The Czech philosopher Jan Patočka is considered one of the most important Central European thinkers of the 20th century. Born in 1907, Patočka studied Philosophy as well as Romance and Slavic languages in Prague, Paris and Berlin. Most influential for his philosophical career was a stay in Freiburg in 1933 where he came into contact with Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger. Back in Prague, Patočka was one of the main initiators of the Cercle philosophique de Prague, founded in 1934 and inspired by Roman Jakobson’s famous Cercle linguistique. After the war, Patočka taught for some years at Charles University, before he was banned from teaching and publishing in communist Czechoslovakia.With a short exception in the aftermath of the Prague Spring, he lived most of his life as a private scholar “under the ice of time”, as Pasternak put it. However, his samizdat writings and legendary “underground seminars” had a strong impact on the intellectual and political development of his country.
Patočka was a co-founder and speaker of the civil rights movement Charter 77. On 13 March 1977, shortly after the publication of the declaration, he died after a series of police interrogations. His writings include reflections on history and politics, essays on art and literature, studies in ancient philosophy as well as an inspiring history of modern ideas. This research focus, initiated in 1984, aims at collecting, exploring and disseminating his oeuvre. For that purpose, an archive was established at the IWM in close collaboration with the Patočka Archive in Prague. It has provided the basis for numerous editions of his works in various languages.
Future research will focus on Patočka’s philosophical concept of Europe and its relevance for the ongoing debates on Europe’s difficult past, its current crisis and future as an open project. “Europe” was the guiding idea for Patočka’s inquiries in the genealogy of modernity and his reflections on modern war, technology and “care for the soul”. As a world power, Europe died on the battlefields of the First World War. Since then it has become impossible to reflect upon Europe without taking into account its nexus to imperialism and hegemony. In interaction with current civilizational and post-colonial debates Patočka’s reflections offer challenging perspectives to rethink Europe in a post- European age.
Lecture Series: Beyond Myth and Enlightment