In the Name of the FatherElisabeth Roudinesco, Jacques Lacan, translated by Barbara Bray, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1997. xix + 574 pp., £25.00 hb., 07456 1523 6.
In the spring of 1962, a 21-year-old woman is standing on a balcony in Paris, anxiously waiting for her father to keep his appointment with her. She waits and waits. Eventually, she sees a woman hurriedly leaving what she knows to be a discreet maison de rendez-vous or house of assignation frequented by the wealthy. Moments later, she sees a man leaving the same house, recognizes him as her father and exclaims to herself: ʻHow could he put me through this ordeal in order to satisfy his desire ﬁrst?ʼ The philandering man is Jacques Lacan; the young woman, Sibylle Lacan, his estranged daughter by his ﬁrst wife Marie-Louise Blondin. She was, as he well knew, suffering from a variety of psychosomatic disorders and had been hoping to consult him in his professional capacity. In his seminar on the ethics of psychoanalysis (1959–60), Lacan had recently argued that the analysandʼs feeling of guilt arises because he (the analysand) has at some point ʻgiven ground with respect to his desireʼ and had formulated the analytic ethic as the interrogative ʻhave you acted in conformity with the desire that is within you?ʼ By his own standards, he had no reason to feel guilty. This particular – and particularly unpleasant – anecdote does not ﬁgure in Elisabeth Roudinescoʼs new and compendious biography of Lacan; it is drawn from Sibylle Lacanʼs Un Père: puzzle (Gallimard, Paris, 1994), a bitter and almost intolerably moving little memoir that has yet to ﬁnd an English-language publisher. The two do, however, have points in common. The Lacan who emerges from Roudinescoʼs biography is at times deeply unpleasant, arrogant and possessed of a strong will to power from a very early age. Yet whilst the unpleasantness of the man does not necessarily devalue the work – it is, as Sartre once remarked of Heideggerʼs dubious political leanings, possible for a man to be unworthy of his own work – the adoption of a biographical approach to a psychoanalyst does raise some worrying questions.
Roudinesco is without doubt Franceʼs most important historian of psychoanalysis. Her Jacques Lacan & Co., published in translation in 1990 and reviewed in Radical Philosophy 60, is now a standard history and work of reference, but the present volume is rather more than a reprise of its contents. It is the richest and fullest biographical study of Lacan to date, and it is unlikely to be bettered for a long time. Roudinescoʼs knowledge is encyclopaedic, and it is that of an insider who, like some character from Racine, was born in the analytic seraglio and knows its secrets. She herself is a psychoanalyst; her mother Jenny Weiss Roudinesco was one of the pioneers of child analysis in France and a signiﬁcant protagonist in the Lacanian saga. It was her privileged insider status that allowed Roudinesco to retrace the lines of analytic descent – in which ʻanalysedʼ replaces the Biblical ʻbegatʼ – which added so much to the richness of her earlier study. Here, she again combines documentary and textual evidence with a kind of oral history to powerful effect in a narrative that is as readable as it is informative.
The original French edition of 1993 was subtitled ʻSketch of a Life, History of a System of Thoughtʼ, and the decision to drop the subtitle in Barbara Brayʼs ﬂuent translation was a wise one. This is no sketch, but a full-length portrait, and the history recounted in it reveals that Lacanʼs thought is much less systematic than it might appear. Roudinesco does not record the autonomous self-development of a system that ﬁnds its ﬁnal expression in the ʻclassiﬁed index of major conceptsʼ appended to the 1966 Écrits by JacquesAlain Miller, Lacanʼs son-in-law, literary executor and, in his own view, rightful heir, but a process of accretion that resembles Lévi-Straussʼs bricolage. For Roudinesco, Millerʼs interpretation of Lacanʼs logic was the harbinger of all the dogmatism that was to come. She has little time for the ʻlegitimistsʼ who have produced a dogma, and is sceptical about the obsession with quasi-mathematical formulae. For Roudinesco, the period in which Lacan explored the properties of Mobius strips, mathematical topography and Borromean knots was an extraterrestrial stay on ʻplanet Borromeoʼ that threatened to reduce psychoanalysis to a form of Zen.Leaving the theoretical stratosphere to which Lacan is so often elevated and conﬁned, Roudinesco digs into history. Some of her discoveries border on the comic. Much has been made of Lacanʼs famous style, variously described as baroque or Gongorian and sometimes regarded as following or imitating the workings of the unconscious. It proves to be the effect of an almost total inability to write coherent French. In 1938, Lacan submitted a lengthy essay on the family for publication in an encyclopaedia edited by the psychologist Henri Wallon and the historian Lucien Febvre. The style was so convoluted and impenetrable that the unfortunate and long-suffering woman who edited it referred to her work as an exercise in ʻtranslationʼ. Matters were little better when, after considerable persuasion had been applied, Lacan agreed to publish his Écrits. Once more, a great deal of editorial input was required to make the text as readable as it is, and much of the punctuation is the work of François Wahl.
Some of the other concrete details that emerge are not so amusing, and much less edifying. The central issue at stake in Lacanʼs stormy relationship with the International Psychoanalytic Association was his use of variable or short sessions in training analyses. Despite all the promises to discontinue the practice in a bid to gain ofﬁcial recognition, Lacan continued to use short sessions. And as the sessions grew shorter, Lacan – never a man averse to wealth – became richer. By 1979, Lacan was seeing an average of ten patients per hour, and earning some four million francs a year from psychoanalysis. As the technique was adopted by many of Lacanʼs disciples, it allowed the École Freudienne de Paris to proliferate by producing analysts on an almost industrial scale. The numbers involved in the constant round of analysis and attendance at the masterʼs seminar bound them together, but also sowed the seeds for the later dissensions that have left the house of Lacan so divided.
Althusser once famously remarked that Lacan ʻthinks nothing but Freudʼs conceptsʼ, but Roudinesco demonstrates otherwise. From the 1930s onwards, Lacan borrowed concepts from Freud and looked to philosophy to provide a theoretical infrastructure. More tellingly, every conceptual borrowing, every glance at a theory, helped him to appear simultaneously the destroyer of old values, the heir to an old tradition and the solitary pioneer of new knowledge. Lacan borrowed from the concrete psychology elaborated by Georges Politzer in the 1930s, from Wallon – whose work on child psychology provides Lacan with the underpinnings for his mirror-stage, from the surrealists, and, perhaps above all, from Kojève, without whom he could not have elaborated his famous dialectic of desire. Borrowing is of course not an illegitimate activity and Lacan is at his best a wonderful synthesizer of disciplines. At other times, he appears to have borrowed concepts in the same way that some people borrow cigarettes. As every smoker knows, you never get back a borrowed cigarette. Roudinesco describes the young Lacan as displaying a Madame Bovary-like desire for a change of identity, and he borrowed roles too. In ʻThe Freudian Thingʼ, Lacan cites Jungʼs words to Freud as they came into New York harbour in 1909: ʻThey donʼt realize weʼre bringing the plagueʼ, and added ʻI have it from Jungʼs mouthʼ. Lacan certainly met Jung, but neither the Jung nor the Freud archives contain any mention of the anecdote that makes Lacan an heir, gives his subversion of the subject a legitimate pedigree, and fosters the illusion that Freud was Lacan avant la lettre.
Conceptual borrowings are central to one of the strangest and saddest stories told by Roudinesco. It concerns ʻAiméeʼ, or Marguerite Paintaine, to give her her true name. ʻAiméeʼ was a failed novelist who, suffering from paranoia and erotomania, attacked a famous actress with a knife, and who provided the raw material for Lacanʼs thesis on the relationship between paranoid psychosis and the personality (1932). Although no analysis took place – Lacan was not yet qualiﬁed – the two worked together for over a year but Lacan never returned the writings he borrowed. He was more concerned with using her as a source than with treating her as a patient. The full story of Marguerite/Aimée has as many twists and turns and unlikely coincidences as a novel by Balzac or Victor Hugo. After many years in psychiatric hospitals, she was actually employed as a cook–housekeeper by Lacanʼs father. At this point her son – Didier Anzieu – was actually in analysis with Lacan. Anzieu learned from his mother that she was ʻAiméeʼ and questioned Lacan about the story. Lacan admitted that he had pieced together the story, but had said nothing. A distinguished analyst himself, Didier Anzieu is not one of Lacanʼs greatest admirers. The story becomes still more intriguing when we learn that Lacan was constantly torn between a desire for fame and recognition, which meant publication of his work, and a fear that, if he did publish, his ideas would be stolen or that his letters would be purloined. When Lacan died, Roudinesco asked Miller if she could look at the Aimée papers, but received no reply to her request. Some things clearly do run in families.And the question of what runs in families is central to Roudinescoʼs narrative. Lacanian psychoanalysis is notoriously father-centred. In his earliest writings, Lacan attributes all the ills and discontents of modern society to the decline in the importance of the ʻpaternal imagoʼ. In 1953, he ﬁrst used the term ʻname of the fatherʼ in a lecture on ʻthe individual myth of the neuroticʼ, and it was to become a key term in the work of his maturity. In the system developed in the 1950s, and enshrined in the magniﬁcent ʻRome Discourseʼ that provided the Lacanian school with its great manifesto, the symbolic function of the father is crucial, the tragedy being that it is rarely performed by actual fathers.
Although Roudinesco does not fully explore the implications of her claims, she strongly suggests that this important innovation is deeply rooted in Lacanʼs life and family history. The wealth of the Lacan dynasty was originally made from the manufacture of vinegar, and he spent a stiﬂing childhood in a family where religiosity combined with quarrels and rivalries in the very best tradition of the bourgeois novel. His middle name was Emile, that of the paternal grandfather he loathed so much that his memory provoked an extraordinarily bitter outburst in a public seminar. The birth certiﬁcate was signed by father and grandfather, and no doubt hastened the decline of the formerʼs imago. Emile was the dominant male, the man who punished Jacques-Emile Lacan by making him stand in the corner and whose behaviour taught him what the adult Lacan called ʻthe essential act of cursing Godʼ.
Questions of paternity also appear in the next generation. When Lacanʼs daughter Judith was born in 1941, her mother was still ofﬁcially married to Georges Bataille. To divorce him, she would have had to declare her Jewish identity and lose the minimal protection afforded by Batailleʼs name. Judith was registered as Batailleʼs daughter. Lacan raised an adored, and adoring, daughter who bore the name of another, and not the name of her father. It was only on Batailleʼs death in 1962 that she was legitimized, and she was ʻJudith Lacanʼ only for a few short years before becoming Judith Miller. Roudinesco does not attempt to ʻanalyseʼ Lacan, but does hint that the origins of the name of the father do lie in these imbroglios over paternity and descent. Given that developments in psychoanalysis are so often bound up with the lives of psychoanalysts and those around them – there would have been no psychoanalysis without Freudʼs The internsʼ common room at SainteAnne, 1932 self-analysis, and no discovery of the fort–da game and all that it implies, without his grandson – one has to ask if the history of psychoanalysis is anything more than a story of and about psychoanalysts?
Roudinesco does not ask these questions, let alone answer them. She does tell a story that has to be read. She is critical of Lacan, or more speciﬁcally of tendencies within Lacanian psychoanalysis. And her criticisms appear to have been taken badly; there is little Hobgoblin’s goneKarl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto: A Modern Edition, with an Introduction by Eric Hobsbawm, Verso, London and New York, 1998. 87 pp., £8.00 hb., 1 85984 898 2.
It is 150 years since the publication of the most famous pamphlet in history, the Manifesto of the Communist Party. It was commissioned by the newly renamed Communist League, and although Engels had some input we owe the ﬁnal form to Marx. It is a work of literary genius as well as of enormous political and historical importance. The two most remarkable things about it were, ﬁrst of all, its address – instead of being an appeal to all, it called on a speciﬁc class to assume its historical destiny – and second, communism was argued not as a timeless truth but as the historically conditioned solution to the contradictions of modern society, issuing in the movement of the class brought forth by capital itself as its ʻgravediggerʼ.
Thanks to its red endpapers and stylish red ribbon placemarker, the edition before us, issued to mark this anniversary, might be called the coffee-table version – indeed a Verso spokesman described it as ʻelegant enough to grace a coffee tableʼ. It was reported that Barneyʼs department store in New York featured the book, along with a selection of red lipsticks, in its windows as ʻconceptual artʼ. Barneyʼs creative director Simon Doonan suggested the book could, if given an attached handle, ʻmake a snazzy accessory to a designer dressʼ. Barnes & Noble window displays featured the book, and Verso are well pleased with the sales. Numerous more or less light-hearted pieces on the anniversary appeared in the newspapers. In sum, Marx has had his ﬁfteen minutes of fame in the bourgeois media.
Let us ﬁrst clear up some confusion about when exactly the anniversary was. There is no doubt that the Manifesto ﬁrst appeared at the end of February 1848, although as late as 24 January 1848 the Central Committee of the Communist League wrote to Brussels notifying Marx that ʻif the “Manifesto of the C. Party”, sign of collaboration on the part of the Lacan–Miller side of the family. Yet her faith in psychoanalysis remains intact. The rather touching ﬁnal lines dedicate the book to the silent history of the analysts who do not write books, but who want more than a formula or a matheme. And, as Roudinesco demonstrates, they can ﬁnd still more than that in Lacan.
the writing of which he undertook at the last congress, has not arrived in London by Tuesday, February 1 of this year, measures will be taken against himʼ. Yet, in spite of the date appearing prominently on the cover, virtually as a subtitle, the Manifesto has been persistently misrepresented as appearing in 1847, not least by Marx and Engels themselves. Engels perpetrated this error in his preface to the American edition of his Condition of the Working Class in England; even in todayʼs Collected Works (Vol. 26, p. 441) this particular mistake is repeated. In the edition before us a different mistake occurs in that the prelims state that the Manifesto was ʻﬁrst published in English 1848ʼ. But the 1848 edition, published in London to be sure, was in German, while the ﬁrst English translation did not appear until 1850 in Harneyʼs Red Republican (ʻA frightful hobgoblin stalks throughout Europe.ʼ). To cap it all, Verso issued a press release stating that ʻApril 1998 is the 150th anniversary of the ﬁrst publication in English of The Communist Manifestoʼ – and this was uncritically repeated in various papers. April was not the anniversary of anything, German or English.
Although the date of the ﬁrst edition (in twenty-three pages) is not in doubt, the dating of the second – the so-called ʻthirty-pagerʼ – is a problem. Hobsbawm, following received opinion, assigns this to April or May of 1848. However, Wolfgang Meiser has argued that the thirty-page edition was printed neither in 1848 nor in London, but, in accordance with a decision of the Communist Leagueʼs central ofﬁce in Cologne, around the turn of the year 1850/51 in that city; it was deliberately disguised by the use of the imprint of the ﬁrst edition produced in London (ʻDas Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei vom Februar 1848ʼ in MEGA-Studien 1996/1). Apart from this, the scholarly quality of the ﬁrst part of Hobsbawmʼs Introduction dealing with the circumstances of its publication, and its subsequent inﬂuence, is excellent. Those in search of further instruction should consult the following three recent works: Hal Draper, The Adventures of the Communist Manifesto (Center for Socialist History, Berkeley, CA; 1994); Rob Beamish, ʻThe Making of the Manifestoʼ, in Socialist Register 1998, edited by L. Panitch and C. Leys (Merlin, 1998); F. Diamanti, ʻThe Inﬂuence of Cabet on the Manifestoʼ, Studies in Marxism 1997.
The translation used in this ʻmodern editionʼ is that of 1888, which was lightly edited by Engels, and is supplied here with a few extra notes. Following it is Engelsʼs Preface to that translation. As Hobsbawm argues in the latter part of his Introduction, Marx showed amazing prescience in the ﬁrst part of the Manifesto in that the world of capitalism he described barely existed at that time and has only now achieved its true world-historical dimensions. Hobsbawm concludes that, although Marx overestimated the revolutionary potential of the proletariat, capitalism is still riven with contradictions; but he refuses to give a name to what might supersede it.1848 was not only the year of the Manifesto, of course, it was also the year of revolution in Europe. Three more printings of the Manifesto were rushed out in the spring to supply the comrades with material. Hobsbawm afﬁrms, without explanation, that in the revolution the tactics outlined for Germany in the Manifesto were not in fact applied. Let us look at what the Manifesto says communists should do:
In Germany they ﬁght with the bourgeoisie whenever it acts in a revolutionary way, against the absolute monarchy, the feudal squirearchy, and petty-bourgeois conditions. But they never cease, for a single instant, to instil into the working class the clearest possible recognition of the hostile antagonism between the bourgeoisie and proletariat, in order that … after the fall of the reactionary classes the ﬁght against the bourgeoisie itself may immediately begin.
After the revolution Marx outlined exactly the same perspective in Addresses to the Communist League, this time summarized with the formula ʻpermanent revolutionʼ. But in the events themselves, until at least the autumn of 1848, Marx concentrated entirely on using his Cologne newspaper to ginger up the radical bourgeoisie; he ignored the second half of the policy, and fell out with the local branch of the League, which wanted to pursue an out-and-out proletarian agitation.
The same issues arose in the Russian revolution. In his reﬂections on the 1905 edition, Trotsky reinvented ʻpermanent revolutionʼ, and in 1917 the Bolsheviks applied the theory to legitimate the October revolution albeit (against the Menshevik orthodoxy that Russia was too backward to sustain a socialist transformation) with the important proviso (taken from Marxʼs Preface to the Russian edition of the Manifesto) that it spark off revolution in the West. In this context, a reﬂection of Engels on conditions in Germany in the 1850s is very striking. He wrote to Weydemeyer (12 April 1853):I have a presentiment that, thanks to the perplexity and ﬂabbiness of all the others, our Party will one ﬁne morning be forced to assume power and ﬁnally to carry out the measures that are of no direct interest to us, but are in the general interests of the revolution and the speciﬁc interests of the petty-bourgeoisie; on which occasion, driven by the proletarian populace, bound by our own printed declarations and plans – more or less falsely interpreted, more or less passionately thrust to the fore in the Party struggle – we shall be constrained to undertake communist experiments and perform leaps the untimeliness of which we know better than anyone else. In so doing we lose our heads – only physically speaking, let us hope – a reaction sets in, and until the world is able to pass historical judgment on such events, we are considered not only beasts, which wouldnʼt matter, but also bêtes [stupid], which is much worse.
In the present period of reaction, communists are indeed considered stupid; that is why poor old Marx can be patronised so. The spectre of communism no longer haunts Europe.
Life, the universe and everything differentKeith Ansell Pearson, Viroid Life: Perspectives on Nietzsche and the Transhuman Condition, Routledge, London and New York, 1997. 203 pp., £37.50 hb., £11.99 pb., 0 415 15434 0 hb., 0 415 15435 9 pb. Keith Ansell Pearson, ed., Deleuze and Philosophy: The Difference Engineer, Routledge, London, 1997. x + 277 pp., £47.50 hb., £14.99 pb., 0 415 14269 5 hb., 0 415 14270 9 pb.
Despite the caricature that resides all too ﬁrmly within the popular imagination, philosophers rarely concern themselves with ʻlife, the universe and everythingʼ. This is particularly true in an intellectual environment still struggling to come to terms with the core task of modern philosophy. For modern philosophers, it was precisely the holistic approach to the subject matter of philosophy that sowed the seeds of illusion and error in ancient thought. Only the sharp edges of a differentiated approach to life could cut through the matted undergrowth of the convoluted scholasticism that pervaded late medieval philosophy. As we see in Kant – perhaps the ﬁnest exponent of differentiated critique – the task of modern philosophy is to sort out ʻlife, the universe and everythingʼ into ﬁnely packaged concepts and categories. The contemporary legacy of this modern approach is a preoccupation with the limits of conceptual analysis: ʻwhen does an ontological question become an epistemological one?ʼ, ʻwhen does a moral claim become a political right?ʼ, and so on. The nature or meaning of ʻlife, the universe and everythingʼ is removed from the ﬁeld of contemporary philosophical problems and placed in the theological arena or, alternatively, within the domain of theoretical physics.
The terrain of contemporary thought has been deeply scarred by this excessive drive to differentiate, demarcate and delimit lifeʼs richly interlocking aspects. The challenge has come from two antithetical directions. First, there are those critics who explicitly strive to transcend the limits of analysis by reinventing a more plausible version of holism than that offered by the ancients. While Hegel is the most notable example, we might think of communitarianism as a contemporary variant. Second, there are those who seek to undermine the legitimacy of conceptual limits by ﬂitting playfully across established boundaries of thought. One could connect Romantic critics of modernism to contemporary ʻpostmodernsʼ in this way. Rather than pursue an overall coherence within ʻlife, the universe and everythingʼ, this second type of critic pursues an undermining (aesthetic, anti-foundational, relativist) incoherence within life. Despite their resolutely opposed agendas, both types of critic end up with a disturbing lurch back towards holism.
This has led many contemporary theorists to stick with an albeit reconstructed version of the Kantian agenda, which adopts then adapts the project of differentiated critique. It is to Ansell Pearsonʼs credit that he reminds us that there is a way of understanding life within Nietzscheʼs work (and that of his foremost contemporary advocate, Deleuze) that neither returns us to Kant nor takes us down the path of either explicit or surreptitious holism. With these two volumes he invites us to consider the possibility that while life must be conceptualized as a whole this does not negate the cause of differentiated critique; rather it fulﬁls it in a way only hinted at within (neo-) Kantian analyses. Whereas the Kantian drive for differentiation resides in the desire to order life, the Nietzschean and Deleuzean preoccupation with differentiation arises from a desire to surf the wave of life itself. As Ansell Pearson reveals, it is only by way of a transversal/transhuman analysis of life that we are able properly to advance the cause of difference and differentiated critique.
Along the way he is careful to distance himself from two common misconceptions that arise when (neo-) Nietzscheans talk about life, anthropomorphism and technologism. The anthropomorphic strain in Nietzscheanism is that which deﬁnes life in terms of its will, the will to power: ʻto assert that life is willto-power can only be the beginning of a philosophy of life, not its entire, consummate deﬁnitionʼ (Viroid Life, p. 108). When life is dressed up solely as the will to power it tends to assume the garb of humanity, with all the normative baggage that this entails. Interestingly, and this is a real sign of the times, Ansell Pearson is drawn into an engagement with a more surreptitious form of normativism, which comes cloaked in the technological and technologized language of the ʻcyber-gurusʼ. I take it to be one of the central, and most persuasive, claims of Viroid Life that the current fashion for viewing human evolution as superseded by the evolution of new cyber-technologies is a particu-larly pernicious form of crypto-normativism – one that sucks the life out of humanity so that it can attempt a transfusion into the inert binary switches of computer hardware. Such an avowedly anti-humanist agenda, as Ansell Pearson points out, typically fails to recognize the implicit humanism which underpins its celebrations of the cybernetic.
Between anthropomorphism and (cyber-) technologism lies the transhuman. A transhuman understanding of life is one that refutes all ʻextraneousʼ or ʻexogenousʼ accounts of its evolutionary movement and considers instead a principle of non-linear, internal differentiation to be the very ʻstuffʼ of life. A viroid conception of life is one which aims to give full expression to this founding principle. Where the moderns and their (modern) critics sought to comprehend ʻlife the universe and everythingʼ in various ways, Ansell Pearson sidesteps this concern of modernity by invoking a Nietzschean and Deleuzean engagement with ʻlife, the universe and everything differentʼ.
The veracity of a viroid approach to life is explored through an interrogation of the domain of biology. The aim is to expose lifeʼs immanently viroid nature and, concomitantly, expose the attempts by Darwin, Dawkins and others to suppress or control this differentiating component within nature. As he reminds us, this may not be a reassuring position to adopt, undermining as it does many of the assumptions we have about life and our place in it, but the task of viroid philosophy is to engineer difference rather than manufacture comfort.
As most of the contributors to Deleuze and Philosophy make clear, the aim of this style of philosophy is not lovingly to embrace difference as if it were the lapdog of human thought (which, after all, is the liberal appropriation of difference within contemporary thought) but to recognize difference within every trope of philosophy, as if it were a poison coursing through the veins of all concepts and categories. Only then will the processes of immanent differentiation advanced in the work of Deleuze become distinguishable from the Kantian task of differentiating the realm of the transcendent – ʻengineering thought rather than thinking in the image of philosophyʼ, as Diane Beddoes puts it. There is plenty of evidence in this volume of insightful and innovative essays that the engineers have been busily constructing new ways of thinking.
That said, there is an incredible lack of novelty whenever ʻpoliticsʼ is mentioned. There is more than a nod in the direction of politics on numerous occasions, but almost inevitably there is a failure to situate Deleuze within current debates in political theory.
While it is unreasonable to expect everybody interested in Deleuze to deal with contemporary political philosophy, there is a sense of disdain towards other traditions of contemporary political thought that smacks of Deleuzean home comforts. With regard to the politics that ﬂow from reading Deleuze, the difference engineer begins to look very ʻsameyʼ. If there really is hope for sidestepping the Kantian agenda of differentiated critique in the name of difference, rather than explicit or surreptitious holism, then the politics of this project needs to be more ﬁnely drawn out than it is by the contributors to this volume.
A need not metMaureen Ramsay, Whatʼs Wrong with Liberalism? A Radical Critique of Liberal Political Philosophy, Leicester University Press, London and Washington DC, 1997. vii + 271 pp., £14.99 pb., 0 7185 1811 X.
At a time when liberalism reigns supreme, serving the world over as capitalismʼs ofﬁcial philosophy, a genuinely radical critique is urgently needed. For its vision of the nature of human beings and their relations with each other has not only come to form the ʻcommon senseʼ of its erstwhile ʻmoderateʼ critics (from former conservatives such as Kenneth Minogue – whose 1963 The Liberal Mind remains a cogent critique – to former social democrats such as Tony Blair), but also permeates the thought of all too many of its left opponents. So what might ʻan accessible and comprehensive critique of the key concepts that underpin liberal political philosophyʼ (jacket blurb) look like?
Such a book might examine liberalismʼs basic convictions, principles and conceptual tools, countering its arguments at their strongest. It would seek ﬁrst to uncover its internal tensions and contradictions and second, pace Rorty and others, to confront them with other reasonably plausible convictions; and it would do all this in an explicitly historical and political context. Such a book might be either forbiddingly large or interestingly brief. It would be as accessible as possible; cogently and carefully argued; and clear about its limitations. It might, perhaps, focus its discussions on a single extended example such as health care or employment.
The last desideratum apart, Ramsayʼs book – a sequel to her impressive Human Needs and the Market – promises much. Her intention ʻto explain and criticize liberal concepts and values in order to expose the empirical, theoretical, practical and moral deﬁciencies at the heart of liberal thoughtʼ (p. 2) is admirable, as is her historical frame of reference. There are chapters on human nature, freedom, equality, justice, rights, womenʼs and childrenʼs rights, the public and the private, and wants and needs, all of which seek to explain and to refute. Things look good, despite the absence of Rawlsʼs Political Liberalism, Bellamyʼs Liberalism and Modern Society, and Frazer and Laceyʼs The Politics of Community. That promise, unhappily, soon turns to disappointment.
First, and not least, something has gone seriously wrong at the copyediting and proofreading stages. Page after page appears as though a bucket of commas had been emptied over it – for example: ʻLocke also, understands freedom as the right to non-interferenceʼ (p. 17 – the ubiquity of this error suggests that Leicester University Press thinks that verbs require to be separated from their subjects by a comma). Even quotations are thus mispunctuated. Nor is the bookʼs semi-literate production limited to misusing commas: possessives are too often mis-apostrophized; Walzer appears as ʻWaltzerʼ (p. 115); and, more importantly, clumps of words occasionally masquerade as sentences – for example, ʻ[T]he ground for equal rights being the common humanity which transcends irrelevant and arbitrary differencesʼ (p. 167). Some might think that this hardly matters. But this pernicious view offers needless hostages to the Right. Grammar and punctuation, both central to the meaning of written English – as this book inadvertently demonstrates – are basic tools.
Perhaps Ramsayʼs arguments should not be dismissed on that account, since she offers a range of useful comments on aspects of liberal thought and its inadequacy. But the trouble is that too many of her arguments appear to have been constructed in haste, so that they merely repudiate what requires to be refuted.
For example, while she rightly distinguishes classical from social liberalism, she regards Kant as unproblematically a representative of the former; pays no regard to Millʼs arguably transitional role between the two; and, though writing for an Anglo-American audience, omits any mention of Hobhouse. Thus, just because ʻKantian versions of rationality break the link between the interests of the individual and their moral responsibility, by insisting on the primacy of the rational status of duty over the interests and inclinations of the individualʼ, it will not do to lump together ʻKantʼs idea of rational autonomous agents as ends in themselves and the utilitarian conception of rational individuals as best judges of their own interestʼ (p. 36). Nor would one gather from Ramsayʼs simply listing him among ʻclassicalʼ liberals, defending the ʻtraditional liberal concept of freedomʼ (p. 38), that Kant thought of obedience to the moral law as freedomʼs supreme instantiation, so that he might be invoked against the liberal view of freedom as negative; or that he – no less than such contemporary critics of liberalism as Taylor (who describes himself as a liberal) and Macpherson – takes positive liberty to be ʻa cluster of concepts, at the heart of which is the notion that self-rule or self-determination is valuable in itselfʼ (p. 57). Again, Millʼs difﬁculties with liberalism in respect of higher and lower pleasures are misrepresented (and his views on the subjection of women, among others, unfairly oversimpliﬁed); and the opportunity missed to press questions of theory and practice. Seeking (whether successfully or not) to avoid just those ʻmoral judgements about what is desirable and valuableʼ (p. 104) which Ramsay accuses him of importing, Mill does not argue ʻthat if people experienced both quantitative and qualitative pleasures they would prefer the latterʼ (p. 103), but rather that the judgement of those who actually experience both is decisive in determining how pleasures are to be evaluated in these terms. Nor does she exploit his manifest contradictions over slavery in her critique of preference satisfaction.
But perhaps these matters, and even my strictures about grammar and punctuation, are in the end quib-bles over detail, execution and – what is inevitably problematic in any book with Ramsayʼs admirable ambitions – depth; and perhaps they therefore miss its overall achievement. After all, were these the only drawbacks, the book might nonetheless remain a useful refutation of central liberal conceptualizations, values and attitudes with which ʻstudents of politics, government and moral and political philosophyʼ (blurb) might arm themselves against contemporary doxa. With real regret, however, I cannot offer such a positive view. For arguments too often fail to hit their target; and liberalismʼs strengths are too regularly underestimated. Not least because I share Ramsayʼs conviction about the importance of such a project, I do not say this lightly, and so shall conclude by brieﬂy indicating some of my chief reservations about the substance of her case.
Liberals do not, or need not, ʻtake as given the inevitability of capitalist institutionsʼ (p. 4) – otherwise theyʼd hardly be eagerly defending them against unbelievers in, for example, the Journal of Applied Philosophy. Nor must liberals hold that ʻhuman beings are motivated by self-interest, in that each seeks to maximise their own happiness, pleasure or satisfactionʼ (p. 12), as Ramsay herself notes in her later discussions of Kant and Rawls. Liberalismʼs achievement in universalizing rationality is underestimated: all, rather than ʻsome [,] liberals associate rationality with impartialityʼ (p. 16). Further, to say that Marxists claim that people donʼt ʻalways know or pursue their own interests in the rational way that liberal theory impliesʼ (p. 22) is neither quite accurate nor, even if it were, sufﬁcient to indict the liberal conception of rationality as impartial – a conception Marxists might be thought to share. Or consider this argument. ʻMarxismʼs proper insistence on the social and historical nature of human beings provides a challenge to the liberal idea of the abstract individual with universal capacities and characteristics. If human beings are naturally social and mutually independent, then co-operation rather than competition is a natural relationship and a basis for social organizationʼ (p. 24). But the challenge here is to the abstract nature of liberalismʼs individual, not to individualsʼ universally having certain capacities: on the contrary, the latter is the basis of Marxʼs claim about human beingsʼ natural sociability. And as regards liberalismʼs ʻfreedomʼ: certainly it is the case that ʻ[I]f judgements, ascriptions and descriptions of freedom depend on evaluating the worth of what we are free to do, then it is unclear how negative liberty can be a value-free notionʼ (p. 45); but liberals of course deny the conditional. In a parallel manner, it is because ʻthere must be some such [non-procedural, but substantive] solution [to the problem of competing conceptions of the good] if the good life or the good society is to be realizedʼ (p. 130) that almost all liberals abjure the good in favour of the right. In fact, most liberals would concur with Ramsayʼs conclusion that ʻthe notion of the public good is an ideological device which endorses partial interests which it represents as general interestsʼ – but not because ʻan account of the public good cannot be derived by aggregating the sum of individual interestsʼ (p. 34) so much as because any notion of the public good is regarded as ideological. Even those libertarian liberals (such as Machan) who are currently trying to overturn traditional aversion to any positive notion of the good life (again something Ramsay ignores) would argue that the public good is nonetheless no more than such a sum.
But to continue in this vein would be unhelpful.
Sufﬁce it to say that the need this book addresses remains unmet.
Minding the gapBernard Burgoyne and Mary Sullivan, eds, The Klein–Lacan Dialogues, Rebus Press, London, 1997. 228 pp., £14.99 pb., 1 900877 06 6.
This book will be of interest to all those who want to deepen their understanding of Lacanʼs ideas and at the same time get a clearer sense of how these differ from those of the Kleinian strand of object-relations theory dominant in Britain. Its collection of papers and follow-up discussions by a group of well-known Kleinian and Lacanian psychoanalysts arose out of a series of lectures given during 1994 and 1995 in the interest of establishing some common ground between them. It provides an exhilarating opportunity to gain insight into Klein and Lacanʼs theoretical approaches and, most illuminatingly, what they mean in the context of what goes on during the psychotherapeutic encounter between therapist and patient. In what ways would Lacanian therapy be different from Kleinian therapy? The papers also offer an engaging way of exploring some of the psychoanalytic detail which underpins the gap between modern and postmodern ways of thinking.
Most of the papers, presented in pairs – one on Klein followed by another on Lacan – are remarkably clearly articulated, well-organized, imaginatively con-ceived and sensitive to the need for communication in their attempt to establish a conversation between two such potentially unneighbourly approaches. The papers range over issues which lie at the heart of psychoanalytic concerns: the infant and child in psychotherapy, interpretation and technique, phantasy, sexuality, counter-transference, the unconscious, ending therapy, and the place of Klein and Lacan in the 1990s. The papers themselves create a spacious climate of mutual tolerance and respect, as concepts and practice are patiently and sensitively explained and elaborated, and theoretical nettles gently identiﬁed if not always entirely grasped. But passion, dissent and, sometimes, exasperation do, inevitably, come to the surface at certain moments in the discussion when fundamental, seemingly irresoluble differences of opinion and philosophical stance are acknowledged.
For Kleinians, unlike Lacanians, drives are part of human nature, on the frontier of the biological and the psychical, and there is such a thing as relatively normal development, even if there are multiple failures in achieving it. Meanings can predate language, there are some biological absolutes of the human condition which are not just functions of the way culture organizes us through difference – we are born, differentiated by sex and we die. And in the realm of sexuality, Kleinians argue that successful, embodied sexual relationships are possible, if we can be less prone to omnipotent phantasy and more able to relate to other peopleʼs difference without the destructive and falsifying effects of our own projections. In contrast, Lacan argues that there can be no genuine sexual relation between men and women because the element mediating between the sexes is never an object but always a signiﬁer. Lacan argues that we can attempt to bridge the gap between man and woman, as culture has done, by introducing the phallus as the signiﬁer of power and strength, which then signiﬁes difference. However this is quite different from the actual penis, which exists only in the real of what Kleinians call the paranoid-schizoid psychical position.
By the end of the book it is very clear that there are, between Klein and Lacan, deep-rooted differences in ideas about development, common sense, reality, the psyche, and in the Lacanian insistence that unconscious phantasies can only be discovered within the scaffolding of language, ʻnestingʼ within the gap between two signiﬁers. For Freud and Klein, phantasy is the emotional expression of bodily drives, whereas for Lacan it stems only from the linguistic action of the signiﬁer, ʻlike a little window through which the subjectʼs reality is ﬁlteredʼ or like a magnet which will attract certain images and words to it which organize and regulate the relation to meaning and desire. For Lacan, the pre-verbal world explored by Klein is still a world governed by a system of differentiated units – that is, expressions and gestures – so meaning can never be divorced from signiﬁcation. In Lacanʼs theory there can be no correspondence between the ego and ʻrealityʼ, including psychic reality. The ego, consciousness and common sense contain nothing that can be relied on except the surface symptoms, which allows the analyst to hear the noise of the open question that, Lacan argues, neurosis always represents. This lies at the heart of the unconscious and Lacanian analysis. Who am I identiﬁed with and who is the object of my desire? For Lacan analysis involves an ʻunspoolingʼ or deconstruction of the egoʼs central Imaginary identiﬁcations. The phallus or phallic signiﬁer represents what makes order out of this Imaginary chaos – culture – but also symbolizes the gap, the inaccessible cultural part of the mother, earthed in the Symbolic, which makes her unable to yield to our desire for absolute possession and completion.
In spite of the powerful intellectual and imaginative scope of both the Kleinian and the Lacanian papers, after reading this book it is difﬁcult to avoid the feeling that there is very little basis for genuine dialogue between them, because each theory, through its very conceptual precision and coherence, seems to leave out so much about what it is to be a human being. The assumption that we all begin life, whatever the quality of our parental care, in a world of symbolic breasts and penises riven through, like ourselves, with the intense emotions of love and hate seems scarcely more convincing, without the aid of some other theoretical contributions, than the assumption that we are all inscribed from birth with an irresoluble gap in our being which will eventually be captured in the enigma of the contradictory meanings of the phallus and the world of signiﬁcation it engenders. Both seem to say plenty, but not everything, that is important.
Although both approaches offer a wealth of insights and ways of thinking human existence, neither seems satisfactory on its own. Perhaps the fact that many patients seem to experience relief from suffering in both forms of therapy suggests that something important has evaded adequate articulation in language. Perhaps both Lacanian and Kleinian therapists actually work with their patients much more intuitively and eclectically than their theories suggest.
In his paper, Eric Laurent suggests that in Winnicottʼs version of object-relations theory, the idea of the transitional object manages to retain the enigmatic quality of psychic reality which Lacanians ﬁnd so valuable in Lacanʼs idea of the meaning of the phallus. Laurent argues that this idea of the subtle and delicate fusion of inner and outer world, phantasy and the external world held together in the same fragile symbolic space rescues us from the positivist dimensions of some versions of Kleinian theory and practice. So we could argue that through their recognition of the crucial role of the motherʼs emotional as well as symbolic containment in our eventual entry into language (what Bollas calls her ʻgrammarʼ or ʻway of being with the babyʼ) and the possibility of achieving some fulﬁlment in embodied sexual relations between men and women as well as between ʻmasculineʼ and ʻfeminineʼ signiﬁers in art and literature, we need to invite both Winnicott and Bion to join in a dialogue with Lacan. Both sides need to develop the conceptual space for something more intuitive and empathic with more theoretical fraying around the edges. We cannot have a perfect theory, modern or postmodern, any more than we can be perfect human beings. Winnicottʼs work, together with that of Bion, McDougall and Bollas, suggests that psychoanalytic theory and practice needs to be nuanced and open-ended to do justice to the complexity of psychical reality and human existence. In this way the potential for common ground which seems to exist in much clinical practice might begin to show itself more clearly.
MetempsychosisPierre Klossowski, Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle, translated by Daniel W. Smith, Athlone Press, London, 1997. xx + 282 pp., £45.00 hb., 0 485 11440 2.
When this book was originally published in France in 1969, Klossowski had been writing essays on Nietzsche for over thirty years. In between he had been a monk, an expert on Sade, a writer of perverse novels and an actor; afterwards he was to become a painter. Throughout these metamorphoses he maintained that he was a monomaniac, his guiding obsession being to interrogate the idea of personal identity, pursuing its instability and necessity in the face of the multiple impulses of the body. This work is in many respects the summation of Klossowskiʼs own thought, as well as being possibly the most profound and sophisticated reading to date of Nietzscheʼs doctrine of eternal return. Its appearance was enormously inﬂuential among some of the most notable thinkers in France at the time, including Deleuze and Guattari, Lyotard, Blanchot and Foucault (who wrote that it was ʻthe greatest book of philosophy I have readʼ). The founding tenets of ʻlibidinal economicsʼ or ʻthe philosophy of desireʼ here ﬁnd their contemporary source, expounded more subtly than in Lyotard or Deleuze and Guattari. Nevertheless, the work can be ﬁendishly dense; perhaps if more work had been done (by Klossowski and others) to unravel its arguments, the movement of libidinal materialism would not have been met with such derision.
For Klossowski, Nietzscheʼs critique of the forms and results of knowledge as ʻerror[s] without which a certain species cannot liveʼ, and as ʻabbreviations of the impulses [or drives]ʼ does not reveal a gulf between appearances and an unknowable thing-initself, but should rather be seen in terms of an analysis of the organization of impulses into variable and unstable forms: ﬁrst the brain itself, then the ego and the ʻﬁxity of languageʼ. Klossowski appears to offer a psychological reading here, but in fact he powerfully undermines objections that Nietzscheʼs critique of truth is internally inconsistent with his claims for the doctrines of will to power and eternal return. He constructs a theory of the impulses or drives to demonstrate that thought, representation and language depend on an organization of emotions, mental and energetic traces, and variable intensities without which signiﬁcation would be impossible. Nietzsche is shown to be less concerned with making abstract universal claims for his own theory than with exploring the boundaries at which thought itself must dissolve into incoherence.
Klossowski continues his argument through psychobiography. Nietzsche ʻpursues, not the realization of a system, but the application of a programmeʼ; he takes himself as an experiment in the limits of experience after the death of God. Not only truth and ideals, but the contents of inner life, are all lies or surface phenomena; Nietzsche is led to dream of an ʻauthentic depthʼ in the chaos of the impulses. The major problem that recurs throughout the book is: how is it possible to reduce thought to the action of intensities without giving up the will to give intentions and goals to oneʼs life?
This is the vicious circle of the bookʼs title, and it is illuminated by Klossowskiʼs theory of the eternal return. Nietzsche expresses this idea as an ethical dictum, followed by an obscure warning: ʻact as though you had to relive your life innumerable times – for in one way or another, you must recommence and relive itʼ. Klossowski insinuates that this idea only seems like an ʻabsurd phantasmʼ if it is taken to imply the return of an identical self for eternity. In fact, the eternal return expresses the idea that in one life, I must pass through many identities, but I must continually forget these previous identities in order to sustain my coherence as a self. However, in glimpsing the fortuitousness of my present incarnation, I must afﬁrm the fortuitousness of the past, in order to ﬁnd myself as I am now; and the ﬁnal rub is that I must accept that I will forget this moment too. In a kind of momentary anamnesis, all the intensive possibilities of the self are glimpsed as part of a greater coherence, of which my present self is only part – ʻa renewed version of metempsychosisʼ. That I must forget this vision in order to live and will is a sign of the vicious circle of which I form a forever eccentric part.
Klossowski concludes that Nietzsche, for six days before his ﬁnal collapse, attained something like a participation in this greater coherence, at the price of madness. Nietzsche is presented as something like a hybrid of Christ and shaman, an explorer and sufferer of an almost impossible experience – the eternal return – the idea of which, Klossowski argues, may be the only vision of totality possible after the death of God. Furthermore, he argues persuasively that the inﬂuence of other contemporary forces, notably the reduction of intentions to intensity in science and the ʻplanetary managementʼ of capitalism, which decomposes behaviour in order to invent new reﬂexes, conspire to make the thought of the vicious circle an inescapable one for the future.
Disparate disputesKaren J. Warren, ed., Ecofeminism: Woman, Culture, Nature, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1997. xi + 454 pp., £41.95 hb., £20.99 pb., 0 253 33031 hb., 0 253 210577 pb.
The diversity of subject material dealt with in this substantial volume of essays (twenty-ﬁve in all) may be somewhat daunting to the reader interested but not well-versed in the common themes held to ground the uniﬁed ﬁeld of ecofeminist discourse. Contributors to the collection come from a wide range of disciplines – anthropology, communication studies, philosophy, languages, education, science and sociology – and include a number of individuals actively involved in working with indigenous communities and international organizations on a variety of environmental projects.
The book is divided into three sections, dealing with empirical data, interdisciplinary orientations and philosophical perspectives. Contrary to expectations, neither Warrenʼs introduction nor the explicitly philosophical third of the volume gives the reader much indication as to the point of such a division or the assumed connection between the many, seemingly disparate, positions, arguments, and polemics espoused therein. Despite the fact that Warren is cited throughout as the voice of authority in ecofeminist discourse, her own contribution is somewhat disappointing in its theoretical simplicity and runs the risk of discouraging the serious reader with its overtly polemical style: ʻwater … is an ecofeminist issueʼ; ʻenvironmental racism is an ecofeminist issueʼ; ʻliving conditions … are an ecofeminist issueʼ; ʻsexist–naturist language is an ecofeminist issueʼ, and so on. Thankfully however, Warrenʼs style is not indicative of the approach taken by the majority of contributors.
The ﬁrst section, ʻTaking Empirical Data Seriouslyʼ, includes local studies of particular environmentally challenged indigenous populations as well as broader engagements with the concrete issues concerning the efﬁcacy of environmental policies based on feminist theory and practices. The second section, ʻInterdisciplinary Perspectivesʼ, falls into two parts. The ﬁrst contains writing with a general orientation toward the spheres in which women live their lives and the interactions out of which their experiences are composed (women and leisure, women and work, women and children, women and war). The second displays a more academic engagement with the relation between feminism, ethics and the role of other disciplines. The interdisciplinary aspect of this section is most obvious in the latter works, whose poststructuralist attitude towards the epistemic privileging of certain types of disciplinary discourse is most clearly expressed in Grifﬁnʼs contribution, ʻEcofeminism and Meaningʼ.
The third section, ʻPhilosophical Perspectivesʼ, begins unpromisingly, with a familiar attack on the theme of anthropomorphism from the standpoint of feminist liberation theory (Plumwood). Equally problematic is Donnerʼs reactive argument against feminist attempts to move away from traditional universalizing theories of rationality and autonomy in order to preserve a site for ethical agency. In contrast with these is Gruenʼs more positive approach to dealing with moral claims about human interactions with nature, presented in an analysis of competing, feminist-inspired conceptions of community. Also of interest to the reader seeking a positive – less reactive – methodological approach to themes of feminism and ecology, taking into account their potential incommensurability, are two less obviously ʻecofeministʼ works. Lee-Lampshire adapts a Wittgensteinian approach to the problem of the unwitting adoption of epistemic privilege in feminist theories which claim to represent the experiences of all women in relation to issues of the environment. This stresses an awareness of the dissonance between what is implied in being a subject and being a woman. Wilson attempts to reread Kantʼs theory of the ʻconcrete human subjectʼ in isolation from the implications of his transcendental philosophy. This may confront the Kant scholar with a seemingly unjustiﬁed and arbitrary selection and conﬂation of different theoretical elements. Taken in its entirety, however, it poses an interesting attempt to bring together scientiﬁc discourse and womenʼs narratives on a common, mutually productive ground.
The common theme uniting many of the contributions to this volume is a shared belief in and commitment to an ethical attitude towards difference: an attitude of inclusion and respect, grounded in feminist theory. In so far as this is perceived to be an ecofeminist issue, analyses of the connections between feminism and environmentalism provide a more positive theoretical guide to the stakes of the debate than is available in the under-theorized or simplistic accounts of relations between women and nature. Related themes running through the volume are those of community, womenʼs knowledge and futural thinking (a thinking which, whilst acknowledging its genealogy, seeks to move beyond the mythologies and dichotomies of the past).
Warren believes that this collection of work provides ʻa balanced cross-cultural lens through which to begin to access the potential strengths and weaknesses of ecofeminism as a political movement and a theoretical positionʼ. This claim is, I think, both unrealistic and misleading. Indeed, following one of the contributors to the collection, one might rather argue that ʻecofeminism is a shifting theoretical and political location which can be deﬁned to serve various intentionsʼ. In an era where feminist philosophy is recognizing the importance of multiplicity, the attempt to force a number of interesting and provocative empirical and theoretical studies under one politics and one theoretical umbrella fails to do justice to their potential for engaging in a whole realm of disparate disciplinary as well as interdisciplinary ﬁelds.
Kath renark jones
Just practising Matthew Festenstein, Pragmatism and Political Theory, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1997. viii + 237 pp., £45.00 hb., £13.95 pb., 0 7456 1626 7 hb., 0 7456 1627 5 pb.
For a long time tantamount to swearing in ʻseriousʼ philosophical circles, pragmatist talk is nowadays, at least in some quarters, becoming almost mainstream. Not that pragmatism has ever represented a single, neat theoretical package. Even among the inaugural works of C.S. Peirce, William James and John Dewey there are deep divergences – duly echoed now in the thinking of those, from Quine to Rorty, Davidson to Habermas, who invoke something of the pragmatist tradition in their work.To call yourself a pragmatist you have to place some sort of priority on the concreteness of situated practice over the abstractions of theory. Thus James famously declared truth to be a matter not of some complex relation between concept and object, or language and world, but of what proves itself to be ʻgood in the way of beliefʼ once our hypotheses are acted on. How this ʻgoodnessʼ is to be gauged seems immediately to become a normative question: in general pragmatism offers a historicized, socialized image of philosophy which transfers central questions from the epistemological or metaphysical realms to the practical and political. In this way it hopes to avoid both any appeal to an unfeasibly distinterested Godʼs-eye view and a slide into scepticism or subjectivism. But what speciﬁcally – and this is Festensteinʼs opening question in this clear, concise, and meticulously argued book – has it to offer political theory?
For the most part this is a book about Dewey and, secondarily, about how his political thinking shapes up in comparison to that of Rorty, Habermas and Putnam – each of them, in different respects, a contemporary heir. Festensteinʼs Dewey is the subtle negotiator of a sort of social-democratic via media between laissezfaire individualism and authoritarian collectivism, and between, as he himself once put it, the Scylla of rationalism and the Charybdis of relativism. This isnʼt necessarily the customary picture; Deweyʼs reputation has tended to be that of a nit-picking technocrat, methodical rather than visionary, a civil servant ﬁgure concerned with ﬁnding the most efﬁcient ways of marshalling scientiﬁc, instrumental reason in the service of the liberal status quo.
For Festenstein this misses the fact that it is an ethical, rather than a crudely science-valorizing, basis which informs Deweyʼs thinking. His antipathy to ʻthe most pervasive fallacy of philosophic thinkingʼ – namely, its tendency to parcel up experience and analyse it in abstraction from its socio-historical context – comes together (in a step which is anathema to more recent pragmatists) with a teleological, naturalistic ethics of individual self-realization. Through an account of freedom as involving the development of reﬂexivity and agency, and active participation in the moral life of oneʼs time and place, Dewey presents individuality as something achieved rather than ﬁxed, and so dependent upon positive cultural encouragement. Liberal democracy would ideally be constitutive of individuality in this normative sense: to the extent that it isnʼt, its practices and thinking are up for critique.
Festensteinʼs research of Deweyʼs voluminous oeuvre is painstaking, and his criticism sympathetic without being in thrall. The latterʼs thinking emerges as a sophisticated, if ﬂawed, quest for a resolution of habitual philosophical oppositions between individual and community, rationality and relativism, and rationalism and empiricism. As such, itʼs a precursor to current attempts to split the difference between liberalism and communitarianism, with ethical foundations more substantive than pragmatism is often given credit for.
Current examples of pragmatism-inﬂected political thinking get a more mixed reception. Habermasʼs emphasis on the communicative, intersubjective nature of rationality, and his epistemological fallibilism, ﬁt easily enough for Festenstein within the general terrain of pragmatist political thinking. But his transcendental tendencies (his invocation of an ideal consensus as the yardstick by which given social practices are to be judged) provoke the sort of suspicion one might expect from a Dewey enthusiast. Rorty is upbraided for aspects of his ethnocentric model of liberalism, and for the voluntaristic, uncritical character of his ironistsʼ utopia – but commended for his rather more consistent and powerful deconstruction of the pretensions to authority of the epistemological tradition. Putnamʼs ʻinternal realismʼ is seen as a promising fortiﬁcation against outright relativism let down by the lack of argumentative support for his various hopeful forays in search of a solid footing for a Dewey-style critical democracy.
Noticeably, any hunch that these various shortcomings arise because of, rather than despite, these thinkersʼ pragmatist afﬁliations goes unaddressed. But Festenstein goes some way towards assuaging leftist qualms that pragmatism might involve a simple hypostatization of existing values and practices by insisting that, with Dewey at least, critique means more than just dusk-time painting of grey on grey. Itʼs in its treatment of Dewey, though, that the bookʼs real virtue lies. While it probably wonʼt persuade sceptics to ʻgo pragmatistʼ, it provides evidence enough both that there is an identiﬁable pragmatist tradition in political theory (whatever its shortcomings) and that Deweyʼs is its most formidable articulation.
Urbane academyLewis Edwin Hahn, ed., The Philosophy of Hans-Georg Gadamer, Open Court, Chicago and La Salle IL, 1997. xviii + 619 pp., $56.95 hb., $29.95 pb., 0 8126 9341 8 hb., 0 8126 9342 6 pb.resolves relativism are often greeted with disappointingly woolly replies. Apel resumes his long-standing dispute over why there cannot be a regulative idea of ʻbetter understandingʼ rather than just ʻdifferent understandingʼ, while Hoy cogently addresses the issue of how hermeneutics can claim universality while simultaneously afﬁrming diversity of perspective. Those who compare Gadamer with Heidegger (Grondin, Dostal, Smith) bear out what Habermas once aptly described as Gadamerʼs ʻurbanization of the Heideggerian provinceʼ: they show him agreeably demonstrating the irrelevance of the sort of extremities in Heidegger that made deconstruction possible, through a more diplomatic, more cosmopolitan ʻdialogicalʼ attitude to humanism and metaphysics. Others illustrate this more ʻurbaneʼ personality through his work on Greek philosophy, with his idea of the ʻproximity of Plato and Aristotleʼ and of Platoʼs human soul as gradually ʻstriving for the goodʼ through the ʻright mix of lifeʼ (Dostal, Sullivan, Davidson). Several contributions on his aesthetic writings thematize his trenchant – if undialectical – vision of ʻthe absoluteness of art, its contemporaneity, priority, rightness, and normative powerʼ, which ʻgives it ʻovertones of transcendence in a desacralized worldʼ, making it ʻ“a last pledge” of a realm of wholeness and incorruptibilityʼ.
In 1978 Gadamer warned: ʻwe may not absolutize … the theoretical ideal of life above the practical-politicalʼ. Schott, however, shows that for a man whose life spans the entire twentieth century, Gadamer seldom mentions any concrete political event. His numerous autobiographical effusions are littered with the names of academic philosophers – but few politicians, and even fewer women. Although Gadamer probably did all he safely could to disown Nazi tyranny in the 1930s, there still remains the fact that he decided to stay in Germany throughout this period to advance his academic career (see Orozco in RP 78). This can only make us wonder at a man who, for all his urbanity, really does seem to have lived in an ivory tower during some of the greatest upheavals of our time and who once confessed to a colleague: ʻI basically only read books at least 2000 years oldʼ.
This hefty collection of twenty-nine essays, with replies by Gadamer and a lengthy autobiographical statement, is the latest addition to an illustrious-looking series called ʻThe Library of Living Philosophersʼ dating back to 1939. The founding editor of this series tells us that its inspiration came from an assertion by F.C.S. Schiller that the ʻinterminable controversies which ﬁll the histories of philosophy could have been ended at once by asking the living philosophers a few searching questions.ʼ While the editor admits ʻthe conﬁdent optimism of this last remark undoubtedly goes too farʼ, he avers that ʻfar greater clarity of understandingʼ could be produced if major thinkers are properly interrogated while still alive and that this is the conviction underlying the present series. It is ironic that someone such as Gadamer (born 1900 and still living), who has devoted so much of his work to contesting the idea that living philosophers can deﬁnitively clarify their meanings against the depredations of time and history, should be the latest inclusion in this series. And yet, strikingly, Gadamer takes his invitation extremely seriously, and is not patient with those who do still ﬁnd his work unclear on crucial issues.
ʻReﬂections on My Philosophical Journeyʼ, which opens the volume, typiﬁes Gadamerʼs recent penchant for reminiscing on his own extraordinary academic career, in which he seems personally to have known every twentieth-century German-speaking intellectual one can think of. One realizes how much his own hermeneutic philosophy has been shaped by a life of teaching, and how pervasive has been his inﬂuence in the postwar German philosophical establishment, himself acting as a sort of Hermes ﬁgure pointing pupils in various directions. One appreciates how formative for his doctrine of the ʻfusion of horizonsʼ was the dilemma of German philosophy in the 1920s between historicism and relativism on the one hand, associated with ﬁgures like Dilthey and Spengler, and the objectivism of Neo-Kantianism on the other.
Gadamerʼs contention has always been that at the same time as recognizing the ﬁnite historicity of our existence, and renouncing Hegelʼs totality, philosophy must seek the truth that transcends all contexts. This volume reiterates his claim more forcefully (and sanctimoniously) than ever. Yet contributors who try to understand precisely how well his position