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48 Reviews

REVIEWS

FEMINIST FUTURES
Lynne Segal, Is the Future Female?, London, VIrago, 1986.

Lynne Segal, in Is the Future Female?, criticises much contemporary feminism as uniformly celebrating difference between the sexes, and thereby downplaying the changes that have
taken place, historically, in women’s lifes, and the social,
psychological and economic variations amongst women. Offering analyses of the practices and writings of· some radical
feminists, she warns that their project may reinforce ideas of
sexual polarity that feminists in the late 1960s and early 1970s
sought to challenge. Her critique covers a range of views and
campaigns, from the writings of Mary Daly, Adrienne Rich and
Susan Griffin, and their search for women’s harmonious union
with her body, to issues like violence against women, porn,
radical feminist celebrations of motherhood, and the peace
movement Her discussion, though critical, is tempered by an
appreciation of the strength of many of these women and by an
awareness of the extent to which many of their campaigns helped to combat inequality. The book, moreover, is informed
throughout by a detailed narrative of socialist feminist campaigning and a clear statement of many of the aims of
‘women’s liberation’ in the 1970s. In the 1970s, she argues, we
wanted to be in charge of our own lives; this contrasts, she
suggests, with today, when the public face of feminism has
changed: now feminists are concerned with the special nature
of women and their values.

Segal’s critique of radical feminist concerns, then, is
presented in contrast to socialist feminist campaigns, theory
and aims. Her history of socialist feminism, however, whilst
headed ‘Whatever happened to socialist feminism?’, is, unlike
some other recent writing in the same camp, by no means
wholly pessimistic. She recognises that the power relations
between men and women, in Britain in the 1980s, are much as
they were in the early 1970s; that most women remain impoverished, isolated and sexually harassed, that most are still in
part-time employment, and that the Equal Pay Act failed because it ignored the reality of a workforce already divided by
sex. She notes, however, that there have been changes that have
given women greater autonomy. More women, for example,
now work outside the home; men are more involved in
childbirth (80% of fathers now watch the birth of their child);
and women have, to a much greater extent than previously, the
right to choose whether to become mothers.

Segal emphasises, too, the way in which British socialist

42

feminists have had, themselves, to change as a result of their
own recognition of the position of other women. Since the first
black women’s conference in 1979, she points out, many black
feminists have argued that white women succeed at their expense. Black feminists have argued that black families protect
against the racism of the British state; they point out, for exampIe, that earlier ‘Reclaim the the Night’ demonstration had
marched directly through black areas. Socialist feminists have
been forced to learn from and change their positions as a result
of their growing recognition of these past mistakes.

Many features of the book therefore represent a very welcome and positive contribution to feminist debate. There is,
however, one aspect of it that I believe is open to challenge.

Lynne Segal’s book represents, I think, a growing orthodoxy
among socialist feminists (if there still exists such a grouping)
that it is misleading and wrong to generalise about sex and
gender. In a fashion that is reminiscent of Althusser’s denunciation of a range of thinkers from Descartes and Hegel through
the early Marx as ’empiricist’, she labels the writings of Mary
Daly, Dale Spender, Andrea Dworkin, and Adrienne Rich, on
the one hand, but also those of the French feminists Kristeva
and Irigaray, as ‘essentialist’. All of these writers, according to
Segal, improperly make generalisations about women-about
their spirituality, their biology, their language, or their unconscious-that fail to give proper recognition either to the changes
in women’s lives or to the material, social, racial and class differences amongst women. Essentialist feminism, she believes,
downplays collective political struggle in favour of cleaning
our heads of ‘male ideas’ or ‘male values’. She contrasts the
‘essentialist’ project of much contemporary feminism, ‘which
stresses basic differences between men and women and asserts
the moral and spiritual superiority of female experience,
values, character and culture… ‘, with a feminism which ‘stresses the social and economic disadvantage of women and seeks
to change and improve women’s immediate circumstances, not
just in the area of paid work and family life, but by providing
finding for women’s cultural projects, including women’s
safety in the streets, or meeting the needs of particular groups
of women (p. 213).

Just as, earlier, I found Althusser’s classification of Hegel
with Descartes peculiar, because it downplays the significant
differences between these philosophers, so too with Segal’s use
of the label ‘essentialist’. Luce Irigaray’s mystical,
psychoanalytical reading of ‘woman’s imaginary’ is about as

different from Andrea Dworkin’s focus on violence as chalk
from cheese. But it is Lynne’s apparent overall denunciation of
generalising feminism that I find disquieting. Contrary to her
claim, only if, for example, Cynthia Cockburn’s studies of the
exclusion of women from print workers’ work practices are
supplemented by theoretical analyses of class, race and gender
is their impact as great as it could be. Without theoretical understanding, the detailed studies would be just that, and would
have no general import. In fact, despite appearances, and this is
odd, given the strength of her critique of ‘essentialist’

feminism, Lynne does not outlaw generalising projects altogether. Instead, she says: ‘I am not suggesting that the project
of understanding sexual difference is the wrong project for
feminists, but rather that it can mislead us politically unless we
also place it within the historical and political contexts of
women’s resistance to conditions which confine and exploit
us.’ This is fine, but there are feminists labelled as ‘essentialist’

by Segal who have done precisely this: Luce Irigaray’s
writings, for instance, are full of references to strong or not so
strong women-from medieval mysticism through witches to
women’s critiques of Freud-who have ‘resisted’ male attempts to appropriate and define them. In fact none of us, including Lynne herself, is exempt from ‘essentialism’, which it
is broadly defined as the attempt to universalise about the position of women.

One of the refreshing things about Lynne’s book is her
refusal to accept feminist orthodoxies about the past. She reevaluates the feminist critique of the ‘sexual revolution’ of the
1960s, and says: ‘It was my own experience in the sixties, and
that of most of my women friends, that we greatly enjoyed
being able to live openly in sexual relationships with men, and
also enjoyed the more or less frequent forays we chose to make
outside our central relationships at anyone time’ (p. 77). She
suggests that feminists were arguing, in the sixties, that sexual
satisfaction could give a woman greater confidence in herself
and more power in the world-an idea lifted directly from the
raunchy Reichian sixties when The Function of the Orgasm became a bestseller.

If Lynne is simply describing her own experiences here,
and those of a few other women, then it serves as a welcome
antidote to the rather puritanical picture of that period we have
been given by some recent feminist writing. But surely she intends to do more than this. She wants to paint a more general
picture of feminist activity in the 1960s. And here, I think, she
is guilty of an ‘essentialism’ about feminists that masks significant differences amongst us. Some feminists in the sixties did
not perceive themselves as attractive to men and did not,
therefore, leap in and out of bed with them; some were afraid
to do so because they had already suffered an unwanted pregnancy, whilst others were too busy with work, children and
irate husbands to have the opportunity for doing so. Many a
working-class woman who had begun to be active in her local
CR group was unlikely to be able to share in the ‘boring’ (sic)
experience of sleeping with her professor.

If ‘essentialism’ is defined in the way Lynne does, it seems
indeed very difficult to escape from. And there is, I believe, an
important and valuable place for theoretical attempts to make
generalisations about women. Socialists do not criticise Marx
for making generalisations about class; indeed, his analyses are
recognised as providing invaluable theoretical underpinning for
any detailed empirical study of groups of working-class people.

This theorising should not, of course, take place without recognising the differences created by class and race.

The difference between radical and socialist feminists, if
such groupings of women exist at all, surely remains that the
former see the division between the sexes as fundamental to all
oppressions, whilst the latter would regard class and race subordination as being of equal importance to gender. The
problems in the socialist feminist project are legion, and Lynne,
with her detailed discussion of feminist campaigning, has gone
some way towards solving some of them. She does not need,
nor is it, in my view, a useful thing to do, to denigrate her
feminist opponents as ‘essentialist’.

.

Allson Asslter

SELLING SENSUALITY
w. F. Haug, Critique of Commodity Aesthetics: Appearance,
Sexuality and Advertising in Capitalist Society, Polity Press,
1986.

Over the past twenty years, the critique of commodity culture
has seemed to be the exclusive prerogative of structuralist and
semiotic approaches. This first English edition of Haug’s work,
appearing 16 years after its first German edition, promises the
excitement of recovering an alternative, now heterodox tradition: the pursuit of critical theory initiated by the Frankfurt
School. Casually dismissed these days as merely an overlyfatalistic variant of mass culture theory, this tradition now appears, through Haug’s work, as a crucial corrective, attempting
to relate cultural forms and human sensuality to concrete
economic processes.

‘Commodity aesthetics’ comprises not only advertising, but
packaging, display, design–all those elements of the product’s
appearance through which it promises satisfactions. Haug’s aim
is to theorize its place in ‘the fate of sensuality and the
development of needs within capitalism’ (p. 5). The core of his
critique is an attempt to derive this aesthetic from the nature of

capitalist exchange relations.

Selling a commodity on the market depends on the buyer’s
self-acknowledged need for the good in question: use-value is a
necessary, if not sufficient, condition of sale. Within a capitalist
regime of private production, driven by the accumulation of
abstract value, use-value-and the buyer’s needs and sensual
existence-appears to the seller merely as a precondition for
exchange, as means to an end. This is the all-permeating
‘valorization standpoint’ from which ‘all human goals, even
life itself, matter only as means and pretexts … in the functioning of the system’ (p. 47). Subordinated to the valorization
standpoint, sensuality is reduced to a functional role within the
process of realization.

However, at the moment of exchange, the commodity is not
yet a use-value to the consumer, but a promise of certain satisfactions. It is the promise which is sold, and this promise is established through the commodity’S appearance. For this reason,
the commodity’s aesthetic appearance can achieve a certain degree of functional autonomy: the appearance of use-value-the
commodity’s ‘second skin’-can be elaborated independently
of the good’s material body, and as a specialist function within

43

the firm. Haug traces the development of this function from its
prototype in the sales-talk, through brand names, packaging
and finally advertising, relating each to the development of
monopoly capitalism and the ‘fate of sensuality’.

The ‘commodity’s aesthetic promise of use-value thus becomes an instrument in accumulating money’ (p. 17). In the
same moment, sensuality becomes the vehicle of an economic
function: The subordination of use-value to exchange-value
means that needs-defined in relation to use-values-are
mobilized and moulded according to the logic of exchange.

The result is a ‘technocracy of sensuality’, a ‘domination
over people that is effected through their fascination with technically produced appearances’ (p. 45). Haug valiantly, if not altogether successfully, resists standard manipulation theories.

What is clear is that he is arguing the case for the population’s
willing enticement into commodification: the false dreams are
built on real needs.

An innumerable series of images are forced upon the individual, like mirrors, seemingly empathetic and totally
credible, which bring their secrets to the surface and
display them there. In these images, people are continually shown the unfulfilled aspects of their existence.

The illusion ingratiates itself, promising satisfaction: it
reads desires in one’s eyes, and brings them to the surface of the commodity (p. 52).

The links with Marcuse are quite clear: real needs are aroused
by the promises offered by commodities which cannot possibly
satisfy them, which can ‘offer only an illusory satisfaction,
which does not feed but causes hunger’ (p. 56). It is the distance between aesthetic illusion and real need which makes the
thirst for commodities insatiable and absorbs the individual
through his or her psychic structure deeper into the system.

Haug presents a persuasively coherent portrait of consumer
society, and one argued with a political urgency which sadly
seems very much of its time. Indeed, Haug’s perspective
promises two quite fascinating selling points: a direct relation
between the structure of economic action and the culture forms
through which it is pursued; and the emphasis on psychological
processes in addition to the ideological structuring of cultural
forms. Unfortunately, neither promise is entirely fulfilled.

In the first place, Haug’s insistence on the autonomy of
commodity aesthetics seems to undermine much of what he has
gained by deriving it from an economic relation. The promise
of use-value upon which exchange depends provides the motive
for producing economically functional appearances, but it also
provides the occasion for detaching the production of appearances from economic practices: the production of the
commodity’s appearance is guided more by psychological than
economic calculation. In the very process of deriving commodity aesthetics from economic relations, Haug actually
divorces the images of consumer society from the specifically
commercial logic through which firms relate products to needs
on the basis of specific market interests.

The crucial problem lies in the very abstract level at which
Haug characterises the exchange relation. For Haug focuses on
the isolated act of exchange: the meeting of buyer and seller
and their mutually contradictory interests in exchange value
and use-value. This might define the most abstract structure of
exchange, but certainly not the social form it takes-buying
and selling commodities on markets. What is missing from the
picture is competition. Markets and market behaviour (such as
the use of advertising) are structured by the pattern of interrelated exchanges which renders them competitive. Firms
promise different satisfactions not simply to mobilize a fascina-

44

tion but to fit a product into a structure of competing fascinations. Potent images are designed not simply to mobilize a
larger aggregate of individuals, but to secure and defend
specifically calculated market positions. Marketing is never
purely directed at an abstract increase in sales, but at the
mobilization of strategic consumer groups identified by their
place in long-tenn competitive goals. That is to say, exchange
relations not only provide the motive and occasion for otherwise autonomous images; the production of such images is at
all stages ruled over by specifically economic calculations.

Indeed, Haug shares his period’s neo-Keynesian belief that
advertising and related functions represent the disappearance
of competition under monopoly capitalism. Advertising was often referred to as ‘non-market competition’-fabricated images
taking the place of rational calculation. For example, Haug
argues that trademarks transform a good into a monopoly
commodity: ‘Commodities presented in such a fashion hardly
compete in tenns of use-value with rival products of other
firms. Competition has widely shifted on to the level of images:

now image fights image .. .’ (p. 31). Commodity aesthetics are
seen as the firm’s attempt to transcend or escape market competition rather than as arising from the everyday pursuit of
commerce. The pervasively instrumental calculation of culture
from the valorization standpoint is lost from view.

A second problem area lies in the distinction upon which
the whole notion of the functional autonomy of commodity
aesthetics is based, the distinction between use-value and the
appearance of use-value. Haug’s text screams at us-across
two decades of Althusser, anti-humanism and semiotics-the
language of ‘real’ needs, ‘real’ use-value, the ‘real’ as the point
from which ideology is critically engaged.

If commodity aesthetics renders autonomous the appearance of use-value in the fonn of images, the commodity’s
use-value itself appears to denote something essential about the
object: objective properties of the object whith naturally, rationally, or functionally satisfy needs. Similarly, it raises the
spectre of an opposition between real (rational or natural)
needs and artificial needs called up by the artificial appearance
of the object The very notion of an aesthetics plays upon this
juxtaposition of appearance and function, contingent cultural
meanings and discoverable technical relations.

At a more practical level, this fonnulation bears some
resemblance to that of Baran and Sweezy: if one could subtract
from the capitalist commodity all those elements which are required solely by its commodity-form (here, its aesthetic appearance) then one would be left with a rational, functional
use-value which simply fulfills a real human need. The focus of
this framework becomes the way in which the autonomy of appearance distances commodity culture from an originary connectedness between properties of the object and autonomous
human needs.

In fact, the real function of the use-value/appearance distinction is critical and political. The basis of legitimation of any
socioeconomic order is its ability to fill social needs. If-as in
much critical theory-these needs are deemed to be detennined
by the social order itself, then there is no independent critical
yard-stick and the system becomes self-legitimating. The
ability of the system to define use-values and needs through
hypnotic imagery ultimately eradicates critical consciousness
through self-fulfilling promises of satisfaction.

The assertion of real needs and real use-values-those untouched by commodity aesthetics-is the assertion of an external critical vantage point: they represent the projection of a current politics either onto a constructed past (natural needs and
use-values in the days before production for exchange-value)

or onto a desired future (rational needs and use-values in a
society which democratically reconciles social need and social
production). As Kate Soper has crucially argued, assertions
about what constitutes real need are in reality political agendas-as they should be. They are part of a description of a just
society. But precisely as such they are immanent to the society
which they critique.

To recognise the political aspirations defined by images of
need, and the immanence of such political values to contemporary aspirations, is not to embrace that relativism of need
which produces a post-modernist embrace of commodity culture, however ironic that gesture might claim to be. It is rather

to recognise consumption as a social force with tendencies and
potentials to be politically assessed; it is thus to analyse that
social force in all its concreteness and contradiction. Haug has
provided a major contribution to this endeavour in his analysis
of the valorisation standpoint and in his intention of understanding sensuality and consumption in terms of commodity
calculation. That this analysis remains abstract simply prompts
the wish that we had seen his valuable book sixteen years
earlier.

Don Slater

TALK ABOUT SEX
Sexuality: A Reader, edited by Feminist Review, London:

Virago, 1987, 378pp., £6.95 pb.

The articles in this collection around issues of sexuality, its
politics and its construction, first appeared in Feminist Review
over a period of seven years to 1986. Seventeen articles in all,
many drawn from the 1982 special issue on sexuality, are
grouped into five main sections which indicate the general
areas of analysis: ‘Feminism and the Politics of Sexuality’,
‘The Construction of Sexual Difference’, ‘Sexuality and
Psychoanalysis’, ‘Issues around Lesbianism’ and ‘Pornography
and Representation’. The editors’ introduction highlights particularly the importance of questions of male sexual violence
and pornography, and, in their 1982 editorial from which they
quote at length, how crucial the analysis of sexuality to
feminism has been, as well as the way in which the unity and
certainties of earlier days have given way to fragmentation,
complexity and difference. They also discuss the contributions
of and attitudes to lesbianism in this context, a question which
returns in several of the articles gathered here, to the extent that
a strong challenge emerges to the conflation of lesbianism and
feminism, and to the position that heterosexuality constitutes
collaboration with the enemy, on the grounds that lesbianism is
thereby both desexualised and naturalised.

It is hard not to be struck by one aspect of this volume,
namely the use of history in what seems like an almost obsessional replaying of the recent past of feminism. This is due not
only to the substantive discussion of the heritage of the ’60s
and ’70s in the introduction and the first two articles, but also
to the way these articles, which are after all quite recent, are
also framed in many cases by short introductions written for
this volume to ‘set the pieces in their past and present contexts’. We all know history is going very fast, but as the contextualising introduction actually predates in one case the appearance of the article in the Review, it seems permissible to
speculate whether there is not an unspoken editorial wish to
control interpretation operating; especially given the relative
difficulty, in several cases, of working out when an article was
originally published. History seems to be given with one hand
and taken away with the other.

However, I do not wish to imply these various returns to the
past are not useful, for in sociological terms there is much interesting discussion of the late ’60s and early ’70s. The story of
the theoretical developments, as related in the introduction, is
in my opinion rather flimsier and disappointing. It relies very
heavily on received opinions as to structuralism’s discovery of
the ideological over the natural, with psychoanalysis and lin-

guistics as the keys to understanding why notions of false consciousness would no longer do. To anyone who knows
Beauvoir’s work, this version of feminist theory born of Althusser and Lacan, which made possible ‘certain crucial advances’, and notably that of challenging ‘the “taken for granted”
nature of sexual difference’, gives the unfortunate impression
of performing the theoretical equivalent of reinventing the
wheel. It is not a little ironic in a feminist volume which places
such stress on the recent past that Simone de Beauvoir merits
no more than three passing mentions. Unwittingly or not, this
can only perpetuate the myth that questions of sexuality in a
modem frame date from the late ’60s. Furthermore, while the
social, psychoanalytical and ideological modalities of the construction of sexual identity do indeed form the burden of the
book, it is nonetheless true that in many of the articles that particular ‘structuralist’ framework is just not operating. And even
when it is, attempts to debate its validity seem silently undermined. The section on psychoanalysis is given over to articles
questioning and defending its value for feminism, yet a
psychoanalytic discussion of jealousy and sexual difference is
placed in the sexual difference section, its methodology unchallenged and thus indirectly authorised. This is not to pronounce
either way on either psychoanalysis or the structuralist
heritage, but just to point to some of the constraints at work
here, and to suggest that even in 1982, even more so in 1987, a
more critical evaluation of where our theories of sexuality and
sexual difference come from would have been welcome.

But overall this is undoubtedly a useful volume which will
admirably fulfill its pedagogic aims of making a range of very
interesting material accessible. Worthy rather than exciting,
perhaps, not quite shaking off that uncertain unreadability that
can bedevil collections of articles, it is less fun than the book
which now appears like a sister volume, the American Desire:

The Politics of Sexuality which Virago published in 1984 and
which at least has a lot to say about sex; that British discussion
of sexuality tends not to include sex is both lamented and on
the whole perpetuated in the volume under review. I found the
section ‘Issues around Lesbianism’ the most interesting, partly
because of the variety, Wendy Clark’s stylish writing, and the
compelling narrative of the dramas at the London Gay and
Lesbian Centre, but mainly because it is in this section that the
crucial questions of the whole volume about the nature of
sexual identity, its intersection with gender, class and race, and
the politics that emerges from all that, are most cogently and
comprehensively put.

Margaret Atack
45

SEEING RED
Walter Benjamin, Moscow Diary (edited by Gary Smith),
Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1986, 15Opp.,
£7.50pb
Walter Benjamin spent two months in Moscow, from 6
December 1926 to the end of January 1927. He planned to
write an account of Moscow and its inhabitants, rendering what
he saw as a ‘physiognomy’ of the city. This newly-translated
. diary represents Benjamin’s longest extant autobiographical
document, providing a fascinating insight into his compositional practices: tangential remarks and brief reports prefigure
later, separate essays (such as his ‘Moscow’ piece for Martin
Buber’s Die Kreatur). One can discern three essential themes:

Benjamin’s attempt to establish contact with Russian literary
figures, his deliberations as to whether or not he should join the
German Communist Party, and his relationship with the Latvian Marxist Asja Lacis (‘one of the most remarlcable women I
have ever bet’). Reflections fall and touch like snowflakes as
one reads through the entries, containing some of the most personal inflections found in critical theory.

. Benjamin is made to dedicate his thoughts to us, as his
alienation from the milieu is both great and debilitating. We are
often placed in an evidently voyeuristic position as Benjamin
reflects upon his inability to express his feelings to Lacis and
his incomprehension of the Russian language: he faces silence,
he turns and faces us. The central autobiographical motif of the
trip is his relationship with Lacis and her companion, Bernhard
Reich. The two men try to discuss ideas together whilst they
struggle to control their passion for the same woman. This tension brings out some of Benjamin’s most moving and measured
comments, particularly concerning the self and society. Discussing his feeling of solitude he describes it as: ‘basically a
reflexive phenomenon that only strikes us when emitted back
to us by people we know, and most often by people we love,
whenever they enjoy themselves socially without us.’ The one
important theme which, frustratingly, is left undeveloped is
Benjamin’s concern for his son, Stefan, mentioned briefly and
then excluded from the text Nonetheless, for anyone interested
in critical theory and its combination of sociological
knowledge and a belief in authenticity, Benjamin’s Diary is invaluable.

Benjamin had dedicated One-Way Street to Lacis: ‘the engineer who laid it through the author’. Her presence was, for
Benjamin, very provocative, obliging him to avoid being
caught off-guard by her gaze–‘For had she touched me with
the match of her eyes, I might have gone up like a magazine’.

When he arrives in Moscow, he finds Lacis hospitalized in a
sanatorium; for all but the final few days of his stay, Benjamin
had to spend his rare and precious moments with her accompanied either by Reich or with various anonymous inmates.

Reich, at least in Benjamin’s account, seems largely unaware
of his guest’s anxiety: he regularly arrives with lists of places
to visit, launches into passionage analyses of Goethe, Stanislavky and Meyerheld, whilst Benjamin lies on his bed in a
dark, depressed heap (‘I am often too tired to listen to with
both ears… ‘). The diary charts a growing confusion within Benjamin which sometimes seems to blind him to Reich’s competitiveness: when the three companions set off for the theatre,
‘Asja was not feeling well enough, so I went on my own, while
she and Reich went to my room’. What does become painfully
clear is Benjamin’s infatuation with Lacis: ‘I barely hear what

46

she is saying because I am examining her so intently. ‘

There is one particular passage in which the reader is invited to conspire with the author. Benjamin says he will record
some observations concerning his relationship with Lacis,
‘even though Reich is sitting right next to me’. Everything that
follows sounds in the mind like a whispered report from a
friend. He confesses that, when Lacis is recovered and living
again with Reich, ‘it will only be with a considerable amount
of pain that I will be able to come up against the boundaries of
our relationship. I still don’t know if I will be able to disengage
myself from it.’ Despite what he sees as her ‘astonishing hardness’, he says: ‘The thing I would prefer most would be the
bond a child might create between us.’ This hope (never more
than a desperate fancy) moves him to seize on every suggestion
of warmth or love on Lacis’s part, yet her ability to hurt him
deeply and frequently makes him eventually too wary to
respond to her: ‘I was like a vase with a slender neck into
which liquid was being poured from a pail. Little by little I had
so deliberately closed myself off that I was almost no longer
receptive to the full power of external impressions.’

One of Benjamin’s professed concerns was with ‘the
enigma of being alive’. His very openness to the curious and
the threatening, his vulnerability in the face of alien hostile
powers, makes one empathise with him more than is usual for
social theorists. Perhaps this apparent ‘weakness’ in Benjamin
is part of his attractiveness. One is reminded of the passage in
One-Way Street he reads to lacis, concerning the way the
wrinkles of the lover only serve to enhance our love: ‘And no
passer-by would guess that it is just here, in what is defective
and censurable, that the fleeting darts of adoration nestle.’ His
vulnerability is bound up with every critical insight, now
sounding with especial poignancy after the suicide of the writer
and the barbaric treatment of his Jewish colleagues. Adorno
survived to reflect on the absurdity of writing after Auschwitz,
and he attracts respect rather than admiration. Benjamin, on the
other hand, is a victim, a man ascribed the tenderness of the
wronged, and we seem to identify with his anxiety in the face
of immanent catastrophe.

Benjamin had noted the inevitable opaqueness of language,
the difficulty that confronts the writer because each language
communicates only itself, only its own essence. Harrassed by
foresight, writing against a sense of future disaster, he brushed
his speech against the grain of the conventional ensemble of
words, signs, grammars-raising his voice above the babble of
the quotidian. As Adorno says in Negative Dialectics, ‘To say
something out loud is to put some distance between oneself and
the immediacy of suffering, just as screaming helps mitigate
great pain. ‘ Thus Benjamin’s style is both a therapy for him and
an intimation of some latent sense of moral goodness.

Throughout the Diary, we find his ‘micrological thinking’

(compressing the particular until the universal bursts forth from
within) weaving a subtle, sensitive text wherein Moscow is exposed for reflection: Benjamin’s charming descriptions of the
toys he has collected-intricately carved puppets, dolls, tiny
figures which emit faint noises when squeezed, various musical
boxes-also contain some superb allusions to later, more
sociological remarks about Russia.

Although Benjamin’s involvement with Lacis continues to
act as the pulse of the narrative, his interest in Moscow is soon
little more than academic in its attentiveness. He writes:

For me, Moscow is now a fortress; the harsh climate
which is wearing me down, no matter how healthy it
might be for me, my ignorance of the language, Reich’s
presence, Asja’s utterly circumscribed mode of existence all constitute so many bastions …

His dependence upon Reich and Lacis-as interpreters, guides
and companions-begins to drive him into a depression. He
finds himself in the ironic role of the subservient reader of a
language he can neither speak nor understand and a
relationship he cannot bear either to end or to endure. Towards
the completion of his stay, his helplessness is both comic and
heartrending: ‘I wanted to order soup and they brought me two
small slices of cheese. ‘

What Benjamin’s Diary entries contain is a kind of productive vulnerability: one feels that the very humanity of the writer
instills the work with an urgency and a sincere moral anxiety
that still affects the reader today. His reflections on the role of
the writer vis-a-vis political organisation are as pertinent now
as they were then. The texture of his language precedes and inflects the contours of his argument-reflexive, allusive, locating its subject by indirection. Indeed, the very description he
gives of his thoughts on the Communist Party betokens his unsuitability to the enforced humility of political orthodoxy: he
admits a weakness for the ‘seductiveness of the role of outrider’, and explains one of his more determined arguments in
favour of his admission by saying: ‘For precisely because
membership in the party may very well only be an episode for
me, it is not advisable to put it off any longer.’ It is striking
how each issue is treated by Benjamin in such a way as to
simultaneously inspire one’s own interpretations whilst showing the indecisiveness in his own mind.

Moscow Diary is a fascinating fragment recording a very
‘damaged life’. A brilliant representative of radical humanism,
spending most of his career on the boundaries of his professional and political communities, Benjamin committed suicide
on the Franco-Spanish border. The few literary friends he mentions from Moscow eventually met their deaths as victims of
Stalin’s attack on those who resisted. Many of his German colleagues perished in concentration camps or, like Benjamin, killed themselves before the Gestapo could reach them to
obliterate what was still left of their dignity. Benjamin ends the
Diary with everything unresolved: his position concerning

Party membership, his attitude to the Russian programme of
reconstruction, and, most poignantly, his love for Asja Lacis.

Although all is unresolved, there is a terrible sense of foreboding hanging over the final few lines which leaves one with a
renewed feeling of loss:

… I once again drew her hand to my lips, right in the
middle of the street. She stood there a long time,
waving. I waved back from the sleigh. At first she
seemed to turn around as she wa1ked away, then I lost
sight of her. Holding my large suitcase on my knees, I
rode through the twilit streets to the station in tears.

Graham McCann

NEW OBJECTIVITY
Paul A. Komesaroff, Objectivity, Science and Society,
Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986, 454pp., £30 hb.

Komesaroff’s project of identifying social determinants of the
sciences resembles that of the Lockean underlabourer-the
clearing away of intellectual undergrowth prior to epistemological construction. He starts from a critique of a theory
of science, objectivism, which has been dominant, especially
through its links with classical mechanics. This view of
scientific methodology holds that a body of theory and the objects it describes are self-sufficient transhistorical entities. Such
entities owe nothing to the historically-based activity of social
subjects. Further, objectivism entails that bodies of theory circumscribe an objectivity which is ultimately beyond
knowledge-theory can only approximate to truth about an object which cannot be known as it is ‘in itself’.

Komesaroff wishes to preserve one aspect of objectivism,
namely, that science is founded on concrete data, but his stance
also recognises the cultural determination of science. The
reduction of data to formal relationships in Husserl’s
phenomenology is seen as a way of satisfying both these conditions.

Komesaroff’s search for an adequate explanation for the
culturally determinant moment of scientific activity takes him
on a guided tour of cultural theory, with visits to the later
writings of Horkheimer and Adorno, Habermas’s more Kantian
Frankfurt Marxism, structuralist and Mertonian theory of
science, but also the incipient phenomenology of the early
Lukacs’s commodity fetishism paradigm. Husserl receives
great emphasis in Komesaroff’s positive project of a
phenomenology of science. This is perhaps ironic in a work
that aims to build from a critique of objectivism~ for as Habermas noted in his essay ‘Knowledge and Interest’, although
Husserl is critical of objectivism, his own strategy is vulnerable
to similar objections due to its positing a relationship between
asocial cognitive subjects and historically unconditioned data.

The writings of Descartes and Kant-establishing a subjectivity which overlaps with and is reflected in the object of
knowledge-inform Komesaroff’s slant on the Popper-Kuhn
debate and much else. We learn that the principle of empirical
knowledge being (in some sense) relative to the subject is taken
on board by the sciences with the advent of Relativity Theory.

Thus objectivism is undermined first in philosophy and then in
science’s reflections on its own activity. Komesaroff goes on to
argue (illicitly) from this that scientific practice is constituted
through theoretical self-reflection, that is, through historically
determinate forms of ontological speculation. This turns out to

47

be a key tenet of the book, but its implication of circularity
seems to conflict with another argument, namely, that objectivism lacks evidential support!

This latter thread of the discussion is illustrated by the
difficulties encountered in theorists’ attempts to appropriate
quantum mechanics for either classical mechanics or relativity
theory. Hence Komesaroff argues for pluralism in modem
science; quantum mechanics constitutes its own object domain,
it refers to objects that cannot be thought within the ‘classical
paradigm’. However, the argument runs, it is the structure of
the social life world today that guarantees the development of
scientific. pluralism and the truth of its claims about science. In
the past a theoretical ideology promoting one grand explanatory framework dominated and presumably legitimated
the classical paradigm. Within this schema theories and their
objects shade off into theoretical ideologies and are denied any
logical independence from historical conditions of their
production.

One weakness of the general argument is that the history of
science shows that difficulties encountered in assimilating new
theoretical developments within existing paradigms, which for
the text suggest a new pluralism, characterised the development
of past knowledge too. What is specific to modem theory of
science, as Komesaroff senses, is the hegemonic crisis of the
‘one true theory’ approach, the objectivist theoretical
monomania. Because of his theoretical stance Komesaroff fails
to differentiate this kind of reflexivity about science from
diversity in scientific paradigms, which, as Canguilhem notes,
is nothing new.

Perhaps it would have been productive for Komesaroff to
have investigated the ramifications of the objectivist crisis for
social theory. Much sociologising is of Weberian inspiration,
positing the growth of an instrumental or objectivist attitude in
the social practices of modem capitalism. In fact the book does
mention Habermas’s critique of objectivism, but notes that his
‘categorical’ approach to the social life world legislates
scientific self-reflexion in the same positivistic mode, rather
than viewing meta-science as historically determinate.

Programmatically, Komesaroff gestures in the direction of
Habermas’s theory of communicative action and also Wittgensteinian ‘language-games’, but, he says, this ‘strategy …

like the others … is subject to deep problems and contains substantiallacunae’. Consequently, there is nothing we can take as
a definitive methodological statement if a vague ‘social construction of reality’ and a diffuse aim to trace the crisis of objectivism within the sciences are excluded.

Perhaps because of the conflation of science and theory of
science there is no sense of the latter’s historical limits in
Komesaroff’s critique of objectivism-its resonance with the
instrumental rationality of modem capitalism, for instance, or
the features within the present period of capitalist development
promoting a contradictory pluralistic sensibility. It would seem
then that Komesaroff’s kind of discourse really is interminable.

Its piecemeal, empiricist attitude to theory development and its
failure to theorise its object concretely suggest that it remains
enmired in the conceptual habits of the objectivism it critiques.

Science, Objectivity and Society remains polarised between
an energetic and detailed examination of candidates for a
paradigm inscribing the socio-historical founding of science
and a sense of the question’s ultimate undecidability.

Komesaroff seems to lose his way in the welter of detail; there
are so many supporting references and side issues in this
lengthy project and they are deployed as if to plug a great void
or ‘lack’, a counterpoint or supplement to the constitutive uncertainty of the text. In this way it is a veritable intellectual

48

brantub of resumes of theories and debates in the history and
philosophy of science.

Howard Feather

AVANT LA LETTRE
Norman Geras, Literature of Revolution: Essays on Marxism,
London: Verso/NLB, 1986, 271pp, £18.50 hb, £6.95 pb.

Analytical Marxism, in the shape of the writings of G. A.

Cohen, Jon Elster, John Roemer and others, has established itself in the 1980s as a major theoretical tendency, its appearance
having recently received the formal recognition conferred by a
survey in New Left Review. But if by ‘Analytical Marxism’ is
simply meant the close reading of theoretical texts combined
with a concern for clarity of presentation and consistency of
argument, then, as these essays, written over fifteen years, bear
witness, Norman Geras can claim to have been an analytical
Marxist avant la lettre.

One could indeed go further, since the longest and most
recent of the essays, ‘The Controversy about Marx and Justice’, concerns an issue on which Cohen, Elster, and Roomer
have all written. Geras’s contribution, however, displays him at
his best, painstakingly exploring both Marx’s scattered and inconsistent obiter dicta, and the already enormous, and rapidly
proliferating literature on the subject, to arrive at a conclusion
which, to my mind, should settle the argument, viz.-‘Marx
did think capitalism unjust but he did not think that he thought
so’ (p. 36). Not only does this proposal resolve the difficulties
presented by the textual evidence for Marx’s views on justice,
but it allows Geras to discuss questions of great substantive
importance-for example, the nature of communist abundance,
a crucial issue in current debates about socialism and the
market.

Geras’s impatience with those socialists who follow Marx
in denying the ethical commitments involved in his theories
recalls an earlier essay, Marx and Human Nature (1983). This
robust polemic disposed of the idea to which many of those influenced by Althusser adhered (myself included, I must confess
to my embarrassment), that historical materialism is somehow
inconsistent with the notion of a common and enduring nature
shared by all human beings. In both cases Marx’s own ambiguities (in the case of human nature on the Theses on Feuerbach) misled his followers about the nature of his own theory.

Both essays also bear witness to Geras’s resistance to the
‘theoretical anti-humanism’ which Paris made fashionable in
the 1970s, as does his classic critique of Althusser, reprinted
here. Geras’s own position, however, is no abstract humanism.

The ‘positive core’ of Marx’s rejection of morality, he writes,
‘is the conviction that ideals alone are an insufficient tool of
human liberation and the consequent dedication to trying to

grasp the material preconditions of this … and the social agencies capable of bringing it about’ (p. 56).

One such agency is of decisive importance, the working
class. ‘Marxism and Proletarian Self-Emancipation’, first
published in Radical Philosophy, spells out Marx’s belief that
it is through their own self-activity, through participation in the
class struggle, that workers develop the consciousness, confidence, and organization necessary to overthrow capitalism.

This doctrine forms the central strand of the classical Marxist
tradition with which Geras firmly identifies himself in these essays.

Within this tradition’s approach to working-class selfemancipation there has always been a tension between two
poles–on the one hand, the spontaneous surge of mass activity
from below, on the other, the conscious intervention of revolutionary organization. Geras’s first book was devoted to Rosa
Luxemburg, in whose thought the first element was allowed to
overwhelm the second. In the essays reprinted here, however,
he focuses on Trotsky, whose views on the relationship between the revolutionary party and the working class evolved
from a position very similar to Luxemburg’s to an acceptance,
in 1917 and after, of Lenin’s conception of the party as a vanguard organization. Two essays of the 1970s, ‘Political Participation in the Thought of Leon Trotsky’, and ‘Lenin,
Trotsky, and the Party’, involve characteristically clear, judicious, by no means uncritical appraisals of these three great
revolutionaries’ views on party and class.

The position Geras arrived at in these essays amounted to
an endorsement of the later Trotsky’s Leninism. However, in a
more recent essay, ‘Classical Marxism and Proletarian Emancipation’, he displays a greater sympathy for Luxemburg and
the young Trotsky. He extracts from their opposition to Lenin,
and their belief that the ‘reformist tendencies’ they rejected
were ‘nevertheless a legitimate part of the workers’ movement’

‘a pluralist principle’ (pp. 205-06). However, Luxemburg and
Trotsky did not go far enough, continuing to adhere to the
‘monolithic’ notion of a single party representing the
proletariat. Socialist pluralism, Geras contends, requires challenging ‘the association of a vanguard role with a single political tendency or organization’, and conceiving the vanguard as
‘political diverse’, a multi-tendency organization or even ‘different parties in a united front’ (pp. 211-12).

Whether or not Geras is right now to prefer the young
Trotsky, suitably modified, to the old cannot, of course, be settled here. Much is likely to turn on one’s appraisal of historical
experience. The attractions of pluralism depend heavily on the
belief that the Bolsheviks’ alleged ‘monolithism’ was one of
the chief causes of the bureaucratic degeneration of the Russian
Revolution. Such an explanation involves playing down the
significance of other factors–above all the international isolation of the Soviet regime and consequent economic disintegration of the Russian working class. A critical part was played in
this process by the failure of the German Revolution of 191819 to produce another workers’ republic. But that experience
hardly bears witness to the virtues of a multi-tendency organization, since one wing of the old united German Social
Democracy, headed by Ebert and Scheidemann, presided over
the physical liquidation of another, led by Luxemburg. Her efforts to provide a political focus to the radicalization of the
time were hampered by the absence of any organization with
the kind of political traditions and practical unity which allowed the Bolsheviks to come to the fore after the February
Revolution in Russia.

Resolving the issues raised by Geras’s shifting views on
revolutionary organization would require more than the careful

conceptual analysis which is his greatest strength. Nevertheless
these essays amply demonstrate how fruitful this skill can be,
when combined with a firm refusal to be swayed by political
and intellectual fashion.

Alex Call1nlcos

EXPLAINING THE GAME
Len Doyal and Roger Harris, Empiricism. Explanation and
Rationality, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986. 200pp.,
£7.95 pb.

This book would like to be an introduction to philosophy of
science, though its dense and complex argument maybe stops it
being quite that. It has the great merit of perceiving the connection of theoretical issues in social science with philosophical
questions elsewhere and being prepared to deal with complex
and difficult positions. This is, perhaps, most evident in the
links made between discussion of cross-cultural standards of
rationality and recent work in the philosophy of language.

Doyal and Harris adopt a view of social science which is
firmly anti-positivist, not only in its rejection of empiricism,
but in its conception of the explanatory task of the discipline.

Crucially they reject the claim that social scientists are concerned with the investigation of causal links and the pursuit of
their supporting laws and generalisations. This anti-causal
stance derives for them from the fact that human beings form
the subject matter of social science and their actions are explicable in terms of reasons. For the authors such reasons cannot be causes, for they require actual or reconstructable
deliberation and freedom of choice, and have a justificatory and
evaluative dimension necessarily attached to them. The investigation of such reasons is a social matter. Action~are identified
in terms of social rules and customs, which also provide their
rationale and criteria of assessment. Our ability to act and with
it our humanity is dependent on our social relations.

The social scientist, however, is not concerned only with
individual acts. Doyal and Harris recognise social structures
which have an existence over and above sets of such acts, on
which they are nonetheless dependent. Such social structures
are identified and, it appears, explained in terms of their function of satisfying basic needs. Thus, despite problems of interpretation, cross-cultural comparisons are possible, for such
need satisfaction is found in all societies. The basic needs on
which the authors concentrate are those of health and
autonomy, required if people are to realise a humanity which is
constituted out of their ability to act freely. Once social structures are individuated it is a further task to make explicit their
dependence on individual acts, a dependence which is frequently opaque to the agents.

A consequence of this conception of social science is that
the social scientist is unable to adopt the position of ethical
neutrality considered possible for the natural scientist. In uncovering the dependency of social structures on individual acts
they make clear to themselves and others the possibility of the
structures being different Moreover a process of evaluation of
such structures is implicit in their mode of identification, much
as, for these authors, standards of evaluation are built into the
individuation of action.

Such a picture of social scientists as necessarily ethically
committed may appear an attractive one. But the anti-causal
stance adopted in the book sets severe limitations on the role
they could play in the promotion of social change. It is not

49

sufficient to inform us that change is within our collective
power. We also need information on how this change is to be
brought about. The knowledge we need is causal knowledge,
but Doyal and Harris reject the pursuit of this as a legitimate
part of the social scientist’s task. Social structures are individuated by their functional role, but it is quite unclear how
such functions can explain how such structures come to exist or
persist (This is, of course, a problem with functionalism in
general.) It might be argued that such causal knowledge is unavailable at the level of social structure. However, similar
problems are found within the account offered of the explanation of action. Attention to social rules and norms may provide
a characterisation of an action, once performed, and a basis for
evaluating it, but does not provide us with the conditions which
brought it about It is not enough to recognise, as they do in
their discussion of ideology, that forms of behaviour found in a
society may be contrary to the interests of many of its members. We also want to know the conditions which produce such
ideological distortions, and those in which they would be lifted.

Without that kind of knowledge the changes in actions necessary for changes in social structure remain at the mercy of individual existential choice.

Doyal’s and Harris’s objection to social science being concerned with causal links is that this would constitute a refusal
to recognise the distinctive nature of its subject matter. If
human action is caused, they argue, we are no different from
robots. But this is too quick. There are differences between different kinds of causation. Causal links which rest on an agent’s
recognition of reason-giving relations are quite compatible
with a proper account of the distinctive nature of intentionality,
indeed, they can be constitutive of it.

The thesis put forward in this book then, while regarding
social scientists as necessarily involved in the making of value
judgements, also threatens to confine them to doing only that
If we refuse to allow them a role in seeking causal links, and
concomitant generalisations, then they may provide a critique
of our society but can offer us no signposts for the route out (It
is always worth remembering that it was a Tory minister who
wished to deny social science the status of a science at al!!).

Kathleen Lennon

GOING SOLO
Richard Lindley, Autonomy, London: Macmillan, 1986. 198pp.,
£20 hb, £6.95 pb.

Richard Lindley’s book is one of a new series, Issues in Political Theory, which aims to combine an introduction to a fundamental political issue with an original contribution to the
debate. This joint aim obviously presents hazards in pitching
the argument Lindley negotiates these with style in a book
which is lucid and witty.

The discussion divides neatly into three parts: ‘Conceptions’, ‘Principles’ and ‘Practices’. ‘Conceptions’ sketches
notions of autonomy derived from three liberal philosophers,
Kant, Hume and Mill and constructs from these, and from
some more recent accounts, what Lindley claims to be ‘an adequate liberal conception of autonomy’. By treating the conceptions he discusses as general derived positions (‘Kantian’ rather
than Kant) he deals with the introductory aspects vigorously,
avoiding academicism. Thus, what is basic to his argument
about the Kantian position is its association of autonomy with
the rational will and with the capacity to act contrary to inclina50

tion. However, the tendency towards an extreme rationalist
view-seeing autonomy and rationality as co-extensive-is, he
shows, not just a peculiarity of Kant’s thought, but something
liable to arise from this general way of thinking about
autonomy as ‘self-governance’. This criticism leads him to
consider a ‘Humean’ conception of autonomy, focussed on the
denial of any standpoint of ‘pure reason’ legislating over nonrational inclinations. To be autonomous ihus requires rationally
willed action, but reason itself gives us no buyer’s guide to the
desires that are the grounds of such action. This is an introduction but not a Cook’s Tour: the Humean position is there to
clarify a difficulty with the Kantian, and so on. Each position is
presented succinctly, with references to related debates in current Anglo-American philosophy, and lots of inventive illustration-for example, deciding whether to repair the brake pipes
on the presidential limousine as an illustration of the Humean
insistence that its inclination, rather than deliberation, that is
the final grounding of motive.

Autonomy, Lindley says, is rather like baldness: generally
not perfect, rather a matter of degree. Understandably, he goes
for a negative conception, characterising ways of failing to be
autonomous. We can be heteronomous cognitively, through a
failure of our theoretical rationality or through simple false
beliefs. We can also be heteronous conatively, ‘through
domination by lower order desires … or through weakness of
will’. The second is psychologically more interesting. Lindley
presents an argument for the possibility of conative autonomy
(i.e. relative absence of heteronomy) based on Harry
Frankfurt’s notion of personhood as the possession of ‘second
order volitions’ —-desires about desires.

Whilst recognising the cogency of his argument, I have to
admit to a general unease with its terms. It seems to me that the
problem is not Lindley’s particular application of analytic
philosophy, but the inherent limitations of this tradition in addressing some crucial psychological issues. “Briefly, Lindley’s
claim to ‘an adequate liberal conception of autonomy’, persuasive as it is within its philosophical context, is restricted by
that context. Analytic philosophy, it can be argued, stands in a
broader ‘liberal-humanist’ tradition which takes ideas like that
of the’constitutive subject’ as apodictic, indeed as grounds for
its entire rationalist discourse. The self-understanding of this
philosophy thus actually precludes suspicions about its fundamental understanding of autonomy as, at least, relating to an
unproblematised notion of the coherent subject This is because
such suspicions are simultaneously subversive of some of its
own conceptual foundations.

This would not be too troubling (one could be plausibly
contextualist about matters and forbid movement of the
goalposts) were it not that analytic philosophy’s approach to
the complexities of subjectivity seem, in general, fairly complacent I would expect, and sympathise with, a student
response to Frankfurt’s idea of personhood of the ‘Is that it?’

variety. Of course, the obscurer grappling with subjectivity
which takes place within the post-structuralist literature might
be said to exchange complacency for abstruseness. Yet this
does chime with a general intuition that the relationship between our ‘selves’ and our ‘desires’ is much more complex than
it can be made to sound As such, it simply may not yield to the
conceptual elegance which is an attraction, but also a limitation
of the analytic style.

Yet the great advantage of the liberal conception of
autonomy which Lindley aims for is that it can be turned to a
critique of ‘liberal’ political practices. The final part of the
book does this with clear, if restrained, relish. In chapters dealing with the political status of children and the ‘mentally disor-

dered’, Lindley shows not only how badly liberal democracies
fail against their own standards, but how radical, taken
seriously, these standards may be. In the final chapter, a radical
re-appropriation of liberal respect for autonomy suggests one
way of thinking beyond the problem of paternalism which dogs
the ‘radical’ critique of ‘false consciousness’ .

While clearly liberal in spirit, Lindley’s book is also a valuable contribution to a growing body of radical political
philosophy. As such, it should prove very useful for students
trying to sort out, for example, the claims of Critical Theory. I
do have reservations about the capacity of this style of
philosophy to get to the heart of the psychological (and thus
perhaps also the political) issue of autonomy; but Lindley
shows here how sustained clear thinking can offer surprising
critical insights into the ‘official values’ of capitalist
democracies.

John Tomllnson

WRITING THE BODY
Helene Cixous and Catherine Clement, The Newly Born
Woman (translated by Betsy Wing, introduction by Sandra M.

Gilbert), Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1987. xviii
+ 169pp., £26.50 hb, £6.95 pb.

La Jeune Nee, which first appeared in 1975, is one of the classic texts of French feminist theory; together with La Venue a
I’ Ecriture, it brought to a wide public the idea of a new kind of
relationship between women and writing, using Lacan and his
concept of the Symbolic, Uvi-Strauss and Derrida, to argue
that women are constituted as marginal to society and culture.

Although phrases such as ‘writing the body’, ‘ecriture
feminine’ are now very familiar through extracts, articles, and
the controversy which surrounds the whole question of their
possibly essentialist character, its publication in English is nonetheless to be welcomed, since extracts almost inevitably give a
misleading impression. Certainly, Cixous’s piece ‘Sorties’ is
much more accessible than the poetic and elliptical example in
New French Feminism would suggest
The work is divided into three parts. In ‘The Guilty One’,
Catherine Clement sets out to tell the history of how, at a
mythic level, our cultural notions of masculinity and femininity
have been shaped. She focusses on the figures of the sorceress
and the hysteric as particular examples of the institutional exclusion of women, though she also quotes many others such as
clowns for example. Their place at the margins is a place of
paradox, a disruptive force outside the norms, but also, she
argues, the place where symbolic systems are locked together;
a paradox which bears particularly upon women who are both
‘rule’ and ‘non-rule’ (playing on the French term ‘regIes’ for
period), central to the social and yet none of it, governed by a
different periodicity, of nature and so anti-culture. The sorceress and the hysteric are therefore (culturally) marked as outside culture, on the side of animality and desire, women possessed whose bodies are spectacular arenas of that possession,
to be exorcised, but also objects of fascinating display for the
male doctors, priests, psychoanalysts. The philosophical
framework which informs this reflection on the cultural and social representation of woman derives primarily from
anthropology and psychoanalysis; there is lengthy discussion
of Michelet, and Sartre on Flaubert is also an important
reference. Helene Cixous’s essay concentrates on the disruption

through writing of the binary hierarchies mediating the cultural
process and the exclusion of women, not as part of the system,
as Clement would have it, but in order that the system be constituted as such. The dominant themes of this essay which, with
its many echoes of Beauvoir, Irigaray and Kristeva, now has an
inescapable historical interest, are the mechanisms of phallogocentrism which assimilate being and man, constituting
women as the repressed of the system; the complexity of
relations with the other (recognition, exclusion, antagonism
etc.) where she also includes autobiographical considerations
on being Algerian and Jewish; and the exploration of women
and writing. At an analytical level, the essay has its contradictions. In the attempt to criticise the power of the Father, the
voluntarism of ‘the child deciding to recognize’ sits uneasily
with earlier discussion of processes supposedly constitutive of
consciousness and individuality as such: ‘as men have always
known, the “father” is never anyth~g but the name of the
father…. The father is always dependent on the child, who
decides whether to recognize or reject him’ (p. 111). And the
well-known use of Derrida is also not consistent, given the emphasis placed on women’s voice, women speaking, regaining
what can only be an original purity prior to the distorting
mediations of the Law: ‘The Voice sings from a time before the
law, before the Symbolic took one’s breath away and
reappropriated it into language’ (p. 93). One has sympathy for
Clement when, in the final exchange, she finds she can only
make sense of Cixous’s views ‘poetically’ (p. 158), and in fact
throughout Clement emerges as much more concerned to relate
her analyses to social processes and realities, more suspicious
of abstract global entities. Other differences also come into
focus in the final section, ‘Exchange’, in relation to the potential for social disruption inherent in women’s marginal position, .and to the attitude to take towards the discourse of mastery (i.e. illusory pretentions to Truth and Kno~ledge and the
concomitant effacement of the enunciating subject). For Clement it is important that women have access to the positions of
power the transmission of knowledge confers, whereas for
Cixous knowledge as such signifies elitism and a power to be
rejected. In her own writing she is seeking to break down
divisions between theory and creativity, to dramatise the writing process. Equally interesting is the way ‘Exchange’ serves to
create a volume where discourse itself is dramatised as process,
both in the use of quotations juxtaposed to the dialogue and in
the reverberations of that dialogue on the preceding essays.

Margaret Atack

NIETZSCHE THE TEACHER
Alexander Nehamas, Nietzsche: Life as Literature, London:

Harvard University Press, 1986, 261pp, £14.95 hb.

At every philosophical street corner these days, you will find
huddles of people haggling about Nietzsche. A relativist or a
realist?

Fascist?

Crypto-feminist?

Revolutionary?

Metaphysician, or philosophy’s executioner? In any case,
Nietzsche seems uncannily up-to-date, timely.

The joke is that Nietzsche would have repudiated this kind
of interest in his worlc. He believed, or rather knew, that the interpretation and evaluation of a philosopher has little to do with
the acceptability of theories. As he said in ‘Schopenhauer as
Educator’, a philosopher needs to be ‘a real human being’ and
not ‘merely a great thinker’; a paragon, showing us how to
‘take a deep breath’ as if we were ‘entering a high forest’; a

51

teacher, inspiring us to be ‘simple and honest in thought and
life, that is to say to be untimely’ .

Alexander Nehamas’s cogent and well-composed book
marks its distance both from dominant Anglo-American interpretations of Nietzsche (Kaufmann and Danto in particular)
and from supposedly radical, Continental ones (Heidegger,
Derrida, Deleuze, Kofman). He goes far beyond the standard
repertory of best-loved quotations, demonstrating that
Nietzsche’s loathing for all traditional moralities, together with
their philosophies, myths, and histories, is positively earnest,
not negatively ironical. For Nehamas’s Nietzsche, every
doctrine is only an interpretation, of course, and you must
never assume that different people ought to have the same attitude to it; no interpretation is the best of all, for all, to all;
still, some are definitely better than others. But Nietzsche was
more a poet than a preacher, and the essence of his style, as
Nehamas shows, is not his much-discussed use of aphorism,
but his persistent flaunting of different, maybe inconsistent,
hyperboles, in order to make it ‘impossible to get used to his
presence’.

That is all in the first half of the book, subtitled ‘The
World’. The second half-‘The Self’-begins with a stem
dismissal of literal-minded readings of Nietzsche’s remarks
about Eternal Return: Nietzsche was not contending that actually everything happens over and over again, says Nehamas;
he was proposing that, as a test of your philosophical nerve,
you should try to accept the idea that it might, without panic,
excuses, whinging or embarrassment The point about
Nietzsche’s heroes (Goethe, Shakespeare, Homer and
Napoleon, for example) was that they don’t take sides: they
neither grudge nor judge. This is not immoralism though, according to Nehamas; it is just a repudication of (as Nietzsche
said) ‘the moral hypocrisy of those in command’ who ‘pose as
the executors of more ancient or higher commands’ (Beyond
Good and Evil, para. 199). Nehamas admits that if Nietzsche
was offering a moral philosophy commensurable with others,
then it is a ‘banal’, ‘vague’ ,’inconsistent’ and ‘incoherent’ one.

But in a deftly moving conclusion, he affirms that this defect is
really Nietzsche’s splendour: Nietzsche’s writings are his life,
and it is through his superbly realized example, rather than any
accumulation of doctrines, that Nietzsche teaches. This life is
not the anguished, petty one revealed by gossipy biographers,
but the make-believe life of the Free Spirit who pretends to be
the author of Nietzsche’s books. Nehamas says that this raises a
big problem for his own interpretation: is there any justification
for ‘generalizing from the literary case to life itseJfl’ Thankfully, he does not stay for an answer.

Jonathan Ree
Christopher J. Berry, Human Nature, London: Methuen, 1986,
162pp., £20 hb, £6.95 pb.

This book comes definitely into my category of ‘dull but worthy’. It is purportedly an expression of the ‘new wave’ of
political theory, after its recovery from that period when theory
in politics was declared dead. If this is a reliable specimen, I
fear for the patient
Berry’s task is a useful one. He wants to show that political
theory cannot do away with theories of human nature, that of
necessity they continuously re-express themselves even, or
perhaps especially, in political theories that try to prove their
freedom from values and commitments. They do so, he argues,
because all political theories contain implicit accounts as to

what counts as politics, as to people’s ‘natural tendencies’,
needs and desires in relation to politics. They also contain, he
suggests, implicit recommendations as to what shall count as a
‘good society’ towards which political activity ought to be
taking us.

All· of which is good, and I suspect commonplace to most
readers of Radical Philosophy-though perhaps not to many
students of politics. Thus far then, the book is useful. It is the
way he goes to these places that is so dull. For example, he
wants to show that certain antinomies, and commitments in
them, are cornerstones for political thinking. These are:

Humans as either essentially individualist, or communitarian;
essentially rational or a-rational; politically interested or disinterested; and perfectible or not Well, OK. But how much will
we learn, I wonder, by approaching such ‘founding concepts’

through, in the first case, a confrontation of Locke and Marx, in
the second, Aristotle and Mill, the third, Hegel and Hobbes,
and the fourth Godwin and St Augustine. It is, sadly, once more
the timeless battle of ideas which have lost all sense of their
location, and the problems their authors were trying to solve.

The one point at which the book escapes this, interestingly,
is in his discussion of biological theories and their political implications. Here, for the first time, it seems to me, we begin to
really ‘bite’ on the theories, because he develops an argument
as to the kinds of political practice that will flow from the differing theories. Otherwise, the book is marked by a sublimely
intellectualist feel.

Take his discussion of Marx·’s view of human nature, used
as an exemplar of an approach which wants to talk of ‘human
capacities’. I have always thought Marx worked with this notion as part of his critique of the ‘dehumanising’ tendency of
capitalism; it was out of his perception of unrealised and
damaged needs that he expressed his loathing of capital’s system. I was evidently wrong:

The point of having recourse to capacities or potential
when discussing human nature is to undercut theories
that conceive of human nature in terms of immutable
givens-like the genetic basis of human behaviourand yet avoid relativism (p. 114).

There is, perhaps despite the author’s intentions, a definite
tendency for theories of human nature to become a kind of
logical game-and they are evaluated, often, with the same .

game-like moves. So, for example, when he discusses the challenge to theories of human nature posed by such as Sartre, the
discussion effectively ends at the point when he has
‘demonstrated’ that, despite his denials, there is in Sartre’s
thinking still some recognition of universal elements common
to all human beings.

I am being very hard on the book. It does have some useful
discussions and arguments in it But the framework surrounding them is so much a reflection of a sad state of debate in a
certain style of political theory, that the good bits are easily
forgettable. The book concludes with two principles: that
theOries of human nature are ‘indispensable’, but also ‘contentious’ in that there are no neutral grounds for settling disputes
between them. We may have, perhaps, a few criteria with
which to adjudicate between them. First, is internal consistency; then there is their ability to accommodate ‘the facts’. At this
stage, to ask ‘Which “facts”?’ and ‘How generated?’ risks a
charge of churlishness. Still, at least it will leave us plenty to
have good arguments about
As I said, worthy-but dull.

Manln Barker

52

i

J-

Christopher Caudwell, Scenes and Actions (edited by Jean
Deparc and David Margolies), London: Routledge and Kegan
Paul, 1986, 241pp, £6.95 pb.

Christopher St. John Sprigg, under his pseudonym of Christopher Caudwell, was Britain’s most notable pre-war Marxist,
writing Illusion and Reality (1937) and Studies in a Dying Culture (1938), works full of suggestive insights concerning the
social functions of literature. His premature death in 1937,
fighting in the Spanish Civil War, left his theories in a sufficiently ambiguous state to allow multiple interpretations to
develop. Self-taught, a disenchanted bourgeois, Caudwell
seized upon a Marxism which, he felt, offered certainty and
strength. His political arguments still strike one with their mixture of conviction and stylistic forcefulness.

Scenes and Actions collects together previously unpublished material and sheds some light on Caudwell’s literary
development. Arranged more or less to the order of composition, the selections reveal the author working hard to extricate
himself from a medley of fragmentary scraps of knowledge in
order to formulate a coherent theory within the perspective of
historical materialism. ‘The Wisdom of Gautama’ is a self-consciously archaic meditation on spirit and its embodiment (possibly inspired by the recent translation of Nietzsche’s Thus
Spake Zarathrustra). ‘Heaviside’ is an excerpt from a satirical
novel which sets British institutions among the lighter-than-air
creatures of the ‘Kennelly-Heaviside’ layer of the ionosphere.

Notable short ·stories include ‘Lodgings for the Night’ and ‘The
Device’ , both suffused with biographical references. ‘Verse and
Mathematics’ was a kind of laboratory where Caudwell experimented with ideas which crystallized in Illusion and
Reality; the discussion of the social production of ‘private
phantasy’ is made fairly obtuse by Caudwell’s slipshod
anthropomorphic vocabulary (‘wills of living matter’, and ‘the
communist synthesis’ of ‘organism and environment’). These
passages are interesting primarily for those concerned to chart
the intellectual history of Caudwell’s major texts. For the
reader motivated by a desire to comprehend Caudwell’s character, it is a relief to find a good selection of private correspondence full of individual charm and urgent social commentary.

Evident in these writings is Caudwell’s sense of the decay
of his society and his attendant rejection of the new forms of
mass entertainment (dance music, American movies, detective
novels) together with modernist trends in the arts. Like so
many of his British colleagues and successors (Orwell, Williams), Caudwell struggles to combine moral sincerity with social acuity. Theatricality and stylistic playfulness have never
been welcomed by the British radical culture critics, and
Caudwell (again like Orwell) is acutely uncomfortable on those
rare occasions when he tries to express subtle feelings of love
or anxiety. He is at home on hard ground, pronouncing some
view or attacking some idea, favouring the ‘colder’ styles of
satire and burlesque. This ‘toughness’ in Caudwell is significantly absent in his (near-obsessive) concern with death and
the dead: in several of the pieces here he lapses into a faintly
offensive romanticism as he anticipates the glories of fighting
for liberation. When the desire to practise one’s theory overwhelms one’s desire to discover its truth-value, such romanticism is perhaps the inevitable form of self-protection. Certainly, Caudwell’s commitment to making theory participate in
everyday struggles sits uneasily on his jejune musings on mortality and faith.

Scenes and Actions works well as a collection, for the contradictions and sense of incompleteness seem to reflect the approach of a writer never respectful of scholarly order. In

isolated passages (particularly in his letters) one can experience
the vigorous, searching style of Caudwell at his most impassioned. The frustrating feature remains the political activist’s
distrust of pleasure, Caudwell’s call for ‘fleshiness’ and ‘mascularity’ in writing-a desire to pin down pleasure in the service of political practice. Scenes and Actions presents this
desire at its most insistent.

Graham Mccann
Edinburgh Review 74, Edinburgh, Polygon, 1986, 176pp.,
£2.95pb.

This issue of Edinburgh Review devotes fifty-eight of its pages
to what it terms ‘the distinctive tradition of Scottish
philosophy’, represented through three main items: J. F. Ferrier’s lectures on Adam Smith (published here for the first
time), George Davie’s essay on the Ideologue, Victor Cousin’s
relations with Scots philosophers, and Robert Calder’s account
of John Anderson. Each of these items conveys its own interest,
though the cohesion of ‘Scottish philosophy’ mooted in the title
only emerges in selective and less than obvious ways.

Anderson, an ex-patriate Scot working this century in
Australia demonstrated a concern with philosophy in relation to
educational issues which can be seen as continuous with the
preoccupations of William Hamilton and James Ferrier in the
19th century, though Anderson’s realism seems to have derived
as much from his attempts to produce an alternative to Russell’s logical atomism, as from his membership of a self-conscious and self-extending Scottish tradition.

Ferrier’s account of Smith’s ethical system is wonderfully
economical and lucid, and is beneficially critical in its insistence on the idea of self as acquired through other-directed interaction. This stress on subjectivity, which Femer pursued in
linguistic and epistemological as well as moral terms, is the
most interesting feature of his work. It allies him more closely
than most mid-Victorian British philosophers with Continental,
especially Fichtean and Hegelian trends. It also calls in question the supposed novelty of contemporary French Marxistpsychoanalytic accounts of subject-formation. What Ferrier
elaborated
was
something
approaching
a
social
phenomenology of the subject. This highlighted the relational
acquisition of moral selfhood, saw the basis of cognitive
selfhood in a kind of dialectical negativity with the external
Other, and denied any strict or straightforward subject-object
distinctions. Given appropriate extended treatment, Ferrier
would appear the most original philosopher of subjectivity in
19th-century Britain, and one whose concerns march closely
with the philosophical preoccupations of our own contemporary bourgeois radicalism. George Davie’s essay on Cousin
and the Scots brings out many of these and other substantial
points in a clear and engaged way, as well as chronicling the
fascinating and complex intellectual politics which finally ensured Ferrier’s failure to follow Hamilton in the Edinburgh
academic succession. Davie’s essay is exemplary in its simultaneous engagement with core philosophical issues, sympathetic interpretation of past philosophy in its context, and
grasp of the larger dimension of such issues in the problematic
furtherance of a national culture.

‘ … No granting of a privileged position in reality to gods,
men or molecules, with conflict everywhere and nothing above
the battle,’ wrote John Anderson in fine Heraklitean vein. The
‘battle’ has some other and more immediate presences in this
Edinburgh Review: the Lothian District Women’s Group ac-

53

counts of the Miners’ Strike, for example, or else, on linguistic
territory, Brian Holton’s rendition into Scots of the Chinese
classic The Water Margin (Men 0′ the Mossflow). Besides
these, it is difficult for philosophy not to appear disjunct,
however egalitarian its rationality or engaged its exegesis.

J. R. R. Chrlstle
Joseph S. Catalano, A Commentary on Jean-Paul Sartre’s
‘Critique of Dialectical Reason’ (Volume 1: Theory of Practical
Ensembles), Chicago and London: University of Chicago
Press, 1986. 282pp., £35.50 hb, £14.25 pb.

This is very much a book for the Same specialist and, as befits
its status as a commentary, fullest benefit can only be derived
from it if it is read with Same’s Critique alongside. The vast
bulk of the work constitutes a detailed exegesis of the Critique,
prefaced by a very short (I8-page) contextualising introduction
and a longer (31-page) commentary on the Critique’s sisterwork, Searchfor a Method. One of the major difficulties with
the Critique is its terminology, and in this respect Catalano’s
commentary will be heavy going for the uninitiated because he
slips straight into the vernacular without any prefatory smoothing of the way. Serious Sartre students will find this book most
useful as a work of reference, to be used for clues when the
going gets tough, and Catalano’s division of the text to correspond with the standard English translation makes passagefinding very easy.

I have never really understood, however, the general reluctance of Sartre scholars to stress the political nature of the
Critique of Dialectical Reason. The tendency to deal with it as
a ‘work of philosophy’ is, I think, a function of Sartre’s oftquoted remark that he was ‘thinking against himself’ when he
wrote it. This is true, but he was not thinking in a vacuum. By
1960 (when the Critique was published) Same was an entirely
political animal, and the Critique cannot be read sensibly
without understanding that the attempt to found dialectical
reason was a political project. Catalano notes this at the appropriate point in the Critique, but gives no indication in his Introduction of the essential importance of Sartre’s politics to his
philosophy. In my opinion, the Critique’s themes of dialectical
reason, history, alienation and the anthropology of groups have
to be placed in the context of Sartre’s political life for them to
be fully understood. This, though, would have required far
more than the commentary with which Catalano has provided
us, and would have taken him beyond his self-imposed rubric.

The lesson, I think, is that commentaries on texts will always
tell something less than half the story, and that a text speaks of
the life within which it was written. Only the life makes the
text truly comprehensible, and in this sense Catalano’s commentary needs to be read not just with the Critique alongside,
but also in the light of a clear knowledge of the context in
which it was written.

Andy Dobson
David Oldroyd, The Arch of Knowledge, an Introductory Study
of the History of the Philosophy and Methodology of Science,
Methuen, 1986, 413pp., £9.95 pb.

This introductory text gives a clear, concise chronological
summary of scientific and metascientific ideas from Aristotle
through the medievalists to Popper, Kuhn and the Sociology of

54

Knowledge. There are chapters on 17th-century science, 19thcentury positivism, logical empiricism and on the dynamics of
science.

Oldroyd defends scientific realism against the relativist social construction of knowledge trend whilst admitting the influence of historical context on the character of ontological
speculation accompanying theory production. He nevertheless
defends the view that relationships discovered by scientists
have a validity quite apart from any significance conferred by
cultural specifics.

The book is scholarly and up-do-date in its use of source
material. It shows, for instance, that Galileo’s sense of ex suppositione (argument from hypothesis) points towards an Aristotelian influence on his methodology rather than the
hypothetico-deductive approach which his mathematization of
problems might suggest. There are inevitably some gaps in a
work of such compression. One of importance, I think, is the
failure to contextualise the conflict Oldroyd recognises between Locke’s empiricism and materialism.

Although the work remains broadly within an ‘ AngloSaxon’ discourse the contribution of Bachelard is recognised
and the question of relations of power and ideology is addressed through discussion of the legimatory influence of
philosophy on scientific paradigms.

For anyone looking for a way into this subject area Oldroyd
must be near the top of the booklist

Howard Feather
G. W. F. Hegel, The Jena System, 1804-5: Logic and
Metaphysics(translated and edited by John W. Burbidge and
George di Giovanni, introduction by H. s. Harris), Kingston
and Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press! 1986, £25 hb

In his lectures at the University of Jena from 1801-6, Hegel
worked out his first system of philosophy, comprising a logic
and metaphysics, a philosophy of nature and a philosophy of
spirit. The Jena system is probably the most important work of
Hegel’s early (pre-Phenomenology) period. The present
volume contains a translation of the first part of this system. It
covers some of the same ground as the later Science of Logic
and Encyclopedia Logic; and contains material of great importance for understanding the early development of Hegel’s
philosophy. However, potential readers should also be warned
that these lectures are ferociously abstract and difficult. They
have none of the concrete reference and detail which occasionally enliven the discussion of social and moral issues in
the philosophy of spirit. Moreover, they were assembled from
Hegel’s notes after his death and, unfortunately, there are a
number of crucial gaps in the text. As with much of Hegel’s
early work, they are likely to be of interest only to scholars of
Hegel’s development and perhaps to· a few of his most ardent
devotees.

Nevertheless, it is good to have this material available at
last in English. The translation is the work of a group of
Canadian scholars. The text is adequately, if not generously,
supplied with introductory notes and commentary (by H. S.

Harris). There is a helpful glossary of the English words which
have been used to translate some of Hegel’s major terms-a
practice which could usefully be copied in other Hegel
translations. The book is handsomely produced and altogether
most welcome.

Sean Savers

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