Philosophy and Critical Theory

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Disciplines of modernity

Entanglements and ambiguities

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Saurabh Dube

This chapter discusses aspects of the interplay between the disciplines and modernity, as mediated by temporal-spatial imperatives. It focuses on the relationship between anthropology and history in order to discuss formations of modern knowledge as themselves forming critical subjects and crucial procedures of modernity. Time and temporality are usually projected as the stuff of history, quite as culture and tradition are implicitly understood as subjects of anthropology. Staying with and thinking through the formative ambivalences of ethnography make it possible to approach anew anthropology in non-Western worlds through temporal-spatial considerations. The temporality of anthropological others could only emerge as being external to and lagging behind the space and time of the writing of ethnography. The chapter considers the presence of ambivalence and ambiguity at the core of recent renovations of anthropology and history, often overlooked by presumptions of progress in explanations of disciplines and their makeovers.

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The subject of love

Hélène Cixous and the feminine divine

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Sal Renshaw

This book is about abundant, generous, other-regarding love. In the history of Western ideas of love, such a configuration has been inseparable from our ideas about divinity and the sacred, often reserved only for God and rarely thought of as a human achievement. The book is a substantial engagement with Cixous's philosophies of love, inviting the reader to reflect on the conditions of subjectivity that just might open us to something like a divine love of the other. It follows this thread in this genealogy of abundant love: the thread that connects the subject of love from fifth-century-b.c.e. Greece and Plato, to the twentieth-century protestant theology of agapic love of Anders Nygren, to the late twentieth-century poetico-philosophy of Hélène Cixous.

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Thomas Osborne

This book is concerned with the scope of cultural theory in its modern, it might even be said in its modernist, form. The three thinkers under most consideration in the book are Theodor Adorno, Michel Foucault and Pierre Bourdieu, who might hardly be seen as representatives of cultural theory per se if that enterprise is taken to be what it should often taken to be. The book starts with Adorno (1903-1969) not just because his work is an apt way to introduce further some very basic themes of the book: in particular those of critical autonomy and educationality. Adorno's reflections on art and culture are contributions to the ethical understanding of autonomy, emphasising the importance of the cultivation of critical reflection. The argument here is that he is, rather, an ethico-critical theorist of democracy and a philosopher of hope. The book then situates the work of Michel Foucault (1926-1984), in other ways so different from Adorno, in terms of a broadly, if minimally, parallel agenda in modern cultural theory. It outlines some of the importance of Foucault's notion of an 'aesthetics of existence' in relation to his work as a whole. It further invokes related themes in the work of Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002). Finally, it moves things in a different direction, towards postmodernism, invoking the increasing role of the cultural and aesthetic dimension in contemporary experience that is often taken as a central aspect of the postmodern turn.

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Speaking of love

Philosophy, theology, and French feminism

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Sal Renshaw

This chapter revolves round the concept of love. It reflects on the tension between Plato's eros, both vulgar and divine, and Christianity's divine love, and inquires into who might be the subjects of these loves. It is from the writings of the French feminist philosopher Hélène Cixous that this project principally draws its inspiration. Cixous's work suggests a conception of a generous other-regarding love that is indeed other-regarding, but which also uniquely escapes the problem of self-sacrifice that attaches to agape. For the feminist thinker Cixous, the sexual politics of how love has traditionally been understood to negotiate a subject/object relation has been a constant preoccupation of her work, which is informed by, and contributes to, contemporary philosophical reflections on difference and subjectivity. Throughout her writing, she explores the ways in which different conceptions of love have been implicated in the production of unjust and unequal relations of exchange.

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Thomas Osborne

This chapter seeks to differentiate postmodern cultural theory in the very widest sense from the forms of modern cultural theory that are focused in this book. In doing so, it focuses on the questions of aesthetics, culture and creativity. The basic and simple point is that, for better or worse, with postmodernism the regulative ideal of an ethics of autonomy has certainly been given up. It is possible to argue that a diffusion of culture represents the generalisation of modernism: the overflowing of modernist principles from the sphere of art into the social body more widely. As a result, it is not just the culture that is everywhere but aesthetic principles: only the aesthetic model is no longer tied to a particular sphere but is generalized to apply to just about everything.

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Introduction

In the spirit of the gift of love

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Sal Renshaw

This study explores the relationship between Cixous's conceptions of feminine subjectivity, love and divinity. It seems to be the case that, irrespective of the critique to which religious beliefs and practices were subjected throughout the twentieth century, a certain religious consciousness is nonetheless not simply persisting, but is rapidly adapting to the needs of a decentred, deconstructed, postmodern world. Furthermore, the self that relinquishes possession of itself as the subject of experience can be understood, then, to be immersed in the phenomenal world of immediacy, and thus to become in and with the other simultaneously. There can be no space for appropriation of difference, nor for self-sacrifice, in the traditional way in which that notion has been understood, for neither self nor other pre-exists the other. Cixous's dispossessed feminine subject is, then, dispossessed of the relation to itself, on which sacrificial love has traditionally been founded: there is no ‘self’ pre-existing the moment of meeting to whom the sacrifice in love can subsequently be referred.

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Thomas Osborne

This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in this book. The book is concerned with the scope of cultural theory in its modern form. It starts with considering what this concern might mean and why it might be of interest. The book describes the three thinkers, Theodor Adorno, Michel Foucault and Pierre Bourdieu, as modern cultural theorists. The goal is to claim that they can be understood according to a common thread, an agenda, or a 'genre of inquiry'. Each of these thinkers is guided by particular concerns and each, equally and obviously, have a particular style or working signature. The book seeks to pass their work through the unifying lens of certain, rather basic, principles of reading. The basic principles of reading include maximisation, coherence, redemptive critique, empiricism, and detachment.

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Sal Renshaw

This chapter highlights sexual difference, the history of sexual difference and how sexual difference can and might be lived in the future. The significance of Cixous's deployment of language, the terms she chooses and the metaphors she draws upon cannot be considered incidental. As Deborah Jenson suggests in ‘Coming to Reading Hélène Cixous’, ‘Cixous is inclined to resurrect terms which in contemporary theory, have largely been relegated to the “metaphysical broom closet”’. Sexual difference is the difference that makes a difference in her refiguration of antagonistic subjectivities. Through her theorisation of sexual difference, Cixous comes to explore the possibilities of a feminine economy of desire and engages with the possibility of love as a condition for a post-secular calling forth of divinity.

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Sal Renshaw

This chapter comprises the readings of Cixous's stories that focus on the relationship between the individual and grace. Cixous's engagement with Lispector's couple signals her interest in a grace that arises in the context of human relationships. This study turns more fully to this question of the possibility of grace, or divinity, as it appears more explicitly in Cixous's own ‘fiction’, The Book of Promethea, which is focused exclusively on an extraordinary love between two women. Here, Cixous develops her understanding of the conditions of a love that emerge in the context of a meeting between feminine subjectivities. In so doing, she returns to the overarching question of this study, that the possibility of an abundant, other-regarding love which is a humanly possible expression of divinity, one that emerges in an encounter with the other, is defined by a refusal to appropriate otherness to oneself.

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Thomas Osborne

This chapter first argues that Michael Foucault was a modernist and that his work, especially in its late period, was saturated with the question of aesthetics. For him, this question was connected to the ultimately ethical question of autonomy. The concept of culture haunts, most generally, Foucault's nominalism. One can argue over what kind of nominalism it was that Foucault espoused exactly. The argument of the chapter is that Foucault's nominalism was strategic, even ultimately ethical, and not just an epistemic point of view, and not even a dynamic or dialectical nominalism. Foucault explains the relevance of the idea of an aesthetics of existence but not about what contemporary form it might take. To provide a theory of an aesthetics of existence would be to contradict the idea itself. The chapter discusses a theme, namely subjectivation. Subjectivation is invocated in the chapter as the idea of an 'aesthetic of existence'.