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A Leftist Ontology

A Leftist Ontology: Beyond Relativism and Identity Politics

Carsten Strathausen Editor
Foreword by William E. Connolly
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    A Leftist Ontology
    Book Description:

    A Leftist Ontology offers a timely intervention in political philosophy, featuring some of the leading voices of our time. Rich with analyses of concepts from deconstruction, systems theory, and post-Marxism, with critiques of fundamentalist thought and the war on terror, this volume argues for developing a philosophy of being in order to overcome the quandary of postmodern relativism.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-6793-2
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. FOREWORD: The Left and Ontopolitics
    (pp. ix-xviii)

    InSustaining Affirmation(2000), Stephen White examines four contemporary political theorists to ascertain how the ontology each adopts filters into his or her political theory and how the latter infiltrates into ontology.¹ Byontology, he means the most fundamental assumptions each makes about the world, including within that compass assumptions about time, nature, human subjectivity, the final source of morality, the territorial space of politics, and the often vexed relations between these elements. White does not make a sharp distinction between ontology and metaphysics, finding that the two terms have moved close to each other in recent discourse. His contention...

  4. INTRODUCTION: Thinking Outside In
    (pp. xix-xlvi)

    The title of this anthology calls for an explanation. It has become customary these days to denounce any reference to the Left as mere rhetoric devoid of substance—a position propagated not only by John Stossel and mainstream media, but also in academic circles. A typical example is the increasingly positive reception of Carl Schmitt by the former left-wing academic journalTelos. Paul Piccone, one of its senior editors, recently argued that “the Left/Right split has actually been a political Trojan horse” ever since the French Revolution. Hence, it retains “some validity” from a historical perspective, but “makes very little...

  5. I. Agamben, Violence, and Redemption

    • 1 The Structure of the Political vs. the Politics of Hope
      (pp. 3-18)

      There is no Leftist ontology. Let me phrase this less ontologically. Thereought notbe aLeftistontology. To think one hears the music of the spheres and recognize in it the tune to “La Marseillaise” is a sign of desperation, a sign that the political game is being lost and therefore ought to be rigged. No matter how bruised, dazed, bloodied, and confused it may be, the Left must quit its search for subjects of history or any other deus ex machina and fight its fight in the only realm fit to fight in—the political. So if the...

    • 2 The Function of Ambivalence in Agamben’s Reontologization of Politics
      (pp. 19-30)

      Ontology has never been a great concern for the German Left. Since Adorno’sThe Jargon of Authenticityat the very latest, critical theory’s fearful distance from ontology has turned into open hostility. With the exception of Hannah Arendt and Leo Strauss (who in this regard must be considered Americans), it has always been French and Italian authors like Gilles Deleuze, Jean-Luc Nancy, and Alain Badiou who found themselves interested in the ontological premises of politics. One possible explanation for this discrepancy is the fact that in Germany, Martin Heidegger’s engagement with National Socialism remains the test case for any attempt...

  6. II. The Persistence of Marxism

    • 3 Twenty-five Theses on Philosophy in the Age of Finance Capital
      (pp. 33-53)

      “During long periods of history,” Walter Benjamin wrote, “the mode of human sense perception changes with humanity’s entire mode of existence.¹ One would expect no less of thought itself. It should come as no surprise to assert today that philosophy is historical through and through. This recognition of philosophy’s historicity is one of the great legacies of Marx’s thought. Once consciousness is linked to social being and the “ruling ideas” of an epoch are characterized as “nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relations, the dominant material relations grasped as ideas,”² it is only a willful bad...

    • 4 Periodizing the 80s: The Cultural Logic of Economic Privatization in the United States
      (pp. 54-79)

      After the economic meltdown of fall 2008, it may seem like the era of unbridled faith in free-market or neoliberal capitalism is waning in the United States. With the federal government busy orchestrating huge bailouts of the private sector, it would seem that the slick era of “small government and big business,” born in the Reagan 1980s and intensified through the Clinton 90s, is definitively over, and that we’re on the verge of a retooled era of mid-twentieth-century Keyneseanism. However, I think this would be a hasty conclusion. Let’s recall that the last similar global market crash was not in...

    • 5 Marxist Theory: From Aesthetic Critique to Cultural Politics
      (pp. 80-99)

      Since the 1990s, Terry Eagleton, Fredric Jameson, and others have revived the aesthetic theory of Theodor Adorno on the grounds that, unlike Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and other poststructuralists, who accommodate the social system, Adorno’s aesthetics subverts its foundations.¹ As Jameson notes inLate Marxism, “Adorno’s Marxism, which was no great help in the previous periods, may turn out to be just what we need today” (5). I grant that poststructuralists like Derrida and Foucault do not accept Marxist realism, by which I mean its ontological commitment to and systematic description of a reality independent of the observer’s beliefs and...

    • 6 Is Socialism the Index of a Leftist Ontology?
      (pp. 100-122)

      The more one thinks about the historical socialist experience bounded by the years 1917 and 1990, the years of European state socialism, the more embarrassing a positive intellectual engagement with it might seem. Besides the practical questions posed generally by an amoral raison d’état, and more pointedly by the particular immorality of Eastern Bloc party rule, one is left to ponder real socialism’s uninspiring record of functional legitimation and social performance. There is a temptation to move on and be done with it, drawing for political inspiration from an uncontaminated well of leftist virtue that springs from a bedrock more...

  7. III. Deconstruction/Politics

    • 7 Deconstruction and Experience: The Politics of the Undeconstructable
      (pp. 125-146)

      The question I want to raise concerns the possibility of a leftist ontology from the perspective of deconstruction. The difficulty of the question, of course, lies in the fact that it is not entirely clear whether such a theoretical object is possible to conceive from this perspective. As an introduction, therefore, let us briefly examine a few leftist critiques of Derrida’s philosophy that, in spite of their striking political and philosophical differences, share a concern for a set of recurrent motives. What is common to the criticisms of deconstruction made by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Slavoj Žižek, and Ernesto...

    • 8 Politics and the Fiction of the Political
      (pp. 147-169)

      The main purpose of this essay is to determine the rapport between rhetoric and ontology in contemporary Left political thought and its relevance for a “philosophical questioning of the political.”¹ By dealing with the concept of the political and its intersections with philosophy, my research will focus on the distinction between politics (la politique) and the political (le politique), the main theoretical innovation of contemporary postfoundational thought.² According to Oliver Marchart,

      the difference between the new concept of the political and the conventional concept of politics . . . seems to indicate the crisis of the foundationalist paradigm (represented scientifically...

    • 9 The Last God: María Zambrano’s Life without Texture
      (pp. 170-184)

      María Zambrano (1904–91) studied with José Ortega y Gasset at the University of Madrid in the 1920s and was intimately connected to the intellectual events surrounding the Second Spanish Republic. She was at the time something like a radical liberal, in the complicated Spanish tradition, a deep thinker whose early writings already contain hints of the poetic and the religious veins that would mark her later work. She was forced into exile during the Spanish Civil War and initiated a pilgrimage through various countries in Latin America (Cuba, Mexico), then Europe (Italy, France), until her return to Spain in...

  8. IV. Psychoanalysis and the Political

    • 10 Signification and Substance: Toward a Leftist Ontology of the Present
      (pp. 187-207)

      A deadlock haunts contemporary theory. On the one hand, there is all the powerful work that has been enabled by social construction theories, by Foucauldian theories of discourse, and more generally by poststructuralist interventions into culture. On the other hand, there is the vital work undertaken by Marxist and globalization theories on the increasing inequalities produced by neoliberalism and post-Fordist capitalism. Although poststructuralism has advanced a salutary and important critique of ideas of nature and the natural as well as of philosophical idealism (and versions of materialism that represent merely an inverted form of such idealism), it is less effective...

    • 11 A Politics of Melancholia
      (pp. 208-234)

      To understand why leftist thought has traditionally held the melancholic in such deep suspicion, one need look no further than Walter Benjamin’s brief essay “Leftist Melancholia.” The trouble with leftist melancholic poets like Erich Kästner and Kurt Tucholsky, argues Benjamin, is that they have sold out to amusement, to the cult of eccentricity, and to the capitalist business routine. Prone to “fatalism” and “nihilism,” devoted to the fetish of the “hollow form,” they have lost their capacity for the kind of disgust with the world that would fuel a revolutionary engagement with it.¹ In a moment of crisis, when the...

  9. AFTERWORD: Thinking, Being, Acting; or, On the Uses and Disadvantages of Ontology for Politics
    (pp. 235-252)

    Faced with the ubiquitous return of the question of being in the field of political thought today, put into relief most eloquently by the present collection of essays, I am tempted to repeat Theodor W. Adorno’s gesture when in part I of hisNegative Dialectics, as he explains, “ontology is understood and immanently criticized out of the need for it, which is a problem of its own.”¹ In keeping with this model, I too would want to ask in what way the answers of the ontological turn in self-anointed leftist circles today may be “the recoil of the unfolded, transparent...

    (pp. 253-254)
    (pp. 255-258)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 259-283)