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Telos 173 (Winter 2015): Gillian Rose

Telos 173 (Winter 2015) is now available for purchase in our store.

Gillian Rose (1947–1995) had an influence in excess of her literary output and treatment in secondary literature. Author of eight books, two articles, and four book reviews, she also had important, though perhaps hidden, effects on the UK academic scene through academic friendship, doctoral supervision, and interdisciplinary work. She inspired many students and colleagues, even where she does not appear in bibliographies or citations. She made major contributions to introducing the Frankfurt School to the UK; aided the Hegel renaissance in English-language scholarship; and was an early critic of post-structuralism and political theology. Several of the papers gathered here were first given at a conference at Durham University on January 9, 2015, to mark the twentieth year since Rose’s death. That conference and this special issue of Telos are premised on the view that Rose’s work still has much philosophical insight and inspiration to offer. The authors of these papers were students, colleagues, and/or friends of Rose, or studied her work as part of their doctoral research. The diversity of their fields reflects some of the range and interdisciplinarity of Rose’s own work: Hegel, social theory, Marxism, politics, race, recognition theory, education, and theology. We hope that this issue provokes a renewed interest in what Rose can still offer us today.

Rowan Williams begins with Rose’s Hegel, central to all her mature thought. To think is to attempt to do justice to the particular through universals. Without universals, we have only the coercion of stipulative definition, yet universals always threaten to misrepresent particulars in some form of identity thinking. Thinking in universals—doing philosophy—is thus unavoidable and risky, yet we do find a way through: we are capable of approximating to truth and justice. Philosophy is thus also comic. Williams turns to Rose’s late essay “The Comedy of Hegel and the Trauerspiel of Modern Philosophy,” in which she describes the movement of the Absolute in Hegel as a comic affair: misrepresentations and misrecognitions confronted with their failures and occasioning new thinking and, at least sometimes, better representations and recognitions. Williams goes on to explain how Rose’s Hegelianism then enables a critique of postmodern and Kantian views of reason, of sociology, of political theology; and how it connects to her handling of her cancer, to politics and society, to impure political virtue. For Williams, the pathos of reason—its ungrounded yet necessary character, its insecurity and inability to deliver everything we hope, its self-limiting nature—is thus not far away from the religious faith that Rose later investigated, critiqued, and in some complicated sense adopted. This produces the remarkable idea that the Nietzschean courage to face our own guilt and complicity could become a liberating gift to others.

Andrew Brower Latz examines Rose’s claim in Hegel Contra Sociology that Hegel’s philosophy, properly understood, is able to provide a better way to do sociology. He understands this claim as one of method and metatheory: by better appreciating the logic of sociology and the social nature of logic, and the relationship between theory and metatheory, social theory may be less prone to make certain errors. Rose found in Hegel’s logic and phenomenology the way to such understanding. By pushing Rose’s work in a direction she did not explicitly take it, he shows how it addresses some central debates in sociological theory. He finds that her version of Hegelian conceptual knowing can speak to and cope with issues of logic and the sociology of knowledge, the repeated recurrence of contradictions and antinomies in sociology, and issues of emergence and the social totality. He also finds a possible source of the repeated recurrence of positivism in sociology suggested by Rose’s critique of neo-Kantianism: faulty methodological self-understanding. Rose’s work on social theory can then be seen as in part offering a better account of what good sociology already does. While in no way imagining that this approach does justice to the whole of Rose’s thought, it shows her fiercely theoretical work is effective not only in philosophy but also in sociology, which is consistent with her dismay at their disciplinary separation.

Peter Osborne assesses Rose’s relation to Marx and Marxism in a paper that contextualizes Rose’s work within the Marxist tradition. He suggests that Rose’s call for “critical Marxism” at the end of Hegel Contra Sociology was a mask or placeholder for a more general project of thinking about the political possibilities afforded by the philosophical tradition. This project took Rose, on his reading, to a position incompatible with Marxism. Osborne finds Rose wanting in two respects. He thinks Rose’s phenomenological Hegelianism cannot offer a critique of political economy, and he thinks her tendency to exercise philosophy on the theological genealogy of contemporary political thought concedes too much theological ground. Although Rose intended philosophy as an existentially and politically transformative activity, Osborne repeats his judgment from the 1980s that her attenuated Marxism saps her work’s potential in this regard.

John Milbank directly addresses Rose’s relation to politics and continues his earlier criticism of her lack of positive vision. In his reading, Rose’s work is extremely pessimistic, seeing no way to avoid the reproduction and intensification of diremptions. His exposition and critique centers around modernity and what he calls the “paraethical.” To what extent does the modern condition reveal something about Being itself, and to what extent is it merely a parochial European self-understanding? Milbank thinks Rose’s position was unbalanced, ignoring the latter and tending in places toward the ahistorical and dogmatic as a result (ironically, given Rose’s Hegelian insistence on history and not taking posited givens for granted). Rose’s insistence on the primacy of the political above the ethical or religious seems to Milbank mistaken, since it is not entirely able to account for the givenness of our ethical lives, for the ways in which much of ethics is a matter of making something of the situation in which we find ourselves, which Milbank denotes as the paraethical.

Kate Schick takes up the central normative element in Rose’s work, namely, mutual recognition. Schick uses Rose to critique some of the problems she sees with standard accounts of recognition theory, and suggests how Rose’s work points toward a better, though more difficult and counter-cultural, form of recognition. Schick labels two common problematic forms of recognition in the literature: “hyperrationalist” and “primordial.” The first works with too monological and self-sufficient an account of subjectivity, and a mind-set in the grip of technical problem-solving; the second with too naturalized an account of recognition, failing sufficiently to appreciate the political, social, and economic deformations of self and relations hindering attempts at recognition. Schick finds in Rose a model for the process of the struggle, failures, and renewed attempts to recognize others: hence re-cognition. The subject is then involved in ambiguity and uncertainty, must face his/her own vulnerability and relationality, his/her own passivity and agency, his/her complicity in oppression as well as engagement in liberation.

Vincent Lloyd‘s outline of Rose’s work on ethics and politics distinguishes between first-order debates on normative and practical issues, and the orientations and existential self-relations individuals bring to such first-order debates. He shows Rose’s work is primarily aimed at the latter. Hence she questions the identities in common circulation and thereby avoids fixing them, inflating them, or denying their importance altogether. Lloyd nicely links up Rose’s version of Hegel’s speculative identities to these socio-political identities. Important as such work is, Lloyd thinks the lack of concentration on first-order questions caused Rose to overlook some of the systematic inequalities structuring philosophical work and concepts, especially those around gender and race. Here Rose fails to live up to her own repeated injunction to reconstruct and understand the full historical context of our philosophical and political notions. Rose’s work in this light is a propaedeutic to first-order political and philosophical work: to making judgments in normative debates, to taking sides in political struggles, to organizing. Only with the latter can her understanding of politics as aiming at the universal interest come to fruition. Although Rose’s later work is aimed more explicitly at practical issues, at urging continental philosophy back to engagement with politics and power, Lloyd repeats a concern voiced by others about her silence on many first-order issues.

Nigel Tubbs provides an extremely fertile reading of Rose’s Hegel as the “self-education of modernity” and as displaying a profound educational logic. A masterfully concise summary of Rose’s critique of neo-Kantianism as the dominant Hintergrund of much post-Kantian philosophy is then used to show the kind of educational logic enabled by Rose’s Hegelianism. In this logic, talk of “overcoming” is replaced with recognition and misrecognition, in which something relative (rather than absolute) can renew itself. Both Tubbs and Brower Latz address the different kinds of infinity or circularity in neo-Kantianism and Hegelianism, and Tubbs suggests Rose has been misread in a neo-Kantian way—the same fate she argued had overtaken Hegel. Tubbs looks at the history of philosophy through two lenses: a propertied logic and an educational logic. The former has been dominant, but Rose and Hegel allow access to the latter. Tubbs follows the implications of these logics across models of subjectivity, ethics, and politics. He uses them to defend Rose against criticisms that she turned away from politics and toward inwardness. Such criticisms miss Rose’s educational rather than propertied logic.

Andrew Shanks writes on one of the most controversial but interesting sides of Rose’s oeuvre: her relation to religion. Born to a secular Jewish family and trained in the Marxist Frankfurt School, Rose was initially hostile to religion as an illusion. Gradually she became personally more religious and academically more interested in religion. Her final notebooks and posthumous prose poetry testify to her self-perception as both Jewish and Christian, and her deathbed baptism into Anglicanism is well known. For Shanks, the significance of her openness to religion is, as he sees it, both the implosion of one of the most militant and intellectually serious forms of atheism, and the movement of the energy of critique from the Marxist tradition to religion. A religion and theology inspired by Rose would include a dialectical relation between supporters and critics of religion. It would refuse both consolation and bitterness (and here Shanks also turns to the “Comedy of Hegel” essay). It would be mystical and institutional, though through a “broken middle” kind of institution: obviously impure, site of contradictory pressures, weak.

Two additional essays round out the issue, and although they are not part of the Rose collection, they explore some related themes. Halil Gürhanlı explores questions of faith, skepticism, and populism in the seemingly disparate, perhaps even antipodal works of Michael Oakeshott and Ernesto Laclau. At stake is their comparable accounts of the relation of the social to the political. In Gürhanlı’s phrasing, “The social is the political, only in a ‘sleeping mode.'” In the final essay, Jean-Claude Paye proceeds from Giorgio Agamben’s reading of Paul to discuss the “end of history,” Francis Fukuyama’s borrowing from Hegel, by placing it in relation to notions of messianic time: “Messianic time is the suspension of chronological time demanded by the annunciation of ‘the end of history,'” a phrasing that stages religion dialectically as the opposite of history as well as its culmination.

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