Martin Shuster

APA Member Interview: Martin Shuster

Martin Shuster teaches at Goucher College in Baltimore, MD, where he is a member of the Center for Geographies of Justice and where he also directs the Judaic Studies program. In addition to many articles, he is the author of Autonomy after Auschwitz: Adorno, German Idealism, and Modernity (University of Chicago, 2014) and New Television: The Aesthetics and Politics of a Genre (University of Chicago, 2017).

What are you working on right now? 

As usual, I am working on roughly half a dozen things right now. With Anne O’Byrne, I am putting finishing touches on an edited collection that we’ve contracted with Indiana University Press called Logics of Genocide: The Structures of Violence and the Contemporary World. It is a collection of about 15 chapters that examines what might be termed genocidal structures, i.e., structures that are inherently violent in their function. It is a collection that builds on a workshop we hosted at the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum a couple of years ago.

With Henry Pickford, I am starting work on the Oxford Handbook of Theodor W. Adorno, which is something we are both very excited about. In addition to some book reviews (some great recent Adorno books, by Roger Foster and by Owen Hullat, respectively) and articles (one each on Maimonides, on Rorty, and on Bergson), I am also actively working on my next monograph, which is a book tentatively titled Our Idol Still: State, Nation, and Genocide that starts with certain empirical claims that historians and IR theorists (notably, Mark Levene, Donald Bloxham, Heather Rae) have been making about how the state structure itself is the greatest input to the perpetration of genocide. I want to confirm their empirical discoveries by laying out a political theoretical argument that shows how genocide emerges as a structural necessity for states. It is hard work because I feel like I have to think about various aspects of the history of both particular states and of particular theories of the state (and, of course, the relationship between them). Haiti and the Haitian revolution is emerging as a locus right now, doubly so because Hegel will be an important figure and I’ve found Susan Buck-Morss’s recent book to be a good initial step.

Finally, with Daniela Ginsburg, I am awaiting the copy edits to our translation of Jean-François Kervégan’s magisterial L’Effectif et le rationnel. Hegel et l’esprit objectif, which University of Chicago will publish next summer.

What are you reading right now? 

I have a habit of reading many books at one time, at least one of which has to be fiction. So, right now I am finishing up four books. The first is Yerushalmi’s Freud’s Moses, which is something I’ve somehow managed not to read very seriously until now (embarrassing I know), in preparation for my seminar on Freud. I am also finishing up Terry Pinkard’s Does History Make Sense? and Rebecca Bartlett-Fox’s God Hates Westboro Church, American Nationalism, and the Religious Right. My fiction title at the moment is China Miéville’s Iron Council. I recommend all of these books; I try to read widely as I think it makes one a better thinker, not only conceptually (being exposed to a wide variety of ideas), but also stylistically: just to see how people write and craft arguments and prose. I also just find it fun.

Which books have changed your life? In what ways? 

Hegel’s Phenomenology likely had the most profound effect on me philosophically, since it first made me realize that there was a method of doing philosophy—as intimately involving history, but not thereby somehow reducible to intellectual history—that I simply had not encountered before (my philosophical development until then had been chiefly Quine and Davidson). Kant’s 1st Critique was also pivotal for showing how powerful philosophy—as a sustained inquiry—could be. Equally important to me was reading the books now known as the Hebrew Bible in their original Hebrew; it was only then that I realized how complex these texts are and how many deep, philosophical issues are embedded in them, and how the text will easily bear a lifetime of study. Finally, both Richard Rorty’s Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity and Stanley Cavell’s Claim of Reason had profound effects on me. The former I encountered prior to discovering the Phenomenology and it set a model for how one might write and how one might aspire to comport oneself (i.e. the necessity of reading ‘everything’ and by asking questions that one took to be valuable, whether others took them to be valuable or not … and, of course, also by not hesitating to step on some toes). The latter I encountered early in graduate school. When I first read it—I have to say that I didn’t get much out of it and thought even less of it. But over the years, I found myself coming back to it, and engaging with it in oftentimes quite deep ways, until it had emerged as an important text to me, one that—in addition to raising some key philosophical questions about what it means to be human—also introduced to me the importance of a particular model of writing and thinking about philosophy that I find commendable: the focus on precision and beauty in one’s writing, the necessity of pursuing one’s desires, and, above all, the possibility of leaving philosophy behind if need be. Since then, I’ve encountered these elements in the figures Cavell draws on (most notably, I think, Freud), but that has in no way diminishing my respect for and attraction to Cavell’s work.

What time of day are you most productive and creative?

From about 10pm until midnight.  Unfortunately I also need (want? aspire?) to rise early, and so most nights I have to skip this time.

What three items would you take to a desert island other than food and water?

I’m assuming I can’t take friends or family, which would be quite unfortunate. But if I’m to be completely alone, I want a sizable and solid weight lifting setup, a record player with Gang of Four, Miles, and Beatles albums, and all 63 tractates of the Talmud.

What’s your poison?

I love whisky. My two favorites are a Bourbon called George T. Stagg and a Scotch called Springbank, which is from a region called Cambeltown, which I find utterly unique compared to all of the other whisky regions in Scotland (although I also love Islay whiskies, especially Ardbeg). In fact, one of my favorite conference moments is actually drinking flights of scotch at some incredible dive bar we found at the AAR with philosopher and (soon-to-be) podcast extraordinaire, Ada Jaarsma. I also feel like I should mention an Irish whisky, so let me say that Connemara is fantastic.

What’s your top tip or advice for APA members reading this?

Probably: stop reading this and go do something better with your time?

Find out more about Martin here.

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This section of the APA Blog is designed to get to know our fellow philosophers a little better. We’re including profiles of APA members that spotlight what captures their interest not only inside the office, but also outside of it. We’d love for you to be a part of it, so please contact us via the interview nomination form here to nominate yourself or a friend.

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