Cover

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Title Page, Copyright

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Introduction

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pp. 3-6

These fragments of an abandoned work largely date from 2004-2006. Around that time, I developed a theory of impossible objects and had the idea for a long book in the form of an ABC. ...

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Fragments

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pp. 7-10

After having spent so long, in so many books, during what sometimes seems like somebody else’s lifetime, trying to perfect the art of joined-up writing, I find that the fragment imposes itself on me. This is because I have decided that I want to tell the truth, the truth of a life. ...

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World

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pp. 11-14

The truth of subjectivity has to be lived apart from the world. Such is the tragic vision of Jansenism and its many heirs, from Kantian moral autonomy in a political kingdom where means are justified by ends, to Levinas’ defense of subjectivity as separation in a world dominated by the political horror of war. ...

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Happiness

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pp. 15-20

What is happiness? As I teach philosophy for a living, let me begin with a philosophical answer. For the philosophers of Antiquity, notably Aristotle, it was assumed that the goal of the philosophical life — the good life, moreover — was happiness and that the latter could be defined as the bios theoretikos, the solitary life of contemplation. ...

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Life

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pp. 21-22

Life is movement. It is the feeling of movement or what the Greeks called kinesis whose counter-thrust is lethargy, the slowing down of existence into a lassitude and languor. But life as movement can be the sheer restlessness of anxiety, ...

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Hegel

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pp. 23-24

In the Philosophy of Right, Hegel writes, ‘No people ever suffered wrong. What it suffered, it merited’. This is wrong. ...

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Tourism

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pp. 25-26

Heidegger once said, ‘tourism should be banned’. The more I travel, the more I agree with him, particularly when I visit Germany.

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Surfaciality

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pp. 27-32

The poet issues reminders for what we already know and interprets what we already understand but have not made explicit. Poetry takes things as they are and as they are understood by us, but in a way that we have covered over through force of habit, a contempt born of familiarity, or what Fernando Pessoa’s heteronym Alberto Caeiro calls ‘a sickness of the eyes’. ...

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Indirection

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pp. 33-36

What is closer to me than myself? Nothing. Yet, how does one say this? How to express this closeness as closeness, i.e., closely? It is enormously difficult, as when Heidegger says that what is closest to me in everyday life is furthest from being understood, where he quotes Augustine saying that I have become to myself a terra difficultatis, a land of toil where I labour and sweat. ...

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Suicide

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pp. 37-38

Have you ever felt your body losing control in the sea, being swept by the swell, pulled powerless, pulled out, pulled under? ...

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New York City

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pp. 39-40

David is an anarchist anthropologist, and it is to him that I owe the true story of Gotham. It was a small village in south Nottinghamshire in England which, during the reign of bad King John in the early 13th Century, decided to forgo the questionable pleasure and huge expense of welcoming the King and his considerable retenue. ...

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Death

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pp. 41-42

Philosophy begins with the exemplary death of Socrates. Much subsequent philosophy has been concerned, obsessed even, with the idea of dying well, or dying well as the consequence of living well. Cicero writes, in words that echo down the tradition through Montaigne to Heidegger, that ‘to philosophize is to learn how to die’. ...

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Critchley

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pp. 43-44

Here I am, struggling to make sense at the University of the West Indies, in Barbados, speaking about some book of mine that the people who invited me wanted to discuss. I am doing my best, which is not that good. I am asked a question, a rather long and ponderous question about the relation of my work to Christianity. ...

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Augustine

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pp. 45-46

In Book 8 of the Confessions, Augustine describes himself as ‘still tightly bound by the love of women’, which he describes as his ‘old will’, his carnal desire. This will conflicts with his ‘new will’, namely his spiritual desire to turn to God. ...

Poetry

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pp. 47-48

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Emptiness

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pp. 49-52

What is it about the experience of emptiness, about turning your back on the world and facing nothing? ...

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Patti Smith

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pp. 53-54

I remember walking with my son in Bunhill Fields cemetery, EC1, just on the edge of the City in London. I had promised to show him the grave of William Blake, not that he knew who Blake was or cared very much at the time. I remember telling him that there were always fresh flowers on the grave. ...

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Relationships

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pp. 55-56

Sometimes, the more words that are used, the less they mean, until language becomes abusive, injurious and violent. At such moments, one circles around a tight knot of mutual unintelligibility that cannot be cut. ...

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Money I

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pp. 57-62

What is money? Many things. It is, of course, the coins and notes rattling in our pockets, as well as the piles of real and virtual stuff lying in banks, or the smart money that tends towards disappearance and increasing immateriality, being shuffled electronically along the vectors of the financial networks. ...

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America

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pp. 63-64

I remember my first trip to America, the continent and not just the country. It was in 1991, I was 31 years old. Flying, eyes wide shut, somewhat bewildered, from St Louis to Memphis, I was reading Locke’s Second Treatise on Government, the opening pages to be precise where he famously declares, ‘In the beginning, all the world was America’. ...

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Languor

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pp. 65-70

Consider the character of Phaedra in Racine’s extraordinary eponymous 1677 tragedy, “the masterpiece of the human mind,” as Voltaire declared. Phaedra was the daughter of Minos and Pasiphaë, and granddaughter of Pasiphaë’s father, the Sungod or Helios, whose light burns Phaedra’s eyes and whose scorching gaze she cannot bear, but from whom she cannot hide. ...

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Marx

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pp. 71-72

When I think of Marx, what comes to mind is not the iconic and huge-bearded impoverished titan working heroically in the British Library Reading Room and writing below his best for the American press in order to feed his wife and kids. ...

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Impossibility

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pp. 73-74

About ten years ago, I began to develop a theory of impossible objects. That is, objects, things, substances and places about which I had an obsessive relation. The three objects concepts picked out at that time for special treatment were poetry, humour and music and I have tried to write about these in various books and talks over the years. ...

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Eccentricity

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pp. 75-78

There is an enduring, classical assumption that the animal is its body. I simply don’t know whether this is true. Wittgenstein writes that, if a lion could speak then we could not understand him. Which probably shows that Wittgenstein didn’t spend much time in the company of lions. ...

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Being

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pp. 79-82

Martin Heidegger’s 1927 book, Being and Time, is considered by some (including me) to be the most important and influential work of philosophy written in the 20th Century. Yet, as readers of this monumental and monumentally difficult book know to their cost, ...

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Possibly dolorous tropical lyrical coda

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p. 83

As night falls in the mountains, the sounds of birds and the buzzing of insects slip away to near silence, as the first frogs are heard and their huge broad bass begins to spread across the valley floor. ...