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Dialectics Beyond Dialectics

Translated by Cain Elliott and Jan Burzyński

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Malgorzata Kowalska

Dialectics beyond Dialectics is a study of contemporary French philosophy from Bataille to Derrida. It analyses, on the first level of generalization, the decomposition of Hegelianism understood as philosophy of totality. Many French philosophers of the 20 th century deconstruct Hegelian dialectics and harshly criticize the very idea of totality as either dangerous or impossible. The thesis of the book is that, on doing so, they do not really break with dialectics, but transform it. On the second level of generalization, the issue of the book is modernity and the thesis is that transformations of dialectics reveal transformations of modern consciousness which – despite hasty declarations on the end of modernity – still remains ours.
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Chapter 2: The Impossible Totality

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Chapter 2

The Impossible Totality

In considering totality insufficient, Bataille and Lévinas recognized ipso facto that it is possible, or even necessarily, and on a certain level – the level of history, understood as a history of projects and works – intransgressible. In order to transgress it, one needs to assume a position beyond history: either in the intimacy of one’s own interior, or in eschatological, ethical-religious relations with the Other. However, the assertion that totality is insufficient – which is to say, the assertion that it not only does not include everything, but that it also does not include that which is essential and crucial – leads to the conclusion that what is at stake here is, in fact, not so much totality as a part, or, at any rate, a finite totality, encompassed or surrounded by infinity. We might therefore say, at least for Bataille and Lévinas, that totality in the Hegelian sense, the absolute totality conceptualized as the synthesis of finitude and infinity, is impossible.

But does the impossibility of absolute totality also make the totality of history impossible? Situating Hegelian totality on the side of historical finitude, without denying its claim to be a totality, Bataille and Lévinas might have been inconsistent. Does a totality, which is full of “holes” carved out by infinity, deserve to be called totality? After all, it is not the case that infinity merely encompasses or surrounds finitude, as I have previously indicated. If infinity were...

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