If you’ve ever considered drawing up a list of the most debased words, allow me to nominate radical. If you call someone a “radical thinker,” for instance, a great many listeners might assume you mean something along the lines of “cool thinker.” While we do tend to find thinkers cool here at Open Culture, more interesting usages exist. Some interpret the meaning of “radical thinker” as closer to “thinker of very different thoughts than everyone else,” and hit closer to the mark though they may, you can bet that someone else nearby has readied themselves to denounce the thinker in question as not nearly radical enough to qualify for the label. Like any complex word, phrase, or other element of language, we may have to define radical by looking at examples. Luckily, the Guardian and Verso Books have put together Radical Thinkers, a series of three-minute videos profiling exactly those.
In each video, a modern academic delivers a three-minute lecture on a radical thinker of choice, drawing on a book in Verso’s Radical Thinkers editions. “Ordinarily, we are more or less resigned to the world as it is,” says Peter Hallward of Kingston University, standing in London’s Housmans (“Radical Booksellers Since 1945”), summarizing Alan Badiou’s Ethics. “We adapt as best we can to the existing logic of the system, of the established order of things. We get a job, we go through life as best we can, we get by. What Badiou calls ethics is essentially the discipline and resources you need in order to resist those temptations to abandon or betray or give up on something.” Stella Stanford, also of Kingston, takes on Wilhelm Reich’s Sex-Pol in the Freud Museum. This radical thinker, she says, “argued against Freud’s view that sexual repression was the condition of possibility for all civilization. He used the same kind of anthropological work that Freud himself used to argue that sexual freedom and civilization were compatible.”
The Radical Thinkers series has three more videos: Esther Leslie in Camden Market on Max Horkheimer’s Critique of Instrumental Reason (above), an indictment of the Enlightenment’s failure to deliver a rational society.
Federico Campagna in his kitchen on Simon Critchley’s Infinitely Demanding, a look into the inevitably disappointed heart of modern liberal democracy.
And Nina Power on Ludwig Feuerbach’s Christianity-criticizing collection of writings The Fiery Brook.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.