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Elliott, A. (1993). The self-destructive subject: critical theory and the analysis of the unconscious and society. Free Associations, 3(4):503-544.

(1993). Free Associations, 3(4):503-544

Explorations in Theory

The self-destructive subject: critical theory and the analysis of the unconscious and society

Anthony Elliott

Of all the attempts in modern social theory to transcend the split between the individual and society, it is in the work of the first generation of critical theory, the so-called Frankfurt School of the Institut für Sozialforschung, that the intersection of the social and psychic spheres is most explicitly proposed as an object of enquiry. Extending the insights of Weber and Lukàcs on the rationalization of modern consciousness, critical theory sought to integrate the study of the individual psyche within the analysis of cultural forms — an area long neglected by traditional Marxism. To do this, Freudian theory was used to bridge the abyss between the sociological and psychological realms in order to interpret aspects of the social whole.1 In tracing out the boundaries and contours of the social and psychic worlds, the outstanding work of Herbert Marcuse and Theodor Adorno, the two most prominent critical theorists, has had a major impact on the concerns of contemporary social and political theory.

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