Samuel Weber

Samuel Weber, Paul de Man Chair and Professor of Literature and Philosophy at The European Graduate School / EGS.


Samuel Weber (b.1940) is an American philosopher and one of the leading thinkers across the disciplines of literary theory, philosophy, and psychoanalysis. He is the Paul de Man Chair at The European Graduate School / EGS, as well as the Avalon Foundation Professor of Humanities and the co-director of the Paris Program in Critical Theory at Northwestern University.

Under the supervision of Paul de Man, Weber obtained his doctoral degree in comparative literature from Cornell University in 1971. He continued his education in Europe, primarily in Germany, where he became strongly influenced by the work of Theodor W. Adorno and the Frankfurt School of critical theory. In 1973, he completed a habilitation in comparative and modern French literature at the Freie Universität Berlin.

Together with Shierry Weber Nicholsen, Samuel Weber translated Adorno’s book Prisms (1982) into English. As co-founder and editor of the journal Glyph, he became one of the key figures in the Western discovery of the Bakhtin circle. He also introduced and commented on the works of Jacques Lacan and Jacques Derrida. Samuel Weber is a renowned scholar of Walter Benjamin and Derrida. He translated Derrida’s essay “Signature, Event, Context” (1977, with Jeffrey Mehlman) and Derrida’s subsequent reply to John Searle, Limited Inc (1988), into English.

Samuel Weber’s scope of interest is broad and varied. It includes psychoanalysis, literature, philosophy, media, technology, institutions, and theatre. His book Return to Freud: Jacques Lacan’s Dislocation of Psychoanalysis was originally written and published in German in 1978. In 1991, Michael Levine translated the book into English. The work was initially conceived as a series of notes for Weber’s lectures at the Freie Universität Berlin. At that time, there little material on Lacan’s work available in German. Therefore, Weber attempted to provide a general introduction to Lacan’s Écrits (1966). His goal was to offer a guideline to Lacan’s enigmatic re-reading of Freudian psychoanalysis, which happened under the influence of French structuralism. Another of Weber’s books within psychoanalysis is entitled The Legend of Freud (1982). It is a reading of Freud from the perspective formulated in the texts of Derrida and asks the following question: is it possible to read Freud as a Derridean avant la lettre?

Institution and Interpretation was first published in 1983; its expanded edition appeared in 2001. Weber argues that the founding of a certain institution is always based on the acts of delimitation and exclusion. Ambiguity needs to be excluded, or, at least, limited for the institution to function properly. For example, this is what happened in the field of literary studies when it became governed by the figure of the Author. In order to be considered meaningful, literary works had to be put in relation with the truth and the guarantee of this truth became the Author. However, Weber questions the powers that form and delimit interpretations and poses significant questions about the future of humanities.

Mass Mediaurus: Form, Technics, Media (1996) does not belong to a traditional discipline of media studies. It was conceived during Weber’s visit to Australia in 1992 where he spent several weeks giving lectures, seminars, and interviews. The result of this experience was Mass Mediaurus, in which Weber explores whether we can consider television, radio, film, and writing as different forms of inscription. He also explores their inter-relationship and linkage, and is interested in “mediatic articulation” that not only enables the inscription of individual works into a complex “network,” but, at the same time, is always in the act of creation of this network.

Drawing on his experience as a Dramaturge, Weber examines dramatic writings that challenge the traditional conception of the theatre in Theatricality as Medium (2004). He does so in order to be able to work directly with “theatricality" as a medium itself. Here Weber manages to bring together the relations between philosophy, ethics, and drama from figures dating as far back as Aristotle to today’s critical dramaturges. His thesis is that today’s media (films, the internet, etc.) are not fundamentally different from that of the old live performances. In fact, perhaps the ambivalence of identity and place are even more prominent today than they were in Greek theatre.

One of Samuel Weber’s most important books is Benjamin’s-abilities (2008). Its inspiration derives from two sources. The first is Benjamin’s language. In his works, Benjamin often formulated his significant concepts by nominalizing verbs. He performed this nominalization by adding the suffix –barkeit, which can be translated into English as -ibility or -ability. For Weber, this is not a simple stylistic feature, but rather an indication of something more important. The second inspiration is from Derrida’s discussion with John Searle on the work of J.L. Austin that can be found in Limited Inc (1988). Weber is interested in Derrida’s notion of iterability (the power or the potentiality to repeat or be repeated) and attempts to link it with Benjamin’s -ability. He claims that this “structural possibility” can tell us a lot about “Benjamin’s penchant for forming key concepts in terms of their -ability, rather than their actuality as mere facts” (Benjamin’s-abilities, 6).

Samuel Weber’s interests are not limited to the sphere of academia. He worked for many years as a dramaturge in opera houses and theatres in Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Düsseldorf, and Ludwigsberg. Weber’s current research project concerns “the politics of singularity” and the further exploration of the Freudian concept of “the uncanny.”