Michael Roth

  • Master Plan

    In 2000, Susan Buck-Morss published an essay in the journal Critical Inquiry that positively crackled with provocations for research, scholarly imagination, and political action. It had the unlikely title “Hegel and Haiti,” and now she has expanded it into a slim book, Hegel, Haiti and Universal History. It still packs a powerful punch.

    Its strength lies in the development of a specific claim in the history of philosophy into a general theme concerning universality and politics. The claim is that Hegel was inspired by the Haitian revolution of the 1790s when developing his fundamental concept


    The mythological Mount Parnassus is not only the home of the arts and literature but the Hall of Fame of learning and culture. The heroes who dwell there are those whose works live on after them and inspire creativity down on earth. Carl Djerassi tells us early in Four Jews on Parnassus that the book’s “underlying theme” is the “desire for canonization,” but its imaginary dialogues between a quartet of deceased thinkers—Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Gershom Scholem, and Arnold Schoenberg—instead betray an anxiety about being remembered. “How did I get here?” and “Do I deserve to be here?”

  • LEO

    Post-Freudian thought, especially in the United States, can be divided between those writers (often clinicians) who turn the master’s work toward a theory of accommodation of the world and those (often in the humanities) who turn his work toward a critique of the world. American psychoanalysis attempted to translate Freud’s tragic pessimism into clinical optimism so that patients would sign up not only for increased self-awareness but also for a less conflicted (and less painful) relationship with society. Analytic theory, especially as it has joined with continental philosophy and poststructuralism,


    Sarah Kofman had something to say, about philosophy, about psychoanalysis, about art, about women. She found her voice in the 1960s, and the language she came to speak was deferred and delivered—articulated—through the lexicon of her generation. It was a time that prized radicalism of thought and often of deed. Impetuousness was rewarded; extravagance in interpretation became an odd norm. Some of the writing from this period, and some of its dramatic political gestures, now look like mere antics; the invitation to easy irony was a slippery slope and could easily be co-opted by commercial culture.

  • Artful Dodger

    Almost twenty-five years ago, Jean-Luc Nancy published The Inoperative Community, a work that tries to avoid the mystical authoritarianism of communitarianism without falling into the lonely oppressiveness of individualism. The book confirmed Nancy’s place as a philosopher who would continue a productive deconstruction without ever pretending to resolve a philosophical problem, establish an identity, or build a foundation. Nancy’s version of deconstruction has been more tactile, engaged with flesh and material, than that of many other of its followers. But like his more abstract colleagues, he

  • Boswell Of The Couch

    Ernest Jones had the urge to stand out. A small man, he learned early how to make himself visible through his bearing, his clothes, his mannerisms. And he learned how to distinguish himself—no ordinary Jones, he!—through the quality of his voice and intensity of his gaze. By the time he finished his medical studies and began a specialization in neurology, in 1902, he seemed poised for professional success and could boast of his "flair for rapid captivation of the opposite sex." But Jones could also be abrasive if not boorish, and he soon discovered that he was not very popular among his more