Issue 160, October 2020 György Márkus, Our Contemporary

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Fallen Workman (1912), Tate
CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

Introduction: György Márkus, Our Contemporary

John Grumley, Harriet Johnson

In 2018, on the second anniversary of György (George) Márkus’s death, his ex-students from Sydney held a commemorative symposium. The occasion was to honour the ongoing legacy and contemporaneity of a philosopher and teacher who had so profoundly shaped those taught by him in the Philosophy Department at the University of Sydney. The breadth, diversity, scholarly detail and critical impulse of the papers collected in this volume testify to the continuing influence of the ‘Márkus effect’.


Andras Márkus

The first divide in György Márkus’s philosophical development

János Kis

This paper systematises the works of György Márkus into two or possibly three periods. These emphasise the underlying consistency of purpose and interpreting theoretical interests throughout the oeuvre. despite the changing and socio-political forms and language games, all three share common features. These stages move from this initial critique of Orthodox Marxism employing the intellectual rigor of analytical and a philosophical anthropology to an investigation of the internal contradictions in Marx’s mature economic writings. to a final post-marxist phase after he left Hungary dominated by continual philosophical themes and a social democratic political perspective.

Being the rope in a tug of war: Márkus and Rorty as readers of Hegel in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s

Paul Redding

This paper gives a brief sketch of György Márkus’s philosophical style as manifest in the context of his role within the revival of Hegelian philosophy in Sydney in the last decades of the 20th century. Written from the perspective of one of his students, this style is sharpened by the contrast with that of another philosopher who was influential in the Hegel revival around that time, Richard Rorty. It is suggested that the stark antithesis between Márkusian and Rortarian philosophical and interpretative styles reflects tensions within Hegel’s own attitude to what it might mean to reanimate a philosophy from the past within a radically changed cultural context.

The road not taken – Márkus on Habermas: In memory of György Márkus

John Grumley

This paper concerns a little-known debate between Jürgen Habermas and György Márkus. Habermas argued that the Marxian paradigm of production was obsolete in the light of his own proposal for a ‘communicative turn’ in contemporary critical theories that avoids reductivism by focusing on moral learning processes connected to language and communicative interaction. This paper sets out Habermas’s critique of the paradigm of production and Márkus’s rebuttal.

The Markus way with dichotomies: Corrective and distributive justice

Arthur Glass

How should we understand the categorical distinction Aristotle draws between praxis and poesis? If this distinction gains its meaning only in a specific social and cultural context, what does this tell us about another famous Aristotelian distinction, namely, the distinction he draws between two types of justice: corrective and distributive? In particular, what is the orienting role of this distinction (and what should we make of this) in accounts of justice based on Kantian right and accounts based on Rawls’ principles of justice?

Márkus and the retrieval of the sociological Adorno

Paul K. Jones

Major sociological work related to the culture industry thesis was undertaken by Adorno during his period as a ‘refugee scholar’ in the USA. It has been charged with a ‘sociological deficit’ by leading figures within critical theory, typically without reference to that US context. A dialogue with Márkus’s work on Adorno and the Marxian production paradigm can redress failings in those critiques. However, such a task is complicated by the limitations of Márkus’s own major essay on this topic. This paper thus conducts an immanent critique of Márkus: ‘Márkus against Márkus’. Márkus’s proposals for the application of the Marxian production paradigm to aesthetic culture and his prospective vision for critical theory are so found to be very compatible with Adorno’s related work.

A philosophy of cultural modernity: Márkus’s contribution to the philosophy of culture

Robert Sinnerbrink

As Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sydney for over 20 years (1978–2001), György Márkus exerted a profound influence on a generation of philosophers and students from many disciplinary backgrounds. His legendary lecture courses, spanning the history of modern philosophy from the Enlightenment through to the late 20th century, were memorable for their breadth, erudition, and philosophical drama. Always modest despite his mastery of the tradition, Márkus’s approach to this history of philosophy never failed to emphasize its continuing role in shaping our inherited understanding of philosophy as ‘its own time comprehended in thoughts’ (Hegel). This is especially true of his contribution to the philosophical discourse of modernity, which we could summarize as comprising an original philosophy of cultural modernity. In what follows, I briefly reconstruct Márkus’s account of the adventures of the concept of culture, focusing on his definitive essay ‘The Path of Culture: From the Refined to the High, From the Popular to Mass Culture’ (2013) but also referring to other relevant Márkus texts, offering some critical remarks on his account of culture and its relationship with modern aesthetics, both classical and contemporary.

The end of high culture and the Anthropocene

Harriet Johnson

Theories of a new phase of earth history, the Anthropocene, position human world-making activity as a bio-geological force. Social interventions into earth systems have been extensive and malignant, altering the earth’s surface, atmosphere, oceans, and systems of nutrient cycling. To adapt and respond to emerging planetary dangers requires the collaboration of scholars from many different disciplines. In this paper, I argue that a coalition of the arts and sciences might draw upon György Márkus’s extensive studies of the topography of ‘high’ culture. I reconstruct Márkus’s conceptual map of the arts and sciences as regions of ‘high’ cultural activity, each with their own criteria of value yet subject to an integral unity and shared ambition. Both regions of ‘high’ culture aim to create original works of significance for an engaged public. I then examine the implications of Márkus’s claim that the classical vocation of robust, public-oriented culture has run aground. The field of problems that this paper traverses are not the ecological crises of the Anthropocene per se. I attend rather to Márkus’s account of the neoliberal erosion of cultural infrastructure where democratic publics might engage with such problems.


Capitalism in Australia: New histories for a reimagined future

Ben Huf, Yves Rees, Michael Beggs, Nicholas Brown, Frances Flanagan, Shannyn Palmer, Simon Ville

Capitalism is back. Three decades ago, when all alternatives to liberal democracy and free markets appeared discredited, talk of capitalism seemed passé. Now, after a decade of political and economic turmoil, capitalism and its temporal critique of progress and decline again seems an indispensable category to understanding a world in flux. Among the social sciences, historians have led both the embrace and critique of this ‘re-emergent’ concept. This roundtable discussion between leading and emerging Australian scholars working across histories of economy, work, policy, geography and political economy, extends this agenda. Representing the outcome of a workshop convened at La Trobe University in November 2018 and responding to questions posed by conveners Huf and Rees, five participants debate the nature, utility and future of the new constellation of ‘economic’ historical scholarship. While conducted well before the outbreak of COVID-19, the ensuring discussion nevertheless speaks saliently to the crises of our times.

The corporate menagerie

John Hutnyk

This paper offers a typology of university management roles in the age of permanent austerity. The repackaging of every function within the university administration as a cost centre – meaning of course a potential profit centre – has long been seen as an unsustainable market model. Yet perversely it persists, and we would do well to name the hyperbolic functionaries of this administered institutional reconstruction, in a place where a humourless credentialism prevails. The paper revives the work, and temperament, of the early 20th-century sociologist Thorstein Bunde Veblen as a heuristic aid. With Veblen, the protocols of commercial imperative in the state education sector masquerade as education as a social good while the ‘university’ itself is skewered with the tragic realism of forms.


‘Our befores and our afters’: Another antipodean perspective on Bernard Smith?

Robert W. Gaston

Antipodean Perspective: Selected Writings of Bernard Smith
Rex Butler & Sheridan Palmer (eds) (2018, Monash University Publishing)

Much has been published on the career and scholarly achievements of Bernard Smith (1916–2011) since his retirement from teaching in 1977 and has predictably gathered pace after his death. It is clear that the reception of his very substantial body of writings, addressing so many fields within the humanities, critical thought and art history in particular, is only just beginning. The present study focuses on a large recent collection of Smith’s studies in which critical responses are integrated. I argue that the profoundly personal nature of historiography, necessarily incorporating praise and blame in its rhetorical structure, requires that the critic position oneself openly in relation to the life and work of the subject undergoing scrutiny. Smith’s antipodean experience was in many ways distinctive. But those of us who knew him personally, or felt his influence as a teacher and writer, will need to reassess honestly their own genesis in order to deal effectively with the challenges embedded in his work.

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