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Fire Backstage

Philip Rieff and the Monastery of Culture


Christopher Cain Elliott

At present, the name and writings of Philip Rieff (1922-2006) hang under a sign of neglect. This book is an attempt to identify precisely what has been lost through this lack of critical attention, arguing that Rieff’s lifework marks a singular contribution to the fields of reactionary apocalyptics and social and cultural studies. Providing a working definition for the horizon of contemporary Jewish philosophy, this book also suggests how Rieff uniquely contributes to this field of speculative inquiry with an insufficiently appreciated, but essential, theory of psycho-theology


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Conclusion End Game


R. Eleazar says, “[One who fasts] is called holy, as Scripture states [concerning the Nazirite], ‘He shall remain consecrated, the hair of his head being left to grow un- trimmed.’ (Num 6:5) And if this one [i.e., the Nazirite], who denied himself only one thing [i.e., wine and other grape products], is called holy, how much more so one who denies himself everying.” - Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Ta’anit, cited by Eliezer Diamond in Holy Men and Hunger Artists Setting the Stage At present, theorists are generally willing to avoid the necessary sins and embar- rassments that must accompany any effort to re-imagine the social order, trans- lating visions of the possible worlds of tomorrow in descriptive or prescriptive terms. And this timidity of thought, a sidestepping of responsibility, is by and large commended as an ethical refusal of Syracusan or idolatrous ambition, as if the ends of intellectual labor were only to be found in resignation. We are con- gratulatory in our refusals to step back into life by imagining it as transformed. But as has already been made clear, Rieff’s late work did not know such false modesty.314 And in the second volume of SO, he manages to provide an imagi- native and altogether uncommon vision of the social world under the suspended sign of redemption, which he calls the “fourth culture”. In taking this last step, I think Rieff finally made judicious and substantive use of the audacity that can only belong to a thinker who is...

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