From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America 13.1 (1993): 134-38.
Copyright © 1993, The Cervantes Society of America

REVIEW

Cascardi, Anthony J. The Subject of Modernity. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992. 316 pp.

     Professor Cascardi's book is an interesting compilation of theoretical discourses about the subject in the modern world. His primary thesis is that the subject of modernity is not single but divided and heterogeneous. He sees modernity's goals as contradictory because the subject is inscribed in a society no longer founded on the basis of virtue and tradition, one in which the terms of transcendence have been rendered suspect. Since Descartes, Cascardi argues, selfhood has been transformed into subjectivity, and

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subjectivity has become “a self-legitimizing attempt to ground the values of a new age,” that is, freedom and autonomy, in rational self-consciousness and by means of the liberal state (64). In the modern age, the subject's experience is therefore shaped by a series of related splits between fact and theory, reason and desire, value and rule. It is positioned at the intersection of contradictory discourses of which Descartes, Cervantes, Hobbes, Pascal, Milton, and the myth of Don Juan are supposed to be representative. Cascardi claims that these splits or antinomies have remained “unacknowledged by thinkers on both sides of the debate over modernity and postmodernism” (65), and he posits the need to introduce imagination and its discourse into a world that has been rationalized, wherein philosophical discourse has been privileged. This is the aim of his project.
     The book is divided into six chapters: I, The “disenchantment” of the world; II, The theory of the novel and the autonomy of art; III, Secularization and modernization; IV, The subject and the State; V, Subjective desire; VI, Possibilities of postmodernism.
     In the first chapter, Cascardi uses Max Weber as his springboard in discussing the bureaucracy of the modern world, its reification of social relationships, and its “normalizing” of social institutions in the absence of transcendental norms. Habermas's theory of “communicative action” is interpreted by Cascardi as the rationalized sublimation of any expressive content or experience by means of the “construct” of communicative reason. The well-known Foucaultian and Derridean positions against the “fictive” absolute nature of origin are included to reinforce Cascardi's premise.
     In Chapter II, Cascardi attempts to show that the novel forms an essential part of the debate on modern culture and that those who, like Habermas (in Cascardi's view), focus on aesthetic judgment rather than on aesthetic experience fail to derive the “expressive potential and inner coherence” of art (117). A genre like the novel, he says, can provide “access to values that could seem irrational when measured in relation to a purely representational concept of the real” (104). Basing himself primarily on Lukács's Theory of the Novel, Cascardi attempts to situate literature between the terms of history and theory. Descartes's position of the subject as “standing beyond possibility of sensory error and beyond all conceptual doubt” becomes the corollary for the formation of a “new novelistic point of view, one that relies on the separation of values from facts” (83). This point of view which is constructed by the “subject” becomes now a possibility in Don Quixote, which is seen as modern because it can no longer be subsumed under the image of any “pre-existing social or aesthetic whole” (84). It also shows that the traditional promise of literature as ethical is “pitted against the ‘dangers’ of fictional or quixotic modes of readerly identification,” and thus necessitates resistance to the text (105). Cascardi sees Don Quixote as revealing “the ethical risks present in a world without essential forms”: 1) the self may be transformed into a subject governed by an arbitrary will; 2) the effort to refashion the existing world may give way to the pressures of a purely iconoclastic desire with respect to society as it stands;


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3) the fact that in the absence of transcendent values, inner-worldly things, like Dulcinea, may assume the status of a transcendent value-ground (123). But Don Quixote's heterogeneity can still be “synthesized” because, for Cascardi, the tension inherent in the secularization/disenchantment paradigm is not yet dominant. The loss of the power of fiction to command belief, for example, can still be compensated by the need to invent aesthetic and ethical theory as in the Canon's criteria for the legitimation of fictions (Don Quixote, I, 47).
     In a world devoid of transcendental norms, normative social practices are described (in Chapter III) as replacing traditional religious ideals. Figures like Pascal and Milton are brought in to argue “that the invention of transcendental subjectivity does not in fact eliminate but rather guarantees the competing transcendence of faith” (128; Cascardi's emphasis). For Cascardi, Habermas provides a “wholly secular alternative” (which, by the way, Habermas intended to do) (140). Rorty's category of the “interesting” as a term of secular aesthetics makes him “a critic of ‘unexamined’ prejudices” (151). Kant's displacement of religion to the “inward” space of conscience leaves the subject with a heightened sense of duty and with no clear sense of what that duty should serve (157). Weber is cited as “an example of someone who holds convictions that no longer follow from beliefs” (178).
     The premise of the fourth chapter is that the founding of the state along rational lines is inherently contradictory. Hobbes and Machiavelli, as would be expected, are brought in to bear out the claim that rhetoric is essential in modern political life because “modern political philosophy is marked . . . by two principal features”: an interest in self-preservation, which has replaced aristocratic virtue as the basis of political life, and the transformation of politics from a self-reflective praxis based on prudence into a technical science (207-08).
     Chapter V posits a deliberately contradictory premise: on the one hand, where “there are no natural ends or objects of desire, and where reason does not itself supply those ends, the result may be a form of empowerment, a freedom of self-creation . . .” (230); on the other hand, “the liberation of desire from reason and from its attachment to any ‘natural’ objects indicates the difficulty of directing desire toward a single coherent end” (230). Cascardi sets out “to recover the transformative or emancipatory potential of desire” and sees the “characteristic variability of modern desire” exemplified in the myth of Don Juan (231). He rejects the Freudian position that desire must be repressed or subdued, reminds us of the Foucaultian position that in equating excessive desire with a madness in need of control we merely reinforce the authority of reason in the West, and posits desire “as a form of empowerment that attempts to reconstitute a vision of society from the demand for recognition that modern subjectivity inherently creates” (232). Using the Lacanian binarism of need and demand as a springboard, Cascardi locates the creation of desire in the space between need and demand and equates it with the search for recognition. But, “in order


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for there to be self-consciousness, desire must be directed toward a non-natural object, toward something that goes beyond the reality of the given world” (230). And this he finds in the Don Juan myth.
     Cascardi acknowledges throughout Chapters I-V that he has attempted to analyze the contradictions of subjectivity in relation to the culture of modernity, that history and theory have made demands they cannot satisfy, that what is at stake in his book is “the need to fashion a mode of discourse, a practice of judgment, and a model of selfhood in response to these demands.” He promises that “we shall finally see how a solution to the otherwise devastating antinomies of modernity may be achieved” (15). This solution is to be found in Cascardi's reinterpretation of Kant's “aesthetic judgment” in Chapter VI. Cascardi attempts to do this by preserving the “originary tension” of modernity he finds in Kant and by resisting all efforts “to contain or reduce it” (299). He pinpoints “the transformative potential of desire; its orientation to the ‘beyond’ . . . [which] may be revealed in and through the recognition of concrete others” (271), and he focuses on providing the “means for shifting from one domain of experience to the next” (305). His solution is to introduce Lyotard's “principle of movement” into Kant's aesthetic judgment.
     The erudition of the book is undeniable, and the breadth of the author's scholarship, admirable. But something is wrong with the book. In the words of the Canon in Don Quixote, “Propone algo, y no concluye nada” (I, 6). The book simply fails in its aim to “equalize the conflicting discourses.” Let me give some examples. Cascardi's avowed aim has been to introduce imagination and its discourse into a rationalized world wherein philosophical discourse has been privileged. Cascardi, however, consistently makes the aesthetic discourse ancillary to philosophical, theoretical discourse, and too often he forces it to fit into his conceptual framework. He also claims that the contradictions of the modern subject have remained “unacknowledged” by scholars before him. The book itself, however, refutes that claim. Cascardi's analysis shows how arduously Weber, Hegel, Kant, Habermas, the postmodern critics, as well as the “relatively conservative thinkers” (Cascardi's adjective) Leo Strauss, Stanley Rosen, Alasdair MacIntyne, among others, acknowledge the contradictions inherent in the “rationalization” of a world where the subject can no longer resort to supra-natural truth claims. Cascardi's language is often obscure and tendentious. There are unnecessary repetitions which add nothing to the argument. On page 301, for example, ten lines are repeated verbatim from page 300. Cascardi disagrees with former critical-theoretical positions, and he does this with impressive erudition. He promises a “solution to the otherwise devastating antinomies of modernity” (15), but what emerges is a reiteration of Kant's well-known concept of aesthetic judgment, with Cascardi's added emphasis on the fact that Kant is “replicating rather than resolving the tensions between the individual and community” (303), and with the introduction of Lyotard's familiar “principle of movement” into Kantian theory. Cascardi seems to need to emphasize how his theory


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differs from theirs. He claims that he has not interpreted Kant's aesthetic judgment in the “traditional” way, as an autonomous power or force, but that he has provided “a means for shifting from one domain of experience to the next” (305), and that he has tried “to reformulate . . . [Lyotard's] dialectic,” to “recover the mobility of the terms involved” (305). The reader, however, cannot quite see what real deviations from Kant or Lyotard such reformulations constitute.
     Cascardi aligns himself with such postmodernist critics as Charles Altieri, François Lyotard, and Gilles Deleuze, yet he speaks in terms of totalizing and redemptive paradigms which these authors reject. For example, Cascardi sees in “the opacities of desire” what “may remain . . . unrealized[,] .  . unrepresented within the framework of what has been historically achieved [and which] might represent the means or powers by which to transform the world” (272; my emphasis).
     The most unsettling part of the book, however, is Cascardi's handling of Tirso de Molina's burlador. Don Juan is made to fit Cascardi's conceptual framework of modernist desire, and consequently, “the myth of Don Juan consistently appears to admit a vision of subjective desire, which seems to permit a heterogeneity of objects . . . while at the same time it seems to sacrifice that vision to the demand for cultural order . . . characteristic of the ‘traditional’ world” (243). Tirso de Molina's Don Juan in El burlador de Sevilla, whose primary focus is on humiliating, becomes for Cascardi a romantic rebel and an honorable man. Based on the interchange with the Stone Guest, wherein Don Juan says, “I am a man of honor, and I keep my word, because I am a knight,” Cascardi concludes that “the psychological mobility of Don Juan,” far from being “a threat to the ethical foundations of traditional society” is, instead, indicative of “an extreme concern for honor and virtue, the very basis of self-consciousness in a traditional world” (245). Don Juan becomes the paradigm of “transgressive desire,” a “revolutionary,” and, according to Deleuze's and Guattari's model, a “post-Oedipal model of desire,” and the “emancipatory potential of a desire freed from all constraints . . .” In the convoluted language which so often characterizes the book, “Don Juan's principle [sic] effort is to come into contact with a reservoir of energy which he discharges in typically modern fashion, that is, in the form of discontinuous flows” (245-46).
     This is a book which could have been highly informative, but readers seeking insights into literature will be distracted by its irritating excursuses, and students of philosophy may well wonder what the philosophical structure is meant to uphold.


MYRIAM YVONNE JEHENSON
State University of New York at Oswego


Digitized with the help of Kendall Sydnor
Fred Jehle jehle@ipfw.edu Publications of the CSA HCervantes
URL: http://www.h-net.org/~cervantes/csa/artics93/jehenson.htm