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The Modernist Imagination

The Modernist Imagination: Intellectual History and Critical Theory

Warren Breckman
Peter E. Gordon
A. Dirk Moses
Samuel Moyn
Elliot Neaman
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 458
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  • Book Info
    The Modernist Imagination
    Book Description:

    Some of the most exciting and innovative work in the humanities currently takes place at the intersection of intellectual history and critical theory. Just as critical theorists are becoming more aware of the historicity of theory, contemporary practitioners of modern intellectual history are recognizing their potential contributions to theoretical discourse. No one has done more than Martin Jay to realize the possibilities for mutual enrichment between intellectual history and critical theory. This carefully selected collection of essays addresses central questions and current practices of intellectual history and asks how the legacy of critical theory has influenced scholarship across a wide range of scholarly disciplines. In honor of Martin Jay's unparalleled achievements, this volume includes work from some of the most prominent contemporary scholars in the humanities and social sciences.

    eISBN: 978-1-84545-881-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. viii-x)
  5. Martin Jay and the Dialectics of Intellectual History
    (pp. xi-xl)
    Lloyd Kramer

    Intellectual history is the sub-discipline of historical studies that describes and interprets the creative work of past thinkers and artists, but intellectual historians have the widest influence when they also engage in the cultural debates of their own era. Intellectual history therefore provides insights into contemporary historical problems as well as new perspectives on the history of ideas and the cultural contexts in which earlier intellectuals have lived and worked. The best intellectual historians resemble the creative thinkers they write about because they often see unexpected connections among apparently diverse ideas and because they think critically about inherited assumptions or...

  6. Part I: Intellectual History

    • “The Kiss of Lamourette”: “Possibilism” or “Christian Democracy”?
      (pp. 3-23)
      David Sorkin

      With an essay entitled, “The Kiss of Lamourette,” and the volume in which it appeared bearing the same title,¹ Robert Darnton has made this obscure incident of the French Revolution so widely known that other historians have begun to repeat his account of it.² Yet the one engaging paragraph devoted to the incident reduces the “kiss of Lamourette” to a curiosity that allegedly reveals the French Revolution’s excesses and eccentricities (“possibilism”). Darnton rightly insists that we should prefer the voices and thoughts of historical participants to the theories of contemporary historians.³ In this essay, I will attempt to let Lamourette...

    • Selves without Qualities? Duchamp, Musil, and the History of Selfhood
      (pp. 24-54)
      Jerrold Seigel

      Recent writers about the self, whether philosophers, historians, or critics, have often sought escape from a conception of personal identity said to be characteristic of the modern West. The notion they target posits the self as coherent, stable, autonomous, and turned inward in a way Charles Taylor calls “punctual” or “disengaged.” In its place, post-modernists, Nietzscheans, Heideggerians, communitarians and others all propose an image of the self that is shifting and fluid, divided or fragmented, and bound up in the power of its exterior attachments and connections. I want to consider the relationship between these two figures of the self,...

    • Liberty and the “Coming-into-Being” of Natural Law: Hans Kelsen and Ernst Cassirer
      (pp. 55-76)
      Gregory B. Moynahan

      In an overview of Ernst Cassirer’s Weimar career, Jürgen Habermas comments on a central contradiction. “In the realm of the German Mandarins, [Cassirer was] one of the few courageous exceptions who defended the Weimar Republic against its despisers among the intellectuals,” yet it is “all the more astonishing” that nowhere in Cassirer’s key writings on symbolic forms from the Weimar Period does the concept of right and morality, and with it the realm of politics, find a clearly defined place.¹ In this, Habermas voices a disappointment common to many readers of Cassirer: even as Cassirer was clearly aware of the...

    • The Artwork beyond Itself: Adorno, Beethoven, and Late Style
      (pp. 77-98)
      Peter E. Gordon

      The question of how music relates to the social order continues to perplex and inspire a great many scholars in various disciplines, not only musicologists but also intellectual historians, sociologists of culture, and (most famously, perhaps) those who in some fashion or another have not ceased to align themselves with the Frankfurt tradition of critical theory. The question posed a special challenge to Theodor W. Adorno, not least because as a theorist schooled in Marxism, he resisted the bourgeois and Schopenhauerian-mystical notion that music is “absolute” and therefore beyond all social determination, even while as a musician himself—he studied...

    • Marxism and Alterity: Claude Lefort and the Critique of Totality
      (pp. 99-116)
      Samuel Moyn

      On 3 May 1961, in the evening, as he prepared his lesson for the next day at the Collège de France, the institution at the summit of French intellectual life where he had taught for almost a decade, Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s heart stopped.¹ He was fifty-three years old. Though devastated by his teacher’s untimely death, Claude Lefort, who became Merleau-Ponty’s literary executor and editor as well as a fundamentally important philosopher himself, offered a memorial essay inLes Temps modernesthat has not been recognized as a pivotal document in twentieth-century French thought. Yet it is, in retrospect. From the constant...

    • The Return of the King: Hegelianism and Post-Marxism in Zizek and Nancy
      (pp. 117-136)
      Warren Breckman

      There is a certain irony in the fact that Martin Jay’sMarxism and Totalityappeared in 1984, the year when real historical time overtook George Orwell’s dystopian totalitarian future. For all the fanfare with which the media greeted the arrival of Orwell’s portentous year, his prophetic vision seemed wide of the mark when measured against the real 1984. Though one would not want to understate the reality of the Soviet bloc’s repressive politics at a time when no one yet foresaw communism’s imminent collapse, the USSR in the wake of Brezhnev was a far cry from the Stalinist regime that...

    • Paradigm Shift: The Speculation of Downcast Eyes
      (pp. 137-148)
      Rosalind Krauss

      Most commentators on the upheavals wrought by poststructuralism’s attack on the determinacy of meaning focused on the impact of postwar deconstructionist discourse, characterized as the onset of epistemic relativism or the pronouncement of an irreducible interpretive undecidability for the act of criticism.

      Martin Jay’sDowncast Eyesshifted this terrain to the rise of what he named “anti-ocularism,” subtitling his book “The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought.” Indeed,Downcast Eyespronounced the fact of a twentieth-century “paradigm shift”—the result of a movement of the conceptual tectonic plates that undermined the Renaissance’s powerful epistemological model, based on perspective, by...

  7. Part II: Violence, Memory, Identity

    • Memory Culture at an Impasse: Memorials in Berlin and New York
      (pp. 151-161)
      Andreas Huyssen

      In the course of the past two decades, memory culture and memory politics have become genuinely transnational, if not global. From South Africa to Argentina and Chile, from Bosnia and Kosovo to Rwanda, historical trauma and human rights violations have emerged as privileged sites of public commemoration in the work of architects, academics, artists, and writers. Truth Commissions have been founded, and in countries such as Argentina and Chile, the courts have recently become active after a prolonged period of quiescence about the state terror of the Cold War period. With increasing frequency, nations have turned to their darker, often...

    • Against Grandiloquence: “Victim’s Culture” and Jewish Memory
      (pp. 162-182)
      Carolyn J. Dean

      The term post-Holocaust refers to a sixty-year period and an array of debates, theological, autobiographical, and philosophical texts, polemics against the “Shoah business,” and theoretical discussions of “postmemory.” Over the last few decades, those discussions have been framed by accusations of an alleged “‘surplus of talk’—companion to the surfeit of memory” that philosopher Berel Lang argues now characterizes attitudes toward “Holocaust representation.”¹ At its best, this discourse thoughtfully asks how Jews and others can most substantively engage the past in the context of “too much” memory; at its worst, it accuses Jewish organizations of fostering a “Holocaust Industry” to...

    • Paris, Capital of Anti-fascism
      (pp. 183-209)
      Anson Rabinbach

      Since the fall of communism, the intensity of debates over the legacy of anti-fascism is to no small degree the result of the fact that there has never been a consensus about the historical role of anti-fascism. Unlike Italian Fascism and German National Socialism, which were defeated and discredited militarily and politically in 1945, anti-fascism emerged from the war with its reputation enhanced by the aura of resistance movements and the Soviet victory. Postwar European communist parties and regimes, especially in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), drew their legitimacy from the sacrifices of heroes and martyrs who became the touchstone...

    • Toward a Critique of Violence
      (pp. 210-241)
      Dominick LaCapra

      Among the many farfetched aspects of my famous or infamous epigraph is the inchoate idea (could it be called instrumental?) that it is somehow a mark of distinction, if not elevating or even redemptive, to “dream” that random acts of violence may cause the downfall of a debased sociopolitical and cultural system. Evident as well is the conjunction of traumatizing violence and a sublimely abyssal “gleam of light … deep within us.” Breton expresses the fascination of figurations of violence that have played a prominent but differential role in the more or less symptomatic thought of noteworthy modern Western thinkers....

    • Democratization, Turks, and the Burden of German History
      (pp. 242-267)
      Rita Chin

      After the collapse of the Third Reich, democratization represented perhaps the most urgent political and ideological task facing West Germans. Both the ideal of democracy (liberty, equality, popular representation) and its concrete institutions (a constitution and popularly elected representative bodies) promised to act as bulwarks against repeating the barbarity of the Nazi dictatorship. By the mid 1980s, when the Federal Republic began to mark the fortieth anniversaries surrounding the war’s end, many Germans—first and foremost, Chancellor Helmut Kohl—believed that the process of democratization was largely complete. West Germany, they argued, had demonstrated its unwavering commitment to the fraternity...

    • West German Generations and the Gewaltfrage: The Conflict of the Sixty-Eighters and the Forty-Fivers
      (pp. 268-296)
      A. Dirk Moses and Elliot Neaman

      Die Gewaltfrage—the question of violence—haunted West Germans in the 1960s despite the fact that the country was at peace. As might be expected, the memories and consequences of the Second World War remained palpable. Over five million German soldiers had fallen between 1939 and 1945, more than half of them in the final year of hostilities, while tens of thousands of women suffered horrific sexual abuse at the hands of Soviet occupation forces. Over 500,000 civilians were killed in allied bombing and, of the 14 million Germans expelled from central and eastern Europe, 1.71 million perished.¹ Hundreds of...

  8. Part III: Critical Theory and Global Politics

    • From “the Dialectic of Enlightenment” to “the Origins of Totalitarianism” and the Genocide Convention: Adorno and Horkheimer in the Company of Arendt and Lemkin
      (pp. 299-330)
      Seyla Benhabib

      Martin Jay has devoted his distinguished career to articulating that unique blend of philosophical analysis and social-scientific research that we have since come to characterize as “The Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School.”¹ Jay’s early book,The Dialectical Imagination,conveyed the originality and depth of this project to a generation of graduate students and young scholars.² And it contributed in no small measure to the decision of many of us to go to Germany to study this tradition. This was certainly the case for me in going to the Max Planck Institute in Starnberg to study with Jürgen Habermas from...

    • The Anti-totalitarian Left between Morality and Politics
      (pp. 331-345)
      Dick Howard

      Martin Jay introduces his study ofMarxism and Totalitywith a “topography of Western Marxism” that concludes with some remarks about what he calls the “generation of 1968.”¹ They were a “distinct generation of nondogmatically leftist intellectuals,” in whose number he counts himself. Similarly, in the Introduction to a collection of his essays published two years later,² he explains that although he wanted to move beyond Critical Theory to other projects, “I was drawn back into its orbit.” The reason for this continued appeal was first of all intellectual curiosity, because he was “never certain that Marxism, Western or otherwise,...

    • Sovereign Equality vs. Imperial Right: The Battle over the “New World Order”
      (pp. 346-367)
      Jean L. Cohen

      The nature and direction of the international system is hotly contested today. Developments since the last decade of the twentieth century suggest to some that the organizing principle of international society—the principle of sovereign equality entrenched in the UN Charter system—has become anachronistic.¹ Reform proposals are proliferating and, given the high stakes, the theoretical and political assumptions informing them are well worth the attention of critical theorists.²

      There are certainly important changes that indicate the need for legal and institutional reform in the international domain. The proliferation of new threats to international peace and security coming from civil...

    • The Myths of Modern Identity as Ersatz Ideologies
      (pp. 368-382)
      Detlev Claussen and Michael Werz

      Whether directly experienced or not, we all have in our mind’s eye the images of a surprisingly changed world—the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Twin Towers. These two events mark unmistakably the beginning of a new era, one with enormous uncertainties. The social changes of the last twenty years have altered the globe so fundamentally that one would almost think the old world views have come crashing down. But the images that humans create in response to conditions change more slowly than the conditions themselves—and yet they are also a component of them....

  9. Part IV: Coda

    • Ten Questions for Martin Jay
      (pp. 385-392)

      Your book,The Dialectical Imagination,was first published in 1973 and it launched your scholarly career; that’s about thirty-five years ago now. That book and subsequent work in the following decade, e.g.,Marxism and Totality,and the Adorno book for the “Modern Masters” series, expressed a certain fidelity to the Western Marxist tradition, and implied that you harbored a certain faith in the longevity and even the validity of a perspective we might broadly describe as “critical theory.” Do you think that your turn toward other themes in more recent work—the French critique of ocularcentrism, the discourses of experience,...

    • Publications of Martin Jay
      (pp. 393-403)
    • Doctoral Students Directed by Martin Jay
      (pp. 404-404)
    • Contributors
      (pp. 405-409)
    • Index
      (pp. 410-417)