These essays by the Romanian intellectual Benjamin Fondane look at the limitations of reason
There’s a great portrait of Benjamin Fondane by the surrealist photographer Man Ray on the front cover: Fondane looks down towards his cupped hands, slightly above which floats his dismembered head looking at us, or the camera. It is a playful image with an uneasy edge: this is a portrait of the philosopher as magician, and yet it is also an image of someone contemplating their own decapitation. It suggests that Man Ray had read Fondane’s philosophy, which basically asks: what is reason’s role in our lives? Which of those two heads is, as it were, the boss? The image is both that of rationality doubled – as if to say “two heads are better than one” – and of rationality annulled; it is one of surrealism’s more sophisticated jokes.
Fondane (1898-1944) was one of quite a few Romanian writers who drifted towards Paris after the first world war in order to pursue their avant-garde interests (others include Tristan Tzara, Eugène Ionesco and Emil Cioran; the last two were friends of Fondane).