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Publishing Words to Prevent Them from Becoming True: The Radical Praxis of Günther Anders


The German-Jewish philosopher and anti-nuclear activist Günther Anders (1902-1992) had an extremely long and prolific career as a public intellectual. Foremost among his concerns was understanding the implications of the nuclear age. Though he was immersed in a vibrant and influential circle of 20th-century intellectuals including Hannah Arendt and Theodore Adorno, he is little known in the English-speaking world. Previous work in English has surveyed and situated Anders in his philosophical milieu and undertaken investigations of his arc as a post-Marxist critic of technology; more broadly, Anders is generally viewed as an anti-nuclear theoretician. This dissertation views Anders first and foremost as an organizer and activist, one who pursued writerly attempts to grapple with a movement mobilization problem across three eras of anti-nuclear protest. I argue that Anders' philosophy is best viewed as a series of imaginative interventions intended to enable people to undertake resistance within the confines of the nuclear security state. I approach the argument in four chapters. In the first, I show how Anders reacted to crises of competence and authority by recruiting a network of prestigious scientific correspondents. The second chapter examines his epistolary exchange with the former bomber pilot Claude Eatherly in order to see how the philosopher attempted to frame and deploy Eatherly as a moral exemplar and unifying activist symbol. The third examines the tensions between Anders' exacting literary standards and the global demands of translation for a multilingual, international activist audience. The final chapter follows Anders to the limits of writerly language and analyzes the philosopher's eventual endorsement of violence. Ultimately, I show that Anders' concrete, occasional methods for philosophy were overwhelmed by his inability to maintain contact with rapidly fragmenting, highly changeable arrays of affiliation and identification within the activist milieus of the late Cold War.

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