Between Philosophy and Non-Philosophy
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Between Philosophy and Non-Philosophy

The Thought and Legacy of Hugh J. Silverman

Donald A. Landes, Leonard Lawlor, Peter Gratton, Donald A. Landes, Leonard Lawlor, Peter Gratton

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eBook - ePub

Between Philosophy and Non-Philosophy

The Thought and Legacy of Hugh J. Silverman

Donald A. Landes, Leonard Lawlor, Peter Gratton, Donald A. Landes, Leonard Lawlor, Peter Gratton

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About This Book

Hugh J. Silverman was an inspiring scholar and teacher, known for his work engaging and shaping phenomenology, hermeneutics, psychoanalysis, structuralism, poststructuralism, and deconstruction. As Professor of Philosophy and Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies at Stony Brook University, State University of New York, Silverman's work was marked by "the between, " a concept he developed to think the postmodern in the space between philosophy and non-philosophy. In this volume, leading scholars explore and extend Silverman's philosophical contributions, from reflections on the notions of care, time, and responsibility, to presentations of the practices and possibilities of deconstruction itself. They provide an assessment of Silverman's life and work at the intersection of philosophy, ethics, and politics.

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It would be presumptuous to claim that a man is essentially one thing or another, that he is social, political, or rational, that he is a tool-maker, or that he is a user of symbols, etc. He is clearly not any one of these, since surely he is all of them. … What remains unclear is the particular sense in which he is ambiguous.
—Hugh J. Silverman2
Drawn from the introduction to Hugh J. Silverman’s doctoral dissertation (Stanford University, 1973), this passage captures something persistent in his thought and in his person. Silverman was never comfortable with a simple answer, and it is hardly surprising that those who know his work best regularly reach for the word “between” to characterize both him and his work. From his first formulation of “the between” in the concept existential ambiguity to his rich later characterization of it via the “Silvermanian twist” he brought to the deconstructive term indecidability, Silverman’s self-conscious efforts were always toward thinking the between. In his work, he cultivated the space between phenomenology, hermeneutics, psychoanalysis, structuralism, poststructuralism, and deconstruction; he moved between an enormous range of philosophical guides, from Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Sartre, and Beauvoir to Foucault, Deleuze, Lacan, Lévi-Strauss, Lévinas, Irigaray, Barthes, Nancy, Kristeva, Lacoue-Labarthe, and Stiegler, and he thereby explored a staggering number of philosophical concepts and deconstructive strategies.
Indeed, Silverman’s career was marked by “the between” in several ways, and he always managed to cultivate a between that was between many, and never just between two. At Stony Brook University, Silverman held a joint appointment as Professor of Philosophy and Comparative Literary & Cultural Studies, and this between was enriched via active affiliation with the Department of Art as well as the Department of European Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, and further punctuated by an incredible international presence as a visiting professor at institutions around the world.3 Silverman was incredibly active in cultivating places of intellectual exchange that mark continental philosophy and the intersection between philosophy and literature. Not only did he serve as executive co-director of the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy (SPEP) (1980–1986) and as long-time executive director of the International Association for Philosophy and Literature (IAPL),4 but he was also the co-founder and director of a much different, more intimate annual seminar (the International Philosophical Seminar [IPS]5 that met at the border between Austria and Italy each year for a week of intensive study of a book written by a living author), and this too was further complemented by Silverman’s regular organization of weekend conferences and symposia at Stony Brook and elsewhere. Even his list of awards, grants, and fellowships reveals a “between”—the between of a teacher-scholar who remained committed to both aspects of his academic career. This between of teaching and research was itself further punctuated by various other activities within the core functioning of the university (such as his long service on the Senate at Stony Brook) and the discipline more broadly (such as service on department review boards). If we turn our attention to his publication activities, not only did Hugh author two important books (Inscriptions: Between Phenomenology and Structuralism6 and Textualities: Between Hermeneutics and Deconstruction,7 both of which exist in translation into Korean and the latter also into Arabic, German, and Italian), but he also edited and coedited twenty-two volumes, served as series editor for key international publishing houses in continental philosophy,8 and was an active Advisory Board member for a long list of top academic journals and other book series.
Given the sheer weight of Hugh’s 120-page curriculum vitae—with its sprawling list of international presentations, publications, graduate dissertation committees, tenure-case committees, review boards, university service, conference organization, courses taught as a visiting professor at other universities, and so forth—it is hard to imagine anyone to be a more connected, a more networked member in the fields of philosophy and comparative literature. Indeed, it is hard to imagine any member of these fields to have not been influenced in some way by the presence of Hugh J. Silverman. Surely what Gail Weiss refers to in her contribution to this volume as the “Silverman Network” was a remarkable phenomenon cultivated by a significant academic phenomenon. The essays that make up this volume collectively reveal both the reach of Hugh’s influence and the loss felt when the center of such a network suddenly disappears, leaving behind a system that must begin to find a new equilibrium.
Nevertheless, so far we have merely listed accomplishments and named some academic markers. Silverman once himself wrote an “Autobiographical Statement,” but placed at its head the following elliptical reminder: “The dates do not trace a chronology … epistemological markers of events and discursive developments … persons, programs, publications, and places constitute elements of an itinerary …”9 Indeed, as impressive as a review of his CV might be, it risks missing both what Hugh’s brother calls (in the afterword to this volume) the “human, caring, and deeply loving person that he was” as well as the subtle and profound influence his philosophical “itinerary” had on the development and shape of continental philosophy in America. In the richness produced between these markers we look for “Silverman,” a goal that we have trepidatiously set for this volume, which aspires to be more than just a celebration of Hugh’s accomplishments in the past tense. The contributions to this volume, personal in tone and deeply philosophical in scope, aim collectively to explore the rich field of possibilities that Hugh cultivated, a field that continues to shape the future of continental philosophy in the voices and gestures of Hugh’s colleagues, students, and critics (sometimes all in the same person!).
Taking as our title an opposition that Hugh held to be critical in thinking the future of continental philosophy—what is between philosophy and non-philosophy—we hope that this volume serves to open the conversation on Hugh’s contribution to continental philosophy (both past and future), to reinscribe and widen the “Silverman Network,” and to remind us of the uniquely open practice of contemporary continental thought that Hugh saw moving ever forward toward plurality, reflected in the very title of his posthumous manuscript, Postmodernisms: Between Ethics and Aesthetics.10 Such would be the only appropriate tribute to Hugh J. Silverman—to think death, authorship, hospitality, justice, responsibility, indecidability, subjectivity, the between, and its closely related “the after,” and so forth, once again, with and against our collective past and future erstwhile guide, Professor Silverman.

Writing about/for/after Hugh: An Overview of the Content of this Volume

As the news of Hugh’s passing disseminated in the weeks and months following his death, many of his colleagues and former students turned to writing, as if instinctively sensing in the creation of text a way of dealing with this particular loss. Whether online or as part of the various memorial events or conference sessions, an entire community felt the surge of memories of the various experiences and events that would bring to presence Hugh’s quirks and his kindness, his stubbornness and his sense of humor, his loyalty and his accomplishments. What was striking in the various writings and speeches produced in these moments was the deep resonance between Hugh’s personal and philosophical contributions to continental philosophy. It quickly became clear that a personal reflection on the character of Hugh Silverman could not remain isolated from the philosophical content of his thought, and vice versa, because Hugh quite directly lived and practiced his philosophy.

Part 1—Between Inscriptions and Textualities: Silverman’s Deconstructive Practice

Recalling a deeply formative philosophical experience from his 1971–1972 séjour in Paris, Silverman writes: “I went to Paris as a budding phenomenologist. Everywhere friends and peers in France told me that phenomenology was passé, that I would need to learn about structuralism and especially what was forcing itself to be called ‘poststructuralism.’ ”12 This indeed must have been disconcerting. Ahead of the curve on the American scene with his firm foundation in phenomenology, which he had been studying since 1966, this young graduate student was suddenly made to feel behind the curve, trapped in another era, pursuing philosophical questions with outdated theoretical tools. In fact, and Hugh perceptively sensed this, it was more than simply having the wrong books in his checked luggage. The bouleversement named “poststructuralism” threatened to undermine the very philosophical concerns and methodologies that Hugh and many others had been so committed to. After all, Hugh’s philosophical leanings were firmly rooted in philosophical anthropology, and his attraction to existential and phenomenological philosophy was animated by the rich potential he found in these traditions for rethinking the idea of human nature (while simultaneously managing to avoid giving up the idea of humanism altogether or falling back into a naive dogmatism). As the epigram to this introduction shows, even several years after his striking personal encounter with poststructuralism in post-1968 Paris, Hugh remained committed to studying human nature via existential phenomenology and its description of the ambiguity of lived experience in Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, and Heidegger.
Yet the upheaval of the poststructuralist moment did not fade for Silverman, and much of his early career found him deepening his knowledge of Saussure, Lévi-Strauss, Foucault, Barthes, Lacan, Derrida, and others. As he learned the subtleties of the poststructural texts that marked the contemporary philosophical landscape, Hugh set for himself the task of evaluating the claim that the phenomenological and existential study of the human subject could not stand in the face of the “developments in structuralism, semiology, and poststructuralism.”13 The confrontation between these two major moments in twentieth-century philosophy culminated in Silverman’s first book, Inscriptions: Between Phenomenology and Structuralism, which was nothing less than the attempt to think together these two seemingly divergent paths:
The place between phenomenology and structuralism does not occupy any space. It only marks the place between two methodologically parallel yet historically converging paths. At the limit of one, signs of the other are already plotted. At the frontier of the other, the former is incorporated and advanced. Yet structuralism does not take over where phenomenology ends. Nor does phenomenology succeed where structuralism fails. Often presented as antipodean ways of thinking, phenomenology and structuralism indicate two very different orientations in recent continental thought. … They each build upon a separate theoretical base which allows for and even promotes a philosophical practice or practices in their own right. (I, xv)
Stubbornly holding on to the value of the phenomenological tradition, Silverman was and remained interested in the difference between because of its potential for bringing together, not dividing.
Arguably two names in particular stand out in Silverman’s thought precisely for their ability to move between these two orientations: Merleau-Ponty and Derrida. In Merleau-Ponty, Silverman found an adventurous phenomenologist who dared to take seriously both Saussure (at least beginning in 1947–1948) and the burgeoning structuralist work of his own friends, Lacan and Lévi-Strauss. At the time of his death, Merleau-Ponty was on the verge of demonstrating “the possibility of operating in the place between phenomenology and structuralism” (I, xvii). The practice of operating in this space, for Silverman, may have been announced by Merleau-Ponty, but was soon to be “signed by Derrida,” and in this light Silverman found himself working toward what he terms a “hermeneutic semiology of the self-language-world complex” (I, xviii), at once Merleau-Pontian and Derridean.
For Silverman, the exploration of the place between phenomenology and structuralism sketched out a theory of textuality. His early commitment to rethinking the self found him following to its end the movement of thought that takes seriously the decentering of the subject, and this led to a deepening of his methodology and questions via the notion of textualities, the title of his second book. As he writes:
While Inscriptions identifies the places of difference—the slashes, the borders, the belonging-together of alternatives—Textualities reiterates the “place between” as the locus of multiple textualities … Examples of textualities are developed in determinate regions, such as in “autobiographial textuality,” “photobiographical textuality,” “visible textuality,” “scriptive textuality,” “philosophical textuality,” and “institutional textuality.” (T, 2)
For Silverman, the seeming closure of the place between phenomenology and structuralism in a theory of hermeneutic semiology needed again to be reopened, and Textualities aimed to do just that. The work of this opening was trusted to what Hugh called “juxtapositional deconstructive reading,” an evolution in his methodology, questions, and philosophical style.
Part 1 of this volume aims to explore ...

Table of contents