Sceptical Atelier: Salomon Maimon
Salomon Maimon’s "Lebensgeschichte": Reading a new English translation
February 06-10, 2017
Yitzhak Melamed (Johns Hopkins University/USA), Stephan Schmid (Universität Hamburg/Germany)
Salomon Maimon’s Lebensgeschichte has fascinated readers ever since its first publication in 1792/3. In light of Maimon’s exceptionally vivid description of his life as a Talmudic prodigy from—as he puts it—‘the woods of Lithuania,’ a preadolescent husband, an aspiring kabbalist-magician, an earnest young philosopher, a bedraggled beggar, an urbane Berlin pleasure-seeker, a Hamburg gymnasiast, and, eventually, the philosopher of whom Kant would speak in highest terms, the widely shared fascination with and admiration of his Lebensgeschichte should not come as a surprise.
At the same time, fascination with Maimon’s vivid prose led later editors of this text to omit the philosophical passages found in his original version, which they found anathematic or even obstructive to the narrative of Maimon’s thrilling life story, or to banish them to appendices. In fact, there is no modern edition of Maimon’s Lebensgeschichte (whether in German, Hebrew, or English) which preserves the original order of the text. Given that it was via his Lebensgeschichte that Maimon publicly introduced himself (under his newly adopted pseudonym ‘Maimon’) into the philosophical scene of the German Enlightenment, the omission of Maimon’s philosophical ‘digressions’ constitutes a fatal distortion of the original text: it prevents modern readers from seeing the extent to which Maimon conceived of himself as picking up the Jewish rationalist tradition founded by his medieval namesake Moshe ben Maimon (or Maimonides) so as to transpose it into transcendental philosophical terms inspired by Kant.
The Sceptical Atelier on Maimon’s Lebensgeschichte will consist of an intense close-reading workshop in which we will discuss a new English translation of this text prepared by Paul Reitter (The Ohio State University) and edited by Yitzhak Y. Melamed (Johns Hopkins University) and Abraham P. Socher (Oberlin College), which is the first modern edition of Maimon’s Lebensgeschichte to preserve its original order. The collaborative study of this text promises to foster a deeper and better understanding not only of Maimon’s intellectual biography, but also of his philosophical thinking in general. The Atelier is a pre-read event devoted to a chapter by chapter discussion of the book (devoting roughly one hour to each chapter). Required readings will be made available by January 15, 2017.
- Leora Batnitzky (Princeton University/USA)
- Florian Ehrensperger (University of British Columbia/Canada)
- Warren Zev Harvey (Hebrew University of Jerusalem/Israel)
- Moshe Idel (Hebrew University of Jerusalem/Israel)
- Yitzhak Melamed (Johns Hopkins University/USA)
- Ada Rapoport-Albert (University College London/UK)
- Paul Reitter (Ohio State University/USA)
- Oded Schechter (HSE Moscow/Russia)
- Stephan Schmid (Universität Hamburg/Germany)
- Abraham Socher (Oberlin College/USA)
- Shaul Stampfer (Hebrew University of Jerusalem/Israel)
Schmid, Stephan and Yitzhak Melamed. "Report on the Sceptical Atelier on Maimon's Lebensgeschichte (6–9 February, 2017)." In Yearbook of the Maimonides Centre for Advanced Studies 2017, edited by Bill Rebiger, 293–298. Boston, Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2017.