Bertell Ollman and Tony Smith (eds.)
Dialectics for the New Century
Palgrave, 2007, 288 pp.
ISBN: 978-0230535312 (hbk) 50 [pounds sterling]
A book that deals with dialectics in the plural must--as Marx (Grundrisse) said of the dialectical method itself--know its own limits. This collection offers neither a consensus on what the dialectical method is, nor on how we can put it into action. Instead, by showcasing some contemporary authorities on the subject, this edited selection of essays provides a revolving window into dialectics in action. If read as a whole or as an introduction to the topic, the book will be hard going; and indeed, it is the editors' intention that it should be relatively easy to dip in and out of. However, some comments can be made for potential readers, seeking the interconnections between apparently separate contributions.
Bertell Ollman's opening essay, in typically rigorous and self-reflexive style, takes up the vantage point of 'potentiality'--the contestation of actuality--for the dialectical study of the future. Necessary to break through the prison of the present is Marx's use of contradiction, exposing the way in which a socialist/communist future moves in dialectical tension with open-ended class struggle. A jump forward in the collection, to Frederic Jameson's sophisticated contradiction-centred world-view, nicely complements the imperative to think of a socialist future. Exploring the potential for philosophical innovation in the space between Hegelian categories and Marxian investigation, Jameson characterises the dialectic as being reflexivity (synchronic), causality and explanation (diachronic), and contradiction (application and identification). Eloquently defending dialectical thought against its ill-fated rejection by de rigueur post-structuralism, Jameson rejects attempts to ontologise the dialectic, seeing 'our spectatorship and praxis alike' as dialectically constituting the world 'with a view toward changing them' (p. 130).
In a separate but contrary vein, and despite many of the pejorative connotations linked to Engels's writings on dialectics, John Bellamy Foster argues that the latter's take on nature and society constitutes a single totality that is in keeping with Marx's own ontological position. Foster argues that the 'dialectics of nature' is the only adequate Marxist platform from which to broach the current ecological crisis and our increasing alienation from the natural world. As with...