I am a philosopher who writes on the ontological, ethical, and political dimensions of emotions, sensations, and desire. My recent work focuses on experiences of touch: the way we come into touch with each other, with the world, and with ourselves. I’m interested in how we grasp and fail to grasp our selves (as self) and concepts (as concepts in their materiality and historicity) through touch. I’m equally interested in touch as a site of crisis. The crisis of touch ranges from ethical ambiguities surrounding sexual intimacy, to clashes between experiences of pleasure and cultural norms, to the politics of restrictions on touch during the age of pandemic.

I’m writing a new book, provisionally called Touching Crisis, as a research fellow at ICI Berlin Institute for Cultural Inquiry as part of the 2020-2022 Project Reductions. When I’m not in Berlin, I’m based in Hamburg where I’ve held research positions and taught political philosophy and ethics at Universität Hamburg since 2017.

My training is in the Ljubljana School of Psychoanalysis, which I studied in Slovenia as a U.S. Fulbright scholar in 2014-15. The Ljubljana School draws on German idealism, Marxism, and Lacan to analyze the structure of desire on the catastrophic stage of late global capitalism. I explore this theme through a dark comic lens in my forthcoming book, The Laughing Matter of Spirit (Northwestern University Press). This work employs the theatrical structures of tragedy and comedy to analyze “failed” political movements stretching from the Young Hegelians to twenty-first-century protests against discrimination and disparity. The Laughing Matter of Spirit combats political nihilism by identifying social change despite the perception that history tragically repeats itself.

Ljubljana continues to be a philosophical home for me. I’m currently working with the Goethe-Institut in Ljubljana and Berlin to animate Hegel’s “master-slave dialectic” through the filter of different genres (e.g. western, horror, superhero). This multidimensional project is part of the “Future Books” Excellence Project, which employs augmented and virtual reality for new methods in research, education, and experience.

After obtaining my PhD in Philosophy from Villanova University (2016), I worked as a research associate at the Maimonides Centre for Advanced Studies at Universität Hamburg, where I led an interdisciplinary research initiative on Haptic Skepticism: the study of doubt as the force that sustains both desire and ethics. This project traced the theme of touch in ancient skepticism, German idealism, phenomenology, and psychoanalysis: schools of thought that describe the paradox of sensual and affective experience, while calling into question what we can know through touch and about touch. I draw on these movements to propose an ethics of touching that stresses the value of doubt and uncertainty for mutually transformative relationships. My ethical approach is aligned with aesthetics rather than epistemology, sensation (and hesitation) rather than certainty.

One of my articles, “Fantasies of Forgetting Our Mother Tongue,” on touch, language, and the disorientation of desire in the work of Augustine, Marx, and Derrida was awarded “2018 Best Submission by a Junior Scholar” by the Society of Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy. You may also download a collection of essays from our collaboration: A Touch of Doubt: On Haptic Scepticism (De Gruyter, 2020). My individual and collaborative research on Haptic Skepticism was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft — Project on Jewish Scepticism, The Slovenian Research Council, and The Humanities and Social Change International Foundation.

Musical counterparts to my philosophy.

image. (C) Robert Scott Whipkey 2020

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