Critical Theory Now

Critical Theory Now

Critical Theory Now

Critical Theory Now

Synopsis

Critical theory is re-examined in the light of present social circumstances. Broadly speaking, the essayists in this volume adapt Frankfurt School theories to a post-modernist outlook.

Excerpt

The first wave of North American critical theory was at once both academic and political. Interest in the works of the early Frankfurt School may have belonged to a more general renaissance of academic social theory that occurred in North America during the late 1960s and early 1970s. But the passion for critical theory came out of a particular historical political moment of self- and collective transformation. Critical theory best gave voice to the New Left understanding of politics as psychological and cultural transformation, and as an unbridgeable difference and dissent from a European and American Marxism that seemed irrelevant to the historical experience of an emergent, socially critical new class.

The subsequent defeat of the cultural revolution, and the social movements which fed it, predictably led not only to the formalization of social theory, but to an atrophy of a deep political and psychological passion for social theory. The ritualism of defeat expressed itself in an academicist interest in critical theory. Frankfurt School theory became respectable as an object of scholastic interpretation. In that sense, the academic success of critical theory was a sign of an apparent end to its political transformative project. The North American Restoration-not postmodernism-eviscerated the effort to politicize everyday life. For the new generation, it seemed that theoretical interest was either formal and scientistic, or at best, in a postmodern vein, of an aesthetic interest.

Now, there are signs that we are exiting the long night of the Restoration. It is not that corporatism has ceased to flourish, or even that there is a new articulation of mass consciousness. Rather, the scholastic interest in critical theory has again become political, and the social theoretic ideology of the Interregnum, postmodernism, has proven that it can be a channel as well as a damper for the articulation

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