Placing literature: Narrative, metaphor, critique
Issue 155, December 2019
John Kinsella’s fiction emphasizes similar themes of environmental activism, political protest, and critique of Australian society, as does his widely acclaimed poetry. As in his verse, his orientation as a fiction writer is both local and global, regional and cosmopolitan. But in his fiction Kinsella engages in a double interrogation of both mainstream society and his own posture in opposition to it. In the novella Pink Lake a film director is interviewed by an uncomprehending journalist and driven to desperation by the philistinism of Australian society. But his own arrogance, unexamined white and male privilege, and illusion that just because he practices what he calls cinema vérité he has in fact attained the truth mean that he is part of the problem as well. Kinsella examines the problematics of social critique in a neoliberal world, noting their ironies while still believing in their possibility and necessity.
John Kinsella is widely known as an ‘international regionalist’, activist, anarchist, poet, novelist. As Nicolas Birns explains in the introduction to Kinsella and this particular novella, Pink Salt, this affords his work a kind of stretch across places and times, particulars and universals, region and the world system and its ecosystems. The publication of this work in Thesis Eleven is an auspicious occasion for us. The journal has long published writing about literature, its politics and performance. Here we present the act in literature itself. It is, as Birns shows, a kind of text where real is surreal, and the other way around. It offers an experiment in writing in politics that we hope opens new vistas, both closer to home and afar.
Sean Seeger, Daniel Davison-Vecchione
This article argues that sociologists have much to gain from a fuller engagement with dystopian literature. This is because (i) the speculation in dystopian literature tends to be more grounded in empirical social reality than in the case of utopian literature, and (ii) the literary conventions of the dystopia more readily illustrate the relationship between the inner life of the individual and the greater whole of social-historical reality. These conventional features mean dystopian literature is especially attuned to how historically-conditioned social forces shape the inner life and personal experience of the individual, and how acts of individuals can, in turn, shape the social structures in which they are situated. In other words, dystopian literature is a potent exercise of what C. Wright Mills famously termed ‘the sociological imagination’.
The article reviews the social theory of Harry Redner with particular reference to his view of the relationship between high literacy (book culture) and civilization. The question is posed whether, alongside book culture, an axial-type metaphysical culture is also key to the definition of civilization.
Hans Blumenberg is celebrated for demonstrating that metaphors have had a more foundational influence than concepts on European intellectual history. Many acknowledge that his insights might have achieved even greater impact if he had articulated a more explicit theory of metaphor. In 1960 Blumenberg discusses the historical formation of metaphors that have given rise to meaningful discourses on metaphysical abstractions, like God, existence, or Being, but he does not develop a general model of metaphoric language, and his work rarely engages with other contemporary theories of metaphor. During Blumenberg’s lifetime, French and German postwar philosophers rarely cited one another. Yet French hermeneutics, and the work of philosopher Paul Ricoeur in particular, may have strongly influenced Blumenberg’s research group, Poetik und Hermeneutik. This paper is an attempt to recuperate intellectual affinities between Blumenberg and Ricoeur, in order to demonstrate that Ricoeur’s claims about metaphor provide the theoretical background for a fuller appreciation of Blumenberg’s metaphor analyses.
Social criticism as medical diagnosis? On the role of social pathology and crisis within critical theory
Peter J. Verovšek
The critical theory of the Frankfurt School starts with an explanatory-diagnostic analysis of the social pathologies of the present followed by anticipatory-utopian reflection on possible treatments for these disorders. This approach draws extensively on parallels to medicine. I argue that the ideas of social pathology and crisis that pervade the methodological writings of the Frankfurt School help to explain critical theory’s contention that the object of critique identifies itself when social institutions cease to function smoothly. However, in reflecting on the role that reason and self-awareness play in the second stage of social criticism, I contend that this model is actually better conceptualized through the lens of the psychoanalyst rather than the physician. Although the first generation’s explicit commitment to psychoanalysis has dissipated in recent critical theory, faith in a rationalized ‘talking cure’ leading to greater self-awareness of existing pathologies remains at the core of the Frankfurt School.