On Late Capitalism

“The idea of a revolutionary, ‘post-materialistic’ subject, personified by marginal actors, was popularized by Jean-Paul Sartre, who viewed outcasts and criminals, like the writer and petty criminal Jean Genet, as enlightened critics of bourgeois society. In Germany, Frankfurt School theorists like Claus Offe proposed that in ‘late capitalism’ ever more social groups—the unemployed, the mentally ill, the lawbreakers—would be pushed to the margins and could eventually pose a real threat to the social order. The problem, as one wit put it, was that ‘late capitalism’ kept arriving too late.”

—Elliot Neaman, Free Radicals: Agitators, Hippies, Urban Guerrillas, and Germany’s Youth Revolt of the 1960s and 1970s

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The Production of the Subject in Late Benjamin

This article places Benjamin’s late work in dialogue with recent attempts in media theory and structuralism to think the subject and historical contingency together. It argues their apparent incompatibility is reflected in Benjamin’s writing in the form of a recurrent contradiction between historical materialism and transhistorical theology. Through a reconstruction of the theorist’s historicization of an earlier theological theory of the fall of language in his Marxian-inflected work of the 1930’s, it claims that Benjamin initiates a historicist reconceptualization of the impasse of the Kantian subject onto being as the product of a particular field of mediation arising with mass modernity. Yet following the rejection of his nascent version of the Arcades Project by Adorno and the Marxist Institute for Social Research in 1938, theology returns as an attempt to reconceive of an aesthetic-formal break with this impasse. Benjamin’s late theorization of his materialist historiography thus represents a dialectical attempt to think materialism and theology, history and being together, with the aim of mediating not only distraction, but a revolutionary destruction of the subject and the historical order producing it.

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Popper, Adorno, and the Methodology Dispute

As Popper has written in several articles and his autobiography, he encountered Marxism as a young man in Austria around 1919. For two or three months he called himself a communist, but soon turned against the doctrine after the deaths of pro-communist demonstrators was justified with what Popper considered pseudo-scientific jargon. These events made him a fallibilist acutely aware of the distinction between dogmatic and critical thinking. (34)

This emotionally powerful and philosophically significant experience colored Popper’s views of Marxism, the call for revolutionary social change, and the utopianism that foments it. In light of this, it is not difficult to see why Popper and (in particular early) Critical Theorists might have found much about which to disagree. Robert D’Amico discusses myriad points of contrast between Karl Popper and the Frankfurt School, though from the outset he acknowledges that the “infamous ‘methodology dispute’ in German sociology that occurred primarily between Popper and Adorno . . . is best described as a misfire” (33). Despite this alleged “misfire,” D’Amico’s analysis raises profound questions that continue to gain attention and prod ongoing debate in terms of the philosophy, theory, and methodology of the social sciences.

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