Issue 144, February 2018

Antinomies, Conflicts, Dialectics and Harmonies

Volume 144, Issue 1, February 2018


Antinomies of culture and critique of modernity: Evaluating György Márkus’s theory of culture from the perspective of China
Sun Jianyin

The critique of modernity was one of the important themes in philosophy in the 20th century. Theorists focused on the spiritual characteristics of modernity by which they tried to find a solution to the crisis of modernity, a solution beyond economics and politics. György Márkus, one of the members of the Budapest School, focused on the culture of modernity for 30 years. He presented a critical theory of modern culture. His theory had a clear logic and offered a compelling view. At the core of his theory of cultural modernity was the idea of the ‘antinomies of culture’. These antinomies are of vital importance since the struggle and tension between the poles of culture provides, on his view, the energies and orientation required for the development of cultural modernity. In this essay, I will try to analyse the reality of cultural modernity in China employing Márkus’s ideas and evaluating the significance of his theory.

Utopia as ‘genuine progress’: Adorno and the historicity of utopia
Buğra Yasin

This paper reexamines Adorno’s conception of utopia within the context of his critique of the concept of progress. It contests the standard interpretation which conveys Adorno’s conception of utopia to be imbued with an essentially extra-historical idea of redemption. I argue, contrary to this view, that the motif of redemption surfacing in Adorno’s conception of utopia negates a specific type of historical life – life under which historical consciousness sinks into oblivion – rather than history per se. In order to reveal the historicality of Adorno’s conception of utopia, I examine his fragmentary yet consistent critique of the concept of progress, which, far from calling for total abandonment, aims to access and unearth its truth-content. Last but not least, I visit Adorno’s suggestion regarding the consonance of utopia with genuine progress, assessing its implications vis-à-vis a characteristic feature of mythological life, the ratio of self-preservation.

More dialectical than the dialectic: Exemplarity in Theodor W. Adorno’s The Essay as Form
Thorn-R Kray

This essay presents a careful interpretation of Adorno’s classical text The Essay as Form, published in 1958 as the introduction to his Notes on Literature. Since it thickly condenses many of Adorno’s general views, the Essay poses great hermeneutic challenges to readers. The paper, first, elaborates on the essay more broadly as a genre and identifies a spectrum between science and art each individual essay draws from to forge its particular hybridity. Second, the example is discussed as an epistemologically potent trope oscillating between subsumption and singularity. This internal tension renders the example particularly qualified to serve as the conceptual basis on which interpretative themes in the essay can be discovered. Three lines of interpretation are suggested: (a) poetological for the essay/Essay’s definition, goal, and method; (b) critical/dialectical for its treatment of concepts and in relation to content; and (c) epistemic for the modern separation of art and science. The conclusion comes back to the issue of exemplarity.

Evil as a social action
Yuki Nakamura

This paper explores how to theoretically transcend the division that exists between nonautonomous and autonomous evil. Evil in the context of this paper is a social action that harms others against their will. Traditional social theory has explained the evil in modernity as a pathology or as the result of the organizational and bureaucratic structures of society that was beyond the agency of individuals. The concepts of nonautonomous and autonomous evil developed by John Kekes are used to clarify the types of evil as a social action. It follows that structural processes that entail agency can also be applied to unify the different approaches given to evil and fill the misleading gap that exists between nonautonomous and autonomous evil. Regardless of the event or the perpetrator, evil is agency-driven and is always composed of both nonautonomous and autonomous evil. What differs is the degree of nonautonomous or autonomous evil in the social action. It shows that evil is an important part of agency regardless of the agent’s awareness of the evil that actions entail within modernity, and it is therefore the task of social theory to shed light on its social processes.

Conflicts in common(s)? Radical democracy and the governance of the commons
Martin Deleixhe

Prominent radical democrats have in recent times shown a vivid interest in the commons. Ever since the publication of Governing the Commons by Elinor Ostrom, the commons have been associated with a self-governing and self-sustaining scheme of production and burdened with the responsibility of carving out an autonomous social space independent from both the markets and the state. Since the commons prove on a small empirical scale that self-governance, far from being a utopian ideal, is and long has been a lived reality, a few authors have attempted to turn them into the conceptual matrix of their own account of radical democracy. Negri and Hardt, on one hand, Laval and Dardot, on the other, have jointly coined the term ‘the common’ (in the singular) to suggest that the self-governance quintessential to the commons could be turned into a general democratic principle. Though this is an attractive theoretical prospect, I will contend that it fails to account for an important contradiction between the two theoretical frameworks it connects. Whereas the governance of the commons depends on harmonious cooperation between all stakeholders which in turn relies on a strong sense of belonging to a shared community, radical democracy is highly suspicious of any attempt to build a totalizing community and constantly emphasizes the decisive role of internal agonistic conflicts in maintaining a vibrant pluralism. I will further contend that the short-sightedness of radical democrats on this issue may be partially explained by the strong emphasis in the commons literature on a related but distinct conflict, that which opposes the commoners to the movement of enclosures. I will argue, however, that this conflict is not of an agonistic nature and does little to preserve the dynamism and the constant self-criticism proper to the radical democrat regime.

Xi Dada loves Peng Mama: Digital culture and the return of charismatic authority in China
Liangen Yin, Terry Flew

With Xi Jinping’s consolidation of political power in China, a personality cult has increasingly emerged. In this article, we analyze online documents and state news media to argue that this phenomenon is driven in part by local government officials and traditional media but most significantly by individual Chinese ‘netizens’. The current personality cult phenomenon is thus primarily society-driven and bottom-up rather than state-driven and top-down. We argue that the rise of this personality cult around Xi has its roots in national anxiety in an important transitional period in China. While some worry about a possible return to the politics of the Cultural Revolution by encouraging this personality cult, others are responding to economic anxieties and to the social anxieties created by social injustice greatly due to official corruption. We conclude that the possibility of society-driven personality cults will increase over time, as a paradoxical corollary of the potential of new media to allow for the democratization and opening up of politics and culture to new voices.

The Birthday Party and The Scientists: Nihilism, suburbia, and the importance of class
Jon Stratton

This article compares two of the groups generally regarded by critics as the most important in Australia in the post-punk period, The Birthday Party and The Scientists. While they had much in common – each was governed by the vision of one man, Nick Cave for The Birthday Party and Kim Salmon for The Scientists, both had record deals in Australia and both went to London – The Birthday Party became a cult success while The Scientists are only now, 30 years after their heyday, receiving the popular credit due them as a foundational noise group. There were important differences between the groups. The Birthday Party came from Melbourne and their members were middle-class. The Scientists came from Perth, at that time a small city remote from the cultural centres of Australia, and Salmon and his associates were working-class. The Birthday Party was self-consciously in a High Art tradition of nihilism going back to Dada while The Scientists’ music was an existential critique of the values of the middle-class suburbia that dominated Perth.

From Sharpies to Skyhooks – On the cutting edge: An interview with Greg Macainsh
Peter Beilharz, Sian Supski

Greg Macainsh is a major actor in the Australian popular music scene. He was the pioneer ethnographic filmmaker of the youth gang the Sharpies, and then bass player and songwriter for the most innovative band of the seventies, Skyhooks. Skyhooks combined new composition, driving music, sarcastic and local lyrics, and keen attention to visuals and costume. This article backgrounds Macainsh and his context. The interview that follows looks further into musical history and performative culture in Melbourne and its suburbs in the period.

Book Reviews:

Book review: Beyond Bauman: Critical Engagements and Creative Excursions
Kieran Flanagan

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