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76 Reviews

REVIEWS
Biographemes
Louis-Jean Calvet, Roland Barthes: A Biography, translated by Sarah Wykes, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1994. xiv

+ 291 pp., £25.00 hb., 0 7456 1017 X.

In 1968, Roland Barthes solemnly announced the death
of the author in a short article that echoed the obituary
for man penned by Foucault in the final lines of Les Mots
et les choses. To give a text an author, claimed Barthes,
was to give it a final signified, to impose closure on the
otherwise infinite and unfinished play of writing. In the
preface to Sade, Fourie r, Loyola, he expressed the wish
that, were he dead and a writer, his life would be reduced
by some friendly biographer to a few details, tastes and
inflections, to a scattering of ‘biographemes’.

Barthes himself accomplished that task in 1974 with
his Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes, an elegant little
book made up of artfully selected fragments from a life.

The original French edition is surrounded by ironies that
inevitably disappear in the English version (Roland
Barthes by Roland Barthes). Barthes’ self-selected
biographemes appeared in a collection which originally
used the generic title X par lui-meme eX by Himself):

extracts from a writer’s works were presented with a
commentary and introduction so as to provide a portrait
of an ecrivain de toujours, a writer whose work’s
resistance to time gave him or her textual immortality.

Barthes was, of course, familiar with the conventions of
the series: his Michelet, his second book, appeared in the
same collection in 1954. In writing – or assembling – the
fragmentary Roland Barthes, he knowingly and no doubt
ironically constructed himself as a classic author to be
read alongside Balzac, Diderot, Sartre and Zola, to take
only a few obvious names from the catalogue. Playing
with authorship, or writership, appears to have been an
integral part of the pleasure of the text.

The fragment was a genre at which this ludic author
excelled. Barthes could coin aphorisms, as when he
remarked of Communist Party stalwart Roger Garaudy
that ‘Of course we must allow for mediocrity; in the case
of Garaudy, it is impressive’, but in many ways the
polished fragment is his hallmark. All Barthes’ books,
from Michelet onwards, began life as fragmentary notes
on collections of index cards which were gradually
reshuffled until the book finally took shape. Assembled
into the numbered paragraphs of Elements of Semiology,
or of the important essay on ‘The Old Rhetoric’, the
fragments take on a veneer of scientificity; elsewhere,

they look more like elegant little playthings. fittingly,
Fragments of a Lover’s Discourse, that most preciously
melancholic text, was, in terms of sales, by far his most
successful work.

The twin themes of the death of the author and the
death of man emerged against the general backdrop of
high structuralism, with its emphasis on the
impersonality of the text, and of the theoretical antihumanism of the 1960s. Rather than being a creative
subjectivity, the author was an intersection or a knot in
what Kristeva termed intertextuality, word without end,
world without end. At least four of the theorists who were
most closely associated with that current are now the
subjects of biographies: Foucault, Althusser, Barthes and
Lacan. Death, biography and publishing strategies have
turned them into authors. Novels by Philippe Sollers and
Julia Kristeva have turned them into semi-fictional
characters. Barthes is now the author of an ongoing
Complete Works. Whether or not this new emphasis on
biography – and this telling choice of subjects – reflects
anything more than a shift in fashion is difficult to say,
but it certainly casts an ironic light on the death of the
author.

And yet, the thesis was perhaps self-defeating. When,
in February 1969, Foucault addressed the Societe
Fran<;aise de Philosophie on the topic of 'What is an
author?', he recommended anonymity as an ethics and
aesthetics of writing. 'What does it matter who is
speaking, someone said, what does it matter who is
speaking?', asked Foucault, and then made it clear that
he was quoting Beckett. The author's death certificate
was, after all, signed by an author. To cite Beckett once
more, 'I shall soon be quite dead at last in spite of all.'

But Malone is still speaking at the time of the book; still,
but not quite, dying; still speaking in spite of all. Even at
the time of their pronouncement, the obituaries appear to
have been premature.

One of the inherent problems with biography is that it
transforms necessity into contingency. The child who
was born in Cherbourg in November 1915 must become
the Roland Barthes who died after a pathetic road
accident in 1980. The provincial boy whose father was
killed in a sea battle during the first World War (leaving

R a die a I Phi I 0 sop h y 76 (M arc h / A P r i I 1 9 9 6)

39

Barthes, or so he claimed, with ‘no father to kill, no
family to hate, no milieu to reject: great Oedipal
frustration’), must become the distinguished professor
who taught at the College de France from 1977 onwards.

Yet much of Barthes’ life appears to have been a matter
of extreme contingency. Unlike Sartre, Barthes never
seems to have elaborated any ‘project’. Tuberculosis
prevented him from sitting the entrance examinations
that might have given him a passport to the Ecole
Normale Superieure, and thus frustrated any hopes of a
classic academic-intellectual career. Barthes never took
the agregation that might have led to a university career,
and never completed a doctorate. He took a Sorbonne
degree in classics, began to teach in schools, but was
soon back in the mountain sanatorium near Grenoble,
seriously contemplating the prospect of spending his
entire life there or in similar institutions.

Barthes’ postwar career seemed to lie in cultural
diplomacy, and he took posts in Romania (whence the
staff of the French Institute were expelled for being
imperialists), and then Alexandria. Back in Paris, Barthes
worked mainly as a literary journalist and, together with
Bernard Dort and Theatre populaire, played a major role
in popularizing Brecht. Journalism did not lead to any
great success: when Writing Degree Zero was published
in 1953, its author had been reduced to giving French
lessons to foreign students at the Sorbonne in order to
survive. The rise to eminence was neither necessary nor
easy.

In theoretical terms, it is usually the chance encounter
that provokes the next shift of perspective. A discussion
with the linguist Greimas introduced Barthes to Saussure,
but the use made of the signifier/signified opposition in
Writing Degree Zero is loosely intuitive rather than
rigorous. Like his fragments, Barthes’ theoretical

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R a die a I P h if 0 sop h y 7 6 (M arc h / A P r if 1 9 9 6 )

systems always appear to be in the making, or the
remaking.

Calvet’s biography is enjoyable and in many ways
informative, but it rarely succeeds in going beyond the
standard biographemes. It provides a good overview of
an unexpectedly uncertain career, but does not really
venture into the institutional sociology that might explain
why so many significant figures in France spent so long
on the margins before becoming master-thinkers. Nor
does it explain precisely why Barthes, as opposed to, say,
Gerard Genette or Tzvetan Todorov, achieved such
remarkable status.

In purely human terms, the Barthes that emerges from
these pages is not always an agreeable one. Whilst he
obviously had a gift for friendship, Barthes’

distinguishing feature was a talent for grumbling in a
manner reminiscent of a gallic Philip Larkin. Calvet’s
description of the boredom endured by Barthes during
the trip to China organized by Tel Quel is memorable:

China was quite simply ‘insipid’ . Yet it is difficult not to
sympathize with Barthes’ relish for the pleasures of food,
drink, and the fastidious arrangement of his work space.

And it is impossible not to share his relish for the
pleasures of the text. It is now rather difficult to endorse
or credit the scientific ambitions of structuralism, and
indeed of Barthes. Whilst Elements of Semiology and
‘Myth Today’ remain important texts, the dream of
scientificity has faded badly: it is hard indeed to imagitle
The Fashion System being read with great pleasure by
anyone. What once looked like a proto-scientific
understanding now looks like a hedonistic flirtation with
concepts, a loving fascination with neologisms and the
stuff of language, though it never extended to any
enthusiasm for learning foreign languages. The
Mythologies remain a delight, not least because of the
dislike expressed there for the ‘bourgeoisie’, nicely
described by Calvet as a half-flaubertian, half-Marxist
concept. Barthes may have flirted with Marxism, but
probably had more in common with the author of
Bouvard and Pecuchet than that of the Communist
Manifesto. flaubert’s obsession was with stupidity,
Barthes’ with ‘neurosis’ – a category so elastic as to be
applicable to everything from the emphatic expression
of feelings to political militancy and even his own
boredom.

‘Hysteria’ could also take the form of gay militancy,
especially as practised by the Front Homosexuel
d’ Action Revolutionnaire in the early 1970s, and Barthes
remained relatively quiet about his sexual preferences.

No great revelations are forthcoming from Calvet, who
refrains from prurient speCUlation. He endorses the
widely held view that Barthes was very anxious to

conceal his sexuality from his beloved mother, whose
death in 1977 inspired the haunting Camera Lucida. The
bald statement that there is no link between Barthes’

sexuality and the content of his texts is, however, both
disappointing and debatable. Fragments of a Lover’s
Discourse is remarkable for its indeterminacy at the level
of gender and sexual orientation, and the texts published
in Barthes’ lifetime contain only one direct allusion to
homosexuality, namely the passage on ‘The Goddess H’

(homosexuality and hashish) in Roland Barthes by
Roland Barthes. There is, however, a definitely erotic
feel to many of the texts, and not least SIZ. It has been
convincingly suggested by Diana Knight, in her ‘Roland
Barthes: An Intertextual figure’ (in Michael Worton and
ludith Still, eds, Intertextuality) , that the notion of
cruising can be seen as an almost theoretical concept that
is central to Barthes’ aesthetic of reading and writing.

Barthes picks up concepts, flirts with them, has crushes
on them, and then moves on.

For Barthes, every biography was a novel that dared
not admit it. Calvet, who is certainly a friendly
biographer, courteously disagrees, arguing that, however
much interpretation his work contains, the task of the

biographer is to uncover and narrate the history of a life
that has already been written. A novel, in contrast, is at
once a formal creation which works on language and a
product of the imagination. The distinction, couched in
rather naive terms, masks the problems posed by the
similarity between the two genres. Barthes is surely right
to argue that a biography imposes closure, if only because
of its linear and temporal structure. It follows a
chronological thread, very similar in most cases to that
of the Bildungsroman. And it uses many of the devices
analysed by Barthes in his studies of narrative, especially
the reality effect created by descriptions. Calvet is very
good at describing the mountains surrounding the student
sanatorium of Saint-Hilaire du Touvet, where Barthes
spent so much time, but seems unaware of the role played
by his own observations and imagination in guaranteeing
the veracity of statements such as ‘Time passed slowly’

– a classic intervention by a supposedly omniscient
narrator. And what is the reader to make of the sentence:

‘One can imagine what Roland’ s adolescence must have
been like’? Perhaps it is easier to write the biography of
a structuralist than to make full biographical use of
structuralism’s insights into the nature of narrative.

David Macey

Balance-sheets and blueprints
John E. Roemer, A Future for Socialism, Verso, London, 1994, viii + 178 pp., £34.95 hb., £11.95 pb., 0 86091 428
3 hb., 0 86091 653 7 pb.

John E. Roemer, Egalitarian Perspectives: Essays in Philosophical Economics, Cambridge University Press,
Cambridge, 1994. xi + 356 pp., £40.00 hb., 0 521 450667.

Erik Olin Wright, Interrogating Inequality: Essays on Class Analysis, Socialism and Marxism, Verso, London and
New York, 1994. xiii + 271 pp., £34.95 hb., £13.95 pb., 0 860914089 hb., 0 86091 6332 pb.

Along with G.A. Cohen, Jon Elster and Adam
Przeworski, John Roemer and Erik Olin Wright have
been prominent members of the ‘September Group’ of
Anglophone Analytical Marxists, formed in the wake of
Cohen’s Karl Marx’s Theory of History: A Defence
(1978), and committed to the reconstruction of historical
materialism and the foundation of a feasible socialism.

In an autobiographical ‘prologue’ to Interrogating

Inequality which occasionally verges upon an exercise
in qui s’ excuse, s’ accuse, Wright supplies some
intriguing in sights into the ethos of a collective that has
conferred upon itself the sobriquet of the ‘Non-Bullshit
Marxist Group’. ‘Actually,’ he parenthetically confides,
‘there was a discussion once in the group as to whether
this was non-bullshit or no bullshit, there being a very

subtle nuance in the distinction, but I can’t reconstruct
the philosophical debate.’ Very droll, no doubt. Yet this
is precisely the kind of self-satisfaction, when allied to a
casuistry parading as rigour, a zeal for academic
respectability, and a rebarbative diction of ‘utility fines’

and ‘opportunity costs’, that has incited the polemical
counter-charge of bullshit without the Marxism.

In the case of Elster, who has apparently departed the
ranks of the Septembrists – possibly because the strain of
refraining from ‘bullshit Marxism’ proved too great the reaction is arguably warrantable. As Marcus Roberts
has demonstrated in a review of Political Psychology (RP
68), the upshot of Elsterian ‘rational choice theory’ is
trivial, where not risible: a rational mountain has
delivered an optional mouse. In the cases of Wright and

Radical Philosophy 76 (March/April 1996)

41

Roemer such a verdict would compound, rather than
correct, their deformation professionnelle. Still, there is
something at once ingenuous and troubling about
Wright’s measurement of the ‘impact of Analytical
Marxism’ (in chapter 8) by predominantly academic
criteria (including the elevated university posts occupied
by its protagonists). Meanwhile, the sole evidence cited
for its salience in ‘general discussions on the left’ is the
utilization of the concept of ‘contradictory class
locations’ in a document issued by the rapidly
disintegrating British Communist Party in 1988. (Even
this has an air of bathos, given that the concept, coined
by Wright, predates his transfer from Althusserian to
Analytical allegiances.)
Amour-propre apart, Interrogating Inequality is a
consistently stimulating and rewarding collection of
essays, dating from 1979 to 1993. It contains one classic
piece (chapter 6), in which Wright deploys the
Althusserian thesis of the interpenetration/articulation of
modes of production in any historical social formation,
to scan the immanent tendencies and potential
trajectories of capitalism. Affiliated to the duly revised
historical materialism outlined with Andrew Levine and
Elliott Sober in Reconstructing Marxism (1992), Wright
embraces Marxism as ‘a broad framework for linking
[socialism’s] moral concerns with inequality to the
theoretical tasks of explanation and the political tasks of
transformation’. He is at his strongest precisely where
his fellow Analytical Marxists are at their weakest: in
seeking to forge the requisite links between evaluation,
explanation and transformation. This is evident, for
example, in his rejoinder (chapter 7) to Robert Van der
Ween and Philippe Van Parijs’s projection of ‘A
Capitalist Road to Communism’ (reprinted in Van
Parij s’ s Marxism Recycled, reviewed by Andrew Collier
in RP 71). While endorsing the normative rationale for
‘basic income grants’, Wright convincingly refutes their
sustainability in the context of an economy dominated
by ‘private’ ownership/control of the means of
production.

Wright’s balance-sheet of ‘Marxism After
Communism’ (chapter 11) argues that, instead of
establishing the societal viability of socialism, classical
Marxism restricted itself to predicting the non-viability
of capitalism: the former, however, cannot be inferred
from the latter. Accordingly, amid the debris of historical
Communism and the disarray of actual social democracy,
the scene is set for clarification of the normative
foundations of socialism, and depiction of the
institutional contours of some viable instantiation of it.

As their confidence in historical materialism has waned,
these have become the principal preoccupations of the

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R a die a I Phi I 0 sop h y 76 (M arc h / A P r i I 1 9 9 6 )

surviving Septembrists. Promise has thus far exceeded
performance, notwithstanding the admirable efforts of
David Schweickart (whose Against Capitalism is
reviewed in RP 72). Whatever their other demerits may
or may not be, prospectuses for ‘market socialism’, as
the only realistically conjecturable species of the genus,
suffer from a disabling weakness: the absence of any
politics of a viable socialism. Falling squarely within the
terms of Wright’s critique of schemes for a basic income
under capitalism, they are, for all their self-attribution of
economic realism, marked by political utopianism:

advancing a more or less desirable goal with little or no
specification of its possible constituency, agency or
strategy.

Intent upon ‘sketch[ing] blueprints for a feasible
socialism’, John Roemer acknowledges the problem and
addresses it – after a fashion: ‘for any end state of a social
process to be feasible, a path must exist from here to
there, and so at least a rough sketch of possible routes, if
not a precise map, may reasonably be asked of someone
attempting to describe the final destination.’ In the event,
in lieu of a rough sketch, Roemer merely points at various
places on the map (the ex-USSR, China, Scandinavia,
etc.), concluding – like Schweickart, and with identical
implausibility – that Eastern Europe offers the most
fertile soil for the transplantation of this hybrid. As to his
version of the market-socialist model, it is sketched in
the final chapter of Egalitarian Perspectives, a volume
explicitly located ‘in the context of contemporary
political philosophy’ (i.e. the egalitarian liberalism of
Anglo-American academic political philosophy).

Replete with axioms and theorems – including the
splendid ‘Perversity Prevention Axiom’ (,PP’ for short)
– Roemer’s ‘essays in philosophical economics’ chart
his itinerary from an alternative Marxian theory of
exploitation in A General Theory of Exploitation and
Class (1982) to a normative theory of distributive justice.

They are not for readers whose standards of clarity and
rigour fall short of disembodied algebraic exercises.

However, given Roemer’s conclusion – ‘the problem of
real distributive justice is sufficiently complex, given the
complexity of the real world, that there is no single
correct way of implementing it. We must give up the
elegance of simple and precise characterizations,
associated with axiomatic allocation mechanism theory,
if we are to be honest about the problem of distributive
justice’ – those who never adopted such elegant
characterizations in the first place will be spared his
‘disappointment’ .

Where Egalitarian Perspectives sometimes amounts
to what oft was thought, but ne’er so ill expressed, A
Future for Socialism, mercifully free of algebra, is a lucid

defence of market socialism against the pervasive
criticism – famously advanced by Hayek in the 1930s that it is an ‘oxymoron’. Roemer’s advocacy of a form of
socialist economy which will combine ‘both efficiency
and equality’, by conjugating competitive markets with
popular ownership rights, and which consequently rules
out labour-management of firms, is rooted in a
redefinition of socialism as a left-liberal egalitarianism.

The principal value of socialism, it is said, is ‘equality of
opportunity’ for ‘self-realization and welfare’. ‘What
socialists want’ turns out to pertain to the egalitarian
theories of justice associated, most notably, with Rawls
and Dworkin; and – or so we are assured – ‘[tJhrough
these academics, many more millions will eventually be
influenced, as these ideas are examined in the classroom
and as they make their way into popular culture and
policymaking.’ In view of Rawls’s palpable lack of
influence to date upon policy-makers of the centre-left,
in stark contrast to the posterity of Hayek on the right,
Roemer’s credulity puts one in mind of Bertrand
Russell’s judgement of J.H. Thomas: that capitalism
would last until doomsday if he was all that confronted
it. At any rate, as John Gray has argued in New Left

Review (no. 210, 1995), A Future for Socialism attests to
the well-nigh uncontested hegemony of liberal thought
in the English-speaking world.

Even were we to settle for Roemer’s ‘revision of the
standard models of what constitutes socialism’, we
cannot (or should not) underestimate its corollary: the
momentous redistribution of existing capitalist wealth
entailed in the proposal for an equalization of property
rights via the issue of share coupons. The transition to
‘people’s capitalism’ (to borrow Wright’s apt characterization of Roemerian market socialism in the same issue
of NLR) proves to be no less imponderable than the
received roads, parliamentary and revolutionary, to
socialism. fleeting reflections on the demise of formerly
existing socialism, and credence in the healthy
functioning of Scandinavian social democracy, certainly
inspire little confidence in Roemer’s engagement with
the ‘complexity of the real world’.

In these and other respects, the underlying historicopolitical innocence of what Gray maliciously dubs
‘socialism with a professorial face’ takes its toll.

Perversity prevention of a different order seems
indicated.

Gregory Elliott

From the inside out
Ronald Dworkin, Life’s Dominion: An Argument about Abortion and Euthanasia, HarperCollins, London, paperback
edition, 1995.272 pp., £7.99 pb., 0006863094.

The appearance of Dworkin’ s book in paperback is
greatly to be welcomed. It has already been much
noticed, but it deserves an even wider readership, and I
hope that it will get it, since it is especially readable and
illuminating and is about an immensely important topic
– our moral attitudes to life and death, as exemplified in
the debates about abortion and euthanasia. Dworkin
describes it as an example of ‘philosophy from the inside
out’. Rather than formulating a general philosophical
theory and then ‘applying’ it to specific practical issues,
the book proceeds in the opposite direction, starting with
the concrete problems, trying to make sense of them and
working out the theoretical positions which enable us to
do so. The richness of the theory which Dworkin
develops thus lends support to the view that perhaps all
the best philosophy is done from the inside out. It is
‘applied philosophy’ in the best sense – the application
of philosophical argument and understanding to the
things that matter.

Dworkin claims that the dominant formulations of
the opposed and entrenched positions on abortion (and,

to a lesser extent, euthanasia) are misleading. They
misrepresent the real moral concerns of the people who
occupy those positions. The dispute is standardly
presented as an argument about rights, about whether a
foetus has rights and whether abortion violates such
rights. Dworkin thinks that this is a misunderstanding of
the argument, partly because, if it did have that character,
the anti-abortion position would hardly even be
plausible. At least until the late stages of pregnancy, a
foetus does not have a sufficiently developed nervous
system to possess any form of consciousness; hence it
cannot have interests, and therefore cannot possess
rights, including a right to life. Dworkin also suggests
that if we look at the complex attitudes of the opponents
in the abortion debate, we find that, despite their overt
rhetoric, this is not what they are really disagreeing
about. Many of those who defend the permissibility of
abortion nevertheless regard it as morally problematic,
as a serious and difficult decision for any woman to take
– which it would not be if the matter could be settled
simply by recognizing that the ascription of rights to the

Radical Philosophy 76 (March/April 1996)

43

foetus makes no sense. Likewise, some at least of those
who oppose abortion nevertheless accept that it is a
matter for the individual conscience and that the law
should not impose a particular decision – a view which
they could not coherently take if they really thought that
abortion is murder, the violation of a person’s right to
life.

Dworkin suggests that the abortion argument is really
about a quite different idea: not the right to life, but
conflicting interpretations of the idea that life itself has
intrinsic value, that life is ‘sacred’. Attitudes to abortion
can be located on a spectrum according to the degree to
which they emphasize the natural or the human
contribution to the intrinsic value of life. Those who
oppose abortion do so because they think of human life
as primarily a natural product, whose value we dishonour
by destroying it at any stage of its biological development. Others accept abortion because they put more
emphasis on the human investment in a life; for them the
destruction of foetal life is less of a loss, and the blighting
of a woman’s life by being forced to bear an unwanted
child is correspondingly more of an offence against the
value of life. Both sides to the dispute, however, share
the same underlying belief, that life is sacred. And though
the former position, emphasizing the natural dimension
of life, may tend to (but need not) go with an orthodox
religious stance, the whole dispute is in a wider sense a
religious one. This leads to Dworkin’ s main practical
conclusion: that since the disagreement is between
conflicting interpretations of a fundamentally ‘religious’

44

Radical Philosophy 76 (March/April 1996)

idea, it would be wrong for anyone resolution of
the disagreement to be legally imposed. In this
sense, the US Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v.

Wade was correct, reflecting the constitutional
liberty of all citizens to make their own choice of
religious beliefs.

I have two doubts about Dworkin’ s
argument. The first concerns his separation of the
idea of the ‘right to life’ from the idea of the
intrinsic value of life. His explication of the latter
is wonderfully impressive and convincing. He
does full justice to the complex phenomenology
of attitudes to death and killing – to our sense of
what it is that is lost when a human life ends, to
our sense of why some kinds of death are
especially tragic, and to our understanding of why
(as in the euthanasia debate) the manner of a
person’s death is important for their sense of their
life as a whole. But, precisely because of the
power of his account, I am not sure what room is
then left for any separate account of a right to
life. I am inclined to see this as confirming my
own doubts about whether the concept of ‘rights’ adds
anything substantial to our moral understanding.

Dworkin, of course, has his own theory of rights, which
he has expounded elsewhere. For him the fundamental
right is a right to equality, the right of all persons to equal
concern and respect. One can see how that conception of .

rights might be superimposed on a deeper understanding
of the intrinsic value of life. On the basis of the latter we
can see how, if a person is the subject of rights, their
right to equal concern and respect must incorporate a
right to life. But the right to life would then not be
something quite separate from the intrinsic value of life.

The account of the one would have to build on the
account ofthe other. It would be interesting to know how
Dworkin himself would explain the relation between
them.

My second doubt concerns Dworkin’s claim that his
account of the abortion argument may render the
disagreement less intractable. He is anxious to stress that
‘our common commitment to the sanctity of life’ is ‘a
unifying ideal we can rescue from the decades of hate’

(p. 101). The sharing of this common value is important
because ‘it contradicts the pessimistic conclusion that
argument is irrelevant and accommodation impossible’

(p. 24). But on the traditional interpretation of the
abortion debate, the interpretation which Dworkin thinks
is misleading, the disputants presumably also espouse a
shared value: the right to life. It’s just that one party to
the dispute thinks that foetuses have a right to life and the
other party thinks that they don’t. It is therefore not clear

how Dworkin’ s identification of the shared value of the
sanctity of life can by itself advance the prospects for
rational argument and accommodation. Moreover, just
as the conservative view that a foetus has rights can, as
Dworkin thinks, be shown to be simply mistaken, so also
the conservative view on abortion which appeals to the
relative importance of the natural contribution to the
value of a human life may turn out to be equally
mistaken. I am inclined to think that it is. Those who
think that foetal life is sacred simply in virtue of its
natural, biological dimension must presumably regard all
biological life as sacred – insects, grasses, viruses, the
lot. Dworkin’ s own discussion suggests to me that such a
position is incoherent, and that the natural dimension of
human life has value only as the material for the creative
shaping of a life by human agency. This is not the
conclusion Dworkin intends to draw. He wants to exhibit

the plausibility of both sides of the disagreement. Still, it
may be that the scope for rational argument is no greater
and no less on the one interpretation of the dispute than it
is on the other.

Having said that, I want to add that it is Dworkin’s
commitment to the possibility of rational argument that
is in the end so impressive. He sets out to understand
why people disagree on abortion and euthanasia, what
the disagreement is really about, and how the argument
can be advanced. In this I think he succeeds
marvellously. His book is a refreshing antidote to
MacIntyrean pessimism and to the postmodernist
celebration of unreason. It deserves to become a classic
of moral philosophy, and the appearance of this
paperback edition will help it on its way to being
recognized as one.

Richard Norman

Straight Sex
Lynne Segal, Straight Sex: The Politics of Pleasure, Virago, London, 1994. xvi + 318 pp., £8.99 pb., 1 85381 802 X.

In the early years of second-wave contemporary
feminism in the late 1960s and early 1970s, feminism
drew at least some of its inspiration from the sexradicalism of the era. Influenced by those who argued
that sexual repression was one of the central causes of
human malaise, yet powerfully motivated, as well, by
the growing demand for sexual equality and the
recognition that male radicalism often left little space for
women, many feminists not only demanded an end to the
oppression of women but also asserted women’s right to
sexual pleasure and fulfilment in relationships with men.

The central question Segal asks in this book is why,
in more recent years, heterosexuality has become an issue
on which feminist writers, if they are not wholly
disparaging, are mostly either apologetic or silent. Ideals
of ‘sexual liberation’ are viewed with cynical distrust.

Women’s heterosexual experience is often devalued;
claims are made, for instance, that few women enjoy
heterosexual sex. For some, such as Andrea Dworkin and
Catherine Mackinnon, heterosexual intercourse is wholly
incompatible with women’s freedom or autonomy, and
the ‘institution’ of heterosexuality is the central force
which maintains the subordination and oppression of
women. For these writers, sex with men is premissed on
male activity and female passivity; and the ‘meaning’ of
heterosexuality, for women, reduces to male violence,
invasion and domination, and female submission.

Why has this happened? Segal draws attention to a
number of factors. Whatever view one takes of the

centrality of lesbianism to feminism, there is no doubt
that feminism has been guilty of its share of heterosexism, and lesbians have frequently been marginalized
or victimized by feminists as well as by the wider society.

Those feminists, for instance, who opposed latenineteenth- and early-twentieth-century views of female
sexual purity or moral superiority tended to assume
heterosexuality. Suspicion or dislike of lesbianism was
evident in some ‘pioneers’ of second-wave feminism
such as Betty Friedan, and lesbian writers since then have
constantly noted the ‘invisibility’ of the lesbian in much
feminist theory.

The critique of heterosexuality has also been fuelled
by the inadequacies of much sex research. In the early
years of the century, ‘sexological’ research firmly
equated sex with gender, and sex research was often used
to bolster conventional and oppressive gender arrangements. Kraft-Ebbing, for instance, not only equated sex
with gender, but saw male and female sexuality as
fundamentally opposed. Dominant traditions of sex
research since then have tended to be behaviourist in
orientation. The Kinsey Report, whilst decentralizing
the penis and the sex act, was thoroughly biologistic.

Whilst arguing for the centrality of clitoral stimulation to
women’s sexual pleasure, Masters and J ohnson were
firmly pro-marriage, and gave their work a heterosexual
framework. They also claimed that, since masturbation
was an effective route to orgasm, a coital partner was
irrelevant to sexual pleasure or desire. Feminist sex

Radical Philosophy 76 (March/April 1996)

45

research, notably that of Shere Hite, has retained this
behaviourist orientation. Hite showed that few women
reach orgasm solely through intercourse; yet she ignored
the fact that many of her respondents also said that they
liked sex with men. Neither in the work of Hite, nor in
that of her predecessors, is any account gi ven of the social
meanings and psychic dimensions of sexuality and
desire. ‘Sex’ is seen as a matter of ‘button-pushing’, and
despite Hite’s commitment to sexual equality, the
poverty of her conceptual framework means, so Segal
argues, that she reduces the experience of sex to the
presence or absence of orgasm. Following Hite (but
despite some of the evidence Hite herself produced),
feminist writing has often tended to take it for granted
that women’s experience of heterosexuality and vaginal
penetration is usually negative.

Segal insists that the response to the inadequacies of
dominant theories of sexuality and to the oppression of
lesbians should not be to dismiss heterosexuality.

Heterosexual experience, she argues, has always been
more complex and contradictory than many contemporary feminist accounts would suggest. A central
problem with utterly negative representations of
heterosexual sex is that they frequently assume that
dominant patriarchal representations of sex represent the
‘reality’ of sex for all women. But whilst dominant
conceptions of masculinity may ‘lean’ on the kinds of

attitudes to sex and to women with which feminists have
taken issue, and may disavow anything seen as
‘passivity’, masculinity is a fragile and precarious
construction, and male sexuality itself contains many
aspects and elements which are remote from any
dominant ideology of violence, invasion or domination.

There is, Segal argues, an urgent need to rethink not
only heterosexuality but the nature of sexuality itself. The
first task is to break the link between sex and gender. The
second is to fracture the gendered dichotomy between
‘active’ and ‘passive’, and to recognize that the deep
psychic roots and social meanings of sexuality, and its
close links with human needs for intimacy with and
connection to others, mean that there is frequently little
that is firmly ‘oppositional’ about either sexual
difference or the sex act, and that it is only in ideology
that men are always ‘active’ and women ‘passive’. Segal
suggests that ‘queer’ theory has produced the most
trenchant recent challenges to dominant conceptions of
sex and gender. Accordingly, we need ‘queer’ traditional
understandings of gender and sexuality.

There are aspects of Segal’ s book – in particular, its
autobiographical elements – which may not strike many
chords among those whose experiences during the early
days of contemporary feminism were very different from
her own. It would also be interesting to enquire about the
experiences and attitudes to sexuality of very much
younger women, for whom even the 1970s are ‘histqry’,
and whose conception of ‘feminism’ often leads them to
view it with some ambivalence. If Segal is right, this
ambivalence may itself partly be due to the ‘man-hating’

reputation feminism has acquired as a result of negative
attitudes to heterosexuality.

But the importance of the task that this book
undertakes cannot be overestimated. Feminism needs to
be able to speak to women in ways that recognize the
complex and ambiguous nature of sexual need and
pleasure. Segal’ s view is the antithesis of the kind of
weak liberalism that speaks merely of ‘freedom of
choice’. Straight Sex asks us to recognize the ways in
which women have indeed often been sexually oppressed
and unable to ‘speak’ their own pleasure. But it refuses
to accept that nothing has changed, and that the sexual
oppression of women is so monolithic that no woman,
ever, has been able to give or respond to a male sexual
partner in ways which challenge old dichotomies. It asks
that we engage in a radical rethinking of our concepts of
gender and sexuality; not in the name of discovering
some ‘authentic’ female sexuality which simply lies
dormant, but in a spirit of hope that it might be possible,
albeit precariously, to create ways of loving that refuse
any traditional concept of gender as their basis.

Jean Grimshaw

46

Radical Philosophy 76 (March/April 1996)

The phantom of the ocular
Martin Jay, Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought, University of
California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles and London, 1994. xi + 632 pp., £25.00 hb., £12.95 pb., 0 520 08154 4 hb.,
o 520 08885 9 pb.

Martin Jay’s Downcast Eyes is an important contribution
to the new history, philosophy and culture of vision.

Vision has, of course, long been considered the most
excellent of the senses. This is largely because, alone of
the five faculties, only sight manages to present objects
to us through a kind of temporal immediacy. However,
Downcast Eyes is not centrally concerned with vision as
a form of sensory experience. Rather, it explores what
Jay calls an antivisual or antiocular discourse within
twentieth-century Western, and particularly French,
thought. Jay’s contention is that contemporary French
thought is suffused with a deep distrust of vision.

Accordingly, in the early chapters, Jay presents us
with an extensive survey of philosophical and cultural
approaches to the visual since the emergence of Cartesian
perspectivalism. These chapters focus on what he calls
the ‘crisis of the ancien scopic regime’ in late-nineteenthcentury French philosophy, literature and art. Here, Jay
draws on a number of subjects and thinkers, including
the antiocular philosophy of Bergson, the novels of
Proust, and the ‘antiretinal’ surrealists, Duchamp, Breton
and Bataille, in an effort to glean the explicit manifestations of French antipathy to visual supremacy.

Jay then criticizes the conceptions of vision developed
in the philosophical writings of Sartre and MerleauPonty. They are significant for Jay because they both
rejected Cartesian perspectivism and much of the
ocularcentric tradition. Jay’s argument is not that their
phenomenological writings are markedly antiocularcentric in substance and tone, but rather that by adapting
and developing the work of Husserl and Heidegger, they
almost unwittingly furthered the downfall of the ocular
tradition in France. For example, Jay suggests that
Sartre’s infatuation with vision arose out of his attempt
to arrest the sway of the gaze, or what Sartre called ‘the
absolute look’. In Jay’s view, Sartre attacked the power
of vision in historical and philosophical discourse
because it led, not to the magnification of our ability to
see, but, rather, to an alienated, even reified, form of
social existence.

Merleau-Ponty also criticizes ocularcentrism. But, as
Jay skilfully demonstrates, unlike Sartre he simultaneously develops a specifically ocularcentric
standpoint. Merleau-Ponty was not concerned with the
indiscriminate rejection of modem vision, but with its
restoration on post-Cartesian foundations. Casting aside

both observational empiricism and intellectualism,
Merleau-Ponty turned to the construction of what Jay
terms a ‘new ontology of sight’. This was clearly
perspectivist in character, but also capable of
incorporating the insights of the phenomenological
tradition. In this way, Merleau-Ponty sought to capture
something of the reciprocal nature of intersubjective
visual relationships. Nevertheless, in the end, MerleauPonty too emerges as a fundamentally antiocularcentric
thinker. As evidence for this claim, Jay cites the ontology
of sight developed in The Visible and the Invisible, a
volume which, while furthering Merleau-Ponty’s theory
of vision, concludes with a description of it that is far
removed from that normally associated with speculation
on the topic, even within the Continental tradition.

The middle and later chapters of Downcast Eyes
concentrate on the antiocular features of the writings of
social theorists like Althusser, Debord and Foucault. In
addition, Jay concerns himself with the suspicion of
vision he finds in the psychoanalytic work of Lacan and
Irigaray, the cultural theories of Metz and ~arthes, and
the philosophy of Derrida.

Jay’s ultimate purpose in tracing the hostility to vision
in French thought is bound up with its repercussions for
the debate over modernity and postmodernity. The
decidedly anti-modem, phenomenological and ethical
philosophy of the Talmud-influenced Levinas is essential
for Jay’s overall argument. By investigating the problem
of the Other (or alterity), Jay suggests, Levinas has, along
with others such as Foucault and Derrida, managed to
throw into question the entire modernist epistemology
founded on the perceptible differentiation of subject and
object. In Jay’s view, Levinas not only succeeds in
reorientating Husserl’s phenomenology and Jewish
theology; he also reveals ‘the unexpected links between
the traditional iconoclastic Jewish attitude toward visual
representation and a powerfully antiocular impulse in
postmodernism’ (p. 546).

Levinas’s writings on alterity have also been the chief
inspiration behind Lyotard’ s increasing interest in visual
themes, and his final rejection of the phenomenological
tradition. For instance, Jay sees Lyotard’s attack on the
rule of ocularcentrism, particularly in volumes such as
Discours, figure, as, in effect, an attack on the very idea
of rational vision. This is a plausible claim, since Lyotard
has long sought to embrace the alterity of sight and

Radical Philosophy 76 (March/April 1996)

47

engineer a postmodern philosophy of vision which
acknowledges the disjuncture between subject and
object. Yet, as Jay recognizes, Lyotard’s fundamental
aim has been not to forsake the eye, but to defend it,
albeit as a ‘source of disruptive energy’.

In Jay’s estimation, then, Lyotard’s advocacy of a
distinctly postmodern philosophy emerged out of his
reading of Levinas’ s critique of ocularcentrism. One of
the essential touchstones Lyotard determined for
separating modernism and postmodernism was their
particular stance towards the aesthetics of the sublime.

Whereas modernism mourns the estrangement of
appearance and actuality, postmodernism accepts the
torment of visual impermeability. In short, it admits that
visuality and rationality can never be reconciled. Such
overt antiocularcentrism represents an inauspicious
development as far as Jay is concerned. The founding of
a postmodem conception of vision involves not only the
renunciation of the truths of observation, but also the
insights of the phenomenological tradition – a position
which has, of course, been applauded in some quarters,
and developed in recent years by other French thinkers
like Deleuze and Guattari.

On the whole, Jay’s analysis of the denigration of

vision in twentieth-century French thought is first-rate.

There are, though, a number of outstanding methodological questions. For example, can one really
characterize surrealism, or indeed phenomenology, as
‘discourses’? Such terms may be useful when
contemplating Derrida or Foucault. But Bataille? Sartre?

On the other hand, Jay’s discussion of the work of
Levinas and Lyotard and, in particular, their impact on
the controversy over postmodern vision, is very
impressive. It is also problematic. Thus, in the chapter
on Lyotard, Jay virtually ignores what he calls the
‘faddish’ figure of Baudrillard. The chief reason is that
Baudrillard’s hypotheses about vision run directly
counter to his own.

In the final analysis, then, it is clear that Jay is
fundamentally opposed to the antiocularcentric and antiEnlightenment tendencies in contemporary French
thought. His ‘synoptic survey’ of such propensities in
the philosophy and culture of France is aimed squarely at
combating the anti-modern, ahistorical and antiocularcentric philosophy of Lyotard. But whether Jay’s
admirable commitment to the ideals of modernity can
halt the postmodern tide is another question.

John Armitage

My former self
Hilary Putnam, Words and Life, edited by James Conant, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London,
1994. lxxvi + 531 pp., £35.95 hb., 067495606 O.

Hilary Putnam has recently admitted to having grown
‘tired of criticizing the errors of contemporary philosophers, analytic and non-analytic alike’. This book is
the product of that revolution in his approach to
philosophy. It is a collection of twenty-nine essays (five
previously unpublished) which forms the companion
volume to Realism with a Human Face (Harvard
University Press, 1990). Two-thirds of the essays were
written in the period 1989-93. Almost half of them are
straight inquiries into the history of philosophy. All are
conducted with constant reference to philosophers of
other periods, and to the need for a rich historical
dimension in philosophical inquiry. There are several
essays, for example, on Aristotle, Wittgenstein,
American pragmatism and Logical Positivism. Others
engage with current issues of the philosophy of science
and the interface between the philosophy of mind and
language.

The most disarming aspect of the collection is that the
philosopher with whom Putnam takes greatest issue is
himself. Phrases like ‘when I read the writing of my

48

R a die a I P h if 0 sop h y 7 6 (M arc h / A P r if 1 9 9 6 )

former self’ occur frequently, and are invariably
followed by expressions of distaste or disbelief.

Putnam’s initial reputation rested on distinguished
contributions to the philosophy of science and his
defence of scientific realism. Now, he thoroughly rejects
the notion that the paradigm of philosophical
methodology and its concerns are provided by the
scientific disciplines. In the 1960s, Putnam developed the
quasi-behaviourist views of Wilfrid Sellars into the
account of mental states known as ‘functionalism’. On
this view, mental states are defined by their functional
roles (what causes them, what behaviour they give rise
to, how they affect other mental states, and so on).

Functionalism, broadly speaking, is now the orthodox
view in philosophy of mind. But Putnam entitles one of
the essays in this volume ‘Why Functionalism Didn’t
Work’.

The realism/anti-realism debate presents the best
example of Putnam rethinking Putnam as he
simultaneously rethinks philosophy and the history of
philosophy. The early Putnam was a scientific realist. He

thought that states of affairs in the external world exist
independently of our ability to think or talk about them.

Moreover, our statements describe those states of affairs.

So we can assess them straightforwardly as true or false
descriptions of how things are. In the early 1980s,
Putnam rejected the second aspect of this account, while
retaining the first. We cannot sufficiently distance
ourselves from our own modes of thought and language
to judge whether or not they accurately represent the
world. Like Rorty, Putnam was impressed by the way in
which we are held captive in language. We have no
apparent access to a standpoint, over and above our
engagement in the world, from which we can assess and
describe that engagement.

Putnam now joins those who are sceptical of whether
we can set up a proper debate over realism. His argument
owes much to Wittgenstein and distances him from
Rorty. The realism of metaphysical debate presupposes
a more basic realism which is implicit in our ordinary
practices as we engage with the world. This form of
realism is inherent in what we think and do. It is unreflective and therefore offers no room for competing
interpretations. The realism of metaphysical debate,
however, thrives on opposition. Criticism of one thesis is
construed automatically as support for another thesis. So
Putnam advocates dissolving the whole debate. This is
justifiable on the pragmatist approach that he adopts. The
very grasping of concepts by which we describe the
world requires that we be engaged in that world. So we
must be ordinary realists before we can even engage with
metaphysical questions. If the metaphysical questions
derive their content from our ordinary practices, we have
no reason to pursue them beyond those practices.

Putnam employs this dissolving strategy in a number
of these essays. He is dissatisfied with various
philosophical positions that now pass for orthodoxy. He
is also dissatisfied with the very nature of a debate
centred on rival ‘positions’. This is partly because
positions sustain contemporary debate artificially. But,
more significantly, they tend to focus that debate on
present concerns and either misread of ‘actively repress’

the past. The notion that accuracy about the history of
philosophy is the very stuff of a philosopher’s concern,
rather than just a pleasant pastime, pervades Putnam’s
recent work. One example of this ‘historicizing’ is
Putnam’s careful recovery and delineation of the
authentic views of logical positivists. Another is
Putnam’s subtle reflection on how to debate with
Aristotle without being anachronistic. Clearly, Aristotle
did not engage with the problems of how mind relates to
body and to the world, at least as we understand those
problems now. But Putnam suggests (in an essay co-

written with Martha Nussbaum) that a naturalizing
‘Aristotelian attitude’ is the correct approach to resolving
the tension. On this view, the common notion that mind
and world are two utterly distinct realms to be brought
into relation is rejected. The ‘Aristotelian attitude’

replaces this account with the single phenomenon of the
human animal, whose active engagement with its
environment is just naturally a ‘minded’ engagement.

Many of the views that Putnam now finds himself
adopting (for how long?) are not unfamiliar. His account
of intentionality owes much to John McDowell; his claim
that Wittgenstein did not hold a crass ‘meaning-is-use’

theory has surely been the orthodox view for some time;
his philosophical conservatism is Wittgensteinian; and
his doubts about whether the realist debate is properly
constructed have been aired for over a decade by Simon
Blackburn and Crispin Wright, among others. But the
book strikes one, nevertheless, as fresh and exciting. This
is undoubtedly due to its highly critical approach to
current analytical philosophy. Analytical philosophy
seems recently to have been overcome by the need to
reflect on and challenge its past. Putnam has earned the
right to hit out at that past if anyone has.

Max de Gaynesford

Touching the·
other
Alphonso Lingis, Foreign Bodies, Routledge, London
and New York, 1994. xiii + 239 pp., £40.00 hb., £14.99
pb., 0415909899 hb., 0415909902 pb.

Alphonso Lingis, The Community of Those Who Have
Nothing in Common, Indiana University Press,
Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1994. xi + 179 pp.,
£27.50 hb., £ 11.99 pb., 0 253 33438 1 hb., 0 253 20852
1 pb.

For centuries the human body was reviled as a site of sin,
a disturbing interpretation, perhaps, but arguably
preferable to the secular scientific explanations that
replaced it. At least sin has the advantage of sounding
like fun, a concept given little houseroom in the sanitized
environment described by the natural scientist. But we
should be thankful to Husserl, I think, for opening a
further possible approach to the body – a phenomenological description of the body as it experiences and
understands itself – and to Alphonse Lingis, too, for
taking the call of the phenomenological movement to

R a die a I P h if 0 sop h y

7 6 (M arc h / A P r i I 1 9 9 6 )

49

heart, and taking us ‘back to the things themselves’ in
these books.

Foreign Bodies examines, first, what our bodies tell
us about ourselves. The text divides into four parts
(‘ cycles’) of three chapters each. The first chapter of each
triad focuses on contemporary theoretical formulations
of our experience of the body and how this is understood
to have come about through evolutionary and cultural
forces; the second explores alternative possibilities
suggested in non-philosophical discourse, such as
anthropology and literature; and a third then reflects on

blessing and cursing, laughter and tears.

Underpinning those misplaced identities is our sense
of ‘1’, and the self understood by psychoanalytic theory
in terms of libidinal impulse and conflict, over against
which Lingis contrasts the ‘fluid economy’ of
Melanesian cultures. Not only does their understanding
of the body as essentially a conduit for fluids stand in
stark contrast to the Western focus, in which substance
and structure are essential, but their culture of
homosexual passage to heterosexuality disrupts any

this juxtaposition. Lingis sets out from Merleau-Ponty’ s
conception of the body as a structure forming norms of
perceptual and behavioural competence, but accuses that

reification of gender and sexual identity. But if the impact
of Western culture on the Melanesians threatens to alter
or destroy their fluid sense of self, what changes, Lingis
asks, might a ‘post-industrial revolution’ wreak on our

analysis of emphasizing the practicable at the expense of

own sense of ‘I’? Will psychoanalysis be eclipsed, as,

alternative realms of experience: the ‘unpracticable
spaces’ of, say, erotic obsession or the desolation of grief.

with increased global communication and tourism, our
own eroticism becomes infused with new and different

Inseparable from the competent body of the
practicable world is another, then; exemplified, for
example, in the strangely incompetent figure of the body-

forms?

A final part then turns to a Levinasian meditation on
the face of the Other. Faces can be encountered as the

builder – absurdly gratuitous in an age when physical
strength has been made redundant by the technology of
industry and warfare. Parading the body as something
that not only sees, but is seen, is not new. But Lingis

surface of an organism, or as a surface of signs and
indications, but most importantly they induce a touch; a
contact that effaces materiality and indication and
summons us. In appealing and contesting, the other arises
in his or her alterity. But it is from the face of the other,

wonders how much of the show is now distorted by the
technology which, although initially devised as a tool for

too, that there arises the imperative that precedes all

the extension of the body, promises to become a vehicle
of alienation of our bodies from ourselves: ‘Is our

others – the touch of compassion which forms the bond
between those who share no kinship, language or culture.

technological history making us into carnal orchids,
showy sex-organs, that no longer rise on their own stems,

This last theme runs through the collection of essays
forming The Community of Those Who Have Nothing in

blend their own saps, or impregnate one another?’

Common, which elaborates on that elemental bond

And social technologies, too, function as alienating
forces, this time on our bodies as sensitive, sensual
substances, inflicting and suffering pleasure and pain.

formed as a response to vulnerability and frailty, in the
recognition of the other as a site of suffering and
mortality. This constitutes ‘the community of those who

Foucault explored the impotence consequent on the
removal of the body’s power from itself by powerstructures built into the social framework, and urged as a

have nothing in common, of those who have nothingness,
death, their mortality in common’. But if it is the solemn
theme of shared death that binds this collection together,

counter-strategy the use of those structures against
themselves by transforming bodily pleasure into art.

Contrasting this with the Japanese writer Yukio

both this text and Foreign Bodies are celebratory works
for all that. Often exuberant to the point of extravagance,
yet also thought-provoking and meditative, Lingis’s

Mishima’s involvement with the martial arts leads Lingis
to suggest, though, that pain and pleasure themselves

work is above all touching, and offers a refreshingly
idiosyncratic antidote to the idle talk that so often passes

belong to the forces of impotence. Always fleeting, they
can be sustained only through resentment (pleasure, it is

for philosophical writing. To write with such vitality
about death and dying, life and living – about the matters

suggested, is not a passive contentment, but rather
generates resentment at our inability to stop it passing);
and that resentment – a secondary, reactive force leading

which matter to us all – will always risk being not
portentous but merely pretentious. In some admirable yet
indefinable way, however, Lingis manages, at least most

us to formulate identities as vulnerable, needy, and so on
– obscures a more immediate, primordial sensibility

of the time, to pull it off.

which actively greets the forces it encounters with

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R a die a I P h if 0 sop h y 7 6 (M arc h / A p r if 1 9 9 6 )

Jane Chamberlain

Commonsense Freudianism
Sebastian Gardner, Irrationality and the Philosophy of Psychoanalysis, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge,
1993. xv + 303 pp., £35.00 hb., 0 521410908.

The generally unsympathetic treatment of Freud by

Davidson and Pears, and a clear-headed grasp of the

Anglophone philosophers has moderated in recent years,

overall thesis. Although Gardner favours Kleinian met a-

and that owes much to the pioneering work of Richard

psychology, he is not greatly concerned explicitly to

Wollheim. It has, as a result, become possible to situate

situate his own understanding of psychoanalysis in a

central psychoanalytic ideas within a richer, but still

broader post-Freudian context. His appendices, which

relatively orthodox, philosophical account of mentality

include a brief ‘taxonomy of metapsychologies’, are

and behavior. Sebastian Gardner’s book is an exemplary

unhelpfully brief. However, the implications of his

defence of Freudianism in the context of contemporary

central claim are fairly radical. If psychoanalytic theory

understandings of irrationality. His central claim is that

is best understood as an extension of ordinary

some irrational phenomena are inexplicable by common-

psychological explanation, then it is no more vulnerable

sense psychology, yet can be explained by a

to the charge of scientific inadequacy than is that form of

psychoanalytic theory which extends, and is fully

explanation. In therapeutic terms also, ‘psychoanalysis

congruent with, that psychology.

should make as much difference to mental life as self-

The phenomena he has in mind are distinguishable

understanding generally produces, and this is …

from self-deception, which involves a structure of

probably not a great deal.’ Moreover, there is no reason

motivated self-misrepresentation. They require the

to think that someone with a grasp of the appropriate

distinctive form of psychoanalytic explanation. Yet this

psychoanalytic concepts, and the ability to adopt a third-

in turn does not require the postulation of a second,

personal perspective on themselves, should not be

unconscious mind, or the partition of the mind into sub-

capable of self-analysis. The upshot is that the status of

systems. Freudian theory does not, therefore, fall foul of

psychoanalysis both as a science of irrationality, and as a

the celebrated Sartrean criticism that mental partition

therapeutic practice, is radically challenged. On the other

only leads to one ofthe mind’s supposed parts displaying

hand, Gardner clearly takes the status of ordinary

the self-contradictoriness that should properly be

psychology to be enhanced by its extension. The fact that

attributed to the whole.

it can now explain certain kinds of irrationality gives it a

The key to seeing psychoanalytic explanation as a

completeness it arguably lacked beforehand. This helps

natural extension of ordinary psychology, yet somehow

its defenders resist those critics who would insist on its

foreign to its present forms of thinking, lies in under-

being eliminated or, at least, complemented by a

standing the role of wish-fulfilment and phantasy in

cognitive psychology.

neurotic symptom formation. Wishes, like desires, are

There will be friends of psychoanalysis unhappy to

caused by motivational states, and, when wish-fulfilment

see it ‘tamed’ by inclusion within commonsense

is blocked, phantasy serves to represent the world in a

psychology; and there will be enemies of ordinary

way by which, expressed in behaviour, the wish can be

psychology who doubt that psychoanalytic theory really

fulfilled. Ordinary psychology is extended in at least two

can be brought into its fold. Gardner, as someone

ways. Unconscious mental contents are said to have a
non- or pre-propositional form; and they give rise to
behaviour other than by providing the person with a
reason for action. There are connections between these
contents which are not meaningful in the ordinary sense,
and yet, when propelled by desire, serve to motivate
behaviour. Thus, the activity which the unconscious
motivates is purposive without there being the
formulation of purposes.

All of this is argued for with style, great analytic skill,

sympathetic

to

both

ordinary

psychology

and

psychoanalysis, has at least clarified what is at stake in
the relationship between the two. He has also made the
strongest possible case for seeing psychoanalytic theory
as changing the way everyday psychology must
understand our minds, but without requiring the
overthrow of that psychology. This is, in short, the most
ingenious attempt to endorse the Freudian revolution, but
confine its effects within the court of commonsense
psychology.

an assured familiarity with Freud and contemporary
philosophical treatments of irrationality such as

David Archard

Radical Philosophy 76 (March/April 1996)

51

Raoul Vaneigem, The Movement

Vaneigem’s position (‘entirely’, ‘at all

Christopher Bertram and Andrew

of the Free Spirit, Zone Books,

times’, the ‘sole alternative’, etc.). It is

Chitty, eds, Has History Ended?:

New York, 1994.302 pp., £22.50

almost tragic to see the extent to which

Fukuyama, Marx, Modernity,

hb., 0942299701.

Vaneigem has ended up propounding the

Avebury, Aldershot, 1994. 180

vacuous mumbo-jumbo of New Age

pp., £35.00 hb., 1 85628 959 1.

Along with Guy Debord’s classic essay

mysticism as a critique of the active

The Society of the Spectacle, Raoul

nihilism of capital. He appeals to the

The nine essays in this book are divided

Vaneigem’s Revolution of Everyday Life

homeostatic dynamics of Gaia (which I

according to the subtitle: there are

(1967) remains one of the most seminal

always took to be completely nonhuman:

three responses to Fukuyama, three

and beguiling texts of that convulsive,

Gaia doesn’t give a fuck about human

reconsiderations of Marxism, and three

anti-systemic decade. This is the only

survival); he speaks risibly and naively

explorations of the theory of modernity.

other book of Vaneigem’s I have read.

of an authentic human species creating,

Thus the range of topics goes beyond the
specific issues raised by Fukuyama to the

Published in France in 1986, it represents

contra the market, conditions favourable

a quasi-fundamentalist entrenchment of

to its own harmonious development;

situation of the Left ‘after the fall’.

Vaneigem’s

and, finally, he advocates his own ‘back

McCarney’s and Elliott’s contributions

1960s position. It is

absolutely uncompromising. I find it

to basics’ programme as a solution to the

have previously appeared injournals; but

interesting only as a sociological

evil ills of the market, claiming that

they are well worth preserving between

document, one that shows the extent to

beneath the rubble of lies and fraud late-

hard covers. A useful service provided

which the critical theory of the 1960s,

modern citizens are beginning to re-

by the book lies in a brief English

under whose rubric I would include such

experience and re-value some of the

presentation of his theory of modernity

figures as Debord and Vaneigem, has

‘plain truths of the distant past’. His

by Jacques Bidet; this involves a mix of

reached a cul-de-sac, literally a dead-

nostalgia for things paleolithic leads him

Marx and Rawls, as Alex Callinicos

end, as witnessed in Debord’s recent

to claim baldly that ‘economics has been

points out in his review of it.

suicide.

the most durable lie of the approximately

In Revolution of Everyday Life,
Vaneigem

combined

Marx

and

Nietzsche in a far-reaching attack on the

Compared with the sheer silliness of

ten millennia mistakenly accepted as

‘post-modernist’ effusions, Francis

history’ .

Fukuyama is an interlocutor still worth
to

addressing, and this book is likewise a

commodity (the society of the spectacle),

harmony and equi-librium not only

Vaneigem’s

commitment

serious contribution to radical thinking

producing an incisive critique of the

belongs to a historically redundant

about our situation. Fukuyama’s paper of

nihilistic devaluation of all values

theoretical paradigm (the entropic one of

1989 and book of 1992 situated the

brought about by the remorseless logic

modern critical theory); it also reveals a

victory of the West as of more than

of capital’s programme of global

hatred of history and a desire to stop the

epochal significance. It marked no less

devalorization and deterritoriali-zation.

wheels of life for ever. It is not so much

than the end of history in so far as the

It was a work, however, which, unlike

love that Vaneigem desires, but death. In

problems of material satisfaction have

the text under review, displayed a

the face of the marketization of the entire

been solved by capitalism and the desire

dialectical, and genuinely subversive,

globe, his opposition to the market has

for interpersonal recognition satisfied by

comprehension of the antinomies of the

as much practical value and relevance as

the structures of liberal democracy. If

present. It was this kind of dialectical

a recommendation to the Eskimos that,

this is true, then not only is there no

appreciation which saved it from a

in the face of global warming, they

longer any alternative, there is no need

moralism of the most abstract kind. It is

should take up habitation on Venus.

for one.

this Rousseauian-inspired moralism

Moreover, the implementation of this

which now comes to the fore in

Green vision of life would require a

consciously situates himself in the

V aneigem’ s tracing of the movement of

highly authoritarian politics, of the kind

context of Hegel’s philosophy of history,

the free spirit. The thesis of the book is

that would forcibly stop the spontaneous

the influence is highly mediated. In truth

simple

emergence

his

and

straightforward,

and

of

market

exchange

Although

guide to

Fukuyama

the

self-

subject is the

dangerously so: the market economy

(amounting to nothing short of killing off

idiosyncratic reading of it provided by

destroys all human value and dignity,

civilization), and that would result in the

Alexandre Kojeve’s lectures. In Joseph

and can only be fought against in terms

unleashing of an unimaginable politics

McCarney’s excellent paper, attention is

of an ethics of love. ‘I take the demands

of hate. As a punk-child of the seventies,

also drawn to the influence of Kojeve’s

of love’, Vaneigem writes at one point,

I was always deeply suspicious of the

conservative correspondent Leo Strauss.

‘to constitute entirely, at all times and in

sixties’ ‘love and peace man’ phil-

A pivotal role in all this was played by

all places, the sole alternative to market

osophy. I now know why.

society.’ This passage provides clear
evidence

52

of

the

Ra die a I Ph

if 0

absolutism

of

Allan Bloom: pupil of Strauss, editor of
Kojeve, and teacher of Fukuyama.

Keith Ansell-Pearson

sop h y 76 (M arc h / A P r if 1996)

Like McCarney, Frank Ftiredi

rightly

points

out

that

beneath

our historical perspective?

Fukuyama’s triumphalism there is an

social sciences. Of course, a book of this

One thing is certain: Fukuyama’s

length with so much ground to cover is
bound to cover some of it pretty thinly.

undercurrent of anxiety about whether

triumphalism is misplaced; and as long

the bourgeois life is worth living; this

as capitalism cannot solve its problems,

Readers with a non-sociological interest

places him, it is said, in the tradition of

the future remains open to alternatives.

in Habermas are, I’m afraid, the ones

downbeat ‘endism’, which represents the

Chris Arthur

exhaustion of the capitalist project. Our
problem, however, is whether the
Marxist theory of history has been
refuted by events, and, if so, what is to
be done. (Incidentally, G. A. Cohen’s
version of historical materialism is once
more subjected to criticism here by Paula
Casal.) It is perfectly possible to find
resources in Marx to mount a socialist
critique of capitalism. Keith Graham
argues that this will be all the easier now
that the Leninist misappropriation of
Marx is out ofthe way. But Graham does
not rely in this on any theory of history.

Although many contributors (including
Chitty and Bertram) seek to turn
Fukuyama’s concern with ‘recognition’

against capitalism, they likewise avoid
any strong claims about historical
guarantees.

Marxism without a theory of history
to underpin its revolutionary aspirations
is a much less exciting story. Taking
history seriously, while taking on board
the reality of the failure of ‘historical
communism’, leads to deep pessimism.

Such considerations inform Gregory
Elliott’s anguished reflections. One ad
hominem point he is able to make is that

it was the Soviet Union which (despite
Stalin’s misleadership) saved the world
from fascism and thus made possible
Fukuyama’s self-satisfaction about the
spread of liberal democracy. This irony
does not help us much, given the failure
of the Soviet proletariat thus far to map
out any alternative to the project of

William Outhwaite, Habermas:

A Critical Introduction, Polity
Press, Cambridge, 1994. x + 194
pp., £39.50 hb., £11.95 pb., 0 7456
01782 hb., 0 7456 0205 3 pb.

This book is written for those with no
first-hand knowledge of Habermas’s
work and for those deterred from
acquiring it by the sheer size and rather
uninviting style of his most important
books. Outhwaite’s principal aim is to
persuade potential new readers of
Habermas that their efforts will be
rewarded.

The author of a work of this kind has
two main problems to contend with. first,
a way of organizing the extraordinary
breadth of the subject matter must be
found. Habermas has been a prolific
writer and his writings cover many
disciplines. Outhwaite deals with this
problem admirably. In seven shortish
chapters, he manages to cram in the basic
ideas of all of Habermas’ s works, from
Structural Transformation of the Public
Sphere to Factizitat und Geltung (soon
to appear in English under the title

‘Between Facts and Norms’). The
chapters are organized chrono-Iogically
and thematize specific texts. The Theory
of Communicative Action enjoys special

most likely to be disappointed. Yet it
may be that the deepest challenges both
of and to Habermas’s work lie beyond
sociology. Indeed, in his concluding
paragraphs, Outhwaite himself suggests
that the living kernel of Habermas’s
thought may best be tested in its
encounter with criticisms now coming
from philosophers like Charles Taylor
and Jay Bernstein, both of whom
challenge Habermas’ s priority of the
moral by appeal to an allegedly
suppressed moment of the ethical. I think
Outhwaite is correct on this point. It is a
shame he leaves himself no room to
substantiate it, though he does a service
merely in making it.

If the task of doing justice to the full
scope of Habermas’ s work in a short
introductory text is hard enough to
manage, the second problem I adverted
to at the beginning – that of conveying
the real complexity of Habermas’s
thought – may be insurmountable.

Perhaps it is in order to minimize the risk
of

oversimplification

and

the

falsifications which follow from it – that
Outhwaite resorts so extensively to
quotations from Habermas’s own texts.

This may leave readers itching to get on
to the original. If they should actually do
that, the purpose of this book will have
been realized.

Nick Smith

attention, being the subject of the three
central chapters. While this emphasis is
matched by the status Habermas himself
accords to that text, it also reflects

capitalist restoration. Likewise it does

Outhwaite’s interpretation of Habermas

not help to berate Fukuyama for refusing

as primarily a sociological theorist.

Gregory Claeys, ed., Utopias of

the British Enlightenment,
Cambridge University Press,
Cambridge, 1994. xli + 305 pp.,
£35.00 hb., £14.95 pb., 0 521
430844 hb., 0 521 45590 1 pb.

to recognize capitalism’s responsibility

Besides the coherence of its overall

for fascism, if that leaves us carrying the

structure, a notable strength ofthis study

can for Stalinism. Those Marxists who

lies

situating

This is mainly a collection of eighteenth-

had no moral responsibility for Stalinism

Habermas’s thought in relation to Marx

century British utopian works which

(like Deutscher in his ‘watchtower’ or

and Weber. Outhwaite is also particu-

have been almost unknown or un-

Mandel struggling to found a new

larly adept at retracing the motivation

available until today, though two of these

International) still have theoretical

behind Habermas’ s influential inter-

texts are not utopias in the strictest sense,

responsibility for it. How can we

ventions in a series of disputes

since they are not fictions. David Hume’ s

possibly account for this derailment of

concerning the nature and function of the

‘Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth’

in

its

manner

of

Ra die a I Phi I 0 sop h y 76 (M arc h / A P r i l l 9 9 6)

53

(1752) is a straightforward inquiry into

information in the accompanying notes.

the first time in this volume, contains a

what is ‘the most perfect of all’ forms of

The Introduction highlights the major

succinct but illuminating discussion of

government. It discusses the main

themes which occupied the political

propositional truth in Aristotle, Hegel

political issues debated at that time, and

thought of the eighteenth century. Some

and Heidegger that maps the intellectual

includes

of these –

such as equality and

background from which Gadamer’s

Harrington’s influential Oceana (1656),

communion of goods – are well known;

philosophical hermeneutics emerges.

many

references

to

and to classics such as Sir Thomas

others

of

The following essays, by a number of

More’s Utopia (1516) and Plato’s

‘primogenitureship’ – less so. Claeys

mainly German and American writers,

Republic. William Hodgson’s The

seems oblivious ofliterary categories; he

strive to locate Gadamer’s project in the

Commonwealth of Reason (1795) is also

such

as

the

issue

assimilates such different genres as

context of both Heideggerian and

a

utopia, dystopia, philosophical tale,

Husserlian

‘Declaration of Rights’ – tellingly

oriental tale, Cockaigne, and social

Davidsonian philosophy of language.

‘founded on the broad and permanent

satire. His ‘Bibliographical note’ does

The leading theme of the anthology lies

and

not mention important works such as

in its exploration of the continuities

with an explanation and

non-fictional.

basis

of

It

consists

LIBERTY,

of

FRATERNITY

phenomenology

and

B azcko’ s, or approach non -poli tical

between the hermeneutic turn in

the

texts (for example Trousson’s and

Continental

influence of the French Revolution on

Racault’s); nor does it mention the

linguistic turn in the Anglo-American

generally accepted distinction between

tradition: the common, but often

utopia and utopianism.

understated, move towards a meta-

EQUALITY’ –

commentary,

which

indicate

British political thought.

Three texts in the collection are
anonymous. The Island of Content

The strength of this book lies in the

philosophy

and

the

physics of meaning. These links are

(1709) is a peculiar combination of

reprinted texts. They have little literary

hinted

Cockaigne and moral criticism of

merit, as is often the case with works

Introduction, which highlights the

contemporary society; A Description of

which

and

similarities in the concerns of twentieth-

New Athens in Terra Australis Incognita

perfection, the weakest of all literary

century philosophy of language and

(1720), a more traditional utopia,

subjects. But utopias are not to be judged

Heidegger’s fundamental ontology, with

emphasizes the values of education,

solely as works ofliterature; they are also

its emphasis on the question of the

morality and religious unity; Bruce’ s

an invaluable contribution to improving

meaning of Being. They are also the

Voyage to Naples (1802) is an ecological

the world.

object of Stueber’s ‘Understanding

deal

with

happiness

Adollo di Luca

utopia, mainly concerned with animals,
and strikingly relevant today. These

Brice R. Wachterhauser, ed.,

means and methods of political action.

Hermeneutics and Truth,

Settlement,

Laws,

Form

of

Northwestern University Press,
Evanston, Illinois 1994. 255 pp.,

of the

$44.95 hb, $18.95 pb., 0 8101

Cessares, A People of South America

11438 hb., 0810111187 pb.

Government,

and

Police,

Truth and Objectivity: A Dialogue
Georg Gadamer’, which upholds the

the age, but they do not consider the

first

Wachterhauser’s

in

between Donald Davidson and Hans-

three works reflect various concerns of

lames Burgh’s An Account of the

at

(1764) refers to the contemporary
political context, both in the text and in

‘How should those of us who accept the

the author’s own footnotes. It is a sort of

inescapability of interpretation think

organized ‘robinsonnade’, in which a

about truth?’ (p. 3). This is the question

hermeneutic claim to universality
against the historicist twist it underwent
at the hands of American pragmatists
such as Rorty, by maintaining that the
equation of the historically known with
the historically relative rests on a version
of the genetic fallacy. Mention should
also be made of Warnke’s essay,
‘Hermeneutics,

Tradition

and

the

group of selected Dutchmen found a

which this anthology addresses by

Standpoint of Women’ , which concludes

community, and advance remedies for

collecting a series of essays dealing with

the anthology’s demystification of the

the faults and corruption of European

the implications of the discovery of

relativist threat by defending the

society. Thomas Northmore’s Memoirs

historicity and interpretative contextual-

possibility of a feminist hermeneutics.

of Planetes, or a Sketch of the Laws and

ization for the question of truth. The

The anthology represents a further step

Manners ofMakar(1795) is a reasonably

anthology opens with two essays by

in

pleasant utopia, which first criticizes

Gadamer, ‘Truth in the Human Sciences’

relationships between the Continental

British society in a manner reminiscent

and ‘What is Truth?’, which predate

and Anglo-American traditions, and will

of the second book of Gulliver’s Travels,

Truth and Method and introduce the

be of interest to those who approach

and then proceeds with a description of

problematic of the relationship between

hermeneutics as a search for, rather than

Makar sketching an ideal constitution.

truth and history developed at greater

a relinquishment of, truth.

Gregory Claeys provides a careful

length in that text. ‘What is Truth?’,

edition of the works and essential

made available in English translation for

54

Radical Philosophy 76 (March/April 1996)

the

ongoing

glasnost

of the

Giuseppina D’Oro

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