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Brown's “Course of Activity”: Non-Repeatability, the Avant-Garde, and Temporality

Jeffrey A. Halley (The University of Texas at San Antonio, USA)

The Centrality of Sociality

ISBN: 978-1-80262-362-8, eISBN: 978-1-80262-361-1

Publication date: 12 December 2022


Michael E. Brown's book, The Concept of the Social in Uniting the Humanities and Social Sciences, demonstrates that prominent attempts to account for the social dimension of human affairs rely on an unstated notion of a “course of activity,” that is diametrically opposed to the conceptualization of sociality that is presumably intended to realize it. I want to focus on the idea of a “course of activity” in order to locate his work in and clarify its importance to the development of dialectical reason from Heraclitus through Hegel and beyond. Of special importance is the bearing of his research on the critique of contemporary theories of agency and sociality, and, since considerable attention has been paid, in this regard, to the arts and humanities, some of what I will say about this refers to art and its avant-garde moments—-particularly in my work on Dada and Brown's account of two avant-garde theatrical performances. 

This chapter examines what is entailed by separating agency from individuality and what it means for the idea of a “course of activity,” (going on) and its relation to the concept of sociality. This also bears on questions of ontology, as Brown's course of activity is generative and nonrepeatable. The course of activity and nonrepeatability are linked to both avant-garde practice and theoretical notions that reframe our temporal understandings. These include the avant-garde of dada and surrealism, and the reformulations of bourgeois time of Jean Duvignaud, Walter Benjamin, Ernst Bloch, and Jean-Paul Sartre. The question raised here is that of a teleological understanding—how we link the present course of activity with future events.



Halley, J.A. (2022), "Brown's “Course of Activity”: Non-Repeatability, the Avant-Garde, and Temporality", Halley, J.A. and Dahms, H.F. (Ed.) The Centrality of Sociality (Current Perspectives in Social Theory, Vol. 39), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 67-86.



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