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April 25, 2009, 2:30 PM

On Aggression: The Politics and Psychobiology of Evil

Participants: Richard Bernstein, Jacques Lezra, Edward Nersessian, Kent Reynolds, Joel Whitebook

"The motive hunting of motiveless malignity" is a famous line that Coleridge wrote in his copy of Othello. Everybody has a little larceny in their souls, but there are those singular human beings who seem to be agents of Lucifer. Hitler certainly represents a form of evil that falls outisde the scale of human psychological consideration. But where, for example, do huxters, grifters, scam artists, and frauds stand in this context? Dahmer and other serial killers might qualify, but their acts seem to beg some kind of psychological understanding. And how do catastrophic events like Pompeii or, in recent history, the Tsunamis in Southeast Asia reconcile with a beneficent view of nature and belief in a higher power or God? If there is a God, is such a being or force indifferent or even retributive? And what is the effect of extreme manifestations of evil on our faith in the enlightened notions of science and reason? These and other questions will be addressed in this final roundtable in the series, On Aggression.

Richard Bernstein is Vera List Professor of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research. He is the author of Radical Evil: A Philosophical Interrogation and The Abuse of Evil: The Corruption of Politics and Religion since 9/11.

Jacques Lezra is Professor of Comparative Literature, Spanish, Portuguese and English, and Chair of the Department of Comparative Literature at New York University. Previously he taught at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, at Yale, Harvard, and at the Bread Loaf School of English. Lezra's research concerns the literature, philosophy, and visual culture of the early modern period (Shakespeare, Cervantes, Descartes, Velazquez), as well as contemporary ethical philosophy. He has published Unspeakable Subjects: The Genealogy of the Event in Early Modern Europe and edited Spanish Republic and Depositions: Althusser, Balibar, Macherey and the Labor of Reading. His 1992 translation into Spanish of Paul de Man's Blindness and Insight won the PEN Critical Editions Award. Lezra's next book, Wild Materialism: The Ethic of Terror in the Modern Republic, will be published in 2009. Economia politica del alma: El suceso cervantino, a book on the political economy of the soul in Cervantes, is also in press and will appear this fall.

Edward Nersessian is Co-Director of the Philoctetes Center. He is Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Weil-Cornell Medical College, and a Training & Supervising Psychoanalyst at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute.

Kent Reynolds is a Post-Doctoral Fellow and Biblical Languages Instructor at the Union Theological Seminary. Previously, Dr. Reynolds served as a lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In his current research, Dr. Reynolds focuses on the pedagogic nature of texts in the Hebrew Bible, especially in the area of character formation, and how these texts were received and transmitted by the earliest interpreters. He has several studies in process, including a book on Psalm 119, a collection of essays, and conference presentations. Dr. Reynolds has published an article in Vetus Testamentum and has a forthcoming article in Zeitschrift für Althebräistik.

Joel Whitebook is a philosopher and practicing psychoanalyst. He is on the faculty of the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research and, beginning in fall of 2010, he will be Director of the Psychoanalytic Studies Program in Columbia's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. He is writing an intellectual biography of Freud for Cambridge University Press and his book, Der gefesselte Odysseus: Studien zur Kritischen Theorie und Psychoanalyse has just been published by Campus Verlag.


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