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Werner Hamacher - Biography

Werner Hamacher, Ph.D., born in 1948 in Germany, Emmanuel Levinas Chair at the European Graduate School EGS, is Professor of General and Comparative Literature at the University of Frankfurt, Germany, and Global Distinguished Professor at the New York University. A leading critical thinker and theorist influenced by deconstructionist theory, his work bridges literature, philosophy and politics, and is situated in the domains of both aesthetics and hermeneutics. After studying philosophy, comparative literature and religious studies at the Free University of Berlin, Werner Hamacher studied at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, where he established a significant relationship with Jacques Derrida and his work. From 1984 – 1998 he was Professor of German and the Humanities at Johns Hopkins University and is currently a guest professor at numerous universities in Europe and USA, among them Yale University, Free University of Berlin, University of Amsterdam, and École Normale Supérieure. Werner Hamacher translated and introduced the work of Jacques Lacan into German, as well as the writings of Nicolas Abraham, Paul de Man, Jorie Graham and Jean Daive.

As a philosophical friend of Jacques Derrida, Werner Hamacher shared the same discontent regarding books as objects. Hence, it does not surprise that some of his major written works have been materialized as postscripts, the most significant one a 300-pages-long essay in the critical edition of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's The Spirit of Christianity and its Fate entitled Pleroma: Reading in Hegel (1978). Werner Hamacher is also the author of Premises: Essays on Philosophy and Literature from Kant to Celan (1996), Entferntes Verstehen (1997), Nietzsche aus Frankreich, ed. (1986), Responses - on Paul de Man's Wartime Journalism, ed. (1989), and the editor of the series Meridian — Crossing Aesthetics (published by Stanford University Press).

In Pleroma: Reading in Hegel, Werner Hamacher examines the terms under which philosophy is still possible after the transformation Hegel's thinking caused within the structure of philosophical concepts. He undertakes the analysis of both historical and systematic aspects of Hegel's philosophy, starting with his early writings and following the transformation of Hegel's thought into his later works. The concept for Hegel is where the thing ends, carrying the traces of the split with its representational context, and releasing its opposite. When the conceptual overcomes the reality in a dialectical procedure, the unity dissolves and turns pores into aporias. Including Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud into his investigation, Werner Hamacher emphasizes the limits and excesses of Hegel's thought. By showing that dialectics fails to realize its own movement, Werner Hamacher directs his argument on the elements which resist spiritualization. If speculative idealism is to be the last philosophy, the system has to be interpreted from the point of its rupture, rejecting everything that resists appropriation. The notion of nausea is located exactly at this point, where the system discharges foreign elements. The discourse for this indigestible and unreadable part, according to Werner Hamacher, has yet to be created, a pleroma different from the one Hegel proposed.

In Premises – Essays on Philosophy and Literature from Kant to Celan, Werner Hamacher brings together the issues of critical literature and philosophy, investigating the crucial texts of modernity. Opening his discussion with the notion of understanding, Werner Hamacher defines it as a performative act that cannot be stabilized as an essence or a paradigm, shaken by the discovery of its other, the uncomprehended and incomprehensible. Understanding must understand itself from its impossibility, dismantling the security of the previous knowledge created on the basis of correspondence between the subject matter and the structure of the sentence. Werner Hamacher further shows the simultaneous unavoidability and unattainability of a subject position, open to redefinitions of the constituting act. In order to present a full account of the disruption in the theories and ethics after Kant, he investigates the hermeneutic circle in Friedrich Schleiermacher; the promise of interpretation of the hermeneutic imperative in Kant and Nietzsche, as well as Nietzsche's genealogy of moral terms and aporias of individuality; Paul de Man's imperative or the irony of reading; positing acts in Schlegel and Fichte; Heinrich von Kleist's quaking of narrative representation; the naming in Franz Kafka and Walter Benjamin; and the second inversion in Paul Celan's poetry. Through those nine crucial topics of modernity, Werner Hamacher offers not only a valuable insight into philosophical and literary works, but also destabilizes the methods of language in general and the structure of understanding.

Werner Hamacher is a professor of Philosophy and Literary Theory at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, where he conducts an Intensive Summer Seminar.