The Birth of Theory

The Birth of Theory

Andrew Cole

Print publication date: 2014

ISBN: 9780226135397

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


Modern theory needs a history lesson. Neither Marx nor Nietzsche first gave us theory. Hegel did. To support this contention, The Birth of Theory presents a refreshingly clear and lively account of the origins and legacy of Hegel’s dialectic as theory. It begins with the untold story about Hegel, who boldly broke from modern philosophy when he adopted medieval dialectical habits of thought to fashion his dialectic. While his contemporaries rejected premodern dialectic as outdated dogma, Hegel embraced both its emphasis on language as thought and its fascination with the categories of identity and difference, creating what we now recognize as theory as distinct from systematic philosophy. Not content merely to change philosophy, Hegel also used this dialectic to expose the persistent archaism of modern life itself, establishing a method of social analysis that has influenced everyone from Marx and the nineteenth-century Hegelians, to Nietzsche and Bakhtin, all the way to Deleuze and Jameson. By uncovering these theoretical filiations across time, The Birth of Theory will not only change the way we read Hegel, but also the way we think about the histories of theory. With chapters that reanimate the overly familiar topics of ideology, commodity fetishism, and political economy, along with a powerful reinterpretation of Hegel’s famous master/slave dialectic, The Birth of Theory places the disciplines of philosophy, literature, and history in conversation with one another in an unprecedented way. Daring to reconcile the sworn enemies of Hegelianism and Deleuzianism, this timely book revitalizes dialectics for the twenty-first century.