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Hamzić, Vanja (2019) 'What’s Left of the Real?' In: Fassin, Didier and Harcourt, Bernard E., (eds.), A Time for Critique. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

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This chapter concerns that-which-is-unknowable yet of necessity forming a constitutive element of being human (and, thus, of the human being), which, as an ontological question proper, has resurfaced in anthropology and has found renewed salience in continental philosophy, while its application to political theory holds the promise of resisting the notion that politics is an ontology. In each of these fields of inquiry, the unknowable (pre)figures as a condition of reality—it’s a thing in that it is thinkable as thing or, for some, as things. In anthropology, the unknowable makes a most notable comeback within the purview of the so-called ontological turn, with its move from ‘thing-as-analytic’ to ‘thing-as-heuristic’: the ethnographer is invited to suspend the familiar meanings of things so as to make space, cognitive and otherwise, for the unfamiliar meanings of things—those imparted by the ethnographer’s interlocutors—to be on their own terms. In philosophy, the ontological domain of the unknowable has reappeared within the various strands of continental materialism and realism that make up the so-called speculative turn. Of those, the most intriguing seems to be one that finds its origin not in a philosophical project per se but that of Jacques Lacan’s structuralist psychoanalysis and his life-long preoccupation with the Real (le réel), which, along with the Symbolic and the Imaginary, forms the very topology of ‘human reality’ (réalité humaine). Finally, in political theory, the Lacanian Real as the spectre of the unknowable could be understood as an antidote to Realpolitik in as much as it introduces an external to the political (le politique) and, by extension, to that what might be called everyday politics (la politique). The result, as averred by Susan Buck-Morss: ‘politics is not an ontology’ or, even more provocatively, ‘the ontological is never political’. The present chapter asks what is, or could be, the role of critique in such (cross)disciplinary endeavours. Note that, for example, some describe the ontological turn in anthropology as both anti-critical and apolitical—a depiction that has since been challenged by some (but not all) of its leading proponents. Similar pronouncements have been made about the cognate turns in philosophy and political theory. The chapter briefly revisits such points of contention and convers(at)ion, in order to ask what appears to be a crucial question: in what way are diverse worldings salient for critical theory and the Left project? And, relatedly, to what extent does it matter that such worldings—such being-in-the-world and such knowing-in-the-world—may be at least partly (although rarely ever fully) mutually unintelligible?

Item Type: Book Chapters
Keywords: Unknowable, Lacan, Lévi-Stross, Žižek, Butler, Buck-Morss, Critique, ontological turn, speculative turn
SOAS Departments & Centres: Departments and Subunits > School of Law
Legacy Departments > Faculty of Law and Social Sciences > School of Law
ISBN: 9780231191272
Date Deposited: 10 Sep 2017 18:02

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