Assistant Professor of History
Johns Hopkins University (Humanities Center), PhD 2008
King Juan Carlos Center, Room 419
Field of Study:
Areas of Research/Interest:
Modern European Intellectual History; French and German Thought; Political Theology and Philosophical Anthropology; History of Medical Concepts; Film; History of Science
I teach and write in the field of modern European intellectual history: my research and writing centers on French and German thought, and on the history of scientific and medical concepts.
My teaching includes courses on the history of particular concepts and conceptual constellations; on moments in European philosophical and scientific thought, and on specific intellectuals. Recent courses include “Freud: Psychiatry, Sexuality, Science, Madness, Vienna”; “The Origin of Humanity: A European Obsession, 1700-2000”; “European Culture and World War One”; “European Conceptions of the New Man, 1789-1945”; “European Intellectual History, 1805-1914”; “Structuralism: Science, Language, and Man in Postwar Europe”; and “Heidegger & Merleau-Ponty: Philosophy and Political Culture.”
I have written two books. An Atheism that is not Humanist Emerges in French Thought (2010) interprets the history of antihumanism in terms of three parallel transformations—of the notion of the human, of secular humanism, and of atheism—in interwar and postwar France. I argue that philosophers like Koyré, Kojève, Levinas, Heidegger, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, and Hyppolite reacted to the perceived failure of secular humanism to bring about a better world as well as to scientific and political developments ranging from quantum physics to the Moscow trials. They gradually articulated a new position: that man should no longer be viewed as the basis for existence, knowledge, and ethics; rather, human nature should be understood as derivative of Being, language, and history. Experimente im Individuum: Kurt Goldstein und die Frage des Organismus (2013), co-authored with the medical anthropologist Todd Meyers, concerns the work of the German-Jewish neurologist Kurt Goldstein, particularly his elaboration of a concept of the individual in his neuropsychiatric work on aphasia and brain injury. This “individual” was crucial for his arguments on organismic wholeness, tonic musculature, patienthood, and therapy, his experimental practices aiming at a revision of physiology, and his considerable philosophical influence (e.g. on Cassirer, Canguilhem, and Merleau-Ponty).
I have also co-translated two books by the French philosopher and historian of science Georges Canguilhem, and co-edited two collections of essays, one of them a compendium of essays by the biophysicist and philosopher Henri Atlan and one on self-assertion and conflicts over territory and method in the human sciences (particularly in the 19th century).
I am currently working on three projects. The first of these, co-authored with Todd Meyers, and supported by an ACLS Collaborative Research Fellowship (2013-15), is a book-length study in the history of physiology and related disciplines and traces the introduction of organismic balance and disequilibrium that occurred during the period 1910-1930 across a transnational network of scholars (many of whom had little contact with each other). We are interested in problems like surgical and wound shock, homeostasis, holism, inner/outer divisions, and especially disequilibrium; in new or renewed concepts ranging from histamine response to prolonged emotional exposure and from self-preservation and “catastrophic reactions” to the “individual” patient; and in figures such as Walter B. Cannon, William Bayliss and Ernest Starling, Kurt Goldstein and Henry Head, W.H.R. Rivers, Charles S. Myers, Henry H. Dale, George W. Crile, Fenton B. Turck, Ernest E. Southard, and René Leriche.
The second project is a history of the concept and figure of “transparency” as used by philosophers, anthropologists, filmmakers, psychologists, and other intellectuals in postwar France. This project takes as its starting point the question why transparency, long a goal and ideal in philosophy, seemed so profoundly problematic in the period 1945-1975, whether as a social ideal (the aspiration to a transparent society or a transparent state), as an ethical priority (the traditional demand for personal purity and the romantic fantasy of the heart-to-heart), or as an epistemological ideal (the assertion of man’s capacity to know the world). Intellectuals discussed here include Sartre, Starobinski, Blanchot, Leiris, Franju, Lévi-Strauss, Canguilhem, Lacan, Rouch, Foucault, and Derrida.
Finally, I have begun research toward a history of conceptions of the “New Man” in nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Europe. This project, supported by an ACLS Ryskamp Fellowship (2013-16) concerns the dream of a transformation of human nature resulting from—but often working against—the advance of modernity; it brings together considerations of different scientific fields (anthropology, psychology, social hygiene, etc), competing figures of authority and power, aesthetic figurations of the motif, and the announcements, ever more frequent after World War I and especially in the National Socialist and Soviet regimes, of the impending or ongoing construction and supposedly redemptive promise of “New Men.”
I’m currently on leave (Fall 2013-Spring 2014) thanks to an ACLS Collaborative Research Fellowship. Except for two event series: together with my colleagues Andrew Sartori and Tamsin Shaw, I co-organize the Intellectual History Workshop at NYU; and with Deborah Coen (Barnard), I am also co-organizing a reading group/lecture series on Neuroscience and History at Columbia’s Heyman Center.
Books: An Atheism that is Not Humanist Emerges in French Thought. Stanford University Press, 2010. Cultural Memory in the Present series.
[Stanford UP site] [Amazon.com]
Experimente im Individuum. Kurt Goldstein und die Frage des Organismus
Co-authored with Todd Meyers. Forthcoming from August Verlag, spring 2013.
[August Verlag website]
Translated and Edited Books:
Georges Canguilhem, Writings on Medicine.
Translated and with an introduction (“Georges Canguilhem’s Critique of Medical Reason”) with Todd Meyers. New York: Fordham UP, 2012. [Fordham UP site] [Amazon.com]
Georges Bataille, Scritti sul fascismo: Contro Heidegger, La Struttura psicologica del fascismo 1933-34. Co-edited with Giuseppe Bianco. Milan: Editioni Mimesis, 2010. [Mimesis site]
“L’Ascension et la marionnette: L’homme d’après Jean Hyppolite,” in Giuseppe Bianco
and Frédéric Worms, eds. Jean Hyppolite
(Paris: Rue d’Ulm/PUF, forthcoming 2012).
“Postwar Facial Reconstruction: Georges Franju’s Eyes without a Face,” in French Politics, Culture, and Society
“Stories of Lynx:
Husserlian Concepts in Transformation (France, 1945-1960),” forthcoming in New German Critique 117, special issue
in honor of Anson Rabinbach (forthcoming).
“The Brain in
Abeyance: Freud and the Claim of Neuropsychoanalysis” forthcoming in History of the Present 1:2 (Fall 2011),
Slave-Princes, Marshall Plans: Carl Schmitt in Hegel’s France,” Modern Intellectual History 8:3 (2011),
Introduction to Complexity” (with Todd Meyers) to Geroulanos and Meyers,
eds. Henri Atlan: Selected Writings on
Self-Organization, Philosophy, Bioethics and Judaism, (Fordham Univ. Press,
Exiles, New Scientific Movements, and Phenomenology: History of a Philosophical
Immigration in 1930s France,” New
German Critique 113 (Spring 2011), 89-128.
Atheism, Antihumanism,” and “Atheism and
Antihumanism as Intellectual-Historical Objects,” on The Immanent Frame: Secularism, Religion, and the Public Sphere (SSRC).
“The 1987 French
Heidegger Affair in Intellectual-Historical Perspective,” in The Journal of
French Philosophy 18.1 (Fall 2008), 26-67.
Thinking Freedom: Maurice Blanchot’s The
Most High,” in MLN (Modern
Language Notes), 122:5 (Dec. 2007), 1050-78.
Transparency, Omnipotence, Modernity,” in Hent de Vries and Lawrence
Sullivan, eds. Political Theologies:
Public Religions in a Post-Secular World (New York: Fordham, 2006).
“An Anthropology of Exit: Bataille on Heidegger and Fascism,” October 117 (Summer 2006), 3-24.