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Samuel Weber - Biography

Samuel Weber, Ph.D., is an American philosopher and professor. Professor Weber is the Paul de Man Chair at the European Graduate School (EGS), the Avalon Professor of Humanities at Northwestern University, and one of the leading American thinkers across the disciplines of literary theory, philosophy, and psychoanalysis. Samuel Weber was born in New York. Samuel Weber has been a Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the Director of their Paris Program in Critical Theory.

Samuel Weber obtained his doctorate from Cornell University in 1960, working with Paul de Man. He then pursued graduate education in Europe, primarily in Germany, and has been a professor in Germany, France and the United States since. It was during his studies abroad that he first encountered the work of the Frankfurt School of critical theory. He was strongly influenced by the work of Theodor W. Adorno, eventually coming to translate his major work of his critical theory – Prisms – into English. This translation, including an introduction by written by him, was of crucial importance in the reception of the work of Theodor W. Adorno in the Anglophone world.

Samuel Weber is not only distinguished for having introduced major elements of the Frankfurt School to English speakers; he also brought the Bhaktin circle and deconstruction to the attention of many in America, both through his work as co-founder and editor of the journal Glyph and his scholarly translations of original texts. In the 70s and 80s he became a prominent figure as he helped introduce and comment, primarily in the United States and Germany, on the work of the Jacques Derrida and Jacques Lacan. In fact, he translated Jacques Derrida's 'Signature Event Context' (1977) and 'Limited, Inc.' (1988).

Not being limited to the sphere of academia, however, Samuel Weber also served as a dramaturge to German opera houses and theaters in Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Düsseldorf, and Ludwigsburg during the 1980s. Samuel Weber has studied the Freudian concept of the uncanny extensively. Weber is also heavily influenced by Walter Benjamin. Samuel Weber is working in what he refers to as theatricality in his scholarship. Theatricality can be defined in Samuel's word from an interview with culture machine:

'Theatricality' is what results when the impossibility of self-containment is exposed by iterability as a scene which is inevitably a 'stage', but which, as such, is determined by that which surrounds it...'theater'. More affirmatively formulated, the impossibility of closure opens the scene to a space of alterity that is always provisionally as an 'audience' -- singular noun for an irreducibly heteroclite stand-in. The 'audience' stands in for the others, ... and perhaps even more, for those who will never come to be. Of course, it is in the nature of our socio-economic system, in an age of 'globalization', to do everything possible to appropriate and domesticate such 'standing-in' so that it seeks to fulfil...actual consumption. The audience is thus considered by the commercial media predominantly, if not exclusively, as potential consumers.

His book Return to Freud: Jacques Lacan's Dislocation of Psychoanalysis (1978, 1991), originally written in German, has been groundbreaking in the fields of psychoanalysis and literary theory. Several of his books are being brought out by Beijing University Press in Chinese translation.

Samuel Weber comments on the relationship between politics and philosophy:

It is perhaps worth recalling that there is a difference in being 'political' at the level of propositional statements (i.e. making declarations, signing petitions etc.) and being political at the level of the established codes of articulation to which one is necessarily submitted, but which are also susceptible to change. This is why a certain thinking of virtuality, possibility, potentiality -- what in a study of Benjamin I call his '-abilities' -- a certain virtualization of conceptualization itself, of 'meaning' -- can be politically effective, even if it never gets its act together. This doesn't dispense with more conventional forms of 'political' analysis and interpretation, much less with 'political action', but it does affect and possibly transform the grids within which such actions and interpretations have to be situated.

A few of the books which Samuel Weber has published include: Unwrapping Balzac (1979); Mass Mediaurus: Form, Technics, Media (1996); The Legend of Freud (2000); Institution and Interpretation (2001, 2nd edition) of which several positive reviews were written, including that of Paul de Man, his mentor, who generously and deservingly had written the following back when it was first published in 1983:

A text of major importance and remarkable originality. For the first time, the antecedents and the complexities of the question are clearly defined and understood.

Here in Institutions and Interpretation Professor Weber questions the powers that form and delimit practices of interpretations. For instance, while the more traditional way of using the word “institutions" reduce their meaning to the maintaining of the existing state of affairs, Samuel Weber argues instead that institutions are actually in need of consolidating their power through a process in which interpretation is key.

In Theatricality as Medium (2004) Professor Weber examines writings in drama that challenge the traditional conception of the theater. He does so in order to be able to work directly with “theatricality" as a medium itself. Here Weber manages to bring together the relations between philosophy, ethics and drama from figures dating back as Aristotle to today’s critical dramaturges. His thesis is that today’s media for theater (through films, the internet etc). is not fundamentally different from that of the old live performances in that ambivalences of identities and places are perhaps even more prominent today than they already were in Greek theater.

Targets of Opportunity: On the Militarization of Thinking (2005); Acts of Reading (2006) and Benjamin's -abilities (2008). In the latter, Weber considers Benjamin’s theories and their latent potential, and he does so especially by focusing on Benjamin’s famous use of the suffix “ability" with such concepts as iterability, knowability, impartability etc.

Samuel Weber has also written many chapter in books, including: “The Indefinite Article of the Love of a Phrase" in Reading Ronell (2009). “Benjamin’s –abilities: Mediality and Concept Formation in Benjamin’s Early Writings" in Benjamin-Studien (German), 2008. “Reading over a Globalized World" in Encountering Derrida (2008). “The Politics of Protection and Projection" in Religion Beyond a Concept (2007). “Replacing the Body: An Approach to the Question of Digital Democracy" in Public Space and Democracy (2001). “Benjamin's Style" in Encyclopedia of Aesthetics. Vol. I. (1998).

Samuel Weber

Samuel Weber is a professor of philosophy and literature at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, where he teaches an Intensive Summer Seminar.