This course offers an overview of radical European philosophy broadly themed around the interrelated problematics of alienation and estrangement. Delivered by Daniel Lopez (La Trobe University), with support from guest presenters and collaborators, weeks one through six will discuss Hegel before moving through Marx to Nietzsche. Week seven will consider Georg Simmel before turning to the paradigmatic understandings of reification proposed firstly by Georg Lukács, and then, by Benjamin and Adorno. Finally, Week eleven will turn to Heidegger, while week twelve will consider the concept of fetishism within French Marxism, with reference specifically to Ranciere and Balibar.
This course will introduce the thought of the above philosophers by structuring discussion around the related problems of objectification, estrangement, alienation, valuelessness, nihilism, reification, fetishism and so on. It is acknowledged that these concepts are far from stable or synonymous within and between the thought worlds of the philosophers under examination. Nor is it assumed that the presenters are united in their understanding of these broad problematics. Given this, each week will pose the following questions: how does the philosopher in question diagnose estrangement or alienation and how do they propose to overcome it, if at all? It is hoped that the resultant conceptual tensions and affinities will provide a useful and relevant entry-point into the work of some of the most influential thinkers of 19th and 20th century radical thought. It is intended that political, social, interpersonal, economic, cultural, historical and philosophical understandings of alienation and estrangement will emerge.
The course will conclude with a symposium in which presenters will give brief papers suggesting closing questions and remarks. This will create both an opportunity to bring the different ideas presented in the course into dialogue and open a space for dialogue and critical reflection between presenters and participants.
This course is aimed at a fourth-year or postgraduate level. As many of the texts are challenging, some time commitment is required. A background in continental philosophy or social or critical theory is an advantage but by no means necessary. Daniel Lopez will coordinate this course, delivering five seminars while introducing and co-facilitating the remaining seven. Seminars will be two hours in duration, with a break. They will include presentations and, where appropriate, close readings of set texts and excerpts. The focus will be on primary texts, although key secondary texts will be recommended where they are found to be illuminating.
Dr Daniel Lopez (La Trobe University)
Guest presenters (to contribute one seminar):
- Gene Flenady (Monash University)
- Sadia Schneider (Independent researcher)
- Michael Lazarus (Monash University)
- Jesse Lambourn (Monash University)
- Lawrence Bradford (Monash University)
- Emma Black (Independent researcher, MSCP)
- Darren Roso (Independent researcher)
Week 1. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit: Absolute Separation and Reconciliation
The first week will begin by introducing Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, by way of its famous Preface and Introduction. Subsequent to this, an overview of the structure of the work, as well as a few of its key moments (for example, the famous dialectic of mastery and servitude) will be provided before turning, in the second half of the seminar, to Hegel’s critique of Christianity in the section entitled “Revealed Religion.” Eschewing voluminous interpretive debates, this seminar will instead engage in a close reading in order to frame some of the problematics that will be developed throughout this course. It will be argued that Hegel’s philosophy aims at the overcoming of intellectual estrangement (or, representative thinking) and that his concept of philosophy is a viewpoint and practice which moves from immediacy to reconciliation, via absolute estrangement and an “inwardising recollection” of a dialectical-conceptual progression. The resultant standpoint is that of Absolute Knowledge. This seminar will lay groundwork for week two, which considers The Science of Logic, while also preparing us for later weeks by outlining the thought of a philosopher who profoundly influenced (either positively or negatively) every other thinker discussed in this course.
Important note: Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit is rightly regarded as one of the most difficult texts in modern philosophy. Although the set sections appear short, generous patience and time are recommended in approaching them!
- G.W.F. Hegel (trans. Terry Pinkard) The Phenomenology of Spirit, “Preface”, pp. 1-34, “Introduction” pp. 35-43, and Section C (CC) Religion, VII, “C: Revealed Religion”, pp. 337-356.
- Werner Marx, Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit: A Commentary Based on the Preface and Introduction, University of Chicago Press, 1988.
Week 2. Hegel’s Science of Logic: The Unity of Thought and Being
Daniel Lopez, with Gene Flenady
The second week will follow Hegel’s phenomenological account of social estrangement by delving into his mature metaphysics, as presented in The Science of Logic. For Hegel, modern philosophy’s claim that thought and being are fundamentally alien to one another is a reflection of – and a contribution to – the social estrangement characteristic of modernity in general. For both Hume and Kant, thought is estranged from being insofar as mind-independent reality is cognitively inaccessible: thinking is merely our thinking, a habitual response to contingent sense-impressions or an ultimately arbitrary conceptual imposition on such impressions. Against this, the Logic takes the inaccessibility of being to be an uncritically accepted presupposition that ignores what is immediately obvious: thought is; thought is in being. From this non-dualistic point of departure, Hegel’s Logic reconstructs the most basic categories of thought as simultaneously ways of being, ultimately mounting a sustained critique of reductively mechanistic explanations of human life.
- G.W.F. Hegel (trans. George Di Giovanni), The Science of Logic, “With What Must the Beginning of Science be Made?”, pp. 45-57; “Being”, pp. 59-60.
- Stephen Houlgate, The Opening of Hegel’s Logic, pp. 9-28.
Week 3. Political alienation: Marx’s Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right and On the Jewish Question
Marx, in his early years, was shaped as much by Hegel as he was by debates within the intellectual milieu that came to be known as the Young Hegelians. At risk of anachronism, we may suggest that his first distinctively “Marxist” work was his 1843 manuscript known as “A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right.” In this work, as well as in “On the Jewish Question”, Marx developed a critique of political alienation (in response to Hegel’s philosophy of law and the radical French constitution of 1793) which pointed towards civil society and political economy as the occluded foundations for modern politics. Subsequently, in the famous 1844 “Introduction” to his critique of Hegel’s philosophy of right, Marx named the proletariat, as the embodiment of negativity (qua propertylessness) as the bearer of communism. This seminar will discuss these texts in light of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right in order to suggest the political foundation of Marx’s project.
- Karl Marx, MECW vol. 3, “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law” (excerpts), “On the Jewish Question,” pp. 146-174 and “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law. Introduction”, pp. 175-187.
- W. F. Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right (excerpts).
- Peter Hudis, Marx’s Concept of the Alternative to Capitalism, pp. 43-92.
Week 4. Alienation in The 1844 Manuscripts and beyond
Daniel Lopez, with Sadia Schneider
Marx’s disavowal of Hegelian philosophy initiated a tumultuous and extraordinarily productive period in his life’s work. Having divested himself from the radical idealism he associated with Bruno Bauer and other Young Hegelians, Marx sought – via Feuerbach and others – a more practical and material basis upon which to found the critique of political economy and a revolutionary political project. The key document of this period is the famous Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. This text will be considered alongside excerpts from The German Ideology and the famous “Theses on Feuerbach”, not in order to construct some monumental or unitary Marxism, but rather, to demonstrate the openness and multi-sidedness of Marx’s thought in this period. The concepts of labor, sense perception, nature, social relations and production all vie for primacy in these unfinished early texts, opening multiple and rich interpretations of Marx’s theory of alienation and proposed solution(s).
- Karl Marx, MECW vol. 3, The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, pp. 229-326
- Karl Marx, MECW vol. 5, “The German Ideology,” excerpts, “Theses on Feuerbach”, pp. 3-11, and other excerpts.
- György Márkus, “Marxism and Anthropology: The Concept of 'Human Essence' in the Philosophy of Marx.”
Week 5. Form and fetish in Marx’s ‘mature’ writings
Daniel Lopez, with Michael Lazarus
Marx’s mature period demonstrates the full force of his critical theory. This seminar will argue that his late period continues the themes of his earlier writings (alienation and ‘species-being’), on a new level of sophistication. Marx’s conceptualisation of capital employs a dialectical logic that understands the composition of social relations by an immanent critique of economic categories. He charts these relations in social forms (commodity, money, capital), dialectical unities which shape the domination of human labour in capitalist society. From the Grundrisse and Capital to the lesser known “Critical Notes on Adolph Wagner”, this week focuses on how Marx’s understanding of the fetish character of the commodity form is essential to an ongoing critique of capital.
- Karl Marx, Grundrisse, trans. Martin Nicolaus, 83-111, (further excerpts).
- Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1, trans. Ben Fowkes, pp. 125-177, 283-306, 948-1085.
- Karl Marx, ‘Critical Notes on Adolph Wagner’.
Week 6. Nietzsche: nihilism, the superman and the eternal return
Nietzsche’s philosophy represents a startling, novel, heterogeneous, sometimes beautiful and sometimes repulsive consideration of the problems of meaninglessness, nihilism, value-creation, revolution and reconciliation. This seminar will being with Nietzsche’s analysis of Apollonian culture and his call for a Dionysian rupture in The Birth of Tragedy before turning to focus primarily on Thus Spoke Zarathustra as well as complementary passages from Beyond Good and Evil. A reading of Nietzsche will be presented which foregrounds both the superman and the eternal return, placing these troubling and difficult concepts into opposition with each other in order to generate a discussion about Nietzsche’s distinctively cultural and psychological attempt to found a new philosophy capable of revaluing all European values.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy (excerpts), Penguin Books, 1993.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, “Zarathustra’s Prologue”, pp. 39-53, plus excerpts from: “Zarathustra’s Discourses,” “Part Two,” “Part Three,” “Part Four”, Penguin Books, 2003.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, (excerpts).
- Robert Pippin (ed.), Introductions to Nietzsche, Raymond Geuss, “Nietzsche: The Birth of Tragedy”, pp. 44-67 and Robert Pippin, “Nietzsche: Thus Spoke Zarathustra”, pp. 152-178.
- Martin Heidegger, “Who is Nietzsche’s Zarathustra?” in The Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 20, No. 3 (Mar., 1967), pp. 411-431
Week 7. Reification in the social theory of Georg Simmel
Georg Simmel’s diagnoses of the conflicts, life-styles and tragedies of modern culture are startlingly prescient and vibrant. This seminar will consider two of his most famous essays before discussing excerpts from The Philosophy of Money and a chapter from his final work, The View of Life. This will highlight cultural and sociological dimensions of objectification, fragmentation and reification while also considering an alternative explanatory paradigm to that which is usually proposed within Marxian thought. Simmel’s work is paradigmatic of the sophisticated, perceptive and often tragic intellectual universe of fin de siècle neo-Kantian, anti-positivist social theory. Thus, Simmel will form a bridge between Marx and Nietzsche – a bridge that leads to Georg Lukács and 20th century Critical Theory. His late turn to what might has been described as “vitalism” is a key influence on Heidegger and will also be discussed.
- Georg Simmel, (Mike Featherstone, ed.) Simmel on Culture, “On the Concept and the Tragedy of Culture”, pp. 55-75, “The Metropolis and Mental Life”, pp. 174-186.
- Georg Simmel, The Philosophy of Money (excerpts)
- Georg Simmel, The View of Life, “I. Life as Transcendence.”
- Max Weber, “Science as Vocation”
Week 8. Georg Lukács’s philosophy of praxis
Lukács was the most important philosopher in the Marxian tradition after Marx. This seminar will consider his famous essay “Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat.” This essay, a creative synthesis of Hegel, Marx and neo-Kantian philosophy and social theory, may be credited with establishing the paradigmatic Marxian and Critical Theoretical understanding of the concept of reification. Lukács’s philosophy of praxis – which will be assembled in outline via the rest of his 1920s work - remains one of the most radical attempts to overcome the tragic fate of a reified society. It will be argued that Lukács, in the spirit of Marx, sought a concept of political practice that could bear the weight of Hegel’s concept of the Absolute. It will be argued that this failed, resulting in precisely the type of “conceptual mythology” that Lukács sought to avoid. Yet, the failure of Lukács’s philosophy of praxis produced both a space for 20th century critical theory and, it will be argued, for a return to Hegelian philosophy.
- Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness: “Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat”, pp. 83-222, Merlin Press, 1967.
- Georg Lukács, Tactics and Ethics, “‘Intellectual Workers’ and the Problem of Intellectual Leadership”, pp. 12-18.
- Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Adventures of the Dialectic, “Western Marxism”, pp. 30-58, Northwestern University Press, 1973.
- Daniel Lopez, “The conversion of Georg Lukács” (in Jacobin - link) and “Lukács – the antinomies of bourgeois philosophy and the absolute” (forthcoming in Thesis Eleven; a .pdf will be made available)
Week 9. Remembrance and redemption in Benjamin’s concept of history
Daniel Lopez, with Jesse Lambourn
Walter Benjamin’s Marxist philosophy is marked by its formation at the moment of a great historical turning point. With the failure of Lukács’ philosophical project behind him, and the impending catastrophe of fascism ahead, Benjamin’s historical materialism insists upon the possibility of redemption for humanity and the power to ‘brush history against the grain’. This seminar will examine Benjamin’s “On the Concept of History”, foregrounding its Marxian dimension. These revolutionary theses call upon radical philosophy to wrest a tradition from the conformism that subdues it. It will be argued that this call to summon the force of the past echoes in our own historical moment.
- Walter Benjamin (trans. Harry Zohn), Illuminations, “On the Concept of History”
- Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, excerpts.
- Gillian Rose, The Melancholy Science, pp. 27-51, Macmillan, 1978
Week 10. Reification in the work of T.W. Adorno
Daniel Lopez, with Lawrence Bradford
The dualities of bourgeois society identified by Lukács in his metacritique of idealist philosophy also structure reification for Adorno. For Adorno, reified experience is a distortion of subject-object interaction in which the subject adopts an instrumental relation, rather than a responsive one, to other things. Co-authored by Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment (DE) aims to investigate the self-destruction of the Enlightenment, whereby instrumental reason uses formal logic and mathematics to make the whole world calculable, and hence comparable and unitary. Reification in DE occurs when “equivalence itself becomes a fetish” where instrumental thinking “makes dissimilar things comparable by reducing them to abstract quantities.” In Negative Dialectics (ND) reification is presented logically rather substantially as the dominating concept represses the nonidentical object. Identity thinking occurs when we use a concept to pick out an object, and it ties in with instrumental reason as both forms of cognition make unlike things alike.
Reading (in order):
- Horkheimer, Max and Adorno, Theodor W. Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments. Translated by Edmund Jephcott. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002. (Chapter 1: The Concept of Enlightenment, 1-34).
- Theodor W. Adorno. “On the Fetish Character in Music and the Regression of Listening.” In The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture. Edited by J. M. Bernstein. Routledge, 2005.
Further reading (in order):
- Adorno, Theodor W. Negative Dialectics. Translated by E. B. Ashton. New York: Seabury Press, 1973. (excerpts to be provided)
- Bernstein, J.M. “Negative Dialectic as Fate: Adorno and Hegel.” In The Cambridge Companion to Theodor Adorno. Edited by Tom Huhn. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004, 19-50.
- Rose, Gillian. The Melancholy Science. London: Macmillan, 1978. (Chapter 3 The Lament over Reification 27-51)
Week 11. Heidegger: gestell and gelassenheit
Daniel Lopez, with Emma Black
According to Heidegger, modern technology advances independently of human intentions or ends. Our supposed “mastery” over nature is nothing more than a hubristic delusion that serves to perpetuate our subordination to the totalising imperative of progress. In his later work, Heidegger claims that our alienated mode of existence is ontologically determined by Gestell or “enframing”—an understanding of Being that causes the world to reveal itself to us as nothing more than an endless production line. Overcoming our subordination to the totalising imperative of technological progress requires reflecting upon the essence of Being as that which remains irreducible to its modern technological reification. Heidegger refers to this reflective activity as Gelassenheit or “releasement”—a non-willing, meditative openness to the mystery. While Heidegger provides us with a compelling description of the experience of reified consciousness, his ontological analysis of its origins, and his prescriptions for its overcoming, are ultimately insufficient. In this lecture, I will argue that as long as we remain incapable of cognitively understanding that which causes alienation, we remain incapable of practically transforming it.
- Martin Heidegger (1977). “The Question Concerning Technology” In W. Lovitt (Trans.), The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays (pp. 3-35). New York: Harper.
- Martin Heidegger (1977). “The Turning” In W. Lovitt (Trans.), The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays (pp. 36-49). New York: Harper.
Secondary Reading (suggested):
- Brassier, R. (2014). Prometheanism and Its Critics. In R. Mackay & A. Avanessian (Eds.), #Accelerate: The Accelerationist Reader (pp. 467–489). Falmouth, UK: Urbanomic.
- Lucien Goldmann, Lukács and Heidegger: Towards a New Philosophy, Routledge, 1977.
Week 12: The concept of fetishism in French Marxism
Daniel Lopez, with Darren Roso
The theory of commodity fetishism has been developed in many different traditions of critical Marxist theory, not least of all, those emerging in France in the latter part of the 20th Century. Indeed, despite Althusser’s famous hostility to the historicism, humanism and associated problematics implied by the idea of fetishism, in recent decades, French Marxism has returned to it. As Balibar claimed in The Philosophy of Marx, the analysis of fetishism has contributed to various discussions of the phenomenology of “everyday life,” as well as to those theorists who discovered the structuring of the social imaginary by the language of money and the law. This seminar will therefore will explore the earlier contributions concerning the concept of fetishism that emerged in the first Althusserian circle and from other dissident theorists like Jean Marie Vincent, before finishing with and introduction to contemporary debates, with a focus on the collection of essays in La reification (Frederic Monferrand, Alexis Cukier and Vincent Chanson).
- Jacques Rancière, Reading Capital, “Part Two: The Concept of Critique and the Critique of Political Economy: From the 1844 Manuscripts to Capital”, 1965.
- Etienne Balibar Philosophy of Marx. “Chapter Three: Ideology or Fetishism: Power and Subjection.”
Concluding Event: Symposium
This symposium will round out this 12 week course by giving each presenter the opportunity to deliver a short, 15 minute paper containing concluding remarks and questions. This is intended to cultivate a space for further reflection and questioning and to allow the different philosophers and traditions that have been considered to enter into dialogue, by way of discussion between students and presenters.
This will be followed by an informal social event (dinner and drinks). Details to follow.
- Daniel Lopez: “Gillian Rose’s Hegel: Death, mourning and the broken middle”
- Gillian Rose, Mourning Becomes the Law,“Athens and Jerusalem: a tale of three cities”, “Beginnings of the day: Fascism and representation”, “The comedy of Hegel and the Trauerspeil of modern philosophy” and “O! untimely death. / Death!”