Torn Halves: Political Conflict in Literary and Cultural Theory

What is the relation of politics to theory? Theories make political claims, theorists make political critiques, and academics use theory in the pursuit of institutional ends: theory is not only “about” politics but is itself a political practice. Politics and theory, like high art and popular culture, are marked by a common dialectic: in Adorno’s famous phrase, they bear the stigmata of capitalism – are torn halves of a system which doesn’t add up. Robert Young’s critique of the politics of theory shows how the dynamics of this schism are repeated in contemporary debates about historicism, psychoanalysis, racism, and the academic institution itself. In their dialectics of identity and difference, power and resistance, subversion and containment, north and south, centre and margin – the heart of contemporary political and theoretical debate – today’s cultural theories themselves act out the torn halves of a conflictual culture. But, Young argues, if theory repeats the irreconcilable antagonisms of late capitalism, then it must also renew its politics of protest against diaspora, deprivation and despair.

Manchester University Press