MathematiquerieEllie Ragland and Dragan Milovanovic, eds, Lacan: Topologically Speaking, The Other Press, New York, 2004. 350 pp., £19.50 pb., 1 892746 76 X. Late in her biography of Lacan, Elisabeth Roudinesco gives us the quietly moving image of Lacan in his dotage, playing with pieces of string and seemingly drifting further into some private world from which communication was all but impossible. His jouissance now seemed tied to a repetitive topological manipulation even as his always radical scepticism about the possibilities of symbolic transmission ﬁnally destroyed the plinth from which his thirty-year monologue was pronounced. Considerably less affecting, the collection under review rehearses as philosophy what might have been regarded as the consequences of pathological physiology, even as it raises some interesting issues about more general aspects of Lacanian, and other, fetishizing of the mathematical.
After the infamous Sokal affair it may be necessary to tread a little warily around questions of the misuse of science in certain philosophical contexts. Sokal and Bricmont got Deleuze and Derrida wrong and failed to engage properly with Latour or even Feyerabend and Kuhn. But the discussion of Lacanʼs and Kristevaʼs fundamental misunderstanding of imaginary numbers and set theory now reads as unobjectionable: Lacan and Kristeva simply got the maths wrong as they shifted notions, say, of the square root of minus one or the continuum into a metaphorical register, applying misappropriated notions in an analogical way. For Lacan especially, whatever his expertise in Freudian theory and semiotics – indeed the whole panoply of disciplines from which he borrowed and stole – mathematics clearly had a fascination that often outshone his capacity for understanding the simplest requirements of mathematical manipulation, let alone the radical developments in twentieth-century philosophy of mathematics. His fascination seemed to lie in the capacity of mathematics, as he (mis)understood it, to solve his philosophical difﬁculties with ideas of communication and transmission, and in a curious way to reinstate a Cartesian solution to his ongoing Heideggerian problematic of truth: mathematics as formula would allow for a form of truth as revelation and therefore the transmission of truth without the need for interpretation. Certainty would emerge as mostration, which is no more than saying that the letters of certain formulae would function as the site of aletheia – Heideggerʼs primordial revelation. The problem of errancy in Lacanʼs teaching – the fact that his concepts always seemed to go astray in their dispersion and appropriation – would be solved by the transference of letters without meaning: self-sufﬁcient marks that showed.
As becomes clearer with the publication of more and more of the seminars, Lacanʼs trajectory is one of ever more intense scepticism and mistrust: one ungenerous version would be that it sketches out an arc of growing paranoia and conceptual violence, as ﬁrst the lures of totality and authenticity are undercut, and then the possibility of symbolic articulation undergoes dislocation, even as Lacanʼs own drive to speech become ever more untrammelled. The drive to speech is accompanied by a growing conviction that speech is useless, or can only perform its true task by revealing its limit and inadequacy: the site of the self-undoing of language is the site of the revelation of truth, which is only that truth lies outside the compass of language. So far, so deconstructionist, and in a way this is Žižekʼs Lacan (demonstrated ad nauseam): the prophet of the revelation of the real at the point of the failure of language, the moment of its torsion and tension, where the unsayable warps the fabric of the saying and thus indicates its negative presence. But accompanying this relatively commonplace linguistic pyrrhonism is a conviction that there is a way of showing how the world and the subject are, of doing more than merely indicating, which actually provides something that might be truth. Here, then, is Lacanʼs engagement with a certain formalism and the language of mathematics and, at different points in his career, with topology.
The formalism we can see developing early with the idea of the bar in the relation signiﬁer/signiﬁed, and then the extension of this writing to the formulae for metaphor and metonym in ʻThe Agency of the Letterʼ (1957), where such formulae are called algorithms, suggesting that they are means of deriving further results, or indeed could produce certain calculations with appropriate values inserted. About the same time, he constructs the various schemas and the notorious graph of desire. The idea of the matheme emerges; for example, the classic $ <> a, which marks the relation of the barred subject to the object a. What this formalism does is to indicate a non-conceptual ostension and precision, and to suggest that the clarity and operability of the mathematical is at work here. To call something a graph is to claim more than labelling something a diagram: graphs visually present relations between variables, which can be speciﬁed also in terms of the solutions to equations. Algorithms like those that underlie the working of computers are means to calculate certain outputs from certain inputs. What even the most cursory examination of Lacanʼs inventions shows is that they share none of the properties of their mathematical homophones. The letters of his algebra are ill-deﬁned; there is no deﬁnition of a well-formed formula; the rules of combination are never spelled out, and there is no presentation of permitted operations. Sometimes Lacan will act as though elements of his ʻalgorithmsʼ can function as though they were part of a standard algebra – as when, in the paternal metaphor, he eliminates terms as one would in a standard equation. Other times he stipulates that the bar, say, is not a ratio, but something else – yet the scope of such changes and the effects on previous formulae are unclear. With the graphs, their complexity is such that no information can be read off them without a massive apparatus of explanation: the ʻgraphsʼ are résumés of information, no more than diagrams, visual transcriptions, highly dependent on symbolic articulation. Similarly, the mathemes intended to replace teaching through words, with its inevitable misunderstandings, and to provide the basis for a full formalization, only ever operate as shorthand: in the absence of any fully developed rules and axiomatization – the articulation of a powerful mathematical system, in other words – they are merely aides-mémoires.
At one level all this is obvious and in a sense would be irrelevant if Lacan did not make stronger claims for what he was doing. Drawing diagrams, giving nifty and sharp illustrations, using a symbolism and setting up some deﬁnitions of how those symbols work – in short, ﬁlling out a symbolic discourse with visual material – is part of what the soft sciences do – biology and geology, for example, have huge recourse to illustrative modelling with no scientiﬁc ill effects. But Lacanʼs suspicion of the visual and the symbolic is so powerful and the demand for a revelation of truth so strong that he must make harder claims – hence the trade on the Cartesian notion of the mathematical and the masquerade that he has somehow produced an equivalent. One would have to come to the conclusion though that his is a mathematiquerie, a curious parody of mathematics.
The tarrying with topology conﬁrms these points.
Topology, as the developing study of transformable surfaces, seemed to suggest itself to him as an investigative tool for thinking the relations between inside and outside quite early – certainly the 1955 Rome Discourse mentions the torus as… well here is the problem. What is the torus, how does it relate to the problem of inside/outside? Is it a model? Is it the way in which inside and outside of the ʻpsycheʼ are mappable? Is it a useful analogy? In the early work, such a surface and the other surfaces Lacan will investigate – the Moebius strip, the Klein bottle, the cross-cap – seem to be models for thinking sites of inscription and avoiding traditional accounts of subjectivity and their spatial metaphors. But Lacan later hardens his view: these topological ﬁgures ʻare not metaphorsʼ, he will insist, but structures. This seems to indicate a shift from the logic of representation to the presentation of structure, or, in terms of the trajectory we outlined, to the revelation of the truth of the subject in the forms of topology. But this immediately proves to be an impossible project. To make the topological forms in any way functional as ʻstructuresʼ of the subject they need to be supported by an apparatus of interpretation: the very self-evidence that is the mark of their mostration turns out to be a construction of language. When Lacan shifts his attention to knot theory, the connection between the two topological universes is never really worked out, and the reliance on linguistic explanation is, if anything, increased.
Yet this is hardly a surprise. The rather quaint view of mathematics that Lacan (and many of his epigones) holds is that the systems that mathematicians develop reveal the world rather than describe it. But as the early-twentieth-century debates on the foundations of mathematics showed – and it is perhaps something that Badiou should take note of – that even the most powerful axiomatic systems still require an interpretation before they connect to the world. The very controversies that surround quantum mechanics and the relation of its formalism to the world – the status of the Copenhagen interpretation, the notion of operationality as the criterion of truth and so on – all point to the epistemological and ontological problems still haunting some of the most sophisticated mathematical apparatuses yet devised. The dream of mathematical self-evidence only cashes out at the level of symbolic manipulation, and here self-evidence really is a question of emptiness: at the point of application, other considerations apply, and the problem of interpretation and error returns. Lacan really does not avoid the analytic–synthetic problematic, whatever the blurb writers might claim about him advancing ʻa 21st century teaching that obviates symbolic logic and its positivist assumptionsʼ.
As might be expected, these considerations are not to the fore in the volume of essays under review here. For the most part written by non-mathematicians, the essays start from the assumption that Lacanʼs topological work is coherent and unproblematic, and they are redolent of the characteristic (and unwarranted) triumphalism that seems to be a sine qua non of contemporary Lacanian writing. Oddly, given his otherwise difﬁcult reputation, it is Jacques Alain Miller who writes most cautiously about Lacanian mathematics, and, whilst never abjuring the validity of the mathemic project, he comes closest to raising a sceptical eyebrow at the more hyperbolic claims of Lacan and his followers. This may have something to do with his having actually been a mathematician before his headlong ﬂight into gauchisme and then his capture by and of the Lacan apparat. Juan David Nasío goes a long way to specifying Lacanʼs topological practice, and to unifying the distinct moments of what we could call Lacanʼs writing project: the invention of signs and diagrams. But in clarifying or cleaning up Lacanʼs messy theoretical production he tendentially produces an empty system, and this only by throwing out the whole Borromean apparatus. Several of the other essays treat various topological ﬁgures with great verve, though occasionally insisting that ʻLacan could do without topology, because he made use of it: topology was his practiceʼ (Metzger), which comes close to having your cross-cap and eating it too. Jeanne Lafontʼs execrably translated essay seems to contradict Raglandʼs point by point on the questions of mostration (revelation), truth and representation. Duff translation spices up Millerʼs essay too, but at least his grasp of the limits of the project and his command of the philosophical archive make his paper interesting reading. The American contributions, mostly from literary or humanities scholars, tend to have the most elastic conception of what constitutes ʻtopologyʼ as well as the most inﬂated claims for the problems such an approach can resolve. Ragland tendentiously reads the ʻmaverickʼ mathematician Spencer Brown in parallel with Lacan without much grasp of the formerʼs complex axiomatic system – signiﬁcantly she quotes from the authorʼs discursive preface rather than doing any work on the ʻlaws of formʼ themselves, giving the lie to her own claims (after Lacan) on the particular truth power of the structure – yet quickly escapes to standard Lacanian reﬂections on the registers. Milovanovic, Dravers and Watson do various sorts of literary and legal work but really fail to do much topological work at all – though often invoking the novelty and power of just what it is that they do not do.
ʻThe authors collected here are world renowned Lacanian topologistsʼ – and it could be argued that this collection does what most research programmes do, if we were to grant a Lakatosian legitimacy to the Lacanian project: that is, take the basic tenets of a paradigm and develop them in a heuristically positive direction. But against that could be countered the view that the fundamental incoherence of its basic account of the world coupled with a radical inconsistency of development and deployment, makes the Lacanian topological project, as yet another avatar of the claim of psychoanalysis to epistemological primacy, deeply ﬂawed.
Dear mammoth… yours, the great cow (and giraffe)Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Briefwechsel, Band 2, 1938–1944, ed. Christoph Gödde and Henri Lonitz, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt, 2004. 662 pp., €44.90 hb., 3 5185 8423 5.materialism and psychoanalysis; later it was Marcuse. After the break with Fromm it was Adorno himself who outlined a theory of needs, and engaged with psychoanalytical questions of childhood. The end of the period covered in this volume sees the completion of Dialectic of Enlightenment, published in a limited edition, as a hectographic typescript of the Institute, in 1944, and reprinted by Querido of Amsterdam in 1947.
ʻThose who do not wish to talk about capitalism should not talk about fascismʼ – Horkheimerʼs statement is as instructive as it is famous. Yet it is disturbing how little in this era of national socialist terror and war, the period in which the concept of a Critical Theory was developed, Adorno and Horkheimer actually wrote about politics. They also wrote very little about National Socialist Germany; nor did they problematize the anti-communist climate in the United States. Even though the correspondence deals with problems of emigration and their research at that time focused on anti-Semitism, the Nazi terror against the Jews is not thematized. The concentration camps are mentioned only brieﬂy; concrete politics provide only a distant background, even when, for instance, on 8 February 1938 Adorno wrote to Horkheimer from London:
I have already written so much that—together with all my other notes—the Institute could edit a respectable posthumous publication, if I was unexpectedly sent to the gas chambers [!]. That we are concerned with the very thought of being sent to the gas chamber is hardly amazing. Although it is very difﬁcult to get a picture of the situation, given the contradictory information we receive, I would consider the recent development in Germany in the most negative sense: The only choice left is between a stabilization of the worst, or, the unavoidable prospect of war.
The activities of the Institute in exile in the late 1930s and early 1940s are nonetheless political in the broader terms of the work undertaken: the philosophical and sociological investigation of authoritarianism and anti-Semitism, and their relation to developed capitalist society. This involved, on the one hand, empirical social research, and, on the other, a speculative The second volume of correspondence between Adorno and Horkheimer is, like the ﬁrst, an outstanding editorial achievement. Each letter has an appendix with explanations, biographical notes and references to the projects that the authors were working on at the time; a twenty-page appendix, a bibliography and an index of names completes its near-700 pages. (The appendix contains correspondence between Adorno and Paul Lazarsfeld, Adornoʼs letter to Jean Wahl, three drafts – ʻNotizen zur neuen Anthropologieʼ, ʻChaplin und Hitlerʼ, ʻContra Paulumʼ – and ten ʻmemorandaʼ.) The modest blue cover lets the reader know that this is not only the latest in a series of what will probably amount to ﬁve heavy bricks of correspondence, but also a contribution to Adornoʼs Posthumous Works, which is projected to run to over thirty volumes.
The book begins with Adornoʼs last weeks in England, as he worked on In Search of Wagner. Other signiﬁcant events include Horkheimerʼs role as adviser for the American Jewish Committee; the beginning of Adornoʼs research at the Princeton Radio Research Project (directed by Paul Lazarsfeld); Horkheimerʼs coordination of empirical social studies with the Public Opinion Study Group of the University of California at Berkeley; the consolidation of the Institut für Sozialforschung in the USA (or, at least the attempt to ﬁnd a place in the American scientiﬁc community); and, as part of this, the extension of Studies on Authority and the Family into an elaborate research project on anti-Semitism, which provided the empirical data for the ʻElements of Anti-Semitismʼ in Dialectic of Enlightenment (other parts were later included in The Authoritarian Personality). On a personal front, these years saw the suicide of Walter Benjamin in 1940 ﬂeeing the Nazis, and the emigrant community life in Los Angeles, where Adorno supported Thomas Mann in his Dr Faustus project and wrote Composing for Films with Hans Eisler. Other important ﬁgures there included Arnold Schoenberg, Bertolt Brecht, Günther Anders, William Dieterle and Institute members Herbert Marcuse and Leo Löwenthal. There were realignments, notably the controversy and ﬁnal break between the Institute and Erich Fromm at the beginning of the 1940s. In the early years of the Institute it was Fromm who dealt with questions of the relation of negative philosophy of history. American society and its mass culture are the empirical background, but the theoretical foundation is, of course, historical materialism – though by now this is far from the Stalinist version – as well as an afﬁrmative view of class struggle. This needs to be considered in relation to the activities of the Committee on Un-American Activities, which Adorno and Horkheimer never mention in their correspondence, although friends and colleagues were suspected of being communists.
Adorno and Horkheimer began their cooperation with two open questions. What is the condition and deﬁnition of a form of empirical social research that is not purely positivistic, but critical? And, how can Hegelian idealist dialectical logic be translated into a theory of history that does not ignore what Horkheimer later called the ʻeclipse of reasonʼ, namely the catastrophe of modern society that induced a negative logic of historical progress? Whereas for Lukács, writing two decades earlier, the answer to both questions lay in the concept of concrete totality, for Adorno and Horkheimer it became clear that a systematic approach to the whole was only possible through ʻphilosophical fragmentsʼ – the working title of Dialectic of Enlightenment before it was demoted to its subtitle.
On 12 June 1941 Adorno wrote to Horkheimer about Benjaminʼs ʻTheses on the Philosophy of Historyʼ: ʻA certain naïveté in the sections that discuss Marxism and politics is, once more, unmistakable.ʼ Notwithstanding this, Benjaminʼs ʻlast conceptionsʼ before he committed suicide effectively turned into the hidden philosophical framework of Adorno and Horkheimerʼs project. In a long letter to Adorno two weeks later, Horkheimer writes:
Like you, I am happy that we have Benjaminʼs theses on history. They give us much to think about and Benjamin will be in our thoughts. By the way, the identity of barbarianism and culture, which both of you asserted using identical words, was the subject of one of my last conversations with him in a café by Montparnasse railway station. There I (or he) argued that the beginning of culture in the modern sense coincides with the postulation of ethical love [sittliche Liebe]. The suggestion that class struggle is universal oppression, and the disclosure of history as empathy with the rulers – these are insights that we should consider as theoretical axioms.
Yet whereas in Benjaminʼs view the need for practice is still the central point of the theory, claiming that revolution – supported by a ʻweak messianic forceʼ – is still possible, Adorno and Horkheimer turn this conception of history into an exclusively negative dialectic of progress. That is, where Benjamin stressed the idea of standstill as revolution – in his wonderful image of revolution as ʻgrabbing at the emergency brakeʼ – Adorno and Horkheimer describe such historical stagnation not as a revolutionary turn, but rather as the ﬁnal descent into barbarism. This connects to their presumptions about the development of the capitalist economy: for them, capitalism – in the United States as well as in Europe – was fully ensconced as a stable monopoly-capitalist bloc. (Remarkably, in the 1940s Adorno did not agree with Franz Neumannʼs Behemoth: The Structure and Practice of National Socialism (1942) – he refers to it derogatively here on p. 395 – but later he recommended it in his Frankfurt lectures as one of the best books written on Nazism.)Their negative philosophy of history emerges clearly in Adornoʼs letter from 30 July 1941: Maybe one can say that the old concept of superstructure is no longer valid, i.e. that it is essential for this era that it no longer has an ʻideologyʼ, and that therefore questions concerning consciousness gain a dignity that they did not possess for as long as the culture had to conceal something which today is unconcealed … there is nothing harmless anymore, and already in the smallest thought an explosive force is inherent, such that one has to repeal thinking all together … This would be the perfect counterpoint to the assumption that there is no economy anymore.
Horkheimer termed this ʻthe open transition from the class-phase to the racket-phase of societyʼ. In 1942 Adorno and Horkheimer developed a ʻsociology of racketsʼ. This project remained unrealized, but parts of it appear in Horkheimerʼs article ʻOn the Sociology of Class Relationsʼ (1943) and Dialectic of Enlightenment. There are important notes in the letters for a book on ʻracket-theoryʼ:
It should be demonstrated that the idea that the proletariat consists in rackets was previously something that served the enemies of the proletariat, indeed, furthermore, the idea that domination in general was at all times racket-like, is suitable for quenching every impulse to exchange the present society for another … That history is a history of class struggle means that history is a history of rackets, ﬁghting amongst each other and against the rest of society.
But where those rackets reproduce themselves in the lowest levels of society, they are the most terrible; the terror, executed by the lowest, is the worst. (30 August 1942)This connects with Adornoʼs ʻNotes on the New Anthropologyʼ (1941), where he claims that the individual is over: The new anthropology, i.e. the theory of the new type of human, developed under conditions of monopolyand state-capitalism, is explicitly contrary to psychology. The individual is the central concept of psychology. This concept is in critical respects out of date, or at least perforated. The concept belongs to liberalism and to a world that ranged between the poles of freedom and competition. Both have disappeared. The representatives of the new type are no longer individuals, i.e. the uniformity, continuity and substantiality of the single human has disintegrated. The concept of repression [Verdrängung] no longer exists. Contemporary ʻmen of the crowdʼ repress very little (in the same way as with the decline of the family sexual taboos have died off). The ego-instance [Ichinstanz] that causes repression is absent.
Mass culture – later called the culture industry – transforms all of everyday life into an advertisement for the system as totality: ʻIf the advertisement has destroyed experience, it has also simultaneously made experience a means for the mere advert.ʼ The result is: ʻThe boundary between the individual and reality begins to tremble.ʼ
Adornoʼs concept of a new anthropology and Horkheimerʼs sociology of the racket were the theoretical framework for empirical research. Adornoʼs minor conﬂict with Paul Lazarsfeld in the context of the Radio Research Project is striking because it outlines the bigger conﬂict between Critical Theory and positivism in empirical research. In September 1938, Lazarsfeld wrote unambiguous and harsh words to Adorno:
My objections can be grouped around three statements: (1) You donʼt exhaust the logical alternatives of your own statements and as a result much of what you say is either wrong or unfounded or biased. (2) You are uninformed about empirical research work but you write about it in authoritative language, so that the reader is forced to doubt your authority in your own musical ﬁeld.(3) You attack other people as fetishistic, neurotic and sloppy but you yourself clearly exhibit the same traits.
Adorno was naturally irritated by this critique, but in the end the Radio Research Project was a success, and he used a lot of material later in his Introduction to the Sociology of Music. More material will be available with the forthcoming publication of Adornoʼs work on a theory of radio.
Of course, this is not only a correspondence between colleagues, but also between friends. Though they write using the German polite form of address, they use forenames, and, moreover, a whole zoo of nicknames. Adorno is ʻTeddie, the great bull or cowʼ; his wife Gretel, who wrote several letters, or transcribed them, is the ʻgiraffeʼ and ʻgazelleʼ; and Horkheimer is the ancient mammoth. Sometimes Horkheimer draws a little mammoth, instead of a signature; some of them are reproduced in the edition. But, and this is the only small criticism I would make of the edition, in so far as we ﬁnd some drawings attached to the letters, and, furthermore, in so far as a lot of correspondence is written on postcards, the absence of images and facsimiles is annoying. However, even just typographical emphasis reveals how funny this correspondence can be: Horkheimer to Adorno, New York, 21 February 1938:CABLE IF NICE FLAT WITH GRAND PIANO NEXT TO METROLINE UNACCEPTABLE NOISE-WISE HORKHEIMERAdorno replied to Horkheimer, from SS Champlain, 22 February 1938:UNFORTUNATELY UNSUITABLE COS VERY NOISE-SENSITIVE = MANY THANKSOne really wants to know what the postcard picture looked like – ʻThe Keyholeʼ at the Copley Square Hotel, Boston, Massachusetts – on the back of which Adorno wrote on 2 July 1938: Dear Max, this from the ﬁrst stage of our journey, we are in New England but very jolly – hopefully you are doing well in the wild as well as golden west, and the stocks are climbing. Long live the dialectic! Please, bring along a scalp of a beautiful ﬁlm actress. Your faithful TeddieCordial greetings from Gretel too.
Anticipation or hyperdialectic? Jack Reynolds, Merleau-Ponty and Derrida: Intertwining Embodiment and Alterity, Ohio University Press, Athens OH, 2004. xix + 233 pp., £36.50 hb., 0 8214 1592
R.D. Laing describes the fetishistic image as connoting the perpetual being beyond itself. This book attempts to move beyond the philosophical manifestation of this state of affairs, the dead ends demarcated by polarized conceptions of immanence and transcendence and their self-defeating girations. It does so via two of MerleauPontyʼs central themes – ʻchiasmic intertwiningʼ and écart (ʻsplitʼ subjectivity). Whilst the weight of the bookʼs argument rests on the assumption of the validity of these ideas, this is always within a horizon of their afﬁnity to the work of Derrida. Hence, chiasm and écart are taken as methodologically valuable in that they donʼt violate the latterʼs strictures on the ʻmetaphysics of presenceʼ.
The danger here is that, whilst these concepts might play an important role in Merleau-Pontyʼs critique of rationalism and positivism, it is also a crude move to suggest that anything which serves as a potential vehicle of presence – utterance as expression, institution, intentional objects (the sense of praxis), the lifeworld and wild logos, the structures of experience, and so on – might be sidelined in the appropriation of Merleau-Pontyʼs oeuvre, so that he risks becoming a sort of Derrida avant la lettre.
Reynolds acknowledges this fetishistic appropriation of Derridaʼs ideas in the academy and how the employment of différance can lead to an absolute alterity that fetishizes difference. However the irony of Reynoldsʼs observation is that his move away from discussion of lived experience (Lebenswelt) deprives us of a means of understanding this phenomenon as an everyday feature of academic life. MerleauPonty himself does present us with such a structure. In Sense and Non-Sense he notes that capitalism is the concrete expression of a phenomenology of mind – that its ideological imbrication shapes the mute or background content of utterances – and he returns to Marxʼs notion of fetishism in his discussion of Sartrean alterity at the end of The Visible and the Invisible. The carnal intersubjectivity of the lifeworld provides the exteriority or ʻwild logosʼ through which the world can be known – in this case in its fetishistic structures – whereas if we followed Reynoldsʼs critique the commodiﬁed aesthetic would appear as a failure to grasp deconstructive technique rather than as an expression of the being of capitalism.
Although Derrida is keen to distance himself from Husserlʼs transcendental intuition, vestiges of phenomenology remain in, for instance, Of Grammatology, as Reynolds notes. The trace as a temporal deferment of presence – which delineates the logic of a text in the way the content of binary oppositions is undermined by a challenge to their metaphysical assumptions – echoes the point of articulation between the fertility of utterances and the mute, sedimented content of language in Merleau-Ponty. However, deconstruction can only mime the path of the trace rather than articulate (intertwine with) it. Ironically, it needs to be said that the trace owes more to Husserl and the language of conscious perception than does chiasmic articulation, as Trân Duc Thaoʼs inﬂuence in moving MerleauPonty away from transcendental intuition in favour of a constituting lifeworld demonstrates. However, Derridaʼs performative notion of arche-writing, which expresses a difference between authorial intention and the outcome of communication, is similar to the distinction between aim and intention (sens) in Merleau-Ponty; both signify a deferment of intention or idealization. The situatedness of this process of understanding, as Gasché notes, is overlooked by Derrida, for whom meaning appears to unravel according to an internal binary logic, as in the process of supplementation. Hence we get the transformations of meanings such as those derived from culture and nature into their opposites but without any apparent mediation.
Reynolds goes on to draw a parallel between deconstruction and Merleau-Pontyʼs use of the idea of difference, which can also be seen as a form of deferment. However, whereas in Derrida difference takes the form of mutually generating polarized binaries, arguably for Merleau-Ponty difference is closer to Lacanʼs idea of lack. In Signs Merleau-Ponty uses the metaphor of chiaroscuro to indicate the phenomenological way of proceeding to elucidate meaning. Difference is here characterized in terms of what remains unsaid, the shadow that remains to be ﬁlled in, foregrounded. Whilst this has some similarities with the reversals of deconstruction, the idea of reversal in Signs seems to owe more to a gestalt model – the ﬁgure-ground idea broached in the Phenomenology of Perception. Reversals are a feature of chiasma and as such are brought about by articulations of lived experience in ʻfertile languageʼ.
Reynolds shows that, unlike Derrida, MerleauPonty is concerned with the way meaning is stabilized and suggests that his explanation rests on the natural attitude and the tendency of human beings towards habitual behaviour. While this is no doubt true, it hardly constitutes a theoretical explanation, and indeed Merleau-Pontyʼs own account places the referentiality of language within the context of the lifeworld which is the domain of sedimented meanings but also living or operative language. The articulation of these further entrenches meaning within culture and, following Husserlʼs account in ʻThe Origin of Geometryʼ, brings about a process of inscription based on the structural afﬁnities of the sedimented meanings.
What is the structure of the chiasma though? How does it interrupt or reverse the order of signiﬁcation? Reynolds ﬁlls in some of the background here by investigating the twin, linked moments of the constitution of meaning, the operative and the thematic. The operative undermines the tendency towards idealization represented in the thematic by rendering its knowledge incomplete and open-horizonal. Merleau-Ponty airs this problematic in Sense and Non-Sense when he observes that the Marx of the Manuscripts saw the speciﬁcity of the human as lying in that ʻmanʼ through ʻhisʼ activity becomes an object for himself. This operative moment of meaning is hence the structuring, intersubjective framework through which we become aware of our activities as an objective reality. Constitution doesnʼt indicate a form of presencing as Reynolds notes, because this is always deferred, interrupted by the constitutive moment. Intersubjective structuring represents the activation of culturally sedimented meanings which instantiate an excess of meaning over what is visibly said, thematized. The effect here is the opposite of the Derridean case where a surplus of meaning volatilizes signiﬁcation.
What kind of object is human activity and what does it tell us about the nature of subjectivity that it can be an object for itself? From Signs through Prose of the World on to The Visible and the Invisible, it is clear that we experience ourselves not only in introspective mode (production of idealizations, etc.) but also as an exteriority, from which the famous exemplar of touching/touched dehiscence is drawn upon by Reynolds to indicate the écart of subjectivity, its exteriority to itself. Reynolds is at pains here to point out that there is no temporal deferment in the Derridean manner here; it is not as though we touch ourselves and then feel the touch. Rather, there is one event which is composed of the two aspects of sensing. Hence we can conclude that the other, alterity, is chiasmically constitutive of the self. The self-knowledge we take to be primordial is always already mediated by alterity. It can never be ʻownedʼ because it is culturally generic. Conversely, everything that supposedly exists externally ʻfor meʼ is in fact mine, its appearance for me in my perspectival ﬁeld depends on its being ﬁrst an ʻunfamiliarʼ element of my ʻsplitʼ subjectivity (écart). This marks a sharp breach with the radical polarized alterity found in Derrida and Sartre.
The reﬂexive possibilities of écart are noted in Prose of the World where it is argued that in an unfamiliar text we experience not so much absolute incomprehension but an aspect of the self – a pattern of events – which is already ʻin the worldʼ. The disorientation and confusion of such encounters is a product of defamiliarization, reading from the outside, so to speak. This element of understanding (reversal) is in fact taken up by Merleau-Ponty in his discussion of aesthetics and reading in the above work. He stresses the importance of the naive approach, coming to a subject as if new to it, having to learn its rules from scratch. This open-horizonal strategy puts everything up for grabs, breaks up the preconceived and (as argued recently in Patersonʼs review of Watsonʼs Shitkicks and Doughballs in RP 124) engenders a reliteralization through which the latent, sedimented content of language is revealed, within oneʼs horizon. Consequently, the terms ʻarselickerʼ or ʻmonsterʼ become the fertile language of articulation, also moments of being: the former as perhaps the self-abnegatory parasite and the latter as deformed-yetstrangely-familiar humanity. Literalization represents their actuality or ʻexpressionʼ.
The shattering of conventional modes of reception by chiasmic horizonal interruption interweaves with Merleau-Pontyʼs conception of dialectic, the hyperdialectic. Itʼs suggested that this formulation of transcendence marks a kind of poststructuralist moment announced in The Visible and the Invisible which Reynolds seems to characterize, to use a cliché, as a ʻwork of the breakʼ towards a more Derridean, irreconcilable view of linguistic oppositions. However, the criticism of Hegelian dialectic appears earlier, in Prose of the World, where it is argued that we have access to the contents of history from an openhorizonal perspective and hence are able to recuperate, say, Descartes from the transformative conceptual labours of Hegel by the chiasma of our own situating. In The Visible and the Invisible this moment appears in the terminology of ʻbounded wholesʼ. The temporal deferment of a ʻnowʼ moment in some ways produces a more convincing statement of the redemptive. Rather than produce unmediated positions the chiasm enables us to grasp, via a naive reading, some interesting phenomena relating to the mode of presence to us of the past. For example, in Proust eating the madeleine evokes childhood; when I listen to Oasis I can ʻhearʼ John Lennon; Coldplayʼs Politik echoes Pachelbelʼs Gigue; and so on. I can put together the sediments because they are already part of me, as the écart of express rather than represent pain, as paradigmatic of the whole of language. Like Charles Taylor, to whom he attributes the distinction between the two views, Lawn argues for the superiority of the second approach and bemoans the dominance of the ﬁrst in the history of philosophy. Also like Taylor, Lawn associates a monological view of language with the ﬁrst picture and a dialogical view with the second. Thus, because of the dialogical character of his philosophical hermeneutics, Lawn ﬁrmly situates Gadamer in the expressivist camp. He is more tentative about Wittgensteinʼs placement, but claims that in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus he subscribed to a designative view of language, and that in the later work he moved toward the expressivist camp without fully relinquishing the designative approach. It is for this reason, Lawn claims, that Wittgensteinʼs work fails to take into account the historical dimension of language.
Having set up the contextual background for his exploration, Lawn proceeds to argue for his placement of both Wittgenstein and Gadamer on the expressivist side and to offer a discussion of some similarities and differences in Gadamerʼs and Wittgensteinʼs positions subjectivity, and so I have direct contact with them but only as interrupted by my own situatedness.
In his treatment of Derridaʼs On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness Reynolds shows how the intersubjective intertwining of self and other can dissolve Derridaʼs implacable oppositions: whilst genuine forgiveness involves forgiving the unforgivable, responsibility and guilt leaks across these boundaries. He also foregrounds the problems Derrida encounters over the disembodied nature of deconstruction. On the other hand, sometimes he seems to have abandoned the spirit of the hyperdialectic in favour of the anticipatory even whilst describing it: ʻAside from the recourse to terms like “being,” this passage reads very much like Derridaʼs deconstructive prescriptions, or at least an embodied version of them.ʼ
On the contrary, being isnʼt incidental: chiasm and écart are ontogenetic processes. The prose of the world is the chiasmic language of the world.
Language-playChris Lawn, Wittgenstein and Gadamer: Towards a Post-Analytic Philosophy of Language, Continuum, London and New York, 2004. xviii + 161 pp., £60.00 hb., 0 8264 7529
9. ^ The approach to language and philosophy taken in this book is not one to which, I think, Wittgenstein would have been sympathetic. I do not mean this as a criticism of Chris Lawnʼs valuable monograph. I make the point because Lawn, like many before him, has clearly tried to extract philosophical theses from Wittgensteinʼs early and late work. Yet Wittgenstein explicitly warns us against trying to advance theses in philosophy. Still, it is not really possible to write about Wittgenstein without attributing at least some views to him, and thus Lawnʼs approach is somewhat inevitable. I am more concerned, however, with the nature of some of the theses that Lawn attributes to Wittgenstein.
Lawnʼs starting point is an outline of two broad pictures of language. The ﬁrst is the view that the only function of language is to represent or designate. The simplest version of this picture would treat the whole of language as a concatenation of names that get their meanings from the things (concrete or abstract) that they name. The second is the view that language has primarily an expressive function. The simplest version of this picture takes verbalizations like ʻouchʼ, which on language. He follows this discussion with two ﬁnal chapters that are dedicated respectively to Gadamerʼs and Wittgensteinʼs interpretations of Augustine, and to a discussion of their respective positions on the relation between ordinary and poetic language. With regard to Augustineʼs views on language, Lawn successfully shows that Wittgensteinʼs reading is very crude, while Gadamer is more attentive to the subtleties in Augustineʼs thinking. With regard to the issue of poetic language, Lawn describes Gadamerʼs view of poems as ʻeminent textsʼ, and discusses the tragic signiﬁcance of Wittgensteinʼs aphoristic style.
As I mentioned above, I am rather sceptical about Lawnʼs interpretations of some of Wittgensteinʼs pronouncements about language. For instance, Lawn only brieﬂy defends (at the beginning of Chapter 4) the claim that the early Wittgenstein subscribed to the designative picture of language. Yet this claim is far from uncontroversial. Much of the recent debate on the Tractatus has focused precisely on whether the lesson of the book, for Wittgenstein, is that all attempts at formulating a designative theory of language end up in nonsense. Lawn unfortunately does not address these questions.
I also have reservations about Lawnʼs interpretation of the later Wittgensteinʼs writings on language and rule-following. I shall mention two of them here. The ﬁrst and broadest reservation concerns the very attempt to situate Wittgenstein in one of two camps, both of which attribute to language one function only: to represent or to express. Throughout the Philosophical Investigations, instead, Wittgenstein insists on the multifarious nature of language. He likens it to a toolbox which contains tools that serve a variety of different purposes. He also warns us against a craving for generality which pushes us to believe that we can encompass the whole of language with one theory. For him, the whole project of producing a philosophical theory of language was seriously misguided. He might have been wrong about this, but I think it is reasonably clear that this was his attitude.
My second reservation concerns Lawnʼs reading of Wittgensteinʼs pronouncements on language and rules. Lawn thinks that there are tensions in Wittgensteinʼs writings on these topics; he thinks he can detect a line of thought according to which Wittgenstein subscribes to ʻa brittle calculus model of languageʼ, according to which ʻlanguage games are no more than (blind) repetitive re-enactments of the already givenʼ. Lawn does not claim that Wittgenstein wholeheartedly subscribes to this view. Rather, he takes this to be the view to which, perhaps unwillingly, Wittgenstein is, at least in part, committed.
I must confess that I do not recognize this picture of Wittgenstein, and in this, as Lawn himself acknowledges, I am not alone. Some of the theses Lawn attributes to Wittgenstein are precisely the views that Wittgenstein explicitly puts forward only as temptations which we must ultimately reject. Wittgenstein acknowledges that he is not immune to these temptations, but it seems to me to misunderstand the dialectic of the Investigations to think of these temptations as theses Wittgenstein (perhaps unwillingly) endorses.
It is also surprising that Lawn does not try to provide much textual evidence for his unusual interpretation. He bases his conclusions on the claim that for Wittgenstein ʻ[r]ule-following excludes interpretationʼ. Lawn takes this claim to mean that for Wittgenstein to follow a rule is a matter of mechanical, calculative application. He offers as textual support for this interpretation a couple of remarks from the Investigations. One is the passage in which Wittgenstein deploys the metaphor of rules as rails laid out to inﬁnity. Since this picture is presented by Wittgenstein as embodying a tempting thought that we must nevertheless resist, it offers little comfort to Lawnʼs interpretation.
The other is the passage in which famously Wittgenstein writes that ʻthere is a way of grasping a rule which is not an interpretationʼ. This passage does not preclude the possibility that some rule-following involves interpretation. Wittgenstein simply shows that rule-following cannot be interpretation all the way down because to grasp an interpretation of a rule is a matter of following a further rule about how to follow the original rule. Thus, if to follow a rule requires that we interpret the rule, it also requires that we interpret the interpretation of a rule, and the interpretation of the interpretation of the interpretation of the rule and so forth ad inﬁnitum. Lawn takes this passage together with Wittgensteinʼs claim that we obey rules blindly as evidence that rule-following is a mechanical activity. I take it as evidence that for Wittgenstein, all reﬂective understanding (interpretation) presupposes some prereﬂective apprehension of rules. In this regard, Wittgenstein is much closer to Heidegger and Gadamer than Lawn allows for. In support of this alternative orthodox interpretation, and against Lawnʼs, one can also point out that much of the discussion of rulefollowing in the Investigations is directed against the view that the ʻoughtʼ of rules can be modelled onto the behaviour of an ʻideally rigid machine that can only move in such and such a wayʼ. When Wittgenstein writes that we follow rules blindly, he does not mean that we behave like mechanical automata.
Lawn appears to be on much surer footing in his chapters on Gadamerʼs hermeneutics, and he is surely right to point out that Wittgensteinʼs lack of interest in the temporal dimension of the development of language is a serious weakness in his approach. Lawn also suggests that their common use of the notion of ʻspielʼ points to a similarity in Wittgensteinʼs ʻlanguage-gamesʼ in the Investigations and Gadamerʼs ʻplayfulnessʼ in Truth and Method. I am a little unsure about the depth of this similarity. Nevertheless, much illumination can be gained by thinking about the connections and differences between the practice of hermeneutics and Wittgensteinʼs unusual approach to language. Lawn is to be complimented for opening up this avenue of thought.
Volume 50Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, Volume 50, Frederick Engelsʼs Letters 1892–95, Lawrence & Wishart, London, 2004. 658 pp., £45.00 hb., 0 885315 626 3.
This book of Engelsʼs letters is the last volume of the Marx–Engels Collected Works to be published. It provides an opportunity, therefore, to raise some broader issues about this attempt to collect the complete works of Marx and Engels, which is in truth not complete!
The Collected Works is divided into three separate parts: volumes 1 to 27 contain all of Marx and Engelsʼs works except Marxʼs economics; volumes 28 to 37 contain the economics; and volumes 38 to 50 contain the correspondence. This way of organizing the works was originally the idea of David Riazanov, who got out some of series I and III in his Marx–Engels Gesamtausgabe (MEGA) before he was liquidated. So this Collected Works is not original in using this division. The same idea is being used in the new MEGA currently under way, but that has also a fourth part consisting of Marxʼs notebooks.
This ﬁfty-volume edition comprises 1,968 works, approximately half of these published in English for the ﬁrst time. In addition there are 3,957 letters, most of which have hitherto never been published in English. Over the thirty years it has taken to complete the edition, world-historical events are mutely marked by the change in printer from the USSR to the USA! This Collected Works is the most complete in any language and is a most valuable resource for scholarship. (The notes and cross-referencing are generally ﬁrst rate.) However, there is something odd about publishing a Collected Works of two authors who wrote together only at the very beginning and the very end of their careers. Moreover, the fact that Engels put out many editions of Marxʼs Capital raises the issue: to just whom do these ʻbelongʼ? Take as an example the publication here of Capital Volume III (MECW 37). Engelsʼs text is presented unchanged; then the results of consultation of Marxʼs manuscript are given in notes, even where what is involved is the decipherment of phrases Engels had declared ʻillegibleʼ! This is a curious way to edit Marxʼs text, but no doubt is justiﬁed in so far as this Collected Works is also Engelsʼs, so that his editions have been treated with the same respect as Marxʼs original work – with more respect in fact, for it is often hard to disentangle the original from Engelsʼs additions, and, as in the case of this volume, sometimes impossible, for Engels often ʻforgetsʼ to say what he changed, added and omitted. But this indicates an underlying incoherence in the whole project of putting out a Collected Works of two people at once, and ﬂows from the now overthrown assumption that they were of one mind. Clearly any attempt to issue Marxʼs own Collected Works would have to go back behind Engelsʼs noble but inadequate efforts to edit Marxʼs publications and manuscripts. This inadequacy was partly the result of the ordinary limitations of editing work, especially where Marxʼs nearly unreadable hand was concerned, and partly the result of a more or less conscious attempt by Engels to ʻimproveʼ Marx, often prejudicial to Marxʼs meaning. The absurdity of the peculiar editorial procedure used in this version of Capital Volume III is illustrated by the famous chapter on ʻThe Trinity Formulaʼ. As we were given it by Engels, it opens with three ʻfragmentsʼ which Engels said he had found in various parts of the manuscript. Engels was right that Marx intended these to form part of this chapter, but the recent publication of Marxʼs 1865 manuscript shows clearly that Engels put them in the wrong order. The Collected Works could hardly ignore this, but instead of giving us the correct text they have left Engelsʼs work intact, and tried (unsuccessfully in fact) to indicate the true order of the material in a note, following the principle that Engelsʼs edition is sacrosanct.
A crucial case in which Engels appears to have inserted a sentence without notice here relates to the tendency of the rate of proﬁt to fall. It has often struck readers that the ʻcounter-tendenciesʼ listed by Marx are so powerful that it is not at all clear whether the tendency itself always wins out. The one place in which the text says something amounting to this is on page 228: ʻBut in reality, as we have seen, the rate of proﬁt will fall in the long run.ʼ This sentence is not in the manuscript and must have been added by Engels without notice. Another editorial disaster occurs with Capital Volume I. The English translation, edited by Engels, was made from the third German edition. Subsequent to that the fourth German edition appeared with additions inserted by Engels, notably passages from Marxʼs French edition. It is standard practice for new printings of Engelsʼs English edition to add these passages from his fourth German edition. But here (MECW 35) the process failed. On page 37 Engelsʼs Preface to the fourth edition lists ﬁve places where he put in additions from the French, and here the editors give the corresponding pages to this edition. Unfortunately in only one of the ﬁve is the addition both correctly made and indicated. Nothing at all has been done in two places; and, catastrophically, these are the two substantial ones. An addition of four pages is indicated at ʻpp. 582–83ʼ, but at the relevant spot on page 583 nothing appears. An addition of two pages is indicated at ʻpp. 621–22ʼ but these pages give the old third edition material instead of substituting for it the new fourth edition expansion. In sum, this version of the English translation is neither the original 1887 text, nor a properly updated one.
It is often said that this Collected Works is tailored to the ideological requirements of its original sponsor in Moscow. An entry in the index to Capital is a prime example of this. The term ʻDictatorship of the Proletariatʼ is honoured by two mentions. But in the text the term is in fact absent. Furthermore nothing remotely relevant appears on the pages in question. One might have thought that it could be taken for granted that a Collected Works on this scale would provide every word that Marx himself published. Alas that is not the case here. The reason for this failure to issue the complete Marx is that Marx himself published no fewer than three versions of Capital Volume I, signiﬁcantly different from each other, namely the two German editions and the French. When I was discussing this matter with Maurice Cornforth of Lawrence & Wishart in 1970 he told me that there would be an entire volume in the Collected Works devoted to variations in Volume I. At some stage this plan was abandoned. This means that there are two lots of missing material that Marx himself published, which are essential for any serious research into the development of his thought, not to mention for their intrinsic interest. First, the French edition is virtually a work in its own right, since Marx himself said that he rewrote it in the course of correcting Royʼs translation. The material from it that Engels inserted into the third and fourth German editions (plus an extra sentence in the English edition) do not give all the extra material available. Second, there are signiﬁcant differences between the ﬁrst and second German editions; these include not only additions (which we have of course) but also deletions, for example the very last paragraph. Again the Collected Works has not seen ﬁt to translate these deletions and variations. The best-known case of this relates to the ﬁrst chapter, which was entirely rewritten for the second edition. Absent from the Collected Works therefore are the original ﬁrst chapter and the even more important Appendix on the Value-Form.
Turning now to the book under review, this volume of Engelsʼs last letters contains much of interest. There are letters on historical materialism, continuing a theme begun in volume
49. ^ There is testimony to the enormous work undertaken to edit and publish Capital Volume III, which ﬁnally appeared in December 1894. There are numerous letters on the progress socialists were making in elections. Lots of Engelsʼs energy was taken up mediating between the French and German parties, whose relations were prickly. Curiously the editors nowhere mention Engelsʼs death and funeral (he died on 5 August 1895).The publishers are to be congratulated for their achievement in bringing to a successful conclusion this enormous undertaking.
Christopher J. Arthur
Force decides China Miéville, Between Equal Rights: A Marxist Theory of International Law, Brill, Leiden, 2005. xi + 375 pp., £51.68 hb., 90 04 13134 5.
One of the outcomes of the recent invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and the ongoing war on terror has been a surge of interest in international law. International lawyers have been at the forefront of debates about the legality and legitimacy of the actions, and others have turned to international lawyers looking for ways to challenge and criticize the actions by the US and the UK. Witness, for example, the popularity of Philippe Sandsʼs book Lawless World (2005). In these debates much is taken for granted about international law: that its contours are well established, that it keeps states in check, that it protects human rights, and that all in all it is a ʻgood thingʼ. Most of the criticisms of international law have merely sounded a sceptical note, seeing it as a moralistic gloss on power politics, or as ineffective, or in need of fundamental reform in order to give more power and credence to international institutions such as the UN.
China Miévilleʼs book takes a very different approach: it explores international law through an analysis of the legal form itself. In so doing it aims to develop a Marxist theory of international law through an imminent reformulation of the work of Evgeny Pashukanis. This distinguishes the work from other left critiques of international law such as those found in critical legal studies or even Marxist works such as Chimniʼs International Law and World Order (1993).
Pashukanisʼs importance lies in not relegating law to the ʻsuperstructureʼ but, rather, in reading the juridical relation as a relation between two wills which mirrors the economic relation. Miéville uses this to build an argument concerning international law and the shaping of modern capitalism. The essence of the argument lies in Marxʼs insight into the imposition of particular contents into the legal form. Capitalist and worker meet each other as equal subjects of law. In this meeting there is an antinomy of right against right. But ʻbetween equal rights, force decidesʼ.
This is not the same as saying that between equal rights, the state decides. In his essay ʻInternational Lawʼ (reproduced as an appendix to the book), Pashukanis excoriates bourgeois jurisprudence for the amount of ink spilt on whether the lack of an overarching sovereign authority means that international law is not law, an issue that remains central to current debates about international law. Coercion is clearly necessary for law, but an overarching and abstract coercion is extrinsic to the legal form itself. For Pashukanis, law developed out of the commercial relations between tribes which were not under a single sphere of authority. In other words, law itself, in its earliest and embryonic form, is a product precisely of a lack of such an authority.
To say that international law historically predates domestic law is not to make any claim about the ontological primacy of the international sphere. It is, rather, to suggest that because law is thrown up by, and necessary to, a systematic commodity-exchange relationship, it was between organized groups without superordinate authorities rather than between individuals that such relationships developed. This means two things. First, that what Miéville calls proto-international law predates capitalism and the bourgeois state. When the bourgeois state becomes the central subject of the relations is when the ʻinternationalʼ is born. But the form of the relations already existed. And, second, this means that for the commodity-form theory, international law and domestic law are two moments of the same form.
Central to this is a colonial disempowering of non-Western subjects by independent sovereign powers. For Miéville, colonialism is not just a relation of content. Colonialism is in the very form of international law. Present at the end of the ﬁfteenth century and now central to international law, this ʻcolonialism-in-equalityʼ – which allows that Grenada has exactly the same right to intervene in the United States as the United States has the right to intervene in Grenada, as Jorg Fisch once put it – is predicated on global trade between inherently unequal polities with unequal coercive violence implied in the very commodity form. The question, then, is not so much the international law of colonialism, but the colonialism of international law.
The outcome is a compelling argument concerning the role of force in law or, better still, the role of law as force. Force and law are often counterposed; this is why so many have recently sought recourse to ʻlawʼ to stop the use of ʻforceʼ. But Miévilleʼs argument shows not only that every use of force can be (and has been) defended from a legal point of view. He also reminds us that force is intrinsic to the legal form; that law is constituted by relations of violence. In pursuing this line Miéville weaves a rich argument concerning the history of international law, from states, markets and the sea, to ʻcivilizationʼ, imperialism and sovereignty, and incorporates or critiques the work of a wide range of writers from Grotius to Schmitt.
There are some aspects of the book with which one might wish to argue. As well as using Pashukanis to make sense of international law, Miéville aims to use international law to make better sense of Pashukanis. But one might question whether this actually takes place in the book. Debates about Pashukanisʼs work have long centred on whether his work can account for the rise of administration, administrative law, and labour law. Miévilleʼs discussion of these is not as original as he thinks: it reiterates some of the main contours of the debate, restates the importance of work by Geoff Kay and Jim Mott, and ignores other contributions that have ploughed the same ﬁeld.
There was also scope for broadening the argument out to perhaps explore more examples from recent debates in international law. The ﬁrst section of the Introduction is called ʻInternational law has become importantʼ – a quotation highlighting the importance of the attempt by international lawyers to make sense of the legality of the British governmentʼs war on Iraq. But one might point to other events which show just how important international law has become. For example, the House of Lordsʼ ﬁrst judgement concerning the Pinochet case, on 25 November 1998, was broadcast live on CNN, on the BBC and on radio across the world, and on the following day was on the front pages of most national newspapers. It may have made a more compelling book (and been more convincing to non-Marxists) if popular cases such as this had been discussed.
But these are minor criticisms of what is an important book. By far the most compelling Marxist theory of international law, it is also a signiﬁcant contribution to Marxist theory of the law more generally.
Unreconciled and unconsoledBenita Parry, Postcolonial Studies: A Materialist Critique, Routledge, London, 2004. 239 pp., £60.00 hb., £18.99 pb., 0 415 33599 X hb., 0 415 33600 7.
Benita Parryʼs inﬂuential and invigorating contributions to the ﬁeld of postcolonial studies now appear in a very welcome edition. Together her essays demonstrate the consistency in her arguments throughout the rapidly developing period of approximately ﬁfteen years during which they were written. As polemical and creative interventions in an unstably demarcated discipline, Parryʼs essays argue for a materialist and critical treatment of topics such as globalization, anticolonialism and ʻpostcolonialismʼ, whose concrete, historical and conﬂictual dimensions have often been neglected and replaced by textualized inquiries. Postcolonial Studies is divided into two sections, each introduced by a new essay that sums up the ﬁeldʼs achievements and perspectives, while positioning it within a contemporary debate over global capitalism. The ﬁrst part consists of theoretical, meta-critical essays, of which several have justly achieved canonical status, while the second part contains critical readings of metropolitan, high-imperialist novels, within an overall discussion of the imperial experience and its inscription onto the Western imagination. The book concludes with an extended version of an earlier published article, in which Parry, using a more anecdotal mode, restates her critical position, which seeks to remain ʻunreconciled to the past and unconsoled by the presentʼ, a position that was inaugurated by Marxist critics such as Trotsky, Benjamin and Adorno.
In the ﬁrst, theoretical section, which in an overall perspective attempts to counter the poststructuralist debacle within postcolonial studies, Parry argues – in essays like ʻProblems in Current Theories of Colonial Discourseʼ, and ʻResistance Theory/Theorizing Resistance or Two Cheers for Nativismʼ – for the importance of staying true to the ﬁeldʼs original concerns with concrete historical confrontations. She advocates a renewed discussion of nationalism, anti-colonialism and liberation movements, and the endeavours to channel and reformulate those antagonistic and revolutionary energies that are capable of resisting colonial exploitation. In the second section, Parry goes on to develop a series of analytical case studies of novels by Kipling, Conrad, Wells and Forster, in which she demonstrates a sensitive attention to the asymmetrical relationship between the social and the literary within an ideologically inﬂected horizon. Unlike many other postcolonial critics, Parry has the virtue of searching for ʻa Marxist criticism which understands literature as interacting with and internally marked by other social practicesʼ, which to her implies ʻan insistence that textual signiﬁcance cannot be properly experienced or adequately explained without engaging with narrative structure, diction and linguistic usageʼ.
In ʻThe Content and Discontent of Kiplingʼs Imperialismʼ, Parry proposes an analytic procedure which, in a dialectic of dismantling and reconstructing, actively attempts to emphasize the more concerned, uncertain and troubled voices within the landscape of the imperial imaginary, a method that makes it possible for her to read Kiplingʼs ﬁctions as expressions of imperial ambivalence, despite authorial or authoritative intentions. Elsewhere, Forsterʼs seemingly conventional ﬁctive forms, whose ʻvital harmonyʼ is often seen as opposed to the more traditional characteristics of aesthetic modernism, like representational ʻruptureʼ or ʻcrisisʼ, signal to Parry an ʻanxiety about the impasse of representationʼ. By detecting signs of A Passage to Indiaʼs self-reﬂexive admission of its formal incapacity to bring an ʻalien realm into representationʼ, Parry sees a subversive or negative dimension in the novel, which undermines the textʼs unity, and thereby opens up a much more heterogeneous and discursively playful mode of representation.
It is Parryʼs attention to the speciﬁc semiosis of the literary imaginary that allows her to observe ʻdeﬁant materialʼ aporias in the selected texts, which reject Western epistemological categories of representations, thereby indicating an aesthetic postponement of ﬁnality and formal totality that promises an as yet ʻunrepresentable futureʼ, beyond the disorientations of negations and impasses within a colonial world. This emphasis on the dimension of future prospects as an inherent strategy within contemporary criticism is evident throughout the collection, for example in her well-argued criticism of Homi Bhabha in ʻSigns of the Timesʼ. Bhabhaʼs pessimistic discourse theory, according to Parry, excludes the possibility of constituting a ʻprinciple of hope animating political action in the interest of constructing a different futureʼ, something one is able to ﬁnd in the socially engaged manifestos of anti-colonial and liberation movements.
Although aesthetic postponement, as a mode of negation, indeed constitutes one of the vital concepts in her readings of metropolitan ﬁction, Postcolonial Studies would perhaps be more rounded if Parry engaged more extensively with problems of contemporary, anti-colonial aesthetics. Her urgent call for a more antagonistic position within the theoretical debate of postcolonial studies seems to be accompanied by a more hesitant stance towards a sustained investigation of the role of the literary in anti-colonial ﬁction. She refers only in passing to anti-colonial literature, like Aimé Césaireʼs poetical construction of self-representation, while other postcolonial literary writers, who subscribe to a more conventional realist mode, receive a rougher treatment. While she generally endorses the critic Abdul JanMohamedʼs attempt to read African ﬁction from a counter-discursive position, through an emphasis on historical, material circumstances, she criticizes his readings for being committed to ʻmimeticismʼ, thereby neglecting the ʻpolyphonyʼ of a literary text in which ʻemergent discourses initiating new modes of address to construct not-yet-existing conditionsʼ can be located. Within this perspective one does, however, sense the contours of Parryʼs grappling with an anti-colonial poetics, one that emphasizes the radical potential of innovative forms of expression.
Eli park sorensen
Being-responsiblefor-one’sunconscious Kelly Oliver, The Colonization of Psychic Space: A Psychoanalytic Social Theory of Oppression, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis MN, 2004. xxiv + 245 pp., $59.95 hb., $19.95 pb., 0 8166 4473 X hb., 0 8166 4474 8 pb.
How can psychoanalytic theory be transformed into a social theory that accounts for the psychic dimensions of oppression? This is the challenging question that Kelly Oliver asks and skilfully answers in The Colonization of Psychic Space. According to Oliver, individuality and subjectivity cannot be explained apart from their social contexts; hence psychoanalytic theory must also be social theory. And in turn, social theory, especially that which confronts issues of oppression, must reckon with the role of the unconscious and processes of repression and sublimation in social life. Hence social theory needs psychoanalysis. How, then, to bring the two ﬁelds together? Oliverʼs goal in this book is not merely to apply psychoanalysis to social situations of oppression, because doing so tends to leave intact concepts such as melancholy, desire and abjection that initially were formed with regard to relatively solitary individuals. What is needed instead is a transformation of psychoanalytic concepts that will allow us to rethink the notions of the individual and the psyche as thoroughly social. Only then can forms of oppression such as racism, colonialism and sexism be adequately understood and challenged.The Colonization of Psychic Space contains four parts: ʻAlienation and Its Doubleʼ; ʻThe Secretion of Race and Fluidity of Resistanceʼ; ʻSocial Melancholy and Psychic Spaceʼ; and ʻRevolt, Singularity, and Forgivenessʼ. In Part I, Oliver examines existentialist and psychoanalytic notions of alienation with the goal of distinguishing between what she calls originary and debilitating alienation. Originary alienation is inherent to the human condition, and it occurs when human beings ﬁnd themselves living in a world that is not of their own making. This form of alienation is very different from debilitating alienation, which occurs in oppressive situations that posit a person either as incapable of making meaning or as a being whose meaning is less than fully human. Using the work of Frantz Fanon to challenge Marx, Sartre, Heidegger and Lacan on the issue of alienation, Oliver criticizes the notion of originary alienation as the perverse privilege of European subjects who generally do not experience debilitating alienation. Even worse, the notion of originary alienation tends to cover over the fact of debilitating alienation, and the abstract anxiety of the former can operate as a screen for the latter, camouﬂaging anxieties concerning racial and sexual difference. Building on her previous arguments – in Family Values: Subjects Between Nature and Culture (1997) and Witnessing: Beyond Recognition (2001) – that violence is not necessarily constitutive of subjectivity, Oliver challenges the idea that (debilitating) alienation is a universal feature of the human condition. She argues instead that it is a social phenomenon produced by oppression and colonialism that undermines, rather than constitutes, the subjectivity and agency of the alienated.
Part II continues the transformation of psychoanalytic concepts by focusing on projection and affect. In contrast to a psychoanalytic notion of projection that would enclose the process within the ego, the socialized version of projection developed by Oliver is fundamentally related to economic, material and bodily conditions that link subject and object, colonizer and colonized. Fanon again plays a key role. Oliver uses his analysis of affect in a colonial situation to show how the anger and perverse desire of colonialists are projected on/into the psyches and bodies of the colonized. This projection (or abjection) allows the colonizer to establish rigid boundaries between self and other. What is needed in its place is a ﬂuid notion of human being that challenges ﬁxed borders, rigid ownership and sovereign subjects. Along with Fanonʼs analysis of the shifting meaning of the veil for Algerian women, the ﬁction of Julia Alvarez allows Oliver to show how identity and subjectivity need not be built out of rigid and exclusionary borders. Power is ﬂuid, which means that the debilitating effects of domination on the oppressed sometimes can be used as tools of resistance.
While Parts I and II focus on racism and colonialism, Part III turns to the effects of sexist oppression on women. Womenʼs depression is often seen and treated as an individual illness, but many times it is a manifestation of culture-wide patterns of sexism. Oliver develops a notion of social melancholy to account for the characteristics of womenʼs clinical depression (ʻlack of activity, passivity, silence, moodiness, irritability, excessive crying, lack of sexual appetite, and nervousnessʼ), which are remarkably similar to those of stereotypical femininity. Social melancholy as manifest in depression operates in very different ways from the traditional psychoanalytic notion of melancholy. Freud, for example, characterizes melancholy as the internalization of a lost love by means of the incorporation of that love into the individualʼs ego. Oliverʼs concept of social melancholy, in contrast, attends to the social factors that contribute to depression by characterizing melancholy as the internalization of the loss of a lovable self. This problem tends to afﬂict mothers in particular, since very few positive representations of mothers as active, meaning-creating beings are available in the Western world. Maternal melancholy also has negative effects on female and male children, who can become masochistic and sadistic, respectively, through identiﬁcation with a depressive mother.
Oliver argues that whether the result of racism, colonialism, sexism, or some other form of oppression, debilitating alienation and social melancholy require a social form of sublimation in response. In traditional psychoanalysis, sublimation is the process by which an individual makes meaning by translating affects and drives into words or some other form of signiﬁcation. But, as Oliver claims, ʻthe ability to sublimate has everything to do with social context, support, and subject positionʼ, which is why a social theory of sublimation is needed. Without sublimation, repression and depression (social melancholy) are the likely results. It is signiﬁcant, then, that women and other oppressed peoples have been denied social support and space for the meaningful expression of their bodily drives and affects.
Part III concludes with the claim that social sublimation necessarily involves revolt against the established order. Part IV continues by developing the idea of revolt against society that creates a sense of belonging to it. For Oliver, ʻEntering the social order requires assimilating the authority of that order through a revolt by which the individual belongs to the world of meaning.ʼ The revolt of social sublimation, then, is more of a relocation of social authority than a complete violation of the social order. In contrast with much of existentialist philosophy, revolt does not necessarily result in an individualʼs alienation from the social. It instead can help produce a community to which a person belongs as a singular meaning-maker. Central to this process is forgiveness. Being able to revolt in such a way that one is accepted into a social order presupposes that one will be forgiven for contesting it with her singularity. For Oliver, forgiveness is more of a psychical feature of the oppressed than an action on the part of the oppressor. Forgiveness does not primarily concern forgiving the perpetuators of colonialism, racism and sexism, but rather restoring a kind of conﬁdence in the oppressed that they can creatively assert themselves in singular, individual ways which will be welcome (or ʻforgivenʼ) even though it challenges the established social order.
What is particularly signiﬁcant about Oliverʼs notion of forgiveness as part of the process of social sublimation is that it operates unconsciously. While language and other forms of signiﬁcation are the vehicles through which forgiveness occurs, forgiveness is not a conscious operation. And, to the extent that intersubjectivity presumes conscious subjects in relationship with one another, forgiveness also is not intersubjective even though it is social rather than individualistic. Forgiveness is best described as a movement of affective energy between bodily beings that transforms them in ways of which they are not consciously aware. It is a mode of acceptance that legitimizes a personʼs access to the social.
The ﬁnal result of Oliverʼs psychoanalytic social theory of oppression is what she calls a radical ethics, which entails being responsible for oneʼs unconscious. While Oliver does not elaborate this important idea here as much as I would have liked, it is clear that, on her account, adding the unconscious to an account of social or political forgiveness (such as that of Derrida) does not mean the abandonment of accountability or responsibility. For responsibility to be really radical – which is to say, really ethical – we must think of ourselves as responsible for our unconscious wishes, desires and fears, especially as they revolve around issues of race and racism, sex and sexism. We might not be able to know fully or control our unconscious lives, but we can and should be responsible for their effects on other people. How do I unknowingly contribute to the debilitating alienation and social melancholy that others experience? How am I responsible for the forgiveness that does or does not occur in other peopleʼs lives? These admittedly are difﬁcult questions of accountability and answerability, and attempting to answer them is likely to be an endless task. But it is a task that is necessary to the overcoming of domination and oppression. Just as psychoanalysis needs to be a social theory if it is not to cover over oppressive power relations, a truly responsible ethics and politics must reckon with the role of the unconscious in the creation and maintenance of domination.
§113Michael Quante, Hegelʼs Concept of Action, trans. Dean Moyar, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2004. 216 pp., £45.00 hb., 0 521 82693
Michael Quanteʼs Hegelʼs Concept of Action is a sustained effort to survey a nexus of seemingly incongruous concepts: Hegelian thought and contemporary ʻanalyticʼ philosophy. Its methodology is shaped by a commitment to demonstrate that, on the one hand, the contemporary philosophy of action provides the theoretical terms by which much that is mysterious in the Hegelian dialectic can be explained, and, on the other, Hegelʼs approach to agency can be correctly understood to anticipate and even clarify much of what is at issue in this philosophy of actions. With Brandom, McDowell, Davidson and Chisholm among its most essential sources and disputants, it approaches agency in terms of concepts of personality, subjectivity, inten-tionality, attribution, universality and inﬁnity, as well as crime, responsibility and the mind–body problem.
This work is best read with the Philosophy of Right open beside it. While offering no novel theses, it strives to unpack the logic of Hegelian agency from a contemporary perspective. Quanteʼs primary thesis is that the concept of ʻmoralʼ (subjective) agency presented in the Philosophy of Right is central to the Hegelian dialectic in general. It is in that work that a genuine agent-theoretic perspective, contributive to a rigorous understanding of the dialectic of selfhood in the Phenomenology of Spirit, can be found. Rather than utilizing the dialectic to justify the objective movements of history in which human beings are implicated, Quante isolates the human person as a particular moment of the universal viewed from the anonymous position of the historical dialectic. Quante emphasizes the importance of explanations of personal agency (and thus personal identity) in terms of internally descriptive intentions and freely volitional agency (and not merely ʻpurposive activityʼ). In other words, rather than examining agency within the objective determinations of an external account of the dialectic of persons and deeds, he analyses the dialectic of internally descriptive attributions of intentional action. The ʻmoralityʼ of an action, then, is not merely some contingent aspect, but its most vital internal determinant.
Most of the book is dedicated to unpacking a single quotation from Hegelʼs Philosophy of Right (§113) in which the ʻdeterminationsʼ of an action are: (a) the action is known by the agent to be its own, (b) obligation is the relation between an action and its concept, and (c) the action has an essential relation to the will of others. For Quanteʼs Hegel, agency is understood primarily in terms of intentional action as a realization of a subjective and freely chosen end, answerable to its own internal universal obligation, and known to be exposed to the judgement of others. Each instance of intentional agency is an exercise of the subjective will in which there is a conceptual unfolding of a free decision that accompanies (but does not ʻcauseʼ) such agency. An explanation of intentional agency must involve a description that includes the perspective and self-understanding of the agent at the time of the performance.
Quanteʼs book, perhaps like Hegelʼs philosophy, is dominated by various dichotomies through which a dialectical account of agency, legality and morality is played out. In Hegel these are intertwined in a logic of reﬂection, not separately spread out, as in Kant. The ʻtransitionalʼ dichotomy marks a passage from legality (in which the agent is taken to be a ʻpersonʼ whose conduct can be described without emphasis upon any internal perspective) to morality – in which the agent is taken to be a ʻsubjectʼ for whose action a description of internal perspective is laden with motives, intentions, opinions and reasons. This passage, he insists, should not be understood as a theoretical movement from one extensive concept describing a substantial entity (the legal ʻpersonʼ) to another (the moral ʻsubjectʼ), but rather as distinct perspectives on a single activity of a subjectivity of will. Interestingly, in order to elucidate this transition, he effectively utilizes the notions of crime – as a disavowal of absolute principles of right that produces only emptiness of rational content – and punishment – as punitive form of justice in which the criminal is ʻhonouredʼ inasmuch as the emptiness of his/her crime becomes an expression of rational will. Legal punishment raises the criminal act to a certain dignity, one might say, because it bestows on it a signiﬁcance it does not itself possess.
For students of contemporary ʻcontinentalʼ critiques of Hegel, Hegelʼs Concept of Action conﬁrms suspicions that Hegelʼs later ʻconservativeʼ work offers insights into the dialectical nature of subjectivity. Between the Hegel of the anonymous forces of history and the Hegel of ʻmoralʼ initiative, there is little to choose from if one is committed to anti-Hegelian notions such as non-dialectical negation, sentient bodies, the multitude and supplementarity. This book strips the dialectic of the mysticism Marx discerned in it, but without offering an equally compelling interpretation that would avoid contemporary critiques and without conceiving the terms of an alternative relevance for the Hegelian project.
Although the bookʼs scholarly apparatus is very impressive, it has a few shortcomings. First, by either ʻcontinentalʼ or ʻanalyticʼ standards, its composition is unnecessarily turgid and repetitive in a way that is hardly likely to inspire the readerʼs excitement. Second, some of the distinctions and formulations fail to clarify the interest of competing theoretical positions, leaving it unclear whether a particular notion will resurface signiﬁcantly in later passages. Third, although the argumentation fulﬁls promises made in the introduction, the lack of a conclusion might abandon the reader to wondering whether he or she has actually grasped the workʼs intended achievement. It merits repeating that this bookʼs primary contribution is a close textual reading that might enable us to adjust traditional interpretations without offering altogether new perspectives.