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Critical Environments: Postmodern Theory and the Pragmatics of the “Outside”

Cary Wolfe
Volume: 13
Copyright Date: 1998
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Critical Environments
    Book Description:

    Cary Wolfe investigates three of the most significant strains of postmodern theory—pragmatism, systems theory, and poststructuralism—and shows how each confronts the specter of an “outside” not wholly constituted by discourses, language games, and interpretive communities. He then assesses these confrontations in light of an essentially pragmatic view of theory, one that constantly asks what practical and material difference it makes, and to whom, how these issues are negotiated.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8849-4
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-ix)
  4. INTRODUCTION. Nothing Fails like Success: The Postmodern Moment and the Problem of the ʺOutsideʺ
    (pp. xi-xxv)

    This study locates itself in the wake of what has often been characterized as the “crisis” of postmodern theory, a crisis brought about by what Jean-François Lyotard, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Richard Rorty, Gilles Deleuze, and other leading theorists of “the postmodern condition” have characterized (to use Lyotard’s phrase) as an “incredulity toward metanarratives.” According to Lyotard, whose work on the postmodern may be taken as exemplary, this crisis is twofold. First, “to the obsolescence of the metanarrative apparatus of legitimation corresponds, most notably, the crisis of metaphysical philosophy”—that is, of the traditional philosophical and critical paradigms of the...

  5. ONE Pragmatism: Rorty, Cavell, and Others
    (pp. 1-39)

    In this chapter, I examine a range of theorists who have been associated with “pragmatism” or “neopragmatism,” a critical genealogy that stretches back to the Ralph Waldo Emerson of the 1830s, then to William James—who may be said to have given the theory (or, more properly, the antitheory) its name (which he adapted from the “pragmaticism” of Harvard colleague Charles Sanders Peirce)—then to John Dewey, and reaching forward finally to contemporary critics and philosophers such as Frank Lentricchia, Cornel West, and the figures I will examine in most detail: Walter Benn Michaels, Richard Rorty, and Stanley Cavell. These...

  6. TWO Systems Theory: Maturana and Varela with Luhmann
    (pp. 41-85)

    In the current social and critical moment, perhaps no project is more overdue than the articulation of a posthumanist theoretical framework for a politics and ethics not grounded in the Enlightenment ideal of “Man.” Within postmodern theory, that humanist ideal is critiqued as forcefully as anywhere in the early and middle phase of Michel Foucault’s career, whose “genealogical” aim is to “account for the constitution of knowledges, discourses, domains of objects, etc., without having to make reference to a subject which is either transcendental in relation to the field of events or runs in empty sameness throughout the course of...

  7. THREE Poststructuralism: Foucault with Deleuze
    (pp. 87-128)

    This chapter sets out from the convergence of Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze on the problem that lends its name to this study, the problem of the “outside.” To delimit in this way our examination of the huge body of work produced by both is to at the same time tighten the focus on the specific brand of poststructuralism that joins Foucault and Deleuze and separates them from other theorists often treated under the same rubric: their engagement not only with what Deleuze will characterize as “the form of expression” but also with “the form of content.” For both Foucault...

  8. Conclusion: Post-Marxism, Critical Politics, and the Environment of Theory
    (pp. 129-154)

    Throughout the preceding chapters, I frequently have made recourse to how a post-Marxist critical perspective can reveal the political limits of many of the theoretical paradigms I have examined thus far. As we have seen, the work of Rorty, Cavell, Michaels, Luhmann, and Maturana and Varela (among others) runs aground time and again on the ideological recontainment of a potentially liberating epistemological and philosophical pluralism by a pluralism of a very different and more familiar sort—aliberal humanistpluralism (or something very much like it) that pays little attention to how real inequality in the economic and social sphere...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 155-172)
  10. Index
    (pp. 173-176)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 177-177)