Notes on Honneth’s interpretaton of Reification.

I re-read the beginning of Axel Honneth’s reinterpretation of Reification today. I plan on using him on Postone to show what holes my grand ol’ rejuventation of fetishism and social domination can fill. What follows are some notes:

1) Honneth provides a pretty good overview of the inconsistencies in Lukacs conception of reification. What is odd is how he responds to these inconsistencies and  the dimensions he focuses on.

2) In the first place he moves right to the problem of normative grounding so beloved by the Post-Habermasian wing of critical theory. This is perplexing because: (a) it seems to me that worrying about whether or not a theory has a normative component should come after you have evaluated the coherence of that theory– Otherwise why bother!? Sure I could point out that the theory of the multitude lacks a normative standpoint but I could also just point out that its shit. (b) He later goes on to claim that Lukacs realized this in the passages when he provides a normative standpoint in his neo-romantic account of human wholeness. (c) Who cares about this problem outside of a handful of post-analytic critical theorists? I honestly don’t understand why it is such a big deal.

3) Like many other post-Habermasian critical theorists it also becomes clear that his revision of Lukacs proceeds on the terrain of critical theories canonized interpretation of Lukacs. As result no mention is made of Lukacs’ selective and problematic interpretation of Marx, who Lukacs faithfully follows and extends, what is problematic is: (a) Lukacs’ revolutionary standpoint and (b) his over determination of society by exchange.

4) This forms the basis of Honneth’s interpretation which is based on inter-subjective relations within capitalism. Since we can’t change capitalism, let’s all be nice to each other. The logical outcome of the empathic form of mutual recognition he promotes seems to be that someone like Bill Gates or Bono can be seen as exemplary of de-reified existence.

5) On the other hand Honneth’s complete lack of an account of the capitalist structure discounts any analysis of the systematic problems we are encountering today.

P.S. his definition of fetishism/reification annoys the piss out of me because its exemplary of that post-analytic style that is supposed to be clear but actually renders things more obscure and makes me question whether we have actually read the same thing:

Lukács keeps very close to the ontologizing everyday understanding of the concept of reification in asserting with Marx on the very first page of his treatise that “reification” sig- nifies nothing but the fact “that a relation between people has taken on the character of a thing.” In this elementary form, the concept clearly designates a cognitive occurrence in which something that doesn’t possess thing-like characteristics in itself (e.g., something human) comes to be regarded as a thing. At first it isn’t clear whether Lukács holds reification to be a mere epistemic category mistake, a morally objectionable act, or an entirely distorted form of praxis. After only a few sentences, however, it becomes clear that he must have more than a category mistake in mind, because the occurrence of reification takes on a multilayered quality and stability that cannot be put down to mere cognitive error.

The social cause to which Lukács attributes the increasing dis- semination and the constancy of reification is the expansion of com- modity exchange, which, with the establishment of capitalist society, has become the prevailing mode of intersubjective agency. As soon as social agents begin to relate to each other primarily via the exchange of equivalent commodities, they will be compelled to place them- selves in a reifying relationship to their surroundings, for they can then no longer avoid perceiving the elements of a given situation solely in relation to the utility that these elements might have for their egocentric calculations.

 

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About HR

Deep in the adjunct crackhole.
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