The Highway of Despair: Critical Theory After Hegel (New Directions in Critical Theory)
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Hegel's "highway of despair," introduced in his Phenomenology of Spirit, represents the tortured path traveled by "natural consciousness" on its way to freedom. Despair, the passionate residue of Hegelian critique, also indicates fugitive opportunities for freedom and preserves the principle of hope against all hope. Analyzing the works of an eclectic cast of thinkers, Robyn Marasco considers the dynamism of despair as a critical passion, reckoning with the forms of historical life forged along Hegel's highway.
The Highway of Despair follows Theodor Adorno, Georges Bataille, and Frantz Fanon as they each read, resist, and reconfigure a strand of thought in Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. Confronting the twentieth-century collapse of a certain revolutionary dialectic, these thinkers struggle to revalue critical philosophy and recast Left Hegelianism within the contexts of genocidal racism, world war, and colonial domination. Each thinker also re-centers the role of passion in critique. Arguing against more recent trends in critical theory that promise an escape from despair, Marasco shows how passion frustrates the resolutions of reason and faith. Embracing the extremism of what Marx, in the spirit of Hegel, called the "ruthless critique of everything existing," she affirms the contemporary purchase of radical critical theory, resulting in a passionate approach to political thought.
depends. Hegel mobilizes despair as a worldly passion, without dispensing with the theological traces and revelatory powers that a long line of Christian thinkers has believed to be harbored in despair. And the Phenomenology might be read as an induction into a dialectical practice of despair. Despair is not itself a symptom of a “religious consciousness” torn between worldly and divine orders. And I do not see despair as a “stage” in the progression of Spirit, one that indicates and
medicine. He shows how critique emerges ﬁrst in Greek juridical discourses, as a term for the art of cutting, sifting, separating, distinguishing, but also judging and deciding. Athenians saw critique, or krinein, as a response to crisis, or a disturbance, controversy, or disorder in the polis. By the Middle Ages, the connection between critique and crisis shifted from juridical to medical discourses. Not the judge, but the physician came to determine whether a condition could be called
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whole without immersion in it. For these reasons, it seems more radical, more likely to get at the root of a cultural formation. Yet, as Adorno sees it, “the choice of a standpoint outside the sway of existing society is as ﬁctitious as only the construction of abstract utopias can be.” Transcendent critique takes itself as objective, universal, and disinterested. It can’t admit its deep and inevitable partiality, nor can the transcendent critic take pleasure from attachments to the world.
recipient? What sort of relationship is this? Why might a particular kind of political speech come in the form of a letter? How might the open letter be like or diﬀerent from other rousing genres of political writing—for instance, the manifesto or the declaration? It seems Fanon had a certain fondness for the epistolary form and a recognition of its political uses. Paying attention to Fanon’s complex rhetoric, the strategies he employs in narrating the colonial drama and the anticolonial