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Dancing in the Service of Thought

Jonathan Rée: Kierkegaard, 4 August 2005

Søren Kierkegaard: A Biography 
by Joakim Garff, translated by Bruce Kirmmse.
Princeton, 867 pp., £22.95, January 2005, 9780691091655
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... Søren Kierkegaard spent much of the summer of 1855 staring out of the windows of his cramped second-floor apartment in the centre of old Copenhagen, across the road from the Church of Our Lady. He knew the building well, but the prospect did not please him. As a student, hapless and heavily in debt, he used to take communion there with his ancient and immovably melancholy father; but that was long ago, and he had been an erratic and inconsistent churchgoer since that time ...

Bound to be in the wrong

Jonathan Rée: Camus and Sartre, 20 January 2005

Camus and Sartre: The Story of a Friendship and the Quarrel that Ended It 
by Ronald Aronson.
Chicago, 291 pp., £23, February 2005, 0 226 02796 1
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... The heroes of Albert Camus’s books can be quite annoying: surly, self-dramatising Hamlets who like to think of themselves as strong, silent loners, wise to human folly. But although they are often arrogant, self-absorbed and predictable, they are also susceptible to the weather, and happy to be upstaged by unseasonable storms, torpid nights, fierce sunlight, or the chance of a swim in the limpid sea ...

A Few Home Truths

Jonathan Rée: R.G. Collingwood, 19 June 2014

R.G. Collingwood: ‘An Autobiography’ and Other Writings, with Essays on Collingwood’s Life and Work 
edited by David Boucher and Teresa Smith.
Oxford, 581 pp., £65, December 2013, 978 0 19 958603 5
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... An Autobiography​ ’ by R.G. Collingwood must be one of the most popular philosophical books in the English language, but when it was published in 1939, it was not expected to do well. Collingwood warned Oxford University Press that it was ‘destitute of all that makes autobiography saleable’. It was going to be a ‘dead loss’, he said, and in a preface he offered a pre-emptive apology: he was a philosopher by vocation – had been as long as he could remember – so the story of his life could not be anything more than a compendium of abstract ideas ...

Dispersed and Distracted

Jonathan Rée: Leibniz, 25 June 2009

Leibniz: An Intellectual Biography 
by Maria Rosa Antognazza.
Cambridge, 623 pp., £25, November 2008, 978 0 521 80619 0
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... When Queen Anne died in August 1714, the news was received with excitement in the medieval town of Hanover in Lower Saxony. Under the terms of the Act of Settlement of 1701, Anne’s death meant that Georg Ludwig, the stolid local duke, was about to become the next occupant of the English throne. A month later he was on his way to London with his German-speaking retinue, ready for his coronation in October and a new life as the first King George of Great Britain and Ireland ...


Jonathan Rée: Ventriloquists, 10 May 2001

Dumbstruck: A Cultural History of Ventriloquism 
by Steven Connor.
Oxford, 449 pp., £25, November 2000, 0 19 818433 6
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... In October 1951 one of the biggest celebrities of British radio entertainment went missing in the course of a railway journey from London to Leeds. His disappearance coincided with Labour’s defeat in the general election, and to many people it came as an even greater shock. He had been doing his cheeky-boy routines on the wireless since 1944, and for the past two years had been starring in his own show on the Light Programme and getting a weekly audience approaching 12 million (roughly the same as Coronation Street today ...

Peas in a Matchbox

Jonathan Rée: ‘Being and Nothingness’, 18 April 2019

Being and Nothingness: An Essay in Phenomenology and Ontology 
by Jean-Paul Sartre, translated by Sarah Richmond.
Routledge, 848 pp., £45, June 2019, 978 0 415 52911 2
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... At the turn​ of the 20th century, Gaston Gallimard was one of many suave young men about Paris with exquisite taste in literature, music and art. Then he became friends not only with Proust, but also with Gide, who in 1908 started the monthly Nouvelle Revue Française in the hope of helping a ‘rising generation’ to escape the suffocating plushness of ‘yesterday’s writers ...

Strenuous Unbelief

Jonathan Rée: Richard Rorty, 15 October 1998

Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in 20th-Century America 
by Richard Rorty.
Harvard, 107 pp., £12.50, May 1998, 9780674003118
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Truth and Progress: Philosophical Papers, Vol. III 
by Richard Rorty.
Cambridge, 355 pp., £40, June 1998, 0 521 55347 4
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... Back in the Sixties, before he became the bad boy of American philosophy, Richard Rorty struck his colleagues as a safe and promising young man. His first book, published in 1967, was an anthology of Essays in Philosophical Method designed to document the reorientations in analytic philosophy that followed Rudolf Carnap’s move from Germany to the US in 1935 ...

Gabble, Twitter and Hoot

Ian Hacking: Language, deafness and the senses, 1 July 1999

I See a Voice: A Philosophical History of Language, Deafness and the Senses 
by Jonathan Rée.
HarperCollins, 399 pp., £19.99, January 1999, 0 00 255793 2
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... Jonathan Rée takes some tomfoolery from Shakespeare for his title and uses it to create his own striking metaphor. The middle part of his book is about sign languages for the deaf: voices that one sees. The same trope served Oliver Sacks in Seeing Voices: A Journey into the World of the Deaf (1989), but there is more to it than that for Rée ...

The Bad News about the Resistance

Neal Ascherson: Parachuted into France, 30 July 2020

A Schoolmaster’s War: Harry Rée, British Agent in the French Resistance 
edited by Jonathan Rée.
Yale, 204 pp., £14.99, March, 978 0 300 24566 0
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... Marie​ Fouillette died in France in 1975. By then, Harry Rée was a teacher at Woodberry Down Comprehensive in North London, back doing the job he loved best. But a little over thirty years before, they had been together in the French Resistance. Harry (‘Henri’ or ‘César’) was an agent of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), parachuted in by London to organise the local ‘maquis’ to carry out sabotage in the Franche-Comté, up against the Swiss border ...

Thou shalt wage class war

Gareth Stedman Jones, 1 November 1984

Proletarian Philosophers: Problems in Socialist Culture in Britain 1900-1940 
by Jonathan Rée.
Oxford, 176 pp., £15, February 1984, 0 19 827261 8
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... the strange career and ultimate oblivion of this indigenous philosophy of the self-taught that Jonathan Rée’s Proletarian Philosophers is concerned. To understand who Craik was, it is necessary to go back to 1909, the year of a celebrated strike at Ruskin College, Oxford. The students of the newly-founded college – mainly miners and ...


Will Self: On the Common, 25 February 2010

... University philosophy faculty; Esther Leslie, a professor of political aesthetics at Birkbeck; and Jonathan Rée, who was dashingly trailed as a ‘freelance historian and scholar’. Their subject: the Frankfurt School. And what could be a more fitting podcast – I thought to myself as I set off across the muddy grass – than a consideration of those ...

Being that can be understood is language

Richard Rorty: H.-G. Gadamer, 16 March 2000

... in turn, is simply the history of the uses of the various words used to describe the object. As Jonathan Rée has suggested in his recent I See a Voice, objects are like onions: lots of layers made up of descriptions (the further into the onion, the earlier the description), but without a nonlinguistic core that will be revealed once those layers have ...

Making It Up

Raphael Samuel, 4 July 1996

Raymond Williams 
by Fred Inglis.
Routledge, 333 pp., £19.99, October 1995, 0 415 08960 3
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... to the biological and technological determinism of those ‘proletarian philosophers’ about whom Jonathan Rée and Stuart MacIntyre have written so illuminatingly, the writers and lecturers of the Plebs League (one of the many possible feeders of Williams’s thought, as of the adult education movement, who are absent from Inglis’s text). Raymond ...

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