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Now Available: Kierkegaard and the Matter of Philosophy

My book, Kierkegaard and the Matter of Philosophy: A Fractured Dialectic, is now available from Rowman & Littlefield.

If you are in the UK/Europe you can order it here and in North American you can order here.

(UPDATE: sadly the code only works in North America)

If you use the code’4eAPAE14′ you get 30% off, which makes this the most affordable way to get it.

Here are the endorsements for the book:

Burns presents us with a radical, political, materialist Kierkegaard. His argument is bold, counter-intuitive – and utterly persuasive. This book deserves to set the agenda for Kierkegaard studies for years to come.

Steven Shakespeare, Liverpool Hope University

Michael Burns, in his magisterial Kierkegaard and the Matter of Philosophy, achieves nothing less than doing for Kierkegaard what Slavoj Žižek has done for Hegel. While remaining faithful to core components of Kierkegaard’s philosophy, Burns sweeps aside accumulated received readings of him and constructs in their place the figure of a Kierkegaard deeply and undeniably relevant to today’s philosophical landscape as colored by innovative revivals of the legacies of German idealism and Marxism. Burns’s transcendental materialist Kierkegaard promises fundamentally to transform our understandings both of the past two centuries of European philosophy as well as of contemporary Continental metaphysics.

Adrian Johnston, Professor of Philosophy, University of New Mexico

Burns’ book is a seminal contribution to Kierkegaard scholarship. He convincingly shows against some widespread misconceptions that Kierkegaard’s thought implies a powerful contribution to ontology and to social and political thought. In addition to this novel approach to Kierkegaard, Burns defends the most relevant aspects of Kierkegaard in the context of contemporary philosophy. A very good book!

Markus Gabriel, Professor of Philosophy, University of Bonn

Forthcoming book: Kierkegaard and the Matter of Philosophy

I have not used this space in forever, but I figured it would be worth posting something about my (first) book which is being published this december. The book (which is as of now without cover art) is listed on the publisher’s website here and is currently available for pre-order on amazon here. The pre-order price has already gone up a few dollars this week, so if you are planning to buy the book you may save a bit of money this way.

Here is the table of contents:





1.1 J.G. Fichte

1.2 F.W.J. Schelling

1.3 G.W.F. Hegel

1.4 Contemporary readings of Idealism

1.5 Conclusion


2.1 The Concept of Irony

2.2 Actuality

2.3 An Introduction to Anxiety

2.4 The Instant

2.5 Freedom

2.6 Good and Evil

2.7 A Fractured Dialectic

2.8 Early Political Considerations


3.1 Despair

3.2 Faith and Paradox

3.3 Reflection and Consciousness

3.4 God and Transcendence

3.5 The Matter of Despair

3.6 From the Psychological to the Social


4.1 Previous Political Readings

4.2 The Present Age

4.3 The Age of Revolution

4.4 Political Ontology


5.1 Sartre’s Materialism

5.2 Critique of Dialectical Reason

5.3 Kierkegaard and Sartre

5.4 Badiou and the Paradox of the Event

5.5 Badiou and Kierkegaard

5.6 Badiou’s Theories of Subjectivity

5.7 Kierkegaard and Badiou

5.8 Kierkegaard Contra Badiou


I will be posting more information, and hopefully some excerpts, in the next few months leading up to its release. If anyone is interested in reviewing the book do not hesitate to get in touch.

Kierkegaard and the Political

I just found out that a book I am a part of has been released. This collection, edited by Alison Assiter and Margherita Tonon, features six essays dealing with the question of how one can read Kierkegaard politically. My contribution to the book is entitled ‘A Fractured Dialectic: Kierkegaard and Political Ontology after Zizek’, and offers a political and ontological reading of Kierkegaard which takes his relationship to German idealism as a starting point and ends by looking at Zizek’s recent use of Kierkegaard. 

One of the most notable things about this collection is that none of the authors are tied to any sort of mainstream/theological interpretation of Kierkegaard, so the articles possess a weirdness and creativity not normally seen in the often stale world of Kierkegaard scholarship. If you are at all interested in the growing political interpretation of Kierkegaard, check this out. 

Kierkegaard and the Political (amazon)

This year’s Villanova philosophy conference

another good upcoming conference in Pennsylvania next year….i will likely try to make both of these, assuming the appropriate dirt bags let me crash and pay in beer….

Apocalyptic Politics: Framing the Present

Villanova University, Friday April 12-Saturday April 13, 2013

Confirmed Speakers:  Mladen Dolar  |  Slavoj Žižek  |  Alenka Zupančič


The present is often characterized as a critical moment that totters between possibilities of irresolvable catastrophe and redemptive restoration. Such claims involve prophecies of an end. Whether consisting in theological predictions of a messianic end, political predictions of a revolutionary end, or historical predictions of an epochal end, claims on the future charge the present with immediate significance through the ethical and political demands they place on it. This is to say, an anticipated end, which in a way is not-yet, is also always enacted in the present.  Apocalyptic futures clearly enter into the structure of contemporary subjects – of their desires and drives, on the planes of fantasy and of theory – but these relations call for clarification. The multiplicity of ways in which prophecy can be received, for instance – whether the foretold end is interpreted as already-accomplished, imminent, or in the indeterminate future, whether the end is met with a spirit of fear or hopeful anticipation, or whether it is understood as necessary and irrevocable or as contingent and preventable, etc. – invites fundamental inquiry into the conscious and unconscious relations of the subject to history and its ruptures.


Possible topics may include but are not limited to the following: the end/temporality of history (Hegel, Marx, Kojeve); political theology and the Messianic: the legacy of Paul in political theology, kariological temporality and klesis (Agamben, Derrida, Benjamin, Bloch); early modern political philosophy: the role of prophecy in shaping societal affects (Hobbes, Machiavelli, Spinoza); phenomenological relationality to the future; revolutionary politics; apocalyptic cinema, science fiction, and art.


The Philosophy Graduate Student Union at Villanova University welcomes high quality submissions from graduate students and faculty.  Abstracts and papers are welcome for review; papers should not exceed 3500 words.


Submission Deadline: February 1st, 2013

Please send submissions formatted for blind review to

Rachel Aumiller and Chris Drain at


We strongly encourage submissions from women and other under-represented groups.

The good folks are putting on a conference early next year on Philosophy and Nature featuring Adrian Johnston as the keynote. I am going to try and get to this, you should too.

Call for Papers

7th Annual Duquesne University Graduate Conference in Philosophy

Philosophy and Nature

February 23, 2013

Keynote Speaker:
Adrian Johnston, University of New Mexico & Emory Psychoanalytic Institute

The relation between nomos and physis has occupied a central place in the history of philosophy, from Aristotelian Physics to contemporary analytic debates on the philosophy of mind. Moreover, nature, as both an object of knowledge and a public resource, has taken on increasingly urgent social and political import: the distribution of resources and the impact of climate change have become central issues in public policy; and, as in the cases of race, sexual difference, and sexual orientation, legal and social status is often determined in accordance with an appeal to their supposedly biological bases, or, that is, to a commonplace conception of “the natural.” Thus the very identity of the human itself is intimately connected to the ways in which nature operates either on or for us. This conference invites submissions from all areas of philosophy that are concerned to investigate the ontological, ethical, political, and epistemological status of nature.

To help facilitate this discussion, possible topics include, but are not limited to: nomos & physis in Ancient philosophy; the relation between God & nature; human freedom & natural determinism; consciousness & cognitive science; the social construction of nature; chaos & vitalism; the necessity or impossibility of causation; the constitutive relationship between humans and nature (realist, idealist, materialist, and/or hybrid positions); phenomenology of/and nature; social constructivist vs. essentialist figurations of identity; politics & the state of nature; the ethical status of animals & the environment; and the biological or social origins of race, sexual difference, and/or sexual orientation.

Submissions: Please prepare submissions for blind review and send to by Saturday, December 1, 2012. Submissions should not exceed 3000 words. Cover sheets should include name, submission title, email address, and institutional affiliation.

Philosophy and Nature Conference at Duquesne

the brooklyn institute of social research

I was made aware of the brooklyn institute of social research through a post on the new apps blog today, and it seems to be a very (very) interesting venture. It was founded by a group of PhD students and young PhD’s from new york city, and is running a series of once a week courses in the humanities that seem to run for 6 weeks each, and from the pictures on the website, meet in hip cafes/bars.

As some may know, it has been a dream of mine to start something similar to this. A non-profit public school in the humanities that taught basic to advanced courses in philosophy, theology, literature, social theory and political thought and also ran seminars in the humanities for kids of al ages, ideally in conjunction with a public school system. After working with an urban non-profit back in college I have always liked the idea of linking something at the more ‘intellectual’ level with more on the ground work with kids in struggling communities. But that’s enough about what I would want to do…

One of the things I like most about the brooklyn institute model is that they are charging for classes. This may be against the tendencies of some who would desire something like a truly ‘free’ university, but I for one think this is great. In the world we live in, things cost money. And most of us who would want to be involved in a project like this are TA’s or adjuncts at best, and while ideally I am sure many of us would love to teach for free, it is simply not feasible. On the FAQ page of their website they give a great explanation for why their courses cost money, and they make the point of showing how much it would cost to take a course at a major university. I think in the long run this will hopefully make this project more sustainable, and encourage others to also considered going beyond the ‘free school’ model and not being afraid to ask for a reasonable financial commitment for the sake of supporting high quality teachers.

The only thing that strikes me as a negative about the whole thing is that it is in Brooklyn, which you know, is where everything ever happens these days. Maybe one of the characters on Girls will ride her fixed-gear to a class at the brooklyn institute while listening to a cassette EP from Grizzly Bear’s drummer with an $9 iced coffee in her hand. (Kidding. Obviously. Just because it is in brooklyn doesn’t make it bad).

Hopefully this can set a model that some of us can work on in the future to help create a new space in between ‘full time tenured academic’ labor and resentful ‘post academic’ work.

in memory of Dr. Craig Rusch

One of my favorite professors from college passed away this week. While he was without a doubt one of the most influential figures during my time at Vanguard University, it would not be a stretch to say that one of my least favorite professors also passed away a few nights ago. I showed the film ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’ to one of my classes this week, and there is a scene towards the end of the film that describes quite precisely how I, and I presume many of my former colleagues, felt about Dr. Craig Rusch. In this scene Royal Tenenbaum is walking with Henry Sherman, the man about to marry his ex-wife. Royal is attempting to make amends with Henry and says something to the effect of “I’ve always been considered kind of an asshole, but it would really eat me up if I knew you wouldn’t forgive me” to which Henry responds, “I don’t think you’re an asshole Royal…you’re just kind of a son-of-a-bitch.” Upon hearing this Royal smiles warmly, as if this is one of the kindest things that could have been said to him.

I could easily imagine Craig Rusch with the same grin on his face while being told by one of the countless students he inspired, challenged and frustrated to no end that he was in fact ‘kind of a son-of-a-bitch’, maybe the most legendary son-of-a-bitch that Vanguard University will ever have on its campus.

Vanguard is a fairly small Christian college in shockingly conservative Orange County, California. It is not the sort of place one expects to find a hot bed of intellectual activity, engaged political thinking, and theologically irreverent debates. But for a period of time this is just the sort of environment created in the small program for Cultural Anthropology at Vanguard University. Besides the many who go on to study at a host of theological seminaries, Vanguard is also not the place where one finds many students planning to go on to graduate programs in the humanities and social sciences, but when I go through the list of the students I know who have graduated from the department of Cultural Anthropology department at Vanguard University, a majority have gone on to carry out graduate work in a number of fields.

Now, I am not saying that without Craig Rusch none of this would have been the case, but I have no doubt that many Anthropology alumni, myself included, may have easily let the thought of graduate school slip away if it was not for the blunt and sometimes aggressive encouragement we received from Craig.

I know that if it was not for an ‘Anthropological Theory’ course taught by Craig, I never would have been exposed to the figures in anthropological, cultural and critical theory which eventually led me to study contemporary European philosophy. While Vanguard did offer a few classes in philosophy, I am quite sure that none of the students who enrolled in them were ever forced to critically engage with the implications of the post-structuralist turn in the European humanities.

Let me be clear, however, that it was not Craig’s intellectual intensity alone that qualifies him for the title of biggest son-of-a-bitch in Vanguard University history. Along with being a harbinger of academic rigor at the University, Craig also embodied the sort of ‘fuck you’ attitude that flew in the face of the somewhat conservative and stifling tendencies of the school. At a place which treats alcohol consumption amongst legal adults with an intensity usually reserved for meth production in middle school science labs, Craig kept a bottle of scotch in his office, and turned his home into a personal micro-brewery. Upon finding out that some friends and I had discovered a fantastic Irish bar that he frequented, he quickly informed me that we were to ‘keep the place to ourselves’ and ‘not tell anyone else’, in fear that we would all be found out by the watchful eyes of Jesus’ prohibition enforcing army.

Craig taught us that we could still exist within the tradition that our University was founded upon while not being afraid to critically re-consider some of the pillars of that tradition. He was not irreverent for the sake of being irreverent, but rather he lived with a freedom and energy that paid tribute to the power that comes with serious thought. While many of us surely did not agree with much of what Craig said, and he made few disciples, he opened us up to a way of thinking that I could not begin to thank him for.

Sadly, that chance to say thank you has come and gone. As I approach the conclusion of my doctoral dissertation, I occasionally think of the professors and mentors from my past that I will be excited to share the news with. I had already imagined the response I may get after an email to Craig informing him that I finished something that I never would have started without his encouragement. The email likely would have arrived days late, bearing a time stamp that would indicate it had been hurriedly written somewhere in between last call and his morning alarm clock, and would contain no more than a couple of lines. I imagine it would read something like this:

“Dr. Burns, you beautiful bastard. Congratulations. Now go get yourself a fucking beer. -Craig.”

That son-of-a-bitch.


transcendental materialist swag.

I can’t think of a better way to start introducing the occasional discussion of music and culture onto this blog than by encouraging you to check out a new mix-tape by philosopher (and fellow transcendental materialist) Ryan Krahn. It makes me happy to be living in a world in which I get to know individuals with whom I could gladly discuss the merits of a contemporary Hegelian materialism and the brilliance of Frank Ocean in the same conversation. Listen to this now.

teaching ethics.

Next semester I am going to be teaching two sections of ‘introduction to ethics’ at a small liberal arts college, and as i’ve never taught this course before, am interested if anyone who has is willing to share any thoughts/advice. I’ve been told that most courses in the department are taught in a seminar style and usually tend to be based around the discussion of primary texts rather than using a textbook. In light of that, I am hoping to use 4-5 primary texts which exemplify different ethical positions in the western philosophical tradition. Here is what I’m thinking of using thus far:

Nicomachean Ethics- Aristotle

Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals– Kant

Fear and Trembling- Kierkegaard

On the Genealogy of Morals- Nietzsche

I want to add a fifth text, either something that would come before Aristotle (Plato maybe?) or something which would fit in between Aristotle and Kant. Any thoughts would be much appreciated.

blog re-boot.

While this blog has basically fallen off the map in the past year or so, I have decided to at least attempt to breathe some life back into its stagnant online existence. I’ve found it nearly impossible to get myself into any sort of writing routine recently and I figure there is no better way to get myself to write a bit every few days than to re-commit to using this space. To make this happen, however, I am planning to shift the focus of this blog a bit. While I will still post on explicitly academic/philosophical matters, I am also going to begin posting on more ‘popular’ topics such as: sports, film, music, literature, politics and culture. I flirted with the idea of starting a new blog which would be more focused on such popular pursuits, but while reading a back issue of n+1 yesterday realized that there is no reason that one cannot discus topics as diverse as Kierkegaard’s appropriation of German idealism and the curious career of Tim Tebow in the same space.

That said, I hope many of you won’t mind seeing me pop up in your readers a bit more frequently. Along with this, I will likely place any thing I write that deals explicitly with political philosophy (or more precisely, political ontology) on the new’ish group blog Stubborn People, a site initiated by the lovely Dave Mesing.