The Birth of Theory at New Books in History

December 16, 2016
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Andrew Cole’s The Birth of Theory posits Hegel as the world’s ur-critical theorist, accounting for the origins of his dialectic as a theory, and situating the thinker’s unconventional (for modern philosophy) turn toward the medieval and premodern realms, which ultimately embedded Hegel in its long tradition, and suggested “that it is precisely Hegel’s engagement with medieval modes of thought that make his work a productive source for Marx and the later thinkers who develop dialectical thinking into theory as we know it today.”

Cole’s work was previously reviewed by the likes of Qui Parle (The Birth of Theory is filled with illuminating and often counterintuitive readings. . . . Cole’s argument touches on an array of important avenues of inquiry, offering counterproposals that should unsettle the doctrinally comfortable and reinvigorate theoretical discussions in a variety of connected fields: Hegel scholarship and the history of Continental philosophy; Marxist and post-Marxist analysis of culture, ideology, and commodity fetishism; literary criticism, whether historicist or not; and contemporary discussions of new vitalisms, materialisms, and speculative ontologies. . . . The Birth of Theory offers a set of tantalizing and highly original arguments.”) and the Review of Metaphysics (“The Birth of Theory is an ambitious, original, lucidly-written, scrupulously-researched, sui generis book that is difficult to classify. . . . [It] contains local and global insights that are not to be missed: the intertextual allusions between Hegel’s early theological writings and Marx on commodity fetishism; the critique of political economy as ‘the otherwise hidden connection between Hegel and Bakhtin’; the centrality of a medieval dialectical hermeneutic not only to Hegel but also postmodernists like Jameson; and, above all, a Hegel of much wider relevance than the more specialized readings that characterize the current Hegel boom.”), among others, as well as a special issue of PMLA, devoted to the book. Recently, Cole sat down with New Books in History for an lengthy interview that offers additional context for the book, as well as a nuanced take on what is is, exactly, about reading Hegel that should change the way we look at the histories of theory. You can listen the interview in full, at just over an hour long, here.

To read more about The Birth of Theory, click here.

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