Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Immanently Yours…

The wealth of material supplied by N Pepperell acts as a sure caution to intrepid guests, not to overstep their mark by way of tongue-in-cheek introductions and open-ended questions – particularly leading into holidays of national fervour… Not only does this lead to an avoidance of patriotic duty – long afternoons, barbeques and cricket under these antipodean skies – it ensures guilt-laden indigestion as well, as the reader attempts to sift through the subtle responses provided. All this, despite the assurances to the contrary from their author, made through various comments of fatigue, vagueness, distractedness and an invariably heavy workload… The embarrassment of riches which followed is all the more generous in consequence.


The intricate nature of the responses have suggested further comment to an already lengthy post would make comprehension difficult – so I’ve created a separate post with the first question and response below. I’ve followed with some additional comments in blue.

L Magee: What motivates the aim to develop an immanent theory over a transcendental one? Why must a critical position show itself to be explained in the same terms as what it criticises? Why not, for instance, posit God, nature or something else as a normative ideal against which to measure a particular historical moment or social situation?

N Pepperell: This is one of the questions that Hegel alludes to early on in Phenomenology: the idea that, if you just start off saying “I’m going to do an immanent theory – unlike all those dogmatists who posit a priori stances”, etc. – you’ve basically just demonstrated that you’re a dogmatist too… ;-P To be consistent, the position of immanence actually has to fall out of the theoretical argument itself – so that, really, you can only know that an immanent position is the best “standpoint”, as the result of a (fairly elaborate) argument, that would try to show that you can only make sense of certain important things if you work from an immanent standpoint.

So a stylistically or presentationally consistent immanent theory wouldn’t declare itself as such, but would just unfold an argument through the categories available within a particular context, gradually unfolding its analysis so that it becomes clear that a concept such as immanence is actually required to make sense of all the categories. Hegel – quite rightly – doesn’t trust his readers to “get” that kind of argument, so he adopts a kind of bifurcated presentational strategy, where some elements are quite consistently immanently voiced, while other elements are full of, effectively, stage whispers and stage directions – hints to the reader about what he intends to do, so the reader won’t lose patience or become confused at the strategic intent of the sections that are more immanently voiced.

So, to address your question more directly: there is no way to make an a priori case that a critical position must account for itself using the same kinds of analytical categories that it uses to make sense of its environment. It’s entirely possible to posit God, physical nature, human nature, or similar as a normative standpoint – and, in fact, when I’m discussing these issues in a context where I can’t unfold a lengthy argument about the value of immanent theory (where, as a matter of practicality, I effectively have to assert immanence and ask my interlocutors to “trust me on this one”… ;-P), I’ll almost always mention that, if people are happy positing a God, or nature, or some other transcendental standpoint, then they won’t have to answer the sorts of questions I think I have to answer. If I have an opportunity to discuss the issue over a longer period of time, I’ll then explain why I think appeals to transcendental standpoints provide particularly poor means of answering certain kinds of questions – but it generally takes longer to make this kind of case, than it does just to set out – dogmatically, as Hegel would say – that certain specific standards of proof and argument begin to apply, once you begin operating within an immanent framework.

What begins to motivate thinking about an immanent theory, in a contemporary social theoretic context, is usually a recognition that the object of analysis – social institutions, normative ideals, collective practices, etc. – has actually changed over time. The point of a non-immanent concept is, generally, that it can be universal or timeless or transcend contexts. When you try to use a non-immanent concept to explain something that changes over time (and people do this all the time, of course) the form of reasoning is necessarily reductive – you are dismissing or deliberately ignoring qualitatively specific elements of your object, in order to assimilate that object into something more generic. This form of reductionist reasoning is quite valid – and quite useful – for many practical purposes, so I would have no blanket criticism that would rule out the use of reductive forms of thought for all purposes.

This kind of reduction, though, tends to be associated with ontological, rather than with simply pragmatic, claims: so, people perceive that the universal or general elements to which an object is reduced are the “essence” of that object, while other elements are less essential. You then get questions about how one can decide what’s essential, and what is mere appearance – and this often leads into a kind of scepticism we’ve discussed in the reading group in relation to Weber: the feeling that, really, there is no standpoint from which one could make a decision on such things, so the choice is essentially arbitrary (or pragmatic). So one of the things Hegel, for example, is trying to do is to make the case that, actually, things aren’t anywhere near as arbitrary as they seem – that it’s not an accident that we experience some choices as arbitrary, but that this experience doesn’t actually mean that things are random. I’m not saying this very clearly – and I know I’ve promised to post on this issue (Sarapen mentioned the other day that, where his blog used to be the thing he did to procrastinate on his work, he has now reached the point where he finds himself procrastinating on his blog – I think I’m at that point, as well… ;-P). But for the moment I want to leave this kind of philosophy-eye view of the problem to one side, since your question was really about critical theory specifically, and why immanence is particularly important in that context.

First, of course, there are critical theoretic approaches that aren’t immanent: that, for example, criticise existing society against a notion of human nature – or, for that matter, against religious ideals. So, in a sense, when I toss around the term “critical theory” in a casual way, I’m using it as an informal shorthand for a particular kind of critical theory: specifically, a theory that operates in a secular framework (which is more or less what “materialism” means, in its original sense), and that also tends to think that at least the historically specific elements of contemporary societies and contemporary forms of subjectivity must be explained in historical and social terms. One core goal of this kind of critical theory is to provide a secular explanation for an object of analysis that changes over time. If the object changes, and yet we try to explain the object with reference to categories that are themselves understood to be timeless or transcendent, then we know from the outset that we’re engaging in a form of reduction – specifically, a form of reduction that will abstract away from whatever changes. The problem is, since we’re talking about critical theory here – theory oriented to exploring what might make change possible – it’s not terribly helpful to engage in a form of analysis that abstracts away from whatever is temporally specific… So, since the object of analysis is perceived as an historical object, and the goal of the analysis is to cast light on further potentials for historical change, there’s a need for the categories of analysis themselves to be historical categories – otherwise, it’s a bit difficult to see how the theory can grasp the things it claims to want to understand…

That said, I don’t actually believe most approaches to critical theory have come terribly close to this ideal. I think that many approaches – including some that set out with a strong commitment to producing a thoroughly historical theory – in practice only apply their historical sensibilities to half the equation: they’re happy to historicise the thing they want to criticise; considerably less happy to historicise the ideals in the name of which they criticise that thing. Tacit notions of nature (including quite complex notions of historically-emergent nature) tend to be the actual grounds for the normative standpoints of most critical theories. In this sense, they fall short of the Hegelian ideal and are arguably not terribly consistent with their own stated argumentative standards. More importantly, though, this one-sidedness (I personally think) tends to lead to a lack of appreciation for the generative role played by our current context as an incubator for progressive ideals and practices – which can both drive theories into a more pessmistic direction (more on this in response to your question below), as well as leading to positions that the current context would need to be smashed, rather than preserved through the fulfillment of the potentials it has generated…

I should also mention that a consistent immanent approach to critical theory can’t just assert as a stance, e.g., that a secular theory is the way to go, or that historical objects must be apprehended historically, or any of the other stage direction sorts of positions I’ve mentioned in passing above: a fully consistent immanent critical theory would have to explain these forms of subjectivity just as it explains its other critical ideals (for these concepts do function as normative ideals, grounding critical judgments of other intellectual – and social – movements). The problem is, of course, that it’s presentationally impossible to keep all of these conceptual balls in the air at one time – you can’t always be offering the meta-analysis of how each term you use has been properly grounded, etc. You’d never actually get around to saying anything… ;-P So my approach has been to use a combination of stage directions, combined with a very open and explicit acknowledgement that, in a particular text or conversation, I’m not actually providing sufficient justification to persuade anyone not already tempted by the framework I’m outlining. Then, depending on the concept, I might be able to point to some other work that has carried out some kind of grounding in a more adequate form, or I might need to say that this is work that remains to be done. There is a necessary caveat emptor warning that needs to accompany presentations of this kind of theory, at this point – unless someone is prepared to believe that Hegel or Marx has adequately carried out an immanent explanation to their satisfaction…

L Magee: The concept of immanence is certainly clarified here – thank you. I’m interested in following up on several implications for an immanent critique in what you’ve described. Firstly, it seems that it would be necessary to follow Hegel in demonstrating immanence – not in terms of the categories, and certainly not in terms of the result, but in how the critique would unfold, from a range of dogmatic “immanently voiced” positions through to its conclusions. The form of this critique is necessarily a difficult one for someone to follow, who is “not already tempted by the framework” – sympathetic perhaps in virtue of the result, the reputation of the thinker, the necessity to master his or her thought, and so on. Contrastingly, the normal form of an argument – take certain principles as a priori and proceed from there – is much easier (perhaps because of our collective early schooling in deductive reasoning, but still…). Of course, it should be more difficult to demonstrate that the “certain principles” are themselves not ahistorical truths but grounded in a particular history, that so are other principles of other arguments, including those of the current argument. However this is a lot of work for anyone to do before even getting to the meat of the argument, and seems to cede ground, as a rhetorical strategy, to a so-called transcendental critique, made on the basis of God, human nature, etc.. So long as your “interlocutors” will “trust [you] on this”, that’s fine – but I wonder in other contexts how an immanent critique could ever convince anyone not, as you say, predisposed beforehand? Indeed I wonder whether this difficulty results in a convenient and pragmatic reduction from immanence precisely to the very sort of positions being critiqued, ensuring a new form of “high-brow” vs “low-brow” version of any successful immanent critique – a cognoscenti who understand and interpret the critique into a set of dogmatic statements for those who can’t or won’t follow it. Granted, this is a less of a problem for the critique itself, and more of a problem for how to interpret and respond to it.

Secondly, I think your comments about “work” are telling in this regard – a critique is in this sense less a point of view taken in relation to a particular object, but an ongoing work into how particular points of view get to be taken with regard to an object at given times. As work, it can build on previous work, refine it, augment it, critique it and so on, according to the historical conditions which permit certain aspects of the work become more (and less) clear. In turn, later work may perform the same set of operations, with the assumption there are always “workers” sympathetic to this form of critique. It is at this juncture that I would see the distinction between the “philosophy eye-view” and “critical theory”; philosophy, at least classically (and also in its modern mode of formal logic), has great trouble reconciling its temporal contingency – why these thoughts, at this time? – with the universals it seeks to deliver. Conversely critical theory has the problem of explaining how the historical itself is anything more than a category dreamt up a at a given moment in history, as likely to likely to disappear once its utility has been exhausted. (Of course this dichotomy leads some to the apparently implausible, if highly praiseworthy, project of historical universals…). The notion of “work” as either the production of final account of some particular problem, or a continued effort towards a critique of a given idea or institution in terms of its historical traces presents, at least to me, a useful one for conceptualising these positions.

Finally, I wonder how an immanent critique might proceed without the sort of underlying metaphor or model of organic growth which Hegel uses. This metaphor is at the heart of the Phenomenology, which explains apparent oppositions as evolving moments in the organism – Spirit – under study. Under other critiques, this metaphor itself is heavily historicised – your talk, for instance, describes “capitalism as a form of social life that perpetuates pressures for economic growth” [my emphasis]. What seems to underly this is the idea that capitalism understands itself as naturalised, as a form of organism destinated to grow (via economic rather than biological means). For Hegel’s critique, the result nicely ties up with eventual maturing of the object; if criticism removes or replaces this metaphor, it has to devise other means for delivering its result – not as the product of organic growth, necessarily, but by some other process. What else, if anything, can be used to explain social and ideological movement and change? How does critique avoid, on the one hand, being entrenched in the back-and-forth movement of dogmatic inquiry, and on the other, repeating the progression towards some sort of holistic teleological meta-critique?

I realise both the initial and subsequent questions are somewhat presumptuous and out-of-order, given the context from which they spring (and the time it takes to provide any meaningful reply…). They are in part an attempt to grapple with how to interpret Hegel in a modern context, and an effort to bring to the fore the difficulties I have with understanding other modern interpretations – including those suggested at in these posts. So, some apologies in advance with the naivety in which these thoughts are voiced – truly, not those of one in any sort of “commanding position”. They of course do not demand or expect, either, the rich kinds of responses brought forth previously…

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3 responses to “Immanently Yours…

  1. N Pepperell January 29, 2007 at 1:50 pm

    Okay: how to make sense… Thank you for this – it’s a good discussion, although I’m feeling a bit primitive in most of what I’m outlining here…

    First, I’m glad you liked the explanation of the concept of immanence, because I’ve been cringeing over it ever since I wrote it, to such a degree that I’m having trouble re-reading it, and wasn’t looking forward to revisiting that part of our discussion… ;-P I will try to get back to it at some point in a more adequate way (don’t you dare make that your next question in this discussion – no, just kidding: no topics are barred – revisit if you wish – or, perhaps even more useful to me, explain why you found my earlier explanation useful to you – your explanation might help me uncurl a bit from the ball I fold into when I look at this section…) but, for the moment, I’d much rather write about the other things you’ve asked about… So…

    On the level of prolegomena: I was a little bit unclear of the voicing in a couple of your questions: specifically, in the first paragraph, you begin by suggesting that you might think it necessary to follow Hegel’s presentational strategy if you adopt an immanent approach but then, at the end of the second paragraph, you talk about liking the concept that critique can be conceptualised as an ongoing work – I’m probably just misunderstanding your intention in one of these passages, but I would generally take the concept of critique as an ongoing work to be something that also points in the direction of an alternative presentational strategy – one that is, perhaps, a bit gentler on the reader, in that it can unfold concepts in a more unpacked, sprawling way, creating plausibility for its perspective over a series of works focussing on specific elements of the argument, and providing lots of room for stage directions en route. But I won’t go into detail on this, unless you’d like to develop your comments on Hegel’s presentation a bit more?

    To pick up the thread of how to persuade people who aren’t already inclined to think this way: in my original post, when I mentioned settings in which it might be necessary to ask interlocutors to suspend their disbelief, so to speak, I was referring to fairly specific – although admittedly also quite common – contexts. There’s only so much ground, for example, you can cover in a conference presentation or an individual article: in those sorts of pieces, the best you can do, really, is to flag very explicitly what you haven’t done – and then to point people to other things they can read, or to be honest about work that remains to be done. There are other settings, though, where you actually can establish the plausibility of the framework – in a semester’s teaching, for example, or a book-length treatment. Even conference presentations and articles, although generally not the best media, can provide enough space if they are aimed at specialist audiences whose own background will carry them a lot of the way toward where you are trying to go.

    My basic approach, regardless of the medium, is to try to convey a sense of the key problems or questions that are very difficult to resolve if you don’t operate within such a framework. Some of these questions – say, questions relating to why similar concepts suddenly begin to resonate in apparently different fields in a specific historical moment – can be demonstrated in a stand-alone kind of way. Others – say, the sorts of critique I might offer of a theorist like Habermas, where I point out that his approach only historicises some things, and not others – will only really have a “charge”, once you can actually offer a competing theory that makes good on the critique by showing how it’s possible to do better.

    The key, though, is getting across that what might appear to be – and what is often presented as – a very abstract philosophical or theoretical discussion is actually intended to help us make sense of what is happening on the ground. You can then use these questions as preliminary critical standards, asking a range of different theoretical approaches whether, and to what extent, they cast light on questions we agree are interesting and important.

    To me, this question-driven approach drives toward the notion of immanence – at least whenever questions about historically-specific phenomena are involved. Someone else might disagree – and that’s fine, because the shared framework of questions provides sufficient shared points of reference that we can then have a meaningful debate about what approach would be best.

    Hegel, by contrast, is unfolding a completed argument – an option that isn’t available to me, because I don’t have such a system… ;-P But, to make a virtue of my necessity, I also think this approach makes it very difficult for others to learn how to “own” the underlying problems the approach is meant to solve, and then rotate the solution around a bit to understand better how to generate something similar – to grasp why it takes this form, and not another (Hegel, of course, addresses these issues – my point is not, at this stage, about inadequacies in his argument, but about getting a reader to a point where they can begin to improvise in and through an approach)…

    We’ve talked a lot in the reading group about authors who want their readers, not just to come to a specific conclusion, but to be apprenticed in the discipline of carrying out a specific process of thought. An author like Adorno, for example, who is specifically suspicious of what he believes is the violence inherent in conceptual thought, cannot simply lay out a linear argument – it would contradict his purpose. Benjamin, who believes we need to learn to recognise constellations of meaning that form between charged elements of our context, has a similar motive for producing cryptic, idiosyncratic text…

    But, as much as I understand the reasoning behind these stylistic choices, I rebel against it – suspicious of the way in which it renders the text vulnerable to a sort of elite appropriation of the hidden meaning – where what you’ve called the cognoscenti then come along and – ironically enough – systematise the hell out of the text anyway, because it’s too difficult for anyone else to interpret…

    So I suppose I tend, as an ideal, to want to break my own approach down – to try to figure out how to communicate it clearly and directly. And yet, at the same time, by fixating on questions, I’m effectively orienting to putting the reader through a process of my own… Like Adorno or Benjamin or a number of other authors, I don’t actually want people to walk away with a set of dot points that represent my conclusions – about which I’m far more tentative, in any event, than the underlying problems and questions: I want people to walk away confused, in a sense, recognising that some often taken-for-granted dimensions of our social context are actually quite strange, when you look at them closely and think about them – I want people puzzling over how they could possibly make sense of such things… Not sure where this leaves me on your “high brow”, “low brow” front: my impulse is to say that there’s nothing intrinsically “high brow” about it – but then again, I can’t get anyone get anyone to read my work, so I can’t be doing all that well in writing clearly and accessibly… ;-P

    I really liked your formulation:

    …a critique is in this sense less a point of view taken in relation to a particular object, but an ongoing work into how particular points of view get to be taken in relation to a particular object at given times. As work, it can build on previous work, refine it, augment it, critique it and so on, according to the historical conditions which permit certain aspects of the work to become more (and less) clear.

    I wish I’d written that… ;-P At the same time, I’d be cautious about the formulation you use in your next sentence – “later work may perform the same of operations” – mainly because I think there’s a risk of implying a kind of systematicity to the sorts of things I do. I’m not personally convinced that systematicity exists – that there are things that could validly be called “operations” that one could… er… rinse and repeat… I suspect I’m fairly eclectic, methodologically – with the checks and balances in the process being performed by adequacy to the underlying questions… But maybe there’ll be some cognoscenti out there who’ll decode the method underlying my madness… ;-P

    The dichotomy you draw between the search for timeless universals, on the one hand, and the descent into relativism, on the other, is important – though I’m not sure this dichotomy maps neatly onto the divide between philosophy and critical theory. I would problematise somewhat, though, the way in which you characterise the relativist side of this dichotomy – where you say “critical theory has the problem of explaining how the historical itself is anything more than a category dreamt up at a given moment in history, as likely to disappear once its utility is exhausted”. I actually might think this myself about historically grounded concepts – I just don’t think this position drives in any necessary way toward relativism: in other words, I think a concept can be fully and only historical in character, without this meaning the concept is any less useful as a normative standard for us, in the only context we’ll ever inhabit…

    Of course, this raises a whole host of other complicated issues, and you would know from our last discussion that I’m not prepared to suggest an answer for all the issues it raises. But my basic starting point is that, to move beyond the universalism-relativism dichotomy, one of the things we need to give up is this reflex notion that historicising something is the same thing as debunking or relativising something: historicising something, to me, is actually the first step to making sense of how we can make normative judgements about that thing…

    Your comments on the growth metaphor are interesting – a number of authors have actually done work on the capital-as-organic-process metaphor, and then used this to begin to make sense of the rise of organicist (and decline of mechanical) metaphors in various cultural fields.

    In terms of whether a concept of immanent critique needs to assume some kind of organic whole: my hunch would be that such a concept would be required only if critique is offered from the standpoint of the whole and views all parts within that whole as necessary in a strong sense. I should note, though, that I need to think through the logic of this more carefully – there might well be other conceptions of critique in which some kind of organicist model would inhere – so I won’t make this as a strong claim, although I will make a strong claim that immanent critique does not have to be conceptualised in a way that requires an organicist presumption. Among other things, you can have immanent critique that takes the whole as the object (rather than the standpoint) of critique: this would be true of much Frankfurt School critique. So, within that framework, there might well be something existent that could be described in some kind of organicist wholistic sense – but that thing would be conceptualised as a form of domination, and critique would be geared toward its abolition, and would seek its standpoint somewhere else. (The fact that the Frankfurt School theorists didn’t succeed in identifying such a standpoint doesn’t mean that such an approach wouldn’t be viable in a different form.)

    Personally, I tend to see critical standpoints as having something to do with the ways in which determinate dimensions of social context interact with one another in a dynamic process – so the norms expressed in critique don’t derive from one specific locus (whether that be a temporal pattern unfolding in history, or some specific arrangement of concrete institutions), but in the complex ways in which these things interact, which together make certain forms of perception and thought (probabilistically) more likely. But my thinking is very primitive here, so we really are in full fledged suspension of disbelief territory here…

    I do follow the Frankfurt School theorists in seeing critique as the critique of its own context (I’d even suggest that perhaps they didn’t go far enough in this direction) – which would mean that I would expect different forms of critical (or noncritical) subjectivities in contexts that differ substantially, whether past or future. The abolition of the context also abolishes the forms of critique that arose within it – hopefully, since I think some of those forms of critique reflect the potential for quite good things, in a way that also preserves the best elements of whatever was abolished…

    Related to this is the notion that I’m not looking for – and tend to be sceptical of – attempts to theorise some writ large motor of human history: my suspicion is that such theories are reading a pattern of historical transformation characteristic in a strong sense of modernity alone, back onto past periods in which you really have to search hard to find any evidence for such a thing. It may be that some times had their own developmental dynamic – it may even be that a few other times had a developmental dynamic that somewhat resembled our own – and it may be that some times just had… change – nothing that could be grasped in terms of any kind of “logic” or self-replicating pattern.

    But I feel like I’m diving off into cognoscenti territory toward the end here – best call a stop, and let you take stock and see what, if anything, might be worth pursuing from here.

  2. L Magee January 30, 2007 at 2:22 am

    Thanks again for the extended commentary. At this stage I’ll just try to clarify a couple of the points you mentioned in relation to the post.

    What I was clumsily trying to suggest with Hegel and immanence is that if I accept his version of immanence, I might be bound to recreate the presentation, albeit with different categories and conclusions. In terms of a “work”, this could be a holistic, single feat accomplished by the individual, or alternatively, it may materialise as a work in progress, always partial, supplementing and supplemented by other efforts – and a range of positions in between. But either way, an immanent critique would still follow the same strategy – for want of a better word – of voicing a range of positions, talking these through, showing how polarisations in fact come to be connected, and so on. While the presentation might differ, the strategy must remain the same – that was I think the point I was trying to make…

    The “high/low-brow” thing was not really intended to be a categorical distinction (and I don’t think you take it as such) – rather a tendency which seems inherent to me in the presentation of an immanent critique, certainly in its Hegelian form. Even if I agree with “argument” as such, after reading the Phenomenology for example, I have great difficulty interpreting it for others without being reductive and, at the same time, necessarily destructive of it.

    In terms of the “later work”, again this was somewhat clumsy – the idea of the “work” not being a ready-made system, in the Hegelian sense, but an ongoing interpretation, which may make use of yours in the way yours may make use of others… A very bland point really.

    And in a final attempt to ameliorate past crimes of clumsiness – yes I agree, the distinction between philosophy and critical theory is very crude and misplaced. I think I meant, in the remarks about critical theory, to suggest something less like relativism and more like the historicist position you describe (and of course, not all critical theory probably does this, nor is all philosophy ahistoricist in this sense). In any case, for my own peace of mind, I’ll take this a posterior as being the case…

  3. N Pepperell January 30, 2007 at 8:40 am

    On Hegel, our discussion may just be revolving around two different understandings of the term “presentation”: I agree that an immanent approach has to talk about why competing approaches are, to use my words, “historically plausible” ways for people to perceive and think about their world. I don’t think, though, that this point has to be made stylistically by starting in the voice of those historically plausible forms of perception. To take an example: Marx at the beginning of Capital starts with:

    The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as “an immense accumulation of commodities,” its unit being a single commodity. Our investigation must therefore begin with the analysis of a commodity.

    A commodity is, in the first place, an object outside us, a thing that by its properties satisfies human wants of some sort or another. The nature of such wants, whether, for instance, they spring from the stomach or from fancy, makes no difference. Neither are we here concerned to know how the object satisfies these wants, whether directly as means of subsistence, or indirectly as means of production.

    And then proceeds – for quite some time – to unfold a series of deductions and reflections from this point. All of this is immanently voiced – so immanently voiced that it makes it quite easy to read the analysis as a presentation of Marx’s views, rather than as an extended mimickry of a form of perception that he was setting out in this way, as a preparation for then arguing that such a form of perception could only possibly arise in a particular kind of social context.

    Personally, I don’t see why this stylistic approach to an immanent presentation is necessary in order to make the point. I don’t see why, for example, it wouldn’t be okay to start where someone like Weber does at the beginning of Protestant Ethic, where he tries to get the reader to understand exactly how historically odd are the forms of perception and thought we now take for granted – by, for example, discussing how difficult it was to get workers to respond to wage incentives when capitalist forms of production were originally introduced in new regions, or by unpacking Benjamin Franklin’s platitudes. Weber foregrounds quite explicitly what he is trying to do here – he doesn’t just start rolling off Franklin bromides as though he might agree with them…

    Weber tells you that he thinks capitalism involves quite distinctive forms of perception and thought – and that such distinctiveness implies the need for an historical explanation, because we can’t just take the emergence of such things for granted, etc. Weber confronts his readers, in other words, with a puzzle – which he then proceeds to answer in what he explicitly argues is a very incomplete account.

    Now, the problem for my argument, of course, is that Weber isn’t making an immanent argument (at least, not a consistent one that would allow Weber to make sense of his own critical distance from the phenomenon described), and Marx is trying to make an immanent argument – so the styles as actually put into use do tend to correspond to the philosophical or social theoretic stances. In principle, though, I can’t figure out what would be wrong with writing like Weber (here I’m referring to the structure and strategy of his text, rather than the actual prose style), while also unfolding an immanent critical standpoint…

    But you were probably thinking more strategically when you mentioned “presentation”, rather than stylistically, which is how I had been using the term.

    My sense, though, is that a more explicit, less immanently voiced, style at least helps to minimise the high brow/low brow issue by making the text easier to penetrate without some special socialisation into how to read it. This doesn’t, of course, resolve the more intrinsic problem that immanent positions require you to ground an enormous number of concepts – so the best you’re likely to do is provide an adequate grounding for a selection of the most important ones, in order to establish a basic plausibility for the approach. And folks trying to read along in the wake of this kind of analysis will likely only see the grounding for a small handful of those – or not even that, if your cognoscenti get ahold of them first… ;-P So, like any complex framework of perception and thought, you’re likely to end up in a situation where you have adherents who take the framework largely on faith. This bothers me less, though, if I feel that decent legwork has been done at least somewhere

    But, basically, yes: my points were essentially about style and communicative strategy, rather than about – what is actually much more important – argumentative burden, where I would agree that Hegel provides a model. I would deviate from what seems to be Hegel’s commitment to “necessity” (still reserving the option of backing away from this element of my current reading of Hegel, as I’m not completely committed to it): I don’t think an immanent approach has to demonstrate that certain forms of perception and thought must arise (or that others cannot arise) – my vision of social context is a somewhat sloppy affair, open to historical and biographical accident. Those accidents, however, don’t provide the standpoint of critique as far as the theory is concerned – all kinds of things might escape the dimensions of our social context that I’m trying to analyse and, contingently, may at some point become very important, and open up possibilities my approach wouldn’t grasp. My point, though, is that we don’t need to appeal to such accidents – to the possibility for abstract contingency – to understand the generation of specific kinds of critical sensibilities within the overarching context we share because, to use the Frankfurt School term, our context is not one-dimensional: the context has a temporal structure that itself makes likely the emergence of certain types of critical perception and thought… (I say this, realising that you weren’t trying to drag us off into a discussion of whether critique requires some kind of leap outside of context – I was just free associating from your points to this common, non-self-reflexive, approach to grounding a kind of indeterminate form of critique by pointing to the potential for chance occurrences: I don’t deny that such things can occur, but I don’t need to appeal to them to explain the rise of social and intellectual movements that express determinate critical sensibilities that become common in the modern era.)

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