“Only a being who is finite and anxious about their finitude can lead a spiritual life.”
What if we treated our finite lives as a feature instead of a bug? How would we revalue our time and how could that shape our society? In his new book, This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom (Pantheon Books), Professor Martin Hagglund explores how life becomes enriched when we discard the eternal in favor of seeing the lives we live together as the highest good. We talk about how the notion of an afterlife devalues the life we live, the ways our implicit experiences are rendered explicit by philosophy and literature, and how a rethinking of the value of our time can lead to a revaluing of labor and a critique of capital (no, really!). We get into my favorite topic — anxiety! — as well as the inextricability of existential and economic questions, the invisible labor that makes our lives possible/comfortable, the conceptions of time and memory captured by Proust and Knausgaard, the all-important difference between valuing socially necessary labor time and socially available free time, and how the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. embodies a lot of Martin’s arguments about finitude and a better world. Give it a listen! And go buy This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom!
“If you’re really going to think about the relation of time and value, you’re going to end up in economics, but not in the modern sense, but the economy as intrinsic to social relations and spiritual life itself.”
“As a kid, I was interested in Bible exegeses, but for philosophical reasons.”
About our Guest
Martin Hägglund is a professor of comparative literature and humanities at Yale University. A member of the Society of Fellows at Harvard University, he is the author of three highly acclaimed books, and his work has been translated into eight languages. In his native Sweden, he published his first book, Chronophobia, at the age of twenty-five. His first book in English, Radical Atheism: Derrida and the Time of Life, was the subject of a conference at Cornell University and a colloquium at Oxford University. His most recent book, Dying for Time: Proust, Woolf, Nabokov, was hailed by the Los Angeles Review of Books as a “revolutionary” achievement. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2018. He lives in New York City. His new book is This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom.
Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at the Penguin Random House offices on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Nice photo of Prof Hägglund uncredited. Office photo of Prof. Hägglund by me. It’s on my instagram.