Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Barbarians, Babel and the Respublica Literaria: Cosmopolitanism Now and Tomorrow

Michael FitzGerald.

The theorisation of time and language has been one of the eminent preoccupations of twentieth century thought, and it has not been unusual for temporo-linguistic categories to insinuate themselves into the fundaments of political thinking. However, rather than pursue classicism's (which is to say, Lessing's) smooth, 'epic' model of the correlation between discourse and history, thinkers from Benjamin and Schmitt to Levinas and Derrida have retraced Romanticism's insistence on the irreducibility of the caesura and its analogues - the catastrophe, the revolution, the interruption and suspension of established temporalities. I examine, in fine, a history of attempts to derive the genuinely political from the breakdown and dissolution of politics - where this latter term is reserved for those more or less quotidian activities contrived to maintain the historical 'poise' of the incumbent regime. I note how one aspiration of this politics must be to impart narratival coherence to its own historicity, and, following Girard and Kearney, I turn my attention the remainder always produced by this abstraction - the 'stranger' or barbarian, whom I co-ordinate to the phenomena of interruption and disorder that I have earlier explored. Finally, considering 'echoes of Babel' in our time, I question the significance that the furtive presence of this stranger must have for the ongoing cosmopolitan, or cosmopolitical, project of humanism and the humanities.


Michael FitzGerald  (Australia)
PhD Candidate
Centre for Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies
Monash University

Michael FitzGerald holds honours degrees in Law and Arts from the University of Melbourne, and is currently a PhD candidate in the Centre for Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies at Monash University, where he is working on an archaeology of the concept of character. He has presented work on the phenomenology of testimony, the role of the character witness and the writings of Theophrastus. Presently, he is co-editing a collection of essays in jurisprudence, entitled Genres of Law, to which he has contributed a paper on violence in the thought of antiquity and modernity. He sits on the Publications Committee of Colloquy, an online journal for Australian postgraduate work in the humanities.

  • Politics and the Political
  • Caesura
  • Other, the

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)