Essays in Everyday Utopianism
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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