Judith Balso

Judith Balso, Professor of Poetry at The European Graduate School / EGS.


Judith Balso is a French writer, philosopher, and professor of poetry at The European Graduate School / EGS. Each year she invites a renowned poet—such as Philippe Beck, Michel Deguy, Alessandro De Francesco, or Jacques Roubaud, to name but a few— to discuss their work in her seminar. In addition to teaching at The EGS, Balso has also taught at the Collège international de philosophie in Paris.

Balso, whose research and writing revolves around the intersection of—and relationship between—poetry, philosophy, and politics, has focused extensively on the writings of Fernando Pessoa. The author of Pessoa (Le Perroquet, 1991), she received her PhD from Marc Bloch University (Strasbourg, France) in 1997 with a dissertation entitled “Pessoa: le passeur métaphysique, ou la poésie comme pensée de la poésie comme pensée.”

In 2006, Balso published Pessoa, le passeur métaphysique (Seuil), translated as Pessoa, The Metaphysical Courier by Drew Burk (Atropos Press, 2011). According to Michael Colson, it “is the most informative full-length study on the Portuguese poet’s philosophical interests that’s available in English” and “a significant contribution to scholarship in Modernism, because it introduces Pessoa’s unique poetic philosophy, which is deeply paradoxical and unorthodox, to an English-speaking audience that may not be familiar with his metaphysical concerns.” [1] In a similar vein, Alain Badiou affirms: “I can see only Judith Balso engaged in an evaluation of the whole of Pessoa’s poetry in terms of the question of metaphysics.” [2]

A political activist since the 1970s, Balso (alongside Alain Badiou, Michael Hardt, Jean-Luc Nancy, Antonio Negri, and Jacques Rancière, among others) participated in The Idea of Communism, a conference organized by the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities in March 2009 in London. In her essay “To Present Oneself to the Present. The Communist Hypothesis: a Possible Hypothesis for Philosophy, an Impossible Name for Politics?”, published in the same-named and subsequent book, she writes:

“…since the 1970s I have been uninterruptedly involved in researching an altogether new thought and practice of a politics worthy of being called a ‘politics of emancipation’, a name I use provisionally here, and only because I have no better one. It is from this singular place that I accepted the invitation to consider a question which (I insist) is asked only by philosophers, and only in the field of philosophy: whether the communist hypothesis remains valid or not.” [3]

In her most recent book, Affirmation de la poésie (Nous, 2011), translated as Affirmation of Poetry by Drew Burk (Univocal Publishing, 2014), “Judith Balso defends the significance of poetry as a necessary practice for thinking. For Balso, if reading poetry properly has become an obscure task, poetry itself still carries with it a power of thinking: the efforts of the poets must continue. In analyzing the affirmation of thought found within the work of such poets as Osip Mandelstam, Wallace Stevens, Alberto Caeiro, and Giacomo Leopardi, Balso reestablishes poetry’s place as a site of thought.” [4]

[1] Portuguese-American Journal, available at http://portuguese-american-journal.com/book-pessoa... (posted on 12 June 2013, last accessed September 21, 2015)

[2] Handbook of Inaesthetics, trans. Alberto Toscano, Stanford University Press, 2005, 36.

[3] Edited by Costas Douzinas and Slavoj Žižek, Verso, 2010, 15 (article co-translated with Andrew Gibson)

[4] https://www.univocalpublishing.com/judith-balso/affirmation-of-poetry, last accessed September 21, 2015