Introduction

The Politics of Fictive Theories: Reading/Writing/Theory
  • Susan McManus
Part of the Studies in European Culture and History book series (SECH)

Abstract

This book is an exploration of the work of fictions in political theories: the epistemological status those fictions claim, on the one hand, and the effects that they secure, on the other. I propose that political theory has worked within epistemologically conservative forms of knowledge. In seeking to articulate grounded conceptions of order and justice, the claims to knowledge of political theory are at once claims to power, which work toward coherence, containment, and control. This mode of theorizing, however, is based on misrecognition or forgetting: in the attempt to ground political theory in substantive norms, such as nature, rights, or even knowledge of the “the real,” theory must efface, negate, and forget its own constitutive fictions. In this effacement of the fictions that make theory work inheres the reification of political theory into a legislative, authoritative, and programmatic mode. Put otherwise: epistemologies of “the given,” conservative and ostensibly authoritative modes of knowledge-production, are always already creative epistemologies, but creative epistemologies that efface their contingency and creative power in favor of their legislative and authoritative power.

Keywords

Clay Coherence Posit Excavation Encapsulation 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. 2.
    Luce Irigaray, The Way of Love, trans. Heidi Bostic and Stephen Pluháček (London: Continuum, 2002), p.vii.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Stephen White, Sustaining Affirmation: The Strengths of Weak Ontology in Political Theory (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), p.90. White argues that a normative orientation does indeed depend upon “weak” ontological commitments that inflect, nuance, or tend toward specific, ethical ways of acting and being in the world. My own commitment to an “ontology of becoming” precludes substantive normative or political claims being made from ontology: political claims are always precisely political, to be defended and judged as such. The utopian “not-yet,” as I go on to argue in particular in chapters four and five, mean that no substantive claim can be deemed above political and temporal (re-)evaluation. I have drawn onGoogle Scholar
  3. Tom Moylan’s argument in “Denunciation/Annunciation: The Radical Methodology of Liberation Theology,” in, Cultural Critique 20 (Winter, 1991–92), pp.33–64, where he proposes that the “deconstructive” or critical moment of “denunciation” must also contain or create space for the utopian moment of annunciation (pp.44–45).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Drawn from Norman Jacobson’s noteworthy book, Pride and Solace: The Function and Limits of Political Theory (Berkley and London: University of California Press, 1978): “the pride of the theorist in the act of creation, the solace of the reader in the act of discovery,” (p.ix). Later in this section, I discuss the hierarchical ordering implicit in this characterization of political theory in terms of its ordering of writers and readers in a legislative paradigm. The play, notably recognized by Foucault, of subject and subjection is implicit here. (To anticipate: such a problematic, as old as Plato, can only be overcome by going through Nietzsche.) The aphorism is taken fromGoogle Scholar
  5. Roland Barthes, The Rustle of Language, trans. Richard Howard (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1989), p.59.Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    Roland Barthes, S/Z, trans. Richard Miller (New York: Hill and Wang, 1974), p.3.Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    These comments are informed by Derrida’s writings on the histories of metaphysics, which he never invokes as a unitary, consistent phenomenon: see, e.g., “a work of literary criticism is not, any more than a philosophical discourse, simply ‘governed by metaphysical assumptions.’ Nothing is ever homogenous. Even among the philosophers associated with the most canonical tradition, the possibilities of rupture are always waiting to be effected,” (Jacques Derrida, “‘This Strange Institution Called Literature’: An Interview with Jacques Derrida,” Acts of Literature, ed. Derek Attridge (London: Routledge, 1992), p.53. There is no one history of metaphysics that is not itself metaphysical.Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    Martha Nussbaum, Poetic Justice: The Literary Imagination and Public Life (Boston: Beacon Press, 1995), p.xiii;Google Scholar
  9. Susan Mendus “‘What was left of self, I wonder?’ The Narrative Self in Political Philosophy,” in, Literature and the Political Imagination, ed. John Horton and Andrea T. Baumeister (London: Routledge, 1996), p.59; andGoogle Scholar
  10. Maureen Whitebrook, “Taking the Narrative Turn: What the Novel has to offer Political Theory,” in, Literature and the Political Imagination (London: Routledge, 1996), p.40, respectively.Google Scholar
  11. 8.
    Sheldon Wolin, “Political Theory as a Vocation,” in, The American Political Science Review 63/4 (December 1969), pp.1062–1082.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 10.
    John Seery, “Political Theory in the Twentieth Century,” in, Contemporary Political Theory: A Reader and Guide, ed. Alan Finlayson (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2003), p.42.Google Scholar
  13. 11.
    Adriana Cavarero, “Politicizing Theory,” in, Political Theory 30/4 (August 2002), pp.506–532, 511.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 15.
    John Evan Seery, “Spelunkers of the World Unite!,” in, The Politics of Irony: Essays in Self-Betrayal, ed. Daniel W. Conway and John E. Seery (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1992), p.8.Google Scholar
  15. 18.
    Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract and Discourses, trans. G.D.H. Cole (London: Everyman, 1993), p.216.Google Scholar
  16. 20.
    Jacobson, Pride and Solace, p.10, p.xii. See also Tracy Strong, who argues that political theory “betrays its ongoing debt to theology,” in, The Idea of Political Theory: Reflections on the Self in Political Time and Space (Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1990), p.112.Google Scholar
  17. Simon Critchley has argued that modern philosophy begins with a religious “disappointment” in Very Little … Almost Nothing (London: Routledge, 1997).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 22.
    Jacques Derrida, “The Principle of Reason: The University in the Eyes of its Pupils,” trans. Catherine Porter and Edward P. Morris, in, Diacritics 13 (Fall 1983), pp.3–20, 9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 23.
    William Corlett, Community without Unity: A Politics of Derridean Extravagance (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1989), p.12.Google Scholar
  20. 24.
    Jacques Derrida and Richard Kearney, “Deconstruction and the Other,” in, Dialogues with Contemporary Continental Thinkers: The Phenomenological Heritage (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984), p.119.Google Scholar
  21. 26.
    Cathy Caruth, “The Insistence of Reference,” in, Critical Encounters: Reference and Responsibility in Deconstructive Writing (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1995), p.1.Google Scholar
  22. 28.
    Drucilla Cornell, The Philosophy of the Limit (New York: Routledge, 1992), p.169.Google Scholar
  23. 29.
    Thomas Keenan, Fables of Responsibility: Aberrations and Predicaments in Ethics and Politics (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1997), pp.1–2.Google Scholar
  24. 31.
    Michael Shapiro, Reading the Postmodern Polity: Political Theory as a Textual Practice (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992), p.17.Google Scholar
  25. 32.
    As Brook Thomas puts it, in “Restaging the Reception of Iser’s Early Work, or, Sides Not Taken in Discussions of the Aesthetic,” in, New Literary History: A Journal of Theory and Interpretation 31/1 (Winter 2000), pp.13–43, 21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 33.
    Andrew Gibson, Towards a Postmodern Theory of Narrative (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1996), p.87.Google Scholar
  27. 35.
    Michael P. Clark, ed., Revenge of the Aesthetic: The Place of Literature in Theory Today (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), p.7.Google Scholar
  28. 42.
    Tamsin Lorraine, Irigaray and Deleuze: Experiments in Visceral Philosophy (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1999), p.48.Google Scholar
  29. 44.
    As Dennis J. Schmidt puts it in his Introduction to Natural Law and Human Dignity, by Ernst Bloch (Cambridge Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1987), p.vii.Google Scholar
  30. 45.
    Cited in Melissa Lane, “Interpreting Political Thought,” in, Contemporary Political Thought: A Reader and Guide, ed. Alan Finlayson (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2003), p.79.Google Scholar
  31. 46.
    Jacques Derrida, “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences,” in, Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd., 1978), p.282. Siep Stuurman has written very sensibly on contemporary reorderings of the canon of political thought sensitive to socialist, feminist, and occidental critiques of exclusivity. He suggests we need to replace the concepts of “linearity” with “non-synchronicity,” “great ideas and theories” with contestation and argument, and to extend, open up, the canon. See “The Canon of the History of Political Thought: Its Critique and a Proposed Alternative,” in, History and Theory: Studies in the History of Philosophy, 39/2 (2000), pp.147–166, 166.Google Scholar
  32. 47.
    Derrida, Of Grammatology, p.97. See also Irene Harvey, who writes, “the examples offer us evidence of something more than […] accidental […] That examples are not arbitrary interchangeable but rather integral to the constitution of the ‘as such’ as such is what is at stake here.” See “Exemplarity and the Origins of Legislation,” in, Unruly Examples: On the Rhetoric of Exemplarity, ed. Alexander Gelley (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1995), p.249. The examples constitute the possibility of the whole narrative; but their status as “mere” examples problematizes that very construction. This play and ambiguity is evident throughout.Google Scholar
  33. 49.
    Wendy Brown, “At the Edge,” in, Political Theory, 30/4 (August 2002), pp.556–576, 574. See also Jon Simons, who argues that “the term ‘fictive theories’ indicates a reaction to excessive epistemological and foundational concerns of Critical Theory, but does not propose in its place the sort of empty relativist skepticism according to which any account of what is going on in this world is as good as any other.” Explaining further with reference to the work of Michel Foucault, he proposes that “the question is not whether his account is adequate to ‘reality’, but whether his perspective is adequate to his resistance to the mode of power that subjects us.” See, “The Critical Force of Fictive Theories: Jameson, Foucault and Woolf,” in,CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Reconstituting Social Criticism: Political Morality in an Age of Scepticism, ed. Iain MacKenzie and Shane O’Neill (Basingstoke: Macmillan Press Ltd., 1999), pp. 85, 92.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Susan McManus 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Susan McManus

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations