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Adventures of the Symbolic


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Table of Contents

Foreword, by Dick Howard Acknowledgments Introduction: Post-Marxism and the Symbolic Turn 1. The Symbolic Dimension and the Politics of Young Hegelianism 2. The Fate of the Symbolic from Romantic Socialism to a Marxism in extremis 3. From the Symbolic Turn to the Social Imaginary: Castoriadis's Project of Autonomy 4. Democracy Between Disenchantment and Political Theology: French Post-Marxism and the Return of Religion 5. The Post-Marx of the Letter: Laclau and Mouffe Between Postmodern Melancholy and Post-Marxist Mourning 6. Of Empty Places: Zizek and Laclau Epilogue Notes Index

Promotional Information

Marxism's collapse led prominent theorists to reject revolution and abandon class for more fragmented models of social action. Acknowledging the constructedness of society and politics, they chose the "symbolic" to reinvent leftist thought outside a Marxist framework. Mapping different ideas of the symbolic, Breckman traces Romantic themes and resonances, and he explores in depth the effort to reconcile a radical and democratic political agenda with a politics that does not privilege materialist understandings of the social.

About the Author

Warren Breckman is the Rose Family Endowed Term Professor of modern European intellectual history at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of Marx, the Young Hegelians, and the Origins of Radical Social Theory: Dethroning the Self and European Romanticism: A Brief History with Documents. He is also executive coeditor of the Journal of the History of Ideas.


A book that will appeal to many different constituencies-intellectual historians, political theorists, devotees of French theory, Marxists and post-Marxists, and humanists interested in the role of symbolism in culture-and is certain to become a canonical text in our field. -- Martin Jay, University of California, Berkeley Historians of modern thought will benefit from Breckman's novel integration of numerous recent philosophers into a convincing framework stretching from German Idealism to the present, while political theorists will reckon with this rich survey of the left in recent decades as they deliberate about its future. -- Samuel Moyn, author of The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History Breckman provides a magisterial critical survey of the uses, abuses, and disuses of the concept of the symbolic. His analysis is careful and far-ranging, with special emphasis on post-Marxism, the 'linguistic turn,' and such important figures as Merleau-Ponty, Althusser, Baudrillard, Castoriadis, Lefort, Levi-Strauss, Lacan, Gauchet, Laclau, Mouffe, and Zizek. Breckman's account of the thought of these and other figures is enlivened by the fact that he does not limit himself to safe objectifications of the 'other' but undertakes dialogic (or open dialectical) engagements worked over by genuine concern with the problems and political implications at issue. -- Dominick LaCapra, Cornell University Adventures of the Symbolic is a trailblazing journey into forbidding terrain. It addresses one of the most controversial and fascinating trends in postwar European social thought-the dismantling of the Marxian paradigm and the emergence of a new species of theory that casts light on the radically open and postfoundational character of democracy. Castoriadis, Lefort, Laclau, Mouffe, Gauchet, Zizek-these are names to conjure with, but to understand their contributions is another thing entirely. Warren Breckman has the rare combination of theoretical lucidity and political acumen to guide us on this adventure. His achievement is simply stunning, a genuine milestone in the history of twentieth-century political thought. -- Peter E. Gordon, Harvard University, author of Continental Divide: Heidegger, Cassirer, Davos In addition to offering a valuable and significant account of the politics associated with what Breckman calls "the symbolic turn"... the book marks an exceptional effort to render intellectual history useful for the purposes of democratic theory. American Historical Review

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