Monday 22.5.2023. / 20.00 / MULTIMEDIJALNI INSTITUT – MaMa / PANEL

The Critique of Critical Theory

Werner Bonefeld: Negative humanism

The purpose of the critique of capitalist society is the humanisation of the social relations. However, the premise of the effort at humanisation is the existence of inhuman conditions. All that exists are concrete human beings, interacting in historically developed social relations, through which they define both their individuality and their sociability. The critique of political economy entails humanism as a negative category. Negative humanism recognizes social being as what it is: ‘the human being itself in its social relationships’ (Marx). Negative humanism is judgment of existence. It expounds the sheer unrest of life as the non-conceptual content of the capitalist categories. The struggle to avoid and avert suffering is inherent to the concept of capital as a process of valorising living labour. Since we cannot tell what Man is, we do not know what Man might be – in, say, a society that is not ruled by abstractions and in which Man is not a means but an end in herself.

Werner Bonefeld teaches in the Department of Politics at the University of York, UK. Before coming to York he taught at the Universities of Frankfurt and Edinburgh. He has conducted post-graduate seminars on critical theory at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, the Benemerita Universidad Autonoma de Puebla, and at Universidad de Buenos Aires.


Ray Brassier: The Limits of Critical Pessimism

Critique declines into pessimism when the conflictual unity of theoretical consciousness and class consciousness—defended by Horkheimer in his original 1937 manifesto for Critical Theory —congeals into their static opposition, underwritten by the unexplained contrast between reified consciousness and unreduced subjectivity. The source of critical explanatory power, capital as bad totality, becomes the source of a permanent anguish about the possibility of any resistance, since the latter will never be sufficiently negative. The limits of critical pessimism reveal themselves once we distinguish capital’s posited from its effective (real, “wirklich”) presuppositions, or the logic of value from the dynamics of class struggle: critical pessimism reifies totality by omitting the phantom subjectivity of praxis which generates the spectral objectivity of value.

Ray Brassier is Professor of Philosophy at the American University of Beirut. He is the author of Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction (Palgrave Macmillan 2007). He is currently working on a book entitled Fatelessness: Freedom and Fatality after Marx.


Alexi Kukuljevic: Beckett’s “Language of the No”

If the barbaric effects of our Capitalist modernity have not already given the human being a distaste for its own species, as the globe warms the prognosis for this political and supposedly rational animal most certainly will. As a Pentagon report leaked some 18 odd years ago already outlined: “Nuclear conflict, mega-droughts, famine and widespread rioting.” It goes on. Capital’s annihilation of the conditions of life as such, like Clov’s observation in Beckett’s Endgame that “there is no more nature,” seems less and less a matter of exaggeration. The supposed health of the economy has become an indubitable indicator of what Guy Debord presciently termed a planetary sickness. Capital has sickened the planet. As one comports oneself to ill health, to what Adorno already termed the “permanent catastrophe,” we would be wise to take our bearings from what Beckett once termed his “mad little tallyho” into “the language of the No.”

Alexi Kukuljevic is Assistant Professor in the Department for Art Theory at The University of Applied Arts in Vienna. He is the author of Liquidation World: On the Art of Living Absently with MIT Press. He is currently working on a book titled Like Hell It Is: On Horror and Hilarity.
Moderated by: Ozren Pupovac, Stipe Ćurković