The tale of TedTed Honderich, Philosopher: A Kind of Life, Routledge, London, 2001. x + 441 pp., £20.00 hb., 0 415 23697 5.
There has been a surprisingly close relationship between philosophy and autobiography ever since Augustine. Indeed, it could plausibly be argued that modern European philosophy begins with Descartesʼ ﬁrst-hand account of how in 1619 he spent that day ʻshut up alone in a stove-heated roomʼ in Germany. That it is a ﬁrst-hand account is crucial: a cogito written in the second or third person (a cogitas or a cogitat, I suppose) would lack the certainty of proof that its author was seeking. Both the sources of the self and the sense of self are deeply rooted in narrative accounts of that self, or in what MacIntyre terms the narrative unity of a life. Psychotherapists, and especially those working with adopted children, increasingly stress the importance of that narrative unity: gaps in the story distort the sense of self by making it difﬁcult, in the popular but telling phrase, to say ʻwhere youʼre coming fromʼ. Long eclipsed by both structuralist talk of the death of the author, and by the would-be impersonality of logical positivism and analytic philosophy, (auto)biography appears to be back in a big way. In his later writings, even Derrida effects the autobiographical turn, though he often proves to be an alarmingly unreliable narrator. The return of the autobiographical brings us back to the question asked by Sartre in his great study of Flaubert: ʻWhat can we know of a man, today?ʼ
And it is, perhaps, Sartre who best encapsulates the problems faced by biographer and autobiographer alike. Antoine Roquentin, the anti-hero of Nausea is both a failing biographer and a none-too-successful autobiographer. He eventually comes to realize that there are no adventures or beautiful moments in life, but only muddle, nausea and contingency. It is death that turns a life into a destiny, and narrative that transforms muddle into an aesthetic pattern. Honderich does not engage with the underlying thesis of Nausea, but his criticisms of MacIntyreʼs After Virtue bring him surprisingly close to the problems raised by Sartre. He objects, that is, to the implication that a life is no more than a narrative – which may not be just what MacIntyre is saying. It may well be the case that there exists a life-in-itself that we cannot speak about and must pass over in silence. But it is certainly the case that narrative is the only way in which we can speak of any life. We do it all the time. Who does not tell tales of the self to their friends, lovers, partners and children?
And so, oh best beloved, this is what Honderich calls the tale of Ted. It is the tale of how a boy born in rural Ontario in 1933 came to be the Grote Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at University College London. Just so. It is a tale worth telling, and a tale worth reading, though readers of a feminist disposition will ﬁnd aspects of it objectionable, whilst others will quickly tire of being addressed as ʻtroublesome readerʼ, ʻsuperior readerʼ and so on. Philosopher is in fact a compilation of many tales. It tells, often movingly, of the lives of a family of Scottish–German descent and of the Reformed Mennonite faith. It tells of the ʻperson-stagesʼ of a boy, of a young man with no great intellectual ambition who combines fairly desultory studies in Toronto with vacation work on the railways and term-time work on local newspapers, and of his gradual awakening to philosophy. It tells laconically of the brief note of acceptance from Professor Ayer that brought Honderich to London to do an MA, the rejected alternative being Harvard. And so the ʻcolonial ladʼ came to Bloomsbury only to ﬁnd that Ayer, rather like the snark, was not really there, having gone to Oxford, returning only for a weekly seminar. This is the tale of academic upward mobility, of how certain books were written, of how their author contributed to discussions of Russellʼs theory of descriptions, of determinism and causality and of models of mind, and of how the Oxford Companion to Philosophy came into being. It provides a detailed introduction to Honderichʼs books and their themes, the details of which will appeal to those to whom such things appeal. Those who have not been weaned on a diet of philosophy in the English language will ﬁnd them less appealing. It also tells more mundane but amusing tales of long legal feuds with a sitting tenant in a Grade II-listed building in Hampstead. For a long time, Honderich lived in a world in which the woman who objects to his proposals for trafﬁc-calming measures in Keats Grove turns out to be Janet Suzman.
Honderich may not have achieved, or even aspired to, the Good Life but, despite a certain frustration at not having taken the philo-sophical world by storm, he has certainly led a good one in a Hampsteady kind of way. His tales of social (and soi-disant socialist) life in NW3 could have provided episodes in a novel of manners – and perhaps they have done so. There are dinner parties with the great and the good, or at least the fair to middling. A lot of wine is drunk (sometimes too much of it). And there are private and exclusively male club lunches at Bertorelliʼs, and dinners at the Garrick. Honderich is good at quick pen portraits of colleagues like Wollheim, Ayer and Cohen, but he is also careful to record the moment when Professor Ayer becomes ʻFreddyʼ and Lord Annan, ʻNoelʼ. There is much discussion of academic rivalries, of promotion strategies and perceived slights, but little about the nightmares of RAEs and Quality Assessments. Very little is said here about undergraduates; teaching them is just a weekly grind. Grote Professors concentrate on ʻhigher thingsʼ known as postgraduate supervisions. For a biographer, all this would be vital raw material but no more than that. Biographers use their own version of the veriﬁcation principle and would require further evidence either to corroborate or to refute Honderichʼs account, which, assuming that he does not have the rare gift of total recall, appears to be based on hoarded diaries. As a young reporter, Honderich met Elvis Presley, who successfully inoculated him against popular culture. For the biographer, this account raises the intriguing question of why the dates Honderich gives for certain concerts in 1956 do not quite coincide with those given by standard works on Elvis. Any reader would like to know more about the dinners with Salman Rushdie, who was deemed ʻcuriously self-sufﬁcientʼ by Honderich and ʻnot membership materialʼ by some members of the Bertorelliʼs lunch club. One would love to read Rushdieʼs version of these events. Many other stories would have to be written into the tale of Ted before it became the biography of Honderich.
Although he taught at Sussex in the early days, most of Honderichʼs career has been spent at University College. As a sometime (and depressingly long-term) inmate of that godless institution in Gower Street, I always had the impression that the philosophy department was a sort of remote offshore island. The house of the philosophers on Gordon Square never seemed very inviting to outsiders and there was little incentive to try to enter it. Its denizens appear to have taken little or no interest in what was going on elsewhere in College. Honderich conﬁrms my impression. Isolationism went hand in hand with a smug sense of superiority over the philosophers of the LSE, ʻsunk in local dogmatics of the philosophy of scienceʼ, to say nothing of members of ʻthe other London colleges in their anonymityʼ. Birkbeck, for its part, is perceived as no more than a ʻworthy night schoolʼ.
Honderich clearly thrives on this isolationism. He spent much of the 1970s ʻfrustrating Freudʼ, or ensuring that the Freud Memorial Professor did not become a member of the house of philosophers. It was not in fact Freud who was frustrated, but the many students who, displaying more intellectual curiosity than Honderich, ﬁnally packed UCLʼs largest lecture theatre to hear the ﬁrst Memorial Professor (was it Hanna Segal or André Green? I forget now, but I do recall that there were a lot of us). Honderichʼs objections to psychoanalysis are predictable: it lacks the ʻvery nerveʼ of decent philosophy, namely scepticism and self-scepticism, and there is no evidence to support its truth claims. Perhaps so, but this is not the most sophisticated of refutations. Nor is there anything particularly sophisticated about Honderichʼs displays of Euroscepticism in philosophy. The jibes are as predictable as they are inexpensive. Althusser is mad, and Derrida himself has said that deconstruction is incomprehensible. And yet there is, Honderich concedes, something to be learned from the French. Sense datum theories of our perception of the world leave something out: our existence as active agents, as distinct from our existence as passive observers. Indeed, but an earlier exposure to MerleauPonty might have saved a lot of time.
So what did they do in Gordon Square? They did philosophy. Some speculated that there might be something in Wittgenstein. Honderich himself resisted both the lift of ʻParisian speculationʼ and its showmanship and ʻawe of the German deepʼ, all in the name of ʻthe plain-speaking and plain-speakingʼ that typiﬁes a ʻcertain kind of philosophy, the main line of philosophy in the English languageʼ. Euroscepticism in philosophy goes hand in hand with an alarming historical narrowness: ancient philosophy is of little interest, Marx is dismissed because of the lumbering metaphysics of his history, whilst Hegel is simply unspeakable. Plain-speaking in philosophy (which is not always conducive to plain-writing) results in discussions of the chain of causality and determinism involved in striking a match or of a slot-machineʼs ability or failure to deliver the promised bar of chocolate. Honderich describes consciousness as a sequence of neural or electrochemical events, but never discusses neurology or neuropsychiatry. This philosophy in the English language is clearly as self-sufﬁcient as the house in Gordon Square.
In political terms, Honderich regards himself as a man of the Left and speaks eloquently of his passionate attachment to the values of the welfare state. He displays a healthy and quite commendable detestation of the cupidity and stupidity of Thatcherite Britain and argues that conservatism is essentially a selfjustiﬁcatory philosophy of selﬁshness. His politics centre on what he terms the solution to the problem of Justice: trying to make well off all those who are in a certain sense badly off. This so-called principle of equality attempts to satisfy desires for a decent length of life, for material goods that give a quality to life, for freedom and power, for respect and self-respect, for closer and wider relations with others, and for the goods of culture. In its name, Honderich is prepared to justify civil disobedience on the grounds that it is a rational and necessary supplement to the kind of democracy that we have. Whilst this is preferable to Rawlsʼs formal theory of justice, and whilst Honderich is surely right to argue that the consensus Rawls seeks is implicit in the minds of those who attempt to reach it, the agency for the implementation of the principle of equality remains alarmingly ill-deﬁned. There is little to disagree with here (though I do wonder why Honderich speaks of desires and not rights), but nor is there anything that will frighten the police horses.
Some will, however, ﬁnd aspects of Philosopher distasteful to say the least. The curriculum vitae posted on Honderichʼs personal website describes him (none too grammatically) as ʻhappily the partner of Ingrid Coggin Purkiss, The Secretary of The Royal Institute of Philosophyʼ. This makes the poor woman sound like an extra qualiﬁcation and one suspects that, if this CV were submitted as part of a job application, Honderich would not get the post. Such things are surely a matter for the individuals concerned; to publicize them invites, even demands, comment. In Philosopher, Honderich describes himself as having been ʻa man of many womenʼ and as ahead of Russell and lagging behind ʻFreddieʼ in the number of his lovers. We learn very little of the many women in Honderichʼs life. This is a man who views persons as collections of properties or attributes, presumably of the physical-sexual kind. Jane OʼGrady, whose little piece on ʻSlimeʼ is one of the unexpected delights of the Cambridge Companion, ʻwas deﬁnitely an ideas girlʼ (some ʻgirlʼ: she was thirty-six), but no doubt the ʻﬁne eyes, ﬁne lips, ﬁne everythingʼ were rather more important properties.
There have been three marriages, various relationships of variable duration, and so many other ʻconnectionsʼ that I lost track. Many of the partners are named, with, it is to be hoped, their knowledge and consent; others are concealed by such twee epithets as ʻFirst Loveʼ and ʻthe English girl with an intricate smileʼ (just what an intricate smile is is probably best left to the analytic boys). The object of the appraisal of ʻattributesʼ is, it seems, to determine whether or not a given woman is ʻa lookerʼ. Another of Honderichʼs female connections is described as ʻbobby dazzlerʼ – a term my mother habitually used to describe a particularly garish piece of clothing. It is a long time since I heard anyone use this vocabulary and I am left wondering whether male philosophers ever grow up.
Without wishing to advocate monogamy as an absolute or even a categorical imperative, I do think that it might have come to the notice of a philosopher that there is a logical contradiction between the notion of an open marriage (not to mention three of them) and the performative ʻI doʼ with all its attendant exclusion clauses. Honderich also raises the more difﬁcult issue of sex with students, and insists to the last that sexual relations between teachers and students are neither very different to or more ʻdisturbingʼ than those between men and women in ʻother walks of lifeʼ. It may have been possible to argue this case thirty years ago, when Honderich did have affairs with female undergraduates at Sussex, but it now sounds at best naïve, and at worst an apologia for the exploitation of younger women by older men. Honderich has not aged too gracefully.
Pragmatists of the world, unite!
Peter Osborne, Philosophy in Cultural Theory, London, Routledge, 2001. xiii + 146 pp., £40.00 hb., £12.99 pb., 0 415 23801 3 hb., 0 415 23802 1 pb.
I have always wondered (being French) why my AngloSaxon colleagues called what they did (and I do too) ʻtheoryʼ. Apart from the inevitable accusations of hijacking a term that in common parlance has a much wider usage; apart from the possible derogatory connotations (ʻhe has a lot of educational theories, but little common senseʼ – thus, in the senior common room, the old duffer about the eager younger member of staff), there is a problem about the use of the noun in the singular. I know what ʻtheoriesʼ in the plural are in the exact sciences (for instance, theories about the origin of the universe), and I recognize the term when preceded by a deﬁnite article (the theory of evolution). But as a singular noun without an article, like ʻnatureʼ or ʻartʼ, ʻtheoryʼ sounds strange to my French understanding. And my puzzlement is increased by the fact that I know very well what I do (and my Anglo-Saxon colleagues do too): it goes under the sweet name of philosophy.
There are, of course, excellent historical reasons for my Anglo-Saxon colleagues being shy of the term and substituting it with ʻtheoryʼ. Philosophy on this side of the Channel and that side of the Atlantic is a dry and specialized subject, the practitioners of which spend much of their time erecting ʻkeep off the grass!ʼ signs against the general public. In other words, philosophy in these parts is more often than not analytic, and ʻtheoryʼ is a welcome escape from its increasingly obvious limitations. The choice of the word, therefore, in spite of my grammatical quibbling, is entirely justiﬁed.
But it is not, however, without consequences, of which critical and cultural theorists are not always or entirely aware. Abandoning analytic hair-splitting to tackle larger problems may involve a denial of philosophy, in the shape of the unwitting adoption of a non-reﬂexive philosophy, reduced to a form of common sense – what Althusser calls a ʻspontaneous philosophy of scientistsʼ. And this is where Peter Osborneʼs book is important, where it breaks new ground, if we unfold the no doubt deliberate ambiguity in its title: ʻphilosophy in cultural theoryʼ can mean both an exposition of the philosophy that underlies cultural theory (that is, a critique of its spontaneous philosophy) and an intervention, from the outside, of philosophy (no longer spontaneous) into cultural theory. Both moments are necessary: we must bring presuppositions to the light of full awareness, and, where such thing is needed (but always in moderation) we must criticize, correct and replace them with better concepts.
Osborne does both, and for him the relationship between philosophy and cultural theory – this is one of the interests of his book – works both ways. By engaging as a philosopher with cultural theory, he develops concepts that enable cultural theory to move forward. But by taking the critical distance of the philosopher (a natural giver of lessons), he claims to be able to tell the good from the inept (a claim which he sometimes, but not always, makes good). Osborne the artisan who polishes concepts is fascinating; Osborne in a Kantian mood, passing judgement, is sometimes compelling and sometimes infuriating.
The book is a collection of essays, which allows a general view of the ﬁeld (mostly in the ﬁrst, eponymous essay), the development of Osborneʼs own theories (on the image, on modernism), and a more detailed critique of various sinners (Eco, Berman and Deleuze come in for special treatment), as well as justiﬁed praise for a few philosophical heroes (Peirce and Walter Benjamin above all).
The central argument of the book is developed in the ﬁrst essay. It articulates two main theses: (1) pragmatism is the philosophical unconscious of postMarxist cultural theory; (2) Marxism is the vanishing mediator in the formation of cultural theory. Thesis 2 is unproblematic: at least in its British variety, cultural theory is a Marxist invention; that it is a discipline no longer dominated by Marxists is equally obvious. The ﬁrst thesis, however, is problematic – hence its interest. For the term ʻpragmatismʼ, in the very formulation of the thesis, is ambiguous, and Osborneʼs thesis has all the charm, and difﬁculty, of le grand écart in ballet.
On the one hand, pragmatism is an unconscious, or rather a consciously post-philosophical force. Thus, Jamesonʼs theorization of postmodernism, although ʻtotalizingʼ, ʻproceeds through the piecemeal appropriation of displaced fragments of the philosophical traditionʼ, thus confessing its adherence to pragmatism as practice: a practice which is also the theory of the absence of theory, of post-philosophy. For theory is no longer systematic: its fragments will be enough for our philosophical pottering, under the digniﬁed name of bricolage. Such pragmatism, even when self-conscious, has a great deal of unconsciousness about it. It reverts to a pre-philosophical form of thought, and is indeed a spontaneous philosophy for scientists, with the usual mixture of narrow positivism and rank idealism.
But, on the other hand, pragmatism is also an American philosophical tradition, not only fully conscious of what it is doing (in the case of Peirce, Osborne says, it is ʻa theory of the rational meaning of intellectual conceptsʼ), but fairly systematic at that. Osborne puts this Peircean form of pragmatism in the place Marxism used to occupy: as the no longer acknowledged ʻsystemʼ that is presupposed by the blissfully ignorant, but nevertheless intellectually informed practice (in other words, behind the spontaneous philosophy of the scientist, there may well be the reﬂexive philosophy of the philosopher). The same irony occurs at this level as at the one before: pragmatism qua explicit philosophy is the philosophy that etymologically justiﬁes the blissful ignorance in which the practice it informs revels.
On the whole, this is a brilliant idea. Except that it is too clever by half, risking as it does to confuse the two levels. And it involves difﬁculties, at least at the beginning. First, whereas Marx can undeniably be said to be the real origin of cultural theory (its founders were self-professed Marxists, and produced original contributions to Marxist theories – we need only think of Raymond Williams and Stuart Hall), the same cannot be said of Peirce and pragmatism. Second, and more generally, Marxism, as an acknowledged intellectual force, was explicitly central to the whole project of cultural theory (in other word, the ﬁliation was not the result of historical chance), which can hardly be said of pragmatism. Thus, even at his most post-philosophical and pragmatic, Jameson above all remains a committed Marxist. In fact, if we look at the reception of Peirce (whom Osborne, it seems, would have occupy Marxʼs shoes), we realize how limited his direct inﬂuence was (the texts were never widely available, and the general reader had to be content with Pelican-type abstracts: as a result, there are few traces of Peirce to be found in contemporary theory). It will be objected that there are at least two strong and inﬂuential readings of Peirce: Ecoʼs and Deleuzeʼs. But not by Osborne: for him, those readings are not so much strong as wrong, and they are duly demolished.
I have made myself the devilʼs advocate. Osborne is entirely aware of the role played by Peirce: he knows that if there is pragmatism behind cultural theory, either it will be of the untheorized and commonsensical type, or it will belong to the William James–Dewey–Rorty, not to the Peirce, branch. So his interpretation must be taken as an intervention. He seeks to reconstruct the philosophy that ought to be presupposed by cultural theory – a philosophy based on a great deal of Peirce, and more than a modicum of Walter Benjamin. The interest of this position, it seems to me, is that it translates into philosophical terms the debate between the European and American versions of cultural theory, and suggests not the expected hierarchy (ours is better than theirs, whoever ʻweʼ are), but a compromise, or rather Hegelian Aufhebung: a form of philosophical pragmatism derived from Peirce and Benjamin (who is duly enrolled in this crusade) goes further than the preor post-philosophical pragmatism issued from the William James tradition.
I am not entirely convinced by this, but I can see the advantage of such a position: it reintroduces, in a principled form, questions of truth and universality into cultural theory, beyond the stale ritual opposition between essentialism and relativism. One thing at least is clear (and therefore convincing): cultural theory needs a conscious and explicit philosophy (let us not be shy of the term), in order to avoid wallowing in the scientistʼs spontaneous philosophy, which is another name for ideology.
The danger of such a position is that the philosopher who adopts it may be content with passing judgement, leaving the practitioner to dirty her hands dabbling in concrete issues. Not so Osborne. An advantage of the book being a collection of essays is that we can see Osborne at work in cultural theory, not merely brooding in his ivory tower – and suggesting advances in at least two ﬁelds.
The book has an excellent essay on ʻSign and Imageʼ, which is a critique of semiotics, and an attempt at constructing an independent theory of the image. Osborne draws on a Benjaminian concept of ʻthe image-spaces of historical experienceʼ, as a counter-thrust to the post-Saussurean semiotics that has dominated cultural theory for so long (I am so entirely convinced by this move that I think Benjamin is a better candidate for the role of philosophical inspirer of cultural theory than Peircean pragmatism). Osborne uses the concept to bridge the gap, or split, that semiotics engineers between perception and signiﬁcation. This devaluation of aisthesis has a disastrous consequence: it treats images as texts, thus being unable to account for their speciﬁc character (in the heyday of structuralism, we thought that the gains in generalization more than compensated for this loss: we are no longer of the same opinion). Osborneʼs move involves a welcome critique of Ecoʼs position, through a reconsideration of (again) Peirce, and a rereading of Kant on aesthetic judgement and its role in the formation of meaning.
This revaluation of etymological aesthetics is applied to the art of photography. Here, Osborne seeks to revive a tradition that originates in the work of Kracauer (better known for his seminal contribution to ﬁlm studies), and is developed in Benjamin, Bazin and Barthes. In particular, he traces a link between Benjamin and Barthes, but he also attempts to make Barthesʼ celebrated dichotomy of studium and punctum dialectical and thus more dynamic. In his usual return to Peirce (against Ecoʼs formalist reading), Osborne gives a new and fascinating twist to the notoriously obscure concept of ʻinterpretantʼ, which he – unexpectedly, at least to me – interprets in terms of habit.
This construction of an independent theory of the image, against the imperialism of post-Saussurean semiotics, seems to me to be extremely important, and altogether welcome. The irony is that Osborne has a predecessor in this: Gilles Deleuze. One recalls Deleuze and Guattariʼs contrast between non-linguistic semiotics and language-based semiology; or Deleuzeʼs critique of Metz in the second Cinema book, where he bluntly states that an image is not an utterance; and one also recalls, with shudder or smile, the baroque efﬂorescence of Peircean varieties of signs in the Cinema books. But so strong a predecessor is too close for comfort, so Osborne adds a coda on Deleuze to his essay, where, in his most judgemental mode, he treats Deleuze as an inapt (inept?) reader of Peirce, a thinker who obsessionally reduces the social to the natural (he is said to be ʻplagued by a naturalism of desireʼ): a successor to Bergson who does not quite make the grade. The tone is severely professorial (ʻDeleuze appears to have socialized, historicized…ʼ: but in reality, of course…) and dismissive. I am afraid that, as a reading of Deleuze, this just will not do. It confuses pragmatism with pragmatics (the theory of language Deleuze and Guattari defend), misreads Deleuze on the Stoics (and their triadic theory of the sign, and of meaning), misinterprets Deleuzeʼs concept of desire (which, far from being simply ʻnaturalizedʼ, always involves an assemblage). Osborneʼs attempt to treat Deleuze as a minor philosopher, not in the Deleuzean but in the normal sense, where Deleuzeʼs R.D. Blackmore (the author of Lorna Doone, that archetypal minor classic) plays second ﬁddle to Peirceʼs Jane Austen, must be taken as a symptom. And a symptom is in need of explanation, not judgement: why such an obviously unfair reading? The answer is in the title of the Deleuze section of the essay, ʻa codaʼ: although expelled with considerable gusto, the great white ghost of Deleuze returns, at the end of the essay, to haunt the ﬁeld he has always already occupied, or reterritorialized, thus leaving Osborne, a Bloomian ephebe, a prey to the anxiety of inﬂuence, and defending the oppressed (and plundered) Peirce – a gesture of deﬁance that is entirely welcome (unfair interpretations are thoroughly enjoyable, and often productive: Deleuze, who enjoyed being unfair to Wittgenstein, would not contradict me).
Perhaps Osborneʼs most important contribution to cultural theory concerns his reconstruction of the concept of modernism (in three essays: ʻModernism as Translationʼ, ʻRemember the Future? The Communist Manifesto as Cultural-historical Formʼ, ʻTime and the Artworkʼ). ʻModernismʼ is, of course, a hopelessly confused concept, much in need of clariﬁcation, torn between a philosophical concept of modernity (as used, for instance, by Habermas) and a literary concept of modernism (itself rather hazy). Adding the preﬁx postto the term(s) does not help. But Osborne does help: he achieves the much needed clariﬁcation and ventures on new paths.
It begins with a Kantian account of the concept as both categorical and schematic, from which he derives two deﬁnitions: modernism is a name for ʻthe cultural afﬁrmation of a particular temporal logic of negationʼ; it is as such ʻassociated with a particular conﬁguration of the temporalization of history or historization of temporalityʼ. The antimetabole in the last phrase suggests that we have returned within the ambit of Marxism (the not-quite-vanished mediator in the formation of cultural theory). So we ﬁnd a critical rereading of the Communist Manifesto, and a thorough critique of Marshall Bermanʼs interpretation of Marx as the prophet of progressive capitalism. Osborneʼs reading of the Manifesto is original in that it treats the text as a text, not simply as a receptacle for ideas: the question of genre, the interweaving of narrative and discourse (Benvenisteʼs terms), the status of the narratorial ʻweʼ, the various conceptual slippages in which Marx indulges are carefully exposed and dissected. Such rhetorical strategies and/or ﬂaws on the part of the bearded prophet are assessed as typical of modernity: the future the Manifesto addresses is not so much predicted as predicated, and the social forms it seeks to dismiss as survivals live on and ﬂourish today.
The clariﬁcation of the concept ends with another critique, this time in the ﬁeld of art: Greenberg is its object. Osborne forcefully demonstrates that his aesthetic concept of modernism eliminates history and recaptures it on the rebound, so to speak. This account might be of extreme interest if transferred to the ﬁeld of literature: it might inform our attitude towards the literary canon; it might tell us how to rehistoricize it, and how to think the complex temporality of the literary text (the mixture of anticipation, delay and immersion in the present conjuncture that characterizes it). Osborne is at his best here – an original thinker of historization and temporality.
Marxists will welcome Osborneʼs contribution to the theory of modernism, which is worthy of Benjamin his master; Deleuzeans like me will regret his unrestrained revelling in Peircean pragmatism, at the cost of a facile dismissal of their favourite philosopher (though they will enjoy the engagement). But there is no doubt in my mind about the importance of Osborneʼs book.
The Tebbit tendency Will Kymlicka, Politics in the Vernacular: Nationalism, Multiculturalism and Citizenship, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2001. 383 pp., £40.00 hb., £12.99 pb., 0 19 829665 7 hb., 0 19 924098 1 pb.
During the Thatcher years Norman Tebbit (in)famously suggested that only those immigrants who passed the ʻcricket testʼ could be admitted into the country. He intended to convey the view that, to belong in Britain, one must be patriotic. Supporting England at cricket, rather than the West Indies, India or Pakistan, would, for Tebbit, be an important expression of the kind of patriotism which in his opinion is necessary to be a citizen of Britain. For Tebbit, then, to be British one must identify as British. This identiﬁcation would be naturally expressed by supporting England, and also by caring about cricket.
Many of the essays in Politics in the Vernacular, which is ﬁrmly rooted in a Canadian and more generally North American context, are written for those who might ﬁnd Tebbitʼs position appealing. Kymlicka tries to argue that immigration does not constitute a threat to the ways of life of Western cultures. His arguments are eminently sensible. They would do an excellent job at appeasing the kind of fears many in the Tory Party play on, if these fears could be addressed by means of rational argument.
For a reader of a different stripe, the common ground between Kymlicka and Tebbit is more strik-ing. Being a liberal, of course, Kymlicka would never dream of suggesting that everybody must care about cricket; he is – however – like Tebbit a nationalist. A defence of liberal nationalism features prominently in the essays in this collection. The shift of focus towards a more detailed discussion of this topic constitutes the most signiﬁcant difference between the essays in this collection and Kymlickaʼs earlier work, such as Multicultural Citizenship (1995), where he provided an extensive argument for the compatibility of liberalism with minority rights.
I believe that Kymlickaʼs position on nationalism constitutes a step backward. I also believe that this position makes it impossible to generalize his liberal theory of minority rights to what he calls ʻhard casesʼ. His theory is primarily designed to deal with two kinds of groups: national minorities and immigrant groups who move voluntarily to a country with which they had no previous signiﬁcant involvements and of which they can become citizens. However, since many minorities, especially in Europe, do not clearly belong to either category, the theory can command support only if it can be expanded to account for these more difﬁcult cases. Kymlicka, in an essay in this collection which provides a reply to some of his critics, acknowledges that the theory must be so expanded. He does not, however, provide such an expansion himself. I have serious doubts as to whether these hard cases can be accommodated with Kymlickaʼs theory at all.
The essays in Politics in the Vernacular address a broad variety of topics ranging from the role of schools in educating for citizenship to the relations between indigenous rights and environmental concerns. They are connected by two common threads. The ﬁrst is an argument for the claim that liberal democracies ﬂourish in the context of liberal nationalism. The second is a defence of minority rights which are now seen by Kymlicka as a legitimate ʻdefensive responseʼ to state policies oriented toward the promotion of nationalism.
The broad outline of Kymlickaʼs main argument for minority rights is well known. He is committed to a left-wing version of liberalism on the model of John Rawls and Ronald Dworkin. Liberal democracy is for Kymlicka based on the fundamental values of freedom of choice, personal autonomy and also social justice. Further, he argues that individual choice requires cultural membership. Quite plausibly, Kymlicka claims that individuals can make choices only within the context of a societal culture which provides options within which to choose, and also makes them meaningful. Moreover, because cultural membership is tied up with peopleʼs self-identity, it is important that they are given access to their own culture, rather than being forced to become members of a new one. Minority rights are intended to promote and secure such access. This argument is now complemented with an argument in favour of a liberal version of nationalism.
Kymlicka claims that liberal democracy necessitates a common bond among the citizens to be healthy and stable. The commitments to fairness, autonomy, and to the neutrality of the state about conceptions of the good which are typical of liberal democracies, often require that the citizens make substantial sacriﬁces for one and another. Without this kind of altruism among the citizens, democracies would be unable to strive for social justice: there would be no National Health Service, no unemployment beneﬁts. A common bond among citizens is needed precisely to foster altruism. Further, the health of a democracy also depends on the strength of deliberative processes within it. In this context, the promotion of a common language among the citizens plays a fundamental role.
Kymlicka argues that shared political values are not sufﬁcient to provide a common bond; what is necessary is a shared identity. This shared identity is – typically – a shared national identity. A common history, a common language, as well as participation in common social and political institutions, provide citizens with a sense that they share such an identity. Since religion, ethnicity and speciﬁc conception of the good play no part in this deﬁnition of belonging to a nationality, this conception of nationalism is, for Kymlicka, compatible with liberalism. It advocates conceptions of identity and national culture which are sufﬁciently ʻthinʼ to allow a wide scope for variance within a society.
Since nationalism and liberal democracy go hand in hand, Kymlicka argues that states are entitled to pursue policies whose purpose is to foster nationbuilding. These policies will include the teaching of a common language and a common history in schools. However, Kymlicka notices that these policies are nation-destroying as well as nation-building. Because they promote the majorityʼs culture and language, they threaten to destroy the societal cultures and languages of national minorities within the territory of the state. Individual human rights impose limitations on the scope and character of the nation-building policies which a state is entitled to pursue. However, Kymlicka argues, human rights are not sufﬁcient to prevent the unjust destruction of national minority cultures. They are even counterproductive if their implementation is not accompanied by a series of measures aimed at the preservation of such cultures. These measures might include special language rights, policies that prevent the settlement in the historical territory of the minority culture of large numbers of people who belong to the national majority, and even in some cases rights to a certain amount of self-government.
The natural conclusion of Kymlickaʼs argument seems to be that national minorities are entitled to secede from the multinational state of which they are a part, provided, of course, that they do not pursue this end by illegitimate means. Kymlicka seems at least implicitly to recognize this fact. He claims that national minorities have as much a right to engage in nation-building programmes as majorities do. However, since the argument for majoritarian nationalism is formulated in terms of its instrumental role in promoting the stable and healthy existence of a liberal democratic state, national minorities can have the same entitlement only if it is assumed that they are, in principle, entitled to their own independent state. Kymlicka does not explicitly say this. Instead, he explicitly refuses to take a stance about the issue. However, the only objection he raises to secession is of a purely practical nature. In the world there are more nations than possible states. Therefore, he supports the development of federalism in multinational states as a way of accommodating the requests of national majorities and minorities.
Kymlickaʼs arguments for minority rights in the case of immigrant groups are less clear. He claims that immigrant groups want to be integrated in their new society. They do not want separation, but they want to be able to maintain aspects of their ethnic heritage. However, state policies of nation-building risk eroding diversity. Consequently, the claims by immigrant groups for minority rights can also be seen as a response to nation-building. These claims are necessary to ensure that the terms of integration are fair. In particular, we must provide the same degree of respect and accom-modation for the identities of both minority and majority groups. Presumably, although Kymlicka does not explicitly say so, respect for an identity requires that the individual in question is not pressurized to abandon it. It also requires that the conditions are in place that make it possible for that individual to preserve her own identity. In other words, it would seem a consequence of Kymlickaʼs posi-tion that liberal states must preserve and foster cultural diversity.
At the same time, however, Kymlicka argues (most explicitly in Multicultural Citizenship) that by deciding voluntarily to migrate immigrant groups have relinquished the right to live and work in their own culture. Further, immigrants have no right to re-create in their new country their societal culture. Instead, mainstream culture must be hospitable to them and to the expression of their ethnic differences. Thus, Kymlicka oscillates between arguments for mere toleration of cultural difference and arguments for the promotion of cultural diversity.
This oscillation points to an irresolvable tension within Kymlickaʼs position. He intends to propose a model for the integration of immigrant groups which does not require their assimilation. But it is hard to see how this could be achieved within the conﬁnes of states engaged in the promotion of a national culture and a common language. Kymlicka has argued that immigrant groups have a right that their minority identity be respected. He also argues that the state is entitled to pressure immigrants to integrate. How can these two claims be squared? A supporter of the view that citizenship does not require a shared national identity, but only a commitment to shared political values of justice and tolerance, can explain how the two claims can go together. The task is much harder for those who, like Kymlicka, endorse nationalism.
The development of common national identity, for Kymlicka, requires that citizens develop a sense of a shared history. He goes further in recommending that our schools ʻpromote an emotional identiﬁcation with our historyʼ, by which, he is at pain to make clear, he does not mean upper-middle-class male history. Consider what this claim might mean in a British context. Schools will teach the history of the Empire so as to promote in children a sense of Britishness. Whom should British children of Indian, Afro-Caribbean, and Pakistani descent identify with, when they learn British history? Should they feel shame for the injustice of colonization? This is a case where emotional identiﬁcations pull in irreconcilable directions. Identiﬁcation with the history of the majority nation will cause alienation from oneʼs ethnic identity.
Kymlicka fails to see problems such as these because he does not consider the ʻhard casesʼ of immigration. He does not discuss instances in which immigrant minorities belong to peoples who have been oppressed by the nation they have made their new home. In these cases, respect for minority identities is likely to be incompatible with pressure to acquire the national identity of the majority. Thus, Kymlickaʼs defence of nationalism gets in the way of his support for multiculturalism.
This tension is especially evident in Kymlickaʼs discussion of language. He does not propose that schools should foster bilingualism among minority (or even majority) children. He does not recommend that minority cultures be helped to preserve their languages. More modestly, he claims that immigrant children should be provided some education in their mother tongue, whilst they learn the majority language, so as not to make their schooling too hard. There is no sense here that cultural diversity is a good to be preserved or even produced. Rather, Kymlickaʼs concern lies entirely with making the process of linguistic assimilation fairer.
Kymlickaʼs arguments are designed as an alternative to the model of ʻAnglo-conformityʼ supported by people like Tebbit. Unfortunately, however, Kymlickaʼs alternative protects diversity at the cost of emptying minority identities of what gives them life. These identities would be preserved as museum pieces to don during a few cultural events. What Kymlicka offers for immigrant minorities is a nicer, fairer, form of assimilation. I doubt that they will be satisﬁed with this offering.
No fat-and-felt cameras Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, Neo-Avant-garde and Culture Industry: Essays on European and American Art from 1955 to 1975, MIT Press, Cambridge MA and London, 2000. xxxiii + 592 pp., £34.50 hb., 0 262 02454 3.
The long-awaited publication of Neo-Avant-garde and Culture Industry by Benjamin Buchloh provides an opportunity to assess his inﬂuential post-Adornian theorization of the visual arts. It is the ﬁrst of two planned volumes and contains nineteen essays published between 1977 and 2000, focusing on the practices of European and American artists between 1955 and 1975. The promised second volume will present essays dealing with ʻgeneral and theoretical questionsʼ. Neo-Avant-garde and Culture Industry is an important publication, not least because it is timely. It comprises a well-chosen selection that will reinforce and widen the renewed critical interest in the re-evaluation of conceptual art.
In the introduction, Buchloh offers some brief biographical, historical and theoretical remarks to contextualize the essays. He identiﬁes three motifs that have structured his critical practice: ﬁrst, ʻthe attempt to clarify the speciﬁc differences between post-war American and post-war European neo-avantgarde culture … to ﬁnd the proper criteria … with which such a differentiation could be arguedʼ; second, ʻan attempt to clarify the complex and ever-changing relationships between the historical avant-garde of the 1915 to 1925 period and the neo-avant-garde during the reconstruction period in New York and post-war Europe from 1945 to 1975ʼ; and third, a questioning of ʻthe interdependence between artistic and ideological formations in the practices of the post-war periodʼ.
Buchlohʼs descriptions of the speciﬁc differences between European and American avant-garde culture in this period usually take the form of measuring the differences in the historical and geographical waves of reception and rediscovery of Dada, Constructivism and Productivism and Duchampʼs readymades. His description of the reception of the early-twentieth-century avant-garde by postwar artists is heavily marked by Peter Bürgerʼs distinction between the historical and the neo-avant-garde. While the brief discussion of Bürger makes for the most interesting passage in the introduction and highlights the mark made by Bürger on the collected essays as a whole, there remains an uneasy relationship between Buchlohʼs critical practice and Bürgerʼs oft-remarked misrecognition of postwar avant-garde recapitulations of earlier avant-gardist strategies. At times when reading these essays one feels sympathetic to Bürgerʼs claims about the ʻalmost Oedipalʼ failure of the neo-avant-garde. Not that Buchloh was mistaken in taking part in the attempt to develop alternative theorizations. But the brevity of his treatment of this topic in the introduction leaves open as many questions as it addresses. One can only hope that the second, more theoretical, volume makes more of an effort to examine such issues.
The collection includes only one woman artist (a brief essay on Nancy Spero) out of all those who were active in the period and in the places that Buchloh discusses. He does acknowledge this in the introduction, explaining that he may have been the unconscious victim of patriarchal conventionality, and he promises that his forthcoming volume will feature his discovery in the early 1980s of the centrality of women artists, which took place when he noticed their abstention from the generalized ʻregression into the most traditional role behaviour of the artist when this role and its tools became – with the rediscovery of Neo-Expressionist painting – the order of the institution and of the market.ʼ
The essays were ﬁrst published in art journals, catalogues and collections of essays. Leaving them unaltered allows one to chart Buchlohʼs development, to track his changes of mind and to pick at a number of interesting contradictions. Here, they self-consciously display the characteristic marks of contingency and partiality necessitated by their function as interventions in the historical emergence of developing cultural practices. The essays acquire from this context a newly historicized resonance, which at certain points brings into focus questions relating to the critical efﬁcacy of their wider social ambition.
The collection functions well in facilitating comparison between the treatment of artists in essays devoted to them and the way they feature as examples in the discussion of other artists. The theoretical strategies Buchloh develops and employs also strike one more readily, as a result of their proximity in this volume: notably, Buchlohʼs strategic discussion of artists in terms that seek critically to unify their work at the level of their practice. In some cases, this works considerably better than in others. For instance, it imbues the critical bisection performed on the career of sculptor Richard Serra with a wider, socially critical meaning. In the context of an essay about Buren, Buchloh seizes the opportunity to diagnose the ideological decrepitude of a social reality in which the return to the production of monumental artworks serves a regrettable and consolatory purpose. Buchlohʼs judgement that Serra revoked the interesting possibilities in his early work through his uncritical return to an obsolete sculptural aesthetic is, I believe, sound. But it is also an interesting example of a moment where he manages convincingly to demonstrate his ambition vis-à-vis the social function of the interpretation of artworks. Thus:
Any idea of avant-garde practice that could be capable, not only of analysing a given historical reality but potentially even of introducing a dimension of critical cultural change – if only within the domain of its own artistic discourse – seems to have been discarded entirely in favour of sheer material solidity and opulence, guaranteeing the continuity and endurance of the tradition.… The monument therefore seems to occupy the space and moment in history when memory as the source of dialectic alteration of a given reality is destroyed.
The structure and purpose of the critical exegesis of cultural practice is held up to the idea of the avantgarde and its function of critical negation.
The pervasive inﬂuence of Adorno on Buchlohʼs practice as a critic is telling in his interpretation of cultural practices in terms of their possible resistance to the homogenization and corporatization of culture. The key commitment that survives critical revision within Buchlohʼs oeuvre is the belief that one of the functions of art is to ʻprovide at least an immediate and correct illusion, if not an actual instantiation, of a universally accessible suspension of powerʼ.
This is visible, in exemplary fashion, in the essay on Hans Haacke, ʻHans Haacke: Memory and Instrumental Reasonʼ (1988), in which Buchloh derives the theoretical structure of his criticism from dialectical comparison of an immanent critique of individual works with a synthetic theoretical reconstruction of the development of the artistʼs practice, viewed as a whole – in Haackeʼs case, through the prism of its reception and initial institutional marginalization. Buchloh deploys Adornoʼs concept of instrumental reason in a defence of Haacke against conservative criticism. It is the practice of artists like Haacke, who reconstruct conceptual art in terms of ʻaudience reception, distribution form and institutional critiqueʼ in which Buchloh claims to ﬁnd the resources to go beyond Bürgerʼs condemnation of postwar avant-garde practices. Reliant on the development, critical selfreliance and philosophical ambition of conceptual art as a whole, Buchloh nevertheless critically downplays those conceptualists for whom art became an activity involving the construction of analytic propositions. One of the valuable things about this volume is the manner in which he constructs his central theory of the synthetic propositional artistic construct through examination of the work of a small set of key artists: Asher, Broodthears, Buren, Haacke and Graham. The distinction rests on the reﬂexivity of the art in relation to the institutional context that supported it. Of the three strategic practices listed, it is through the discussion of institutional critique that Buchloh has made his most signiﬁcant mark as a critic. However, it is not at all clear from the essays collected here that Buchloh has grounds for his conﬁdence in asserting that the synthetic critical potential of institutional critique offers a more convincing reading of conceptual art than that offered for instance – at certain points in their history – by the Art & Language group.
It is notable in relation to the inﬂuence of Adorno on Buchloh that he includes in this collection his early, rollicking attack on the work and person of Joseph Beuys (an essay described in the introduction as being ʻmarked by all the juvenile rage with which a return of the repressed can be encountered in or projected onto cultureʼ). In ʻBeuys: The Twilight of the Idol, Preliminary Notes for a Critiqueʼ (1980) Beuys is described as a charlatan mythologist who mixes obsolete aesthetic strategies with the ʻlookʼ of the most advanced art of his time, who makes scandalous pronouncements on the basis of an obfuscating ʻabstract universalityʼ, which, while purporting to address concretely the postwar historical situation, merely served to obscure the socially fraught historical condition of memory in Germany. The excoriating tone of this essay peaks with Buchlohʼs discussion of Beuysʼs central mythical construction: his apparent rescue by Tartars after crashing his plane on the Steppes of Russia during the war. Comparing the photographic evidence compiled in support of this ʻmyth of originʼ, Buchlohʼs sarcasm regarding the status of the evidential photographs (ʻAnd who took the photographs? The Tartars with their fat-and-felt camera?ʼ) indicates the depth of his somewhat compulsive insistence on Adornoʼs account of the relation between myth and enlightenment. Though this tendency is tempered in his later works, it colours his entire body of criticism.
With regard to institutional critique, the essay ʻMichael Asher and the conclusion of Modernist Sculptureʼ stands out as a complex and interesting essay that deserves reading (and especially rereading). In the present historical conjuncture it may seem that institutional critique of the kind practised by Haacke, Buren and Asher (and their artistic, curatorial and critical progeny) has lost much of its sting. Their art is not only now granted the recognition by museums that it no doubt deserves, but it is often also compromised by its inclusion in institutional sponsorship portfolios as an option for patrons who may wish to appear quite daring, garnering the beneﬁts of associating themselves with works validated in terms of their radical openness and candour. Perhaps the interminable delay to which Buchloh apparently subjected the publication of this volume is signiﬁcant here. As the work that has formed the core of his practice as a critic ages, he has submitted to the honour of a retrospective collection of his critical work. The chosen periodization and the decontextualizing function of the collection serve to emphasize the historical aspect of the essays included and perhaps also to necessitate a change in the activity they mark. Maybe Buchloh the critic of historical memory will be forced to turn into Buchloh the historian of conceptualismʼs criticism, the further the object that originally structured his discourse recedes into the past. I hope not.
Buchloh retains an entertaining blind spot for some developments in post-conceptual art. One unreferenced and dismissive aside directed very obviously at Jeff Wallʼs artistic and critical practice stands out among numerous others. It is obviously as much fun for the reader to hate some things that critics write, as it is for critics when deciding where to place whom on the scale of available kinds of reference. This is by no means to imply that Buchlohʼs work is no longer relevant. In terms of current artistic and critical practice, it is remarkable how well his best essays from the late 1970s and early 1980s stand up to widespread social and art institutional changes and how much they offer that deserves renewed attention from scholars and artists alike. This collection also allows one to focus on his later reconsiderations of the period that shaped his criticism, which continue to provide interesting and pointed judgements. Even those who disagree with the claims that Buchloh makes for a functionalist reading of the historicality of memory in conceptual art should regard the publication of this volume as an opportunity to review the signiﬁcant position these essays occupy in contemporary art criticism.
The two sensibilitiesStella Sandford, The Metaphysics of Love: Gender and Transcendence in Levinas, Athlone Press/Continuum,
London, 2000. viii + 179 pp., £50.00 hb., £16.99 pb., 0 485 11566 2 hb., 0 485 12163 8 pb.
In this ﬁne book, Stella Sandford repeatedly reminds us of the propensity of readers of Levinas to overlook those aspects of his work that sit uneasily alongside the radical ethics of alterity with which his thought has become synonymous. Foremost among these sources of potential discomfort in our post-Nietzschean epoch is the privileged position accorded to God in Levinasʼs writings. Equally troubling, however, are the many passages in which Levinas writes about women. Levinas may well have conceived of his philosophy as being ʻat the antipodes of Spinozismʼ, but is there really so much difference in spirit between the proclamation in the Political Treatise of that otherwise unimpeachably progressive Dutchman, that ʻone may assert with perfect propriety that women have not by nature equal right with menʼ, and the following claim of Levinas, chosen more or less at random from many which Sandford unﬂinchingly cites: ʻ[i]t is thus not in terms of equality that the entire question of woman can be discussed. From now on our text will seek to show the importance of a certain inequality, be it only a matter of customʼ?
Perhaps even more worrying is the evocation of woman as the silent, retiring, housewife, whose role is seemingly exhausted in preparing the home to welcome in the guests of the proprietorial husband. It is this latter conception which moves Sandford to one of those moments in her book, salutary in their rarity, when she abandons her otherwise temperate demeanour: ʻOne hardly needs to point out that this frank and unselfconscious account of the nature and place of the feminine in Totality and Inﬁnity is gratingly and irritatingly conservative, at times to the point of risibility, at other times just plain offensive.ʼ At another such moment, she shows how Levinas is indeed vulnerable to that ʻcrassestʼ reading which suggests that he afﬁrms ʻthat a womanʼs place is in the homeʼ. That these observations carry the force they do is due to the scrupulous rigour and textual detail which Sandford brings to bear in her feminist critique of Levinasʼs work.
Sandfordʼs initial aim is to shake the lazy shorthand which characterizes Levinasʼs thinking as a philosophy of ʻthe Otherʼ, or the equally unthinking intonation of the headline ʻethics as ﬁrst philosophyʼ. Rather, Sandford argues that ethics in Levinas should be understood as the ʻway to metaphysicsʼ, that Levinasʼs philosophy seeks to express a metaphysical claim that transcendence is a ﬁrst principle.
I think that Sandford is correct when she makes this argument. Indeed, one could trace the philosophical line of descent from Husserl, through Heidegger, to Levinas by focusing on the notion of transcendence. Thus, Heidegger criticizes Husserl for failing to pose the question of the being of intentionality. Heideggerʼs own answer to this question is that the ontological condition of Daseinʼs intentionality is precisely the transcendence of Dasein. However, for Levinas, Heideggerʼs thinking of transcendence does not go far enough, since it still situates transcendence within the interiority of Dasein. Dasein transcends – it is in this very transcending that the ek-stases of Daseinʼs temporality consist. Transcendence thus remains something that Dasein does, a potentiality of Dasein. The journey from Husserl to Levinas concludes, therefore, with Levinasʼs attempt to disclose transcendence in its full radicality. But herein lies the apparent aporia confronting Levinasʼs philosophy: wouldnʼt any successful disclosure of transcendence in its full radicality precisely occlude that very transcendence?
It is Sandfordʼs contention that such notions as the erotic, sexual difference, the feminine and fecundity function in Levinasʼs work as phenomenological indications of transcendence, and, more fundamentally, as the phenomenological means by which metaphysical transcendence is achieved. After a historical introduction to Levinasʼs thought in Chapter 1, which convincingly foregrounds the signiﬁcance of trans-cendence, Chapter 2 explores the shifting phen-omenological signiﬁcance borne by the notions of eros, sexual difference and the feminine in the development of Levinasʼs philosophy, leading to the conclusion, adumbrated in Totality and Inﬁnity, that ʻthe erotic relation delineates the way to transcendence through fecundity in a manner that apparently bypasses the discussion of ethics completely.ʼ The reason for this can be traced back to the fact that, as Sandford shows, the ʻfaceto-face relation is located in erosʼ. The signiﬁcance of eros is in turn shown to reside in its disclosure of the originality of sexual difference, and ultimately in Levinasʼs identiﬁcation of the Other with the feminine, in contradistinction to his codiﬁcation of the economy of the same as the masculine. Sandfordʼs critique of these moves consists in her demonstration that there is an irreconcilable tension between the phenomenological content of eros, sexual difference and the feminine as they are analysed by Levinas, and their metaphysical function as revelatory of the principle of the priority of transcendence.
Sandford thus develops a feminist critique of Levinas which works on two interconnected levels. First, there is the speciﬁc critique of Levinasʼs phenomenology of themes such as fecundity, the feminine and the erotic, which pits the apparent radicality of his thought against its frequent betrayal by a conservative masculinism that, as she observes in her concluding paragraph, ʻpoint[s] frankly to the strong stream of Judaic patriarchalism bearing Levinasʼs philosophical reﬂection alongʼ. But second, and perhaps more signiﬁcantly, Sandford suggests that this internal betrayal of a potentially revolutionary phenomenology is the price that Levinas must pay in order to secure his metaphysics of transcendence.
Taken together, these two lines of argument amount to nothing so much as a deconstruction – in the strict sense of that much abused term, as it describes the methodology of Derridaʼs early essays on Husserl,
Heidegger and, of course, Levinas – not least to the extent that it is a reading that works by revealing the disruptive centrality of themes that had previously been regarded as marginal to the expression of Levinasʼs thought. And just as Levinas wrote that after reading Derridaʼs deconstructions of Husserl, ʻnothing is left inhabitable for thoughtʼ, so after reading Sandford, it is impossible to maintain oneʼs previous convictions about Levinasʼs philosophy. Sandford forces us to begin again with Levinas, to call into question all of the principles underpinning his thought that we have taken for granted for too long. Most notably, Sandfordʼs critique of Levinas forces us to question the privilege accorded to the concept of transcendence in the history of phenomenology.
In response to this more basic critique of transcendence, one may pose two initial questions. First, is Sandfordʼs way of conceiving the relation between the erotic, fecundity, the feminine and transcendence, whereby the former are characterized as phenomena that ʻaccomplishʼ or ʻachieveʼ transcendence, appropriate? Accomplishment and achievement translate Husserlʼs key notion of Leistung, which speciﬁcally deﬁnes an accomplishment by consciousness through its activity of constitution. Thus, the meaningfulness of an experience of an object such as a chair, the experience of a chair as a chair, would be precisely a Leistung of consciousness. But the whole force of Levinasʼs attempt to develop a ʻphilosophyʼ of transcendence turns on the problem of whether the beyond can signify without thereby being gathered up by consciousness, or, in other words, whether the beyond can have a meaning or sense that is not an accomplishment of consciousness.
But if transcendence is not simply ʻaccomplishedʼ, how is one to understand its function in Levinasʼs work? An answer may be gleaned in posing a second question: is it right to argue that the apparently alternative phenomenological ways to transcendence ultimately collapse back into such themes as the erotic, to the extent that they betray the same phenom-enological symptomatology? One such alternative, which plays a fundamental role in Otherwise than Being, is the phenomenon of affectivity. What is signiﬁcant about Levinasʼs discussions of affectivity in his works of the 1970s and 1980s is, as Sandford remarks, that their objective is to provide a phenomenology of ʻan “experience” of transcendence which … cannot be translated into the propositional structure of cognition but which nevertheless has an intelligibility of its own: affective intelligibilityʼ. In Chapter 5, however, Sandford seeks to show that Levinasʼs account of affectivity is, in the ﬁnal analysis, worked out in the same terms as his earlier accounts of eros. To this extent, affectivity also occupies an ambiguous position in Levinasʼs work, the subject both of a potentially radical phenomenology and, at the same time, consigned to an overdetermining metaphysical conception of transcendence which betrays this radical potential. Sandfordʼs demonstration of this point turns on a close reading of the ʻSensibility and Proximityʼ chapter of Otherwise than Being, which shows that the terminology of Levinasʼs earlier phenomenology of eros returns to determine his phenomenology of affectivity. This phenomenology of affectivity, or sensibility, alights upon the ʻﬂeshinessʼ of vulnerability which is the ʻpreconditionʼ for the ethical relation with the Other. Sandford goes on to show, however, that in his attempt to render this affective sensibility as meaningful, a meaningfulness which signiﬁes transcendence, Levinas must trade on an ambiguity, a conﬂation of the phenomenology of sensibility with a metaphysics of sensibility.
Sandford is undoubtedly correct that two conceptions of sensibility are at work in Levinasʼs text. However, I donʼt think that there is an ambiguity between them, or indeed that Levinas is guilty of conﬂating them for the purposes of his overarching goal of a metaphysics of transcendence. As ever, the clue to a full appreciation of Levinasʼs position lies in understanding his relation to Husserl. Thus, on the one hand, there is the conception of sensibility, or better, sensation, which characterizes it as data forming the ʻground for the order of meaning associated with cognitionʼ – what Husserl calls hyle. Ex hypothesi, sensation in this sense is in no way meaningful. However, the function of hyletic data is exhausted in being presented to, and taken up by, cognition. There is no excess of sensation. Sensibility, on the other hand, is signiﬁcant precisely to the extent that it affects the subject prior to (the possibility of) being taken up by a comprehending subject. It is possible to trace the source of the possibility for an adequate phen-omenology of sensibility understood in this latter sense to Husserlʼs account, in Ideas II, of the kinaesthetic syntheses by which I am bodily localized. Uniquely, these are experiences that consist in the living through of sensations that present no object to consciousness.
But if I am right in claiming that, far from conﬂating these two senses of sensibility, Levinas is at pains to establish a rigorous phenomenological distinction between them, the question nevertheless remains of whether, and if so how, this sensibility can be understood as meaningful. Again, I believe that a positive answer to these questions can be found in a number of Levinasʼs texts. However, these texts offer an account of sensibility which would, I think, be less straightforwardly reducible to a phenomenology of eros. They are texts that disclose a sensibility which emerges from Levinasʼs radical phenomenology of time. The key ﬁnding of these texts is that timeʼs essence, namely its quality of passing, consists in a ʻdephasure of the instantʼ. In traditional phenom-enology, this dephasure is only ever a preliminary to the gathering work of the syntheses of retention and protention. What Levinas shows, to the contrary, is that this dephasure has always already eluded the synthesizing–gathering activity of consciousness. Thus, the vulnerability of the subject is a trace of the subjectʼs temporal constitution, or, more accurately, temporal creation.
On this reading, the meaning of sensibility, and hence of transcendence, consists in the irrecuperable break-up of the subject conceived as a transcendental unity of apperception. One encounters this sensibility in the phenomenon of awakening. When one awakens, the instant of wakefulness can never be gathered up together with the instant prior to awakening – these Freak aestheticWilliam Irwin, Mark T. Conard and Aeon J. Skoble, eds, The Simpsons and Philosophy: The Dʼoh! of Homer, Open Court, Chicago and La Salle, 2001. ix + 303 pp., £16.95 pb., 0 812 69433 3.
This collection provides a sample of the ʻapplied philosophyʼ being written in the US academy today. The essays are breezy in tone, making the ﬁercest philosophical systems sound friendly, even humorous. There are two appendices: one lists every Simpsons episode (from 17 December 1989 to 26 November 2000); another lists in order of date of birth all the philosophers mentioned, from Thales to Camus, summarizing each with an apposite quote from their work. Although the twenty-one contributors refer to each otherʼs contributions in footnotes, there are few disagreements, and no debate. This is an exercise in making philosophy ʻaccessibleʼ, and all warm to the task.
Recently, London-based art critics sought to organize their discussions around the concept of ʻthe philistineʼ. With their subtitle The Dʼoh! of Homer, the editors of this collection also want the frisson of theorizing the untheorizable, applying intellect to the deﬁantly stupid. Kelly Jolley goes so far as to deﬁne Bart Simpson as a ʻHeideggerian thinkerʼ: Bartʼs refusal of psychologism takes the ontological ʻleap onto the soil on which we really standʼ. The acts and motives of Krusty the Clown are dissected according to Aristotleʼs deﬁnition of hypocrisy, while David Vessey ponders the paradoxes of Christian ethics via the example of Ned Flanders, the Simpsonsʼ insufferable neighbour. Here The Simpsons is reduced to a sophomoric opportunity for airing readymade philosophical concepts.
The temperature hots up with Paul Cantor and James Wallace, who assess the showʼs politics. Cantor appreciates its wit (ʻsome of the most sophisticated comedy and satire ever to appear on American televisionʼ), but deems the emphasis on the nuclear family and religion a return to the sitcom values of the 1950s. Wallace remarks that its reﬂexive satire is ʻsort of Brechtianʼ, but maintains that the ceaseless pursuit of the deﬂating gag means that ʻonly the joke survivesʼ, and even the oppressed wind up satirized. Far from being subversive, The Simpsons afﬁrms the status quo: ʻIn The Simpsons everything is up for laughs; under capitalism, everything is up for sale.ʼ Cantor and Wallace are both correct, though someone needs to make the dialectical point: itʼs this clash between family values and media-tuned cynicism which makes the series sparkle.
Set next to the wit of the cartoons, such moralistic blandishments appear hopelessly plodding. The Simpsons is an aggressively brilliant manifestation of media self-consciousness. Uniquely in television, overrating the intelligence of the viewer has become a sales point. South Park arrived in the wake of Simpsons-style taboo-breaking: ʻtransgressiveʼ attitudinizing allows it to get away with uninspired and inexpensive artwork. In contrast, The Simpsons packs in so many satirical barbs, references and visual gags that the attentive viewer is overwhelmed. When ʻguest starʼ voice-overs are introduced, it becomes impossible to tell whoʼs exploiting whom and whoʼs mocking whom, generating precisely the semiotic collapse honoured in post-Duchampian art. Merely in terms of design, the showʼs expanses of pure colour were an exploitation of TV-set technology previously unseen outside the ʻfreakʼ videos of Frank Zappa, George Clinton and Prince. The density of invention and allusion make each episode a classic, a distillation of its times.The Simpsons enjoys a creative ferment because its creator Matt Groening had the insight to encourage the ʻtechieʼ or ʻgeekʼ culture which producers like Disney and Spielberg repress in favour of a spectacular and patronizing ʻﬁnishʼ. The writers, actors and designers – the workers – are having a ball, revelling in their unalloyed cleverness: itʼs this collective esprit which makes the show so attractive and direct. (A small two instants remain absolutely out of phase. In the same way, when I am awakened by the other, I cannot gather up, that is, represent, what has wakened me. Nor can I identify the now wakeful I with the I which was awakened. Awakening thus consists in the creation of a new subject, whose condition is not self-identity, but rather, as Levinas writes in Otherwise than Being, ʻsensibility, sensibility as the subjectivity of the subjectʼ.
example: the music at the beginning is played afresh each week, thus giving economic security to a clutch of musicians, and making Lisaʼs sax solo different each time.)Baudrillard notwithstanding, philosophy should not collude in the ʻﬂattening outʼ imposed by a commodiﬁed culture. Just because The Simpsons appears on television does not mean that it is identical to everything else in the medium. Yet none of these essays can identify what is unique about it. If they do hint at what makes The Simpsons so good, it is only by recounting sequences of such crazy invention that the ʻanalysisʼ limps behind, as David Arnold does precondition for successful cultural analysis. If such research were undertaken, what would it reveal?The Simpsons did not appear from nowhere.
Matt Groening learned his mass-cultural aesthetic from Frank Zappa: ʻFrank is my Elvis,ʼ he said; ʻhis example encouraged me, comforted me, made me feel it was okay to go my own way, to not do things the way the authorities told me to.ʼ Like Zappaʼs records, Simpsons episodes are jampacked with references and felicities and poetic absurdities above and beyond the requirements of commerce. In 1977, Groening moved to Los Angeles because it was Zappaʼs base, and began collecting materials for a book about him. He with ʻThe Frontʼ: complaining about the bad quality of their favourite cartoon series, Bart and Lisa write an episode for Itchy & Scratchy where Scratchy is sent crashing through the ceiling and into a television set in the room above, and is shot at – ʻAw, this show ainʼt no goodʼ – by a pistol-wielding Elvis impersonator. Roland Barthes and the distinction between langue and parole sound distinctly humdrum after that.
Whatever brand is on offer in this collection, philosophy is invariably conceived as a supreme discourse which already has all the answers: there is none of the ʻresearchʼ which the Frankfurt School declared was the wrote music criticism for an underground paper – The Los Angeles Reader – and drew a strip named Life in Hell, basing its pared-down frames on the cover of Zappaʼs Hot Rats. In 1990, he drew the cover for Country Music in the World of Islam, an album by Eugene Chadbourne, another Zappa-inspired cultural irritant. Groening contributed to Zappa-fan discussion pages on the Net, and associated with ʻscavenger artistʼ Gerry Fialka, who answered Zappaʼs ʻhotlineʼ in the early 1990s (and still holds monthly Finnegans Wake sessions in the Venice Beach public library). It was only in 1987, when Groening got his television break inherited cultural value necessary for the development of his materialism of recorded sound (or, following Hans Richter, his ʻdocumentary collageʼ). The essayists in this volume cannot get a grip on The Simpsons – its refusal to kowtow to the ʻunwitty circusʼ (J.H. Prynne), its relentless emphasis on the gag, the absurd, the contradiction – because their philosophies all seek continuity with classical models. Notable by their absence, the theorists required for The Simpsons are Adorno and Benjamin, whose cultural criticism took off from the revelation that classicism is simply the kitsch of a commodity culture, a ﬁg leaf for fascistocapitalist barbarism.
Despite having suffered a decade of postmodernism, no one here traces such awkward – yet historically attested – connections: lines of inﬂuence which prove The Simpsons is more informed about cultural theory than most academic philosophers. When philosophy poses as a transcendent system, cut off from its object of enquiry, it can do no more than revolve its readymade precepts: only if The Simpsons were placed in its historical relation to modern art and critical philosophy – that is, taken seriously – might its true features be discerned. Evidently academic condescension prefers the ʻdoʼh!ʼ of Homer to the ʻspleen enragéʼ of Groening.
with a slot for a Simpsons prototype on the Tracy Ullman Show, that he went ʻovergroundʼ.
These details are not merely picaresque. They sketch the countercultural milieu necessary to incubate something as exceptional as The Simpsons. If one fails to grasp the showʼs antagonism towards the ʻstraightʼ media (this ʻbentʼ perspective isnʼt based on drugs; Groening followed Zappa in rejecting them), then one misconstrues its philosophy. As with Zappa, Left/ Right distinctions are less than helpful. The point is a struggle over representation: to interrupt the ʻsolemn glamourʼ (Groening) of packaged celebrities and pop stars, and inject the virus of independent thought and humour. For those concerned with the politics of form and the regressive psychology induced by advertising – rather than predeﬁned political identities – The Simpsons is a textbook example of what the progressive artwork should do in an age of mechanical reproduction.
What were the sources of Zappaʼs own ʻfreakʼ aesthetic? His début album included a quotation: ʻI ﬁnd your approach to music to be commensurate with the major motivational forces exempliﬁed most manifestly in the “tragi-comic” aspects of the “theatre of the absurd”.ʼ Though indicated in typically self-satirizing phrases, Zappaʼs starting point was the tabula rasa of Jarry, Beckett and Ionescu: the nihilism towards Self-fathoming Elliot L. Jurist, Beyond Hegel and Nietzsche: Philosophy, Culture, and Agency, MIT Press, Cambridge MA and London, 2000. 355 pp., £29.95, ISBN 0 26 210087 8The origin of this book, its author says, lies in ʻa certain uneasiness with the conception of Hegel and Nietzsche as philosophical oppositesʼ, and there are many reasons to sympathize with him. Deleuzeʼs harsh judgement in Nietzsche and Philosophy that ʻthere is no compromise between Hegel and Nietzscheʼ has often been used to justify a dismissal of Hegel, and even a deﬁant refusal to read him. Nietzsche, of course, has often been similarly brushed aside. But the problem of thoughtfully relating Nietzsche and Hegel is not unique: comparable difﬁculties appear when trying to construct bridges between, say, Derrida and Foucault, or Lacan and Deleuze. Such projects are often hindered by the way these thinkers, on the rare occasions they comment on each other, usually do little more than produce vitriolic attacks, oversimpliﬁcations, or cryptic obfuscations. Perhaps the similarities and differences are so complex and subtle that we simply lack the words in our onto-theological languages to adequately express them. Or maybe this is just another way of evading the demands of careful analysis. What is certain is that thoughtless antinomies between Hegel and Nietzsche, or their inheritors such as critical theory and poststructuralism, are hardly helpful for a critical examination of, and response to, the problems of modernity that both Nietzsche and Hegel diagnose.
The key similarity between Hegel and Nietzsche that Jurist exploits is the connection they make between culture and the self. Both reject the ʻCartesian mythʼ of the isolated, rational ego, whose path to knowledge demands a distrust of society and history, and afﬁrm instead the idea of a self constituted only within its context. Both thinkers also go beyond conceptions of culture as a set of objective customs, and as a subjective process of education and development, towards an idea of culture as ʻself-fathomingʼ. The latter is a form of self-understanding that involves self-negation, a recognition of how culture lives within the self and, consequently, a blurring of the boundaries between inside and outside, self and other. The need for self-fathoming, Jurist holds, arises when the subjective and objective aspects of culture clash – when customs, for example, are seen to hinder rather than advance self-development. Here, Nietzsche and Hegel both look back to Greek tragedy as a response to this conﬂict, but hold it to be insufﬁcient to a modern age in which the demands of subjectivity make the ancient ideal of unity between the self and society impossible. Both propose alternative conceptions of agency which involve integration of the self, though Hegel sees selfintegration as a higher form of unity, while Nietzsche envisions it as a decentring.
From this set of common concerns, the differences between Nietzsche and Hegel can be outlined. Almost all of these are differences of degree, in Juristʼs account. Hegel is more optimistic about the possibility of a society of mutual recognition, and so is less suspicious of social customs than Nietzsche. Nietzsche, conversely, takes the harsher view of modernity as a catastrophe brought on by a nihilistic herd complex. While both thinkers conceive of agency as a dynamic of being-for-self and being-for-others, Hegel gives more emphasis to the second, while Nietzsche privileges the ﬁrst. Nietzsche afﬁrms a Dionysian loss of control that Hegel would reject, and Hegel afﬁrms a unity of artistic self-expression with self-knowledge which is anathema to Nietzsche, who would support the ﬁrst but reject the second. Yet even where they seem to be on opposing sides of the spectrum, the relation between Hegel and Nietzsche is actually more subtle: Hegel may be less radical, but he often anticipates Nietzscheʼs thought. Nietzsche, though he often seems to favour anarchism and isolation, nonetheless praises self-control and friendship in ways which move him some distance closer to his predecessor. Acknowledgment of these subtleties not only cuts through the crude antithesis between Nietzsche and Hegel, but allows both to be used in the name of developing a more balanced conception of agency appropriate to our time. Jurist ﬂeshes out this conception through analyses of contemporary Hegelian and Nietzschean thinkers, including Charles Taylor, Axel Honneth, Derrida, Lacan and Judith Butler. He draws on psychoanalytic theories which stress both the importance of recognition in self-development and its inevitable failure. And he argues for a kind of selffathoming which overcomes the apparent opposition between the decentring of the self and self-reﬂexivity. This synthesis ʻleads us to acknowledge the limits of agency, and the force of contingency, without necessarily negating the intelligibility of agencyʼ. It points us towards ʻthe kind of agency that no longer strives for unity and self-transparencyʼ and that understands ʻsocialization as a mixed blessing, and perhaps as something beneﬁcialʼ.
Few details of this agency are provided, though this does not necessarily undercut what the book tries to achieve. The main problem instead involves Juristʼs failure to appreciate subtle differences in his quest to align Nietzsche and Hegel on a common terrain. A prime example is the use of ʻbeing-for-selfʼ and ʻbeingfor-othersʼ – which Jurist admits are Hegelian terms – to describe both thinkers, without any consideration of how they might fail to map onto compatible ideas for each. Jurist deﬁnes being-for-self as narcissism, and Nietzsche is accordingly held to afﬁrm an egoistic self. Yet Nietzsche makes clear early on in the Genealogy (Essay I, section 2) that noble afﬁrmation has nothing to do with the division between egoistic and unegoistic action, and, moreover, that this self-afﬁrmation does not come at the expense of any relation to others, but rather requires an agonistic relation by which the self overcomes its limits and dissolves itself as an ʻIʼ or ego. Similarly, Jurist takes being-for-others to mean recognition, and must then strain his reading of Nietzsche and contemporary Nietzscheans to interpret them through this term. He claims that for Nietzsche, ʻThe masters do value others whom they see as being like themselvesʼ, yet Nietzsche himself speaks of the noble having reverence for an other who is a worthy adversary or enemy (Genealogy, Essay I, section 10), without any suggestion that this adversary must be recognized as ʻlike meʼ in order to receive this respect. While Jurist notes in Derridaʼs ethic of friendship an acknowledgment of the other as other, which he admits is absent in Hegelian recognition, he merely asserts, without any argument, that ʻthis does not mean that it is impossible to imagine Hegelian agency in a way that is compatible with [Derridaʼs position]ʼ. Here, in these different forms of being-for-self and being-for-others is the very incompatibility between Nietzsche and Hegel asserted by Derrida, Deleuze and others which Jurist wants to surmount.
It is fairly obvious that Hegel and Nietzsche reject the atomism of the Cartesian ego, see the self as constituted through its relations to others, recognize both the value and the limitations of Greek tragedy, and so forth. It is doubtful that such similarities, and the corresponding differences in Nietzscheʼs and Hegelʼs positions on these topics, slipped Deleuzeʼs mind when he declared the two thinkers to be irreconcilable. This suggests that he meant something different than some sort of crude antinomy. In Nietzsche and Philosophy this is presented as a difference between a Hegelian view of the self which negates difference to establish essence, and a Nietzschean idea of a self which afﬁrms its difference – which is to say, it afﬁrms a difference that operates ʻbeyondʼ the strictures of identity, a difference that eternally returns as a kind of disjoining of self and other that makes them irreducible to any sort of opposition, mediated or otherwise. In the more technical terms that Deleuze develops later, Nietzsche afﬁrms a disjunctive synthesis, while Hegel offers a conjunctive one which retains an abstract notion of difference as opposition.
Holding that the relations Hegel and Nietzsche establish between self and other are incompatible and irreconcilable is, of course, perfectly compatible with afﬁrming a whole range of other ways in which the two thinkers are similar and different. But it also means that such similarities and differences can never fully account for the relation between them. This suggests another relationship which is perhaps what Deleuze meant, and which is certainly more in line with his overall thought, whereby Hegel and Nietzsche are not polar opposites, but even in their proximity to one another are separated by the deepest of chasms. To hold that Hegelʼs and Nietzscheʼs philosophies are intimately intertwined but never subject to mediation and compromise is to say that they are disjoined in a way that is ʻbeyondʼ identity and opposition. Or, put in Derridean terms, Nietzsche is not so much the opposite of Hegel, but rather his différance, with any ﬁnal speciﬁcation of their link being always differed and deferred. It is for this reason that we must continue to read and reread both Hegel and Nietzsche and maintain a conversation between them. Jurist should be commended for reminding us of the importance of this conversation for any thoughtful approach to the dangers and possibilities that continue into the new millennium.
Objectively speakingKeith M. Ashman and Philip S. Baringer, eds, After the Science Wars, Routledge, London, 2001. 224 pp., £50.00 hb., £15.99 pb., 0 415 21208 1 hb., 0 415 21209 X pb.
The ʻwarʼ in question was the War of Sokalʼs Prank, which stands to the history of ideas rather as the War of Jenkinsʼ Ear stands to history proper. Sokalʼs prank was to get the US journal Social Text to publish an article he then revealed to be a hoax. All this shows, regarding science, or the style of cultural theory favoured by the editors of Social Text, is that refereed journals can easily publish bollocks, and that pastiche is the key idiom of the academy. It is, after all, a short step from imitating an academic ʻhouse styleʼ and not believing most of what you read, to not believing in what you write either. If work by a nonbeliever were published by a theology journal would this show God doesnʼt exist? ʻPublish or perishʼ was once the ethos only of Grub Street, so hacks in the groves of academe should be no surprise. Only owning up is novel.
This collection is extremely uneven. A number of the essays favour the Sokal camp. Robert L. Park and Adrian L. Melott contribute to the ʻjust try not believing in realityʼ genre – failing entirely to see that the issue is how we describe it. Sokal himself contributes an essay largely in the style of nominations for a bad writing competition. ʻRelativismʼ, ʻpost-modernismʼ, the ʻstrong programmeʼ and the notion that the world portrayed by science is ʻjust a social constructʼ are their bugbears, and ʻobjectivityʼ their watchword.
It contains one stand-out essay: Gabriel Stolzenberg, ʻReading and Relativismʼ, which contrasts the style of ʻreadingʼ characteristic of controversies such as this, with the ʻreadingʼ proper scholarship demands. The former has humiliation of the author as its purpose, rather than the discovery of the meaning(s) the text might contain. His motif derives from a quotation I cannot bear not to repeat:
When [men and women] are in love and are reading a love letter they read for all they are worth.
They read every word three ways; they read between the lines and in the margins; they grow sensitive to context and ambiguity.… Then, if never before or after, they read. (C.M. Adler, How to Read a Book, Simon & Shuster, New York, 1940)Stolzenbergʼs examples show how fatuous an outcome can ﬂow from failing to read, but his arguments reveal, too, that old-fashioned foundationalism, objec-tivism, and so on, far from being the bulwarks against ʻpostmodernist relativismʼ their proponents hope, are, rather, obstacles to understanding in science as much as in the humanities.
ʻPostmodernismʼ in regard to science should address ʻclassical modernityʼ, whose harbingers were Copernicus, Luther and Columbus, and among whose pivotal events were: the English Civil War; the publication of Leviathan, Newtonʼs Principia, and Robinson Crusoe; the Enlightenment; the American and French Revolutions; the publication of Kantʼs three Critiques, The Phenomenology of Spirit, the work of Faraday and Maxwell, Capital, and The Origin of Species; the repopulation of North America; the Russian Revolution; the invention of general relativity, quantum theory, symbolic logic, atomic weapons, the human genome, semiconductors and the microchip. The Enlightenment closed with a crisis in self-understanding for ʻclassical modernityʼ that has yet to be resolved. That has been no obstacle to the inexorable increase, year on year, in the pace at which the power of science grows and social and economic life is transformed. Were this under humanityʼs knowing and self-conscious control it might be ʻprogressʼ in every sense of the word – as if!
This modernity set in motion an intellectual engine of unparalleled power – concrete power as wielded by states and corporations, but power, too, to destroy cultures and to wreck the planet. Our comprehending it could not be more important, but we are a long way off. We do, however, have to take stock of its cultural speciﬁcity. Ziauddin Sardarʼs contribution puts this ʻclassical modernityʼ in the context of the cultures which ﬁrst fed into it, as Europe struggled back to civilization, and then fell behind it, oppressed during the colonial period, but which are ﬁnally coming increasingly to reassert themselves as they, too, appropriate science and dissipate its Eurocentric triumphalism. Sardar raises the important question of the relation value systems have to modes and strategies of investigation, but, perhaps understandably, it remains a question.
Ann E. Cudd contributes an essay on ʻObjectivity and Ethno-feminist Critiques of Scienceʼ. Her examples do, as she writes, ʻreveal how recognising the inﬂuences of race and gender on science make science better in scienceʼs own terms, namely the open minded pursuit of truth.ʼ But not in virtue of either of the notions of ʻobjectivityʼ she distinguishes: ʻepistemicʼ (roughly, truth as correspondence) and ʻmetaphysicalʼ (roughly, existence of a mind-independent world), since ʻopen minded pursuit of truthʼ is a third, procedural meaning of ʻobjectivityʼ. (i.e. impartiality. If wishes were horses, beggars would ride, and if they were statistics Lysenko would have superseded Darwin and Gosplan would rule the world.) It has a further ʻattitudinalʼ sense, too, in the stance one takes towards objects as opposed to subjects. (While there was no point in Basil Fawlty hitting his car with a stick because it broke down on gourmet night, medicine requires ethics in the way car mechanics do not.) It is because the word ʻobjectivityʼ carries so much undifferentiated baggage that it generates such confusion – from, for example, the non sequitur that one can have none of the other meanings in the absence of an epistemology of correspondence, or the non sequitur that one cannot be impartial unless one regards people as mere objects rather than as the subjects they clearly are.
Keith Ashman describes how the controversy surrounding the measurements of the Hubble constant came to be resolved. He invokes the notion of epistemic objectivity but fails to show that it played any part in the process. His story does show that what I called ʻproceduralʼ objectivity was crucial, and also that the strategy of scientists agreeing convention so as to standardize what they do was a crucial move in resolving the issue. Having described how what happened issued in agreement, as divergence in results decreased towards consensus, he reﬂects in the following terms:
Either the Hubble constant was solved by astronomers objectively (in the epistemic sense) measuring this parameter and gradually eliminating uncertainties and biases, or astronomers have, through social and cultural pressures, mutually agreed on a value of a parameter. (In the latter case, I suspect, we have to throw out ʻmeasurableʼ, since if science is nothing more than a process by which scientists agree on certain results, I see no sense in measuring anything.)But it is wholly false to see a conﬂict here: you can only agree on a convention if you already agree on matters that are not conventional. Whatever is decided arbitrarily is decided against a non-arbitrary background: ʻYou all see this and that?ʼ – ʻYesʼ – ʻWell, letʼs use this as a standard/means for measuring that.ʼ The atomic weight of hydrogen, the lightest element, is by convention 1, and that of all other elements some multiple of this.
Wittgenstein addressed this explicitly: 241. ʻSo you are saying that human agreement decides what is true and what is false?ʼ – It is what human beings say that is true and false; and they agree in the language that they use. This is not agreement in opinions but in form of life.242. If language is to be a means of communication there must be agreement not only in deﬁnitions but also (queer as this may sound) in judgements. This seems to abolish logic, but does not do so. – It is one thing to describe methods of measurement, and another to obtain and state results of measurement.
But what we call ʻmeasuringʼ is partly determined by a certain constancy in the results of meas ement.
Just see how many terms you could substitute for ʻmeasuringʼ – ʻhuntingʼ, ʻcultivatingʼ, ʻbuildingʼ, ʻconstructingʼ, ʻmanufacturingʼ, ʻexchangeʼ, ʻadjudicationʼ, ʻexperimentingʼ, for starters – where we ﬁrst have to agree in what we concretely do before we can agree on any convention regarding what we say.
The ʻvalueʼ of gold is clearly a ʻpurely social constructʼ, but the outcome of exchange based on a ʻwholly conventional measure of valueʼ is real enough. Put this notion back into Ashmanʼs reasoning: if merchants ʻhave, through social and cultural pressures, mutually agreed onʼ a unit of value, do I ʻhave to throw out “value”, since if exchange is nothing more than a process by which merchants agree on certain values, I see no sense in exchanging anythingʼ? If our descriptions make possible the regular concrete transformation of material things, then our ʻagreementʼ is not mere empty convention.
Medieval architects might have described the principle of an arch thus: ʻAll the stones seek through their natural motion to ﬁnd the proper place determined for them by the preponderance of the element earth they contain, but each impedes the natural motion of the others in such a way that they all stay in place.ʼ Give or take a few reﬁnements, this sufﬁced for them to build Salisbury Cathedral.
Do we say, to parallel Ashman, that ʻeither arches stay up through architects objectively (in the epistemic sense) grasping the principle of their construction and gradually eliminating uncertainties and biases, or architects have, through social and cultural pressures, mutually agreed on a principle of constructionʼ? There is no ʻorʼ. If it doesnʼt work, you cannot mutually agree a principle of construction or the value of a parameter, but its working is no guarantee of ʻepistemicʼ objectivity – correspondence with reality. And nor is this guaranteed by its working better, as principles based on Newtonʼs and Einsteinʼs theories successively did. Again, that those theories did work better is not a matter of mere convention.
The silly ʻtry disbelieving in realityʼ essays in this collection actually show nothing about ʻepistemicʼ or ʻmetaphysicalʼ objectivity – what they show is that present theories work better than their predecessors.
On present form future theories will work better than those we presently have. Experimentation is the basic method by which we determine which theories work best (of those dreamt up so far). Which theory works best is decided in practice. ʻIt is one thing to describe methods of experimentation, and another to obtain and state results of experiment. But what we call “experimentation” is partly determined by a certain constancy in the results of experiment.ʼ This is a process that is inescapably situated socially and historically, and is limited by what their theories, and many other factors, prompt scientists to do. It is not the establishment of correspondence with a mind independent word. That, if it were possible, would bring science to an end. Perhaps fortunately, no such end is conceivable.
Not more equalityAlex Callinicos, Equality, Pluto Press, London, 2000. x + 160 pp., £40.00 hb., £11.99 pb., 07456 2324 7 hb., 07456 2325 5 pb.
Between 1994 and 1998 the wealth of the richest two hundred people in the world grew from $440 billion to $1042 billion; the latter sum is equivalent to the income of the poorest 41 per cent of the worldʼs population. Following Noberto Bobbioʼs hugely inﬂuential claim that the distinction between Left and Right centres on the idea of equality, many on the Left have argued that the response to global problems such as this is to demand equality. In this book Alex Callinicos joins them. The result is not only a disappointing book, but one which is symptomatic of the current paucity of thinking on the Left. Marx is presented alongside Tawney and Crosland as providing the ʻtraditional socialist agendaʼ concerning equality. The presentation of this triad works in a highly deceptive way. Because Tawney and Crosland wrote arguments for equality, lumping them together with Marx has the effect of encouraging the view that, as a ʻtraditionʼ, they were all after the same thing. But nothing Callinicos says here about Marx justiﬁes the view that Marx was somehow ʻforʼ equality. Callinicos gives an account of Marxʼs theory of the exploitation inherent in wage-labour as an exchange of formal equals between substantive unequals, and then considers an apparent paradox: ʻMarx is consistently hostile to any appeal to normative concepts. Underlying this stance seems to be … a relativist account of ethics in which moral discourse is reduced to a reﬂection of the requirement of the prevailing mode of production.ʼ This is an astonishingly naive account of Marxʼs relation to ethics, for it fails to notice that Marxʼs contempt for moralizing was a response to those who hoped merely to ameliorate the effects of ʻwage-slaveryʼ. Alongside this, Callinicos claims that Marxʼs criticism of the political economy of redistibutivism was mistaken because ʻthere seems no logically compelling reason why a concern with distribution should necessarily conﬁne itself to the means of consumption rather than that of the means of productionʼ. Well, yes there is: namely, that what is meant is the distribution of goods produced, leaving unquestioned the extraction of the surplus product and the question as to whether it is the work of autonomous agents. The strategic function of this move is clear: to open the way for the slide from Marx to Tawney and Crosland. The move masks the fact that Marx nowhere condemns capitalism on the grounds that it generates inequality. This gap in Callinicosʼs argument is a kind of political parapraxis. He makes much of the antagonism in bourgeois society between the aspirations to equality which are necessarily secreted by generalized commodity production and the impossibility of their fulﬁlment, and quotes from the discussion in Capital Volume 1 of Aristotleʼs treatiment on value: ʻthe “concept of human equality” can acquire “the permanence of a ﬁxed popular opinion … only in a society where … the dominant social relation is the relation between men as possessors of commodities”.ʼ But Callinicos fails to see that in terms of political economy this requires that human labour takes the form of a commodity. In other words, the demand for equality is, of its essence, a category within bourgeois society. The radicalization of this demand may point to the boundary of bourgeois society, but it cannot point beyond it. It has no place in the political discourse of communism.
Callinicos senses this as a problem, and his solution to it is ingenious: Marx misunderstood his own thought. He cites Norman Gerasʼs comment, on Marx and justice, that ʻMarx did think capitalism was unjust but he did not think he thought soʼ. However, even if this is the case, it would need a further argument to show that the content of this concept of justice is that of equality. No argument is offered for this claim. One of the reasons for the paucity of the discussion of Marx and the ʻtraditional socialist agendaʼ, which takes nine pages, lies with Callinicosʼs use of normative political theory. The chapter on ʻEquality and the Philosophersʼ (Rawls, Sen, Dworkin and a few others) comes in at a more substantial ﬁfty-two pages. While the discrepancy is perhaps not surprising, given that the most sustained defences of equality have come from ʻthe philosophersʼ, there is considerably more work to be done in spelling out the revolutionary implications of what has been, at best, a reformist political project: normative political philosophy does not translate that easily into a revolutionary politics. But Callinicos also has a solution to this problem: Rawls, like Marx, also misunderstood the implications of his own argument. The ﬁnal chapter on ʻEquality and Capitalismʼ pitches equality against capitalism. And yet in many ways it is not against capitalism at all. First, the Third Way comes in for sustained criticism without any sense that a criticism of the Third Way is by no means a criticism of capitalism per se. Second, while it may be true to say that social inequality cannot be ʻsigniﬁcantly reduced in an economy that conforms to the Anglo-American model of deregulated laissez-faire capitalismʼ, there is nothing revolutionary about that claim. Quite the opposite. For it identiﬁes a particular form of capitalism as the problem, and thus opens the door to a liberal reformism (those damn normative philosophers again). Third, and typically for a work from a member of the Socialist Workers Party, the book seeks to ally itself with whatever appears as the most visible contemporary dissident movement: the anti-globalization protests. One might have thought that a Marxist would realize that globalization is inherent in capitalism and that to oppose it from any standpoint other than that of communism could just as easily feed the political economy of a national socialism.
One of the commonsense assumptions made about Marxism is that it is a radicalized liberalism – liberal concepts taken to their radical conclusion. Thus, ʻwhat Marxism wants is for everyone to be equalʼ is the common refrain. This is not only a fallacy, it is an anti-Marxist fallacy, for it operates in such a way as both to misrepresent the nature of Marxʼs critique of capital and to make Marxism appear absurd. Marxists have encouraged this fallacy for too long. In that sense, Equality is a sad as well as a disappointing book.