The Terms of Cultural Criticism: The Frankfurt School, Existentialism, Poststructuralism

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Columbia University Press, 1992 - Philosophy - 256 pages
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Though seldom examined together, the Frankfurt School, existentialism, and poststructuralism have clear commonalities as well as considerable differences. All three address the apparent collapse of European tradition, and they have all posed formidable challenges to such legacies of the Enlightenment as political liberalism, instrumental reason, and self-positing subjectivity. The Terms of Cultural Criticism enters into lively debate with these highly influential schools of thought, reflecting on ways in which Enlightenment precepts, rather than being fundamentally mistaken, have historically miscarried. Each intellectual current is surveyed with a view to its historical adequacy, since each emerged, writes Wolin, "from the ruins of twentieth-century historical experience in order to offer intellectual guidance for a Western cultural context that has seemingly lost its raison d'etre". The contributions in Part I address the efforts of the Frankfurt School theorists to define the relation of Critical Theory to the Western philosophical tradition, their turn toward a philosophy of history, and the utopianism of Adorno's aesthetics. In Part II, Wolin explores connections between the thought of Carl Schmitt and political existentialism, examines the political insights of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and contrasts Sartre's and Heidegger's understandings of history. The concluding section of The Terms of Cultural Criticism critically surveys the works of three important recent figures--Richard Rorty, Michel Foucault, and Jacques Derrida. The Terms of Cultural Criticism is written in a spirit of "enlightenment about Enlightenment". In his provocative introductory essay, Wolin shows that when thecritique of "reason" is at issue, only the hand that inflicted the wound can cure the disease. He believes not that our Enlightenment heritage should be jettisoned, but that a contemporary critique of that heritage must pave the way for a new, positive conception of the meaning of enlightenment. In this way, Wolin rejects many currently fashionable renunciations of reason and seeks to rehabilitate the methods of immanent criticism.

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