Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe (1940-2007)

The sad news of the death of French philosopher Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe just in, via Mark Thwaite’s blog, where Mark posted the following announcement:

Chers collègues, chers amis,

Je viens d’apprendre avec une grande émotion le décès de Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe. Nous sommes tout unis dans la douleur du deuil.

So far I have been unable to find any details; the event is too recent it would seem to have gotten into the French media this morning. The wikipedia entry confirms that he passed away on Saturday. Here is a part of that entry for details of P L-B’s career:

Influences and associations

Lacoue-Labarthe was influenced by and has written extensively on Martin Heidegger, Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, German Romanticism, Paul Celan, and deconstruction. He was also a French translator of Heidegger, Celan, Friedrich Nietzsche, Friedrich Hölderlin, and Walter Benjamin. In 1980 Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy co-organised a Cerisy-la-Salle conference on Derrida, named after Derrida’s 1968 paper Les fins de l’homme. Following on from discussion at this conference and at Derrida’s request, they then founded the Centre of Philosophical Research on the Political in November 1980. This Centre would remain active for four years, providing alternative lines of enquiry to the empirical approach of political sciences. Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy were colleagues at the Université Marc Bloch in Strasbourg, France. Lacoue-Labarthe was also member and president of the International College of Philosophy.

[edit] Professional milestones

Lacoue-Labarthe received his doctorat d’état in 1987 with a jury led by Gérard Granel and including Derrida, George Steiner and Jean-François Lyotard. The monograph submitted for that degree was La fiction du politique (English translation, Heidegger, Art, Politics), a study of Heidegger’s long-abiding allegiances to his vision of National Socialism. It followed shortly after a book on Celan and Heidegger, Poetry as Experience. Both of these works immediately predate the explosion of interest in the political dimensions of Heidegger’s thought and his personal responsibility as Rector of the University of Freiburg under the Nazi regime, an interest generated by Victor Farías‘s book that appeared in 1987. Scholars such as Derrida (in “Deconciliation,” Shibboleth, and Of Spirit) , Lyotard (in Heidegger and “the Jews”), and Pierre Joris (see [1]) have strongly commended these works as authoritative.

[edit] On Heidegger and Celan

In his Poetry as Experience, Lacoue-Labarthe advanced the argument that, although Celan’s poetry was deeply informed by Heidegger’s philosophy, Celan was long aware of Heidegger’s association with the Nazi party and therefore fundamentally circumspect toward the man and transformative in his reception of his work. Celan was nonetheless willing to meet Heidegger (although he may not have been willing to be photographed with him or to contribute to Festschriften honoring Heidegger’s work). Heidegger was a professed admirer of Celan’s writing, although he did not attend to it as to Hölderlin or Trakl (neither did he attend to Celan as a Jewish poet working within that German tradition). “Todtnauberg”, however, seems to hold out the unrealized possibility of a profound rapprochement between their work, albeit on the condition that Heidegger break a silence that virtually blanketed his work to the end (Lacoue-Labarthe has commented on the insufficiency of Heidegger’s one known remark about the gas chambers, made in 1949). In this respect Heidegger’s work was perhaps redeemable for Celan, even if that redemption or what need was had for it was never transacted between the two men. Lest one implicitly take this as Celan simply dema
nding an apology of Heidegger (such a scenario seems simplistic, the more so given that neither was given to simplism), there are reasonable grounds to argue that it was (and still is) at least as important to specify how the Nazi period is das Unheil (disaster, calamity) (which is to say: specificity as to a great deal more than counting the dead). What compelled Heidegger to write about poetry, technology, and truth ought to have compelled him to write about the German disaster, all the more so because, on the basis of his thought, Heidegger attributed an “inner greatness” to the movement that brought about that disaster.

Lacoue-Labarthe and Jacques Derrida have both commented extensively on Heidegger’s corpus, and both have identified an idiosyncratically Heideggerian National Socialism that persisted until the end. It is perhaps of greater importance that Lacoue-Labarthe and Derrida, following Celan to a degree, also believed Heidegger capable of a profound criticism of Nazism and the horrors it brought forth. They consider Heidegger’s greatest failure not to be his involvement in the National Socialist movement but his “silence on the extermination” (Lacoue-Labarthe) and his refusal to engage in a thorough deconstruction of Nazism beyond laying out certain of his considerable objections to party orthodoxies and (particularly in the case of Lacoue-Labarthe) their passage through Nietzsche, Hölderlin, and Richard Wagner, all taken to be susceptible to Nazi appropriation. It would be reasonable to say that both Lacoue-Labarthe and Derrida regarded Heidegger as capable of confronting Nazism in this more radical fashion and have themselves undertaken such work on the basis of this. (One ought to note in due course the questions Derrida raised in “Desistance,” calling attention to Lacoue-Labarthe’s parenthetical comment: “(in any case, Heidegger never avoids anything)”).

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