The Artistry of Critical Thought

A Conversation on Adorno, Baudrillard, Braidotti and Marcuse

in Theoria
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Abstract

This article provides an analysis of the way in which contemporary forms of intelligence discourse (Jean Baudrillard), in similar fashion to political art (Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse), function by delimiting critical thought. The intelligence discourse critiqued is extolled through things such as progressive intelligence acquisition (Flynn effect) and the supposed indispensability of Democratic reason (Hélène Landemore), amongst other qualities. In support of its argument, the article focusses specifically on Baudrillard's analysis of the notion of the intelligence of evil, as well as on the Frankfurt School's critique of massification. However, the article also notes limitations in these thinkers’ recovery and defence of critical thought in response to the delimitation posed by intelligence and massification, and argues for Rosi Braidotti's evaluation of thought as nomadic as a necessary corrective.

In The Intelligence of Evil or The Lucidity Pact (2005: 180), Jean Baudrillard argues that thought has no analytic function of the kind that is empirical, mechanical and concerned with ‘technicity in general’ – that is, the kind of function whose aim is the progressive acquisition of intelligence and its standardisation as demonstrative of democratic progress. In contrast, as he argues throughout the book, by its very singularity thought ‘will never be available at will by a mere productive miracle, such as the one flooding the market of knowledge, information skills’ (2005: 181). This is because, according to Baudrillard, thought ‘is measured by a different rule, and puts us in mind, rather, of those souls whose number, according to certain ancient myths, is limited’ (2005: 181). Arguably, Baudrillard's high-mindedness regarding thought being rarer by virtue of its opposition to democratic intelligence may strike some as melodramatic and perhaps even too ‘academic’.

However, in light of the examples of the delimitation of critical thought cited below, such criticism should be set aside in considering the prevailing evidence. That is, whatever one might think of the form of Baudrillard's argument, its content regarding the rarity of thought demands attention, especially given the current global prominence of negative populism across diverse democracies. In making its case for reading Baudrillard in this positive way, this article draws an analytical comparison between Baudrillard's argument regarding the limits of intelligence in The Intelligence of Evil or The Lucidity Pact (2005) and Theodor Adorno's and Hebert Marcuse's critique of the function of art in Aesthetic Theory (1997 [1970]) and The Aesthetic Dimension (1978), respectively. Specifically, the article applies these scholars’ critiques to how contemporary forms of intelligence discourse (Baudrillard 2005), similar to political art (Adorno and Marcuse), also function by delimiting critical thought. Such delimitation is observable despite intelligence being very closely associated with critical thought. The intelligence discourse with which the article is concerned is the type extolled through things such as progressive intelligence acquisition (Flynn effect) and the supposed indispensability of Democratic reason or the collective political intelligence of the many (Landemore 2012), amongst other qualities that the article does not have space to engage.

In support of its argument, the article focusses specifically on Baudrillard's analysis of the notion of the intelligence of evil, as well as on the Frankfurt School's critique of political art as useful lenses through which we can analyse certain forms of contemporary intelligence discourses meaningfully. However, the article also notes limitations in these thinkers’ recovery and defence of critical thought in response to the delimitation posed by intelligence and political art, and argues for a reconsideration of these limitations through engaging with Rosi Braidotti's evaluation of thought as nomadic in her book Nomadic Theory: The Portable Braidotti (2011) as a necessary corrective. In particular, the article sees in Braidotti's nomadism a creative way of responding to the delimitation of thought by the intelligence discourse in the contemporary era that gets us away from the melancholia of Baudrillard, Adorno and Marcuse. The transgressive modality of nomadism presents a more useful and expansive reading of critical thought in its foregrounding of transposability for challenging the hegemonic power of the intelligent (but not so critically thoughtful) populace.

In other words, by drawing on Braidotti the article offers a defence of critical thought informed by figurations of vitalist ideas about thought rather than simply melancholic ones (which are critiqued for being too insular or interior). To the end of balancing the limits of interiorised critical thought with the demands of the global public sphere within which critical thought functions, a key question informs the article. This question can be phrased as follows: how can critical thought serve as a conduit for infusing vitality and transposability in contemporary democratic thought as part of challenging democratic thought's tendency towards a global, progressive and collective intelligence?

The Problem: Baudrillard and the Intelligence of Evil

One reviewer of Baudrillard's book The Intelligence of Evil or the Lucidity Pact (2005) notes that, in rebuffing teleological and progressive interpretations of history, Baudrillard also refutes the idea that humankind has made any progress in intelligence (Evre 2007: 922). In making this claim, Bülent Evre draws from a long-standing understanding of Baudrillard's general orientation regarding the collapse of the idea of human progress. This is an orientation best articulated in the book The Illusion of the End, where Baudrillard argues that the ‘end of history is, alas, also the end of the dustbins of history … Conclusion: if there are no more dustbins of history, this is because History itself has become a dustbin. It has become its own dustbin, just as the planet itself is becoming its own dustbin’ (1994: 263). However, despite such a loss of a metanarrative of the universality of progress, Baudrillard argues that the idea of universal progress continues to be utilised despite its declining legitimacy. Consequently, universal progress maintains instrumental value despite the loss of its intrinsic value.

Baudrillard (2002) further develops his argument regarding the hegemony of the universal in the article ‘The Violence of the Global’.1 In this article, he notes that, the parallel understanding of the terms ‘global’ and ‘universal’ is disingenuous because the two are not analogous. Rather, ‘universalization has to do with human rights, liberty, culture, and democracy. By contrast, globalization is about technology, the market, tourism, and information’ (2002: n.p.). In other words, in proposing that contemporary terrorism is a result of globalisation rather than universalisation, for example, Baudrillard articulates a positive reading of universal thought that can still serve as a basis for responding to what he calls elsewhere an ‘integral reality’. According to Baudrillard, integral reality is a hegemonic reality that seeks to swallow everything into an incorporated whole. A reality that ‘is essentially virtual … has been constructed particularly by the communicative technologies such as TV, Internet, mobile phones, and so on’ (Evre 2007: 921). Accordingly, if we go back to his critique of progressive intelligence noted above, integral reality is a product of human intelligence progress. In his view, this discourse of human intelligence as progress seeks not only to be dominant but also hegemonic. Moreover, given globalisation's hegemonic reach, it is not just ‘Western’ societies that are being subsumed by the integral reality, but global society as a whole.

Baudrillard's negative reading of globalisation as a uniform and restrictive practice, and not necessarily a promoter of the democratic principles of the political and economic equality of all global citizens, finds support in a variety of literature. Much of this literature provides empirical evidence for Baudrillard's observation regarding a unified whole within which difference disappears, and frames its primary observation in terms of a paradox (Bellamy and Jones 2000; Eichengreen and Leblang 2008; Held 1997)2 – a paradox whose logic can be summed up in the simple observation that, greater democratisation at the national level is simultaneously undermined by greater control and regulation by international economic processes and global capital, over which such local democracies have little control. In Baudrillard's terms, these international and global processes constitute the globalisation of intelligence rather than the universalisation of thought.

Attesting further to the significance of having to persevere in our critical analysis of intelligence, lest we be charmed by it, Baudrillard writes that:

Intelligence protects us from nothing – not even form stupidity. Being intelligent is not enough, then, to prevent one from being stupid, and sometimes intelligence even lies in stupidity's shade and vice versa. Not only does intelligence not mark the end of stupidity, there is no other way out of the excess of intelligence, but stupidity. In keeping with an implacable reversibility, stupidity lies in wait for it as its shadow, as its double. (Baudrillard 2005: 176–177)

The ubiquity and expansive accessibility of a trait such as intelligence, then, is not necessarily a reflection of positive politics. In the instance with which this article is concerned, the collective intelligence of the majority, according to Baudrillard, reflects a turn towards stupidity marked, as it were, by the standardisation of a uniform identity. Such a limited conceptualisation of democracy as the acquisition of more of the same robs us of the richness of diversity that is otherwise possible were we to expand our notion of democracy beyond simply the rule of the many.

The Limits of Collective Intelligence

In our twenty-first century context, the rise and global dominance of Facebook and Google, for example, can be said to be illustrative of the paradox outlined above, in that, whilst these companies preach ‘the corporate orthodoxy [of] local diversification and individualized niche marketing’, their ‘corporate reality is global consolidation’ (Nealon 2018: 225–226). As Jeffrey Nealon acutely argues, from such an observation, the seemingly outdated Frankfurt School's discussion of totalisation and massification finds new and continued relevance in the climate of global corporatisation (2018: 226). Nealon's observation regarding the value of the Frankfurt School's renewed relevance further draws attention to Baudrillard's concern with the virtually totalising global culture industry, ‘where not only individual cultures and indigenous practices, but public spheres on a global scale seem in danger of collapsing into a kind of corporate monoculture’ (2018: 226).

Whilst such a suspicious reading of global culture might seem dated or, worse, a symptom of a very bad episode of Luddism, it raises an interesting question regarding the value of critical thought in the era of ‘the death knell of critical thought’ (Rubin 2018: 74) brought on by global culture's totalisation. At present, the global attack on critical thought (observable through the appropriation of the language of nativist rights and alternative facts, for example) is part of a global sweep happening seemingly everywhere. It is by no means restricted to the United States, where the current push to ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in public schools is garnering momentum under the pretext that CRT is divisive and promotes anti-American values (Sawchuk 2021). The Department for Education in England has also ordered schools not to use resources from organisations that expressly teach the end of capitalism, and labels these organisations as teaching ‘an extreme political stance’ (Busby 2020). France has also joined the fray by launching its own attack on the social sciences that it deems corrupt and too influenced by foreign elements, in particular the leftist American thinking on race, sex, and colonialism (Onishu and Méheut 2021).

To this list can be added attacks on individuals known as ‘scholars at risk’, who hail from various countries across the globe where they face threats to their lives, livelihoods and freedom because of the critical work that they perform as public intellectuals (Scholars at Risk Network 2021; see also Butler 2017). The list also includes the South African context from which I write, where decolonisation as a critical discourse of thinking about the future of the country after apartheid in a way that addresses the ongoing impact of racial capitalism and epistemic injustice has been criticised as nothing more than fear-mongering and race assertiveness (Rudin 2017). This is not to mention the Global Education Reform Movement, which is pushing for testing and standardisation in basic education as more important than other educational considerations such as enhancing equity in schooling, building teacher professionalism, and strengthening public education systems (Sahlberg 2012, 2016). Of particular relevance for this article is the denigration of critical analysis and the overvaluation of ‘facts’ as incontestable in the teaching of social sciences in particular (Rubin 2018; Westheimer 2015). This denigration of critical thinking is not only observable in the countries that Pasi Sahlberg identifies as key sites such as Australia, England and the United States, but also Brazil, Canada and some Nordic countries amongst many places.

What these examples have in common, first, is that they all come from countries labelled as democracies (from both the Global North and South), thus bringing into greater focus the specificity of the attack on critical thought as arising from within the interior of democratic reason. Second, and in line with Baudrillard's argument, they demonstrate the hegemonic power of integral reality, where, automatically, anything called ‘critical thought’ is anathema to the project of individual self-realisation. It is a project that, itself, is dictated by a global desire for the uniformity of which Baudrillard speaks. In some ways, such an attack on critical thought is illustrative of both its strength and its weakness in the contemporary era, for these attacks are reflective of the strength/prevalence of some forms of democratic reason.

Hélène Landemore's (2012) concept of democratic reason, which she defines as the collective intelligence of regular citizens and the wisdom of the crowd, is applicable here in the limited sense of allowing for contestation and letting the majority rule. Therefore, if the majority believe that CRT or organisations that purport the end of capitalism are divisive, then they must be allowed to lead the way, as they represent the collective intelligence of the people. However, the obvious issue here, which constitutes the other and weakened hand of critical thought, is the weakness of such a position with respect to addressing inequality and inequity. From the perspective of decoloniality scholars, CRT scholars, and anti-sexism scholars, the rule of the majority and the collective intelligence of the people are not always reflective of justice, even if they might have procedural merit. Instead, such collective reason can further fuel the anomy of justice and equity already achieved.

Such a negative application of collective intelligence is not a result of cognitive diversity, as Landemore proposes, but more of a reversal of the Flynn effect. That is, contrary to the observation of intelligence scholar James Flynn that ‘we are making massive IQ gains from one generation to another’ and that ‘we are developing mental abilities that allow us to better deal with the complexity of the modern world, including problems of economic development’ (2012: 1), we are actually regressing (Dutton and Lynn 2009). Arguably, that regression is due to the standardisation of the world under a uniform global culture as per Baudrillard's argument above, including the triumph of instrumental reason (means-to-an-end justification) over other forms of practical reason aimed at improving the human condition à la Frankfurt School Critical Theory in general. In particular, Baudrillard opposes such intelligence discourse of the rule of the uniform global culture to what he terms ‘thought’ and what this article refers to as ‘critical thought’.

What Is Critical Thought?

Admittedly, and reasonably so, we must enquire then into the thought or the lucidity of which Baudrillard speaks – this challenger of the stupidity of intelligence. If the common compatriot cares not for thought but intelligence, why persist in thought? Why not let ourselves catapult full force into the void of thoughtlessness that we apparently seem to desire so voraciously at the global level? Is it actually the case that our intelligence evolution is the par excellence fulfilment of adaptation to the automatic flow of information without thinking? Is hyper-intelligence the actual consummation of our desire not to think? More importantly, we should enquire: what gives Baudrillard the champion hope in thought? To the end of answering this question of the constitution of critical thought or thought, this article draws inspiration from Loïc Wacquant's 2004 article entitled ‘Critical Thought as Solvent of Doxa’.

In this article, Wacquant defines critical thought as ‘that which gives us the means to think the world as it is and as it could be’ (2004: 97). In particular, Wacquant draws his defence of the value of critical thought from an analysis of how critical thought is both strong and weak at the historical juncture at which he makes his analysis. Worthy to be quoted at length, he writes that critical thought is

strong in the sense, first of all, that never have our theoretical and empirical capacities to understand the social world been so great, as witnessed by the extraordinary accumulation of knowledge and techniques of observation in the most varied domains, from geography to history by way of anthropology and the cognitive sciences, not to mention the blooming of the so-called humanities, philosophy, literature, law, etc. In all these domains, with the deeply regrettable exceptions of economics and political science, which remain for the most part consigned to the sad role of techniques for the legitimation of the powers that be, one observes that the will to critical questioning is everywhere present and fertile. (Wacquant 2004: 97–98)

Accordingly, then, critical thought is not only pervasive in the academic context, but also prevails in spheres outside academia, thus giving impetus to the defence of critical thought as important for the political. In further pointing out its strength that extends beyond simply academia, Wacquant observes that critical thought

is not limited only to those intellectuals who march self-consciously under its banner: many researchers, artists, and writers help to sustain it independently of and sometimes even despite their personal political engagements (or lack thereof) inasmuch as they reveal oblique social possibilities that have been pushed aside, shoved back, or repressed but are still present, in outline or in gestation, in our present. Add to this the fact that there have never been so many social scientists and intellectuals in the broad sense as today, that the general level of education in the population is continually increasing, that sociologists (to take only them) have never been so influential in the public sphere (judged by the number of books they sell, their presence in media, their direct or indirect participation in political debate), and you are tempted to conclude that reason has never had a better chance to triumph over historical arbitrariness in human affairs. (Wacquant 2004: 98)

Despite the seeming strength of critical thought, however, Wacquant notes the limits it faces. He notes that the attacks on critical thought as outlined above, for example, also point to its weakness in our contemporary era (assumedly in relation to some past period when critical thought thrived).

He writes that ‘this same critical thought is terribly weak: it must face the competition of a false critical thought which, under cover of apparently progressive tropes celebrating the “subject”, “identity”, “multiculturalism”, “diversity”, and “globalisation”, invites us to submit to the prevailing forces of the world, and in particular to market forces’ (2004: 99). Consequently, in a very similar way to which this article has painted the picture of declining critical thought through Baudrillard, Wacquant affirms the same in a different manner. In Baudrillard's diagnosis of the limits of intelligence, critical thought must behave like a parasite on intelligence by infiltrating it from within and performing a coup on intelligence's hegemony. In Wacquant's terms, as outlined above, this is a form of false critical thought.

Moreover, according to this line of thinking, as an invaluable entity in the politics of perseverance critical thought must assume the commodity identity valued by the marketplace of functional thinking by sublimating itself into intelligence. That is, unlike the fetish of intelligence paraded today in increasing quantity resembling assembly-line production, where a high number of people with improved Intelligence Quotients signify supposed collective political intelligence, thought needs time to develop. Thought does not rely on a reproducible ultra-precise mask of itself that saves time and is energy-efficient at the expense of diversity, exploration and patience. Both Baudrillard and Wacquant suggest that thought invites us back to the devalued language of the value of things-in-themselves, a value that relies on a perpetual pursuit of truth more akin to Georges Bataille's (1986) notion of ‘transgression’ as freeing than to the notion of progression that intelligence has of itself.

In this sense, Wacquant defends a positive and less nihilistic reading that says that critical thought offers hope and that critical thought ‘weds epistemological and social critique by questioning, in a continuous, active, and radical manner, both established forms of thought and established forms of collective life – “common sense” or doxa (including the doxa of the critical tradition)’ (2004: 97). However, in line with Baudrillard, he also laments the loss of critical thought. In what follows, this article will further outline critical thought's questioning of collective intelligence by linking Baudrillard's argument with those of Adorno and Marcuse, before pulling in Braidotti as a means to champion the idea of hope in thought with, however, a different take.

Adorno, Art, and the Heterogeneity of Thought

In his Aesthetic Theory, Adorno argues that ‘the sort of works that try to free themselves from fetishism by siding with dubious political interventions find themselves regularly enmeshed in a false social consciousness because they tend to oversimplify, selling out to a myopic praxis to which they contribute nothing but their own blindness’ (1997 [1970]: 324). In other words, the irony with political art lies in the observation that despite its good intentions of emancipation (George Lukács’ notion of realism in literature, for example, which Adorno is especially critical of), where art stands directly against oppression, its approach to reality might not have the staying power it imagines beyond the specific context within which it functions. Specifically, Adorno's argument is that artists cannot be forced to be artistic only in relation to political realities or forced to be intelligent about their art in individual terms of hegemonic profiteering: such a non-democratic approach to art would be ironic, to say the least, given the high idealisation of liberal attributes such as ‘freedom’ that accompany the jargon of democracy of the twenty-first century.

This argument is not meant to suggest, therefore, that a l'art pour l'art approach is the only alternative, but only that works of art that merely serve as political conduits may be limited in that capacity. In particular, Adorno regards such art as smitten with silence, regardless of the clanging noise it makes in tune with supposed liberation. As he notes: ‘Artistic products that are nothing but regurgitations of what's happening socially, flattering themselves that this kind of metabolism with second nature passes for a genuine process of copying such products, are smitten with silence’ (1997 [1970]: 328). The further point that this statement highlights is the unwavering determination of art – through its autonomous impulse – to speak beyond both its constrictive and constitutive elements.

This is because, as Marcuse argues on the same idea of aesthetic theory, ‘when art abandons this autonomy and with it the aesthetic form in which the autonomy is expressed, art succumbs to that reality which it seeks to grasp and indict’ (1978: 49). If art, then, takes this autonomy seriously, it is very clear that art cannot be concerned with what Adorno refers to as the ‘message of the jargon of authenticity’ (1997 [1970]: 32), for to do so would be tantamount to reducing art to a tool for the mere promotion of the status quo. Admittedly, an obvious question arises: how are we to transpose Adorno's and Marcuse's arguments on art so far to the idea of thought in Baudrillardian terms privileged by this enquiry into the critique of intelligence?

One of the implications of Adorno's and Marcuse's arguments is that thought, like heterogeneous art and in contrast to intelligence, has limited accessibility. To put it paratactically: intelligence is abundant; thought is rare. That is, unlike the prevalence of intelligence in the public arena, thought, in similar fashion to the pursuit of art as inward movement, privileges a questionable form of interiorised subjectivity in a context where one is supposed to display their intelligence wares, so to speak. In defending the inward flight of art as part of its autonomous identity, Marcuse challenges the traditional Marxist reduction of inwardness and subjectivity in art to simply a bourgeois trait, thus equating these with the means of production. He argues, instead, that if art is for any collective consciousness at all, it is that of individuals united in their awareness of the universal need for liberation regardless of their class position (1978: 31). According to Marcuse, in a fascist state the flight to inwardness might well serve a revolutionary role as a bulwark against the totalising state apparatus (1978: 38). After all, it is only through autonomy that works of art can attain political relevance in such a context, since, at least according to Adorno and Marcuse, the aesthetic quality of works of art and the political tendency in works of art are inherently interrelated, even though their unity is not immediate – as much as the ‘protest-types’ might try to make this unity immediate by calling forth for the weaponisation of art (Marcuse 1978: 38).

As Marcuse further notes in light of Walter Benjamin's argument regarding the politics of literary works, ‘the tendency of a literary work can be politically correct only if it is also correct by literary standards’ (1978: 38). This is a point echoed by Adorno when he notes that ‘no work of art can be true in social and political terms unless it is true in its own terms as well’ (1997 [1970]: 351). However, the above notwithstanding, the autonomy cannot be taken to the extremes of fetishism, where art is so disengaged that it is both its own originary source and teleological apex without any social reference: such art is just as meaningless as the protest art it opposes. Indeed, according to Adorno's critique of the fetishism of works of art that exist purely for consumption's sake, it is significant to note that artworks that refuse completely to engage with propaganda have no social impact because they have to give up the communicative means that would make them palatable to a larger public. If they remain at the level of disengagement and do not partake in social exchange, they merely become pawns (Adorno 1997 [1970]: 324). In terms of the argument of this article, it is in this same sense that thought also has to partake in the discourse of intelligence despite holding a less utilitarian identity. That is to say, those in pursuit of critical thought have to participate in the political sphere of intelligence discourse if they are to have any bearing on the continued debate regarding the value of critical thought. Otherwise, they risk ceding more space to the discursive punch of collective intelligence that is working with a warped sense of democracy as only being about global uniformity.

Adorno further perceives the strain brought to bear against art in the context of extreme historical conditions, hence his use of the contrastive still recognises that autonomous works of art are not as innocent as they might seem. Therefore, it can be argued that in the context of extreme historical conditions, despite the conservative limitations of protest art, such art might still be able to raise the consciousness of the public about the reality of the historical condition, even if it does so at the expense of giving up inwardness. Such a positive outcome (raising consciousness), however, is possible only if we accept that ‘praxis is not the impact works have, it is the hidden potential of their truth content’ (Adorno 1997 [1970]: 350). To that end, if collective intelligence results in more thoughtful considerations (as in the case of some of the procedural merits of democratic reason such as deliberation), this is only an after-effect, not the intention. After all, activities of global intelligence agencies, for example, supported by a call for global democratic uniformity, have led to unwarranted invasions, the creation of the atomic bomb, and the collapse of the global market, to name just a few significant effects of a hegemonic, uniform, global and collective intelligence. However, the argument being made is that intelligence does not have to be a zero-sum game.

In the same sense that artistic truth content can emerge even from the least expected of places, because art's autonomy transcends absolute conscription, so it is that thought can emerge from intelligence. This argument is significant for the context of populism where, as noted above, thought has had to put on the mask of intelligence to survive. Thought's reliance on the use-value idea of intelligence to survive mimics the way in which the autonomy of art, as per Adorno's and Marcuse's arguments above, relies on partly engaging with the socio-historical conditions of its making. The ideal state of art for its own sake (not the fetishistic type) is still of utopian reach, and similarly the ideal state where thought exists without being subsumed into intelligence is also a utopian ideal. In this sense, the limitless capacity of thought for self-reflection, critique and reconstitution in pursuit of it utopian ideal is a rare trait that is not reproducible by intelligence.

Such a relationship between art and its impact (or thought and intelligence) is premised partly on the ability of art and thought to transcend themselves (to speak of the possibility of the non-existent within the restrictions of the existent), and partly on the truism that aesthetic authenticity is incompatible with a false political consciousness (or that thought is incompatible with the sublimation of intelligence). Both Adorno and Marcuse want to posit art outside the binds of either l'art pour l’ art or art as merely a tool of political necessity. They offer, instead, a view of art that grants it autonomy and its own linguistic framework while recognising that art is also heteronomous in character. In this way, art functions like religion as the mediator between the lived political and social sphere of reality and their ideal forms. However, art does not offer any promises, but only binds society together as religion does in the Durkheimian (1912) sense: as a social fact. This is because ‘if art were to promise that at the end good would triumph over evil, such a promise would be refuted by the historical truth … authentic works reject this direct promise because the realm of freedom lies beyond mimesis’ (Adorno 1997 [1970]: 47).

Since mimesis works via estrangement – by representing a plausible reality that it cannot in actuality produce, as it is unfamiliar – some religions pretend to offer the final answer without actually knowing that answer beyond this-worldly reality; this is false reconciliation. Western religious traditions, in particular, are notorious for their rejection of ‘this-worldly’ reality for an ‘other-worldly’ reality. They position themselves against the real world in absolute terms to valorise their own hegemonic universality while holding only an approximation of an ‘other-worldly’ reality. However, they do so staunchly and assured of the veracity of this reality's truth content despite all the evidence pointing otherwise. In contrast, art cannot afford such a leap of faith. The best that art can offer is the recognition that any element of universality that might typify what art is can only be gleaned from the observation that art is a language sui generis.

In addition, such universality is an openly collective one much like the universality of philosophical thought, which his gleaned, precisely, through trial and error (Adorno 1997 [1970]: 190) and not through the prescriptive formalisation of mere technicity. As Adorno further argues, since works of art ‘are neither absolutes themselves nor repositories of the absolute’, they are paradoxical. Moreover, ‘of all the paradoxes in art, the most central one may be the fact that art finds non-artefactual truth only by producing specific and thoroughly elaborated works, that is through making, never by going after truth with the gaze of immediacy’ (1997 [1970]: 191, 193). In this way, art differs from religion in that it never disowns its heterogeneity in absolute terms. For example, all three monotheistic Western religions traditionally posit a singular moment of origin that denies the existence of other religious traditions or deities, rather than acknowledging the plurality of their origins. In contrast, art affirms the individual moment of an artwork's conceptualisation/construction, even as it acknowledges the diversity of moments of construction surrounding the singular moment. In a similar way, thought can be said to acknowledge the potential offered by intelligence, even while recognising the limitations of intelligence to speak to a heterogeneous idea of itself as not simply a result of value-driven desire but also a desire for what lies beyond the measurable values of ‘useful’ gadgets created by intelligent minds.

Further affirming the arguments above, Adorno argues that ‘artworks are afterimages of empirical life insofar as they help the latter to what is denied them outside their own sphere and thereby free it from that to which they are condemned by reified external experience’ (1997 [1970]: 4). For Adorno, the autonomy of an artwork is premised upon a tension between the artwork and its empirical reality. In this sense, intelligence, as an evil of which Baudrillard speaks, is the stuff of which thought is composed, but not by which it is defined. James Harding puts this argument of Adorno's very well when he notes that ‘art is always in response to the social empirical reality, and the social empirical reality always provides the substance or “origins” from which art emerges’ (1992: 185). In a similar fashion, intelligence provides the substance from which thought emerges and through which it lives, as well as by virtue of which it continues.

The importance of underscoring this dialectical relationship is to emphasise the point that the autonomy of art for Adorno, or thought in the context of this article, does not refer to art or thought disinterested in (or retreating from) praxis. However, it does refer to art, or thought, not solely bound by praxis, as in protest art or a limited sense of democratic reason as collective intelligence. This is because the autonomy of art for Adorno exists due to the fact that artworks can transcend the normative and prevalent (read ‘limited’) conceptions of autonomy. As he further notes, this is possible because ‘the art of absolute responsibility terminates in sterility’ (1997 [1970]: 39). Therefore, in order to underscore the critical role that art plays in relation to its empirical reality, Adorno posits the autonomous characteristic as most definitive of art, but only heuristically so. Following this logic, intelligence should be seen less as an Archimedean point and more as a point of intersectionality, where various ideas come together in heterogeneous celebration of the Deleuzian rhizomatic image of thought (Deleuze and Guattari 1987).

In terms of this article's argument, critical thought is brought into movement of its own accord by the contradiction of the constitutive technicity of intelligence such as the analytical functions of empiricism and mechanism that, at the same time, comprise the very ideology that undermines it (Adorno 1997 [1970]: 349). That is to say, as Adorno further notes with regard to the autonomy of art, ‘art mocks efforts to reduce it to pure essentiality’ (1997 [1970]: 351–352). Therefore, in order not to fetishise its autonomy, art has to keep the reality of the social complex as part of its identity because otherwise it has no sphere upon which to make its mark. Similarly, thought has to partially sublimate itself into intelligence as the only way for thought's self-preservation. To put it differently, ‘without a heterogeneous moment, art cannot achieve autonomy; artworks are able to appropriate their heteronomous essence, that is, their entanglement in society, because they are partly social themselves’ (Adorno 1997 [1970]: 337).

The significance of Adorno's argument regarding art's recognition of its own heterogeneity lies in the observation that the autonomy of thought, in relation to the utilitarian form of intelligence, allows it to critique society and the status quo not from a vantage point beyond it (sorry Archimedes), but partly in identification with it. It points to the power of thought to be creatively subversive by using the very same social materials of society to create artefacts that oppose society, such as think tanks, for example, that can challenge the unquestioned use of global capital created by intelligent, but not so thoughtful, minds. In this regard, thought will only be successful according to how much it engages with intelligence not as something only to be opposed, but also as something potentially open to subversion. To see such subversive potential in the preponderance of intelligence, however, we need to expand the role ascribed to intelligence beyond the critical discourse engendered by thought itself as rare as argued already through Baudrillard above, as well as Adorno and Marcuse in the preceding section.

Braidotti and Vitalist Nomadic Thought

The foregrounding of thought as rare to illustrate its relational singularity (seemingly a contradiction given the argument of heterogeneity thus far) can be potentially critiqued for privileging not only interiority but elitism as well. That is to say, in terms of the views of Adorno, Baudrillard and Marcuse presented thus far, critical thought seems to be only located within the realms of a select few who also happen to espouse a particularly melancholic discourse regarding the loss of critical thought. In response to such melancholic interiority (which presupposes some pure form/state of critical thought), this article proposes that we turn to the critical feminist perspective of Rosi Braidotti's idea of thought as nomadic. Braidotti's entry point into the discussion is in a form of a corrective to the Adorno-Baudrillard-Marcuse line of thinking proffered above.

In the view of this corrective argument, although granted the openness and critically generative perspectives provided by Adorno, Baudrillard and Marcuse, these thinkers bear an overreliance on the politics of nostalgia that foreground a reaching-back. Consequently, the perspective on thought proffered by them (and this article by extension thus far) languishes in a state that presupposes a utopian idea of thought unencumbered by any materialist reality (the Adornian discussion of the sociality of art notwithstanding). Therefore, in order to stress a productive concern with the affirmation of critical thought that challenges both the static constructions of a return to some utopian state of politics and the contemporary self-indulgent form of intelligence discourse, this article now turns to the idea of thought as nomadic, the central tenet of which ‘is to reassert the dynamic nature of thinking and the need to reinstate movement at the heart of thought’ (Braidotti 2011: 7). In addition, the point of this turn is to restate Baudrillard's concern with the evil of intelligence in forward-moving and hopeful terms.

One of these hopeful terms is the reconfiguration of the concern with progress. Whilst accepting that the idea of thought is indeed about progress, it is important to note that this progress is not in terms articulated by the intelligence discourse analysed above. It is about progress in the sense of reinvigorating the life-affirming values of democracy that are a lot more dynamic than its technicality in terms of the majoritarian principle in particular. In fact, in foregrounding critical thought as somewhat of a lost art, this article (along with the trio of Adorno, Baudrillard and Marcuse) draws its critique of intelligence discourse from an understanding of its majoritarian limits. Read this way, critical thought then becomes the preserve of only the few, without really being brought meaningfully to bear on how it can become a core value of the many outside the bounds set by intelligence discourse.

In attempting to move beyond such a stultified vision of critical thought, this article argues that Braidotti affirms vitality well when she notes that the role of thought is to be about the creation of new concepts (2011: 21) as much as it is to be about the critique of old or status quo ones. Therefore, in creating a new conceptualisation of critical thought that goes beyond a reactionary mode of operation and moves, instead, into one that brings the latent aspects of critical thought to life, the notion of mobility is important. That is, if we accept that thought is also about transposition and metamorphosis, we have to enquire about how to expand its potency to the masses without assuming that it, therefore, gets diluted or gets globalised but not universalised. The reference to metamorphosis here is meant to invoke a type of Kafkian dynamism that acknowledges the latent power of potential energy by transforming it into a kinetic materialism that has the ability to actuate seismic plasticity on contemporary human ethical capacity. It is in answer to this concern with universalising without globalising that Braidotti offers a corrective to the limitations of Adorno, Baudrillard and Marcuse.

Specifically, in the chapter called ‘Transposing Difference’ in Nomadic Theory: The Portable Rosi Braidotti (2011), Braidotti offers the concept of nomadic subjectivity as another tool for thinking about difference that I would argue is useful for rethinking political subjectivity in the context of the hegemony and homogeneity of collective intelligence. Braidotti argues that ‘the multiple locations of devalued difference are also, though not at the same time, positive sites for the redefinition of subjectivity’, where ‘becoming takes place in a space of affinity and in symbiosis with positive forces and dynamic relations of proximity’ (2011: 30). Braidotti sees potential in nomadic subjectivity as a balance against fixity and homogeneity, but not in pursuit of another stultified form of subjectivity. She affirms this non-fixity when she defines nomadic subjectivity in her earlier book, Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory (1994). As she notes, nomadic subjectivity is ‘a figuration for the kind of subject who has relinquished all idea, desire or nostalgia for fixity … [it] expresses the desire for an identity made of transitions, successive shifts … without and against an essential unity … the point of an intellectual nomad is about crossing boundaries, about the act of going’ (1994: 23). Whilst nomadic subjectivity is primarily about the ‘act of going’, movement for its own sake is not the point. Rather, the goal of any nomadic journey is always to destabilise the binary terms between which the nomadic subject moves. In the case of this article, the destabilisation occurs in relation to the binary of rarified thought, on the one hand, and globalised intelligence, on the other, in order to get at a collectivised vision of the political that is not simply either the rule of the many or the rule of the philosopher kings.

According to the logic of Adorno, Baudrillard and Marcuse, what matters most in this context is the fact of becoming minoritarian for thought; where, without being either utilitarian or teleological, thought, nonetheless, can spring from the conditional experiences of majoritarian intelligence into ones of minoritarian thoughtfulness. However, this shift from mimicry (majoritarian) to authenticity (minoritarian) presupposes the impossibility of critical thought being generalisable beyond the limits of collective intelligence that render critical thought, therefore, corrupt. The insistence on mobility, transposability and a refusal to be pinned down means that nomadic subjectivity exists in excess of the limitations of any context. In a political context ironically defined by the fixity of ideas (as described above with reference to the attack on critical thought and Baudrillard's critique of globalisation's uniformity), it is imperative to stress nomadism as a useful political artifice for understanding the process of positively reinscribing subjectivity, even while acceding that nomadism as real-life experience has the capacity for further injury.

In fact, the recognition of the possibility for further injury challenges the melancholia of utopianism, in a similar fashion to disembodied intelligence, by stressing the vitality of thought. This is why embodiment is such an important aspect of thought for Braidotti – something almost completely lost in the Cartesian dualistic modus operandi of the thinking subject as disembodied. In this sense, the Cartesian thinking subject is not really a thoughtful subject, in that in similar fashion to the fetish of intelligence such a thinking subject assumes the superiority of being based on majority status. As a measurable trait that can be possessed by many, Cartesian thinking, in similar fashion to intelligence as the commodity that can be accessible for the right price, is not nomadic but static. Once you have it, you have it!

What Braidotti's nomadic subjectivity suggests instead is that thought functions in an ambivalent way as opposed to the certainty of intelligence discourse and that, through this ambivalent process, the possibilities for different configurations, refigurations and reinscriptions (a different way of being in this reified world of evil intelligence) emerge. To put it differently, the pursuit of the ultimate good, as in the summum bonum, is made possible in the case of nomadic thinking through a reconfiguration, and not the jettisoning, of intelligence (by making intelligence aware of its limitations). To the end that engaging thought involves taking on intelligence as important, Braidotti notes that ‘nomadic difference is a productive asymmetry that functions as a permanent fracture, not a static given – it is a constant becoming, not a quest for counteridentity sacralized by the pain of a wounded historical memory’ (2011: 40–41). In this sense, her insistence on the importance of becoming pushes beyond the woundedness of Baudrillard and his insistence on the non-productive value of globalisation. It also pushes beyond Adorno and Marcuse by not foregrounding loss and recovery, but vitality.

In fact, just as Wacquant, mentioned above, defined critical thought as both thinking the world as it is and how it could be, Braidotti also emphasises dynamicity in the value of thought being able to draw from intelligence discourse in ways that advance a different way of being – a way that, similar to Adorno, Baudrillard and Marcuse, sees value in the reinvigoration of critical thought but at the same time believes that the aggregation of such critical thought across the globe is not a cause for concern but celebration. It is a cause for celebration because the greater the differences that contribute to critical thought, the better the chances of reaching a rich, collective idea of the political that is dynamic in its orientation.

Conclusion

Ultimately, there is a positive relation between, on the one hand, the critique of art posed by Adorno and Marcuse, including Baudrillard's critique of the limits of intelligence, and, on the other hand, the future possibility for transformative change brought on by critical thought that emanates organically from the process of thinking about thought as nomadic as proposed by Braidotti. It has been this article's contention that Baudrillard's perspectives hinge on the idea of the singularity of thought as the bastion of an ethos of critical reflection on collective intelligence. That is to say, unlike intelligence, thought participates very differently in the commodity-driven and use-value market by not being useful in the manner of measurable profits in particular. Thought, according to this logic, cannot rest on the laurels of its paracletes, for they have long been offered up on the shrine of expendable knowledge whose only worth is fetching the highest price at the market of the use-value economy. In similar fashion to the vulgarisation of the traditional market where goods were exchanged based on barter-bargaining (assuming equality as the exchange value), thought has to assume the mask of intelligence; thought has to take on a vulgar idea of itself in order to survive.

Read this way, as this article has argued, critical thought seems limited to the philosopher kings and, consequently, has little bearing on democracy beyond its majoritarian concerns. And these are concerns which, according to Baudrillard, reveal more of globalisation's reach and universalism's retreat, both of which leave us with a sense of a world in collapse. Further supporting this reading of critical thought as something in decline, this article has drawn on Adorno's and Marcuse's discussions of the autonomy of art as something equivalent to Baudrillard's discussion of a retreating universal. In the view of these scholars, there seems to be very little room for valuing critical thought and, even more so, for seeing its value beyond a commodity for consumption or critique by the more prolific intelligence discourse. In other words, even if one grants the transcendental value of critical thought proposed by Adorno, Baudrillard and Marcuse, it seems to be corrupt at best and, therefore, limited in its capacity to effect change beyond a limited scope.

In response, this article has drawn on Braidotti's figuration of nomadism as being able to both acknowledge the mass appeal need for self-obsession demanded by intelligence discourse and provide the language through which recentring critical thought within the global context is possible. As a process that allows for better alterity without privileging it as particularly definitive of political ethics in our current milieu, nomadic subjectivity allows us to really think the world as it is, which Adorno, Baudrillard and Marcuse do, and also think what it can become rather than just what it has lost. In this way, nomadism allows for heterogeneity in thinking the possibilities for the political beyond the pessimistic nihilism of intelligence. This is the champion hope in critical thought that all the thinkers above share to varying degrees, but which Braidotti, in particular, brings to life. As such, in thinking about globalisation as the transposition of difference, rather than merely the stonewalling of ideal universalisation, Braidotti's proposition is that we return to critical thinking through the language of globalisation. The language of globalisation in her view is one premised on the principles of dynamicity and the pursuit of a life in common with others – which are most likely to ensure the most expansive reach of the project of democracy as non-sedentary.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank the reviewers and editors of Theoria for their invaluable insight in the development of this article. Special thanks to Elina Hankela for her patience and piercing conversations on the article's topic. I would also like to thank The Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH), University of Edinburgh, for the fellowship that provided me with the space to focus on research and writing in 2021.

Notes

1

Originally published as ‘La Violence du Mondial’ in Baudrillard (2002).

2

See also Li and Reuveny (2003); Munck (2002); Nayyar (2015); Przeworski and Yebra (2002); Rosow and George (2016); Schwartzman (1998); and Wilber (1998).

References

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  • Wacquant, L. 2004. ‘Critical Thought as Solvent of Doxa’, Constellations 11 (1): 97101. doi:10.1111/j.1351-0487.2004.00364.x.

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Contributor Notes

Siphiwe Ignatius Dube is former Head and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Political Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa. His current research and teaching focus on race and politics, Afro-politics and religion (African political theology), gender (masculinities) and politics, and the scholarship of teaching and learning in political studies. E-mail: siphiwe.dube@wits.ac.za

Theoria

A Journal of Social and Political Theory

  • Adorno, T. (1970) 1997. Aesthetic Theory. Ed. G. Adorno and R. Tiedemann. Trans. R. Hullet-Kentor. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bataille, G. 1986. Eroticism: Death and Sensuality. San Francisco: City Lights Books.

  • Baudrillard, J. 1994. The Illusion of the End. Oxford: Polity Press.

  • Baudrillard, J. 2002. Power inferno: requiem pour les Twin Towers: hypothèses sur le terrorisme, la violence du mondial [Power inferno: Requiem for the Twin Towers: Hypotheses on terrorism, global violence]. Paris: Galilée.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Baudrillard, J. 2005. The Intelligence of Evil or the Lucidity Pact. Oxford: Berg Publishers.

  • Bellamy, R. and R. B. Jones. 2000. ‘Globalisation and Democracy–An Afterword’. In B. Holden (ed.), Global Democracy: Key Debates. London: Routledge, 202216.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Braidotti, R. 1994. Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory. New York: Columbia University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Braidotti, R. 2011. Nomadic Theory: The Portable Braidotti. New York: Columbia University Press.

  • Busby, M. 2020. ‘Schools in England Told Not to Use Material from Anti-capitalist Groups’, The Guardian, 27 September. https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/sep/27/uk-schools-told-not-to-use-anti-capitalist-material-in-teaching.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Butler, J. 2017. ‘Academic Freedom and the Critical Task of the University’, Globalizations 14 (6): 857861. doi:10.1080/14747731.2017.1325168.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Deleuze, G. and F. Guattari. 1987. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. B. Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Durkheim, E. C. 1912. The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. Trans. K. Fields. New York: Free Press.

  • Dutton, E. and R. Lynn. 2009. ‘A Negative Flynn Effect in Finland, 1997–2009’, Intelligence 41 (6): 817820. doi:10.1016/j.intell.2013.05.008.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Eichengreen, B. and D. Leblang. 2008. ‘Democracy and Globalization’, Economics & Politics 20 (3): 289334. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0343.2007.00329.x.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Evre, B. 2007. ‘A Challenge to Integral Reality or the Complicity between Global Power and Global Terror’, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 30 (10): 921924. doi:10.1080/10576100701558992.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Flynn, J. R. 2012. Are We Getting Smarter? Rising IQ in the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Harding, J. 1992. ‘Historical Dialectics and the Autonomy of Art in Adorno's Asthetische Theorie’, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 50 (3): 184197. doi:10.2307/431227.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Held, D. 1997. ‘Democracy and Globalization’, Global Governance 3: 251267. https://www.jstor.org/stable/27800169.

  • Landemore, H. 2012. Democratic Reason: Politics, Collective Intelligence and the Rule of the Many. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Li, Q. and R. Reuveny. 2003. ‘Economic Globalisation and Democracy: An Empirical Analysis’, British Journal of Political Science 33 (1): 2954. doi:10.1017/S0007123403000024.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Marcuse, H. 1978. The Aesthetic Dimension: Towards a Critique of Marxist Aesthetics. Boston: Beacon Press.

  • Munck, R. 2002. ‘Beyond the Deluge? Politics of Globalization’, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 581: 172181. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1049715.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Nayyar, D. 2015. ‘Globalisation and Democracy’, Brazilian Journal of Political Economy 35 (3): 388402. doi:10.1590/0101-31572015v35n03a01.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Nealon, J. T. 2018. ‘The Frankfurt School and Its Successors’. In D. Richter (ed.), A Companion to Literary Theory. Oxford: Wiley, 218228.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Onishu, M. and C. Méheut. 2021. ‘Heating Up Culture Wars, France to Scour Universities for Ideas That “Corrupt Society”’, New York Times, 18 February. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/18/world/europe/france-universities-culture-wars.html.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Przeworski, A. and C. M. Yebra. 2020. ‘Globalization and Democracy.’ In P. Bardhan, S. Bowles and M. Wallerstein (eds), Globalization and Egalitarian Redistribution. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 169191.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rosow, S. J. and J. George. 2015. Globalization and Democracy. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.

  • Rubin, D. I. 2018. ‘Willful Ignorance and the Death Knell of Critical Thought’, The New Educator 14 (1): 7486. doi:10.1080/1547688X.2017.1401192.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rudin, J. 2017. ‘Deconstructing Decolonisation: Can Racial Assertiveness Cure Imagined Inferiority?’, Daily Maverick, 22 January. https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/opinionista/2017-01-22-deconstructing-decolonisation-can-racial-assertiveness-cure-imagined-inferiority/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sahlberg, P. 2012. ‘Global Educational Reform Movement Is Here!https://pasisahlberg.com/2012/ (accessed 1 August 2021).

  • Sahlberg, P. 2016. ‘The Global Educational Reform Movement and Its Impact on Schooling’. In K. Mundy, A. Green, B. Lingard and A. Verger (eds), The Handbook of Global Education Policy. Oxford: Wiley, 128144.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sawchuk, S. 2021. ‘What Is Critical Race Theory, and Why Is It Under Attack?’, Education Week, 18 May. https://www.edweek.org/leadership/what-is-critical-race-theory-and-why-is-it-under-attack/2021/05.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Scholars at Risk Network. 2021. https://www.scholarsatrisk.org/ (accessed 9 August 2021).

  • Schwartzman, K. C. 1998. ‘Globalization and Democracy’, Annual Review of Sociology 24 (1): 159181. doi:10.1146/annurev.soc.24.1.159.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wacquant, L. 2004. ‘Critical Thought as Solvent of Doxa’, Constellations 11 (1): 97101. doi:10.1111/j.1351-0487.2004.00364.x.

  • Westheimer, J. 2015. ‘Teaching for Democratic Action’, Educação & Realidade 40 (2): 465483. doi:10.1590/2175-623653285.

  • Wilber, C. K. 1998. ‘Globalization and Democracy’, Journal of Economic Issues 32 (2): 465471. https://www.jstor.org/stable/4227323.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

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