The following text has been automatically reproduced by an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) algorithm. It may not have been checked over by human eyes. For matters of precision please consult the original pdf.

78 Reviews

REVIEWS
Bodies in transition
Elizabeth Grosz, Volatile Bodies: Towards a Corporeal Feminism, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and
Indianapolis, 1994. xvi + 250 pp., £32.50 hb., £12.99 pb., 0 253 32686 9 hb., 0 253 20862 9 pb.

Rosalyn Diprose, The Bodies of Women: Ethics, Embodiment and Sexual Difference, Routledge, London and
New York, 1994. xi + 148 pp., £35.00 hb., £1l.99 pb., 0 415 09782 7 hb., 0 415 09783 5 pb.

Rosi Braidotti, Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory,
Columbia University Press, New York, 1994. xi + 325 pp., £34.00 hb., £12.00 pb., 0231082347 hb., 0 231
08235 5 pb.

The body is a central but difficult concept for feminist
theory. As the derogated term in the tradition of postCartesian thought, it is key to understanding women’s
oppression and constitutes the ground for alternative
conceptions of ethics and politics. However, in thinking through the concept of the body, feminist thought
has tended to polarize around social constructionist
and psychoanalytic perspectives. Each has its own
limitations. Whilst providing an ‘anti-essentialist’

account of the body, social constructionist approaches
propose such an arbitrary link between the body and
sexual identity (sex-gender) that it is difficult to
explain why it is the female body which is inscribed
with an inferior feminine identity. A constructionist
perspective also endows the body with a problematic
originary status, in that it is held to exist prior to
processes of social inscription and as such may
provide the basis for liberatory practices. Whilst
psychoanalysis provides an account of how the sexually differentiated body is the condition of possibility
of identity, it is problematic in so far as it normalizes
the feminine position as negativity or lack.

This polarization has been further entrenched by
the polemical debate within feminism over ‘essentialism’. Some recent feminist thought, however, has
attempted to overcome such dichotomies by combining
psychoanalytic and constructionist insights in an idea
of the body as a deeply inscribed but open-ended or
transitional construct. Perhaps the most notable example of this approach is Judith Butler’s work on the
body as a performative entity.

It is on this terrain that these three excellent critical
studies are situated. What is immediately striking
about them is their similarities in aim, argument and
intellectual reference points. Each begins with the
presumption that it is necessary to jettison the
subject-object paradigm in order to reformulate the

34

Radical Philosophy

78 (July/August

1996)

concept of subjectivity through a univocal concept of
embodiment. Embodiment is understood as the
threshold through which the subject’s lived experience of the world is mediated. As the point of overlap between the physical, the symbolic and the
sociological, the body is a dynamic, mutable frontier.

It is neither pure object, since it is the place of one’s
engagement with the world; nor pure subject, in that
there is always a material residue which resists incorporation into a voluntarist schema. The dominant
sources for such a formulation of the body are Lacan,
Merleau-Ponty, Foucault and Deleuze.

In The Bodies of Women, Diprose deploy.s the
notion of embodiment as a critique of traditional
moral theory, whose reliance upon a disembodied
notion of the self and a contractarian model of social
relations renders it incapable of an adequate account
of sexual difference. This is illustrated by the treatment of surrogacy in bio-medical ethics, which denies
the specificity of the pregnant body in order to resolve
competing claims over the foetus. Whilst this critique
is familiar, Diprose remains critical of alternative
feminist theories of ethics. Pateman’s rejection of
contractarianism is problematic because it restricts
women’s actions by not offering an alternative way
to think the nature of social exchange. Gilligan’s
reliance on object-relations theory to sustain her
ethics of care serves further to naturalize stereotypical
perceptions of sexual difference. Finally, Benhabib’s
idea of an ‘interactive universalism’ eradicates alterity
in the normalizing framework of communicative
relations, which assumes the transparency of self and
other to each other.

Diprose argues that a radical ethical practice must
primarily be understood as a relation with the body in
the manner suggested by Foucault in his final work.

Here, the body is not the fixed foundation for ethical

practice, but rather the volatile surface upon which the
exploration and creation of new types of identity takes
place. Foucault’s idea is limited, however, by his
emphasis on the relation with the body as aesthetic
activity, the value of which is determined not through
interaction with others but through a solipsistic privileging of action per se. Such a monadic model cannot
incorporate an ethical perspective based on a relational
conception of identity and sexual difference. Drawing
on Irigaray, Diprose argues that this relational
conception must be one of radical plurality, of the
continuum of identities that exist between polarities
and that resist containment within the structures of
opposition or complementarity. An outline of it is
immanent to Hegel’s thought. However, it ultimately
offers only a restricted economy of difference, because
the dialectical drive towards the reconciliation of
identity and difference forecloses the uncontainable
moment of alterity.

The notion of the gift suggests a relational model
of social relations, whereby the gift is constitutive of
the identity of the giver and the receiver as they are
given in the relation. Identity and difference do not
pre-exist the relation; nor does self-present identity
flow from it. Such a model can be generalized as the
basis of a radical ethics of sexual difference in which
an ethical relation to the other rests on not determining anything about the other’s difference ahead of, or
during, one’s encounter with them. Thus, in contrast
to a communicative ethics, the other’s difference
remains beyond accommodation, bearing the ‘gift’ of
new possibilities of being. Derrida has recognized the
ethical potential of the relation of irreducible difference implied in the gift. However, Diprose shares the
concerns of other feminists that the celebration of the
feminine as indecipherability neglects the question of
women as concrete historical beings. This difficulty
can be bypassed if the play of difference is understood not as a transcendental process but as executed
upon the surface of women’s bodies. Hence difference

as irreducible otherness refers to the material remainder within the dominant economy of representation:

that is, the extent to which the bodies of women are
never fully absorbed by the hegemonic definitions of
femininity. This moment of excess is the point from
which an alternative ethics can be formulated.

The elements of Diprose’s argument are familiar,
but the sensitivity of her textual readings, and the
elegance of her writing, are impressive. Some questions perhaps need fuller consideration – for example,
the extent to which the idea of the gift has been used,
in a Bataillean tradition, to uphold an implicitly
masculine idea of sovereign expenditure. Moreover,
the argument about the normalizing impulse of communicative ethics needs to be developed. However,
this is an important contribution to feminist ethics.

Grosz also develops a critique of the Cartesian
subject through a notion of embodiment as an unstable
and open-ended process. In place of the idea of the
gift, Grosz uses the image of the Mobius strip to replace dualistic understandings of the relation between
psychical interior and corporeal exterior (mind-body,
inside-outside) with a notion of mutual inheritance of
torsion of one into another. The image of the Mobius
strip dictates the structure of the book, which argues
for the co-dependence of constructionist and psychoanalytic insights in an understanding of the subject.

Through a critical rereading of psychoanalytic, neurological and phenomenological accounts, Grosz traces
the way in which the formation of the psyche is constitutive of corporeal reality. Despite the problematic
association of femininity with negativity, Grosz claims
that psychoanalysis yields a non-oppositional conception of mind and body in the idea of ‘body image’,
which suggests a necessary inter-constituency and
relation of mutual determination between the biological and psycho-social domains. This notion of
mutual inheritance provides a concept of the body as
a transitional entity in so far as it is amenable to
immense transformations.

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

78

(J u I Y / A u 9 u S t

19 9 6)

35

Through a rereading of Nietzsche, Foucault,
Deleuze and Lingis, on the other hand, Grosz considers how the social inscription of the surface of the
body generates psychical interiority. Contrary to
feminist criticism of his work, Grosz argues that the
Deleuzian idea of the ‘body without organs’ is suggestive, in that it proposes a denaturalized, univocal
concept of being. The body without organs is a field
of immanence of desire which resists transcendence
and defies hierarchization. As a volatile entity, it is
the site of a multiplicity of micro-struggles between
competing power regimes. Such a notion suggests that
the ascription of feminine corporeal identity is never
straightforward or complete.

This is a lucidly written study, which sets out debates
clearly for those not familiar with the field, while being
impressive in its erudition. It is perhaps least successful in the brief final section, which seeks to show how
the ontological incompleteness of the body leads to a
counter-violence of resistance. More needs to be said
on how the localized instances of the body’s uncontainable status can be generalized into meaningful
patterns of resistance. However, this is a minor quibble
with a book of great scholarliness and insight.

For Braidotti, it is the figure of the nomad that is
used to challenge phallocentric definitions of subjectivity. The image of the nomad encapsulates the condition of the postmodern subject: nomadic identity is
changeable and unstable, but also acquires form from
its particular situation. This gives rise to a mode of
thinking that is autobiographical, that addresses its
own situatedness, but that resists the desire for fixity
or generalization. This further dictates the authorial

style, which moves from the personal and aneGdotal
to the academic and speculative. It is speculative in
that some of the arguments could be better sustained.

For example, the concept of postmodernity is
assumed to be self-evident and non-contentious. The
use of neologisms such as ‘McDonaldized world’ are
unfortunate, and evoke an unmodulated mass cultural
pessimism. Moreover, despite her commitment to
difference feminism, Braidotti slips into a rather undifferentiated view of sexual relations in general
statements such as: ‘It is precisely in their being all
equally excluded from sociopolitical rights that all
women are alike’ (p. 253); and ‘However different
women may be from each other in other respects, all
women are excluded from higher education’ (p. 235).

However, Nomadic Subjects is also speculative in
a positive sense, in that it is brimful with interesting
and provocative insights. Braidotti’s interpretation of
her sources skilfully treads the line between criticism
and creative reappropriation. For example, she inverts
Deleuze’s idea of the ‘body without organs’ to
produce an interesting analysis of how the dismemberment of the body within reproductive technologies reinforces patriarchal power. Reprinted here
is her celebrated essay on the politics of ontological
difference, which attempts to reformulate the notion
of essentialism as a historical rather than a transcendental category. There are also essays on the irppli:cations of European Unity for feminism, ethics, and
men in feminism. This is a playful, splendidly wideranging and insightful work. All three studies are set
to push feminist debate on to new terrains.

Lois McNay

Against Hobbes and Pangloss
Justin Rosenberg, The Empire of Civil Society: A Critique of the Realist Theory of International Relations,
Verso, London and New York, 1994. 256 pp., £39.95 hb., £12.95 pb., 0 86091 442 9 hb., 0 86091 607 3 pb.

Perhaps only those who have laboured in the often
exiguous vineyards of international relations theory
can appreciate the richness and importance of Justin
Rosenberg’s book. For many, even those otherwise
conversant with social theory, the news that there is
something which may be a theory of international
relations might come as a surprise. International
relations may well be the last area of human activity
which we are condemned to live as pure, unreflected
experience – a world where, under the guise of
common sense, fear, prejudice and unchallenged historical myths predominate, and where those who seek

36

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

78

(J u I Y / A u 9 u S t

19 9 6)

improvement resort to invocations of perfectibility. For
others, not least some of those now entering the field
from the disciplines of history and sociology, there is
no need to go further than the first wayside cafe – the
tourist trap of ‘realism’, with its stress on an unchanging and irremediable realm of inter-state conflict.

It is not that there have not been challengers. The
cautious refer to incremental improvement, epitomized
by the building of international law and institutions;
and in this fiftieth year of the UN, with ‘Europe’

growing apace, there is something to be said for that.

Others, apparently driven to despair by the intractabil-

ity of the issues, have resorted to dramatic alternatives:

the state is all but gone; war should be abolished; ‘nonstate’ activities from town-twinning and stamp collecting to freedom of movement should be embraced;
humanity should engage in an all-transcending, cosmopolitan hug. Nor have historical materialists been
absent. There is a far richer vein of Marxist writing on
the international than many, including most Marxists,
would realize: early twentieth-century debates on the
relation between capitalism, empire and war; later
theories of the unequal and combined character of the
world economy; theorizations of the role of domestic
interest in determining foreign policy, come to mind.

More recently some (of us) have tried to explain Cold
War, and the end of the Cold War, in this way. It will
come as no surprise that in recent times another form
of challenge, in the form of postmodernism, has also
arisen: all our old friends are there – the rejection of a
single narrative, multiple identities, diplomacy as text,
and the international as playfulness.

Rosenberg is cognizant of these debates, but has
produced a work that is decisively, confidently and
successfully distinct from them. His aim is nothing
less than a reconceptualization of the international
system by doing something that has not been done
before: namely, to bring the international into the
orbit of social theory as a whole. This is done in two,
convergent, ways: a reconceptualization of the ‘international’ in the light of general social theory; and an
analysis of the ways in which the apparently separate
realm of international relations is a function of
changing forms of social power within societies. In
particular, he approaches his topic in the light of three
general concepts that serve to highlight the limitations
of orthodox theories of inter-state relations, and to
relegate their sundry competitors to the sidelines.

These are historicity, modernity, and the relationship
of the political to the economic realms.

The stress on historicity denies that any social or
political forms can be treated as constants, across
different social and economic epochs. Asserting the
importance of the concept of ‘totality’, Rosenberg
shows how in international relations, as elsewhere in
social life, institutions have a particular origin and
content. From this starting point it is possible to
introduce modernity: this serves to demonstrate that,
in contrast to the transhistorical claims of most writers
on the international, who treat states, nations, war, diplomacy as constants, from Thucydides to Kissinger,
the forms of these in modern history are products of
the process that has transformed the whole world over
the past two centuries. Rosenberg’s central theme

is that our contemporary conception of the ‘international’, of a world of competing states, is a product
of that particular separation of state and market which
emerged with the rise of modern capitalism.

Far from being eternal, or a separate realm, the
international is an expression of the differentiation of
state and economic relations characteristic of capitalist
modernity. Not the least service which Rosenberg
performs is the revival of interest in Karl Polanyi’s The
Great Transformation (originally published in 1944):

this identifies the connection between the inter-state
wars of the twentieth century and the social and political changes – the ‘great transformation’ – of the nineteenth. We need not accept Polanyi’s or Rosenberg’s
specific answers to be convinced by their question.

Faced with these insights, critical in the best sense
of both challenging an orthodoxy and suggesting an
alternative agenda, Rosenberg proceeds to reconstruct
an alternative history of the international system, in
which the apparently eternal forms of inter-state
activity are set in their historicized context. Once
again, the critical power of denaturalization, of
showing how forms of power distribution and hierarchy experienced as eternal are in fact contingent
products, is demonstrated. Thus, at different phases of
its evolution, the international system is revealed to
correspond to different phases of the development of
capitalism itself, both in its internal socio-economic
form, and in the manner of its extension across the
world.

Rosenberg is not the first to argue for an understanding of the international system based on the
existence of a world market: Wallerstein, for one, has
made much of this. But whereas Wallerstein offers a
single, expanding world market, in which the political
entity, the state, nationalism, alliances, the balance of
power are expressions of that market, Rosenberg’s
analysis identifies the necessary, ideological, roles of
these political forms, and their changing interaction
with this expanding market. Equally, with his focus
on modernity, he draws a much sharper distinction
than does Wallerstein between the earlier, mercantilist,
period of capitalist expansion, when the political and
the economic were intertwined, and the later, ‘modern’, form in which the two are separated.

Here he deploys the most creative insight of
Marx’s work: the need to investigate the realities concealed by the appearances of social relations. Perhaps
the most powerful section of all is Chapter 5, where
Rosenberg’s critical agenda yields its most substantive results in his analysis of the ’empire of civil
society’ – that is, the non-territorial empire of glo-

Ra die a I Phi I 0 sop h y

78

(J u I Y / A u 9 u S t

1 996)

37

balized economic relations distinct from the political
and territorial empires of earlier epochs. He shows
how the central concepts of an ahistorical international relations – sovereignty, the balance of power,
and the anarchy of the international system, supposedly eternal givens of a world of unequal states are a reflection of the underlying structures of this
particular system of capitalist market relations.

This is a work of great insight and precision, a
model of social theory in general, and a rebuke to the
accumulated musings of many others on the international system. At a time when a range of critical
voices are being heard in this field, and when there is
much loose talk of a new era of ‘globalization’, the
level and rigour of Rosenberg’s analysis are more
welcome than ever. It is a tribute to the book’s
challenge that, in so successfully executing its
critique, it raises questions that remain unanswered.

There is, on the one hand, the inevitable temptation,
when studying long-term shifts in social form, to
downplay the confusion, chaos and contingency
involved in the reorganization of social and political
power. It may be that capitalism is moving towards a
formal separation of the economic and the political,
but the history of the last two hundred years shows
much bloody combination of the two, in world wars
and elsewhere, and it is by no means clear that such a

complete separation will now be achieved. It is not
just institutionalist social theorists, but many a dominant class, which now seek to bring the state back in.

By establishing the link between the international
and the distribution of social power within societies,
this analysis raises the question of agency – of how
human actors have, historically, acted, or might,
normatively, act to change the pattern of international
relations. Hitherto, as Rosenberg underlines, the
argument has been an unhappy one, proponents of a
deterministic realm of conflict being countered by the
advocates of goodwill and human improvement. In
the unreflective world of states, Hobbes and Pangloss
ride side by side.

Marxists themselves have had their own illusions,
oscillating from a Stalinist perspective of inevitability
to proclamations about the ability of the working class
and its allies to transform the international system.

The search for the emancipatory subject – one
necessarily posed by the theoretical framework of
Rosenberg’s analysis – continues. The lesson of this
study, however, is that it is only when we go beyond
the appearances of the inter-state system and identify
its underlying structures of power, that it becomes
possible to discuss such a transformation, at once
critically and realistically.

Fred Halliday

The horrors of history
Alex Callinicos, Theories and Narratives: Reflections on the Philosophy of History, Polity Press, Cambridge,
1995. x + 252 pp., £45.00 hb., £12.95 pb., 0 7456 1200 8 hb., 0 7456 1201 6 pb.

This is an outstanding piece of committed scholarship, impressive in its intellectual scope, rational
argumentation and clarity of exposition. It is not a
systematic treatise, but rather a collection of closely
knit essays, dealing with different aspects of the contemporary debate on historical theory. The unifying
purpose is a spirited defence of historical materialism
against its main opponents or rivals.

The best-known – but not necessarily the most
serious – of these is the notorious Fukuyama. The
obvious answer to this strange combination of pseudoHegelianism, Spenglerian pessimism and Reaganite
triumphalism is to point to the reality of post-Cold
War politics: the return of fratricidal national hatreds
and the rise of fascism – a reality conjuring a vision,
not of the End of History, but of history as the endless
repetition of disaster. Unlike most left critics of
Fukuyama, Callinicos avoids the pitfall of accepting

38

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

78

(J u I Y / A u 9 u S t

19 9 6)

the so-called ‘defeat of socialism’ in 1989-91 as
empirical fact: refusing to consider the Soviet and East
European regimes as ‘socialist’ (his own preference is
for Tony Cliff’s concept of ‘bureaucratic state capitalism’), he is able to challenge this pseudo-evidence.

Next to Fukuyama, the most popular conception
of history in (Anglo-Saxon) academia is poststructuralism. Callinicos offers a radical deconstruction of poststructuralist ‘ironic relativism’, as
represented by Lyotard and Hayden White, using the
Holocaust as an acid test. Faithful to his ‘pluralist’ (i.e.

relativist) philosophy of language, Lyotard claims that
there is no way of demonstrating that ‘revisionist’

historians who deny the genocide (Faurisson and
company) are not respecting ‘the cognitive rules for
the establishment of historical reality’: it is impossible
to subsume mutually irreducible discourses under a
comprehensive grand narrative. The conflict between

Photo by Jaroslav Fiser

Faurisson and the anti-revisionist historians is an example of ‘differend’ between different ‘phrase
regimens’, which cannot be resolved since ‘there is no
universal genre of discourse to regulate them’.

Callinicos’s comment is understandably harsh: Lyotard
presumably intends us to take this argument seriously,
‘but it is hard to see how we can’. How on earth can
he justify conceding the historical case to the revisionists? That he can simply ignore the vast effort aimed
at understanding the Holocaust (by people like Primo
Levi, Raul Hillburg, Zygmunt Bauman, Arno Mayer)
‘is a symptom of the kind of belletrism, with its love
of superficial paradox, into which French philosophy
in the dog days of poststructuralism is all too apt to
degenerate’ .

Against this sort of ‘hopeless muddle’, both Marxist
and Weberian theories of history represent serious
attempts to deal with the problems of understanding
historical reality, by analysing its structure, mechanisms of transformation and directionality. Some of
Callinicos’s formulations seem to suggest an affinity
with ‘structural Marxism’ and its overwhelming
emphasis on ‘the contradiction between the forces and
the relations of production’. Fortunately, however, he
distances himself from this kind of impoverished
historical materialism by rejecting the ‘Primacy

Thesis’ (G.A. Cohen), according to which the relations
of production are explained by the level of productive
forces. By abandoning this approach, it is possible to
introduce ‘an element of irreducible contingency’ into
historical materialism: since the outcome of the crisis
in the mode of production is not predetermined, there
is space for the Marxist political project, with its stress
on working-class self-emancipation and revolutionary
subjectivity.

Both Marxist and Weberian theories discern a progressive directionality in the course of history respectively, the development of productive forces
and the growth of domination (social power). This
viewpoint does not necessarily imply an ethical
approval: for Weber, modernity was leading humanity
to a sort of ‘iron cage’. The main differences between
them are situated in the realms of politics (socialist
internationalism versus German imperialism) and
philosophical anthropology: emancipatory humanism
versus Nietzschean pessimism (or domination as an
inevitable feature of human life).

Callinicos offers a substantial critique of contemporary Weberian theories of history, focusing on their
attempts to present ideological or military power as
irreducible forms of domination. The next section,
dealing with History as Progress, is interesting though
perhaps less persuasive. Callinicos’ s formulation of
the problem is insightful, but the solution !le offers is
ambiguous. His starting point is that the Marxist conception of progress, unlike other views of history, is
also able ‘to encompass an understanding of the
horror of history’. This is why, in his opinion,
Benjamin’s attempt at ‘a critique of the concept of
progress itself’, by pointing to the catastrophic continuity of history, has to be taken seriously. Marxism
is a theory that is able to think of history as progress
and as catastrophe simultaneously: in Fredric
Jameson’s words, Marx understands that ‘capitalism
is at one and the same time the best thing that has
ever happened to the human race and the worst’. But
what of such texts of Marx as his article on the British
rule in India (1853)? Callinicos’s answer is careful:

acknow ledging that there are tensions in Marx’ s
thought, he concedes that some of his formulations
could be used for an apologetic legitimation of
Western capitalist expansion as an instrument of
progress (as in Bill Warren’s well-known celebration
of imperialism). The teleological moment in some of
Marx’s writings has been the main basis of the socalled ‘orthodox historical materialism’ of the Second
International (and then of Stalinism), with its claim
that the development of productive forces – whatever

R a die a I Phi I 0 sop h y

78

(J u I Y / A u g u S t

1 9 9 6)

39

its price – is positive in itself, since it will inevitably
lead to socialism.

However, Callinicos insists that Marxism has a
strong theory of progress, a theory which not only
discerns growth in history (the development of productive forces), but also asserts that this growth makes
a positive contribution to the good. Consequently, he
tries to rescue Marx by pointing to the fact that he
never hid the crimes of the bourgeoisie, but only
insisted that progress is to be welcomed as potentially
increasing human well-being – a potentiality that will
only be fulfilled in a socialist world. But is this not
dangerously close to a form of Hegelian teleology and
theodicy, wherein the (inevitable) goal both explains
and vindicates the course of history? If one believes
that socialism is not inevitable, and that capitalist
crisis can lead to barbarism; if one takes seriously (as
does Callinicos) Benjamin’s warning that the outcome
of progress can be catastrophe, how is it possible to
assert that capitalist progress is to be welcomed in any
event? Does not the capitalist development of the productive forces contain, potentially, both the ‘best’ socialism, the full development of human capacities and the ‘worst’ – barbarism, nuclear exterminism, eco-

logical disaster? Callinicos argues that classical Marxism ‘inherits from Hegel a dialectical conception of
history as a spiral movement, in which each advance
contains within itself an element of regress’. But is
such a conception not a typical example of Hegelian
teleology/theodicy, which indicates each ‘regress’ as
a moment of the ultimate ‘progress’?

The last section of Theories and Narratives,
‘Identity and Emancipation’, is a brilliant defence of
emancipatory universalism against the ‘politics of
identity’ . Contemporary intellectual fashion denounces
every universalism as a masked particularism, while
postmodern radicalism celebrates ‘identity politics’ as
the only genuine alternative. The problem, as
Callinicos demonstrates, is that particularism is
scarcely coherent, since resistance to oppression
requires some sort of universal ethics. In the absence
of a universal criterion, how is one to distinguish truly
oppressed groups from false ones (in fact, oppressors)?

And this is to leave aside fratricidal ‘ethnic’ conflicts
in the name of rival national ‘identities’. The only way
to overcome false universality is through a genuine emancipatory and egalitarian – universality.

Michael Lowy

An eye for reason
John McDowell, Mind and World, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London, 1994. x + 191 pp.,
£19.95 hb., 0 674 57609 8.

The central chapters of this book consist of a recasting
of the 1991 John Locke Lectures. They are followed
by an afterword in which McDowell locates his
position in the context of the work of Quine, Davidson,
Sellers, Putnam, Rorty and Peacocke. But this book is
not only of interest to readers of mainstream analytical
philosophy. Indeed, McDowell indicates a surprising
and welcome indebtedness to, among others, Kant,
Hegel, Marx and Gadamer.

The discussion circulates around the sceptical
anxieties of traditional epistemology. However, one of
the central themes is that such anxieties need ‘exorcising’, not answering. By outlining an alternative
account of human experience, McDowell aims ‘not to
answer sceptical questions, but to begin to see how it
might be intellectually respectable to ignore them’.

The basic line of argument defends a Rortian
conviction that epistemological problems about the
felt distance between mind and world are inseparable
from historical shifts in our conceptions of nature and
human’ nature. This relation to Rorty is explicit, but

40

Radical Philosophy

78 (July/August

1996)

somewhat hidden by the philosophical traditions
which inform their respective approaches. Where
Rorty expresses his views in terms of (,French’) concerns with the possibility of knowledge, McDowell’s
account is framed by (‘German’) concerns with how
thought can have empirical content. For McDowell
the problematic is that thinking – what, in Kantian
terms, he refers to as ‘operations of the faculty of
spontaneity’ – may be nothing but a ‘frictionless
spinning in the void’. Like the more familiar Cartesian version, this problematic represents the mind in
terms which threaten its confinement; thinking may
be nothing but a play of concepts without external
constraint.

It might be supposed that this threat can be
removed by insisting that the deliverances of the
senses ensure that thought has a bearing on a reality
outside the conceptual sphere. McDowell calls this
solution calming by the idea of the Given: appeal to
extra-conceptual impacts from the world which would
supply empirical content to one’s thoughts. Deploying

relatively familiar Wittgensteinian objections, he
argues that this recoil to the Given cannot fulfil its
promise. However, the hopelessness of the recoil
should not, according to McDowell, lead us to take
refuge in a coherentist position which denies that
thinking is subject to rational constraint from outside.

There is, he claims, an alternative.

The alternative allows for rational constraint from
outside thinking but denies that it takes us outside the
realm of the conceptual, outside ‘thinkables’. What is
given in experience are not non-conceptual impressions, but that things are thus and so; that is, facts.

And facts are not internal products constituted by
thinking but, when actual, ‘an aspect of the layout of
reality’. With this alternative, McDowell claims to get
off the see-saw that threatens the hopeless options of

either frictionless spinning or the idea of the Given.

In a formulation which comes as close to a Derridean
maxim as anything in contemporary analytical philosophy, he affirms the alternative with the thesis that
‘the conceptual is unbounded; there is nothing outside it.’

McDowell’s alternative may well seem an impossible one. Given that our sense organs belong to
nature, how can our sense impressions be permeated
with the operations of conceptual capacities? To put
this in the Kantian terms that McDowell favours, how
can rule-governed operations of spontaneity find a
place in the natural goings-on of human sensibility?

It is in the resolution of this Kantian duality of
norm and nature that McDowell’ s argument is at its
most fascinating and, ultimately, its most puzzling.

According to McDowell, what prevents us from
seeing the possibility that takes us off the see-saw is
the modern scientific conception of nature as a realm
which is fully explicable in terms of law-governed
processes. The problem is that ‘if we identify nature
with what natural science aims to make comprehensible we threaten, at least, to empty it of meaning.’

So this conception of nature makes ‘the very idea that
spontaneity might characterize the workings of our
sensibility’ look completely mysterious. McDowell’s
proposal is to refuse to equate the modern scientific
understanding of the realm of law with clarity about

nature as a whole. There are patterns in nature which
cannot be fully captured in terms of such laws namely, the patterns of life of beings whose nature is
largel y ‘second nature’; the patterns of life of mature
human beings.

The notion of a second nature is crucial to
McDowell’s aim to provide a ‘smoothly naturalistic’

account of the autonomy of meaning from natural
law. It allows him to acknowledge that the normative
connections which constitute the realm of meaning
are sui generis in comparison with the realm of law,
while insisting that a certain kind of natural entity namely, human beings – can, in their natural mode of
actualizing that sentient nature, be ‘shaped’ by
exercises of spontaneity: ‘We do not need to integrate
spontaneity-related concepts into the structure of the
realm of law; we need to stress their role in capturing
patterns in a way of living.’ Human beings are born
mere animals, but through initiation into a way of
living they are transformed into thinkers, creatures
who have had their ‘eyes opened to reasons at large’.

I will come back to this ocular image shortly, but
the present point is that because our second-natural
being is permeated with rationality, we do not have to
suppose that, as natural animals, our sensibility must
deliver non-conceptual content. Instead, we can allow
that our distinctive mode of sensitivity to a reality outside thought provides a genuinely rational constraint
on empirical thinking. In contrast to traditional accounts, for McDowell justification comes to an end not
with pointing at bare presences, or with brute impacts
from causal interactions with reality, but ‘passive
occurrences’ in which conceptual capacities are already
in play; experiences that things are thus and so.

This vision of human experience is wonderfully
rich. But it is not unproblematic. According to
McDowell we have to acknowledge that the realm of
meaning has a sort of autonomy. In so far as this
insists that rule-governed practices cannot be entirely
captured by scientific laws, the case against reductionism is well made. However, McDowell goes on to
construe this autonomy in a far stronger and deeply
puzzling sense: ‘The dictates of reason’ are, he
claims, not human interventions (what Derrida would
call ‘legal fictions’), but ‘are there anyway, whether
or not one’s eyes are opened to them’. It is not clear
that the claim to develop a truly satisfying naturalism
can be sustained in the face of this unexplained
Platonism. Nevertheless, this remains a powerfully
impressive book which simply towers over the more
routine contributions of current analytical philosophy.

Simon Glendinning

Radical Philosophy

78 (July/August

1996)

41

French modern
Kristin Ross, Fast Cars, Clean Bodies: Decolonization and the Reordering of French Culture, MIT Press,
Cambridge MA and London, 1995. x + 261 pp., £19.95 hb., 0 262 18161 4.

Beautifully produced and sumptuously illustrated,
Fast Cars, Clean Bodies is an innovative study of the
modernization of French culture and society in the
late 1950s and early 1960s, the years ‘after electricity
and before electronics’. These were years not so much
of transition, as of near-total transformation. Car
ownership rose dramatically and urban space was
transformed radically, as France, and especially Paris,
adapted to the car. The accelerated modernization or
even Americanization of the country coincided with
the collapse of empire and with France’s final withdrawal from Algeria after a very bloody war. France
could scarcely have modernized without the labour of
the immigrants who built the infrastructure. Yet decolonization and immigration are issues that France
has difficulty in confronting. Many of the ethnicracial problems facing the country can be seen as
stemming from a refusal or inability to come to terms
with the Algerian War.

Whilst the general economic framework of Ross’ s
study owes much to the Regulation School’s description of Fordism, typified by the rise of standardized
housing units as a site for individual consumption and
of the car as supreme commodity, the main focus is
that of a specialist in cultural studies. Ross concentrates in illuminating detail on the rise of new
magazines such as L’Express and on women’s magazines, and culls her imagery from a range of films
(Tati, Godard) and novels (Beauvoir, Rochefort,
Perec). She analyses the media’s construction and
celebration of the couple as consumer unit. Her study
is at times both insightful and highly entertaining, as
when she examines, for instance, how L’Express’s
Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber and Fran<;oise Giroud
were groomed (or self-groomed) into being a fashionable alternative to the Sartre-Beauvoir duo.

Although this is an immensely seductive and
enjoyable book, a number of serious doubts must
arise. Decolonization did coincide with a new interest
in everyday life on the part of sociologists and
Situationists alike. The metaphor of the colonization
of everyday life was common, but to take it so
seriously as to argue that administrative techniques
developed in the colonies were reimported and
applied to domestic life is to overlook the human cost

42

Ra die a I Phi I 0 sop h y

78 (J u I Y / A u 9 u S t

1 996 )

of colonization and decolonization. According to
official French figures, the war in Algeria cost the
lives of 140,000 Algerians. The modernization and
electrification of French kitchens did not.

Too often, apparently significant arguments are
founded on the elision of telling but contradictory
details. It is, for instance, perfectly true that the publication in 1954 of Bonjour Tristesse, the first novel
by Fran<;oise Sagan – now the oldest enfant terrible in
France – played a major role in the celebration of the
speeding car, and that her career coincided with the
marketing of cheap paperback books. But there is in
fact no causal connection between Sagan's sudden
fame and paperbacks. Bonjour Tristesse appeared in a
normal edition, and the first 'Livre de poche' title was
Pierre Benoit's Koenigsmark: it is hard indeed to see
the marketing of an exotic romance (first published in
1917), by a member of the Academie Fran<;aise, as
evidence of modernization.

The author is American, and her knowledge of
Europe appears to be confined to France. The only
point of comparison is American culture and capitalism. How, one wonders, does postwar French
modernization compare with the modernization of
Germany and Italy under fascism? After all, the
Volkswagen was the prototype for the 2CV. How
does the cult of the white telephone in Italian cinema
compare with the Gallic celebration of the car? It is
true that the French media of the 1950s made much
of mythologies and ‘ideologemes’ of cleanliness
(usually related to the new availability of domestic
appliances). Yet a glance at the first chapter of
Raphael Samuel’s Theatres of Memory – a delightful
if somewhat disorganized jumble sale of a book indicates that the British press abounded in similar
imagery in the years following the Festival of Britain.

Is the French emphasis on cleanliness really so
specific? The theme of cleanliness is also the site for
a disturbing account of the domestication of torture
in Algeria. French troops attempted to use clean
methods of torture (mainly water and electricity) but,
as with the deaths, the human cost tends to be ignored
as Ross attempts to map this onto a more general and
modernizing concern with bodily and domestic cleanliness. Curiously, the common complaint that torture
was a cancer eating away at France is not discussed.

Despite the novelty of the approach and much of
the material, the underlying thesis is sadly familiar.

That structuralism, the nouveau roman and Annales
historiography are all an integral part of capitalist
modernization – ‘an ideology that seeks above all to
undermine eventfulness by masking the social contradictions that engender events’ – is an old argument,
originally put forward with varying degrees of sophistication by both Sartre and the French Communist
Party. Ross extends this criticism – which is basically
a crude reflection theory – by observing that structural
anthropology was more interested in dead or stable
societies than in the revolutionary dynamic. That in
itself is a valid point, but it is surely disingenuous to
note that no ‘soon-to-be-prominent structuralist’

signed the Manifeste des 121 (which defended the
right of conscripts to desert), without mentioning that
no prominent Communist or Socialist signed it either.

The claim that Foucault’s proclamation of the ‘death
of man’ coincided with Fanon’s call for the ‘creation
of a new man’ becomes less startling if it is recalled
that Fanon was writing in 1961, and Foucault in 1966.

Foucault may not have been especially concerned with
Algeria, but it seems only reasonable to point out that
Boumedienne’s coup d’etat of 1965 had already
crushed Fanon’s voluntaristic optimism. Ross appears
to have a particular animus against the Annales school
for its supposed abandoning of ‘the event as a conceptual category’, observing that what is at stake is
the idea of revolution itself. But is she really suggesting that we have to go back to Georges Lefebvre and
Albert Soboul, whose grand narrative saw 1789 as a
prefiguration of 1917, and therefore as legitimizing the
role of a Communist Party with scant sympathy for
those who created the ‘events’ in Algeria?

David Macey

The political
connection
Jose Brunner, Freud and the Politics of Psychoanalysis, Blackwell, Oxford and Cambridge MA,
1995. xiv + 238 pp., £40.00 hb., 0 631 16404 9.

With the exception of those clinical psychoanalysts
who see themselves as neutral channels for the
delivery of a therapeutic service, most of us who are
intrigued by psychoanalysis are convinced that it has
an intimate connection with politics. Freud himself

may have argued that he was creating a science, not a
system of political thought. But his creation has
slipped away from this apparent state of value-free
purity, corrupted by the world in which it has found a
place. If it ever was apolitical, it is so no longer;
contemporary arguments are concerned with what the
politics of psychoanalysis are – which branch is more
progressive or more reactionary, for example – not
whether it is political at all.

In any case, Freud was clearly wrong in those
moments when he distanced himself from political
thinking: science is part of politics and is infused with
it. Furthermore, Freud was nothing if not political in
his promotion of himself and his new discipline; and
in any event, as Brunner shows, politics was a significant subtext in even the most ‘pure’ and apparently
value-free scientific elements of his own writing.

Without straying from Freud’s own work, many of the
political influences upon, and connotations of, psychoanalysis can be revealed.

These influences and associations or connotations
appear in a number of areas. Those selected by
Brunner range from Freud’s attitude towards the
scientific assumptions of his time, through the political
metaphors to be found in his models of the mind, to
an examination of politics in the clinical setting, and
eventually to an account of the most overtly ‘political’

of Freud’s works – those which bear on -the applications of psychoanalytic thinking to groups and society. Predictably, it is this last category which is treated
most critically by the politically progressive Brunner:

Freud’s analyses of the social role of sexuality (it must
be controlled), and of groups and society (the masses
are dangerous; leaders are great men), are conventionally authoritarian and patriarchal. On the other hand,
the immersion of infantile sexuality in a developmental account implicating family dynamics and the structures of Oedipal authority politicizes both individual
psychology and family life in ways which continue to
prove fertile for analyses of the power structures of
individual lives.

Brunner is more approving in his account of the
other facets of the encounters of politics with Freud.

Freud’s understanding of hysteria is shown to be
radically distinct from the morass of hereditarian and
racist thinking characteristic of the medical establishment of his time. His construction of a hermeneutics
of the body leads on to a general psychology that
surpasses the narrow confines of nationalistic thinking
and degeneracy theory. Freud was a hero in this
regard – as is also shown later in Brunner’s book,
when dealing with the somewhat more liberal

R a die a I Ph

if 0

sop h y

78 (J u I Y / A u 9 u S t

1 9 9 6)

43

approach to the psychological casualties of the First
World War taken by psychoanalytically inclined psychiatrists than by their non-psychoanalytic colleagues.

Second, Freud employs, explicitly and implicitly,
metaphors of political life in portraying the mechanisms of the mind. Struggles around representation,
censorship, tactics of occupation, repression and
liberation: these are the stuff of our psychological
existence, according to Freud, the life of the social
order writ small in the psyche of each one of us.

Third and most significantly, Freud’s clinical activity,
at least as described in his case studies and technical
writings, acknowledges the intimate workings of
power in the encounters between one person and
another – and reverts in the end to an emancipatory
use of authority in the consulting room, in which the
knowledge-stance of the analyst is employed as a
means towards heightened freedom for the patient.

There are many strengths and weaknesses in Brunner’s book. He has an eye for the employment of political metaphors in unexpected places, and a good
sense of historical context. He is explicit about his
preferences and dislikes, sometimes less than subtle
on the complex world of theory he is describing, but

nevertheless conscientiously fair and thoughtful. The
book functions primarily as a defence of Freud, but
only partially takes up the debates generated by his
work. In particular, the lack of any consideration of
post-Freudian theory makes it difficult to trace out the
elements of Freud’s thought which have been important for later psychoanalytical thinking, and so reduces
the implications of Brunner’s argument for contemporary work. For example, the section on Oedipal
politics has much relevance for assessing the political
standing of object-relations theory, which sometimes
seems to combine progressive possibilities and
reactionary assumptions in a lamentable way. Finally,
Brunner makes a strong statement of his feminist
sympathies, but does not use contemporary feminist
thought effectively to enhance his exploration of the
politics of Freud.

Stephen Frosh

Rules of the
game
Sarah Kofman, Nietzsche and Metaphor,
translated by Duncan Large, The Athlone
Press, London, 1993. xiv + 239 pp., £42.00
hb., £14.95 pb., 0 485 11422 4 hb., 0’485
12098 4 pb.

Peter J. Burgard, ed., Nietzsche and the
Feminine, The University Press of Virginia,
Charlottesville, 1994. 357 pp., $49.50 hb.,
$16.95 pb., 0 8139 14949 hb., 0 8139 1495 7 pb.

Michael Tanner, Nietzsche, Oxford University
Press, Oxford, 1994. 86 pp., £5.99 pb., 0 19
287680 5 pb.

It has taken over twenty years for a complete

but idiosyncratic translation of Sarah Kofman’ s
1972 essay ‘Nietzsche and Metaphor’ to appear, and the intervening period of prolific
Nietzsche scholarship has seriously diminished
its impact. The merit of Kofman’s article,
when it first appeared in Poetique, was its engagement with Nietzsche’s then virtually unknown unpublished writings of the early
1870s, and the theoretical prominence which
it gave to the now famous line from ‘On Truth
and Lie in the Extra-moral Sense’ (1873):

‘What then is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonymies, and anthropomorphisms.’

This assertion, which was shortly to become

IDCl)
u:::

>

ctl

Cii

e

~

>o

.0

~

a.

44

Radical Philosophy

78 (July/August

1996)

the battle cry of French poststructuralists and
deconstructionists, forms the now fossilized bedrock
of Kofman’ s essay.

But if truth for Nietzsche is a semiology and
symptomatology of the affective will to power, then
Nietzsche’s metaphysical truth about the world – ‘the
universality and unconditionality of all “will to
power” (Beyond Good and Evil, §22) – must likewise
be taken as interpretation, as perspective. That is not
to say, however, that Nietzsche himself presents his
concept of the will to power as mere interpretation, as
Kofman argues. This is a naIve reading necessitated
by the poststructuralist will to power which denies the
truth claims of language. When Nietzsche claims that
‘[t]he world viewed from the inside, the world defined
and determined according to its “intelligible
character” … would be “will to power” and nothing
else’ (BGE, §36), he is offering neither a hypothesis,
nor a metaphor – this is pure metaphysics, which, as
Kofman points out, ‘would then make Nietzsche’s
hypothesis just a fictional supplement inserted into a
gap in the language, an improper generalization, a
reified metaphor’. Precisely.

Kofman’s insistence on the metaphorical status of
the will to power leads her to divest the will of its
power, and to reduce it to a mere trope. In so doing,
she presents Nietzsche as an innocent player in a
semantic game (of deconstruction?), and thereby overplays his hand. For, just as every metaphor presupposes a subtext, so every game presupposes a set
of rules; and, in Schillerian mood, Nietzsche observes
‘how the artist stands contemplatively above and at
the same time actively within his work, how necessity
and random play, oppositional tension and harmony,
must pair to create a work of art’ (‘Philosophy in the
Tragic Age of the Greeks’). This is the dialectical
world of Dionysus and Apollo, of the will to truth and
the will to illusion, of ‘that eternal basic text homo
natura’ (BGE, §230) and the fanciful play of interpretation. Successfully taken III by Nietzsche’s
metaphorical masquerade, Kofman concludes that
‘Nietzsche’s “yes” is louder than all the “no’s”‘; overlooking, perhaps, that Nietzsche, like the Greeks, was
‘superficial – out of profundity’ (Preface to The Gay
Science).

The question of whether Nietzsche’ s emphatic ‘no’

to feminism precludes any possibility of a ‘yes’ lies at
the centre of Nietzsche and the Feminine. This
substantial volume of essays is not for the uninitiated:

a fluency in the related discourses of psychoanalysis
and poststructuralism is assumed, but it is a fluency
that constrains as it liberates. As Benjamin Bennett

argues in his superlative essay, ‘Bridge: Against
Nothing’, by allowing itself to be ‘co-opted’ by an
established discourse, feminist thought succumbs to
the very paternalism it seeks to escape. Rather, it
should endeavour to re-enact the revolutionary force
of Nietzsche’ s exemplary writing, by insisting upon
an exclusionary ‘I’ that defies theory, system, and what
Derrida terms and turns ‘the hermeneutic project’.

Bennett finds this exemplified in Irigaray’s highly
original Marine Lover of Friedrich Nietzsche. Accordingly, those essays which press Nietzsche into the
service of an accepted discourse – Freud, Kristeva,
Derrida and Cixous provide for Sarah Kofman, Kelly
Oliver, Clayton Koelb and Alan D. Schrift the respective hermeneutic ‘legends’ to Nietzsche’s mUltiple
perspectives on the feminine – violate the spirit of
(discourse-)free interpretative play at the heart of his
writing.

Genuinely new perspectives are to be found, however, in Janet Lungstrum’s essay ‘Nietzsche Writing
Woman/Woman Writing Nietzsche’, which focuses
on ‘the agon of the sexual dialectic’ at play in
Nietzsche’s poetics of creativity, and in Irigaray’s
plea in ‘Ecce Mulier? Fragments’ for a different
speech, or silence, between the sexes – ‘irreducible to
one another’, and free of all ‘predetermined codes’.

Arkady Plotnitsky also calls for a new configuration,
and in ‘The Medusa’s Ears’ suggests that ‘[w]oman
may be none of these “figures” – neither Nietzsche’s,
nor Derrida’s, nor Cixous’, nor Irigaray’s … they all
warn us against attempting to figure “woman” or
figure woman out’. The question of gender, he argues,
might be more fruitfully addressed in a sublatory
beyond: beyond Nietzsche, beyond feminism, beyond
deconstruction, and, most importantly, beyond the
entire Western philosophical tradition (although, as
Nietzsche’s work demonstrates, endeavouring to
break with and through the latter proves a trifle overambitious).

As an introduction to Nietzsche, Michael Tanner’s
contribution to the Past Masters series is also somewhat ambitious; his nuanced and penetrating reading
of Nietzsche exceeds the scope of the uninitiated. A
more informed reader might also find disconcerting
his insistence upon Nietzsche’s unequivocal overcoming of Schopenhauer, Romanticism, and the
‘artist’s metaphysics’ of The Birth of Tragedy. Notwithstanding these reservations, however, Tanner’s
portrayal of this self-proclaimed ‘Dionysian’ philosopher, as a Dionysus Zagreus ‘torn into innumerable
agonized fragments’, is an inspired piece of work.

Francesca Cauchi

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

78

(J u I Y / A u 9 u S t

19 9 6)

45

Technologizing
modernity
Lorenzo c. Simpson, Technology, Time and the
Conversations of Modernity, Routledge, New York
and London, 1995. xii + 232 pp., £37.50 hb., £11.99
pb., 0 415 90771 3 hb., 0 415 90772 1 pb.

The development of technological means of communication is clearly one of the most significant global
developments of the era. Whether we live our lives in
the village in which we were born, or travelling the
globe, we are joined together by spatial communication flows. The development of virtual reality,
cyberspace, e-mail, digital television and other technological forms currently threatens to transform the
phenomenology of modernity. These cultural technologies are chopping up time and space, while simultaneously providing new opportunities for the building
of cultural communities. Yet while the loudest voices
are currently celebrating the technological opportunities potentially on offer, others strike a more
pessimistic note bemoaning the decline of more
traditional practices. Lorenzo Simpson intervenes in
these debates by drawing on philosophical hermeneutics (notably Heidegger and Habermas). He undertakes a critique of rapidly technologizing societies,
which is as intellectually well formed as it is timely.

His analysis is neither anti-modern nor postmodern,
but argues that technologies should be introduced in
such a way as not to undermine the possibility of
diverse human communities leading emancipated and
meaningfully lived lives.

What is technology and how might we characterize
it as a practice? Technology is both a response to our
finitude as human beings and is end-oriented. It seeks
to deal with our anxiety regarding death by
domesticating time and making the future predictable,
while instrumentally aiming to achieve certain ends.

In this reading, technology tends to be totalitarian in
that it reduces ‘worldly things’ to means and ‘derealizes’ time by attempting to relieve us of the
burden of having to wait. Ideologically, technology
operates as if it were a disinterested objectivist
practice, which it is not. This view seeks both to
legitimize its domination over the life-world and to
translate a concern with meanings into a fixation upon
goals. For instance, the practice of cooking a meal
with my partner for friends would usually concern
discussion over what people might like, which menu

46

Radical Philosophy

78 (July/August

1996)

might offer the best combination, whom we should
invite round, etc. Here we are concerned with the
preparation of a meal as a practice rather than an end.

This situation is quickly transformed if we consider a
TV dinner which is eaten rapidly and forgotten. Here
our concern is with the ends of satisfying our hunger,
rather than with the meaningful practice of food
preparation and consumption. Further, such activities
reduce the uncertainty of time in that yesterday’s TV
dinner will taste very much like tomorrow’s. Through
the conversion of time into a rationalized linear
narrative, we lose the hermeneutic project of reflexively reworking the self through an ethical dimension.

Critical questions regarding my identity are bracketed
off. There is, therefore, a deep connection between a
technological project and the nihilistic loss of meaning
which now pervades modernity.

This is evident in the recent dash to publish that
has become such a feature of academic departments.

As most readers will be aware, the rapid expansion of
the numbers of books available seemingly far outweighs the community’s capacity to form judgements
about them. Such a situation, elevating quantity over
quality, can be linked to feelings of pointlessness and
cynicism pervasive amongst academics. The political
point here, as with Habermas, is to reform the
relationship between instrumentalist and more
communicative concerns.

In the final section of the book, postmodernism’s
response to these issues is provocatively explored
through an analysis of Baudrillard, Lyotard and
Jameson. In particular, an extended discussion of
virtual reality seeks to highlight some of the main
themes of the text by connecting postmodernist
concerns to issues of technical reason. Virtual reality
is so seductive because it offers a controllable experience that enables us to transcend the limitations of
the body. Moreover, the ceaseless shifting nature of
modern culture disrupts biographic attempts to map
the self. Virtual reality not only destroys the historicity of the past but also offers a comforting illusion
that the self is infinitely plastic and can be reformed
without constraint. Mature selfhood can emerge only
through coming to terms with nature, history and the
perspectives of others – all of which resist the narcissistic projections of the ludic postmodern subject.

This is a fascinating work and deserves to be
widely read and discussed. Yet the problem remains
that the author fails to link his undoubted insights to
the political and economic contexts of late capitalism.

While he is perfectly correct in wishing to distinguish
instrumental reason from capitalistic economic

reason, such distinctions are easier to make in
analysis than in practice. The most important cultural
transformation of this century has been the global
economy’s pulverization of publicly held norms and
values. But Simpson fails to link a philosophical
understanding of instrumental reason with the
interests and structures that drive technological
development. This omission is striking, given his discussion of Habermas and Jameson. Finally, Simpson

The answer is beautifully illustrated by comparing
these two accounts. Interpreted in one way, there is
just about enough evidence in Frege’s work to suggest
that he forced a radical break with the Cartesian
tradition. Instead of privileging epistemology as the
best means of grappling with general philosophical
problems (how can we know that this is the case?),
he directed our attention decisively to questions about
meaning – how can we understand what we say?

provides too few examples and too little by the way
of social context to help us understand how we might

What is it to grasp thoughts? Thus, Anthony Kenny
states that, ‘for most of his life, Frege gave priority

resist the imperatives of technological reason politically. How, for example, do Simpson’s concerns
relate to a feminist or a Green politics? Nevertheless,

to logic simply by ignoring epistemology.’ But read

this remains a major philosophical work.

Nick Stevenson

another way, and Frege turns out to have been mired
in problems generated by quintessentially Cartesian
concerns – scepticism and idealism especially – and
thus deeply entranced by epistemology. This is
Wolfgang Carl’s interpretation: Frege’s work ‘belongs

Hounding father
Wolfgang Carl, Frege’ s Theory of Sense and Reference: Its Origins and Scope, Cambridge University
Press, Cambridge, 1994. viii + 220 pp., £32.50 hb.,
£11.95 pb., 0 521 39135 0 hb., 0 521 39816 9 pb.

Anthony Kenny, Frege, Penguin, Harmondsworth,
1995. xii + 223 pp., £7.99 pb., 0 14 012550 7 pb.

It is delightfully ironic that contemporary analytic
philosophy, with its tendency to disparage ‘the his-

to the epistemological tradition of modern philosophy’. So the upshot is roughly this: either Frege is
a matchless star in the current philosophical firmament, or he is just one of its many satellites; and there
just isn’t sufficient evidence to establish either
conclusion.

There are, of course, more mundane differences
between these works. Kenny provides us – at last with a handy introduction and guide to Frege’ s work.

It is comparable in aim, execution and general helpfulness to his much-lauded Wittgenstein (1973). He ac-

tory of ideas’ as devoid of philosophical content,

knowledges a heavy debt to the pathfinding Frege
scholarship of Michael Dummett – very much the
leader of the ‘radical break’ tendency. Carl’s book, on

should be having such a tough time assessing its own
founding father – Gottlob Frege (1848-1925). If these

the other hand, presumes detailed knowledge of Frege
and some acquaintance with, if not enthusiasm for, the

latest contributions to the ‘Frege Case’ are anything
to go by, agreement over even the most basic ques-

intricacies of current debate. His major exegetical
claim is that Frege’s somewhat neglected Logical

tions – What were his true interests? Where does his

Investigations, left unfinished at his death, should be

real influence lie? – is still some way off. Yet one
would have thought these simple matters. Frege is
universally acknowledged as the greatest logician

seen as a major work. Its preoccupation with postKantian sceptical and idealist problems reveals, to
Carl’s satisfaction at least, Frege’ s predilection for

since Aristotle: he virtually invented the predicate and

epistemology.

the propositional calculus. His formal theory of

This conclusion links Carl’ s account to that of

classes was central to the development of set theory.

His ideas about meaning and understanding have had

Hans Sluga. Sluga was the first to awaken interest in
Frege’s debts to Neo-Kantians and their epistemo-

a profound influence on analytic philosophy – not
least as a result of the mesmerizing effect of their

logical fixation. But peripheral agreement is balanced

terse formulation. Their legacy stretches from Russell
and Wittgenstein to Carnap, and thence to Davidson,

by deep conflict at the centre. For Sluga has been
notoriously dismissive of the notion that Frege had a
theory of meaning, or was at all deeply interested in

Dummett and scores of others. So why has so much
vitriol been sloshing around in Frege scholarship over

semantics. And Carl argues, to the contrary, that it is
precisely because Frege held the particular views he

the past two decades?

did about meaning and understanding that epis-

Radical Philosophy

78 (July/August

1996)

47

temology must be accounted central to his project.

Actually, I suspect this conclusion must place Carl
closer to Dummett and Kenny than he might wish.

For if Frege’s epistemology is ‘founded on the human capacity for grasping thoughts’, then Frege must
have thought the theory of understanding more fundamental to philosophy than the theory of knowledge.

But what really makes the ‘Frege Case’ intractable
is not the epistemological issue; it is the anti-historical
bias of analytic philosophy. For his legacy raises any
number of philosophical issues which cry out for, and
have yet to receive, a properly contextual treatment.

Perhaps Frege was primarily a mathematician; but he
died in despair at the collapse of what he saw as his
life’s work – reducing arithmetic to logic. Perhaps his
interests in meaning and understanding were merely
tangential; but it is undoubtedly in the philosophy of
language that his arguments have aroused the most
fervent admiration. We do not deny that Columbus
discovered a new world just because he believed he
had found a different route to an old continent. But
one frequently hears it said that, because Frege had no
direct interests in metaphysics and the philosophy of
mind, his views have had no significant impact on
these areas of philosophy. Perhaps Frege was temperamentally opposed to the incorporation of his ideas into
anyone system, philosophical or otherwise. But he insisted on publishing his three last contributions to logic
in a crudely nationalistic journal – as if he wanted the
transition from his own highly unconventional work
to the dullest ideological uniformity to be considered
relatively seamless. Certainly, publication in that journal was in keeping with his virulently anti-Semitic
views and his support for Hitler’s failed putsch of
1923.

The irony latent in the ‘Frege Case’ can be driven
home. Frege made much of the vital distinction
between acts of thinking (rooted in historical,
subjective and personal concerns) and the timeless,
objective and impersonal contents of such acts.

Analytic philosophy has followed him, by and large,
in developing skills devoted exclusively to understanding the latter. Yet, clearly, we cannot grasp
Frege’s significance without fully appreciating the
former as well – the historical context in which his
views were formulated. So the ‘Frege Case’ is largely
of Frege’s own making. And analytic philosophy is
going to have to beg, borrow or steal some very unFregean hermeneutic tools before it can assess its own
Fregean roots.

Max de Gaynesford

48

Radical Philosophy

78 (July/August

1996)

Eat your greens
Wilfred Beckerman, Small is Stupid: Blowing the
Whistle on the Greens, Duckworth, London, 1995. viii
+ 202 pp., £20.00 hb., 0 715 62640 x.

Avner de-Shalit, Why Posterity Matters: Environmental Policies and Future Generations, Routledge,
London, 1995. viii + 161 pp., £30.00 hb., £10.99 pb.,
o 415 10018 6 hb., 0 415 10019 4 pb.

Why should we care about people who don’t – and
need not – exist? In the absence of good reasons,
what becomes of Green politics not based on God,
Gaia, Mother Nature, or other mysticisms? DeShalit’s argument about how much we should care,
relative to our obligations to current people, and
Beckerman’s insistence that we start with presently
existing poverty, both rely on there being such
reasons: de-Shalit’s via psychological observation,
appeal to ‘our intuition’, and his concept of ourselves
as deriving meaning from an extended community;
Beckerman’s by implication. Neither, however,
actually answers the question; both assume that their
books are not ‘the place to discuss in depth the whole
matter of population policy’ (de-Shalit); that family
size is a matter for incipient parents only; and that
‘posterity’ is effectively limited to ‘up to eight or ten
generations from now’ (de-Shalit), or that ‘by the
time we reach the year AD 100,000,000 I am sure we
will think up something’ (Beckerman). It is suggestive of the intractability of the question that both a
communitarian philosopher and a free-market economist should, in eschewing discussion of population
policy, ignore a fundamental aspect of it.

What concerns them is this: ‘How much should we
pass on to future generations and how much can we
consume or pollute without neglecting our obligations?’ (de-Shalit). But there are two fundamental
problems here. First: to whom or what can such obligations be owed? De-Shalit addresses the issue by
subtly arguing, against both utilitarian and rightsbased theories of transgenerational obligation, that our
notion of identity assumes continuity into the future a view finally dependent on ‘intuitions’ about how we
feel about our lives. Beckerman, meanwhile, debunks
future property rights, utilitarianism and contractarianism, before concluding that transgenerational
fairness ‘has a lot of appeal to our moral intuitions, at
least it does to mine’. But this won’t do, not least
because there needn’t be future generations: we could
save the Earth by ceasing to reproduce, contraception
being an oddly underestimated advance. The only

,..

plausible argument I know that we have obligations
to non-existent people is Spencer Dalziel’s: actually
existing people wish humanity to continue; we are
under an obligation to respect these wishes; and since
it is likely that those coming to instantiate their fulfilment will have similar wishes, these too have to be
respected. Even if sound, however, this argument
depends on a preference-satisfaction model of moral
obligation, one explicitly advocated by Beckerman
and implicitly, if perhaps inadvertently, accepted by
de-Shalit when he objects to ‘dictat[ing] values and
preferences to future generations’. But given the
preferences of many members of present generations,
such a model is no more environmentally friendly
than philosophically adequate.

Suppose, however, that something like de-Shalit’s
notion of one’s self as inhering, in part, in a continuing community can be better based than in intuition:

the second question then arises, How many people
should there be? Both writers regard Parfit’s
‘repugnant [utilitarian] conclusion – a world with
1000 people, each with half a unit of happiness, is
better than one with, say, 100 people, each with 1
unit’ – with due repugnance. But neither inverts it,
to ask why a world with 20 people, each with 100
such units, is not better than either. Neither recognizes
that the size of the human population is an environmental fact like any other. Even if there were more to
say about there being ‘no future generations’ than that
this ‘would be a shame’ (de-Shalit), intelligible obligation can no more be open-ended regarding numbers
than it can across time; not just because the notion
dissolves, but because, given contraception, our obligations to current people – and, if Dalziel is right, to
(at least some) future ones – cannot but involve
judgements about numbers of people. Distributional
justice concerns quantity of distributees as much as
quantity of what is distributed.

Both books make one think: de-Shalit’s about
community, self and obligation; Beckerman’s about
the overwhelming importance of actual people’s
current material conditions in comparison with
‘sustainable development’ and other fashionable
shibboleths. lonathon Porritt’s petulant dismissal of
Beckerman as ‘a bitter man’ (Guardian, 29 May
1995) merely underlines the irresponsibility of all too
many Greens. For, whatever his intentions, the book
in fact makes a robustly socialist case in insisting that
‘you have to become rich’ to solve the real problems
facing all but ‘the more affluent groups’ in global
society: lack of sanitation, drinking water and clean
air. That a free-marketeer is committed to the highest

possible welfare’ for all is startling; but neither that,
his comparative philosophical and political naivety
about solutions, nor his iconoclastic tone should blind
us to the importance of his unfashionable concern
with living people. If posterity matters at all, it
matters less than they do.

Bob Brecher

Tittle-tattle
Tom Rockmore, Heidegger and French Philosophy:

Humanism, Anti-Humanism and Being, Routledge,
London and New York, 1995. xx + 250 pp., £40.00
hb., £14.99 pb., 0415 111803 hb., 0415 11181 1 pb.

Everyone knows that Heidegger was a Nazi. We also
know now, thanks to the detailed research of the
German historian Hugo Ott (discussed by Peter
Osborne in RP 70) that he was a more committed
Nazi than he acknowledged in the famous Der Spiegel
interview. Beyond the usual taste for gossip, to which
even the most sophisticated are not immune, why
should Heidegger’s past interest us? Perhaps it offers
a salutary lesson that philosophy is no guard against
evil. Specifically, however, the question that concerns
most of us is whether Heidegger’s philosophy can be
separated from his attraction to National Socialism.

Is it just a sophisticated version of National
Socialism? And are those who are committed to the
importance of Heidegger in the history of philosophy
tarred by the same brush?

Many of the contributions to the ‘Heidegger affair’

unfortunately bar rather than promote thoughtful
debate. It is not that the facts about Heidegger’s
involvement should be concealed, but there is a place
for serious philosophical investigation of the politics
of Heidegger’s work which advances beyond biography. What is always surprising when academic philosophers approach the relation of an author to his or
her own work is how naive they are. Have they not
heard of the ‘intentional fallacy’, common fodder of
any undergraduate course in literature? This is not to
suggest that authors’ lives have no relevance at all,
but the reduction of the meaning of the texts to them
is not even to begin to read critically. What is required
is an investigation of the politics of Heidegger’s work
in relation to the claims of National Socialism, and
not just of Heidegger as a person. Such an investigation must look not only at Heidegger’s overt political
statements but also at the politics hidden in the philo-

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

78

(J u I Y / A u 9 u S t

19 9 6 )

49

sophical works (for example, the analysis of Mitsein
and the appeal to ‘heroic individuality’ in Being and
Time). Nonetheless, at the same time, one needs to
make visible an other politics operating in Heidegger’s
work, one perhaps not manifest to the author himself,
which contradicts any National Socialism, whether of
the past or the future. An example of such a reading
of Heidegger has been given to us in Reiner
Schiirmann’s excellent book Heidegger on Being and
Acting: From Principle to Anarchy.

To jump on a bandwagon once is perhaps forgivable, but to get on for a second ride is inexcusable.

Tom Rockmore has already contributed to the industry
surrounding the ‘Heidegger affair’. What he offers this
time is a very strange book indeed. He does not have
to worry about philosophical questions because he is
not a Heidegger specialist, and thus he can excuse
himself from the burdensome task of actually having
to read Heidegger’s work in any depth. What we get
instead is what he calls a ‘contextualist’ approach:

philosophers should not be studied in isolation from
history. This seems to be an admirable endeavour, but
Tom Rockmore’s idea of history is a very limited one.

Some sense of how limited it is can be shown by
giving a brief description of the book. Its subject
matter is the apparent domination of the current









50

French academic scene by Heidegger. Why are
French academics unable to resist Heidegger’s seductions? Tom Rockmore’s answer is a rather motley collection of disparate causes: the fashion for
‘philosophical anthropology’, French Cartesianism,
Roman Catholicism, the French obsession with
‘master thinkers’ (is this a particularly French
disease?), the centralization of French universities,
and, most important of all, the long tradition of
‘humanism’ in France. Moreover, added to this rather
strange list is the further thesis that these factors
themselves have prevented contemporary French
academics (such as Derrida, or Philippe LacoueLabarthe) from adequately facing up to Heidegger’s
political involvement. In the end, what we get is not
the concrete historical ‘context’ of the reception of
Heidegger’s work, but a Who’s Who of French
academia.

Those who know anything about Heidegger will
be dismissive of this book (and the writer seems to
know this), but even those who are interested in the
historical and social conditions of academic
philosophy, and find the quarrels between different
philosophical schools rather childish, will find the
superficiality of the approach shocking.

William Large

• Chris Arthur: Marx’s Fourth Capital
• Thanasis Maniatis: Testing Marx
Paul Cockshott, Allin Cottrell & Greg Michaelson : A Reply to Maniatis
John Cunliffe & Andrew Reeve: Exploitation – The Original Saint-Simonian
Account
Gerard Strange: Which Path to Paradise? Andre Gorz, Political Ecology
and the Green Movement
lan Fitzgerald, AI Rainnie & John Stirling: Coming to Terms with auality
– UNISON and the Restructuring of Local Government
Brian Heron: The Birth of Socialist Labour
Paul Allender: A ‘New’ Socialist Party?

Steve Jefferys: France 1995 – The Backward March of Labour Halted
Vadim Borisov & Simon Clarke: The Russian Miners’ Strike of February 1996
Book Reviews

R a die a I P h

if 0

sop h y

78

(J u I Y / A u 9 u S t

19 9 6)

Carolyn Bailey Gill, ed., Bataille:

notably,

from

revealing the pitfalls and the potential

Writing the Sacred

Besnier, Suleiman, Richman, Stoekl

insights such a journey may hold in

Routledge, London and New York,

and Hollier admirably convey the

store, and this collection proves a

1995. xix + 195 pp., £40.00 hb.,

complex set of relations and forces that

worthy travelling companion.

the

contributions

£14.99 pb., 0415 10122 0 hb., 0

shaped Bataille’s thought. The innova-

415 101239 pb.

tive concepts at the heart of his work

Edited collections are often marred by

inner experience) are revealed as

Jean-Jacques Lecercle,

the differences in style and perspective

developments of more familiar socio-

Philosophy of Nonsense: The

of the individual contributions. Each

logical and philosophical material – a

Intuitions of Victorian Nonsense

essay may work well on its own, while

contextualization that brings to the

Literature

the whole fragments into a series of

surface the true power and importance

loosely connected parts. Interestingly,

of his ideas.

lain MacKenzie

(the sacred, the impossible, excess,

Routledge, London and New York,
1994. viii + 245 pp., £40.00 hb.,

such textual and thematic fragmenta-

Unfortunately, the collection also

tion is an advantage when faced with

contains an example of the worst kind

the work of Georges Bataille, a writer

of Bataille-inspired writing in its

who sought to sidestep coherence in

opening pages. Alphonso Lingis’ s

In

favour of a ‘philosophy’ that gloried in

account of the marvels and squalor

Wittgenstein

paradox and ‘the emotive’. When look-

surrounding a Mayan ruin is less a

sentence is called senseless it is not as

ing at Bataille, who wrote pornography

‘meditation on the sacred’ than an ex-

it were its sense that is senseless. But

and poetry alongside works of political

tended and rather tedious postcard from

a combination of words is being ex-

economy and philosophy, the plurality

Honduras. It seems odd that he had to

cluded from the language, withdrawn

of styles, arguments and presentations

travel ‘to this excretion of inassimila-

from circulation’. By focusing his

can actually help the reader gain a

ble elements’ to reach the conclusion

analysis upon the negative prefix,

greater insight into the many trajec-

that the sacred is ‘the inapprehendable,

Lecercle distinguishes nonsense from

tories of his thought, without halting

the unconceptualizable, the inassimila-

senselessness, seeking to preserve the

its imaginative and investigative flight.

ble, the irrecuperable’. Given this defi-

former in circulation. At one point,

Thus, while most of the essays do,

nition, one can only surmise that

indeed, he offers (but does not develop)

useful

‘writing the sacred’ for Lingis is an im-

an explicitly economic analogy, citing

analysis of important themes within

possible task which he should never

Marx’s account of transition from

Bataille, the real strength of this book

have attempted.

commodity chain to money chain. For

in

themselves,

provide

a

£12.99 pb., 0415076528 hb., 0
415 07653 6 pb.

Philosophical

Investigations,

states that

‘when

a

its

Aside from this unfortunate begin-

in radical nonsense, saying precedes

entirety. By emphasizing the diffuse

ning, the editor has amassed a some-

meaning in a process that threatens

nature of Bataille’s thought – the

times startling, and always interesting

endless proliferation.

is revealed only when it is read in

essays range across topics as diverse

set of papers that testify to the ongoing

Lecercle insists that this perception

as politics, sociology, literature, art,

relevance of Bataille’ s thought. In a

of causal relationship is the foundation

economics and philosophy – the reader

world that is increasingly concerned

for contemporary critical reading of

is given an enlightening view of his

with the excavation of ‘the sacred’ in

literary texts, and informs key areas of

overall significance, without having to

the everyday – one need only think of

current psychoanalytic

submit a single account of that signifi-

a vast spectrum of phenomena that

sophical debate. In linguistic terms,

and philo-

cance. The result is a collection that is

include New Age theosophies, the

Lecercle’s essential concern in Phil-

actually greater than the sum of its

burgeoning language of ‘community’,

osophy of Nonsense is what he formu-

parts.

and the politics of moral outrage –

lated

Bataille’s analyses offer both a warn-

Looking-Glass (1985) as the dialectic

evoking the intellectual environment

ing on the dangers of such phenomena

whose poles are ‘I speak language’ and

that provided the sources of Bataille’ s

and a keen sense of the ways in which

‘language speaks’. Tristan Tzara’s

oeuvre. Throughout, the reader is

the sacred functions through them as a

provocative claim that ‘thought is

reminded that Bataille’s literary and

source of personal and collective

made in the mouth’ neatly summarizes

It is particularly impressive in

in

Philosophy

through

the

philosophical pursuits had deep roots

empowerment. While pursuing the

the pole that really holds Lecercle’s

in the birth of modem sociology, the

twin investigative track may not be an

attention; though the terrain on which

rise of fascism and Kojeve’ s interpre-

easy or comfortable journey to embark

his explorations are conducted is not

tation of Hegel (to name a few). Most

upon, Bataille goes a long way towards

Dada but Victorian nonsense literature,

Radical Philosophy

78 (July/August

1996)

51

and Lewis Carroll’ s Alice books in particular.

The book’s subtitle advances the

pastoral note is tempered by genuine

return to the Aristotelian virtues as pre-

(if unconscious) engagement with

suming a sort of timeless supermarket

modernity. Alice is not merely the

of meta-ethical options, Ross is more

claim that Carroll and Edward Lear

innocent child of Romantic myth, but

affirmative towards the Enlightenment

intuitively discerned positions and

a language user caught up in dialogic

project. We must look to our own his-

relationships that have come to be

struggles involving the rules of lan-

toricity for moral alternatives, and to a

recognized as paradigmatic indices of

guage and of social behaviour.

more dialectical reading of conceptual

Western intellectual culture a century

Lecercle’s The Violence of Lan-

roads not taken. A lost project for

later. Lecercle’ s mission is to rescue

guage (1990) ends with the declaration

moral social direction is to be found in

his favoured genre from the formalist

that ‘language is the only Wonderland;

the collectivism nascent in Rousseau’s

emphasis exemplified by Elizabeth

what I have been doing is knocking at

general will, Hegelian Sittlichkeit,

Sewell’s study, The Field of Nonsense

the garden door.’ In Philosophy of

and especially Kant’s community of

(1952).

Nonsense, he has restored that garden

autonomous ends-in-themselves subject

to history and society, and has made a

to

authority, ranging from Aristotle to

strong case for the relevance of non-

Habermas, Ross locates an inter-

Derrida,

sense texts both to Victorian Britain

subjectivity in the first flush of post-

frequent

The legitimation involves
citation
and

is

of philosophical
characterized by

Lecercle’s customary deft eclecticism.

and to contemporary conditions.

Evidently conscious that such refer-

,”,ulian Cowley

ences are suggestive but by no means

self-enacted laws. Rather like

Enlightenment thought which has since
been lost in a sea of individualist
subjectivism.

conclusive, he begins his ‘Conclusion’

De-privatizing morality means re-

with the wry observation, ‘It is never

Philip J. Rass, De-Privatizing

conceiving individual autonomy as a

too late to justify one’s title.’

Morality

symptom of, and not an extraction

Avebury, Aldershot, 1994. vii +

from, community, and demarcating the

119 pp., £35.00 hb., 1 856266592.

logical space for moral objectivity

‘the corpus of texts was Victorian, but

which the ideology of liberal individ-

the object of the analysis was a time-

This is an original and promising

ualism has denied. Opinions, by now

less language game.’ In the second

contribution to communitarian moral

effectively the sacred private property

part, he draws on Foucault, Deleuze

thought – although Phi lip J. Ross seems

of the (negatively) ‘free’ indiv.idual,

and Bakhtin to demonstrate the refrac-

a little wary of the term (mostly he pre-

need to be re submitted to public

tion of Victorian cultural formations

fers ‘post-individualism’, or simply

scrutiny and debate. We need to

through nonsense literature. Thus he

‘collectivism’). His, at any rate, is a

relearn, or create afresh, a language of

connects the nonsense writer’s fascina-

communitarianism with a difference –

moral justification – and lose the habit

tion with exploration and taxonomy

not so much in its diagnosis of mod-

of presuming moral questions to be un-

with those features in the discourse of

ernity’s moral shortcomings, as in its

answerable except by fanatics and

natural history. The limerick is plugged

response to them. It is this difference

fundamentalists.

into a carceral network that includes

which makes Ross’ s arguments most

not only the prison and the madhouse

interesting, but also most vulnerable.

The first part of the book presents
synchronic readings; as Lecercle notes,

The underlabouring in Ross’ s argument is well executed: he engages

but also the museum. More elaborately,

Like MacIntyre in After Virtue,

he shows how the discourse of educa-

Ross begins by deriding the moral self-

R.M. Hare, MacIntyre, cultural rela-

tion, the formation he calls the School,

confidence of the modern West. From

tivism, Sartre (as accessory to liberal

was ‘steeped in nonsense’; nonsense

incisively with C.L. Stevenson and

government level down to everyday

moral non-direction), Adam Smith, and

texts simultaneously subvert and sup-

ethics-speak, he argues, our sense of

the libertarian New Right. But on a

port the values of Victorian education.

moral superiority over other cultures

larger scale, his most promising themes

Lecercle sets out a theory of

founds itself not upon commitment to,

are also the most frustrating. If Kant

pastiche to elucidate this dual action of

or knowledge of, any coherent frame-

and Rousseau are latent presences in

challenge and endorsement, which is

work of values, but on an inhibiting

the otherwise impoverished moral

characteristic of the fusion of apparent

moral scepticism. ‘Knowledge’ and

scene of the fin-de-siecle, Ross doesn’t

opposites invariably accomplished by

‘virtue’ no longer correlate: sentimen-

really show us where they’re hiding.

nonsense. Crucially, the nostalgia of

tality replaces objectivity as moral

Indeed, his most polemical, and best,

such writing coincides with antici-

motivator; and value judgement is

chapters discount any notion of getting

pation of ‘a more advanced state of

rendered an entirely subjective affair.

substantive moral sustenance from the

knowledge and understanding’; the

Rejecting MacIntyre’s proposition of a

socio-economic status quo.

52

Ra die a I Ph

if 0

sop h y

78

(J u I Y / A u 9 u S t

1996)

So where does the vital collectivist

i

I

Mouffe, Deleuze and Guattari, and

This indifference to counterfactual

impulse come from exactly? Ross

Melucci. Deleuze and Guattari’s idea

difficulties (Which movements? What

insists, as he probably must, that the

of the subject as a ‘desiring machine’

conceivable unity? What justifica-

grammar and functioning of everyday

is extended by Jordan into social form

tions?) enables him to make a new

ethical conversation indicate ‘a groping

– social movements are associations of

theoretical case, even if its immediate

towards rationality, to objective justi-

desiring subjects banded together to

political

fiability’. But I am not sure that the fact

overthrow or resist oppression. They

limited. (It is curious to choose a

potential

might

appear

that we still use the word ‘virtue’ is

construct social identities, narratives

metaphor – bootstraps – whose literal

enough to dig us out of the moral hole

and memories of their struggles to help

meaning implies failure.) But one

he has us in. While right to distance

them. The problem for the Left is that

might also ask, why have a radical

himself from

its earlier dominant form of collective

politics at all, if it is in no rational

MacIntyre’s

ethical

premodernism, Ross falters when it

action – the working-class movement

relationship to the oppressions and in-

comes to elaborating his own alterna-

– is in decline. In any case, this is now

equalities of the world? The rejection

tive. The most sympathetic reader will

experienced by many, such as women,

of foundationalism – the idea that there

want more by way of compelling

ethnic minorities and environmental-

are definite relations between the

evidence that a collectivist morality, or

ists as an oppressive, not an emanci-

realities of the world and human needs

indeed any sort of ethical/political

patory force.

and aspirations – leads Jordan to de-

resolution, is objectively superior to a

Jordan believes that a radical or

meta-ethical pick’n’mix. For what it

revolutionary project needs to be re-

tach his politics from any definite conception of social reality.

sketches and promises, though, Ross’ s

invented, making use of the discursive

book is worthy of a place in the

resources of its traditions, and of its

follows: What is the Left? And what

burgeoning communitarian (or post-

diverse contemporary experiences of

does it want? Politics is seen as an ex-

individualist) canon.

oppression. He describes this as ‘boot-

pression of collective desire. A more

Gideon Calder

Tim Jordan, Reinventing

Jordan

poses

the

problem

as

strapping’ – that is, the voluntaristic

traditional realist might pose different

self-generation of radical movements

questions, such as: (I) Is there a sys-

by sheer force of will and desire. One

tem or structure in existence which

of his examples is the movement of

generates systematic harms? (2) Does

Revolution: Value and

‘ravers’

ecstatic

this system generate unified opposi-

Difference in New Social

dancing), whose motorized travels

tions to itself? (3) Are there tendencies

Movements and the Left

around the country in search of venues

which might lead this system to

hidden from the police are represented

change and to encounter internal insta-

Avebury, Aldershot, 1994. vii +
166 pp., £35.00 hb., 1 85628865 X.

(aficionados

of

as a model of libertarian desire in ac-

bilities (which might or might not be

tion. But Jordan has also involved him-

related to the oppositions above)?

Tim Jordan’s Reinventing Revolution

self with other grassroots movements,

If the answer to the first question is

contributes to the debate on the

such as tenants’ associations, and has

negative, there seems little good

renewal of the Left from a postmodern

an inclusionary notion of what such

reason for radical movements to exist.

perspective. It is a work of radical ac-

movements of liberation might be.

But, of course, a positive answer to

tion theory, which draws on the

It is a merit of Jordan’s book

this question does not necessarily im-

perspectives of discourse theorists,

that he is willing to follow the un-

ply that one can answer either of the

post-Foucauldians, and advocates of

compromising logic of his argument: a

other two questions in a positive way,

the transformative potential of new so-

radicalism based on virtually nothing

unhappy condition as that might be.

cial movements, such as Laclau and

but its own voluntarist commitments.

Michael Rustin

CONFERENCE OF SOCIALIST ECONOMISTS 96
Friday-Sunday 12-14 July 1996
University of Northumbria at Newcastle

RESTRUCTURING THE LEFT
For further details contact: Lorna Kennedy – CSE 96
School of Social, Political and Economic Sciences, University of Northumbria at Newcastle,
Northumberland Building, Sandyford Road, Newcastle Upon Tyne NE1 8ST
Tel: 0191 227 4937 Fax: 0191 227 3189 E-mail: 10rna.kennedy@UNN.ac.uk

R a die a I P h

if 0

sop h y

7 8 (J u I Y / A u 9 u s t

1 9 9 6)

53

Buy the newest RP in printDownload the PDF