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Re: Assessing Habermas's Influence

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  • matthew_piscioneri
    Hi Ken, List: great reply Ken. The Zizek perspective makes me want to read more. Question is Ken how much of this stuff is in YOUR thesis, and how much can I
    Message 1 of 13 , Jul 4, 2002
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      Hi Ken, List:

      great reply Ken. The Zizek perspective makes me want to read more.
      Question is Ken how much of this stuff is in YOUR thesis, and how
      much can I "pinch" ? :-)

      > The problem is, I think Habermas sees the universal in what is,
      objectively,
      > particular. The liberal-democratic field is a particular hegemonic
      vision.
      > What is universal, on the flip, is the reality of distorted
      communication,
      > 'the symptom.' The universal condition of communication is its
      failure, not
      > its success. The idea of undistored communication is a red herring,
      > undistorted for who? We have to ask the question: who gets to talk?
      > Communication is never unlimited, so there is always a speaker.
      Even the
      > purest form of discourse, all the men [sic] sitting around the
      table engaged
      > in rational argumentation, is still subject to... yes... a master.
      I'd be
      > interested to know about ANY organization that is "fully
      democratic" - where
      > there simply is no 'leadership' - and communication is spontaneous
      and
      > transparent. Even in the affinity group model, there is usually
      someone with
      > a plan, who is working to get the agenda through, and usually there
      is an
      > unacnkowledged 'piece' that holds the puzzled team together (why do
      > coalitions tend to fall apart when certain 'key' members leave?).
      Call it
      > charisma or simple shyness, there is always a 'master' - however
      shadowy
      > this might be. All of this speaks to the reality of distortion, not
      > universalization. In fact, the more pure discourse becomes, the more
      > exclusive it will be.

      I have often wondered why Habermas shies away from sociolinguistic
      researches. Probably because it tells him things (like the above)
      that he doesn't want to hear. But, to be fair if not forgiving,
      Habermas makes no bones about the provisionality of his communication
      theoretic as work-in-progress; about its highly meta-theoretical
      status. So too much real stuff i.e. how actual discourse happens
      bounces off Habermas's self-understanding of his project to some
      degree methinks.

      --------------------------------------------------------
      It sounds as if Zizek doesn't have a nasty bone in his body...those
      poor little misundersttod and over programmed masses. My daze(sic)of
      lionizing the great unwashed have been modified. It is patronizing
      not to project some degree of autonomy i.e. a choice to be subjected,
      and it is harsh not to understand this choice given the existential
      chill of our lives on the third rock from the sun.

      > One of the things that Zizek points out to be characteristic of
      liberal
      > democracy is its capacity to 'universalize the victim.' The idea of
      the
      > 'immature and lazy' etc is a vision of folks who have chosen to be
      immature,
      > lazy etc. If it can be demonstrated, however, that these
      circumstances were
      > not of their choosing (i.e.. conditions violate the formal
      conditions of lib
      > eral democracy) then the achieve a kind of victim status, which
      EXCUSES
      > people from the pleasure taken in being 'immature and lazy.' Let's
      face it:
      > watching TV all day does contain a kind of painful-pleasure, in the
      same way
      > that acting like an immature twit does. However, by abiding by
      the 'ideal'
      > of liberal democracy, we end up reinforcing these very things,
      because they
      > come to be points of privilege. Not only are the lazy and immature
      not
      > encourage to change their ways, but the mature and active folks are
      > encouraged to stand by and say / do nothing, thus avoiding
      their 'traumatic'
      > encounter with the lazy and the immature, which is secretly their
      desire
      > anyway: does the corporate movie producer desire nothing more than
      to sit
      > back and let everything slide? And is this attitude not one that
      then
      > actively works to sustain, if not create, fields of immaturity and
      laziness?

      It is interesting reading again sections of _TP_ and aspects of
      Habermas's debate with Gadamer on the relationship between the
      enlightener and what Heller calls the target group. I realize it is a
      fairly dated concern but there are still hard core dreamers out there
      who hold onto the notion of some revolutionary other even in wealthy
      societies. My guess is that many anti-globalisers have some
      conception of a target group outside themselves on whose behalf they
      rally.

      Is this stuff (enlightener/target group)pertinent to your thesis Ken,
      and if so where might you stand? As I have mentioned before the focus
      of my work is the motivational factor for the enlightener - the "why"
      of engagement. Later Habermas is such a curley one on this issue
      which is what makes him so interesting. At present I am trying to
      make sense of the view of his theory of communicative action more as
      a metatheory of Critical Theory-as-metatheory of the critical-
      emancipatory project. The "trouble" with this is that rhetorically at
      least claims are made for the practical intention of his work as well
      as for early Critical Theory at least and then surely Marcuse's
      version of late Critical Theory. It is such a categorical tangle
      here. Is Habermas's central claim in the _TCA_ about restoring
      normative foundations *solely* about Critical Theory (Frankfurt
      School) and/or western Marxism also and/or the project of critical
      social theory *in toto* ?

      I am trying to make consistent the thesis that in the _TCA_ the
      domain of application for Habermas's restorative programme is the
      tradition of Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School. My point is
      that Habermas already has undertaken his reconstruction of the more
      general category of historical materialism in the _CES_, for example,
      and by the time of the _TCA_ directly focuses on Horkheimer and
      Adorno's critique of instrumental reason BECAUSE of the emergence of
      the post/anti-modernist forces (and neo-conservatives) as well as the
      political drift to the right that commenced in the late 1970s in the
      FDR.

      Thoughts please.

      MattP
    • Kenneth MacKendrick
      ... From: matthew_piscioneri To: Sent: Thursday, July 04, 2002 1:37 AM Subject: [Habermas] Re: Assessing
      Message 2 of 13 , Jul 4, 2002
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        ----- Original Message -----
        From: "matthew_piscioneri" <mpiscioneri@...>
        To: <habermas@yahoogroups.com>
        Sent: Thursday, July 04, 2002 1:37 AM
        Subject: [Habermas] Re: Assessing Habermas's Influence

        > great reply Ken. The Zizek perspective makes me want to read more.
        > Question is Ken how much of this stuff is in YOUR thesis, and how
        > much can I "pinch" ? :-)

        I'll send references if you want them. As far as I know, no one has
        attempted to think Habermas against Zizek, Zizek against Habermas. Not that
        I'm aiming to be the first but, you know, if it happens, fine (someone will
        do it better just before anything gets to print regardless).

        > I have often wondered why Habermas shies away from sociolinguistic
        > researches. Probably because it tells him things (like the above)
        > that he doesn't want to hear. But, to be fair if not forgiving,
        > Habermas makes no bones about the provisionality of his communication
        > theoretic as work-in-progress; about its highly meta-theoretical
        > status. So too much real stuff i.e. how actual discourse happens
        > bounces off Habermas's self-understanding of his project to some
        > degree methinks.

        "Real" conversations aren't part of Habermas's project. Habermas is always
        looking for the stuff underneath everyday communication, the theoretical
        bits, he's a grand theorists in the best of the Idealist (or, post-Idealist)
        tradition.

        One of the truly great 'missed' encounters is the Habermas-Derrida debate.
        What happens if one takes Derrida and Habermas seriously - at their
        philosophical best, without the kind of sabre rattling that usually goes on
        in both camps. Maybe this 'lack' is precisely the gap the separates them,
        perhaps there is nothing to talk about... Zizek argues that Derrida and
        Habermas are mutually complementary, although they differ significantly...
        that I find interesting (see Looking Awry for an early comparison and Did
        Somebody Say Totalitarianism? [2001] for a recent analysis). But, in some
        respects, we can see the mutual influence. Habermas has focused more and
        more on the 'other' and the inclusion of the other; and Derrida has
        come more and more to acknowledge the normative foundation of communication
        (Specters of Marx, The Politics of Friendship) - although obviously not in a
        Habermasian sense; rather, more as something necessary and impossible.

        > --------------------------------------------------------
        > It sounds as if Zizek doesn't have a nasty bone in his body...those
        > poor little misundersttod and over programmed masses. My daze(sic)of
        > lionizing the great unwashed have been modified. It is patronizing
        > not to project some degree of autonomy i.e. a choice to be subjected,
        > and it is harsh not to understand this choice given the existential
        > chill of our lives on the third rock from the sun.

        Zizek has a great many nasty bones.
        http://www.robertboynton.com/?art_id=4
        (interview)

        > It is interesting reading again sections of _TP_ and aspects of
        > Habermas's debate with Gadamer on the relationship between the
        > enlightener and what Heller calls the target group. I realize it is a
        > fairly dated concern but there are still hard core dreamers out there
        > who hold onto the notion of some revolutionary other even in wealthy
        > societies. My guess is that many anti-globalisers have some
        > conception of a target group outside themselves on whose behalf they
        > rally.

        > Is this stuff (enlightener/target group)pertinent to your thesis Ken,
        > and if so where might you stand?

        I've never even hear of "enlightener / target group." My research has
        strayed from Heller's work. I am a great admirer of Beyond Justice, An
        Ethics of Personality, and A Theory of Modernity... but I'm more of a
        observer at this point.

        Of course, we have this: Habermas argues, not unlike Kant, that the one who
        does not summon up the force to carry out critical reflection lives in a
        state of dependency: the subject "leads an unfree existence, because he does
        not become conscious of his self-reflecting self-activity" (KHI, 208).
        Dogmatism, Habermas remarks, is both a "moral lack" and a "theoretical
        incapacity." Habermas adds, "that is why the idealist is in danger of
        scorning the dogmatist instead of enlightening him" (KHI, 208). The key
        problem for Habermas here involves questions of competence and incompetence
        or deviance and norm-conforming behaviour. Incompetent behaviour violates
        technical rules and leads to the failure to achieve goals, while deviant
        behaviour violates consensual norms (TRS, 91ff).

        And, in the end, I don't think that's my project at this point. The closest
        I come to this is through psychoanalysis: the desire of the analyst, of
        which there is a great deal to be said... although I won't be saying it. If
        you want a quick intro to Lacan and summary of this relation, see Bruce
        Fink, A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis: Theory and
        Technique.

        As I have mentioned before the focus
        > of my work is the motivational factor for the enlightener - the "why"
        > of engagement. Later Habermas is such a curley one on this issue
        > which is what makes him so interesting. At present I am trying to
        > make sense of the view of his theory of communicative action more as
        > a metatheory of Critical Theory-as-metatheory of the critical-
        > emancipatory project. The "trouble" with this is that rhetorically at
        > least claims are made for the practical intention of his work as well
        > as for early Critical Theory at least and then surely Marcuse's
        > version of late Critical Theory. It is such a categorical tangle
        > here. Is Habermas's central claim in the _TCA_ about restoring
        > normative foundations *solely* about Critical Theory (Frankfurt
        > School) and/or western Marxism also and/or the project of critical
        > social theory *in toto* ?

        Habermas is theorizing from within the legacy of Critical Theory. He is
        interested in issues of freedom, happiness, suffering, injustice & etc. The
        *best* book for your project here is Martin Matustik's Jurgen Habermas: A
        Political-Philosophical Profile. If you haven't read it yet, you must not
        tarry, pick it up. As I see it, there are two motivational questions here.
        What is Habermas's motivation and, what is the relationship between theory
        and practice. I'm not really all that interested in Habermas's motivation,
        which is likely the simple result of having your entire world shattered at
        the age of 15, the sudden realization that "everyday life" is in fact
        criminal. Matistik calls this Habermas's "birthday" - since it marks a
        profound awareness. And we can see this 'written' into his theory: "If by
        way of a thought experiment we compress the adolescent phase of growth into
        a single critical instant... [we can see] ... The social world of
        legitimately regulated interpersonal relations, a world to which one was
        naively habituated and which was unproblematically accepted, is abruptly
        deprived of its quasi-natural validity. If the adolescent cannot and does
        not want to go back to the traditionalism and unquestioned identity of his
        past world, he must, on penalty of utter disorientation, reconstruct, at the
        level of basic concepts, the normative orders that his hypothetical gaze has
        destroyed by removing the veil of illusions from them. Using the rubble of
        devalued traditions, traditions that have been recognized to be merely
        conventional and in need of justification, he erects a new normative
        structure that must be solid enough to withstand critical inspection by
        someone who will henceforth distinguish soberly between socially accepted
        norms and valid norms... This unnaturalness is like an echo of the
        developmental catastrophe that historically once devalued the world of
        traditions and thereby provoked efforts to rebuild it a higher level...
        (MCCA, 126-127). This seems to me to be a pretty good (masculine)
        description of the transformation of consciousness that Habermas experienced
        in 1945 - although with him it wasn't a thought experiment. The terms
        "hypothetical gaze has destroyed" - "developmental catastrophe" - and
        "rubble of devalued traditions" seems to me to mirror the postwar
        experience. The fact that the adolescent has to "erect a new normative
        foundation" is part and parcel of the masculinist experience as well -
        imagine that, "withstand critical inspection" - nudge nudge wink wink. He's
        probably appropriating a wee bit of Kohlberg here...

        > I am trying to make consistent the thesis that in the _TCA_ the
        > domain of application for Habermas's restorative programme is the
        > tradition of Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School. My point is
        > that Habermas already has undertaken his reconstruction of the more
        > general category of historical materialism in the _CES_, for example,
        > and by the time of the _TCA_ directly focuses on Horkheimer and
        > Adorno's critique of instrumental reason BECAUSE of the emergence of
        > the post/anti-modernist forces (and neo-conservatives) as well as the
        > political drift to the right that commenced in the late 1970s in the
        > FDR.

        See Matustik. Habermas's engagement with the FS began before TCA. His first
        'encounter' with the FS was his sustained engagement with Marcuse (see TRS).
        He doesn't begin to criticize Adorno until after his death (I forget the
        name of the essay, but after Adorno dies Habermas begins to publish material
        critical of the FSs program).

        If you mean post-modernism when you talk about anti-modernist forces, I
        don't think this is the case. In Autonomy and Solidarity Habermas remarks
        that it was his colleagues that informed him that something was awry over in
        France. So his 'first' engagement really begins after he'd written TCA. I
        think the "Paris Lectures" were given in 1981 (?), which probably means he
        started thinking about this around 1979. It is difficult to say since after
        the student movements of the 60s Habermas withdraws from public debate while
        working through the architecture of his opus and its fallout (TCA, MCCA,
        PDM). This lasts, pretty much, until the Historians Dispute in the mid-80s.
        Since then Habermas has been more of a regular on the political scene: the
        Gulf War, Kosovo, the Asylum debate, Cloning... not that he was ever silent
        or anything, but he engaged in these issues in a more sustained way (I might
        be significantly mistaken about this).

        What sounds troubling in what you've written is perhaps a psychologizing
        aspect... that you are seeking to uncover the motivation of the theorists
        rather than the theory / practice aspects of CT. So, correct me if I'm
        mistaken about this.

        ken
      • matthew_piscioneri
        Ken, It s almost a proof of the worthiness of your research project isn t it. Soemone almost has to beat you to the punch! ... I know it s time to read the
        Message 3 of 13 , Jul 5, 2002
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          Ken,

          It's almost a "proof" of the worthiness of your research project
          isn't it. Soemone almost has to beat you to the punch!

          >(someone will
          > do it better just before anything gets to print regardless).
          -----------------------------------
          I know it's time to read the Matustik book but its a nervous read
          because its either going to support or break aspects of my thesis.

          > See Matustik. Habermas's engagement with the FS began before TCA.
          His first
          > 'encounter' with the FS was his sustained engagement with Marcuse
          (see TRS).

          This is where it gets interesting for me. It is difficult to place
          _KHI_ coherently into this schema. It is possible to read this work
          as a muted critique of H. & A and Marcuse also.
          ---------------------------------
          > He doesn't begin to criticize Adorno until after his death (I
          forget the
          > name of the essay, but after Adorno dies Habermas begins to publish
          material
          > critical of the FSs program).

          Equally interesting. I don't know if the essay you refer to is
          the "Primal History of Subjectivity" but I broach this issue and tend
          away from the hypothesis that in a sense Habermas "waited" until
          Adorno's death before launching his revision/reconstruction of C.T in
          earnest. In this essay Habermas I think actually tries to point out
          moments of complementarity between Adorno's and his position on
          language/subjectivity/intersubjectivity. Being a type of eulogy its a
          difficult essay from which to derive too much anyway. Moreover, why
          wait until the _TCA_ to launch into H & A UNLESS it became too
          pressing not to *because* of what they share with the PMers in the
          threat posed to the project of Modernity in the FDR.

          -----------------------------------------
          > If you mean post-modernism when you talk about anti-modernist
          forces, I
          > don't think this is the case. In Autonomy and Solidarity Habermas
          remarks
          > that it was his colleagues that informed him that something was
          awry over in
          > France. So his 'first' engagement really begins after he'd written
          TCA. I
          > think the "Paris Lectures" were given in 1981 (?), which probably
          means he
          > started thinking about this around 1979.

          I am surprised you say this as I have always taken the comments in
          the _TCA_ Preface about the threats to the heritage of Occidental
          rationalism being inclusive of French post-structuralism. Again the
          slant I am looking to develop is that H & A become MORE problematic
          given the latent Nietzschean themes in the _DoE_ and the centrality
          of Nietzsche for post-structuralism. For Habermas there is a
          dangerous coalescence which he addresses in the _TCA_.
          ----------------------------------------------
          > As I have mentioned before the focus
          > of my work is the motivational factor for the enlightener -
          >the "why" of engagement.

          > What sounds troubling in what you've written is perhaps a
          psychologizing
          > aspect... that you are seeking to uncover the motivation of the
          theorists
          > rather than the theory / practice aspects of CT. So, correct me if
          I'm
          > mistaken about this.

          First because I don't think Habermas's theoretic adequately addresses
          this issue - how to stimulate that original act of will...that's why
          the _KHI_ refs you have provided are useful - thanks. But this
          question is placed in context with his stated program of moving
          beyond the aporia in the tradition of C.T. introduced by H & A's
          critique of instrumental reason.

          My interest is perhaps overly psychologistic (no pun intended) but
          the discourse over their dialectic of enlightenment thesis, in
          particular, includes a strong psychologistic component
          (pessimism/despair/hopelessness etc.). In other words, the aporia
          generated by H & A's critique also has a "motivational" component and
          I think Habermas's restorative theoretic must also provide a re-
          motivational component.

          One problem is that Habermas for various reasons shies away from an
          overtly agonistic component. Instead - and this is where Bohman is
          useful - there are perlocutionary traces in Habermas's theory
          construction...one of Bohman's points is that there almost has to be.
          It's something Pensky pick up in the essay he contributes to the Dews
          anthology. Anyway, without boring you too much more this is what the
          psychologistic stuff is about. Thanks for asking pertinent questions.
          It is very valuable being made to think out loud.

          MattP
        • Kenneth MacKendrick
          ... From: matthew_piscioneri ... Yes... he was certainly staking new territory. Habermas speaks of the spell of Adorno - and I
          Message 4 of 13 , Jul 8, 2002
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            ----- Original Message -----
            From: "matthew_piscioneri" <mpiscioneri@...>

            > This is where it gets interesting for me. It is difficult to place
            > _KHI_ coherently into this schema. It is possible to read this work
            > as a muted critique of H. & A and Marcuse also.

            Yes... he was certainly staking new territory. Habermas speaks of the "spell
            of Adorno" - and I wonder if this is why Habermas didn't publish anything
            too critical of Adorno until after his death. Marcuse was fair game, since
            he was in the US and was an 'outsider' in many ways. It is all very
            speculative, and curious, but... somehow... I don't know. It is all
            guesswork from my limited view.

            > Equally interesting. I don't know if the essay you refer to is
            > the "Primal History of Subjectivity" but I broach this issue and tend
            > away from the hypothesis that in a sense Habermas "waited" until
            > Adorno's death before launching his revision/reconstruction of C.T in
            > earnest. In this essay Habermas I think actually tries to point out
            > moments of complementarity between Adorno's and his position on
            > language/subjectivity/intersubjectivity. Being a type of eulogy its a
            > difficult essay from which to derive too much anyway. Moreover, why
            > wait until the _TCA_ to launch into H & A UNLESS it became too
            > pressing not to *because* of what they share with the PMers in the
            > threat posed to the project of Modernity in the FDR.

            There is a bit of politics behind this though. The FS was under political
            attack, from the left and the right. For Habermas to slash at Adorno under
            these circumstances would have been a breach of solidarity, in a sense, and
            perhaps friendship. Aside from that, Habermas is sympathetic to Horkheimer,
            at least until the bad seed of Adorno had a negative influence on his (after
            DofE)... at least that's how Habermas sees it. I'm skeptical about the
            'break' in Horkheimer's thinking, I think there is a continuity from his
            earlier to later work, and that DofE isn't a leap under Adorno's influence.
            Habermas admired Adorno, but he didn't have any interest in Aesthetic Theory
            or any of that. And, at least, Habermas has always maintained a distinction
            between Adorno and Horkheimer and the postmodernists, despite their
            inclusion in PDM. His critique arrives after the FS is pretty much dead and
            gone, in 1981. I'm sure he had a critique in mind as early as The Positivist
            Dispute... so I lean toward thinking that he kept it to himself for
            political reasons. Criticizing the FS in 1981 didn't really have the
            political sting that it would have in the 60s or 70s (Marcuse excepted).

            > I am surprised you say this as I have always taken the comments in
            > the _TCA_ Preface about the threats to the heritage of Occidental
            > rationalism being inclusive of French post-structuralism. Again the
            > slant I am looking to develop is that H & A become MORE problematic
            > given the latent Nietzschean themes in the _DoE_ and the centrality
            > of Nietzsche for post-structuralism. For Habermas there is a
            > dangerous coalescence which he addresses in the _TCA_.

            Perhaps someone a bit more in the know about this could say something about
            Habermas's reading habits during the 70s. Perhaps he had looked at the
            postmoderists. I don't know how much of this material he had been aware of,
            in any serious way. Certainly I doubt Habermas has read anything by Lacan,
            perhaps even until this day. He's certainly never engaged Kristeva or any of
            the psychoanalytic thinkers. As is evident from PDM, he didn't really engage
            Derrida much either.

            > My interest is perhaps overly psychologistic (no pun intended) but
            > the discourse over their dialectic of enlightenment thesis, in
            > particular, includes a strong psychologistic component
            > (pessimism/despair/hopelessness etc.). In other words, the aporia
            > generated by H & A's critique also has a "motivational" component and
            > I think Habermas's restorative theoretic must also provide a re-
            > motivational component.

            I think he does. To say that language has a binding force is also to say
            that it has a strong motivational component, that's what binding / bonding
            means, otherwise we'd be distancing ourselves from the very language we use,
            like some sort of spiritualism. The question, as I see it, is whether or not
            Habermas has correctly theorized language and language use. I don't think he
            has, and I think psychoanalysis provides a better model, one based on a
            theory of trauma (in the Lacanian view, the encounter with the Other is
            traumatic, and communication tries to suture this fact over, to 'normalize'
            things that are, fundamentally, irritating).

            I agree about the pessimism optimism stuff. These are terms used so as to
            encourage a prohibition on thought.

            ken
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