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Stay, Illusion!

The Hamlet Doctrine

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Paperback published by Vintage (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group)

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About This Book

The figure of Hamlet haunts our culture like the ghost haunts Shakespeare’s melancholy Dane. Arguably, no literary work is more familiar to us. Everyone knows at least six words from Hamlet, and most people know many more. Yet the play—Shakespeare’s longest—is more than “passing strange,” and it becomes even more complex when considered closely. 
 
Reading Hamlet alongside other writers, philosophers, and psychoanalysts—Carl Schmitt, Walter Benjamin, Freud, Lacan, Nietzsche, Melville, and Joyce—Simon Critchley and Jamieson Webster go in search of a particularly modern drama that is as much about ourselves as it is a product of Shakespeare’s imagination. They also offer a startling interpretation of the action onstage: it is structured around “nothing”—or, in the enigmatic words of the player queen, “it nothing must.”
 
From the illusion of theater and the spectacle of statecraft to the psychological interplay of inhibition and emotion, Hamlet discloses the modern paradox of our lives: how thought and action seem to pull against each other, the one annulling the possibility of the other. As a counterweight to Hamlet’s melancholy paralysis, Ophelia emerges as the play’s true hero. In her madness, she lives the love of which Hamlet is incapable.
 
Avoiding the customary clichés about the timelessness of the Bard, Critchley and Webster show the timely power of Hamlet to cast light on the intractable dilemmas of human existence in a world that is rotten and out of joint.

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The figure of Hamlet haunts our culture like the ghost haunts Shakespeare’s melancholy Dane. Arguably, no literary work is more familiar to us. Everyone knows at least six words from Hamlet, and most people know many more. Yet the play—Shakespeare’s longest—is more than “passing strange,” and it becomes even more complex when considered closely. 
 
Reading Hamlet alongside other writers, philosophers, and psychoanalysts—Carl Schmitt, Walter Benjamin, Freud, Lacan, Nietzsche, Melville, and Joyce—Simon Critchley and Jamieson Webster go in search of a particularly modern drama that is as much about ourselves as it is a product of Shakespeare’s imagination. They also offer a startling interpretation of the action onstage: it is structured around “nothing”—or, in the enigmatic words of the player queen, “it nothing must.”
 
From the illusion of theater and the spectacle of statecraft to the psychological interplay of inhibition and emotion, Hamlet discloses the modern paradox of our lives: how thought and action seem to pull against each other, the one annulling the possibility of the other. As a counterweight to Hamlet’s melancholy paralysis, Ophelia emerges as the play’s true hero. In her madness, she lives the love of which Hamlet is incapable.
 
Avoiding the customary clichés about the timelessness of the Bard, Critchley and Webster show the timely power of Hamlet to cast light on the intractable dilemmas of human existence in a world that is rotten and out of joint.

Product Details
Paperback (288 pages)
Published: April 8, 2014
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Imprint: Vintage
ISBN: 9780307950482
Other books bySimon Critchley
  • The Faith of the Faithless

    The Faith of the Faithless
    Experiments In Political Theology
    The return to religion has arguably become the dominant theme of contemporary culture. Somehow, the secular age seems to have been replaced by a new era where political action flows directly from theological, indeed cosmic, conflict. The Faith of the Faithless lays out the philosophical and political framework of this idea and seeks to find a way beyond it. Should we defend a version of secularism or quietly accept the slide into theism? Or is there another way?

    How to Stop Living and Start Worrying

    How to Stop Living and Start Worrying
    Conversations with Carl Cederstrm
    The question of how to lead a happy and meaningful life has been at the heart of philosophical debate since time immemorial. Today, however, these questions seem to be addressed not by philosophers but self-help gurus, who frantically champion the individual's quest for self-expression and self-realization; the desire to become authentic. Against these new age sophistries, How to Stop Living and Start Worrying tackles the question of 'how to live' by forcing us to explore our troubling relationship with death. For Critchley, philosophy begins with the question of finitude and with his understanding of a key classical theme - that to philosophize is to learn how to die. Learning how to accept both our own and others' mortality as a part of life also raises the question of how to love. Critchley argues that the act of love requires us to give up something of ourselves, to lose control so as to be open to the demands of love. We will never be equal to this demand and so we are brought face to face with our own limitations - one form of which is what Critchley calls our 'originary inauthenticity'. By scrutinizing the very nature of humour, Critchley explores what we need to laugh at ourselves and presents the need to confront the inescapable ridiculousness of life. Reflecting on the work of over 20 years, this book provides a unique, witty and erudite introduction to the thought of Simon Critchley. It includes a revealing biographical conversation with Critchley and a fascinating debate with the critically acclaimed novelist Tom McCarthy about the nature of authenticity. Taken together the conversations give an intimate portrait of one of the most lucid, provocative and engaging philosophers writing today.

    Impossible Objects

    Impossible Objects
    Impossible objects are those about which the philosopher, narrowly conceived, can hardly speak: poetry, film, music, humor. Such "objects" do not rely on philosophy for interpretation and understanding; they are already independent practices and sites of sensuous meaning production. As Elvis Costello has said, "writing about music is like dancing about architecture." We don't need literary theory in order to be riveted by the poem, nor a critic's analysis to enjoy a film. How then can philosophy speak about anything outside of itself, namely all of those things which actually matter to us in this world? In Impossible Objects, Simon Critchley - one of the most influential and insightful philosophers writing today - extends his philosophical investigation into non-philosophical territories, including discussions on tragedy, poetry, humor, and music. In a series of engaging and enlightening conversations, Critchley reflects on his early work on the ethics of deconstruction; the recurring themes of mortality and nihilism; his defense of neo-anarchism; and his recent investigation into secular faith, or "a faith of the faithless". Essential reading for artists, academics, and general readers alike, this book explores the relationship between the philosophical world and those complex and fascinating "impossible objects" which give life meaning.

    Infinitely Demanding

    Infinitely Demanding
    Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance
    The clearest, boldest and most systematic statement of Simon Critchley’s influential views on philosophy, ethics, and politics, Infinitely Demanding identifies a massive political disappointment at the heart of liberal democracy. Arguing that what is called for is an ethics of commitment that can inform a radical politics, Critchley considers the possibility of political subjectivity and action after Marx and Marxism, taking in the work of Kant, Levinas, Badiou and Lacan. Infinitely Demanding culminates in an argument for anarchism as an ethical practice and a remotivating means of political organization.

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