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The Mountain

The tales of Empedocles and Lao Tzu both involve mountains, in which the thinkers vanish. In Ernst Bloch’s writings, the mountain often occupies the position of the encounter with the inconstructable question, fathomless wonder in the face of existence – a moment of interruption that, as yet, cannot be interpreted in the direction of any […]

The impossible professions and the vanishing mediator

Freud famously said (paraphrasing what he calls a “bon mot”) that psychoanalysis, education and government are the “impossible professions”. His explanation focuses on our narcissistic resistance to what these professions have to say about us and to us. Freud ads that philosophy, in taking the contents of conscious experience as the transparent reality it works […]

Walter Benjamin on Bertolt Brecht’s Lao Tzu

The poem offers an occasion to discuss the special role which the quality of friendliness plays in the author’s imagination. Brecht allocates an important place to this quality. If we visualize the legend he is telling, we see, on one side, the wisdom of Lao Tzu (who, by the way, is not referred to by […]

The three principles of dialectical thinking

In the run-up to this year’s seminar series, I met with Harm Boukema, a wonderful philosopher who taught for many years at the University of Nijmegen and whom I was fortunate enough to have as a teacher. We discussed the nature of dialectical thinking. Harm comes from a Hegelian background but has relinquished the elaborate […]

Matter as yearning

Our path through the history of the concept of matter in German thought has put us on the trail of longing. We are finding that matter, in its long history in philosophy, is not the inert stuff out of which bodies, corpuscula, things, objects, are made – rather it is the drive, longing, urge, the […]


The wish to smash things “Even the child, forced to be well-behaved, hardly felt at ease. An urge to destroy exists, as a small child Goethe brought it into play. It impelled the boy, one fine afternoon when all in the house was quiet, to keep throwing crockery on to the road because it “shattered […]

A legend

Meister Eckhart met a beautiful naked boy. He asked him where he came from. He said: “I come from God.” Where did you leave him? “In virtuous hearts.” Where are you going? “To God.” Where do you find him? “Where I part with all creatures.” Who are you? “A king.” Where is your kingdom? “In […]