Recent events have only reinforced the fact that the value of freedom occupies a pre-eminent, but also paradoxical, role in modern societies. Nowhere have the ambiguities and ambivalences of this leading concept been more fully explored than in recent analyses by György Márkus and Axel Honneth. The following paper brings these two theorists together, examining Márkus’s claims for the perplexity that overtakes an investigation of modern freedom against the background of Honneth’s most recent magnum opus. This contrast will provide mutual (...) illumination, allowing us to appreciate both the commonalities and differences in approach and conclusion, but also allowing us to critically contest some of Márkus’s most startling conclusions. (shrink)
Agnes Heller is one of the leading thinkers to come out of the tradition of critical theory. Her awesome intellectual range and output includes ethics, philosophical anthropology, political philosophy and a theory of modernity and its culture. Hungarian by birth, she was one of the best known dissident Marxists in central Europe in the 1960's and 1970's. Since her forced immigration she has held visiting lectureships all over the world and has been the Hannah Arendt Professor of Philosophy at the (...) New School in New York for the last twenty years. This introduction to her thought is ideal for all students of philosophy, political theory and sociology. Grumley explores Heller's early work, elaborating her relation to Lukacs and the evolution of her own version of Marxism. He examines the subsequent break with Marxism and the initial development of an alternative radical philosophy. Finally, he explains and assesses her mature reflective post-modernism, a perspective that is both sceptical and utopian, that upholds a critical humanist perspective just as it critiques contemporary democratic culture. (shrink)
After centuries of relative neglect, the notion of the messianic is again in vogue in radical discourse. This paper explores the meaning and significance of this concept in the work of Hannah Arendt and Giorgio Agamben. They have been chosen not only because of their biographical and theoretical linkages to the thinker most responsible for the current resurgence of the concept of the messianic – Walter Benjamin – but also because they offer two alternative readings of precisely this concept. After (...) exploring the meaning of this concept in Benjamin, Arendt and Agamben, the analysis turns to the related concepts of sovereignty and the “camps” in our principals in order to further elaborate the difference between them and to bring into focus the strengths and weaknesses of the theoretical/political deployment of messianism in contemporary leftist thought. (shrink)
ABSTRACTAt the time of his death in 2016 György Márkus’s magnum opus on the culture of modernity that he laboured on throughout his post-Budapest period remained unfinished. This paper attempts to reconstruct the theory of Cultural Pragmatics that lay at the core of this immense project. The intention is to retrieve the key ideas of Márkus’s understanding of modern cultural relations by reviewing the terms of his critique of Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault on the issue of authorship. A distinctive (...) Márkus road in the study of cultural modernity offers itself as a rich contemporary research programme for the future. (shrink)
In his monumental collection Culture, Science, Society: The Constitution of Cultural Modernity, György Markus lays down the conceptual framework for the theorisation of modern high culture across the cultural spheres and articulates an account of cultural pragmatics or cultural relations – author, text and public – in the domains of science, arts and the humanities. He explores in great detail the conceptual keystones in the evolution of the cultural self-understanding of modernity from the enlightenment until today. Markus’s work resonates with (...) a deep understanding of the historico-cultural terrain being covered and the conceptual issues at play. (shrink)
This paper compares the analysis of the antinomies of modern culture in the work of Agnes Heller and György Markus. It is particularly concerned with Heller’s innovative introduction of a third optative concept of culture as cultural conversation. The rationale, contours and diagnosis linked to this normative concept are explored and contrasted to the historicising alternative presented in Markus. It is argued that some weaknesses in Heller’s account are intimately linked to the utopian aspiration of her understanding of philosophy.
This collection of lectures by world-renowned philosopher Agnes Heller, edited and introduced by John Grumley, covers a range of political and cultural issues, from the highly topical to modern classics.
Completed shortly before her death in 2019, _Tragedy and Philosophy. A Parallel History_ is the sum of Agnes Heller’s reflections on European history and culture, seen through the prism of Europe’s two unique literary creations: tragedy and philosophy.
This paper explores the complex relation between Hegel and Habermas. Centring the discussion around the key themes of philosophy, modernity and political philosophy, it argues for a gradual re-approachment of Habermas towards Hegel. In the final section on critical theory, it takes up the question of the spirit of this theory to offer a more trenchant critique of Habermas' theoretical short-coming from this perspective.
The concept of `radical needs' has been a constant element in Heller's social philosophy over the last 25 years despite the fact that her own perspective moved progressively away from Marxian philosophical anthropology towards the position that she now characterizes as reflective post-modernism. This article charts this theoretical journey with a close examination of her articulation of the concept of radical needs in various phases of her work. Beginning with an attempt to rescue Marxism from the clutches of objectivism and (...) voluntarism, Heller locates Marx's understanding of `radical needs' as those needs which cannot be satisfied in the bourgeois configuration of society. These needs provide the revolutionary motivation which leads the workers from economic struggle to politicisation. However, a critical distance is already evident in Heller's realization that in Marx these `radical needs' did not yet actually exist for the proletariat but were a construct of the theory, a product of revolutionary faith in their further development. It is this gap between theory and reality which provides both the concern and the avenue of Heller's later modifications of the concept. She moves from a shared faith in the existence of these needs in contemporary bourgeois society to an attempt to block the potential enlistment of this concept in the service of political substitutionalism and reconstruct it beyond the Marxist philosophy of history amidst the social setting of the welfare state. Finally, the article argues that this reconstruction has only been partially successful as the concept remains awkwardly straddled between normativity and weakened factuality. (shrink)
ABSTRACT In this paper I take a closer look at Agnes Heller’s late public lectures and her theoretical methods, scope and their contemporaneity. My relationship to Agnes Heller was a thirty-five year long friendship. She was one of my early mentors. Into her nineties, Agnes was characterized by great vitality, all-consuming interests, from all domains of higher culture to the everyday and current politics. I also meet her periodically during that time in Sydney, Budapest and New York and have some (...) early striking memories of Agnes as a striking personality. Finally, the paper will consider her contemporaneity as a thinker and public figure but also her many great strengths and her only too human weaknesses. (shrink)
The following paper explicates and critically analyses the existential ethics of the reflective postmodernist phase in the work of Agnes Heller. Beginning with a brief summary of the biographical and theoretical roots of her development, it goes on to analyse the meaning of her key slogan of ?turning contingency into destiny.? After elaborating her version of the ?existential leap? and her later attempts to refine her position in An Ethics of Personality, the paper will employ some literary lives from W. (...) G. Sebald and J. M. Coetzee to test the general viability of Heller's model. (shrink)
The idea of a ?dialogue with the dead? strikes us by turns as both impossible and intriguing. Yet, what can be really meant by it is far from clear. This essay attempts to explore this idea in the work of novelist W. G. Sebald. It examines the scope and the meaning of such an interchange in his works and connects this theme to his wider explorations of ?creaturely life.? It also links this particular dimension of Sebald's notion of ?creaturely? or (...) ?bare? life with some of the other major treatments of the same theme in recent literature and philosophy. (shrink)
This paper attempts to assess the state of the contemporary debate over humanism. Beginning with a brief recap of the main historical meanings of the concept of humanism itself, it details both the most recent articulation of the humanist standpoint in the work of Tzvetan Todorov and his "critical humanism" and the most potent anti-humanist replies in W.G. Sebald and Giorgio Agamben. While concerned to critically evaluate these new constellations of the debate, its main contention is not to wholly endorse (...) either position nor to consign the opposition itself to the past but rather to explain why this has not happened and consider where the figure of humanism stands today. (shrink)
The paper is a reflection on the biography and philosophy of Ágnes Heller. It considers questions of emigration, personality, politics, change, continuity, and friendship in the development of her philosophy.
In the following paper I will analyse three key themes characteristic of the life and work of Marisha Márkus. This paper was originally read for a conference on her work at the time of her farewell from the University of New South Wales in 2002. Success, Needs and Decency are signature themes that percolate through her work. Under the theme of success I turn to central ideas in her early sociology of women and to the meaning of success in the (...) world of the life of women. This theme has a particular existential theme for Marisha, who nursed her eldest son Gyuri for the last 30 years of her life. The concept of radical needs was a central concept of the work of the Budapest School. Marisha’s relatively less well-known interpretation of needs is arguably the most fully democratic reading of this theme that came to be better known in the work of Agnes Heller. I finally turn to the concept of decency, which for Márkus adds value to the key ideal of civil society that became so important in the transition of so-called socialist societies during the collapse of the communist regimes in the Eastern bloc. (shrink)
Theories of a new phase of earth history, the Anthropocene, position human world-making activity as a bio-geological force. Social interventions into earth systems have been extensive and malignant, altering the earth’s surface, atmosphere, oceans, and systems of nutrient cycling. To adapt and respond to emerging planetary dangers requires the collaboration of scholars from many different disciplines. In this paper, I argue that a coalition of the arts and sciences might draw upon György Márkus’s extensive studies of the topography of ‘high’ (...) culture. I reconstruct Márkus’s conceptual map of the arts and sciences as regions of ‘high’ cultural activity, each with their own criteria of value yet subject to an integral unity and shared ambition. Both regions of ‘high’ culture aim to create original works of significance for an engaged public. I then examine the implications of Márkus’s claim that the classical vocation of robust, public-oriented culture has run aground. The field of problems that this paper traverses are not the ecological crises of the Anthropocene per se. I attend rather to Márkus’s account of the neoliberal erosion of cultural infrastructure where democratic publics might engage with such problems. (shrink)
This paper concerns a little-known debate between Jürgen Habermas and György Márkus. Habermas argued that the Marxian paradigm of production was obsolete in the light of his own proposal for a ‘communicative turn’ in contemporary critical theories that avoids reductivism by focusing on moral learning processes connected to language and communicative interaction. This paper sets out Habermas’s critique of the paradigm of production and Márkus’s rebuttal.
This article examines attempts to reconcile biopolitics and Critical Theory, by drawing on Miguel Vatter’s The Republic of the Living. Vatter contends that modern neoliberal government has become biopolitical by incorporating biological life into the calculations of political rationality. To counteract its “normalising” impacts, he recommends an “affirmative politics” of the living, one that escapes the techniques envisaged to administer and govern life. Only a dual approach, he suggests, that fuses both democratic and critical political and economic arguments, can contest (...) neoliberalism. Vatter asserts that the basis of such a critique was first established by the Critical Theory tradition. However, for a biopolitical critique to become effective today, it is crucial to enhance the descriptive and normative understanding of the concept of Zoë or species life within the critical theoretical discourse. This shift in emphasis, however, raises several interpretative tensions with the fundamental perspectives and values of Critical Theory that are not fully acknowledged in Vatter’s proposed reconciliation of biopolitics and Critical Theory. (shrink)
This article explores the vagaries of Agnes Heller's relationship to humanism. It initially outlines a brief account of both the historical adventures of humanism and of the great debates in the middle of the 20th century that conditioned the contemporary reception of the concept of humanism. It then analyses Heller's own unique intellectual formation under the tutelage of Lukács. After briefly outlining her initial commitment to his humanist programme for the ‘Renaissance of Marxism’, it looks in more depth at her (...) initial critique of its humanist philosophical anthropology and her efforts, under the auspices of Arendt, to develop a more sophisticated account of the human condition. The analysis of Heller finally explores the impact of a postmodern awareness of contingency, fallibility and historical open-endedness on this account. The article concludes by pointing to both the commonalities and differences with the contemporary critical humanism of Tzvetan Todorov. It is argued that despite the many parallels, these differences signify Heller's final parting of the ways with humanism strictly speaking and also represent unresolved issues for any reanimation of contemporary humanism. (shrink)
Agnes Heller was one of the first critical theorists to turn her attention to a contemporary theory of modernity. Yet her many writings on this topic remained fragments until the publication of her A Theory of Modernity. This article focuses on the structural elements of this account. It traces the evolution of Heller's ideas in regard to logics, dynamic and social arrangement of modernity. It explains how these fit into her own development towards the standpoint she describes as postmodern resignation (...) and her notions of the `double bind' and `pendulum of modernity'. It argues that while Heller has modified her conception of the multiple logics of modernity to keep faith with a critical brief and an open-ended vision, some theoretical tensions remain. In particular, it explores the idea of modernity as a `steamroller' in conjunction with the question of its survival. It also questions whether Heller's emphatic normative vision of cultural modernity can easily be reconciled with the empirical trends of globalization that promise an increasing diversity of modernities. (shrink)
This paper considers Agnes Heller's attempt to construct a post Marxist radical philosophy. It examines the two main phases of this project: beginning with her late seventies A Radical Philosophy, it charts her development towards the position she now characterises as reflective post-modernism. It shows that despite a constant commitment to rational critique, Heller's concept of philosophical radicalism has shifted from an emphasis on total critique to that of maintaining balance between the rival technological and historical imaginations that exercise a (...) 'double-bind' over the modern individual. The paper explains the rationale of this evolution, highlights the features of each phase and critically analyses their weaknesses. Finally it argues that Heller's contemporary position represents a sophisticated attempt to overcome the limitations of former left radicalism and address the continuing need for orientation in contemporary modernity. (shrink)