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55 Editorial


RP55 kicks off with an article by Sadie Plant on the Situationalist International. This politically radical art movement, with
its desire to subvert the banality of everyday life, flourished
back in the ’50s and ’60s but has since fallen into relative
obscurity. Plant’s particular concern is to identify the links, in
her view too often unacknowledged, between SI and
poststructuralism/postmodernism. She traces elements of SI
today in the work of Lyotard, Foucault, and, most tellingly
perhaps, Baudrillard. What one commentator has termed
Baudrillard’s ‘burglary operation’ on SI is clearly overdue for
wider publication. As Plant points out, his concept of ‘hyperreality’ seems very much an extension of SI’s ‘spectacle’

notion. Plant calls for a reassessment of SI’s far-reaching
influence on modern culture: an influence which takes in not
just poststructuralism and postmodernism, but punk-rock and
Manchester’s most famous nightclub, The Hacienda. Her
article should certainly help to open up the movement to
wider scrutiny by poststructuralist and postmodernist commentators, and Plant is very persuasive in demonstrating the
valuable legacy left behind by SI theory ‘for those still willing
to address the complexities of contemporary society.

Kate Soper sets out to investigate the complex relationship between feminism, humanism and postmodernism, well
aware that the first two terms may appear to be incompatible.

If feminism has traditionally been a quest for ‘otherness’, or
feminine ‘difference’, then humanism has been a discourse
committed to the dissolution of difference in general. Soper’s
position is that feminism must be both feminist and humanist
– a delicate balancing act, as she admits. The article takes us
through the claims of both ‘difference’ and ‘in-difference’

feminism. Difference feminists (Cixous, Irigaray, to some
extent Kristeva) tend toward essentialism and what Soper
refers to as a reduction of feminine difference to maternal
function: a trend that Soper opposes. When women are reduced to their bodies, she argues, they are reduced to silence.

Neither is she completely convinced of the claims of deconstruction-inspired in-difference feminism, suggesting that it
is self-subverting in its invocation of a gender difference it
invites us to ignore. And, as Soper points out, feminism is
essentially a group affair: when it loses its ‘common cause’

element it loses almost all its cultural force and legitimacy.

Feminism must therefore encompass both difference and indifference, with each tendency functioning as an internal
critique of the other.

Radical Philosophy 55, Summer 1990

Paul Browne addresses the problematical relationship
between class politics and the new social movements – feminist, anti-racist, ecological, etc. – of recent cultural history.

Marxists have tended to be wary of these movements because
of their inevitably ‘partial’ character. Browne, however, feels
that it is possible to reconcile ‘new movement’ sectionalism
with the universalism of Marxist theory, claiming that the
movements have a key role to play in the politicisation of
individuals in the concrete circumstances of their everyday
lives. A genuinely emancipatory revolutionary strategy must
find ways of synthesising the whole range of struggles against
exploitation and oppression found around the globe. Browne
regards the new social movements as ‘fights for .empowerment’: ways of resisting capitalist reification at both individual and sectional-group level. Under such a reading the opposition of class politics and the movements is false and sterile.

What is needed is not a prioritisation of one over the other, but
an understanding of the unity-in-diversity of the various
emancipatory struggles currently being waged. A radical resistance to reification at grassroots level is presented as one of
the most promising sources of mass opposition to capitalism
as a cultural phenomenon.

In recent issues RP has carried interviews with Noam
Chomsky and Gayatri Spivak, and the plan was to continue
this series in the current issue with Ian Craib interviewing the
radical American psychoanalyst Joel Kovel. Tape-recording
problems have turned the event into a written exchange between Kovel and Craib on the subject of Marxism and psychoanalysis. (Perhaps we have invented a new genre, the postinterview?) Kovel relates how he came to Marxism through
psychoanalysis, and outlines the problems involved in a simultaneous commitment to Marx and Freud. He concedes the
considerable tensions that espousal of two very different
theories of human nature creates, but is convinced nevertheless that psychoanalytic understanding can be made to serve
the radical project in politics. In response, Ian Craib is broadly
in agreement with Kovel’s aims, but less sanguine about the
chances of reconciling Marx and Freud. For Craib, the Marxist end of the equation is much harder to hold onto. Kovel’s
coda to the exchange acknowledges the force of Craib’s
scepticism, while reaffirming the necessity of using both
theories – even if this does raise the spectre of the return of
those currently unfashionable entities, transcendental signifieds.

A new book by that arch-antifoundationalist Richard
Rorty is always likely to create a stir, and Contingency, Irony
and Solidarity is no exception. 10nathan Ree’s review-article
takes a long, hard, critical look at what Ree dubs this ‘brilliant
little capsule of post-philosophy’. While paying due respect
to the work’s topicality and breadth of reference, Ree expresses grave doubts as to the validity of Rorty’s antifoundationalist theses. Rorty simply undermines himself too much
for Ree’s comfort: a metaphysician who rails against metaphysics, a relativist who is absolute for relativism, an avowed
post-philosopher who is still, for all his claims to the contrary,
writing philosophy and constructing philosophical systems.

Rorty’s ‘liberal ironism’ eventually rings hollow to Ree, who
detects Kantian transcendentalism lurking in the background
and speculates as to whether Rorty is not ‘really more aprior-

ist than ironist’. Ree also questions whether Rorty is as up-todate as he would like to appear. Perhaps antifoundationalism
is not, after all, the theme of the times? (try religious fundamentalism, Ree suggests). And perhaps the point is not to
think with, but athwart the times? Timeliness may not, in fact,
be all …

What might well qualify as the theme of the times, c.

early 1990, is Eastern Europe and the dramatic shifts in its
socio-politicallandscape. Our comment piece from two Hungarian philosophers considers the difficulty of understanding
the recent changes in terms of standard political categories surely one of the major dilemmas currently facing Marxist
theorists. Also included in this issue is an obituary of the
playwright and novelist Samuel Beckett.

Stuart Sim

Polytechnic of Central London Marylebone Road London NW1

Topics will include:

Politics and Values
Communism and Social Democracy
Nationalism and’I’nternationalism
Gay Culture
Liberation Theology

The Rhetoric of the Left
Childhood and Education
Philosophy of Welfare
Models of Democracy
Concepts of Socialism

For further details write to:

Peter Osborne (RP Conference) Middlesex Polytechnic Faculty of Humanitiies
Queensway Enfield EN3 4SF Middlesex

Philosophy and Art
The first series of four one day coferences within this forum all explore
the relation between philosophy and art.

The Aesthetic on 24th March
Representation and Mimesis on 12th May
Modernism and Abstraction on 2nd June
Architecture, Dance and Film on 30th June
Series advisors Andrew Benjamin and Peter Osborne


Radical Philosophy 55, Summer 1990


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