By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
In the film you're asked: If you could listen to the philosophers you've admired talk about anything, what would you like to hear them talk about? You reply, "Their sexual lives, because it's the thing they don't talk about." But when the interviewer then asks you about your own sexual life, you decline to answer. Why is this territory off limits?
I declined to answer not because I think these things must be hidden, but because I don't want to disclose the most personal aspects of my life while improvising in front of a camera in a foreign language. If I'm to discuss such things, I prefer to sharpen my own tools -- my writing. If you read me, you'll find there are many texts where I address these questions in my way. Glas [published in 1974], The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond , and Circumfession  are autobiographical, and my own life and desires are inscribed in all of my writing.
Can you recall the moment when you first realized that god, as the word is conventionally understood, was a notion you couldn't embrace?
To discuss this, we must insist on that definition of god -- as the word is conventionally understood. But yes, I can recall it. While I was growing up, I was regularly taken to a synagogue in Algiers, and there were aspects of Judaism I loved -- the music, for instance. Nonetheless, I started resisting religion as a young adolescent, not in the name of atheism, but because I found religion as it was practiced within my family to be fraught with misunderstanding. It struck me as thoughtless, just blind repetitions, and there was one thing in particular I found unacceptable: that was the way honors were dispersed. The honor of carrying and reading the Torah was auctioned off in the synagogue, and I found that terrible. Then when I was 13, I read Nietzsche for the first time, and though I didn't understand him completely, he made a big impression on me. The diary I kept then was filled with quotations from Nietzsche and Rousseau, who was my other god at the time. Nietzsche objected violently to Rousseau, but I loved them both and wondered, how can I reconcile them both in me?
In an interview he gave shortly after World War II but ordered withheld from publication until after his death in 1976, Heidegger said, "Philosophy after Nietzsche could offer neither help nor hope for mankind's future. All we can do is wait for a god to reappear. Only a god can save us now." Do you agree?
I wouldn't use the term "a god," but what interests me in this statement is that Heidegger was anti-religious. He was raised Catholic, but he vehemently rejected Christianity, so the god he refers to is not the god we know. He refers to a god who not only hasn't come yet, but perhaps doesn't exist. He gives the name of god to the one who is hoped for, and implies that the one who'd come and save us will have the name of god. I don't agree with this if it encourages hope for salvation, but if the statement means that we're waiting for the arrival of an unpredictable one, and that we must be hospitable to the coming of this one, then I've got no objection. This is a form of what I'd describe as messianicity without messianism, and we are by nature messianic. We cannot not be, because we exist in a state of expecting something to happen. Even if we're in a state of hopelessness, a sense of expectation is an integral part of our relationship to time. Hopelessness is possible only because we do hope that some good, loving someone could come. If that's what Heidegger meant, then I agree with him.
Did you fear for your life as a child growing up during World War II?
No. My experience during the war was difficult, but it couldn't be compared with what happened to the Jews in Europe. There was terrible anti-Semitism in Algeria, but there were no Germans in the country, no concentration camps, no massive deportation of Jews. But the traumas occurred nonetheless. When you are expelled from school without understanding why, it marks you.
I'll go very slowly here. I know there are philosophers who think that what was absolutely new in the genocide of the Holocaust was that it had no sacrificial structure. It was cold, rational, industrial, and it was given no sacrificial meaning. I'm not sure that's true. I'm not prepared to answer that question without a good deal more thought.
What are the central questions philosophy came into existence to answer?
First of all, how to handle one's life and live well together -- which is also politics. This is what was addressed in Greek philosophy, and from the beginning, philosophy and politics were deeply intertwined. We are living beings who believe we have the capacity to change life, and we place ourselves above other animals. I'm critical of the question of the animal and how it's treated in philosophy, but that's another issue. Still, we think we're not animals and that we have the ability to organize our lives. Philosophy poses the question: What should we do to have the best possible lives? I'm afraid we haven't made much progress in arriving at an answer to this question.
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