Books and Book Chapters

Hannah Arendt and the Fragility of Human Dignity (Lexington Books, 2018)

Hannah Arendt and the Fragility of Human Dignity offers a post-foundational account of human dignity by way of a reconstructive reading of Hannah Arendt. I argue that Arendt’s experience of political violence and genocide in the twentieth century, as well as her experience as a stateless person, led her to rethink human dignity as an intersubjective event of political experience. By tracing the contours of Arendt’s thoughts on human dignity through a close reading of her published works, letters, lectures, and journals, I offer convincing evidence that Arendt was engaged in retrieving the political experience that gave rise to the concept of human dignity in order to move beyond the traditional accounts of human dignity that relied principally on the status and stature of human beings. This allowed Arendt to retrofit the concept for a new political landscape and reconceive human dignity in terms of stance–how human beings stand in relationship to one another. I elucidate Arendt’s latent political ontology as a resource for developing strictly political account of human dignity that I call conditional dignity–the view that human dignity is dependent on political action, namely, the preservation and expression of dignity by the person who bears it, and/or the recognition by the political community to which the person belongs or seeks membership. I then situate conditional dignity within Arendt’s political ontology and show how it informed her notion of political personhood, which relies on a recognitive politics that emphasizes the co-responsibility of individuals and political regimes to insist upon the right of human beings to have a place in the world. I argue that it is precisely this “right” to have a place in the world–the right to belong to a political community and never to be reduced to the status of stateless animality–that indicates the political meaning of human dignity in Arendt’s political philosophy.

Chapter 10: The Pariah and the Poet: Hannah Arendt’s Alternative Reading of Goethe’s Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre as a Critique of Enlightenment Bildung (Peter Lang, 2018)

In this chapter, I discuss the German ideal of Bildung—the process of self-development through culture that Goethe dramatized in Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre—and its connection to the crises of Jewish emancipation in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I consider whether Bildung compromised Jewish identity, and examine Hannah Arendt’s criticisms of Bildung. Although Bildung was seen by many Jewish intellectuals, like Moses Mendelssohn, to be an answer to widespread anti-Judaism in European society, Arendt saw it as an apolitical concept that jeopardized Jewish emancipation in Europe. Arendt was skeptical of the promise of Bildung because it amounted to an amelioration of Jewish difference that enlightened German society found repugnant in order to allow Jews to enter society simply on the terms of their shared humanity. In short, Bildung offered a process for Jews to shed their pariah status in exchange for the status of assimilated parvenus. For Arendt, this exchange created a crisis for Jewish identity, facilitated anti-Semitism, and undermined the political significance of Jews in Europe. In The Origins of Totalitarianism and her intellectual biography of Rahel Varnhagen, Arendt argued that Goethe’s Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre was widely read as a model for nineteenth century Jewish assimilation to German society through the process of Bildung. Arendt’s critique of Bildung is often seen as a critique of Goethe; however, when Arendt’s discussions of Bildung in Goethe’s Lehrjahre are read in light of her early essays on Goethe and Rahel Varnhagen it becomes clear that Arendt read the Lehrjahre from the perspective of a stateless refugee and saw in Wilhelm’s ultimate failure to emancipate himself from the bourgeoisie a narrative paradigm for the ultimate failure of Jewish assimilation through Bildung. Her critique of Bildung is therefore not a critique of Goethe, but rather an appropriation of his keen insight into the vices and perils of Bildung.

Chapter 5: A Difficult Redemption: Facing the Other in Woody Allen’s Exilic Period (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013)

In this chapter, I examine the themes of exile and redemption in Woody Allen’s early twenty-first-century films by deploying a method of film analysis developed from the ethical philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas. The chapter focuses on Allen’s 2005 film Match Point as an example of the ethical turn in his cinema. I argue that the theme of exile is so pervasive, both externally and internally, in Allen’s recent films that his recent body of work can be understood as his exilic period. Externally, Allen’s cinematic expatriation and onscreen absence suggest a search for a new creative space for his film art—a cinematic redemption. Internally, Allen’s use of a mise-en-scéne of exile explores the ethical dimension of human relationships as a journey that is simultaneously an exile of the self from itself towards responsibility for the other, and a redemption of the self by means of substituting oneself for the other. I argue that this suggests an ethical turn in his cinema, and by removing himself from the screen—going into cinematic exile—Allen is initiating a break with his previous film art and moving into a new and more serious period in his work that is marked by ethical concerns.

A Continental Guide to Philosophy (Forthcoming from Edinburgh University PRess, 2022)

A Continental Guide to Philosophy provides a historical introduction to philosophy for the uninitiated (e.g., undergraduate students or lay readers) by pursuing three fundamental questions: “What is real?,” “How can we know what is real?,” and “How might we live authentically?”. These questions, which cover the traditional—and interrelated—philosophical branches of metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, are pursued through readings of three pairs of authors and texts: Plato’s Sophist and René Descartes’s Meditations on First Philosophy (What is real?), David Hume’s An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding and Immanuel Kant’s Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (How can we know what is real?), and Friedrich Nietzsche’s essay “Schopenhauer as Educator” and Hannah Arendt’s essay “Labor, Work, and Action.” (How might we live authentically?). Each chapter introduces readers to basic philosophical problems, concepts, and methods of philosophical inquiry and follows a thematic trajectory that moves from a transcendent vision of reality to an immanent vision of reality. The aim of the book is to orient the lay reader to key philosophical texts and render these texts transparent for them, so that they can answer the three questions for themselves.

Chapter 12: Identity Reconfiguration and the Core Needs Framework: Exit Narratives Among Former Far-Right Extremists (Routledge, 2021)

In this chapter, my co-authors and I present results from an empirical study that examines intensive interview data collected from eight (N=8) former members of white supremacist organizations in order to understand the meanings of exit – that is, disengagement and deradicalization – from the extremist’s perspective. Using a thematic analysis approach, our findings build on the distinction in the existing exit literature between “push” and “pull” factors and the process of role exit identified in Helen Ebaugh’s study Becoming Ex: The Process of Role Exit (1988). These push and pull factors as well as social identity, we argue, are subsumed within a complex exit process, which includes disengagement, identity deconstruction, and transgressive and transitional relationships. For some, this process culminated in an accomplished identity reconstruction and deradicalization. Most importantly, our findings suggest that exit is linked to entry by a developmental drive that we call the participant’s core need. The core need was the background motivator of entry, disengagement, exit, and ultimately deradicalization. We think that this identity reconfiguration and core needs framework may help make heterogenous exit trajectories that have remained puzzling for researchers more understandable.

Chapter 3: emancipating the Carceral Subject: A Propaedeutic to an Integrated Prison Pedagogy (Lexington Books, 2014)

In this chapter, I argue that incarcerated persons and formerly incarcerated persons (IPs/FIPs) are primarily the objects of educational programming and research, but are rarely employed as subjects who develop and design educational programs and curricula or teach educational content. This article explores the possibility of integrating IPs and FIPs into prison educational programs as active pedagogical subjects instead of merely passive objects of educational outcomes. In reconceiving these persons as carceral subjects, I turn prison pedagogy on its head, and argue that effective prison education programs are both dialogical and emancipatory and can be enhanced by placing IPs and FIPs in active pedagogical roles such as teachers, mentors, and curricula developers. I bring the critical pedagogy of Paulo Freire into conversation with reflexive sociology of Pierre Bourdieu and Loïc Wacquant in order to sketch out what I call a propaedeutic to an integrated prison pedagogy that involves four stages: emancipation, credentialization, professionalization, and integration.