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To Think the Absolute — Gillian Rose’s Speculative Philosophy

Lecturer: Daniel Lopez

Originally Taught: Summer School 2022

Some 27 years after her untimely death, Gillian Rose’s philosophical oeuvre has not yet attracted the attention it deserves, scholarly or otherwise. This is no doubt in part due to her “severe” style, which eschewed pleasing audiences in favour of an uncompromisingly radical, nuanced, broad-ranging and at times polemical mode of expression.

This course will provide an overview of Rose’s life and major works, while focusing on her account of the Absolute and of speculative philosophy. As she wrote in what is perhaps her most important work, Hegel Contra Sociology,

“Hegel's philosophy has no social import if the absolute cannot be thought. If we cannot think the absolute this means that it is therefore not our thought in the sense of not realised. The absolute is the comprehensive thinking which transcends the dichotomies between concept and intuition, theoretical and practical reason. It cannot be thought (realized) because these dichotomies and their determination are not transcended.”

Beginning with her widely acclaimed autobiography, Love’s Work, as well as selected essays, lecture one will overview the major themes in Rose’s thought. In lectures two and three, we will closely work through Hegel Contra Sociology. Subsequently, the fourth lecture will discuss selections from The Broken Middle before lecture five concludes with selected essays from Mourning Becomes the Law.

In addition to Rose’s thinking of the Absolute, will pay particular attention to her call for a “Reformation of Marxism,” her account of the law and the role played by mourning in her philosophy. Finally, we will conclude with reflections on Rose’s deathbed conversion to the Anglican Church and considerations on the future of her thought.

Each lecture will consist of two 45-50 minute presentations punctuated by a short break, with time for questions and discussion. This course does not require a background knowledge of Gillian Rose’s philosophy or Hegelian philosophy in general. However, because Rose’s prose is as challenging as it is beautiful, participants are advised to leave ample time to read each week’s set material. Readings are ordered according to priority. Digital copies of the set reading will be made available well in advance of the first lecture.

Course Structure:

Week One: Keep your mind in hell and despair not

  • Love’s Work
  • “Athens and Jerusalem: a tale of three cities” in Mourning Becomes the Law
  • “From Speculative to Dialectical Thinking — Hegel and Adorno” in Judaism and Modernity

Week Two: Relative ethical life and the antinomies of sociological thought

  • Hegel Contra Sociology, chapters 1-4

Week Three: Will the circle be unbroken?

  • Hegel Contra Sociology, chapters 5-7

Week Four: The aporia is the Janus face of the universal

  • The Broken Middle, chapter 5
  • “‘Would that they forsake me but observe my Torah’: Midrash and political authority” in Mourning Becomes the Law

Week Five: Among the fleeting, in the realm of declination

  • “The Comedy of Hegel and the Trauerspiel of modern philosophy” in Mourning Becomes the Law
  • “Potter’s Field: death worked and unworked” in Mourning Becomes the Law
  • “O! untimely death. / Death!” in Mourning Becomes the Law