The misadventures of critical thinking

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The Misadventures of Critical Thinking I gave to this talk the title: ”The misadventures of critical thinking”. This title requires some preliminary explanations, especially in the framework of a lecture in Critical Theory. I am certainly not the first person who suggests that there is something wrong to-day with the tradition of critical thinking. Many contemporary authors have declared that itstime was over. According to them, there would not be anything left for criticism, since criticism implies the denunciation of a bright appearance concealing a dark and solid reality, but there would be no more any solid reality left to oppose to the appearance and no darkness to oppose to the triumph of affluent society. Such was the melancholic assertion of the late Jean Baudrillard, that we canfind reasserted to-day in a more aggressive way by thinkers like Peter Sloterdijk. I am not willing to lend my voice to that tune . Instead I would like to restage the case and suggest that the concepts and procedures that defined the “critical tradition” have not vanished at all, that they still work, be it in the very discourse of those who make fun of it. Those concepts and procedures arestill at work, but in a way that implies an entire reversal of their supposed ends and orientations. It is only by taking into account the persistence of this framework and the reversal of its meaning and function that we can hope to engage in a true “critique of the critique”. So I will focus on some contemporary manifestations in the fields of art, theory and politics that reveal a significant shiftin the procedures of presentation and demonstration which defined the tradition of critical thought .I will borrow my starting point from the art world by focusing on the evolution of an artistic procedure that was for a long time emblematic of critical or political art, the procedure of collage. I don’t understand it as a technical device but as an aesthetic procedure which consists in playingon the clash of heterogeneous, if not contradictory elements, the model which was the well-known meeting of an umbrella and a sewing machine on a dissection board. That aesthetics was implemented in the times of dadaïsm and surrealism, as a means of exploding the “reality” of bourgeois everyday life and disclosing the deeper reality that it repressed, the reality of dream, desire and theunconscious. Then it was taken up by Marxist artists, notably under the form of photomontage, as a means of showing the realities of violence and exploitation which underpinned the false appearances of peaceful democracy. Among the artists who used it in that way , Martha Rosler made at the end of the 60’ and the beginning of the 70’s her wellknow series “Bringing war home” by pasting images of theatrocities in Vietnam on images

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of American petty-bourgeois interiors. For instance in this collage called Amputee , or in this other one called “balloons” that organized a clash between the balloons situated near the door which probably belong to the children of an apparently wealthy family and the bullets that stroke the dead Vietnamese child carried by his mourning father. The image worked asa twofold demonstration of causality. The young cripple or the dead child were the truth hidden by the cosy interior, they were the reality of imperialist violence that allowed for happy American family life. This revelation of the secret beyond the door was emblematized by another image in the series, showing a woman opening the curtain on the reality of the imperialist war. But the other wayaround, happy American family life was staged as the cause of the indifference towards the violence of imperialism. The two images had to be connected in order to produce the connection of two effects: an awareness of the system that tied together American domestic happiness and imperialist violence, and a feeling of guilt, of shameful complicity in this system. On the one hand the image said :...
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