Philosophy and Critical Theory

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Feminist theology

For the love of God

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Sal Renshaw

This chapter focuses on the field of feminist theology, which is as diverse and plural as Feminism in general. There is a general recognition that the institutionalisation of Western religions has inscribed sexual difference in ways which have profoundly limited women's participation at the level of practice. There is a shared concern with the ways in which the theological enterprise has long promulgated a rhetoric of dehumanisation when it comes to women. In reviewing the late twentieth-century feminist theological literature regarding love, what stands out is the relative silence concerning agape, even though it is generally acknowledged that the role of agape in Christian ethics has been a major concern for twentieth century ethicists. In reviewing the work of a number of feminist theologians, who have engaged in the notion of other-regarding love through the lens of sexual difference, an attempt to draw out some of the central themes as well as the strengths and weaknesses of their respective projects, in the context of their implications for subjectivity, has been made. In reviewing the divine in the work of Irigaray, Kristeva and Cixous, the text has attempted to sketch a broad context in which to place the following discussion of divinity and love, specifically in Hélène Cixous's writing.

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Sal Renshaw

Throughout ‘Grace and Innocence’, Cixous explores the relationship between effort and grace, and alerts her principal speculation that, what matters is not knowledge as such, but our way of living knowledge: ‘One has to know how not to possess what one knows’. To the extent that the problem of self-sacrifice is what marks the rejection of agapic love in much of feminist theology, the text has argued throughout that Cixous's conception of divine Promethean love addresses this issue at the level of the structure of subjectivity itself. The very notion of self-sacrifice, the study suggests, is dependent firstly upon a notion of self that is indebted largely to the Enlightenment, hence masculine ideals about what a subject is in the first place. Cixous acknowledges that, in a patriarchal world, one continues to be interpolated into the discourses of subjectivity which privilege notions such as individuality and autonomy, and which assume the subject to be a self-subsisting phenomenon. If the masculine subject is constituted against the threat of difference, Cixous inscribes in feminine flesh the possibility that this is not the only possible relation to difference. In a feminine relation to difference, one finds the possibility of living a dispossessed, rather than sacrificial, relation to self, in which otherness becomes the occasion of a generous, excessive, abundant birth into life and love.

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Thomas Osborne

This chapter seeks to get clear of various understandings of culture so as to make way for the conception of the scope of modern cultural theory. It lays the basic elements of some distinctions between modern cultural theory and other types of discourse such as cultural studies, cultural sociology and cultural anthropology. The chapter discusses the authors' own sense of what modern cultural theory actually is, attempting, partly by way of Georg Simmel, to convey the antinomical idea of culture that is fundamental to it. Simmel shows why art, especially the modernist art of his time, is important for the antinomical view of culture: for if anything resists the freezing of life into form, it is modernist art. The chapter further emphasises on the analysis of culture as the institutionalisation of creative convention and is concerned with something like the ethics of culture or critical reflexivity.

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Sal Renshaw

This text highlights Cixous's notions and thought, which offer to an individual a very different picture of the subjects of divine love from that which derives from the concept of mutuality that is currently favoured in many feminist theologies. It has noted that mutuality undoubtedly challenges the underlying hierarchical power structures which have informed inter-subjective possibilities within patriarchal cultures and retains a commitment to dualism which undoes the very assertion that subjectivity itself is a relational concept. On the other hand, Cixous's attention to the epistemological conditions of subjectivity, that is, to the relationship between knowledge, self and other, and to the phenomenal conditions which open the category of knowledge to ways of living, provides an alternative foundation for rethinking the structure of self/other relations. For Cixous, as the text suggests, everything happens in the instant, and it is in a feminine approach to the instant that we find the passage to divinity which is truly paved with the love of the other as other.

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Thomas Osborne

This conclusion presents some closing thoughts on the concepts discussed in the preceding chapters of this book. The book claims that there is, or was, such a thing as modern cultural theory and argued that there is, or was, something ultimately ethical about it. It also claims that cultural theory, at least in its modern form, is characterised by what, for want of better terminology, can be described as a knowledge-constitutive interest that is ultimately ethical in character. This absolutely does not mean that modern cultural theory provides yet another view of what it is to have or be a self in the contemporary era. The book describes Theodor Adorno, Michel Foucault and Pierre Bourdieu as modern cultural theorists to claim that they can be understood, according to a common thread, an agenda, or a 'genre of inquiry'.

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Thomas Osborne

Pierre Bourdieu is most often regarded as a general social theorist, a cultural sociologist or even just a very wide-ranging 'methodologist'. This latter view would make him a figure somewhat like Anthony Giddens or Roy Bhaskar in the English-speaking social sciences. 'The real is the relational' is Bourdieu's most succinct contribution to the social sciences: a relationist theory of society according to which agents move around in particular social spaces, with particular positionings, tendencies and trajectories. Bourdieu's principle of reflexivity is an objectivizing one. The point about objectivising reflexivity is that it provides an analogue to the objectivising tendencies of 'scientific' sociological analysis itself. Reflexivity divides into at least two forms in Bourdieu's work: the sociology of the intellectual field itself, and what Bourdieu calls auto-analysis. The chapter discusses the notion of reflexivity. To understand this notion, it considers the nature of science on Bourdieu's account.

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Thomas Osborne

This chapter describes Theodor Adorno as probably the greatest Marxist cultural theorist of the twentieth century. The uses of Adorno's work are related to the fact that he is at once close to and distant from the perspective of postmodernism. Adorno is interested in the forces which restrict or act as blockages or which suffocate the potentiality for critical self-reflection. The chapter considers these blockages in more detail. The endlessly paradoxical character of Adorno's thought is central and certainly the reliance on paradox derives from G.W.F. Hegel's philosophical lineage. The best way to isolate what is specific to Adorno's own way of doing things is via the work of that proto-postmodernist and brilliant Adorno-interlocutor, Walter Benjamin. In his celebrated 'Work of art' essay, Benjamin sought signs of aesthetic and political redemption in the fate of contemporary cultural production.