In this book Herbert Marcuse provides a well-crafted genealogy of social theory. He begins with Hegel, summarizes the relationship between the Hegelia...moreIn this book Herbert Marcuse provides a well-crafted genealogy of social theory. He begins with Hegel, summarizes the relationship between the Hegelian dialectic and the Marxist form, thereby explaining the major criticisms that Marx had towards Enlightenment philosophy. Lastly, he sums up the development of positivist thought and formation of sociology as a discipline.
Even though Marcuse does not put together a very engaging analysis of the theories that he brings forth, the book is very informative and provocative, especially when thinking about the Hegelian transcendetalization of Reason, and the theological aspects of modernity - the search for a new God that will give relief, and that will guide us through the new modern world. Dialectics as a method also becomes questionable upon reading the book - is there a "truth" that we, as the wise theorists will bring to light? Can contradiction ever be removed from human life?
In this book Schmitt explains the contradictions of an immanent legal system whereby the state of exception becomes concealed underneath a veil of law...moreIn this book Schmitt explains the contradictions of an immanent legal system whereby the state of exception becomes concealed underneath a veil of laws - yet, it is the state of exception that determines the sovereign, and only with the emergence of such a state, i.e. WW2, can one observe the transcendent authority of the sovereign. Schmitt, who has been a Professor of Law in Nazi Germany, declares that a dictatorship is the only meaningful method of governance that relieves us from such contradictions, and that points to a transcendental authority replacing the authority of God. Only with a neu-Leviathan, a transcendental captured in an immanent form, can we grant the universal interest of the nation.
Even though I am very glad to have read the book I should admit that I am overwhelmed, and not convinced, by the ideas of Carl Schmitt, and a bit scared as well. (less)
The Postmodern Condition is about the dominance of scientific knowledge over that of narrative, and the related death of meta-narratives. The performa...moreThe Postmodern Condition is about the dominance of scientific knowledge over that of narrative, and the related death of meta-narratives. The performativity principle underlined by late capitalism plays a crucial role in the subordination of the narrative form simply because narration is not instrumental in creating capital. Lyotard argues that narration seeks to consume the past and generate a way of forgetting, while on the other hand, scientific knowledge focuses on the prevalent shortages of the contemporary and strives to fill in the gaps, thereby becoming a significant source of profits. Yet how does this shift in the shape of knowledge contribute to the postmodern condition? Is the break between the modern and the postmodern really about the forms of knowledge? The argument that this transformation of knowledge is a departure from the modern fails to be convincing.
In his essay “The Storyteller” dated 1936, Walter Benjamin touches upon the issue of narrative knowledge that Lyotard concentrates on.
The art of storytelling is reaching its end because the epic side of truth, wisdom, is dying out. This, however, is a process that has been going on for a long time. And nothing would be more fatuous than to want to see in it merely a "symptom of decay," let alone a "modern" symptom. It is, rather, only a concomitant symptom of the secular productive forces of history, a concomitant that has quite gradually removed narrative from the realm of living speech and at the same time is making it impossible to see a new beauty in what is vanishing.
This concomitant symptom that Lyotard continues tracing does not emerge after modernity. It is a symptom that becomes apparent with the rise of Reason and the demise of religion, and is characteristic of 1930s. T.S Eliot, in his famous poem, “The Rock”, written in 1934, also protests against the decreasing value of wisdom:
The endless cycle of idea and action, Endless invention, endless experiment, Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness; Knowledge of speech, but not of silence; Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word. All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance, All our ignorance brings us nearer to death, But nearness to death no nearer to God. Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries Bring us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.
The mourning modernity of 1930s is marked by secularism, and hence is a eulogy for the death of religion per se. During this period, the new secularist values of modernity have not yet been exhausted, and meta-narratives that become utopias in the ‘postmodern’ age, are still available to the critiques of modernity. Thus Marxism and anarchism remain alternative realities for the people of 1930s, even though they cease to be credible for the frustrated generation of revolutionaries that Lyotard is a part of. It is in this era that capitalism acquires a truly global shape and the emergence of post-Fordist production relegates the dreams of the proletarian revolution. In The Postmodern Condition Lyotard is mourning not for the death of religion, or tradition, but for the removal of hope from the world.
However, I agree with Jameson’s criticism that Lyotard’s mourning is in some senses premature: the prevalence of contradiction is not a new development – it is the push factor in Hegel’s dialectics, and goes hand in hand with capitalism. Yes, the proletariat has taken a different shape with post-Fordism, but the power dynamics that effected Marxism are still present, and it is these power dynamics that have to be attended to. Eventually, the solution to the problems of late capitalism may not be universal, but mending each particular will give the universal a new face, thereby ousting the need for a meta-narrative in unifying against the imbalances of today’s system.
Given a subject matter as magical as The Sea, I guess I had quite high expectations of this volume...and was not really satisfied, and have not really...moreGiven a subject matter as magical as The Sea, I guess I had quite high expectations of this volume...and was not really satisfied, and have not really finished all the stories.
I began with Murakami, who I have deeply admired after reading The Wind-up Bird Chronicles. Despite some beautiful descriptions ("The whole huge space felt like a room without furniture, except for the band of flotsam that lined the beach) Murakami's story "The Seventh Man" seemed rather dull and unsurprising. The story is a depiction of remorse The Seventh Man felt upon the death of his friend during a typhoon - it is the "I could have saved him, but I did not" sort of guilt haunting our character for many years after the event. We read through his emancipation of this guilt, and eventually arrive at the point where the story starts, The Seventh Man talking about his lonely life to others... On the other hand, though I do not enjoy Orhan Pamuk's vulgar orientalism at most occasions, "The Boy Who Watched the Ships Go By" was quite an intense read looking back at the Bosporus from my Ithaca corner of non-sea life, and thinking about the porch where I myself used to watch the Bosporus change colors.. Given my aptness for deep nostalgia, I must admit I even had tears in my eyes as I finished reading. Could it be this emigrant appeal that earned him the Nobel Prize? Guess not. (less)
Reading this anthology together with Carl Schmitt's Political Theology dramatically changed my experience with anarchist authors of 19th and 20th cent...moreReading this anthology together with Carl Schmitt's Political Theology dramatically changed my experience with anarchist authors of 19th and 20th century. Proudhon, very much like Schmitt, recognizes the legal paradoxes of liberalism and puts together a thorough criticism that reminds one of Schmitt's comments on democracy. Given the opposing assumptions that Proudhon and Schmitt begin with in their understanding of human nature -Schmitt follows Hobbes and believes that human nature is evil, whereas Proudhon would like to believe that humans are naturally good, and would be able to cooperate- they reach two very different conclusions as to what the best method of governance would be - dictatorship or anarchy?
While anarchy is strictly opposed to the transcendentalization of any figure, and calls for an immanent system of governance where everyone will be equal (could be argued that equality becomes the transcendent value in this case) Schmitt argues that what we should strive for is a new transcendental figure, a God with human qualities. (less)
Legitimation Crisis is about how the social democratic state fails to rectify the contradictions engendered by late capitalism. Rather, when the state...moreLegitimation Crisis is about how the social democratic state fails to rectify the contradictions engendered by late capitalism. Rather, when the state tries to intervene to eliminate the inequalities of the system, economic problems merely become displaced and transform into political and socio-cultural difficulties, thereby damaging the legitimacy of the state. For instance, when the state offers tax cuts to capitalists in order to withstand the complexities of the global order, the public protests and argues that the state is not fair in its policies. In reality, by doing so the state may be trying to compensate for the welfare cuts that it provides to the ‘inactive proportion of the population’ (p. 66), yet it becomes more difficult for the state to make such claims intelligible, Habermas argues. Thus the inherently economic problems of the era become rendered into political problems that prompt complaints about the legitimacy of political order.
However, modernity is an unfinished project, as Habermas would suggest, and Reason will be accommodated in the system only through such legitimacy crises, eventually pushing the public sphere, that is the life-world, to engage in debates and to arrive at consensus about how to manage the system. What Habermas observes in late capitalism is the colonization of narrative/traditional knowledge by scientific/bureaucratic rationalities, and this condition will be overcome only when the society takes its own management at hand. This colonization should be reversed and the life-world should become more powerful than the system itself, Habermas asserts. Otherwise, the legitimation crisis of the political circle will develop into a motivation crisis in the internal worlds of its subjects, leading to further decay and unproductivity.
To put it in simple terms, what Habermas proposes as a method to overhaul the contradictions of capitalism is an enlightened civil society, which will have internalized Reason, and eventually unveiled the truth, thus having access to the correct tools to manage the inadequacies of the system. This civil society will be constructed through the democratic efforts of the public, and therefore the final consensus will not suffer from legitimacy problems.
However, in seeking to reveal capitalist ideology through Reason and to rid of the contradictions of the system, what Habermas suggests is to replace the state sponsored ideology by another mystification this time sponsored by an enlightened group of civil society members. Even though Habermas begins to tackle the status quo by approaching its problems as instigated by capitalism, he does not criticize capitalism per se, but rather looks for an alternative way to legitimize capitalist practices through engaging more people with the system, and through bringing their life-worlds closer to the capitalist system. While the state legitimizes its presence by formal democracy this new rule of law becomes a more ‘legitimate’ alternative as it has access to a wider variety of institutions and peoples, thus putting on a false front to sort out the problems that formal democracy did not resolve. This elitist method is not very different from formal democracy in its approach to capitalism.
In addition, the class struggles and power relations within this group that participates in discussions remain completely disregarded in the book. The idea of a consensus and universal truth are very exclusive concepts in themselves, and they become even more select when the internal utterances of the group that is constructing the universal are not questioned. For instance, in the beginning of the book (p. 15) Habermas carefully delineates how society should be educated in order to fulfill the conditions for participating in debate: this proposition on its own discloses that taking part in the public sphere requires a certain manner of conditioning, and in places that lack this sort of prerequisites further prevents the dissolving of the debates within every sphere of society. Once again, the idea of public consensus translates as a bourgeoisie rule with different institutions to back it up. This is a very Eurocentric and exclusive manner of approaching the inherent contradictions of capitalism, and it deeply suffers from a lack of imagination on the part of the author. I concur with Lyotard’s opinion on Habermas: ‘the cause is good, but the argument is not’ (p.66). (less)
"It is perfectly true, as philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwa...more"It is perfectly true, as philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwards. And if one thinks over that proposition it becomes more and more evident that life can never really be understood in time simply because at no particular moment can I find the necessary resting place from which to understand it - backwards." (p.89) (less)
This compilation of essays puts together a thorough analysis of cultural forms and seeks to uncloak modernity through reading the aesthetic that it pr...moreThis compilation of essays puts together a thorough analysis of cultural forms and seeks to uncloak modernity through reading the aesthetic that it propagates: Kracauer talks about dance, travel, photography and film, and in dialog with arguments that conflate modernity with rationality and reason, he brings forward a new conceptualization of reason that is specific to capitalism, Ratio, and like his Frankfurt School comrades, calls for a true rationalization of the era.
Kracauer's comparison of the hotel lobby to the house of God and of travel to the decaying idea of Heavens is fascinating. From this perspective the annihilation of a transcendental redemption has led to a search for transcendence within the immanent forms of life, thereby opening up spatial and temporal lapses as opportunities to realize new selves while still pertaining to the worldly aesthetic. This point can be traced through out the book, and is present in every utterance on architectural forms, from the movie theaters of Berlin to the Linden arcade.
In his essay "Franz Kafka", which stands out as the most beautifully written piece in the book, Kracauer muses over Kafka's "Investigations of a Dog" and says, "He looks at the world as someone who has been pushed back into it, as someone who must turn back from the pursuit of those places where the emperor lives and where the unknown laws are housed. It is not as if he would have ever found his way to them; rather, his experience is more like that of someone who has only partially awakened, whose thinking -still half caught up in sleep- remains occupied with the dream that has just barely dissolved and in which the solution to all riddles was present". I believe this in-between feeling is an apt description for Kracauer himself: In each essay he delineates a tragic world that requires dialectical riddles to become enchanted, and even though he does have the slippery riddles at hand, stuck to the perceived reality just like the rest of us, he cannot at once transfer his presence to that of the magical.
Thus politically he is neither committed to the progressive goals of Marxism, nor expecting a Benjaminian messianic moment to alter reality. But he waits. And this process of waiting is not without effort, it requires commitment and willingness to suffer from the subjugation that one undergoes with the passing of time in "tense [mental] activity and engaged self-preparation". Yet materially he keeps still, and does not run behind the barricades to begin fighting. His fight is initially at a mental level, where he pursues 'boredom' in order to reach himself in isolation, and only after such initiation would a community, with its inevitable hierarchies and power relations, be formed. Kracauer does not aspire a collective emancipation at this level. His is a lonely struggle where everyone is stuck with their very own demons.
Those who wait / Travel and Dance / Photography / The Hotel Lobby/ Franz Kafka (less)
**spoiler alert** It may be that the uncanny [unhomely] is something familiar [homely, homey] that has been repressed and then reappears, and that eve...more**spoiler alert** It may be that the uncanny [unhomely] is something familiar [homely, homey] that has been repressed and then reappears, and that everything uncanny satisfies this condition.....We once regarded such things as real possibilities; we were convinced that they really happened. Today we no longer believe in them, having surmounted such modes of thought. Yet we do not feel entirely secure in these new convictions; the old ones live on in us, on the look out for confirmation. Now, as soon as something happens in our lives that seems to confirm these old discarded beliefs, we experience a sense of uncanny, and this may be reinforced by judgments like the following: So it's true, then, that you can kill another man just by wishing him dead, that the dead really go on living and manifest themselves at the scene of their former activities, and so on......The uncanny element we know from experience arises either when repressed childhood complexes are revived by some impression, or when primitive beliefs that have been surmounted appear to be once again confirmed. (less)