The aesthetics of radical critique : Kant or the dialectic and revolution



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University of Cape Town

This dissertation attempts to account for the paralysis of Adorno and Horkheimer's Dialectic of Enlightenment, and thus of radical critique in relation to practice in general. It begins by demonstrating that there is a methodological problem in the connection of the dialectical method to Adorno and Horkheimer's philosophy of history, which posits Enlightenment both as break with the history of reason, and as ahistorical concept of that history. The dissertation takes as its point of departure their discussion of Kant, as exemplary Enlightenment thinker. I will use Martin Jay's The Dialectical Imagination and Axel Honneth's Critique of Power- Reflective Stages in a Critical Social Theory here. The strategy of the next section is to rehistoricise Kant's thought and thus the Enlightenment within its historical moment. This follows a close reading of Kant's political philosophy in his' An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?' and 'Contest of the Faculties' to show that Kant poses the problem of the morality versus politics in terms inseparable from his historical context: the emergence of the Modem state, and the French revolution. Two solutions to this problem present themselves within Kant's separation of public and private uses of reason. Public and private anticipates the Modem separation of state and civil society: 'moral-political' problem is thus solved by 'publicity', which plays a mediating role. A subtextual reading however, proposes that the public/private split refers to an internalisation of the political principle in what Etienne Balibar calls the 'citizen subject'. We will use Balibar's paper, ""Citizen Subject"", to show that the 'citizen subject' of Modernity emerges with the French revolution. Finally, these two possible solutions to the Kantian moral-political problem will be mapped to the political philosophical models of power of Hannah Arendt and Jürgen Habermas, and Michel Foucault respectively. Foucault's model of 'disciplinary' power will be connected to the 'citizen subject' while Habermas and Arendt's normative conceptions of publicness in their juridico-political models of power will be mapped to the first solution based on the dualism state/civil society. I will make use of Cohen and Arato's Civil Society and Political Theory, as well as various other secondary texts on political philosophy here. The last section will work out more clearly the relationship between Foucault's genealogical critique, the 'citizen subject' and the French revolution. It will show the similarity between Foucault's genealogy and the dialectical method in relation to Kant's historical reflection on his own present. To work out the conditions of this mode of what we will call radical critique of the present by Kant, and its basis on a Modern philosophy of history we will turn to Hannah Arendt's reading of Kant's political philosophy from his Aesthetics. Here Reinhart Koselleck' s Futures Past - On the Semantics of Historical Time will prove instructive on the link between Kant's philosophy of history, based on the metahistorical concept of revolution and Kant's judgement of the French revolution as historical event. The main thesis of this dissertation is that the radical critique of the present, in this case that of Foucault's genealogy and the dialectical philosophy of history of Adorno and Horkheimer are caught up in the same contradictions as Kant's radical judgement of the French revolution; and that this problem takes on an aesthetic form .

Bibliography: leaves 100-108.