Nikolas Kompridis in Auckland (2008)
|Institutions||Australian Catholic University|
|Notable ideas||Reflective disclosure|
Nikolas Kompridis is a Canadian philosopher and political theorist. His major published work is concerned with the direction and overall approach of Frankfurt School critical theory; the legacy of philosophical romanticism; and the aesthetic dimension(s) of politics. His writing touches on a variety of issues in social and political thought, aesthetics, and the philosophy of culture, often in terms of re-worked concepts of "receptivity" and world disclosure—a paradigm he calls "reflective disclosure". He is currently a Research Professor and Director of the Institute for Social Justice at the Australian Catholic University.
After gaining his Ph.D. at Toronto's York University, Kompridis worked with the influential philosopher and Frankfurt School social theorist Jürgen Habermas while a post-doctoral fellow at Goethe University. Following his time with Habermas he wrote a book responding to what he saw as serious shortcomings in his mentor's work. In Critique and Disclosure: Critical Theory between Past and Future, Kompridis objects that Habermasian critical theory, which has in recent decades become the mainstream paradigm in critical theory, has largely severed that tradition's connection to German idealism, while neglecting modernity's distinctive relationship to time and the utopian potential of critique.
While drawing on many of Habermas' own insights (along with the philosophical traditions of German Idealism, American Pragmatism, and the work of many others), Kompridis proposes an alternative approach to social criticism and what he sees as its role in facilitating social change. This interpretation is guided by an engagement with Martin Heidegger's concept of world disclosure, as well as alternative conceptions of key philosophical categories, like critique, agency, reason, and normativity. Arguing against Habermas' procedural conception of reason and in favour of a new paradigm Kompridis calls reflective disclosure, the book suggests that critical theory should become a "possibility-disclosing" practice of social criticism "if it is to have a future worthy of its past."
In a largely favourable review of the book, Fred R. Dallmayr writes:
This is an important and timely (or time-sensitive) book, both in philosophical and in practical-political terms. Today its plea for a recovery of trust in the future has gained unexpectedly broad resonance… the book in a way signals the end of a period marked by divergent, even opposite tendencies: on the one hand, the "postmodern" fascination with "extraordinary" rupture (or rapture), and on the other, the streamlining of critical theory in the mold of a rule-governed, rationalist normalcy.
In November, 2011, the journal Philosophy and Social Criticism published a number of responses to the book from other critical theorists, along with a reply from Kompridis.
Kompridis has also published a number of essays arguing for his own conceptions of cultural change, receptivity, critique, recognition and reason, and has engaged in written debates about these and other issues with critical theorists including Amy Allen, Axel Honneth, Nancy Fraser and Seyla Benhabib (see "Exchange with Seyla Benhabib", below).
Kompridis has written that he sees critical theory, and critique in general, as implicitly romantic in its self-understanding, and much of his scholarly work reflects this concern. His edited collection, Philosophical Romanticism, includes essays on diverse themes in romanticism from philosophers such as Albert Borgmann, Stanley Cavell, Hubert Dreyfus, Richard Eldridge, Robert Pippin and others, as well as his own contributions. The topics addressed in the volume include: "Beginning anew"; "Self-determination and expression"; "Art and irony"; "The living force of things"; and "Returning the everyday".
In 2009, Kompridis published a chapter on Romanticism in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Literature, articulating his view of the relationship between romanticism and social change, and particularly the work of the social critic. There, he connects the work of a number of poets, artists and philosophers – including Rainer Maria Rilke, Walter Benjamin, Jean-Luc Godard, William Wordsworth and Ralph Waldo Emerson – whom Kompridis sees sharing a deep concern with the possibility of individual and cooperative transformation. He writes that:
What is demanded of [the romantic critic], in spite of all the obstacles and constraints, in spite of the improbability and possible futility of it all, is to find and found new ways of looking at things, new ways of speaking and acting, new kinds of practices, and new kinds of institutions. Anyone who thinks such change is not only necessary but also (improbably) possible, whatever their view of 'romanticism,' is a hopeless romantic.
Aesthetics and Politics
A musician by training, Kompridis has frequently married an interest in aesthetics with other philosophical concerns. Among others, he has authored papers on topics including the philosophy of music under conditions of cultural pluralism ("Amidst the Plurality of Voices: Philosophy of Music after Adorno"), on the relation between receptivity, recognition, and literature ("Recognition and Receptivity: Forms of Normative Response in the Lives of the Animals We Are"—which engages with prior philosophical debates about J. M. Coetzee's novel, The Lives of Animals); and on "The priority of receptivity to creativity," a paper that explores Russell Hoban's novel, The Medusa Frequency. He has lectured on film, on the relationship between cultural memory, diversity, and the arts, and has discussed music and philosophy with his former teacher, the composer Martin Bresnick, in a discussion broadcast on ABC's Big Ideas program.
More recently, Kompridis edited The Aesthetic Turn in Political Thought (2014), a collection of essays that explore the connections between aesthetics and democratic politics. The book takes as its starting point a statement by Jacques Rancière (who is also a contributor), that "politics is aesthetic in principle."
Kompridis also edited, and contributed to, an exchange in 2011 on "A Politics of Receptivity" in a special issue of the journal Ethics and Global Politics.
Technology and Human Being
In 2008, Kompridis spoke at a conference on "The Post/Human Condition" held in Auckland (a related essay was published in the online journal Parrhesia.). In the talk, Kompridis outlined the potential dangers he saw as a result of new, convergent techno-sciences such as genetic engineering, synthetic biology, robotics and nanotechnology, while criticizing what he considered to be the transhumanist aspirations of such programs' attempts to overcome all human biological limitations. According to Kompridis, the post-human is now "a real, not a notional… possibility," and therefore the question of what it means to be human "is all of a sudden a pressing question, a question absolutely pressed for time—since, evidently, the space in which it can still be meaningfully posed, and thus the space in which a meaningful response could be fashioned, is shrinking at an alarming rate."
In response, Kompridis has called for a renewed public discussion about the question of what it means to be human, in order to "thematise the normative significance of the question, and to sustain our engagement with it, reflecting on the answer our technological civilization is already giving to it," namely that living things, including humans, are merely "machines whose components are biochemicals." While acknowledging that in a culturally plural world, there can be no single or essentialist conception of what it means to be human, Kompridis nonetheless argues that "we have an obligation to deepen our understanding of what it is that is actually threatened" by a notion of humans as sophisticated machines, whose components can be replaced, re-configured and re-combined. Otherwise, he says, the question of what it means to be human will "be decided by scientific experts and market forces, and a certain tendency of our liberal culture to favour anything that increases the freedom of choice of individuals."
Kompridis therefore proposes an inter-disciplinary "counter science of the human" to provide alternatives to naturalistic assumptions about identity, which predominate in the natural sciences, and which work in concert with the wider culture of individualism to erode, and preclude, other understandings of what it means to be human. This counter science would take as its two main starting points:
- The concept of the person, underpinned not by consciousness, but by a definition based on the things that human beings care about in peculiarly human ways; and
- The phenomenon of intercorporeality, the way in which human beings develop the ability to learn, act and make sense of things under conditions of embodiment in a social context.
Exchange with Seyla Benhabib
In 2006, Kompridis participated in an exchange with critical theorist Seyla Benhabib, when she responded to an essay of his published in the journal Political Theory. Kompridis had criticized Benhabib's book The Claims of Culture, arguing that she promotes a prematurely normativized and politically neutralized concept of hybridity. In his view, this commits her to applying a double-standard with respect to endangered or marginal cultural traditions in larger (liberal, capitalist) societies, leaving minority cultures at a disadvantage under conditions of cultural assimilation. Benhabib denied this, writing that "[c]ultures which are subject to decentering, reflexivity, and pluralization can regenerate from within themselves novel semantic resources of resistance" to assimilation.
In a response published in the same issue of Political Theory, Kompridis writes that this demands too little of modern democracies, and puts too great a burden on minority cultures:
How curious that Benhabib can be firmly opposed to freezing cultural differences, yet firmly in favour of freezing constitutional principles. It seems that hybridity is very much welcome if it is confined to the domain of culture… [but] complex cultural dialogue should not be so defensive; it should not asymmetrically distribute the risk of decentering, reflexivity, and openness to change, either between minorities and majorities or between democratic politics and constitutional principles.
In place of the "essentialist anti-essentialist" stance that he perceives in Benhabib's theory, Kompridis suggests starting from the view that cultures are both "identical and non-identical" with themselves. Had Benhabib started from this position, he suggests, she "could have approached questions of cultural preservation very differently, and more open-mindedly." The problem of cultural preservation "doesn’t have to be presented (and easily rejected) as demanding the right to 'freeze' existing cultural differences… it can be presented instead as a matter of fairly and sensitively enabling the free interplay between what is identical and non-identical in a culture with itself."
- Critique and Disclosure: Critical Theory between Past and Future. 2006. Cambridge: MIT Press, 337 pp. (ISBN 026211299X, ISBN 978-0-262-11299-4)
- Philosophical Romanticism (ed.) 2006. London: Routledge, 304 pp. (ISBN 0415256445, ISBN 978-0-415-25644-5)
- The Aesthetic Turn in Political Thought (ed.) 2014. New York, London: Bloomsbury, 320 pp. (ISBN 144118516X, ISBN 978-1-441-18516-7)
- Professor Nikolas Kompridis biography (Australian Catholic University)
- Dallmayr, Fred. "Critique and Disclosure: Critical Theory between Past and Future", Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, Feb. 6, 2009.
- Philosophy and Social Criticism, November 2011; 37 (9), 1025-1077
- Nikolas Kompridis, "Disclosing Possibility: The Past and Future of Critical Theory," International Journal of Philosophical Studies, Volume 13, Number 3, 2005, pp. 325 – 351.
- "Reorienting Critique: From Ironist Theory to Transformative Practice," Philosophy and Social Criticism, Volume 26, Number 4, 2000, pp. 23 – 47.
- Nikolas Kompridis, "So We Need Something Else for Reason to Mean," International Journal of Philosophical Studies, Volume 8, Number 3, 2000, pp. 271–295.
- Nikolas Kompridis, "From Reason to Self-Realization? On the 'Ethical Turn' in Critical Theory" John Rundell (ed), Contemporary Perspectives in Critical and Social Philosophy (Leiden: Brill, 2005), pp. 323–360.
- Nikolas Kompridis, "Struggling over the Meaning of Recognition: A Matter of Identity, Justice, or Freedom?" Nancy Fraser and Kevin Olson (eds.), Adding Insult to Injury: Social Justice and the Politics of Recognition (London: Verso, 2007). Reprint of article published in European Journal of Political Theory, 6 (3), 2007, pp. 277–289, part of a critical exchange with Nancy Fraser, edited by Nikolas Kompridis
- Nikolas Kompridis, Critique and Disclosure: Critical Theory between Past and Future (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006) pp. 274–280.
- Nikolas Kompridis, Philosophical Romanticism (New York: Routledge, 2006).
- Nikolas Kompridis, "Romanticism", Richard Eldridge (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 249.
- Nikolas Kompridis, "Amidst the plurality of voices: Philosophy of music after Adorno", Angelaki Volume 8, Number 3, December 2003, pp. 167-180
- Nikolas Kompridis, "Recognition and Receptivity: Forms of Normative Response in the Lives of the Animals We Are", New Literary History, Volume 44, Number 1, Winter 2013, pp. 1-24.
- Nikolas Kompridis, "The Priority of Receptivity to Creativity (Or: I trusted you with the idea of me and you lost it)", Critical Horizons, Volume 13, Number 3 / 2012.
- Nikolas Kompridis, "The Memory of Loss" (video), Sept. 11, 2010.
- Nikolas Kompridis, Martin Bresnick, and Lisa Moore, "Music and Philosophy After Modernism", June 1, 2012.
- Nikolas Kompridis (ed.), The Aesthetic Turn in Political Thought. Bloombury, 2014.
- Ethics and Global Politics Vol 4, No 4 (2011).
- Nikolas Kompridis, "Technology's Challenge to Democracy: What of the Human?", Parreshia 8 (2009), 20–33.
- Nikolas Kompridis, "Technology's Challenge to Democracy: Re-opening (and preserving the openness of) the question of what it means to be a human being" (Recorded lecture), University of Auckland, December 3, 2008.
- Rodney Brooks, "The relationship between matter and life", Nature 409 (2010), 410. Cited in Nikolas Kompridis, "Technology's Challenge to Democracy: What of the Human?", Parrhesia Number 8 (2009), 23.
- Nikolas Kompridis, "Normativizing Hybridity/Neutralizing Culture", Political Theory, Volume 33, Issue 3, June 2005, pp. 318–343
- Seyla Benhabib, "The Claims of Culture Properly Interpreted", Political Theory Volume 34, No. 3, 2006, pp. 383–388.
- Nikolas Kompridis, "The Unsettled and Unsettling Claims of Culture: A Reply to Seyla Benhabib", Political Theory Volume 34, No. 3, 2006, p. 392.
- Nikolas Kompridis, "The Unsettled and Unsettling Claims of Culture: A Reply to Seyla Benhabib", Political Theory Volume 34, No. 3, 2006, p. 390.
- Biography on the Australian Catholic University website
- "The Right to the Human Condition: Arendt, Normativity, and Utopian Politics" (video). Pacific Centre for Technology and Culture. June 11, 2014.
- "Secularism, Public Reason and the Limits of Translation" (video). Ryerson University, Toronto. June 6, 2012.
- "Music and Philosophy after Modernism". Conversation with composer Martin Bresnick, with performances by pianist Lisa Moore. June 1, 2012.
- “Secular Criticism as Poetics and Politics”. Three lectures by Stathis Gourgouris, including responses by Kompridis. University of Western Sydney. May 21, 23 & 25, 2012.
- "A Politics of Receptivity". Special issue of Ethics and Global Politics, Vol 4, No 4 (2011). Edited & with contributions by Kompridis.
- Biodiversity and the Arts: "The memory of loss" (video). Australian Museum, Sydney. Sept. 11, 2010.
- "Technology's Challenge to Democracy: What of the human?" (PDF). Parrhesia, No. 8, 2009.
- "Reason, Reflective Disclosure and Democratic Politics" (audio). Macquarie University. December 9, 2008.
- "Romanticism and Reanimation" (audio). University of Tasmania. December 8, 2008.
- "Technology's Challenge to Democracy" (video). "The Post/Human Condition" conference, Australasian Society for Continental Philosophy, University of Auckland. December 3, 2008.
- "An Innovative Approach to Critical Theory". York University Y-File. March 20, 2007.