The calculus of individual worth

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Today is possibly not the day for theory. It may have been possible once – or at least we might have been lured into a certain luxury – to believe that theorizing was not a violent indulgence occurring at the expense of practice. Those days seem to be over. We are not facing local or delimited crises that demand some reflection on an otherwise healthy polity. For many, there is no longer any politics: Either circumstances of environmental and financial catastrophe are so intense that we have abandoned urbane reflection and adopted a state of emergency (necessary to avert chaos)1 or the sense of a state of emergency has been used to reduce what ought to be a political and deliberative life to a system of bureaucratic management that has closed down any sense that our system of government and law originally emerges from practice and decision.2 The world we live in today is ambivalent in its post-theoretical malaise (Elliot and Attridge 2010). We are post-theory in a desirable sense, for we feel threats to human and organic life far too intensely: These threats demand more than reflection and distanced scrutiny. But the condition of the post-theoretical is also deemed to be lamentable; whereas we might once have argued that denying theory was really a way of asserting the universality of one’s own theory (and therefore one’s own politics) – because we all know that perception and experience are ‘theory laden’ – experience is now at, deemed to be devoid of sense, ‘life-world’ or framing.3 In part, Paul de Man is blamed for this sense of theory as mere theory, a sense that ought to be overcome (it is argued) by grounding theory in politics, which (in turn) would be a genuine sense of radical history: For de Man, representation could only ever be self-representation, and its ironic component could only ever be an aspect of individual consciousness, or personality. In political terms, this is the basis of a certain kind of ‘democracy’, identified as that which underpins the bourgeois individualism of the so-called ‘free’ democracies, paradigmatically America. But the political question of representation is potentially more complex than this, especially if we shift form the de Manic position which is founded on the centrality of homogeneous self-identity towards a position based more on the heterogeneity of alterity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationTheory and the Disappearing Future
Subtitle of host publicationOn de Man, on Benjamin
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages23
ISBN (Electronic)9781136657375
ISBN (Print)9780415604529
StatePublished - Jan 1 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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