New Criticals

Against the Insurrection and Totalizing Theory

In a famous 1850 review in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung Marx took what he called “officers of the insurrection” to task for attempting extreme radical action before anything remotely approximating a mature social movement had developed. Such an insurrectionary position, however, rests on the thought that the essentially determining features of the world are absolutely problematic. The illegitimate and all-pervasiveness of state, capital, and social powers add up to a total alienation that justifies any and all possible responses. This thought has its roots in Adorno’s critical theory, in particular, the framework of a historically negative dialectic which is supplemented to include a return of the repressed natural-other. In its most extreme version, this is a total and totally negative critical theory. The politics the theory sponsors, Adorno’s personal politics aside, are equally extreme.