Melancholic dispositions and conscious unhappiness
This chapter explores how the work of first-generation critical theory can offer some interesting and timely insights into the current political economy of emotion that binds happiness and wellbeing to positivity, productivity, and measurable output. It begins by charting the major historical conceptualizations of melancholia, both in its medical and cultural iterations, since these have played such a significant role in shaping our understanding of (un)happiness. The chapter focuses on Walter Benjamin's varied and complex engagements with melancholia, many of which contrast with the traditional readings of melancholia as inherently passive, inward-looking, static, and so forth. It closes with an analysis of Theodor Adorno's form of social critique and 'conscious unhappiness', that is, a wilful rejection of any privatized or individualized notion of happiness in favour of a militant and political discontent.
This chapter shows how the contemporary (re)turn to objects initially serves as a useful corrective to social or political theories that fail to properly engage with the object world. It presents a timely reconstruction of early critical theory's own engagements with the object world via aesthetics and mimesis. The mediating role played by aesthetics is of vital importance for understanding early critical theory's engagement with objects and affects. The chapter also shows how the thought of Siegfried Kracauer and Theodor Adorno contributes to the timely task. Kracauer's work retains a relatively marginal position within studies of critical theory. The chapter then suggests that 'object-oriented ontology' (OOO)/'speculative realism' (SR) goes much beyond a post-critical fantasy, which gleefully jettisons all relationality and criticality for the sake of concocting a 'new', non-human philosophy.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book begins by revisiting some of the founding tenets of critical theory in the context of the establishment of the Institute for Social Research in the early twentieth century. After charting the history of melancholy, it focuses on the work of Walter Benjamin, whose varied engagements with the subject of melancholia prove to be far more mobile and complex than traditional accounts. The book looks at how an affective politics underpins critical theory's engagement with the world of objects. It explores the affective politics of hope. The book outlines the upsurge in theoretical writing on objects/things, especially within the much-touted field of 'object-oriented ontology' (OOO) or 'speculative realism' (SR).
This chapter situates the affective turn and the new materialisms within a wider context of the 'post-critical'. For affect theorists, the prevailing modes of social, cultural and political critique are beholden to the systems of signification, discourse, coding/decoding, ideology, and so on, all of which are preceded by affective phenomena and dispositions. Like the advent of new materialism, the 'affective turn' has developed in part through the rhetorical construction of a hegemonic obstacle, an all-powerful behemoth that only a few visionary critics and theorists are capable of defeating. As one of the most influential strands of what Perry Anderson labeled 'Western Marxism', critical theory, in its originary form, is primarily associated with the work of the Frankfurt School. The Frankfurt School situates itself in opposition to both the excessively doctrinaire approaches of Marxism in its Second and Third International form, and the politically deficient subjectivism represented by phenomenology and existentialism.
This conclusion presents some closing thoughts on the concepts discussed in the preceding chapters of this book. This book examines dialectics in modern epistemology and compares it with critical theory, not 'in order to' but 'because' the latter can offer innovative means of dialectical theorizing. In this way, critical theory has the potential to advance twenty-first-century epistemology. The book attempts to present and ground the argument that a retreat to de-theorization for the sake of the partiality of empiricism, as well as the postmodern approach. In order to avoid social and scientific instrumentality and pre-modern positions, the construction of scientific politics has to be criticized under the perspective of a political epistemology. Such an epistemology negates the determinism of the arguments of social structures and scientific systems, and replaces the postmodern with a dialectics of modernity that reaches all strata of scientific progress.
This chapter explores and analyses critical realism as formed and explained by Roy Bhaskar, and criticizes his conception of dialectics as being reduced to the achievement of scientific totality. Without opposing critical theory to critical realism, the epistemological prospects of dialectics is developed in the chapter as providing an open field of opposing or inter-negating arguments. The chapter elucidates that the eclipse of any normativity criterion, along with the concern for applicability of the sciences, signifies a pre-critical judgement on the part of Bhaskar's critical realism. The focus of epistemological and scientific critique in Bhaskar's critical realism remains on dialectics, for it appears to provide the exit from the methodological as well as the social monovalence. Bhaskar's conception of science is based on perceptual data. It identifies causal laws in science that involve noticing mechanisms and tendencies for their development, where such tendencies are internal to the scientific structure.
Epistemology should be the axe that breaks the ice of a traditionalism that covers and obstructs scientific enlightenment. This book explores the arguments between critical theory and epistemology in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Focusing on the first and second generations of critical theorists and Luhmann's systems theory, it examines how each approaches epistemology. The book offers a critique of the Kantian base of critical theory's epistemology in conjunction with the latter's endeavour to define political potential through the social function of science. The concept of dialectics is explored as the negation of the irrational and, furthermore, as the open field of epistemological conflict between rationality and irrationality. The book traces the course of arguments that begin with Dilthey's philosophy of a rigorous science, develop with Husserl's phenomenology, Simmel's and Weber's interest in the scientific element within the social concerns of scientific advance. In structuralism, the fear of dialogue prevails. The book discusses the epistemological thought of Pierre Bourdieu and Gilles Deleuze in terms of their persistence in constructing an epistemological understanding of social practice free from the burdens of dialectics, reason and rationality. It also enquires into issues of normativity and modernity within a comparative perspective on modernism, postmodernism and critical theory. Whether in relation to communication deriving from the threefold schema of utterance- information- understanding or in relation to self- reflexivity, systems theory fails to define the bearer or the actor of the previous structural processes. Critical realism attempted to ground dialectics in realism.
Critical theory's epistemological arguments were marshalled in a vehement critique of positivism, which marked its claims as a reaction against rational normativity, or as the new empiricist epistemology safeguarding scientific orthodoxy. This chapter explores the relevant exchange of arguments between critical theorists and positivists. It discusses the analysis of the three major thinkers of the Frankfurt School, Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno and Herbert Marcuse. The critical theory of the Frankfurt School challenged instrumentality whereby human beings become mere instruments along the lines set out by modern science. In order to deal with what constitutes science, epistemologically speaking, critical theory tackles the problem of scientific laws. The answer remains straightforward: whereas natural sciences facilitate the formation of scientific laws, it is rather unfeasible to expect the same degree of certainty in the humanities and social sciences. This chapter also presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in this book.
This chapter elaborates on more particular themes that comprise modernism as well as postmodernism in Michel Foucault's work, and deals with Jurgen Habermas' defence of modernity, which was concurrent with Foucault's negative critique towards modern science and rationality. It enquires into issues of normativity and modernity within a comparative perspective on modernism, postmodernism and critical theory. The modernism that Foucault presented opposed Immanuel Kant's idea of critique, and in the overall assessment served as a meta-narrative of modernity or as the formative idea of postmodernism. The dialectical element, for the postmodernists, provides a moment of legitimation by composing a mechanism of arguments and proofs. Foucault's modernism finds itself much closer to the idea of dialectics dealing or being occupied with the negative or the 'other' in science and society than with the postmodern exclusion of reason and the potential of a rational modernity.
This chapter traces to what extent dialectics is an epistemological concern in Wilhelm Dilthey, E. Husserl, Georg Simmel and Max Weber. For Simmel, dialectics is a sort of methodological fragmentation, in the manner of the individual and society. By evaluating (implicitly) dialectics and (explicitly) scientific intersubjectivity, Simmel assesses the essence of his dual schema of forms and concepts, where both constitute the scientific criteria of the humanities. From a study of methodology, Dilthey proceeds to the philosophical contribution of epistemology and the epistemological contribution of philosophy to science. Philosophy and epistemology are pivotal parts of his theoretical concerns, without ever losing their conceptual equality in his work. Phenomenology's hermeneutic turn was inaugurated by Martin Heidegger. To be more precise, the hermeneutic turn that Heidegger introduced was an ontological turn of phenomenology, probably against Husserl's epistemological transcendentalism of the eidetic reduction.