 1933, when he assumed the position of Rector of Freiburg University in south-western Germany, Heidegger continues to arouse controversy, polemic and much heated misunderstanding: How could arguably the greatest philosopher of the 20th century also have been a Nazi? What does his political commitment to National Socialism, however long or short it lasted, suggest about the nature of philosophy and its risks and dangers when stepping into the political realm? Critchley argues that such political questions cannot be properly confronted without coming to terms with Being and Time. The Guardian Series is a concise attempt to understand and feel the persuasive power of this seminal text.

The Critchley-Žižek Debate

The time-line or chronology of the Critchley-Žižek debate is usefully outlined by Critchley in a footnote to his Naked Punch
Naked Punch Review
Naked Punch Review is a quarterly interdisciplinary review and magazine of philosophy, art, politics and poetry run voluntarily by young figures in those fields...

 article "Violent Thoughts on Slavoj Žižek".
  1. Žižek’s piece, ‘Resistance is Surrender’ (London Review of Books, 15 November 2007), which criticized the (at that time) recent appearance of Critchley's Infinitely Demanding.
  2. 'Resistance is Surrender' in turn occasioned some responses from readers including T.J. Clark and David Graeber, to which Žižek replied by accusing Graeber and Critchley of ‘the highest form of corruption’ (LRB, 24 January 2008).
  3. Žižek’s critique was then republished in Harper's Magazine
    Harper's Magazine
    Harper's Magazine is a monthly magazine of literature, politics, culture, finance, and the arts, with a generally left-wing perspective. It is the second-oldest continuously published monthly magazine in the U.S. . The current editor is Ellen Rosenbush, who replaced Roger Hodge in January 2010...

     (February 2008), to which Critchley replied in a later issue (May 2008).
  4. An extended version of Žižek's critique of Critchley's position appeared in Žižek's book In Defense of Lost Causes (Verso, London and New York, 2008), pp. 337–350. Critchley says he will "respond to Zizek’s criticisms of my ethical position and interpretation of Lacan on a separate occasion".

Bibliography of the Critchley-Žižek debate
  1. Critchley: Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance (Verso, London & New York, 2007; ISBN 1-84467-121-6).
  2. Žižek: Resistance Is Surrender in the London Review of Books.
  3. T.J. Clark's and David Graeber's Responses in the London Review of Books.
  4. Zizek's Response a letter in the London Review of Books.
  5. Žižek's In Defense of Lost Causes (Verso, London & New York, 2008), pp. 337–350.
  6. Critchley: Thoughts on Slavoj Zizek in Naked Punch'
  7. The Violent State Article by Robert Young on the Critchley-Žižek Debate in Naked Punch
  8. "Crypto-Schmittianism" This article by Simon Critchley, published in 2005, offers a useful preamble to Critchley's position{s}



Recent Interviews

  • Exhausted States Concluding their three-part exchange for Mute, artist Alfredo Jaar and philosopher Simon Critchley contemplate how to keep on, artistically and politically, in the face of the spectacular violence that washed-up liberal democracy meets with daily indifference. This exchange was convened by David Morris.

  • Resisting the Meaningless Simon Critchley talks power, politics, and the problem of nihilism with Tom Cutterham for Cherwell.org

  • Geluk wordt overschat "Happiness is Overrated": Simon Critchley speaks with Peter Giesen for De Volkskrant in the Netherlands.

See also

  • necronauts
    Necronauts was a story that ran in the comics anthology 2000 AD, and was created by Gordon Rennie and Frazer Irving. It was this series that really brought Irving to public attention as his high contrast black and white artwork complimented Rennie's dark storyline.-Publication history:The outline...