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On Recursivity: Critique & Praxis

A contribution to Bernard E. Harcourt's call for reflections on one's own theory and practice.

Published onSep 07, 2020
On Recursivity: Critique & Praxis

My answer has to come from my own confrontation of theory and praxis. I hope that others will reformulate and answer the question with their own time-, place-, and date-stamps wherever they are now — and I aspire to support a forum for those reformulations and answers. Critical theory cannot simply understand our crises and unveil our illusions. It cannot content itself with reflection or contemplation as a form of practice. It must articulate tactics and praxis. Critical times call for radical revaluation. That is what I propose here: a new vision of critical praxis theory for the twenty-firsty century.

— Bernard E. Harcourt, “Toward a Critical Praxis Theory,” Critique & Praxis1


I don’t privilege thought over action or vice versa. If anything, my life has been a struggle to effectively combine the two.

My forays into academia have exposed me to those lost in esoteric thought with far less connection and influence on the material world than they evidently justify themselves. On the other hand, it takes little looking to see extravagantly irresponsible displays of the consequences of actions bereft of thought. There is, then, to my mind, a need to actively pursue a balance between thought and action.

This extends beyond the moments when one is considering or engaging in political or social activity aimed at “changing the world” (whatever that means) to include all one’s daily interactions — at home, at work, at rest (increasingly all in the same physical space). Don’t think it’s a matter only for critical theorists (or wannabes like me).

I do value thinking before acting in such cases where it can sidestep preventible consequences of unthinking actions (which may as well just be called “reactions”). But there are certainly situations when events dictate action be taken with little time to ponder or theorize. In those cases, of course, it’s important we return to those actions, identify them and consider whether their results or consequences match what we might have done had we had more time to think them through, forecast possible futures . . . altered course.


If I didn’t love words or literature or communication or something about this, the confluence of events that lead to these sentences would likely never have occurred.


ill-thought-out


It is this divorce that Bernard Harcourt seeks to overcome in a new critical praxis theory — a bridging of the divides (thought/action, body/mind) that have crippled critical theory thus far into the 21st century.


One can tell someone (an editor, perhaps?) saw the timeliness of the text and, in the course of dutifully updating it just before publication, introduced a typographical error after “pandemics” on page ten.


theoria, praxis, poesis


The incessant dinging of my phone instantly makes me sympathize with the mental and emotional anguish experienced by Pavlov’s lab animals. Training a thinking, feeling being to respond to stimuli appears so transparent and simple to the outside observer — until one remembers the time spent training the animals to respond to just that signal in just that way instead of pursuing more useful or just ends and, more striking, the anxiety-ridden days they spent waiting just for the ding.


The great myth needs to be dispelled. It is this myth which Nietzsche began to demolish by showing that, behind all knowledge, behind all attainment of knowledge, what is involved is a struggle for power. Political power is not absent from knowledge, it is woven together with it.”

— M. Foucault


I’m probably not much good on the streets. A skinny white boy nearing 40 whose ankles sprain on the slightest off-kilter incline, I’m aware my usefulness on the field is limited to that of moral support and cannon-fodder. But I do have a certain set of skills, which has proven to be a great line of dialogue at least able to carry multiple movies and a TV show. And, so, I use these skills — writing, a little web development and design, a lot of reading and learning — to make my small contributions to the overall emancipatory project.

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