The Telos-Paul Piccone Institute: Critical Theory for Practical Problems

Earlier this month, the Telos-Paul Piccone Institute hosted its second Telos in Europe conference, focusing on “The Idea of Europe,” in L’Aquila, Italy, and we will be posting a number of papers from the conference in the coming weeks on this blog. In the meantime, we would like to take a moment to share with you the Institute’s mission, activities, and goals. You can help support the ongoing scholarly work of this non-profit organization by making a tax-deductible donation at the Telos-Paul Piccone Institute website.

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Notes on Adorno’s “Resignation”

As an occasional feature on TELOSscope, we highlight a past Telos article whose critical insights continue to illuminate our thinking and challenge our assumptions. Today, Aaron Bell looks at Theodor W. Adorno’s “Resignation” from Telos 35 (Spring 1978).

Reading “Resignation” today, it is immediately clear that the historical context is necessary to fully grasp the significance of Adorno’s words. Originally delivered as a radio address in 1968, “Resignation” is, among other things, an important entry in the Marxist theory-praxis debate and a primary document in the history of Adorno’s troubled relationship with the radical student movements of postwar Germany. Adorno, responding directly to the Frankfurt School’s critics of the radical left, defends his refusal to translate Critical Theory into a program for political action. Against the charge of apolitical “resignation,” Adorno articulates a defiant vision of critical thought beholden to no master. This vision of critical thought remains vital today, despite the dated trappings of the theory-praxis debate and the limited interest in Adorno’s biography and the politics of postwar Germany.

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Marcuse the Lover

Vincent Lloyd’s “Marcuse the Lover” appears in Telos 165 (Winter 2013). Read the full version online at the Telos Online website, or purchase a print copy of the issue in our store.

Why has Marcuse’s fame faded? I argue that the answer has to do with the way secularism and critical theory do and do not interact in the contemporary academy. We can read Marcuse as a critic of secularism, when secularism is understood as one of the ideas of the ruling class, taking its current form with the rise of identity politics in the 1960s and 70s. Marcuse criticizes the secularizing features of the Protestant Reformation, much like other recent critics of secularism. Further, he seeks to recover a deeper sense of freedom—what might be called a post-secular sense of freedom. In doing so, he appeals to the good, the true, the beautiful, and, in a way, to rightly ordered love. I read Marcuse fundamentally as a critic of idolatry, as a negative political theologian. His work suggests a promising path for conversations about critical theory and secularism to come together.

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The Democratic Contradictions of Multiculturalism Wins Best Non-Fiction Title at London Book Festival

Congratulations to Jens-Martin Eriksen and Frederik Stjernfelt for winning best title in the non-fiction category at the London Book Festival for their book The Democratic Contradictions of Multiculturalism, published by Telos Press.

Congratulations in the same category to Timothy W. Luke and Ben Agger, who received Honorable Mention for their anthology A Journal of No Illusions: Telos, Paul Piccone, and the Americanization of Critical Theory.

The awards will be presented at the British Library on January 23, 2014.

To celebrate the awards, we’re offering a 20% discount on both books when purchased at our online store through the end of January.

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Now Available! Telos 165 (Winter 2013): Marcuse after Secularism

Telos 165 (Winter 2013) is now available for purchase in our store.

To choose Herbert Marcuse and religion as the topic for a special issue might seem strikingly anachronistic. Formed by the collapse of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Nazism, Marcuse worked in the OSS during the Second World War, and later, in his mature theoretical works, such as Eros and Civilization and One-Dimensional Man, he grew into the cultural critic who would become a prominent mentor of the student revolt of the 1960s, especially in the United States and Germany. This is a stirring narrative, no doubt, but does it not simply belong to another era? To be sure, historical distance is hardly an argument against intellectual inquiry, and one could certainly dedicate an issue to filling out a detailed account of how this philosopher became a public intellectual in the context of the upheavals of his age. Yet every historical study of the past also bears the marks of the present, including the question marks that punctuate our own, current queries in this issue of the journal. What does Marcuse have to say to us today? That consideration is always germane, but especially in Telos, which has set for itself the task of developing a critique of the contemporary.

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Critical Theory and Its Aporias

As an occasional feature on TELOSscope, we highlight a past Telos article whose critical insights continue to illuminate our thinking and challenge our assumptions. Today, J. F. Dorahy looks at Seyla Benhabib’s “Modernity and the Aporias of Critical Theory,” from Telos 49 (Fall 1981).

The critical theory of the Frankfurt School begins with Max Weber. With this claim I do not mean to suggest that Weber was the first critical theorist—as is well known, Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche, each of whom wrote before Weber and had enormous influence on the Frankfurt School, are, to a greater or lesser extent, critical theorists. Rather, what this assertion draws attention to is the perspectival significance that Weber’s analysis of modernity holds for not only the first generation of the Frankfurt School—Adorno, Horkheimer, and Marcuse—but also for Habermas. In the last few decades, particularly in the highly influential and groundbreaking work of Axel Honneth, the Weberian diagnosis of modernity has lost its orientating position for critical theory. In its place stands the Hegelian notion of intersubjective recognition; subsequently, the once decisive notions of “rationalization” and “disenchantment” have given way, in contemporary critical theory, to the notions of “paradoxical development” and “disrespect.” Certainly, the socio-historical developments of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries bring into question the project and function of critical theory. So, too, the reflexive nature of the discourse necessitates the re-evaluation of its guiding concepts. Yet, many theorists have expressed significant reservations about the trajectory of contemporary critical theory, a trajectory that, in the words of Nikolas Kompridis, has veered “from reason to self-realization.” Perhaps, then, given the contemporary debate regarding the future directions of critical theory, the time is appropriate to revisit the history of critical theory and examine its variegated responses to the irrationality of modern reason.

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