Post-genomic interventionsEugene Thacker, Global Genome: Biotechnology, Politics, and Culture, MIT Press, Cambridge MA, 2006. 464 pp., £25.95 hb., £12.95 pb., 0 2622 0155 0 hb., 0 2627 0116 2 pb. Rishab Aiyer Ghosh, ed., Code: Collaborative Ownership and the Digital Economy, MIT Press, Cambridge MA, 2005. 384 pp., £24.95 hb., £12.95 pb., 0 2620 7260 2 hb., 0 2625 7236 2 pb.
Millenarian thought in its contemporary capitalist or technovisionary strains suffers no shortage of epochal events locking in grand designs of new orders, whose power to render the merely familiar or the almost forgotten entirely irrelevant appears more concrete than the actuality in which we, historically and futurally, live. The key to the locks, of course, is that a complex process becomes subjective only as shattering event. Two such events anchor a massive amount of recent critical scholarship on affect, technics and ethics. First, the events of 9/11, promoted from a stream of policing challenges faced by neoliberal economies and now familiar as the call for ʻglobal war on terrorʼ. Regardless of its timelines for Iraq, a ʻpolicingʼ warʼs future duration cannot be demarcated, because its policy basis ensures it lasts until policy can no longer determine actual events – a contradiction in terms to begin with. A second, simultaneously eschatological and annuciatory event was the completion of the human genome sequence in 2003. While the ʻpost-genomicʼ age had already been noted critically in the mid-1990s, this announcement was its inaugural ball, at least for the carbon-based.
For Arendt, writing in the 1960s, the present had become a narrowed, Kafkaesque staging ground delimited by the duelling fencers of past and future time, but today nothing seems to possess more historical inevitability than the power of the new to compress the present into an inﬁnitesimally thin membrane, or veil, whose surface is protracted under the puncturing pressure of what comes next. Stretched thin, the present declines to the moment of the newʼs arrival. Every shivering human moment becomes epochal. The complexity of this can be conﬁgured spatially, corporeally, or temporally – but only as disjuncture.
A usually overlooked effect of this power of disjunction has to do with one direction opened up by these strange transpositions of historicity, eventuality and futurity that instantaneity-as-epochality requires. The present becomes a future history: we live a contingent past tense of the posteriority we project as approaching, a projection we extend more concretely via speculative means (of capital, of media, of science, of politics, of expression). The opposite direction of temporal disjuncture inscribed by the epochal imagination has long been entirely modern and conventional. In this mode, mining history itself becomes essential, but not to the present which time compresses as history. Instead, history, and all we consign to it, including ourselves and our power to change the present, becomes a reservoir of material upon which the labours of speculation draw. Designing the future by excavating ever deeper or broader historical trenches with ever more diamantine drill bits is the requisite labour, especially for studies of technoculture attempting interventions in futural design. Drilling down while holding a forward gaze is a difﬁcult enough posture to hold; the real trick, though, is honing the bit.
Eugene Thackerʼs Global Genome critiques contemporary information technology, genomic science and political sovereignty by bringing Marxʼs account of species being to bear on Foucaultʼs understanding of biopower. We learn in his introduction that the project incubated over a period of ten years, but he makes less of the fact that his earlier monograph, Biomedia (2004), a more narrowly framed study of contemporary bioand info-technology along Deleuzean lines, appeared while this larger study was under way. In Biomedia, Thacker outlined a ʻbio-ethicsʼ, a critical and productive ethics of genomic medicine that might intervene against the tendencies of bioethics since the 1970s to legitimate the commercial overdetermination of identity, personhood and corporeality in the new life sciences, where production has intensiﬁed via high-throughput diagnostic techniques such as the Affymetrix DNA chip. But in spite of Thackerʼs skills in illuminating core problematics within industrial genomics and information processing paradigms, and in spite of his attempt to clarify Deleuzean ethics with systems theories from Varela or Luhmann, I couldnʼt entirely see how Thackerʼs ʻbio-ethicsʼ differed from conventional ʻbioethicsʼ.
Now, in Global Genome, Thacker vastly expands his historical frame of reference and yet concentrates more closely on accounting for corporeality and labour in his description of biologyʼs transformation, via information sciences, into technology as such. The book is divided into three parts, ʻEncoding/Productionʼ, ʻRecoding/Distributionʼ, and ʻDecoding/Consumptionʼ; each section represents a resolution in the contemporary vocabulary of bioinformatic process of Marxʼs understanding of production, distribution and consumption. The bookʼs organization also suggests that the explicit insertion of ʻrecodingʼ between the received conceptual pair of ʻencoding/decodingʼ emblematizes an epochal difference between informatic capital and bioinformatic capital, a difference which Thacker argues the global life sciences industries best encapsulate.
Part one introduces the claim that ʻgenomics is globalizationʼ, and Thacker presents his argument that genetic sciences are the hegemonic agent of global technoscientiﬁc capitalism. Part two presents the central intervention of his critique of material labour and biopower. Thacker argues that the bi-directional recoding processes now operative between cybernetics and genomics calls for a new account of biotechnologyʼs massive production of excess ʻbiovalueʼ (a term drawn from Catherine Waldby): a productive power he adduces as ʻbiolabourʼ. The section concludes, however, with a discussion of biowar and bioterror as ʻbioinfowarʼ which, while responding in some ways to post-9/11 concerns, steers the book around the immediately following third section, and towards its concluding chapter. That third section turns to the consumer-oriented products of biolabouring production (such as regenerative tissue), and Thacker reads this regimeʼs cultural symptoms through science ﬁction ﬁlms such as 28 Days Later or the X-Men serials.
Throughout, Thacker develops Marxʼs treatment of the machinic organicity of technologized labour with reference to Foucaultʼs description of biopower as the point at which the biological life of a population enters into the stateʼs calculation of sovereignty. Mediating these two major critical frames are Canguilhemʼs historical treatment of the normal and the pathological, and Batailleʼs accounts of capitalist economy as the production of excess. Where Italian autonomists like Lazzarato and Negri have famously attempted, since the 1970s, to articulate the speciﬁcities of knowledge work as an ʻimmaterialʼ form of labour, Thacker describes the very different labouring masses emerging from the genomic sciencesʼ production of ʻliving deadʼ biolabour: regenerative tissue, DNA chips, experimental organisms or cloned beings. Biolabour, he argues, is totally transparent to the processes of global genomics, and entirely mediated by them. His description of the ʻtotal mediationʼ of biolabour explains why Deleuzean ethics plays almost no role in this book. Yet it is here that an attempt at an ethics might become all the more compelling.
In fact, much of the material presented in the last third of Global Genome is simply a less detailed version of material presented in the second section of the book. These recapitulations – another tract deﬁning Foucauldian biopower, another summary of Lazzarattoʼs immaterial labour – wouldnʼt jar quite as much if they led to new plateaus in the argument, but they tend not to. The repetitions come at the considerable cost of any ethical questions going largely untreated. Perhaps these are obscured by the need to machine another critical innovation that would keep up with the new epoch. And when Thacker reads regenerative medicine through ﬁlms like the X-Men series, we meet the textʼs weaker links; as insightful as Thacker is with genomics and materialist theory, heʼs not a media scholar. By the time Global Genome closes with a homage to the ʻbioartʼ of the Critical Art Ensemble, the material still fascinates, but the discussion seems all but exhausted. Thacker has little to add to contemporary discussions of CAE, Stelarc or the other art and bioscience projects he mentions. That he does so little with aesthetic interventions into efforts to locate ʻthe gay geneʼ is also a let-down – thatʼs material with which a more queerly informed theoretical effort could do much.
The more signiﬁcant problem for The Global Genome, though, is its universalizing of genomic bioinformatics as the globally hegemonic agent (indicated, for example, in a slightly suspicious chart presenting two historical eras of ʻindustrialismʼ and ʻpostindustrialismʼ followed by a third, organized under a different conceptual category, ʻbiotech industryʼ!). Contemporaries in Thackerʼs ﬁeld produce contrary results. Reading Thackerʼs Global Genome alongside Raushik Sunder Rajanʼs Biocapital, also published last year, is, for example, illuminating: both studies effect a return to Marx, work through questions of materiality and labour power by way of Foucauldian biopolitics, and entertain Batailleʼs theory of expenditure on the path towards disambiguating a post-genomic future. Yet Biocapital clariﬁes to a much greater degree (and in a considerably shorter book) the ways that small genomics-oriented discovery ﬁrms interoperate with much larger pharmaceuticals corporations; variations in the economies of genomics between India and the USA; different tendencies for capital in each location to overdetermine the processes, projects and products of the varying sectors of production; and even the deskilled milieu of graphic designers working in the educational sector of the bioinformatic industry.
For Sunder Rajan, asymmetries in the global production processes of biocapital means that Indians are more likely to experience the products of post-genomic life sciences as test subjects, while Americans are more likely to experience these as consumers. That is a striking ethical disjuncture, although one in keeping with other studies of biopiracy or global tissue economies, and provides a stronger prompt for consideration of ʻbiocapitalʼsʼ importance. Global Genome develops similarly sophisticated questions about the implications of ʻbiolabourʼ, but it might be hard for Thackerʼs less careful readers to care about the resistance a regenerated bladder might offer to global capital. On the other hand, while both Sunder Rajan and Thacker note that DNA chips have implications for the human subjection to biopower and the biopolitical control of national food security, there are surely many SuperFund sites where DNA chips might also help gauge the toxicity humans have created for both ourselves and our carbon-based brethren. A more general and more faceted view of ʻsomatic ethicsʼ within biocapital is still required. Code: Collaborative Ownership and the Digital Economy is another MIT publication offering wellhoned critical tools for technocultural studies. Code also addresses, for example, questions of biopiracy in the new life sciences (in an essay by Cori Hayden), but instead of characterizing epochal shifts effected by a singular agent (the global genome or biocapital), it takes on ongoing, uneven, and unﬁnished transformations associated with digital network production and IP law, pointing to undervalued or misunderstood practices of creation and distribution, proﬁling broadly historical patterns typifying privatization of intellectual and expressive property, and thinking through the potentials of open source strategies or new legal frameworks for collaborative work. Appropriately for this transdisciplinary collection of work, Code ʻfeeds off controversiesʼ, as Latour might put it, not to approximate an impossible object of critique, as both Thacker and Sunder Rajan succeed in doing in different ways.
Opening the ﬁrst section, two complementary essays from cultural anthropologists Marilyn Strathern and James Leach make clear that distinct cultural and technical milieus for visual or acoustic expression, such as those of Papua New Guinea, differ radically in organizing collaboration, creativity and ownership. Reading the two, we see concretely that not all understandings of ʻauthorshipʼ modulate primarily between individual and corporate registers, as the dominant Euro-American models of ﬁltering public expression have tended to do. Fred Myers follows, pointing out speciﬁc ways that global IP regimes work against both Aboriginal expression in its own terms, and their territorial situatedness. If Strathernʼs and Leachʼs contributions make explicit that contemporary rights management schemes are inadequate to the extant developmental paradigms of many locales, Myers extends their comments by observing that conﬂicts between Euro-American and indigenous regimes of expression are often exacerbated, rather than resolved, by trade agreements on IP.
Where Strathern, Leach or Myers emphasize the differences of indigenous production, and, indeed, suggest that we beneﬁt by appropriating not the works or processes of indigenous peoples but lessons from the modes of network production they demonstrate, other contributors suggest that any such transpositional manoeuvring requires an analytics of complicity. Anthony Seeger interrogates his own complicity in bringing the Brazilian Indian ʻSavannah Deer Songʼ into the public domain; Boatema Boaten considers the complicity of Ghanaian lawyers who can only protect Ghanaian ʻfolkloricʼ knowledges by condemning Ghanaian cultural production to a static register of value that is always inferior to that of Western technoscience. The need arises, then, for a historical inquiry into what constitutes Western ʻopen scienceʼ and how digital production may be transforming it. Paul David obliges, revisiting modernizing Europeʼs Scientiﬁc Revolution to suggest that contemporary systems of technoscientiﬁc knowledge production among universities and their assorted clients and publics are not radically dissimilar from patronage systems in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuriesʼ ʻAge of Academiesʼ. If David downplays the centuries-long transformation of instrumental technics into systemic technologies and the meanings of that shift, he does work against the singularizing commentaries on digital epochality chiming with every uptick in the NASDAQ index.
This succession of essays in the ﬁrst section reveals what is both fruitful and frustrating about the volume as a whole. Throughout, essays are carefully ordered so that questions raised by one contributor are taken up by another. Where a historical treatment is prompted, one appears – but on a different topic, and with a different orientation and object. The problem isnʼt, then, that Code forces together essays that donʼt ﬁt; itʼs that the discursive creases which arise in reading them tend to be smoothed over rather than made to stand out – with questions raised, hesitations expressed, other possibilities indicated – as we move from one essay to the next.
At the same time, although Codeʼs broad coverage and ʻopen sourceʼ style helps undo many of the damaging mischaracterizations which limit peoplesʼ and publicsʼ abilities to conceive, demand and exercise expression across technics and instrumentalities, some gaps needed ﬁlling. First, the volumeʼs multiple disciplines and presentational styles would beneﬁt from a glossary of terms, concepts and relevant legal constructs and events in order to ﬁll out motivations and contexts. Second, thereʼs no reason why todayʼs media industries canʼt be studied in the ways that Ghana or Papua New Guinea are; readers would beneﬁt from an engagement with the conﬂicted, contradictory and contingent movements of major copyright holders or network providers. Third, a treatment of aesthetics, collaboration and digital networks is sorely missed here. Fourth, materialities of ʻhardwareʼ are largely taken for granted. And ﬁfth, some study of digital sharers would realistically ﬁll out the alternately idealized or voluntarist attribution of digital collaboration as a ﬂowering graft of ʻaltruistic economiesʼ onto the gnarled old trunk of global technocapital.
Lacking these, the cumulative effect of reading Code is that by the time we get to open source pioneer Richard Stallmanʼs provocative iconoclasm (in a transcribed conversation) – defending peoplesʼ and publicsʼ abilities to determine how, how much, and when to allow encroachments on expression, a stance which, Stallmanʼs respondent points out, is historically vague, and probably idealistic – the volume seems torn between two rather typical organizational tasks: the difﬁculties of identifying resources for collaboration versus those of managing them. In that gap, there is no rigorous critical deconstruction of collaboration or use as expression, other than the presentation by Stallman, which begs critical, theoretical and historical questions but provides little in the way of forward movement. The result is that the volumeʼs critical orientation wavers uncomfortably between cultural anthropologyʼs need to supply resistance to advances in transnational cybernetic media, and policy gestures seeking to modify neoliberal legal frameworks to ensure that some simulacrum of a public sphere still exists after the forces of privatizing technological innovation redeﬁne peoples and publics as consumers of the new markets which media industries retroactively plan to have waiting for them – after people have already established these topographies through their own patterns of use. Apparently the future comes ﬁrst, after all. Implicitly, and all too predictably, the temporality of that emerging marketized consumption of our own active labour is coded as ʻfuture tribalʼ. Code provides a useful overview of the problematic of collaboration in globalizing digital contexts, but partly misses its mark both in terms of timeliness and in terms of applicability – perhaps because the opensource model inspiring much of the contents does not extend to the actual volume itself. Iʼd like to see Code retooled, via some modiﬁed version of an open-source model: informed by just the kinds of discussion this volume provides, more explicitly teasing out tensions between contributors, respectfully tethering these tensions to a larger critique of technics and milieu which sustains engagements with biocapital, bringing together the productivities of peer production with the productivities of peer review. But Code, alas, is only one of a great number of publications appealing to the digital newness of what turns out to be a very long durée of technological transitions. Itʼs easy for such publications to miss fully developing their own analyses by not implementing their own presentation according to the conditions, critiques and milieus they address. The latency between academic research and publication and inevitable gaps in coverage are only two problems which open-source publishing might ameliorate. The questions of authority and authorship, creativity and ownership, sovereignty and rights, and local, national and global publics that Code addresses would beneﬁt with a shift from a ʻprint anthologyʼ to a hybrid, free and open-access ʻprint-online projectʼ. Perhaps the MIT Press will consider distributing Code 2.0.
Absolute naturalismIain Hamilton Grant, Philosophies of Nature after Schelling, Continuum, London and New York, 2006. xi + 232 pp., £65.00 hb., 0 8264 7902 2.whether or not materiality is reducible to corporeality. For Grant, somatic theories of matter, such as those adopted by Aristotle and Kant, rarely fail to reveal their complicity with the practicist agenda. This is because somatism always provides an alibi for the excision of nature from philosophy. For example, the restriction of matter to body entails that nature be conceived of as an aggregate of bodies, and given that this aggregate will inevitably require a non-corporeal substrate in which those bodies must inhere, the more fundamental term of this relation has to be non-physical since materiality extends no further than body. With principles like this, an estrangement of physics from metaphysics follows as a matter of course: materiality is relegated to the sciences while philosophy distinguishes itself as the ʻdeeperʼ discourse.
In short, somatic theories of matter can grow no larger than a ʻphysics of all thingsʼ, to which Grant opposes the Platonic ʻphysics of the allʼ. Grant contends that Platoʼs anti-somatism, echoed in Schellingʼs ʻmateriality is not yet corporealityʼ, conceives of matter as ʻpowerʼ, which allows the fundamentality of physicality to be maintained since material bodies (as well as Ideas and everything else) genetically emerge from potentiated, self-organizing matter. The continuity that this genetic physicalism establishes between the organic and the inorganic vitiates another practicist tactic: the vitalist isolation of organic life from inorganic matter. However, Grantʼs management of this issue illustrates the extent to which one facet of his overall position remains unclear. He criticizes vitalism as ʻantiphysicsʼ in so far as it centralizes life in order to safeguard ethical and political programmes from the anti-practicist effects of a genuine engagement with nature; yet the Platonic ʻworld-soulʼ and Schellingian ʻnature as pure productivityʼ (both principles of ʻself-generating motionʼ) which he defends would hardly satisfy a staunch anti-vitalist. Thus Grant – like Schelling – may not succumb to the vitalism he decries, but the position he adopts ends up complicating the issue by generating uncertainty as to whether he is simply espousing a different kind of vitalism or actually illuminating theoretical options irreducible to vitalism or mechanism.
The dynamized absolute which Grant extensively and compellingly explicates is, in fact, what he calls ʻnature as subjectʼ, a term which does not indicate Although prospective readers may be surprised to discover that this book has relatively little to say about the history of post-Schellingian philosophy of nature, such concerns quickly dissolve when it becomes apparent how much more intriguing and ambitious the bookʼs actual content is than its title might indicate. Philosophies of Nature after Schelling is indeed a work of painstaking historical scholarship, but its expository dimension primarily functions as an aid to its prescriptive one. Grantʼs interpretive thesis is that ʻSchellingianismʼ is ʻnature-philosophyʼ. Furthermore, he claims that revisiting it is a contemporary necessity given (1) nature-philosophyʼs critical relationship to Kantian epistemology, and (2) the latterʼs continuing circumscription of the conceptual possibilities legitimate available to present-day philosophy. Supplementing historical perspicacity with an eye to the future, Grant reconstructs nature-philosophy as an indispensable corrective to what he sees as the currently dominant philosophical paradigm: an ethically or politically motivated ʻantiphysicsʼ that can only prioritize the practical by segregating it from the physical. Most importantly, Grant argues, the stark divisions of labour between philosophy and science that such ʻpracticismsʼ implicitly or explicitly advocate inevitably end up curtailing thoughtʼs speculative prowess by denying philosophyʼs bolder aspirations. Consequently, the bookʼs overarching injunction concerns ʻphilosophy becoming capable once again of metaphysicsʼ – but with the caveat that the latter ʻcannot be pursued in isolation from physicsʼ. (Grant often uses the term ʻphysicsʼ in the sense of physicalism, which conveys something more general than a speciﬁc branch of natural science and its methodologies.)Essential to the success of this transformation of philosophyʼs capabilities and self-conception, then, is a reassessment of those historical moments in which the relations between physics and metaphysics were most deﬁnitively shaped. Grant locates the prototype of such situations in the transition from Platonism – provocatively recast as a ʻone-world physicsʼ encompassing matter and the Ideas – to Aristotelianism – depicted as the primary instigator of the physics–metaphysics disjunction. More speciﬁcally, Plato and Aristotle are shown to be divided by the differing conceptions of matter that determine their differing conceptions of nature. At issue here is the question of somatism, of similarities with more familiar conceptions of human or divine subjectivity but is instead a way of conceptualizing natureʼs unconditional autonomy. Crucially, this autonomy entails an absolute in irrecuperable excess of human thought and perception (as the timescales involved in natural geneses make clear), and so Schellingianism at its best is powerfully presented as an anti-anthropocentric metaphysical realism which afﬁrms natureʼs full independence of any cognitive relation to it. At other times, though, Grant seems to oscillate between construing ideation as a regionalized natural phenomenon and as Platonic Ideas universalized as ousia. The latter results in Schellingianism sometimes appearing as a less interesting objective idealism. While this equivocation obviously has its roots in Platonic idealismʼs incompatibility with Schellingʼs version of transcendental idealism (which also entails an inconsistency in Schellingʼs intellectual trajectory), the emergence of objective idealism in Grantʼs project is indicative of the importance of a problem which any absolutization of nature must confront. To wit, this brilliant ʻnature as subjectʼ thesis exhibits the viability of an absolute that is wholly real (mainly because it is wholly material), but it seems as though, once many philosophical naturalists begin to explain ʻnaturalityʼ, idealism and/or vitalism invariably resurface (e.g. Bergson, Whitehead, Deleuze). Nevertheless, this is not to say that Grant lacks the resources to overcome this obstacle and ʻpurifyʼ his naturalism; on the contrary, he proves the opposite to be the case.
If Grant does not elaborate on these questions it is probably because he is not that concerned with them in the long run. What he does care about are the philosophical beneﬁts that a dynamized nature allows him to enjoy. In particular, the latter is allegedly capable of explaining physicality and ideality through the ascending levels of matterʼs self-construction, while all the variants of ʻantiphysicsʼ and its accomplices (practicism, organicism, somatism, subjective idealism, etc.) betray an inadequacy in the elimination of nature which is their condition of possibility. With this idea, one of the most signiﬁcant premisses of Grantʼs arguments comes to light. Throughout the book Platonic physics and Schellingian nature-philosophy are advanced as standard-setters for a test by which the extensity of philosophical systems should be measured. The operative assumption seems to be that a philosophy which can encompass what another is incapable of handling thereby demonstrates its superiority with respect to the other. This is why Grant ﬁnds the Platonic–Schellingian model preferable to all ʻantiphysicsʼ: the latter makes metaphysics, which is precisely this maximized extensity, impossible. Accordingly, the disqualiﬁcation of practicism would merely be the impartially generated consequence of a ﬁdelity to extensity rather than an ideologically motivated dismissal.
Two problems arise here. The ﬁrst concerns the question of Grantʼs success in completing his own objective. While he argues quite convincingly that a genuine engagement with nature makes any philosophical privileging of the practical impossible, he also seems to suggest that the Platonic–Schellingian modelʼs encompassing of ideation is pre-emptory with respect to whatever practicism could petition in order to secure this privileging. However, Grant appears a long way from being either willing or able to explain a political situation or an aesthetic phenomenon in physicalist terms (although he does discuss the naturalistic basis of human freedom). And if he thinks that such domains are illusory or not worth attention, then he risks inviting the charge of being almost as ʻeliminativeʼ with regard to them as he claims practicism is with regard to the physical domain. (I say ʻalmostʼ, because a genetic physicalism surely has a better chance of explaining any kind of human activity than an ethical or political philosophy does of explaining natural phenomena.) So, while the idea of a test of extensity is by no means a worthless one, given the desirability of increased explanatory power, its consistent application sets an extraordinarily – and, some would say, unrealistically – high standard.
The second problem is more obvious but even more crucial, since it goes straight to the heart of the critique of metaphysics which Grant wants to overcome. That is, even if this maximized extensity is conceptually envisageable, in what way is it cognitively realizable? What are the epistemological conditions of claims Courtesy of Ric hard Paulmade about such an immense ﬁeld of objects? One cannot help but be struck by Grantʼs expressed lack of concern for such questions, as the absolute priority of ontology over epistemology seems to be the bookʼs working presupposition rather than a demonstrated conclusion. This is a serious obstruction to Grantʼs proposed rehabilitation of metaphysics, and until it is removed he will always be open to the charge that he has yet to engage fully with his most powerful opponent on the latterʼs own terms (despite the meticulousness with which he exposes fatal ﬂaws in Kantʼs attempts at a philosophy of nature). Interestingly, this is one point where Grant and Schelling certainly diverge, as the System of Transcendental Idealismʼs explicitly stated epistemological agenda makes clear. Grantʼs omission of this only underscores his disdain for epistemology, something which is all the more inexcusable given that Schelling may have provided the resources required for defending ontological naturalism on epistemological grounds in that text. In this regard, Grant misses a signiﬁcant opportunity to strengthen greatly his overall position.
Yet even if an ontology with no epistemological scruples is suspect, an epistemology which tries to excuse itself from clarifying the ontological status of its components should not go uninterrogated either. This is one reason why Grantʼs treatment of the System deserves special mention. In a remarkable tour de force of textual exegesis and conceptual synthesis, Grant situates Schellingʼs transcendental philosophy within the nature-philosophy. The resultant structure of Schellingianism determines the ontological constitution of the transcendental to be physical by rendering self-consciousness immanent to a nature upon which it depends, with which it is continuous (but not commensurate), and in which it is merely local. Therefore, bearing in mind matterʼs inherent tendency to self-organization – the auto-productive capacity of ʻnature as subjectʼ – it follows that the internality of transcendental subjectivity is only the externality of inorganic matter at a ʻhigher potencyʼ. Hence the title of what may be the most stimulating chapter, ʻWhat thinks in me is what is outside me.ʼ
Most impressive, though, is the thoroughness and consistency with which this naturalization of ideality is carried out, providing a lucid account of thoughtʼs reﬂexive capacity as inherently resistant to idealistic totalization. Grant shows how Schelling achieves this through the Systemʼs unwavering commitment to the unceasing productivity of ideation and its temporality, which determines the dimensionality of thought to be an irreversible uni-directionality. This means that any idea, regardless of its ideatum, is always new, and therefore the pure productivity that is ideation (and nature) is always recapitulated but never recuperated with every product of thought:
To turn, as it were, from the product and form a concept of the producing does not complete the intuition, but renders the producing a product itself produced by another producing, thus leaving an ʻirreducible remainderʼ of forces that cannot be resolved into the product.
Nevertheless, this supposedly enables thought to cognize its own immanent activity without appearing to transcend that activity, because the object of this (and every) cognition is a product, while the cognition itself is a producing which can itself become a product.
Furthermore, Grantʼs identiﬁcation of the asymmetrical relation between Schellingʼs nature-philosophy and his transcendental philosophy (a reﬂection of the productivity–product asymmetry) allows him to demolish Hegelʼs interpretation of Schellingʼs ʻsystemʼ in the Difference essay. This is a signiﬁcant polemic, because it is Hegelʼs presentation of the ʻtwo sciencesʼ of Schellingʼs philosophy as ʻrelative totalitiesʼ in symmetric opposition (rather than two intersecting trajectories) which enables him to set the stage for his later sublation of such antitheses in his completed system. The implication is that the portrait of Schelling which the Difference essay praises eventually becomes a straw man in Hegelʼs self-congratulatory reading of the development of German Idealism. Grant attributes this mischaracterization to Hegelʼs employment of his own conception of identity as latent in opposition, while Schellingian identity (natural productivity) is actually recapitulated in the proliferation of differences (products), a process afforded by the inﬁnite bifurcations in matterʼs self-construction.
With respect to the bookʼs interpretive thesis, Grant builds a strong case against the conventional view Courtesy of Ric hard Paulwhich depicts the nature-philosophy as no more than an ephemeral episode (roughly 1797–1800) in Schellingʼs ﬁfty-year career. Instead, he argues that the recognition of its persistence throughout Schellingʼs oeuvre is the only way to grasp the latterʼs internal coherence. Thus the expository incompleteness and hyper-periodization characteristic of previous commentariesʼ presentations of Schelling are merely symptoms of a reluctance to accept the nature-philosophyʼs fundamental status. Accordingly, the majority of Grantʼs engagement with rival secondary literature focuses on its evaluations of the nature-philosophyʼs signiﬁcance (e.g. whether it is depicted as an autonomous ontological enterprise or a mere extension of transcendentalism). But although such a strategy is necessary given the objective, it is not sufﬁcient on its own. By passing on a chance to criticize non-naturalistic interpretations of Schelling such as those of Slavoj Žižek, Peter Dews and Jason Wirth, Grant also misses the opportunity to explain the apparently non-naturalistic elements of Schellingʼs thought upon which those interpretations seize. For example, Grantʼs contention that the Philosophical Inquiries into the Nature of Human Freedom and the Ages of the World operate on a naturalistic (and, speciﬁcally, geological) basis is compellingly defended, as is the assertion of continuity between earlier works and these texts via the latterʼs ʻabyss of forcesʼ being the cosmological antecedent to the formerʼs ʻpure productivityʼ. But what Grant does not address are the clearly visible theological strains of these two texts, concerned as they are with the conditions of the possibility of a personal god. Furthermore, Schellingʼs later philosophies of mythology and revelation, usually considered to be even more theologically motivated, receive much less attention. To be fair, the mere presence of these elements in Schellingʼs work is certainly not fatal for Grantʼs reconstruction, but their absence from his exposition does render it incomplete. A more effective approach would have sought to demonstrate their ultimate amenability to Grantʼs project, or would have exposed their illegitimacy in Schellingʼs by way of an internal critique.
Nevertheless, Philosophies of Nature after Schelling sets a new standard for Schelling scholarship. More than this, it is an important work of philosophy in its own right, for all its problems. The book closes with the words: ʻSchelling is not a forerunner of anything, but a precursor of philosophical solutions, or “experiments in dynamic physics”, yet to come.ʼ There is reason to hope that Grant will keep the promise implicit in this declaration.
Only what acts thinksAlberto Toscano, The Theatre of Production: Philosophy and Individuation between Kant and Deleuze, Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2006. xiii + 249 pp., £45.00 hb., 1 4039 9780 2.
Works such as this, along with the renewed interest in speculative metaphysicians like Whitehead and Bergson, have begun to redeﬁne the project of contemporary metaphysics, on the basis of four claims of particular importance. First, there can be no aprioristic exclusions from its ambit: metaphysics proves itself in its extensity, and any restrictions thereupon can only disqualify it as metaphysics. Second, and derivatively, the engagement with nature is essential: metaphysics is not other than physics, but rather the phusis of the All, the nature of nature; accordingly, metaphysics without nature is a priori inadequate. Third, if the principle is the atom of metaphysics, a ﬁeld theory must supplant it. Finally, the post-metaphysical settlement into which both the main traditions in philosophy slumped at the end of the last century must be countered, and its post-Kantian development reoriented.
In these terms, Theatre of Production proposes nothing less than a confounding of Aristotleʼs denial that there could be a ʻscience of the individualʼ by impugning Kantʼs restriction of judging natural purposes to a regulative use of speculative reason, and pursuing instead a metaphysics based not on given existents, but on ontogenesis. Toscanoʼs metaphysical recommendations echo developments in the philosophy of biology that seek to refocus the problems of molecular biology around ontogeny rather than phylogeny (e.g. Lenny Moss, What Genes Canʼt Do, 2003) so as to focus on individualʼs ability to evolve rather than on supposed trans-generationally subsistent entities. Just as this Platonism of molecular biology denies the historicity of the laws of nature, so Aristotelian substances deny the individuation of productivity. Already three principles of a metaphysics of ontogenesis emerge. First, ontology cannot be pursued as a science of being qua being without failing in regard to determination (the elimination of the science of the individual entails an ontology without entities). Second, failures of determination equally arise from the relegation of speculation to the domain of analogy (the determination of the domains of reason, not of being) as from any commitment to the Absolute. Third, avoiding the Heideggerian verdict that it is sufﬁcient to hypostatize ontological difference, Theatre of Productionʼs central hypothesis is that determination is satisﬁed only through the immanent productivity of a consequently particular individuality. To this Toscano tentatively gives the name of a ʻsuperior nominalismʼ.
The problem at the base of this book is this: how to understand the ʻoperations of individuation without the inaugural presupposition that these operations may be captured by a point-like idea or principleʼ? The proposed solution is ʻto persevere in the thinking of the unity of being and concept … from the standpoint of individual differenceʼ. Only by attending to the operations of individuation as operations, that is, do we generate an adequate typology of the operations not of being as such, but of this becoming, this productivity. Accordingly, alloying a concept of ʻrecursive evolutionʼ taken from the philosophy of computation with an individuating account of Parmenidean unity, the book proposes an ontology based on the recursion of generic operations in thought and being. Since operation recurs upon operation, the assumption of a product other than the productivity of operations constitutes a transcendental illusion, falsely withdrawn from productivity to stand over and against it.
The problem this entails is the following: is this a universal or a particular science of the individual? If there are grounds for asserting the particularity of the science of the particular, they derive from the determination to avoid abstraction from the immanent context – the theatre – of productivity. Despite this ʻtranscendental materialistʼ critique of the separation of product and productivity, there remains a confessed ʻbiophilosophicalʼ, albeit anti-organicist, focus. In part, this is to maintain the advantages of an immanence of ontogenesis in being, experience and consciousness; the risk, however, is a nature divided by a biophilosophical imperative. That is, as Toscano urges against Cassirer, if one ontic kind is acknowledged as primary for the metaphysics of ontogenesis, then the critical strictures against a transcendence of product over productivity are vitiated. Whether physicalistically grounded on a materialism regarding the occasions of consciousness, strategically on the location of the problem, or ethico-politically in the essential ʻdramatiz[ation of] the process of individutionʼ, biophilosophy leaves nature riven not between the organic and the inorganic but – inquiring as to ʻwhat is living and what is dead in biophilosophyʼ – between those regions of being wherein the formal and the abstract consciously arise, and those where they do not. The immanence of abstraction to conscious production – an apperception governed by individuation rather than unity – thus restricts ʻthe unity of being and conceptʼ. The problem becomes how the two inhere in a singular nature, just as it was for Kant: is it only where nature attains a ʻhighestʼ individuation that it acts? Toscanoʼs solution is that the abstract problem of thought and being is posed as an ʻoriginal dualityʼ that is only ʻconcretely resolvedʼ. Finally, however, it is ʻthought itselfʼ that ʻmust… construct both the problematic ﬁelds of individuation and their solutionsʼ. Thus the question ʻwhat is the place of thinking?ʼ is answered through a further question, ʻwho acts in the theatre of production?ʼ, and being becomes the exclusive passion of thinking. Here, then, the second of the problems a metaphysics must satisfy comes into focus in so far as it confronts the fourth: even allowing the proposed ʻmaterialization of intentionʼ, a riven nature is the primary legacy of post-Kantian metaphyiscs.
Although the insistence on the movements of thought and the immanent determination of concrete particularity cannot but recall Hegel, it is the ʻenduring legacy of Kantianismʼ that for Toscano forms the matrix of engagement here. Countering Badiouʼs premissing of metaphysicsʼ future on the rejection of the critical philosophy, ﬁve elements of this legacy stand out with particular clarity. These are: (1) the problems of immanence, reoriented around matrices of production rather than the legitimacy of critique; (2) the powerful Marxian echo of a corresponding reorientation of critique around the problem of production; (3) ontologyʼs locus as acts or ʻoperationsʼ of production (esse sequitur operare); (4) experience, taking up the baton from Deleuzeʼs ʻsuperior empiricismʼ, as the guarantor of the immanence of thoughtas-operation; and (5) in consequence, the guiding question of a critical philosophy of the operations of productivity as ʻwho acts?ʼ
It is in the last of these that the particularity of Toscanoʼs determination of the problem comes into focus. Announcing early on its concern with biophilosophy, Theatre of Production proposes that an operationalist ontology devolve from operating onta, from living beings. This speciﬁcation is certainly not conducted under the rubric of Lebensphilosophie, as the critical engagement with current revisionist Nietzscheans demonstrates. The problem is instead pursued through the problems of causation philosophically bequeathed by Kantʼs ﬁnally ʻas ifʼ organicism, alongside the scientiﬁc ʻsolutionsʼ that so many unequivocally locate in the theory of autopoiesis (here refreshingly critiqued). If this does provide a solution, Toscano correctly points out, it does so only phenomenologically, and ignores the ontological dimensions of the problem, making no advance whatever on the condition that the philosophy of nature was left in by Kant. Be this as it may, we thus have an initial answer to the question posed above: this is a particularist ʻscience of the individualʼ. The grounds of this particularity are not incidental or ontically contingent but transcendental, however, in that an operationalist ontology cannot consistently be held to act on non-operational beings without conceding its regionality with respect to Being; this is why a ʻtranscendental materialismʼ is compelled to conceive matter as either activity or operation.
Accordingly, the bookʼs forensics of Kantʼs philosophy is itself critical, imposing productivist ʻstrainsʼ on the ʻenduring legacyʼ. Speciﬁcally, an operationalist Parmenideanism imposes an identity of knowing and acting, making ʻbeingʼ transitive, and entailing the transfer of ontology from atomistic questions of being to operational ﬁelds of becoming. From this it follows ﬁrst that production is material rather than reducibly cognitive (paraphrasing an early thesis in the book, ʻgenesis is larger than epistemologyʼ); and second that matter is not entity but operation. It is as attempted satisfactions of these operationalist strains that Toscano conducts some extraordinarily lucid analyses of the contributions of Whiteheadʼs philosophy of organism (the difﬁculty of which task cannot but provoke sympathy among readers of Process and Reality) and Peirceʼs evolutive cosmology.
Pursuing, then, a materialist philosophy of production by transcendental means yields a multiply strained Kantianism: critique remains, but is oriented around production; the transcendental ceases to be simply an epistemogenic method, and is materialized (ʻtranscendental materialismʼ), and the dualism for which Kant was notorious among the immediate post-Kantians is abolished not along the lines of an identity of thought and being, but as an asymmetrical identity of operativity and cognition: asymmetrical because operativity is the generated prius of cognition, so that identity becomes a dynamic concept measuring the strains in immanence. The question is: how far is Kant thus strained? Kantʼs own manufacturing ethos of cognition – ʻhe who would know the world must ﬁrst manufacture itʼ – is apparent in the never-completed Transition between Metaphysics and Physics, as the Opus postumum would have been called. And it was Fichte who ʻoperationalizedʼ Kantianism, viewing himself as its legitimate successor, under the primacy of the practical. For Fichte, too, ontology became a ﬁeld of determination by a thinking secondary to acting. While not suggesting Toscanoʼs outlined metaphysics is identical to Fichteʼs, there are parallels: Fichte too would not extend the operations of determination beyond those immanent to complex biological phenomena; the primacy of activity is not considered by Fichte as reducibly an ethical, but rather an ontological project, similarly pursued by transcendental means; but whereas Fichte pursued this through Idealism, Toscano here launches a transcendental materialism.
The problematic element can be demonstrated by something the notorious Stirling wrote in his Secret of Hegel: ʻThe electricity was a product – a product of your energy, of your operation, of your process, of your experiment.ʼ First, then, Idealism is equally capable of a genetic ontology premissed on production. Second, the electrical operativity of nature extends beyond the immanence of cognition and action, unless the former can recapture its prius in reﬂection. The question how far operativity extends (as far as the immanent genesis of electricity?) may either be taken to settle the limits of immanence, or to demonstrate the requirement that a materialism extend beyond them (this of course is why we have here to do with a transcendental rather than a ʻcrudeʼ materialism). On this scale, to settle with the former trajectory is to settle with the Fichtean solution, making it a matter of indifference whether the resulting programme is called ʻidealistʼ or ʻmaterialistʼ. Ultimately, it is the restrictive use of Parmenidean identity – only what acts thinks – that differentiates them. The Idealist inheritance offers this alternative: nature becomes the prius determinant of all, including abstract operations, exacerbating the asymmetry of thought and operativity at the cost of immanence.
Merely to problematize these issues in this work is, however, something to be celebrated, not only in that it conﬁrms that, for all philosophyʼs recent posturing, metaphysics requires engagement with the still unsettled bequest of Kantʼs philosophy of nature in the third Critique; but also for the sheer exuberant joy of the reafﬁrmed powers of thinking. In its spartan lucidity and the complexity of its engagements, in the problems that it re-energizes, this is a model work of post-anxious metaphysics, which contributes greatly to the re-emergence of speculative metaphysics after an age of austerity.
Iain hamilton grant
Ha, bloody haDavid Cunningham and Nigel Mapp, eds, Adorno and Literature, Continuum, London and New York, 2006. xii + 203 pp., £60.00 hb., 0 8264 8752
1. ^ A slightly shop-soiled anecdote often repeated to students at the start of term by cheerfully optimistic lecturers in philosophy departments relates that one of Dr Johnsonʼs acquaintances once said to him, presumably in a pretty complacent tone, ʻI too have tried in my time to be a philosopher, but, I donʼt know how, cheerfulness was always breaking in.ʼ At present, as the example of Slavoj Žižek might indicate, cheerfulness frequently interrupts and even shapes the practice of philosophy, at least in the public sphere, and in doing so it doesnʼt necessarily compromise its intellectual reputation, its claims to be philosophical. Indeed, postmodernism – the formal or stylistic qualities of which Žižek adeptly, if rather riskily, mimics in pursuing his critique of its ideological content – has made philosophical playfulness, if not cheerfulness exactly, appear almost imperative: ʻEnjoy!ʼ In this climate, the playful pleasure to be derived from reading philosophy, particularly in populist formats, sometimes seems almost compulsory, like the engagement with popular culture from which it is generally indissociable. Harry Potter and Philosophy: If Aristotle Ran Hogwarts is the dispiriting title in one publisherʼs series on ʻPopular Culture and Philosophyʼ. In RP 109 Ben Watson rightly complained that books like The Simpsons and Philosophy, a collection published under the same imprint, smacked ultimately of ʻacademic condescensionʼ, in spite of its self-conscious attempts ʻto mak[e] the ﬁercest philosophical systems sound friendly, even humorousʼ.
Adorno, who mercifully doesnʼt make it into the index of either of these volumes, once stated, acidly enough, that in the conditions of the culture industry ʻfun is a medicinal bathʼ. ʻApplied philosophyʼ, as it is called in the publishersʼ catalogues, slightly more rigorous but no less therapeutic than this kind of fun, is instead perhaps a recreational trip to the gym. Cheerfulness does not often break in on Adorno. He is a philosopher for whom all laughter is effectively a form of Schadenfreude, an expression of relief that one has momentarily escaped humiliation or persecution, and therefore an admission that one is complicit with the forces of oppression. ʻThere is laughter because there is nothing to laugh atʼ, he concludes in Dialectic of Enlightenment, in a sentence that, because it so readily conﬁrms his self-satisﬁed caricature of the professional philosopher, might have delighted Dr Johnsonʼs friend. The same could be said of cheerfulness, which from this perspective, the quietly apocalyptic standpoint of someone for whom ʻthe fully enlightened earth radiates disaster triumphantʼ, is the purely reﬂexive response of the cheerless that Adorno typiﬁed as ʻjovial denialʼ. Cheerfulness, derived from the Latin cara, meaning countenance, stiffens for Adorno into the cracked grin of a mask, like the ones that encase the faces of Beckettʼs comic characters as they confront the unspeakable horrors of contemporary history. Reading Adorno, then, one recalls Beckettʼs Belacqua, who set out to count all the smiles he could ﬁnd in Dante. In a conference report in RP 124, Esther Leslie referred to a talk entitled ʻOh Itʼs Not That Bad: Adorno and Laughterʼ. Apparently it is.
In ʻthe epoch of postmodernismʼ, Fredric Jameson remarked a quarter of a century ago, ʻthe question about poetry after Auschwitz has been replaced with that of whether you could bear to read Adorno and Horkheimer next to the pool.ʼ Thankfully, the thirteen contributors to Adorno and Literature do not appear to have taken their copies of the Notes to Literature to the poolside. There is nothing facile or fashionably playful about their efforts to demonstrate Adornoʼs importance to the theory and practice of contemporary literary criticism; not least because all of them reafﬁrm his commitment to the historical task of ascertaining the truth-content of artworks. As the bookʼs editors emphasize in its Introduction, literary works contain a ʻtruthʼ that, according to Adorno, is in the end resistant to the process of autonomization, because as literary works they are ʻhistorically constituted and transformableʼ, especially in so far as their individual aspects are inseparable from the collective or social aspects of language. Each literary work, as Cunningham and Mapp point out, therefore ʻstand[s] constitutively in need of philosophical interpretation or criticismʼ. And the intellectual and political responsibility assumed by the critic is in consequence of grave importance, since in excavating the artworkʼs truth-content he or she must seek to release both its critical and its utopian potential. ʻSuch an emphatic notion of “truth”ʼ, the editors speculate, ʻis perhaps inadmissible to the hegemonic forms of literary criticism and theory today – to a deconstructive emphasis on radical “undecidability”, or to a cultural studies committed to the “demystiﬁcation” of all truth claims through limitless discursivization.ʼ
This elegant and ﬁnely argued collection of essays, which sends the reader back to the Notes to Literature, in particular, with a sharpened appetite, thus takes Adornoʼs responsibilities as a critic seriously, although it is respectful rather than pious in tone. Here Adorno is neither unthinkingly appropriated to a post-structuralist position that dismisses all totalizing thought nor thoughtlessly attacked for maintaining his critical distance from the commodiﬁed forms of capitalist mass culture. In a series of scrupulous readings of Adornoʼs reﬂections on literature, which have been noticeably neglected in the recent reconsideration of his thought among anglophone scholars, they communicate the sophistication of his criticism and its own critical and utopian potential for literary studies, at a time when the hegemonic status of postmodernist thought appears to be collapsing.
The book is divided into three sections. The ﬁrst, on ʻPhilosophy, Aesthetics and Literatureʼ, constructs some of the theoretical foundations of the volume by situating literature in relation to Adornoʼs aesthetic theory more generally. It opens with a piece by Stewart Martin, who offers a useful philosophical genealogy of the ʻmodern system of the artsʼ, before arguing convincingly that ʻAdornoʼs conception of philosophy is conceived very self-consciously in terms of its linguistic formʼ, and that ʻits relation to language and literature is fundamental to his conception of artʼ. Martin Ryle and Kate Soper then explore some of the pedagogical implications of Adornoʼs critical example, in a chapter on ʻLiterary Valueʼ that – in spite of a disappointingly truncated practical exercise in interpreting Kazuo Ishiguroʼs most recent ﬁction ʻwith, and against, Adornoʼ – helpfully, and imaginatively, identiﬁes his attitudes to elite and mass culture as an important resource in the task of ʻhold[ing] out against the practice, so general in contemporary academic literary-cultural studies, of treating the work of literary art as one more instance of discourse in generalʼ.
The remaining chapters in the opening section pursue the bookʼs underlying interest in using Adorno to reclaim the truth-content of art, in both its cognitive and non-cognitive senses. Andrew Bowie, focusing on the relations of music and literature that Adorno highlighted in the title Notes to Literature, uses him against the post-structuralist position to assert that ʻartʼs importance lies in its extending the demand for “truth” beyond what can be known, in the sense of being classiﬁed by concepts, towards other relationships to people and things.ʼ And Eva Geulen, after diagnosing the political reasons for the ʻattack on genreʼ that prevailed in the twentieth century, suggestively argues for the critical-utopian value of the concept as explored in Aesthetic Theory, on the grounds that ʻgenres ﬁgure as an emblem, however weak, not just of unity, in some abstract sense, but of a concrete community.ʼ Geulenʼs article contains a detailed account of Adornoʼs reﬂections on lyric poetry, a form that receives extensive, highly productive commentary from all of the contributors to the bookʼs second, central section on ʻPoetry and Poeticsʼ. There, Howard Caygill explores Adornoʼs understanding of the dialectical qualities of lyric poetry, a type of utterance that, he argues, lies between the subjective and objective aspects of language and also constitutes a ʻmeeting point of sound and imageʼ. In so doing he demonstrates, intriguingly, that Adornoʼs proposition that to write lyric poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric haunts ʻhis readings of lyric poetry prior to Auschwitzʼ. Simon Jarvis, who conducts a phenomenally attentive close reading of the musical form of ʻResolution and Independenceʼ, uses Wordsworthʼs concept of ʻphilosophic songʼ to think about whether it is possible ʻnot to put thinking into verse, but to think in verseʼ. Robert Kaufman, in a rich essay on ʻMusicality, Conceptuality, Critical Agencyʼ, similarly rereads a poem by Wordsworth, among others, in order to assess the relationship of the lyric form to capitalist modernity: ʻHow,ʼ he asks, ʻspontaneously yet rigorously, and with the utmost concision, to make thought sing and to make song think?ʼ And at the end of this section Iain Macdonald revisits the Adorno–Heidegger debate (ʻa debate that never took placeʼ), examining Paul Celan as a kind of missing link between these antagonists, and provocatively claiming that the poet helps us to understand the ways in which they ʻconverge on the question of how possibility relates to actuality by showing us how language can reach the possible in the real deployment of words around suppressed possibilitiesʼ.
The ﬁnal section of Adorno and Literature, entitled ʻModernity, Drama and the Novelʼ, could scarcely be as tightly organized as the section on poetics, a section that evokes a sense of sustained intellectual dialogue that is all too rare in essay collections of this kind. Paul Flemingʼs chapter reconstructs another polemical debate that never took place, this time between Adorno and the brilliant conservative critic Max Kommerell, through their asymmetrical but nonetheless parallel readings of Faust in terms of the idea of forgetting. In his chapter, Timothy Hall recapitulates a debate that did take place, and that has taken place on many occasions since the 1930s, the one between Adorno and Georg Lukács, but interestingly argues that, thanks in part to the disproportionate inﬂuence of the collection Aesthetics and Politics, the relation-ship of these pre-eminent Marxist aestheticians has been misconstrued. For both men, according to Hall, and in spite of the contrast between the characteristic literary canons that each of them constructed, ʻthe critical potential of the artwork derives from respecting the workʼs claim to autonomy rather than attempting to dissolve itʼ, so that in effect their respective assessments of the novel form in particular comprise the torn halves of a consistent aesthetic. Nigel Mapp then renegotiates Adornoʼs interpretation of Endgame in a chapter on the logic of disenchantment which neatly explains the tangled dialectic of meaning and meaninglessness dramatized by Beckett. The ﬁnal contributions to the collection, by Timothy Bewes and David Cunningham, use Adorno to address problems in the contemporary novel. The former interrogates the notion of ʻlatenessʼ in relation to V.S. Naipaulʼs The Enigma of Arrival, in an essay that has the effect of complicating, if not fatally undermining, Edward Saidʼs rather limited ideas on so-called ʻlate styleʼ; ideas interrupted of course by his death. And the latter, concluding the volume in an ambitious article that questions whether the European novel can still be described as ʻa present forceʼ, looks back at the ﬁction of W.G. Sebald in order to summarize the ʻdouble bind of the modern artworkʼ, which is compelled both to register the contemporary crisis of prose ﬁction and to ʻrely upon such a category for [its] own historical intelligibilityʼ.
In the face of post-structuralist attempts to render Adorno more playful, perhaps even more cheerful, often through emphasizing forms of ʻundecidabilityʼ, these essays communicate a commitment to Adornoʼs sense of the heavy intellectual and political responsibilities of the critic. Their enthusiasm is for his contribution to this form of literary criticism and its rigours. This enthusiasm implies a certain political optimism that is not inappropriate. Adorno might not have been the most cheerful of philosophers, for obvious historical and biographical reasons, but he nonetheless insisted on artʼs ʻlightheartednessʼ, although he used the formulation in a characteristically precise and counter-intuitive sense: ʻWhat is lighthearted in art is, if you like, the opposite of what one might assume it to be: not its content but its demeanour, the abstract fact that it is art at all, that it opens out over the reality to whose violence it bears witness at the same time.ʼ It is in this sense, then, that it is true to say that art, if not philosophy, is innately cheerful for Adorno. Its constitutive countenance is itself a joyful refusal of capitalism.
Hegel rulesEva Geulen, The End of Art: Readings in a Rumor after Hegel, trans. James McFarland, Stanford University Press, Stanford CA, 2006.
This book delineates a few notable attempts to try and overturn or reshape the ʻend of artʼ as an authentic historical event in Hegelʼs wake. It aims to provide a ʻreconstruction of certain decisive stations in this ﬁgure of thoughtʼ and of its ʻpotential rehabilitationʼ, in Nietzsche, Benjamin, Adorno and Heidegger (as well as in Hölderlin, the non-opted-for Romantic alternative). The questions this entails are, Geulen states, considered ʻas questions of formʼ, as ʻprologomena toward a phenomenology of the end of art as rumorʼ. Even for such thinkers themselves (all within the German tradition), she argues, it is not always obvious to what degree they come, in the end, to play by Hegelʼs own rules. As Paul de Man once suggested, perhaps ʻmost of us are Hegelians and quite orthodox ones at thatʼ. If Geulenʼs approach is certainly subtle, and shows a keen eye (or ear, since it is ʻrumourʼ that is at issue) for this game, which she plays on Hegelʼs behalf, the rest of the book is then bound to play by this rule.
The strategy pursued by Geulen is to brand each of the readers of Hegel she has chosen (whose ʻcanonical statusʼ is, however, somewhat apologetically described as ʻmerely an arbitrary signʼ) with a certain epithet that is said to be a deﬁning characteristic of their philosophy of art as a whole. Thus Nietzsche is presented as being in a ʻretrograde motionʼ, Benjamin in the midst of ʻcounterplayʼ, Adorno lost in ʻafterthoughtʼ, and Heidegger as working out ʻthe same end and the other beginningʼ of his thinking. If these labels (which the reader adopts in advance) are unpacked just a little, we ﬁnd behind them different versions of dialectics and/or antithetical modes of philosophical persuasion which, each in its own way, attempt to move beyond the original place (of the Hegelian form found at their core) but in the end return only to reveal the mechanism that ﬁrst makes them work. For instance, Benjaminʼs ʻmodelʼ is shown to be sustained by a dialectics of (allegorical) presentation which simultaneously disowns tradition as an ideological ruse but also effectively re-founds its own formal unity in the end by (counter-)playing off that ʻtraditionʼ. In contrast to this, but by virtue of a similar mechanism, the ʻworldopeningʼ theses of Heideggerian being are qualiﬁed by a discourse of preservation that forever betrays their ontological immediacy (ʻthe same endʼ) by returning them to sheer form (ʻthe other beginningʼ). Now, obviously one might think it a huge disfavour to thinkers drafted by Geulen onto Hegelʼs team to dismiss them as having little more to offer than certain styles of cheerleading for the master. Yet this is not really Geulenʼs concern; she is rather more occupied with her own argument. And it is quickly evident that much of her argumentative weight falls, in particular, on a speciﬁc ʻdiscoveryʼ in Hegel and, subsequently, the transposition of that ʻdiscoveryʼ in(to) later generations. This ﬁnd is the overdetermination of the end of symbolic art in the ideality of classical art. As she puts it: ʻThis is the realm of symbolic protoart, which not only provides classical art with the necessary material for its labor of transformative sublation, but also supplies the conditions through which the identiﬁcation of form and meaning advances to a transhermeneutic ideal.ʼ Inasmuch as the realm of symbolic protoart is ʻa timeʼ and ʻa placeʼ where ʻquestions of interpretation and its possibility are historically and systematically at homeʼ, it irredeemably breaks the clean, elevated category of classical art and brings it closer to whoever experiences it.
If we consider the consequences of this discovery for the experience of art in Hegelian terms, it means that instead of simply being freely whisked away somewhere else (beyond the mere ʻthisʼ into something greater), the event would be manifested in present aesthetic actuality and activate the subject on the spot in a totally different way. This would also happen in the case of classical art, so undermining Hegelʼs categorical valorization of it. ʻGreat artʼ could be an art of any age if deﬁned in line with these rules. And, perceptively enough, Geulen does argue that Hegel stays blind to his own game in respect to this idea: when ideal art is affected by the ʻnecessary materialʼ of the non-ideal, no ʻlabor of transformative sublationʼ can be said to come into being without the formerʼs ʻconditionsʼ. In consequence, symbolic art remains at the formal heart of classical art without ever ending or having ended, without allowing itself to be surpassed or left behind. Moreover, as the now quasi-transcendental idea of the ideality of classical art would remain at the dying heart of the Romantic end of art as well, the different arts are never able to escape or end one another, not even in the time of Hegelʼs own lamenting. They are just as ideal and affected. This is a Hegelian universal formalism which Hegel himself apparently fails to see, and Geulen pursues the argument in order to locate and criticize later thinkersʼ inheritance of this particular aesthetic resistance.
It would not be expedient to catalogue here the Hegelian nuts and bolts of all of the examples given by Geulen in her readings of Hegelʼs (sometimes reluctant) intellectual progeny. And, in fact, any mere underlining of the particularly ʻHegelian thingʼ in, for instance, Benjaminʼs Origin of German Tragic Drama or Heideggerʼs ʻThe Origin of the Work of Artʼ would fail to observe its own rule as to where it ʻstartsʼ (as a ʻHegelian thingʼ to be applied) and where it ʻendsʼ (as the ʻother thinkerʼs thingʼ to which the ʻHegelian thingʼ was once applied). Certainly something like this could be done but all too easily the result might slip into such stuttering redundancies as Geulen apparently parodies: [In Nietzscheʼs] Birth of Tragedy, its ironic play with itself, no longer belongs to tragedy, whether as the tragedy of tragedy or the tragedy of the tragedy of tragedy. As Nietzsche assumes an ironic distance from all tragedy and from tragic knowledge as well, his book becomes comedy.
Much of The End of Art is focused, then, on how attempts (including Hegelʼs own) to escape the demands of Hegelian form almost invariably fail by way of certain overdetermined concepts and returns of critical form. In some cases, as with Nietzsche, there is an attempted escape into a form of comedy which would break with all claims made concerning an authentic ʻend of artʼ or of any other such tragic knowledge. However, this escape can establish nothing assertable or solid about its own form, whether cognitive or epistemological, regarding what exactly instigated it or to what purpose it was performed. Indeed, if it did, the assertion would already be expressing a different thing, the comedy retreating backwards from itself. This is the ʻretrograde motionʼ criticized by Geulen. As the Hegelian–Nietzschean event, it cannot denote the comical escape from somewhere ʻelseʼ into ʻitʼ, but takes place as a comic form that refuses to lend itself to being thought about. However, the ʻactualityʼ of the eventʼs occurrence is affected to its very core by the moments of tragedy redundantly uttered in its course.
Geulenʼs survey is a highly admirable study of the impact of Hegelʼs famous thesis on the history of criticism, despite (or by way of?) the limitations of a few seemingly determinate labels used to push the rereading of some important thinkers in a very particular direction. In fact, as it turns out, it is therein that the potential for parody actually lies. As Geulen writes of her canonical thinkers, ʻat the moment in which [their] “discourse enters into reality”ʼ, the language of that discourse is ʻforced to treat both reality and thought as if they were language, as if they had the same nameʼ [my emphasis]. At this point, as Adorno knew, the discourse to be established is already lost to its rational establishment by the ʻafterthoughtʼ of its unmoored nature; in this place, ʻ[d]iscourse is haunted by what it must forget if it is to enter reality as discourseʼ. The reality of any discourse that wants to settle something is always already broken and cannot be ﬁxed just by remembering to be different, as wouldbe post-Hegelian thinkers have attempted to do in their precursorʼs wake. The ﬁnal score for Geulen is thus that there is no ʻend of artʼ, or ʻend of Xʼs dominationʼ, or ʻbeginning of new ageʼ, or ʻbeginning of Xʼs rehabilitationʼ ultimately to anchor any discourse in. Instead, there are countless leagues of ghosts, bandying back and forth on the timeless court of radical form like everything else in the game of thinking.
More, less, or something elseHenri Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life, Volume III: From Modernity to Modernism (Towards a Metaphilosophy of Daily Life), trans. Gregory Elliott, Verso,
London and New York, 2005. xxxiv + 179 pp., £16.99 hb., 1 859984 590
8. ^ John Roberts, Philosophizing the Everyday: Revolutionary Praxis and the Fate of Cultural Theory, Pluto Press, London, 2006. 147 pp., £16.00 pb., 0 745 32410 X.
The title of this review might sum up, albeit perhaps non-sequentially, the philosophical moods of the three volumes of Henri Lefebvreʼs Critique of Everyday Life (published in France 1947, 1961 and 1981) while also serving to highlight something about John Robertsʼs arguments in Philosophizing the Everyday. In the early pages of this third volume, Lefebvre wonders aloud about the status of ʻthe realʼ for critical thinking. After sniping implicitly at Lacanian psychoanalysis and the scientiﬁc Marxism of Louis Althusser (which he thoroughly detested), Lefebvre asks:
What does the word ʻrealʼ mean today? It is the given, the sensible and practical, the actual, the perceptible surface. As for daily life, the general opinion is that it forms part of reality. But does it coincide with it? No, for it contains something more, something less, and something else: lived experience, ﬂeeting subjectivity – emotions, affects, habits, and forms of behaviour. We may add that it also includes abstraction.
In the next breath, Lefebvre adds that such abstractions must certainly take into account commodities and money, possessing as they do an ʻabstract dimensionʼ, and images too: ʻa multiplicity of images, without thereby vanishing into the “imaginary”ʼ. Critical thinking, in Lefebvreʼs view, had allowed itself to be trumped by ʻthe realʼ. Having given up on concrete imagination, critical thought now contented itself with endlessly chasing its own fascinating tail down the rabbit-hole of the imaginary.
In 1981, Lefebvre looked around and nearly all he saw, nearly all he felt, was reiﬁed thought for a reiﬁed world. All that was once ﬂuid and in process was now frozen into postures, broken off in chunks. ʻEveryday life has lost the quality and vigour it once possessed, and dissipated, like the space that has been smashed to bits and then sold in pieces. What charms we have lost.ʼ But then, having set up his readers for what promises to be a thoroughly depressing ride, Lefebvre switches gear abruptly. Refusing both nostalgic lamentations and futurological longings, he focuses on the ʻpossibilitiesʼ (the real possibilities) alive in the interstices of the present, endeavouring to think in and through the innumerable anxieties and tragedies of waking life. For Lefebvre in 1981, philosophy had already missed its moment of realization. Revolution (volume 1) had turned to subversion (volume 2), which had then turned to something more or less akin to tragedy (volume 3). But ʻtragic knowledgeʼ, Lefebvre concludes, ʻdoes not betoken melancholy scienceʼ. Conditions, it seemed, were never more ripe, the contrary never more pregnant. Lived contradictions had spread by now, he thought, so far, so deep and so wide, that they struck everywhere with rhythms that were increasingly discernible by even the most recalcitrant of souls. Quantiﬁcation (especially of labour time and productivity) had run rampant, become almost absolute, and the qualitative nature of space and time were seemingly, virtually eliminated. But, Lefebvre lingers for a moment to add, ʻthis “virtually” is very important … The “virtually” means that this limit [of absolute quantiﬁcation] is unattainable, and that something else is always possible.ʼ This virtual inhabits the real as possibilities yet to be fully divulged; the virtual offers a glimpse at an irreducible ʻsomething elseʼ within this horizon.
Such words, even such sentiments, might simply waft away as quasi-inspirational literature for untethered post-critical thinking, if not for the uncanny prescience of so many of Lefebvreʼs diagnoses of the complexly material (and necessarily ʻabstractʼ!) continuities and discontinuities just then beginning to wend their way through – but, now, a quarter century later, more readily recognizable within – the realms of capital and global markets, modes of governance, aesthetic sensibilities, technological advancements, socio-economic class compositions and decompositions, and, of course, theory itself. Thus, instead of sounding like a lone (if not especially long) whistle in the gathering dark, Lefebvreʼs third volume of the Critique of Everyday Life becomes, by its own lights, ʻa metaphilosophy of daily lifeʼ written in a kind of sketchy shorthand for post-philosophy-cum-praxis (by carrying philosophy beyond itself, past its own unrealized moment). As such, Lefebvre ultimately hands over to us an open-ended project left to be realized, in multiple and undoubtedly incongruous ways, as ʻsomething elseʼ.
John Robertsʼs Philosophizing the Everyday is one such ʻsomething elseʼ. His task is an excavation of the past in order to aid a reinvigoration of critical-conceptual resources in the present and for the future, as ʻthe promissory space of total revolutionary praxisʼ. Written as one long arc (stretching across an almost sixty-year timespan: 1917–75), Roberts provides a densely woven narration that gathers up three especially resonant moments/movements in the evolution of ʻthe everydayʼ: the Russian Revolution and its wider reverberations across Europe and North America (1917–39), the antifascist liberation of post-World War II Europe (from 1945 onward, particularly in France and Italy), and the almost-giddy-with-desperation counter-hegemonic convulsions of the 1960s (peaking of course in 1968, but persisting in all sorts of meaningful ways well into the mid-1970s). Thus, Roberts wants to recover the intricacies of the often far-ﬂung story of ʻthe everydayʼ up until the moment when it apparently lost the plot, circa 1975.
Like most tales of loss (or lost opportunity), this one has its villains or ciphers, here Michel de Certeau (delegated as most representative of the paradigm shift) and Cultural Studies. But neither one, alone or combined, can properly fulﬁl their corrosive roles in this narrative quite as completely as Roberts has cast them. Whatever the predicament of the concept of the everyday since the mid-1970s, the particulars of this are, at once, more internal and more external to Robertsʼs historical narrative than he allows. For instance, it might be worth ʻsomething moreʼ to consider, as Lefebvre did, Althusser and structuralism as signiﬁcant theoretical detours very much interior to fundamentally praxis-focused debates in Western Marxism of the late 1960s and into the 1970s. This is one reason why de Certeau and Cultural Studies arrive at Robertsʼs shores feeling more like secondary interlopers than prime forces capable of appreciably shifting the critical winds all by themselves. This is not, of course, to argue that they have been without any impact on contemporary discourses of the everyday; rather that Roberts offers up broad conclusions about the present state of the everyday that belie the numerous delicacies and ﬁnely drawn nuances otherwise found in abundance across his bookʼs main arguments.
As for external factors to Robertsʼs plot, they would need to include many of the vital matters raised by Lefebvre in volume 3: namely, neoliberalization, ongoing biopolitical machinations, the uneven rhythms of globalization and urbanization, human rights as ʻrights of differenceʼ, the total informationalization of the everyday, the increasing inescapability of the tragic, and so on. Although Roberts provides a widescreen view of the socio-political context of change between 1917 and 1975, as dynamic shifts of historical continuity and discontinuity, these matters recede into the background. Philosophizing the Everyday is not a ʻwhodunnitʼ. The text is framed, brieﬂy at the beginning and the end, by the (too) immediate apprehension of the guilty suspects, and then the still warm body of the everyday is carefully examined. It is a foreclosed and fated, if not always quite fatal, plot. From the moment of its conception, as Roberts notes in his conclusion, the everyday had been destined for its eventual disappearance, giving way to total revolutionary praxis, and, if it has departed prematurely before this mission has been accomplished, at least ʻthe tropological content of the “everyday” continues to possess extraordinary powers of invocationʼ. In other words, the critic can still ventriloquize the echo of the everydayʼs lost potential.
Lefebvre, however, imagines something else.
Lefebvre concurs that the everyday has passed on. But the philosopher need not hover about its body, conjuring up its spirit-voice, dressing out its entrails, because the body is not elsewhere. We ﬁnd ourselves in/as this body, our body. The everyday thus becomes fully synonymous with biological life or with the problem of life itself: the more-than-corporeal, more-than-human, always beyond itself. As Lefebvre states:
Daily life, the organic body of modern society, summons up its beyond in time and space. The work that is now concluding has consistently adopted this (relatively) optimistic perspective, despite the introduction of tragic knowledge – or, rather, precisely because of it!
In the end, the only option is – as it has always been – something more, nothing else.