Gillian Rose as Implacable Educator

“By its very nature all philosophy may be said to be a devising of strategies for intellectual transcendence, an attempt to rise above the mere clash of opposing partial truths at the level of ‘opinion’. Thinking at the level of ‘opinion’ is thinking entirely trapped within a given viewpoint, belonging to a particular historic time and place. Philosophy by contrast seeks to penetrate to the eternal: the most comprehensive possible overview. For Plato’s Socrates this is essentially a process of ‘recollection; a turning backwards, to uncover what one’s experience has already, in fact, potentially taught one, but what, for lack of questioning, one has not yet understood.”

  • from Andrew Shanks, Against Innocence

I’m amused how Shanks, in his way, attempts to deter a naive reader from tackling his subject, Gillian Rose’s work, writing, “. . . she abandons all pretence of seamless argument. The argument of [her most momentous book] The Broken Middle jumps, in mind-boggling-fashion, from topic to topic. Fragments of philosophy, theology, political theory, historiography and biography, anthropology, literary criticism and theory of architecture are thrown all higgledy-piggledy together. The underlying coherence of her thought is systematically covered by a surface show of randomness.” Shanks goes on to say, “This is difficult writing, not at all because it is inept, but because it is an attempt, in the most direct way possible to enact the intrinsic difficulty of ‘absolute knowing’.”

Furthermore, Shanks adds, ” . . . as an educator she is implacable. Her ambition for us knows no limits. In The Broken Middle, for instance, she discusses Hegel, Adorno again, Kierkegaard, Maurice Blanchot, Franz Kafka, Sigmund Freud, Thomas Mann, René Girard, Rahel Varnhagen, Rosa Luxembourg, Hannah Arendt, Emmanual Levinas, Franz Rosenzweig, Emil Fackenheim and various others”, and further, “Her book reads like an accumulation of marginal notes compiled originally for herself alone, on these texts – abstruse musings, studded with arcane witticisms.”

For a naive reader, sufficiently curious about Rose and her work, to buy and read Shanks’ excellent book and his elegant warnings–as he is of course all too aware– just serve to take one deeper down the Gillian Rose rabbit hole. His admonitions serve as the sign above another forbidding portal–”All hope abandon ye who enter here.”

6 thoughts on “Gillian Rose as Implacable Educator

  1. I don’t quite get your point here. Are you saying that going down the ‘rabbit-hole’ opens up wonderlands for us or that Shanks is scaring us off from reading her?

  2. Both, in a way. Rose is an extraordinary thinker that deserves to be much more widely discussed, and more than capable of offering opportunities of intellectual transcendence. The frequent warnings offered by Shanks (and others) that her writing is forbiddingly difficult is, I assume, done with a wink, otherwise why write her intellectual biography in the first place?

  3. I suppose he might be trying to flatter his readers into imagining themselves as specially gifted readers. Gillian Rose’s work is, indeed, readable!

  4. I have read ‘Love’s Work’ and the Adorno book. The first was an entertaining read for voyeuristic reasons (also the part of ‘Paradisos’ I read for the same lowly reasons) and the second was required reading for professional reasons. I enjoyed both and found them very readable. Much more so than the secondary literature. J. M. Bernstein’s – another Adorno scholar and Rose’s student – “obituary” is a fascinating read (

    • Bernstein’s piece is very useful. Thanks, Markku. I’m going to read The Broken Middle and also like the look of Mourning Becomes the Law: Philosophy And Representation.

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