Simon Critchley

Simon Critchley, Professor of Philosophy at The European Graduate School / EGS.

BIOGRAPHY

Simon Critchley (b. 1960) is a professor of philosophy at The European Graduate School / EGS and the Hans Jonas Professor of Philosophy at The New School of Social Research. He is a scholar of continental philosophy and phenomenology, with particular emphasis on Emmanuel Levinas. Much of Critchley’s work examines the crucial relationship between the ethical and political within philosophy. His thinking traverses a variety of genres complimenting his interests in music, humour, and tragedy.


The prolific writer has published and edited twentyeight books to date, many on the works of Emmanuel Levinas, Jacques Derrida, Ernesto Laclau, Martin Heidegger, and Wallace Stevens. Critchley’s works include, among others, Re-Reading Levinas (1991), Deconstructive Subjectivities (1996), Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction (2001), On Humour (2002), On the Human Condition (2005) with Dominique Janicaud and Eileen Brennan, On Heidegger’s Being and Time (2008) with Reiner Schürmann, the slim German volume Der Katechismus des Bürgers (2008, The Catechism of the Citizen, 2009), and Impossible Objects (2011).


Critchley was born in Hertfordshire, England. He obtained his BA from the University of Essex in 1985 and his MA in philosophy with a thesis on Martin Heidegger and Rudolf Carnap from the University of Nice in 1987. In 1988, he received his PhD from the University of Essex with a dissertation on the ethics of deconstruction in the works of Emmanuel Levinas and Jacques Derrida. Simon Critchley then went on to teach at his alma mater in Essex, first as a lecturer in philosophy, then as a reader, and finally, in 1999, as a professor. In 2004, he became a professor at The New School in New York. In addition, Critchley was chosen as a scholar by the prestigious Getty Research Institute and has been a visiting professor in institutions such as the University of Oslo, Cardozo Law School, Tilburg University, and the University of Notre Dame, Indiana.


To a large degree, Simon Critchley’s work deals with religious and political disappointment in its relationship to philosophy. In Very Little… Almost Nothing (1997), the philosopher explores religious disappointment, the loss of belief, and nihilism through Maurice Blanchot and Samuel Beckett. Simultaneously pointing to the symbiosis between disappointment and excitement, Critchley links them as a necessity to one another. Instead of disappointment being an inescapable truth in the pejorative sense, he explores its relationship to limitation as freedom. In an interview with the journal Ephemera: Theory and Politics in Organization, Simon Critchley talks about disappointment as “an acceptance of limitation"; for Critchley, limitation is a condition of possibility. Pointing towards the idea that those who accept the limitations of being mortal beings are truly free, Critchley cites Montaigne who wrote, “he who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave.”


Delving further into the contemporary state of disappointment in liberal politics, Simon Critchley’s most comprehensive work, in terms of his philosophical views, is Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance (2007). His stated goal was to present his ethics as clearly as possible, and to address what kind of political consequences such a stance could have. Arguing for anarchism as a tool for motivation in a post-Marxist climate, Critchley writes: “Politics is the manifestation of dissensus, the cultivation of an anarchic multiplicity that calls into question the authority and legitimacy of the state. It is in relation to such a multiplicity that we may begin to restore some dignity to the dreadfully devalued discourse of democracy.” Infinitely Demanding covers much ground (his early relationship to music and the punk scene seems to allow for his work to be open and interdisciplinary), including disappointment, deconstruction, humor, contemporary art, poetry, fashion, political theory, and authenticity.


Acceptance of mortality as freedom is more thoroughly explored in Simon Critchley’s eighth book, The Book of Dead Philosophers (2008), which is an account of the deaths of over one hundred and ninety philosophers. Humorous and illuminating, The Book of Dead Philosophers not only maps out the relationship between the work of the philosophers at hand and the nature of their demise, but also consistently reminds the reader of his or her own existential anxiety. In his conclusion, Critchley writes: “In speaking of death and even laughing at our frailty and mortality, one accepts the creaturely limitation that is the very condition for human freedom. Such freedom is not a passive state of being or the simple absence of necessity or constraint. On the contrary, it is an ongoing activity that requires the acceptance of necessity and the affirmation of the moving constraint of our mortality.”


In Bowie (2014), an autobiographical essay with forays into theory, Simon Critchley recounts the impact David Bowie had on his life. The first chapter, humorously entitled “My First Sexual Experience,” chronicles the moment Critchely first saw Bowie perform “Starman” on television. Equally entertaining and illuminating, Critchley reminisces about Bowie’s songs and the games of authenticity and identity the ever-shifting popstar from outer space played with throughout his career.


In Notes on Suicide (2015), Critchley returns to death, examining what it means to end one’s own life with anecdotes and insights from philosophers, literary figures, and even pop stars—many of whom have ended their lives at their own hands. His other most recent works include, ABC of Impossibility, The Stone Reader, and The Problem with Levinas, all published in 2015. He is also editor of the book series “Thinking the Political” (Routledge), “Blackwell Readings in Continental Philosophy” (Blackwell), “Thinking in Action” (Routledge), and “How to Read…” (Granta, London and W.W. Norton, New York). Furthermore, Critchley is the moderator of the New York Times opinion series “The Stone,” which invites contemporary philosophers to contribute on a wide variety of philosophical topics.


Simon Critchley also holds the position of “Chief Philosopher” for the International Necronautical Society (INS), an obvious choice given the philosopher’s mobility within varying philosophical, political, and cultural practices. A parody of early twentieth century avant-garde cultural, artistic, and political organizations, the INS produces live events, denunciations and proclamations. In 2009, Critchley, and INS General Secretary Tom McCarthy, held a lecture at Tate Britain on the self-serving nature of authenticity. Keeping with the theme, they chose two actors to represent them rather than presenting the lecture themselves. A selection of the official documents of the INS, from 1999 until 2010, was first published in German as International Necronautical Society – Offizielle Mitteilungen (2011). Two years later they were published in English under the title, The Mattering of Matter: Documents from the Archive of the International Necronautical Society (2013).