Issue 133, April 2016

Politics of Critique and the Critique of Politics



Volker M. Heins

Abstract: Based on a critical reading of Jürgen Habermas’s journalistic writings on the European Union, the article argues that Europe’s current crisis is also a crisis of its narratives, and hence a crisis of meaning. The German philosopher has revised his political vision of a united Europe but has done so without abandoning his neo-Kantian ‘soft revolutionism’. The EU of the future is not only envisaged as an alternative to the allegedly defunct European nation-state, but also as the antithesis to US-style federalism and to what is called ‘post-democratic executive federalism’. What is more, Habermas no longer fully trusts in the power of the better argument, as championed in his critical social theory. Instead, his hope of normative progress towards a socially and politically more integrated Europe is founded on a belief in the power of the crisis itself – aided by a convincing pro-European narrative – to drive us in the same direction as that indicated by reason. The conclusion contrasts Habermas’s utopian Europeanism, which has failed to find favour with the wider European public, with a less utopian alternative inspired by the highly specific, non-universal situation of the Old Continent.

The imaginary and politics in modernity: The trajectory of Peronism

José Maurício Domingues

Abstract: Culture has been at the core of many recent developments in the social sciences, particularly after the so-called ‘linguistic turn’. This has also been seeping into discussions about the relation between culture and politics. The present paper proposes a specific theoretical approach in this respect. It mobilizes Castoriadis’s concept of the ‘imaginary’, as well as those of ‘collective subjectivity’ and ‘social creativity’. It also makes use of the rich case of ‘populism’, more generally, and Peronism, more specifically, so as to make clear its workings in a sociological strategy that unfolds in both the theoretical and the empirically-oriented domains. The paper offers an alternative to Alexander’s and Laclau’s approaches to culture and politics.

Exiled from history: Yasin al-Hafiz’s autobiographical preface and the transformation of political critique

Samer Frangie

Abstract: Through a reading of the Syrian Marxist Yasin al-Hafiz’s (1930–1978) autobiographical preface, the essay investigates the changing coordinates of political critique in the Arab world in the aftermath of the defeat of 1967. The autobiography, as the essay argues, draws the contours of the figure of an ‘internal exile’, an exile from history into time, which characterizes the experience of a generation of disillusioned radicals. After presenting the interplay of history and time in al-Hafiz’s text, the essay reflects on the historiographical sensibility needed for a revisiting of this past, a revisiting called for by the present disillusionment from the Arab revolutions. A tragic posture provides a different take on this past, the essay concludes, one that requires coming to terms with the notion of inheritance.

The plague and the Panopticon: Camus, with and against the total critiques of modernity

Matthew Sharpe

Abstract: Albert Camus’s 1947 novel La Peste and 1948 drama L’État de Siège, allegories of totalitarian power using the figure of the plague (Part I), remarkably anticipate Foucault’s celebrated genealogical analyses of modern power (Part II). Indeed, reading Foucault after Camus highlights a fact little-remarked in Discipline and Punish: namely, that the famous chapter on the ‘Panopticon’ begins by analysing the measures taken in early modern Vincennes following the advent of plague. Part III argues that, although Camus was cited as an inspiration by the nouveaux philosophes, he does not accept the reactionary motif of the total bankruptcy of the modern cultural and political worlds as hopelessly implicated in the totalitarian crimes. Indeed, Part IV highlights how Camus defends modern, descriptive scientific rationality against its totalitarian appropriations, alongside ‘the power of passion, doubt, happiness, and imaginative invention’ – positions which Part V suggests as Camus’s continuing poignancy and relevance in the period after post-structuralism (Camus, 1952: 301).

Ideology critique via jurisprudence: Against Rose’s critique of Roman law in Kant

Andrew Brower Latz

Abstract: The British social philosopher Gillian Rose (1947–1995) developed, in Dialectic of Nihilism, a way of posing the problem of ideology by showing the dependence of philosophical and social thought on historical legal concepts. She termed it ‘jurisprudential wisdom’ and through it aimed to expose unexamined presuppositions within philosophical consciousness and thereby to perform ideology critique on such consciousness. This article examines Rose’s version of ideology critique, first by setting out its context within post-Kantian thought and Rose’s own intellectual project. It then tackles in detail Rose’s view that Roman law significantly shapes Kant’s form of rationality as a whole. It concludes that her argument is suggestive and highlights important features of Kant’s thought, but that it ultimately fails as an ideology critique. It does not follow that Rose’s form of ideology critique via jurisprudence fails as a whole; on the contrary, it retains plausibility. Rose’s misfire against Kant is a salutary lesson in the dangers of ideology critique and Kant’s survival of Rose’s attack is important for the assessment of his philosophy.

Directing passions in New Delhi’s world of fashion: On the power of ritual and ‘illusions without owners’

Tereza Kuldova

Abstract: Grounded in long-term ethnographic fieldwork in New Delhi’s fashion industry, this article explores the pressing question on the designer’s mind, namely: how do I align the desires of others with my (master)-desire? This question points us towards an investigation of how people’s affects are mobilized and directed through commercial rituals such as fashion shows set within hyper-designed theatrical play-spheres. Translating the invisible or covert mobilization of affects into profit has been on the mind of advertisers for the last decade. However, analysing such deliberately covert strategies of capture employed in two cases – JJ Valaya’s haute couture shows and Nitin Bal Chauhan’s youth brand – we realize that it is precisely their failure at being covert that makes them effective; clients know full well about them. Robert Pfaller’s theory of ‘illusions without owners’ can throw some light here on why clients passionately embrace the desire of capital precisely against their better knowledge.

Birthday Cards for Zygmunt Bauman

Janet Wolff, Keith Tester, Chris Rojek, Peter Beilharz, Griselda Pollock, Magdalena Matysek-Imielinska

Review essay

Hartmut Rosa’s project for critical theory

Isaac Ariail Reed

Book reviews

Graeme Kirkpatrick reviews Deciphering Capital: Marx’s Capital and Its Destiny

John Lechte reviews Montesquieu and the Discovery of the Social

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