Robert Kurz, 1943-2012 — Please Sign Below to Express Your Condolences

Our signatures below are an expression of our terrible sorrow and our deep sense of loss as we learn of the death, on July 18, 2012, of Robert Kurz, one of the world’s foremost Marxian critical-theorists, philosophers and radical thinkers. An obituary published in the German periodical Der Spiegel entitled “Erneuerer des Marxismus–Robert Kurz ist tot” foregrounds the status of Robert Kurz as “renewer of Marxism” and one of the most important contemporary German left theorists. And it is indeed through his restless critique and resultant renewal of Marxism, avoiding the stranglehold of orthodoxy and radically embracing dialectical thought in a gesture of true fidelity to the core principles of Marxism, that Robert Kurz was able generate some of the most significant works in contemporary Left philosophy, the critique of political-economy and in social and political theory generally. No one familiar with the workings of his unparalleled critical and theoretical intelligence can doubt that with the untimely death of Robert Kurz (born in 1943) we have lost, in the midst of an epoch-making and perhaps epoch-ending crisis of capitalism, a thinker fully equal to the demands of this still unfolding, earth-shaking and truly unprecedented historical process makes of anyone with the temerity to attempt a critique which is also a genuine theorization. It is hard to fully grasp the extent of such a loss at such a time. On their website, the editorial collective of the journal EXIT!, which Kurz co-founded, honors Kurz with a quote taken from Marx’s “Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right,” mourning the loss of “a radical critic in a time that more than ever demands ‘the categoric imperative to overthrow all relations in which man is a debased, enslaved, abandoned, despicable essence’. For this, Bobby lived and struggled.”

Many of us who help to publish Mediations, an online journal of Marxist cultural and social critique, are especially pained by this news, as the journal has for some time now been preparing a special, double-issue consisting of English translations of the work of the Wertkritik school centered around the journals krisis and Exit!. Several essay-length pieces by Robert Kurz–Wertkritik‘s founding thinker and author of such major works as Der Kollaps der Modernisierung (1991), Schwarzbuch Kapitalismus (1999), Das Weltkapital (2005) und Geld ohne Wert (2012)–will figure prominently in this upcoming collection. The fact that he will not be able to offer his responses to and criticisms of our efforts is both a cause of immense regret among us, but also a spur to complete the work of making a truly representative selection of Kurz’s work as well as that of other contributors to Wertkritik accessible in one place for the first time to English-speaking readers.  And we wish to announce now that the publication of the Mediations/Wertkritik translation dossier set for this winter will be dedicated to Robert Kurz’s memory.

Thankfully, Robert Kurz has bequeathed to us an extraordinary body of works that, without sacrificing scientific/critical rigor in the least, are accessible to anyone willing to travel the arduous but clearly marked road that these works have charted out for us and for many of his earliest followers and students. Wertkritik’s continued and growing contributions to critical and radically emancipatory social theory will survive the loss of its principal architect because Kurz knew from the beginning how to build into his own critical-theoretical investigations the axioms and methodological principles necessary to the reproduction of the theory as a whole. That is, he knew from the beginning that it was only the object, the contemporary form of capitalism in crisis itself that could supply such axioms and principles–as long as one was clear on the ceaseless necessity to ‘ruthlessly criticize’ and eventually to bring down, destroy and supercede that object. About that uno one could be clearer than the Robert Kurz whose memory we here honor and celebrate.

Wir Unterzeichnende moechten hiermit unserer tiefen Betroffenheit und Erschuetterung Ausdruck verleihen hinsichtlich des ueberraschenden und tragischen Verlusts von Robert Kurz am 18. Juli 2012. Mit Robert Kurz verliert die Welt einen seiner wichtigsten Marxistischen kritischen Theoretiker, Philosophen und radikalen Denker. Ein Nachruf im Magazin Der Spiegel mit dem Titel “Erneuerer des Marxismus—Robert Kurz ist tot” erinnert an die Rolle von Robert Kurz als einer der bedeutendsten gegenwaertigen linken Theoretiker. Und es war in der Tat in seiner stetigen Kritik und resultierenden Erneuerung des Marxismus, die die Paralyse der Ortodoxie vermied und sich stets den Grundzuegen dialektischem Denkens verpflichtete, in der Robert Kurz dem Kern Marxistischen Denkens treu blieb. Diese Treuheit charakterisiert auch sein Gesamtwerk, das einige der wichtigsten Werke gegenwaertiger linker Philosophie und politischer Theorie beinhaltet. Keiner, der die ungleichbare kritische und theoretische Intelligenz von Robert Kurz kannte, wird bezweifeln, dass wir mit dem Tod von Robert Kurz (geboren 1943), inmitten einer geschichtstraechtigen Krise des Kapitalismus, einen der Denker verlieren, dessen Intellekt der Groesse dieser Krise Mass war. Es ist schwierig das volle Ausmass dieses Verlusts, besonders zu dieser Zeit, zu begreifen und zu ueberschaetzen. Auf ihrer website ehrt die kritische Zeitschrift und Projektgruppe EXIT!, die Robert Kurz mitgruendete, ihren Gruender mit einem Zitat von Marx’ “Kritik der Hegelschen Philosophie des Rechts” und schreibt: “die kritische Theorie verliert in ihm einen streitbaren Denker und radikalen Kritiker in einer Zeit, die mehr denn je danach verlangt ‘alle Verhaeltnisse umzuwerfen, in denen der Mensch ein erniedrigtes, geknechtetes, ein verlassenes, ein veraechtliches Wesen ist’. Dafuer hat Bobby gelebt und gestritten.”

Viele von uns die Mediations (eine online Zeitschrift fuer Marxistische Kultur- und Sozialtheorie) helfen zu bearbeiten und herauszugeben, sind besonders von dieser Nachricht getroffen, da Mediations nun seit einiger Zeit eine doppel-Sonderausgabe zusammenstellt, welche englische Uebersetzungen wertkritischer Schriften umfasst. Enthalten wird diese Sonderausgabe einige wichtige Aufsaetze von Robert Kurz, der zentrale Denker und Theoretiker der Wertkritik und Autor von Werken wie Der Kollaps der Modernisierung (1991), Schwarzbuch Kapitalismus (1999), Das Weltkapital (2005) und Geld ohne Wert (2012). Dass Robert Kurz jetzt nicht mehr seine Reaktionen und Kritikpunkte zu diesem Projekt vermitteln kann ist fuer uns Grund grossen Bedauerns, aber wir werden es auch als Anlass nehmen, mit dem Projekt einen Ausschnitt seines Werkes zum ersten Mal englischsprachigen Lesern zugaenglich zu machen das der Bedeutung von Robert Kurz wuerdig ist. Wir moechten auch hiermit bekannt geben, dass die Sonderausgabe Robert Kurz gewidmet sein wird.

Wir duerfen uns aber alle glueckliche schaetzen, dass Robert Kurz uns einen aussergewoehnlichen und grossen Korpus von Werken gegeben hat, die fuer eine breite Leserschaft zugaenglich sind—zumindest fuer diese Leser die willens sind, den schwierigen aber klar gekennzeichneten Weg welchen diese Werke fuer uns eroeffnet haben zu gehen—ohne je wissenschaftlichen und kritische Rigorositaet zu verlieren. Der fortdauernde und wachsende Einfluss der Wertkritik und der radikalen, emanzipatorischen Kritik wird den Verlust einer ihrer Hauptarchitekten ueberstehen, zum Teil, da Kurz es von Beginn an Verstand in seine kritisch-theoretischen Versuche und Schriften diese Axiome und methodologischen Prinzipien einzufuegen, die es uns ermoeglichen die Theorie als ganzes nicht nur am Leben zu halten, sondern sie zu festigen und auszuweiten. Kurz wusste, dass nur das Objekt dieser Theorie, das heisst, die gegenwaertige Form des Kapitalismus und seiner Krise, solche Axiome und Prinzipien vermitteln kann—so lange man im Klaren ist, dass eine solche Kritik nichts weniger als die schonunglose Kritik und endgueltige die Negation und die Ueberwindung dieses Objekts bedeutet. Ueber dieses war sich niemand klarer als Robert Kurz, desses Angedenken wir hier ehren und wuerdigen.

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17 thoughts on “Robert Kurz, 1943-2012 — Please Sign Below to Express Your Condolences

  1. Kurz’s “Black Book of Capitalism” (_Schwarzbuch Kapitalismus_) was and remains a wonderful reposte to the well-publicizied, and totally fraudulent, _Black Book of Communism_.

  2. His books were translated into Portuguese and he brought in his capital contribution to the diagnosis of the complexities of the collapse of modernization.

  3. I first read the work of Robert Kurz in the early 1990’s, in Portuguese and in Brazil. My mentor and friend Roberto Schwarz had discovered his work and saw to it that DER KOLLAPS DER MODERNISIERUNG was translated into Portuguese, a language I then spoke far better than German. O COLAPSO DA MODERNIZAÇÃO convinced me, among other things, that I could no longer afford my half knowledge of German–not if I was to continue to read the most profound and actualized Marxian theory, especially crisis theory, that I had encountered since reading Marx himself, and Lukacs. I read everything by Kurz I could get my hands on. In 2002, I traveled to Nuremberg and met Robert–‘Bobbie’–along with many other WERTKRITIKERS, and then ran into him again a couple of times in Brazil. I don’t think I ever managed to tell him how deeply his work came to influence my own, and how it has continued to do so ever since. My spoken German was still halting, and RK was a formidable presence. Not expressing my debt to him and his work personally is something I will always regret now. But I did do everything I could think of, including the co-editing of the translation into English of many of his shorter, essay length works as part of a forthcoming (really!) MEDIATIONS dossier on WERTKRITIK– and the introduction of RK’s work to many of my students at the University of California, who read him–or read what little was available in English translation–as eagerly as I did. His death is truly a blow to the very possibility of critical, radically emancipatory theory in the present. Robert Kurz surely had many more books and articles to write in what should have been a much longer life. But his stunning opus remains, to be read, studied, debated and disseminated to the thousands of readers around the world who have not been as lucky as I have in encountering that opus nearly 20 years ago. The promise I now make to him, to Roswitha and to his comrades at EXIT! is to redouble my own efforts to have his many works translated, published and put into the hands of the many, many people for whom the theoretical and critical ‘Umwälzung’ he produced in me is still to come.

  4. I first heard about Robert Kurz’s work from Professor Neil Larsen in the Fall of 2010. After several conversations with Neil, it became clear that I should read Kurz. I plan to learn German, but for now I have to depend on ‘translations’. I read an “unofficial” translation titled ‘The Ontological Break’, which is a fascinating essay about ontology as a historical category.

  5. Robert Kurz’s death leaves a deep pain of loss across the whole critical front of catastrophic capitalism. Profound and thorough, revolutionary and liberating to the world movement against all of capital’s enslavements. It was my dear friend Neil Larsen who started me on a few of Kurz’s translated articles, then O Colapso da Modernização, which really reoriented my thinking. Kurz left a tremendous corpus of thought and analysis, and I wish Neil and the others closest to his works all the best in their endeavors to get Kurz’s deep and practical critique of modern capital into everyone’s hands and minds.

  6. I was unfamiliar with his work until reading the last article penned by Andre Gorz which made references to it. Because of this I became inspired to research some of his work and stumbled across this obituary, What a sad loss to all of us who aspire to foster a better, more humane world. I can only look forward to the opportunity to read his work once it’s translated into English. I’m sure I’ll be the better for it.

  7. I first saw Robert Kurz present his ideas in the early 1990s, shortly after the publication of DER KOLLAPS DER MODERNISIERUNG, at the German-American Cultural Institute in Heidelberg. Although I was just a second-year student in history, and not deeply familiar with Marxist theory, I realized that I was listening to some truly original and important ideas that were essential to understanding a post-Cold War world that was then only beginning to take shape. I immediately bought DER KOLLAPS DER MODERNISIERUNG, and I have bought most of his books since then. Later in the 1990s, when I had become a PhD student in Brazilian history at Harvard, I discovered during my trips to Brazil that some of his work had been translated into Portuguese. While I was thrilled that his work had an impact beyond Germany, I was waiting for good English translations to order to share his ideas with my American colleagues who read neither German nor Portuguese. I look forward to the edition of essays announced above, and I hope that Neil Larsen will find ways to have Robert Kurz’s work translated. His ideas are too important to not be available in the English-speaking world.

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