Friedrich Schlegelʼs two-hundred-year-old fragment ʻNothing is more rarely the subject of philosophy than philosophy itselfʼ shows its age. Now, its inversion seems true. Whether through recognition that philosophyʼs self-legitimating critique of the unexcavated presuppositions of other disciplines threatens to prove itself wanting; or, through various concerns for philosophyʼs apparently imminent death (which philosophers frequently seem to ponder with the scarcely concealed enthusiasm of a new lease of afterlife), little is more commonly the subject of philosophy than philosophy itself. Yet there remain few contemporary engagements comparable to the ambitious programme developed by Alain Badiou. Assuming the guise of a kind of rationalist militancy, Badiou has sought to confront philosophyʼs self-doubting with a new programme for an emphatic future, albeit with a peculiarly anachronistic demeanour. In a dramatic confrontation with much contemporary French philosophy, Badiou maintains that in order for philosophy to resume its progress within the conﬁguration of modern thought, it must oppose the dominance of postmodern or deconstructive sophistry and resume its classical concern with truth: ʻThe category of truth is the central category, be it under another name, of any possible philosophy.ʼ According to Badiou, philosophy achieves its modernity through a renewed Platonism, a ʻPlatonism of the multiple.ʼ
That the debut of this French drama should assume the academically incongruous but strategically impeccable form of a manifesto indicates that the Anglophone repetition of Badiouʼs campaign is sprung by the pent-up ignorance of an extensively elaborated oeuvre that eagerly waits under translatorʼs orders. Manifesto for Philosophy was originally published in French in 1989, a year after Badiouʼs central work, LʼÊtre et lʼÉvénement (1988). As the ﬁrst of Badiouʼs books to be translated into English it now functions as a trailblazing introduction to his magnum opus, a job supplemented by the rapid appearance of other works (Deleuze: The Clamor of Being and the forthcoming Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil) and notable inaugural commentary (see Jean-Jacques Lecercle in Radical Philosophy 93).
Badiouʼs construction of truth in Manifesto for Philosophy is gnomically abbreviated from LʼÊtre et lʼÉvénement. Its principal point of departure is the positing of an ontology of pure multiplicity. As a consequence, truth must not involve any sort of unitary oneness. Avoiding this consequence is Badiouʼs primary task. Hence, truth is understood as immanent to the multiplicity of being of which it is the truth – that is, immanent to what Badiou describes as truthʼs ʻsituationʼ. Truth is not prior to its situation. There is no generalized structure according to which being could be anticipated, or indeed veriﬁed. And, as unveriﬁable, truth is distinguished from knowledge by Badiou. Rather, truth is a procedure that relies on an excess or supplement of its situation, which enables the immanence of the situation to be grasped. This excess or supplement is otherwise termed an ʻeventʼ. An ʻeventʼ reveals a situation in its ʻgeneric multiplicityʼ – that is, in the untranscendable immanence of its multiplicity. The pivotal function of the concept of ʻeventʼ is apparent here, since it has to perform the trick of revealing immanence, without inferring transcendence in that revelation. Therefore truth is understood as a ʻpost-eventfulʼ procedure in which the generic multiplicity of being is elaborated.
Badiou identiﬁes four different types of truth procedures, which he terms ʻconditionsʼ. These are schematized as: art (or, more speciﬁcally, the poem); science (more speciﬁcally, the matheme); politics (speciﬁcally ʻinventiveʼ politics); and love (or, ʻthe thought of the twoʼ). These are elaborated according to various scarcely legitimated speciﬁcations that are abbreviated from the various studies that constitute Badiouʼs oeuvre and that are only schematically asserted in Manifesto for Philosophy. Remarkably and bewilderingly, Badiou gives no justiﬁcation of why there are four types of truth and no more or less. They are merely derived from his reading of Plato, thereby conﬁrming the sense in which Badiou understands the renewal of philosophy as a ʻPlatonic gestureʼ. Despite
Vive la philosophie!
Alain Badiou, Manifesto for Philosophy, translated with an introduction by Norman Madarasz, SUNY Press,
New York, 1999. 181 pp., £34.75 hb., £10.95 pb., 0 7914 4219 5 hb., 0 7914 4220 9 pb.the classicism of this structure, Badiou deﬁnes these four conditions according to the contemporary events that constitute them. These are: for art, the poetry of Celan; for science, mathematics from Cantor to Cohen; for politics, the ʻobscure events … from about 1965 to 1980ʼ; for love, Lacan (who Badiou claims to have provided the only modern account of love since Plato).
Despite certain compelling aspects of Badiouʼs accounts of the four conditions, concerns over their exogenous quadruplicity are matched by concerns over the coherence of the events that constitute them. For instance, why does the poem stand privileged among all the arts? This seems plainly an account of art developed to secure the problem of philosophy, with little interest in the contemporary condition of art outside this intention. When Badiou asserts the contemporary signiﬁcance of Phidias to sculpture, it seems that he has not felt compelled to reach beyond his philosophy books to investigate this art. Indeed, Badiou makes no mention of the crisis of the differentiation of the arts, which has been constitutive for art since at least the 1960s. Similarly, Badiouʼs claim that Lacan is the only modern thinker of love is so absurd that one wonders if the claim is not a kind of modernist strategy of exaggeration. It is ungenerous to criticize Badiou in the absence of his elaborations of these conditions, and such criticisms may of course be amended without breaking with the basic structure. Indeed, Thierry de Duveʼs recent account of the transformation of aesthetics by Duchampʼs generic nominalism in his Kant after Duchamp has structural afﬁnities with Badiouʼs system. However, the crudity of Badiouʼs examples does little to suspend suspicions of the inherent crudity of his architectonics.
Badiouʼs deﬁnition of philosophy is orchestrated by his construction of truth. However, what philosophy is in itself is strictly demarcated from any of the four types of truth that nonetheless condition philosophy. According to Badiou, philosophy does not produce truths, in the way that its four conditions do. Rather, philosophy is an operation in which the fact that there are truths, and the fact that they are multiple, are defended against the denial of these facts by old and new forms of that ancient adversary of philosophy: sophistry. As such, philosophy is constituted by speciﬁcally philosophical categories, which are strictly distinguished from the truths of philosophyʼs conditions. ʻThe truthʼ (in the singular) is such a speciﬁcally philosophical category according to Badiou. It does not make the substantive claim that the various types of truths are reducible to one unitary category of ʻtruthʼ.
Rather, it provides a defensive function, whereby the actuality and coexistence of the multiplicity of truths is asserted against sophistryʼs attack on truths. Similarly, Badiou claims that ʻeternityʼ is a speciﬁcally philosophical category, which defends truths against the sophistry of historicism.
This distinction of philosophy from its conditions is a central preoccupation of Manifesto for Philosophy. Badiou proposes to renew philosophy and combat its embattled predicament by clarifying and insisting on the autonomy of philosophy. Thus, his analysis of the recent history of philosophy is structured by the critique of various collapses of philosophyʼs autonomy into one or another of its conditions. Badiou describes this as a process of ʻsuturingʼ (stitching). The positivist attack on philosophy is understood as the result of the suturing of philosophy to science; the Marxist attack results from the suturing of philosophy to politics; and Badiou describes the various forms of post-Nietzschean aestheticism that dominate contemporary philosophy as the suturing of philosophy to art. Badiou does not identify the consequences of a suturing of philosophy to love. But, given that he identiﬁes Lacan as both the only modern thinker of love and an anti-philosopher, we might guess that psychoanalysis is the consequence. The task for philosophy is therefore one of ʻde-suturationʼ. Philosophy must return to itself by tearing through the sutures that tie it to its conditions.Manifesto for Philosophy is conspicuous for its use of assertion as a form of presentation. This is likely to produce immediate aversion in those hooked on syntactic proﬂigacy, in equal measure to the mistyeyed eroticization of a harsh new master. There is also something curiously comic in Badiouʼs style, as if the alter ego of his rationalism is some absurd ʻstone counterʼ from Beckettʼs imaginary. However, if Beckett provides a model only unwittingly pursued by rationalist philosophers, the master who Badiou acknowledges with respect to his ʻassertive styleʼ is Althusser.
Althusser introduced his conception of the assertive style of philosophy in his lectures on ʻPhilosophy and the Spontaneous Philosophy of the Scientistsʼ (1967), which provided the introduction to a lecture course to which Badiou himself contributed with ʻLe Concept de Modèleʼ (1969). Althusserʼs essay is pivotal in the transference of philosophyʼs primary determination from science to politics: in Badiouʼs terminology, an exchange of sutures. Althusser claims that philosophical propositions are inevitably assertive or dogmatic because they cannot be demonstrated or proved in the way that scientiﬁc propositions can. This is due to the fact that, according to Althusser, philosophy does not have a real object, in the way that a science does. Instead, philosophy has ʻstakesʼ, speciﬁcally the stakes of ʻthe scientiﬁcʼ as opposed to ʻthe ideologicalʼ, which are understood as two strictly philosophical categories. Philosophy attempts to establish a ʻcorrect positionʼ with regard to the scientiﬁc. Despite many evident differences, there is a notable parallel between Althusserʼs de-substantialization of philosophy as a tangential struggle against ʻthe ideologicalʼ and for ʻthe scientiﬁcʼ and Badiouʼs identiﬁcation of the struggle of philosophy against sophistry, tangential to actual truth procedures.
An appreciation of Badiouʼs assertive style does little to placate the criticisms that Badiouʼs anti-historicist construction of a systematic philosophy of truth has clearly courted, rather than merely sought to outwit. However, even if we limit ourselves to an internal evaluation of the project announced in Manifesto for Philosophy, a curious oversight emerges. Badiouʼs plea for philosophy precludes what is surely its deepest question: Why should philosophy be renewed? His claim that, pace his theory of truth, philosophy is possible and therefore necessary wilfully evades this question. Badiou insinuates a legitimation of philosophy through the evasion of the various ʻdisastersʼ that result from philosophyʼs suturing to its conditions. However, the idea that these disasters could be evaded by Badiouʼs insistence on philosophyʼs de-suturation negatively attributes an unlikely practical efﬁcacy to philosophy. For example, in his description of Stalinism and Fascism as ʻdisastrousʼ sutures of philosophy to the political – ʻthe empirical, historical destinations of disastrous philosophemes handed over to executionʼ – we can deduce a legitimation of philosophy on a monumental scale. However, to legitimate philosophy through the threat of Stalinism or Fascism not only negatively attributes an absurdly inﬂated signiﬁcance to philosophy, but presupposes rather than legitimates philosophyʼs raison dʼêtre. Even in his encounter with the postmodern or deconstructive sophistry of contemporary anti-philosophy, Badiouʼs renewal of philosophy relies on the sophistsʼ resentful presupposition of the signiﬁcance of philosophy to legitimate his posing a new alternative. However, doesnʼt this neglect the major opponent of the possibility of philosophy? Namely, not a covertly indebted sophistry, but a mere indifference to philosophy. Isnʼt it the multiple activities that exist independently and indifferently to debates construable in terms of a classic encounter between sophists and philosophers which is the contemporary opponent to philosophyʼs possibility? Indeed, just as Badiou recognizes that sophistry is the unsublatable bad conscience of philosophy, isnʼt it the general suspension of this conﬂict which threatens to close philosophy? The answers Badiou provides are to the questions of how, not of why philosophy? In this sense at least, the confrontationalism of Manifesto for Philosophy still preaches to the converted.
Man or ﬂy?
Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer, A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion, MIT Press,
Cambridge MA and London, 2000. xiii + 250 pp., £19.95 hb., 0 262 20125 9.
Whatʼs in a name? If you happen to be named Randy, when neo-Darwinism is all the rage, it seems to trigger some rather primitively repetitive thrusts in the publishing domain. Twenty years ago, Californian biologists Randy and Nancy Thornhill proposed their ʻrape-adaptation hypothesisʼ, conjecturing that human males will rape when their capacity to reproduce successfully is thwarted. Today (no longer writing with his old mating partner, but with the anthropologist Craig Palmer) Randy is peddling the same hypothesis again. And once again we need reminding that there are less facile ways of understanding Darwin than evolutionary psychologists supply. As Adam Phillips noted recently, before Darwin died one of his greatest admirers,
Sigmund Freud, made discerning use of his insights, knowing ʻthat the past inﬂuences everything and dictates nothingʼ. Meanwhile, others were busy inventing Darwinian axioms to dictate everything. That we have to waste our mental energies attending to the scientiﬁc posturing of Thornhill and Palmer is testimony to the sanctimonious return of just such a Zeitgeist.
ʻRape is just Natureʼs wayʼ was how the Observer greeted the publication of this book. The evolutionary evidence for a rape adaptation in animals is drawn from observation of the use of an organ possessed by the male members ʻof certain scorpionﬂiesʼ. Other entomologists report a similar rape-facilitating appendage or ʻclampʼ in the males of a species of wa-terstrider and the sagebrush cricket. These insects are said to engage in coercive sex, with the help of their clamp, when their capacity to reproduce successfully is thwarted. As Thornhill and Palmer know, however, the overwhelming majority of human males behave rather differently. Just as well. The capacity of a billion human males to ʻreproduce successfullyʼ is thwarted daily as women almost everywhere (despite their supposed genetic imperative for maximum reproductive advantage) are having ever fewer children, later in life, are frequently raising them independently of the biological father, and in increasing numbers choosing to remain childless. But Thornhill and Palmer have little interest in statistics drawn from the systematically recorded reproductive behaviour of millions of women and men, when deploying ʻthe evidentiary arguments of evolutionary biologyʼ, drawn from the behaviour of certain insects.
The turn to evolutionary and genetic determinism has familiar backers. The prominent American anthropologist Donald Symons endorses these ʻnewʼ theories. For over two decades he too has promoted the ʻDarwinian truthʼ that the human female, just by existing, and being ʻcontinuously copulableʼ, triggers in every passing male the desire to pursue ʻeasy, anonymous, impersonal, unencumbered sexʼ with an ʻendless successionʼ of them. Echoing Symons, Thornhill and Palmer predict that males have been selected ʻfor at least some interest in mating with almost any femaleʼ. Boom boom. Yet, outside pornographic fabulation (existing primarily to help heterosexual men masturbate, because the ʻreal thingʼ proves not so copulable at all) the human male has other problems. The sex therapy industry thrives on those many men who need assistance to accomplish any sexual performance at all. But extensive sexological evidence of menʼs widespread erectile problems is ﬁltered out of the ʻscientiﬁcʼ evidence selected to conﬁrm the stark gender polarities promoted here.
Thornhill and Palmer reserve particular scorn for the ʻpolitically constructed social scienceʼ which has absorbed what they describe as the pervasive, near monolithic feminist account that ʻrape is a crime of violence not of sexʼ. From my own feminist perspective, which shares little with their paternalistic presumptions of the inevitability of female sexual vulnerability (men in prison know well that they are quite as rapeable as women, though hardly pregnable), the formula that ʻRape is about power and control, not about sexʼ is not so helpful. Clearly sex, power and violence can be hideously intertwined, especially in cultures where men quickly learn that sex with a ʻbeautifulʼ woman is an assured means, indeed the most successful way, of exhibiting manhood. Sexually motivated aggression may well provide some alleviation of menʼs dread of their own weakness, while punishing women for its existence. However, any feminist reduction of coercive sex to menʼs pursuit of power over women fails to work as a rebuttal of simplistic Darwinian determinisms, which merely add that menʼs contests for power are the inevitable outcome of biological priming for ʻreproductive advantageʼ: behaviour encoded in genes.
Thornhill and Palmer, like other neo-Darwinians, present themselves as an embattled vanguard defending the exacting truths of science against the sentimental superstitions of cultural belief. Some rather distinguished scientists see them, instead, as servicing hubristic illusions that science can provide a unifying blueprint for understanding, and above all attempting to control, the inﬁnite complexity of living things. This is what has annoyed other research biologists who see the complexities of their empirical labours, and the legacy of Darwin himself, mocked by such pseudoscientiﬁc posturings (see, for example, H. Rose and S. Rose, eds, Alas, Poor Darwin, or Steve Jones, The Language of Genes). Few academics, whatever their afﬁliations, deny that genes and their evolutionary history play an important role in human affairs. Fundamentalist Christian creationists have little purchase as serious competitors in the UK, while those other rivals, the putative ʻpostmodernistsʼ, tend to delight in the amazing complexities of the life forms Darwin himself described (rather like the palaeontologist Stephen J. Gould).
Thornhill and Palmer mislead when they characterize their critics as anti-Darwinian. Indeed, Christian creationists are probably among those who support their views, since God created Man in His (Patriarchal) Image. Evolution is not itself in question. The point is that talk of the biological origins of human existence neither explains any particular pattern of events nor predicts their future direction. No perceived universality in human practice entails a genetic origin. Even if we choose to overlook the staggering weight of evidence for variability in precisely those areas of human sexual conduct which evolutionary theorists like Thornhill and Palmer insist are universally dimorphic, it would still be the case that any such generalization may be as much an effect of menʼs hitherto ubiquitous economic and social advantages as an evolved adaptation operating as a cause.
It is only by the most selective airing of correlational data that current evolutionary theorists can ignore the vast historical and sexological research on the negative correspondence between shifting human sexual practices and the pursuit of reproductive ends. Talk of ʻnatural selectionʼ in the arena of sexual activity is nothing more than empty speculation, with no evidence of the evolutionary history of any particular attribute. The ʻnotal organʼ on the abdomen of certain male scorpionﬂies, the Thornhills concluded in their earlier observations, has the sole purpose of facilitating ʻrapeʼ or ʻcoercive sexʼ in ʻwimpierʼ male ﬂies who prove unable to ʻnourishʼ female ﬂies when they mount them. Even ignoring the entomological provocations here, we cannot avoid asking what exactly happened to this ʻrape appendageʼ in evolutionary history. Supposedly, it migrated to become a ʻmentalʼ rape adaptation in reproductively frustrated men. In support of this hypothesis we learn that infertile women are less likely to be raped than fertile women, and suffer ʻless psychological painʼ from rape (despite all that is now known of the prolonged destructiveness of child sexual abuse). We are also told that evolutionary science teaches us that the way to prevent rape is to inform men of the enormous ʻpower of their sexual impulsesʼ, and instruct them to learn self-control. Can they be serious? This is the exact message, the unﬂagging message, every boy has already heard, when his masculinity is being policed by other boys in our rape-prone society.
The trouble is that the mediaʼs unabated enthusiasm for reports that gene histories determine the way we are makes it impossible merely to ignore evolutionary psychology. It has to be constantly pointed out, against James Watson and his Human Genome backers, that genes provide the ʻnatural historyʼ of no human conduct. The new enthusiasm for the idea that our gene histories determine our cultural futures occurs despite, not because of, new genetic knowledge. Genes act in intricate concert with each other and their ever-changing environments. Their history over time suggests the random, contingent nature of genetic change, rather than the outcome of Natural Law. As that dandy Irish dramatist once told us, ʻthe one thing one really knows about human nature is that it changesʼ. The intrinsic uncertainties and complexities in human genetic transactions make all attempts at genetic determinism formidable, even when trying to understand and treat those rare, genetically ʻsimpleʼ diseases like haemophilia. Its deployment to explain and shift symbolically charged, hugely diverse, endlessly fraught patterns of human conduct (like sexual behaviour) is merely absurd. For the sake of reclaiming science, if nothing else, the work of Thornhill and Palmer should be treated with the derision it deserves.
Not saying no Diana Coole, Negativity and Politics: Dionysus and Dialectics from Kant to Poststructuralism, Routledge,
London and New York, 2000. 272 pp., £60.00 hb., £16.99 pb., 0 415 03176 1 hb., 0 415 03177 X pb.
What is negativity and how does it relate to politics? Perhaps someone free from dialectics, ignorant of negativity, unconcerned with politics could provide an answer to this question. But for Diana Coole and those who read her book there is no easy solution. The negative deﬁes simple deﬁnition. It can most obviously be seen in opposition to the positive – as criticism, negation, resistance, transgression, lack or absence. This clearly points us in the direction of politics – it is an opposition to what is, to the way things are, to the way they operate. Invoking the negative is political in the sense of challenging and destabilizing illusions of presence, perfection and permanence, illusions that in turn sustain or are sustained by structures of power.
The problem that arises throughout this book is whether this critical negativity is enough to support a progressive politics. There is a sense in which the politics of negativity contain a strategic aspect, but in their poststructural form these strategies may go too far in undermining or rejecting all positivity and fail to offer a politics of collective life. Coole is concerned to maintain a conception of politics that relates to the domain of collective life and such things as shared institutions, practices, rules and values. The political entails relatively enduring structures and practices that may be coercive but are also empowering. Critical modern and postmodern approaches are motivated by political opposition to the positive – whether this be to knowledge, language, subjectivity, metaphysics, the mode of production, the state, the ego or binary sexual difference. But as well as negation and critique, the political must encompass the slower tempo of collective action and structural imperatives. It must, more positively, be a space of decision, action and judgement, or else it descends into aesthetics and symbolic gesture.
It is slightly surprising that this book starts with Kant, given that Kant does not have an explicit conception of the negative. But he does give us a critical philosophy that establishes the limits of reason. Critical reason might be seen as an example of negativity, a process of interrogation, of questioning rational authority and dogmatic metaphysics, introducing an element of doubt and uncertainty. The danger with beginning with Kant, however, is that while he may provide a basis for questioning the limits of reason, this is to the detriment of ontology. This, in my view, is the dominant problem with the poststructuralist philosophers discussed in this book. It is something that Cooleʼs analysis reveals, but does not adequately confront.
This cannot be said of Hegel, for whom negativity exists in the dynamic process of becoming. However, it is claimed that there is a tension in Hegelʼs work between a teleological philosophy of identity and a self-generativity that emphasizes difference and alterity. There are two directions that interpretations of Hegel can take. One is to go with Marx and see the negative as material and historical so that dialectics becomes a critical method and mode of political practice. However, it is argued that the process of the becoming of reason reaches an end-point with the elimination of all non-identity. For Hegel, this is the becoming of the modern constitutional state; for Marx, negation is associated with the actions of the proletariat and culminates in the communist society. The alternative is to take the poststructuralist turn and reject dialectics as it implies the resolution of binary oppositions and the elimination of the negative. This tradition looks to Nietzsche and places its emphasis on alterity.
The traditional Hegelian-Marxist approach sees negation as determination and takes a teleological form. Coole ﬁnds a slightly surprising alternative to this in Merleau-Pontyʼs work. This contains a dialectical conception of a meaningful but contingent lifeworld where social institutions are open diacritical systems. It is argued that this maintains the importance of the subject–object relation without succumbing to the kind of privileging of subject–object identity which is found in writers like Lukács. The emphasis on lifeworld is one on intersubjectivity, although, unlike Habermas, Merleau-Ponty does not ground intersubjectivity in language and communicative action, but in perception, thus avoiding any rationalist tendencies.
The Nietzschean approach to negativity is to see it as the generativity that stands in place of ontology. Coole is right to raise the question of whether or not the will to power is itself just a novel ontology, and to ask whether it too develops a metaphysical aura. She argues that the will to power is not an origin but an interpretation and becoming. Appearances are not the phenomenal manifestation of some ultimate force, but are continually mutating and reforming. Creation and destruction take place through the play of differences and the strength of different wills. There is no privileging of a certain structure or agent, no presuppositon of a truth beneath appearances. All forms are contingent and potentially reversible.
In Derrida this takes the form of the workings of différance. In contrast to Hegelʼs antithesis and sublation there is inversion and subversion. Politics is not about reconciliation but the undecidability that deﬁes identity. Emphasis is not so much on contradiction as on the multiplicity of the undecidable. This in turn undermines the drive towards totalization that Hegel advocates. And this method has recently been directed against Marx, where Derrida conjures up multiple spirits to undermine the supposed closure of Marxʼs ontology. For Derrida, as for Adorno, negativity is not a ﬁnal principle. There is no metaphysical truth of things in themselves. Their approach is an immanent one that unleashes the creative–destructive power of negativity and non-identity. They are not attempting to show that there is some true reality underlying social forms but rather that dialectical thought traces the connections and contradictions associated with reason and society.
Coole claimes that Adornoʼs work is political in the sense that it deconstructs for critical and emancipatory reasons, directed as it is against the reiﬁed totality and its rationalism, fetishism, violence, domination and closure. It is said that Adorno dialectically sustains the possibility of an excessive and heterogeneous critical agency and subjects structures to critical analysis and transformation. Is this really so? As Coole later admits, there is a serious difﬁculty in translating this essentially philosophical approach into a politics of collective action. But this is surely inevitable once any notion of transforamtive agency is rejected and the burden of praxis is shifted onto the philosophical task of immanent critique.
Kristeva, like Adorno, sees that late capitalism has made direct challenges to oppressive structures almost impossible. She develops a negative politics of the subject that looks at what remains unsatisﬁed and repressed. The terrain of radical politics shifts to signifying practices. The avant-garde displaces the proletariat as agent of negation; its project is the renegotiation of the socio-symbolic contract. Politics moves to the psychocultural, to jouissance and to the politics of drugs, youth cultures, music, aesthetic practices and non-Western cultures. The womenʼs movement is a radical part of a broad cultural transformation that challenges the Western symbolic. Politics is discursive and performative, exploring the personal, the symbolic, the semiotic. Again, the question is whether this politics of the subject and of negativity can translate into one capable of challenging the oppressive structures of capitalism.
In concluding, the book notes the problem of trying to express negativity as a philosophy while denying the possibility of its representation. While these approaches are congenial to aesthetic, ethical and philosophical interventions, we are left wondering about the political arena where collective life is negotiated. It is argued that we need some inertia and durability, some shared practices and procedures. Democracy needs to be formative and creative as well as destructive. The challenge for political theory is to rethink the basis of collective life and political association.
Coole calls for a more dialectical approach, which, she says, would require us to examine the relationship between ontology and political negativity as a matter of historical mediation. She describes her position as an endorsement of dialectics, albeit informed by Nietzschean and postmodern sensitivities. This book was initially intended as a defence of the radical politics and ethics of postmodernism and poststructuralism, but during its composition it took an increasingly dialectical position. This account of the evolution of the book helps us understand its strengths and weaknesses. It is a strength of this development that we get a series of highly pertinent critiques of the limits of poststructural theory and the severe limitations of its political arguments. The weakness is that although the shortcomings of poststructuralism are revealed, an alternative is not in place. Alternatives are brilliantly glimpsed but not systematically developed. In particular, it would have been good to see more of an endorsement of ontology. Poststructuralists attack ontology for being monolithic and teleological but it does not have to be like that. Some recent work, such as the dialectical critical realism of Roy Bhaskar, is compatible with the epistemic sensitivities of poststructuralism while retaining a strong ontological commitment that nevertheless opposes itself to what is termed ʻontological monovalenceʼ or a purely positive account of being. With such an ontology it is possible to get on with the kind of afﬁrmative, life-enhancing politics advocated by Coole. Without it, we are trapped in the iron cage of negative politics.
Yes, but why? Paul Patton, Deleuze and the Political, Routledge, London and New York, 2000. 176 pp., £45.00 hb., £12.99 pb., 0 41510 063 1 hb., 0 41510 064 X pb.and straightforward implications for political and social theory. Against standard conceptions of power, Deleuze draws upon Nietzsche and Spinoza to present an ontology of will to power constituted by relations of heterogeneous forces. This, in turn, gives rise to reconceptualizations of desire and its relation to politics, and of freedom and its relation to identity and the self. Most importantly, it gives rise to the Deleuzean conception of ʻnomadic becomingsʼ, mutations that can effect partial or total ʻdeterritorializationsʼ of modes of colonization and capture which seek to contain differences within forms of territory and identity. Such deterritorializing movements are always present alongside reterritorializing ones, and their interplay deﬁnes a set of state formations or machines – territorial, despotic, and capitalist – which coexist to varying degrees within any concrete social and political setting, creating multiple levels to social and political life. Through these ideas, Patton shows, Deleuze provides the tools for a politics of difference which does not simply oppose minority groups to the This is the seventh book in Routledgeʼs ʻThinking the Politicalʼ series, aiming to introduce a wide audience to the complex relation between the political and the philosophical in recent continental thought. The burgeoning interest in Deleuze on the Anglo-American scene makes this a timely work, and Patton should be congratulated for producing one of the more accessible introductions to Deleuzeʼs thought, admirably weaving together the early philosophical monographs with the later collaborations with Félix Guattari. The work is also made timely by the recent translation into English of Alain Badiouʼs Deleuze: The Clamor of Being (reviewed in RP 103), which rejects the interpretation of Deleuze as a post-1968 thinker of the emancipation of desiring ﬂows, portraying instead an ascetic and aristocratic philosopher set on resubmitting thought to a renewed concept of the One. Pattonʼs book does not answer Badiouʼs on the ontological level at which the latter is pitched, but it nonetheless restores Deleuze as a political philosopher of multiplicity, without ascribing to him the naive romantic anarchism with which he and Guattari are often associated.
The distinctiveness of Deleuzeʼs thinking and politics, Patton argues, comes from his privileging of process over structure, and his concomitant interest in the way movement and change can and do occur. The novelty of this approach ʻdoes not lie in its refusal of any systematic character but rather in the nature of the system which it developsʼ. The latter unfolds through a logic of open multiplicities, illustrated initially by Patton through Deleuze and Guattariʼs account of the concept as a nexus of relations to other concepts and problems, whose meaning changes with transformations of this relational web. This multiplicity, as Patton says, is deﬁned not in terms of a principle of unity but rather by a ʻline of ﬂightʼ by which it mutates. The Deleuzean concept is also a ʻvirtual eventʼ: a problematic ﬁeld actualized through the different concrete forms it takes, the latter embodying precarious solutions to the problem the concept poses. This two-tiered system of virtual concept and actualized embodiment presents two forms of mutually imbricated and reciprocally inﬂuencing multiplicity – molecular and molar levels – through which social meaning is both constituted and deconstituted.
Following from this arrangement Patton articulates a number of Deleuzean notions with both indirect dominant majority, but instead supports a politics of ʻbecoming minorʼ, built upon creative and revolutionary divergences from both the hegemonic and the marginal.
Patton carefully links these diverse theoretical points to standard questions in political theory while demonstrating how they compel political thought beyond its normal framework. Rejecting the oftenheard criticism that Deleuzeʼs Nietzschean-inspired analytic of power amounts to nothing more than relativism, he insists instead that it creates a nuanced system of judgement. He maintains that Deleuze and Guattari do not privilege nomadism for its own sake, but demand deterritorializations which are connective and productive, and hence political. And he develops from these a notion of critical freedom which extends beyond the alternatives of positive and negative liberty, towards the creative use of crisis to press oneself beyond oneʼs established identity and its boundaries.
There are useful engagements with more standard approaches to conceptual change in the history of political thought, liberal and Marxist analyses of power and individualism, and feminist criticisms of Deleuze and Guattari on the theme of ʻbecoming womanʼ. The writing is generally clear, and the book will certainly be of value to students of more mainstream political theory interested in engaging with Deleuze. However, the concern for clarity may have been carried too far. The exposition of the text is almost exclusively descriptive – a far too common mode in Deleuze studies – and while Patton is to be commended for providing, unlike much of the literature, more than a redescription of Deleuze that uses the very jargon in need of explanation, one often has the feeling that a deeper level of explanation or argument is required. For example, when going through the logic of the actualization of problems, Patton states ʻthere will be as many kinds of problem as there are distinct species of matter and thought, including physical, biological and psychic problemsʼ. Yet no account is given of how such problems are to be distinguished, let alone where the various species come from. Instead, we are simply told that ʻ[t]he Idea of language as such, or the transcendental Problem of language, will therefore be a virtual structure which includes all of the sets of relations between signifying elements which may be actualized in particular languagesʼ and that ʻ[t]he Idea or transcendental Problem of society as such will therefore be a virtual set of indeterminate relations between means of production, direct and indirect producers, and consumers, while particular Ideas of society will involve an actual set of determinate social relationsʼ. One may wonder why these descriptions should be accepted, and why Deleuze should not be accused – as Aristotle was accused by Kant, and Kant himself by Hegel – of pulling his categories out of thin air. More to the point, one may wonder why Patton seems not to realize that his declarations are already instantiations of a virtual ﬁeld, not descriptions of the virtual ﬁeld itself. Given that Deleuze is so often accused of falling back to a pre-Kantian assertion of a prediscursive reality, this is an important issue to address.
The resulting portrayal of Deleuze focuses more on the images he invokes than on the arguments he makes. This does not present problems where the goal is only to introduce Deleuzeʼs thought; and in any event, these images, as Patton notes, are not mere metaphors for Deleuze and Guattari. But it is not enough when Patton attempts to move beyond description to argument or comparison with other thinkers on subtle points, and at such moments the text becomes rather sloppy. For example, Patton tries to separate Deleuze and Guattariʼs micropolitics of desire from Foucaultʼs micropolitics of power. After quoting Deleuze and Guattariʼs position in A Thousand Plateaus, where they contrast the positivity of desire with an asserted negativity and reactiveness of Foucauldian power relations, Patton declares this to be an oversimpliﬁcation, and proceeds to ﬂesh out the theme of affective desire as the crucial difference. But no critical analysis is given as to why Deleuze and Guattari present Foucault in such simpliﬁed terms, and the fact that this simpliﬁcation is absent from Deleuzeʼs Foucault is ignored. The only real point made is the obvious one that affect is not part of Foucaultʼs vocabulary, but no attempt is made to show that the term is not fully compatible with Foucauldian power relations once they are understood as disjunctive rather than as oppositional in the way Deleuze and Guattari have cast them.
These limitations in the presentation of Deleuze seem also to be reﬂected in the limitations of the politics towards which his work is seen to point. The book culminates with an interesting, but all too brief, account of how recent legal decisions on aboriginal title may effect a deterritorialization in conceptions of land, linking nomadic and sedentary European understandings in ways which challenge the idea that Australia was settled rather than conquered. This point hardly requires Deleuzean concepts. And the way it is made gives no attention to the numerous forms of reterritorializing and normalizing power undoubtedly also at work within the Australian legal framework – forms of power of which any Deleuzean or Foucauldian ought to be keenly aware.
Santayana once remarked of Bergson that ʻHe is persuasive without argument.ʼ The Deleuze literature often does little to prevent Deleuze from being branded similarly. Badiou misunderstands Deleuze badly on many points, but at least he presents him as making a philosophical argument and engages with that argument. It is regrettable that Deleuze and the Political does not take this step, for it would have added greatly to what is a positive and useful account of Deleuzeʼs political philosophy.
Unﬁnishing de Certeau Ian Buchanan, Michel de Certeau: Cultural Theorist, Sage, Thousand Oaks CA, London, New Delhi, 2000. 160 pp., £50.00 hb., £16.99 pb, 0 761 95897 5 hb., 0 761 95898 3 pb.
Confronted with a notoriously varied body of writing, anyone attempting to grasp the thought of Michel de Certeau must ﬁrst face the problem of how to connect work on religious history, for instance, with work on contemporary everyday life. To put it more bluntly, the problem faced is how to concoct an account of de Certeau that can accommodate his Christian convictions and his promotion of ʻeveryday resistanceʼ. The ambition of Ian Buchananʼs book is evidenced by the fact that he doesnʼt avoid these issues by parcelling de Certeauʼs work into disciplinary enclaves (historiography, anthropology, sociology, religious history, and so on) or historically distinct moments (preand post1968, for instance). For Buchanan, avoiding the messy totality of de Certeauʼs work is symptomatic of the instrumental reading he has received in Anglophone cultural studies. The fate of The Practice of Everyday Life, for instance, has to a large extent been to act as a reservoir for one-liners that can be slotted into predesigned arguments about ʻpower and resistanceʼ.
Buchananʼs book seeks to rescue de Certeau from the ʻpopularʼ or dominant image that cultural studies has generated. For this Buchanan works to relocate de Certeau (the location of knowledge production being a crucial aspect of de Certeauʼs analytic procedure) by arranging encounters between him and the likes of Jameson, Deleuze and Guattari, Greimas, Brecht and Lacan. In an effort to effect such a relocation, and to deal with the opaque totality of the work, Buchanan speculatively constructs what he calls (after Deleuze) de Certeauʼs ʻplane of immanenceʼ. This is a kind of imagined sociality (or ʻform of lifeʼ) that implicitly saturates a body of thought, often at the level of style and taste. And it is through this that Buchanan begins to connect de Certeauʼs belief in God, his involvement in Lacanian psychoanalysis and his ethnographic approach to contemporary life.
For Buchanan ʻcommunicationʼ is the animating desire in de Certeauʼs thought, and the possibilities and difﬁculties of achieving communication within a secular society are what drive the work. In this way his Christian faith, rather than being an embarrassing faux pas that is best passed over in silence, or met with barely mufﬂed giggles, is rendered part of a symptomatology in which ʻcommunicationʼ is seen as foundational. Thus, religious belief does not determine de Certeauʼs theoretical inclination; both his theoretical propensity and his Christianity are symptomatic of a more fundamental orientation. De Certeauʼs religious faith is seen as symptomatic of a belief in an ʻineffable something that is resistant to the last degreeʼ and is ʻsimply the repressed form of communication, the ideal speech situation driven inwards by the destruction of its contextual parameters (belief in God, for instance)ʼ. At the same time, such belief, for Buchanan, is one of many indications of an insistently anti-utopian turn of mind: it is the radical transformation implied in any utopian solution that threatens to annul the possibility of the ʻineffable somethingʼ emerging as communication. De Certeauʼs practice, both in the realm of cultural policy (he participated in a number of governmental forums) and in his writing, is thereby seen as an attempt to negotiate the almost contradictory demand to foster a non-utopian speech situation where ʻno oneʼs speech is suppressed by anyone elseʼsʼ.
Similarly, the insistence throughout much of de Certeauʼs work to examine the way forms of knowledge are authorized (history, anthropology, and so on) is not seen in the spirit of critical dismantling, but as a way of allowing more modest (but also more inventive) modes of communication to emerge. De Certeauʼs historiographic practice, for instance, seeks to uncover the operations that are necessary to present documents as history, and while this works to deﬂate the puffed-up authority of those who want to speak in the name of the past, its motivation is not critical per se. For instance, de Certeauʼs 1970 book on The Possession at Loudun (a seventeenth-century case of demonic possession) can be treated as an example of a new mode of historical writing, combining in a montage style ʻoriginalʼ documentation, contemporary accounts of the case, interwoven with de Certeauʼs commentary. Thus de Certeau is seen as performing a kind of Brechtian estrangement whereby the rhetorical and institutional devices that grant authority are revealed, not in order to scupper communication, but to allow for a more animated and situated presentation of the material. Books such as The Possession at Loudun and The Practice of Everyday Life can be read as ʻlanguage experimentsʼ that work towards an articulation that is at once both complex (they allow for a polyphonic presentation) and generative (they become a training ground for generating new speech situations).
While Buchanan might be seen as performing his own useful ʻestrangementʼ by offering us an unfamiliar version of de Certeau, the real pleasure and productivity of this book relates to Brechtʼs call to ʻtransform ﬁnished works into unﬁnished worksʼ. By treating de Certeauʼs work as radically unﬁnished Buchananʼs book becomes urgent and challenging in the most literal way. Here, de Certeauʼs work contains not the words of a master, which must in turn be mastered, but an invitation to engage in the invention of new schemas of recognition. If de Certeau is seen as an inventor who died leaving some initial diagrams and blueprints, and a host of experimental prototypes, then the job of the commentator becomes one of participation in his unﬁnished (and perhaps unﬁnishable) project.
Seen in this way, de Certeauʼs mobilization of terms like ʻheterologyʼ or ʻstrategies and tacticsʼ or ʻplace and spaceʼ renders them experimental tokens for the cognitive mapping of a world that is, as yet, barely recognized. De Certeauʼs practice can be taken as a kind of social phenomenology that, as well as trying to describe what is already ʻout thereʼ, works to participate in the inventiveness of everyday life by allowing new ways of operating and communicating to emerge. In this way the politics of de Certeauʼs orientation is unclear, because such a phenomenology would be the prerequisite for an emergent politics of the everyday (which due to de Certeauʼs death was never completed). But Buchananʼs approach doesnʼt suspend appraisal in his willingness to ﬂesh out the implications of de Certeauʼs more incipient innovations. Indeed, it becomes clear that while Buchanan is fascinated by de Certeau, his sympathies lie in directions both more utopian and more directed towards the critical mapping of the social totality.
Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, if in the end Buchanan ﬁgures de Certeauʼs anti-utopianism as a deep pessimism: ʻthere is a kind of hopelessness here that colours everything, even that which might on ﬁrst ﬂush have seemed romantic and charmingʼ. Such a characterization works effectively within the bookʼs aim ʻto be a concerted intervention into the AngloAmerican “reception” of de Certeauʼs workʼ. After all, Anglo-American cultural studies has continually presented de Certeau as optimistically celebrating a general tenacity and resourcefulness in the face of power. Yet the ﬁnality of Buchananʼs assessment might also work to undo aspects of the nuanced account that the book establishes. For as Buchanan suggests throughout, de Certeauʼs own resourcefulness is to be found in his ʻlanguage experimentsʼ, his own attempts to describe and fashion ʻculture in the pluralʼ. De Certeauʼs practice not only seeks to recognize a subterranean world of communication (mystic speech, everyday ways of operating); it also seeks to facilitate new communicative encounters (never knowable in advance). Here surely is the inverse of hopelessness. De Certeauʼs heuristic, speculative attempt to relocate the everyday at the forefront of thought must be resolutely hopeful, not because it believes in the progressiveness of such a move, but because it prepares the ground for the unanticipated. And anyone who so forcefully pursues the unanticipated can only do so in the name of hope.
Fellow without a fatherland Joseph McCarney, Hegel on History, London and New York, Routledge, 2000. xi + 234 pp., £35.00 hb., £8.99 pb., 0 415 11695 3 hb., 0 415 11696 1 pb.
ʻSheer nonsenseʼ and ʻa lasting monument to German stupidityʼ: Schopenhauerʼs resentful verdict on Hegelʼs work has been wholeheartedly shared by many. Seen as arrogant and often unintelligible, convinced that he had created a system which comprehended life, the universe and everything, Hegel has been portrayed as a classic example of an ivory-tower philosopher who, turning his back on his youthful radicalism, became a self-serving toady to the Prussian state. But did Hegel deserve his reputation? Not if Joseph McCarney is right. For McCarney presents Hegelʼs philosophy not only as rooted in everyday experience but also as a call to social and political engagement, and he believes that his discussion of Hegelʼs philosophy of history will make this clear. McCarneyʼs subject is the lectures on the philosophy of history Hegel gave in Berlin in the 1820s, although he focuses on the Introduction to the Philosophy of History and often refers to other works. The attempt to discern a meaning in historical events taken as a whole – revealing an intelligible underlying plot, the way in which it unfolds, and the end towards which history is moving – was a central concern for many of Hegelʼs generation, but it was Kantʼs political writings that inﬂuenced him most. Kant put forward a view of history as the development of human freedom and rationality, embodied in political institutions, guided by the ʻhidden planʼ of nature, and – with ʻreasonʼ substituted for ʻnatureʼ – this was roughly Hegelʼs view as well. But Hegelʼs idea of freedom differed from Kantʼs, as did his epistemology and ontology; and because his philosophy of history can only be understood as a part of the whole, McCarney sets out ﬁrst to outline the conceptual framework of Hegelʼs metaphysics. The book is therefore divided into two parts, with a ʻbridging sectionʼ or ʻintervalʼ in between. The ﬁrst part deals with the main elements of Hegelʼs system; the interval links this to his interpretation of world history (focusing on the historical dialectic, or ʻwhat … makes history goʼ); and the second part explores the philosophy of history itself. All the important elements of the system are clariﬁed, analysed and related to his vision of history: newcomers to Hegel will ﬁnd this a helpful guide to his work.
Understandably impatient with the common tendency to jump to conclusions about Hegelʼs intentions or the social and political implications of his thought, McCarney defends him against allegations of nationalism, racism and totalitarian sympathies. Hegelʼs remark that ʻonly the will which obeys the law is freeʼ, McCarney points out, should not be taken to mean that he equated freedom with unhesitating obedience to the dictates of the state. Nor should we dismiss the suggestion that only world history can judge the ruthless actions of ʻworld-historical individualsʼ as a callous declaration that ʻmight is rightʼ. And McCarney not only reminds us that ʻthe myth of Hegel as the philosopher of German nationalism is wholly the creation of a later periodʼ, but argues that ʻa ﬁrmer theoretical basis for the fundamental equality of human beings than Hegelian spirit provides can scarcely be conceivedʼ. Hegel thought the modern state derived its strength, in part, from accommodating cultural diversity, and was ʻtruly innocent of racist attitudesʼ – making himself so unpopular by opposing the movement to deny civil rights to Jews (ʻthe Jewsʼ, he insisted, ʻare primarily human beingsʼ) that he was derided as ʻthe fellow without a fatherlandʼ.
Yet Hegelʼs attitude to non-Europeans was still offensive, by our standards, and McCarney acknowledges the arrogance, the complacency, and the residue of cultural prejudice in the Lectures, which at times is even comical. (He gives the prize for absurdity to ʻthe story, retailed by Hegel, that Catholic clergy had to ring a bell at midnight to remind Paraguayan Indians of their matrimonial dutiesʼ.) Not much can be said in mitigation, although McCarney does his best – pointing out that Hegelʼs anthropological sources were poor, for example, and to ʻthe histrionic temptations of the lecture theatreʼ. But in the end he can only reiterate that such bigotry is ʻdirectly at odds with the inner logic of Hegelʼs thoughtʼ, and leave us pondering the relationship between the thinker and his work, and between Hegelʼs time and our own: ʻWhat could then be said without exciting special comment by an eminent professor lecturing in a major European university would surely now have the character of hotel bar rantings. It may be possible to see in these circumstances a modest Hegelian message about the progress of spirit.ʼ
On this idea of progress, and the irreversibility of historical events, McCarney argues that ʻHegel is not grappling … with phantoms created by his own style of thinkingʼ, but simply offering a means of conceptualizing an apparently inescapable feature of human experience – the fact that ʻNewton could not have come before Kepler or after Einsteinʼ, for example. But is this progress, rather than merely difference? And what about Hegelʼs suggestion that world history as a whole can be understood as the progress of the consciousness of freedom? McCarney explores this by considering more recent events from a Hegelian perspective: the collapse of oppressive Communist regimes and of apartheid could be taken as evidence in support of Hegelʼs view, he points out, yet the genocidal horrors of the twentieth century present a real barrier to its acceptance. McCarneyʼs discussion of how Hegel might have responded to twentieth-century events and defended his argument that ʻworld history has been rational in its courseʼ obstructs, once again, the standard simplistic objections, yet his own conclusion is unpersuasive. ʻThe vulnerability of the philosophy of history to being empirically confoundedʼ, he argues, ʻis the price to be paid for its explanatory potential.ʼ But surely Hegelʼs vision is an interpretation rather than an explanation – a paradigm or world-view, perhaps invulnerable to empirical refutation?
Kierkegaard was thinking of Hegel when he wrote that, ʻIn relation to their systems most systematizers are like a man who builds an enormous castle but lives in a shack nearbyʼ, and McCarney suggests that the philosophy of history provides a defence against this ʻbrilliantly unfair chargeʼ by supplying the key to understanding ʻhow his system can be inhabitedʼ. But it is perhaps when he considers the Philosophy of Right that he best undermines the claim that Hegel was building castles in the air. There Hegel notoriously declared that ʻWhat is rational is actual [wirklich]; and what is actual is rational.ʼ This is often taken as symptomatic of a deep-seated conservatism in his thought leaving no room for revolution in social and political institutions. Although McCarney ﬁnds Hegelʼs own rebuttals of this charge ʻnot wholly convincingʼ – and describes his attitude to poverty and inequality as ʻone of unwonted resignationʼ – he nevertheless argues that Hegelʼs work not only allows for engagement but perhaps even impels it. Hegel called his undertaking ʻa theodicy, a justiﬁcation of Godʼ, but suggested that our response to the suffering and evil of existence should be based not on the consoling thought of an afterlife but on the power of philosophy to reconcile us to evil by demonstrating the rationality and necessity of the course of history. However, this cannot be taken as an excuse for fatalistic apathy, since the reconciliation of spirit and the existing world is itself a dynamic activity, and therefore an ongoing task for us all. As McCarney sums it up: ʻto be truly at home in the world, to possess the freedom that lies in the disappearance of estrangement, is … to be engaged in trying to change it.ʼ
Gulf war over Samuel C. Wheeler III, Deconstruction as Analytic Philosophy, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 2000. 312 pp., £35.00 hb., £12.95 pb., 0 8047 3752 5 hb., 0 8047 3753 3 pb.
In his introduction to this collection of essays, the author recounts how he once presented Derrida with a copy of Saul Kripkeʼs Naming and Necessity, a text that Wheeler describes as ʻnearly transparentʼ. Derrida remarked that he had already tried to read this landmark of analytic philosophy but had not been able to understand ʻwhat was going onʼ. In contrast, reports Wheeler, Derrida remarked that he found Heidegger very clear. This gives rise to Wheelerʼs ﬁrst attempt at grappling with the difference between analytic and continental philosophy: ʻyou are an analytic philosopher if you think Kripke writes clearly; you are a continental philosopher if you think Heidegger writes clearlyʼ. While this is just as good as many more wordy attempts to pin down this most elusive distinction, one cannot help but wonder where the vast number of philosophers who ﬁnd neither Kripke nor Heidegger ʻnearly transparentʼ could be said to reside on the philosophical map. Indeed, this is one of the reasons that an increasing number of philosophers sidestep the analytic/continental divide altogether. Nonetheless, the anecdote serves a useful purpose in reminding us of the gulf that exists between the variety of academic labourers who share the title and self-description, ʻphilosopherʼ. That this collection helps us to understand all the more clearly the nature of that gulf is sufﬁcient justiﬁcation for its existence in an already overcrowded marketplace.
As the title suggests, though, Wheeler is interested in showing us that in many respects the gulf is not as great as we think, largely because the nature of the analytic/continental divide is so often misunderstood. Wheeler recognizes, however, that to argue this case convincingly one cannot simply place analytic and continental philosophy side by side. One must construct the bridge between these two modes of phil-osophy with care if either camp is to be tempted to stray to the other side. In this respect Wheeler chooses his points of departure well. On the analytic side the focus is on Davidson, with large doses of Quine, while on the continental side Derrida is the main representative, although de Man also ﬁgures throughout the text. Furthermore, the Derrida texts that Wheeler draws upon are those that we may now call ʻclassic Derridaʼ, Of Grammatology, Speech and Phenomena and ʻLimited Inc.ʼ These are ʻtexts … written before the consequences of his deconstructive arguments for philosophical methodology itself had affected his own practiceʼ and that avoid Derridaʼs more recent statements on ethics and politics. The bridge that Wheeler thinks can be built between deconstruction and analytic philosophy, therefore, is buttressed by shared concerns about the nature of language, writing, intentionality, iterability and so on.
Despite having narrowed down the focus of the comparison, Wheeler knows that there is still a lot of work to be done. Indeed, as the ʻasʼ in the title makes clear, it is not enough simply to show certain similarities between Derrida and Davidson, as if laying them out on the examination table for all to see, these similarities must be forged within the essays that make up this collection. But the nature of this process demands a prior decision regarding the audience. To his credit, Wheeler puts this up front in the opening line of the book: ʻDeconstruction as Analytic Philosophy primarily addresses analytic philosophersʼ. It is primarily analytic philosophers that he is trying to tempt into walking over his bridge to the continental side (not with the hope of enticing them to stay, but rather with the aim of encouraging them at least to take a peek at the continent they so often deride). The potential cost of this strategy is that there will be many philosophers more conversant with Heidegger than with Kripke who will still ﬁnd that they do not know ʻwhat is going onʼ in this text.
What is it that links Derrida and Davidson? According to Wheeler, they are both critical of the idea of a ʻmagic languageʼ (Wheelerʼs terminology). A ʻmagic languageʼ would be one which enabled us to ʻknow what we meanʼ without fear of sliding into an abyss of competing and conﬂicting interpretations. This shared starting point gives rise to other similarities: both philosophers deny that context can help decide between competing interpretations and both refuse to philosophize from ʻthe givenʼ such that questions of realism and idealism, for example, are deemed redundant. This account of the similarities between Derrida and Davidson clears the way for an accurate account of where they still disagree. Wheeler admits that it has taken him a long time to ﬁgure out exactly what separates Derrida and Davidson and, indeed, that ʻnone of the chapters in this book makes this difference clearʼ. Nonetheless, he uses the introduction to present the difference with admirable clarity. Derrida, for Wheeler, takes interpretive indeterminacy to indicate that notions of truth and truth conditions are not always applicable to our understanding of life and language. Davidson, while sharing Derridaʼs concern with the idea of a ʻmagic languageʼ, remains committed to the idea that truth conditions apply to all utterances even though such conditions are in principle indeterminable. In short, Derrida takes indeterminacy to imply that truth supervenes on being; while Davidson assumes that truth is absolutely central and basic to the possibility of thought, and indeterminacy merely implies that there are, in principle, unknowable truths.
Once this hairline crack has been pointed out, however, it is tempting to argue that Wheelerʼs bridge between analytic and continental philosophy is always likely to collapse. Most of those from an analytic background will never dally for too long with the idea that truth is not central to philosophy, while most of those of a more continental hue will remain forever suspicious of Davidsonʼs attempt to retain the primacy of truth in philosophical investigations, despite his rigorous advocacy of interpretive indeterminacy. That said, Wheelerʼs best response to such scepticism can be found in the carefully argued individual essays that make up this collection. While two-thirds have been published previously, the collection as a whole makes a convincing case for using analytic and continental philosophers together in tackling such shared themes as intentionality, rhetoric, metaphor and truth. By example, Wheeler has made the case for bringing deconstruction and analytic philosophy to bear on a number of key issues and this may be enough to set aside, for the moment at least, the deeper theoretical rifts that still pervade more generalized discussions of these two philosophical camps. Perhaps another thing that deconstruction and analytic philosophy share is that doing philosophy is always more rewarding than chattering about it. If that is the case, then this book sets an excellent example, one that could be used to inspire teachers of philosophy to construct courses that blend analytic and continental philosophers together around themes rather than set them up against each other in bloody but pointless battles.
Barebacking Lacan Tim Dean, Beyond Sexuality, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2000. 304 pp., £29.00 hb., £11.50 pb., 0 226 13934 4 hb., 0 226 13935 2 pb.
Ever since the translation in the mid-1980s of Luce Irigarayʼs accusations of phallocracy addressed to messieurs les psychanalystes of the Lacanian establishment, and the publication of Monique Wittigʼs slightly later claim that we should not be surprised that Lacan discovered his unconscious structures since he was the one who put them there in the ﬁrst place, Lacanian psychoanalysis has had a rough go of it in feminist and anti-homophobic circles in the Anglo-American world. With few exceptions, feminists and queer theorists have criticized Lacanʼs return to Freud for upholding phallocratic and heterosexist assumptions embedded in his allegedly static and structuralist concept of a symbolic order that attributes greater levels of privilege to heterosexual men. Most recently, Judith Butler has attacked the idea of the Real – certainly the most distinctive and consequential of Lacanʼs difﬁcult concepts – as the means by which Lacanian psychoanalysis fails to move beyond a residual heterosexism.
It is against this backdrop of ambivalence and suspicion that Tim Deanʼs Beyond Sexuality valiantly attempts to make an intervention in the reception of Lacan by claiming his work for queer theory, and by untangling Lacanʼs concept of sexuality from its confused representation in the work of American poststructuralist critics, including most signiﬁcantly Lee Edelman and Judith Butler herself. Indeed, Beyond Sexuality acquires monumental signiﬁcance when one considers that it is the ﬁrst sustained attempt to articulate a self-consciously Lacanian anti-heterosexist theory of sexuality, and to outline a Lacanian methodology for the analysis of queer cultural problematics, most importantly, in the case of Deanʼs book, the arena of safer-sex education in the age of HIV and AIDS.
It becomes clear early on that Dean knows he is working against the grain of contemporary queer theory. That he succeeds to a large extent in his effort to explain how a Lacanian approach to sexuality avoids the shortcomings of the competing approaches is no small accomplishment. Central to Deanʼs argument is his contention that Lacanʼs concept of the objet petit a – the object-cause of desire, as Lacan deﬁnes it – implies that desire is not only impersonal, in the sense of not directed toward the other qua person, but also ʻungenderedʼ or, in other words, indifferent to the objectʼs biological sex. In this way Dean underlines the agency of unconscious fantasy in human sexuality, and it is precisely this dimension which is glossed over, in his view, in the poststructuralist approach. The coda of Deanʼs consideration consists in a suggestive rereading of Freudʼs Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality that advances excrement, rather than the phallus, as the prototypical human object of desire. In Deanʼs view, such a contention brings to the fore not only the radical polymorphousness of the bodyʼs erotogenicity, but also the radical contingency and indeterminacy of desireʼs object itself. If, as Dean writes, ʻthe phallus is less a ﬁgure for the penis than, more fundamentally, a ﬁgure for the turdʼ, then Lacanian psychoanalysis presents a de-heterosexualized and anti-normative view of human desire that resists both the aggressive, conformityseeking ambitions of the imaginary, and the ordering, differentiating workings of the symbolic.
It is certainly possible to argue against Deanʼs position on the phallus that he makes precisely the same culturalist assumption – namely, that the phallus features a privileged relation to biological men – with which he reproaches his adversaries. However, Dean makes the most headway in his argument against Lacanʼs detractors when he tries to recuperate for queer theory Lacanʼs concept of the Real from what Dean calls the ʻrhetoricalistʼ assumptions informing the work of Judith Butler and Lee Edelman. It is precisely the impossibility of conceptualizing the Real through the apparatus of ʻrhetoric, discourse, culture, history, and social relationsʼ, Dean suggests, that makes Lacanʼs work so crucial for anti-homophobic theory. The consequence of the rhetoricalist criticsʼ inability to appreciate the negativity of the unconscious is that ʻthey treat subjectivity and sexuality as if these dimensions of psychic life were a function of oneʼs self-imageʼ. In consequence, critics such as Butler and Edelman tend to advance a voluntarist idea of sexuality that erroneously makes sexual orientation a function of the ʻselfʼ, thereby producing what Dean calls a ʻparanoid, highly defensive binarity typical of the imaginary structureʼ.
Deanʼs arguments against Butler and Edelman are pointed and persuasive, if somewhat repetitive and lacking in conceptual precision. Beyond Sexuality is at its most memorable, in my view, in its more practical mode, when it applies its commitment to a psychoanalytic methodology to the difﬁculties encountered by safer-sex educators, who have repeatedly discovered that the dissemination of knowledge about the means of HIV transmission fails to produce the changes in sexual behaviours that one might ordinarily expect. Ingeniously, Dean proposes that the dynamics of unconscious sexual fantasy at work in male homosexual subcultures suggest that an ʻintolerance – not of the Other but of oneʼs own excess jouissance [in the Other] – represents the greatest impediment to AIDS prevention, since unsafe sex involves trying to access through the sexual other (that is, your partner) something he does not haveʼ.
Since, for Lacan, every subject is constitutively split from enjoyment, what we seek through sexual activity is precisely the enjoyment we lack, in other words an impossible satisfaction which is inaccessible to us, and which we therefore apprehend in the Other. This premiss leads Dean to attack AIDS theorists, such as Douglas Crimp, who defend an ʻideology of promiscuityʼ which renders gay men even more vulnerable to unconscious fantasies that subsume the pursuit of sexual pleasure under a relentless, superegoic command to enjoy. Because, as Dean argues, the subjectʼs relation to sexual enjoyment is necessarily mediated by the Other, gay men are inclined to develop fantasy scenarios in which prophylactic devices become disposable impediments to a greater, attainable satisfaction. Unsafe erotic practices are unconsciously invested with the promise of an impossible ecstasy, and predictably disastrous consequences ensue. Deanʼs chapters on AIDS are among the best currently available, and should go a long way towards convincing safer-sex educators of the indispensability of a psychoanalytic approach.
However, the book is not always as helpful as its analysis of AIDS discourse might suggest. The fundamental problem with Deanʼs argument, in my view, lies in the overly aesthetic account of sublimation with which it concludes. For Dean, psychoanalysis implies not only that any form of sexual activity (in so far as it necessarily carries a non-genital component) partakes of sublimation, but also that ʻaesthetic experience can have an effect on human subjects similar to that of sexʼ. Dean advances aesthetic creation as a kind of compensation for what Lacan calls the nonexistence of the sexual relation. Lacanʼs position implies for Dean that there is no homosexual relation either. Consequently, ʻthe leather queenʼs admiration of bodies at the gymʼ and ʻthe opera queenʼs passion for ariasʼ might work to decrease the effects fantasies of impossible jouissance introduce into the lives of gay men. Some will ﬁnd these cliché examples of gay sublimation problematic. What disturbs me more, however, is the manner in which Deanʼs heroic extrication of queer sexualities from the logic of identity politics fails to insert the queer subject more decisively into the universal social sphere of properly political antagonisms.
Ultimately, Beyond Sexuality fails to make the move promised by its title. If, as Dean correctly contends, sexuality does not fulﬁl its promise of disclosing subjective truth, then the idea of sexuality as an arena of politicization becomes itself problematic, and sexuality as a category of analysis begins to appear as an obfuscating, superstructural red herring which works to deﬂect our attention away from other, more concretely socioeconomic, forms of social stratiﬁcation that introduce political antagonisms into the queer ʻcommunityʼ itself. And at this point it becomes possible to wonder if the Lacanian queer might exit the analytic chamber, with his insights on HIV and safer-sex education intact, and proceed not to the gym or opera house, but to South Africa, or gay Harlem, where a somewhat different form of sublimation might begin.
Taking cats seriously Chris Philo and Chris Wilbert, eds, Animal Spaces, Beastly Places: New Geographies of Human–Animal Relations, Routledge, London and New York, 2000. xv + 311 pp. £60.00 hb., £19.99 pb., 0 415 19846 1 hb., 0 415 19847 X pb.
What happens when the academic gaze, usually focused (implicitly or explicitly) upon humans, turns instead to animals? Answers to this question are currently being offered in a range of disciplines such as history, the history of art, cultural studies: disciplines not usually associated with human–animal relations. With subjects as varied as dog theft in nineteenthcentury London, modernist zoo architecture and its implications for human housing crises, debates surrounding the proposed reintroduction of wolves into upstate New York, and the representation of foxes in hunting debates, Animal Spaces, Beastly Places goes some way towards showing how the animal question might be answered in geographical research. As such this wide-ranging collection is a welcome addition to the growing body of writing on the study of animals within the humanities. It raises questions about the nature of research on human–animal relations that open up exciting possibilities for future work.
In their introduction Chris Philo and Chris Wilbert make a number of important points, and their ﬁrst and most obvious one is not the less important for its obviousness: ʻHumans are always, and have always been, enmeshed in social relations with animals to the extent that the latter, the animals, are undoubtedly constitutive of human societies in all sorts of ways.ʼ Older geographical work on animals – ʻzoogeographyʼ – concentrated on ʻmapping the distribution of animalsʼ and as such, Philo and Wilbert argue, ʻtended to regard animals as “natural” objects to be studied in isolation from their human neighboursʼ. A new geography of animals, however, recognizes the social and cultural aspects of human–animal relations, and the distinction in the title between animal spaces and beastly places highlights the difference between these two ways of seeing: an animal space is a ʻ“place” which a particular animal … can be said to possess in human classiﬁcation or orderings of the worldʼ; a beastly place, on the other hand, is where animals ʻoften end up evading the places to which humans seek to allot themʼ. By emphasizing this distinction between human classiﬁcation and animal life, this collection challenges older work on animals and asks: is it possible to think about animal agency, or is such active participation within culture only the domain of the human?
Taking up ideas from actor network theory that propose that ʻagency is conceived of not as some innate or static thing which an organism always possesses, but rather in a relational sense which sees agency as emerging as an effect generated and performed in conﬁgurations of different materialsʼ, Philo and Wilbert highlight how this might affect analyses of human–animal relations: ʻThis meansʼ, they write, ʻthat anything can potentially have the power to act, whether human or non-human.ʼ No longer merely the object of analysis, animals can (and should) be regarded as agents in their own right, playing a part in the ways in which human social lives are organized. There can be no ʻpure “human” societyʼ, so prevalent and signiﬁcant are animals, and, as such, there should be no pure human geography. The possibilities for other disciplines – history particularly – are signiﬁcant. Rather than merely objects of the human gaze, animals can be interpreted as agents within culture.
The ideas of animal agency and a refusal to think in terms of a purity of species in social analysis is taken up most clearly here in Huw Grifﬁths, Ingrid Poulter and David Sibleyʼs chapter ʻFeral Cats in the Cityʼ. The authors argue that we can trace in the representation and experience of feral cats ʻa commentary on attitudes to nature and civilization.ʼ By analysing a variety of feral cat colonies in Hull the authors propose that, more than merely offering a way of thinking about the city, human relations with the feral cats reveal hidden ideas about urban society. In the face of feral cats it becomes clear that ʻ[t]he realisation of an ordered city, like removing bodily odour or staying young, is an impossible project.ʼ The cats are active participants in the culture of the city; they affect its meaning, and the idea of a ʻpureʼ human society is shown to be a limited one. Human society is neither pure in terms of the boundaries it attempts to erect (cats are both pet and feral, and as such undermine the classiﬁcation of animal spaces), nor pure in terms of the species to be analysed. The new geography can never be humanist; it must, in some way, include all actors (human, animal, machine) in its analysis.
But all interpretations of animals are ultimately interpretations of human representations of animals, whether they are in the form of welfare organizationsʼ reports, architectural plans, the minutes of discussion groups, or novels (all of which are used in this collection). As such, while actor network theory may offer a way of understanding animal agency, it remains very difﬁcult to think about animals as subjects. Ultimately, our inability to comprehend animals as animals – rather than as representations – limits our capacity to include them as subjects. And this is where what is perhaps the most interesting of Philo and Wilbertʼs suggestions has resonance:
It is important that animal geographers exercise their imaginations in trying to glimpse something of these beastly places as lived by such animals themselves, in part to gain a better sense of the implications that follow for wild animals when humans turn up and start altering the conﬁgurations of their world.
Where biological science has previously been the academic domain for the study of animals, the introduction of animals into geography should not necessitate a ʻscientiﬁcationʼ of geography – there is only so much that can be done with statistics, after all. Rather, the opposite might need to happen: we may need to move further away from, not closer to, the empirical heartland of zoogeography. Attempting to imagine a world that is not our own, that is beyond our language and understanding, asks us to think beyond the human, and this emphasis on the non-human has important ethical implications. Suddenly we (humans) are not the only beings worthy of consideration; suddenly our perspective – our humanism – is shown to be limited in its scope. When studying animals we need not only to read about but to attempt to read as animals. The danger, however, will always be that we fall into a kind of anthropomorphism – just think of Bambi – but as Philo and Wilbert note, sometimes such imaginings are not necessarily the worst that can happen. Without them all we are left with is anthropocentrism, a vision that means that ʻ[h]umans are effectively sealed off from the rest of creationʼ. The refusal to accept such sealing off is one of the most powerful aspects of this collection.
Intensity degree zero Andrea Rehberg and Rachel Jones, eds, The Matter of Critique: Readings in Kantʼs Philosophy, Clinamen Press, Manchester, 2000. 234 pp., £14.99 pb., 1 903083 11
The Matter of Critique comprises twelve short essays collected together to provide an overview of contemporary ʻcontinentalʼ work on Kant for the English-language reader. The essays explore a variety of themes and concepts in Kantʼs philosophy through the inﬂuence of a range of thinkers including Derrida, Deleuze, Heidegger, Irigaray, Nietzsche and Lyotard. Most of the pieces deal with Kantʼs thoughts on matter and his concept of critique as they appear in the Critique of Pure Reason and Critique of Judgement. None discusses Kantʼs ethical writings – a ﬁeld already occupied by many English-language commentators – and only two engage substantially with other Kantian texts. Perhaps coincidentally, these present two of the most interesting arguments in the volume. In ʻLife and Aesthetic Pleasureʼ, Howard Caygill recovers the centrality of the ʻfeeling of lifeʼ for Kantʼs theory of aesthetic reﬂective judgement and highlights the dynamic and corporeal tension it introduces into Kantʼs representational model of consciousness. In ʻKant after Geophilosophyʼ, Ian Hamilton Grant elaborates the ʻgeophilosophicalʼ sublimity of nature through a Deleuze-inﬂuenced reading of the ʻCritique of Teleological Judgementʼ and other Kantian texts.
All of the contributions present technically oriented analyses of Kantʼs texts. Unfortunately, not all of them are focused sufﬁciently to cope well with the difﬁculty of doing so in brief. This shows most noticeably in the variable degrees of care with which Kantʼs theory of the sublime is assigned a range of different theoretical functions throughout the volume. The sublime often features as a tool with which to read passages from the First Critique. Whilst this is not a problem in itself, it can produce readings that neglect the sublimeʼs interdependent moments.
A case in point is Michael Bowlesʼs essay, ʻKant and the Provocation of Matterʼ. Bowles attempts to radicalize the relationship between matter and the synthesis of sensations as discussed by Kant in the ʻAnticipations of Perceptionʼ. He claims that matter is encountered as an intrusive and ineluctable force, the radical externality of which provokes a crisis for consciousness that, through reference to death, functions as the spark motivating every new act of synthesis and marking each moment of understanding. The ʻAnticipationsʼ is a section of the First Critique that many commentators either skip over or condemn, mainly as an outmoded defence of eighteenth-century scientiﬁc principles, or as containing contradictions between the empirical and transcendental use of its terms. Bowlesʼs strategy is to allow Kant the ʻinconsistenciesʼ that encourage such readings, and read them as indicating the role he ascribes to matter and the judgement of the sublime.
In the ʻAnticipationsʼ, Kant presents the rules governing the use of the category of quality, making a principle out of the schematized concept of the sensibly real, in which reality ﬁgures as the content given in sensation in opposition to form. Sensations always occur with a particular degree of intensity, which Kant takes to mean they are structured by an a priori comparison to their own negation (the diminution of the feeling of intensity to a zero degree). Matter, in this description, functions as an unknowable substrate that the synthesis of sensations registers as the reality of empirical objects. Emphasizing the passive tendencies in Kantʼs description of synthesis – that it ʻonly occurs because it meets somethingʼ – Bowles moves from the claim that matter is a ʻﬁxed pointʼ from which determinate cognition ʻtakes its bearingsʼ, to the claim that ʻwe can see that the degree zero of intensity implied in the generation of a sensation would be death. If synthesis is annihilated time ceases and life is no more.ʼ His argument turns on the identiﬁcation of matter and the moment of negation accompanying each sensation.
For Kant, the zero-degree intensity of a sensation is a marker of the inﬁnite possible number of diminutions that deﬁnes the quality of each perception. (For instance, the sensation of water being warm entails an a priori measure in opposition to all the other possible degrees of warmth; for Kant, even those that cannot be felt.) This comparison is what allows Kant to claim that we can expect to make appropriate distinctions between the particular contents of different sensations. Kantʼs emphasis on the ﬂow of sensations and the way we register the reality of change is an attempt to ground the claim that space and time are always contentful through the transcendental implication that the forms of experience have, not one content of form, but rather many different contents, distinguishable as real, empirical and objective. Although Bowlesʼs description of matter as an intrusive force is compelling, and his characterization of its radical externality as the threat of death is gripping, it is not clear how he gets ʻclose enoughʼ to matter to allow that its radical exteriority can have a content. At points it seems as if the death threatened is an extra layer of content that belongs to matter itself and it is difﬁcult to see how this can be without it ceasing to be unknowable.
This is an objection that relates directly to the problems in the ʻAnticipationsʼ, seized upon by other Kant commentators. Rather than address such issues, Bowles makes an appeal to the ʻAnalytic of the Sublimeʼ in search of a model of non-determinative synthesis with which to justify his account of matter. There he ﬁnds Kantʼs inconsistencies in the First Critique repeated, consistently. Drastically truncating Kantʼs analysis of sublime experience, he claims it as an exemplary instance of the provocation of matter in that both the sublime and his model of synthesis are ʻborn of failureʼ. It is noticeable that this emphasis on the contra-purposive moment of the sublime experience comes at the expense of its opposite moment, that of purposiveness, thus robbing the sublime judgement of its characteristic movement, or the oscillation between its moments, that gives it structure and produces the feeling of negative pleasure. In Bowlesʼs reference to the sublime, the stress on a ﬁxed moment of negation presents its own threat to the very structure of the sublime as a judgement and by implication to the understanding, but perhaps not in the way intended.
If the book is more modest than its editors claim, this does not detract from its best moments. Some of the essays are genuinely illuminating and add to the ﬁeld; others are best read as gestures towards something that will, hopefully, be worked out in more detail elsewhere.
David Macey, The Penguin Dictionary of Critical Theory, Penguin, London, 2000. 490 pp., £20.00 hb., 0 14 29321 3.
Malcolm Bradbury thinks it is ʻsplendidly doneʼ. David Lodge says it is a ʻreference book I will want to have on my own shelvesʼ. The dustwrap is shiny, an aluminium green-blue-grey, and the hardcover is maroon-brown. They are all here: Aimé Césaire, Gottlob Frege, Clifford Geertz, Radical Philosophy (ʻa remarkable achievementʼ), Marshall McLuhan, Kate Millett, Tel Quel, Tzvetan Todorov, Virginia Woolf. It has entries for ʻdeath of manʼ, ʻfacticityʼ and ʻfamily romanceʼ, opportunities to expound Foucault and Nietzsche, Heidegger, Marthe Robert. There are entries for cinéma verité, contradiction, gaze, hypertext, phallus, queer, the SCUM Manifesto, speciesism. None of these things is uninteresting. Why, then, does a dictionary like this make the spirit shrivel and the brain ache? Why does it bring on an immediate horror of the intellect, the sort of feeling induced in undergraduates by the prospect of starting an essay, a need to go out and get outrageously drunk, or do drugs?
Itʼs not that itʼs inaccurate. True, it spells Internationale Situationniste without a double ʻnʼ. Maceyʼs use of the term ʻsituationismʼ ﬂies in the face of the edicts of Guy Debord, but thatʼs a recuperatorʼs privilege. Maceyʼs prose is dry and concise. He occasionally alights on facts that could be used further to develop an insight: ʻThe expression le regard is used by both SARTRE and LACAN, but a certain confusion has arisen in English as the translator of Sartreʼs Being and Nothingness (1943a) has opted to translate it as “the look”, whilst Lacanʼs various translators render it as “the gaze”.ʼ Although it is standard dictionary practice, it is slightly odd to see certain names and concepts capitalized. It implies that the capitalized terms will knit together into a logical system, ﬁxed points in a starscape worth mastering. I use the Penguin Dictionary of Music; itʼs a useful reference work, but academic music is a technical ﬁeld with a speciﬁc jargon. Is that all ʻcritical theoryʼ is?
This dictionary is a built on a tectonic ﬂaw: the struggle between critical theoryʼs attempt to be critical and its current professionalization as a science of mystiﬁcation, where hapless academics are forced to teach last yearʼs fads as if the intellectual bonbons of some poststructuralist bestseller were signiﬁcant contributions to the sum of human knowledge. Macey cannot help registering this uneasy situation, but he cannot address it, because that would undermine the status of the exercise.
The schizophrenic state of current notions of critical theory is revealed by Maceyʼs deﬁning the ﬁeld in two different ways. In the preface, he begins with the familiar injunction ʻgo and do some theoryʼ, and mentions the names Louis Althusser, Paul de Man and Homi Bhabha. Theory was a reaction against the common sense and empiricism of prewar literary criticism, an attempt to descry the hidden politics of educated assumptions. Such an account of critical theory treats philosophy as a sociological phenomenon. However, in the entry for ʻcritical theoryʼ itself, Macey – after a proviso that it can be used loosely – deﬁnes it as the Frankfurt School project of using Marx and Freud to expose capitalism for what it is. This is a qualitative deﬁnition of critical theory devoid of qualms about positive manifestations (qualms which, given the current state of academia, would make any prospective Frankfurter abandon the project in despair).
In his writings elsewhere, Macey is sceptical about the ʻromanticismʼ of revolutionary attempts to supersede Kantian divisions between theory and practice, or art and life (see his review of Raoul Vaneigemʼs A Cavalier History of Surrealism, RP 104). Because it fails to admit the driving determinations of its own project, critical theory as conceived by this Dictionary must be eclectic, sceptical and condescending towards its texts. Behind the expertise lies a conservatism that knows that all claims to break with the word and embrace the deed are false – because words are all that impinge here. All revolutions fail, all avant-gardes will be recuperated, so just donʼt try: social reality appears as an untouchable sphere.
In fact, the social world we inhabit is being made and altered and destroyed by people all the time. The pity is that students who seek to master critical theory via this kind of spectacle of thought (where one observes thinkers thinking, but never has to think independently – at ﬁrst hand – oneself, a medical display of unlikely, outlandish, aborted options) will end up thoroughly demoralized. Despite its shiny cover, The Penguin Dictionary of Critical Thought is deathly dull. It lacks the glimmer of productive allure: better to read one dialogue by Plato than seek to graduate in this assembly of intellectual contradictions.