By Thomas Docherty
This great post appeared on our Bloomsbury Philosophy blog last week and we thought you may all be interested as well. In it, we look at how Docherty traces the history of confessional writing in order to develop his philosophy of transparency and argue that transparency as the norm is not conducive to democracy. Enjoy!
In a world where we demand transparency of institutions, from courts of law to tabloid newspapers, where we consume celebrity gossip full of ‘confessions’ and push for resignation of public figures as confession of personal misdemeanours, Docherty’s Confessions: The Philosophy of Transparency contributes a much-needed philosophical and literary analysis of our increasingly ‘confessional culture’. Has our fixation by the almost everyday nature of confessional discourse banalized confession such that it loses its former legal and religious significance? Is a culture of transparency good for democracy?
Tracing the history of confessional writing, Docherty explores confession as opposed to merely statement, through the content and context of the confession and in the confessing subject’s relation to others. Via this literary critique, we see in all the writing “a certain philosophical foundation or substratum – the conditions under which it is possible to assert a confessional mode.” (Introduction) From these roots and contributions to contemporary confessional discourse, Docherty develops a philosophy of confession that is pertinent for contemporary political culture: a culture based on transparency.
“If the book has a purpose beyond the matters of literary critique, it is as a contribution to our possibilities for living together in democratic organisation.” (Preface)
Contrary to the tendency to regard transparency as a general social and ethical good, Docherty argues that transparency as the norm is not conducive to democracy. This is because the culture of confession with which it goes hand-in-hand has significant consequences for the relation of citizens to the public sphere and to intimate human relatedness. What does this mean?
Docherty argues that democracy depends on modes of communication and modes of human relatedness – intimacies and public actions – that demarcate public and private spheres; a demarcation upon which social order is based. Contemporary confessional culture, grounded in demand for transparency, alters these modes and thus disturbs the dimensions of and relations between the public and the private. This in turn endangers the social order. At the heart of this concern is that transparency has engendered a society in which autonomy (the very authority of the subject that says “I confess”) is grounded in guilt and victimhood.
Docherty ultimately intends to expose flaws within the formation of modern cultural life. A bold intention; a highly relevant and widely informed, inter-disciplinary result.
Thomas Docherty is Professor of English at Warwick University. He has published on most areas of English and comparative literature from the renaissance to the present day. He specializes in the philosophy of literary criticism, in critical theory, and in cultural history in relation primarily to European philosophy and literatures.
The Philosophy of Transparency combines literary criticism of modern literature with political
philosophy and cultural studies. It is part of Warwick Interdisciplinary
Studies in the Humanities, or The WISH
May 2012 • 9781849666596 • 224 pages • £50.00 or £45.00 online at http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/confessions-9781849666596/
Praise for Confessions:
“[A] learned, sophisticated and powerful counterblast to a culture whose demand for immediate transparency is inseparable from a range of disabling fetishes, from management and security to space and speed, `truth and reconciliation' and, above all, identity and identity-politics. Everyone should read it.” – Andrew Gibson, Research Professor of Modern Literature and Theory, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK
“I have to confess to liking this book a lot. It is a literary, theoretical and autobiographical tour de force. Docherty's acute critical sense ranges across the philosophical and cultural landscape to read Paul de Man, Giorgio Agamben, Hannah Arendt and the Lisbon Lions. A few more books like this and the humanities might be worth fighting for after all.” – Martin McQuillan, Kingston University, UK