The Beginnings of European Theorizing--Reflexivity in the Archaic Age - Vol. 2

By Barry Sandywell | Go to book overview
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INTRODUCTION

Towards a sociological poetics

It is in periods of social and political crisis that men are more aware of the enigma of their presence in the world.

(Lucien Goldmann, 1964:49)

The following investigations can be approached as an introduction to the sociological poetics of archaic discourse in that they focus upon some of the earliest attempts to represent symbolically the configurations of human experience in Western culture. But they are also attempts to think sociologically about questions of origins, self-representation, and identity. In this respect they are particularly concerned with some of the earliest forms of self and self-reflection constructed at the dawn of Western rationalism. But ‘reason’ and ‘rationalism’ are extremely complex concepts which must be subject to careful deconstruction. The idea of an autonomous ‘community’ oriented by self-determining goals and governed by reason was constructed over many centuries and is itself grounded in the ‘pretheoretical’ cultural formations of ancient Greece. Understanding the nature and dimensions of this ambivalent genesis forms one of the major objectives of the following chapters. The theme of the contested nature of ‘rational reflection’ and the ‘question of the subject’ links these studies to social theory in a direct and fundamental way, for many of the debates and controversies in modern theory now revolve around questions of the limits of rational self-reflection, the role of horizons of subjectivity and alterity within rational institutions, and the legitimation of ‘political’ order and power in contemporary society. A curious symmetry links the origins and terminal phases of European intellectual culture, a symmetry which directly involves the fate of the self as a key figure in Western consciousness. The theme of mimesis explored schematically in Volume 1, for example, returns as one of the main threads of the chapters which follow. How did the cultural logics of early Greek culture construct the self? How does something like autonomous selfhood first appear in the earliest forms of Greek poetry and literature? What were the consequences of the particular modes of poiesis that inaugurated Western literature,? What are the links between Greek mimetic art and the

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