Wednesday, July 4, 2018
Saturday, June 23, 2018
this is our natural processual mess (with all of us in it)
The world is a mess (or so they make us think). They means the whole business of getting us entrapped in the supposed mess of the world.
I have news: If the world was a mess, it is clearly a necessary mess. Dutch rationalist Baruch Spinoza can help here with his Principle of Sufficient Reason. It states that every fact in the universe has a sufficient reason for obtaining. Therefore, what's actual is necessary.
This mess (of the world) is perfect.
("perfect" is not a moral evaluation of mine. I use it because its etymology leaves no doubt, as to its completion).
Let's entertain the most stressful concept in our encyclopedia of contemporary miseries: Global Warming. What causes Global Warming? The best consensus points to us, humans, which promptly brings forth the unpalatable choice that we become the cause of our own demise.
How is this even possible?
We never intended it that way. Global Warming is a recipe of human fallibility and unintended consequences. If we go back in time to the explosion of Modernity we see faith in human science and technology and entrepreneurship and development and commerce. The world is a tool of progress and enlightenment. If you & I were living in the Eighteenth Century, chances are we'd gladly -though ignorantly- contribute to this actual Global Warming.
So, if this is our doing, then we become automatically responsible for it. Not so fast.
Our responsibility gets canceled once we factor in Global Warming's actual inevitability, since every step of the process leading to this critical moment is the effect of a previous event, caused by a previous one and so on. In the end, this Global Warming becomes just another natural process, like the Siberian Traps Eruption or the Influenza Pandemic of 1914.
Are we not in the world?
Are we not part of this supervening system called NATURE?
Is this Global Warming less of a natural process than, say, the last warming cycle, 10,000 years ago?
And the expert climatologist retorts: "... the difference is that this one is human-made."
Are humans outside of natural processes? Unless the climatologist believes we are somehow a breed out of the system, she has to agree with me that we are all as "natural" as petroleum.
That our Global Warming is perfect, doesn't mean I don't wish for a different world with less trash and clean air and pristine oceans. Unfortunately, that's is not the actual world I live in. And isn't a bizarre paradox of Global Warming that so many unrelated ideas and discoveries and unwitting actors long gone from earth become as responsible for it as we are?
I leave you with my lemma for these warming days: Amor Fati.
Thursday, June 7, 2018
Miami artist Tom Sicluna's recent show, 6329 NW 2nd Ave, at Nina Johnson Gallery may provoke the following reactions:
1. "I like the show."
2. "I don't know what to think of the show." Scicluna hasn't done much here, e.g., if anything, the artist just set up "found" grills on the gallery wall. Is that art?
3. "I hate the show."
1. & 3. need no help from me. Aesthetics has a noble line of emotivist critics defending the idea that value judgments are really emotive states clothed as rational cogitations (I disagree, and will discuss precisely this point later).
I was at the Scicluna's vernissage and did my DIY anthropological field study. Conclusion: Of those present at the gallery, very few actually got close to the pieces (and thus, missed important notes). They seemed oblivious, puzzled or both, more into talking-mode than seeing-mode.
Coming back to 2: True, Scicluna hasn't done much (the reason is that there is not much to do).
On the other hand, Scicluna knows what he is doing and wants to do it. One has to be crazy to do this sort of art precisely because of stereotypes associated with 2. (in case 2. was a legitimate point against Scicluna's art).
We need a little background info. The following excerpt appears in the notes to the show:
The artist looked to ongoing renovation of Nina Johnson gallery... he removed the iron security grills from the property’s external façades and installed them in the gallery itself ... mounted on the walls ... while these grills have a rough industrial presence, closer inspection reveals them to be individualized and possessing almost poignant details.Let's not sugar-coat the fact: These are oxidized iron grilles ready for metal scrapping. Only that Scicluna finds a higher purpose for these things.
Is this art? Forget about art for a second. Scicluna is not fighting anything, nor trying to prove anything art-related. The time for art fights is gone. Neither is he playing within "binaries" –as the notes to the show predictably announce (in poor Derridean). He just loves the beat up, oxidized quality of these wrought iron windows.*
To the people in 2.: If you were the artist, would you have a show of iron grilles just out of the factory at Nina Johnson? Negative. Scicluna is an artist, not a window/grille salesman. The materials point to time, because time is change. And time, as it were, joins forces with beauty.
Scicluna shows how time opens up the thinghood of the thing. How oxygen and water and iron mass converge and eventually become rust. Yes, there's beauty on the surface of these oxidized bars.
Look at this detail:
Surface rust is flaky and friable. When it happens, the iron's inner forces have given up. There's no more protection from the underlying iron res, as the the white paint only defers the inevitable a bit more. Rust is Real.
Let's magnify this baby:
Rusting up close. A marvel of nature.
This is chemistry! Perchance you may agree with me that there's beauty in the rust. If you don't, stop reading. This is not for you.
You still here?
Rust is beautiful because it is inevitable. Scicluna presents an actual world that has all of us as members. The oxidation below are you and me, a process going on right now in our blood and gut and bones.
There was certainly beauty before we ever learned to value it (was there not beauty in the sunsets of the late Cambrian?). If so, beauty is not perforce a human value.
* Clearly these are not the only aesthetic notes to explore here. I just think they are more relevant than other notes, such as psychological or urban/social intersections, in that they are primary, e.g., they address the thing itself, independently of our value judgments.
Tuesday, May 1, 2018
art fair art of 2018
What if in 200 years from now, art doesn't collect the same aesthetic properties of today's art?
The future brings a convergence of economic and aesthetic trends: a demand for "high finish" in art (where art catches up with haute design) plus "outsourcing" (inherited from early-2000s globalization). Both are firmly entrenched in what is known today as "art-of-not-making."
By 2118 contemporary artists give up the "making" in favor of just "designing." Contemporary art is now so labor-intensive that it's taken over by bot-labor. This art is of better quality than that of human artisans, and yet, to the trained eye, the execution exhibit properties referred to as "bot-art."
Add to the recipe the collusion of human/aesthetics vs. bot/aesthetics, where the latter has notes not yet fully understood by humans. It has to be frustrating for humans to accept that bots entertain ideas of beauty that differ from human standards (the reason is bot-qualia, e.g., the difference felt between humans and bots' mental states, as Twenty first Century human programmers kept taking for granted bots' mental states as a carbon copy of their own). For example, what we still call "beautiful" in 2118 they call "optimal." One side effect of this tension is that "design" is now considered by humans as more promising -aesthetically speaking- than art. Another side-effect is that "bot-art" -as it is pejoratively called- is a lesser form of "art of not-making" for a new generation of angsty human curators.
Left to compete with A.I.'s art, human artists have dropped all "digital" media to fully embrace hands-on art. A bit too late: "man-made" art has the feel of pre-Modern standards, minus Modern art's drive for originality. And yet, while abandoning what some call "bot-flatness," human art of 2200s looks not much different than 2018 art-fair art, minus the latter's Postmodern posturing.
Odd, isn't it?
Thursday, March 22, 2018
Just fresh from the NY Times, a new study about racial disparities & social mobility, witten by Stanford Law professor Ralph Richard Banks.
Banks takes two points from this study (by Raj Chetty from Princeton & Nathaniel Hendren from Harvard):
One is that a child’s economic position is sticky: Children from affluent families are many times more likely to maintain their privileged status than children from poor families are to attain it. The other is that while economic mobility may be individual, the conditions that enable or retard it are social. Wealthy neighborhoods with good schools and strong social ties propel even poor children toward a brighter future.Surprising! The gap between blacks and whites, as the study puts it, is driven by black men, not black women.
We know that African-American daughters tend to do well. They climb the socioeconomic ladder as high as their white peers, if not higher. It’s the boys who fail. Whether born to a rich family or a poor one, in an impoverished neighborhood or wealthy one, black boys lag behind their white peers as adults. Black boys who grow up rich are twice as likely as their white counterparts to end up poor. And of those black boys who start life poor, nearly half will remain so in adulthood, while more than 2 in 3 of their white peers will escape the poverty of their youth.Why?
Banks points to a vicious cycle: Black women may surpass their white counterparts in individual income, but they lag in household income. The reason is that they don't get the help needed from their male counterparts. Why again? According to Banks: "The men who would be their husbands are missing — incarcerated, unemployed, unable to be the partners that women want. Or the parents that children need."
Banks rightly acknowledges that racial disparities in incarceration, unemployment, school failure, etc, fuel racial social bias. And this bias, as he puts it, "ensnares black boys, rich and poor alike." This is one important component. And yet, Banks ignores the "internalization" aspect of this external bias, that is to say, its self-fulfilling aspect. Unless we are strictly socially determined, how can a young black man properly fight social bias if he doesn't keep in check his internalization of such bias?
Society is made up of individuals and individuals exhibit desires and memories that express autonomy and meaningful projects. But the fight against bias should not be reduced to mere externality. If that was the case Spartacus would have never rebelled against the almighty Roman armies, nor blacks against their masters in Nineteenth Century America. It's almost automatic: If anyone is told she is no good all of her life, she would end up believing it, thus sabotaging her own opportunities.
"I'm not what you think I am" needs to be internally checked along with "I won't become what you think I am."
True, society can impede an individual's life plans to a point, but unless we were totally determined by society, we can also find ways to express our best aspirations and bring forth positive change.
It's this second aspect that Banks overlooks. We're dealing with a self-fulfillment of an external bias. Again, if this was only a social problem, we'd be denying young blacks the very self-determination they need to end this vicious cycle. There's no negative stereotype to fulfill (i.e., the "socially unfit black male") unless there was an internal component that feeds off this pervasive external bias. This, as well, has to end.
Young blacks don't have to wait for society to change its biases about them. It's time to short-circuit the vicious cycle. The discourse has to shift from solely finding the problem outside, and addressing the plentiful reserves of African-american culture inside each young black person.
Monday, March 12, 2018
What hides under the spectacular oppositions is a unity of misery. Behind the masks of total choice, different forms of the same alienation confront each other, all of them built on real contradictions which are repressed. The spectacle exists in a concentrated or a diffuse form depending on the necessities of the particular stage of misery which it denies and supports. In both cases, the spectacle is nothing more than an image of happy unification surrounded by desolation and fear at the tranquil center of misery.- Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle, 1967.
Thursday, February 15, 2018
Danh Vo, Theodore Kaczynski’s Smith Corona Portable Typewriter, 2011 (via Art News).
Art News covers a show of Vitnamese artist Danh Vo, @ the Guggenheim in NY, reviewed by Andrew Russeth, who opens with this imbricated salvo:
“I think Danh Vo is trying to end art,” an art dealer said to me a few years ago. It was a great quip, delivered excitedly, as high praise, and I took it to mean that, by presenting historical artifacts and other people’s artworks in his shows, the Danish-Vietnamese artist was working in a way that was so nakedly factual, so close to real life and real history, that he was stretching the definition of art just about to a breaking point and making other supposedly radical practices look a bit lame by comparison.What a plenitudinous excerpt!
"so close to real life and history"
"stretching the definition of art to a breaking point"
"making other supposedly radical practices look a bit lame by comparison"
What we have above your typical art-magazine's reviewer/blast. FYI: contemporary art reviewers' job is to inflate the merchandise. The writing plays a faking game of being "impartial" —if the term offers any consolation of a bygone time when the writer would leave their bias at the gallery's door for the sake of the public good. Art readers get it and look the other way, assuming quality of norms and integrity —if the writing has the back of established publications (thus perpetuating the vicious cycle). The truth is starkly simple: readers are already conditioned to digest contemporary art reviews as unapologetic ballyhoos (we call it artblicity).
Let's come back to Russeth, who uses his dealer's "quip" to set the tone on the march up the mountain of praise. As the critic proceeds to present his friend's hyperbole in politically correct verbiage, he lets out his own normative tract in the open:
... but that dealer’s enthusiasm has proved prescient.
After this unsubtleness, it occurred to me that Russeth may have invented the dealer as an autre to whom to transfer his personal bias while pushing for much needed aesthetic consensus. A compass north of impartiality works in the reviewer's favor by pulling against his unchecked bias. Russeth's responsibility is to himself and the other (the artist & the reader). What we have here is the "dealer" opinion as replacement and reinforcement for the biased reviewer. In other words, if Russeth's responsibility could be delegated or shared, then it would not be only him who is on the spot.
As he plows ahead his panegyric, Russeth uncontrollably discloses his admiration:
Vo has emerged as one of the signal artists of our tumultuous era. He is a sensitive, gimlet-eyed observer of geopolitical events and his own family’s history, and how they intertwine. He is also a uniquely bold risk-taker, one of the rare artists who can act with the cold precision of a surgeon or a seasoned criminal.You know a true praiser from a "would be" by his doubling & tripling hyperboles. A received idea in art reviewers' circles is that aesthetic evaluations require Xtra oomph. The goal is to sell the show, thus the choice, "gimlet-eyed observer," over just plain "observer" —as if squinting one's eyes or frowning snobbishly would elicit perceptible changes in the laws of nature.
"gimlet-eyed observer of geopolitical events,"
"uniquely bold-risk taker,"
"who can act with the cold precision of a surgeon or a seasoned criminal,"
Russeth's "uniquely-bold-risk-taker" deserves a Saint-Simon Prize! Who would resist this shower of accolades? Never mind that in closing Russeth gets a bit of buyer's remorse and guardedly adds:
I have swooned over Vo’s work for years, all the while eyeing him with the suspicion one reserves for those who make it all look a bit too easy.They are plain easy, trendy & nostalgic, which is precisely the theme of this epoch —if there was a theme for an epoch, that is. Contemporary art and celebrity objects are a binity.
In the study, Newman, Diesendruck and Bloom attribute "celebrity objects" to three factors: memory, money and magic:
Celebrity possessions are often one of a kind, which by definition makes them a scarce commodity. Add to it the market value they command. An object that belonged to that celebrity is valued because it serves as a physical reminder that helps people to relive those pleasurable emotional states.Clearly, Vo understands and plays these connections adroitly. He starts where Duchamp's readymades left off, but without Duchamp's acid, anarchist bent. Vo's objects are charged with history indeed, but history doesn't discriminate. History happens to all the elements under its domain. The Vietnamese artist makes his bet for nostalgic & celebrity history and the two make an indelible friendship, something Russeth never takes into account as a possible check to his normative credulity.
Let's close with a tad of humor. How about a show entitled Celebrity & Identity @ The Guggenheim, featuring a Vo-like artist, where amongst many other "subversive" pieces, Scarlett Johnson "used tissue" wins special praise from the Russeths of the world as "simultaneously evading and confronting the true face of banality"? Plausible indeed.
Sunday, February 11, 2018
a future male-to-female cyborg, why not?aLfrEdo tRifF
I wish to follow this piece of news, which turned into this and this and worse, this (that's lots of ricochets blurring the issue at hand).
Caitlyn Jenner you do not understand what being a woman is about at all. You want to be a woman and stand with us— well learn us.The point is misplaced. McGowan is a biological woman, not a transgender female. She can't be one. Caitlyn Jenner will never be the woman McGowan has in mind. A transgender female, Caitlyn is what McGowan could never come to be, even if she wanted to.
Each of us belongs in both a biological club and a gender club. Bio is DNA-bounded. Gender is a role-bounded. The TRANS club is gender-bounded. Its members feel and desire other than their respective DNA-bounds. They don't ever leave —can't— their biological clubs. True, transgender people fiddle with their bodies to make it look different (a M-F seeks a female body, the F-M transgender seeks a male body), but that's not a biological change. Some transgender individuals may not want neither male nor female bodies to fit their gender choice.
The reason is that the TRANS club may be a form of otherness plain and simple —and this is still a debatable point— beyond sex.*
Caitlyn Jenner's boobs, makeup, garments etc, are non-essential —if that's what drives McGowan's point. Does Caitlyn Jenner, minus her boobs, makes her any less a female? Or does McGowan's menstrual cycles more of a woman? Methinks not. Yet, a female coming from a M-F TRANS club should feel different than a female being in her own WOMEN's club (I'm sure the argument can be made that sex + desires make up for a normative difference).
This fight over being a woman is not literal! Which is what both McGowan and Andi Dier miss.
(Moreover, the Gender-bounded club is not, like its DNA counterpart, permanent. One can enter and leave it. It has happened).
*Imagine the possibility of "cyborg" as another gender form in the foreseeable future. Though I sympathize with Donna Haraway's desire to expand Feminist take on gender, I disagree that cyborgs are necessarily genderless (all we need are female-isomorphic algorithms).
Tuesday, January 30, 2018
model posing @ l'ecole des beaux arts, end of 19th century
This morning's NYTimes:
Two women recently told The New York Times that Mr. Close had asked them to model naked for him, requests that made them feel exploited and uncomfortable. And on Tuesday, HuffPost published similar accounts from women, including one who described stripping in front of Mr. Close. HuffPost reported he then moved toward her in his wheelchair "so that his head was inches away from her vagina," and said it "looks delicious."Ok, paraplegic Close is a dirty old man. But in the first case he's simply proposing a common painter/model transaction. The would-be-model is free to say "no, thanks." Not a dirty proposal. Naked modelling is a staple of the fine arts (and a decent job at that). In the second case, after Close's "dirty" remark, the model gets dressed, picks up her things and leaves the vieux cochon alone.
But to use these private and personal incidents to cancel Mr. Close's show at the National Gallery of Art in Washington?
This is Art Market typical artsy plotting & charting for an opening to attract media attention and influence in the unbefitting Co. of right-wing-conservatism posing as "liberal" justice.
Sunday, January 28, 2018
“Havana, Cuba, 2016” (Section 6, Image 4)
Photography is often portrayed as the paradigm of representation, which automatically harks back to Plato’s critique of imitation in the Tenth Book of the Republic (although Plato didn’t have a camera in mind). Hence, the confusion persists as to what represents what. The art of photography comes with two curses: it’s a modern medium and a machine. Whereas some derided the camera as an “exploitation of man by machinery,” others argued that photography would help fight Victorian close-mindedness by showing the latter’s flaws in the open. Photography won the dispute and claimed the Twentieth Century as its epoch.
Then came the team/spirit of postmodernism and digital photography. The first upped the reality game to inaugurate the hyperreal, which the second made common property at the click of a mouse. In Postmodern photography reality and simulation are a virtual doppelgänger: relative to point of view, culture, class, geographical coordinates, political persuasion, sexual orientation —even camera brand. This is where the title of this book, Almost True, comes in. “True” points not to facts, but authenticity; the “almost” means the game of trial and error.
“Pamplona, Spain, 1985” (Section 8, Image 3)
Steve Bollman is quite informed about his trade, but he doesn’t take pictures to support agendas. He’s neither a Milton Brown, accusing pop culture of destroying art photography, nor a Susan Sontag depicting photography as a Capitalist tool of social control. He just loves photography and carries his camera everywhere in pursuit of the right moment —which may or may not become the right picture. It’s not that complicated. The right moment presents itself and the photographer is able and lucky to capture it. A photographer grasps the moment from the continuum of time. The picture freezes the moment and makes it transcendent. Once captured, the moment belongs only in the picture. Without the picture, there’s no moment per se.
A good picture congeals a meeting of chance and empathic competence. Bollman’s photos are “almost true” as they walk a tightrope between the reduction and the surplus of moments. When he gets it right, no explanation sufaces, except the obvious “I got it.” Bollman is a realist, which means to be true to the deep and chancy interdependence between people and things. Except, he is not doing the snap-shot realism of pioneers like Garry Winogrand, where the photo brings forth the social effervescence of the 1960s, or Nan Goldin’s 1980s photo verité of her close friends, stricken with drug addiction and AIDS.
“Viñales, Cuba, 2003” (Section 8, Image 2)
Favoring open-ended encounters, Bollman leans toward the honest intimacy of William Eggleston’s pre-color photography, or Lee Friedlander’s black-and-white aesthetics of people and things, teasing each other and fighting each other like a dysfunctional family. He doesn’t do closeups of faces in full color, like Martin Parr. In fact, he doesn’t do color. And we’re not in the 1970s when color still had a bad reputation.
Why does Almost True avoid color? The answer is that black-and-white are colors. Bollman’s abstention from color reminds one of Picasso’s eschewing color during his Analytic period. Picasso wanted the Cubist form to be properly seen without color interference. Bollman doesn’t believe color carries a pop culture stigma (a premise which Eggleston proved false), or that color made an Unholy Alliance with the all-pervasive phone-camera photography.
“Caltanisetta, Sicily, 1987” (Section 6, Image 1)
Almost True’s black-and-white preference points to emotional clarity, a social ethos suspended until the time comes. Then there is Bollman’s empathic style. Arriving camera in hand and unannounced, he tentatively reads his environment in search of the right moment for the picture. It’s a difficult dance on behalf of the photographer to get around the wobbly floor of people and things. Almost True presents this negotiation through a subtle arrangement. Not that Bollman arranges anything. A good picture is in synch with people and things. It’s a convergence of empathy and diligence, an irreducible moment in the drama of social life. Bollman shares Edward Weston and Alfred Stieglitz’s ideals that reality is amenable to the modern form.
“Havana, Cuba 2016” (Section 4, Image 1)
In “Havana, Cuba 2016” (Section 4, Image 1) we see a man and a woman close to each other at a building’s entrance, though on closer inspection, they are not looking at each other. The building’s background column intrudes in the foreground to clearly divide their silhouettes. In “Havana, Cuba, 2003” (Section 4, Image 7) we get three pedestrians going about their daily business, keeping the same distance from each other. Though absorbed into their private affairs, they are compacted, by the abracadabra of the shot into a symmetric troika.
“Havana, Cuba, 2003” (Section 4, Image 7)
One can notice Bollman’s subtle approach to human emotions. “Viñales, Cuba, 2003” (Section 8, Image 2) has a raggedly dressed country girl so deep in her thoughts that one immediately wonders what’s going on in her young mind. “New York City, New York, 1986” (Section 9, Image 4) shows a vulnerable instant of nocturnal self-absorption. “Berkeley, California, 2016” (Section 9, Image 7) portrays an old man’s desperate attempt to rescue a sound memory from the lingering synapses of his own dementia.
“Berkeley, California, 2016” (Section 9, Image 7)
Finally, there is Bollman’s exploration of the human gaze. In “Caltanisetta, Sicily, 1987” (Section 6, Image 1) we share a flash of magic surprise and complicity with a little girl, as she candidly walks by the hand of a nun. “Pamplona, Spain, 1985” (Section 8, Image 3) we meet defiance in the eyes of a butcher inside a dreadful slaughterhouse. From “Havana, Cuba,” again in 2016 (Section 6, Image 4) Bollman gives us the unadulterated point of view of a child playing in the open, the Homo Ludens looking straight at the camera.
Almost True is a rare gem, an on-and-off effort of years, an assemblage of love and persistence, a worthwhile archive of the many connections of the eye behind the camera and between people and things.
Sunday, January 21, 2018
Modernity posturing as bundle of (bundles of (bundles))
Modernity's (M) mounting troubles tell a persistent problem with the methodologies used by M-theorists.
These theories are propagated and legitimized without proper immanent critiques appealing to standards of reference, explanatory power and future predictability. In the last four posts we've presented theoretical conclusions that are not viable, such as M-normativity, Hegel's axiomatics, presentism, etc. We confront the same problem with M's main methodology: hermeneutics.
The basic tenet of the discipline is that of interpretation, understanding, etc. And here is the problem: interpretation, understanding, etc, are not enough to anchor truth. Theorists overlook that many of these inherited constructs are structurally epiphenomenal, which redundantly relate back to its material base. Heidegger has no choice but to recognize hermeneutics' raison d' être and re-frame it as structural:
The "circle" in understanding belongs to the structure of meaning, and the latter phenomenon is rooted in the existential constitution of Dasein—that is, in the understanding which interprets. An entity for which, as Being-in-the-world, its Being is itself an issue, has, ontologically, a circular structure.1We get it: Dasein has the ability to understand, and this ability is already —as it were— wired into Dasein. So, any understanding is bound to be Daseins' own! That Heidegger accepts that understanding is structural shows that circularity is an intractable problem for hermeneutics. There's no way to validate one's understanding of the world beyond one's (own) understanding of the world.
Once we pass hermeneutics' structural redundancy, we find that it's possible to build hermeneutic validity if we keep close attention to immanent standards of critique to rule out poor, or substandard interpretations. Admittedly, Heidegger's thesis in Being and Time opened up new avenues in the field of phenomenological research.
Here is a text by Umberto Eco, an expert in the history of hermeneutics. While in his early years Eco defended "open ended" interpretations, late Eco became more suspicious of what he saw as eroding standards of interpretation:
One can object that in order to define a bad interpretation one needs the criteria for defining a good interpretation. I think on the contrary that we can accept a sort of Popper-like principle according to which if there are no rules that help to ascertain which interpretations are the "best" ones, there is at least a rule for ascertaining which ones are "bad." (169)How to spot over-interpretation? Eco conceives of a model reader who would be able to discard some over-interpretations as ridiculous. We come back to the hermeneutic circle: understanding is a part-to-whole-to-part exercise. The model reader is capable to ask the right questions about the parts vs-a-vs the whole based on what she determines are the intentions of the text.
In our previous posts, we've hinted at hyper-objects as extremely large metaphysical entities, feeding off other entities.
Let's come back to M's paradigmatic definition:
... a bundle of processes that are cumulative and mutually reinforcing: to the (a) formation of capital and the mobilization of resources, to the (b) development of forces of production and the increase in the productivity of labor, to the establishment of (c) centralized political power and the formation of national identities, to the proliferation of rights of political participation, (e) of urban forms of life and of formal schooling, to the secularization of norms and so on (letters are mine).2We get it. A bundle of processes which makes for a (bigger) process.
the hyper-object devours its own tail -as if justifies itself
Some stubborn questions
*If M is a "bundle of processes," why not a bundle of (a bundle of a bundle) and so on? Let’s call this the infinite regress objection. Clearly infinite regress presents an intractable problem for a theory, since the explanation of the theory must not be contained in what the theory is trying to explain.
* How does a "bundle of processes" remain the same through its changes? Let’s call this the change-over-persistence objection. Since a process happens in time the question here is when does the process begin and end. And Modernity is notably obscure, since according to M-normativity, M produces its own standards.
* If a "bundle of processes" is a sort of activity, how does it supervenes over its parts? Let’s call this the activity-over-substance objection. The explanation of supervenience is delicate. It requires a top-down causality, but all it’s explained is the bottom/up part and thus, supervenience becomes a sort of mystery. What keeps the bundle going? This is explained with a further process: Capitalism.
* How can M define itself as a "bundle of processes," while ultimately referring back to the processes constituting the processes? Let's call this the constitution objection. This brings us back to the Humean problem. How do we know that M's predicted bundle of processes will always produce the same effect? Hume's point is that the idea that the same cause always produces the same effect is not a logical truth, nor can it be known a posteriori, because any attempt to prove it would assume its truth. We're not being difficult. No question is of little value: Categories relate to questions, not to answers!
The so called bundleofabundleofabundle cannot be sorted out by invoking the very thing one needs to explain.
Here is "the making of" M:
The theorist uses ad hoc methods with diverse received theories to describe his (our) socioeconomic present; the assembled "bundle of processes" so presented as the explanation of his present condition. Then as part of the received theory, the postulated M will not submit to a critique outside M. 3 Is this a reliable methodology? Is this the best M-theory can do ?
the gradual decay of M-theory
A brief history of M
a. At some point during early Nineteenth Century, German Romantics come up with the idea of "modern,"
b. Hegel brilliantly introduces axiomatics!
c. The effort to legitimize Hegel determines two opposing currents: Right and Young Hegelians struggle to give an account of M anchored in, what else, the present!
d. Marx/Engels develop political economy and dialectical materialism as eminent presentist disciplines.
e. Due to the contributions of Weber, Durkheim, Mead, etc, M-theory comes of age during the first fifty years of the Twentieth Century.
At each step of a. through e. we have a real shuffling of ideas: Given the early M-theory, anchored in metaphysics, history, teleology and Romantic literature, M-theorists proceed now to justify socio-historic and economic patterns in terms of bigger socio-economic and political processes, and in so doing they use more generalizations to ground previous ones. But bigger isn't better. In the end M becomes a rundown Paper Tiger, paralyzed by its inner unexplored peripheries and contradictions.
In PDM Habermas defends human rationality. What's interesting about his program is that it makes rationality an inherent capacity within language acquisition and expression. In other words, rationality expresses itself in our capacity for argumentation. And argumentation is grounded on validity claims which are vindicated by a process of inter-subjectivity.4 This communicative interaction of participants becomes a promising social cohesive force. Postmodernity appears and subverts these tenets with a discourse that is vitiated by self-contradiction. Reason has its flip side: the "other" of Reason, which, in the end, is actually, Reason.
The problem is that Habermas makes M a cardboard model for rationality. But M is, at bottom, a motley crew. To make up for this aporia, M-theorists turn M into a hyper-object in the company of other hyper-objects, such as Capitalism, (the gang provides much needed esprit de corps).
Our approach is that hyper-objects should metaphysically answer to objects. An object, a thing, is a primitive. A required first step. Surely, objects get together with other objects to become big, sometimes very big. But we should talk about stuff that is actually at our empirical, conceptual, level, instead of assuming —up above— at some epiphenomenal level. We suggest to come back to a differentiation between what the object "is" and what we "make" of it. Obviously, this is not the place to go into such detailed discussion of object/metaphysics.
A deflated idea of M:
* Like with any other historic period, let's deflate M to finite future bounds.
* M's self-imposed teleology is metaphysically redundant.4
* Self-normativity and M-normativity are goldbricks! From a normative standpoint, M has to be necessarily connected with previous historic periods. Normativity has to be trans-epochal.
* Instead of dwelling high and above at hyper-object level, the theorist should come down to earth and look at actual things. Don't rule by fiat.
* Make M less hyper-symptomatic and more predictive.5
* To avoid hyper-objects' recurrent redundancy, make them subordinate to objects (things).
Indeed, the present is real but it can be presented as a counterfactual to hyper-objects' redundant influence. For instance, one can conceive of a world without Modernity in it.6
What if Modernity is a fluke?
1 M. Heidegger's Being and Time (New York: Harper and Row, 1962) p.195. . 2 PDM, p. 2, Habermas enumerates the different influences of what we could call "the received theory of M": Baudelaire, Weber, Mead, Benjamin, Durkheim, Blumenberg, Koselleck, etc. See Hegel's axiomatics. 3 Suppose a theorist comes up with a theory in defense of "aura analysis." Suppose furthermore that there are many people don't fit the predicted patterns of "aura analysis." Rather than accept this fact as refuting evidence of the theory, the theorist presents a new category: the non-aureatic. Now, whenever the theory does not seem to work, the contrary evidence is systematically discounted! 4 Grounding validity claims intersubjectively grounds truth as coherence. But theoretical coherence alone is not enough to ground truth claims (whether as pseudo science or social consensus, as in here, here and here). 5 True, the future is unpredictable, but we have this and this to entertain comparative forecasts. 6 As well as other well known socio-economic hyper-objects, such as Capitalism, Terrorism, Globalization, etc.
Sunday, January 14, 2018
the blighted environs of M-normativity (Thomas Struth, Crosby Street, Soho,1982)
In this post we examine the advent of postmodernity and what that means for M-normativity. Particularly, we analyze Nietzsche's idea of futurity and how it subverts Modernity's presentism.
For the presentist present and past are incommensurable. A presentist talks about the past, but the past can only be judged from the present. The presentist accepts that norms change, but any evaluation of norms has to be present-bounded. The presentist is a subjective relativist with respect to the present: the past's norms may be Ok for the past but not for the present.
M doubles up the lemma. It adopts a presentist stance to norms, but in addition, it presents these norms oppositionally. In other words, M's present rules over the now & the now-block with everything in it. So, for an M- theorist, postmodernity is just a part of M.
An obstacle to this view is Hegel's very idea of Ground (see our previous post). How could the presentist makes sense of this jetztzeit unless he had a frame of reference to compare it with? To call out "X" presupposes some form of choice from members of a class other than those in the present.
Yet, even from an "oppositional" perspective, postmodernity presents difficult questions repressed under layers of theoretical hubris.1 The weight of a theory can be ponderous. Positions that have come to prominence become entrenched after years of back and forth between opposing sides. Discussions become compartmentalized and owned by specific tendencies. From entrenched positions very little can be negotiated, and legitimate questions are dismissed as derivative or spurious.
We start with M's bombastic presentism.
Because the new, the modern world is distinguished from the old by the fact that it opens itself to the future, the epochal new beginning is rendered constant with each moment that gives birth to the new. [...] Within the horizon of the modern age, the present enjoys a prominent position a contemporary history. (PDM p. 6)The term "epochal" seems neutral. Things begin and end (except M of course). Recall that Habermas would prefer to argue for "oppositionality" rather than "chronology." But M's use of "oppositionality" is a straw man. Opposing concepts don't presuppose anything "epochal."
Concepts and time/space are independent metaphysical categories. (unless the M-theories is an anti-realist, one hopes he agrees that time/space exists independently of any concept).
That M is a period within world history is a matter of consensus. But consensus doesn't necessarily anchor truth (think the consensus on slavery among southern landowners during early 19th Century America, or Arian Supremacy during the Nazi years in Germany).
So, the game here is that M makes historical claims while metaphysics hides behind the curtains.
M turns history into teleological theatrics.
What are the methods of history? Like other disciplines in the Human Sciences, history is a big pottage of ideas, competing positions and methodologies. Generally, historians stay away from metahistory (a kind of independent auditor looking at the overall discipline). But being that metahistory is not so much about history but how history talks about itself, the talking is often hijacked by "foreign" interests (i.e., ideology, or good ol' metaphysics).
Why is this relevant? Because Hegel's axiomatics.
Hegel's Lectures on the Philosophy of History is the Romantic metahistoric manifesto that brings together two reluctant siblings: philosophy and history. This is how M-normativity is born.
As time passes M-theory get more gluttonous and M-theorists turn M into a gargantuan hyperobject with which to explain all imaginable phenomena, plus M should last forever.
Let's imagine a regular historian doing research, negotiating different methodologies available to her, whether voluntaristic, Marxist, sociological, interdisciplinary, Feminist, etc. Despite the differences, the common denominator is the gathering of past facts in order to build inferences to explain it. These historic inferences remain fallible approximations.2
How could History, a discipline whose raison d'etre is to theorize changes in the past, declare an "epochal state of permanence?" How could an epoch in history get —as it were— out of its time to dictate: "I'm here to stay"?
Here is M's dogma:
... [M] opens itself to the future, the epochal new beginning rendered constant with each moment that gives birth to the new.Let's take a look at the emergence of what M-theorists pejoratively call postmodernity. We should not even let the "post" prefix fool us. M-theorists don't mean "post" as posterior to M. They mean it as a mere (to bring a Hegelian shibboleth to our discussion) "detour."3
But even granting the M-theorist that postmodernity is "oppositional" will be enough to show that M-normativity is a cheat, a Munchausen pulling himself from his bootstraps.
the collapse of M-normativity? (Pruit Igoe, 1968)
Nietzsche, the first postmodern
Who's the bearer of postmodern iniquity? An eccentric, blasphemous, sickish professor of philology by the name of Friedrich Nietzsche. To double up the weird: a Schopenhauerian and a Wagnerian.
Nietzsche is said to have "broken away from the spell of M."
How did he do it?
Nietzsche renounces a renewed revision of the concept of reason and bids farewell to the dialectic of enlightenment... [He] uses the ladder of historical reason in order to cast it away at the end and to gain a foothold in myth as the other of reason. (PDM, 86)What myth?
... an investigation that led him beyond the Alexandrian world and beyond the Roman Christian world back to the beginnings, back to the "ancient Greek world of the great, the natural and the human." (PDM, Idem)The first postmodern is he who challenges M-normativity! Habermas is not shy to castigate dissension.
On this path the antiquarian-thinking "latecomers" of modernity are to be transformed into "firstlings" of a postmodern age. (PDM, Idem)"Postmodern age?" Habermas' rhetoric betrays him. Does "age" equals "epoch"? No two distinct contemporaneous epochs are allowed by M-normativity. The culprit of this early jumble is Nietzsche. He incarnates "modern time consciousness" in search for a mythical time that is to be found not in the past but in the future.
Only the future constitutes the horizon for the arousal of mythical pasts. "The past always speaks as an oracle: only as masterbuilders of the future who know the present will you understand it." (PDM, 87)Nietzsche's idea of the future is "utopian," directed to "the god who is coming, which makes Nietzsche less reactionary than say, a Romantic, who craves to go "back to origins."
Don't we hear anything of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Don't we smell anything of the divine decomposition? Even Gods decay. God is dead; God remains dead, and we have killed him. How shall we con sole ourselves, we, the murderers among all murderers. (Gay Science, p. 181)Nietzsche replaces the Christian God with a nihilistic god. Dionysus was favored by the German Romantics because he "preserves the cultic excess with archaic forms of social solidarity." (PDM, 96). Nietzsche is not original in his treatment of Dionysus. The fascination with the Greek god harks back to early Nineteenth Century, with the likes of Schlegel, Hölderlin, Novalis, Schelling. The difference, Habermas points out, is that the Romantic Dionysus doesn't break with Western tradition. This mythology is a form of rejuvenation which seeks a Christian promise fulfilled with mythic Dionysian solidarity.4
And yet, the mature Nietzsche breaks with this Romantic Christian/Dionysian formula to embrace an openly aesthetic posture. For his discussion, Habermas cites from Nietzsche's On the Use and Abuse of History for Life.
We intend to mine this relevant text a bit more.
moderns lost in the high seas of the present, looking yonder @ their uncertain future (Théodore Géricault, Raft of Medusa, 1819)
How Nietzsche's futurity subverts M-normativity
Nietzsche is a Futurist before Futurism.
It is appropriate now to understand that only the man who builds the future has a right to judge the past. (UAH, 26)The future is not merely "there" like reserve of chronological time. The future is a projection, this is why he's so influential for Existentialist theory: Dasein, or l'être depend of this futural projection.
Create in yourselves a picture to which the future is to correspond ... you have enough to plan and to invent when you imagine that future for yourselves. If you live your life in the history of great men, then you will learn from history the highest command: to ... flee away from that paralyzing and prohibiting upbringing of the age. (Idem, 26)Nietzsche's "history of great men" refers to the ancient pre-socratics. The past that could come back again unless one flies "away from that paralyzing and prohibiting upbringing of the age." One has to respect a postmodern who can speak with such modern panache.
When the historical sense reigns unchecked and drags with it all its consequences, it uproots the future, because it destroys illusions and takes from existing things the atmosphere in which they alone can live. (Idem, 26)Nietzsche's futurity leaves M's trumpeted presentism behind time.
Nietzsche undertakes a conspicuous leveling. Modernity loses its singular status, it constitutes only a last epoch in the far reaching history of rationalization initiated by the dissolution of archaic life and the collapse of myth. (UAH, 35)Interestingly, Habermas' list of Nietzsche's postmodern buddies in PDM extend forward into the future to 1980s. That's a hundred years of postmodern trans-fat clogging M's arteries! 4
Let's introduce Nietzsche as the first modern postmodern.
(Picture the M-theorist, standing at the door of a small room filled with a postmodern coterie, holding a placard that reads: Long live the present!)
To top if off comes Baudelaire's contradictory declaration: Modernity can happen before modernity!
The poet loves to mix up things. He has a right. For Baudelaire (a proto-Surrealist) time "is a greedy player."
"Time to get drunk!
Don't be martyred slaves of Time,
On wine, virtue, poetry, whatever!"5
Baudelaire's "time to get drunk" means dare to imagine!
What conceptual or epochal warning can prevent a critic, disgusted with his present, to look forward to a better future? Is theory a prerequisite for human imagination?5
Let's double up now with this Nietzschean:
Postmodernity is possible before any modernity!
The distraught M-theorist throws up his hands: "Stop, you're mixing everything up!"
But this is time! Time is plastic, it can be brought back and forth through memories. And memories are tools of superimposition and juxtaposition. As we learn from Freud our psyche is in the business of mixing up events.
Does one have to be modern —or postmodern— to think like this?
The glance into the past pushes them into the future, fires their spirit to take up life for a longer time yet, kindles the hope that justice may still come and that happiness may sit behind the mountain towards which they are walking. These historical people believe that the meaning of existence will come increasingly to light in the course of its process. Therefore they look backwards only to understand the present considering previous process and to learn to desire the future more keenly. (UAH, 5)Nietzsche, the first modern/postmodern, has the freedom to go back and forth, shopping around for standards, evaluating past and future (even if as we know, it turns to be illusory).
Fill your souls with Plutarch, and dare to believe in yourselves when you have faith in his heroes. With a hundred people raised in such an unmodern way, that is, people who have become mature and familiar with the heroic, one could permanently silence the entire noisy pseudo-education of this age. (my italics, UAH, 5)Let's welcome "unmodern." How near of farther away is that from "modern"?
To exasperate the M-theorist even more, Nietzsche —reluctantly— considers himself a modern.
For we modern people have nothing at all which comes from us.It's time for a revision: Nietzsche is the first unmodern modern.
Next: Against hyper-objects.
1 Our discussion takes Habermas' PDM as its main source, but Habermas' position is akin to other high profiled M-theorists, such as Hans Blumenberg, Reinhart Koselleck, etc. 2 Induction is never certain, but M makes it look so, as if it rests on deductive grounds. The distinction brings us back to the difference between the "natural" and "social" sciences. We take it that both history and biology have to build a body of knowledge from explanations and predictions. 3 I'm thinking of Hegel's maxim: Der Weg des Geistes ist der Umweg. 4 This interpretation is challenged in a recent essay by Peter Sloterdijk. Nietzsche doesn't see his present as as Habermas wishes him to see it, a hundred years later. 5 Baudelaire's Paris Spleen. 6 "The same evidence follows us in our second principle, of the liberty of the imagination to transpose and change its ideas." Hume's Treatise on Human Nature (III).
Monday, January 8, 2018
Modernity gives birth to its own normativity (Joffra Bosschart, Kali, 1978)
How is an a priori history possible? When the soothsayer causes and contrives the events that he proclaims in advance.— Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age
We open with a high-flown assertion:
Modernity no longer will borrow the criteria by which it takes orientation from the models supplied by another epoch: is has to create its normativity out of itself. Modernity sees itself cast back upon itself without any possibility of escape. (PDM, p.7)What's important here is "out of itself." Imagine a vertical axis of epochal space vs. an horizontal axis of epochal constitution. From the vertical axis M gets no contact with the outside. From its horizontal axis, M creates itself ex nihilo. A true Messianic miracle! Hegel's dream was turned into law by the Hegelian Left (as programme for revolution) and by the Right (as Christian soteriology).
Today, M is a solid part of history. The lesson is that dreams come true. Yet, is it insane to posit the possibility that history cheated? Or better, could history not cheat and cover it with more cheating?
For now, self-normativity = M-normativity
Norms are standards, measures (whether quantitative or qualitative). Norms are constantly negotiated as descriptions and re-descriptions of the world. They are up for comparison, which presupposes difference. Terms such as "good," "beautiful," "wrong," "unjust," "permissible, "inappropriate," don't, can't, exist in isolation. When it comes to M what are we comparing? An epoch is conscious of itself through a similar process of juxtaposition. In this respect, Hegel provides a persuasive argument in his Science of Logic about how a thing (whatever) constructs its ground.
Ground is the unity of identity and difference, the truth of what difference and identity have turned out to be –the reflection-into-self, which is equally a reflection-into-other, and vice-versa. It is essence put explicitly as a totality (§121).The point is that M's ground already contains a reflection into-self vs. into-other.
((As the M-theorist seeks for further evidence, he only finds more incongruity))
From Baudelaire (in The Painter of Modern Life)
By "modernity" I mean the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent, the half of art whose other half is the eternal and immutable…This transitory, fugitive element, whose metamorphoses are so rapid, must on no account be despised or dispensed with.Habermas interprets the paragraph above as the "authentic work is radically bound to the moment of its emergence, precisely because it consumes itself in actuality." (PDM, p. 9).
How could Baudelaire have M-normativity in mind –when in the following paragraph he adds:
There was a form of modernity for every painter of the past; the majority of the fine portraits that remain to us from former times arc clothed in the dress of their own day. They are perfectly harmonious works because the dress, the hairstyle, and even the gesture, the expression and the smile (each age has its carriage, its expression and its smile) form a whole, full of vitality.What Baudelaire is doing is negotiating an opening between epochal standards that M-normativity prohibits. For Baudelaire the "modern" is trans-historic. It applies to Baudelaire's present (circa 1863), as much as it applies to Greek painter Phidias circa 440 BC! The Baudelairean modern is trans-modern.
From Walter Benjamin (in On the Concept of History , XVII):
A historical materialist approaches a historical subject only where he encounters it as a monad. In this structure he recognizes the sign of a Messianic cessation of happening, or, put differently, a revolutionary chance in the fight for the oppressed past. He takes cognizance of it in order to blast a specific era out of the homogeneous course of history—blasting a specific life out of the era or a specific work out of the lifework. As a result of this method the lifework is preserved in this work and at the same time canceled; in the lifework, the era; and in the era, the entire course of history. The nourishing fruit of what is historically understood contains time in its interior as a precious but tasteless seed.This is Benjamin at his most epiphanic. The revolutionary encounters the subject as monad. Is this not a reference to Leibniz? Self-aware, indivisible, self-sufficient recollections of the absolute reflection of the outside? Benjamin wills his epoch out of history's course (i.e., the narratology of history) through an explosive force (aufzusprengen) which reminds one of Nietzsche's "will to power" (Wille zu Macht). And Benjamin hopes that no systemic energy is lost in the process: Spent energy miraculously preserved -even against the course of time- contravening laws of entropy by perforce of Messianic cessation. The result is that of a congealed era in the form of a seed. One senses Benjamin metaphor-twisting aiming at a sort of Spinozean immanence: As everything is connected, the self/monad becomes the seed/epoch (an obscure poetic maneuver that would not satisfy a Frankfurt critic like Theodor Adorno). Remember, M-normativity is divorced from any connectivity.
Here's Habermas' opinion:
The consciousness of time expressed in Benjamin is not easy to classify. A singular mixture of surrealist experiences and motifs from Jewish mysticism enter unmistakably into his notion of now-time (jetztzeit) . 1Benjamin's future may not be exactly what Habermas has in mind. In OCH, XIV, Benjamin declares:
History is the object of a construction whose place is formed not in homogenous and empty time, but in that which is fulfilled by the here-and-now.What throws Habermas off is Benjamin's penchant for presentism, his now-time (jetztzeit) this all-absorbing now that contains everything there is. In XV we find a promising clue:
The consciousness of exploding (aufzusprengen) the continuum (Kontinuum) of history is peculiar to the revolutionary classes in the moment of their action.The exhortation calls for exploding the continuum of history. But this continuum cannot be a timeless blob (since history presupposes a beginning), nor a momentary cut (since any "now" one thinks of is already "outside" the continuum). In any case, the section moves back and forth from the "chronological" to the "oppositional." Benjamin, the M-theorist, wants to have it both ways.2
the M-theorist's insatiable gluttony (Georg Emanuel Opiz, Der Völler, 1804)
Habermas now aligns himself with M-theorist, Hans Blumenberg. In his monumental Legitimacy Of the Modern Age, Blumenberg suggests normative criteria for each epoch until a new vision of the world becomes necessary. A key concept is "self-assertion" (Selbstbehauptung), a central feature of the modern rational worldview. First, the transition from "ancient" to "medieval" is defined by the idea of "creation ex-nihilo." The preamble to the modern age is characterized by the nominalist God of Okham. The Enlightenment is the attempt to hide the historicity of Being (Blumenberg calls this period "false Modernity").
Each of these moments represent an epochal change (Gegenständigkeit, translated as "oppositionality") as opposed to (Inständigkeit or "extrapositionality"). Blumenberg presents two axes: "the world" and "human action in the world."
Gegenständigkeit is grounded in the Cartesian method and Husserl's Phenomenology where "world" and "action in the world" are within a continuum. Inständigkeit, on the other hand, is a rejection of the former, exemplified by Heidegger's anti-humanism, i.e., the rejection of reason, religion and tradition. Blumenberg proposes that the theological absolutism of the late Middle Ages prompted a radical break which resulted in an epochal self-assertion.
The founding of an epoch comes about only after a sense of crisis. What happens before needs to be surpassed. But with M this is out of the question. How does M surmounts the authority to invest itself in vacuum? According to Hegel, an epoch rises from the dissolution of the immediate, the pre-given form of social and cultural unity, the historic condition that he describes as diremption (Entzweiung). But it doesn't happen as a confrontation to the outside, but as self-anihilation, a sort of M pulling itself from its bootstraps.3
Habermas is more radical in his defense of self-normativity than Koselleck or Blumenberg.
Koselleck has characterized modern-time consciousness among other ways in terms of the increasing difference between "the sense of experience" and the "horizon of expectations": My thesis is that in modern times the difference between experience and expectation has increasingly expanded, more precisely that modernity is first understood as a new age from the time that expectations have distanced themselves evermore from all previous experience. (PDM, p. 12)Could the M-theorist really explain why there is no "historic consciousness" before M?
To prove M-normativity Habermas needs a radical cut, but so far, he hasn't produced it.
Slowly we begin to find the cracks in the M-normativity frame.
Next: How the overlap of Modernity/Post-Modernity shatters M-normativity.
1 Perhaps Habermas is reading Baudelaire with too much of Benjamin's messianism in mind, though this is not the place to make that claim, which I leave the reader to explore in this interesting essay by Sonam Singh.) According to Singh, Benjamin's methodology doesn't fully apprehend Baudelaire's fantastic rethoricity, as the former selectively sutures Baudelaire to accommodate his messianism.
2 Adorno's resistance to Benjamin's essay comes from a different ideological place, but Benjamin's obscurity is part of the problem. Adorno writes: "Between myth and reconciliation, the poles of his philosophy, the subject evaporates. Before his Medusan glance, man turns into the stage on which an objective process unfolds. For this reason Benjamin’s philosophy is no less a source of terror than a promise of happiness." Some well-known scholars opine that this observation only speaks of Adorno's conceptual stiffness. See, Sonam Singh essay above. 3 Hegel still carries Schelling's notion of the Absolute, since it is through a version of intellectual intuition, rather than conceptual thought, that we can construct the Absolute in consciousness. There are two parts here: the "subjective" subject/object (intelligence or Geist) and "objective" subject-object (nature), both terms—subjectivity and objectivity, or freedom and nature—are both posited in their identity and suspended in their difference and viceversa. See McGrath and Carew, Rethinking German Idealism, Chapter 4.
Thursday, January 4, 2018
Hegelian axiomatics makes its case in the trial of history
After defining the "economic" side of M, Habermas proceeds to tackle M's superstructure. The preeminent figure of this post is G. F. Hegel:
Hegel was the first philosopher to develop a clear concept of modernity (p. 4). Hegel used the concept of modernity first of all in historical contexts, as an epochal concept: The new age is the modern age. (PDM p. 5)What's Hegel's secret? He has the audacity to call his time "new" (circa 1807). That's it.
I- Hegel axiomatizes his present!
How do you prove that's sunny when it's in fact sunny? Just point to the sunny realm around you with your index finger. Facts don't need proof.
Hegel makes his epoch look as a historic necessity (with the help of good ol' metaphysics).
In this installment we show that both justifications are redundant. First, since any epoch is "new" in comparison with the previous epoch, Hegel's own epoch is — at best — trivially different than any previous epoch. Second, since history is basically and ultimately about real events, Hegel's hijacking of history by metaphysics to justify history's march to self-discovery is, from the start (admittedly brilliant) but ultimately redundant. As a paradigmatic German Romantic, Hegel presents his epoch as inevitable incarnation of the "will of the spirit" (Geist).
Two generations later, when Marx shakes off his Hegelian influences, he castigates Hegel and the Young Hegelians in The German Ideology with this caustic paragraph:
The Hegelian philosophy of history is the last consequence, reduced to its "finest expression," of all this German historiography, for which it is not a question of real, nor even of political, interests, but ... as a series of "thoughts" that devour one another and are finally swallowed up in "self-consciousness."No one disputes Hegel's presentism and his inclination being generational (the so called Jena Circle).1 For Paul Redding this inclination harks back to the beginning of German Idealism:
Idealists from Leibniz to Hegel sought to accommodate and incorporate the modern life together with the distinctive role given to individual subjectivity within it. This German Idealismus might be better described in terms of a increasing attempt to locate general phenomena with the modern subjective conception of consciousness. (p.4)II- Hegel's historic argument
Let's look at the Hegelian "new."
Imagine a moment, X0 which precedes a moment X1,
Necessarily, X0 ≠ X1,
We call X1 "new" and X0 "old,"
X1 is "new," compared to X0, but it's also "old" compared to X2. And the same will happen for each Xi.
Θ There is nothing unique about a moment, epoch X1 other than being trivially "before" of "after" any Xi.
Would Hegel disagree?
It is surely not difficult to see that our time is a birth and transition to a new period. The Spirit has broken with what was hitherto the world of its existence and imagination and is about to submerge all this in the past. (PDM p. 6).If Hegel rejects Θ then he needs more than just a "new" epoch. He needs this "new" epoch to last for ever! (more of this later).
Hegel now pulls a card under his sleeve: the "new" is not chronological.
III- Habermas defense of the new as "oppositional"
Habermas in PDM:
In his Lectures on the Philosophy of History, Hegel used these expressions to classify the German Christian world... the division still usual today (e.g, for the designation of chairs in history departments) into Modern Period, Middle Ages and Antiquity could take shape only after the expression "new" or "modern" age lost its chronological meaning and took the oppositional significance of an emphatically "new" age. (PDM p. 5)Habermas borrows this idea of "oppositional" as opposed to "chronological" from German historian Reinhart Koselleck, who coined the term Sattelzeit to denote a conceptual transformation which takes place between 1750-1850. We cannot go deep into Koselleck's monumental theory of Begriffsgeschichte in his Futures Past On the Semantics of Historic Time.
(take a look at this essay by Jan Werner Müller as an intro).
Even as Koselleck builds his idea of "conceptual history" (Begriffsgeschichte) he brings back chronological aspects —as he anchors these conceptual transformations. Koselleck's point is that the historical experience of time and its meanings during the 1750-1850 period shifts from "timeless" (before M) towards "forward looking-anticipatory" during M. (Coincidence of coincidences, Hegel belongs precisely to this epoch).
There is a problem with Koselleck idea of Sattelzeit, though. How could "new" be oppositional without being implicitly chronological? Put differently: How could one address "opposition" (Entgegensetzung) in Hegel, between concepts referring to historic events without implicitly acknowledging change? And how can one acknowledge change without the helping hand of chronological time?
Hegelian dialectics is about "moments." For example, in his famous definition of Being & Nothing resolving in Becoming in his Wissenschaft der Logik, Hegel uses the term Übergehen, traslated by Wallace as "passage" (in German Gehen implies the idea of motion).
Let's take a look at Koselleck's idea of "opposition":
From the concept of the one party follows the definition of the alien other ... This involves asymmetrically opposed concepts. The opposite is not equally antithetical. The linguistic usage of politics, like that of everyday life, is permanently based on this fundamental figure of asymmetric opposition. (FP p. 158)Koselleck goes in detail over a number of binaries (Helenes vs. Barbarians, Christian vs. Heathens, Mensch & Unmensch vs. Übermensch & Untermensch, etc). At one point he seems to imply that these conceptual oppositions are independent of history:
The following reflections will not be concerned with historical process or the emergence and articulation of dualistic counter concepts, their change, and the history of their likely effects ... the structure of argument within once historically extant, dualistic, linguistic figures will be examined for the way in which the given counterpositions were negated. (FP p. 158)This conclusion is not unlike the structuralist preference of synchronic over diachronic. A few paragraphs later, Koselleck dithers to acknowledges that structure,
... implies the historical, and vice versa. In this way, the sources can be read in two ways at once: as the historical utterance of agencies, and as the linguistic articulation of specific semantic structures. (FP p. 181)But this admission subverts Habermas' much needed M's oppositional side. The reason Habermas discounts the chronological (diachronic?) is that he wants M to be and not be in time. Not unlike Hegel, though for different reasons, Habermas still finds a return value in defending M's excess of presence.
Since M is still here, (though going through a detour) M's true project still has a future. The strategy is make M last as much a possible while keep deferring it, legitimizing it within the knowledge communities. Derrida has called this practice "Hauntology."
Because the new, the modern world is distinguished from the old by the fact that it opens itself to the future, the epochal new beginning is rendered constant with each moment that gives birth to the new. [...] Within the horizon of the modern age, the present enjoys a prominent position a contemporary history. (PDM p. 6)Strange that Habermas makes this assertion about Hegel's epoch. Is his pivotal study Lectures on The Philosophy Of History Hegel doesn't talk much about the future. His main concern is the present:
Nothing in the past is lost for it, for the Idea is ever present; Spirit is immortal; with it there is no past, no future, but an essential now. This necessarily implies that the present form of Spirit comprehends within it all earlier steps. (LPH p. 96)Or here:
In regard to Philosophy, on the other hand, we have to do with that which (strictly speaking) is neither past nor future, but with that which is, which has an eternal existence —with Reason; and this is quite sufficient to occupy us. (LPH p. 104)IV- Hegel's metaphysical argument for History
We need to come back to Hegel's axiomatization of history. Hegel's metaphysical maneuver has three parts:
1. History is teleological (it exhibits a purpose), 2. History is a process (of progress), 3. History culminates with the Spirit's self-discovery of its own freedom. For the sake of brevity I'm presenting the core of these arguments:
...and the whole process of History (as already observed), is directed to rendering this unconscious impulse a conscious one (LPH p. 39).2. process,
Freedom has found the means of realizing its Ideal — its true existence. This is the ultimate result which the process of History is intended to accomplish. (LPH p. 127)3. self-discovery,
The destiny of the spiritual World, and — since this is the substantial World, while the physical remains subordinate to it, or, in the language of speculation, has no truth as against the spiritual —the final cause of the World at large, we allege to be the consciousness of its own freedom on the part of Spirit, and ipso facto, the reality of that freedom. (LPH p. 33)None of these points have any anchor in reality whatsoever.
A candid question: What got Hegel in such a mess?
I'll present Hegel's metaphysical legerdemain in schematic form.
In developing his phenomenological argument, Hegel's project becomes a model of mounting contradictions. He betrays his phenomenological method of gradually allow metaphysics emerge from a careful analysis. Instead Hegel hijacks history for the sake of metaphysics. Here are the redundancies of Hegel's axiomatics:
1. Presentism: "Progress" redundantly points to Hegel's epoch.2
2. Eurocentrism: World history travels from East to West, ending with, obviously, Europe.
3. Christianocentrism: The Christian world is the world of completion (thereby the end of days is fully come).
M's doubtful endurance, its raison d'etre, has been exposed. M's clever buildup from both its "economic" and "oppositional" sides have been uncovered as a patchwork of ad hoc procedures. M presents plenty of abstractions with dubious particulars, conceptual invocations devoid of factual evidence and questionable inferences with poor premises.
Next post: M's redundant normativity.
1 The Jena circle becomes the center of German Romanticism through its main publication: The Athenaeum. Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy describe the circle aptly: "Nor is it simply a circle of friends ... or a "coterie" of intellectuals. It is, rather, a sort of "cell," marginal (if not altogether clandestine), like the core of an organization destined to develop into a "network" and serve as the model for a new style of life. In fact, and without any exaggeration, it is the first "avant-garde" group in history." (The Literary Absolute, p. 8). 2 As Hegel had defined it, "progress" is not an indeterminate advance ad infinitum. "It has a definite aim, that is to say, spirit’s achievement of self-consciousness."