My first book ‘Wittgenstein and Lacan at the Limit: meaning and astonishment’ (2019) brings together the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Jacques Lacan around their treatments of ‘astonishment,’ an experience of being struck by something that appears to be extraordinarily significant. Both thinkers have a central interest in the dissatisfaction with meaning that these experiences generate when we attempt to articulate them, to bring language to bear on them. I argue that this frustration and difficulty with meaning reveals a more fundamental characteristic of our sense-making capacities –namely, their groundlessness. Instead of disappointment with language’s sense-making capacities, I argue that Wittgenstein and Lacan can help us find in this revelation of meaning’s groundlessness an opportunity to acknowledge our own involvement in meaning, to creatively participate in it and thereby to enrich our forms of life with language. You can listen to my introductory podcast at the Monocle Weekly radio show on the topic of astonishment here.
My second and forthcoming book focuses on wonder and anxiety as encounters with nothing that can offer us a valuable insight about the kind of being that we are. Here is a short description: Living a life comes with a degree of usualness and familiarity. Waking up, brushing our teeth, reaching for our iPhone, kissing our loved ones, cooking, daydreaming, meeting friends, working; these are some of the simple ways in which we find ourselves always already in the midst of activities, habits and involvements. Although something unexpected or extraordinary, like a divorce or a pandemic, are obvious ways in which this flow of familiarity can be interrupted, this book deals, instead, with cases of being shaken out of the usual when nothing has changed, when the same beings and activities that had so far appeared familiar suddenly feel most unfamiliar. But how can what is most usual become most unusual, when nothing has changed? Anxiety versus fear, wonder versus curiosity are some of the ways in which philosophers have described such moments as encounters with nothing. What does it mean to be anxious in the face of nothing in particular, and to wonder at the mere fact that anything exists, rather than nothing? And why are these moments so significant? For Kierkegaard anxiety is a door to freedom, for Heidegger wonder is a distress that opens us to the truth of Being, and for Wittgenstein wonder and anxiety are deeply connected to the ethical. Bringing into dialogue different voices from philosophy and psychoanalysis, the book argues that encounters with nothing matter because they bring into view what is most inconspicuous and fundamental about the human condition and what makes it possible to encounter anything at all, our distinct capacity for sense-making.