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64 Reviews


Jean-Fran~ois Lyotard, The Inhuman: Reflections on Time,
translated by Geoffrey Bennington and Rachel Bowlby, Oxford,
Polity Press, 1991. viii + 216pp., £35 hb, 0 7456 0772 1

NorbertElias, Time: An Essay, translated in part from the German
by Edmund Jephcott, Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1992. 216pp., £35
hb,O 631 157980
Is it ever too late to change your mind? One cannot but feel a
certain grim satisfaction at the sight of Lyotard’s back-peddling
on the question of the postmodern. Having ended the 1970s with
his famous diagnosis of the condition, Lyotard spent most of the
1980s explaining that what he really believed in was something
rather more subtle: well, the modem, actually. Never mind those
claims about the condition having been around ‘since the end of
the nineteenth century’ (the first page of the introduction to The
Postmodern Condition), or anyway, ‘since at least the 1950s’ (the
first page of the main text). Once one thinks about it a bit, ‘the
pointlessness of any periodisation of cultural history in terms of
‘pre-‘ and ‘post-‘ (the book underreview, from 1986) pretty much
hits you in the face. After all, ‘it leaves unquestioned the position
ofthe “now”, ofthe present from which one is supposed to be able
to achieve a legitimate perspective on a chronological succession.’ Quite. But don’t expect an apology. It isn’t his fault that
everyone read the wrong book.

The Inhuman is a collection of sixteen talks from the 1980s,
half of which have already appeared in translation, bound together by an introduction that fails to make up in philosophical
modesty what it seems to have lost in time. Here and there,
Lyotard’s discomfort about the work for which he is fated to be
known is clear. But mostly, he just tries to ignore it. This is a pity,
since much of what he has to say bears on precisely that instability
in the term ‘postmodern’ of which he has been the all-too-willing
victim. (The claim in the blurb that ‘this important new study’

develops Lyotard’s analysis of ‘the phenomenon of postmodem ity’

– just the one? – is simply untrue.) ‘Reflections on Time’ is a fair
enough sub-title at one level (time is fashionable at the moment),
but the book’s real topic is the philosophical defence of modernism, with the ‘postmodern’ as a moment within it, with which
Lyotard has become associated since the debacle of the ‘condition’.

Two things about this work are distinctive: the attempt to tie
the philosophical structure of aesthetic modernism to the Kantian
sublime (that is, to a certain paradoxical presentation of Ideas),
and a willingness to apply these categories to the interpretation of
contemporary painting. (Several of the pieces here first appeared
in art journals or as catalogue essays – most notably, two essays
on the American painter Barnett Newman.) The account of
modernism itself is not new, since it follows in broad outline a
position elaborated in far greater detail over many years by


Adorno. Where Lyotard differs from Adorno, however, is in
rigidly distinguishing what he calls ‘artistic work’ from other
‘cultural activities’ in a quasi-neo-Kantian manner, as a distinction of ‘orders of activity’.

The distinction maps onto Adorno’ s much disputed and often
misunderstood opposition of ‘autonomous’ to ‘dependent’ art,
but the way in which it is made is crucially different. For whereas
Adorno’s distinction is internal to the dialectics of a single
theoretical account of the logic of cultural production that is
articulated at a variety of levels (from the socio-historical back in
one direction towards the ontological, and forward to the analysis
of individual works), Lyotard provides no view of the relations
between the two spheres that is more than merely empirical. (In
practice, they are said to ‘overlap’.) ‘Art’ is thus protected,
transcendentally, from consideration of the relations through
which it acquires its existence as a social form. In this respect,
Lyotard’s understanding of modernism, while similar to Adorno’ s,
is actually far more traditional. Not so much a post-modernist
about art, one might say, as a classicist about modernism.

There are definite implications here for our understanding of
The Inhuman itself as a cultural artifact. The affinity between
philosophy and modem art is stressed throughout (the former asks
‘What is thinking?’, the latter, ‘What is painting?’ – essentially
the same kind of question) in the context of an opposition of ‘art’

to ‘culture’ which opposes the high-mindedness of purely immanent inquiry to the response to social demand (virtual or real). But
this is a book of ‘commissioned lectures’ . Is it reall y ‘philosophy’

at all, by its own petrified criterion? Thus is its author’s integrity
falsely preserved.

The point might seem a trivial one, but it bears on deeper
issues than the publishers’ liabilities under the Trades’ Descriptions Act. One is the oscillation between pseudo-democratic
gesture and authoritarian pronouncement in Lyotard’s prose.

Another is the tension (or rather, the lack of it) between writing
and thought in the material itself. For what is at one level
essentially a philosophy of writing, writing itself gets pretty short
shrift here. What Lyotard has to say directly about time is
restricted to one essay about the ‘temporal condition of modernity’ (,Time Today’). But, despite the occasional occurrence
there of the term ‘postmodern’, there is no discussion of the
temporal logic of the ‘post’. The human/inhuman theme of the
title is a thin skin laid over the whole thing in the introduction, in
the manner of a certain kind of high-tech architecture popular in
the early 1980s. Except that in this case, the skin, rather than
reflecting back the image of the viewer, is disarmingly transparent.

IfLyotard’s interest in time is topical, Elias shuns topicality in
the interests of a developmental sociology directed towards those
‘layers of the communal life that are relatively untouched by
issues ofthe day’: specifically, the structure oftime as a ‘symbol

Radical Philosophy 64, Summer 1993

of a socially learned synthesis’. In a way familiar from other
recent literature on the subject (most notably Ricoeur’s monumental Time and Narrative, but also the excellent Chronotypes:

The Construction ofTime , edited by J. BenderandD. E. Wellbery),
Time: An Essay starts out from the shared inadequacy of the two
main philosophical traditions on time: the ‘objective’ or
cosmological tradition stemming from Aristotle and the’ subjective’ or phenomenological one with its roots in Augustine. However, rather than seeking either a directly philosophical, or some
kind ofhistoriographical, mediation ofthe antinomy, Elias comes
to bury philosophy, not to praise it, let alone to practise it.

Elias belongs to the tradition which offers sociological ‘answers’ to questions which are taken to have been previously
mistakenly understood to be ‘philosophical’. Such bracing positivism is occasionally refreshing, but its difficulties are far too
familiar for it to convince for long. Although first published in
German as recently as 1987 (when its author was 90 years old),
Time: An Essay has all the marks of the sociological chauvinism
ofthe 1950s. Not only does it suppose that the insight that ‘timing’

is a means of human orientation and social regulation abolishes all
philosophical perplexities about the concept; it also presumes that
historians ‘fail to take account of directional long-term social

processes’ . (Time is a ‘mystery’, we are told at one point, because
sociologists have concerned themselves with it so little.) This
certainly has the virtue of cutting down on the footnotes, but it can
hardly be recommended as a description of the historiographical
literature of the last thirty years, especially in France.

All of which is a great pity, because there is much of interest
in this book. It is just that what it provides is sociological material
necessary to any adequate thinking through of the issues at stake,
rather than the pat solution to the philosophical problem of time
which its author supposes. Indeed, at its most interesting, this
material generates problems, rather than cutting down on them.

Thus, while on the one hand, the argument that the emergence of
‘long-lasting and relatively stable state-units’ was a condition of
‘the experience oftime as a uni-directional flow’ hardly rids us of
the question as to whether we should claim that there is such a
flow, however experienced; the location of different conceptions
of time in different social needs raises a whole series of questions
about the social conflicts that might underlie current debates
about historical periodisation. Properly historicised, the developmental perspective may thus turn out to be more timely than Elias
would have us believe.

Peter Osborne


Stephen Mulhall and Adam Swift, Liberals and Communitarians,
Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1992. 302pp., £40.00 hb, £12.95 pb,
0631 183779 hb, 0 631 183787 pb
Richard Bellamy, Liberalism and Modern Society: an Historical
Argument, Oxford, Polity Press, 1992.31 Opp., £45 hb, £ 12.95 pb,
0745 60533 8 hb, 0 745 610706 pb
These books form an interesting and complementary pair, not
least because the authors of each would probably repudiate the
approach of the other. Mulhall and Swift offer an exegetical study
of the debate between Rawlsian liberalism and communitarianism.

Rawls’s ‘original position’, in both senses of the phrase, is
sketched, critical summaries are offered of Sandel, MacIntyre,
Taylor and Walzer, before the new position of Raw Is is discussed.

In a final section Rorty’ s ‘liberalism without foundations’ is
dismissed, and Raz’s ‘perfectionist liberalism’ offered as the
account with most to offer.

The book is that favourite of students, an accessible, condensed review of arguments originally developed at greater
length (and more abstrusely) in primary texts. It exemplifies the
virtues of anglophone philosophical criticism being clearly written, rigorously argued, and precise in its separation of issues. A
good example of this last is the use to which a distinction between
the community as the source of conceptions of self and the good,
and the community as contributing to the content of the good is
put. The conflation of these two has bedevilled most previous
discussions of communitarianism.

Also welcome is the section on ‘late’ Rawls. Mulhall and
Swift give a plausible overall coherence to a position which has
been developed over time and in various articles – a position,
moreover, which some critics pejoratively characterise as a retreat from the carefully constructed systematic vision of A Theory
of Justice. In particular they do much to challenge the idea that
Rawls has simply moved from a principled moral defence of

Radical Philosophy 64, Summer 1993


liberalism to an argument from political pragmatism to the virtue
of stability.

The account of early Rawls suffers by comparison. It is, by
their own admission, basic and serves only as an introduction to
the concerns of the communitarians. But it is hard as result to get
a feel of the liberal convictions which underpin the work, and to
understand why it so dramatically transformed English-speaking
political philosophy.

There is perhaps an unavoidable problem in speaking about
‘communitarianism’. The term is a somewhat expedient label
applied retrospectively to a disparate group of critics of liberalism. There is thus something rather strained and artificial about
devising a check list of communitarian criticisms and seeing how
each critic fares against the list, when the list is itself an attempt
to give some semblance of a shared outlook to widely different

I am not sure that Rorty really merits inclusion, and he may be
there for the sake of completeness. He is certainly brusquely
dismissed. On the other side it is strange not to see Ronald
Dworkin treated at any length. John Rawls is not the only
contemporary philosophical liberal, even ifhe is the most notable.

Dworkin has something substantial to say about all the items on
the liberal ‘agenda’ which the communitarians challenge.

Finally, Mulhall and Swift are too quick to dismiss the
pertinence to their study of an historical account of the liberal
tradition. They simply view earlier liberals as progenitors of the
present philosophical liberals and assume that the latter may be
assessed in their own terms. Bellamy’ s claim is that putting Rawls
and Dworkin in their historical place shows how far out of time
they really are. For Bellamy liberalism started life as an ethical
doctrine, a claim about the priority of individual liberty, buttressed by a conviction that a developed liberal society could
harmonise the lives of its individually free citizens. Late nineteenth-century developments exposed the inadequacy of this
ethical liberalism which was supplanted by an economic liberal-





ism. Bellamy traces the evolution of liberalism within several
countries – Britain, which supplies in the work of Mill and Green
the paradigmatic statement of ethical liberalism, France, Italy and
Germany. The writings of Durkheim, Croce and Pareto, and
Weber, respectively, loom large in each of these last three.

The study is wide ranging, extremely well-informed, and
clearly written. It combines acute philosophical criticism with
social history, and always clearly sets out the distance of its own
conclusions from existing interpretations. It is refreshing to see
the full lineaments of British ethical liberalism drawn with special
reference to a guiding ideal of ‘character’. Mill on this account is
much more than a progenitor of Rawlsian liberalism.

A final chapter on the new philosophical liberalism and its
communitarian critics accuses the former of a hopelessly misguided attempt to restate ethical liberalism in an evidently inapposite historical context. The conclusion of the book urges the
appropriateness to our time of a democratic or political liberalism
which renounces the ambition of securing a moral consensus, and
limits itself to devising feasible political procedures which can
manage the realities of contemporary pluralism.

The broad scope of Bellamy’ s approach and the sustained
attention to social and political context are both to be commended.

The book is certainly a useful corrective to the deracinated
criticism of Mulhall and Swift. Nevertheless, I feel the last
chapters move too fast. It is curious that no real attempt is made


to situate the work of Rawls. The debate between his liberalism
and communitarianism is, in many ways, a very American one,
essentially about the ambiguous legacy of the American Constitution, and provoked by the crisis of constitutional liberalism in
the 1960s and its aftermath.

Bellamy also covers a lot of ground in these final pages and I
am not sure he can always do justice to the writers he treats. A
small, but perhaps telling point: he cites Susan Moller Okin as the
source of the feminist critique of Rawls that justice should not be
prioritised over the ethics of care (p. 239, n. 71). But Okin is
actually sceptical about the validity and value of this sort of
criticism, and the article of hers which he cites argues in fact for
an extension of Rawlsian principles of justice to include women
and the family – something she thinks Rawls neglects to do.

Bellamy’s advocacy of a democratic liberalism is also regrettably brief. In essence he sees politics as best designed ‘to arrange
compromises amongst a plurality of often conflicting views,
rather than to achieve a rational consensus upon a non-existent
common good’. But Bellamy seems to view the rules and laws
which determine the appropriate arrangement of compromises as
those which fit the community in which we happen to find
ourselves. They are basically ad hoc, meeting the needs of the
here and now. Another community, another set of institutions and

The warrant for this approach is the fact of moral plurality, the
lack of an agreed comprehensive conception of the good. My
problems with this are fourfold. First, Rawls himself concedes the
existence of moral plurality. Nevertheless he thinks that there is
an agreed, non-comprehensive conception of the political good
which has to do with the public justifiability of fair terms of social
cooperation. I am not sure why Bellamy’s pluralism has, as it
were, to go all the way down. Second, the status of the ‘fact’ of
plurality is equivocal. Bellamy seems to regard it simply as a
feature of modem society. But how this relates to his account of
historical development, with its emphasis upon industrialisation
and the emergence of mass society, is unclear:Rawls too, as
Mulhall and Swift observe, thinks moral plurality is a fact about
post -Reformation Western history. Indeed it is with him an article
of faith. Yet, as they add, he has nothing to say about what should
be the case if there was no plurality.

Third, plurality does not imply scepticism, as Rawls recognises. Yet Bellamy appears to think that a philosophical liberal’s
appeal to the value of autonomy is undercut by the existence of
groups within society who do not share this estimation. There is
merit, I think, in Raz’ s decision to bite the bullet: if autonomy is
valuable, then so much the worse for those groups within society
who do not value it. Yet autonomy need not be the paramount
value. Bellamy, and Mulhall and Swift, agree that, at the end of the
day, the dispute with philosophical liberalism is about the value
of autonomy in human life. We can then keep open the debate
about what substantive ideals should found the polity. Political
philosophy need not resign itself to an accommodation with how
things happen to be.

But this means, fourth, that there is a need for political
philosophy to display the ways in which the ideal becomes actual.

As Mulhall and Swift show, underpinning MacIntyre’ s account of
morality is a sense of how human nature (and society) could be if
it realised its true end. And, as Bellamy shows, the British liberals
were concerned with how to bring about and sustain a society
which both reflected and nurtured the free individuality they so
esteemed. These kinds of insight do not seem to be contradicted
by the failures of any particular political philosophy. Politics need
not then be disenchanted even if the world is. It can still offer a
feasible vision of what might be, and not just a muted celebration
of what is.

David Archard
Radical Philosophy 64, Summer 1993


Simon Critchley, The Ethics of Deconstruction: Derrida and
Levinas, Oxford, Blackwell, 1992. xii + 253pp., £40 hb, £13.95
pb, 0 631 17785 X hb, 0 631 177868 pb
The hostility directed against deconstruction is usually in the
name of ethical and political values which are thought to be
threatened by the spread of nihilism (or the irrational tradition of
the Third Reich as Manfred Frank would put it), and yet here we
find a book in which the words ‘ethics’ and ‘deconstruction’ sit
happily together. It is to Simon Critchley’s credit that he makes
this strange alliance wholly convincing.

However, I am sure that many people interested in Derrida’s
work will ask what kind of ethics could possibly be allied with
deconstruction, especially when we have statements on Derrida’s
part of his deep mistrust of ethics. Simon Critchley’ s answer to
these sceptics lies in the ethics of the French philosopher Emmanuel
Levinas. One of the great assets of this book, although it is not at
all its main purpose, is that it gives to British readers for the first
time an excellent introduction to this important thinker. No one
should underestimate Simon Critchley’s achievement in this
respect, since Levinas’s prose is notoriously obscure.

For many of those who are interested in the question of ethics,
the ethics of Levinas can appear very strange. In a certain sense
this is because his work is not about ethics at all, but is a meta-ethics.

Levinas is not concerned with questions of morality, of wrong or
right actions, but with the a priori condition of any ethics at all. (I
am self-consciously using Kantian terminology here, because I
think there is an interesting meeting point between Kant and
Levinas, especially in the notion of respect for the moral law,
where the moral law is somehow substantiated in another human
Levinas finds this a priori condition in the relation between
one person and another. He wants to claim that I am already, even
before I make any ethical decision, obligated to that other person,
and it is this obligation which is the essential moment of any
ethics, from which all systems of justice originate.

All this is explained much better in Simon Critchley’s book
than it can be here, but I think that the important connection
between Derrida and Levinas for him is this idea of the a priori
obligation, because it describes an ethics which does not begin
with any initiative ofthe subject, with its ‘beautiful soul’ or good
conscience, but in its radical passivity to an unassumable demand.

Critchley’s thesis, which is backed up by a meticulous examination of Derrida’ s texts, is that deconstruction is opened up by the
very same demand. In other words, if deconstruction is an ethics
this is not because it preaches a new morality, which would
obviously be absurd, but because it expresses the same structure
of passivity that is visible in Levinas’ s meta-ethics. Deconstruction
does not begin with a decision, but with an ‘unconditional
imperative’ to affirm that which exceeds philosophy, by allowing
that which is ‘other’ than philosophy to appear for the first time.

This similarity between the projects of Derrida and Levinas
does not mean, however, that they are identical. Obviously
Levinas is primarily concerned with the problem of human
relations, whereas Derrida, thanks to the influence of Heidegger,
is concerned with the history of metaphysics. Nonetheless, it is
significant that in the trajectory of these two different thinkers,
there is a convergence, which leads Critchley to assert not only
that deconstruction is ethical, but that ethics itself can express
itself only within deconstructive strategies. Thus, Levinas, from
Totality and Infinity to Otherwise than Being, increasingly reads
like Derrida, and Derrida in his latest work, such as the preface of
Radical Philosophy 64, Summer 1993

Du droit a la philosophie, reads increasingly like Levinas. Simon
Critchley gives weight to this thesis by a careful examination of
Derrida’s recent essay on Levinas, ‘In this very Moment in this
Work here I am’, and Levinas’s own reply to Derrida’s earlier
work, ‘Wholly Otherwise’. Both of these are fine examples ofthe
rewards of patient commentary.

However, having proved this ’emerging homology’ between
Levinas and Derrida, what finally interests Critchley is the difference that still remains between them, which allows him, he
believes, to break with deconstruction itself. This last chapter is
the most interesting part of the book, but it also throws up the most
questions, and this might be because it is only a preparatory
elaboration of the problem of how a discourse that problematises
transgression can itself be transgressed.

Critchley’s criticism of Derrida is that because deconstruction
stresses undecidability (indeed, the ethics of deconstruction is this
undecidability), it can never offer a politics, since any politics
rests on the possibility of making correct judgements. Its ethics,
in other words, is always stranded in a formal meta-ethics, and
cannot engage in real practical and political problems. Thus,
Derrida’s work is invol ved in the long philosophical tradition that
begins with Plato, of the refusal of doxa.

In contrast, Levinas’ s work, Simon Critchley argues, -does
engage with the transition from a formal ethics to a practical ethics
(or from ethics to justice, to use Levinas ‘s vocabulary). What then
is the politics that one can deduce from his work? The answer,
Critchley claims, is democracy. However, I must admit that I find
his description of democracy self-contradictory. He accuses
Derrida, and his disciples Jean-Luc Nancy and Philippe LacoueLabarthe, of an apolitical formalism, but his own account of
democracy is just as formal. Surely if philosophy is to return to a
politics of democracy, a historical analysis of democracy itself is
required? For example, does it not trouble Critchley that the
democracy in which we live today is linked to the domination of
capital? Or maybe his concept of democracy is a Kantian Idea, an
ideal towards which we aim, but which is rigorously impossible?

If that is the case, then Critchley is saying no more than Glaucon
and Socrates in the Republic, when they agree that the ideal city
exists only in ideas and can be found nowhere on earth. In other
words, the impasse that Critchley finds in Derrida’s work, that it
cannot produce a real politics, applies to philosophy in general.

And maybe this impasse is not such a bad thing. Perhaps it is the
real ethics of philosophy? Is there anything more dangerous than
a philosophy which believes it can make our political decisions
for us?

WiIliam Large



Stephen Houlgate, Freedom, Truth and History: An Introduction
to Hegel’ s Philosophy, London and New York, Routledge, 1991.

xviii + 253pp., £35 hb, £10.99 pb, 041506658 1 hb, 041501332
1 pb
In this book, Houlgate offers a comprehensive and accomplished
reading of Hegel’ s philosophy while developing further the antiformalist and Christian themes which characterised his Hegel,
Nietzsche and the Criticism of Metaphysics. Here, he is less
concerned with what Hegel was writing against and more with
what he was standing for. Freedom and truth are the key issues of
his interpretation. Indeed, the whole book is an attempt to demonstrate the ‘profound commitment to freedom, openness and truth’

which guides Hegel’ s philosophy.

Houlgate builds his argument progressively and with admirable clarity, making frequent and insightful use of modem commentaries. He takes as his starting point the claim that there is no
such thing as direct and unmediated experience. This allows him
to appeal to a wider philosophical consensus before introducing
the specifically Hegelian version of the claim, namely that the
categories which mediate experience are themselves subject to
historical change. Different societies at different times construe
their objects, their aims and finally themselves differently. This,
again, is a fairly uncontroversial point often used to introduce a
relativist or worldview type of perspective. For Hegel, though,
this variety and difference reveals a truth which holds for every
society, and consists in the desire and capacity for self-determination. From this, he concludes that the essence of human activity,
as displayed in institutions, art, and religious practices, is selfdetermination. In other words, there is truth in history not despite
historical change but because of it. Similarly freedom is not
incompatible with the need-oriented character of most human
activity. Rather, it is achieved through the immediate intentions
which spur people to action. Does that mean that we can go on
attending to our selfish needs because freedom will materialise

Houlgate, following Hegel, stresses that the free essence of
human activity is only realised in the process of our becoming
conscious of it. This enables Hegel to judge progress in history
according to how closely the institutions of a given society reflect
its consciousness of its freedom. The problem now is to discover
what is involved in realisation, because otherwise it can either
justify quietistic interpretations or become a cypher empty of any
normative content. Part of the clue lies in the Logic. Hegel
criticises logical categories, the fixed determinations of the understanding, for not taking account of the developmental character of their objects. They are equally applicable to all sorts of
objects and so their truth and objectivity depends on such extralogical referents. The same problematic applies to the concept of
freedom. If freedom is understood merely as absence of constraint, then we cannot justify in terms of freedom the choice of
any particular course of action over others. A contentless freedom, for Hegel, is no freedom at all. It has to be bound to a
commitment to pursue positive action rather than the option to
abstain from it.

In the last chapter of the book, Houlgate examines the relation
between philosophy and religion. At this point, and despite the
care Houlgate has taken to steer clear of any ontological assumptions, some readers might feel that they have been drawn into
accepting more than they bargained for. The idea of self-determination is more appealing than the, apparently inevitable, conclusion that the real is rational. However, this is not a case of relying

on the inherent rationality of things. Reason as much as freedom
has to be realised, to be striven for. As Houlgate puts it, ‘The
process of natural and conscious development is itself the existence of dialectical reason.’ But still this may appear too vague
when it comes to dealing with the specific problems of action and
interpretation involved in realisation. Not the least of these is the
problem of the historicity of Hegel’s own philosophy. To what
degree are his views on the West’s discovery of America, or his
aesthetic judgements on Kleist, for example, essential to his
general argument? If, as I believe, Hegel was fully conscious of
the fact that particular aspects of his system (and even his Logic)
would and should be open to revision, then the task of interpretation becomes more difficult. If we discard some things in order to
respond adequately to the concern of our historical circumstances, then the grounds for affirming the centrality of others are
underdetermined. A case in point is the link between Hegel’ s
philosophy and Christianity. There is undisputably a profound
and complex relation between the two, yet the necessity of
committing oneself to this particular content is less obvious. On
the other hand, a Hegelianism stripped down to the bare bones of
dialectical method, runs the risk of being a new formalism not
unlike the one Hegel criticised. On the whole, however, Houlgate
has produced a balanced and thought-provoking defence of
Hegel’s philosophy which is both accessible and sophisticated.

Katerina Deligiorgi

Radical Philosophy 64, Summer 1993

Didier Eribon, Michel Foucault, translated by Betsy Wing, London, Faber and Faber, 1992. 374pp., £25 hb, 0 571 144758 hb
Michel Foucault (edited by Sylvere Lotringer), Foucault Live:

Interviews 1966-1984, translated by John Johnston, New York,
Semiotext(e) Foreign Agents Series, 1989. 336pp., £7.95 pb, 0
936756322 pb
Michel Foucault, Remarks on Marx: Conversations with Duccio
Trombadori, translated by R. James Goldstein and James Cascaito,
New York, Semiotext(e) Foreign Agents Series, 1991. 187pp.,
£4.95 pb, 0 936756 33 0 pb
Michel Foucault finished his essay ‘What is an Author?’ by
endorsing Samuel Beckett’s words: ‘What matter who’s speaking?’ In the opening lines of his biography of Foucault Didier
Eribon asks whether Foucault’s dismissal of the ‘author’ rules out
the possibility of a biography of Foucault. He then distinguishes
four different objections to writing such a biography. First, in
reply to Foucault’s rejection of the author, Eribon argues that in
reality Foucault could not dissociate himself from a society which
made authors of people who write books. Second, a biography of
Foucault may cause a scandal because of Foucault’s homosexuality: Eribon responds that Foucault made no secret of his homosexuality. Third, Foucault released no personal details in his
lifetime: Eribon points out that this is untrue. Last, might Foucault
not have 1,000 faces? Eribon answers that his biography will
present the face he sees, which will not prevent others from

Foucault did not demand the death of the author but instead the
analysis of the ‘author-function’. He argued that the category
‘author’ is used to characterise the ‘existence, circulation and
operation of certain discourses in a society’. The ‘author-function’ is a way of organising texts in discourse and so should itself
be analysed. Foucault also recognised his own status as an author
and feared that a Foucault-author-function would bury the texts
he produced. In an interview translated in Foucault Live he says
that he wants to remain anonymous ‘out of nostalgia for the time
when, being completely unknown, what I said had some chance
of being heard’. Foucault hoped his books would be read for
themselves, despite his status as an author.

The first half of Eribon’s biography, until Foucault’s emergence as a politically engaged left intellectual in the early 1970s,
is a valuable and concise account of his life and work. It traces
Foucault’s early life, his education at the elite Ecole Normale
Superieure, his times in Sweden, Poland and Germany as a French
cultural attache, his work on Madness and Civilisation, Birth of
the Clinic and The Order of Things, and his growing intellectual

Many interesting and hitherto unclear aspects of Foucault’ s
life are brought out. For example, Foucault was a member of the
French Communist Party for at least three and possibly five years,
instead of the six months or so he sometimes claimed. There is
Foucault’s removal from Poland after being set up by Polish
secret services with a young lover, who was in fact a secret agent.

Perhaps most intriguing of all is Foucault’ s appointment to the
committee which implemented Gaullist education reforms which
are often held to have been an important cause of student unrest
in May 1968.

Half-time arrives as Foucault is appointed to the College de
France and participates in his first demonstrations and direct
confrontations with the police in the early 1970s. Eribon claims
Radical Philosophy 64, Summer 1993

that because Foucault’s life became so fragmented and crowded
a continuation of narrative is impossible. So he settles for an
examination of ‘Foucault’s life facet by facet, in relation to
dominant themes or problems’. This period includes all of
Foucault’s work on power-knowledge and sexuality, and his
involvement with left causes. Unfortunately, Eribon provides
little except fragmented pieces of information because he offers
no substitute for his previous chronology. There is no analysis of
Foucault’s theory of power in relation to his actual activism; there
is just a brief summary of the former and examples of the latter.

The collection of interviews published as Foucault Live
provides an alternative view ofFoucault’s development. Twentyfour interviews with Foucault on various topics, of varying
lengths and depths, are arranged chronologically from 1966 to his
death in 1984, thus forming a sort of disunified intellectual
biography. Foucault Live brings out the changes in Foucault’s
assessments of his thought. The interviews start by addressing
The Order of Things and then The Archaeology of Knowledge
when there is no hint of politics. Then Foucault discovers power
and the real subject of his early work is revealed to him. The bulk
If the interviews then fit into this ‘knowledge-power’ period, but
by the late 1970s and early 1980s there are also discernible hints
of his later work. And in the final three interviews from 1984 there
is a reorientation of his project, which becomes the exploration of
the three domains of knowledge, power and subjectivity in order
to examine how people tell the truth ofthemselves to themselves.

Some of the interviews have been published in English elsewhere and not all of these previous publications are listed in the
sources. It should also be noted that anybody who has already read
some interviews with Foucault will know the sort of information
this book contains. But this is a wide-ranging collection which
includes lengthy asides on film, homosexuality, afchitecture and
other subjects.

Remarks on Marx is an entirely different matter. It is a series
of interviews with Foucault conducted in 1978 by Duccio
Trombadori, who was at that time the political and parliamentary
correspondent for the daily paper of the Italian Communist Party,
Unita. The result is an extended exploration ofFoucault’ s thought
at the time when he was centrally concerned with power and
knowledge. It might be objected that the timing of the interviews
means that they represent thoughts Foucault later rejected. However, it is when Foucault connected power to knowledge that he
became relevant to left politics, and Trombadori pushes Foucault
hard on political points, exploring his relations to Marx in considerable detail. For example, Trombadori draws out the connection
between Foucault’s conception of local politics and his exploration of power. In both cases Foucault argues for a limited view
which pays attention, on the one hand, to the real functionings of
power as they can be determined by empirical investigations and,
on the other, to local actions addressed to specific problems.

Foucault in this way connects his activism in prison groups to his
analysis of disciplinary power, and counterposes both to the
Marxism he encountered in the early 1970s. In addition to these
concerns there are explorations of structuralism, the Frankfurt
School and the transformative power of his books.

Eribon’s biography adds a great deal of interesting detail on
Foucault’s life but adds little to an understanding of his thought.

Foucault Live brings together a wide range of interviews, but also
adds little to what is already known about Foucault. But Remarks
on M arx is a sustained exploration by Foucault of the politics of
his work.

Tim Jordan

Stuart Hampshire, Innocence and Experience (1989),
Harmondsworth,Penguin, 1992. 195pp.,£6.99pb,0 140121749
Politicians, according to Machiavelli, have obligations of office
and state that require single-minded ruthlessness: when necessary, to lie and kill with a smile. They cannot be expected to keep
to the standards of decency and consideration we hope to meet
with in day to day life. The statesman’s proprieties can never be
better than prudential, and if you would indulge yourself in
earnest with ‘ought’ and’ ought not’ , you had better leave politics
to others.

Unless one is happy to regard politics with unwavering
hostility or cynicism, Machiavelli’ s advice has to be perplexing,
even for those who are not politicians. If you believe that any good
at all can come out of the political process, then you are going to
have a moral interest in the means used to bring it about. Politicians are bound to have dirty hands, but the rest of us may have
no intellectually honest way of keeping ours clean; no escape
from the weight of ends and means. If you set well considered
limits to what can be counted as acceptable political means, then
you must own up to the horrors you would be prepared to
countenance as a consequence of not going beyond th~m. Ifbeing
effective in politics must prevent politicians from being good
human beings, then the rest of us, seemingly, are damned with

Stuart Hampshire’s aim is to identify and undermine the
sources of this apparent schism between the political and the
moral, to show that a ‘good’ (i.e. effective) politician need not be
an inferior human being. The schism embodies an attitude that
equates morality with moral innocence, and regards a good life as
a blameless one. According to Hampshire this was the attitude of
those who opposed British rearmament in the 1930s. Its consequences would be to allow politicians to disregard all moral
considerations as unrealistic.

The notion that political realism is incompatible with living a
good and decent life, according to Hampshire, has its philosophical source in the view that there is a good life for human beings as
such. It is often suggested that Aristotle’s belief in this was of a
piece with his essentialist conviction that human beings have a
definitive feature that determines what a good human life must be:

the capacity for reason. By contrast, Hampshire claims that where
Aristotle went wrong was in clinging to Plato’s conception of
harmony in the soul under the control of Reason. The picture of
mental hierarchy that has been pervasive in the work of subsequent philosophers is borrowed from social relations, and shot
through with ‘metaphors of obedience and social conflict’ with
the consequence that “‘reason” is incurably tainted by its ideological and normative connotations’.

Set ‘reason’ aside, however, and look to what actually goes on
in thought, and you will see that imagination – ‘the capacity for
non-argumentative thought’ – is no less important and distinctive
a feature of mental life. Much of Hampshire ‘s argument examines
the centrality of imagination: in memory, for instance, within
which each of us has a deeply personal imaginative relationship
to the past, and which is ineliminable for any individual in
developing a sense of what is significant and valuable in life.

The Aristotelian picture of harmony and order within the soul
produces a false ideal of all-round development, in which each of
the moral virtues is given its due weight. Hampshire argues
instead that each individual develops her own conception of the
good, through reasoned and imaginative understanding of what is
valuable to her. Each conception of the good must involve
emphasising and developing some virtues at the expense of

others. Those figures who historically have been the most admired have not been all-rounders, but men and women who have
excelled in some virtues, while perhaps being deficient in others.

Such people realise particular conceptions of the good life from
an array of possibilities. Morality is not the seamless whole of
Aristotelian, Kantian and Utilitarian moral theory: ‘conceptions
of the good are, and ought to be, divergent and often conflicting.’

The existence of a plurality of goods, and the possibility of
their realisation, requires universal recognition of a ‘minimum
procedural conception of justice’. There are substantive conceptions of justice that are tied to conceptions of the good, but
procedural justice is independent of every conception of the good.

It requires being prepared to negotiate with those whose conceptions of the good conflict with one’s own, and’ gets its sense from
a minimum fairness in established procedures of settling conflicts, national and international, by argument and negotiation and
by quasi-legal reasoning’.

This conception of procedural justice is universal, and it is a
major part of Hampshire’s enterprise to counter relativist objections to it. He takes Hume as his principal opponent, and the
infamous observation that it is not contrary to reason to prefer the
destruction of the entire universe to the scratching of his little
finger is rejected as resting on a conception of reason that is
presuppositionless, abstract and unreal. Hampshire suggests that,
while there are never conclusive arguments for moral claims, they
are, for all that, capable of being true: true, that is, for good and all.

Although there are diverse conceptions of the good therefore, it
does not follow that we must accord them all equal truth: some
conceptions ofthe good are indefensible, even demonstrably evil.

Hampshire argues that anyone, no matter what their conception of the good, should be able to accept minimal procedural
justice, since it is unfair to force beliefs on those wllO do not share
them. He considers the possibility that authoritarian moralists
may have conceptions of the good that require them to refuse to
give a hearing to heretics and infidels. This, he suggests, involves
a rejection of practical reason in matters of morality that is
unusual among European authoritarian moralists, and difficult to
sustain consistently, because it involves an attitude of requiring
others to ‘observe duties and obligations, and to develop specific
virtues, without providing them with any reasons for abandoning
their previous conceptions of the good’ . (This was not the attitude
of the Nazis, according to Hampshire, who were distinguished not
by having an evil substantive conception of justice and the good,
but rather by their disregard for any conception of justice at all,
and their quest for domination and conquest for their own sake.)
No doubt the difficulty of living peaceably with different
conceptions of the good has impressed the need for minimal
procedural justice on many European authoritarian moralists. At
the same time, however, many of them may harbour a wish to be
done with the alien presence and minimal procedural justice along
with it. The person who heeds only faith may disregard all
unbelievers when circumstance permits. Hampshire’s problem is
that if procedural justice is to be overriding, it must not contain
ideas about fairness that are bound to a particular conception of
the good, such as Liberalism. The problem can be resolved, it
seems to me, by dropping the aim of having minimal procedural
justice accepted as part of all conceptions of the good, and
appealing instead only to those who accept a plurality of conceptions of the good as an inescapable feature of social existence. In
that case Hampshire would still be seriously engaged with conceptions of the good that are held to by the vast majority of people
on the planet.

There is another problem, however, that is less easily reRadical Philosophy 64, Summer 1993

solved. Within British politics during the last two hundred years
procedural justice of a sort has been observed through abstention,
by and large, from violence in resolving struggles and disputes.

We might accept, after some qualifications, that this is a feature
of British political culture. But it is premised on the security of
existing property relations. Suppose, then, that you earnestly
desire, as some of us do, to see an end to certain property relations,
while at the same time believing that this would, in all likelihood,
provoke an abrupt disregard for procedural justice on the part of
the State: what then of its respect for procedural justice? And
wouldn’t prudence demand that your own attitude towards procedural justice be modified? The problem is, of course, an old one.

It is soluble if one abandons goals of social revolution or large
scale egalitarian reform, but to do that is to abandon certain
conceptions ofthe good. And this is saying nothing about whether
many conceptions of the good actually do get a fair hearing.

Adherence to a minimum procedural justice as an overriding
virtue cannot therefore be regarded as independent of conceptions
of the good. If you perceive that your opponent’s adherence to
procedural justice is only contingent on the continued failure of
your goals and values, your own attitude to procedural justice will
be apt to become partial and tactical in the short and medium term.

What then of politicians and their dirty hands? They should be
fully aware, according to Hampshire, of their responsibilities in
‘disposing of the lives of others’ , resolute in pursuing the ‘reasonable interests’ of those they represent, and prepared for dilemmas
in which all alternatives are bad. The moral situation of the
politician is that of experience and guilty knowledge. Hampshire
contrasts this with the preference for innocence of those who
aspire to virtues such as integrity, honesty and personal loyalty.

This reflects a conception of the good that has a deserved place in
society, but which is not better than the conception of the good that
determines the goals and virtues of the politician. Hampshire
draws a striking comparison between, on the one hand, the
‘innocence’ of the early Quakers with their emphasis on purity,
simplicity and integrity, and, on the other hand, the ‘experience’

of the Vatican, with its splendour, its traditions, and its use of
cunning and deception for higher ends.

According to Hampshire, Machiavelli was right in claiming
that moral purity is incompatible with political effectiveness. But
there are virtues of experience as well as of innocence, including
‘tenacity and resolution, courage in the face of risk, intelligence,
largeness of design and purpose, exceptional energy, habits of
leadership’. In addition there is a requirement on politicians to
respect procedural justice, which indeed is the means by which
they must weigh competing goods. Just as there is no single good
life for all human beings, so there is no single set of virtues that
everyone of us ought to aspire to. There is a place in society both
for the virtues of innocence and for those of experience.

I suggested earlier that in the hope that our political representatives bring something good about, we seem to be implicated
in whatever means they use to do it. As far as virtues such as
integrity and loyalty to friends are concerned, however, we can
properly count ourselves innocent of the misdeeds of politicians,
because these virtues, and their corresponding vices, are personal
in scope: a politician can only be disloyal to her own friends, not
to ours. With other virtues it is less easy for us to consider
ourselves innocent of bad political means. A Quaker might see the
heavens fall rather than compromise with murder and deception,
but if she relies on politicians to keep them there, she cannot really
pretend to be innocent of the means they use.

The politician’s dilemmas are those of many other servants,
public and private, writ large. Work often presents very nonpolitical people with choices between doing wrong and seeing
wrong done. The option of innocence is for the sheltered few (and
perhaps only because of their lack of imagination). Hampshire’s
Radical Philosophy 64, Summer 1993

duality of innocence and experience might be the world view of
the master of an Oxford College (he was Warden of Wadham
College from 1970 to 1984): one who has the guilty knowledge of
much compromise, and can savour the pleasures of intrigue, but
who continues to value and aspire to the scholarly purity and
innocence of his colleagues (it is admirable that, unlike many a
politician, Hampshire manifests no bitterness towards those he
regards as innocent). It is better, however, that we face up to being
in the same moral boat as the politician who works to realise our
political desires.

There are other criticisms to be made of Hampshire’s arguments: among them, a lack of reflectiveness about whether
existing politicians do act ‘in the national interest’ (and what it
means to do so) or whatever they purport to act in the interest of.

This is, nevertheless, a fine book. Its depiction of the reality and
diversity of moral life has much to teach contemporary ethical
theorists. And in its breadth of -vision and wealth of ideas,
Innocence and Experience brings a degree of imagination to
political and moral philosophy not often seen. The central vision
of peaceful coexistence of virtues, however, must be rejected.

Experience is always better than innocence.

Kevin MagiIJ

E. Ann Kaplan, Motherhood and Representation: The Mother in
Popular Culture and Melodrama, London, Routledge, 1992.

250pp., £35 hb, £10.95 pb, 0 415011272 pb
In Motherhood and Representation E. Ann Kaplan takes as her
subject the special form of psychic relation that the bourgeois
family produced between 1830 and 1970. Her f()cus on melodrama and the realm of popular culture is apt in this context. Not
only did melodrama often act as the site of domestic feminist
discourses but, as several critics have argued (notably Peter
Brooks), melodrama helped to fill an ethical vacuum created by
the privacy of the nuclear family, and exacerbated by the Industrial Revolution, by offering an arena for discussion of familial
issues. Kaplan’s historical periodisation allows her to draw links
between nineteenth-century popular narratives – such as Ellen
Wood’s East Lynne and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s
Cabin – and twentieth-century films produced for a mass audience. She focuses partly on filmic representations of earlier
melodramatic texts, but argues forcefully for a more general
relation between early film and the popular nineteenth-century
novel. This perspective allows her to draw interesting parallels
between the two forms, as well as to analyse the reasons for
specific plot changes required by the changing nature of social
relations. However, she is forced to restrict her analysis to general
narrative issues, ignoring or eliding technical matters involving
form, and the specific relation created in novels and films with the
reader and spectator, so that her claim that ‘cinema is the closest
analog in the realm of the symbolic to access to the maternal body’

fails appreciably to affect her reading of films.

Kaplan aims to integrate two main paradigms into her reading
of popular narrative and film – the historical and the psychoanalytic. Focusing firstly on ‘the historical sphere’, she divides the
period from 1830 to 1970 into three phases: the ‘early modem’,
which emphasised the mother’s place as consumer and educator
of her children within the modem nuclear family; the ‘high
modernist’, which developed both in response to social processes
such as women’s entry into the workforce following the First
World War, and to Darwinian, Marxist and Freudian discourses

about the family; and the ‘post-modem’ which, she argues, was a
response to the electronic revolution following the Second World
War, and which is characterised by a diversity of mother paradigms, as well as political and feminist ambivalences about such

Kaplan attempts to integrate this historical perspective with
psychoanalytic theory. She asks ‘how far recent psychoanalytic
theories may help us to understand what is happening on the
unconscious, mythic level exposed in film representations, as it
interacts with the historical sphere. I am here concerned both with
psychoanalysis as describing an inevitable process of subject

formation (my “foundationalist” moment), and with psychoanalytic theory as a discourse itself producing certain powerful
mother representations, particularly in the post-Freud period.’

Yet there is a tension between these two aims which is not
productively worked into the analysis of narratives and filmic
texts. In a mostly schematic and derivative chapter Kaplan locates
her ‘foundationalist’ moment in post-Lacanian psychoanalytic
theories, particularly those which emphasise feminist
reinterpretations of the pre-Oedipal stage for both mother and
child. She regards theories which value the early mother-child
bond as ‘true’ representations of human subjectivity, while postFreudian theories ofthe ego are analysed as ideological responses
to the increased autonomy of women following the First World
War. However, Kaplan’s analysis fails adequately to acknowledge the complex ideological underpinnings of contemporary
psychoanalytic discourses, or to register the effects on her project
(to investigate the ‘unconscious mythic level’ of motherrepresentations) of the increasingly conscious level at which psychoanalytic discourses have been played out during the twentieth century.

It is the readings of mid-nineteenth-century texts and popular
narratives which prove most fruitful for uncovering the unconscious aspects of ideological representations of motherhood. For
example, in her analysis of East Lynne (popular for over seventy
years with the reading and theatre-going public) she reveals how
the mother’s desire for ‘fusional’ union with a lover or with her
children (rather than with her impeccably bourgeois and distant
spouse) is a displacement of her thwarted desire for union with her
now dead mother. In this case, despite the novel’s ostensible
acceptance of the bourgeois ideology of the family, which required emotional restraint from the mother while offering her
little alternative gratification, the text (as opposed to later film
versions which tend to represent the mother’s dilemma in comic
or parodic terms) registers an unease with the ideal of maternal
sacrifice. However, as psychoanalytic ideas are increasingly
taken up in the public and popular domain, such analysis of the
unconscious levels of the text becomes ever more difficult to

sustain. Arguably, Kaplan’ s analyses of the ideological function
of psychoanalytic discourses in ‘high modernist’ films are among
the most interesting sections of the book, but it would be a mistake
to claim that she is uncovering an unconscious level of the
construction of human subjectivity, except in the most general
terms. (Indeed, for her to carry out this promise would require far
more historical analysis, of mothering and child-care practices for
example, than she offers here.) As Kaplan asserts, the desire to
confine the mother within restricted pop-Freudian stereotypes is
itself a symptom of the increasing cultural threat posed by
motherhood in the post-war period. In an excellent analysis of
‘Now Voyager’ and ‘Marnie’ she argues that ‘Freudian psychoanalysis, as a discourse, was a means through which culture
attempted to articulate and defray fears regarding the abject
maternal. The angel and evil mother paradigms that Freud articulated were an easy and useful tool for representing deep unconscious fears of falling back into the horror of the mother’s being,
where boundaries are elided. ‘

The increasing familiarity with psychoanalytic discourses,
both popular and academic, clearly has important consequences
for contemporary representations of motherhood, which vary
wildly from sentimental recuperations of the good and fulfilled
mother (for example in ‘Baby Boom’), to feminist arguments for
and against reproductive technologies, to dystopian fantasies
such as Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. One of the
most interesting questions raised in the book concerns the possibility of the radical alteration of the structure of the unconscious
(and even its destruction) as a result of the electronic and technological transformation of modem social formations. As Kaplan
reminds us, there is an increasing distance between feminist
psychoanalytic theories, and theories of postmodernity, which
seem to deny the possibility of any psychic depth of inner life at
all. Feminists need to realise how problematic the attempt to
produce a perspective which is both psychoanalytic and
postmodern can be.

Clair Wills

David Roberts, Art and Enlightenment: Aesthetic Theory after
Adorno, London, University of Nebraska Press, 1991. 249pp.,
£19.95 hb, 080323897 5
Many theories of postmodernism and postmodernity paint modernism and theories of modernity in broad brush strokes and then
reject them in favour of a paradigm shift. The fact that Roberts’s
construction of a new paradigm for art emerges from a thorough
interrogation of Adorno’ s portrayal of the antinomies of modernism, as put forward in Philosophy ofModern Music, together with
a larger consideration of the relationship between art and enlightenment’ lends his argument greater weight.

Roberts regards Philosophy of Modern Music as ‘the most
powerful and cogent of Adorno’ s aesthetic writings’ because the
whole paradox of the dialectic of enlightenment, whereby the
domination of nature in the name of progress increasingly leads
to the second nature of an administered environment, is revealed
in the rationalization of musical material. For Adorno, advanced
musical material contains, in terms of an immanent logic, a
sedimented socio-historical dynamic. The material construction
ofthe work is thus indicative ofthe society from which it emerged
yet the work itself is an autonomous monad which is something
Radical Philosophy 64, Summer 1993

other than a purposeful rationality. The aporia which Adorno
unfolds in Philosophy of Modern Music is that the rational
advancement of material almost reaches a stage where it becomes
an all-embracing principle which eliminates the subjectivity that
the whole process of advancement sought to express. In Roberts’ s
terms – which are indebted to Niklas Luhmann — the latency of
the material is rationalized; it becomes manifest. From this
contradiction arise the two extremes of Philosophy of Modern
Music: Schoenberg’s tragic continuation of the dialectic of construction and expression, in all its paradoxes, and Stravinsky’ s
relinquishment of a single material in favour of primitivism and

Roberts provides a penetrating and insightful exploration of
Philosophy of Modern Music. Particularly interesting is the way
in which he brings to light the extent of Adorno’s unacknowledged debt to the Lukacs of History and Class Consciousness.

Following Adorno’ s own technique of immanent critique of the
object, the paradoxes of Adorno’ s construction are brought out in
their own terms rather than by external criteria. Yet the dialectical
contortions which Roberts unfolds do not reveal any tensions of
which Adorno was not himself painfully aware. But Roberts
draws a very different conclusion. If the total rationalization of the
material leads to an impasse whereby the material becomes
indifferent to subjectivity and the traditional organic artwork
becomes mere illusion, then why continue with the discourse of
traditional art when it can only indicate that that tradition has
finished? So significant does Roberts consider the disintegration
of tonality in music and of representation in painting at the
beginning of this century, that it heralds the epoch of the postmodern
and of post-traditional art. ‘Adorno’s categories – freedom and
necessity, form and content, essence and appearance, the latent
and the manifest, progress and decadence – are canceled and
suspended in the modality of contingency, which is to be seen as
constituting the a priori of emancipated art.’ Progress becomes
stasis, essence becomes virtuality and necessity becomes contingency.

Following Luhmann, Roberts defines contingency as that
‘which is neither necessary nor impossible: which can be seen as
it is (was, will be) but which is also possibly other’. A contingent
art is one which opens up the plurality of alternatives, of other
possible solutions; an art which constantly reflects on its own
possibilities as art. If the European tradition is dead, then this past
tradition becomes a component of a world art, non-synchronous
aspects of which can be alluded to in the synchronous full time
(Benjamin) of the present. The environment within which art
operates, therefore, is that of a museum without walls in which art
concerns itself with the ‘relation of relations both as self- and
system-reference, the self-consciousness, that is, of the work as
“possible world”‘. A couple of difficulties arise irrespective of
whether this model is a genuine alternative to Adorno. The fact
that Roberts wishes to break down the distinction between authentic and unauthentic art makes problematic artistic practices
which have carried on in the European organic tradition after the
supposed end of this tradition. To place such practices in the
museum without walls presupposes a functional error in the
context from which this art arose. Further, it is not clear whether
the end of the European tradition signifies a paradigm change, a
museum without walls, for cultures which enjoy a living organic
tradition. Roberts’ s argument does rather suggest that European
progress, which led to the end of progress, becomes a universal for
world art.

Certainly, contingency and the reflexivity of artworks constitute significant ingredients of modem aesthetic experience, but to
treat them as the condition of artistic freedom is excessive. The
fact that, for Roberts, the break with tradition is so absolute
derives from his understanding of the dialectic of enlightenment
Radical Philosophy 64, Summer 1993

as a fatal embrace. Rather than looking at ways of thawing
Adorno’s negative dialectic, Roberts accepts as a premise Adorno’ s
worst prognosis of the reification of rationality. Yet a notion of
advanced musical material can be expanded to become materials
at different stages of development, indeed Adorno’ s comments on
Janacek and Bartok, in relation to the Schoenberg/Stravinsky
framework, indicate the possibility for non-synchronous historical paths to co-exist. Further, it is this capacity for the components
of music to advance at different speeds that allows Schoenberg to
use the rhythmic techniques and phraseology associated with
tonality long after the break with tonality itself. The indifference
of the material is not as absolute as Roberts suggests: whatever the
perils of serialism, Schoenberg’ s resistance to his own system
ensured that expression was not annihilated by construction. The
extremity of Adorno’ s Stravinsky critique does not prevent us
from re-opening a dialectic of reified and emancipated subjectivity in his music. The style and idea dialectic which Roberts posits
as central to the modernism/postmodernism debate need not be
collapsed into sty le in order to accommodate Roberts ‘s concept of
contingency and reflexivity. In the music of Brian Ferneyhough,
for example, the system is very much its own self-reflexive
content, yet it is not antithetical to the notion of an unfolding idea,
even if it is far from Boulez’ s conception of the multiplication of
a single idea.

Whilst aesthetic discourse can roam free of artistic practice,
the fact that Roberts’ s book is about art would lead one to hope
that there might be more exemplification of emancipated contingent art than his against-the-grain reading of Brecht. Given the
emphasis on music in this study, it would have been useful to have
had some discussion of contemporary music which extended
beyond the stereotyped images ofthe Cage of 4′ 33″ and ofBoulez
mired in integral serialism.

On a more general level, it is difficult to see how any idea of
political agency might come out of Roberts’ s model. Art, in
Roberts’s view, may problematize the representation of reality,
but it is not easy to envisage how the possible worlds which it
might prefigure can be anything other than reconfigurations of the
same one, or whether one possibility might be more desirable than
another. Roberts’s post-Adornian landscape is rather overpowered by the richness of his own wide-ranging exploration of
Philosophy of Modern Music.

Alastair Williams


Antony Easthope, Literary into Cultural Studies, London,
Routledge, 1991. 202pp., £30 hb, £9.99 pb, 0415066409 hb,
0415066417 pb
Steven Connor, Theory and Cultural Value, Oxford, Blackwell,
1992.27 5pp., £35 hb, £ 12.95 pb, 0631182810 hb, 0631182829 pb
David Harris, From Class Struggle to the Politics of Pleasure:

The Effects of Gramscianism on Cultural Studies, London and
New York, Routledge, 1992. 222pp., £40 hb, £12.99 pb,
0415062233 hb, 0415062241 pb
Two of the books under review claim to be about ‘cultural
studies’ , and yet there is very little overlap between them. Antony
Easthope focuses on texts and readings. In his intellectual and
academic genealogy of cultural studies, Raymond Williams is a

central figure, along with Barthes, Eagleton, and other theorists of
signification: Culture and Society and Mythologies, claims
Easthope, together’ initiate modem cultural studies’ . David Harris
focusses on social theory and, although acknowledging the impact on his thinking of Williams (among other figures of the’ old
New Left’), he devotes his critical attention overwhelmingly, and
indeed almost exclusively, to work from or directly influenced by
the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies.

Whereas for Harris ‘culture’ means recent and present-day lived
experience, and the forms and institutions which mediate, control
and represent it, Easthope’ s ‘culture’ is narrower – though still
wide enough: the field of representation, whether contemporary
or historical (but in practice, as I argue later, Easthope shows a
restrictive preference for the written text and for narrative).

I do not think it is only because my own background, like
Easthope’s, is in the teaching of literature that I find his book
much more usable than Harris’ s. Literary into Cultural Studies is,
whatever else, well written: Easthope develops complex arguments in lucid prose and reviews a wide range of material without
getting lost in a maze of detail. Bold sketches of a ‘new paradigm’

invite scepticism, and his arguments are at their most vulnerable
when he claims to define the future, but the destructive part of the
book is always plausible and provocative.

Literary criticism – so the argument runs – established its
founding ‘paradigm’ in the early 1930s, when Leavis, Empson
and others moved it beyond the ‘entirely ideological impressionism’ which had reigned until then. But the academic discipline
which they inaugurated now faces fundamental and probably
fatal challenges. Neither its object of study nor its methodology
are secure: popular culture has proved richly worth reading
alongside high art (Easthope substantiates his point by examining
Tarzan, 1912, in tandem with Heart of Darkness, 1899), and the
development of literary and semiotic theory has fractured the
unified authorial text. The demise of the unified text is also the
demise of ‘the modernist reading’ – the close and exhaustive
textual scrutiny and thematic exposition which have founded the
pedagogy and critical practice of literary study. This’ dissolution
of the literary object’ is exemplified in a discussion of Hopkins’ s
‘The Windhover’, where ‘the authorial reading’ is juxtaposed to
a range of alternative accounts -formalist, Marxist, gay, Lacanian …

The text as object cedes place to the text as process and effect.

Meanwhile, as there is no canon, textuality implies the entire field
of signifying practice. To prove his point, and taking his cue from
David Lodge’s Nice Work, Easthope – on a rare foray into the
sphere of the visual – shows how a Benson and Hedges ad can
offer material for semioticians to show their paces.

Much of this is familiar, of course, but the arguments are
assembled and deployed elegantly and energetically, within a
framework which is chronological as well as theoretical and
which pays due attention to questions of teaching and learning.

Those who would like to defend another and more ‘traditional’

notion of literary studies now have a position against which to
define their own, while anyone actively engaged in the shift which
Easthope chronicles and advocates, away from the literary and
towards the ‘cultural’, is bound to find his book valuable, even
where they are moved to disagree.

Nonetheless, two major problems arise as he develops his
position. In the first place his account of literary and aesthetic
value, although careful and sustained, ends up by opting for a
bland circularity: what is valuable is, simply, whatever we value.

Easthope insists at some length that what makes for literary value
has to be understood dialectically, as a property of texts as
constant material objects and not just as their ever-variable effect.

He thereby implicitly concedes – rightly, in my view – that the
notion of aesthetic value which has founded the literary canon
cannot just be dismissed, but most be rethought. However, in

place of more traditional, and wholly essentialist, categories he
finishes by offering that uninformative circularity: ‘Literature
consists merely of some texts that seem more able than others to
give rise to a variety of readings across history.’ This laid-back
formulation surely neglects that material specificity of the text
which he has just been insisting on. It also says nothing to
illuminate or justify the process of alternative canon-formation
which goes on continuously within the academy. It would have
been interesting to read Easthope’ s views on the design of courses
in cultural studies. What goes on at this point is surely the
substitution of other and more varied criteria of value (which are
perhaps richer, even if mutually inconsistent) for the ‘purely
aesthetic’ criteria formerly employed. We ask: what have these
texts to say about x (usually, about gender/sexuality, class, and
race), and how interestingly do they say it, and whose voice do
they say it in, and how can all this be related to some sense or
consensus about what was/is going on socially and historically?

This seems a very different process than the one Easthope implies,
by which we would merely (but how, in fact, would we even
begin?) scan all texts to find out which ‘seem more able than
others’ to communicate diversely today.

Steven Connor, in Theory and Cultural Value, explores some
of the issues which Easthope neglects. The moment of value,
Connor insists, is ineluctable: while any particular act or criterion
of value evokes its own vulnerability to critique, it is equally the
case that the refusal to value evokes the very act which it claims
to banish. Connor deploys this insight – or plays, it sometimes
seems fair to say, with this Derridean yo-yo – in many fields,
including aesthetics, ethics, and feminist theory and politics. He
wanders down some fairly remote byways of intertextuality,
commenting on Simon Critchley’s essay on Derrida’s essay on
Levinas or on’S mi th ‘ s dismissal of Derrida’ s reading of B ataille ‘

(Derrida does crop up rather a lot). Such a level of detail can be
unhelpful in the development of a general account of cultural
theory and its appropriate pedagogy (it is a welc;ome feature of
Connor’s book that he, like Easthope, addresses the conditions
and practices of academic work and teaching). At other times,
however, and especially in the opening chapter on ‘The Necessity
of Value ‘ and in his account of the ethics of discourse in Habermas,
Lyotard and Rorty, it is easier to see the larger importance of
Connor’s arguments, and to welcome their philosophical engagement with issues which are often, in the main tradition of English
literary criticism, settled with bland dogmatism.

The reference to ‘gramscianism’ in the subtitle of From Class
Struggle to the Politics ofPleasure might encourage the hope that
here too a philosophical interrogation would be brought to bear on
the procedures of cultural studies. In the event, ‘gramscianism’

(the small g is Harris’s) is never adequately expounded, defined
or criticised: the term is simply a catch-all phrase to designate the
Birmingham cultural studies project and its offshoots in the Open
University (there is particular discussion of OU courses E282,
School and Society, and U203, Popular Culture – the latter is also
discussed by Easthope). The writing oddly blends incessant
particular criticisms with a general acceptance that the’ gramscian’

project was after all a major and valuable influence. Indeed Harris
begins his concluding assessment by asserting that ‘gramscian
work has … been responsible for the emergence of a critical
sociology of culture and for the politicisation of culture’ – a claim
which obviously overstates the case (both non-gramscian writers
and social history at large have also been ‘responsible’ for these
developments). Given this generous acknowledgement, one wonders what the motive can be for the minutely detailed critical
readings which take up most of this book. Where points are fairly
scored (as when Harris laments the foolishly admiring stance
sometimes taken towards some sub-cultural formations, or when
he insists that claims about the reception of popular texts should
Radical Philosophy 64, Summer 1993

be, but usually aren’t, backed up by empirical audience research),
the shortcomings exposed can seldom if ever be related to a
gramscian or more generally Marxist theory or methodology.

Even had the enterprise succeeded, it is not clear what might
be importantly gained just now by analysing the deficiencies of a
specifically Gramscian (or for that matter Althusserian) cultural
sociology. What is at stake today is surely rather the validity of
any kind of materialist cultural theory, as against non-Marxist
discourse theory and postmodern celebrations of culture as culture as culture. Teachers of cultural studies will probably not
attempt to resolve this issue, but will persist with a blithely
eclectic ‘theory’, or mixture of incompatible theories. (Hostile
philosophers may feel that nothing better was to be expected, at
any rate in England, in an academic field whose chief tenants are
sociologists and literary critics.)
Easthope does offer useful reflections of the theoretical and
politico-theoretical underpinning of cultural studies. I sometimes
wanted to dispute his particular views – to dissent, for instance,
from his claim that Althusser is the best ally against lapsing into
notions of culture as ‘expressive totality’ (a lapse of which
Williams and Foucault are each found guilty) – but I was more
generally disconcerted, as I have already indicated, by the narrowness of his effective definition of ‘culture’ , and by the timorousness of his proposed expansion of ‘literary studies’. For
Easthope, this amounts in effect to reading the popular alongside

the canonical (or ex-canonical), and narrative genres are greatly
privileged in his actual selection of examples.

I would agree that readings of texts, and debate about such
readings, should occupy a central place within cultural studies.

And, against the recently expressed view of Martin Barker that
‘cultural studies has as its object the mass media of popular
culture’, I would urge that students should engage also with
minority art and with the culture of the past. So the work of
Foucault, or of Jeffrey Weeks, or of Penny Boumelha (whose
Thomas Hardy and W ome n seems to me an exemplary instance of
‘literary into cultural studies’) would be high up on my own
cultural studies booklist. But this extension oftextuality involves
not only, and perhaps not mainly, a redefinition of the literary
(which is what Easthope essentially argues for); it involves a
deliberate extension of textual enquiry beyond the confines of the
literary, however defined. We might be looking (for instance) at
travel writing, sexology, politicians’ speeches, and the principle
on which our texts will be selected will owe more to some hereand-now definition of what interests us than to some predisposition towards (what in Easthope’s account is still) literary studies.

In my opinion it may well be through such a radical dethroning of
the’ literary’ that the immense interest of many literary texts will
be restored for new readers.

Martin Ryle

Tom Rockmore, On H eidegger’ s Nazism and Philosophy, Hemel
Hempstead, Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1992. 382pp., £30 hb, 0 7450
1231 0
Richard Wolin, The Terms of Cultural Criticism: The Frankfurt
School, Existentialism, Poststructuralism, 1992. 256pp., $44 hb,
0231 076649
In recent years revelations about Heidegger’s involvement in the
Nazi regime have been used to denigrate his entire philosophy.

But, as in the case of the German legal and political theorist Carl
Schmitt, the Heidegger affair raises an important question which
many commentators fail to address: can the personal political
judgements and beliefs of a thinker serve as the basis for an
evaluation of their philosophical thought and its political possibilities? Initially, Tom Rockmore’s book looks promising on this
front (the title has obviously been carefully chosen). However, in
spite of being thoroughly researched and philosophically informed, this attempt to show that Heidegger’s philosophical
thought and his Nazism are inseparable, and that he turned to
National Socialism on the basis of his philosophy, fails to convince.

In eight chapters the book examines in detail Heidegger’s
infamous ‘Rectoral Address’, his refusal after the war to talk at
length and openly about his involvement in the regime, the French
reception of Heidegger’s Nazism, and the topics of ‘Nazism and
Technology’ and ‘Being, the Volk, and Nazism’. The book also
includes a chapter on the recently published work Contributions
to Philosophy (On the Event) (published in 1989, but not yet
available in translation). It is a fine, serious, informative and
impassioned study. It succeeds in showing what Lyotard hinted at
in his book on the same subject: that Heidegger’s ‘Nazism’ was
deliberate, profound, and persistent. However, the major claim of
the book, that Heidegger’s ‘Nazism’ is apermanent feature of his
thought, is never established. (Rockmore’ s argument is that after
Radical Philosophy 64, Summer 1993

Heidegger became disaffected with actually existing Nazism he
turned to an ‘ideal’ form of it.) It would, I think, be unfortunate if
Rockmore’s study had the effect of closing off debate about the
political possibilities of Heidegger’s thinking by stigmatizing it

as intrinsically and irredeemably ‘Nazi’.

Rockmore shows that Heidegger was always, first and foremost, a political philosopher, a thinker deeply concerned with the
fate of the West, and especially the role of the German Volkin that
fate. Given this, it is all the more regrettable that he never explores
the relationship of He idegg er’ s thought to the tradition of political
theory. At one point it is argued that the ‘fundamental ontology’

of Being and Time does not necessarily lead to National Socialism. But the implications of this are never pursued. By devoting
his considerable skills to establishing the sincerity and profundity
of Heidegger’s Nazi commitments, Rockmore becomes blind to
the question of whether it might be possible to develop a quite
different political philosophy from Heidegger’s destruction of
metaphysics and questioning of technology. Like other commentators on the subject he has clouded his vision by adopting a
predominantly moralistic tone. He is concerned to show that
Heidegger was serious about his Nazism and that this poses
tremendous problems for admirers of his work. While this is
undoubtedly true, it cannot constitute the beginning and the end
of the matter. Perhaps the worst aspect of the moralistic condemnation of Heidegger is that it narrows the debate, reducing it to a
simple one between the commentator who has morality and
humanity on his side, and the bad Nazi philosopher who is
preoccupied with the fate of big, abstract Being and shows little
regard for concrete human beings. Heidegger may have turned to
the Nazis on the basis of his philosophical concerns, but that does
not mean that it was a necessary turning. Heidegger’s political
engagement was much more complex than Rockmore’ s moralism
is able to allow. His ‘personal’ National Socialism was so ‘ideal’

as to be quite different from real National Socialism.

The Heidegger affair also features in Richard Wolin’ s collec53

tion of essays on cultural criticism. It is split into three sections
each containing three essays. The first section deals with the
legacy of the Frankfurt School and reappraises the aestheticist and
utopian strands which pervade Adorno’ s thinking. The second,
entitled ‘Political Existentialism’, has essays on Schmitt, MerleauPonty, Sartre and Heidegger. The third and final section has
essays on Rorty, Foucault, and Derrida.

In his preface Wolin affirms the seriousness of the essay
genre, citing remarks by well-known practitioners of the art of
essay writing such as Adorno and Lukacs. But while there is
instruction in these essays, several of them are quite superficial.

For example, the portrait he provides of Schmitt’s work is
simplistic and tendentious. Its effect is to render the left’s interest
in Schmitt perverse, which is surely an unenlightening conclusion
to reach. Another example is his treatment of Heidegger’s ‘Nazism’ (he published a book on Heidegger and the ‘politics of
Being’ in 1990). Like Rockmore, he finds the post-war reception
of Heidegger in France to be disingenuous and ahistorical. However, by adopting the tone of moral condemnation he ends up
presenting a caricature of the defence of Heidegger proffered by
the likes of Derrida and Lacoue-Labarthe, who claim (scandalously for both Rockmore and Wolin) that Heidegger’s endorsement of Nazism in 1933 can be explained in terms of his commitment to a mode of thinking which had not yet sufficiently

disengaged itself from metaphysics. I agree with Wolin that the
attempt to explain the rise of Nazism in terms of a history of Being
rather than the peculiarities of German history is problematic. But
his cavalier treatment of the issue means that he misses the radical
challenge that Heidegger’s critique of humanism presents to
Western thinking, and wildly simplifies Derrida’ s position. Derrida
is not simply trying to exonerate Heidegger from any’ authentic’

personal involvement in the Nazi regime, but seeking to show that
the standard humanist critique of his political commitment raises
complex questions about human subjectivity and human values.

The effect of W olin’ s moralistic reading is to place a closure on
this kind of critical thinking.

Wolin defines the task ofthe critical theorist today as enlightening the’ Enlightenment’. In the preface he argues persuasively
that it is only by sustained reflection on the way in which
Enlightenment precepts and goals have historically miscarried
that the spirit of enlightened criticism can be reunited with its
original utopian aspirations. But, while he is an astute and
instructive commentator on the vicissitudes of critical theory, his
critical commentary on other intellectual traditions and figures
often lacks real engagement and penetration. Wolin’ s attempt to
portray the major theoretical trends of the twentieth century in
essay form frequently smacks of intellectual tourism.

Keith Ansell-Pearson

Werner Bonefeld, Richard Gunn and Kosmas Psychopedis (eds),
Open Marxism: Volume I, Dialectics and History; Volume II,
Theory and Practice, London, Pluto Press, 1992. Vol. 1 xx +
179pp., £12.95 pb; Vol. 11 xviii + 172pp., £12.95 pb
In addition to substantial contributions from each of the editors
themselves, this international collection contains interesting papers by Hans-Georg Backhaus, Heide Gerstenberger, Harry
Cleaver, John Holloway and Simon Clarke. There is also a piece
of useless verbiage from Antonio Negri. According to the editorial introduction the papers are unified by their commitment to
‘open Marxism’. At the most general level, this refers to the
implications of Marxism being present within its object. Being
thus itself mired in the contradictions of the times, theory must not
preempt the future, or foreclose on practice, through adopting a
determinist framework construed ‘outside’ its object, as does
positivism. The openness of the categories is based on an understanding of social reality as constantly changing along with forms
of struggle. The categories of Marxism are thus essentially
‘incomplete’. The dualism of theory and practice must be overcome in ‘the practical reflexivity of theory and the theoretical
reflexivity of practice as different moments of the same
totalisation’. What is disappointing is that no examples are
provided of how Marxism has shown itself to be ‘open’ in the past
(one thinks here of Lenin’s and Trotsky’s category of ‘combined
and uneven development’), or of what categorial innovations are
necessary now to encompass the self-constitutive power of women’s struggles, and to engage with ecological crisis. The book is
strangely silent on these questions.

However, ‘open Marxism’ is held to have methodological
implications; for example, Gunn’ s paper (‘Against Historical
Materialism’) contains a critique of any ‘general theory’ of
society: ‘Whereas general theory stands back from its object and
reflects upon it, Marxist theory situates itself within the object and
construes itself as constituted through its object. ‘ This means that

the changing forms of social life cannot be accommodated within
a genus-species classification because that implies there is some
unchanging essence behind social phenomena and an invariant
pattern of transformation. Along these lines, Gerstenberger poses
an alternative to the orthodox Marxist theory’ of the French
Revolution, and Clarke questions the project of periodising capitalist development.

Contrary to their own principles, the editors treat certain
categories, namely ‘practice’, ‘the movement of contradiction’,
and, above all, ‘class struggle’ , as if they were eternal essences.

Class struggle, it seems, assumes many specific forms, e.g. the
capital relation, the state; indeed, in general, ‘social phenomena
have to be seen asforms assumed by class struggle’. The contributions are united in their opposition to the idea of Marxism as a
science which describes an objective reality complete with laws
of motion, periods, structures, etc. Some trace the fault to Marx
himself: for example Gunn considers The German Ideology and
the 1859 Preface an ‘infantile disorder’ of Marx’s. It is certainly
true that in the 1859 Preface ‘general theory’ is given an outing,
class struggle is unmentioned, and an ‘activist’ tone studiously
avoided. It has been argued that this last may have to do with the
circumstances of its publication (see A. M. Prinz, ‘Background
and Ulterior Motive of Marx’s “Preface” of 1859’, Journal of the
History of Ideas, Vol. XXX, 1969).

In some contributions, social forms are perceived as insubstantial objectifications of the eternal struggle; any attempt to take
seriously their specific effectivity is denounced as ‘fetishism’,
‘structuralism’, ‘positivism’, or ‘determinism’. Yet talking seriously the ‘mode of existence’ of today’s class struggle merits
precisely a close investigation of the genuine objectivity of the
capital relation within which class struggle is inscribed. But it is
not that class struggle ‘takes the form of’ struggle between feudal
estates and between modem classes: the specific differences take
precedence over the abstract identity of terms. But how can a form
of struggle be specific except in virtue of the positioning of classes
Radical Philosophy 64, Summer 1993

in detenninate structural relations? Yet these authors think that
structure is nothing but the fonn taken by the’ struggle’. There is
the sound of the stick cracking as it is over-vigorously ‘bent the
other way’. Thus Bonefeld says ‘structures do not exist’, and
Gunn seems to believe ‘society’ does not exist.

Another way they put the point about genus/species classification is to contrast’ empiricist abstraction’ with’ substantive’ or
‘detenninate abstraction’. According to Gunn: ‘Detenninate abstraction is abstraction in and through which phenomena obtain,
unlike empiricist abstraction which is abstraction from the phenomena concerned.’ In the latter, particulars are united only
through species; whereas detenninate abstraction picks up an
internal relatedness in virtue of which tenns ‘fonn and refonn, or
constitute and reconstitute, other tenns’. This logically stronger
conception distinguishes dialectical totality from mere reciprocal

As Gunn points out, an illustration of ’empiricist abstraction’

is to be found in Bob Jessop’s recent paper where he ‘corrects’ the
expression value ‘fonn’ to ‘meta-fonn’ on the grounds that
commodity, money, and capital, are all (specifically different)
value fonns (see Bonefeld and Holloway (eds), Post-fordism &
Social Form: A Marxist Debate, Macmillan, 1991). However,
‘the mode of existence’ of value is grasped only in the comprehensive concept of a self-differentiating totality whose internal
moments are commodity, money and capital, which are nested
within each other and enfold one another in an ever-moving
mediatedness. It is simply impossible to give a neat definition of
the concept of value fonn; it requires an exposition of its selfdevelopment. Psychopedis correctly argues here that ‘the central
issue of dialectical method’ is ‘the problem of the exposition of
the categories (Darstellung),.

The most relevant test case for the method advocated is
capital, obviously. There seem to be two points at issue: (a) its
ontological status, especially what is meant by characterising it as
‘ideal’, ‘fetishized’, ‘topsy-turvey’, ‘false’, etc.; (b) whether its

law of motion is simply a question of struggle and response.

Open Marxism claims that ‘the central category of openness
is that of critique’ and that this critique ‘moves within its object’.

Backhaus’s paper argues that Marx’ s work’ moves at once within
philosophy and science’ because the exchange relation creates a
reality which is itself abstract; thus ‘it is something conceptual the
logic of which is quite different from that of the natural sciences’

(Adorno). Critique gains its foothold in the gap between ‘objective concept’ and ‘material existence’. However, Backhaus is also
inclined to see in the objectivity of capital a mere reification of
subjectivity, whereas Marx insisted on the ‘objective validity’

even of the fetishistic face of capital. Many contributors here are
reluctant to admit that in a ‘topsy-turvey’ world the false is a
moment of the true (to reverse an aphorism of Guy Debord).

Some of the authors are suspicious of Capital itself for
speaking the language of capital. Cleavere calls for’ an inversion
of class perspective’ in the theory. Interestingly, a recent book by
Mike Lebowitz (Beyond ‘Capitai’ , Macmillan, 1992) argued that
this would have been achieved if Marx had been able to produce
his planned book on ‘Wage Labour’, the sequel to Capital. With
regard to the problem of the alleged laws of motion of capital,
most contributors clearly wish this to be reducible to class
struggle. Thus Holloway writes that ‘the reproduction of capital
is not automatic: it is achieved through struggle’. Lebowitz put the
same point more strikingly: ‘Capital … must defeat workers; it
must negate its negation in order to posit itself.’

There is a lot in this book on the ‘self-constitution of labour’

(Negri) but not much on the ‘self-constitution’ of capital, although its disorganising power is recognised. With the contributors from Edinburgh in particular (Bonefeld, Gunn, Holloway),
the refusal to theorise lines of development, periodisation, etc., of
capital, issues in a voluntaristic politics that has little in common
with Marxism as usually understood.

Chris Arthur

Andrew Parker, Mary Russo, Doris Sommer and Patricia Yaeger,
eds, Nationalisms and Sexualities, London, Routledge, 1992.

451pp., £40 hb, £12.99 pb, 0415904323 hb, 041590433 1 pb
Edna Longley, From Cathleen to Anorexia, Dublin, Attic Press,
1990. 24pp., £2.50 pb, 0 946211 99 X
Gerardine Meaney, Sex and Nation: Women in Irish Culture and
Politics, Dublin, Attic Press, 1991. 23pp., £2.99 pb, 1 85594
From rape, snuff movies and homophobic neo-nazis to napalm
bombings and’ accidental killings’ , sex and nation have emerged
as constructs of cruelty and persecution; immune to reason,
compromise and reconciliation, violent energies are stimulated
by historical claims to national identity.

As its title suggests, Nationalisms and Sexualities picks up from
the seminal work of George Mosse, Nationalism and Sexuality
(1985). Mosse’ s book broke the habit of treating sex and nation as
mutually independent and explored the ways in which European
nationalism and bourgeois sexual mores emerged together at the
end of the eighteenth century. While reminding the reader of their
debt to Mosse, the editors draw attention to an important theoretical nuance which distinguishes their project from his. They
Radical Philosophy 64, Summer 1993

maintain that, while Mosse saw how these phenomena impinge
on one another, he did not sufficiently acknowledge how neither
nationalism nor sexuality are transhistorical monoliths.

While this argument does give scope to cultural diversity, it
could also be used by the representatives of a benevolent paternalism which has long marked the relationship between imperial
powers and their colonies. For what other justification exists for
intellectuals from imperial and ex-imperial powers who, while
criticising nationalism in their own country, unambiguously
affinn it in the colony? Doesn’t a peculiar fonn of patronising
logic infonn this standpoint? Terry Eagleton’s Field Day pamphlet Nationalism: Irony and Commitment (1988), while fails to
address Irish nationalism critically and instead reiterates a stale
romanticism, is paradigmatic of such paternalism.

Doubts as to the automatic progressiveness of nationalism in
colonies and fonner colonies are raised by a number of the
contributors in Nationalisms and Sexualities. Gayatri Spivak’s
‘Woman in Difference: Mahasweta Devi’s “Douloti the Bountiful'” examines the intersection of political elitism and the nation
in the context of work by the contemporary Indian writer. Spivak
uses Devi’s critical portrayal of post-independence India to
discuss ways in which Indian nationalism parallels the imperial
nationalism against which it rebelled. Criticising Black American
nationalism from a similar position, J oyce Hope Scott argues that




a patriarchal view of Black power led to the marginalisation of
feminist concerns within this movement. And in a similar vein,
Mary Layoun’s ‘Telling Spaces: Palestinian Women and the
Engendering of National Narratives’ describes how Palestinian
women’s participation in the intifada may subvert the hegemonic
narratives underwriting the Israeli/palestinian conflict. Stephen
Tifft’s contribution, ‘The Parricidal Phantasm: Irish Nationalism
and the Playboy Riots’, brings a fresh dimension to the debate
with an analysis of coloniser and colonised as caught up in an
Oedipal situation. Using the initial Irish nationalist outrage at
Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World (1907) (which charts
the response of a group of villagers to the hero’s attempted
parricide), Tifft explores how later Irish nationalism took up the
policy of ‘triumph in failure’ and its associated mythology of
heroism, blood sacrifice and martyrdom. Tifft also analyses the
public outrage at the presentation of Irish women as lascivious
and unsentimental. Since the nation-as-woman myth depended
upon an image of woman as chaste, dutiful, daughterly and
maternal, this threatened the bourgeois decency of the nationalist
cause. How could good respectable Catholics honour the cause of
nationhood by fighting on behalf of a wanton woman?

Edna Longley’s From Cathleen to Anorexia is a pertinent
attempt to demythologise the Irish nationalist ideal of the virgin
soil of Ireland. Longley subverts Yeats’s image of Mother Ireland
as an old woman transformable by those devoted rebel sons into
a seductive beauty (Cathleen ni Houlihan). Instead, Longley
portrays Ireland as a terminally-ill anorexic, whose death drive
has over-ridden any instinct for preservation or reality principle.

Not surprisingly, Longley’s image has proved unpopular in
Ireland where the image of the fertile emerald isle still holds much
romantic nationalist appeal. It is an excellent piece of iconoclasm,
but a number of Longley’s claims may be challenged: her tendency to fall into another sentimentality concerning woman as
passive victim and her over-estimation of the virtues of Ulster
unionism are but the most obvious. Opposition to abortion, an
embrace of traditional family values, close ties with that most
patriarchal of organisations, the Orange Order, are all anathema
to feminism, but appear to get forgotten in Longley’s relatively
appreciative remarks on unionism.

One critic who draws attention to such issues has been
Gerardine Meaney, whose Sex and Nation is written as a vehement response to Longley’ s pamphlet. While Meaney concedes
that the images of suffering Mother Ireland sustain a
marginalisation of women in Irish society, she argues nevertheless that if women’s voices are to be heard in the Irish political
arena it must be from the nationalist platform. Her arguments are
rather ill thought out. At one point her position is a strategic one:

if women criticise nationalism, they’ll be left out of Irish political
life where so much hinges on this issue. But does this mean that
one should go along with all the priorities of the received political
agenda, as Meaney implies? If Irish nationalism (as the author
acknow ledges) has failed to face women’s issues since 1922, why
should it suddenly change? Indeed, a group of nationalist intellectuals, the Field Day Theatre Company, whom Meaney admires,
have recently demonstrated their insensitivity to feminism in their
editing policy of a massive three-volume anthology ofIrish male
writing. As a concession one further volume of female writing is
currently being appended! The status of woman as afterthought is
worryingly symbolic. Furthermore, coming from a state with
Western Europe’s worst record on women’s rights, Meaney’ s
argument looks like wishful thinking. Meaney goes so far as to
attack Longley’ s intellectual integrity, accusing her of hijacking
feminism solely for anti-nationalist purposes: ‘Precisely because
nationalism has proved so hostile to women, feminism offers a
convenient cover for those who wish to attack any attempt to
understand Ireland’s past and present in terms of colonisation and
decolonisation.’ While Longley’ s refusal to understand the Irish
past and present as caught up in the discourses of colonisation and
decolonisation is, indeed, problematic, she nevertheless does
draw attention to profound problems for women in nationalist
ideology (which, as Nationalisms and Sexualities shows, are also
faced in Palestine, India and Africa). However, it is depressing
that criticism of an ideology which, along with the other dominant
ideology in Northern Ireland, has failed to address the political
polarisation of a community which has lived through twenty-four
years of tragic violence, is dismissed as covert right-wing propaganda.

Kathleen Nutt

Linda Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707-1837, London,
Yale University Press, 1992. 429pp., £19.95 hb, 0 300057377
Recently John Major rallied the Conservative Party conference
with a speech which alluded to Britishness no less than 52 times
(I’m told). And few politicians in the UK would have the nerve to
scoff at his idea of the British national character. British freedoms,
as Major told his approving audience, stretch back more than a
thousand years; and who would dare to scorn such a National

However, as Ernest Renan observed, ‘getting the history
wrong is part of being a nation.’ And the truth is that the formation
of the’ one united kingdom of Great Britain’ belongs to the Age
of Reason rather than the Dark Ages. To be precise, it dates from
the Act of Union of 1707. (Wales had been joined to England in
1536, and Ireland was annexed to Britain in 1800.) Britain is
therefore scarcely older than the proverbially young United States


of America. But, until Linda Colley got to work on it, its origins
were left largely to political mythologists. Serious historians have
found the idea of British ne ss so superficial and jingoistic that they
have preferred not to get involved with it. (The excellent three
volumes of Patriotism: The Making and Unmaking of British
National Identity, 1989, edited by Raphael Samuel range very
widely indeed, but it was only very late in the process of their
preparation that the ‘pleasant’ word ‘English’ was replaced by the
more accurate ‘British’ in the subtitle.)
Britons draws on a large range of evidence – particularly
paintings and cartoons, and fresh researches into popular fears of
invasion – in order to provide a vivid portrayal of the ‘forging’ of
Britain from the Act of Union to the accession of Queen Victoria.

The composition of ‘Rule Britannia’ (1740); the first public
singing of ‘God save the King’ (1745) and its adoption as a
‘national anthem’ in the early 1800s, at about the same time as
Blake wrote’ Jerusalem’; all these, together with the invention of

Radical Philosophy 64, Summer 1993

popular royal pageantry (the Jubilee of 1809) are set in the context
not just of politics but of theatre, art, and theology: Britain as the
modem Israel, God’s chosen nation.

Early Britishness as Colley presents it went through three
phases. In the first, the idea of Britain was bonded with
protestantism, trade and manufacturing, and personal liberty. It
was the mirror image of the popery, luxury, and arbitrary aristocracy of the hated France, an enemy in almost unbroken decades of
war. British victory was sealed in the Treaty of Paris of 1763. But,
as Colley shows, this triumph led on to a crisis of self-confidence.

Britain found itself at the head of an unwieldy empire far beyond
anything that could be justified in terms of protestantism or trade
or liberty: its subjects included not only Quebec catholics but also
numerous non-Christian, non-white populations in Asia. It seemed
that the burden might be too much for Britain to bear; and it was
just a year after the Treaty of Paris that Edward Gibbon decided
to chronicle the decline and fall of the Roman empire.

In the second phase of Britishness the ruling class began
organising itself into a national unit. Boys were sent away from
home to be educated together at public schools; patrician families
from distant counties were joined by ties of marriage. And above
all the royal family was reinvented. The installation of the
Hanoverian dynasty in 1714 had been a desperate fix to prevent
a Catholic succession; and the first two Georges, with their
marked preference for everything German, and their partiality to
the Whig cause, left something to be desired as national leaders.

But George Ill, who succeeded in 1760 and reigned in poignant
ordinariness, madness and pain for sixty years, hit on a new and
winning formula. His qualities, as The Times wrote on his death
in 1820, were’ imitable and attainable by all classes of mankind’ .

Still, Britannia suffered a humiliating blow when the American colonies achieved independence in 1783. And the American
revolution was followed by a French one only six years later. At
first this could seem like the end of history: France was at last
being persuaded of the value of the liberties which Britons had as
their birthright. (The parallels 200 years later hardly need to be
underlined.) But in 1793 Britain was at war with France again.

Drawing on government surveys of British popular opinion in
1798 and 1803, Colley reveals how men of all classes and regions
were able to see war with France as expressing their deepest
interests, desires and ideals.

In this period, a new version of British ne ss was hammered out.

One of its elements was anti-slavery. It was a popular cause and,
as Colley points out, it enabled the British to present themselves
as truer friends of liberty than the self-righteous French or
American revolutionaries. Another was gallantry. The execution
of Marie Antoinette, and the death of many women at the
guillotine, afforded British men and women a gratifying spectacle
of French beastliness. Increasingly, the image of British monarchy was decked with womanly and family virtues. There was
affection for Queen Charlotte, the domesticated and prolific
consort of mad King George; adoration for naughty Princess
Charlotte and grief when she died in childbirth aged 21; and
sympathy for Queen Caroline, the rejected wife of the disliked
George IV. (Colley speculates that the woman-worshipping motives which have led to the cult of the Virgin Mary in Catholic
countries may have been transferred, in Britain, to the monarchy.)
At Waterloo in 1815, Britain defeated its eternal enemy, and
had to fall back on a new and less warlike nationalism. Radical
reformers designated themselves as British patriots, and ‘God
Save the King’ and ‘Rule Britannia’ were played at their rallies.

The Reform Act of 1832 was itself seen as an expression of
Britishness: Lord John Russell told the Commons that ‘the
reformers were the nation’.

It is disappointing that Britons stops in 1837, when the young

Radical Philosophy 64, Summer 1993



Victoria took over what had been called ‘the Queendom’ . But the
truncation sharpens Colley’ s argument. Her survey shows how
Britishness provided the first inhabitants of Great Britain with a
sense of their situation reasonably adapted to some not ignoble
values and interests. Their Britishness could be a basis for
humane, democratic and libertarian politics.

Colley’s attempt to rehabilitate Britishness will strike many
readers as reactionary, if not heretical. Where, we ask, are the
Yorkshire radicals who were the heroes of Edward Thompson’ s
Making of the English Working Class? Colley’s answer is that
Yorkshire is the only English county which deviates from the
general pattern of popular patriotism. To other doubts, she may
not have so easy an answer. Her descriptions of the class incidence
of British patriotism are, perhaps unavoidably, more impressionistic than those of its geography, and the outlaws of Thompson’ s
eighteenth century might have lived on a different planet. Also,
she could have distinguished more clearly between those who
feared France and those who were committed to a positive idea of

A remarkable portion of recent work on the theory of nationality has been conducted in the British isles, and has taken them
as a leading theme; but it has been biased by sympathies with
Welshness, Englishness, Scottishness and Irishness, at the expense of Britishness. These ideas, it has been assumed, represent
worthier and more agreeable nations than the shoddy forgery
which is Britain. Colley’s marvellous book suggests that the
contrast is not so great as has been supposed; and the theoretical
and political implications are profound.

Jonathan Ree


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George E. McCarthy, ed., M arx and
Aristotle: Nineteenth-Century German
Society and Classical Antiquity, Savage,
Maryland, Rowman and Littlefield,
1992. xi + 379pp., $55 hb, $22 pb, 0 8476
7713 3 hb, 0 8476 7714 1 pb
This collection of twelve essays concentrates on the earlier thought of Marx and
the Hellenic influences on his intellectual
development. While complementing
McCarthy’s Marx and the Ancients:

Classical Ethics, Social Justice and
Nineteenth-Century Political Economy,
this book offers a thorough examination of
the classical reference in Marx’ s thought.

McCarthy presents Aristotle as of special
importance, noting an Aristotelian imprint
on Capital and the praise which Marx gave
to Aristotle throughout his life (the’ greatest
thinker of antiquity’).

Most of the essays focus on the study
programme which Marx undertook at
Berlin University between 1839 and 1841.

The starting point in a number of the
contributions (particularly those of Horst
Mewes, Michael DeGolyer and Steven
Smith) is the context of nineteenth-century
social theory which, through the German
Enlightenment, assimilated classical aspirations and philosophical expectations
to contemporary concerns. Marx’ s doctoral
dissertation On the Difference between the
Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy
of Nature anticipates his later critique of
the contradictions of classical political
economy. It is interesting that the young
Marx drew from Aristotle’s On the Soul,
Metaphysics, On the Generation of Animals, Physics, On Becoming and Decaying and On the Heavens, whilst his later
studies mostly used the Politics and the
Nicomachean Ethics.

The book surveys the environment in
which Greek thought took hold of the
German intelligentsia around the close of
the eighteenth century, instigating the
Griechensehnsucht (longing for Greece)
in German philosophy. This influence is
recognised by David Depew and Steven
Smith in the work of Hegel, the ‘German
Aristotle’. Smith offers a challenging discussion on the sources of the dialectic
leading up to Marx through Hegel and
including a crucial reference to Socratic
and neo-Platonic thought – something
which McCarthy neglects. In the second
section Laurence Barovitch concentrates
on Marx’ s dissertation, and Michael
DeGolyer’s essay ‘The Greek Accent of
the Marxian Matrix’ summarises the central tenets of McCarthy’ s whole project by
defining a theory of justice which runs
from Hellenic philosophy through to


Section three focuses more problematically on self realisation (Martha
Nusshaum, Philip Kain and William Booth)
and the way in which Marx and Aristotle
confronted both its individual and its social
aspects. The tension is brought out in Aristotle’s criticism of Sparta and the highlighting of the economic elements of
Marx’s Economic and Philosophical
Manuscripts at the expense of other elements (Nussbaum in particular). This is
also evident in Booth’s comparison of the
oikos (household) economy of the ancients,
the factory system and communism. This
approach presents Aristotle’s ‘economic
theory’ as a precursor to Marx’ s work.

The final section introduces a fruitful
discussion on the good life as the expression of species being, challenging utilitarian
and natural rights theories (Richard Miller).

Alan Gilbert develops this critique by
presenting Marx as a moral realist, relating
this to Aristotle’s theory of eudaimonia
(happiness). This represents perhaps the
most coherent argument in the book. A
further step is taken by Joseph Margolis,
who not only confronts McCarthy’s thesis
on the relationship between Aristotle and
Marx, but also takes on AlIen Wood’s
‘Aristotelian Marx’ (from his Karl Marx) ,
emphasising a theory of praxis and the need
to overcome the essentialist reference in
Aristotle’s thought. The book concludes
with Tom Rockmore’s historical survey
from Greece through to Marx via Christianity, Descartes, Kant, Fichte, and Hegel,
in which he reasserts the Aristotelianism
of Marx.

In his introduction McCarthy states
that much work is still to be done on Marx
and the Greeks. Perhaps the most constructive exegesis in this project was offered
by Margolis in that, in true Socratic style,
he questioned McCarthy’ s thesis. For his
sins he was left out of the list of contributors
at the back of the book!

Gerard McCann

Oswald Hanfling, ed., Philosophical
Aesthetics: An Introduction, Oxford UK
and Cambridge USA, Blackwell in association with The Open University, 1992.

xxvi + 483pp., £35 hb, £10.95 pb, 0 631
180346 hb, 0 63118035 4 pb
Written for the Open University’s ‘Philosophy and the Arts’ course, Philosophical
Aesthetics is a collection of eleven essays,
each devoted to one of ‘the main areas of
interest in the subject’ . These are identified
from the viewpoint of twentieth-century
‘Anglo-Saxon’ discussions. The two concluding essays by Stuart Sim on ‘Continental’ and Marxist aesthetics seem tom

between the urge for broad gestures towards views over the fence, and the
constraints of conforming to the topicbased pattern established earlier.

Although grouped under the (rather
predictable) headings: ‘What is Art?’, ‘Art
and Feeling’ , ‘Art, World and Society’ and
‘Art and Value’, individual essays are
meant to be readable in isolation, and each
seeks to establish its own initial purchase
on the reader’s understanding. There is a
pleasing sense that the volume is trying to
escape what used to be called ‘the dreariness of aesthetics’, and to avoid the sense
of myopic burrowing, arbitrary aridity,
and the tube-mapping of issues, which
students persist in finding in even the best
analytical writings in the area.

Pedagogical deployment has its costs,
however. Lines of argument sometimes
become diffused or displaced by the urge
to give tours of the literature and establish
pedigrees, and introductoriness can become
tinged with complacency if it leaves the
impression that the existence of a problem
is more important than the need to solve it.

A bit more could also have been done
to integrate the overall package without
threatening either the volume’s diversity
or the independence of contributors. While,
for instance, it is very nice to find a philosophy book with pictures in it (four of
them in colour), not much use is made of
them. It would surely be possible – and
certainly more fun – for common agreement
on a set of visual example”s to” make such
illustrations into meeting points for a variety of issues (and such an accumulation
might even turn philosophical insight into
critical illumination).

The range of historical reference, to
major philosophers and figures from the
history of criticism, is wide but selective.

From the high canon, Plato figures perhaps
too much, Aristotle too little. Schopenhauer
is prominent; Kant gets a place of honour,
but little substance, as the complexities of
‘The Critique of Aesthetic Judgement’ are
skirted. There is no mention of Hegel: a
symptomatic omission since, despite names
from the nearer and further past at every
turn, history is present only in a very twodimensional way. An unprimed reader
could be forgiven the impression that historical differences offer only complication
and curiosities, or early botched attempts
at answering twentieth-century questions.

There is only a pallid or intermittent
awareness of theoretical thought originating in symbiotic relationship with the forms
and preoccupations ofthe arts themselves,
rather than a quest for retrospective definition. This loosening of the most vital
connection between theory and practice
cannot entirely be shrugged off as a matter

Radical Philosophy 64, Summer 1993

of differing philosophical predilections,
since people come to the philosophy of art
in order to learn about art, not philosophical

There is also little in the volume relevant
to such questions as the nature of innovation, change, progress, or the transformational character of art. One cannot have
everything; and such omissions are not
exactly uncommon in analytical literature.

But they are especially regrettable perhaps
in a textbook for today. One cannot get far
in this area without either colliding or
colluding with the thought that such things
are uniquely exhibited within the arts of
Western culture. By entering such an arena
of real (and painful) issues a work like
Philosophical Aesthetics would be well on
the way to transcending, or at least examining, its own Eurocentricity.

Barry Camp
Julian Young, Nietzsche’s Philosophy of
Art, Cambridge, Cambridge University
Press, 1992. 170pp., £27.95 hb, 0 521
The fragmented nature of the Nietzsche
corpus (not only its largely aphoristic
character, but also the problem of the
Nachlass and of the status of the Will to
Power collection) not only invites, but
rather demands systematic reconstruction.

Julian Young does this with remarkable
method and clarity . Young’s strategy is
diachronic. He follows the development
of Nietzsche’ s aesthetics through four
stages, each named after one of his books:

The Birth of Tragedy; Human, AU-toohuman; The Gay Science; and Twilight of
the Idols. The starting point of the development lies in Nietzsche’ s debt to
Schopenhauer (the first chapter is an exposition of Schopenhauer’s aesthetics) and
the main argumentative thread is
Nietzsche’s fidelity to this intellectual
origin, which he sought to eradicate in the
intermediate stages, only to come back to
it in the last stage. The main thesis, therefore, is controversial- it makes Nietzsche,
in spite of several changes of heart, fundamentally a pessimist, and the Apollonian/
Dionysian contrast in The Birth ofTragedy
the key to Nietzsche’ s theory of art. The
diachronic treatment of Nietzsche is welcome, as it prevents Young from bulldozing
a synchronic interpretation through a
variable and contradictory corpus. The
single-mindedness of the thesis, even if on
the whole it is convincingly argued, involves a few disadvantages: not only is
The Will to Power excluded from the corpus (a standard practice since the ColliMontinari edition, but one which makes it

Radical Philosophy 64, Summer 1993

difficult to read important older interpretations of Nietzsche, Heidegger’s or
Deleuze’s for instance), but Thus Spake
Zarathustra is hardly considered at all,
which is more surprising. Definitely a book
to read, if only for its exposition of the
Schopenhauer-Nietzsche tradition.

Jean-Jacques Lecercle
Norman K. Denzin, Symbolic
I nteractionism and Cultural Studies: The
Politics of Interpretation, Oxford,
Blackwell, 1992. xviii + 217pp., £40 hb,
£12.95 pb, 1557860599 hb, 155786291
5 pb
Symbolic Interactionist (S.I.) sociology is
an amalgam of German idealist philosophy
and American pragmatism. This book
shows what happens when S.1. meets the
structural and poststructural influences of
cultural studies. It also provides a history
of different trends within S.I. and a critical
reading of classic interpretative studies
within this tradition.

One of the strengths of this approach is
its development of a notion of an
intersubjective Other, through which understanding of the predicament of actual
others, and therefore communication itself,
is possible. As Denzin observes, however,
it is a peculiarity of S.1. that it has little or
nothing to do with those writers who developed the idea of intersubjectivity most
thoroughly in sociology, namely the
phenomenological current around Schlitz.

This is seen as a mark of its isolation from
European influences, but also of its pragmatist resistance to European concerns
with totalisation and the transcendental

S.1. has traditionally focussed upon the
predicaments of the socially marginalised,
in small-scale social milieux: drug-takers,
small-time thieves, jazz musicians, gangsters, asylum and prison inmates. It is
Denzin’s contention that such studies are
in essence culturally unreflexive. Although
the interactionist project is to see how
‘underdogs’ define their situation, the approach seems to fall into the same trap as
positivist functionalism, namely that peopie’s accounts are given only one meaning,
to which the sociologist has direct access.

The same problem arises in relation to the
canonical texts of S.1. The disagreements
about what G. H. Mead actually said,
Denzin argues, rest upon the constitutive
ambiguities of his writings, whereas the
protagonists in these debates construe them
as either correct or mistaken interpretations.

Contemporary developments in
interactionism show a greater sophistica-


tion through theories of representation and
textual analysis, for example, but these
innovations are highly contested and, as
yet, remain marginal to S.1. in the United
States. Denzin is at his strongest in describing the advantages to S.1. of cultural
studies in the tradition ofWilliams, Hall et
al. These serve as a corrective to mainstream interactionist writing. In S.1. media
studies, for example, as with the work of
Adorno and Horkheimer, the individual is
regarded as a passive recipient of meanings
and values propagated by the larger
structure of society, rather than as actively
engaged in reworking or contesting
dominant meanings.

Denzin attempts to shift away from the
‘centred’ subject. He tries to exorcise the
paradox of individual creativity being mirrored by passivity, which has plagued S.I.

since its formulation by Mead as a ‘sociology of consciousness’. In this framework
one person’s defining is another person’s
definition. There is no possibility of resistance to labelling, and arguably S.1. is
consistent in denying such ground, since
to do so would raise the anti-pragmatic
spectre of an ontology of selfhood. On the
other hand, a cultural studies approach
would, it seems, at least provide some
place where the subject might endure, if
only in ‘narratives’, ‘texts’ or other signifying structures.

It is clear that there is a strong affinity
between the core concepts. of cultural
studies and interactionism in so far as both
see social processes as constituted symbolically. However, for cultural studies,
the ‘decentred subject’ does raise issues of
social ontology, even if this takes the form
of historical relativism. Denzin’ s reluctance
to grasp this particular nettle suggests the
continuing weight of the pragmatist influence in S.1. Moreover, his opposition to
totalising sociology or ‘grand narratives’

shows the striking resonance between
interactionism’s on-going rejection of the
possibility of grasping macro-structure and
the ‘postmodern’, fragmentary moment of
cultural studies. However, he suggests that
intersubjective understanding is possible
when individuals move from one cultural
milieu to another because they do totalise
new social relations in terms of the symbolic content of the old.

This is a courageous attempt to drag
interactionism away from the backwoods
of US sociology. It deserves to be read
because it offers a good argument for a
more complex and comprehensive approach to ‘putting oneself in the place of
the other’.

Howard Feather


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