Normally, death is present in our lives as an ending-yet-to-arrive. For most of us, Simone Weil writes, “Death appears as a limit set in advance on the future.” We make plans, pursue goals, navigate relationships—all under the condition of death. We lead our lives under the condition of death; our actions are shaped by it as a surface is shaped by its boundaries.
However, as we approach this boundary, when our end is present, we are nothing but terror. All pursuits disintegrate, and our self-understanding collapses. At once we are expelled from the sphere of meaning. We are nothing more than this body. This body and its last breath. It is not simply that we cannot survive our own death; we cannot bear the sight of it. We do not want to die. Not now.
And yet the possibility of self-sacrifice suggests that this terror can be overcome, that death can be meaningful.
How Matisse and Picasso turned old age into art In March 1946 Pablo Picasso paid one of his fortnightly visits to see Henri Matisse in Vence, a few miles inland from Nice. Five years after the medical crisis that had nearly killed him, Matisse, at
We all distinguish between plants and animals. We understand that plants, in general, are immobile, rooted in the ground; they spread their green leaves to the heavens and feed on sunlight and soil. We understand that animals, in contrast, are mobile, moving from place to place, foraging or hunting for food; they have easily recognized behaviors of various sorts. Plants and animals have evolved along two profoundly different paths (fungi have yet another), and they are wholly different in their forms and modes of life. And yet, Darwin insisted, they were closer than one might think.
The term “art world” was coined in the mid-1960s by Arthur Coleman Danto, the influential American critic and pioneer of art theory who died in October 2013. Unlike the traditional art of representation, which sought to manifest the power and
On the left, prostitution used to be seen as a bad thing: part of the general degradation of the working class, and the subjugation of women, under capitalism. Women who sold sex were victims, forced by circumstances into a painful and humiliating way of life, and socialism would liberate them.
The German Jewish intellectual Walter Benjamin, born in Berlin in 1892, dead by his own hand on the French-Spanish border in 1940, remains a man of mystery. Anything but prominent in his lifetime, he has emerged in recent decades to unvarnished acclaim as the greatest thinker of the 20th century in fields ranging from philosophy to sociology, aesthetics, literary theory and criticism, and a half-dozen more. This in itself is mysterious. Among the ranks of mid-century Central European intellectuals, the reputation of Benjamin’s contemporaries and colleagues (with the possible exception of the Frankfurt School philosopher Theodor Adorno) continues to shrink; his continues to rise and rise. The number of books and articles devoted to him is staggering; a huge new biography, Walter Benjamin: A Critical Life, co-written by Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings and published by Harvard, is only the latest addition to a seemingly unending stream. How to explain the Benjamin vogue? Eiland and Jennings cite such cultural signposts as the radical student movement of the 1960s and the attendant revival of Marxist thought. But 60s radicals were hardly great readers, and Benjamin’s writings are, to say the least, maddeningly opaque and often altogether inaccessible. As for his Marxism, such as it was: if that is the main point of attraction, by rights the real culture hero should be his contemporary Herbert Marcuse (1898-1979)—once famed as the “father of the New Left” but, these days, decidedly not a name to conjure with.