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Weak Messianism

Essays in Everyday Utopianism


Michael Gardiner

This volume explores the connection between two phenomena usually thought to be utterly incongruous, even antithetical: ‘utopia’ and ‘everyday life’. It presents a series of essays, written over the last twenty years, which rethink the nature and prospects of utopianism in a world that has grown increasingly sceptical as to the possibility of systemic socio-political transformation in a positive direction. Through critical interdisciplinary engagements with a wide variety of thinkers ranging from Mikhail Bakhtin to Henri Lefebvre and beyond, many of whom are often read as anti-utopian figures, the essays argue that it is possible to locate utopian promises buried deep within the embodied rituals, practices and symbolic forms associated with everyday existence, in a manner that reveals the essential openness of the present day to momentous future change.


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Chapter 2 ‘A Very Understandable Horror of Dialectics’: Bakhtin and Merleau-Ponty


1 Philosophy must give ear to an older wisdom that speaks in a living language. — Hans-Georg Gadamer (Gadamer 1989: 99) Lamentably, almost everyone in the world today is a Marxist – even if they don’t know it themselves. They continue to have Marxist ideas. — Generalissimo Augusto Pinochet (cited in Anderson 1998: 44) Introduction Two of the more unexpected events of 1998 included the New Yorker magazine naming Karl Marx as the most significant thinker of the dawn- ing 21st century, and the prominent display of a new, 150th-anniversary edition of The Communist Manifesto in upscale Wall Street bookstores, rendered in eye-catching design by the leftist publisher Verso. Yet despite such f lashes of interest in Marx – call it ‘radical nostalgia,’ as opposed to ‘radical chic’ – one would be hard-pressed to describe the last two decades as favourably disposed towards Marxism. In particular, postmodernist theories have been exceedingly hostile towards the philosophical inher- itance of Hegel and Marx, especially the dialectical method. Recourse to dialectics is often associated with grand, totalising social theory and a ‘foundationalist’ epistemology, of an approach that assumes arrogantly that the essential structure of society, and the overarching sequence of historical development, can be described and analysed with what Marx 86 Chapter 2 himself called the ‘precision of the natural sciences’. For the postmodern- ists, the dialectical method claims a privileged insight into the underlying mechanisms of social change, and is likened to crystal-ball gazing, a form of sociological mysticism that, along with other misbegotten Enlightenment metanarratives,...

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