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Abstract

Irony, contradiction, discontinuity, antagonism, ambiguity, paradox, antinomy, aporia, contingency, indeterminacy, ambivalence—in a list that continues. For decades, these have been the bywords of critical thought, whether within legal studies, left historiography, or humanistic inquiry at large. A constellation of such terms has defined what it means to do “theory,” for that philosophical tradition’s structuralist-Marxist, poststructuralist-deconstructive, and other contemporary proponents. On the one hand, those grammars capture the broad intellectual ethos or spirit that has animated critical and revisionist scholarship since theory’s heyday and institutionalization beginning in the 1970s. But on the other, they have also acted as the central apparatus of critique: it has been doctrinal that unmasking properties like contradiction, paradox, discontinuity, and antagonism will work simultaneously to disclose and to critique structures of power and domination. Vested with intensely political labor, that conceptual matrix has not only summed up the essence of a radical, left, or progressive politics but also been understood to distinguish such a political project from a (neo)liberal-legalistic-rationalist one.

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