Thompson Rivers University

New book gets New York minute

June 13, 2016

Existential Monday: Philosophical Essays of Benjamin Fondane, launches in New York this week. The collection was introduced, edited and translated by philosophy professor Dr. Bruce Baugh.

So often in life, when we go looking for one thing we end up uncovering something else entirely and the end result becomes more rewarding than we could have anticipated.

Such was the case for Dr. Bruce Baugh who discovered Benjamin Fondane in 1988 while in France researching the German philosopher Georg Hegel. The resulting book, French Hegel: From Surrealism to Postmodernism, published in 2003, and included half a chapter on poet and philosopher Benjamin Fondane.

“I wanted to know what French philosophers had been saying about Hegel,” explained Baugh, a Professor in the Faculty of Arts. “I discovered Fondane and was intrigued. He is not an academic philosopher at all, but an essayist — a philosopher, but also a poet.”

That half-chapter provided the spark, and soon Baugh would be invited to a colloquium in Peyresq, France, devoted entirely to Fondane’s work. That colloquium formed the basis for his next research journey. On June 16, Existential Monday: Philosophical Essays, edited, introduced and translated by Baugh, launches at the Manhattan-based bookstore Albertine. Existential Monday is the first collection of Fondane’s philosophical essays to be published in English.

Baugh began translating Fondane’s essays from French to English in 2006. During his sabbatical in Avignon, France, in 2010-2011, he made routine trips to Paris to conduct research at the national library. When he returned to TRU, he sought out Faculty of Arts Senior Lecturer Dr. Annette Dominik, who applied her critical eye to the translations.

“Fondane’s writing is very intense, ironic and sarcastic, and it is so insightful. He was much closer in comparison to the French philosophers who came to light in the 1960s — truly, he was ahead of his time,” said Baugh.

Fondane was a Romanian Jew who emigrated to France in 1923 with a reading knowledge of the language and a passion for French literature. By 1929 he was publishing poetry in French, and he was prolific. Fondane was killed at Auschwitz in 1944, and is considered a Holocaust poet.

“But that’s too reductive,” said Baugh. “Often times we end up reading stories about people’s lives from the ending, but when he was writing in the 1930s he could not know what awaited him.

“In a sense, he could see ahead. He could see the growing danger in Europe. In 1934 he wrote an essay asking people to resist fascism. He had an idea of what could happen, but of course not in terms of his own personal fate, or in terms of the extermination of the Jews.”

Existential Monday is available through New York Review Books:

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Dr. Bruce Baugh