In the interview that follows, Timothy Brennan argues that intellectual history is a dimension missing from most cultural theory. He suggests that this weakens theory, since intellectual history is not simply the frame for arguments but part of the substance of statements. He sees himself as giving voice to a sizable, if often silent, community of critics who find themselves doing critical/philosophical work but whose account of the past clashes with the official story of the emergence of “theory.” Unlike the Norton Anthology, which considers post-structuralist concepts like the “discursive regime,” the “body-without-organs,” or the “Real” to be the work of mostly French intellectuals of the Left, Brennan suggests that many of these ideas are variants of concepts from the interwar German philosophical Right. Testing the thesis that the history of these concepts casts them in a more doubtful light, Brennan looks at various theoretical moments of the immediate past: for example, the “subaltern,” the “multitude,” and the post-human. He observes along the way that the humanities themselves, paradoxically, have become the institution devoted to showing the absurdity of human beings. And, more to the point, he suggests the historical reasons for this self-defeating gesture. With his interlocutor, Francescomaria Tedesco, he tries to explain why there is so little intellectual debate over these issues — and why debate itself has been targeted. How, he asks, has radical political desire become postpolitical, and what is theory doing to agency by embracing ambiguity as a principle, or holding up indecisionism as a critical act?
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Oration| May 01 2012
Francescomaria Tedesco; The Theory That Lives on — A Counterintuitive History: An Interview with Timothy Brennan. the minnesota review 1 May 2012; 2012 (78): 62–82. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00265667-1550644
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