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74 Reviews

REVIEWS
The hidden Goldmann
Mitchell Cohen, The Wager of Lucien Goldmann: Tragedy, Dialectics, and a Hidden God, Princeton, Princeton
University Press, 1994, xi + 351 pp., £26.50 hb. 0691 034206.

In her autobiographical roman Cl clef, Les Samourais,
Julia Kristeva describes one ‘Fabien Edelman’:

‘Graying, pot-bellied, smiling, his shirt open and, of
course, no tie, calling everyone tu and constantly battling
against existentialism, alienation and the nouveau
roman, and arguing the case for dialectical reason (as
revised and updated in the light of Pascal’s experience).’

‘Edelman’ is, of course, a thinly disguised portrait of the
Marxist critic Lucien Goldmann, who agreed to
supervise Kristeva’s doctoral thesis when she came to
Paris from Bulgaria in the 1960s. In Kristeva’s novel,
‘Edelman’ is surrounded to a crowd of students, most of
them foreign. Yet, by the time of his death in 1970,
Goldmann’s reputation had largely been eclipsed as a
result of Althusserian, Foucauldian and Lacanian
onslaughts on humanism, and by the leftward drift of
many of his former students (not least Kristeva).

Goldmann’s reputation and popularity faded as he fell
out of step with the increased use of linguistic methods;
his genetic structuralism owes nothing to Saussure, and
a great deal to Lukacs. Indeed, Goldmann was actively
hostile to the structuralism of Levi-Strauss and Barthes,
viewing it as a coherent expression of a stabilized and
organized capitalism and its ‘narcotic’ – consumerist
culture. In the years of theoretical anti-humanism, few
had much sympathy for Goldmann’ s characteristic brand
of humanism or for the belief, voiced at so many
conferences and in so many books and articles, that the
authentic destiny of man (sic) is to strive towards the
absolute.

Mitchell Cohen takes as his starting-point the
contention that Goldmann’ s work has never received its
due, and has written what is undoubtedly the most
complete study to date of the author of The Hidden God,
combining intellectual biography with a broader history
based on highly original research. Goldmann was
normally very reticent about his background and past,
and not the least of Mitchell’ s virtues is to have excavated
the hidden Goldmann. There is a certain irony here: being
concerned almost exclusively with group structures and

world-views, Goldmann disliked the biographical
method; but biography proves able to teach us a great
deal about him and his work.

Sergiu-Lucian Goldmann was born in Bucharest in
1913, and spent his childhood and early youth in
Botosani, a district capital in Moldovia. In a rare
autobiographical comment, he once said that he had
grown up in a world similar to that painted by Chagall.

That was something of an overstatement. His parents
were relatively prosperous and secular Jews living in a
cosmopolitan town with a lively cultural life, and
Goldmann was presumably not the only one of its sons to
grow up speaking Romanian, German and Yiddish with
equal ease. Goldmann was born into a society in
transition, and into a divided society. Anti-S~mitism was
rife in both his home town and the country at large; as a
university student in Bucharest, Goldmann had to bribe
his teachers in order to complete his courses.

In 1927 Goldmann became an active member of HaShomer ha-Tsair (the Young Guard), a Zionist socialist
youth movement whose ideology was a combination of
Zionism, Marxism and romantic anti-capitalism. Some
of its members joined the early kibbutzim in Palestine;
others, like Goldmann, found a political home in the
clandestine Communist Party. Despite Mitchell’ s
extensive research, the details remain hazy, but
Goldmann seems to have been active in the anti-fascist
movement in the years when the ominous shadow of
Romania’s Iron Guard was growing longer, and to have
been briefly imprisoned for political reasons. Although a
member of the Romanian Communist Party (which
underwent the grim process of ‘Cominternization’ after
its 1931 Congress), he was hostile to Stalinism arid,
perhaps inevitably, was accused of being a Trotskyist;
being seen on the university campus with a copy of
Trotsky’s autobiography under his arm cannot have
helped. Whether he left the CP or was expelled is
uncertain, but by 1934 Goldmann was in Paris and never
returned to Romania, where his work has never received
much attention.

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Like so many exiles, Goldmann had a difficult life in
Paris, washing dishes and doing other menial jobs as he
studied for his law degrees and then the literary degree
he received from the Sorbonne in 1938. Fleeing south to
Toulouse as the German army occupied northern France,
he supported himself by ghostwriting theses for wealthy
students. October 1942 saw him in flight to Switzerland,
where he was interned for some months. It was then that
a chance encounter with Manes Sperber – former
Comintern official, novelist and another graduate of HaShomer ha-Tsair – led to an introduction to the work of
Lukacs. Only in 1959 did Goldmann, now a naturalized
French citizen, find a permanent post at the Ecole des
Hautes Etudes, after having defended his doctoral thesis
(The Hidden God) during a memorable and controversial
public soutenance at the Sorbonne that lasted for six
hours.

Cohen convincingly argues that two youthful
influences on Goldmann were decisive. From his years
in Ha-Shomer ha-Tsair Goldmann inherited a vision of
the realization of an ‘individual-in-community’ that
could transcend both atomistic individualism and
anonymous collectivism, and the belief that Marxism’s
true concern is with the creation of an authentic human
community. The vision would be recast in different ways
as a quasi-Kantian socialist kingdom of ends, and as a
philosophy of community that owes a lot to the ‘social
individual’ of the Grundrisse; but Goldmann’s
fundamental beliefs remained largely unchanging. A

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second influence relates to the broader structure of rural
Romania, where Jews were traditionally forbidden to
own land. They were, however, permitted to manage
farms on behalf of big landlords. Such managers or
arendasi were an obvious target for various forms of
hostility, ranging from crude anti-Semitism to peasant
unrest. The system was abolished after the First World
War. In other words, the arendasi were a social stratum
that was doomed and before long decimated by historical
developments. Goldmann’s family did not belong to this
stratum, but it is surely no accident that one of his
concerns as a sociologist of literature was with precisely
such marginalized groups – the Jansenist noblesse de
robe in seventeenth-century France, the doomed
revolutionary community of Malraux’s novels of the
1930s – and with the tragic world-view associated with
them.

If early experiences appear to explain aspects of
Goldmann’s work, they are not its sole determinants.

Cohen provides a rich and complex account of the
theoretical climate that eventually produced the
Goldmann of The Hidden God, carefully tracing the
tangled strands of Austro-Marxism, neo-Kantianism and,
above all, the Hegelian-Marxist tradition associated with
Georg Lukacs.

Although there are two stages in the development of
Goldmann’s sociology of literature, the central core
recognizably derives from the Lukacs of Theory of the
Novel and of the great studies on realism. The novel, that
is, is viewed as the story of the quest for authentic values
(such as those of a community of ends) in an inauthentic
or degraded world, and its problematic here – a literary
incarnation of Hegel’s unhappy consciousness – is in
search of values that cannot be realized. Goldmann in
fact extends this beyond the novel, arguing in his 1948
study of Kant (English translation: Immanuel Kant, 1971)
that the philosopher’s articulation of the positive but
unrealizable values generated by ‘liberal capitalism’

(equality, respect for the individual, tolerance) eventually
results in a tragic world-view.

Whilst the Hegel-Lukacs tradition shapes the core of
Goldmann’s theory of literature, a major input is also
made by Piaget’s ‘genetic epistemology’, which traces
the child’s evolution from brute facticity to the
identification of particulars through the use of universals,
and, finally, to conceptual thought. Each stage in this
process is viewed as a mental operation involving
structural wholes, ‘always evolved and always in
genesis’. Each stage and each structural whole is a
process, and neither a fact nor a composition of static
invariants. For Goldmann, Piaget’s epistemology
permits the transcendence of the subject-object

dichotomy and the elaboration of a dialectic that can be
mapped on to Marx. It further permits the identification
of ‘significant structures’ akin to Weber’s ideal-types or
Lukacs’s imputed consciousness, in that they are
theoretical extrapolations rather than empirical realities.

A world-view is not an individual vision, but rather the
possible or potential consciousness of a social group
(usually a class) and the common mental structures it
generates. For Lukacs, it is the Party that fills the hiatus
irrationalis between potential and actual consciousness;
for Goldmann, it is the transindividual subject that lies at
the origin of cultural creativity. Goldmann refers to the
methodology he derived from a combination of Lukacs
and Piaget as ‘genetic structuralism’.

Goldmann’s earliest philosophical interest was a
concern with Kant, but it is Pascal who allows him to
elaborate the most sophisticated version of his sociology
ofliterature. The Hidden God (1959) is probably his best
book, and it is that rarest of things: a highly readable
exploration of J ansenist theology and of its impact on
Pascal and Racine. For Goldmann, Jansenism – a
heretical and puritanical version of Catholicism – is the
world-view of a specific social group, namely the
noblesse de robe. The noblesse de robe were the officials,
most of them members of the Third Estate, who staffed
the provincial assemblies or parlements of seventeenthcentury France. Once allies of the monarchy in its
struggle against the feudal nobility, they were
increasingly marginalized and bypassed by history as
absolutism was consolidated under Louis XIV. Unlike
the hereditary nobility, they depended on their offices for
their living and, as their very survival looked doubtful,
turned in increasing numbers to a bleak theology that
favoured seclusion and the rejection of worldly vanities.

Pascal is its most famous representative, and probably
the only one still read by non-specialists. Whereas
Descartes places his faith in the rationalist scientism that
will make men masters and possessors of nature, Pascal
recognizes the value of the new sciences, but denies their
universal validity. Unable to prove the existence of God,
he is forced to gamble on the reality of a hidden God, to
look for absolutes in a world without absolutes. The
simultaneous acceptance and rejection of the world – also
to be found in Racine’s life and his plays – points, in
Goldmann’s view, to a dialectical reconciliation of
opposites.

The later Towards a Sociology of the Novel (1965)
abandons at least part of this structure, as the notion of a
world-view disappears and is replaced by that of
structural homology. This is not simply a change of
theoretical direction, but, rather, as Goldmann would
have it, a recognition that reification precludes the

possible emergence oftransindividual groups. We have,
in their place, a homology of forms. The general
categories of a society dominated by the commodity form
are reproduced in cultural forms, as in Robbe-Grillet’s
novels, where things and objects supersede human beings
and their actions. Whereas Lukacs would have
denounced Robbe-Grillet, just as he denounced
expressionism and most other forms of modernism,
Goldmann accepts his novels as an attempt to grasp the
real structures of capitalist society: Robbe-Grillet, no
doubt much to his surprise, is in fact a realist.

Goldmann never wrote a book devoted solely to
politics. Although he described himself as a Marxist and
was convinced of the political import of his cultural
work, he was a loner who argued that the necessary
renewal of Marxism and socialism would be the work of
unaffiliated franc tireurs rather than of Party members.

No doubt he was in part mindful of the fate of those with
whom he had studied in Bucharest: some became
powerful apparatchiks in the Romanian CP; others went
to nameless and hideous deaths in successive purges.

Reluctant to have anything to do with the French
Communist Party, Goldmann grew increasingly close to
the small Parti Socialiste Unifie (founded in 1960) and
was greatly influenced by the ‘New Working Class’

thesis associated with Serge Mallet and Andre Gorz.

Contrary to Marxist orthodoxy, the middle classes have
not been proletarianized. Pace Lukacs, capitalism has
been able to avoid the final crisis and to attain stability
and regulation, not because it has achieved a totalizing
viewpoint, but because it has created a collective worker
in the shape of the new wage-earning strata – highly
educated, technically sophisticated and relatively
prosperous. Increasingly, tensions focus not on the
workplace but on the educational system, where young
people demanding the technological skills required by
‘organized capitalism’ clash with increasingly
‘magisterial and authoritarian teachers’. Yet even these
strata are subject to alienation. As Gorz asks: ‘Hunger
calls for food to eat. But what does emptiness, boredom,
dissatisfaction with life and the world call for?’ The
answer appeared to be ‘revolutionary reforms’ and some
form of market socialism.

Goldmann’s sympathies lay with the argument that a
crucial element in the renewal of Marxism and socialism
would be autogestion. The term is not easy to translate,
but connotes both workers’ control and more general
forms of social self-management, ranging from the old
Workers’ Councils to the host of collectives spawned by
the events of May ’68. Pascal wagered on the existence
of his hidden God; Goldmann wagers on the possibility
that the new social strata might yet achieve a totalizing

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vision and become a new transindividual subject.

Cohen is unlikely to bring about the rehabilitation of
Goldmann. Although The Hidden God remains
something of a classic, by no means all seventeenthcentury specialists accept either its premisses or its
conclusions, whilst Marxists have usually been dubious
about the claim that Pascal is their totemic forebear. The
later sociology of literature is overrestrictive and does
not seem to permit the reading of individual texts, as
opposed to their sUbsumption under categories so broad
as to make them interchangeable. Cohen quite rightly
criticizes the ‘extreme schematism’ of Goldmann’s
homologies; the less charitable might prefer to speak of
economism or reductionism. Indeed, when Goldmann
finds in Genet’s plays a mental structure homologous to
that of organized capitalism, and omits to mention that

Genet was gay, schematism sounds a mild charge.

In many respects, Goldmann emerges from this highly
competent study as quite simply dated. His historical
periodization of ‘liberal capitalism’, ‘capitalism in crisis’

and then ‘organized capitalism’ seems crude, and
Goldmann’s wager does not appear to have been a
successful one. Cohen may not have written the
rehabilitation he set out to produce; however, he has
written a magnificent study in intellectual history. If it
has one major weakness, it is that the concentration on
the philosophical issues tends to obscure the literary
questions that preoccupied Goldmann. We learn, for
instance, very little about the importance of Racine to
world theatre, and at least some comparison with
Barthes’s On Racine would have been welcome.

David Macey

Lost illusions
Gregory Elliott, ed., Althusser: A Critical Reader, Oxford and Cambridge MA, Blackwell, 1994. 214 pp., £40.00 hb,
£12.99 pb., 0 631 18806 1 hb., 0 631 18807 X pb.

The critical oblivion into which Louis Althusser fell,
even before he murdered his wife in November 1980,
and thus covered the last ten years of his life in disgrace,
seems to be over. Gregory Elliott’s collection of essays
on Althusser is the third such to appear in quick
succession. The Althusserian Legacy, edited by E. Ann
Kaplan and Mike Sprinker, and Politique et philosophie
dans l’ oeuvre de Louis Althusser, edited by Silvain
Lazarus, were both published in 1993.

Elliott’s collection differs, however, from its
predecessors in two important respects. The two earlier
books were the products of conferences linked, more or
less loosely, to stages in Althusser’s life – respectively,
his seventieth birthday in October 1988 and his death
two years later. To a large extent, the contributors had
been strongly influenced by Althusser in their earlier
intellectual careers, and took a stance that was
sympathetic, though by no means uncritical towards their
subject.

Althusser: A Critical Reader, by contrast, includes
responses to the Althusserian enterprise written during
its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s from standpoints that
are sceptical, if not hostile. Thus, essays by Eric
Hobsbawm and Pierre Vilar represent relatively welldisposed critical scrutinies by distinguished Marxist
historians of Althusser’ s attack on historicism in Reading
Capital. In counterpoint to these are the contributions by
philosophers on whom the influence of the hermeneutic
tradition would predispose them against Althusser’ s antihumanism. Paul Ricoeur’s discussion of Althusser’s

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theory of ideology is characteristically emollient, though
searching. Axel Honneth, on the other hand, offers a rootand-branch critique of the Althusserian reconstruction
of historical materialism.

To these contemporary responses to Althusser. are
added a series of more recent attempts to place him in
perspective by British theorists. Peter Dews situates
Althusser within a broader French intellectual context,
laying especial stress on the debate between Sartre and
Levi-Strauss, and on the epistemological tradition of
Bachelard, Cavailles and Canguilhem. David Macey
explores the tensions involved in what Michel Pecheux
called the “‘Triple Alliance” in theory’ of Althusser,
Lacan and Saussure – the anti-humanist ‘Rejection
Front’ which took shape in the mid-1960s, and linked
together Althusser’s return to Marx and Lacan’ s return
to Freud within the common framework supposedly
provided by structural linguistics. And Francis Mulhern
explores Althusser’s impact on British literary studies.

This combination of different perspectives on
Althusser, some more or less immediate reactions to his
writing, others enjoying the vantage point of retrospect,
varying greatly also in the degree of sympathy they
evince towards his project, gives the collection a wideangle vision of its subject which the two earlier studies,
for all their strengths, lacked. It differs from them also in
a second, and in some ways crucial respect.

For I have not mentioned the main reason for
Althusser’s recent re-emergence from the oblivion into
which he had descended – the publication in 1992 of two

autobiographical fragments, L ‘Avenir dure long temps
and Les faits (reviewed by David Macey in RP 67) and of
the first volume of Yann Moulier Boutang’s major
biography. L’Avenir, an extraordinary human document
written after Althusser had murdered his wife Helene
Rytman, became a bestseller and attracted widespread
media attention, much of it malicious and salacious (my
personal favourite is the front cover of the Daily Express
magazine, in which an extract from L ‘A venir appeared,
showing a picture of a youthful Althusser lying on a
beach under the headline: ‘Sex, Socialism and Murder’).

Elliott’s own contribution to Althusser: A Critical
Reader represents, to my knowledge, the first serious
response to L’Avenir. Its significance is twofold. First, it
uses Boutang’s extremely detailed, and often fascinating,
research to assess Althusser’s own account of his youth
in L ‘Avenir, demonstrating the extent to which his
tortured reconstruction of the origins of the manicdepressive condition which lay behind Helene Rytman’s
murder cannot be relied on. For all its undoubted interest
and literary power, L ‘Avenir, Elliot concludes, is ‘a rewriting of a life through its wreckage’ .

Second, Elliott draws attention to what is, for those
interested in Althusser’s thought as opposed to his life,
the real revelation offered by both L ‘A venir and
Boutang’s biography. Suddenly there emerges into view
a hitherto unknown Althusser, the author of previously
unpublished texts written long before and long after the
books that made his reputation, For Marx and Reading
Capital (both published in 1965). In the story he has so
far told (which goes up to 1956), Boutang uncovers a
young Catholic intellectual, attracted towards the
Communist Party, which he joined in 1948, but active in
the worker-priest movement until its suppression by the
French hierarchy in the early 1950s.

This young Althusser, it transpires, drank heavily of
the Hegelian draughts so readily available in the Paris of
the late 1940s. In a long letter to his former teacher Jean
Lacroix he espoused what Elliott calls ‘an apocalyptic
Hegelian Marxism, (mis)construed as the philosophical
vindication of a Stalinism at the height of its post-war
powers of attraction (and repulsion),. Though even then
critical of the idea of the end of history, the young
Althusser, like Kojeve, saw (as Boutang puts it) in the
Soviet tanks which enforced Stalinism in Eastern Europe
an embodiment of the WorId Spirit, comparable to the
French emperor whom Hegel watched ride through the
streets of Jena.

The recovery of this youthful messianic Hegelian
Stalinist sheds new light on Althusser’s writings of the
1960s. The great critiques of Hegelian Marxism in For
Marx and Reading Capital takes on the aspect of autocritiques, diagnoses of Althusser’s own earlier errors.

Moreover, the equation often made by his critics on the
revolutionary Left of philosophical anti-Hegelianism
with a political apologia for Stalinism seems less
plausible, given the ease with which the young Althusser
was able to invoke the historical dialectic to justify East
European show trials.

Also emerging from obscurity, however, are much
later texts, written in the 1970s and even the 1980s, when
both changing philosophical fashions and his own
personal ignominy had consigned Althusser to oblivion.

Hinted at in L ‘A venir (particularly in the material added
to the expanded French edition which appeared in 1994),
and developed at length in texts included in the first
volume of Althusser’s Ecrits philosophiques et
politiques, very recently published by his literary
executors, is the theme of the ‘royal road’ to Marx laid
by Machiavelli, Spinoza and Rousseau. In this, ‘the real
materialist tradition’, chance and contingency play a
major role. Althusser sought to bring this out with a
metaphor:

an idealist is a man who knows both from what
station the train leaves and what its destination is:

he knows this in advance and when he gets on a
train, he knows where he is going, because the train
is taking him [there]. The materialist, on the
contrary, is a man who catches a moving train
without knowing where it has been or where it is
going.

Plainly, this ‘aleatory materialism’ represents an extreme
rejection of a teleological conception of the historical
process in which the end of history is present in its
origins, and a reassertion of the idea advanced by
Althusser in the 1970s that history is ‘a process without a
subject or goals’. Elliott detects here the influence of
Cournot’s conception of historical contingency as the
intersection of different causal series – an idea taken up
in the early part ofthis century by J. B. Bury and strongly
attacked by neo-Hegelian philosophers of history such
as Oakeshott and Collingwood.

Anything purporting to be a definite assessment of
Althusser’s thought must wait upon a critical
examination of these texts of youth and old age. My own
view is that there are three respects in which he has had a
lasting impact on the Marxist tradition: he established
the incompatibility between Hegelian modes of
reasoning and historical materialism; he inaugurated the
rigorous examination and reconstruction of Marxist
theoretical concepts; and he situated this project within a
sophisticated realist philosophy of science. Though all
these elements of Althusser’ s enterprise confronted wellknown difficulties, some of which are explored in
Althusser: A Critical Reader, he established an agenda

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which Marxist philosophers ignore at their peril.

To recall that Althusser saw himself as helping to
develop the Marxist tradition is to remind ourselves of
his politics as well as his philosophy. As late as L’Avenir
(1985), Althusser defended his membership of the PCF,
insisting that it was ‘the only means available then of
acting politically, that is to say really on the course of
history’. Elliott reaffirms Perry Anderson’s judgement
that in the Cold War era ‘the Communist movement
represented the only available embodiment of socialist
politics’. Here sympathy seems to blur into indulgence.

Those less enamoured of no-longer-existing socialism
are entitled to wonder if Marxism would be quite so
discredited in France today if its most prominent
intellectual representative had not been identified notwithstanding all Althusser’s criticisms of, and
reservations about the PCF – with ‘historical
Communism’ .

How, then, should someone writing, as I do, from
within the Marxist tradition assess Althusser’s
contribution to that tradition? There are plenty of
impeccable revolutionary socialist criticisms that may be
made of his politics. And these can be buttressed by the
philosophical objections developed by various of the

contributors to this collection. Thus Honneth, for
example, takes Althusser to task for ‘categorically
exclud[ing]’ the ‘interactive historical practices of
action’ on which ‘the structurally construed functional
tendencies of social systems, highlighted in Reading
Capital, depend for their realization. Criticisms of this
nature are perfectly valid, but they miss something that
is especially hard to convey in retrospect: the exhilaration
that was induced by the Althusserian enterprise in its
heyday. The cover illustration – a Constructivist
watercolour by Kandinsky called Happy Structure – is
well chosen. It evokes the intellectual excitement
generated by the ‘Triple Alliance’ and its vision of a
marriage of Marx and Freud effected by the good
services of avant-garde philosophy – all against the
background of fervent cultural innovation and with the
apparent prospect of revolutionary social transformation.

Merely to describe this climate is to record the political
and philosophical illusions it involved, illusions starkly
exposed at this glum and demoralized fin de siecie. Yetfor me at any rate – it is impossible to regret them, or to
abandon the search for what was rational and desirable
in them.

Alex Callinicos

Identify yourself
lorge Larrain, Ideology and Cultural Identity: Modernity and the Third World Presence, Cambridge, Polity Press,
1994. viii + 190 pp., £39.50 hb., £11.95 pb., 07456 13152 hb., 07456 13160 pb.

George Robertson, Melinda Mash, Lisa Tickner, Ion Bird, Barry Curtis and Tim Putnam, eds, Travellers’ Tales:

Narratives of Home and Displacement, London and New York, Routledge, 1994. xiii + 255 pp., £37.50 hb., £11.99
pb., 0415 07015 5 hb., 0415 070163 pb.

Ernesto Laclau, ed., The Making of Political Identities, London and New York, Verso, 1994. vii + 296 pp., £39.95
hb., £13.95 pb., 0 86091 409 7hb., 0 86091 6634 pb.

What forms of cultural identity are possible and available
in the contemporary world? Who has the power to decide
who assumes which identity? Is there a direct
relationship between the advent of ‘modernity’ and a
certain range of previously unconstructed forms of
identity? Does it make any sense to write about groups of
people as belonging to specific nations which possess
particular national forms? Or, are we all hybrids now?

These are some of the important – but hardly neglectedquestions which these three books attempt to answer.

lorge Larrain’s monograph is the easiest to deal with.

Ideology and Cultural Identity can be read as the
conclusion of a trilogy which started with The Concept
of Ideology and continued with Marxism and Ideology,
both lucid and informative syntheses of research on the
subject. Larrain showed that he had an impressive grasp

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of his chosen subject, could elucidate difficult ideas, and
was always particularly incisive on strengths and
weaknesses of post-Althusserian Marxism. I have to
confess that I am a little disappointed by his latest
offering, which promises to extend Larrain’ s insights
beyond a European context and discuss the problem of
ideology in terms of a global politics. The problem is
that Larrain only really attempts this feat in the first and
last chapters; in between, he analyses what he has always
analysed very well – namely, the history of the concept
of ideology from Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, Pareto et
aI., through Marx and Engels to Althusser, poststructuralism, postmodernism and Habermas. Most of
this discussion will be useful for those who haven’t yet
read Larrain’ s work, but hardly a revelation to those who
have.

Larrain’s goal is to provide a defence of
Enlightenment reason as the best tool for combating
racism and he has no tolerance for theories which
privilege difference but run the risk of dissolving into
relativism: ‘If there is no such thing as universals, if one
cannot generalize, then human beings are different, have
different potentialities and fates that must be accepted.

There are no such things as universal human rights’ – an
argument which damns both David Hume and Jean
Baudrillard. This is fine as far as it goes, but obviously
risks simply stating the opposite case. When Larrain
criticizes Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe for failing
to see that privileging a logic of ‘non-correspondence
and heterogeneity’ is both a departure from Marx and ‘a
renunciation of any rational understanding of society and
history’, one can only wish that he had at least tried to
refute Robert Young’s arguments in White Mythologies
(a book which should have appeared in the footnotes
somewhere). Ultimately, Larrain does not get much
beyond his early recognition that ideology occurs
whenever there are asymetrical power relations and that
one therefore needs to consider ‘a variety of relations
between ethnic groups, between nation-states, between
sexes, and so forth’, and not just class relations.

Travellers’ Tales, the proceedings of a conference
held at the Tate Gallery, progresses from approximately
the same starting point, but gets a lot further, even if it
does suffer from the usual problems of such collections
(repetition, underdeveloped ideas, fragmentation and
lack of coherence) and has an occasional tendency to
sound a bit smug and pretentious (it could also have done
with a more substantial introduction). There are some
splendid essays – notably, Griselda Pollock’ s analysis of
two sets of pictures, Gauguin’s racist refiguration of
Manet’s anti-Orientalist Olympia in his representation
of his thirteen-year-old Tahitian wife, Manao Tupapau,
juxtaposed with family snapshots of her South African
childhood. Pollock concludes that ‘we need to resist and
disrupt the territorialization of desire – all forms of
nationalism and identity politics’ , a stance which seems
to risk fetishizing displaced women -like herself – at the
expense of the rooted. Pollock’s assertiveness contrasts
strikingly with the late Madan Sarup’s humility
(Obituary, RP 68): ‘I don’t have the confidence to
become … cosmopolitan’ (emphasis mine), a divergence
which neatly points out the pitfalls of choosing one’s own
identity.

Also of particular interest are Anne McClintock’ s
reading of the imperial and sexual politics of Victorian
soap advertisements, which promised the metamorphosis
of black children into racial hybrids, ‘brought to the brink
of civilization by the twin commodity fetishes of soap
and mirror’ and the simultaneous erasure of ‘the

unseemly spectacle of women’s labour’; Rob Nixon’ s
analysis of the complex national and racial displacement
of Bessie Head, a writer caught between the desire for
rooted community and exile; and the hard-hitting and
amusing discussions of tourism and Levi-Strauss by
Adrian Rifkin and Sunpreet Arshi et aI., which
recommend that travellers’ tales are best read at home.

Such travellers assume a radically different identity from
that articulated by Trihn T. Minh-ha, who laments that
‘all attempts at exalting the achievements of exile are but
desperate efforts to quell the crippling sorrow of
homelessness and estrangement’. I thought back to the
difference between Griselda Pollock and Madan Sarup
and felt glad that the volume was dedicated to his
memory.

Ernesto Laclau’s collection is easily the most
heavyweight of the three, in terms of both its size and
content. The volume is divided up into two sections: a
series of essays dealing with the theoretical problem of
modern identity and a series of theoretically informed
case studies. Laclau’s brief introduction announces that
one of the aims of the volume is to problematize precisely
what Larrain wanted to take for granted: the principle of
self-determination, for example, involves the assertion
of ‘a universal principle grounded in universal values’,
but can only be manifested in a series of particular forms:

‘a universality that is the very result of particularism’.

The main theme of the volume is the ’emergence of a
plurality of new subjects that have escaped the classical
political frameworks … and have put new challenges to
political practice and political theory’. Again, the
resemblance to Larrain’s project is evident, as is the
movement beyond his finishing point.

The essays in the first section are highly sophisticated,
many being attempts to reread Hegel’s conception of
identity-formation through an understanding of Lacan.

Slavoj Zizek’s ‘Identity and its Vicissitudes’ – a piece
which juxtaposes the most densely argued theoretical
passages with comments on more demotic references to
Charlie Chaplin, Jewish humour and popular Hollywood
film – deals with the problem of possibility which, as
soon as it becomes realized, disappears. Zizek illustrates
his argument via the discussion of a problematic episode
from recent political history: ‘What is at stake in the
Yugoslav civil war are not archaic ethnic conflicts; these
centennial hatreds are inflamed only on account of their
function in the recent political struggle.’ In other words,
explanations which rely on ancient history are
tautological acts and hence incapable of accounting for
the development of forms of modern identity because
they confuse the ‘conditions’ with the thing itself, the
‘ground’. Rodolphe Gasche provides a rival
deconstructionist reading of Hegel, criticizing Adorno’ s

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notion of the non-identical in order to show how
intimately bound up with the seemingly antithetical
project of the Prussian philosopher Derrida’s writing
really is; Claudia Hlib explores the paradoxical limits of
pluralism.

The second section of Laclau’ s collection is
undoubtedly more accessible. Aletta Norval charts the
logic of apartheid, arguing persuasively that the problem
of apartheid was that it did not merely discriminate but
‘succeeded … in creating so-called ethnic identities and
allegiances’ and thus served to represent one extreme of
the ‘totalizing logics of modernity’. Glen Bowman
explores the forms of identity available to Palestinians
via a reading of three major writers – Edward Said,
Fawaz Turki and Raja Shehadeh – suggesting that the
experience of exile has demanded that Palestinians
usually construct Palestinianness as inevitably bound up
with suffering. Anna-Marie Smith examines the

resistance politics of Rastafari, going so far as to suggest
that smoking ganja constitutes a challenge to Aristotelian
logic. And, in perhaps the best essay in this section,
Bobby Sayyid analyses the construction of ‘Islamic
Fundamentalism’, showing how Khomeini’ s deliberate
avoidance of references to the West can only be
understood in terms of an attempt to decentre Western
political discourse so that contemporary political
identities need to be conceived in terms of a metanarrative which, rather than abandoning the concept of a
centre, recognizes that centres can only exist in a weak
form.

The Making of Political Identities can be criticized
for being rather too opaque in places, too long and selfindulgent. Nevertheless, it is a valuable and stimulating
exploration of the problem of constructing identity as a
theoretical concept, a series of instances and, most
importantly, the relationship between the two.

Andrew Hadfield

Settling our disagreements
Ellen Frankel Paul, Fred D. Miller, Jr., and Jeffrey Paul, eds, Cultural Pluralism and Moral Knowledge, Cambridge,
Cambridge University Press, 1994. xiii + 285 pp., £12.95 pb., 0 521 466148.

Andrew Mason, Explaining Political Disagreement, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1993. xii + 170 pp.,
£27.95 hb, 0 521 433223.

Pluralism is, at the moment, very much at the top of the
agenda of concerns to which English-speaking political
philosophers are addressing themselves. There are at
least three reasons why this is so. The first is a recognition
that the modern condition is characterized by the
existence of a diversity of cultures, traditions and moral
outlooks. The second is a belief that the philosophical
liberalism which currently dominates the AngloAmerican intellectual scene is essentially connected to
pluralism. This belief has now been given influential
expression by John Rawls in his Political Liberalism.

The third reason is an apprehension that pluralism may
be damaging in two ways. The existence of diversity can
seem to undermine any conviction that there is one single
true morality, and portend belief in either nothing or
everything. Diversity may also spell disagreement and
conflict.

Both of these books shed valuable light on these
matters and thus contribute to what is now a rich debate
about pluralism. Cultural Pluralism and Moral
Knowledge is an uneven collection. This is in part
because not every contributor directly addresses what
would appear to be its defining concern, namely the
normative significance of cultural diversity. The early

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Radical Philosophy 74 (Nov/Oec 1995)

essays do, and are united in refusing to draw relativist
conclusions from a recognition of the existence of
difference. Chandran Kukathas argues that there is less
conflict between the different cultures than is assumed,
and that a certain convergence of moral outlooks is
possible through communication. Alan Gewirth refuses
to acknowledge that pluralism subverts the case for
rational moral knowledge, and defends his own account
of universal human rights founded upon the very nature
of individual agency.

Nicholas Sturgeon and Ernest Sosa supply more direct
arguments against relativism. Sturgeon’s case is
especially persuasive. One might to drawn to relativism
by an acknowledgement that some important moral
disagreements are intractable. It would seem natural to
conclude that both sides to such a dispute must be right.

But if both are right, then there is no real disagreement,
since that requires an attribution of error by each to the
opposing side. Genuine relativism entails contradictoriness, and the only escape from that is a deeply
unattractive nihilism wherein nothing is right. Joseph
Raz denies that moral change – a change in the truth value
of a general moral claim – is possible. In consequence,
social relativism – the notion that a valid morality is a

function of a set of particular social practices – is false.

John Kekes summarizes the main claims of his book on
moral pluralism, which maintains the non-relativist
thesis that there are many reasonable conceptions of a
good life. Charles Larmore distinguishes between moral
pluralism and reasonable disagreement about the good.

The latter, not the former, supplies the foundation of
modern liberalism.

The content and style of the remaining essays are
somewhat tangential to these concerns. Curiously, one
of the most distinguished contemporary defenders of
moral relativism, Gilbert Harman, restricts himself to a
schematic sketch of various accounts of why people hold
the values that thr~y do. He enjoins moral philosophers to
spend more time in the intellectual company of social
psychologists if an explanation of value is to be found.

Andrew Mason is familiar with at least one influential
psychological account of moral development, and uses it
to illustrate his own view about the nature of moral or
political disagreement. He does not think that such
disagreement is due to mistakes of reasoning which are
remediable through thorough argument and analysis. Nor
does he endorse the alternative view of disagreement as
attributable to the essential contestability of the terms in
use. Rather, he believes that both rational and nonrational considerations should figure in a complete
explanation of differences of belief. More particularly,
Mason favours materialist explanations which privilege
power relations. By way of example, he attempts to
integrate Carol Gilligan’s distinction between a female
ethics of care and a male ethics of justice, with Nancy
Chodorow’s theory of the acquisition of gender
identities. One suspects that more is needed than can be
offered in the context of this book to defend Gilligan and
Chodorow from the many and varied critiques of their
work. His remarks about the implications for a theory of
justice of an integration of the two ethics are also
somewhat gestural, even if they suggest very interesting
possibilities. Nevertheless, the book offers an instructive
survey of the variety of explanations for the persistence
and prevalence of disagreement. And Mason, without
flinching or abandoning himself to relativism or
scepticism, recognizes the improbability of achieving a
consensus by the unfettered exercise of reason alone. In
this he endorses the doubt which Larmore expresses
about a conviction at the heart of our intellectualist
Western tradition – namely, that’ reason leads naturally
to agreement, that reason is what brings us together’ .

Perhaps it would have been valuable to see aired one
further heterodoxy in these books. This is the view that
disagreement is not only probably unavoidable, but also
not obviously undesirable. Only Mason briefly alludes to
the view that diversity is, arguably, good both in itself

and for what it encourages. And what it leads to need not
simply be a richer uniformity. Moreover, as Nicholas
Rescher has suggested in a recent defence of pluralism,
it may be a mistake to assume that consensus is an ideal
to aim at. Not only need disagreement not subvert our
own separate convictions of what is the case, but it need
not conduce to conflict. Perhaps, rather than agreement,
we should try to accept that compromise, acquiescence,
convergence may be sufficient for our social and political
requirements. In that case, the fact that modernity is
characterized by a diversity of traditions and cultures
need not be cause for concern. It may even be something
to celebrate.

David Archard

Child’s play
Jostein Gaarder, Sophie’s World: A Novel about the
History of Philosophy, translated by Paulette Moller,
London, Phoenix House, 1995. ix + 403 pp., £16.99 hb.,
1 89758042 8.

Gareth B. Matthews, The Philosophy of Childhood,
Cambridge MA and London, Harvard University Press,
1994. 132 pp., £15.25 hb., 0 674 664809.

Both of these books derive from teaching philosophy to
schoolchildren. Sophie’ s World is basically a history of
Western philosophy, made accessible by being cast the
form of a novel which moves from being a mystery to a
philosophical puzzle – from the questions of who the
mysterious Hilde is, and how her life is connected to
Sophie’s, to the question of whether Sophie is real or
merely an idea in Hilde’s father’s mind. The book
consists of a series of mini-lectures from Sophie’s
mysterious philosophy teacher (just who is he, and where
does he come from?). They are clear and succinct, and
many students – particularly those on history-of-ideas
courses – will find them enormously useful. I suspect
that is why the book has become a best-seller on the
Continent, where high-school students are required to
learn what the major philosophers said. If anyone wants
a short history of how European philosophy developed,
this is the book to read.

But the book has its limitations: Sophie is an even
more irritating foil to the monologues than Plato’s
disciples (‘Explain please’ – ‘So you said’). Any
fourteen-year-old I know willing to follow these
accounts would also argue with them, and display more
frustration at their difficulty. The limitation of any book
of this nature is that there simply isn’t the space for a real
discussion or exploration of the ideas. Sophie is eager,
intelligent and blank, which she must be if she is to be

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r

I

the cipher through which the history is told. The device
of turning her into an idea in the Major’s mind is a clever
one for developing a Berkeleyian argument throughout
the book. But it doesn’t quite work, because readers
gripped by this problem would probably skip the ‘minilectures’. Still, anything that has adolescents reading
philosophy is to be welcomed, and despite a typical
academic distaste for ‘survey’ literature, I found it a
compulsive read. The reason is Gaarder’s sheer
enthusiasm for his subject, which communicates itself
both in the way he tells the story and in such comments
as ‘The difference between school teachers and
philosophers is that school teachers think that they know
a lot of stuff that they try to force down our throats.

Philosophers try to figure things out together with
pupils.’ He is clearly a man deeply committed to teaching
philosophy to children.

Gareth Matthews shares this commitment. But I
suspect that he would argue against Gaarder’s way of
doing it, which is ultimately didactic. The Philosophy of
Childhood is a sustained argument against the
conception of children as pre-persons to be developed
into people like us, and for developing the philosophy of
childhood as an authentic philosophical area. His
inspiration comes from the author’s experience of
teaching philosophy in a Scottish primary school using
techniques developed by Matthew Lipmann to facilitate
philosophical questioning and dialogue between
children. This leads Matthews to the conclusion that
children are natural philosophers, whose philosophical
wonder is driven underground by adult emphasis on
‘useful’ questions. They are fortunate if they have an
adult philosopher around to pick up questions like ‘Are
we “live” on video?’ or ‘The Universe is everything and
everywhere, but then if there was a Big Bang, what was
the Big Bang in?’ Otherwise, they must wait until they
are adults in university philosophy departments to pursue
them.

Noticing this capacity in children to recapitulate the
insights of our greatest philosophers, even though they
have not heard of them, leads Matthews to argue against
such theories of childhood development as Piaget’s and
Kohlberg’s. I found these arguments cogent, acquiring
their force precisely because Matthews has a capacity
for listening to what children say, and recognizing that
they may be exploring different and equally satisfying
theories to the ones Piaget argues they have failed to
grasp.

The final third of the book is taken up with exploring
some of the issues which the philosophy of childhood
might cover: children’s rights, the possibility of a nonphoney literature for children, child art, childhood and
death, and the kind of understanding that terminally ill

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children can display. Much of it is moving, some of it
persuasive, and all of it tantalizing enough to persuade
me that these are problems worth taking up.

Of course, questions remain before we can conclude
that children are ‘partners in a joint effort at understanding it all’. They seem to need adults to sustain and
utilize their philosophical insight. A child cannot raise
questions about the prime mover (or first flea) without
first having grasped the concept of causality. We all have
difficulty sorting out genuine philosophical issues from
mere confusion, and it may be impossible for a child.

However, Matthews is not arguing for simply listening to
them. Our strengths and weaknesses are different, and
Matthews’s evidence of their ability to philosophize
demonstrates that they are neither miniature adults nor
pre-rational, pre-scientific and slightly less than human.

At the very least, this suggests reconsideration both of
how we conceptualize childhood, and how we should
listen to and teach children.

Both Gaarder and Matthews believe that children
should be encouraged to do philosophy. But Gaarder’s
approach is to teach them the history of the subject, to
introduce them to our fully human world (‘It’s the only
way to become a human being’); Matthews’s approach
is to listen to their questions and discuss with them, on
the assumption that we already share this human world. I
find his children far more plausible than Gaarder’s, and
his arguments more stimulating. But Gaarder’ s book will
sell more copies, because it fits into a prepared slot rather
than challenging our preconceptions. I think that he
would hate this irony.

Anne Seller

The order of
things
Genevieve Lloyd, Part of Nature: Self-Knowledge in
Spinoza’s Ethics, Ithaca and London, Cornell University
Press, 1994. 182 pp., £21.95 hb. 0 8014 2999 4.

Genevieve Lloyd’s account of Spinoza is also a running
battle with the Cartesian heritage of thought in
philosophy and in the ‘commonsense’ of our age. There
are long passages expounding Descartes rather than
Spinoza; Spinoza is then presented as offering an
alternative model, according to which we are not
substances, our bodies are not external to our selves, and
the individual mind is not the clear light of consciousness
but a necessarily inadequate idea of the body and a
perspectival awareness of the world. Neither body nor
mind have clear boundaries. Lloyd comes within an inch

of attributing to Spinoza the view which I have claimed
follows from his definitions: that the body of which one’s
mind is the idea is one’s world, rather than just the body
enclosed by one’s skin:

the continued existence of an individual depends
not just on what goes on within the bodily
superficies of what we would regard as an
individual body, but on the pressure of conflicting
forces from outside. The corresponding truth about
minds is that they are not ideas of self-contained
material things but rather states of confused
awareness of what is happening in the universe as
a whole.

At the same time, she wants to maintain that for
Spinoza the mind has ‘scope for expansion that is
causally independent of the body’. On the face of it, this
is difficult to reconcile with Spinoza’s view that body
and mind are trans-attributively identical- that ‘thought
cannot produce ideas for which there are no nonmental
correlates’. If thought expands, the body’s interaction
with its environment must also expand; the causation of
this expansion can be ‘mental’ only in the sense that we
can only understand the mechanism of the change under
a mentalistic description, not in the sense that the mental
event occurs first and causes the bodily one.

The ‘paradox’ that individuality of mind depends on
inadequacy of ideas leads to a whole chapter on truth and
error, which, for all its intriguing suggestions, seems to
me not to resolve that bigger paradox: the place that error
has at all in a philosophy in which every idea is (transattributively) identical with its object. One might think
of an accurate map misoriented, but that is an image not
a theory. I don’t think that Lloyd’s account in terms of
perspectivity does the trick either. Her critique of
Descartes’ account of judgement and error is more
convincing than her vindication of Spinoza’ s.

The relevance of Spinoza’ s account of the mind-body
relation – in contrast to Descartes’ – for feminism has

already been pointed out by Genevieve Lloyd in The Man
of Reason, and is discussed here in Chapter 5,
‘Dominance and Difference’. For Descartes, the body is
sexed, the mind unsexed. While Descartes was no
feminist, it is easy to base a certain kind of feminism on
this. But if Lloyd’s Spinoza is right, it is the wrong kind
of feminism. The mind is the idea of the body, and so is
itself different in the two sexes. ‘To be a male or female
mind is to be the idea of a male or female body.’ But
Lloyd further argues that ‘in some contexts, being the
awareness of a female body will amount to something
very different from being the idea of a male body. At
other times, and in other contexts, the differences will be
minimal.’ For if the powers of bodies are partly
determined by wider social organisms of which they are
a part, the mind will be not only sexed but gendered that is, differentiated along the lines of the socially
determined differentiation of the powers of the sexes.

This opens the way for a non-utopian feminism, in the
sense of one that is based neither on an unsexed mind,
nor on transhistorical male and female natures, but on
the men and women of particular societies.

While Spinoza, as Lloyd is quite aware, was no more
a feminist than Descartes, he is co-opted on the grounds
that for him the powers of bodies and therefore also of
minds are socially determined and can therefore also be
socially enhanced; a better society can enable women to
do what they are currently unable to do, and not in the
obvious sense that external obstacles can be removed,
but in the sense that a woman in a better society will have
intrinsically different – enhanced – powers of body and
mind. Yet particular men and women will take their
differences with them into that society.

‘Something remains in all this of the ideal of a shared
human nature that transcends difference. But the
sameness here, unlike the Cartesian version, is not an
already existing metaphysical status, but an idea of
wholeness to be achieved.’ It will be clear that this is one
of those books on Spinoza which apply his thought
creatively to common concerns, rather than working its
way minutely through his geometric demonstrations.

This is in no way to disparage its standards of
scholarship, which are excellent. Occasionally, though, I
think he is updated against the tendency of his thought.

For instance, Lloyd’s claim that for Spinoza insight
comes from confrontation with death: ‘It is in really
knowing that we must die that we know that we are
eternal.’ It is difficult to square this with Spinoza’s
Proposition LXVII of Part IV of the Ethics: ‘a free man
thinks of death least of all things; and his wisdom is a
meditation not of death but of life.’

Andrew Collier

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Beyond Freud
Nancy J. Chodorow, Femininities, Masculinities,
Sexualities: Freud and Beyond, London, Free
Association Books, 1994. ix + 132 pp., £8.95 pb., 1
853433802.

This is an important small book: compact, lucid and
moderate. It is not absolutely innovative, but it presents a
clear and forceful argument for the increasingly
prevalent view that there is no normal heterosexuality. It
follows that homosexualities cannot be seen in simple
opposition to heterosexualities, as abnormal or perverse;
at least not from the perspective of clinical psychoanalytic practice, on which Nancy Chodorow draws in
her final chapter to discuss the cultural and individual
specificity and variety of sexuality. Psychoanalytic
theory, she argues, cannot provide grounds for moral or
political positions: we cannot use it to claim that all
sexualities should be defended, any more than we can
use it to affirm the superiority of heterosexuality. If she
had wanted to be more transgressive, she would have
entitled her second chapter ‘Heterosexuality as a
Symptom’. Characteristically, instead she calls it
‘Heterosexuality as a Compromise Formation’,
concluding that we should treat all sexuality ‘as
problematic and to be accounted for’ .

An attractive aspect of Chodorow’s book is its
concern with passionate love. She has an acute sense that
to associate passionate intensity only with perversion,
narcissistic immaturity, or a sense of sin, is to leave the
heterosexual norm looking pretty dull. She wants more
enquiry into heterosexualities and how they come about;
and more awareness of loving affection in discussion of
homosexualities. Her broadest concerns are with the
problem posed by the claim to universality in
psychoanalytic theory, the status it has accorded
heterosexuality (in keeping with dominant cultural
norms), and the challenge represented by the politics of
difference.

The first chapter rethinks Freud on women. While
noting positive aspects as well as limitations, Chodorow
concludes that he was most convincing in giving a
psychodynamic account of what women, and femininity,
mean in a masculine psyche. What does Freud’s
question, ‘What is femininity – for men?’, mean for
women? The question, formulated in this way by
Shoshana Felman, is part of Chodorow’s enquiry. Her
discussion of theory is too carefully articulated to
summarize. However, she stresses the multiple ways that
women figure in Freud’s writing: as ‘woman’ the
theoretical subject, but also as a range of characters in
case studies and as their own objects (‘object to a self
that constructs and reconstructs her subjectivity’); in
terms of their socio-historical position, and as agents in

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the making of psychoanalytic theory, as patients or
analysts. She notes, importantly, Freud’s positive attitude
towards hysterics and homosexuals, in opposition to
dominant ideas of degeneracy and inferiority; and his
sense of how social expectations and habits inhibited
both women and men.

The second chapter reviews a range of modern
psychoanalytic writing, and argues that belief in the
naturalness of heterosexuality has deprived us of stories
of how it comes about. For all her talk of cultural stories,
Chodorow seems to think that there should be one central
account with many versions. She has unexplained
reservations about ‘the castration complex [as] a nodal
origin’, but credits it with the pragmatic virtue of
generating theoretical consistency. This evasion in the
service of consistency is the crucial point from which her
thinking should be developed further. Her confusion
repeats Freud’s. There are, she says, more accounts of
homosexual development, because it is believed to
di verge from something that doesn’t seem to need
accounting for (she cites comparable gay and lesbian
claims for an innate sexuality). Freud suggests both that
heterosexuality is natural (universal and universally
desirable), and that it needs explaining. If everyone is
constitutionally bisexual, then ‘any sexuality is partly
constructed through the repression of its opposite’.

Chodorow draws on Kenneth Lewes’ s analysis of
Freud’s inconsistencies, and his conclusion that since the
Oedipus complex always involves a series of traumas,
no single identification, object love or sexuality can be
considered normal. Even what Freud accepts as the best
result is the result of a trauma.

Chodorow herself does not embrace total relativism,
believing that sexualities can be evaluated comparatively
(for example, the perversity of wishing to humiliate, as
against other forms of sexual passion and affection). But
this line does not fall between ‘homo’ and ‘hetero’. That
line Chodorow rejects as part of a normative cultural
system which consolidates uncritical assumptions about
gender and sexual difference, and sustains inequalities.

In her range of references Chodorow footnotes
awareness of Lacan, Foucault, French theory and
derivatives (with neither hostility nor engagement), but
draws largely on US research and theory, which includes
the interesting work of Arlene Stein and Karin Martin.

So, there is a sense of a particular community of ideas.

That Lewes can say that all outcomes of the Oedipus
complex must be neurotic, and Chodorow can say that
all sexuality is ‘problematic and to be accounted for’,
strikes a bit of a chill, but this may be the cost of having
thought that it could all just come naturally. However,
this book means to open up happier and more diverse
ways of thinking about loving, and goes some way
towards doing so.

Elaine Jordan

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