In the Spirit of Critique: Thinking Politically in the Dialectical Tradition (SUNY Series in Contemporary Continental Philosophy)
Andrew J. Douglas
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Offers a new perspective on the political significance of the Hegelian dialectical legacy. Focusing on the critical postures of Hegel, Marx, and a series of twentieth-century intellectuals, including Sartre, Adorno, and C. L. R. James, this book explores what dialectical thinking entails and how such thinking might speak to the lived realities of the contemporary political moment. What is revealed is not a formal method or a grand philosophical system, but rather a reflective energy or disposition—a dialectical spirit of critique—that draws normative sustenance from an emancipatory moral vision but that remains attuned principally to conflict and tension, and to the tragic uncertainties of political life. In light of the unique challenges of the late-modern age, as theorists and citizens struggle to sustain an active and coherent critical agenda, In the Spirit of Critique invites serious reconsideration of a rich and elusive intellectual tradition.
92. Once again, it is Deleuze who, in his reading of Nietzsche, really drives home this point. “Dialectics,” he says, “thrives on oppositions because it is unaware of far more subtle and subterranean differential mechanisms: topological displacements, typological variations” (Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy, 157). 93. Nietzsche, Will to Power, 273. 94. Coole, Negativity and Politics, 87. 95. Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972–1977, ed. C. Gordon; trans. C. Gordon, L.
Once again, the amplification of the tragic dimension is the crucial device that opens a window onto these resources and thus onto a renewed tradition that presents itself more compellingly to readers disillusioned by self-assured philosophical narratives, readers more fully attuned to pluralism and complexity in late-modern societies. As C. L. R. James's work indicates, an appreciation of the uncertain and contentious nature of human action, an appreciation itself reinforced by James's unique reading of Hegel, facilitates an embrace of a more normatively defensible moral foundation for dialectical critique.
It is the process of its own becoming, the circle that presupposes its end as its goal, having its end also as its beginning; and only by being worked out to its end, is it actual. ”45 Again, we see that this process of becoming, this narrative account, this dialectic, is always already circumscribed by the ideal of autonomy, or by “the need of philosophy” to “satisfy itself. ” Keeping with the Phenomenology of Spirit for a moment, we might note that, toward the end of the text, in a discussion of precisely this sort of dialectical reconciliation, this restored unity of self and “all that is alien to it,” Hegel speaks of how our self-consciousness experiences a sense of “certainty” and a “complete loss of fear.
We see that for a materialist such as Horkheimer, dialectical critique is motivated by the human demand for a better world, and while the substance of any such demand is subject to change, such a demand, structurally speaking, helps to provoke and sustain a certain orientation toward an established reality that may well be a source of pain, suffering, and intense dependency, but that, as such, is not absolute. “The point,” Horkheimer says, “is not to maintain concepts unchanged, but to improve the lot of humanity” (108; emphasis mine).
The only philosophy which can be responsibly practiced in face of despair,” Adorno says in that final aphorism of Minima Moralia, “is the attempt to contemplate all things as they would present themselves from the standpoint of redemption. … Perspectives must be fashioned that displace and estrange the world, reveal it to be, with its rifts and crevices, as indigent and distorted as it will one day appear in the messianic light. ” In a comment on this very passage, the philosopher of religion Jacob Taubes has noted that “you can tell the difference between substantial and as-if, and you can see how the whole messianic thing becomes [for Adorno] a comme si affair.