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53 Reviews

REVIEWS

LACAN AMONG THE RUBBLE
David Macey, Lacan in Contexts, London, Verso, 1988, xi +
322pp., £34.95 hb, £12.95 pb, 0-86091-215-9 hb, 0-86091942-0 pb.

French books on Lacan still belong to the age of faith. They
are hagiographic, or obscure, or both. Anglo-Saxon versions
tend to hesitate between admiring importation of French fashion and nervous dismissal in the approved Podsnap manner.

Dismissal is the mirror image of hagiography. Both attitudes
treat the Lacanian corpus as a sacred text, all-coherent and
ahistorical. Mahomet is either prophet or devil, and Lacan the
author of a system.

With David Macey’ s book, we are entering the age of
criticism. The question is at last raised of the whereabouts of
the emperor’s clothes, since it is becoming evident that they
are not on his person. David Macey is probably the first author
to treat Lacan not as a prophet but as a text, not as a system but
as a complex of incompatible influences and shifting and
contradictory positions. And, truly, how did we not think of it
before? Or, to be more precise, for Macey is not the first
author to have recognised the complexity of the corpus, how
did we manage not to use this massive fact as our starting
point? With Althusser, Barthes or Foucault, we have the
impression that most of the corpus is available – a few essays
still need retrieving from the obscure journals in which they
were first published, certain manuscripts are still withheld by
the author or by the terms of his will, but, on the whole, it is
not too difficult to obtain a global conception of the oeuvre.

Not so with Lacan: a large proportion of the Seminars is still
unpublished, and at the present rate of publication only our
grandchildren will have access to the whole. Lacan’ s writing
life spans a period of fifty years: in the space of two generations, the Zeitgeist has changed, Lacan’s culture has evolved,
and he has had time to develop and change his mind. As
indeed he did, more than once.

There are two ways of reading this development. One is
organic and teleological, hinging on the Althusserian concept
of epistemological break. There is a non-Lacanian Lacan,
before the war, who can be read for signs of future glory: the
essay on the family, and the thesis belong to this period. And
there is Lacan’ s Lacan, to be enjoyed in the Ecrits and the
Seminars. The only problem with this type of reading is that it
is profoundly ahistorical. It produces what Macey calls ‘the
final state’: a myth, the fantasy of a systematic opus – a
fantasy which the master himself engineered, witness the very
structure of his Ecrits (they begin with a fairly late text, the
Radical Philosophy 53, Autumn 1989

seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter’, which provides a statement of the final state; they end on a formidable index raisonne by the faithful son-in-law).

The importance of Macey’ s book lies in the fact that he
chooses to read Lacan’s development in a truly historical
fashion, thus deflating the myth of a systematic Lacan. There
is no ‘real’ Lacan: only a network of developing positions,
often incoherent and contradictory, without any determinable
‘break’ or final systematicity. We should be deeply grateful to
Macey for his central insight: Lacan must be read in contexts.

It is essential that the last word should be in the plural.

The myth claims that Lacan’s only context is Freud, as
Marx was Althusser’s. The grandeur of their achievement lies
in the single-mindedness of their return to the great origin.

This, of course, is nonsense: the richness of Lacan’ s intertext,
the complexity, and sometimes the obscurity, o{his allusions,
the extent of his conceptual borrowing, in short his astonishing culture, all indicate that his greatest achievement is the
grafting on to psychoanalysis of the literary, philosophical
and linguistic cultures of his time. David Macey follows this
process with unfailing erudition and painstaking attention to
detail. Thus, he convinces the reader that in order to understand Lacan (whose notorious incomprehensibility is not due
so much to his euphuistic style as to the concealment of
almost all explicit reference to these influences), we should
learn something about the French psychiatric tradition, about
Surrealist literature and painting, about the history of philosophy in France, and of course about linguistics (Macey devotes
a chapter to each). The last influence is notorious, and indeed
explicitly acknowledged by Lacan. But the others are not: all
we have is a few words indicating his debt to Clerambault, his
admiration for Dali, his interest in Levi-Strauss. Macey’s
book documents them, tracing back textual allusions to Lacan’s reading of Sartre or Heidegger, showing that his Hegelianism relies on Kojeve’s extraordinarily influential reading.

Last, and least known so far, he shows the influence on Lacan
of the Marxist critique of psychology by Politzer.

The result of these influences is of course not a system.

How could it be? Each appropriation is a betrayal (except
perhaps the all-important link with the Surrealists: Macey’s
Lacan at times appears to be closer to Breton and Dali than to
Freud), and these repeated misprisions, creative as they are,
are deeply problematic. Thus, the analysis of the most celebrated concepts (the signifier for instance) in their contexts
shows that they profoundly deviate from their intertextual
origin, and that their use is vague or even contradictory (the
41

signifier is at times a Saussurean signifier, at times a sign, at
times neither).

This is where Macey’s method of reading – the usefulness
of which is not in doubt – begins to raise questions. To use de
Man’s distinction, Lacan’s creative errors turn out to be mere
mistakes: there is more blindness than insight. The detailed
account of the necessary incoherence of the text becomes
reproachful. But the reproach is sometimes misguided. I shall
just take one instance. In the course of his chapter on linguistics, Macey attempts to show that Lac an ‘s use of linguistics
and rhetoric is problematic, and takes the example of phonology, in the context of Lacan’s analysis of thefort-da game.

Here as elsewhere Lacan is seen to conflate and/or confuse the
levels of analysis and to use the concept ‘phoneme’ inaccurately, or rather ‘casually’ . This type of criticism functions by
opposing the coherence of scientific discourse, where concepts are univocally defined, and the flou artistique of their
dubious importation into other fields. The trouble is that it
takes the same blindness evinced by the inventors of the final
state to ascribe that sort of systematicity to the discourse of
linguistics. There are at least seven definitions of ‘phoneme’

in the specialised literature; not all phonologists would be
interested in Jakobson’s distinctive features; not all of those
who are would like to keep the concept ‘phoneme’, etc.

‘Linguistics’, used by Macey as a standard, which Lacan’s
text falls dramatically short of, is exactly the same reconstruction after the event as the ‘final state’. So that we have to
invert the criticism and praise Lacan precisely for his slippages and incoherences. Lacan’ s interest, as far as linguists
are concerned, lies in the aporia of his relationship to linguistics as a ‘science’, and in his passage from positivist linguistics to linguisterie. His misprision of the concept ‘signifier’

must be interpreted (and welcomed) in this light.

Reading Macey forces two questions on us. We have to
grant that there is no ‘matheme’, perhaps no master – what
then is there to salvage among the rubble? The answer is: a
text, a glorious proliferation of incoherent insights. But there
is also a second question, which Macey does not address, but
which is implicit in his treatment: how has such an incoherent
text been able to exert such influence, in the field of psychoa-

nalysis and far beyond? For it is obvious that the snake-like
fascination of the man (or of the latest Paris fashion) is no
answer. The only answer, to my mind, is that the text is
sufficiently rich and contradictory for every reader to find his
way through it and construct his own Lacan. From each
according to his reading to each according to Lacan’ s insights. The following is necessarily personal and sketchy. I
suggest three aspects which must be salvaged: a theory of the
subject (the role of language in the constitution of the subject,
the distinction of the Real, the Imaginary and the Symbolic,
the role of the Other, etc.); an agonistic view of the relationship of interlocution; and the whole of Lacan ‘s linguisterie, as
embodied in the concept of lalangue. It seems to me that the
rubble is so solid and impressive as to be a monument.

But we should be thankful to Macey for forcing us to do
this salvaging. By historicising Lacan he has made it possible
to read him as we have never read him before. Even his own
partial blindness is a form of acute insight.

Jean-Jacques Lecercle

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WHITE RACISM?

Joel Kovel, White Racism: a Psychohistory, London, Free
Association Books, 1988, 302pp., £10.95 pb., ISBN 0946960
402 pb.; Joel Kovel, In Nicaragua, London, Free Association
Books, 1988,240 pp., £25 hb, £9.95 pb, 0946960909 hb., 0
946960 917 pb.

White Racism is a book you’re either with, or you’re not, with
few halfway houses. Of its kind, it is better than some – but
what of the kind?

There is a considerable history of discussion about the
place of the ‘irrational’ in racism, and it is hardly surprising
that there have been repeated tryings-out of Freud, especially
to try to make sense of recurrent elements of sexual fantasy.

Kovel’s book, first published in 1970, is a sophisticated and
provocative application of Freud to racism. It is intensely
aware of the obvious traps awaiting a naive psychoanalytic
reading of social phenomena: overschematised reductive
explanations (‘black’ = bad = repressed anality); the disappearance of history into timeless categories (‘we all externalise an Other which is alien and sinful’); and a resultant
42

tendency to see racism as inevitable (‘it is so deeply embedded in conflicts of id and superego, that it is bound to recur in
some form ‘). Kovel is aware of the dangers. Where you stand
on the book is probably in large measure a function of whether
you think he can possibly escape them while remaining within
psychoanalysis.

Kovel’s sophistication lies in his attempt to produce a
psychoanalytically informed history of racism. He distinguishes three phases: dominative racism, in which whites
used black bodies, both male and female, directly, and in that
use, symbolised them as amoral, sensuous and dangerous
animals. This was typically Southern States field slavery.

(But there are real problems in taking that ‘peculiar institution’ as a typical case of racism; the same problem recurs in O.

C. Cox’s traditional marxist account. One such problem is
actually mentioned by Kovel, in a footnote: field slavery was
economically a self-defeating system.) If the American South
is the model for dominative racism, the North, post-slavery,
does for his second category ‘aversive racism’, based on the
‘repressed coprophilia’ of bourgeois society. Here blacks are
Radical Philosophy 53, Autumn 1989

to be avoided as ‘dirt’ and ‘shit’. (Again, ‘the North’ is a large
category.) Finally comes ‘metaracism’, that apparently antiracist, administrative attitude which colludes with the sheer
fact that black people are still subordinated/discriminated
against, without apparently using a category of ‘blackness’

any more.

Kovel does not go for strict historical periodisations – for
example he sees elements of dominative racism recurring in
twentieth-century fantasies of KKK racists. But he does take
his types very seriously, for example postulating ideal types
of racist personality based on them. B ut more significantly, he
believes it possible to explain kinds of culture from the same
roots. His view of culture needs careful consideration. It is a
complicated mixture of functionalism (all parts interdepend,
and tend to return to stasis), and Hegelianism (there is a
‘drive’ to move to more advanced, complex positions). Culture is recapitulating psychic processes, at the same time as
producing their specific forms.

As I say, you’re either with it or you’re not. What do I do,
for example, with the statement that ‘we know that cannibalism is a universal infantile wish arising in the oral sadistic
phase of development’? The book is not exactly rich in evidence, or even argument in traditional senses. It is a pretty
speculative exploration, within dominant psychoanalytic assumptions, of how racism might be looked at from there. But
it is extraordinary how often it just sounds like other positions
in different language. What is the following, for example, but
a renewal of a ‘mass society’ critique? ‘Thus in modern times
… culture grows both in material power and superego control.

The balance of forces gradually shifts to the cultural superego
which, aided by technology, gradually obliterates individual
personality in its efforts to weld mankind into a gigantic
machine.’

Surely the main dangers of a psychoanalytic reading of
racism are, first, fixing it in such deep tendencies that it
becomes ineluctable and, second, stripping away the aspects
of power and exploitation. There is no doubt that Kovel
avoids the latter danger. A fine rage against the destructive
force of racism invests the book. But the former? Kovel
distinguishes between primary and secondary symbolisations.

The primary directly express the id’s overflowing, categoris-

ing and valorising segments of the world; the secondary are
the cultural forms these take. The primary energise and have
priority over the secondary; without them, there could be no
racism. But also, the bridge between them, he suggests, is a
universal ‘everyone fears darkness’ . If this is the case, racism
is surely not only inevitable, however many forms it may
take; it must also be internalised by black people themselves.

Down that gang-plank lurks many a crocodile.

Kovel’s book on Nicaragua is quite another matter. It is a
marvellous, loving but not uncritical, account of a visit to the
Sandinistas, capturing both the strengths and problems of a
country besieged by Reagan. Wholly to be applauded, since it
takes courage to be an explicit supporter of the Sandinistas in
New Right America: at its best it seems to me ironically to
knock holes in the theorisations of the other book. In one
marvellous chapter, for example, he tells ot: the fall in the
amount of mental illness in Nicaragua, even as conditions got
worse and worse. Surely he is right to relate this to the new
forms of collectivity of its people – but these find no space in
the dry places of White Racism.

Manln Barker

MICROFEMINISM
Irene Diamond and Lee Quinby (eds.), Feminism and
Foucault: Reflections on Resistance, Boston, Northeastern
University Press, 1988, 246 pp., £11.95 pb., ISBN 1-55553033-8
This collection of articles, some already published elsewhere,
is an encouraging attempt to use contemporary political ideas
to enhance feminist thinking. Foucault’s work lends itself
well to such an appropriation.

Foucault himself presented his analyses of power as a
‘toolbox’. The ‘tools’ which the authors of Feminism and
Foucault regard as useful are taken mainly from Discipline
and Punish, Sexuality and Truth Vol. 1 and his late essays and
interviews. They are then put to work on a wide choice of
topics, ranging from current feminist theory to the ‘microphysics’ of power in highly specific contexts.

In the first section. ‘On Initiating a Dialogue’, Biddy
Martin introduces Foucault’s genealogical method, which
considers and interprets discourses and patterns of behaviour
Radical Philosophy 53, Autumn 1989

in the historical contexts from which they arose and in which
they currently occur – for instance hospitals, schools, prisons
and universities. She argues that his approach to the interrelation of knowledge, power and discourse circumvents the
inhibiting effects of the monocausal explanations offered by
Marxism and Freudianism. Moreover, his postulation of
power as diffused throughout the social body, and his advocacy of decentralized resistance is seen as converging with
feminist conceptions of ‘personal politics’. Nevertheless
Foucault is not an easy ally. His investigations also reveal the
close interdependence of strategies exerting power and strategies resisting it, their tendency to become interchangeable,
and the productivity of their relation. His suspicion of any
pure voice of liberation is heeded by all the authors of this
book, who reexamine the female subject not only as oppressed, but also as a product of the very structures within
which she attempts to resist. Thus Meaghan Morris re-evaluates the notion of ‘feminine writing’, while Frances Bartkowski remains sceptical as to whether Foucault’s findings are
43

worth the feminist effort after all.

Under the heading ‘Discipline and the Female Subject’

Sandra Lee Bartky and Susan Bordo present an excellent
discussion of femininity as a disciplinary ‘set-up’. With the
help of Foucault’s concept of ‘normalization’ as a modern
form of power distinguished by the lack of public punishment, they analyze the modes of discipline that operate in
feminine body-language, the use of cosmetics, and fashion.

The depths of shame experienced by the anorexic woman
become the pathological epitome of feminine identity in the
context of normalizing power. Kathleen Jones, Mary Lydon
and Peggy Kamuf look at the discourses that produce and
systematically limit the concepts of truth, identity and authority. The authors turn to Molly Bloom, Penelope, and Virginia
Woolf to illustrate their claims.

In the last section, ‘The Uses of Foucault for Feminist
Praxis’, the discourses in which feminists involve themselves
are scrutinized. If sexuality and the discursive production of
desires have been used to restrict the constitution of the
female subject, then what is Foucault getting at when he
suggests ‘desexualization’ as a strategy of resistance?

Winifred Woodhull critically examines feminist efforts to
achieve the legal categorization of rape as a crime of power
rather than of sex. Jane Sawicki points out the ambiguity of
the discourse on identity politics and sexual freedom, and the
editors analyze the ‘language of control’, with which women
have traditionally claimed rights over their own bodies. Addressing the theology of liberation, Sharon Welch finally
argues for a concept of truth and knowledge that supports
resistance in specific discourses and power structures while
abstaining from the repressive claim of universality.

Knowing Foucault obviously helps, but it is not a necessary prerequisite for enjoying the well argued, diverse and
often unorthodox articles collected in this book. You will appreciate them even more, though, if you have already been
irritated by the frequently undifferentiated treatment of gender in Sexuality and Truth Vol. 1. Many of these shortcomings
are here corrected and complemented, although systematic
criticism of Foucault’s work is neither the aim nor the strength
of Feminism and Foucault. Moreover, the ‘dialogue’ is far
from exhaustive. Hardly anything has been made of the important Foucauldian concept of ‘bio-politics’ for instance,
which might bring to mind current family planning policies or
the controversy about surrogate motherhood.

Ute Berns

44

CHILD’S PLAY
Cathy Urwin and John Hood-Williams (eds.), Child Psychotherapy, War and the Normal Child. Selected Papers of Margaret Lowenfeld, London, Free Association Books, 1988,
405pp., £30 hb, 1-85343-035-8
In her lengthy and detailed introduction to the life and work of
Margaret Lowenfeld, Cathy Urwin notes that, despite their
concern with the history of individuals, child psychotherapy
and related disciplines pay little attention to their own history.

Lowenfeld is one of the victims of this neglect. She was an
innovator in the treatment of emotionally disturbed children,
and the founder of the pioneering Children’s Clinic (1927)
and then of the better-known Institute of Child Psychology in
1931. But her influence and importance have often been
overlooked despite the tributes paid to her by Winnicott in
Playing and Reality (1971).

The twelve papers presented here, some of them previously unpublished, span the period 1927 to 1967, and their
content ranges from a discussion of medical aspects of lactation (surely of specialist interest only?) to fascinating contributions to child psychotherapy. The basic and recurrent thesis
is that play is an intellectual and emotional activity, and a
means of self-understanding. The therapy developed by
Lowenfeld centres on the building of ‘Worlds’, using sand,
water and toys to express the entire content of the mind at a
given moment. The World enables the child to express ideas
and fantasies and thus to clarify aspects of the personality
which cause problems or difficulties. There is some similarity
with the Kleinian play technique but the differences may be
more significant. Lowenfeld consistently refuses to interpret
or to reduce everything to expressions of infantile sexuality,
and argues that Klein’s approach implies the rigid application
of a dogmatic and a priori theory. In her response to a paper
read in 1937, Klein accuses the founder of the ICP of precisely the same thing. The exchange has a somewhat absurdist
flavour, but it is, perhaps, a serious index of the difficulty psychoanalysis and related disciplines have in establishing a
fruitful exchange rather than a dialogue of the deaf. At a more
theoretical level, the notion of the protosystem, or a preverbal level which cannot be translated into words but which
implies an innate drive to create patterns and which may lie at
the origins of the aesthetic, indicates some similarity between
Lowenfeld’s thinking and Bion’ s work on the emotional life
of small children.

Lowenfeld’s theories seem to be a curious mixture of the
ancient and the modem. The insistence that an infantile neurosis cannot be understood unless the therapist has a full knowledge of the family background looks forward to contemporary
forms of family therapy. Her descriptions of the playroom at
the ICP in 1931 have an almost libertarian feel which would
not have felt entirely alien in the 1960s: the worker works
under the direction of the child, and must learn not to react if
water is squirted in her face or when water is poured down her
neck. Others of Lowenfeld’s theories may now seem outmoded, even naive. No psychoanalyst would accept that it is
possible, or even desirable, to avoid any element of transference in a therapeutic relationship. And whilst it may be true
that society is the child grown up, can it still be argued that
there is a direct link between psychological disturbances in
the individual and war, or that improved educational methods
will help to preserve peace? Yet these were the assumptions
of the progressive education and child-guidance movements.

Urwin’s introduction portrays not only an important peRadical Philosophy 53, Autumn 1989

riod in the history of psychology and education, but also a
remarkable woman. Of Polish-Welsh extraction, Lowenfeld
qualified as a doctor during the First World War – in itself no
small achievement – and was active in relief work in post-war
Poland. Her interest in child psychiatry dated from an encounter with orphaned refugee children and from her astonishment
that they could survive and even flourish after such traumas
and extreme experiences. The interest in children and adolescents was to remain undiminished almost half a century later:

in a paper written in 1966, when Lowenfeld was 76, she is discussing the appeal of the Beatles. The history of child analysis
and psychotherapy is in a large part the history of women of
astonishing tenacity and courage, Klein and Anna Freud being
the obvious examples. The portrait of Lowenfeld that emerges
from this collection is a major acquisition for a gallery of
unrivalled interest and importance.

the approach.

At the structural level his mapping is too rigid and peculiar; thus ‘the chapter on money’ is equated by Uchida with
‘the doctrine of being’ while that on ‘capital’ is associated
with ‘the doctrine of essence’; yet he himself begins the
discussion of money with several telling references to the
doctrine of essence. And whither ‘the doctrine of the notion’?

That is equated with the Introduction! A further feature is that
he often collapses the correspondence to an identity, stating

Davld Macey

MARX AND HEGEL
Hiroshi Uchida, Marx’s Grundrisse and Hegel’s Logic, edited T. Carver, London, Routledge, 1988, xiii + 163 pp., £30,
0-415003857
As Carver remarks in his Introduction to this book, Aristotle,
Smith, Hegel and Marx would not consider it ‘surprising to
link philosophy and logic, on the one hand, with history and
economics on the other’. These days, the subjects have drifted
so far apart that it is hard for people to grasp Marx ‘s problematic. Carver explains:

Firstly, Marx adapted Hegelian logic in order to analyse the economic categories crucial to modern society. But, secondly, Hegel’s logical categories were
themselves reflections of the productive process, even
the economic categories, of contemporary commercial
society. Thus Marx’s critique of the political economists is simultaneously a critique of Hegel and other
idealist philosophers, and his critique of Hegel and
idealism is simultaneously a critique of political economy and contemporary commercial practice.

We know from Marx’s letter of January 1858 that he found it
useful to look at Hegel’s Logic when working on the Grundrisse. We also know from a letter of December 1861 that
Capital ‘is assuming a much more popular form, and the
method is much less in evidence’. Uchida concludes that the
Grundrisse is the most suitable text for studying the relation
of the critique of political economy to the Logic. (It is,
however, perfectly possible to go direct to Capital; see e.g.

Jairus Banaji’s contribution to Value edited by Diane Elson.)
It should also be mentioned that a sub-theme of Uchida is
that Aristotle is also important. He refers to Alfred Schmidt’s
view that Marx used Aristotle to construct a materialist basis
for his theory, and Hegel to inquire why and how modern life
is alienated and appears in an idealist form.

Uchida’s project is undoubtedly a worthwhile and important one. He has made a heroic effort to accomplish it. However, the results are not always convincing. It has to be said
that this book will not be accessible to those unfamiliar with
Hegel’s Logic. But even those who are will have difficulty
making sense of the numerous correspondences Uchida
claims to find with the Grundrisse. Rather than challenging
any particular gloss I will register some general doubts about
Radical Philosophy 53, Autumn 1989

for example that in the Logic ‘Hegel asserts that the product
becomes a commodity in private exchange’. The uninformed
reader may be confused by all this and end up believing Hegel
explicitly discusses political economy in the Logic. In reality,
of course, Uchida holds ‘the Logic is the most abstract philosophical expression of the bourgeois spirit or consciousness
of value’ . Thus ‘By reading Hegel’s “idea” as the intersubjective value-consciousness of the bourgeoisie, Marx uncovers
the capitalist economy itself in the Logic.’ But does not this
put too much stress on consciousness? After .all, in chapter
one of Capital, Marx stresses that the participants in exchange
are unaware of the real meaning and results of their behaviour. It is only in chapter two that he mentions their consciousness of being subjects of a certain sort. Exchange,
therefore, is first of all a material process of abstraction
generating an objective sphere of value-relations. (See Alfred
Sohn-Rethel, Intellectual and Manual Labour.)
This problem is linked with that of the division of labour.

According to Uchida the natural ‘unity of physical and mental
abilities is … separated by the bourgeois value-relation’.

Hence ‘the capitalist appears as a mental labourer and the
wage-worker as a physical labourer’ . But this cannot be right
because, as Uchida himself admits, production has a mental
component; there are indeed specialist mental labourers but
they too are subordinated within the value-relation. This division of labour does not map neatly onto the class relation
grounded in the capital relation.

This problem is in turn linked to the question of the
dynamic subject of the process. Uchida often speaks as if it
were bourgeois consciousness. But the bourgeoisie too are
under the sway of the reified value relation. Marx generally
speaks not of capitalists but of the capital-subject as dominant. So too sometimes Uchida: ‘In Hegel’s idealism Marx
sees the abstract reflection of modem civil society or capitalism where the ideal subject, i.e. increasing value, is dominant.’

In Uchida’s work the stress on value consciousness exists
in uneasy and unanalysed combination with the ideal value
subject in a more objective sense.

Chrls Anhur
45

FOR THEORY
Christopher Norris, Paul de Man: Deconstruction and the
Critique of Aesthetic Ideology, London, Routledge, 1988,
218pp., £25 hb, £8.95 pb, 0 415900794 hb, 0415900808 pb
De Man’s allegedly collaborationist articles for the pro-Nazi
newspaper Le Soir – written in the early 1940s, rediscovered
in 1987 – hang like a shroud over this useful critical exposition of this most controversial of American ‘deconstructionists’. There is a lengthy ‘Postscript’ devoted to these early
writings which successfully distinguishes de Man’s undoubted flirtation with National Socialism from Heidegger’s
longer-lasting absorption with Nazi ideology. Norris men-

—–··

••

Man’s brand of ‘deconstruction’ and its (radical) implications
for disciplines such as history, philosophy, and even law.

The chapter on ‘Critical Legal Studies’ and its critics
(entitled ‘Against A New Pragmatism: Law, Deconstruction
and the Interests of Theory’) is, in fact, the most satisfying
and far-reaching of the whole book. Norris has himself been
actively engaging in debate within the UK Critical Legal
Studies Conference (set up in 1984) and, in this chapter,
provides a brilliant summary of part of the burgeoning work
from the USA Conference on Critical Legal Studies, and
trenchant critics such as Stanley Fish and James Boyd White.

For Critical Legal Studies, as Norris points out, ‘theory still
has a role to play, though not the same reassuring role that it
plays in more conservative forms of juridical thinking’. But
the way in which legal deconstruction has developed in
American law journals has, on the one hand, led to a crude
nihilism on the part of its proponents and, on the other, given
ample support to those pragmatists who deny that theory ‘can
be anything more than … post hoc rationalisation’. Norris’s
subtle appreciation of the usefulness of de Man and Derrida in
the sphere of legal studies may yet prevent the European
Critical Legal movements from getting into the cul-de-sac of
their American counterparts.

Overall, this book will be deservedly widely read by undergraduates, postgraduates and teachers in a variety of disciplines. Recommended for specialists and newcomers to de
Man’s work.

Steve Redhead

NORMAL CRIMINALS
Elie A. Cohen, Human Behaviour in the Concentration Camp,
trans. M. H. Braaksma, with a new preface by the author and
a foreword by Dinora Pines, London, Free Association Books,
1988, xxiv + 295pp., £9.95 pb., 1 85343047 1

tions in the introduction to the book that he hopes his careful
placing of the young de Man’s dangerous swerve to the right
in the context of a lifetime’s critique of such mythologies
‘will go at least some way towards establishing more useful
and productive terms for debate’. In my view, Norris’s book
does indeed help to move us away from the partisan polemics
which have, thus far, dominated the assessment of de Man’s
life and work.

The chapters in this first full-length introduction to de
Man take us much further than Norris’s cryptic comments in
his 1982 primer on Deconstruction: Theory and Practice. The
present book is a thorough-going critique and review of de
46

Based on a doctoral thesis and originally published in 1952,
this is one of the earliest detailed accounts of life in the Nazi
concentration camps. The author, a Jewish doctor from Groningen, was initially held in a transit camp in the Netherlands
and was then deported to Auschwitz. His wife and young son
were both gassed; Cohen himself survived by assisting the
camp doctor who selected further victims for the gas chambers. Two thousand five hundred Jews were deported from
Groningen, and Cohen was one of the ten who lived to return.

Cohen provides a narrowingly objective description of life
and death in the Anus mundi (the phrase was coined, aptly
enough, by the camp Commandant), of the meticulous organization of the system and of the obscenely pointless medical
experiments that were carried out by camp doctors. Although
he was a medical doctor and not a psychoanalyst, he brings
Freudian theory to bear in an attempt to understand and
explain the incomprehensible. The result is a book which has
to be ranked alongside Bruno Bettelheim’s The Informed
Heart. The notorious passivity of concentration camp prisoners is explained in terms of their brutal apprenticeship to the
system, and their resultant regression to a state of infantile
dependence on the guards who, in a ghastly parody of normal
development, become father-figures capable of alternating
between ‘kindness’ and savage cruelty. In Cohen’s view, the
key to the psychology of the SS guards lies in the phenomenon of the criminal super-ego and in their identification with
one another in a classic group formation. The thesis that a
criminal super-ego was created by authoritarian education
Radical Philosophy 53, Autumn 1989

and by the inculcation of the ideal image of Hitler has one
important implication: the SS were not, in the main, sadists
but nonnal criminals obeying the dictates of an internal
agency. It then becomes possible to understand their ability to
combine cruelty with normal behaviour in the private sphere.

Wisely, Cohen does not really venture into the politicaleconomic domain, and does not attempt to explain fascism
itself. Arguably, psychoanalysis cannot elucidate the social
origins of Nazism , but it can help us to understand some of the
horrors it unleashed (and some of the more recent work
produced in Argentina as it recovers from its ‘dirty war’ goes
further in this direction). The literature that came out of the
Holocaust is still stomach-churning and almost intolerable
reading. Which is precisely why we must go on reading it.

David Macey

Contemporary Social Philosophy Oxford, Basil Blackwell,
1988, viii + 184pp., £25 hb, £7.95 pb, 0-631-15705-0 hb, 0631-15966-X pb

The preface to this work states that ‘in places it will appear
that the book takes sides in a way that an introduction should
noC. This understates matters. In fact this book is written
from a consistently libertarian-individualist position. By the
beginning of chapter four, Graham thinks he has established
individual freedom as the cardinal social virtue. We have
seen, he claims, that a free society ‘is not merely compatible
with a just society, but identical with if. If Graham had
brought off this trick in the first seventy-nine pages of an
introductory text it would indeed be remarkable. In fact, he

offers a set of rather tendentious arguments with a repeated
assertion of ‘a belief in the individual as the touchstone … of
social value’ at their core. Once ‘established’, this libertarian
position is used to attack, for example, public health care. We
are offered the view that ‘there is no justification in a free
society for compulsory systems of health care financed out of
taxation’ . In the absence of any real grounding of the underlying libertarianism, all that can sensibly be said of this is that it
is an opinion likely to be shared by the libertarians now in
government, but not, if we are to believe the opinion polls, by
a majority of the electorate. Graham thus offers us a minority
opinion on social policy, based on an assertion of the primacy
of one possible social value among others. This seems a
curious thing for an introductory text on contemporary social
philosophy to do. In fact the whole book is curiously ‘asocial’. The majority of the chapters deal with matters of
social policy, but there is a marked absence of references to
contemporary social theory. Marxism is briefly and airily
despatched as irrelevant to social philosophy (no attempt to
engage with Gerry Cohen ‘s work, for example; no mention of
Habermas). The introductory chapter, ‘What is Society?’ is
simplistic. It fails to engage with contemporary theories (Giddens’s, for example) which address the complex ontological
problems this question raises. Even more disturbing is the
description of the family as ‘a natural fonnation, not an
artificial device’. Add to this examples which begin ‘Consider a game of Monopol y… ‘ and Graham’s distance from the
li ved social reality of the majority becomes apparent. In short
this book is not an introduction, it does not deal with the
contemporary, nor is it properly ‘social’. Philosophy it may
be, but of the sort that this journal was established to challenge.

John Tomllnson

PSYCHOANALYSIS
and the PUBLIC SPHERE
Third Annual Conference
sponsored by Free Association Books and the
Sociology Department, Polytechnic of East London (PEL)
Friday and Saturday 27-28 October 1989 at the PEL Conference Centre,
Duncan House, High Street, Stratford, London EIS
Plenary sessions on ‘Fundamentalism and idolatory’ (Or Ronald Britton)
and on ‘Destructiveness in 1980s Britain’. Workshop papers grouped
under the broad themes of Culture, Power and the Life Cycle; also
small-group discussions.

FN
Registration fee of £40 (£20 students and unwaged) includes Friday evening social and lunch on
both days. Registration fonns from Barry Richards, Department of Sociology, Polytechnic of East
London, Livingstone Road, London EIS 2LL. Tel. 01-590 7712 ext. 5010/5035

Radical Philosophy 53, Autumn 1989

47

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