Series Editor's Preface
Margot Finn University of Warwick
Living in the twenty-first century's confessional culture is at once alarming and soporific. On the one hand, we are subjected to unprecedented technologies of surveillance, calculated to compel exposure of our innermost failings to public view; on the other, we are cocooned by a pervasive media miasma of celebrity exposé, designed in no small part to divert attention from the fundamental challenges facing contemporary society, politics and the environment. As modern governments increasingly fetishise ‘transparency’, Thomas Docherty resoundingly demonstrates in this volume, they manipulate a longstanding confessional drive in novel ways, and thereby endanger the very communicative practices upon which democratic cultures have been built in the modern era.
In keeping with the WISH List's underlying premises, Confessions: The Philosophy of Transparency opens up a dialogue across the disciplines that highlights the ability of scholarship in the Humanities to illuminate (and critique) not only texts and contexts but also political praxis—as it plays out both within and beyond conventional academic debates and formations. Readers of Docherty's treatise will encounter Augustine's Confessions, Hegel's Phenomenology, Zola's J'accuse and Lowell's Life Studies, each subjected to a searching philosophical analysis that recognises its specific intellectual genealogy. But they will also find these (and a rich array of other works) resituated by Docherty, deployed to probe the problematic, interwoven paradigms of—for example—disaster capitalism, identity politics and literary criticism.
Lauded as an unproblematic virtue in much religious literature, the cult of individualised confession emerges from these pages instead as a potent threat: when transparency borne of an atomised confessional culture runs amok in democratic cultures, Docherty asserts, governments' (and citizens') communicative modalities are fundamentally compromised. Framed by astute analyses of classic texts and honed by judicious applications of continental theory, these arguments speak eloquently to the challenges of performing the self in the twenty-first century. For if confessional texts ostensibly proclaim the self, Docherty concludes, the process of confession all too often reduces the individual to an impoverished iteration of normative identities inimical alike to difference and democracy.