Rethinking the Subject: An Anthology of Contemporary European Social Thought

Rethinking the Subject: An Anthology of Contemporary European Social Thought

Rethinking the Subject: An Anthology of Contemporary European Social Thought

Rethinking the Subject: An Anthology of Contemporary European Social Thought

Synopsis

Since the early 1970s, European thinkers have departed notably from their predecessors in order to pursue analytical programs more thoroughly their own. Rethinking the Subject brings together in one volume some of the most influential writings of Foucault, Habermas, Bourdieu, Pizzorno, Macfarlane, and other authors whose ideas have had a worldwide influence in recent social history. The anthology is testament to the central importance of three contemporary themes, each familiar to earlier thinkers but never definitively formulated or resolved. The first two concern the nature and modalities of power and legitimacy in society. The third, and most fundamental, dealswith the nature and modalities of the "self" or "subject."These themes owe their special contemporary relevance to an array of events- from the collapse of colonialism to the birth of test-tube babies. James Faubion's introduction traces the historical context of these influential events and themes. It also traces the lineaments of a still inchoate intellectual movement, of which the writers included in this anthology are the vanguard.

Excerpt

The most striking achievement of this anthology is James Faubion's ability to observe, calmly and with a concerned attentiveness, the European field of social thought from afar, a gaze legitimated and made possible by his detailed familiarity with the terrain. He has performed the basic move of contemporary anthropology-- participant observation--and performed it with a sure-handedness that is quite striking. This ethnographic skill is the product of his background training in continental philosophy, analytic philosophy, literature, and cultural anthropology; the arts of the latter discipline practiced in Faubion's field site in Greece, not on the "culture" of a peasant village or provincial town, but in Athens among the elite. In sum, our editor has been observing the high theorists of Europe from multiple sites and for quite some time now. The theorists' imperium looks different from Athens, where it has been willingly taken up, valued, and internalized with a persistent if pianissimo stiffening of the cultural back, one quite distinct from a more classic colonial situation in which the center of the imperium can be located in good faith as elsewhere. It also looks different from the United States, where again, though dominant, influential, compelling and pervasive, European high theory nonetheless seems to certain natives as much European as theory. Faubion's collection is the first I know of to handle this tradition of thought in such a manner: respectful but observant, close but oh so far; seen from afar, but oh so closely.

The second point to be made arises from Faubion's perspective, which is, I believe, equally "American" and anthropological. European social thought has been resolutely plural for a very long time indeed, no doubt since the "Greeks," that is, for as long as it has been theory. Yet for an equally long time its impetus, its animus, its highest attainment, has always been to achieve a point from which all the diversity can be brought under one encompassing stronghold, the theory. Pierre Bourdieu and Jurgen Habermas are only the latest to make the attempt, however brilliant, to encompass everything and everybody else (i.e., everyone, everywhere, is always really symbolic accumulators or communicators). The great exception to this game of theory is Michel Foucault in his Nietzschean guise, and even there Foucault had his time of temptation, his momentary Heideggeran turn (in the Archaeology of Knowledge and The Order of Things), to situate everyone else, a temptation he later overcame. Of course the fury of the theorists against one who would not produce total theories remains unabated, unquenched. But Foucault as well remained with the "subject game" that Faubion identifies for us as the main channel that European theorists have navigated these past two centuries.

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