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55 Reviews


Michele Le Doeuff, The Philosophical Imaginary, trans.

Colin Gordon, London, Athlone Press, 1989. x + 199pp., £32
hb, 0485 11352 X.

Western philosophy has, by tradition, defined itself in opposition to myth, fable, the poetic, and all that inhabits the domain
of the image. Whatever else either reason or good sense have
or have not required, they have characteristically demanded
the renunciation of the vagueness and ambiguity inherent in
images in favour of the precision of logically structured literal
discourse. Michele Le Doeuff seeks to remove the mask
constituted by this self-image of rational respectability, to
reveal the essential dependence of philosophy on precisely
those forms of discourse which it has sought to exclude. More
radically, this unmasking discloses a whole imaginary realm,
the philosophical imaginary; a realm which functions to support the exclusions founding philosophy’s self-image. In this
realm dwell women who embody the formless feminine other
and thus necessarily lack the rational abilities required to
make good philosophers.

The simultaneously castrated and panhystericized
woman can thus be read as the emblem of a discursive
practice, one which can be called Ideological in the
strict sense of the term …. But why should it be specifically ‘woman’ who covers the costs of this chiasmic
figuration of competence? To resolve the problem of
this choice of symbolizing substance one would need
to reconsider the strategies of all those philosophers
since the mid-eighteenth century who have transcribed
their anxieties about their own legitimacy into reveries
on ‘the feminine’ (p. 170).

swimming against the tide of feminist and post-modernist
trends. Seriousness of purpose does not, however, preclude
the playfulness of a brilliantly barbed wit.

As Michele Le Doeuff explains in her excellent opening essay, the papers collected here were written over a
number of years. They began as an exploration of the role of
imagery in philosophic writing and from this there emerged
the hypothesis, explored in the final chapter’ Pierre Roussel’ s
Chiasmas’, that there is imagery which is specific to and
performs specific functions in philosophic texts – a philosophic imaginary. Amongst these images is an icon of the
feminine which differs from the image of the feminine to be
found outside learned circles. Her initial hypothesis concerning the role of images in theoretical texts is that imagery is the
locus of points of tension. More strongly, images work both
for and against the system that deploys them, sustaining
something that the system cannot justify but which is essential to it, and yet doing so in a way which is incompatible with
the system’s possibilities. This is illustrated by Kant’ s use of
the image of the island of truth surrounded by an ocean of
illusion to mediate the conflict between hope in the practical
value of the critical enterprise which requires a connection
between sensible and intelligible realms, and the official
doctrine of the analytic which severs this connection.

The theme of an anxious philosophy displacing its
anxieties through its use of images begins to emerge in ‘Red
Ink in the Margin’. Here Le Doeuff examines the sources of

Who is it that has the audacity to remove the mask? A
philosopher who cannot assume it – a female philosopher.

So this collection of essays is at once a sequence of
explorations of the role of images in philosophic discourse
and an elaboration of the means by which it is possible for a
woman to engage with and in philosophy whilst coming to
terms with, and coming to a philosophic understanding of, the
obstacles that she has encountered. (These themes emerge
more explicitly and are developed further in Michele Le
Doeuff’s most recent book L’ etude en le rouet; The Philosophic Imaginary is a translation of her first book, published
in French in 1980.) There is here a serious commitment to and
faith in the project of changing philosophical practice through
critique, in finding a non-exclusionary, non-hegemonic way
of engaging in and with philosophy. To this extent she is
Radical Philosophy 55, Summer 1990


(mis)readings of Descartes’ Discourse on Method which take
it that the morality there adopted is only a provisional morality, when a meticulously literal reading of Descartes’ phrase
‘par provision’ shows this to be quite inaccurate. This examination has two purposes. One, to show that Descartes’ text,
through its use of images, opens itself to the ‘misreading’

because it is itself traversed by indecision and slippage. The
second is to situate the demand for ‘loyalty to the letter of the
test’, for if the reading labelled ‘erroneous’ is latent in the
text, the insistence on literal reading is a move to occlude
what is said in the marginalised elements through the use of
images, that is to prevent the surfacing of certain problems.

She locates the pressure to ‘misread’ Descartes in debates in
19th-century France concerning the teaching of morality in
schools in which the relevance of philosophy was at stake.

The retention of the task of producing a definitive morality as
one proper to philosophy was important to its status, hence the
reading of the morality, which Descartes adopts ready-made,
as provisional. But the seeds of this reading are sown within
the Discourse itself where the use of images (a lodging, the
concern about foundations, the tree of knowledge) suggests a
devalorisation of the morality adopted by Descartes at the
outset. Nevertheless the effect of the Cartesian method is to
sunder the practical from the theoretical, so rendering the
notion of knowledge of the Good problematic:

The nostalgia for wisdom – that is, for a knowledge
which makes possible the Good – is thus a pure nostalgia, the mask of an unredeemable loss. It is the conflict
between the possibilities of the system and the philosopher’s wish concerning the power of philosophy which
summons up the images, and draws them from a place
whose recollection carries a great power to reassure (p.


Is the literal reading, that Descartes provided himself with
a common-sense morality of which he approved, then to be
counted as the correct and definitive reading when it ignores
the images, the unease and tension in Descartes’ thought?

Whenever philosophical discourse touches, even indirectly, on the nature and status of philosophy itself, the discourse can never be univocal and subject to simple, neutral
readings. Literal discourse becomes contradictory when it
seeks simultaneously to incorporate reflexivities and to be
definitive (as the Liar paradox and Godel’s theorem remind
us). To the extent that philosophic discourse attempts to
occupy the high ground of knowledge whilst at the same time
exhibiting a concern with the legitimacy of its own claims it
will go beyond the resources of literal reading in the manner
illustrated by Le Doeuff. To the extent that it does this whilst
defining itself in opposition to the image, it inhabits, insecurely, an imaginary space. One route to displacing reliance
on an exclusionary image of the feminine may thus be, as Le
Doeuff suggests, that of internalising the inevitable role of the
image in philosophy, to cease wishing to mask the incomplete
nature of all theorisation and to create a philosophy which
becomes open to history:

Insisting on philo~ophy’ s lack, while making of this
lack the condition of its insertion into historical reality,
allows philosophy to be moved towards a position
where the alternative between a hegemonic reason and
a revolt of unreason can be seen as mythical, a connivance or complicity between forms which present themselves as opposites (p. 118).

Changing philosophical practice in this way is likely to
alter the interlocking of the ‘philosophical’ and the ‘feminine’

by altering the realities which sustained it in the past.

Mary Tiles

Nicholas Costello, Jonathan Michie and Seumas Milne, Beyond the Casino Economy: Planning for the 1990s, London,
Verso, 1989. 320pp., £24.95 hb, £8.95 pb, 0 86091 2523 hb,
o 86091 067 6 pb.

Modification of the base/superstructure model and rejection
of technological determinism has been something of a touchstone of Western Marxism since Stalin (G. A. Cohen’s Karl
Marx’s Theory of History: A Defence being a notable exception). Or so it was until the emergence of the New Orthodoxy
– a loosely related body of thought whose most trenchant and
self-conscious exponents are the post-Fordists of Marxism
Today. Suddenly the politics of the Communist Party’s Manifesto for New Times, and also the Labour Party’s Policy
Review, are promoted as having been derived from technological, industrial and economic developments. The irony of
base/superstructure concepts being resurrected by those who
would have formerly regarded them with dissatisfaction was
pointed out by Paul Hirst in a New Statesman article in July
1989, though with the qualification that technological determinism has given way to ‘causal metaphor’ – a persistence ‘in
seeing broad processes of social change in terms of a meta44

phor taken from industrial production’.

For Hirst, the real problem with ‘post-Fordism’, paradoxically, is that it is inadequate for conceptualising changes
in the manufacturing base and ought to be replaced by the
more precise category of ‘flexible specialisation’. ‘Flec spec’

involves the production of a range of customised goods by
skilled workers using re-programmable technology. It is, so
to speak, the antithesis of the Fordist mass production methods which relied on special-purpose (inflexible) machinery,
unskilled and semi-skilled labour, to produce vast quantities
of standardised goods.

But Hirst is mistaken in counterposing the two concepts – flec spec is an integral part of the post-Fordist view,
which couples it with two-tier employment, subcontracting to
specialised suppliers, and an increasingly consumerist, flexible and individualist workforce. All of which has a concomitant – dare I say it – superstructural effect, described thus by
Marxism Today editor Martin Jacques:

Our world is being remade. Mass production, the mass
consumer, the big city, the big-brother state, the
sprawling housing estate, the nation state are in decline: flexibility, diversity, differentiation, mobility,
Radical Philosophy 55, Summef1990

communication, decentralisation and internationalisation are now in the ascendant (Marxism Today, October 1988).

But to the extent that political and ideological changes are
influenced/determined by changes in production, the base/
superstructure model could only possibly be of use if you can
get the base right. Unfortunately the New ?rthodoxy has g~t
it wrong. The general account of changes m the economy IS
misguided, and the political conclusions and policy propos~ls
arising from them – as epitomised by the Labour Party Pohcy
Review – are correspondingly inappropriate and inadequate to
the problems of the British economy in the 1990s. Such at
least is the claim of Costello, Michie and Milne.

The three central tenets of ‘New Times’ thinking – postFordism, the impossibility of pursuing radical strategies in
the face of globalised markets, and an epochal shift from
planning to markets – are subjected to searching criticism in
the book’s opening section, ‘A Brave New World?’. The need
to shift to long-term economic planning and intervention is
set against the actual experience of Britain’s relative decline
and repeated false dawns in the book’s second section ‘Crisis and the Road to Renewal’. The implication is clearly
that current Labour Party policies would allow at best just one
more false dawn. This leads into the third section – ‘Planning
for the 1990s’ – which attempts to uncover the emerging
opportunities for radical intervention in the 1990s, such as the
growing industrial need, particularly in the leading-edge sectors of telecommunications and information technology, for
public ownership and planning. Possi.ble obj~ctions .and debates are well presented in the concludmg sectIOn, whIch calls
for further work, both on uncovering the emerging opportunities and on developing policies able to meet those challenges
– to really ‘make the change’.

Specifically, Brian Gould’s argument, that the ‘new
terrain … of high technology, of small firms, computers and
information technology … is a future of diversity and flexibility, of internationalisation on the one hand and specialist
production on the other’ , is taken to task as fighting the b~ttles
of the last war. While the information technology sector m the
1970s went through a phase of small start-up companies
developing the market, the market in the 1990s will not only
be dominated by massive corporations, but also by technological and industrial imperatives for networking, integratio~,
compatibility and standardisation. According to the authors It

Radical Philosophy 55, Summer 1990

was just the sort of approach articulated by Gould which lay
behind the relative failure of British Telecom’s Prestel Service in contrast to the successful state-led and planned apprdach adopted by French Telecom wi~h ~initel: Success in
information technology, they argue, wIll mcreasmgly necessitate social intervention and ownership. This is partly because the mobility of labour renders it uneconomic for private
companies to spend the necessary money on training only to
have their workers move on. But more importantly, rival
research teams engaged in producing almost identical software products which, once produced, cost virtually nothing to
copy, creates a drag on such work itself. Ad? to this the
resulting need of private firms to devote increasmg resources
to methods of protecting their research investments from
copiers, and the conclusion must surely be that, in .this leading-edge area of production, existing social relatIOns h~ve
become a definite fetter on the development of productive

The authors do concede that there has been an emergence of a large number of small, ‘flexible’, go-getting fir~s,
whose innovatory efforts tend to support the post-FordIst
world view. Nevertheless, the huge cost of research and
development required to meet the individualistic and fluid
demands of the post-Fordist consumer definitely favors the
big boys – who even as you read are bel.ying their F?rdist
reputations with flec spec ‘batch’ productIOn. The a~aIlable
evidence suggests that in the years to come there wIll b~ a
further increase in industrial concentration, a process whIch
will be given additional impetus by the creation of a ‘Single
European Market’. It should also be stressed that large sections of the economy remain untouched by flec spec. Even on
the High Street – which is thought to be particularly fashioned
by the needs of the new flexible consumer -. paragons of
corporate standardisation such as MacDonalds stIll seem to be
flourishing. Mass society therefore shows little sign of disappearing. So why did anyone imagine it was?



Ironically enough, the New Orthodoxy has, qUIte unWIttingly, provided us with a real-life example of developments
in the economic base being reflected ideologically. Certainly
there is a new individualistic ideology being promoted and
supported. And it may be that, however misguide~ that ~de.ol­
ogy is in claiming to be the wave of the future, or m claImmg
to provide policy proposals which would work in the interest

of society as a whole, it nevertheless reflects the interests, aspirations and life sty les of a particular sector – ‘class fraction’

even – of society. Michael Rustin, in an interesting examination of such superstructural phenomena, suggests that designer socialism ‘is really the socialism of designers. That is
to say, the world of flexible specialisation is the world as seen
from the point of view of its beneficiaries … of the man or
woman for whom the capacity to acquire, apply and transmit
knowledge is the market resource’ (New Left Review MayJune 1989). As Marx remarks, ‘one must not take the narrow
view that the petty bourgeoisie explicitly sets out to assert its
egoistic class interests. It rather believes that the particular
conditions of its liberation are the only general conditions
within which modem society can be saved and the class
struggle avoided.’

Beyond the Casino Economy is a serious and important
contribution to the search for a progressive programme of
economic and social reform in the 1990s. It presents an acute
analysis of the British economy and its actual and potential
place in the world. In addition it provides sound arguments
and up-to-date evidence for a comprehensive radical economic programme involving a major extension of democratic
public ownership, and does so without any of the ostrich-like
dogmatism or re-warming of the Alternative Economic Strategy which have characterised many left responses to the New
Orthodoxy. As such it is the first effective challenge both to
the arguments of the post-Fordists and the Labour Party
Policy Review, and adherents of both will need to take serious
account of what it has to say.

Kevin Magill

Rita Felski, Beyond Feminist Aesthetics: Feminist Literature
and Social Change, London: Hutchinson Radius, 1989, x +
223pp., £25 hb, £8.95 pb, 009 174093 hb, 0 09 174098 3 pb.

1989 saw a triad of distances from feminist aesthetics. First
came George Steiner with Real Presences in which he argued
that great artifice implies an essential maleness. Feminist
criticism was relegated to ‘legitimate rancour’ and ‘vengeful
impatience’ with ‘traditional aesthetic and philosophic theory’. No future here for developing a non-essentialist form of
feminist aesthetics. Refusal to concentrate on biological
‘facts’ would be a form of bad faith. Then, more or less
simultaneously, came my own Gender and Genius (subtitled
‘Towards a Feminist Aesthetics’) and Rita Felski’s Beyond
Feminist Aesthetics. Never … towards … beyond? Why should
Rita Felski – who emerges out of Marxist feminism – be so


quick to collude with conservative positions that doom feminist aesthetics to failure before its tasks have barely begun?

Felski defines feminist aesthetics as ‘any theoretical
position which argues a necessary or privileged relationship
between female gender and a particular kind of literary structure, style, or form’ and then goes on to attack two targets: (i)
‘the existence of a specifically feminine psychology’; and (ii)
the notion of a ‘feminine’ form of discourse that must always
and necessarily undermine the authority of a ‘masculine’

symbolic language. Felski mounts a punchy attack on those
who treat the ‘feminine’ in ahistorical and context-blind ways.

But, given the ways that aesthetic and metaphysical terms
have been gendered in the history of the arts, there are other
analyses that could be provided of the relationships between
being female and particular forms of artistic expression.

Felski blocks off these alternatives for a feminist aesthetics
by, in effect, narrowing her enquiry to ‘feminine aesthetics’.

Felski’s book includes an attack on poststructuralist
and ‘cultural’ feminists. But by accepting both the reductive
account of Anglo-American feminism offered by Toril Moi in
Sexual/Textual Politics, and Moi’s pro-Kristevan slant on
French feminist theorists, Felski manages to leave a variety of
feminist positions unexamined. And this means that, despite
the (many) virtues of Felski’ s negative critique, she cannot
establish her strong conclusion about the undesirability of
feminist aesthetics. Felski claims that the current conflict in
feminist literary theory between Anglo-American and French
critics ‘does not simply constitute an as yet unresolved state
of affairs which will be transcended at some future date’.

Rather, all attempts to ‘collapse’ the ‘literary and political
domains’ into each other must fail, leaving us with ‘a social
and historical problem rather than a purely theoretical one’.

As an argument this only works if we assume that a feminist
aesthetics must seek to explain all formal and literary features
of a text in terms of an autonomous theory of gender relations.

But I cannot think of any feminist theoretician who would
wholeheartedly adopt this premise.

Felski quotes Patrocinio Schweickart to the effect that
feminist criticism cannot involve either a compromise between, or a hierarchical relationship between, political values
and traditional literary values. But, whereas Schweickart’s
formulation suggested a ‘dialectical mediation’ between the
oppositional value systems, Felski’ s summary of this position
Radical Philosophy 55, Summer 1990

suggests that the feminists’ ‘necessarily contradictory enterprise’ must fail. ‘The notion of a feminist aesthetics presupposes that these two dimensions of textual reception can be
unproblematically harmonized’. Whereas I would freely
admit that a very few feminist philosophers have as yet begun
to develop a theory of aesthetic value, Felski is much too
quick to conclude that all such attempts must end in deadlock.

Why should dialectical movement be permitted in Marxist,
but not in feminist, aesthetics?

In place of a feminist aesthetics Felski proposes ‘a
sociologically based analysis of the reception of artworks in
relation to specific audiences’. It is this move that enables
Felski to put forward an innovative and richly suggestive
account of two specifically female prose genres during the
1970s and ’80s: feminist confession and narratives of feminist self-discovery. Literary critics will value these chapters
for their detailed analysis of the relationship between implied
readers and implied authors in two sub-genres of fiction and
autobiography. But, far from offering a space beyond feminist
aesthetics, it is surely with such acute analysis of the paradoxes of female subjectivity that feminist aesthetics should
begin …

Felski’s analysis in this part of her study will be of
interest to those philosophers concerned with thinking
through the problems of gendering the framework of the
Frankfurt School and other Marxist aesthetics. Felski moves
beyond the positions argued by Adorno and Lukacs, arguing
that the ‘modernism versus realism’ debate marginalises
feminist art. Instead, she develops a notion of a ‘feminist

counter-public sphere’: a shared discursive space which contains the tensions of feminist-authored texts without negating
those tensions. Although Felski’ s argument moves far too
quickly from Habermas’ s notion of a shared legal and social
‘public sphere’ to that of a counter-sphere that can embrace
literary texts, this part of Felski’ s book is an important contribution to feminist literary theory. It needs, however, to be set
against Joan Landes’ brilliant and much more radical revision
of Habermas in Women and the Public Sphere in the Age of
the French Revolution (Cornell University Press, 1988).

Beyond Feminist Aesthetics will be a useful coursebook for those studying gender in autobiography and the
novel. But the philosopher who comes to Felski’s book looking for a theoretical discussion of the vocabulary handed
down to us from the history of aesthetics is likely to be
disappointed. ‘Form’, ‘matter’, ‘oeuvre’, ‘disinterestedness’,
‘objective’, ‘be;lUtiful’, ‘sublime’ are all terms that, to my
mind, require a (historically based) gender analysis of the
kind I provided for ‘genius’. Since Felski conceives of aesthetics primarily as twentieth-century literary theory, she
simply does not see the urgency of this task for feminist
philosophers. It is good to welcome a sceptical Marxistfeminist counter-voice to the debates currently raging within
feminist criticism. But it is sad that Felski felt the need to
entitle this book Beyond Feminist Aesthetics instead of
Against Aestheticism and Essentialism in Feminist Literary
Theory. This might be a much less catchy title, but it is a much
more precise indicator of the direction of her arguments.

Christine Battersby

The Clinical Diary of Sandor Ferenczi, edited by Judith
Dupont, translated by Michael Balint and Nicola Zarday
Jackson, Cambridge, Mass. and London, Harvard University
Press, 1988, xxviii + 227pp., £23.95 hb, 0 674 1356 1

pernicious anaemia at the age of sixty. The diary is therefore
Ferenczi’s final and unfinished contribution to psychoanalysis.

Sandor Ferenczi, a leading figure in psychoanalytic circles
and a one-time president of the International Psychoanalytic
Association, was regarded by Freud as the ‘most perfect’ of
his heirs. A favourite travelling companion of Freud’s, he was
a trusted member of the secret committee founded to further
the cause, one of the elect who wore the antique intaglio ring.

Like many of Freud’s close friendships, the relationship was
to end in acrimony and distrust, with Freud claiming that
Ferenczi was ‘too much under the influence’ of his patients,
and with Ferenczi reproaching the father of psychoanalysis
for not loving his analysands. Ferenczi’s posthumous reputation suffered greatly at the hands of Ernest Jones, whose
Freud biography describes him as suffering from an ‘unhappy
deterioration’ of the mental faculties. Rumours of a descent
into psychosis abound, but have always been discounted by
those who were close to Ferenczi, a man who inspired great
affection in his friends and patients, in his final years. It is
sometimes said that Jones never forgave Ferenczi for having
been his analyst.

The clinical diary was written over a ten-month period
in 1932, the year in which Ferenczi presented his controversial paper on ‘The Confusion of Tongues’ to the Wiesbaden
Congress of the IPA. The following year, its author died of
Radical Philosophy 55, Summer 1990


Ferenczi’s estrangement from Freud began with the
scandal over the so-called ‘kissing technique’; he had
breached the rule of analytic neutrality by demonstrating
affection to his analysands. Throughout the diary, he explores
his differences with Freud, struggling to remain loyal and at
the same time to justify his own technical innovations. Analytic neutrality is criticised as inhuman, as a defence against
weakness and fear, and Ferenczi argues the case for a form of
analysis based upon what he calls a healing compassion: the
love of the analyst should have the same effect as the embrace
of a loving mother and a protective father. All too often, the
professional politeness of the analyst masks contempt for the
patient, whereas in Ferenczi’s view ‘only sympathy heals’.

The proposed solution centres on the still controversial technique of mutual analysis. In certain sessions, the patient
analyses the analyst, who relates fragments of his own past
and reveals his own feelings of anxiety and guilt. The unconscious of the analyst thus becomes a further resource for the
analysis of the analysand in a spiral of mutual interpretation
and working through.

If the technical innovations described here were and
are controversial, the underlying theoretical claim borders on
the heretical. Several passages are in fact drafts for the 1932
paper on the ‘Confusion of Tongues’, in which Ferenczi
argues that trauma and sexual abuse are realities and not
retrospective fantasies. Without ever denying the fact of infantile sexuality, he stresses that it is infantile: the child who

seeks tenderness and affection encounters the brutality of
adult passion and sexuality. Two languages are confused, and
the child victim is reduced to silence or worse. The role of the
analyst is to restore the affection that was denied, to make
reparation for the damage that was done to the child who lives
on in the analysand. Only the trust that comes from mutual
compassion can establish a contrast between the present and
the traumatic past. Once that contrast has been made, the
patient can relive the past, not as a compulsively repeated
hallucination, but as an objective memory which can be mastered.

The diary is densely written, with fragments of case
histories jostling alongside theoretical speculations, some of
them in the form of terse and fragmentary notes. There are no
signs of the ‘deterioration’ mentioned by Jones, but there is
evidence of considerable and painful inner conflict and
struggle. The attempt to be both mother and father to his
analysands (or is it a fantasy of bisexuality?) clearly cost
Ferenczi dear; he complains, not surprisingly, of severe headaches after a three-hour session of mutual analysis, and finally abandons the technique as unmanageable. As a chapter
from the history of psychoanalysis, this is essential reading.

As a human document it is moving and at times painful.

The history of the text is emblematic of psychoanalysis’s difficulty in coming to terms with its own past. The
manuscript was brought from Budapest to London by Balint
in 1939, but he held back from publishing it because of the
controversy surrounding the Jones biography. Balint originally believed that it could be published in 1969, thinking that
the obstacles to a simultaneous publication of the voluminous
Freud-Ferenczi correspondence had finally been removed.

That proved not to be so, and it is only now that we can read
the diary, though a French edition did appear in 1985. The
publication of selections from the correspondence is now
announced for an unspecified date. It is to be hoped that we do
not have to wait a further twenty years.’ And it is to be
regretted that not everything will be published.

David Macey

Peter Sloterdijk, Critique of Cynical Reason, translated by
Michael Eldred, Foreword by Andreas Huyssen, London,
Verso, 1988, xxxxix + 558pp., £14.95 pb, 0 86091 933 1.

This book arrives ripe with expectation. A runaway success in
West Germany, where it sold over 40,000 copies in the first
few months after its publication in 1983, it has been touted as
the quintessential philosophical text of the 1980s. A heady
blend of impulses from Poststructuralism and Critical Theory, it mixes and juxtaposes intellectual genres and topics
with bewildering facility in an attempt to outflank everyone in
the battle over the fate of Enlightenment reason. At once a
history of cynicism (and its repressed ‘kynical’ Other), a
philosophical reflection on the climate of the times, a prolegomenon to a Universal Polemics, and a meditation on the
Weimar Republic as an exemplar of the political pathology of
modernity, it ranges (and rages) across the landscape of European thought with extraordinary virtuosity and considerable


Its starting point – the impasse of an Enlightenment
thought which has become conscious of its own contradictions – is familiar; its perspective, refreshingly new. For by
testing this impasse, which takes the form of a gap between
theory and practice, less as a problem amenable to either a
theoretical or an immediate practical solution than a structure
of consciousness or form of practical reason in its own right
(cynicism), Sloterdijk is able to connect it up to a whole tradition of anti-philosophical thought and action and to investigate its structure in genuinely novel ways.

The times, Sloterdijk declares, are cynical. We are
enlightened, but we are also apathetic. ‘New values have short
lives.’ Our theoretical sophistication (the self-consciousness
of enlightenment reason – ‘knowledge is power’) has brought
us not the good life, but an enduring scepticism about all
claims on behalf of such a life. Critique has lost its force. In its
inability to change the world it has become complicit with it.

It has become masochistic. This is the specificity of modern
cynicism. It is enlightened false consciousness, a consciousRadical Philosophy 55, Summer 1990

ness which has learnt the lessons of enlightenment, but has
not, and probably cannot, put them into practice. ‘Well-off
and miserable at the same time, this consciousness no longer
feels affected by any critique of ideology; its falseness is
already reflexively buffered.’ The formal sequence of states
of false consciousness from lies through error to ideology, it
is argued, must be extended to include cynicism as the fourth
(and final?) stage. An ideology-critique which has become
conscious of its own impotence demands a critique of cynical

So far, so good. But what could a ‘critique’ of cynical
reason mean in this context, once the recognition of the fact of
cynicism has undermined the self-understanding of critique
as a form of practical reason? And what form is it to take in
this decidely post-Nietzschean world?

The text is divided into five main sections, sandwiched
between a slender Preface and fragile Conclusion which bear
the weig~t of philosophical contextualization and orientation
with thinly disguised discomfort. The first section, ‘Preliminary Reflections’ , sets out the main argument of the book. The
remaining four – a Physiognomic, a Phenomenological, a
Logical, and a Historical ‘Main Text’ (the latter devoted
exclusively to the Weimar Republic) – develop it through a
variety of narrative and argumentative strategies. Illustrations
are scattered throughout. The appar~ntly systematic ordering,
like the title of the book itself, is in part satirical, in part the
result of a will to order which at times prevails over, and at
others is defeated by, the enormous diversity of the material

The power of the work derives from the combination of
the creative tension inherent in this often sprawling but never
chaotic structure, and the simplicity and conviction of its
guiding idea. The necessity to maintain systematic and antisystematic impulses simultaneously, which is given a theoretical foundation in Adorno’s Negative Dialectics, is played
out here at the level of form in an unusually innovative way.

The problem is whether there is anything more to this than a
merely aesthetic mediation.

There are four main issues at stake. The first concerns
the place of cynicism within the history of philosophy as a
deviant but repressed ‘anti-philosophical’ tradition. The second is the difference between ancient and modern cynicism,
and the splitting of the cynical tradition in the modern world,
detected by Sloterdijk, into a subversive, celebratory, marginalised ‘kynicism’ (Kynismus) and its strategic, deceitful,
powerful twin, for which the term ‘cynicism’ (Zynismus) is
generally reserved. Thirdly, there is the brief but central claim
which is made for the subsumption of dialectics within a
Universal Polemics. Finally, and perhaps most crucially, there
is the question of the status and implications of the ‘critique’

of cynical reason itself.

As an intellectual tradition, cynicism has its origins in
the ancient world in Diogenes’ performative critique of Platonic philosophy. With Diogenes, Sloterdijk argues, ‘laughter
about philosophy itself became philosophical’. ‘Kynicism’

(from the Greek kyon, meaning dog – Diogenes was denigrated as a ‘dog’ philosopher) was the first reply to Athenian
idealism that went beyond theoretical repudiation: ‘It does
not speak against it. It lives against it.’ As such, it, rather than
Aristotelianism, is understood by Sloterdijk to be ‘the real
philosophical antithesis to Socrates and Plato’. Its form is not
logical-rhetorical, but gestural and embodied. (Diogenes’

replied to Plato’s theory of Eros by masturbating in public, for
example.) It is a derogatory, satirical, ‘dirty’ materialist tradition which resists the devitalisation of culture performed by
philosophy by outrageous, scandalous acts. It is an ancient
Radical Philosophy 55, Summer 1990

existentialism born of a pact with poverty, directed against
the hegemonic aspirations of philosophical reason. It is
‘cheeky’ ifrech). It fools around, but to a point and in public.

It refuses to be drawn onto the ground of rational abstraction.

It is material argumentation, a sublation (Aufhebung) of philosophy: a shrug of the shoulders, a malicious laugh, a fart, a
shake of the head. It is shameless.

Kynicism becomes cynicism at the point at which its
insight into the deficit of all ‘philosophical’ reason is appropriated by the powerful to denounce their critics as selfserving. In cynicism, ‘critique changes sides’. It becomes
‘opportunism trimmed to the irony of those in power’. Sloterdijk presents us with both a ‘Cabinet of Cynics’, from Lucian
the Mocker (born 120 BC) to ‘Anyone’ (‘The Most Real
Subject of Modern Diffuse Cynicism’), and a phenomenology
and logic of Cardinal and Secondary Cynicisms (Military,
Political, Sexual, Medicinal, Religious, Epistemological;
Moral, Communicative, Exchange), in a dazzling display of
cultural and literary history. And all in the name of their
repressed kynical Other, who lives on in the margins of
cultural life, sniping from the sidelines. Such neo-kynicism is
taken to find its foremost modern representative in Nietzsche
and the project for a Gay Science. (Diogenes, Sloterdijk
insists, is the real founder of the Gay Science.)

In his libertarian emphasis on the dissenting margins
and his attempt to give negative dialectics (a form of experience which is true in the medium of determinate negation
only) a sensual-erotic, pantomimic turn – symbolised by the
student who stripped during one of Adorno’s lectures in
Frankfurt – Sloterdijk locates himself firmly within the cultural context of the ’60s and the ‘thin thread of political
culture’ which it stimulated. Critique of Cynical Reason both
provides the politics of the student movement with a philosophical pre-history and holds out the hope of the renewal of
its impulse. It is at once a cry against the academicisation of
left theory (‘a kind of philological gardening where Benjaminian irises, Pasolinian flowers of evil and Freudian deadly
nightshade are cultivated’) and a monument to scholarship. It
would like to play Diogenes to Habermas’ s Plato, but it is a
text, and a considerably sophisticated one at that, and kynicism, it insists, is always embodied.


Sloterdijk’s aim is to lay bare the structure of modernised false consciousness (cynicism) ‘physiognomically’, by
placing it within a ‘political history of polemical reflections’

which starts out with Diogenes’ kynicism. In order to do this,
however, he must give an account of polemic, not just historically, but theoretically. It is this latter task which is undertaken in the second half of the Logical Main Text in a chapter
entitled ‘Transcendental Polemic: Heraclitan Meditations’,
which offers an account of the foundation of dialectics in
what it calls Polemics and Rhythmics (a kind of Prolegomen on to a Universal Polemics). This is the one place in which
Sloterdijk risks a theoretical confrontation with Critical Theory. It is the secret philosophical core of the book and reveals
its innermost conceptual ambition. It is also deeply disappointing.

The starting point is the idea that neither a critique of
instrumental reason nor a critique of functionalist reason
(neither Adorno nor Habermas) discloses the connection between strategy and cynicism which is the ‘philosophical signature of modernity’. In contrast, Sloterdijk offers a ‘transcendental-polemical’ viewpoint which sets out from ‘the
“war of researchers” as the condition of that which they work
out as truths’. Dialectics is to be reconstructed in the form of
a Universal Polemics. The problem with all this, however, is
that it remains fatally vague what the conceptual structure of
such a polemics is to be. We are told that the Heraclitan
dialectic ‘corresponds completely to this type of wisdom’.

But this hardly helps. We are also told that it represents a
further radicalisation of Adorno’ s ‘great intervention’ against
the affirmative essence or ‘victor’s fantasy’ of Hegelian dialectics, with which the Marxian dialectic is also taken to be
infected. But it remains unclear what is conceptually objectionable about negative dialectics; or in what sense this Universal Polemics is to be dialectical at all, if it is to give up the
residual Adornian version of mediation. Coming from Sloterdijk, the charge that Adorno ‘did not bring about the with50

drawal of dialectics from ontology in a satisfying, rationally
well-ordered form’ can only be read ironically. But where
does all this leave us? Pretty much where we began, with a
will to transcend the opposition of (subjective) agonistics and
(objective) dialectics – Nietzsche and Hegel- on the basis of
the recognition of their mutual inadequacies, but without
recourse to the logical mediation of a classically dialectical
unity. Universal polemics exhausts itself in the consumption
of its own contradictions. All it can do is conclude with the
romance of a physiological reduction. A rational reason, we
are told, ‘will unconstrainedly intercept the decision from the
inclination of our bodies’. Kynicism and cynicism turn out
not to be so different after all.

The very terms of Sloterdijk’s text (‘critique’, ‘subjective and objective reason’, ‘analysis’ and ‘dialectics’) place
him within a tradition to which he no longer wants to belong,
but from which he is unable to free himself without simply
tearing himself away – however thoroughly he may try to
subvert it through carnivalisation. Theoretical sophistication
and literary brilliance ultimately prove inadequate, in themselves, to the problem. It was not for nothing that Adorno
insisted on the strict separation of the conceptual and the aesthetic as cultural forms within his account of their speculative

Huyssen has hailed Critique of Cynical Reason as a
postmodern pastiche of Dialectic of Enlightenment, a step on
the road to a postmodernism of resistance, and it is likely that
this is how it will be read. Such a reading, though, however
accurate, diffuses its seriousness, and excuses its flaws. It is
too good a book to read that way; too problematic a text to
treat with such easy indulgence. Michael Eldred’ s translation
is an impressive achievement.

Peter Osborne

Madan Sarup, An Introductory Guide to Post-Structuralism
and Postmodernism, London, Harvester-Wheatsheaf, 1988,
171pp. £25 hb, £8.95 pb, 07108 13392 hb, 07108 1349X pb.

Steven Connor, Postmodernist Culture: an Introduction to
Theories of the Contemporary, Oxford, Basil Blackwell,
1989, £30 hb, £9.95 pb, 0 631 162038 hb, 0 631 162046 pb.

‘N ew readers start here.’ Most of Madan Sarup’ sIntroduction
to Post-Structuralism comprises brief, accessible and unpretentious summaries of the thinking of a battery of ‘poststructuralist’ thinkers: Lacan, Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze and
Guattari (a quite masterly resume of those two), Lyotard,
Bernard-Henri Levy, Fredric Jameson. In addition, he explains their intellectual forebears and challengers: particularly Nietzsche; but also Levi-Strauss, Adorno, Habermas and
so on.

Sarup’s book has three pivotal chapters explaining
major post-structuralist thinkers. In all three the thought
Nietzsche is an idee fixe. The first explains how, for Lacan, a
symbolic order (in which the ego is constructed by language)
subjugates the pre-oedipal imaginary. In the second, Sarup
sets out Derrida’s claim that deep ‘phonocentrism’ and ‘logocentrism’ constantly draw Western thought back towards the
illusion of a foundation: the self before ‘differance’, present
Radical Philosophy 55, Summer 1990

to itself. Sarap explains how Derrida’ s strategy changes the
posture which Nietzsche aspired to: by plucking out the illusions of fixed presence in the marginal metaphors of the text,
deconstruction keeps identity fluid, ‘under erasure’, in continual self-reflexive uncertainty. Thirdly, there is a chapter on
Foucault. Avowed pursuit of genealogy a la Nietzsche (as
against history) is the thread here. Sarup follows .Foucault’s
historical accounts of the transition to the modern forms of
power. Those modern forms – the ‘disciplinary’ power which
constructs the human self (much as the symbolic order does
for Lacan) and ‘power/knowledge’ – also have Nietzschean
dimensions. They subjugate knowledge to power and remove
it from any single source or location.

After the chapters on the various post-structuralists,
there is a single chapter on the post-modem fragmentation of
culture. Apart from its resume of Lyotard, I found this too
compressed to be anything like as useful as what had gone
before. But I will not indulge myself by arguing with the
tough choices that Sarup decided on.

An unstated aim of the book is the defence of history
(in a roughly marxist understanding of it) against the attacks
of post-structuralism and post-modernism. This accounts for
Sarup’s sympathetic use of Nietzsche. Even though he articulates an anxious, self-doubting consciousness, Nietzsche
admits that individuals and history exist. Sarup would like a
return to history (and Marxism) which preserved something
of that Nietzschean insight.

Yet, Sarup’s pursuit of that aim gives us two rather
different books. One is a craftsman-like synopsis of the arguments of various writers, traced back to those they were reacting to. The other is the defence of history in the modem world.

The way this latter emerges as the book progresses did make
me uncomfortable. It can leave Sarup in a seemingly dogmatic position: condemning Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘sheer
idealism’, for example; or assuming that any defence of the
importance of history will favour Marxists, because they
‘struggle for a better future for all’.

This impression belies the real strength of Sarup’s own
arguments. Scattered through the last two chapters, there is a
quite incisive case against the post-structuralist interpretation
of the postmodern situation. It states that post-structuralism
wrongly complies with the trend towards fragmentation which
it correctly diagnoses. If a critic wants to make the broad
claim that the inherited grand narratives have broken down,
Sarup asks, is it not self-contradictory to eschew everything
but little narratives and local struggles? Is that not, furthermore, to misconstrue the significance of avant-garde artists
for our historical situation? For Sarup, their failure, from
within art, to counteract the fragmentation and marginalisation of culture only goes to show (as WaIter Benjamin argued)
that these things are not merely effects of the content of art.

They are the product of the fragmenting institutions which
interpret culture. The struggle against fragmentation is not yet
lost. These points suggest a telling strategy against the poststructuralist position.

Steven Connor’s Postmodernist Culture is prompted
by a similar distaste for the insistence upon fragmentation
which, in cultural post-modernism, shadows the strategy of
post-structuralism. Connor mounts a more or less parallel
argument to Sarup’s. He claims that post-modernist criticism
loses its way when it turns from the enclosed univalence of
modernism: ‘in such a situation, questions of value and legitimacy do not disappear, but gain new intensity.’ But postmodernism is, in his view, simply hooked on an endless play
of further fragmentation. In place of that, Connor advocates a
reintegration of cultural debate within the social-cultural
Radical Philosophy 55, Summer 1990

sphere. That is an antidote to what Sarup attacks as ‘idealism’.

Connor’s specific arguments can sound remarkably like
Sarup’s, too: for example, his claim that ‘the post-modern
critique of unjust and oppressive systems of universality
implicitly depends … upon the assumption of the universal
right of all not to be treated unjustly.’

Yet, these are running arguments extracted – and not
without difficulty – from the generality of the book. For it,
too, is an introduction, laden with quick, exceedingly useful
exegeses of the thought of every post-modernist theorist you
could possibly be asked about, and not a few of the artists as
well. With an almost relentless courage, Connor takes us over
the fields of architecture, fine art, photography, literature,
theatre, film, video, television and popular culture. There is a
battery of critics addressing each. Through them, Connor
pursues his chosen linking theme: that post-modernism in one
way or another rejects the self-absorption of art and selfreferring univalence which was characteristic of modernism.

The rejection appears under many names: contextualism;
conservative, or critical pluralism; an ‘expanded field’ of
reference; the inversion of presence in paradoxically ‘live’

recordings; the explicit advocacy of sub-culture; and so on.

Connor takes us through each area with clarity, thoroughness
and a sharp eye for historical and institutional dynamics.

The last is, of course, integral to the drift of his argument. For he, like Sarup, wants to see post-modernism apply
itself boldly to the overall historical and institutional situation
of today. Most of all, he is opposed to what he refers to as ‘the
romance of the marginal’ which, as Gayatri Spivak has
pointed out, may preserve the inequalities on the overall map
of culture by endlessly celebrating the margins. In spite of the
limitations of any introductions, these two books show how
post-modernism and post-structuralism fail to face the challenge which they revealingly diagnose.

Noel Parker













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Chris Weedon, Feminist Practice and Poststructuralist Theory, Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1987. viii + 187pp. £22.50 hb,
£6.95 pb.

To argue the political usefulness of poststructuralism, and in
particular its usefulness for feminism, as Chris Weedon sets
out to do here, is on the face of it a rather bold thing to do,
given the chorus of criticisms addressed to poststructuralism
in its various guises, precisely on political grounds. This is
not the place to look for answers to the usual charges of
nihilism, self-indulgence or incapacity to address the ethical,
since the author’s project is not so much to defend poststructuralism as to harness it to the feminist cause. In fact, in
choosing between what she sees as the various kinds of
poststructuralist work on offer, she is seeking to forge a new
variety altogether, namely feminist poststructuralism, on the
grounds that this alone permits satisfactory analysis of discursively constructed power relations and realities, which in
turn modulate particular political practices.

Insisting quite rightly on the interdependence of po lit ical practices and their implicit or expicit theorisations, she
mobilises primarily Saus~ure, Lacan, Althusser, Derrida,
Kristeva and Foucault, to affirm the inadequacy of a feminist
politics grounded in women’s experience or biology, in
‘commonsense’ views of gender relations or in variations of a
universal humanist model; the burden of the argument is to
theorise patriarchal oppression and historical change, demonstrating that established meanings are amenable to analysis
and change, and it bears particularly upon language, subjectivity, and power relations. Given that we live within patriarchal sets of relations, we have to look at the way power
relations are institutionalised, as well as at the ideological
discourses constructing subjectivity – naive or existential
belief in our individuality being illusions guaranteed by those
very discourses. Poststructuralism therefore covers both the
theories which show that these are discursively constructed,
and the methodological apparatus which permits their analysis.

One question which is unavoidable is the kind of
poststructuralism which figures here. It is in some ways
strange to read a critical work placed under the sign of
poststructuralism which does not take on the HeideggerLyotard connection, and in fact this is a very structuralist
poststructuralism. Most of the founding books mentioned
here were originally published in the mid-’60s, although, very
confusingly for the uninitiated, on the whole only translation
publication dates are given; Weedon is seeking to use concepts rather than fit them into a ‘history of ideas’ frame, but
this kind of imprecision adds to the impression that ‘theory’ is
quite uncontextualised, and that appropriations from theory
are considered unproblematic. Some of the claims put for-

ward for the originality of poststructuralism, feminist or otherwise, are unconvincing, given that the insistence on the
ideological and historically dated, as part of a case against
humanism and the naturalising ideology of commonsense,
has been part of a certain intellectual stock in trade through
the 1940s and 1950s, in the work of, say, Barthes and Sartre,
among others. In a sense, then, the debate has moved on, to an
appraisal, from a variety of standpoints, of the position being
argued for here. It is difficult at times not to read the emphasis
placed on the centrality of a decentred subjectivity for any
ideological analysis, and on the politically liberating effects
of such analysis, as relying on a subtext of Tel Quel was right,

The target audience appears to be particularly those
who take categories of gender for granted, who have not
thought through the implications of valorising women’s experience, or who have some familiarity with ,the theoretical
scene of the past fifteen years and tend to dismiss much of
what Weedon is defending as being in some way ‘antiwomen’. As a response to the school of thought which rejects
theory on the grounds that it is patriarchal, as a persuasive
marshalling of the political arguments in favour of the usefulness of certain kinds of theorisations for feminism, and as a
clear introduction to the work of the theoretical gurus mentioned above, students too will welcome it. It is thoughtprovoking also in its areas of contradiction. Firstly the question of agency vs. the hidden determinism operating in the
notion of discursively constructed subjectivity: on what basis
can an individual choose between discourses if they are constitutive of the individual qua individual? Secondly the problem of affixing meaning to a particular political position
within a framework marked by the notion of the non-fixity of
meaning: how does one theorise the ethical within a perspective committed to deconstructing what is at stake in such
stances, which necessarily have to misrecognise the arbitrary
nature of their own discursively constructed ‘truths’; which in
this context means asking, how does one legislate for feminism, for notions of women’s oppression being rather more
than a self-defeating claim for ‘meaning’, within the infinite
and indeterminate plurality of the text?

Margaret Atack

Radical Philosophy 55, Summer 1990

Paul Rabinow, French Modern: Norms and Forms of the
Social Environment, Cambridge, Mass. and London, The
MIT Press, 1989. x + 447pp., £31.50 hb, 0 262 181347.

The cover of this beautifully produced volume is illustrated
by an architectural drawing of a bridge connecting France and
Italy. Designed in 1829 as a student project, the bridge was
never built, but the image neatly captures Rabinow’ s theme
of the birth of the modern in France. The bridge is monumental, with single arched triumphal entries at both ends. The
perspective adopted means that only the inscription reading
‘France’ is visible; Italy is reduced to a historical and architectural blank. Labrouste breaks with the authorized version
of the past by designing an Etruscan, rather than a Roman,
structure. In doing so, he also breaks with classical space and
severs the link with two supposedly eternal civilizations. Its
severance is at once temporal, spatial and discursive.

Rabinow’s stated aim is to explore the middle ground
between high culture and science, and ordinary life, the territory inhabited by ‘technicians in general ideas’ like Lyautey,

significant as Baudelaire and the poets and painters of modern
life. Following Foucault and associates like Perrot and Castel,
Rabinow extends the debate in an almost bewildering number
of directions. Colonialism, pacification campaigns in Indochina and Madagascar, unrealized projects for garden cities,
the life sciences, social statistics and probability theories all
figure in the discussion. At times, the very weight of erudition
becomes a problem and results in a certain loss of focus. That
is a minor problem. No single thesis emerges, but these
explorations into the history of the present have an undeniable

The book is dedicated to Michel Foucault, whose influence is openly acknowledged throughout. Rabinow has many
of his master’s virtues. Not the least of Foucault’s talents is
his ability to make the Physiocrats sound interesting. Rabinow accomplishes something similar. Forgotten theorists of
urbanism come back to life. The architectural squabbles of the
Ecole des Beaux Arts signify a good deal more than sound and
fury. The technocratic visions of Saint-Simon become almost
compelling. Military visionaries like Lyautey and Gallieni,
architects like Gamier and reformers and urbanists like Sellier prove to be the technicians of general ideas who shaped
the modern nation rather than forgotten names in a history
book, or at best the eponyms of streets and squares. Rabinow
can even convince the reader that it may be actually worth
looking at Richardson’s Hygeia, a City of Wealth, a rather
dreary exercise in urban utopianism published in 1876. That
in itself is no mean achievement.

David Macey

Richard and Rosalind Chirimuta, AIDS, Afric~ and Racism,
London, Free Association Books, 1989, 192pp. £9.95 pb, 1

Governor of the Protectorate of Morocco and military architect of Rabat and Casablanca. This is a ground across which
terms like milieu migrate from physics to biology, then to
sociology and finally to urban planning. He explores the
institution of the norms and forms, the discourses and practices and symbols of social modernity, the fleeting alliances
and coalescences that characterize the modern. More specifically, Rabinow charts the processes whereby space and society converge in a historically situated relationship which
permits the emergence of the city as an object of discourse,
observation and intervention. Whilst cities have existed since
Antiquity, the convergence of discourses on health, planning,
policing, statistically-based norms and various forms of moralizing philanthropy is characteristically modern. Rabinow
also explores the emergence of the meritocratic technical
aristocracy which was so decisive in the shaping of modern
France, particularly after Vichy. This is no arcane archaeology and its traces are conspi<;uously visible in cities like Paris
and Lyon.

Discussions of the birth of the modern are often
couched in almost purely philosophico-aesthetic terms
(Berman’s All That is Solid Melts into Air being a notable
exception). Yet the appearance of the modern is rooted in a
multiplicity of discourses and practices. Haussmann is as
Radical Philosophy 55, Summer 1990

The target of this book is the persistent suggestion, backed
with supposedly scientific evidence, that AIDS originated
among black people. The authors take us through the two
main stages of this claim – that Haiti, and then that Central
Africa, was the source of the AIDS virus. They suggest with, it must be said, only a smattering of direct evidence that Western scientists’ obsession with these notions derives
centrally from racist assumptions about the ‘promiscuity of
black people’ and their ‘greater proximity to apes’ (this last
encouraging speculations about Green Monkey Disease as the

With great care they take us through the history of
these researches and arguments, showing their repeated flaws
and failings, all of which helped scientists and politicians to
avoid the possibility that the disease appeared, or even was
manufactured, in the West. They also show how some Western radicals, including gay activists, gave voice to these
views. Yet investigation after investigation turns out to be
seriously inadequate. Scientists accepted poor quality research that they would certainly have dismissed in other
fields. All this is demonstrated, as far as I can tell, very
effectively and I came away firmly convinced. And then the
book stops.

The authors do not go on to discuss what this reveals
about current forms of racism, and their role in relation to
First/Third World relationships, or how this episode compares with the long tradition of racist pseudo-science with its

evolutionary claims, and obsession with inherited intelligence. It is a pity that the book does not even seem to
recognise that these remain issues. It is as though we all know
the meaning and the role of racism, hence it does not need
argument or articulation.

Still, the book does excellently what it sets out to do. If
you want clear evidence and arguments about the ways AIDS
research can itself be ‘infected’, this is it.

Martin Barker


Ann Ferguson, Blood at the Root, London, Pandora Press,
1989. 299pp. £8.95 pb, 004440445.

Blood at the Root is a sophisticated defence of socialist
feminism. It analyzes motherhood and sexuality as well as the
economic position of women. Ferguson develops the concept
‘relations of sex/affective production’ to describe the various
ways there have been, historically, of ‘organising, shaping
and moulding the human desires connected to sexuality and
love’. She argues that it is partly through these systems that
domination is reproduced. Others have created similar concepts but, Ferguson argues, a central limitation of all previous
theories is that their authors see their ‘systems’ as being
distinct from the economy. This, Ferguson avers, is wrong.

In a fashion that is reminiscent of the work of Alison
Jaggar, Ferguson begins her work by ‘criticising Marxist,
radical feminist and Freudian accounts of women’s oppression. Some of her arguments against these theories have been
rehearsed elsewhere. This is inevitable given the wide range
of material she subjects to critical scrutiny. The very breadth
of her discussion, however, sometimes leads to a tendency to
superficiality. For example, she complains that Luce Irigaray’s advocacy of women’s language, or, as Ferguson puts it,
‘womanspeak’ (‘a spontaneous language which emerges
when women are together but disappears when men are present’) seems to lapse into mysticism. She argues that, for
Irigaray, ‘we cannot say anything to men because to do
otherwise is a mere reversal of the masculine/feminine triad
supposed by phallocentrism.’ B ut this is to miss an important
aspect of Irigaray’s thought, which is that, in many transhistorical, trans-cultural systems, woman is constructed as
‘other’. In an important sense, then, woman does not exist in
these symbolic systems. Instead, drawing on the real experiences of women, Irigaray would advocate the construction of
a new language, one that would be novel both for women and
men, but where woman is no longer ‘other’. This tendency to
superficiality is repeated, to some extent, in Ferguson’s discussion of Freud and other post Freudians.

The second part of Ferguson’ s book is a discussion of
the view that women constitute a radical class, and the third
describes how a socialist feminist transformation of society
might look. She has interesting material on a ‘new’ socialistfeminist sexuality, on the construction of lesbianism historically, and on the role of the mother as a possible subverter of
patriarchal systems.

One important unifying theme of the book is Ferguson’s emphasis on the historically diverse forms taken by
women’s oppression, motherhood, sexuality etc. This focus
forms a vital corrective to ‘universalising’ theories of these

phenomena. However, Ferguson is sometimes confusing.

Thus, for instance, the central concept that she develops, the
‘relations of sex-affective production’, is supposed to explain
in part how different forms of male domination are reproduced. But she doesn’t say what else is necessary for their
reproduction. Further, it is important for her case against
other theorists whom she accuses of developing concepts for
analysing domination that are ‘just’ ideological, that she describe her ‘sex-affective systems’ as being themselves economic systems. Sometimes this is indeed what she does claim.

But at other times she represents them as being merely ‘analogous’ to economic systems (in which case they might just be

A great strength of the book is the way in which
Ferguson links her personal experience (particularly as a
lesbian and a mother) with theoretical analysis both of the
historical development of these concepts and of their political
role in the USA in the ’80s.

Alison Assiter


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Radical Philosophy 55, Summer 1990

Terence Ball, Transforming Political Discourse: Political
Theory and Critical Conceptual History, Oxford, Blackwell,
1988, xiv + 200pp. £25 hb, 0 631 15821 9.

Within the field of intellectual history and the ‘history of
political thought’ it would not take long for a British reader to
recognise the success of the ‘texts in context’ approach of
writers such as Quentin Skinner and J. G. A. Pocock. Though
methodological differences between them exist, they have a
common purpose: to examine the modalities (the illocutions)
of political theorists’ intended meanings (or speech-acts)
within the linguistic conventions of their time of ‘enactment’,
and to examine the transformations effected by authors and
commentators upon existing political languages. This
method’s use of contextual meaning, historicism and an underlying hermeneutics finds common cause with the’ beg riffgeschichte’ or critical concept-history approach of Terence
Ball and his West German peers such as Reinhart Kosselleck.

Ball concentrates on conceptual meaning changes
through interacting discourses rather than on the changes
brought about by the interaction between material contexts
and language. For Ball, concepts are articulated through argumentation. How certain concepts have changed, are manipulated, or have evolved through debate by ‘agents occupying
specific sites and working under the identifiable linguistic
constraints of a particular tradition as it exists at a particular
time’ into specified concepts of contemporary political discourse forms the content of chapters 2 to 7. For Ball, what is
critical about his enterprise is (1) that it shows the defining
characteristic of political concepts to be their’ essential’ and
eternal contestability; (2) the providing of an account of the
recognition by agents of the effects of political discourse
upon them; (3) an account of how agents transformed the
political discourse of their day.

Terence Hall in successive chapters examines the agencies, contexts and effects of conceptual meaning-changes that
have brought about our modern political concepts of ‘party’,
‘republicanism’, ‘power’, ‘authority’, ‘democracy’ and ‘intergenerational justice’. In doing this he advocates a conceptual relativism without at the same time endorsing a radical
incommensurability thesis .. Agreeing with the arguments of
Michael Walzer, Ball argues that we can make a reasonable
stab at understanding the meanings of the past and anticipating the shape of the near future, but the more remote a
particular future, the more opaque to us it becomes. This
entails a highly sceptical view of the usefulness of historical
knowledge for deriving timeless, universal ethical principles,
and, in particular, principles for an intergenerational justice.

With regard to the latter, Ball maintains that in the face of our
ignorance about future generations we should do for them the
best we can.

Terence Ball’s style is deceptively simple, but the
argument is complex. Throughout this book he advances his
arguments, never being waylaid by the temptation to debate
extensively with structuralist and poststructuralist critics or
with his intellectual cousins such as Skinner, Pocock,
Ashcraft or Gadamer. This could be construed as regrettable
because of the present need to disabuse critics of their belief
that Skinner et al are all using the same methodology. Notwithstanding this, Ball lucidly presents his histories of certain
concepts, and we can profit from these without necessarily
having to struggle with the theories of historiography outlined
in Ball’s first chapter. This book can also be read as going
Radical Philosophy 55, Summer 1990

beyond merely providing conceptual histories and into the
realm of arguments about how political concepts transform,
and are transformed by, the practical context of political
debate and its agents.

Graham B. McBeath


Stephen Yeo (ed.), New Views of Co-operation, London,
Routledge, 1988, xii + 276pp. £30 hb, 0415 02523 O.

One of the healthier aspects of what has loosely been defined
as ‘postmarxism’ is a willingness to look at a range of socialist currents previously marginalised. As the old certainties
and hopes have crumbled, so has the basis for patronisation.

In this climate, Stephen Yeo’s book should be particularly
welcome, focussing as it does on themes in socialist/labour
history which once brought forth a sniff from plany marxists.

In particular it deals with the development of the co-operative
movement, or rather movements, in Britain and Ireland from
the period of ‘utopian socialism’ in the 1930s. This is presented in chapters mainly written by former and current postgraduates of the University of Sussex. This ‘School of Yeo’

volume is itself dedicated to that pioneer of Owen studies, and
former professor at Sussex, John Harrison.

The bulk of the book consists of microhistorical analysis – case studies of particular experiments, specific individuals and important conjunctures. Out of these emerges the
issue discussed in the first and last chapters (Stephen Yeo,
Eileen and Stephen Yeo ) – the practical and theoretical definition of community. Thus Andy Durr discusses the conflicting
interpretations of co-operative behaviour held by working
class and middle class co-operators in early 19th-century
Brighton, and how, historically, the imposing figure of Dr
William King has eclipsed the humble artisans. The similarly
obtrusive presence of the Rochdale Pioneers is put into perspective by Robin Thornes. Mick Reed shows the importance
of shared religious belief in the success of the communal
experiments of the Society of Dependents. Gill Scott and
Alistair Thomson draw attention to gender conflicts in cooperative politics, whilst Neil Killingback and Paddy Maguire illustrate the fraught relationships between the co-operative movement and state and business interests. The theme
of creative struggle surfaces time and again, the struggle to
establish the particular co-operative practices, and the
struggle to theorise these using concepts hotly contested.

Sally Mullen examines the political and artistic exertions of
the Bristol shoemaker poet John Wall (1855-1915), Peter
Gurney charts George Jacob Holyoake’s attempts to make

sense of, and partIcIpate in, the political struggles of the
Victorian working class, whilst Keith Harding looks at Larkin
and Ireland. The Yeos attempt to conceptualize three notions
of community: community as mutuality – the notion of mutual
support developed by early 19th-century Owenites and cooperators; community as service – a mid-Victorian, middleclass, conception of public service, concretised in the great
civic endowments of libraries and town halls; finally, community as state – the 20th-century spread of the word ‘community’ to cover the politically defined ‘people’. In a subtle
piece of analysis the complexities of the growth and interrelationship of these definitions are effectively displayed.

The memory the book leaves is of ordinary people who
felt sufficiently empowered to make bold experiments in
alternative work and living patterns, who grew in the act of
creation, and developed self-confident cultural forms (see
Lawrence Magnanie’s chapter on the vast co-operative festivals at Crystal Palace). If memory is the means in the present
to ground the future in the past then this volume will have
served a very useful function.

Vincent Geoghegan

Ann Thompson and Helen Wi1cox (eds.), Teaching Women:

Feminism and English Studies, Manchester, Manchester
University Press, 1989. ix + 211pp. £27.50 hb, £7.95 pb, 0
71902603 2 hb, 0719026040 pb.

This stimulating collection of papers covers a broad range of
aspects of ‘English teaching’ for, by and about women. In
keeping with the spirit of much feminist research, the authors
explore the very notion of what constitutes a paper, an article
or an essay, as well as offering an array of theoretical and


experiential accounts of feminist teaching. Hence we find
included topics as diverse as Elaine Hobby’s account of a
women’s ‘return to learning’ course; Patsy Stoneman’s discussion of the ‘ivory tower’ of women’s postgraduate study;
Susan Greenhalgh’s essay on feminist drama teaching; or
Margaret Beetham’s ‘realist fiction’ diary of a seminar. The
book is divided into five parts, reflecting the different interests and experience of the contributors, but Ann Thompson’ s
introductions to each section and her joint editorship with
Helen Wi1cox do a lot to draw together the common threads of

One shared preoccupation is the question of how feminist teaching and learning can thrive in the patriarchal, hierarchical, competitive world of academic education. All the
contributors bear the scars of their day-to-day struggles in our
so-called post-feminist world. The problems. are· familiar to
feminist teachers: the conflict between the supportive, democratic learning sought by feminist educators, and compulsory
assessment procedures; the effects of marginalisation in setting up and maintaining courses on women’s writing; the
tensions which can arise in mixed sex groups on conventional
courses that have a ‘women’s’ component. Isobel Armstrong
and Penny Florence agonise over the question of whether the
price feminists have to pay for academic recognition, in terms
of modification of course content and learning style, is too
high. All the contributors realise that none of these important
issues is easily resolved; many freely acknowledge and describe the practical mistakes that are often made.

Beneath these problems, however, lie certain assumptions. Feminist teachers have come to take for granted the idea
that feminism necessarily implies a particular pedagogy, leading naturally to a more collaborative, learner-centred, openminded education. Gabrielle Griffin, for example, argues
convincingly that ‘maximising student participation’ in
choice of study material, organisation and methods will lead
to the ‘acquisition of transferable skills whose objects are the
cultural dominants under which we labour’. One is reminded
of Paulo Freire’s vision of education as a revolutionary tool.

Many of the central notions are also very similar to those
advocated by child-centred theorists in Primary education Dewey, Montessori and more recently Pring – all of whom
directly link thinking on justice to educational theory.

So is what is described in this book necessarily a
feminist theory of education? The authors argue that it is,
from the initial position that women’s behaviour, ideas and
learning styles, as well as their ways of writing and reading,
are radically different from those of men. Louise Stewart and
Radical Philosophy 55, Summer 1990

Helen Wilcox identify the ‘interwoven strands of women’s
lives as opposed to the linear pattern of male autobiography’,
again something that many feminist teachers will recognise.

If women’s lives are so different, so the argument runs, why
should their literature or their methods of literary analysis or
their styles of learning not also be different from – or even
better than – the traditional patterns of patriarchal academia?

All this serves to justify the contention that feminist
pedagogy, even more than any other kind, has to be exploratory and innovative because of its desire to enable women’s
learning. In an article by five Leeds lecturers, itself something
of an academic experiment, the case is put for teaching texts
non-chronologically in order to ‘highlight the specificity of
historical conditions women face’; what appears to be an
ahistorical approach in effect accentuates women’s special
history. Sue Reid describes the experience of teaching mixed
sex groups to read ‘as women’ rather than as men, real or
‘honorary’. These are just two examples of the kind of
thought-provoking insights to be found in this book.

It is beyond doubt that the results of a feminist theory
of education would hold benefits for all learners, once its
implications for justice are taken seriously. Although this
collection will obviously attract those teaching women, or
English, or both, it is a very enlightening and timely book that
should be read by all those involved in adult education.

Patricia Prior

without much summary in terms accessible to the uninitiated.

That said, though, the interest of the Bhaskarian project is
undeniable – and will probably repay the effort which readers
will have to put in.

The unity of the book lies in its main themes which fall
into place around what I take to be the central question: what
must the world be like for knowledge of it to be possible?

Bhaskar’s reply is that the natural and social sciences must
presuppose that the world is more real than any form of either
empiricism or idealism or Kantianism allow. Thus it is not a
question of whether to be a realist – since everyone explicitly
or implicitly presupposes some (‘intransitive’) reality – but
what kind of realist to be. Bhaskar’s proposal is what he has
come to call critical realism, and each essay in some way
elaborates -what is involved in this. It is established chiefly
through ‘critiquing’ the philosophies of others – which means,
above all, disentangling the ontological assumptions of these
philosophies out of their epistemological (or post-epistemological) presentation.

How successful Bhaskar is I leave to others to judge;
and this book is anyway not intended as a definitive statement
of his position. The one point that strikes me for comment is
the great political claims made for critical realism – ‘it is a
philosophy without which a socialist emancipation cannot be
achieved.’ In view of this the generally high level of technicality might have been relieved by clearer indications as to
how the critiques pave the way for concrete arguments for
socialism. Encouragement to believe this can be done emerges
from the chapter on Rorty – where the connection between the
philosophical critique and what’s at stake politically is, for
once, made fairly explicit. Otherwise, though, glimpses of the
recognition that philosophy can be (and lead to) something
more and other than ‘underlabouring’ for social scientists are

For me this is a pity, and fuels my initial uncertainty as
to who the book is intended for. If critical realist knowledge is
a sine qua non of socialist emancipation, then its production
and articulation cannot be left exclusively in the hands of
professional social scientists. But in this volume, at least,
little concession is made to anyone else who wants to know
how being a critical realist might make them a more effective
socialist – to facilitate, indeed, the possibility of their reclaiming reality.

Tim Hayward

Roy Bhaskar, Reclaiming Reality: A Critical Introduction to
Contemporary Philosophy, London, Verso, 1989. ix + 218pp.

£24.95 hb, £8.95 pb, 0 86091 237 X hb, 0 86091 951 pb.

Those who are already persuaded that contemporary philosophy can be defined as what Bhaskar does will presumably
need no introduction to it, though they may welcome this
selection of articles, talks and previously unpublished essays
which serve to chart out the development of his critical realism in one handy volume. Other prospective readers, however, might fairly be warned that this book is often hard-going
as an introduction, even a critical one: a number of the essays
gathered here not only presuppose a thorough acquaintance
with the philosophers selected for criticism, but also make
frequent reference to arguments of Bhaskar’s other books
Radical Philosophy 55, Summer 1990


Gerald L. Bruns, Heidegger’s estrangements: Language,
truth and poetry in the later writings, New Haven, Yale
University Press, 1989, xxx + 233pp. $29.50 hb.

‘If philosophy were more open to poetry, if it would allow
poetry to loosen it a little, it would probably not find Heidegger so weird and unphilosophical – would not think of
Heidegger as being incompatible with itself.’ This quotation
indicates the line of entry into Heidegger’s work adopted in
this book. It seeks in the later writings a corrective to the
reductive excesses of philosophy which were diagnosed by
Heidegger in his critique of metaphysics and also reenacted
by him. Bruns discovers this reenactment both in the central
project, Being and Time, and, controversially, in Heidegger’s
later readings of HOlderlin’s poetry. He finds in Heidegger’s
later writing a critique of an earlier attempt to find in Holderlin’s writing an instance of poetry ‘establishing being by
means of the word’ . Bruns seeks to show that in the later work
Heidegger constructed an elaborate and indirect critique of
the supposition that words can be used in this way.

Bruns shows that the existing separation of spheres
between philosophy and literary criticism rends the domain
which Heidegger sought to investigate. He perhaps misses
Heidegger’s point that philosophy, as currently constituted
under the influence of technique, cannot be more open to
poetry; and that therefore Heidegger’s thinking in the gap
between technique and living cannot but appear weird and
unphilosophical. This division, as Bruns points out, leads
commentators on Heidegger to seek in him either a commitment to rigorous argumentation, from the side of philosophy,
or a proposal about how to analyse writing, from the side of
literary criticism. Bruns indicates that both of these must be
disappointed, and must fail to address Heidegger’s central
preoccupation with a paradox constitutive of language. He
shows how commentators on Heidegger who are excessively
influenced by the preoccupations of philosophy tend to underplay the later writings on language, and especially on the selfrefutations of poetic language. He notes the bafflement of
literary critics, quoting Terry Eagleton at some length as an
example, who become impatient with the absence from Heidegger’s work of definite proposals for generalisable reading

Bruns himself makes use of the strategy of close reading in order to show an unstatable conception of the nature of
language at work in Heidegger’s texts. Through a series of
detailed and rewarding readings of Heidegger’ s later writings
on language, Bruns identifies the centrality to Heidegger’s
later thinking of an understanding of language as both providing a sense of ordering and concealing the absence of any
foundation for that ordering. Bruns powerfully outlines Heidegger’s view that the operations of language itself cannot be
demonstrated within any such ordering, and that at exactly
those moments when language is used most effectively to
identify significant features of the language user’s circumstances, its role in constituting those circumstances and as a
part of those circumstances slides out of view. Bruns reveals
Heidegger’s sense for the fragmenting of language at the
point when this triple role of language begins to come into

The structure of this account, suggestively put forward
by Bruns in the course of his readings, is analogous to that of
Heidegger’s earlier analysis of the invisibility of the functioning of tools, in Being and Time. There, in the contrast between

presence at hand and readiness to hand, Heidegger shows
how, when tools are functioning adequately, their nature is
not in question and therefore not identifiable. Only when they
cease to function, or are used in unusual contexts, do they
reveal themselves as the tools they are. Bruns does not explicitly point out this parallel between the earlier analysis of tools
and the later discussion of language; but it is a sign of his deep
sympathy with Heidegger’s thinking that he is implicitly
using a piece of Heidegger’s own analyses to make sense of
these later difficult texts and their obscure claims about the
self-withholding and dissembling aspects of language.

Bruns insists on making an engagement with the density of Heidegger’s writing and thinking central to any understanding of Heidegger. He indicates Heidegger’s preoccupation in the later texts with irreducible ambiguity, resulting
from the impossibility of taking up a stance outside the processes of producing meaning. He suggests that a recognition of
this impossibility already informs Being and Time. An elaboration might show that it is this recognition which deflected
Heidegger from completing Being and Time as projected,
deflecting him from the self-chosen task of destroying the
history of ontology and of specifying a relation between time
and being.

Bruns’s study serves as an extended commentary on
Heidegger’s claim in the Letter on Humanism that a language
with which to complete the project of Being and Time withheld itself. Heidegger’s texts emerge as a challenge to his
successors, to think through the constraints of their own
sensibilities and discipline orientations. In responding to that
challenge, commentators reveal their strengths and limitations. What Bruns reveals is an enormous respect both for
language and for the significance of Heidegger’s work, while
Heidegger’s self-importance and self-preoccupation mercifully slide out of focus.

Joanna Hodge
Radical Philosophy 55, Summer 1990

John Fauvel, Raymond Flood, Michael Shortland and Robin
Wilson (eds.), Let Newton be!, Oxford, Oxford University
Press, 1988, 272pp. £17.50 hb, £8.95 pb, 019853924 X hb, 0
1985 3937 1 pb.

The dustjacket of Let Newton be!, recently released in paperback, says the book offers ‘a new perspective on his life and
works’. It would have been more accurate (though less economical) to say, ‘a dozen new perspectives on many aspects
of Newton’s life and work, all amounting to a fresh and
original appreciation of his cultural significance’. For the
title, Let Newton be!, can be read in two ways. As an admonition – ‘leave Newton alone!’ – it speaks to the hagiographers
who would reduce the historic natural philosopher, alchemist,
and biblical exegete to some narrowly defined scientist. The
historic Newton alone must exist. As a celebration – ‘vive le
Newton!’ – the title speaks to those who, by contrast, would
take the historic figure too seriously, without regard for the
richness and diversity of his representations since the Principia Mathematica was published 300 years ago. Newton
lives on – on pound notes and postage stamps, in the names of
shopping centres and pubs, as well as in the detailed researches of professional scholars. It is the editors’ great
achievement to have cast both aspects of Newtonian biography, the popular and the academic, into a handsome, tea-table
format, replete with 165 illustrations. Although the contributors’ essays are somewhat uneven, and not equally authoritative, the volume as a whole makes Newton more accessible
than ever before to the general reading pUblic. It is not likely
to be superseded for many years to come.

James Moore

Radical Philosophy 55, Summer 1990

John Gerassi, lean-Paul Sartre. Hated Conscience of His
Century, vol. 1, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1989.

ix + 213pp. £15.95 hb, 022628797 1.

This purports to be the authorized biography -: authorized in
that Sartre scribbled out a letter of agreement in a cafe in
1970. Gerassi embarked upon the project, interviewing Sartre
on a number of occasions, then abandoned it until spurred
back into action by the appearance of Annie Cohen-Solal’s
voluminous, if ultimately dull, Sartre: A Life. In theory,
Gerassi should be well qualified for his task. The son of
Femando and Stepha Gerassi, the models for two of the
characters inRoads to Freedom, he knew Sartre well, and was
clearly trusted. The results border on the disastrous. Any
reader of Beauvoir and Sartre will find little that is really new
in this volume (apparently the first of two), which takes us up
to the end of the war, unless, that is, he or she has an interest
in the history of the Gerassi family. A fascinating history,
certainly, but one that could best be told elsewhere and which
is used here mainly to improve the biographer’s credentials.

The rest – the transformation of a child into Sartre – is

When Gerassi strays away from Sartre himself, the
text abounds in inaccuracies. Nizan’s Antoine Bloye is not an
autobiographical novel, being loosely based on the life of his
father. It was Aragon, not Breton, who dreamed of seeing
Cossacks watering their horses in the fountain of the Place de
la Concorde. It is not in his Critique des fondements de la
psychologie that Politzer derides Bergsonism as une parade
philosophique. Yale does not publish ‘a magazine’ entitled
French Studies. Much more seriously, Gerassi claims that, for
writers like Aragon and Paulhan, the outbreak of the war and
the occupation of France changed nothing and that their
literary life went on as before. Both men, together with Sartre,
were members of the Comite National des Ecrivains, one of
the chief arenas for intellectual resistance. Resistance survi59

vors have fought successful libel actions over lesser accusations. If Gerassi does not have the command of detail that is
essential to biography, his talents as a translator also leave
much to be desired. One individual appears garbed in ‘a
smoking’; he is of course wearing a dinner jacket. Sartre
presents a mysterious ‘military notebook’ (livret militaire) to
the wartime authorities; is it not more likely that he presented
his papers and service record? Finally, we are offered three
possible translations of La Revue sans titre, which also raises
serious doubts about copy-editing standards in Chicago. And
so on.

It is, however, the politics of the book that are most
disturbing. Gerassi is correct to claim that Cohen-Solal attempts to depoliticise Sartre and to reclaim him for the right.

His solution is to indulge in a shrill ultra-leftism and a tired
litany of betrayal. The Blum government’s policy of nonintervention in Spain means that no thinking individual should
have any truck with Mitterrand’ s Socialist Party. The French
Communist Party’s endorsement of the Nazi-Soviet pact of
1939 leads to a similar anathema est from on high. This does
not leave the French intellectual with much choice, though
presumably he or she could look for an academic post in the
USA. Sartre, well aware that politics is a world for those with
dirty hands and the realm of the necessary compromise, if not
the necessary murder, would surely have denounced this
moralism as a variant on bad faith.

David Macey

Relativists and anti-foundatioI1alists receive a sharp rebuke in
J. N. Mohanty’s Transcendental Phenomenology (Oxford,
Basil Blackwell, 1989, 176pp. £25 hb, 0 631 16741 2). Mohanty is an expert on Indian thought and analytic philosophy,
but above all he is a follower of Husserl. This book provides
a clear and committed defence of an ideal of philosophy as the
description and interpretation of the contents of intentional
acts. Philosophical knowledge, on this conception, is built
upon ‘universal, invariant structures’ which, though not absolutely necessary, are presupposed by the world as we experience it. Mohanty holds that transcendental phenomenology in
this style can overcome relativism, not by direct confrontation, but by ‘going through’ it step by step. For Mohanty,
there is an element of truth in relativism, but it can only be
appreciated against the background of the ‘universal, invariant structures’ of the transcendental subject – a concept which,
he argues strongly, cannot be shrugged off as an unhistorical

In a brief essay of 1938, Husserl confronted the question of
how geometry could be both a realm of permanent certainties
and, like all our other activities, something we pick up second-hand from received traditions. Derrida’ s first important
publication, in 1962, was a translation of Husserl’s essay,
preceded by an introduction five times its length. It may have
been rather harsh in its treatment of Husserl’ s attempt to
merge ‘theory of knowledge’ with ‘historical explanation’; it
may have been a bit overbearing in its promotion of Husserl as
a proto-Derridean (which is all Derrida was at the time), who
had suggested ‘the direction for a phenomenology of the
written thing’ in which ‘writing’ would be seen as a ‘subjectless transcendental field’ . (This is a kinder and probably more
adequate reading of Husserl than Derrida was to offer in later
works.) Edmund Husserl’s ‘Origin of Geometry’ is one of
Derrida’s most straightforward works and amongst his best.

John Leavey made an excellent English version of it in 1978,
and the only thing wrong with the paperback version (London, University of Nebraska Press, 1989, 205pp, £7.95 pb, 0
803265808) is that it has taken so long in coming.


‘Nothing is more unlike me than myself,’ wrote Jean-Jacques
Rousseau. His fluent and vivid writings are both teasingly
artful and embarrassingly confessional; they are a monument
to what would now be called ambivalence. Jean Starobinski’s
classic study of Rousseau’ s unsettling versatility – published
in French in 1957 and revised in 1971 and now translated as
Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Transparency and Obstruction is neither biography nor textual criticism. Instead it offers a
‘phenomenological analysis’ of the character which Rousseau
created for himself in his writings and hence of the’ structure
of Rousseau’ s world’. Rousseau turns out to be driven by two
opposing obsessions: ‘transparency’ and ‘obstruction’. On
the one hand he yearns to open himself to his-readers; on the
other he is convinced that ‘truth is constantly in danger whenever there is communication’. His ‘will to self-presence’

imprisons him in a ‘plenitude of identity’. These themes,
along with ideas of supplementarity, deferral and anxiety,
have become very familiar in the work of later critics, and
perhaps Starobinski has not had due acknowledgement. It
should be a revelation to have the work available at last
(London, University of Chicago Press, 1988. xxxviii + 421 pp.

£15.95 pb, 0 226 77128 8), and in a very good translation.


Radical Philosophy 55, Summer 1990


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