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65 Reviews

REVIEWS

EVERYTHING IS DANGEROUS
John Rajchman, Truth and Eros: Foucault, Lacan and the Question of Ethics, London, Routledge, 1991. 155 pp., £30.00 hb,
£10.99 pb., 04:15 90379 3 hb., 0415 903807 pb.

Jana Sawicki, Disciplining Foucault: Feminism, Power and the
Body, London, Routledge, 1991. 130pp., £30.00 hb., £8.99 pb., 0
415 90187 1 hb., 0415 90188 X pb.

Samuel Weber, Return to Freud: Jacques Lacan’ s Dislocation of
Psychoanalysis, translated by Michael Levine, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1991. £30.00 hb., £10.95 pb., 0 521
374103 hb., 0 521 377706 pb.

What to do with masters, dead or alive, past or present, is a
perennial problem. They appear to require introductions, but all
too often introductions also introduce something else, something
extraneous to the thought that is purportedly being mediated for
our instruction. The work of masters can be appropriated – and
successive appropriations of continental theorists have given rise
to a whole sub-genre of studies in Marxism and psychoanalysis,
psychoanalysis and feminism and so on – but the distinction
between appropriation and the legitimation of positions developed in other contexts is often a nice one. Masters can, on
occasion, also be read.

Foucault and Lacan have often been introduced and appropriated. Lacan was reluctant to be introduced, but inevitably fell prey
to commentators as his version of psychoanalysis, largely as a
result of his very public presence, became part of a broad philosophical-cultural field which often paid little attention to its
clinical origins or even to other developments within psychoanalysis. For his part, Foucault appeared actively to encourage the
appropriation of his writings by describing them not as a consistent body of work, but as a tool kit to be used by anyone as
circumstances demanded. He could, however, be scathing about
the results.

Foucault is an improbable subject for feminist appropriation.

Nothing in his work on prisons or madness indicates that the
rationale for incarceration and the treatment of the incarcerated
might be gender-differentiated, that the regime prevailing in
Holloway might not be identical with that in Wormwood Scrubs.

Foucault said almost nothing about feminism or femininity, and
never wrote the volume on ‘Woman, Mother, Hysteric’ which
was to be part of the History of Sexuality series. Undeterred by
this, Jana Sawicki attempts to outline the ‘basic features of a
Foucauldian feminism’, defined as being compatible with the
radical and emancipatory project of feminism in general. Given
that Foucault failed to supply the master plan, the project has to
be described in terms of what a Foucauldian feminism’ would be’ .

Despite his undoubted, androcentrism, Foucault offers a theory
Radical Philosophy 65, Autumn 1993

of power and resistance which is neither monolithic nor instrumental, seeks to demonstrate that power is not an object to be
possessed or seized, queries the alleged need for’ a true sex’ and
stresses the uncertainty of gender (and other) identities. The
theory is intriguing and the query has far-reaching implications,
but here they trigger some odd slippages, some affecting Sawicki’ s
interpretation of Foucault, others her appropriation. Sawicki
asserts that the History of Sexuality provides an account of the
process whereby the modem individual comes to see herself as a
sexual individual. Yet the texts in question make very sparing use
of the feminine pronoun, and Foucault’s references to the ‘body’

and ‘sexuality’ remain strangely ungendered. Sawicki’s ‘difference’, in the mean time, slides alarmingly from its sexual
acceptation to ‘racial difference’, which may not be quite the
same thing.

Whilst Sawicki’ s invocation of Foucault to combat monolithic images of ‘male science’ is useful, she is more interesting
when discussing the ambiguities of in vitro fertilization and other
new reproductive technologies than when she looks at Foucault’s
bio-politics. Arguing that differences are not an obstacle, but can
multiply sources of resistance to relations of dominance, Sawicki
concludes by recommending the building of coalitions. It needs,
surely, no ghost to tell us this. A similar bathos surrounds the
exploration of Foucault’s notion of desexualization, which is part
of his challenge to concepts of identity in that it questions the need
for a true sex. Paradoxically, the realm of sexuality is broadened
by the refusal to limit in advance either its definition or the
practices it implies. For Sawicki, this strategic move enables us to
extend sexual debate and struggle to include reproduction and
abortion. Yet in Britain, the National Abortion Campaign was
perfectly capable of ‘expanding’ the domain of sexuality to
include abortion, reproduction and the right to choose without any
reference to Foucault.

The tropes of political correctness undercut many of the
author’s claims. Far from being an area of uncertainty or of a
desirable indeterminacy, identity becomes a source of
unchallengeable authority: as a lesbian mother and partner in an
inter-racial couple, Audre Lorde is credited with having ‘unique
insights’ into the divided allegiances that seem to threaten the
very possibility of a unified women’s movement. One can almost
hear a sceptical Foucault asking just why this should be the case.

Finally, it is, surely, rather odd for a text which makes so much of
the problematization of identity to be prefaced by a first-person
narrative account of life in the academy as a feminist, which is
somehow ‘not simply a brief chapter in my intellectual biography’.

Introductions are no less treacherous than appropriations.

Samuel Weber’s Return to Freud originates in a series of lectures
45

on Lacan given in Berlin in the early seventies, and originally
appeared in German in 1978. One wonders about the wisdom of
publishing an English version at a time when there is no shortage
of ‘introductions to Lacan’, and when Ma1colm Bowie’s Lacan
(1991) provides a comprehensive (and at times nicely sceptical)
guide to the work of a notoriously difficult writer. Weber’s
introduction is more than competent, but major sections of it deal
with topics that are over-familiar from repetition. This may reflect
the delay in English publication, and it is probable that the
discussion had more appeal in 1978. It is difficult to feel great
enthusiasm for another reading of Lac an ‘s use of Victor Hugo to
elaborate a theory of metaphor, or of Freud’s account of his
inability to recall the name ‘Signorelli’ (or, more accurately, of
Lacan’s rereading thereof).

The text is an introduction, but it also represents the induction
of Lacan (and Freud) into a very Derridean framework. It is
marred by the all-intrusive word play that has become the hallmark of a certain academic appropriation of Lacan. Near-tautologies serve as arguments thanks to assertions which proclaim that
the sense of Lacan’ s discourse is the derailing of sense, and then
define that sense as ‘the language of the unconscious, the unconscious as language’. Phrases articulated around ambiguities and
commas become substitutes for more cogent demonstrations.

More problematic still is the elision of differences between
Freud and Lacan, notably in the matter of desire. As Weber notes,
if we take Freud’s texts at their word, we find that’ desire’ is rarely
used. Lacan’s foregrounding of desire, as opposed to Freud’s
‘wish’ , is justified by the claim that interpretation may require the
introduction of terms which are absent from or even alien to
Freud’s text. Overt differences between Freud and Lacan can be
elided by the insistence that the latter’s innovations are tacitly
present in Freud. At such points, it is not the reader who is being
introduced to Lacan, but Lacan and Derrida who are being
introduced into Freud. This is a case of Freud being turned into
Lacan, rather than of Lacan returning to Freud. One of Weber’s
strengths is his reading of Lacan on temporality, and of the theme
of the ‘future anterior’. The child in the mirror stage, for example,
does not glimpse an image of what it has been, but the illusory
unity that will have been incorporated into its imaginary identifications. Weber’s brief but illuminating comparison of this disjointed temporality with ‘metaphysical’ temporalities based upon
the past perfect unwittingly illustrates the temporal mode of his
own reading: Freud is of interest largely in terms of what he will
have become in Lacan and for Derrida.

It is not easy to accept Weber’s unproblematic and unqualified
endorsement of Lacanian-Derridean orthodoxies, or the implied
charge that all the wrongs were on one side in Lacan’ s endless
quarrels with the International Psychoanalytic Association, conveniently dismissed as the representative of ‘official psychoanalysis’ , just as the philosophy of Husserl and the linguistics of
Jakobson and Benveniste are disqualified as belonging to the
‘metaphysical tradition’. Many analysts and others would, for
instance, disagree with the contention that it is language that
allows the ego to constitute itself, particularly as Weber restricts
discussion of language to ‘the signifier’, to the exclusion of all
other possible linguistic categories. Many historians of science
would reject as spurious the claim that Freud’s descriptions of
drives and quantities of psychic energy owe little or nothing to the
thermodynamic model in physics, and that he uses’ quantitative’

to mean ‘not reducible to qualities’, or ‘to identities’. For all the
insistence on taking Freud at his word, it is clear that his words
can, for the purposes of the argument, be taken to mean almost
anything. The introduction of ‘absent’ terms or concepts begins to
look suspiciously like an exercise in tendentious reading.

Whereas Sawicki appropriates and Weber introduces,
Rajchman reads and explores Lacan and Foucault in terms of their
46

confrontation of their own difficulties. No masters emerge from
this reading. For Rajchman, Foucault and Lacan promote suspicion of all demands for moral theory and of the masters who
promote it. His subject is ethics, the topic both of Lacan ‘s seminar
in 1959-60 (and one of great personal importance to him) and of
Foucault’s last writings. Reading is not a disinterested or neutral
activity, and the effect of Rajchman’ s reading is to raise the
ancient question of the ‘eros of thinking’ . Of what is philosophy
the love, the philia? In the case of Foucault and Lacan, it is clearly
not love of the Idea, but of a passionate confrontation with
thought.

In many ways, the final two elements of the History o/Sexuality
are not the most attractive of Foucault’s writings. There is a
certain aridity about the long exploration of Greek thinking about
the’ care of the self’ and the ‘use of pleasures’ , about the laborious
exposition of themes in Stoic thought which are well known to
anyone versed in ancient philosophy, or even in its avatars in
French Renaissance philosophy. There is little novelty in Foucault’ s
final vision of the master who is able to temper the excesses of
reason thanks to the exercise of a reasoned care of the self, a vision
which sometimes recalls Montaigne or Erasmus rather than the
FoucaultofMadnessand Civilization. Yet Rajchman quite rightly
perceives that the texts become fascinating when juxtaposed with
the interviews given in the last few years ofFoucault’s life, where
he began to outline what might be meant by a gay ethics, or by a
gayness which succeeded in breaking with fixed sexual identities,
which was the product of a continued work on the self. The
abandonment of philosophies of desire in favour of the uses of
pleasure does offer something new. In this perspective, freedom
is no more a state or an object to be possessed than is power;
freedom becomes the precondition for ‘an unidentified work of
thought, action and self-invention’. An intensely exciting and
fearful prospect. There is no future anterior here, nor yet a future
perfect. But there is at least a future that escapes the rereading of
masters.

There is a strong hint in Rajchman’ s treatment-ofFoucault that
problems in styles of thought may reflect a problem in a style of
living in an era when, as Foucault put it, nothing is absolutely
good or evil, but everything is dangerous. Although Rajchman
does not explicitly make the point, his approach at least suggests
that a return to the biographical may have its uses, that it may not
be as fallacious as several decades of formalisms would have us
believe.

A similar note is struck in the discussion of Lac an ‘s seminar
on ethics. This is the seminar which meant most to Lacan, and the
only one he was tempted to turn into a book. It was a product of
a tragic time – the Algerian war was drawing to its vicious close
– and of a tragic vision centred upon Antigone, whom Lacan
clearly identifies with his step-daughter Laurence Bataille, jailed
for her involvement in the struggle for Algerian independence.

The composite figure of Antigone and Bataille becomes emblematic of a fatal passion obeying the unwritten law of passion as
opposed to the written law ofthe city. That figure is also emblematic of the essence of psychoanalysis, which introduces a new
problem into the domain of ethics: that element in our desire that
goes beyond anything that might direct us to what we think we
want for ourselves. Antigone’ s desire is not a desire for the good.

There is nothing joyous about this desire, and nothing· to be
liberated. Yet psychoanalysis – or at least Lacan – insists that the
truth of desire is ‘written’ in the puzzle of our destinies. Antigone’ s
tragedy is her inability to be false to a passion that is her truth and
which will destroy her. In his last writings, Foucault had little time
for theories of the truth of desire, but he shared Antigone’ s
knowledge that it is both dangerous and necessary to stray outside
the city walls and into the empty space of freedom.

David Macey
Radical Philosophy 65, Autumn 1993

JUST IN TIME
James s. Fishkin, The Dialogue ofJustice. Toward a Self-Reflective
Society, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1992.

243pp., £17.95 hb., 0 30005161 1 hb.

Barbara Goodwin, Justice by Lottery, London, Harvester
Wheatsheaf, 1992. 214pp., £30.00 hb., 0 7450 12744 hb.

Klaus R. Scherer, ed., Justice: Interdisciplinary Perspectives,
Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1992. 302pp., £40.00
hb., 0 521 41503 9 hb.

Philippe Van Parijs, ed., Arguing for Basic Income. Ethical
Foundations for a Radical Reform, 1992.248 pp., £34.95 hb.,
£12.95 pb., 0 86091 371 6 hb., 0 86091 5867 pb.

In Klaus Scherer’s collection Bernard Cullen concludes his
review of philosophical theories of justice with the complaint that
‘pandemonium’ and a ‘cacophony of discordant … voices’ reign.

This seems to me to be over the top. There is significant disagreem~nt about substantive issues. But in which area of philosophy is
thIS not so? In fact the last two decades of political philosophy are
recognised to be a success. Most attention has concentrated on the
work of John Rawls, and perhaps no other text this century has
been as extensively mauled and lauded as his A Theory ofJustice.

Yet, inspired by Rawls, English-speaking political philosophy
has spent twenty-five years bringing under sustained critical
scrutiny the key concepts and themes of its discipline – liberty,
equality, justice, democracy, community. There are significant
gaps, and a few critics have bemoaned, with some justification,
the dominance of a certain East Coast American understanding of
democratic liberalism. However, it is as well to remember the bad
old days of conceptual analysis, whose apolitical concern merely
to get its terms of art well defined forbade consideration of
political right and wrong. We have come a long way.

The worry now is less discordance than a certain narrowness
of tonal range. Liberalism dominates to a point where its critics
compete to show how wrong headed it is rather than offer
systematic alternatives. At the same time it has become apparent
that liberalism has a problem with its foundations. Famously,
contemporary philosophical liberalism aspires to moral neutrality, that is it claims not to presume any particular ideal of the good
life in its recommendations for the politically good society.

Indeed its starting point is, as Rawls has increasingly made
explicit, a recognition of value pluralism. Yet critics have argued
that this leaves liberalism impaled on the horns of a dilemma.

Either it is strictly true to its own requirements of neutrality and
is condemned to say nothing of substance, or it does make
substantive claims but only in virtue of presuming what it claims
not to, that is a particular set of human values.

Two of the books under consideration start from these sorts of
worry about foundations. Yet they reach quite startlingly different
conclusions. They do share what is now an uncontentious assumption – that human beings merit a fundamental equality of
consideration. Barbara Goodwin recommends the lottery as the
appropriate distributive procedure. She does so both because it
accords with the requirement of equality, and because all other
criteria of distribution are essentially contested. James Fishkin
argues that, even given an assumption of equality, there is no
single principle or systematic theory of justice. Eschewing such
a theory he offers instead an account of a fully legitimate political
system, the ‘self-reflective society’. Justice within any particular
self-reflective society is the operation of rules which have been
collectively approved by that society.

Radical Philosophy 65, Autumn 1993

Goodwin’s is an interesting and well-written book. It commences with an entertaining fictional fragment, a portrait of
‘Aleatoria’ – Britain organised by sortition. It then proceeds to the
serious business of showing that what has been fictively sketched
should not be immediately dismissed as madcap. Goodwin assembles an impressive array of examples, drawn from actuality or
fiction, which illustrate the virtues of the lottery. She reviews
some of the shortcomings of alternative distributive procedures
and she mounts a fairly good case for the use of the lottery. Her
claim is essentially that a lottery is impartial and that it gives effect
to a powerful and plausible principle by which social choices
should be constrained – namely, that you should submit to what
you choose and choose what you would submit to. It is indeed
instructive to imagine that politicians might by a turn of a wheel
find themselves bearing the burdens their policies had imposed
upon some within the population.

The rule of chance has most plausibility when intended to
guarantee representative and accountable policy makers. In other
contexts the suggestion of a Total Social Lottery is less convincing. Goodwin sees it as the means by which to secure ‘equality of
life chances’. But, although she indicates some of the problems
with a simple principle of equal distribution, her dismissal of
sophisticated accounts of equality is too brusque. So are her
criticisms of distributive principles of need, merit and contribution. A measure of how sophisticated a contemporary egalitarianism can be is given by the contributions from Baker, Barry and
Norman in Arguing for Basic Income.

One gets the sense that Goodwin thinks that a lottery is to be
used when all else fails. When there are no good reasons to prefer
heads over tails, toss the coin. The strength of the lottery system
is directly related to the weakness of other distributive criteria.

But they are not so obviously lacking in justification as Goodwin
implies. Moreover, it is interesting to note what we would clearly
not wish to see distributed by lottery: punishment, the rearing of
children, sexual partners (though Goodwin at least rehearses
some arguments for ‘polyfidelity’), inexpensive life-saving
medical treatment, and favourable book reviews. Now sometimes
it is simply the case that considerations of justice do not apply.

Who gets to sleep with John is not a question of fairness. But often
justice is at stake. Whether John gets cured of his illness and J ane
does not may well be such an issue. It would have helped to spell
out in more detail the limits of certain distributive principles in all
those areas where the use of a lottery is certainly impartial but may
not be obviously fair.

Fishkin’s book is in three parts. The first is a clear, insightful
critique of any pretensions liberalism might have to offer a
systematic theory of justice. Fishkin offers something like an
impossibility theorem to show that no single principle of distributive justice can yield an acceptable allocation of goods in all
contexts. The situation is one of ‘ideals without an ideal’. In the
second part Fishkin outlines a theory of those principles informing a fully legitimate liberal state, that is one which all of its
citizens are morally obliged to support. These principles can be
chosen in a hypothetical or actual choice situation, and by citizens
whose motivations are unaltered or filtered in some way to secure
impartiality. Armed with a fourfold categorisation of possible
theories Fishkin reviews the familiar work of Nozick, Rawls, and
Walzer, finding them all deficient. He concludes that a plausible
theory of legitimacy must rely on filtered consent in an actual
choice context.

In the third part his own ideal of a self-reflective society is
47

offered as fitting this category. Such a society’s practices are
consensual. They supply essential benefits to their members, and
are self-reflective, that is subjected to continual critical examination through unmanipulated public discussion. Finally these
practices are voluntary, that is members have unimpeded exit
from them. Fishkin’s ideal is of a society which collectively and
openly examines its own reasonableness through undistorted
dialogue between all of its members. If, by the norms of evaluation which inform such a society’s practices, roles and goods are
distributed in a certain way, then such a distribution may be
considered just. Fishkin’ s theory offers a non-systematic theory
of justice which is context-dependent but not prey to moral
relativism.

The similarities with Habermas’s work and indeed Rawls’s
more recent writings are not explored. But the general approach
is persuasive. It is, if you will, a theory of rational democratic
proceduralism. The terms of the good polity are those its members
can publicly demonstrate to one another when all participate
freely and equally in the democratic determination of these terms.

Fishkin has much of interest to say about the institutional and
legal conditions of a free political culture, one that ensures the
unmanipulated expression and reception of all political views and
information. He also specifies the terms of free and equal political
participation. In all this he displays an estimable sensitivity about
what is feasible in contemporary politics.

There are weaknesses, however. Fishkin never explains what
unimpeded exit from political practices actually means. It is
unrealistic to insist that dissatisfied citizens should simply emigrate, but in what other ways does Fishkin envisage them withdrawing their consent? For Fishkin a general requirement of any
theory of legitimacy is that acceptance of obligations should not
be the result of indoctrination. Now it is fine to rule out consent
which is due to brainwashing or coercive moulding. But clearly
Fishkin is worried about Barrington Moore’ s celebrated observation that some of the worst instances of injustice have been
accepted by their victims. On the one hand Fishkin simply
ascribes such acceptance to indoctrination. On the other he trusts
to the rigours of a truly self-reflective society to purge its members of false ideas. Yet surely individuals can be socialised, not
indoctrinated, to believe that some injustices are permissible, if
only that the poor deserve their indigence.

Fishkin also appeals to the idea that subordinate groups would
lack the self-esteem necessary to full membership, and moreover
could not have, as full self-reflectivity requires, an unimpeded
and effective voice. Some of this seems ad hoc. Much of it merely
trusts in the dissolvent effects of collective scrutiny upon inequity. Yet Fishkin also talks of cleavages along the dimensions of
race, class, gender and ethnicity without any suggestion that these
would necessarily disappear in a self-reflective society. This is
problematic. One particularly serious question facing the defender of a feasible liberal democracy is how it might cope, if at
all, with serious ethnic divisions. Fishkin does not address the
issue.

Arguing for a Basic Income tackles the question of whether a
basic income, paid unconditionally to everyone in society, is just
and feasible. It also broaches the question whether the demand for
such an income captures much of the radical idealism of a
socialism which has otherwise been seriously discredited. The
ethical arguments in the book dominate the economic ones, but
the former are very varied. There is everything here from Hillel
Steiner’s idiosyncratic socialism with libertarian foundations to
Bill Jordan’s left communitarianism. The arguing is consistently
good and it is surely a sign of the left’s intellectual health that the
issue can be so intelligently discussed with differences openly
acknowledged. Not everyone in this volume agrees with the
proposal. Although some see basic income as an immediate or
48

transitional demand, others consider its possible role within an
achieved just society. And disagreement here is about what such
a society should look like. Equality has never appeared a more
complex ideal.

The volume benefits from its conference origins since clearly
authors have read and responded to one another’s contributions.

Van Parijs supplies an excellent if densely argued introduction
which shows just how many ways there now are to argue for a
desired political conclusion. His concluding piece also suggests
how subtle the marriage of justice and efficiency can be. Most
interestingly he argues that basic income may be economically
efficient to the extent that it is widely perceived as fair.

This raises the fascinating question of how far a plausible
theory of justice is dependent upon an accurate account of what
individuals believe or can be led to believe is just. Goodwin does
not seem optimistic about the chances of a Total Lottery System
being universally accepted, not least because, as she notes,
lotteries are currently perceived in some important contexts as
evidence of a failure to solve a distributive problem. Fishkin seeks
to have justice flow from consent rather than the reverse.

It would be crucial then to explore the relationship between the
moral arguments about justice and the facts of what people judge

to be fair and why. Tomblom, as a social psychologist, provides
a full and compelling account of the latter facts. But Scherer’s
volume as a whole misses the opportunity to make the proper
connections. The sub-title is misleading insofar as each contribution is offered solidly from within the author’s discipline: philosophy, law, economics, sociology, and social psychology. Each is
essentially a state-of-the-art review essay, summarising the major
work in the field. This can sometimes amount to a rather plodding
series of exegeses. The authors try not to be controversial in their
interpretations, but they also for the most part seem ignorant of the
others’ contributions. Interdisciplinarity is confined to a very
brief concluding essay whose suggestions are gestural and necessarily vague. This is a pity. It would have been interesting to
explore the cross-fertilisation of economic theory and philosophical understandings of welfare and justice (are human beings
rational economic agents?), or to try to determine what social and
psychological realities an account of moral education in the just
society needs to accommodate (how do you teach a sense of
justice?).

A theory of the good society must be sensitive to the realities
of the world and human nature. But it must not conservatively
presume that what is currently given is unchangeable. To that
extent the foundations of any theory must follow from an exploration of what can be secured within and by an actual democratic
community. Political philosophy must become political in the
best sense of that word. The marriage of the ideal and the real,
what can be recommended as fair and agreed to by all, is yet to be
achieved. But there are a lot of different bids, and political
philosophy is all the healthier for that.

David Archard
Radical Philosophy 65, Autumn 1993

BEYOND FACT AND VALUE
Pervez Hoodbhoy, Islam and Science: Religious Orthodoxy and
the Battle for Rationality, London, Zed Books, 1991. xv + 157pp.,
£27.95 hb., £8.95 pb., 1 856490246 hb., 1 85649025 4 pb.

Can there be a distinctly Islamic science? If not, may faithful
Muslims adopt science as currently practised in the West, or must
they reject science full stop and confine their attention to the
revealed truths of the Qu’ran? Pervez Hoodbhoy, a Westerntrained Muslim physicist alarmed by the ascendancy of antiscience and Islamic science movements in his native Pakistan,
argues there can be no such thing as a distinctly Islamic science
(just as there can be no distinctly Christian, Marxist, or Third
World science). Science proceeds according to its own internal
logic and, when intruded upon by external factors like religion or
politics, it quickly becomes ‘pseudo-science’: ‘a waste of time …

whose pursuit can only serve to accelerate the backwardness,
poverty, and ecological destruction’ of the Islamic world. Muslims must therefore master Western science since it alone will
enable them to liberate themselves from their current poverty and
powerlessness. If Islam is to regain its past glory, it must resist the
reactionary calls of religious fundamentalists to reject science in
favour of revelation and theological first principles.

Hoodbhoy supports this position by arguing that science is a
value-neutral tool for predicting and controlling physical events,
that is grounded upon universal principles of reason and observation. As such it may be used for good and evil, and in no way
challenges the Qu’ran. To reject or Islamicise science because of
its role in Western imperialism is to throw the baby out with the
bathwater. Faithful Muslims may practise Western science in
good conscience by directing it towards Islamic ends. Indeed,
such ‘Muslim science’ flourished during the ‘Golden Age of
Islamic Intellect’ from 750 to 1100.

Hoodbhoy contends science and Islam complement rather
than oppose one another. Physical knowledge is properly pursued
by scientific observation and experiment, not by revelation. The
Prophet and Qu’ran both enjoin this. Inconsistencies between
scientific theory and Qu ‘ran are dissolved by interpreting Qu ‘ranic
claims about the physical world as allegorical rather than literal.

Moral knowledge, however, is properly pursued through revelation and scriptural meditation. ‘Science is excellent at producing
but terrible at distributing – justice is a concept which lies outside
of science. ‘ Science is appropriate for matters physical; Islam, for
matters moral and spiritual. Science provides value-neutral, factual means-ends information; Islam provides moral and spiritual
direction. Therefore the fact that there can be no distinctly Islamic
science does not discredit Islam. Hoodbhoy establishes the Islamic pedigree of this view by rooting it within the tradition of
eighth-century Mu ‘tazilite rationalism which sought to reconcile
Hellenistic reason, science and logic with Islamic revelation, and
recent ‘modernist-reconstructionism’ of Syed Ahmed Khan (18171898) and Syed Ameer Ali (1849-1921).

Hoodbhoy rejects two of the leading alternatives to his view.

‘Orthodox-restorationism’ denies the compatibility of Islam and
science. Islam can recover its former greatness only by expurgating all things Western (including science, reason and logic) and
returning to the Qu’ran as the last word on everything. Because it
embodies Western values and experiences, science is intrinsically
evil and thus ill-suited for Islamic aims. Opportunistic fundamentalism regards Western science as value-laden and incompatible
with Islam. But instead of rejecting science it advocates the
Islamicising of science, i.e. infusing it with Islamic principles,
Radical Philosophy 65, Autumn 1993

beliefs and values. Islamic science studies such problems as the
speed of Heaven, the tilt of God, the quantity of Divine reward
earned by prayer, etc.

How happy a union between science and religion does
Hoodbhoy’s compatibilism create? First, it seems to constitute a
profound revision of traditional religious doctrine since it entails
a significant retreat from the view that Islam provides humankind
with a complete worldview and life-guide comprised of absolute,
literal truths about the physical and moral make-up of the world.

Once one understands the biological, geological and cosmological
claims of the Qu’ran allegorically, can one still accept the literal
truth of its claims about human creation, immortality and predestination or its claims about the efficacy of prayer, the existence of
heaven and hell, the resurrection ofthe body, and divine intervention in the physical world? Similarly, what justifies continued
acceptance of the literal truth of Qu ‘ranic claims about morality?

Islam bases its moral claims upon factual claims (e.g. about
human nature); but if these are undermined by science, aren’t its
moral claims also undermined? And ifthe Qu’ran’s moral claims
are fact-laden and its factual claims allegorical, shouldn’t its
moral claims also be read allegorically?

Secondly, Hoodbhoy’s compatiblism rests on the thesis that
science is value-neutral. But is it? Clearly not; science embraces
such values as predictive accuracy, explanatory power, simplicity
and elegance as opposed to permanence, conformity with scripture, or authority. That these are cognitive values in no way
diminishes the value-Iadenness of scientific theory and judgement. Does science proceed according to universal principles of
reason and experience? It would seem not; its principles are
anathema to fundamentalist Muslims who regard Western logic,
reason, and secular science’s disenchantment ~f the physical
world as intolerable incursions upon the authority of text and
revelation.

Beneath Hoodbhoy’ s rejection of Islamic science and marriage of Western science and Islam lurks a pre-Kuhnian, positivist
view of science (along with its distinctions between science and
pseUdo-science, fact and value, internal and external history of
science, discovery and justification, etc.) that has long been
abandoned by philosophers and historians of science in the West.

It simply doesn’t look as if there is a tidy set of essential
characteristics of science (such as falsifiability, appeal to natural
law, etc.) which we can use to demarcate science from pseudoscience and disqualify Islamic science. (Incidentally, equally
unsatisfactory reasons against scientific creationism were advanced by Michael Ruse in his courtroom testimony in McLean
v. Arkansas. Ruse’s testimony later became part of the presiding
judge’s decision to exclude scientific creationism from Arkansas
high school science curricula.) But rather than reject Islamic
science (or scientific creationism) wholesale as pseudo-science,
why not (following Larry Laudan) squarely confront the claims of
Islamic science piecemeal and assess the evidence and arguments
that can be marshalled for and against them? This enables us to
rebut the hypotheses of Islamic science without recourse to
philosophical claims about science which are as dubious as
Hoodbhoy maintains Islamic science is.

Finally, I find Hoodbhoy’s compatibilism disturbing since it
leaves unresolved what is the most pressing problem for us all:

how to create a world order in which all humans may coexist and
be treated justly. Its dualism of facts and values removes claims
of morality from the realm of experimental intelligence and
historical experience, situating them instead in what he
49

characterizses (when defending secular science) as the irrationality and superstition of revelation and literal scriptural interpretation.

But if science runs amok when governed by scriptural driven
physical truths, why not morality?

When our moral claims inevitably come into conflict,
Hoodbhoy leaves no other court of appeal than individual revelation, clerical authority, and scriptural exegesis. I doubt the efficacy of resolving disputes in this a priori manner within Islam (e.g.

witness the recent Iran-Iraq bloodbath) and without Islam (e.g.

between Muslims, Jews, atheists, etc.). A secular process would
seem better suited to the task. As Marx and Dewey urged, the
proper solution requires more science, not less. It requires extending
experimental methods to moral inquiry; not leaving it to the mercy
of unchecked personal and social self-interest.

In conclusion, by Hoodbhoy’s lights what we have here is a
battle of classical proportions between science and superstition,
reason and faith, tolerance and zealotry, and modem enlightenment and medieval darkness. Islam and Science could have been

written three centuries ago by a European advocating the separation of science and Church. Indeed, Hoodbhoy sees himself as
trying to reproduce within Islam the West’s secularisation of
science and ‘victory of science over superstition’. Yet this book
could also have been written just sixty years ago during the
heyday of logical positivism with its conceptual landscape of fact
vs. value, internal vs. external, scientific essentialism, valuefreedom, etc. Those who have emigrated from this landscape will
find Hoodbhoy’s argument uncompelling.

These reservations notwithstanding, Islam and Science is a
clearly written, well organised, extremely useful and lively introduction to issues about the nature of science and its relationship
to values, morality, politics, religion, society, imperialism, and
non-Western culture. Hoodbhoy is to be applauded for placing
what some may see as an abstract academic issue in the context of
contemporary geo-politics, neo-colonialism, third world nationalism, and religious fundamentalism.

James Maffie

THE ART OF THE NECESSARY
Brian Medlin, Human Nature Human Survival, Adelaide, South
Australia, The Board of Research, The Flinders University of
South Australia, 1992. 74pp., Aust $10 pb., 072580525 O.

This is a little book with big ideas. It’s a revised and expanded
version of Medlin’s public lecture, ‘Human Nature and the
Prospects for Human Survival’, given at the celebration of The
Flinders University’S silver jubilee in 1991. That lecture must
have been quite an occasion. Though the audience of300 included
many non-academic citizens of Adelaide, most with only slight
contact with the university itself, they must all of them have been
aware of Medlin’ s reputation as a committed radical activist: his
angry and vigorous campaigning against the American war on
Vietnam had earned him a jail sentence and the public image of
‘infamy personified’; through his 22 years as Foundation Professor of Philosophy at Flinders he had been dedicated to radical
priorities both in and outside the university; and since then, in the
here and now, retirement and ill-health, far from subduing him,
have sharpened his sense of urgency, as he has turned his energies
more towards writing and publication.

Like the lecture, the book aims to be both serious philosophy
and intelligible to non-philosophers. This combination is oflarge
consequence: Medlin both presupposes and argues that through
its operation on the public consciousness, philosophy, far from
leaving everything as it is, can make a difference to things, even
a crucial difference, and to those things of the greatest human
importance. Size of topic is thus no deterrent. In a recent paper, so
far unpublished, Medlin tackles ‘Love, Mortality, and the Meaning of Life’; this present book, as its title indicates, concerns
human survival.

Medlin’s mentor, in these as in other ways, is Russell. He
brings to the task, as Russell did, the advantage not only of having
done time in prison but also of a prose style of great clarity and
simplicity – earthier and stringier than Russell’s, but owing
something to the fact that Medlin is also a poet. This sty le makes
him one of the best writers in contemporary anglophone philosophy. The text of the book itself has a liberal sprinkling of poems,
though regrettably none of his own, ranging from a part of
William Dunbar’s ‘Lament for the Makaris’, with its haunting
Latin refrain, to some slightly less scholarly Australian ballads.

Medlin’s book starts with some quotations and comments on
the nature of philosophy, including this choice remark overheard
50

on a bus: ‘You’ve got to be philosophical. Just don’t think about
it.’ Allan Bloom is quoted: ‘The uncompromisable difference that
separates the philosophers from all others concerns death and
dying. No way of life other than the philosophic can digest the
truth about death.’ Of this Medlin says: ‘ … death and dying are the
most obdurate and indigestible facts of human life, those which
most systematically generate the afflatus of irrationality, and
which issue most noisily in evasion and myth. Only the philosophical mind … is likely rationally to confront these central facts
…. The obduracy of fact, the versatility of hope are what makes
religion, especially, a powerful tool for social control.’ For
Medlin, ‘Philosophy is the commitment to thinking about the
whole of life, the whole universe animate and inanimate … with
the commitment to uncompromising rationality … in action as
well as in thought ‘” the commitment extending further to the
rational ordering of desire and feeling … the philosophical life is
not cold, unemotional, dehumanised; only a passionate, compassionate person could hope to achieve it …. ‘

The argument proper begins with what Medlin admits is
‘potted, simplified history’. Over recent centuries, he says, philosophy, ‘that most practical of all intellectual activities,’ has
generated certain ideas about human nature, and contrary to
Marx’s Eleventh Thesis these have been part of the philosopher’s
conscious attempt radically to change the world, to change it for
‘the relief of man’s estate’. These ideas are ‘objectively probourgeois’ , supporting the economic system of capitalism and the
intellectual practice of scientific objectivity needed by capitalist
technology.

Science demands objectivity, the subject of a substantial
paper by Medlin in Cause, Mind and Reality, edited by John Heil.

Objectivity requires ‘the untramelled intellect’, and this in its turn
requires the liberation of unfolding bourgeois societies from
revelation and religion and the release of the intellect from
political and economic domination. It requires, that is, the establishment of the authority of reason. In a judgment typically
generous, perhaps over-generous, but in the light of his struggles
in academia over the last few decades commanding particular
respect, Medlin observes that this aspiration to establish the
authority of reason has been ‘fairly successfully’ institutionalised
in the modem liberal university.

But these institutions, like many others, are under threat.

Though capitalism has nurtured the ideal of objectivity as has no
Radical Philosophy 65, Autumn 1993

other mode of production in history, it is only for the philosopher
that objectivity is an ideal, an absolute, important in itself. For
capitalism, objectivity is of value only as a means to a different
end, namely economic advantage. Already universities are being
tied tighter and tighter to the tail of market forces, and the prospect
is that ultimately big capitalist enterprise will be able to dispense
entirely with academic research.

The fact is that the ideas of the bourgeois philosophers have
not succeeded in bringing about the New Earth. On the contrary,
capitalism has produced both social and ecological disaster on a
global scale. One result is that more recent bourgeois ideas on
human nature represent people as not merely too selfish but also
too aggressive or too irrational or stupid to resolve the current
ecological crisis.

Medlin makes hay of some examples of these ideas but is
prepared to concede that we perhaps can’t claim to know that all
such views are false. However, he argues, we don’t know either
that they are true, and since they threaten human survival it’s
rational to assume that they are false. Behind this argument lies
what he has called elsewhere (in his paper ‘Ecological Crisis and
Social Order’, in Bierbaum, Nena, eds., Towards Ecological
Sustainability) a ‘Main Principle of Rational Action: We must act
with regard, not only to relative probabilities, but, along with
these, with regard also to the magnitude and value (whether good
or bad) of the possible consequences of our own assumptions’.

Medlin does not suppose that the authority of reason is
achievable. It is essential as an ideal, but uncertainty and disagreement are themselves of the essence of rationality. We need to
persuade one another in argument and discussion, but disagreement may persist and decisions may be necessary in the teeth of
disagreement. Thus every society, however liberal, must provide
for power and authority, the need for which is ‘part of the fact that
we are rational animals’. This is a ‘general contradiction’ that
takes its particular form within each particular social order.

Specifically, social revolution, when a whole social order is being
transformed, is impossible without ‘revolutionary repression’:

this was true of the establishment of the bourgeois order, and it
will be true of the destruction of capitalism in the transition to
socialism.

The overthrow of capitalism is necessary for halting the
degradation of the planet. Capitalism is incompatible with survival because capitalism requires economic growth, and survival
requires a halt to economic growth. But classical Marxism is not
adequately equipped for the task of destroying capitalism and
replacing it with socialism. For one thing, it is as wedded to
economic growth as is capitalism, and in this respect it is a species
of bourgeois ideology. For another, Marxism has not solved ‘the
fundamental political paradox of the age’, the problem of using
the revolutionary repression needed without also destroying the
freedoms established in liberal capitalist democracies, and while
preventing those who exercise that repression from constituting
themselves as a new exploiting class. ‘In our age politics has
ceased to be the Art of the Possible and become the Art of the
Necessary. ‘

In what used to be actually existing socialist states revolutionary repression became tyranny, intellectual freedoms were suppressed along with others, and the new societies consequently
deprived themselves of the objectivity necessary to solve even the
most elementary problems of production. The result has been the
resurgence of capitalism in Eastern Europe.

Medlin ‘s book is an exploration and defence of rationality, of
rationality not in the abstract, the usual way with philosophers, but
as a concrete force in human social life. One of the book’s most
striking aspects is its facility in relating very general philosophical ideas to specific human and social institutions and situations.

The need to do this is in fact explicitly affirmed, as in Medlin’ s
Radical Philosophy 65, Autumn 1993

rebuke to those who ‘talk as though the fact that we are bringing
about our own extinction implies that we have a moral obligation
to do so’. ‘Extinction’, he replies, ‘isn’t an abstraction. It would
be the death and slow dying, not of the abstract Platonic form
Humankind, but of billions of concrete, sensate, intelligent human
beings, a process to be consciously endured. The last to go would
have to witness, like Black Elk, the breaking of the hoop and the
dying of the sacred tree. To contemplate that process with indifference, to blind oneselfto its nature, even with an accompanying
consciousness of virtue, is less to occupy the high ground than to
wallow self-indulgently in a moral slough.’

Medlin’s final target is philosophical irrationalism, exemplified by Keats, who ‘is alive and well in Adelaide and, I urge upon
you, at least as dangerous as Hitler’. His conclusion is: ‘We see
now the urgent practical importance of philosophy. Unless enough
of us get our philosophy right enough and quickly enough, we are
all dead.’

Roy Edgley

HALF-LIFE
Zygmunt Bauman, Mortality, Immortality and Other Life Strategies, Oxford, Polity Press, 1992. 215pp., £39.50 hb., ~11.95 pb.,
0745609406 hb., 07456 10161 pb.

Zygmunt Bauman always was ambitious. In a previous book,
Modernity and the Holocaust, he argued that the blame for the
Nazi persecution of the Jews should be laid at modernity’s door.

A sociologist given to taking a step back from his discipline and
much indebted to the Frankfurt School, he attributed the form and
scale of the holocaust to the instrumental rationality at the heart
of modem bureaucracies and scientific progress. Whatever
judgement one may come to about this analysis, it is a good
indicator of what we might expect from Bauman”s latest work: a
grand sweep of thought which ranges wide and digs deep.

Mortality, Immortality and Other Life Strategies is far from a
disappointment in this sense. Bauman’s chosen task is the investigation of death, or, as he defines it, the knowledge of mortality,
in ‘human institutions, rituals and beliefs’. Human inability to
confront the inevitability of non-being is the single most important source, he claims, of creativity, but an awareness of this
central fact of existence takes the form of a kind of displacement.

It is this transmutation which forms the basis for Bauman’ s main
thesis: ‘The impact of death is at its most powerful (and creative)
when death does not appear under its own name.’ Human responses to mortality, then, are to be found in all times and all
places; the content lurking under the disguise is universal, but the
form of the disguise itself is specific, changing according to the
geographic and historical locations of the culture. Bauman’ s aim
is to lay bare the relation between culture and mortality in human
social life; to identify what he calls the’ life strategies’ developed
by each society to deal with death. The first three chapters of the
book chart the universal and permanent role of mortality; the final
two, on modernity and postmodernity, explore the culturally
specific forms relevant to us today.

While the early chapters offer convincing and elegarit accounts of mortality’s veiled presence through the ages, covering
love, religious life and political movements, the reader is left with
the strong impression that Bauman’s real interest is in modernity’s treatment of mortality. He argues that, whereas the energies
of the pre-modern era focused on establishing immortality, the
certainty of an after-life rendering death ‘tame’, modernity dealt
with anxiety about death in a different way. Firstly, the increased
organisation of society and establishment of national identities
51

led to a greater emphasis on the survival of the group; now the
immortality of the individual soul was replaced by the immortality of the collective, those with the greatest power making the
most successful bid. Secondly, since death threatened the very
heart of modem man’s new confidence, challenging his mastery
of nature and the primacy of reason, modernity responded by
engaging in combat with the causes of death. The small-scale but
widespread offensives on the part of the medical science and the
public’s faith in them are, according to Bauman, indicative of a
strategy which deals with death by distracting attention from it, by
replacing one insoluble problem – our finitude – with a series of
smaller but ‘do-able’ challenges.

These two aspects of the modem era’s treatment of mortality
share a common characteristic: loneliness. Under modernity’s
auspices, death has become a private affair, neither attenuated by
a shared understanding in this life nor promising greater glory in
the next. And this in turn reflects the loneliness of life in the
modem era. It is here that the central preoccupation of the book
begins to come, albeit hazily, into view. For just as Bauman
argues that behind many human activities there lies the harsh fact
of mortality, it seems that ‘death’ for him is a symptom of
something more significant. What really counts, it is hinted, is that
modernity (and this includes its natural successor, postmodernity)
suffers from a fundamental lack: that of human togetherness,
sociability.

The curious thing is the oblique way in which Bauman
suggests this. Early on he devotes some ten pages to the work of
Emmanuel Levinas. His account is exegetical in style and laudatory in tone, explaining Levinas’ s ‘ontology of ethics’, the regrounding of the meaning of Being in ethical responsibility to the

Other. Bauman notes the distance of what he calls ‘the quotidianity
of social existence’ from the ethical space posited by Levinas,
attributing to this loss of proximity the re-opening of a void which
‘brings the terror of death right into the centre of life’. The loss of
the state of ‘being for’ another means that death is now the lonely,
private affair of the solitary ego, a death which is the natural
consequence of an asocial life.

Bauman hints that it is modernity which has led to this lack of
ethical responsibility; and he uses Levinasian thought as a basis
for his critique of modernity. This is arguably a move which has
been crying out to be made for some time; the problem is that there
is no explicitly communitarian element in Levinas’ s thought, and
one is left wishing that Bauman had gone some way to forging a
link between it and his critique. Instead, he adheres rigorously to
his subject, in the final chapter identifying a ‘new, specifically
postmodern life strategy’ in which immortality is banished owing
to lack of interest. Bauman’ s representation of postmodernity
borders on caricature and his objection to it comes as no surprise:

‘The sociality of the postmodern community does not require
sociability. Its togetherness does not require interaction. Its unity
does not require integration. The life of postmodern community
is itself a daily rehearsal of mortality …. Death is back – undeconstructed, unreconstructed.’

Had Bauman developed the links between the basis and results
of his thought, he would have produced a different book, one in
which death would be relegated to the back seat. This perhaps
explains the unresolved tension inMortality, Immortality and Other
Life Strategies: what it presents us with is a halfway house on the
journey it begins, rather than the destination.

Alex Klaushofer

REPUBLIC OF LETTERS
Allan Stoekl, Agonies ofthe Intellectual: Commitment, Subjectivity and the Pelformative in the 20th-Century French Tradition,
Lincoln and London, University of Nebraska Press, 1992. 384pp.,
£35.00 hb., 0 8032 4215 8.

The classic French intellectual, whose continued existence is by
no means certain now that it has been reduced to the televised
image of Bernard-Henri Levy, was very much a product of the
Republic and, more specifically, of the Third RepUblic. Not for
nothing were the teachers of its godless schools known as the
Hussars of the Republic.

Whilst the heroic image of the intellectual as defender of
Dreyfus against anti-semitic reaction is familiar, Stoekl traces the
origin of this figure to the sociology of Durkheim and his vision
of a lay clerisy. According to Durkheim, the rational core inherent
in any religion could not, pace Comte, be transcended by a leap
into a pos~tivist age; it could, when interpreted or appropriated by
sociological science, provide the basis for a cult of civic service
and state duty. The intellectual becomes the truth of the Republic
and, by extension, of society in general. The foundations are thus
laid for a confusion between universal values and French Republican values. That confusion can be exemplified in the circular
arguments that opposed Julien Benda and Paul Nizan in the early
1930s. For Benda, any intellectual who espoused worldly or party
political values was betraying his universal and clerical function.

For the communist Nizan, the cleric was the watchdog of the
bourgeoisie; any appeal to universal values was a betrayal of the
proletariat, which was of course a potentially universal subject.

To extend Stoekl’ s argument, it could be said that Alain
Finkielkraut’s recent meditations on ‘the defeat of reason’ are a

52

compulsi ve repetition of Benda’ s arguments, the difference being
that there is no latter-day Nizan to oppose them.

As well as being an apologist for a rational State, if not a
rational bureaucracy, Durkheim was the sociologist or anthropologist of the totem act, of the violent sacrifice of the totem
animal or even human being. The notion of sacrifice as social
ritual and medium of exchange is essential to his theory of
‘primitive’ society, and fundamental to Mauss’s theorisation of
the gift relationship. When it feeds into the structuralism of Le viStrauss, it also becomes a component in any theory that stresses
the symbolic roots of culture. In Stoekl’ s view, the culmination of
the Durkheimian tradition is represented by Georges Bataille,
who inverts its values in order to celebrate orgiastic violence, an
economy of excess that deliberately recalls the culture of the
potlach and a dark vision of sexuality which is of central importance to Foucault and Derrida alike.

Stoekl establishes an intriguing if sometimes slightly tenuous
link between the totem act, Mauss’ s work on ‘mana’, or the
anonymous power that inhabits the totem and circulates through
the social group it symbolises, and the performative. The latter
concept derives from Austin’s work on speech acts, but Stoekl
follows Bourdieu here by introducing a political dimension. A
purely formal analysis ofthe performative ‘I declare war’ cannot,
for instance, explain why war does or does not ensue. The ritual
use of political performatives is, in this perspective, essential if
any degree of stability is to prevail in a system founded upon
unequal power relations. The stage is set for the classic conflict
between individual and collective values, for, for instance, the
conflict between commitment and freedom that plagues the
communist characters in Sartre’ s novels and plays.

Radical Philosophy 65, Autumn 1993

Retrospectively, Durkheim’ s vision has generated two archetypes: Zola and Flaubert, the defender of Dreyfus and the detached observer of human stupidity who creates novels ‘about
nothing’. The line of descent can then be traced down through
Sartre’s committed writer, as opposed to the poet, and, to invert
the typology, to Barthes’s ‘author’ and ‘writer’. Foucault’s universal and specific intellectuals can also be fitted into the schema
without too much difficulty.

It is not hard to find literary variants on the themes of sacrifice
and totem in twentieth-century French culture: in Nizan’ s novels,
death becomes meaningful only ifthere is group solidarity, but the
existence of group solidarity demands a death. Even the communist utopia will not remove or overcome the fundamental problem
of death, but it may make the death of the individual significant.

A similar tension runs through the fiction of Sartre, from Nausea
to the Roads to Freedom trilogy – so often the homosocial group
is founded or founded anew by the exclusion of a homosexual
traitor – and throughout the difficult philosophical attempt to
found a model of human community based upon the interpersonal
recognition of the freedom of the Other. With literary figures like
Jean Paulhan and Maurice Blanchot, the betrayal of the cleric
becomes the treachery of the writer who would deny the reality of
his language, an act of violence mirrored in the fratricidal purges
of collaborators and communists – each acting in the name of a
pure language of historical truth devoid of the snares of rhetoric.

Despite the importance rightly accorded to Durkheim, this is
not a sociological study of intellectuals, but rather a series of
readings of theoretical and fictional texts from Nizan and Drieu la
Rochelle, Sartre (and it is a joy to be reminded of just how fine
Sartre’s novels – especially Nausea – are), Paulhan and Blanchot,
through to Foucault, Derrida and Bataille. Not all the authors will
be familiar to the non-specialist, and Stoekl’s study is therefore a
welcome stimulus to explore unknown texts rather than to reread
the increasingly familiar canon of a certain French modernism.

Some of the writers discussed here deserve to be better known in
English, notably Drieu la Rochelle. He was a fascist decadent,
proto-pan-European and collaborator who flirted with the idea
that the orgiastic crowd could somehow replace the endless
corruption and inefficiency of the political parties of the 1930sa vision not unrelated to that of Bataille, despite their different
political loyalties. Drieu and Bataille are emblematic reminders
that ‘left’ and ‘right’ could be very deceptive labels in the 1930s.

As he extends the discussion to more recent theorists, the
author displays a nice scepticism about deconstructionism, which
he relates to the Paulhan-Blanchot tradition; and particularly

Radical Philosophy 65, Autumn 1993

about Derrida’s increasingly tortuous attempts to absolve
Heidegger on the grounds that his defence of ‘spirit’ is an attempt
to oppose or deconstruct Nazi doctrines of race-spirit, not to
mention his bewildering equation (drawn in 1968, no less) between France, humanism and the American presence in Vietnam
– that being no more than an exported expression of French
Republicanism. Courteously extending his definition of France to
include parts of Belgium, Stoekl also eloquently voices the
suspicion that the later writings of De Man are elaborate devices
for defusing the question of their author’s responsibility for his
wartime collaboration: if every attempt to attribute historical guilt
is the result of a misreading, then there is clearly no basis for
judgement. Only the text is of relevance; all the rest is Western
Metaphysics.

Stoekl has written an important and thought-provoking book
which should be read by anyone concerned with French studies or
with the intellectual politics of the major theoretical tradition it
traces. It has, however, one major flaw. His comments on the
intellectual and the secular cleric are restricted to the male of the
species. There is no discussion of Simone Weil, Beauvoir, or
Kristeva, whose recent essays explore the seeming impossibility
of reconciling Republicanism with the ethno-religious identity
supplied by Islam. More galling still is the absence of any
discussion of Luce Irigaray, whose later work is both an attempt
to integrate an element of the sacred into the life of the polls and
a challenge to a patriarchal system based upon sacrifice and the
violent exclusion of the Other.

David Macey

AND NOT A DROP

TO DRINK
Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation: Georg;s Bataille and
Virulent Nihilism (an essay in atheistic religion), London,
Routledge, 1992. 223pp., £12.99 pb, 0 41505608 X
Nick Land’s The Thirst for Annihilation explores the writings of
Georges Bataille (1897-1962), in an exciting attempt to explore
the new spaces opened up by the crisis besetting traditional
notions of subjectivity. Most importantly, Land employs Bataille
with the express intention of further disrupting what is often seen
as a humanist tradition of social reflection in which notions of
subjectivity have been used to naturalize and justify the manipulation of individuals within and by the political state.

As is now generally recognized, Bataille’ s work engages such
experiences as the orgasm, the laugh, crying and the smile in order
to exceed the rationalized depictions of subjectivity. And in
opposing such moralistic and rationalistic depictions, Land seems
right to seek Bataille’ s support. Consequently, The Thirst for
Annihilation is most effective where it enters the realms of what
Bataille called nonknowledge. It is precisely this realm that leads
Land to accommodate Bataille within a notion of a ‘libidinal
materialism’ which he values, above all, for its pessimism:

‘Historically it is pessimistic, in the rich sense that transects the
writings of Nietzsche, Freud, and Bataille as well as those of
Schopenhauer.’

Within this tradition of pessimistic anti-humanism, Land
remains true, in spirit, to Bataille’ s writings in that he tries to avoid
making The Thirstfor Annihilation into’ an apparatus in the service
of the state’. He hopes to resituate Bataille in opposition both to
the more overtly conservative elements within academia and to
‘the deconstructivist pulp-industry of endless commentary on

53

Logocentricism, Western Metaphysics, and other
Seinsvergessenheiten’. The success of his endeavour must, however, remain a moot point.

Clearly, Land follows Bataille in pointing to the means to and
the possibilities for a beyond to our existence within capitalist
nation-states. Yet, unlike Bataille, Land seems to close down such
possibilities in his claim that ‘nihil is true religion’. Here, despite
his use of Bataillean excess, Land dissolves the conditions of its
radicality by making use of this nothing (or nihil) into a new
absolute. This leads Land to forget the individual and social
frames against which Bataille’s excesses gain radical significance.

To carry out this reading, Land has to inflict a certain violence
on Bataille’s actual writings. This is never more evident than in
his attempt to sever Bataille’s life-long engagement with the
‘political’. Thus, Land argues that ‘Politics is the last great
sentimental indulgence, and it has never achieved anything except a deepened idiocy, more work, more repression, more
pompous ass-holes demanding obedience …. Bataille wasn’t immune to the political charade, but even his short period of reality~
process politicking during 1935-6 ‘” was mapped in the labyrinth. ‘ The assumption would seem to be that Bataille ‘s adoption
of a Heraclitean perspective ne gates any’ reali ty -process poli ticking’. What seems most odd about this assumption is the fact that
from 1927 onwards, starting with ‘Solar Anus’, Bataille saw his
work as overtly political and even went so far as to note, during
1943, that ‘currently we take pride in this … propaganda and
writing! ‘

To achieve this depoliticization, The Thirst for Annihilation
tends to read all of Bataille’ s writings through a specific view of
his earliest works, most of which can be found in the first two
volumes of the twelve which form Bataille’ s Oeuvres Completes.

Yet, to have employed a more reflective reading would have
forced Land into deeply political waters. To begin with, he would
have had to recognise just how important Alexandre Kojeve’ s
lectures, delivered between 1933 and 1939, were in orienting
Bataille’s continuing engagement with Marx. In the second place,
Land would have had to identify the political and often critical
ways in which Bataille engaged with Nietzsche between September 1939 and August 1944. This can be traced in the three works
(Inner Experience, The Guilty, and On Nietzsche) which he
subsequently unified (in 1961) under the title of Somme
Atheologique: ‘The term atheologique does not deceive. From the
fact that theology is subordinated to the intention, God is impious.’

Land regards Bataille’s magnum opus, On Nietzsche (1945)
as ‘a book whose aberration is on a scale of Nietzsche ‘s own’. And
this inspires Land to remark that ‘the fact that such a book could
be published even dampens one’s enthusiasm for the universal
eradication of the species’. It therefore comes as something of a
disappointment that Land’s worship of a deified nihil subjects it,
along with all of Bataille’s work, to precisely the type of ‘fall into
oblivion’ against which he protests. Hence, Land reduces On
Nietzsche to his atheistic religion with a mere two-page overview.

To have done otherwise would have opened his reading to the
Bataille who announced that ‘though different from Marxism’s
value, the value proclaimed by Nietzsche isn’t less universal since the emancipation he wanted wasn’t that of a single class
relative to the others but the freeing of human life under the
example of its best representatives – compared to the moral
slavery of the past.’ Nor does Land’s account tally with the
Bataille who, in 1944, could ‘picture the bourgeoisie as destroyed
in a few legitimate bloodlettings’ . It would, however, seem clear
that it is the growing theoretical orthodoxy of our supposedly
post-human(ist) era which leads Land to ignore what is most
radical in Bataille’ s work: namely, his amalgamation ofNietzsche
54

and Marx. And this depoliticization is greatly helped by Land’s
employment of the earliest of Bataille’ s writings.

Along with his work for Contre-Attaque, this early work has
often been seen as sympathetic to Fascism. This view occurs even
though Bataille was to give these texts increasing political clarification in a body of writings where, time and again, ‘experiential
excess’ is identified as virulently antipathetic to political states.

This claim is attested, for example, in Bataille’ s ‘Le probleme de
l’etat’ (1933), ‘La conjuration sacree’ (1936) and Theorie de la
religion (1947). The Thirstfor Annihilation is a significant book,
but unfortunately it restricts Bataille’s wide-ranging concerns.

The removal of such restrictions will, of course, require an
engagement with what Bataille often prioritized as the world of
‘work’: that is, the political state.

Desmond Bailey

HIGH ECOLOGY
Arne Naess, Ecology, Community and Lifestyle: Outline of an
Ecosophy, translated by David Rothenberg, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1989. 212pp., £14.95 pb., 0 52134873 O.

Now approaching his eightieth year, Arne Naess is a Norwegian
philosopher and mountaineer who has spent most of his life
teaching philosophy in academia. His particular interests were
semantics and the philosophy of science, and in the 1930s he
appears to have been associated with the logical positivists whose philosophy stands in stark contrast to Naess’s present
views. Naess has published important studies of Gandhi and
Spinoza, and the influence of these two contrasting figures is
clearly apparent in his work. His mode of presentation – abstract,
normative and geometric – and his philosophy – which sees selfrealisation as involving ‘identification’ with nature – have affinities with Spinoza. Indeed he summarises his own philosophy on
one page, with an abstract schema of numbered boxes all neatly
and logically linked by a series of lines, hanging together like a
frozen mobile. Anything less organic it would be hard to imagine,
but it reminds one of the gentle Spinoza.

N aess outlines the basic principles of deep ecology as follows:

(1) The richness and diversity oflife forms have an intrinsic value
in themselves and they contribute to the flourishing of humans
and non-humans alike, so we should in no way reduce this
diversity except to satisfy vital needs. (2) The world is overpopulated with humans and this is causing serious problems to life on
earth – ‘life’ for Naess being used in a comprehensive sense to
cover not only living forms, but rivers, landscapes, cultures,
ecosystems and the living earth itself. (3) Fundamental changes
are necessary in basic economic, technological and ideological
structures, and in individual lifestyles (Naess is clearly addressing
those who enjoy ‘high standards of living’).

Naess suggests that ‘economic growth’ is completely incompatible with these basic principles, but nowhere does he directly
address social problems – poverty, inequality, racism, state repression, neo-colonialism, exploitation – all of which are directly
linked to environmental issues. In fact, given his emphasis on
ideological transformations, on self-realisation, and on individual
lifestyles, Naess does little to explore the underlying causes ofthe
present ecological crisis.

In outlining his world view and in his advocacy of an ‘ecological consciousness’ Naess has many interesting and important
things to say – on the need for a ‘Gestalt’ or relational way of
thinking; on the need to reflect on, and explicitly articulate the
basic norms of an alternative ontology, and to avoid as far as
possible purely instrumental norms; and on the problems of
Radical Philosophy 65, Autumn 1993

making ecology itself into an all-encompassing’ ism’ , as if it were
a universal science. But N aess’ s discussion is marred, and its flow
continuall y disrupted, by philosophical scholasticism and at times
jargon. As with the positivists, the dichotomy between facts
(hypotheses) and values (norms) runs like a silver thread through~
out the text, although Naess, far from dismissing values, stresses
their priority and importance. Yet although the idea that basic
norms cannot be derived from factual hypotheses may be true,
Naess’s suggestion that they are therefore in some degree arbitrary verges on sophistry. Food, shelter and freedom are basic to
human life, and norms related to them are not arbitrary.

When he comes to discuss the state and the present economic
system – Naess never brings himself to describe it as capitalism
– Naess expresses very ambivalent attitudes. He continually
emphasises, often in strident terms, that they must be fundamentally transformed. The goal of the deep ecology movement, he
writes, cannot be achieved without ‘deep change’ in present
industrial societies. Expecting contemporary environment problems to be overcome solely by technical means reflects a ‘shallow’ ecological approach – what is needed are fundamental
changes in consciousness and the economic system. Yet he quotes
approvingly Erik Damman’s suggestion that it is far too simple to
claim that capitalists, industrial magnates, bureaucrats and politicians alone have the power to preserve the system, implying that
people in democratic countries are free to make the changes if they
desire. But the disclaimer completely obscures the real causes of
the environmental problems we now face – which are intrinsically
related to an economic system, namely capitalism, which for
centuries has been one of tyranny and exploitation, and which is
based on the endless pursuit of profit.

Drawing up a political triangle of red, blue and green, Naess
sees’ green’ as transcending the opposition between blue (capitalism) and red (socialism). He can only do this by making some very
dubious equations. The greens (deep ecology) have affinity, he
suggests, with the blues in valuing personal enterprise and in
opposing bureaucracies. But, of course, supporters of capitalism
when they talk about freedom and personal enterprise and initiative are not really concerned with the freedom of the individual
but only with the needs of ‘capital’ . When the latter is challenged
freedom goes by the board, and capitalist enterprises are highly
bureaucratic and highly undemocratic. And when Naess distances himself from the reds (socialism) – which he sees as
bureaucratic and as supporting industrialism and ‘big industry’ he equates socialism with Soviet-style state capitalism. Yet when
he writes that the aims and values of society cannot change unless
the way of production is altered, when he speaks out for decentralisation and for the importance of social justice, and when he
writes that ‘the utopians of green societies point towards a kind of
direct democracy with local control of the means of production as
the best means of achieving goals’, all he does, of course, is to
suggest socialist ideas that communist anarchists and libertarian
socialists have been propagating for a century or more. Like many
in the ecology movement Naess seems quite oblivious of the
libertarian socialist tradition, and so offers suggestions for a ‘new
renaissance’ that are anything but new or original. He makes no
reference at all to Bookchin, let alone any earlier anarchists.

Yet he makes two striking mistakes. The first is to suggest that
there is hardly any capitalistic political ideology. But what on
earth are liberalism, fascism, Thatcherism, and the so-called
‘enterprise culture’ – not to mention intellectual fashions like
sociobiology? Capitalist ideology – with its emphasis on competition, on efficiency, on management, on monitoring, on privatisation, and on so-called free enterprise – permeates current social
and political thought, and libertarian and real socialist thought
hardly gets a hearing in any of the major institutions and cultural
arenas.

Radical Philosophy 65, Autumn 1993

Secondly, although advocating decentralisation, Naess suggests that in order to counter the increasing population pressure
and war ‘some fairly strong central political institutions’ are
necessary, and to keep transnational corporations in check we
may in the future have to envision global institutions with some
power ‘not only to criticise certain states and companies but also
to implement certain measures against the states which violate the
rules’. This is virtually the advocacy of a global state, the
totalitarian implications of which are too ghastly to contemplate.

Naess writes as a philosopher rather than as a social theorist
and, although he stresses the importance of community, autonomy, local self-sufficiency and co-operation, and decentralisation, the discussion of these tends to be rather abstract. There is
therefore very little in the book about bioregionalism, feminism,
neighbourhood associations, or the communitarian movements
and anarchist collectives that have challenged capitalist exploitation and hierarchy. And the stress he puts on changing life style
and on ‘self-realisation’, while perhaps important to the affluent
middle classes of Europe and North America, can all too easily
lead to a politics of ‘survivalism’. Following Gandhi, N aess
stresses the importance of political action, but the action he
envisages tends to focus on ‘symptoms’ – on environmental
issues – rather than the primary social institutions of the capitalist
system – the multinational corporations and state structures that
support them. Indeed in the future ecological society that he
postulates he seems to envisage the continued existence of both
capitalist firms and the nation state – so, one wonders, how deep
is the transformation that Naess envisages?

Brian Morris

MODERATELY DEEP
Robert E. Goodin, Green Political Theory, Oxford, Polity Press,
1992. 240pp., £39.50 hb., £11.95 pb., 0 7456 10269 hb., 07456
10277 pb.

Goodin has a dual aim in offering this philosophical examination
of green politics. His primary thesis is that green parties have a
distinct and cohesive political agenda, with an ‘all-or-nothing’

character that prohibits the piecemeal and opportunist plundering
of green policies by other parties, on grounds of consistency. But
he is equally concerned ‘to rescue greens from themselves’ by
separating the important and persuasive core of their doctrine
from undesirable and electorally unpopular stances that greens
happen to, but need not, endorse. The core of green political
theory, which Goodin wishes to defend, is a set of substantive
public policy recommendations based on a green theory of value.

Although Goodin distances himself from the more ‘exaggerated’ claims of deep ecology, he endorses its contention that the
value of nature is not wholly reducible to its value to humanity,
and describes his own theory as a ‘moderately deep ecology’. He
advances a reconstruction of the green theory of value, which may
perhaps be combined in a composite theory with approaches that
value labour input or consumer satisfaction, but which he insists
is not reducible to them.

Goodin’s reasons for valuing natural objects lie in ‘the history
and process of their creation’ , and in particular’ the fact that they
have a history of having been created by natural processes rather
than by artificial human ones’ . This, he thinks, is analogous to the
way we value an original painting ‘created by the master’s hand’

more highly than even the best reproductions. The analogy,
however, reveals as much about the theory’s limitations as about
its truth. Firstly, Goodin concedes in a footnote that the preference
for an original over a copy may reflect an attitude to art specific
55

to certain cultures, and in environmental politics reverence for
untouched nature seems to be an attitude more characteristic of
America and Australia (places which still have large areas of nearwilderness) than of Europe. Secondly, much of the ‘nature’ that
greens wish to preserve is, like the painting in Goodin’ s analogy,
the product of human agency. A theory that views creation by
natural processes as the source of nature’s value would therefore
appear to have a very limited application. Thirdly, Goodin emphasises the superiority of an original painting by asking us to
imagine an absolutely perfect copy, but surely much of the force
of conservationist arguments lies in the fact that there are aspects
of the environment that cannot be reproduced.

Goodin argues that the unity of the green programme lies in
the fact that its policy proposals – on environmental and other
matters – are all derived from the green theory of value. In
contrast, he argues, the personal lifestyle recommendations that
greens typically propose, such as Eastern religion and holistic
medicine, cannot be derived from their theory of value. They
harm the greens’ reputation, Goodin thinks, and should be discarded, or at least ignored in any assessment of the merits of green
political theory.

The last part of the book is devoted to the organisational
principles advocated by the greens, which, Goodin argues, are
based on a green theory of agency quite separate from the green
theory of value. This means that the proposed forms of organisation may conflict with green policy goals – the greens’ commitment to radical decentralisation, for example, casts doubt upon
their ability to deal with global problems. Goodin argues that
where such conflicts arise, the theory of value must take precedence, requiring green parties to adapt their methods and compromise with other parties in order to achieve maximum implementation of their core policies.

This book scores highly for readability and analytical clarity.

It brings a structure to green political thought that anyone studying the theoretical or practical problems of green politics would
do well to consider. But its most important contribution, despite
or perhaps because of Goodin’ s failure to detach his green theory
of value from human-centred ones, is the light that it sheds on the
often murky area of environmental value theory.

Jonathan Hughes

OVER THE LIMIT
Goodin argues that we value natural processes because they
provide ‘a larger context’, something ‘outside of ourselves’ in
which to situate the plans and projects that comprise our lives. It
follows from this hypothesis that a ‘restored bit of nature’ , which
is not in the required sense ‘outside of ourselves’, is ‘necessarily
not as valuable as something similar that has been “untouched by
human hands”‘. However, the hypothesis appears to be a matter
of speculative psychology. Goodin recognises that the products of
human history are often valued for the context that they provide,
but assumes without argument that a natural context is required in
addition. He may be right in this assumption, but for such a vital
part of his theory more argument might be expected.

It may appear to both supporters and critics of deep ecology
that this account locates the source of nature’s value in a notion of
human need. Goodin anticipates this response and attempts to
characterise his account as a ‘halfway house’ between shallow
and deep ecology. He asserts that the satisfaction people obtain
from setting their lives in a larger context is not merely great
satisfaction but is a sort of satisfaction upon which all other sorts
are parasitic. This, however, appears still more speculative, and
less plausible, than his earlier hypothesis. More interesting is his
argument that two independent factors are at work in the green
theory of value. He acknowledges that for nature to have value
there must be human values, but argues that it depends also upon
a value-imparting characteristic of natural objects – the characteristic of having been created by natural processes – which is by
definition independent of human beings. This, however, does not
make Goodin’ s theory ‘deep’, since it is not in dispute that the
things people value, as opposed to the value of those things, may
exist independently of any valuer.

56

Gisela Bock and Susan James, eds, Beyond Equality and Difference: Citizenship, feminist politics and female subjectivity,
London, Routledge, 1992. 210pp., £35.00 hb., £} 1.99 pb., 0 415
07988 8 hb., 0415079896 pb.

I don’t know what it says about the resilience of dialectical
thinking, but there is something about opposition and dichotomy
that seems to drive us on towards some laterresolution. No sooner
have we set up what looks a useful distinction than we find
ourselves compelled to knock it down. This fate has recently
befallen feminist distinctions between equality and difference.

For much of the 1980s, these terms helped clarify competing
positions in feminist politics, exposing on the one side the
precarious equality that requires women to simulate men, arguing
on the other that too much attention to sexual difference leads to
conservative notions of an essential female. Feminism was briefly
conceived as either’ equality feminism’ or’ difference feminism’ ,
and while the more historically knowledgeable complained that
this played fast and loose with complex political histories, the
choice between a right to be equal and a right to be different
momentarily divided the field. Beyond Equality and Difference
does not pretend to resolve this debate, but very effectively
establishes the limits of the dichotomy for understanding feminist
history or developing feminist ideas.

The collection includes, for example, Karen Offen’ s essay on
the history of feminism, which takes issue with the anachronistic
categories through which later feminists have often approached
their precursors, and argues that most periods of feminist politics
have been characterised by the co-existence of ‘relational’ and
‘individualist’ strands. An essay by Carole Pateman notes the
recurrent combination of equality and difference through the
history of women’s citizenship and the politics of motherhood,
and argues that equality, at least in some of its meanings, can
Radical Philosophy 65, Autumn 1993

encompass difference. Gisela Bock develops a powerful – and
painful- analysis of Nazi sterilisation and annihilation policies,
which convincingly refutes suggestions that these had their theoretical roots in a cult of motherhood or the celebration of female
difference.

All these are important correctives to earlier debates, and this
emphasis continues through other contributions to the collection.

In a nicely titled essay on ‘The good-enough citizen’, Susan
James reclaims liberalism as more continuous with feminist
conceptions of citizenship than recent critics have allowed, arguing that liberalism does not simply ignore difference, and that
liberal notions of independence can be more fully developed as a
basis for women’s equal citizenship. Deborah Rhode argues that
some of the starker oppositions between equality and difference
would dissolve if we shifted attention from gender difference to
gender disadvantage, and hence to the varying contexts within
which disadvantage appears. Once we did this, we would more
easily recognise that some situations call for strategies that are
attentive to difference, while others call for the opposite approach. In the concluding essay, Jane Flax echoes thoughts that
surface in a number of the contributions when she argues that the
central problem is ‘how and why gender is a relation of domination and how to end such domination’. We do not have to get stuck
into empty discussions about whether difference should be confirmed or denied. The problem is how to break the connection
between difference and domination.

Though there are significant variations in emphasis and argument, these essays develop within a relatively consistent framework which queries simpler oppositions between equality and
difference, and pushes beyond what is now considered a limiting
dichotomy. One of the oddities of the collection is that this sits
alongside a number of striking pieces by Italian feminists who
insist that ‘humankind is undeniably and ineradicably marked by
sexual difference’, and that women’s chances of freedom depend
on them developing their own language and understanding of
liberty as something that will be different from men’s. Despite
good advice from the editors about what is distinctive in this
tradition, I find it hard to view the essays by Adriana Cavarer,
Silvi Vegetti Finzi, or Patrizia Violi as anything but a strong
assertion on one side of the dichotomy that other contributors are
warning against.

Adriana Cavarero’ s essay, for example, argues that no sexed
being can hope to develop a universal and sexless paradigm, and
that existing political theory has therefore subjected women to ‘a
homologising, assimilating inclusion’. As becomes clear in the
course ofthe argument, this depends on viewing sexual difference
as the primary difference. There are many kinds of differences
between human beings, and any paradigm that claims universality
will have to abstract from some of these. So to say that a sexless
paradigm is simply impossible, it is necessary to argue that sex is
the relevant characteristic in every situation and every context.

This is, indeed, what Caravero does. She sees the modern concept
of equality as having already erased differences of race, culture or
ethnicity, but claims it cannot do likewise for women because of
their status as a ‘primary difference’ inscribed in all human
existence.

This is then an unusual book, because it seems to include one
side of a rather polarised debate, along with a set of essays that
encourage us to move beyond the polarity. The combination
makes it harder to do justice to the Italian school, but does not
detract from the quality and relevance of the book. Apart from the
essay by Karen Offen, all the contributions are published here for
the first time. All of them will be of interest to those concerned
with feminist political theory.

Anne Phillips
Radical Philosophy 65, Autumn 1993

CHOREOGRAPHIES
Drucilla Cornell, Beyond Accommodation: Ethical Feminism,
Deconstruction and the Law, London, Routledge, 1991. 239pp.

£35.00 hb., £10.99 pb., 0415901057 hb., 0415901065 pb.

In many ways this is an important book. Feminism based on
deconstruction, which has become something of an orthodoxy in
so-called ‘radical feminism’, has too often fused post -structural
perspectives in order to critique patriarchy. Beyond Accommodation works against this tendency, drawing attention to different
approaches within feminist deconstruction. Cornell is out to show
that the deconstruction of phallogocentrism, though important to
gender analysis, should not simply be equated with feminism. She
says that a feminist alliance with deconstruction is certainly
important, but argues that the women’s movement urgently
requires ‘something more’ than deconstructive strategies. Without the affirmation of some kind of ideal of sexuality, love or
eroticism, without a Utopian dream, feminism will only negate
the important inroads it has made into masculinist culture, thereby
reinforcing rigid gender identities.

Cornell provides detailed commentaries on many versions of
post-structuralism and deconstruction. In excellent chapters on
Lacan’s theory of the prison of sexual difference, Derrida’s
refiguration of the feminine, Kristeva’s exploration of maternal
space, and Irigaray’ s theory of women’s dereliction, Cornell
shows how significant post-structuralist discourse is for thinking
about the bipolarity of current gender identity. Perhaps the best
part of the book is her patient reading of Derrida’ s deconstructive
intervention into Lacanianism. Lacan’ s account of sexual difference is important, says Cornell, because it uncovers the complex
links between the symbolic order and the masculine imaginary.

Woman as the Other, as something which is outside the symbolic:

this is what gives the masculine imaginary its self-presence as
phallic authority. Yet Cornell, following Derrida, argues that
Lacan blocks off the radical implications of his own statement
‘woman does not exist’. Cornell constantly uses Lacan against
himself to demonstrate that the Law of the Father only exists
against the trace of what it represses, the feminine imaginary. The
trace of the feminine, this ‘scar of the maternal Other’, cannot
simply be represented in the realm of the symbolic. It is true,
Cornell says, that there is no beyond to the symbolic, but the
critical point is that there is also no pure cut from the feminine
imaginary. As such, Lacan’s claim to have grasped the ‘truth’ of
sexuality is no more than an essentialising fetish, reinscribing
what the symbolic has imposed as the dominant Law.

From this angle, Cornell argues that it is possible to imagine
a ‘new choreography of sexual difference’ , supporting the’ ability
of actual women to dance differently’. When Cornell evokes the
refiguration of the feminine she relies on the fluid basis of female
morphology. She urges the celebration of woman’s voice, her
unique jouissance. Here Cornell takes her cue from the ‘ecriture
feminine’ movement – specifically the work of Helene Cixous
and Luce Irigaray. Feminine writing, says Cornell, orientates us
towards a non-patriarchal future. It speaks of the shared conditions of women, the key to the politics of difference and feminism.

It is impossible to do justice here to the complexity of
Cornell’s analysis. Against this theoretical backdrop of feminism, deconstruction and psychoanalysis, Cornell examines a
range of interesting issues: questions of cultural representation,
Toni Morrison’s writing on Afro-American women, the feminist
narratives of Catharine Mackinnon and Carol Gilligan, and so on.

Throughout, her project is critical yet affirmative. Against the
bleakness of much contemporary theory, Cornell speaks up for
57

the imagination, creativity and utopian possibility – ‘the feminine
as an imaginative universal’.

But I remain unconvinced by Cornell’s account of the possibilities for a restructuring of the socio-historical process. There is
no indication here of what sort of feminist politics might be
employed to transform social frames of sexuality and gender.

Like Irigaray and Cixous, Cornell seems content to make a global
appeal to the feminine imaginary. Cornell displays a curious lack
of interest in the relations between the imaginary and the sociosymbolic network, the interweaving of fantasy and culture. It is as
if the feminine itself, through some wild flight of the imagination,
is to threaten (and perhaps undo) the male-dominated symbolic.

Yet this idea is surely not convincing. It brackets the phallogocentric
infusion of sexuality and the imaginary, and forecloses questions
about institutional repression.

Rather than searching for new sexual choreographies outside
the social-historical world, I suggest it is necessary to rethink the
Cornelius Castoriadis, Philosophy,
Politics, Autonomy: Essays in Political
Philosophy, edited by David Ames
Curtis, Oxford, Oxford University Press,
1991. x + 304pp., £12.95 pb., 019506963.

This is an unequal collection of essays.

Some of them are occasional pieces, and
Castoriadis does not always rise to the
occasion. When he is bad, he is superficial
and grumpy. A few windmills (Heidegger
and ‘the end of philosophy’ ,
deconstruction, but also, more surprisingly,
the music of Saint-Saens as pompier) are
predictably tilted at. And Castoriadis is not
immune to ponderous platitude (‘as a
psychologist, a sociologist, and a historian
I am confident that the same individual
who spends more than half of his leisure
time watching television cannot become
fully immersed in a great novel’). But
when Castoriadis is good, he is very very
good. Indeed, it is difficult not to like him,
and not to forgive him his sweeping statements: he was so obviously right forty
years before everybody else. More
importantly, he is the only living
incarnation oftwo figures who ought to be
close to our hearts: the philosopher cum
psychoanalyst who manages to articulate
Freud and Marx (a recurrent dream of the
left, last heard of in the early seventies)see his Marxian reassessment of the concept
of sublimation; and the true post-Marxist
thinker, in whom, in contrast to Habermas
and his like, the ‘Marxist’ is not
overshadowed by the ‘post’. There is an
ineradicable radicalism in Castoriadis.

Thus, his cardinal concept that democracy
owes everything to the practice of sixthcentury Athens, or to the tradition of the
workers’ councils, and nothing to the electoral charade whereby, every fourth or
fifth year, the slaves elect their masters:

there is a Utopian freshness about this sort
of critique which is needed now as much as
ever. Reading Castoriadis, therefore, is an
urgent task. I cannot hope adequately to
58

profoundly imaginary aspects of unconscious sexuality and their
relation to instituted forms of gender. We need to know more
about the psychic processes of sexual identification, and how
existing identifications interact, conflict and reinforce one another in the current gender system. We need to know more about
the potentialities of such variations for subjectivity, sexuality and
gender differentiation. And we need to know more about the
enabling aspects of modem sexuality, enquiring at what point
fantasy structures outstrip themselves and marshall human subjects into active forms of gender struggle and commitment.

Cornell takes us some distance in questioning the emotional
price paid – by both women and men – for current gender
accommodation. Significantly, the affirmation of the feminine
plays a crucial role in this sort of critique. But I suspect that any
restructuring of sexual difference itself will involve much greater
leaps of the human imagination.

convey the exhilaration that following his
conceptual trails induces in a reader steeped
in post-liberal political philosophy and
sociology or analytical Marxism. Take, for
instance, the conception of language and
intention that is repeatedly hinted at in his
essays (and which is more fully developed
in his great book, The Imaginary Institution
of Society): it does not sacrifice the social
and the historical on the altars of
methodological individualism and universal
grammar~ and it allows us to think the
nexus between language, culture and
historical conjuncture; likewise, intentions
and affects are analysed as social constructs. The central concept, however, is
autonomy: a concept rooted in Castoriadis’ s
constant revaluation of the miracle that was
Greece. (This is where his personal history
and cultural origins become assets.) Autonomy is the name for the concomitant
invention of philosophy and democracy in
Greece, and again in Renaissance Europe.

The Kantian term is not innocent:

Castoriadis stresses the moment of selfinstitution of society, which is also the
moment when the closure of the instituted
world of representation is broken, and the
critical distance, which allows free thinking
and political action, is established. The
paradox and circularity of this self-creation
is evident, but the advantages of this exposed
position are considerable: the domination
of instituted meaning, of a preexisting or
teleologic ally guaranteed cosmos, is broken
at last, and we are faced with our
responsibility for organising, as best we
can, the chaos (there is no science – either
episteme nor techne – of politics, but this in
no way precludes action), freely accepting
the risk of error and hubris (i.e. the breaking
of norms that were never clearly defined).

There is something tragic, but also exciting, in Castoriadis’ s political philosophy;
as there is something exciting in his theory
of ideology, of the shaping of the psyche by
the social imaginary. Do forget about the

Anthony Elliott
old man’s grumpiness: he had to be a oneman central committee for too long: here is
a young and alert political philosopher.

J. J. Lecercle
Lynda Nead, The Female Nude, London,
Routledge, 1992. 133pp., £35.00 hb., £
10.99 pb., 0415026776 hb., 0 41502678
4pb.

Lynda Nead draws on a wealth of feminist
and Continental thought to explore female
nudity in art; which, she observes, is a
huge, controversial and important topic.

Her study forms roughly thesis, antithesis
and synthesis. First she gets to grips with
the standard art-theoretic statement,
Kenneth Clarke’s The Nude, and confronts
it with ideas of margin andframe from Mary
Douglas and Jacques Derrida, to find in it
not only an oppressive patriarchal regime,
but also a linchpin of orthodox art theory.

The concept of art, she shows, is intimately
involved as the opposite of obscenity.

Second comes a review of feminist
responses, starting with Mary Richardson’ s
attack with an axe on the ‘Rokeby Venus’

at the Tate Gallery in 1914, but centring on
notable strategies of feminist art over the
past two decades. Finally, we are taken
into novel territory with suggestions about
redrawing the relations between art and
pornography, sacred and profane, sexuality
and obscenity. Here she introduces us to
the thoughts of Bourdieu who has urged
that the so-called aesthetic distinctions we
make about art are actually social
distinctions. As this lays waste the Kantian
orthodoxy (of traditionalism and
modernism alike) we are left with no choice
but to start again from scratch. Which is to
say, here is a book which should also
interest anyone contemplating’ aesthetics’ .

Nead’s contribution is mainly that of
coordinating a great span of feminist and
art-theoretical writing, and the proposal of
Radical Philosophy 65, Autumn 1993

boundary as a key analytical tenn. She
visits the spectrum of frames for female
nudity to show how in each case the
philosophical
presumptions
we
customarily apply fall apart on closer
inspection. Which is to say, the’ aesthetic’

distinctions which we habitually make are
(i) socio-political boundaries and (ii) nowhere safe or fixed. Nead marshals brief
historical reviews of changing law and
custom throughout her book to illustrate
this, and to place her subject in a social and
legal framework.

Nead skirts round the thorny divide
which has grown up in feminist ranks on
the question of censorship, but I think she
shows the way to unite them by directing
attention towards political and arttheoretical questions. This is where the
ground is new and shifting, and she agrees
with Bourdieu that the remedy lies in
redrafting our notion of art by taking down
all the barriers. All the old distinctions
must be melted down, and special pleading
for high culture must be cast aside. This is
the case she skilfully and very readably
argues and illustrates. What is perhaps
most haunting about the book is the
inescapable drift of the subject, under
Nead’s probing, from art to the politics of
criminality, the State, and public and private
experience.

Robert Dixon
Sonia Kruks, Situation and Human Existence: Freedom, Subjectivity and
Society, London, Unwin Hyman, 1990.

xv + 215pp., £30.00 hb., £9.99 pb., 0 04
4454562 hb., 0 04 4454570 pb.

In this book, Sonia Kruks sets herself a
double task. On the one hand, she gives a
good and very accessible introduction to
French existentialist philosophy. She
provides a concise treatment of the work of
Marcel, Beauvoir, Sartre and MerleauPonty and places their thought finnly within
the French philosophical and political
scene. The intended audience here is
‘students of Anglo-American philosophy’

to whom existentialism is unfamiliar
territory. However, as Kruks points out in
her introduction, this is not simply a case
of bringing our black turtle-necks out of
the closet. Her interest in existentialism is
informed by contemporary debates in
sociology and political theory concerning
the relation of subject and world. This
brings us to the second function of the
book. Kruks uses the concept of situation,
‘the presence of an internal bond, a relation
of mutual penneability between subjectivity and its surrounding world’ , to make an
intervention in the libertarian/
communitarian debate from a novel
Radical Philosophy 65, Autumn 1993

perspective. The flipside of this project is
to offer a consistent argument against
structuralist anti-humanism. Thus, Kruks
also contributes indirectly to the recent
discussion of the return of the subject in
French thought.

On the whole, the book is successful in
presenting the existentialist critique of selfpossessed, rational and free subjectivity.

In the process, Kruks offers a timely reappraisal of Beauvoir’s work and a sensitive
reading of Sartre’ s development of a more
rigorous treatment of the relation between
individual and group in his later work. The
introductory aim of the book limits the
discussion of the possible contemporary
relevance of the existentialist problematic
to bare hints. There are several points
where one would wish for a more thorough
argument. If ‘mutual permeability’ of
subject and world is a serious proposal
then there are a number of problems which
need to be addressed.

Kruks stresses for example the French
lineage of the critique of modem subjectivity and focuses on Marcel’ s influence
on French phenomenologists. Though this
is certainly true, it sets a trend of keeping
Gennan references to a minimum. This
may not be a problem in the case of Marcel
even if an exploration of his relation to
Kant or Gennan romanticism might have
been illuminating. With Sartre and
Merleau-Ponty, this lack is more acutely
felt, and it is less justifiable (Kojeve for
instance is never mentioned). As a result,
their uses of dialectics and phenomenology remain strangely opaque. Reference
to French philosophers is also thinly
rationed. Kruks is right in claiming that the
problematisation of the subject can be seen
as a struggle against the Cartesian ghost.

Yet Descartes often returns as the presiding
genius, in Marcel’s solitary embodied
subject for instance, or in Sartre’ s dualism
of the free, for-itself consciousness set
against the alienating in-itself. Unless the
Cartesian influence is adequately assessed
it is difficult to see how the project of an
ethics of situation which purports to overcome it can be a viable alternative. Marcel ‘ s
inward turn which is articulated in religious
tenns is equally problematic. One may
wonder for instance whether that influence
does not undennine the phenomenological
project (as Ianicaud argued recently in a
rather polemical book). Marcel’ s rejection
of collectivities as necessarily
dehumanising also passes without
comment. This off-hand indictment ofthe
social world of institutions and embodied
praxis is potentially very conservative and
could sabotage Kruks’ own project. In the
end one is left with the promise of another
book which remains to be written.

Arthur Still and Irving Velody, eds.,
Rewriting the History ofMadness: Studies
in Foucault’s Histoire de la Folie,
London, Routledge, 1992. 225pp., £45.00
hb., 0 415 06654 9.

This book has as its basis Colin Gordon’ s
claim that because a full-length English
translation of Foucault’s Histoire de la
folie has never been published, Englishspeaking commentators have failed to
comprehend the book. H istoire de la folie
(its first title being Folie et deraison:

H istoire de la folie) was published in France
in 1961; in 1964 an abridged version
appeared, and it is on this version that the
English translation was based, published
as Madness and Civilisation. Gordon
argues that the untranslated 300 pages
(approximately 40 per cent of the book)
would shed a great deal of light on
Foucault’s arguments, and, cruciall y, show
that his English-speaking critics have
simply misunderstood him. Indeed Gordon,
in foot-stomping mood, suggests that some
critics may never have ‘managed to find
the time necessary to read it, let alone to
reread it’.

However, much of the book is not
about the ‘missing’ parts of Foucault’ s
work, but about the nature of translation.

For example one of the major criticisms of
Foucault made by English historians
concerns his use of historical detail. In the
chapter ‘Stultifera Navis’ Foucault writes
that les fous alors avaient une existence
facilement errante. The English translation
has this as ‘madmen then led an easy
wandering existence’ . But Gordon argues
that the sentence should read’ the existence
of the mad at that time could easily be a
wandering one’. The difference is
important because historians such as
Midelfort and Stone have suggested that
Foucault believed that the mad led an easy
life, which records show to be clearly
false.

Gordon’s thesis is flatly denied by
Andrew Scull who claims that ifthe whole
work were translated this would simply
confirm the criticisms of it. The oft-repeated
charge that Foucault projected French
examples onto European history would be
confinned, Scull suggests, were the whole
work available.

It should also be noted that Gordon’ s
thesis rests on a simplistic division between
(critical) English-speaking historians and
(highly praising) French historians; The
assumption is that because French
historians praised the book and Englishspeaking ones didn’t this must be because
the fonner had access to more of Foucault,
as though criticism of Foucault were an
illness, the antidote being to read more of
him.

Katerina Deligiorgi

Mark Neocleous
59

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