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Radical Thinkers 2007



Verso’s neat Radical Thinkers series brings together some of the best of the last century’s thinkers in a handy, heady package, aiming to popularise radical thought for a wider contemporary audience. The reviews below are of books in the current, second series, which is soon to be followed by a third.

Featuring the work of leading lights such as Adorno, Eagleton and Zizek, this second cycle is an excellent resource for anyone who wants a thorough overview of the thinking that has shaped our times, or sought to: the focus is very much on on left-leaning theorists. In fact, the series raises the question of what makes a radical thinker, of what makes for interesting and innovative theory.

Culture Wars’ coverage of these books was born of a desire to engage with – and criticise – the often difficult and technical work of important and influential leftist writers. Rather than a hot-headed approach, we’ve been concerned with reflecting on the issues raised, putting these thinkers and theories in context and drawing out how they better illuminate the current cultural and political climate, in a bid to ‘pull up the roots’ of the big issues.

Sarah Boyes,
commissioning editor, books

The Radical Thinkers package is available in a printer-friendly version (PDF).


What is a radical thinker?
How should thinkers balance intellectual integrity with the need to be understood; how should radicalism express itself in order to be received positively; and if the ultimate aim is doing something, how can theories become manifestos?
Sarah Boyes

What is a radical reader?
Rather than addressing a movement, radical thinkers since the 1990s have addressed other thinkers who are disoriented by the demise of the left. If ‘being radical’ had once been shorthand for being on the left, this meaning was now all but redundant, and the term was up for grabs. It still is.
Dolan Cummings


Political Descartes: Reason, Ideology and the Bourgeois Project by Antonio Negri
Negri points to how Descartes' dualism retains an implicit awareness of the hegemony of the bourgeois form of social existence, and how this can be translated into an imposition on the state’s mode of producing and existing. The seeds of the revolution are sown.
Sarah Snider

Late Marxism: Adorno or the persistence of the dialectic by Fredric Jameson
The problem with using Adorno to reveal the alienating praxes at work within capitalist social relations, is that it’s not really capitalism that’s the problem for Adorno. The ‘reification’ discerned under capitalism is ultimately absorbed back into what Adorno perceives as a far longer history of reification per se.
Tim Black

Politics and History: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Marx by Louis Althusser
Whether one subscribes to the now-deceased Althusser’s now-deceased project or not, his attempt to identify what makes a thinker radical deserves serious consideration; and the book is indeed ultimately worthy of inclusion in this Verso series.
Alex Hochuli

Emancipation(s) by Ernesto Laclau
The real disappointment for this reader is not the rarefied language, but the fact that Laclau rejects the possibility of formulating the Enlightenment notion of a totalising universal identity, and with it washes down the drain any project of uniting the world under a single banner of rationality.
Sarah Boyes

Politics of Modernism: Against the New Conformists by Raymond Williams
Williams' critique of cultural pessimism remains relevant given the still current trend to disavow the future and its alternative potential, and to categorise new technologies alternately as both determinants of social change and threats to established artistic, now 'classicalised', forms.
Hugh Ortega Breton

Fragments by Jean Baudrillard
It is always tempting to imagine Jean Baudrillard preparing to write a book by sharpening an axe, swinging it into his computer monitor, then gluing the shattered pieces to a celluloid film reel, projecting it to a crowded room full of admirers and absolutely forbidding them to take it seriously.
Sam Haddow

On the Shores of Politics by Jacques Rancière
Rancière's aim is to criticise the post-political consensus that has replaced yesterday's battles. Some genuinely winning and original insights come through, but beneath the arch-theorising, Rancière's vision of politics amounts to little more than a tired fantasy of liberal pluralism.
Philip Cunliffe

Strategy of Deception by Paul Virilio
There is no consistent argument in any article, let alone any broader theme developed across the collection as a whole. Instead, it is a jumble of categories and neologisms ('globalitarian') with no analytical heft, mixed in with portentous quasi-mystical rambling about technology.
Philip Cunliffe

Related links

Verso's Radical Thinkers

Journal for the Study of Radicalism (JSR)

Bishopsgate Institute searchable online catalogue

radical philosophy magazine


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