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Re: [xmca] Intransitivity and Intransigence


I'm in general agreement with your perspective on Habermas. On the positive side his work shows just how important an understanding of ontogenesis is for any kind of critical analysis: a critical theory, emancipatory inquiry, etc. To put it simply, how people act now depends not only on their current circumstances but also on their past experiences, so any sort of emancipatory effort, whether it is psychotherapy or political organization, needs to be able to comprehend the impact of those experiences.

At first Habermas, like Horkheimer and Adorno, turned to Freud for an account of ontogenesis, specifically an account of the ways traumatic experiences in childhood lead to distortions in adult communication. But this got him into trouble and the kind of approach to ontogenesis that Habermas has been drawing on since then has been structuralist: Piaget for an account of the ontogenesis of instrumental knowledge, Kohlberg for moral knowledge, and Selman for social knowledge. I have respect for each of those three, but their work rests on assumptions that I have trouble with. For Habermas they offer a kind of rational reconstruction of ontogenesis that he believes is able to separate what is contingent from what is necessary and universal. I am skeptical. They also, as you point out, downplay what goes on 'below' the level of concepts, and consider the abstract to be a transcendence of the concrete and actual rather than a transformation of it.

It is ironic, and disappointing, that Habermas has never turned his attention to LSV.


On Oct 22, 2009, at 9:02 PM, David Kellogg wrote:

Martin and Wolff-Michael:

Thanks for taking the time to patiently explain some Heidegger to a philosophical neophyte. Wolff-Michael is right when he suspects I have not studied it. First of all, my German is nowhere near good enough. Secondly, I am Jewish (despite a goyische surname which my maternal grandmother always suspected meant "kill hog") and, despite our well known inclination to take suffering and even existence rather unsentimentally, I share with other Jews a strong disinclination to make our continued existence a topic of discussion.

But thirdly, my real interest is not Heidegger at all, but Adorno; I started reading Heidegger only in order to understand Adorno's consuming distaste for him. It's Adorno, not I, who says that Heidegger's view of language is unmediated. But now I really AM quite interested in understanding what that means.

I think Adorno does NOT mean that Heidegger's view of language is unmediated in some ontological sense; that "language is" in the sense that "being is" or "death is". It seems to me that what he's arguing is a lot more subtle: it's that the statement that "being is" or "death is" IMPLIES, although it does not explicitly state, that "language is", because "being" and "death" are "given to us" (to use a somewhat unfortunate Andyism) not by experience but only by language. That is an argument with which I think I am in full agreement.

(The more I read of Adorno the more I find I disagree with him at my peril, and so like Tony I am quite uneasy about his views on jazz, which he considers "slave music". I suppose in a sense he is right, but it seems to me that the choice we are then given is a choice between the music of slaves and that of slave masters, and I am more than a little surprised that he prefers the latter.)

Adorno provides an antidote to Habermas, whose views on psychology are almost pure Piagetianism (though Adorno himself is a little two inclined to Freudianism for my taste, he uses Freud to great effect in his critique of fascist aesthetics.) Habermas' affinity for Piaget means "communicative rationality" is basically something laid on top of the other forms of rationality, rather the way that formal thinking rises out of concrete operations. That leads to a really miserable kind of ethnocentrism, where the bit that I am interested in, the part Habermas calls "evaluative" rationality involved in aesthetic judgment, gets utterly short shrift.

On the one hand, Habermas has the problem of explaining how cultures which are supposedly lacking in cognitive-instrumental discourses (teleological rationality) nevertheless appear to have fully develped forms of evaluative discourse (dramaturgical rationality). On the other, Habermas is left in a world where Western myths about the "invisible hand" of the market and the sovereign individual are considered forms of rationality while Azande myths about magic spells and the sovereignty witches are not.

All of this could EASILY have been avoided, if Habermas had just bothered to read and take seriously Vygotsky's critique of Levy- Bruhl and other early ethnographers and his observation that a lot of what we consider "adult" thinking takes place BELOW the level of concepts, and probably OUGHT to keep doing so. For example, as a jazz lover, I am quite unwilling to give up my musical affinity for concrete and factual links between ideas, and as a painter I am positively wedded to them.

All of which renews my appreciation for Chapter Five of Thinking and Speech, and also Paula and Carol's work on "Wolves and Other Vygotskyan Constructs". I started reading their work convinced that Chapter Six, where Vygotsky champions "leaving complexes at the school door" and teaching a school curriculum entirely aimed at concept development, represented the "real" Vygotsky. Now, I am not at all sure; it seems to me that in the field of aesthetic education at least Chapter Six represents a concession to educational Stakhanovism, a concession far too far.

David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education

PS: Andy, it seems to me that a question we really need to ask is whether or not childhood has been made artificially long in so- called modern societies, all of which suffer from capitalist overproduction and consequently chronic under-employment. The Michael Jackson phenomenon, the peculiarly Western phenomenon of great children's lit written by pedophiles (Lewis Carroll, J.M. Barrie, etc) and (most recently) the obsession with the "balloon boy" hoax all suggest that in so-called modern societies, it is not children who are hurried so much as adults who are retarded,

There's a good article by Suzanne Gaskins on Mayan children who (she argues) do not actually play, but only engage in various forms of legitimate peripheral participation on the fringes of adult activity. She makes a good case that this is a perfectly valid way of life, far better suited to this environment than what you and I call "childhood".

Gaskins, S. (1999) Children's Daily Lives in a Mayan Village: A Case Study of Culturally Constructed Roles and Activities. In Goncu, A. Children's Engagement in the World, pp. 25-61. CUP.


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