von Redecker cover

Revolution for Life

Author Asal Dardan talks to critical theorist and public philosopher Eva von Redecker about Eva's book A Revolution for Life, described by the publisher as '..a new criticism of capitalism - and a declaration of love for human action.'

Asal Dardan: I’m so glad to have this opportunity to sit down with you, Eva, and to discuss your book Revolution For Life, which I think was one of the most important books published in Germany last year. I was tremendously inspired, not only by your razor-sharp analysis and clear line of argument, but also by the sheer originality and beauty of your prose. This inspiration fed into my own writing, and it feels as if that was something you set out to do – inspire others to join this revolutionary movement. How important is collaborative working and thinking for you? Who inspires you in your own work?

Eva von Redecker: You know what? That’s exactly it. Inspiring others as others have inspired me, that’s the key to creative abundance. So thank you for saying that; it means so much to me, especially since I have such deep respect for your writing. And, yes, there also is a more close-knit, collaborative context. I share a library and a kitchen with several people, amongst them the writer Lucy Duggan, who translated my previous book into English. I remember that time when she read us one of her short stories, and I found it so amazing, it just expanded my brain. And suddenly I had the headspace to bring together the argument that runs through my book. Poetry can have the same effect – I try to follow the English scene a bit. Kate Tempest of course, but also Laura Theis, Phoebe Nicholson… Their work allows us to see so many things at once, without losing the specifics. Which can be a very humbling experience for a philosopher trying to fit a lot into their theory. 

That does sound inspiring and also quite agreeable. Speaking of poetry, your words remind me of Muriel Rukeyser’s Elegy in Joy, where she writes: “Love that gives us ourselves, in the world known to all // new techniques for the healing of the wound, and the unknown world.” This notion of love as the collective practice of nourishing and cherishing the beginnings of things, “the seeds of all things”, as she writes, feels relevant when reading your book. You think about new techniques of healing but also talk of our “wild interconnectedness with each other and with the world we all share” (wilde Verbundenheit miteinander und der geteilten Welt). But in a system built on exploitation, how can we return to ways of living together that give us ourselves?

Maybe healing is less agreeable than we think. If you look at it properly, it often involves pain, and even cold-bloodedness. It’s the opposite of saying that there’s no problem, or that we just all need to pull together. No. You need to identify the sources of harm; you need to block them. The line you quote reflects this, too: this new world is unknown to us. But the wound isn’t. And we can start from there. When I introduce the concept of “wild interconnectedness”, I’m talking about the idea of marooning. This is not a projection of natural, original wildness, which is just a colonial fantasy. The term “maroon” derives from a Spanish term for runaway livestock and was appropriated by Black people escaping enslavement in the Carribean and the Southern US. It refers to wildness after oppression, or to what one builds after breaking free. But, unlike liberation, it admits that there’s still a lot of oppression around. The best we’ve managed is the preliminary toppling of privilege through pockets of liberation. And these interstices need to grow together. You can call that building power, or revolution, or, indeed, healing.

Your main argument in the book is that in order to serve and preserve life, we have to move beyond capitalism. When you describe alternative social forms, you hold back from creating a purely utopian vision, speaking instead of radical social movements such as Black Lives Matter and NiUnaMenos as the precursors of better forms and practices. These international examples suggest that a revolution for life can only be relevant if it extends beyond national borders and languages. Could you tell me a bit more about the practices you have in mind?

The book traces what I think of as alternative approaches to life, different from the ones we have learned from capitalism. Dismantling dominion and exploitation, making Black and migrant lives matter, focusing on the work of caring, sharing resources, maintaining livelihoods. 

I am totally into all practices that go beyond merely putting the brakes on. People like to quote Walter Benjamin, who said that revolution might not be the locomotive of history, as Marx thought, but rather its emergency brake. If only! At present, stopping doesn’t solve our problems either. The beauty of the Marxist image was the idea that we could appropriate all the power generated by humankind. Take over the engine, and the factories, and all the riches. But now we know that those riches have also produced enormous amounts of toxicity, toxicity that has spread around the entire globe and is just as unequally distributed as the riches. This would remain even if we stopped the machine. So the task is not just conquest, it’s also regeneration.  

What are your thoughts on your book being translated into other languages? What are your expectations, given that it will be read in other social and political contexts than your own?

It’s different for different languages. I live most of my everyday life in English and do some of my writing in it. With my previous book, it was such a relief to publish the English version, like letting something out into the daylight, being able to share it with my many interlocutors who don’t read German. I hope to feel that again. The French version of Revolution for Life was much more unexpected, and I felt such wonder and amazement to be getting the text back with questions from the translator; but otherwise it felt like something that I couldn’t keep up with any more. The words are there, and I can’t even judge whether they might be improved since I don’t have the mastery of the language. For the other languages (Spanish, Korean, Greek) I won’t be able to help at all. It’s as though the book suddenly really is finished. As for the social and political context, I think that is entirely for readers to determine, and I don’t know them yet. That’s where the power of the book ends. And I am very very curious.

Revolution for Life was chosen by the New Books in German jury and so qualifies for translation funding subsidy from the Goethe-Institut if the rights are bought by an English-language publisher.

TRANSLATIONS into French (by Olivier Mannoni) forthcoming with Payot & Rivages, Korean with Minumsa, Spanish with Editiones Ubu and Greek with Gutenberg.

Eva von Redecker photo
© Paula WInkler

Eva von Redecker is a German critical theorist and public philosopher, writing about social change, modern property, and sometimes even life and death. She grew up on a small organic farm and still prefers living in the countryside to inhabiting metropoles.

At present, Eva holds a Marie-Skłodowska-Curie-fellowship at the University of Verona, where she pursues a research project on authoritarianism (PhantomAiD). Previously, she has worked as research associate at Humboldt-University, Berlin (2009 to 2019) and acted as deputy director of the Berlin Center for Humanities and Social Change. She also visited the New School for Social Research as Heuss lecturer and spent a semester at Cambridge University during her PhD.

Eva’s take on oppressive populism is developed in her article “Ownership’s Shadow”. The English translation of her 2018 monograph Praxis und Revolution is forthcoming with Columbia University Press in August 2021.

Asal Dardan © Sarah Berger

Asal Dardan, is an author and editor. Her writing has appeared in Zeit OnlineFrankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Neues Deutschland, among others. Her book Betrachtungen einer Barbarin (Observations of a Barbarian) is available with Hoffman und Campe and has been nominated for the 2021 German nonfiction prize. Her text Neue Jahre won her the Caroline Schlegel Essay Prize. Having spent several years on the Swedish island of Öland, Asal Dardan now lives with her family in Berlin.

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Funding for authors from Germany

Costs of translation into English are supported by our partner the Goethe-Institut.

Funding for authors from Austria

Costs of translation into English are supported by our partner the Federal Ministry for Arts, Culture, the Civil Service and Sport.

Funding for authors from Switzerland

Costs of translation into English are supported by our partner the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia.

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