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  • Sina Kramer's Excluded Within:The (Un)intelligibility of Radical Political Actors
  • James Martel (bio)
Sina Kramer. Excluded Within: The (Un)intelligibility of Radical Political Actors. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017. 256 pp. £46.49 (hc). ISBN: 9780190625986.

Sina Kramer's Excluded Within is one of those rare books that states things that seems obvious in the telling but which no one had quite thought of before. Her claim is that constituted exclusions based on race, gender, class, sexuality and other forms of social and political hierarchy are "excluded within," that is to say, are themselves deeply constitutive of what excludes them. Their appearance as being entirely "outside" of the systems of power—and even more pointedly of being unintelligible (insofar as any rubric of intelligibility is itself a function of the normative identities that are "inside")—is only retroactive, a matter of covering over the tracks of these forms of nonfoundational establishment. Thus everything that is outside is also inside and everything that is unintelligible is also intelligible; these are the secrets that Kramer exposes. The key upshot of this claim is that excluded categories have much more power to subvert than is normally believed, precisely because the outside is never as outside or unrelated to formal mechanisms of power as those powers would have people believe.

In order to come to this realization, Kramer revisits Hegel (as well as Derrida's reading of Hegel in Glas) as a way to rethink the dialectic. It might seem that for Kramer there are two Hegels. There is the well-known Hegel of the "end of history," a confirmed teleologist who sees spirit as the positive development of truth over time; this is the Hegel of Francis Fukuyama and any number of positivist thinkers and writers. And then there is also the radical Hegel, the one who sees contingency, negation and chance over the course of history; this is the Hegel of Andrew Cole and Judith Butler, among others. For Kramer, however, this duality is deceptive; her refreshing riposte to this binarism is to say that actually there is only one Hegel. This is not the usual academic move of saying "he's both." Instead, Kramer shows how Hegel is himself a dialectical figure, how the different sides of him exist in a productive tension with one another so that the appearance of a settled determinism is itself the product of its engagement with the unsettlement that is normally understood as threatening or opposing that view. The radical Hegel is "excluded within" the teleological one and then retroactively hidden away for scholars to discover—if they will. At any given point in time, Hegel can be read in freeze-frame, but to do so is to overlook the critical and temporally dynamic aspects of Hegel's own dialectical method. And Kramer tells us that what's true for Hegel is true for everyone and everything else too; the dialectical model is not just a matter of philosophy but of politics and society, of life itself. [End Page 769]

In many ways this is a book about negation. For Kramer there are many forms of negation and they too do not fit into one clear category. The one negation that Kramer is not interested in is a kind of absolute and pure negation, a true nothing. Kramer's negations are always not nothings (but not quite somethings either). Although Hegel is a key focus of this book the true spirit behind this text is Adorno. In two interior chapters (that serve as a "hinge" between the first part which is about abstract philosophy and the third part which is about actual human politics), Kramer sets out an appraisal of Adorno's understanding of negation and, in particular, his idea of nonidentity. Nonidentity is that aspect of dialectic which prevents an object (including objects that are subjects) from becoming one with its concept. Adorno, for Kramer, is particularly adept at keeping philosophy moving, at refusing to countenance a moment when identity is at rest. Because identity is always a state of becoming, there will always be nonidentity, that part which is not used up in any given frame of being.

For Adorno, fascism...


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