What do "raves" have to do with eighteenth-century Romanticism, or the latest communication technologies with historical ideas about language, media, and culture?

Today’s culture dazzles us with technological marvels and media spectacles. While we find them entertaining, just as often they are troubling — they seem to contradict common sense, eliciting such questions as What is real? or What is reality? and What is language? or What does language do? These questions, once confined to scholars, have become everyone’s concern. Some of the best answers might be found in an unexpected source: Romanticism.

Too often we bring the values of the Enlightenment, particularly that of reason, to critique phenomena not inherently rational, such as pop culture or the Internet. This means that much criticism of current culture already has an intellectual foundation antagonistic to it — inviting postmodern arguments that suggest history has ended and reality is an illusion.

In contrast, Romanticism, a cultural movement founded in Germany and England during the late eighteenth century, offers us an archive of concepts surprisingly sensitive to these problems. The Romantics were poets, dreamers, and politicians who advanced ideas that anticipated much contemporary thinking. David Black has organized these ideas systematically, and has then applied them to key issues in communications, such as representation, audience, and the information society, as well as to significant debates in cultural studies.

As a result, The Politics of Enchantment offers a new theory of media and culture that is grounded in intellectual history, yet as feverishly current as the latest digital device.

Alfred Sohn-Rethel located the origin of philosophical abstraction in the "false conciousness" brought about by the new money economy of Greek Antiquity. In the Enlightenment the conceptual barrier Kant put between phenomenal reality and the "thing-in-itself" expressed, in Sohn-Rethel’s view, the reified consciousness stemming from commodity-exchange and the division of mental and manual labor. Because Sohn-Rethel saw the entire history of philosophy as branded by a timeless universal logic, he dismissed Hegel’s concept of "totality" as "idealist" and Hegel’s critique of Kantian dualism as irrelevant to Marx’s critique of political economy.

David Black, in the title essay of The Philosophical Roots of Anti-Capitalism, suggests, contra Sohn-Rethel, that Marx’s exposition of the fetishism of commodities is historically-specific to capitalist production, and therefore cannot explain the origins of philosophy, which Black shows to have involved various historical developments in Greek society and culture as well as monetization. Just as Hegel’s critique of Kantian formalism informs Marx’s critique of capital, Hegel’s writings on how the proper organization of labor might abolish the barrier Aristotle put between production and the "Realm of Freedom" prefigure Marx's efforts to formulate of an alternative to capitalism.

Part Two, Critique of the Situationist Dialectic: Art, Class Consciousness and Reification, begins with Surrealism, whose "disappearance" as a revolutionary artistic and social force Guy Debord and the Situationists sought to make up for by superseding the poetry of Art with the poetry of Life. As well highlighting Debord’s achievements in both theory and practice, Black points to his philosophical shortcomings and relates these to Debord’s later "pessimistic" assessment of the possibility of revolutionary class consciousness within globalizing capitalism. The four essays in Part Three cover the Aristotelian anarchism, the ambivalent legacy of Lukács' theory of reification, Raya Dunayevskaya’s Hegelian-Marxist concept of "absolute negativity" as "revolution in permanance", and Gillian Rose’s philosophical challenge to both postmodernism and "traditional" Marxism.
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