Critique and Disclosure
In Critique and Disclosure, Nikolas Kompridis argues provocatively for a richer and more time-responsive critical theory. He calls for a shift in the normative and critical emphasis of critical theory from the narrow concern with rules and procedures of J rgen Habermas's model to a change-enabling disclosure of possibility and the enlargement of meaning. Kompridis contrasts two visions of critical theory's role and purpose in the world: one that restricts itself to the normative clarification of the procedures by which moral and political questions should be settled and an alternative rendering that conceives of itself as a possibility-disclosing practice. At the center of this resituation of critical theory is a normatively reformulated interpretation of Martin Heidegger's idea of "disclosure" or "world disclosure." In this regard Kompridis reconnects critical theory to its normative and conceptual sources in the German philosophical tradition and sets it within a romantic tradition of philosophical critique.Drawing not only on his sustained critical engagement with the thought of Habermas and Heidegger but also on the work of other philosophers including Wittgenstein, Cavell, Gadamer, and Benjamin, Kompridis argues that critical theory must, in light of modernity's time-consciousness, understand itself as fully situated in its time--in an ever-shifting and open-ended horizon of possibilities, to which it must respond by disclosing alternative ways of thinking and acting. His innovative and original argument will serve to move the debate over the future of critical studies forward--beyond simple antinomies to a consideration of, as he puts it, "what critical theory should be if it is to have a future worthy of its past."
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While clearly not intended as a first introduction to critical theory, this book might fairly be called "the best account so far" (Alasdair MacIntyre's phrase) of that tradition's possibilities. The book presents a new agenda for critical theory, both imaginative and hopeful, oriented around something Kompridis calls "reflective disclosure". This approach, a novel re-formulation of Heidegger's idea of "world disclosure", offers, according to Kompridis, the best hope of rescuing social critique from its narrow, procedural concerns on one hand, and from self-consuming, hyper-skeptical, hyper-critical tendencies on the other. At once highly nuanced and powerfully argued, the book's ideas spring from – and go some distance in answering – the need to renew "utopian energies" in the face of ongoing crisis & breakdown; to resist the contraction in our logical and political "space of possibility"; to find new ways of going on together; and to facilitate and initiate change for the better. Other more capable reviewers have treated the details of the book's arguments in relation to Heidegger's thought in ways that I cannot (see Fred Dallmayr's insightful and informed piece in Notre Dame's Philosophical Reviews). However, as an artist who shares a commitment to find and enact "better, more reflective ways of life", I'm impressed by the significant ways in which Critique and Disclosure opens up possibilities to do just that, and by the range and depth of concern the author shows for practices outside of professional philosophy which are also types of "reflective disclosure". Part IV, "Alternative Sources of Normativity", includes chapters on topics that are marginal for professional philosophers, but which prove vital to a meaningful discussion of social change: receptivity ("not passivity"), self-decentering, and Kompridis' own formulation of the "possibility-disclosing role of reason". Although there is much in the book addressed to those who are steeped in academic debates about critical theory, and concerned with its future, there are also broader and, in my view, far more important insights about the very possibility of social change, and the openness (or not) of humanity's own future. Perhaps most remarkable about Critical Theory between Past and Future (the title is a reference to Hannah Arendt's influential collection of political essays, Between Past and Future) is the generosity, sensitivity, and persistence of thought with which it addresses its concerns and its audience. These welcome features make it not only relevant but, in my view, essential to individuals practicing social criticism. In fact, anyone interested in social change will want to engage with the ideas in Kompridis' text – hopefully sooner rather than later.