Various distinguished international guests have offered varying critiques of neoliberalism in our monthly series of “Critical Conversations.” But few have mapped out what an ontology of a world emancipated from the predations of the neoliberal moment in world history might look like.
Isabella Guanzini, an Italian-Austrian philosopher who can be described as one of the upcoming academic stars of Central Europe, has written a profound and provocative book entitled Tenderness: The Revolution of Soft Power. The book, which can be read and appreciated by both academics and the educated public, was released in 2019 concurrently in both Italian and German and has received flattering reviews in various languages in the European press. The Neue Zürcher Zeitung, for example, described her as a new feminist Habermas minus the bombast.
The comparison with Habermas is probably a bit inept, however. One might compare a good deal of her argument to Byung-Chul Han’s The Burnout Society. Yet with her Lacanian psychoanalytic background, Guanzini’s project might be more closely comparable to that of Julia Kristeva. And unlike Kristeva, Guanzini writes in a fluid, accessible style that constantly evokes word tableaus supplying deep, metaphoric insight into the pathologies of the increasingly crazy, anxiety-inducing, frenetic, polarized, social-mediafied, hyper-competitive, toxic, taken-for-granted life-world (as they say in phenomenology) she dubs “cosmo-capitalism.”
In other words, Guanzini puts neoliberalism on the analyst’s couch and forces it to confront its own insanity. But, more importantly, she waves before the patient an exit-strategy, even a “cure”. That is what the philosophy of “Tenderness” (Tenerezza in Italian, Zärtlichkeit in German) is all about.
Guanzini will be joined in lively discussion with Kiery Wurts of the University of Bonn, one of Whitestone Publications’ regular contributors.