Difference in Time: A Critical Theory of Culture

Difference in Time: A Critical Theory of Culture

Difference in Time: A Critical Theory of Culture

Difference in Time: A Critical Theory of Culture

Synopsis

Arguing against the postmodern claim that systematic theory is unable to account for difference, Difference in Time: A Critical Theory of Culture adopts an interdisciplinary approach to the analysis of cultural judgement and social change. With music as her model for theory, Hanrahan explores the role of time, the creation of meaning, the identification of difference, and the basis for judgements in cultural life. In doing so she provides a foundation for the critique of cultural objects and practices that avoids both the elitism of traditional aesthetics and the unwavering relativism of so much contemporary cultural analysis. A broad-ranging and deeply philosophical work building on the scholarship of the Frankfurt School, Difference in Time: A Critical Theory of Culture drives home the need for critique in the evaluation and revision of social knowledge and of the institutions of democratic civic life.

Excerpt

The central problem this book addresses is that of critique, an issue with profound intellectual as well as social ramifications. the process of making distinctions and judgments, critique is caught between postmodernism and cultural relativism on the one hand and anti-intellectualism in public life on the other. Questions of aesthetic judgment, as well as of educational standards and standards of public discussion, have become paralyzed in a fruitless debate between universalism and relativism in the academy, and between elitism and egalitarianism in public discourse.

Postmodern theory has had a particularly destabilizing effect on aesthetic and cultural critique. Unlinked from a prevailing set of assumptions about aesthetics (what constitutes the good, the beautiful and the sublime) and suspicious of the liberatory politics that guided marxist cultural theory, the project of aesthetic critique seems to have lost its legitimacy. Indeed, if notions of liberation, like aesthetic criteria, are bound to culture and tradition, why engage in critique at all? What is the basis of aesthetic judgment in the absence of universally applicable aesthetic standards? Can there be an egalitarian or democratic theory that nonetheless makes aesthetic judgments and distinctions? Finally . . .

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