Originally released a few days before September 11, 2001, Mark Lilla’s The Reckless Mind was re-released by NYRB roughly corresponding with his new book of essays on reactionary political thinking, The Shipwrecked Mind. In the intervening years, these essays feel both more and less relevant: Foucault has lasted, but the problems of his politics have been explored more completely by the left and the right. Revelations about Heidegger have been made deeper and more notedly “problematic” with the translation of the black notebooks. Derrida, the only living figure in the book when it was released, has passed and his relevance to critical theory waned incredibly quickly. Yet the essays in this collection on Heidegger, Carl Schmitt, Walter Benjamin, Kojève, Foucault, and Derrida are still readable and fascinating.
There are, however, some puzzling indictments in this book. Lilla’s essay on the relationship between Karl Jaspers, Hannah Arendt, and Heidegger is clear-eyed in its assignment of Heidegger’s politics, but Heidegger is not the intellectual about the which the essay concerns itself. Are Jaspers and Arendt also guilty of political recklessness? Lilla, despite the very clear-eyed focus of the essay, does not say. Walter Benjamin’s exact offense seems unknown as if Lilla thinks that flirting with Marxism was in and of itself reckless even when distancing from Soviet and Maoist forms. Is it that Benjamin was reckless in his combining messianism and recursion to Frankfurt Marxism? It hardly had political effect and Benjamin never made apologetics for regimes in the way that Schmitt, Heidegger or Foucault had done. Furthermore, while some of the digs at Derrida are apt—particularly Derrida’s highly symbolic and affective reading of Marx—again it is hard to see what the consequences are to these politics. Derrida’s deconstruction seems muddled, but not reckless. It is, now, however, largely irrelevant.
Again one suspects notices that these were essays for Times Literary Supplement and the New York Review of books, and are excellent profiles, but the essays connecting the key figures do not thematically relate the figures enough. Lilla’s final essay about Syracuse and the nature of tyrannical philosophers is excellent, but he does not really lay out priorly exactly what was tyrannical about Benjamin. HIs treatment of Kojeve was interesting and clarifying, but the exact nature of the Strauss and Kojeve exchanges needed more development as well. Furthermore, Kojeve’s correspondence has been collected in “On Authority” giving a more complete view of the exchange than when only Strauss’s “On Tyranny” was translated.
In short, this is an insightful but highly frustrating book. Lilla seems more annoyed with the left than the right, even if he thinks the right’s sins are greater. He does not make the digs at Schmitt or even Heidegger that he does Foucault and Derrida. Lilla’s thematic unity is merely interest in alternative and possibly totalitarian worldviews, but any more coherent and cogent theme is resisted beyond that.
- Paperback: 248 pages
- Publisher: NEW YORK REVIEW BOOKS; Revised edition (15 September 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1681371162
- ISBN-13: 978-1681371160
- Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.3 x 20.8 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 295 g
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- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 179,688 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)