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An Afternoon with Althusser
Notes on a conversation in the summer of 1977, when the philosopher made an impromptu visit to the NLR office. Wide-ranging discussion on Althusser’s relations with the PCF, the condition of Marxism, the Chinese and Russian revolutions compared; Trotsky, Sraffa and the problems with Gramsci’s concept of hegemony.
The Idea of Hope
Reflections on continental philosophy from both sides of the Rhine, tracing complex inter-relations between post-structuralism and the Frankfurt School. Problems of subjectivity and nature, social determination and individual responsibility. Philosophical contexts of critical theory—and German Idealism as laboratory for system-building and experimentalist thought.
Politico-philosophical profile of Jacques Bouveresse, close friend and colleague of Bourdieu, examining the relation of his large, idiosyncratic body of work to the French philosophical traditions it explicitly disavows. Can thinkers as divergent as Wittgenstein, Musil and Kraus be mobilized to provide a coherent and countervailing ‘Kakanian’ tradition?
The Juridical Economy
Art as the uncanny double of law in the work of Kant, Schiller and Hegel, and its confrontations today with the law in avant-garde practice, as the juridical category of the person either expands beyond even the corporation, dismissed as ‘artificial’ by Hegel, to new fictive forms, or contracts to captive sub-human shapes.
Badiou and the French Tradition
How to locate an energizing philosophy of activity and production, and of fidelity to past revolutionary ruptures, in relation to the line that runs from Sartre, Althusser and Lacan to Foucault, Derrida and Deleuze? A critical interrogation of the return to philosophical tradition, from metaphysics to ethics, in Badiou’s major systematic works.
A Structuralism of Feeling?
Frédéric Lordon’s work combines an elite business-school training with a radical Regulation Theory background, highly effective polemics against the hardening economic and neo-imperial orders in France and the Eurozone with an ambitious social-philosophical agenda. Alberto Toscano investigates.
The Decline of Decadence
From Nietzsche to Lukács, decadence was a matter of cultural disintegration and social atomization under pressure of capitalist modernity, but such talk has dwindled. Malcolm Bull asks whether the private languages of conceptual art are decadent or undecadent. And is the market a substitute communicator of shared values?
Socialism as a Regulative Idea?
In The Structure of World History, Kōjin Karatani attempts a radical reconstruction of historical materialism, from early nomadism to post-capitalist society. Mauss, Hobbes and Marx mobilized as companion thinkers of exchange; Kant as ethico-political prophet. Rob Lucas queries the speculative history of one of Japan’s leading public intellectuals.
Reflections on the occasion of the Rome Lecture and on its themes. Dialectic of the inside and the outside, the surprising role of non-knowledge in subjectivity—and new technologies and labour processes as experiential grounds for transformation in class consciousness.
Marxism and Subjectivity
Transcript of Sartre’s 1961 Lecture at the Istituto Gramsci in Rome, previously unpublished in English. A sustained philosophical riposte to Lukács’s History and Class Consciousness and argument for a concept of subjectivity as process, vividly illustrated in concrete situations.
Nietzsche for Losers?
Opening a symposium on Malcolm Bull’s Anti-Nietzsche, Dews retraces the logic of critical supersession in European philosophy before taking issue with the author’s account of Nietzschean will to power and the reading strategy to be pursued in the face of it.
All Played Out?
Christopher Johnson detects the patterns of a hidden philosophy of history, threaded through Claude Lévi-Strauss’s most famous works. Might its seeming pessimism—a sequence of downward turns from the Neolithic to the present—hold out the possibility of alternative outcomes, virtual destinies?
Beyond existing arguments about equality, might the praxes of permanent and passive revolution offer a way to conceptualize a more expansionary levelling? Drawing on motifs from Nietzsche, Babeuf, Marx and Gramsci, Malcolm Bull traces the contours and consequences of extra-egalitarianism.
The Coming Contradiction
Reflections on Fredric Jameson’s Valences of the Dialectic and its engagement with questions of historicity, narrative and time. Categories and concepts from Hegel, Marx, Sartre and Ricoeur, used to interrogate the impasses of the present—and to envision what lies beyond.
The Ideology of Universalism
Contending visions of universality, from Kantian common sense to the doctrine of human rights. Can a constellation of singularities emerge within the standardization envisaged by globalized production? Prompts from Musil, Gursky and the carpet-weavers of Kuyan-Bulak.
How to Begin from the Beginning
Mountaineering lessons from the Bolsheviks’ master strategist provide a metaphor for regroupment in hard times. Slavoj Žižek identifies the principal antagonisms within contemporary capitalism, as the basis for positing anew the ‘communist hypothesis’.
Attending to Abstract Things
From the philosophe De Brosses in the eighteenth century to the abstract expressionist Barnett Newman and the conceptualist Sol LeWitt in the twentieth—via Hegel, Creuzer and Marx—the fates of the fetish and the commodity, in critical thought and art.
Order and Event
Peter Hallward assesses Logiques des mondes, the latest major work by Alain Badiou, within the context of his wider concerns with truth and subjective being. Set theory and ontology brought to bear on abstract questions of appearance, relation, fidelity and historical change.
The Communist Hypothesis
Why does the spectre of May 68 still haunt French discourse? Alain Badiou on the country’s longue durée sequences of restoration and revolt, and the place of Sarkozy’s presidency within them. Lessons in political courage from Plato and Corneille, and a call to reassert the Manifesto’s founding wager.
Jane Bennett presents a case for seeing matter as actant inside and alongside humankind, able to exert influence on moods, dispositions, decisions. Might food in fact be seen as possessing a form of agency? Vitality and volition in motifs from Thoreau and Nietzsche, viewed through the prism of the biological and physical sciences.
Do increasingly dark ecological portents indicate a deeper transformation of nature itself? Sven Lütticken elaborates a historicized conception of nature, seeking precedents and contrasts in 19th- and 20th-century philosophies and fictions. Dinosaurs and overmen, Geist and entropic decline in Verne, Nietzsche, Schelling and Smithson.
Vectors of the Biopolitical
Taking coordinates from Aristotle, Malcolm Bull finds in Agamben’s biopolitics and Nussbaum’s capabilities approach the disconnected fragments of a lost vision of society, adumbrated by Marx, glimpsed and rejected by Arendt. Strange meetings as the trajectories of the disenfranchised and the empowered, human and non-human, converge.
States of Failure
The question of agency remains the central lacuna in the construction of systemic alternatives. Building on ‘The Limits of Multitude’ in NLR 35, Malcolm Bull proposes a reconceptualization of the relation between collective will and invisible hand. Can bearings drawn from Hegel, Gramsci, Sartre indicate the route to a new global order through dissolution of the Western imperial state?
The ‘theatrocracy’—sovereignty of the audience—condemned in Plato’s Laws is reinstalled as a radical principle of egalitarian politics in Jacques Rancière’s work. Peter Hallward examines the implications and limitations of his approach. Is today’s post-political order vulnerable to theatrocratic attack?
The Adventure of French Philosophy
French philosophy from the 1940s to the 1990s viewed as a third exceptional moment in the history of the discipline, after classical Greece and enlightenment Germany. Alain Badiou takes four coordinates for a tour de force of terse analysis: the antecedents of this moment, the enterprises it launched, the links it forged with literature, and the relations it developed with psychoanalysis.
The Limits of Multitude
What, if any, agencies of political change exist today—and how should they be conceived? Tracing the long tradition of contrasts between a ‘people’ and a ‘multitude’, Malcolm Bull argues that the differing resolutions of them by Hobbes and Spinoza have descended to the twenty-first century, issuing into a contemporary stand-off between market globalization and populist reactions to it.
Jacob Stevens on Steven Rose, The 21st-Century Brain. Complexity and plasticity of synaptic interaction, in a materialist challenge to neo-Darwinist models. Is it possible to account for the evolutionary heritage of the brain without compromising the autonomy of the social?
Future Unknown: Machiavelli for the 21st Century
To which thinkers should we turn in a bid to ground a new conceptualization of political agency—or to determine whether such a move has been nullified by the transformations of the last decades? Gopal Balakrishnan on Machiavelli’s parables of innovation and readings of him from Rousseau to Schmitt, Strauss to Gramsci. The Florentine as strategist of beginning anew, in the context of historic defeat.
Over-Man and the Commune
Peter Thomas on Domenico Losurdo, Nietzsche, il ribelle aristocratico and Jan Rehmann, Postmoderner Links-Nietzscheanismus. Two deconstructions of contemporary treatments of Nietzsche, restoring the virulence of his thought to its nineteenth-century contexts.
Arms and Rights
In an era of serial war, Rawls, Habermas and Bobbio as theorists of a perpetual peace. Jurisprudence and force in three parallel philosophical constructions of the present international order, and the unsettled afterthoughts—American, German, Italian—that accompanied them.
The Parallax View
The philosophical basis for social action, as recast in Kojin Karatani’s striking Transcritique. On Kant and Marx. Slavoj Žižek investigates the irreducible antinomies of production and circulation—or economics and politics—as envisioned from the gap in between.
Law versus Politics
The political and the legal as two opposite yet interdependent modes of governing societies—punctual and particular, or general and invariable—in a quartet of contrasted thinkers. The antinomies of force and justice, morals and regulations in Machiavelli and Pascal, Montesquieu and Sade.
The Labyrinth of Human Rights
Dogmatic foundations as an invariant of all civilizations, and the religious origins of the contemporary doctrine of human rights in the West. Can, despite its undemonstrability, a particular creed become a common resource of humanity, appropriated in different ways across the planet?
Capitalism and Form
If bourgeois society requires both ceaseless economic dynamism and permanent ethical stability—disorder of invention and desire, order of labour and justification—what figures of the imagination offer a synthesis of these contradictory demands? The intertwining of routines and romances, virtues and villainies, in Scott and Goethe, Dickens and Balzac, Zola and Mann.
Ontologies of Law
Western modes of thought have embodied concepts of law since the sun god of Ancient Babylon issued his edicts to the stars. Alain Supiot surveys their successive evolutions and ambivalent laicization across the centuries, from Gratian and Abelard to Becker and Bourdieu.
The Talking Cure in Habermas’s Republic
To what extent do liberal democracies rest on the will of their citizens? Deborah Cook assesses how far Jürgen Habermas’s attempt to bridge the gap between their nominal pretensions and actual workings provides a convincing account of the way Western societies live now.
Moral Values and Progress
How does Marx criticize capitalism? On what basis does he advocate socialism? Marx’s own account of these matters seems puzzling. On the one hand, he claims to be putting forward an objective and ‘scientific’ theory of history, a fundamental tenet of which is that moral values—including those of Marxism itself—are . . . read more
Where is the Anti-Nietzsche?
If uncritically lyrical receptions of Nietzsche are receding, who has truly resisted his ultimate seduction—‘reading for victory’? Mere rejection of Nietzsche’s ideals does not escape his lure, Malcolm Bull argues. Only the standpoint of the subhuman is proof against his ecology of value.
Harold Laski: An Exemplary Public Intellectual
Before proceeding with this review,footnote* I should, as they say, declare an interest. I came to know Harold Laski as a student at the London School of Economics (then evacuated in Cambridge) between 1941 and 1943; and I was fairly close to him after I came back to the lse . . . read more
The Unknown Marx
When he assessed his intellectual career in 1859, Karl Marx condemned to deserved obscurity all of his previous works but four. The Poverty of Philosophy (1847) first set forth the decisive points of his scientific views, although in polemical form, he wrote; and he implied that the same description applied . . . read more
Self-Realization, Ethics, and Socialism
The cover of Sean Sayers’s new studyfootnote* displays a black-and-white photograph of Karl Marx, the bushy dark patch of his mouth in arresting contrast with the encircling white halo of beard and hair. The book proposes an argument as bold, graphic and firmly delineated as its cover, though with something . . . read more
How to Love Nature
Soper is a humanist in the best sense. Her contribution to socialist theory, her commitment to the green movement, and her struggle as a feminist, are informed by a deeply considered notion of the human good, and one that seeks to keep up with the times. What is Nature? is . . . read more
Honneth’s New Critical Theory of Recognition
Axel Honneth’s The Struggle for Recognition: The Moral Grammar of Social Conflicts represents at once an intriguing and revealing turn in the post-Habermasian tradition of the Frankfurt School, an important and original development in critical social theory more generally understood, and an ambitious and stimulating, if still inadequate, effort at . . . read more
Philosophy for Philosophy’s Sake
In the 1970s, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari produced three imposing books: Anti-Oedipus (1972), Kafka (1975) and A Thousand Plateaus (1980). With their raucous mockery of Hegelianism and Marxism, psychoanalysis and structuralism, these manifestoes for ‘delirium’ and ‘schizo-analysis’ were meant to be infuriating rather than ingratiating. They were like machines . . . read more
Amartya Sen’s Unequal World
This short work exhibits (often, perforce, only in fleeting cameo) the current state of Amartya Sen’s decades-long engagement with problems of equality and its absence. The book provides not only an exhilarating tour d’horizon of ideas developed at greater ease elsewhere, but also fresh nuances that are designed to accommodate . . . read more
A Theory of Human Need
The higher the level of abstraction at which any argument for universal needs is cast, the less controversial it is likely to prove, but the more open it becomes to the charge of being vacuously uninformative as a guide to specific welfare provision. Not even the most committed cultural relativist . . . read more
The Western Path to Freedom
‘The smallest division of a household into parts gives three pairs,’ says Aristotle in the Politics, ‘master and slave, husband and wife, father and children’.footnote1 It is obvious that a modern sociology textbook would not endorse such analytical presuppositions. But it is equally clear that modern readers would have no . . . read more
Philosophical history, or speculative philosophy of history as it has also been called (usually pejoratively, by critics), is suddenly back in the mainstream, as the claimed ‘end of history’ is debated on every side. It essentially starts with the work of the isolated Neapolitan enlightenment philosopher Giambattista Vico (1668–1744). Vico . . . read more
The Royal Road: Marxism and the Philosophy of Science
What is a consequent Marxist view of the history and philosophy of science? Reference to the work of Marx and Engels (or even of Lenin) will not yield a satisfactory answer, although certain signposts are evident. For example, there is the famous observation on method in the Introduction to the . . . read more
Marx and the Undiscovered Country
Religion has always had a twofold nature, public and private, and its two selves reinforce each other. On the one hand it is a social cement, joining together multifarious human beings as the mortar of an old castle wall holds together bits of stone of all shapes and sizes. On . . . read more
Slavery and the Multiple Self
The concept of the self currently plays a significant role within moral philosophy and intellectual history. That this is so is due in some measure to the work of Alasdair MacIntyre and Charles Taylor.footnote* Both philosophers treat questions about the morality of actions or agents as secondary to those about . . . read more
Heterosexism, Misrecognition and Capitalism: A Response to Judith Butler
Judith Butler’s essay is welcome on several counts.footnote1 It returns us to deep and important questions in social theory that have gone undiscussed for some time. And it links a reflection on such questions to a diagnosis of the troubled state of the Left in the current political conjuncture. Most . . . read more
Tolerating Impurities: On Ontology, Genalogy and Defence of Philistinism
Since the publication of our essay ‘Spectres of the Aesthetic’ (nlr 218) and a number of other writings by ourselves on philistinism and contemporary art, we have found ourselves subject to a certain amount of critical attention and controversy.footnote2 Malcolm Bull and Malcolm Quinn have challenged our conception of the . . . read more
Ipropose to consider two different kinds of claims that have circulated recently, representing a culmination of sentiment that has been building for some time.footnote1 One has to do with an explicitly Marxist objection to the reduction of Marxist scholarship and activism to the study of culture, sometimes understood as the . . . read more
'La Querelle des Femmes' in the Late Twentieth Century
Although this essay is about feminist challenges to certain ideas of universal citizenship, it was provoked by anger: the intense anger being expressed by some Parisian intellectuals and journalists from across the political spectrum about American politics in general and American feminism in particular.footnote1 And also my own anger at . . . read more
Confessions of a 'New Aeshete': A Response to the 'New Philistines'
Pausing to allow the waves of sound of the last movement of Mahler’s Third Symphony to ebb away, I return to the delights of my glass of Californian Chardonnay and reflect on the way Dimitri Mitropoulos’s interpretation of the symphony steers the vital course between long-term structure, sudden transitions, irony, . . . read more
Against Voluptuous Bodies: Of Satiation Without Happiness
In their nlr article, ‘Spectres of the Aesthetic’, Dave Beech and John Roberts critique what they call ‘the new aestheticism’, identifying my book The Fate of Art as providing the philosophical articulation of a movement which they suggest includes the writings of Andrew Bowie, Terry Eagleton, Fredric Jameson, T. J. . . . read more
From Inequality to Difference: A Severe Case of Displacement?
When considering the shifts in left thinking over the past fifteen years, it is hard to avoid some notion of displacement: the cultural displacing the material; identity politics displacing class; the politics of constitutional reform displacing the economics of equality. Difference, in particular, seems to have displaced inequality as the . . . read more
A Rejoinder to Iris Young
Iris Young and I seem to inhabit different worlds.footnote1 In her world, there are no divisions between the social Left and the cultural Left. Proponents of cultural politics work cooperatively with proponents of social politics, linking claims for the recognition of difference with claims for the redistribution of wealth. Virtually . . . read more
Siren/Hyphen; Or, the Maid Beguiled
‘This female savage’, noted the missionary Jean-Baptiste Labat, in his Nouveau voyage aux îles de l’Amérique, ‘was, I believe, one of the oldest creatures in the world. It is said she was very beautiful at one time. . .’footnote1 He was describing a Carib known as Madame Ouvernard, who, when . . . read more
Unruly Categories: A Critique of Nancy Fraser’s Dual Systems Theory
Have theorists of justice forgotten about political economy?footnote* Have we traced the most important injustices to cultural roots? Is it time for critical social theory to reassert a basic distinction between the material processes of political economy and the symbolic processes of culture? In two recent essays, Nancy Fraser answers . . . read more
Reply to Critics
It is a great honour to have elicited comments from such a distinguished assembly of scholars and thinkers, and I feel greatly moved by this.footnote1 The papers range over a large number of topics and more than one of them leaves me feeling out of my depth, conceptually or in . . . read more
Meaning What We Say: Feminist Ethics and the Critique of Humanism
This article will consider a split within current feminist theory which appears to require some declaration of loyalties.footnote1 The split I have in mind is not altogether easy to describe in terms of the standard academic classification of feminist positions that prevailed in the 1970s and early 1980s—the schema that . . . read more
The Tragedy of History
Modern social and political thought has inherited two fundamental values from the Enlightenment: a belief in human rights or human dignity, and a belief in human progress or human destiny.footnote1 Marx’s theory of history emphasizes that these fundamental values of modern political consciousness historically have been and still are in . . . read more
The Ecstasy of Philistinism
Believing that philistinism was not mere vulgarity but ‘the antithesis par excellence of aesthetic behaviour’, Adorno expressed interest in studying the phenomenon as a via negativa to the aesthetic.footnote1 But the project remained unrealized, and although he frequently made dismissive or insulting remarks about philistines, Adorno never bothered to investigate . . . read more
Spectres of the Aesthetic
Questions on art which were once seen as overloaded with liberal sentiment are now being taken seriously by the philosophical Left in the English-speaking world. At the heart of this swirl of revision and revival, art is being employed by aesthetic discourse to re-examine questions of subjectivity, judgement, freedom and . . . read more
Still Stirred by the Promise of Modernity
Ariel Salleh’s comment is revealingly angry and abusive; she challenges my environmental credentialsfootnote1 and my gender reflexivity; I am sexist, racist, masculinist and massaging ‘a defensive old-school socialist demeanour’. Unfortunately this leads her to a perverse reading of my paper, for example my statement that that not all things that . . . read more
An Ecofeminist Bio-ethic and What Post-Humanism Really Means
Aholocaust goes on among us: tomorrow at dawn, another ancient plant or bird will be extinct; nine-hundred million people starve;footnote1 dammed-up rivers run sour and parched soils crack open; continents swarm with environmental refugees; man-made viruses are unleashed; silently, an ozone hole and electro-magnetic radiation cull new cancer victims; oil . . . read more