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Philosophy and Culture


Rei Terada, "Introduction."

Though the concept of "culture" seems to have fallen recently into some disfavor, the essays in this volume argue for the rich and generative meanings of culture as well as for the necessity of reading philosophy and culture together. The contemporary sense of culture, which developed slowly from the intentionality and learnedness of earlier notions of disciplinary improvement, alludes to something like an enigmatic harmony amongst disciplinary practices. The introduction traces a brief genealogy of the concept of culture, focusing on its vacillation between learned deliberation and a looser, uncoerced affiliation. This looser sense of culture begins with Schiller's description of the Greeks' own vacillation between ideas of culture. The late emergence of the contemporary notion of culture suggests that culture and race are not the same, but compete for similar territory: culture came into the discussion after earlier, ontological notions of race became separated into notions of race, class, nation, society, and culture. Rather than facing culture and philosophy head on, the contributors to this volume develop ways of thinking about the dynamics of autonomy and collectivity on which culture depends. Their interest is in work that pulls philosophy and cultural studies together and necessitates a philosophy of culture and a culturally historical philosophy. These papers gain perspective from Romantic (and sometimes pre- and post-Romantic) elaborations of the ways in which manifestations of individuality, interiority, particularity, and privacy may coalesce quite tenuously to express aspects of collectivity. Culture emerges as a network of habits, ideas, and affinities. Daniel Tiffany's description of "correspondence" without common source, in particular, serves as a model for the "unaccountability of affinities," a notion of culture that challenges any presumed ontological link between culture and identity.

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Manu Chander, "Contention and Contestation: Aesthetic Culture in Kant and Bourdieu."

This essay examines the relationship between philosophical aesthetics and cultural sociology, focusing on a perhaps unlikely pair of thinkers, Immanuel Kant and Pierre Bourdieu. Placing into dialogue with one another Bourdieu's materialist analyses of cultural production and consumption (in The Field of Cultural Production, Distinction, and elsewhere) and Kant's Critique of Judgment, I suggest that the two demonstrate a structural homology, one which opens up a point of contact between their otherwise disparate approaches to the problem of culture. More specifically, I argue that each system, in developing an alternative to dominant strains of subjectivism and objectivism, offers a theory of perpetual antagonism, whereby subjects are bound together by the fact of contention. That is, both Kant and Bourdieu suggest that the culture arises out of dissenting claims to universality, which might be characterized alternately as "absolute judgement"—Bourdieu's phrase for the promise of having the final say in contestable matters of cultural relevance—or, as Kant puts it in the Dialectic of Aesthetic Judgment ('56), "a hope of coming to terms." Taken together, these two models of "aesthetic culture" describe a single process, a process by which culture continually emerges anew: in the competition among cultural producers and consumers for a position of relative privilege, or "cultural capital," the collective belief, the "hope" in universal assent is reinforced; in the persistent failure of universal assent to be realized, dissent among aesthetic subjects is fueled, perpetuated, as it were, in the form of cultural competition. Far from being incompatible, I thus conclude, aesthetics and the sociology of culture seem inextricably bound, each discovering at its own limits the necessity of the other.

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Ted Underwood, "Culture and Discontinuity (in the 1840s and in Foucault)."

Underwood argues that literary scholars' uneasiness about claims of historical continuity is older than they generally realize and deeply rooted in the social function of their discipline. For a little over a century and a half, the discipline of literary study has been celebrating the specificity of single authors and periods, while chafing against the constraints of continuous narrative. Literary historians' enthusiasm for Michel Foucault's critique of historical continuity is only the latest instance of this long-standing disciplinary preference. By describing his genealogical method as a challenge to the "sovereign subject" and "the immortality of the soul," Foucault implicitly defined genealogy as an alternate mode of personal cultivation. Viewed in this light it has strong affinities to nineteenth-century models of historical cultivation—for instance, to Walter Pater's way of finding cultural profit in historical discontinuity. Underwood ends by focusing on the institutions that perpetuate this model of culture. He traces the cultural authority of discontinuity back to the first "period surveys," and in particular to the pedagogy of F. D. Maurice at King's College, which sought explicitly to give the middle classes a stronger sense of their connection to the national past.

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Thomas Pfau, "The Melancholic Gift: Freedom in Nineteenth-Century Philosophy and Fiction."

This essay explores the antagonism between nineteenth-century European liberalism (in its broadest sense as a self-regulating narrative of economic and civic progress) and the simultaneously spreading idioms of cultural pessimism, anti-rationalism, and decadence. What joins these two ideological strata, albeit in an antagonistic sense, is an underlying, fundamental tension between the modern conception of political liberty with its supplemental language of rights, on the one hand, and an alternately mystical or mournful reflection on modern freedom and the metaphysical costs of modernity, on the other. The essay sketches how a conception of freedom as a virtually unlimited array of developmental and intellectual possibilities entangles the nineteenth-century bourgeoisie in contradictions from which it could only escape through the virtual (and pernicious) solutions of utopian and/or totalitarian ideological fantasy.

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J. Hillis Miller, "Crossroads of Philosophy and Cultural Studies: Body, Context, Performativity, Community."

Current cultural studies make certain assumptions about body, context, performativity, and community. These are also topics in philosophy from Aristotle and Plato down to Judith Butler and Jean-Luc Nancy. Both philosophers and those in cultural studies would do well to pay more attention to each other's work than they often do. This missed encounter might be thought of as a failure of Oedipus to meet up with Laius at the place where three roads meet, since the relation between cultural studies and philosophy is sometimes patricidal. Yeats's "Crazy Jane on God" is a poem that invites reading by both philosophical theorists and by those in cultural studies. Jean-Luc Nancy's Corpus and Derrida's extended commentary on Nancy's work in On Touching are good examples of philosophical works that are an implicit challenge to cultural studies' assumptions, while Judith Butler's work is an exemplary combination of both philosophy and cultural studies, an encounter between the two.

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Daniel Tiffany, "Club Monad."

In this brief essay, I examine whether Leibniz's monadology—a theory of metaphysical substance appropriated by Novalis, Friedrich Schlegel, and others—may help to explain a phenomenon that appears to be remote—almost inconceivably remote—from philosophical metaphysics: the genealogy of modern nightlife. Although I understand nightlife quite literally as a mode of experience which has evolved historically in the anomalous space of the nightclub, I also understand nightlife as a phenomenon determined in part by the history of certain kinds of vernacular poetry and therefore sharing with poetry a kind of lyric substance. More precisely, in relation to Leibniz's theory of substance, I focus on the labyrinthine topology of nightlife, especially the nightclub's ambiguous relations to what lies outside its windowless space; its sociological, topographical, and verbal obscurities; and its open secrecy, which amounts to a spectacle of obscurity.

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