Redemptive Criticism: Sigmund Freud, Walter Benjamin, Stanley Cavell and Democratic Culture
Giordano, Lara Kirsch
While the writings of Freud, Benjamin, and Cavell have exerted an interest on philosophers of various persuasions, they have nonetheless remained unclassifiable in terms of familiar philosophical categories. This is due, in no small part, to their characteristic preoccupation with cultural marginalia. Given their interest in phenomena otherwise deemed culturally and philosophically irrelevant or unintelligible, it is no surprise that their texts have failed to find a home in a specific philosophical tradition or school, Benjamin’s posthumous induction into the “Frankfurt School,” a historical institution rather than a substantive philosophical doctrine, notwithstanding. One side of the two-fold achievement of this dissertation is to remedy this situation by recovering the philosophical stakes of their shared affinity for the detritus of cultural and symbolic life and, in so doing, to lay bare a unique tradition of critical hermeneutics. Freud, Benjamin, and Cavell turn to the prima facie insignificant objects of culture as to the element that defies easy subsumption under and by a ready concept, hence has the power to contest our concepts as they stand. I argue, against a common conception of Cavell and Freud as ahistorical in their sensibilities and against a certain metaphysical strain of Benjamin interpretation, that this micrological form of critique is animated by an impulse decidedly ethico-political in nature, undertaken in light of a common concern to comprehend and preserve the conditions of secular community. Thus, the second of my two-pronged ambition: to claim Freud, Benjamin, and Cavell as thinkers relevant to the tradition of democratic theory.