The Highway of Despair

The Highway of Despair: Critical Theory After Hegel

Robyn Marasco
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    The Highway of Despair
    Book Description:

    Hegel's "highway of despair," introduced in hisPhenomenology of Spirit, represents the tortured path traveled by "natural consciousness" on its way to freedom. Despair, the passionate residue of Hegelian critique, also indicates fugitive opportunities for freedom and preserves the principle of hope against all hope. Analyzing the works of an eclectic cast of thinkers, Robyn Marasco considers the dynamism of despair as a critical passion, reckoning with the forms of historical life forged along Hegel's highway.

    The Highway of Despairfollows Theodor Adorno, Georges Bataille, and Frantz Fanon as they each read, resist, and reconfigure a strand of thought in Hegel'sPhenomenology of Spirit. Confronting the twentieth-century collapse of a certain revolutionary dialectic, these thinkers struggle to revalue critical philosophy and recast Left Hegelianism within the contexts of genocidal racism, world war, and colonial domination. Each thinker also re-centers the role of passion in critique. Arguing against more recent trends in critical theory that promise an escape from despair, Marasco shows how passion frustrates the resolutions of reason and faith. Embracing the extremism of what Marx, in the spirit of Hegel, called the "ruthless critique of everything existing," she affirms the contemporary purchase of radical critical theory, resulting in a passionate approach to political thought.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53889-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    This is a book about Hegel and some twentieth-century thinkers who read Hegel for the purposes of radical political thought and social criticism. Though the term “Left Hegelian” is typically reserved for a relatively small group of nineteenth-century Prussian theorists, it might also designate the varied and enduring attempts to bring Hegel’s philosophy to bear on radical politics. In this broader sense, then, what follows are close encounters with some twentieth-century Left Hegelians: Theodor W. Adorno, Georges Bataille, and Frantz Fanon, in particular. Each is reckoning with the collapse of revolutionary projects and clarifying the tasks of critique in the...


    • 1 Hegel, the Wound
      (pp. 25-57)

      Hegel did not describe his work as critique.¹ In thePhenomenology of Spirit, he portrays his efforts not in terms of critical philosophy, which would have aligned him squarely with Kant, but as an attempt to unite the desire for knowledge with actual knowing.² What Hegel had in mind in this union of philosophy and science was not quite critique in the Kantian sense, but rather theconsummationof the love of knowledge (philosophy) with the historical and phenomenological experience of knowing (science).³ Hegel aimed to “complete” philosophy, not only by giving it a definitive reality in human history, but...

    • 2 Kierkegaard’s Diagnostics
      (pp. 58-78)

      The writings of Søren Kierkegaard present a notorious challenge to the reader in search of definitive answers to the questions they pose about despair, anxiety, and other “wounds of Spirit.” While Kierkegaard—under his own name or with his many pseudonyms—hoped to elucidate a Christian remedy to the seemingly intractable problem of modern despair, his reformulation of faith seems somewhat feeble in the face of it. Kierkegaard’s texts simply cannot be measured by the solutions he offers, which are consistently inadequate to the questions he raises. Some of his readers have looked to the upbuilding discourses (the “religious” writings...


    • 3 Theodor W. Adorno: APORETICS
      (pp. 81-113)

      Theodor W. Adorno comes to us in various ways—as a philosopher, a cultural critic, a literary theorist, a sociologist—butalwaysin despair. Martin Jay, describing the famous profile photograph of Adorno used by his German publisher, deciphers despair in the contours of his downcast lips and eyes, in the “mournful expression on his face.” This photo—the one Jay used on the cover of his own book-length study of Adorno—is a portrait of the critic, a snapshot image of a vast philosophical legacy, yet one that resonates precisely because it captures the somber tones of so much...

    • 4 Georges Bataille: ALEATORY DIALECTICS
      (pp. 114-139)

      If chance is, for Bataille, the richest of notions, this is for the havoc it wreaks on human projects, on beingas project, and on any philosophical system that posits the pursuit of a project as the highest expression of freedom. Even those thinkers from whom Bataille took philosophical nourishment—Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche, to name the most important—failed to exploit the richness of chance to the extent that they pinned their fortunes to projects. Spirit, Communism, Will to Power—each of them variations on a more fundamental theme, of directing feverish passion toward specific and often practical ends,...

    • 5 Frantz Fanon: CRITIQUE, WITH KNIVES
      (pp. 140-168)

      In thePhilosophy of Right, Hegel considers how modern warfare differs from ancient forms and how the modern weapon of choice—the gun—both reflects and reinforces these differences. Warfare for the moderns means the depersonalization of conflict and the mechanization of killing. The gun marks this shift from a personal expression of bravery to a universal expression of courage. Hegel is certain that its invention can be “no accident.”¹ Frantz Fanon is more interested in knives—the knife held to the throat of the silent Arab prisoner, the knife used by two boys to kill one of their European...

    • Concluding Postscript
      (pp. 169-184)

      No single thinker has done more to shape the idea of critical theory in the postwar period than Jürgen Habermas. As I see things, Habermas turns away from a potential project opened up by the thinkers considered in this study—not just Adorno, to whom his connection is obvious, but also Bataille, of whom he is substantially more critical, and Fanon, about whom he says nothing. In recent years, Habermas has turned his attention to questions pertaining to philosophy and religion, the relationship between reason and faith, and the connection between postmetaphysical thinking and theological endeavors. These inquiries are exciting,...

  7. NOTES
    (pp. 185-218)
  8. INDEX
    (pp. 219-226)