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77 Reviews

Where is capitalism going?

Eric Hobsbawm, Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991, Michael Joseph, London, 1994. xii +
627 pp., £19.95 hb., 07181 33072.

Giovanni Arrighi, The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power and the Origins of Our Times, Verso, London, 1994.

416 pp., £39.95 hb., £14.95 pb., 1 85984915 6 hb., 1 859840150 pb.

In marked contrast to liberal complacency about the
future of global capitalism, both Arrighi and Hobsbawm
conclude their otherwise sharply contrasted studies of the
twentieth century with broadly similar warnings about
the dangers of ‘the escalating violence that has
accompanied the liquidation of the Cold War world
order’ (Arrighi), and the need for a new political project
to counteract the approaching ‘darkness’ (Hobsbawm).

Sharing a profound scepticism about – even hostility tothe kind of argument made notorious by Fukuyama,
Arrighi and Hobsbawm argue that capitalism has reached
some kind of historical turning point, beyond which it
cannot survive in anything like its present form. In both
cases, this sense of crisis registers much more than the
dislocations and transformations attendant on the ends
of the Cold War. On the one hand, Arrighi suggests that
we are reaching the end point of a succession of
hegemonies which have progressively expanded the
scope of the capitalist world economy. On the other,
Hobsbawm speaks of a ‘landslide’ in a ‘world which has
lost its bearings’, and which is sliding towards a crisis
‘not … of one form of organising societies, but of all
forms’ .

These are bold claims and they are, at first glance,
perhaps difficult to take seriously. But they are advanced
in a reasoned and cautious manner, without any
accompanying confidence that a revolutionary
alternative is ready to hand. Indeed, it is the very fact that
such dystopian conclusions emerge from positions which
have no credence in revolutionary alternatives that
invites further scrutiny. For the situation with which we
are presented is as refreshing as it is perplexing. It is
refreshing in so far as Arrighi and Hobsbawm seek to
demonstrate that global capitalism is in crisis by means
of an analysis of historical capitalism, rather than by
short-circuiting the issue with assertions about the
anticipated revolutionary role of a historical subject. But
it is equally perplexing because the idea of capitalist
crisis (understood not as local turmoil, but as global


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dissolution), in the absence of a revolutionary challenge,
seems hard to fathom.

What, then, are the grounds offered for the claim that
global capitalism has reached an epochal turning point?

Let us begin with Hobsbawm’ s history of the ‘short
twentieth century’ (1914-91). This is by no means an
easy work to discuss. As a ‘participant observer’ for most
of the century, whose political formation and touchstone
of moral and political judgement lie in the anti-fascist
Popular Front, and as a professional historian of the ‘long
nineteenth century’, Hobsbawm brings both a specific
structure of political imagination and a particular reading
of the course of capitalist history to bear on his account
of the twentieth century. Moreover, since the cause and
movement to which Hobsbawm was committed historical Communism – has ended the century in ruins,
it is perhaps inevitable that his reflections, for all their
occasional brilliance and wealth of insight, are partial,
distorted and uneven. Though there is little in the work
that could be called autobiographical, the moral and
political stance of Hobsbawm as participant exercises a
powerful sway over the organization of the argument as
a whole and the selection of particular emphases in the

At the most general level, Hobsbawm’s treatment is
organized around a periodization of capitalist
development from its general crisis in the ‘Age of
Catastrophe’ , via its subsequent reform and unparalleled
global expansion during the ‘Golden Age’, to its loss of
bearings and erosion of normative regulation in the
contemporary ‘Landslide’. However, while the logic of
this argument lies in a characterization of the course of
capitalist socio-economic development, the overall
narrative is conducted in a rather different register – in
terms of the political and ideological conflict between
capitalism and Communism. These somewhat discrepant
principles of composition are held together by a twofold
claim on behalf of historical Communism: first, that the
apparent strength of the Communist challenge to the

capitalist order was a reflection of capitalist weakness;
and second, that Communism nevertheless helped to
save capitalism from itself, both from without, through
the Soviet defeat of fascism, and from within, via
political incentives to ameliorative currents of reform. In
turn, this assessment of the Communist experience rests
upon an identification of both liberal capitalism,
especially as reformed by social democracy, and
historical Communism as the legitimate heirs of the
Enlightenment, in contrast to the forces of reaction,
ranging from the authoritarian right to the exclusivist
claims of identity politics and contemporary nationalism.

These differing threads do not always combine
readily and consistently, and it was perhaps only in the
conjuncture of the Popular Front that they could have
been woven in an apparently seamless unity. For, in other
respects, do they not exist in some tension with one
another? Considered as a global process, can the
historical development of capitalism, from the eighteenth
century through to the First World War, be unproblematically assimilated to the progress of ‘reason’?

Marx, to say nothing of Max Weber, certainly did not
think so. Was Stalinism simply another variant and
embodiment of Enlightenment progressivism?

Hobsbawm’s evasive account of Stalinism, both
domestically and internationally, suggests that he is not
wholly comfortable with such a judgement. Are the
contested claims of identity as manifestly antithetical to
the universal norms of reason as Hobsbawm implies?

After all, nationalist movements played a powerful role
in the nineteenth century, and not all the claims of
identity politics are inherently particularistic. These are
no doubt complex questions, and it would be hard to offer
a simple ‘yes’ to any of them. And yet something like
that is required to sustain Hobsbawm’s depiction of an
epochal crisis of capitalism in the
contemporary period.

Stated positively, Hobsbawm’s
case for the ‘Landslide’ of
contemporary capitalism is simple
enough: the global economy is out
of control, having outgrown the
national economies ‘defined by the
politics of territorial states’, and
the mixture of universal norms and
traditional social relationships that
once provided the basis of
progressive political regulation, on
the one hand, and the glue of social
order, on the other, are under threat
from an antinomian and nihilistic
culture. Both of these trends – the

globalization of production and the breakdown of social
and cultural stability – are the product of a relentless
commodification of human existence, generated by the
very material successes of capitalism in its Golden Age.

In these circumstances, and confronted with a combined
demographic and ecological challenge, capitalism
appears to lack the resources for renewal and stability.

On this account, then, it is not an internal logic of
contradiction and class struggle that threatens the
survival of capitalism. Instead, the breaching of its outer
limits – political, cultural and now even ecological – by
the sheer power of commodification betokens its
potential dissolution. The logic of the market is selfdestructive, ruthlessly consuming all that it encounters,
including those external sources of political, social and
cultural support that once provided it with a degree of

Implicit in this analysis are a substantive thesis and a
theoretical claim. The substantive thesis is that it was the
admixture of pre-capitalist and pre-industrial traditions
to the logic of the market that enabled capitalist societies
to function. The theoretical claim is that pure logic of the
market is self-destructive, rather than self-correcting.

The evidence for both is to be found negatively in the
interwar depression, and positively in the success of
capitalism in its Golden Age. In the interwar years, the
inadequacies of a private international financial system,
and the absence of international leader-ship by a
hegemonic power, transmitted the US depression across
the globe; while the impotence of political liberalism in
the face of the slump bolstered the power of fascist and
Communist alternatives. In the Golden Age, by contrast,
capitalism prospered when it broke with economic and
political liberalism under pressure from the interwar
experience, the example of Soviet Communism, and the

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organizational initiatives imposed by US leadership in
the Cold War international system.

There is much to be said in favour of this kind of
analysis. But in what sense can the stabilizing influences
in capitalist development be seen as external to the logic
of capitalist society? And how far did such external
arrangements prove stabilizing? Could one not argue the
converse? In other words, the main sources of stability
within capitalist societies derive from logics internal to
their development – perhaps from the introduction of the
mass of the popUlation into political participation and
the regulative demands thereby imposed upon the state;
and the main barriers to capitalist development, and the
sources of its periodic instabilities, are a result of the
external resistance that its expansion has generated.

Hobsbawm does not really consider these
possibilities. The substantive reasons for this neglect
have much to do with a stance that is often difficult to
disentangle from a form of nostalgia: for the stabilizing
role of Communist forms of organization and for
traditional cultural – and especially kinship – relations.

Leaving these particular attflchments aside, however,
what conception of capitalism underpins Hobsbawm’s
analysis? The answer is simple, but surprising:

Hobsbawm here employs a concept of capitalism, and
especially of capitalist crisis, that owes more to Karl
Polanyi than to Karl Marx. Capitalism is theorized
primarily in terms of markets, and capitalist crisis is seen
to result from the absence of non-market norms and
institutions. This is surprising, not because a Marxist
historian cannot learn from Polanyi, but because so much
of Hobsbawm’s outstanding trilogy on the long
nineteenth century is a major advance on the latter’s
account of The Great Transformation, being an
exploration of capitalist society, demonstrating how
capitalist transformation uproots and reshapes culture
and politics quite as much as socio-economic production,
and also how these things ‘hang together’ .

Indeed, probably the single biggest omission from
Age of Extremes is any sustained analysis of the ways in
which the reconstruction of the world market and the
consolidation of the nation-state system in the Golden
Age made the structures that Hobsbawm analysed so
brilliantly in The Age of Capital 1848-1875 – those of
the capitalist world market and the liberal state form the near universal, as well as dominant, features of the
international system. For the enduring achievement of
the Golden Age, and specifically the project of US
hegemony within it, might be seen as the fashioning of
an international system in which sovereignty and the
relatively free mobility of capital have been reconciled
through the global spread of capitalist relations of


Radical Philosophy 77 (May/June 1996)

production, on the one hand, and the growing dominance
of liberal-capitalist state forms, on the other. The world
announced in the Communist Manifesto is now (some
150 years later) upon us; and, in the absence of a political
challenge to its basic structural principles, there is no
reason to suppose that it won’t be reasonably stable. It
may not look very nice, judged from the standpoint of
the highest achievements of European social democracy,
but that is another matter. Contra Hobsbawm, if the
working class will not dig capitalism’s grave, there is
precious little evidence that the commodity form will
take up the shovel for it.

Notwithstanding the many differences between
Hobsbawm’s history of the short twentieth century and
Arrighi’s theory of the cycles of capitalist hegemony,
from the Genoese in the late sixteenth and early
seventeenth centuries, through to the American in the
twentieth, there are important points of contact between
the two works. Arrighi attempts to analyse the historical
development of world capitalism from the vantage point
of its successive cycles of expansion, crisis and
restructuring, and renewed and expanded reproduction.

In order to accomplish this, he focuses on a series of
‘regimes of accumulation’, supporting particular
alliances of state and capitalist interests, which have been
linked ‘to processes of state formation on the one side,
and of market formation on the other’. Each of these
‘systemic cycles of accumulation’ has been assoc;,iated
with the hegemony of a particular state, where hegemony
is understood not as a cycle of rise and fall within an
unchanging structure, but as a process of active
construction and leadership in the international system.

The peculiar novelty of Arrighi’s account lies in the
specific direction taken by the analysis: whereas Marxist
analyses of accumulation and hegemony have typically
moved ‘below’ the sphere of the market to the relations
of production, Arrighi proposes to move ‘above’ the
market, where ‘the possessor of money meets the
possessor, not of labour power, but of political power’ .

This undoubtedly yields some illuminating insights, and
Arrighi has much to say that is interesting about the
contrasting character of British and US hegemony and
the present decline of US leadership in the face of the
rise of East Asian capitalism. But these gains are bought
at the price of a radically incomplete account of capitalist
reproduction and crisis. The systemic cycles of
accumulation associated with successive hegemons are
divided by Arrighi into a phase of material expansion, in
which the advance of money-capital is subordinated to
the expansion of productive activity; and a period of
financial expansion, during which finance is severed
from production and seeks speculative gains. In its

progressive phase, the hegemon configures market
relations to encourage the former – productive growth
and an expansion of the market; while in its decline, it
promotes the latter – a flight of capital from real material
expansion. Profitable activity is thus portrayed as the
result of a favourable articulation of material expansion
and political power, which is destined to prove transient
as the reinvestment of profit eventually results in margins
falling faster than the growth of the market increases
economies of scale. This logic is seen to operate across
all the cycles since the Genoese, and its course is not
markedly altered by the advent of capitalist production
in the British cycle during the nineteenth century.

Specifically, Arrighi reinterprets Marx’s remarks
about the real barrier of capitalist development being
capital itself – a point about the contradictory character
of use-value and exchange-value under capitalist
relations of production – ‘as reflecting the same
underlying contradiction between the self-expansion of
capital and the material expansion of the world
economy’. But this means that the self-expansion of
capital is merely posited by Arrighi (whereas Marx
claimed to explain it); and that Marx’s point about the
contradictory nature of capitalist development, arising
from the fact that capital has seized hold of production,
is entirely missed in favour of what amounts to a quantity
theory of competition and a theory of profit based on
politically regulated unequal exchange. Arrighi’ s
conclusion on the future of capitalism follows naturally
enough: if US hegemony is now waning and is incapable
of imposing a new imperial order, and if it is irreplaceable
because the new poles of accumulation (East Asia) lack
the state-military power necessary for hegemonic status,

then the resulting absence of authoritative political
regulation of the world market must signal an end to the
conditions for capitalist expansion. In the absence of
means for generating a new cycle of expansion through
hegemonic restructuring of the world market, anarchy,
chaos and escalating violence are the likely

Thus, just as Hobsbawm sees the end of the Cold War
as presaging not the triumph of global capitalism, but its
incipient dissolution into ‘darkness’, so Arrighi foresees
rivalry and conflict as the face of the future. Once again,
the root of this understanding lies in a conception of
capitalism as a self-expanding market which requires
external (hegemonic) regulation in order to prosper.

Without this externally imposed order and direction,
capitalist reproduction is inherently unstable and prone
to crisis. Even in the absence of a systemic political
challenge to capitalism, this lack of normative and
institutional control threatens its survival. But in both
cases the focus on the anarchical character of capitalist
markets neglects two other critical aspects of
contemporary global capitalism. In the first place,
capitalist relations of production are now the universal
and dominant form of productive arrangements; for all
the continuing conflicts over their reproduction, they
currently face no systemic, organized alternative. And
second, the global dominance of the liberal state form,
with greater or lesser additions of a welfare cemponent,
is for now an accomplished fact. Together, these secure a
formidable capitalist hegemony that shows little sign of
retreat in the face of the problems of market instability
rightly emphasized by Hobsbawm and Arrighi.

Simon Bromley

History and heritage
Raphael Samuel, Theatres of Memory, Volume 1: Past and Present in Contemporary Culture, Verso, London and
New York, 1994. xiv + 479 pp., £18.95 hb., 0 86091 2094.

Everything about Raphael Samuel’s work – here as
elsewhere – breathes generosity: generosity in the
breadth of its sources, in the ampleness of its length, in
the affection for its subjects. The style too is generous;
not the cramped and tortuous style of the professional
academic, full of arid technicalities, but an easy, open,
free-flowing style, clear and graceful, full of allusion and
imagery and always a delight to read.

Samuel’s subject is ‘heritage’, which he writes about
under the headings variously of ‘retrochic’, ‘retrofitting’

and ‘resurrectionism’. He is concerned to document and

understand the current obsession, in all contemporary
industrial societies, with preserving and conserving whether it is a Victorian pier, an old mine-shaft, or the
Abbey Road studios where the Beatles made their
recordings. More profoundly, there is the turn to the past
as a ‘theatre of memory’, a storehouse of artefacts and
images that appear to have a mesmerizing effect on all
sections of the population. Girls wish to be dressed as
Victorian governesses (the lane Eyre look); houses have
to be built of bricks, the once despised medium for
factories and warehouses; banks and businesses celebrate

Radical Philosophy 77 (May/June1996)


the genius loci and deck themselves out in all the
trappings of historic pageantry. Samuel notes the way in
which the past, as theatre, creeps nearer and nearer to our
own times. Before the war it was, in England at least,
mainly the rural past that was celebrated, the England of
country houses and cathedral towns. Increasingly, it is
urban, industrial England that is the source of fascination
– not just Victorian townscapes, but postwar council
housing and the pop memorabilia of the 1960s.

Part of Samuel’s purpose is to acknowledge, and to
congratulate, the army of ‘Clio’ s underlabourers’ that has
been involved in this massive work of historical retrieval
and reconstruction: the collectors, animators, illustrators,
photographers, boot-fair haunters, local librarians,
museum curators, amateur archivists and school history
teachers who have, often unpaid and in their spare time,
taken upon themselves the bulk ofthe task. It is these, the
‘unofficial’ historians, far more than the professionals,
who have contributed most to our sense of the past. Their
work makes nonsense of the traditional distinction
between ‘memory’, seen as an imprecise and unreliable
‘folk’ thing, and ‘history’, the province of the
professional historian armed with scientific techniques
of recovery. As a form of knowledge, history is a hybrid,
mixing memory and myth, folk tradition and archival
reconstruction, the written record and the oral and visual
past. Samuel has been in the forefront of the movement
for ‘people’s history’; here he celebrates the people as

This championing is the springboard for Samuel’s
main general claim, and the one that has aroused the
greatest controversy, at least on the Left: that ‘heritage’,
the conservation of the products not just of human but
also of natural history, is profoundly democratic. He
takes issue with the ‘heritage-baiters’, such as Patrick
Wright, Robert Hewison and Neal Ascherson, who have
argued that the ‘heritage industry’ is crypto-feudal,
conservative or – alternatively – rampantly capitalist,
‘Thatcherism in period dress’. While conceding that partly owing to the negative effect of the Left – heritage
has largely been annexed by the Right, Samuel shows
that many of the roots of the heritage movement have a
respectably left-wing provenance (for instance, in the
work of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts
Movement, and the interwar struggle to establish
National Parks). More to the point, he argues that
heritage today is the one movement capable of
mobilizing popular forces, across all classes and parties
and on a wide variety of fronts. There is now virtually a
national consensus on conservation, which is today ‘the
most favoured outlet for the reformist impulse in national
life’. Conservation is ‘collectivist in spirit’, favours


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planning and regulation, and subordinates private interest
to the public good. Based as it so often is on local
initiative, and the direct involvement of ordinary people,
it bids fair to renew the ‘Civic Gospel’ ofthe earlier years
of this century, when municipal authorities took the lead
in wide-ranging improvements to civic life. The real
conservatives in the current debates are, Samuel charges,
the heritage-baiters, reminiscent of earlier critics such as
Matthew Arnold and F. R. Leavis in their disdain for the
enthusiasms and abilities of the populace.

This is an area in which ideological posturing will
not do, as Samuel amply demonstrates. His own case has
to be judged against the wealth of documentation he
provides. This very richness might be one source of the
uneasiness his argument may provoke in readers – such
as this one – who are otherwise highly sympathetic to his
position. Does his concept of ‘heritage’ embrace too
much in its generosity? Is he insufficiently discriminating
in his use of the term, so that too many disparate activities
are included within it? It is one thing to praise the
resurrectionism of Clio’ s underlabourers, and to
recognize the democratic impulse behind its rescuing of
the lives of ordinary people – craftsmen and shopkeepers,
servants and labourers, many of them women – from ‘the
enormous condescension of posterity’. It is another thing
to enthuse over historical theme parks and other such
Disneyfied expressions of the heritage industry, which,

besides being often tasteless and a travesty of history,
are also shamelessly commercial in their aims. They
should not be allowed to shelter beneath the affectionate
cover given to the real unofficial custodians of the past.

Contrary to the impression conveyed by some of the
newspaper reviews of this book, it needs to be stressed
that Samuel is not much concerned to press his general
case. Or, rather, he is content to let his case largely speak
for itself. The strength of this work is not in its
generalities, which in truth Samuel does not have much
time for (‘overdetermined’ is one of his favourite words,
in examining. causes). No other book more heartily
endorses the view that ‘God is in the details’. There are
general in sights aplenty, but they emerge from the
material rather than rigidly encasing it. One needs to read
this book at leisure, not rush at it to extract a thesis.

Approached in the right manner it yields many pleasures,
not least the incidental glimpses it gi ves of Samuel’s own

life as a Londoner growing up in the 1950s, and his later
voyages of discovery in that city. He shows an insatiable
curiosity about the ordinary things of life, finding
significance in the contents of the new supermarkets as
much as in old photographs and the spread of brick as the
new ‘vernacular’ material (one footnote reads ‘Visit to
Sainsbury’s, Islington, 21 September 1993; another,
‘Notes on a perambulation, 12 September 1993’). One
immediately thinks of parallels, such as Roland Barthes,
an author Samuel evidently much admires. But to my
mind the most relevant figure is Henry Mayhew (and
perhaps Pierce Egan behind him), the great chronicler of
the lives and labour of the London poor and the
indefatigable explorer of the city. In Samuel, heritage
has found its Mayhew – which is to say, as exhaustive a
chronicler, and as eloquent an advocate, as it is ever
likely to find.

Krishan Kumar

Knowing the difference
Kathleen Lennon and Margaret Whitford, eds, Knowing the Difference: Feminist Perspectives in Epistemology,
Routledge, London and New York, 1994. xiii + 300 pp., £37.50 hb., £12.99 pb., 0415089883 hb., 041508989 1 pb.

Feminist approaches to epistemology have had a great
deal in common with other critiques of Enlightenment
ideals of reason and objectivity. Lennon and Whitford
note in their introduction to Knowing the Difference that
the most compelling epistemological insight of feminism
lies in the connections it has made between knowledge
and power, and in the recognition that knowledge claims
have often been tied to structures of domination and
exclusion. Feminism has not, of course, been alone in
this. Many of its themes have been shared in various
ways with Marxists, with radical philosophers of science,
with those who have been critical of the Eurocentrism of
much philosophy, and with philosophers commonly
named ‘postmodern’.

But the concerns of feminist philosophers have not
been identical with those who have in some respects been
their theoretical allies, and the specifically feminist
contribution to the ‘deconstructive’ task of challenging
Enlightenment paradigms has been to analyse and expose
their ‘masculinity’. Feminist philosophers have thus
argued that knowledge claims have often reflected the
experience, interests and concerns of men rather than
women, and that conceptions of reason and objectivity
are often closely allied with conceptions of maSCUlinity.

Feminist deconstruction of the masculinity of
knowledge claims implies that their evaluation can no
longer be undertaken in the name of ‘universal’ criteria

of truth, rationality or objectivity. Knowledge claims are
always anchored in the subjectivity and social location
of those who claim to know. Questions abOlit what is
known and who claims to know can no longer be sharply
distinguished. Feminist philosophers have thus wanted
not only to analyse the ways in which knowledge claims,
and the enterprise of epistemology itself, have assumed a
male knower, but to ask how knowledge might be
different if it were produced by women, and what
difference it might make to philosophy of it came to bear
the imprint of female experiences and female

But if feminist philosophy has aimed to expose the
‘false universalism’ of much traditional philosophy, it is
also the case that feminism has itself at times been
accused of a different kind of ‘false universalism’ – one
which too easily assumed that it was possible to speak
for all women. A central issue confronted by feminist
thinking in recent years has been that of facing up to the
ways in which some feminist discourse replicates
structures of hegemony and exclusion. If women have
been ‘other’ to masculine thought, then feminists have
had to confront the challenge of other ‘others’: women
of different class, ethnic group or sexuality, for instance,
who experienced themselves as marginalized by some
dominant feminist modes of theorizing.

Lennon and Whitford point out that the prominence

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of the issue of ‘difference’ in recent feminist theory has
meant that the postmodern critique of totalizing theory
has sometimes proved attractive to feminist writers. Yet
there are also reasons why feminists have been
ambivalent about postmodernism. Some postmodern
theorists have flagged the ‘end of epistemology’, in the
sense of rejecting all notions of the referentiality of
knowledge or the possibility of subjecting knowledge
claims to any criteria not wholly internal to the discourse
within which they are produced. But there is a critical
and ‘universal’ impulse in feminist thinking which it is
difficult to reconcile with these strands in postmodern
thinking. It is precisely the desire to move beyond the
immediate and the local, and to subject these to critique,
which has informed feminist theory, politics and

How, then, with the abandonment of Enlightenment
‘objectivity’, should we think about women’s knowledge
claims and the production of feminist theory? If women
produce new narratives to replace older masculinist ones,
are there reasons for supposing that these narratives have
any greater claims to truth? If feminism cannot afford to
abandon all claims to referentiality, or all critique which
is in some way external to that which it criticizes, can
notions such as ‘objectivity’ be reformulated in a way
that avoids both old-style universalism and postmodern
relativism? Is it possible to conceptualize the possibility
of feminist ‘metanarratives’, and allow for the
generalizing impulse in feminist theory, whilst
recognizing ‘difference’ and avoiding the exclusion and
marginalization of others?

This book is a welcome contribution to what can be
called the ‘reconstructive’ moment of feminist
epistemology. The essays in it are divided into two
sections. The first section, entitled ‘Objectivity and the
Knowing Subject’ , has as its central theme the question
of whether and how a meaning can be given to the
concept of ‘objectivity’ which recognizes the social
location of all knowledge claims. A number of the essays,
including those by Lazreg, Lovibond, Barwell and
Fricker, defend the claims of a reformulated ‘objectivity’

in the face of a postmodern relativism. Barwell, for
instance, defends the account of ‘strong objectivity’

given by Sandra Harding in Whose Science? Whose
Knowledge? Lovibond defends the need for criteria for
evaluating knowledge claims which are answerable to a
community of knowers, and which are non-arbitrary and
non-individualistic. A central theme of the reformulation
of ‘objectivity’ proposed in these essays is a broadening
of the concept of accountability, to include, as Lennon
and Whitford note, accountability not merely to the
community of scientists, but to the feminist community.

Other essays in this section cover a broad range of


Radical Philosophy 77 (May/June 1996)

themes, from a critique by Braidotti of an assumed link
between visibility and truth, to a reading by Caroline
Williams of Lacan and Irigaray which questions the
classical notion of ‘objectivity’.

The second section of the book is entitled
‘Knowledge, Difference and Power’, and its central
theme is that of ‘difference’. What kind of response
should feminists make to the diversity of the situations
of women and the different perspectives of the
communities in which they live? And how can this
response take account not merely of differences per se,
but of inequalities, of power and privilege? The notion
of dialogue, for instance, or that of consensus emerging
from such dialogue, may fail to take note of such
inequalities. Other essays discuss the inadequacies of
approaches to difference based merely on pluralism or
liberal tolerance. The essay by Tanesini, for example,
echoing some of the themes of the first part of the book,
argues that any approach to difference which leaves no
space for feminists to differ from their own communities,
and engage critically with them, must be rejected.

Seller’s essay, discussing her experiences in India,
explores the difficulties of creating a community of
dialogue in a context inevitably structured by a
colonialist history and by the very different constraints
under which academic communities in India operate.

The most interesting thing about this book is the way
in which the contributors, despite considerable
differences in their backgrounds and concerns, and
despite disagreements in some of their conclusions, share
some broad perspectives on the directions that feminist
epistemology should take. There is no one ‘female way
of knowing’. Female experience is diverse and cannot
easily be contained in any consensus. Nor can it be
characterized without reference to patriarchal forms of
thought of which it is critical. The task for feminist
epistemology, therefore, is not to reject notions such as
‘rationality’ or ‘objectivity’, but to contest and renegotiate them.

Readers are bound to take issue with some of the
specific conclusions of many of the essays. But the
overall sense of direction generated by this collection
may be more important than the differences between the
contributors, or the disagreements they may generate.

Knowing the Difference proposes a reconstructive
agenda for feminist epistemology, and it is a timely
intervention at a stage of feminist philosophy when there
is a need to move beyond the deconstructive task, and to
think afresh about how a feminist critique of traditional
epistemology might intersect with issues of power and
difference which have been central to feminist thinking

Jean Grimshaw

The vision thing
Paul Virilio, The Vision Machine, British Film Institute and Indiana University Press, London and Bloomington, IN,
1994.81 pp., £19.99 hb., £9.95 pb., 0 85170444 1 hb., 0 85170445 X pb.

Like much of Virilio’ s earlier work, The Vision Machine
is concerned with the development of new aesthetic
concepts which renounce the heritage of Western
philosophy and, in particular, the idea that linguistic
semiology is somehow superior to an aesthetics of pure
visuality. Virilio’s writings represent a fundamental
rejection of the tradition of both phenomenology and
structuralism. Indeed, they are critically disposed toward
the development of aesthetic principles which recognize
that visual sensations have their own autonomous logic.

The Vision Machine is a historical study of the various
forms of aesthetic visibility.

Virilio’s contribution to our understanding of vision
rests principally on his reworking of Foucault’s
conception of the power of the image. Thus, Virilio
attempts to comprehend the image not from the
standpoint of the subject, but from the perspective of a
philosophy of forces; a philosophy conceived, in
Foucault’s words, as ‘an arrangement of strategies’.

Virilio’s portrayal of the force of the image has arisen
from his efforts to offer a depiction of postmodernity
based on the aesthetics of dromology – the logic of speed
– and the ‘disappearance’ of subjectivity. As such,
Virilio’s strivings are basically involved with articulating
the relationship between speed and what he sees as the
epochal shift in the way images are re-presented in the
contemporary era. For instance, Virilio views the
invention of the cinema as one of the defining moments
in the weakening of the traditional Christian appearance
aesthetic and the consequent consolidation of a
disappearance aesthetic. Virilio deliberates on these and
other matters because he believes it necessary to develop
new aesthetic concepts which can explain not simply the
ongoing crises of representation in modern and
postmodern art, but the crises of the twentieth century as
a whole.

The Vision Machine presents a stimulating historical
examination of the various instruments of observation
(telescopes, cameras, cinema, television, video, etc.),
along with a consideration of the images such machines
compose. It aims to investigate the affinity between
heterogeneous optical devices that pepper not only the
history of art but also the history and technologies of
warfare and cinema. Focusing on the contemporary
urban landscape and the increasingly ubiquitous
surveillance camera, Virilio additionally develops a

whole new ‘logistics of the image’. As he puts it, ‘the age
of the image’s formal logic was the age of painting,
engraving and etching, architecture; it ended with the
eighteenth century. The age of dialectic logic is the age of
photography and film, or, if you like, the frame of the
nineteenth century. The age of paradoxical logic begins
with the invention of video recording, holography and
computer graphics … as though, at the close of the
twentieth century, the end of modernity were itself marked
by the end of a logic of public representation’ (p. 63).

Clearly, Virilio is not content with providing an
original account of the history of vision. He is also
concerned to alert us to the fact that, while we in the
twentieth century are now comfortable in the presence of
painterly, photographic and even cinematic representations, we are still very apprehensive about the virtual
images produced by video surveillance cameras,
computers and other vision machines. Indeed, it is the
anxiety surrounding these images which, in his view,
explains the ‘frantic interpretosis’ of the new
technologies of cultural production, distribution and
consumption in the academy, the press and elsewhere.

But what ofVirilio’s own frantic interpretosis in The
Vision Machine? Obviously, he has found in postmodern
philosophy, and particularly in new aesthetic concepts
like paradoxical logic, a rich and rewarding
contemporary appreciation of vision. In addition, his
shift away from a subject-centred philosophy ofvisuality
has produced a disturbing report on artistic and social
history. There are, however, a number of difficulties with
Virilio’s ideas about vision technologies and the
dissemination of images. First, the present work seems
as much influenced by the postmodern writings of
Lyotard, Derrida and Deleuze on difference and
repetition in the visual and plastic arts, as it is by
Foucault. For example, The Vision Machine seeks to
understand the image almost from the object’s point of
view; that is, from the viewpoint of automated perceptual
devices. In so doing, the book evinces not only the
aesthetics of speed and disappearance, but also the
aesthetics of Debord and Baudrillard and their various
considerations of the ‘society of the spectacle’. For
Virilio too appears to regard advanced societies as
dominated not simply by the media, but, crucially, by
freely circulating images which bear no real relation to
the socio-economic system. Like many other recent

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French philosophical tracts, therefore, The Vision
Machine is completely divorced from any reference to
the broader dynamics of capitalist production or class
conflict. In short, the correlation between signs, subjects,
objects and media aesthetics is, for Virilio, merely a
matter of simulation.

There are also one of two troubling questions
concerning Virilio’s understanding of technology. For
one thing, his work is founded on a pessimistic
technological determinism. Indeed, one cannot help but
hear the forbidding voice of the late J acques Ellul
echoing through the pages of The Vision Machine. Like
Ellul, Virilio fails to appreciate that, while vision
technologies may be technically feasible, this does not
mean that they will all be either profitable or practically
attainable. Moreover, Virilio seems unaware of what
might be described as compound technologies, such as
video games, which incorporate keyboards, sound and
vision. Nor does he appear to be acquainted with feminist
accounts of technology and subjectivity, like those of
Donna Haraway. Similarly, Virilio’s emphases on the
disappearance of material space, and its almost total

replacement by the ‘speed-space’ of video surveillance
cameras, seems not only premature but somewhat

On the other hand, his theoretical focus on both the
new logistics of the image and paradoxical logic is
something to be encouraged. For video images, computer
graphics and so-called virtual reality are all essentially
late-twentieth-century optical phenomena. They can thus
be considered postmodern public (and increasingly
private) forms of representation. In this respect, The
Vision Machine is an important book, because it
concentrates on the widespread ambivalence that
currently encompasses the development of technologies
of perception. Virilio manages to tap into one of the key
themes pursued by postmodern theorists and those of us
who are expressly concerned with the links between
vision, technology and culture. In the end, though, The
Vision Machine is really an example of the problem it
seeks to analyse: namely, the desperate search for
ontological assurance with regard to the emergence of
vision technologies. The search is set to continue.

dohn Armitage

The Sunday of life
Shadia B. Drury, Alexandre Kojeve: The Roots of Postmodern Politics, Macmillan, London, 1994. xii + 274.pp . ,
£31.00 hb., £14.50 pb., 0 333 62211 1 hb., 0 333622103 pb.

Alexandre Kojeve was one of the stranger figures to have
wandered across the French intellectual landscape. Best
known for the lectures he gave on The Phenomenology
of Mind between 1933 and 1939, he was, together with
Jean Hyppolite, one of the major architects of the
extraordinary renaissance of French Hegelian studies in
the immediate post-war years. His later texts, almost all
of them published posthumously (they include a threevolume study of pagan philosophy, a bulky
phenomenology of right, and a study of Kant), remain
relatively unknown.

Without Kojeve’s reading of the Phenomenology,
Lacan’s celebrated dialectic of desire could not have
been elaborated. The Heideggerian-Hegelian thesis that
man is the only animal with a foreknowledge that he must
die, and that human existence is a consciousness of death,
became part of a philosophical vulgate. Yet Kojeve was
never really a professional philosopher. His
extraordinary lectures, not published until 1947, were
given at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes, a relatively
marginal institution, and he never held a full-time
academic position. Kojeve’ s postwar career was that of a


Radical Philosophy 77 (May/June 1996)

senior civil servant, and he seems to have regarded
himself as a philosophical adviser to worldly princes or
even as the Sage who has transcended history. At the
same time, he claimed to be a right-wing Marxist, and to
have wept when Stalin died. A major, if shadowy, figure
in the establishment of GATT and of early European
institutions, he clearly viewed the emerging European
Community as a prototype for a Hegelian world state.

Kojeve died of a heart attack in 1968 while he was
attending an EC meeting. Shortly before his death, he
had opined that nothing had happened in May ’68
‘because no one died’.

The paradoxes that surround Kojeve’ s life and
writings are such that it is difficult to know quite what to
make of him. The Russian-born Kojeve was fifteen when
the Bolshevik Revolution erupted; arrested for blackmarketeering, he narrowly escaped execution. That
experience, he claimed, converted him to Communism.

His conversion did not, however, prevent him from
arguing, as early as 1948, that the United States had
created a world culture which had rendered Communism
unnecessary, and that the Russians were no more than

impoverished Americans. Even the admiring Bataille
found the claim bewildering, and wondered whether
Kojeve might not be the author of a comic novel about
the end of history.

Kojeve’s influence in the late I 940s and early 1950s
was enormous, but interest focused on the violent
phenomenology of intersubjectivity that can be derived
from his reading of the master-slave dialectic, rather than
on the end of history thesis. Inevitably, Kojeve’ s
importance was eclipsed by the hegemonic rise of
Sartrean existentialism and then structuralism. A new
and unexpected interest in his work was sparked by the
extraordinary success of Francis Fukuyama’s The End of
History and the Last Man in 1992. Fukuyama reworked
Kojeve in order to contend that the triumph of the
‘worldwide liberal revolution’ marked the end of
history- a claim that now looks rather naIve as so many
of the post-Communist countries lapse into barbarism
rather than snuggling into liberal social democracy. It is
perhaps time to look again at Kojeve himself. A major
biography by Dominique Auffret appeared in French in
1990, but it still awaits translation.

Drury’s study is the first book-length account of
Kojeve to appear in English, but it is sadly disappointing.

She sets out to tell the story of the metamorphosis of
Kojeve’s Marxist theory of the realm of freedom into the
world of Nietzsche’s last man, and to explicate his effort
‘to historicize Heideggerian existentialism’. It is clearly
a story that she finds distasteful in the extreme. Nor, it
would seem, does she have any enthusiasm for Kojeve’ s
followers in either France or the United States, where the
blood line runs from Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom to

Any reassessment of a thinker whose importance has
been temporarily eclipsed runs the risk of overstating his
significance, if only because of the need to redress the
historical balance. Postmodernism is claimed by Drury
to mark the beginning of a new age typified by its
disenchantment with the modernist project, and Kojeve
is held to be a pivotal figure in that shift of mood. The
claim is so unexceptional as to be almost banal, but the
tendency to blame Kojeve for all the ills of postmodernism is ill-judged. After all, disenchantment with
modernity is probably as old as modernity itself, and
certainly at least as old as Max Weber. Drury’s reading
of Strauss and Bloom is more interesting than her views
on modernism, and she successfully demonstrates that it
is more appropriate to regard them as Right Nietzscheans
than as aristocratic liberals. Yet even here, her judgement
and taste must be in doubt. Analysing Bloom’s patrician
attacks on rock music and his defence of Wagner, she
predictably notes the Nazi enthusiasm for the latter and

concludes that ‘Gesamtkunstwerk is a fancy excuse for
making art the pimp of the established order’. A brief
discussion of Kandinsky (Kojeve’s uncle) generates the
comment that, far from being a remedy for the
degradation of man in the modern world, abstract art’s
emptiness is symptomatic of that very degradation. At
such points, one can only turn to Flaubert’s Dictionary
of Received Ideas for consolation.

The alleged influence of Kojeve on Sartre and
Foucault is grossly overstated, and the judgements
passed on their work are tired. Sartre, apparently,
believed that the best goals to fight for were those that
were impossible. Foucault is not a liberator~ like Bataille,
he simply longs for the forms of power that make
transgression glorious. Drury seems immune to the
charm of the description of the suburban Sunday of life
to be found in Queneau’s novels, whose enormous debt
to Kojeve is so well analysed by Pierre Macherey in his
The Object of Literature. When she turns to Bataille,
Drury falls into the most obvious of traps by remarking
that his novels often read like the scripts for grade B
horror movies, and adding that the latter try to terrify
their audience but in fact elicit ‘laughter. As Bataille
remarks in a prefatory note to his novella Madame
Edwarda: ‘If you laugh, it is because you are frightened.’

Kojeve has found his French biographer~ he has yet
to find his English or American exegete.

Davld Macey

Going public
Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge, Public Sphere and
Experience: Toward an Analysis of the Bourgeois and
Proletarian Public Sphere, translated by Peter Labanyi,
Jamie Owen Daniel and Assenka Oksiloff, University of
Minnesota Press, Minneapolis and London, 1993. xlix +
305 pp., £35.00 hb., 0 8166 2031 8.

In recent decades some of the most important
contributions of Critical Theory have centred on the
‘public sphere’ (Offentlichkeit). Jiirgen Habermas’s
account has aroused considerable interest in the
Anglophone world, following the strangely belated
translation of The Structural Transformation of the
Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois
Society (1989), which was originally published in 1962.

Besides Habermas, other ‘second generation’ Critical
Theorists have also made a seminal contribution on this
topic. Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge’s recently
translated Public Sphere and Experience: Toward an
Analysis of the Bourgeois and Proletarian Public Sphere

Radical Philosophy 77 (May/June1996)


was originally published in 1972, ten years after
Habermas’s book. Many things had changed in the
intervening years: the West German Wirtschaftswunder
was tarnished by conjunctural crisis; the dominant
position of the Christian Democrats was being eroded;
and the student revolt of 1968, stimulated by Vietnam,
shook up the stale culture of the postwar Republic.

Although the public sphere is crucial to social
emancipation in both books, there is a significant change
of perspective between them.

For the radicalized student movement, whose
‘organic intellectuals’ Negt and Kluge were, it was
imperative to- abandon the stance of private intellectuals
characteristic of the postwar Frankfurt School. Fighting
the libels of a ‘liberal’ press and trying to create its own
public sphere, this was a moment of organization for the
extra-parliamentary opposition. In these circumstances,
relations between the leftist student movement and
Habermas, who accused it of ‘left fascism’, became
strained; the editor of the 1968 book Die Linke antwortet
Habermas (The Left answers Habermas) was Oskar

For many radical students, some kind of party would
resolve the problem of forging links with the working
class. However, since there was no agreement about the
character and politics of such a party, there was soon no
shortage of them. Negt and Kluge’s book can be seen as
an intervention against this tendency of the student
movement to split up into numerous small ‘left factions’.

What they offered was the wider critical – as well as
utopian – perspective of ‘proletarian public sphere’.

Their subject is accordingly the ‘dialectic of bourgeois
and proletarian public sphere’ (p. xliii). Compared to
Habermas, the stress placed on the connection between
the public spheres and people’s daily experience is new.

In accordance with the anti-authoritarian impulses of the
student revolt, Negt and Kluge sought to highlight the
role of sensuality, fantasy and experience – presumably
apparent in their remarkably fragmentary style – and yet
relocate them in a wider, and poFtically more promising,


Radical Philosophy 77 (May/June1996)

context of the ‘proletarian public sphere’ , where Wilhelm
Reich meets Georg Lukacs and the notion of class

Besides indicating ‘specific institutions, agencies,
practices’, the public sphere is ‘also a general social
horizon of experience in which everything that is actually
or ostensibly relevant for all members of society is
integrated’. In this sense, the public sphere is also a
‘dimension of their consciousness’ (pp. 1-2). The crux
of the argument is that the bourgeois and the – largely
undeveloped – proletarian public spheres crucially differ
in their ways of organizing experience. The bourgeois
public sphere regards the proletarian life-situation only
in so far as it can be incorporated ‘in a domesticated
form’ (p. 17) into the interests of profit-making. Its
proletarian counterpart, by contrast, is the form that sets
in motion repressed emancipatory potential, embodied
in experience and fantasies.

However, Negt and Kluge warn about the dangers of
‘the ideology of the camp’ , leading to political isolation.

They argue that in Italy, Germany and Austria the
workers’ movement was defeated largely because it did
not practise a politics combining ‘preventive control of
the bourgeois public sphere’ with ‘constructing a
counterpublic sphere’ (pp. 211-12). Because the
workers’ movement withdrew from the bourgeois public
sphere to its own narrowly conceived organizations, it
left the way open for fascist forces to dominat~ the
political arena.

Negt and Kluge differentiate between two forms of
bourgeois public sphere. The classical public sphere,
already analysed by Habermas, is composed mostly of
newspapers, parliaments, clubs, parties and societies.

The ‘new public spheres of production’, on the other
hand, ‘are a direct expression of the sphere of production’

(p. 13). This contemporary form comprises ‘the
consciousness industry’ and the relations between
advertising and consumption which it engenders, as well
as the new forms of PR work in politics. It creates a link
between the processes of production and what previously
counted as the ‘privacy’ of individuals, positing
television as a ‘concrete technique’ of the bourgeois
public sphere. Negt and Kluge’s emancipatory strategy
is the counter-production that sets in motion
‘sociological imagination’ (a term borrowed from C.

Wright Mills), and creates new active relations between
producers and audiences. In their view, only a
perspective of social change can evoke any real interest
in realism among viewers.

It is Negt and Kluge’s horizon of social change,
offering new ways of organizing experience, that is most
appealing in their book. Yet, the noncontemporary verve

of the book is in part eclipsed not just by the present
conjuncture but also by its inherent theoretical flaws. In
their conception, bourgeois and proletarian public
spheres, respectively, express the inherent essential
qualities of the abstract logic of capital and the
experience, repressed needs and fantasies of the
proletariat. This is suspiciously close to what Louis
Althusser once criticized as a conception of ‘expressive
totality’ .

There is also a class reductionism secreted in Negt
and Kluge’s attempt to move beyond Lukacs by
thematizing the constitution of class consciousness in
terms of the repressed needs, fantasies and experience of
the proletariat. Though their critique of leftist ‘ideology
of the camp’ tentatively points towards a wider horizon,
they are unable to break out of a class-reductionist
framework that ignores women and other oppressed
groups. Thus, their approach lags far behind the
Gramscian conception of hegemony and hegemonic
struggles. Given a similar problem in Habermas, this
seems to indicate that the notion of ‘public sphere’ is a
more useful analytical tool when linked with concepts
which do not originate in the Frankfurt tradition. That in
turn underlines the importance of a functioning radical
public sphere which facilitates an international exchange
of views. Welcome as this translation (and Miriam
Hansen’s exemplary foreword) is, it is to be hoped that it

industry. In Zappa, the unique cross-fertilization of rock
and classical music does not suppress heterogeneity in
the name of identity. Rather, Zappa’s music is seen as a
challenge to the tyranny of the exchange principle which
proclaims in favour of identity; that is, a world where
music becomes a spectacle of sameness. In Zappa’s
music there is no place for the sinister aspect of pop
where the regression of hearing is exploited by a music
programmed to cheat the listener into accepting
advertising as a site of genuine pleasure. Zappa, as
Watson puts it, seems intent on thrusting something
unpleasant at you. His obsession with sexual slavery,
bodies, machines, commodity fetishism, death and gas
masks, libidinal investment in atrocities and so on,
orchestrates the travesty of power, not its imitation.

Putting on public display all those unpleasant things
which are normally swept under the carpet, Zappa
became not only a symbol of political incorrectness but
also a hate figure for all those who extol decency. His
orchestration of the fear of one’s own impulses replays
the allure and cruelty of the siren song whose tormenting
melody is desired and denied in one breath. Zappa’s
music is that of the world’s greatest sinner who beats the
devil by acknowledging desire and, in so doing, shows
the misery of a world where the fine distinction between
sexual liberation and harassment remains unacknowledged. Zappa stated brute fact and so depri ved the moral

will not take more than twenty years for other German
authors to the left of Habermas to have their voices heard
across the barriers erected by the dominant media and

authority of the evangelist kind of its greatest pleasures.

Juha Koivisto

King Kong
Ben Watson, Frank Zappa: The Negative Dialectics of
Poodle Play, Quartet Books, London, 1994. xxxiii + 597
pp., £25.00 hb., 0 7043 7066 2.

Frank Zappa’s music was a life-long battle against
hypocrisy, censorship, injustice and the culture industry.

His last battle was against cancer, which he lost in
December 1993. Watson’s book is a timely review of
Zappa’s work and worth.

It can be summarized as follows: Zappa’s politics are
those of a petty bourgeois at the same time as his music
throws a spanner into the sweet music of bourgeois
respectability and political correctness. Zappa did not
enchant the disenchanted world with love songs, happytogether melodies, and the sweet repetitions that
characterize the homogenizing tyranny of the culture

Zappa jokes about blow jobs, whereas the television
evangelist Jimmy Swaggart is reduced to tears after
having been discovered practising things God forbade.

Lastly, Watson claims that Zappa’s project of social
documentation reconciles fact with the representation of
fulfilment as a broken promise. Against the culture
industry’s respectful melodies, Zappa’s music is seen to
sublimate rather than repress.

Watson develops his argument with particular
reference to Adorno’s work. Hence the book’s title: The
Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play. The first part of the
title summons Adorno as the critic of the
Enlightenment’s broken promise to liberate humankind
from self-imposed immaturity. The second part – poodle
play – indicates where Watson sees the negative dialectic
at work in Zappa. ‘Poodle’ stands for perversion both in
terms of sexual perversion and social servility. The
pampered and obedient poodle is a symbol of the unusual
intelligence credited to poodles being trammelled,
disciplined and domesticated. Zappa, so the argument
runs, throws the poodle back to his listeners and thus
produces a play in which power and pleasure, desire and
fear, are brought together, creating a situation where
reason and dark impulses coincide as separate-in-unity.

R a die a I Ph if 0 sop h y 7 7 (M a y / J u n e 1 9 9 6)



The combination of ‘poodle’ and ‘play’ holds the key to
what Watson sees as Zappa’s negative dialectic. The
spectacle of the everyday perversion is contrasted to
playfulness; and playfulness, rather than being external
to perversion, is shown to exist in denied form within
perversion itself. In short, the poodle barks.

The book’s main shortcoming concerns Watson’s
interpretation of Zappa through Adorno. Although it
discloses many useful insights, it is unconvincing.

Adorno is invoked when the argument is either
Marcuse’s or Benjamin’s (who saw emancipatory
potential in mass culture and surrealism). Either
Adorno’s critical account of popular music is skipped, or
it is asserted that Zappa does in fact achieve what Adorno
thought was impossible. A much more rigorous critique
of Adorno’s position, and location of his work within the
context of the Frankfurt School, might have been more
appropriate. Although this would have shifted the
balance of the book, it might well have improved what
ultimately amounts to the fairly predictable argument of
a committed ‘Zappalogist’.

The tension between Adorno’s position and Watson’s
embrace of Zappa is not used productively. Indeed, it
seems at times that Adorno’ s role is that of a straw man
required to endorse the value of Zappa’s work. Adorno’s
critique of ‘ticket mentality’ stands in sharp contrast to
Watson’s endorsement of Zappa as a ‘hero for anyone
who thinks that the class system … is something that
needs dismantling’ (p. 553). Is there a use-value in Zappa
for an SWP member (p. 552)? And would Zappajoin the
Anti-Nazi League (p. 548)? These views and sentiments
seem to indicate either a misunderstanding of ‘negative
dialectics’ or a regression of critical thought to ticket
mentality. Poodle play appears to prevail over negative
dialectics. Watson is surely right to claim that Zappa was
an extraordinary artist confronting the administered
world of the culture industry and the tyranny of the
exchange principle, according to which sales indicate
artistic value. Zappa’s critique of the sweet music of
repetition, and his refusal to supply simplistic melodic
structures conducive to the paraphrase of musical
advertising, need to be endorsed. However, merely
endorsing Zappa does not do him justice. Negative
dialectics need to be summoned as a critique of Zappa’ s
music itself. Without a critical reflection on
Zappa’s work, its endorsement lapses back into what
Zappa is said to resist: repetition, hero-worship and
fetishistic ritual. In the negative dialectic of poodle play,
the fetishization of Zappa prevails over a critical
evaluation of his achievements.

Werner Bonefeld


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Back to Hegel?

J.M. Bernstein, Recovering Ethical Life: liirgen
Habermas and the Future of Critical Theory, Routledge,
London and New York, 1995. xii + 249 pp., £40.00 hb.,
£13.99 pb., 0415061946 hb., 0415 11783 6 pb.

Half-way through the last decade of the twentieth
century, the problematic of ethical life seems as
inescapable as that of the fin de siecie itself. The revival
of Hegelian and sub-Hegelian theories of all kinds leaves
no doubt that Hegel’ s critique of Kantian abstraction,
along with Descartes’ cogito and Kant’s critique of
Humean empiricism, remains one of the central motifs
of Western philosophy. Everything else, whether in Marx
or Nietzsche, existentialism or postmodernism, can be
taken as an extrapolation of, or a reaction to, one or
another moment of Hegel’ s thought.

The oppositions between the first and second
generations of Critical Theory, represented by Adorno
and Habermas respectively, and continued by their
followers in the third generation, are also in many ways
a replay of those which separate Kant and Hegel. But, as
Jay Bernstein shows in this extremely challenging book,
Habermas, like the bourgeoisie in the English
Revolution, is on both sides. His thought is driven both
by an evolutionary conception of human development,
including, as Bernstein emphasizes, the tragic Hegelian
motif of the causality of fate, and by a Kantian concern
to provide grounds for our cognitive judgements on both
empirical and ethical questions in what Habermas terms
a post-metaphysical context.

For Bernstein, recovering ethical life means in part
recovering it from what he sees as Habermas’s
excessively Kantian approach. In this sequence of
powerful essays, several previously published but now
substantially reworked, he argues that Habermas should
have stayed closer to Hegel and Adorno, especially to
the latter’s aesthetic theory. Critical theory, he suggests,
is basically torn between a concern for justice, leading to
a focus on domination and exploitation, and a concern
for meaning, leading to a preoccupation with more
cultural issues to do with meaninglessness and nihilism
in capitalist modernity. Although Habermas uses
Lukacs’s concept of reification to address both these
dimensions, his ‘focus on the justice problem entails
surrender over the question of nihilism’ (p. 29);
Habermas’s attempts to handle Issues of
meaning(fulness) within an essentially neo-Kantian
framework of validity is ultimately part of the problem,
rather than a possible solution.

In an argument which for a time parallels that of Seyla
Benhabib’s Critique, Norm and Utopia, but then heads
off in a more radical (anti-Habermasian) direction,
Bernstein argues that Habermas has placed undue
emphasis on the model of the ‘ideal speech situation’

(chapter 2), misrepresented the cognitive claims of
psychoanalysis and exaggerated its emancipatory claims
(chapter 3), and overemphasized ‘moral norms’ at the
expense of ‘ethical identities’, incidentally drawing the
wrong conclusions from his detailed reading of
Durkheim and Mead (chapter 4). This leads to problems
in Habermas’ s characterization of the philosophical
discourse of modernity and his claims for communicative
rationality as against more traditional and felt solidarities
(chapter 6), and, once again, an emphasis on specific
judgements, rather than broader issues of worlddisclosure in language (chapter 7).

Put as baldly as this, the message of the book sounds
much more negative than Bernstein intends. First, he
stresses that Habermas’s Kantianism ‘corresponds to …

one of the deepest impulses of modern philosophical
reflection: to salvage the claims of rational universalism
while acknowledging the full force and import of
contingency and history (p. 229). Second, he notes that
Habermas has repeatedly acknowledged Hegelian or
Adornian objections to his approach, whether
spontaneously or in response to criticisms. Here, of
course, Habermas’s recognition of Hegelian motifs goes
along with what one might call a structural feature of his
own (or anyone else’s) work, in which a model initially
stated in bold (or perhaps excessively cut-and-dried)
terms, for the sake of argument, is subsequently
smoothed off at the edges with concessions to framework
and context – as, say, in the shift from Wittgenstein’s
early to his late work. And, while Bernstein believes that
Habermas was too quick to give up on some of the more
romantic or utopian elements in the thought of Hegel,
Marx and Adorno, he accepts that any attempt to restate
these themes in the present context must necessarily
engage with Habermas’ s work.

Bernstein promises for future books the ‘attempt to
vindicate Adorno’s analysis of modernity, Hegel’s
account of intersubjectivity or the ethical ideals of democratic state citizenship, the synthesis of which would
provide a critical theory for the future’ (p. 234). There is
no doubt that his forthcoming book on Adorno and the
one he plans on the causality of fate will be exceptionally
important contributions. Personally, I remain sceptical
about this direction of argument, for essentially the same
anti-utopian reasons which Habermas advances for
taking his distance from Hegel, Lukacs, or Adorno. But
there can be no doubt that the vigorous debates between

Habermas and his more Hegelian critics continue to
focus many of the most central intellectual and practicalpolitical issues of our time. As Bernstein notes, several
thinkers deeply sympathetic to Habermas’s project Albrecht Wellmer, Seyla Benhabib and Axel Honnethhave all, in different ways, revived Hegelian forms of
thought, and Bernstein’ s outstanding book is now also
essential reading for anyone concerned with Habermas’ s
thinking and its implications for contemporary social and
political theory.

William Outhwaite

In the family way
Carole Ulanowsky, ed., The Family in the Age of
Biotechnology, Avebury, Aldershot, 1995. ix + 161 pp.,
£32.50 hb., 1 85628 955 9.

The predominance of the traditional household form – a
married heterosexual couple and their offspring sharing a
permanent residence – has been undermined over the past
twenty-five years by at least two developments. One has
been the growing prevalence of non-traditional household
arrangements, such as lone parent families, and unmarried
cohabiting couples, both heterosexual and gay or lesbian,
with and without dependent children. The second
development has been in reproductive technology, chiefly
IVF, AID and surrogacy. This has extended the possibility
of parenthood both to those previously incapable by reason
of infertility (including, most contentiously, postmenopausal women), and to those, such as lesbians,
disinclined to procreate through heterosexual coition. Not
only are new familial forms possible, but they would seem
now to be open to control and choice.

Against this background, it seems implausible to
continue characterizing the family, in its traditional
guise, as ‘natural’ where this means ‘inevitable’,
‘standard’ or ‘given’. Whether it should be natural in
the sense of ‘normal’ or ‘ideal’ is contentious. This
collection of essays, although of uneven quality,
represents a valuable contribution to the debate.

Unsurprisingly, a major theme is an exploration of the
tension between the ‘natural’ and its various contraries,
such as ‘chosen’, ‘constructed’, ‘social’, ‘artificial’,
‘technological’ and ‘new’.

Marilyn Strathem muses, as an anthropologist, on the
interconnected meanings of the old and new, change and
preservation, social and technological, in our discourses
about the family. Philip Cole bluntly argues that the
current framework of legal and medical controls around
the new reproductive techniques aims to maintain a

Radical Philosophy 77 (May/June1996)










:.) ‘1.• ‘




traditional familial structure, even whilst the biological
relationships within it may be radically novel. Both
contributions suggest that, concerning the family in the
age of biotechnology, the plus ra change maxim applies.

Brenda Almond provides a spirited defence of the
priority of natural bonds, especially those between
biological parent and offspring, over social or
constructed relations. By contrast, Martin Thomasson
offers a lively defence of Marge Piercy’ s fictional utopia,
wherein children are produced ectogenetically and
parented by three ‘comothers’. Both pieces give a good
sense of what there is to be said for and against the value
of kinship in the context of the family.

Thomasson speaks of a broader ‘networked’ family,
but does not develop further the idea of communal
responsibility for rearing children. Surprisingly, no one
else really goes beyond the question of variations in
family form, to broach the issue of whether any form of
the family is really necessary or desirable. This is a pity.

In an admirably nuanced piece, Sandra Marshall
considers how far the new technology puts consideration
of agency and responsibility, with respect to the having
of children and the formation of families, within a model
of choice rather than contingency or luck. We have, it
might seem, moved from ‘falling pregnant’ to ‘making a
baby’. What enters the picture through her discussion is
the role of collective policy-making. For if reproduction
is open to control, ‘private’ individual choice can be
circumscribed and regulated by public rules. That opens
up the whole matter of who should be permitted to have
and to rear children. Apart from the occasional swipe at
the Right’s unwarranted pillorying of certain
unacceptable parents, such as single mothers and
lesbians, nothing is said about whether society should let
anyone who can have children (and remember how
extensive that list now is) do so (and remember that
nothing in the matter of having children need now be left
to chance or luck).

This comparative silence is compounded by the fact
that marriage and monogamy get a sustained battering in


Ra die a I Phi I 0 sop h y 77 (M ay / J u n e 1 996 )

the three final pieces of the volume. The criticism is well
made, but it is also at a tangent to the main concerns of
the book. It is the ideal of the couple as such which these
chapters subvert, rather than the need for child care to be
managed by at least two parents in a permanent loving
relationship exclusive of others. It would have been good
to see someone explore the question of child
development, and the role that should be played by
significant adult others. Neil Leighton’s remarks on a
child’s need to acquire a sense of self as a li ved narrative,
in which biological origin is crucial, are suggestive but
in real need of extended exposition.

Notwithstanding its omissions, the book is to be
commended for the wealth of good arguments it boasts.

Editors and publishers might also note that the book,
although short, comprises ten contributions. Good,
informative and argumentative philosophy can be short
and snappy.

David Archard

Goods and bads
Ulrich Beck, Anthony Giddens and Scott Lash, Reflexive
Modernization: Politics, Tradition and Aesthetics in the
Modern Social Order, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1994.

viii + 225 pp., £39.50 hb., £12.95 pb., 0 7456 12776 hb.,
07456 12784 pb.

One of the best ways to understand this book is to see it
as the product of a dialogue between the thinking of two
influential sociologists – one British, Anthony Giddens;
the other German, Ulrich Beck. Despite thirty years or
more of extensive programmes of translation in social
theory, such genuinely collaborative work across
national boundaries is still far too rare. In addition, these
authors have had a much wider social and political
impact than most sociologists could ever expect. As
Michael Rustin noted recently (see RP 67), Beck’s Risk
Society sold 60,000 copies in five years in Germany,
becoming a cornerstone of Green political discussions
and propelling Beck into a career in journalism. Giddens
may not be so famous in Britain, but, as Scott Lash points
out, whereas he used to be read mainly by sociologists
for highly theoretical discussions of ‘structuration’ , since
the publication of such books as Modernity and SelfIdentity and The Transformation of Intimacy, a whole
new audience reads him in search of enlightenment about
trust and risk, relationships, sex and therapy.

The second way to understand this book is as a
sociological response to the broad phenomena of postmodernism (or, as Giddens prefers, ‘late modernity’). In

sociological theory this tends to take the form of the
return of repressed agency after decades of domination
by structural determination in both functionalist and
Marxist forms. Reflexive Modernization consists ofthree
essays on specific areas, one by each author, which
develop previous work: Beck on the politics of risk
society; Giddens on tradition and de-traditionalization;
and Lash on aesthetics and culture. These are followed
by shorter responses by the three authors to each other’s

The centre of the argument in each case concerns the
nature and significance of global social and economic
changes, and their effect on questions of agency
(especially individual agency). Via concepts like
‘individualization’ and ‘disembedding’, Beck and
Giddens suggest that changes in the form of social and
economic life are forcing a ‘freeing’ of agency from
structure and promoting the reflexivity of agents, both
individual and institutional, in relation to the structures
of their environment. At the core of this process are
changes in economic organization, usually called postFordism, but with general characteristics such as
knowledge intensiveness, self-monitoring of work
organization, flexible specialization for individualized
consumers, niche markets, and so on. All of these are
said to correspond to wider individualizing processes in
civic culture, in the form of increasing emphasis on the
value of autonomy and a decline in the collective
organizations of the industrial-capitalist period. A critical
edge is given to the work by the ecologically informed
sense of the increasing dangers or ‘risks’ to an environment, both cultural and natural, that cannot carry the
weight of modern practices.

In general Reflexive Modernization is stimulating and
imaginative; it may well help a wider, non-academic
readership to make some sense of the confusion around
them. But I have some rather old-fashioned doubts about
the evidential basis of some of its claims. This is
especially true of Beck’s contribution. Take, for
example, the following bald statement: ‘With the advent

of risk society, the distributional conflicts over “goods”
(income, jobs, social security), which constituted the
basic conflicts of classical industrial society and led to
attempted solutions in the relevant institutions, are
covered over by the distributional conflicts over “bads'”
(p. 6). Could anyone seriously recognize this as an
accurate description of, say, British or French society?

Surely what is happening is that we have conflicts over
the ‘goods’ and the ‘bads’ . If this description might more
plausibly fit Germany, then that fact should be brought
out in a putatively international discussion.

All the authors raise important issues. Giddens
provides a much-needed sociological discussion of the
nature of tradition, which should provoke debate. Lash’s
contribution is in some ways the most helpful, given his
direct engagement with his co-authors and his relation of
theory to a variety of evidence.

Peter McMylor

Keith Ansell-Pearson, An Introduction to Nietzsche as
Political Thinker: The Perfect Nihilist, Cambridge
University Press, Cambridge, 1994. xix + 243 pp., £35.00
hb., £10.95 pb., 0 521 41722 8 hb., 0 521 41721 5 pb.

The question of Nietzsche’s politics causes even his
defenders to become apologists for an aristocratic
libertarianism often labelled as fascism. It doesn’t help a
posthumous reputation that there were many authorized
Nazi editions of Nietzsche – ambiguous aphorisms torn
from the context of his thought, which is so explicitly
anti-systemic that his style lends itself to precisely this
type of ideological decontextualization.

Ansell-Pearson’s Nietzsche is fundamentally a
political writer distanced from the European liberal
tradition, his sane adult life coinciding with the reign of
the political pragmatist Bismarck. Although the young
Nietzsche briefly sympathized with this brand of powerpolitics, he came to reject Bismarck’s policies as racist,
statist and nationalist, all major objections to the type of
unified Europe of which Nietzsche approved. Critical of
both liberalism and socialism, the mature Nietzsche
championed an aristocratic, hierarchical view of the
political structure of the state, and this fragmentary
manifesto is illuminated by Ansell-Pearson’s range of
reference. As well as readings of the major Nietzschean
texts, which take care not to assume either a philosophical or a political bias in the reader, he also uses two

R a die a I P h if 0 sop h y 7 7 (M a y / J u n e 1 9 9 6)


unpublished essays, ‘The Greek State’ and ‘Homer’s
Contest’, which shed light both on Nietzsche’s
conception of the Greeks as practical legislators and on
his own debut, The Birth of Tragedy.

The doubts and contradictions remain, of course. But
where Nietzsche is concerned, this is the nature of the
beast, blond or otherwise. Indeed, the only aspect of
Nietzsche’s work which is possibly more contentious
than his politics is his sexual politics, and Nietzsche’ s
apparently indefensible attitude towards women is
examined here in the light of Irigaray, Cixous, Derrida
and others. Contemporary feminism has found an
unlikely ally in Nietzsche, and Ansell-Pearson makes
clear the role played by the German in the rethinking of
the politics of identity.

As well as its political concerns, this is also an
excellent general introduction to Nietzsche’s thought,
eschewing attempted refutation and ensuring that an
English readership is not further misled by the politics of
translation. Analysis of the infamous Nietzschean notion
of the Ubermensch, for example, shows the standard
English ‘superman’ to be a lazy translation with
compounds the view of Nietzsche as proto-fascist. The
various meanings of Uber are isolated and their effects
made much clearer than the popular cartoon of some
genetic stormtrooper which dominated the received
opinion about Nietzsche’s political programme for so

Finally, Nietzschean politics is seen as a reply to the
question which Nietzsche himself was the first to pose,
that of nihilism, or the realization that history has no
underlying teleology. Ansell-Pearson considers the
answers Nietzsche himself provided in terms of cultural
and historical genealogies, and identifies two distinct
political solutions which exist in fragmentary form
throughout Nietzsche’s work. The ‘politics of survival’

covers the ironic and parodic treatment to which
Nietzsche submits Western culture, in order to see how it
survives the advent of nihilism. The ‘politics of cruelty’

gathers together the evidence for Nietzsche’ s aristocratic
and ideal state. Ansell-Pearson is both sympathetic to,
and appropriately critical of, Nietzsche’s belief that an
instituted social hierarchy, which includes slavery as a
prerequisite, is necessary for a strong culture based on
non-nationalist, non-racial principles. Comparing this
Machiavellian view with the instituted wage-slavery of
the modern West, one might agree with Ansell-Pearson
that Nietzsche can be read as ‘the most democratic of
philosophers, since he allows his readers the freedom of
interpretation’ .

Mark Gullick


Radical Philosophy 77 (May/June1996)

It’s me
Laura Marcus, Autolbiographical Discourses: Theory,
Criticism, Practice, Manchester University Press,
Manchester, 1994.322 pp., £35.00 hb., 0 7190 3642 9.

Autobiography invites, and poses, questions about
writing, subjectivity and identity. Theory calls in
question the coherence of the authorial ‘I’, and the
revaluation of cultural history challenges the prestige of
a genre whose canonical texts -like all canonical texts have mostly been produced by the wrong kinds of
subject: men from the educated classes. Yet
autobiographies, and autobiographical projects that
involve the practices of collective writing and oral
history (such as Laura Marcus discusses in her final
chapter), have been important for members of
subordinate groups seeking to affirm subjectivity, agency
and identity. This tension, between a deconstructive
theoretical impulse which makes short work of ‘identity’ ,
and a practice of writing, based precisely in the search
for ‘identity’, which makes possible the telling and
publication of new kinds of stories, emerges clearly in
Marcus’s book. She also offers useful formulations of
other key issues, pointing, for instance, to how recent
theorization of autobiography fuses critiques of. the
subject derived from several sources (Nietzsche,
psychoanalysis, poststructuralist theory, sociology of
culture), or insisting that to attribute ‘representativity’ to
the life stories of those who ‘speak as’ members of
marginal groups involves the dubious assumption that
within those groups, individual difference – the
difference between the writer and those whom s/he is
thought to, or claims to, represent – does not much

Autolbiographical Discourses combines a historical
survey of the genre since Rousseau with a discussion of
matters of theoretical and critical principle. This
proceeds by way of a wide-ranging, though somewhat
disorganized, dialogue with the ideas of scholars and
critics – mainly British, French, German and North
American – who have written about autobiography from
diverse positions and in diverse academic settings:

Dilthey, who saw autobiography as paradigmatic for the
development of the self-understanding that should found
the human sciences; de Man, whose deconstructive
assault on the autobiographical project can be read, it is
suggested, as a mute disavowal of now notorious
passages in his own life story; Derrida, and scores of
others. This minute engagement with academic

commentary avoids any pre-emptive closing of the

analysis is, at best, schematic. Her unWillingness to

questions which make the status of autobiography so

engage seriously with Lyotard, Rorty or Foucault

problematic, but leaves the reader wishing that Marcus
had used a somewhat firmer hand in organizing her
material. It also means that secondary critiques bulk very
much larger in the book than do primary texts. There is a
fairly extended discussion of Orlando (in a chapter on
Woolf, Strachey and the ‘new biography’), and briefer

eventually undermines her arguments about ‘subjectsin-community’ and ‘oppositional politics’ – notions

accounts of Andre Gorz’s The Traitor and Ronald
Fraser’s In Search of a Past. But more typical are the five
pages Marcus devotes to readings of Wordsworth by de
Man and Jacobus, while saying virtually nothing about
The Prelude.

Generally, the discussion of critico-historical metadiscourses lacks much grounding in extended treatment
of autobiographical works. The ‘theory’ and ‘criticism’

of the subtitle dominate, and ‘criticism’ turns out, as it
often does nowadays, to mean mainly the critique of
critique: there is very little account of ‘practice’. This is
all the more frustrating in that the primary texts – one
thinks, for instance, of Bronte’s Villette (not mentioned),
or de Beauvoir’s fictions and autobiographies (which
receive just four passing references) – have sometimes
been remarkable pioneering documents in the
exploration of the very questions with which criticism
and theory are nowadays engaged.

Martin Ryle

Honi Fern Haber, Beyond Postmodern Politics: Lyotard,
Rorty, Foucault, Routledge, New York and London,
1994. vii + 160 pp., £37.50 hb., £12.99 pb., 041590822
1 hb., 0415 90823 X pb.

What’s in a preposition? The suspicion that the singleminded pursuit of epistemic and value pluralism, or what
Honi Fern Haber calls the ‘universalisation of
difference’, might be of limited political use has created
the conditions for a rethinking of the political
possibilities afforded by postmodern philosophies.

Hence the promise held by the forward-looking ‘beyond’

in the title of her book indicates at least in equal measure
a dissatisfaction with postmodernist political discourse.

Yet those who expect a careful analysis of the political
aporias of poststructuralism will be disappointed. This is
not because Haber’s criticisms, which form the basis for
her positive claims, are misdirected, but because her

which, despite being defended with passion and
conviction, remain vague and insubstantial.

For someone who is so concerned with difference to the extent that Haber naturalizes it, frequently referring
to ‘the fact of difference’, which, we are assured, is ‘not
something philosophers or political theorists or anyone
need worry about; it is simply the way things (all of
which are subject to the law of difference) are’ – she has
a uniquely undifferentiated view of the history of
philosophy (which gets the ‘reign of reason’ treatment),
and of the intellectual development of the authors she
deals with. For instance, she presents Lyotard’s ‘pagan
politics’ as a seamless extension of what she calls the
‘semiotic and structuralist background’, to which she
devotes three paragraphs headed by slogans such as ‘the
decentered self’ and ‘the ubiquity of language’. She
shows no awareness of the possibility that Lyotard, in
his discussion of desire, and indeed Foucault, through
the concept of power, might have been reacting to the
poststructuralist prioritization of language; that this
reaction might be politically motivated; or that it might
already be an attempt to move beyond critique of the
notion of a self-transparent subjectivity. towards a
conceptualization of political struggle in terms of
oppositional forces. By consistently underestimating the
complexity and the difficulty of her topic, Haber is often
led to facile assessments, quickly dismissing Lyotard’s
Kantian turn, for example, for being a relic of a
deplorable traditionalism.

Haber subjects her own ideas to the same casual
treatment, a habit that bodes ill for her proposal of a
‘politics of difference’. We are urged to accept and value
the plural identities of ourselves and of others on the
grounds that the sheer fact of belonging to different
communities has direct normative implications, prompts
feelings of solidarity, ’empowers’ oppressed minorities,
and creates an ‘ideal political state’. To say that Haber
deals in a cavalier fashion with the issues of legitimacy
and representation, the problem of reflexivity, or the
hermeneutic problem of picking and choosing selves,
would be an understatement. As a result, her vision of
politics sounds like a game of happy families in which
everybody has only to open their jaws to let the roast
partridges of a jolly liberalism fly into their mouths.

Beyond? Not quite.

Katerina Deligiorgi

R a die a I P h if 0 sop h y 7 7 (M a y I J u n e 1 9 9 6)


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