The epistemological version of what I am calling the reproach of abstraction derives mainly from Humean empiricism, with its psychological conception of abstract ideas as the product of 'customary conjunctions' of particular ideas, based on resemblances, annexed to 'general names'. This is essentially a psychologistic updating of medieval nominalism. The practical-political version of the reproach is perhaps most commonly associated with the Lukácsian trajectory of Western Marxism, although it is also found in various sociologies of modernity, such as Simmel's, and it appears in a more literary-philosophical form in the complexly entwined traditions of French Heideggerianism and French Nietzscheanism. It is epitomized in its Marxist variant by Moishe Postone's concept of 'abstract domination', set out in Time, Labour, and Social Domination .
Abstract domination is 'the domination of people by abstract, quasi-independent structures of social relations, mediated by commodity determined labour - the impersonal, nonconscious, nonmotivational, mediate form of necessity characteristic of capitalism.' Abstract domination, in others words, is domination by abstractions. These two critical tendencies - epistemological and practical-political- often converge within Marxism, as in Derek Sayers's The Violence of Abstraction . But their combination is by no means restricted to the Marxist tradition. Indeed, there is a paradoxical position, more or less explicit in a great deal of contemporary theory ; it is shared, for example, by deconstruction and Adorno's version of critical theory, which holds that, not merely despite but precisely because of the necessity of abstraction to thought ,(the character of the necessity, that is), there is something both cognitively and politically inadequate about knowledge itself: not only existing knowledge, but all possible knowledges. For Feyerabend, for example, the history of Western thought could be told as 'A Tale of Abstraction versus the Richness of Being'. Increasingly, it seems, from a variety of different standpoints, abstraction - understood here as conceptual abstraction - is accompanied by both a certain melancholy (loss of the real object) and a certain shame (complicity in the domination of the concept and hence repression of other, more vibrant, more creative aspects of existence).
This can be seen, I think, in the growing reverence and enthusiasm for 'singularities' of various sorts: reverence in the spirit of the construal of alterity in the Levinas-Nancy tradition, that religious 'dream of a purely heterological thought' otherwise called 'pure empiricism'; enthusiasm on the model of 'i'ek's embrace of Badiou's 'act as event'. It is also visible in the turn within literary studies away from 'theory', strictly construed, towards a historicist particularism, on the one hand, and a revival of interest in 'aesthetics' (in its nineteenth-century disciplinary sense - quite different from Kant's philosophical sense of aesthetic as critique), on the other. This movement has a correlate in studies in the visual arts, in which the Anglo-American reception of Deleuze has become entangled. Indeed, in this context, certain theoretical terminologies have themselves become primarily aesthetic means.
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