Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Deflating Modernity (Part 5) Against hyper-objects

Modernity posturing as bundle of (bundles)

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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.1
We 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 insurmountable for Hermeneutics, there's no way to validate one's understanding of the world beyond one's (own) understanding of the world.

Nothing against redundancy per se. 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 become 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 on 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).2
A bundle of processes which makes for a ((bigger)) process.

the hyper-object as if justifies itself

Some stubborn questions

* If a "bundle of processes," why not a bundleofabundleofabundle, and so on? (let's call this the infinite regress problem) 

* How does bundleofabundleofabundle remain the same through its changes? (let's call this change-over-persistence question)

* If a bundleofabundleofabundle is a sort of process activity, how does it supervenes over its parts? (let's call this the activity-over-substance question).

(A hyper-object can give one the creeps)

* 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 paradox)

We're not being difficult. No question is of little value:

Categories relate to questions, not to answers!

The individuality of bundleofabundleofabundle cannot be explained out by invoking the very thing one needs to explain. We need to understand why all these bundles coalesce together through time, when they change.

Here is a schematic story of 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 good start for 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 his 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.     

Revising M 

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 (argumentative) 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, theorists turn M into a hyper-object in the company of other hyper-objects, such as Capitalism, etc. (The hyper-object 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 (or conceptual) level, instead of up above at some epiphenomenal level. We suggest to come back to a simple differentiation between what the object (thing) "is" and what we "make" of it. Of course, 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 bound.

* 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 is trans-epochal.

* Instead of dwelling high and above at hyper-object level, the theorist should come down to earth and look at things. Don't ever 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

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 of people: 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. Again, 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.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Art Hypnosis: Cultural spectacle has a potential for aesthetic mass-brainwashing

Art Spectacle is Cultural Spectacle  

Whatever emotions their actual existence as political agents of evolution provokes, it is impossible to ignore the force that situates them above men, parties, and even laws: a force that disrupts the regular course of things, the peaceful but fastidious homogeneity powerless to maintain itself ... considered not with regard to its external action but with regard to its source, the force of a leader is analogous to that exerted in hypnosis.
Georges Bataille and Carl R. Lovitt, The Psychological Structure of Fascism. New German Critique, No. 16 (Winter, 1979), p. 71. Republished by Duke University Press.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Deflating Modernity (Part 4) Nietzsche's futurity against Modernity's presentism

the blighted environs of M-normativity (Thomas Struth, Crosby Street, Soho,1982)

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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.  

From an "oppositional" perspective emergent postmodernity presents questions that come back to hunt modernity. Questions are 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 often dismissed as derivative or spurious.

It's time to be frank about those repressed questions, no matter how naïve they may seem.

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" is neutral. Things begin and end (except M). Recall that Habermas would prefer to argue for "oppositionality" rather than "chronology." But the truth is that M's use of "oppositionality" is a straw man. It announces "concept," when it really means "chronological time."

But opposing concepts don't presuppose anything "epochal." Concepts and time/space are independent metaphysical categories.

That M is a period within world history is a matter of consensus. But as we know, 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).    

Modernity makes historical claims while metaphysics hides behind the curtains.

M is deliberate about turning history into a teleological theater. 

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., 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. Together they announce the Parousia of Protestant Eschatology. This is how M-normativity is born. 

As time passes M-theory get more gluttonous. M-theorists turn M into a gargantuan hyperobject with which to explain all imaginable phenomena. To top it off, 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 are always fallible approximations.2

How could History, a discipline whose raison d'etre is to analyze and 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"? That's metaphysical hooey.

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.
We have to find a way to expose the sham.

Let's take a look at the emergence of what M-theorists pejoratively describe as 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) "detour."3

But even granting the M-theorist that postmodernity is "oppositional" will be enough to show that M-normativity is a cheat, a Baron 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' own rhetoric betrays him. Does "age" = "epoch"? No two 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 a as masterbuilders of the future who know the present will you understand it." (PDM, 87)
Habermas reads Nietzsche's idea of the future as "utopian," directed to "the god who is coming, which makes Nietzsche less reactionary than say, a Romantic, who craves a "back to origins"call.

This god who is coming is Dionysus, a popular figure for German Romantics. Dionysus is favored by the 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, etc. 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

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 little more.   

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 chronological time. The future is a projection. Nietzsche in on the right path. That's 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)
Nietzsche's "history of great men" refers to the ancient pre-socratics. The past that could happen again unless one flies "away from that paralyzing and prohibiting upbringing of the age." One has to respect a postmodern who can speak in such a "modern" manner.
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)
see how Nietzsche describes M-normativity:
As he sets down on the top of it the final stone of his knowledge, he appears to call out to nature listening all around, "We are at the goal, we are the goal, we are the perfection of nature." (UAH, IX)
Nietzsche's futurity leaves M's trumpeted presentism lagging behind.
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)
To which extent can Nietzsche's critique of his present undermine M's singular status? Unless M is a Paper Tiger, its "epochal new" just a shibboleth defended by an out-of-synch status quo. 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 is mixing 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,
Get drunk!
Stay drunk!
On wine, virtue, poetry, whatever!"5

Baudelaire's "get drunk" means dare to imagine! 

What conceptual or epochal "warning" can prevent a critic disgusted with her present to look forward to a better future? Is theory a prerequisite for human imagination?5

To the preceding Baudelairean, let's double with this Nietzschean:  

Postmodernity is possible before any modernity!

Now the distraught M-theorist throws up his hands: "Stop, you're mixing everything up!"

But this is time! And time is elastic, it can be brought back and forth through memories. And memories are tools of superimposition. 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/or 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 this new Nietzschean relatum: "unmodern." How near of farther away is that from "modern"?

To make the M-theorist more miserable, Nietzsche —reluctantly— considers himself a modern.
For we modern people have nothing at all which comes from us.
It's time for a second introduction: Nietzsche is the first unmodern modern.

Next: Against hyper-objects.
1 Our discussion takes Habermas' PDM as its main source, but the truth is that Habermas' own position is close to other high profiled M-theorists, such as Hans Blumenberg, Reinhart Koselleck, etc.  2 Induction is never certain. But M makes it look deductive. Which brings us to the difference between the "natural" and "social" sciences. In spite of the obvious differences, here I try to play a neutral game, i.e., in spite of their differences, 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. Obviously Nietzsche doesn't see his present as this idea of M defended by Habermas a hundred years later. This is all metaphysical legerdemain. 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).

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Walter Crane Dictionary

(The) Arts: If I may have succeeded in making out a case for the arts now called Decorative and Applied —though "there is but one art." (CDA, Preface)
(...) to follow the clue for themselves, and especially to think out further the relation of art to labour and to social life (Ibid.)
(...) Art is not the mere toy of wealth, or the superficial bedizen- ment of fashion, not a revolving kaleidoscope of dead styles, but in its true sense, in a vital and healthy condition, the spontaneous expression of the life and aspirations of a free people. ( CDA, The Architecture of Art, p. 15)
(...) The higher, the richer, the fuller the life, the happier and more harmonious its conditions, the higher and more varied and beautiful will be the forms of its expression in art. (CDA, Ibid, p. 17)

Arts and materials: (...) to realize that that art is not necessarily the highest which is always in the clouds, but, indeed, that all kinds of art gain in character and beauty in proportion as the ideas they express are incarnate as it were—inseparable from the particular materials in which they are embodied. (WM, On the Study and Practice of Art, p. 114)

Beauty: I know no better definition of beauty than that it is "the most varied unity, the most united variety." (CDA, The Architecture of Art, p. 6)
(...) The sense of beauty may be stunted, but Nature cannot be altogether suppressed under the most perverse social conditions. (Ibid.)

Cheap art: The advocates of cheap art, of art for the homes of the people, are apt to forget that the price of cheap art, like the price of all cheap labour, means the cheapening of human lives. (CDA, Art and Social Democracy p. 141)
(...) The advocates of cheap art, of art for the homes of the people, are apt to forget that the price of cheap art, like the price of all cheap labour, means the cheapening of human lives. (Ibid. p. 142)

Commercialism: But commercialism, which seems now so triumphant, carries the seeds of destruction in its own bosom. (CDAArt & Commercialism, p. 139)
(...) This will seem a hard saying to such as are accustomed to believe that the accumulation of riches and the welfare of art go hand in hand. But let us look around us. Of course the spirit of commercialism does produce startling results upon art, if not in it ; and it is a wolf quite capable of seeing the advantage of sheep's clothing. (CDAThe Architecture of Art, p. 9)
(...) But again it is in danger from a new tyranny in that unscrupulous commercialism, which is not less dangerous because less tangible, and not less despotic because it is masked under the form of political liberty. (Ibid. p. 12)

Losing beauty to commercialism: It is a strange commentary upon that industrial commercial progress which has been the subject of so much congratulation ... we are losing our sense of beauty, our artistic feeling, and capacity for imaginative design ; that our daily work is losing, or has lost, its interest and romance... (CDAArt & Labor, p. 59)
(...) that we are paying a heavy price for this lob-sided progress of ours in the loss of beauty without and happiness within; and that that very cheapening of commodities, which is often regarded as such a blessing, means the cheapening of human life and labour; and we are apt to forget that the cheapest necessity of life may be dear enough if one has not even the cheap symbol of exchange for it (CDAArt & Labor, p. 63).
(...) Even in the art-world, and among the very cultivators of beauty we detect the canker of commercialism. The compulsion of the market rules supply and demand, and the dealer becomes more and more dominant. (WM, Modern Aspects of Life,  p. 217

Commercial pressure: (...) but I am inclined to think commercial pressure and hurry is heavier upon him. Thought is all-powerful, but there is no time to think ; fancy and imagination might play about the humblest accessory, but there is no time to play ; and all work, or rather uncertainty of work, and no play makes Jack a dull boy. (CDAThe Architecture of Art, p. 19)

Common life: (...) We should aim at a condition of things which would not keep beauty at a distance from common life ... no artist should be satisfied with such a cold relationship. (CDA, The Architecture of Art, p. 14)
(...) it is necessary that there should be something like a common life. We have no common life, because we have no life in common. Art is split up into cliques, as society into classes. Art should know neither. (Ibid. p. 15)
(...) Indeed, art itself is essentially a social product, intimately associated with common life. (CDA, Art Under Socialism, p. 75).
(...) as for art, like the wrestler, it always gains new vigour every time it touches the ground —the ground of nature and common life. (Ibid, p. 81)

DesignImitation only requires industry, but design demands inventive power. Design might be defined as the constructive sense controlled by the sense of beauty. (Ibid. 33)

Division of labor in art: (...) but with all our industrial organisation, subdivision of labour, and machine production, we have destroyed the art of the people, the art of common things and common life, and are even now awakening to the fact. (CDA, Applied Arts and their relation to Common Life p. 108)
(...) the art of the people, hand in hand with everyday handicraft, inseparable from life and use — that spontaneous art of the potter, the weaver, the carver, the mason, which our economical, commercial, industrial, competitive, capitalistic system has crushed out of existence by division of labour. (CDA, Art and Commercialism, p. 127)

Drawing: The best test of power or accuracy of observation is drawing, and power of drawing is the basis of all art, which might in all its varieties be described as different kinds or degrees of drawing; what is painting but drawing in colour and tone? -- Walter Crane, (CDAArt and the Commonwealth)

Imitation (the danger of): At the present day, when, speaking generally, all forms of graphic art seem to owe their existence to the primary object of imitation of the more superficial, temporary, and accidental aspects of nature ; there would seem to be some danger of forgetting that art has properly any other or loftier function. (CDAThe Architecture of Art, p. 20)
(...) Imitation only requires industry, but design demands inventive power. (Ibid. p. 33)
(...) Much ability certainly, much energy, much industry, but wasted for the most part upon objects and subjects either unrewarding or repulsive, and squandered in aimless, and therefore inartistic imitation. (Ibid. p. 37)
(...) Again it may be objected, is not the business of painting then to imitate ? I answer, only a part of the business, and only in so far as imitation contributes to expression, whether of beauty, or thought, or story, or phase of nature, in which it ceases to be merely imitation. (CDA, Imitation and Expression in the Arts, p. 159)
(...) the narrowing of his interest to the imitation of facts — tends, as we have seen, to the limitation of his dramatic or poetic interest. (Ibid. p. 167)

Merging of the arts: Now the severance of the artist and the workman — the craftsman — and the dismemberment, and absorption of the latter to a large extent by machinery, have had results incalculably injurious to art. (CDA, The Prospects of Art under Socialism, p. 75)

Quality: The spirit of art, imagination, romance, and the sense of beauty may inspire the smaller accessories of life as they may the larger. It is not a question of size or quantity, it is a question of quality. (Ibid)

The poster: I mean the pictorial poster, which might be said to be the most original flourishing and vigorous type of popular art existing, and the only popular form of mural painting. (WM, Art and the Commonwealth, p. 253)

The strength of art associations: All the crafts which they specially address themselves to teach and cultivate are, after all, entirely dependent for their interest and value upon vigour of design and vital expression, and this cannot suddenly be forced into existence by artificial heat. It is a power of slow development and is nourished from all sorts of sources, and is as many sided as life itself, being in fact only another form of life. You can lead a horse to the water but you cannot make him drink. (WM, English Revival in Decorative Arts, p. 68)
(...) Let a band of artists and craftsmen associate together, and, working quietly, make to themselves and all whom it may concern things of beauty and utility ... there is a growing desire for these things as a relief from the dreary monotony of ugliness... (CDAArt & Commercialism, p. 136)
(...) The perception of the essentially social character of the arts that minister to daily life, and the dependence of design and handicraft upon effective cooperation among groups of workers have drawn craftsmen together, and has led in some sort to a revival of guilds. (WM, The Socialist Ideal, p. 93)

List of Walter Crane texts

CDA, Archive Org.  The Claims of Decorative Arts
WM,  Gutenberg Org. From William Morris to Whistler, Papers and Addresses on Art

Monday, July 18, 2016

Deflating Modernity (Part 3): The hubris of self-normativity

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

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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)
Let's call it M-normativity (Habermas' normative fiat).

M-normativity = self-normativity. 

How could M-normativity happen in vacuo?

Norms are standards, i.e., measures (whether quantitative or qualitative) of comparison. And a comparison presupposes differences.

But when it comes to M what are we comparing? Certainly not what comes before M, which is prohibited by M-normativity!

Obviously redundant.

((As the M-theorist seeks for evidence, he only finds more incongruity))

In Chapter 1 of PDM, Habermas provides two prominent examples of self-normativity: Charles Baudelaire and Walter Benjamin.

Baudelaire, in his 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 ephemeral: "... the authentic work is radically bound to the moment of its emergence, precisely because it consumes itself in actuality." (PDM, p. 9).

Agree, but that doesn't mean that Baudelaire has M-normativity in mind –when in the following paragraph of his famous essay 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.
This is clearly the kind of negotiation between epochal standards that M-normativity prohibits. Baudelaire is saying that "modern" is trans-historic. It can apply to Baudelaire's present (circa 1863), as much as it applies to Greek painter Phidias (circa 440 BC)!

Next, Benjamin, in his 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.
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. 
Benjamin use of "Messianic" is not exactly the kind of future Habermas has in mind, since it goes against the grain of M-normativity. "Messianic" is –epochally speaking– ancient/medieval. How could Benjamin, a M-theorist, use chronological "non-oppositional" terms to define M standards?

Habermas aligns himself with another prominent M-theorist, Hans Blumenberg. According to Blumenberg each epoch is given by a particular criteria, until a new vision of the world becomes necessary. The transition from "ancient" to "medieval" is defined by the idea of "creation ex-nihilo." The preamble to the modern age is the nominalist God of Okham. The Enlightenment is (within Modernity) 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.

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.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Deflating Modernity (Part 2): The failure of Hegel's axiomatics

Hegelian axiomatics makes its case in the trial of history 

aLfrEdo tRifF

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 is axiomatizing 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 post I try to show that both justifications are redundant. First, since any epoch is "new" in comparison with the previous epoch and "old" when compared with the subsequent one, 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, a redundant project.    

As a paradigmatic German Romantic, Hegel presents his epoch as inevitable, the incarnation of the  "will of the spirit" (Geist).

Two generations later, when Marx shook off his Hegelian influences, he castigated 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."
I do not dispute that Hegel sees his present as a new epoch. In fact, his inclination to see it that way is generational (for example, 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" as simply and factually as possible:

For something to be new, it has to be different from the old.

Imagine a moment X0 which precedes a moment X1,
Necessarily, X0 ≠ X1 (since they are different),
Therefore we can call X1 "new" and X0 "old."

Relatively, Xis "new," compared to X0, but it's also "old" compared to X2. And the same will happen for each Xi.

In conclusion,

Θ There is nothing unique about X1 other than being trivially "before" of "after" any Xi.

Of course, Hegel would 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).
The reason Hegel rejects Θ is that he needs more than just a "new" epoch.

He needs this "new" epoch to last for ever! (more of this later).

M can be as oracular as Greek mythology and prophetic as the Pentateuch!

III- Habermas defense of the "new" as "oppositional"

I'd like to continue Habermas train of thought 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 respected 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" (or 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, Hegel belongs to this time).

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 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)
This admission by Koselleck subverts Habermas' much needed oppositional side of M. 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:

1. teleology,
...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). 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."

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Deflating Modernity (Part 1) Looking at conditions of possibility

boooo: the lurking ghost of Modernity 

Modernity ... an accepted, codified convention.-- Octavio Paz  

aLfRedO tRifF (to GR)

Modernity (from here on) is a peculiar, unfathomable, entity.

When did M really start? Is it still enduring? Is it abstract, concrete? If abstract, what are its properties? If concrete, how is it bounded?

Furthermore, does M exist independently of people's opinions of it?

What I'd like to do here is explore M's necessary and sufficient conditions (what theorists in the continental tradition call "conditions of possibility"), and particularly from within critical theory. A respected theorist who has made a career writing about M is Jurgen Habermas.

In the mid 1980s Habermas published a series of 12 lectures titled The Philosophical Discourse of ModernityBorrowing from Weber, Durkheim and Herbert Mead's theories Habermas delivers this definition:
The concept of modernization* is 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 (added letters are mine). 
For Habermas, this "bundle of processes" (let's call it Prefers to something concrete, out there in the world.

The definition takes this form:

Modernity = def 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, etc...

The relation definiendum = definiens is a strong one. It means that the left hand side and the right hand side of the "______ = def ______" are exchangeable, i.e., P is both a necessary and a sufficient condition for M.

I- Let's address sufficiency.

To show that P is not sufficient for M we would need to prove that P can refer to moments other than M.

Θ  P is not a sufficient condition for M.

(a) Formation of capital

"Formation of capital" cannot refer exclusively to modern capital, if "capital" means wealth, whether physical assets or currency. So, the formation of capital is not unique to modernization.

(b) Development of forces of production

Is "development of forces of production" unique to M? Marx uses forces of production to refer to the means of labor (physical such as machinery, land, etc) + labor power (a normalized category to describe the production of goods and services). Unless the category is redundant to describe its own present, it can refer to instances other than M.

(c) Centralized political power

Centralized political power is not a phenomenon unique to M. Does not Menes, the ancient Egyptian pharaoh credited by classical tradition with having united Upper and Lower Egypt (and founder of the first dynasty) counts as an example of (c)? I don't see why not.

(d) Formation of national identities

With (d) we have a looping problem. The received idea (in Modern History) is that "nation" is already a modern development. Can we find an example of "nation" before M? Professor Anthony D. Smith thinks so.**

(e) Urban forms of life and of formal schooling... secularization of norms and so on.

Let's take the former: Urban forms of life are not necessarily modern. 

The latter: Schooling harks back to the Hellenistic Period.

Coming back to Θ above: Is P a sufficient condition for M?

No, it's not. 

II- Let's address necessity.

If P a necessary condition for M, M cannot exist without P

Is it possible to conceive the existence of M without P? See that all we need is to find is one instance! where M happens without P.

Pretty easy: Let's imagine a different bundle of processes P,' which brings forth M. If this is possible then,

Ω  P is not a necessary condition for M.

Now the Habermasian is visibly annoyed. She will not conceive of Ω.

But she could: There is P' (a different set of processes than the one Habermas mentions) which brings about M. That proves that M can exist without P

P' is possible, that 's it.

What the Habermasian is really doing is begging the question on her initial point: "M cannot exist without P" because that's the way it is.

Let's ask a different question: Is P true? The Habermasian swears on it!

But the Habermasian has to accept that (as any student of Logic 101 knows) P doesn't have to be true to imply M. Actually any "bundle of processes" whether true or false, unproblematically implies M

Is the Habermasian still smiling?

Imagine P to be a discrete set of phenomena and M a cluster event. The theorist now tries to connect P and M, but he merely presents P as causing M without a detailed analysis of such purported connection. The fallacy lies in assuming that a "bundle of processes" described as "cummulative and mutually reinforcing" automatically renders M.     

Here are three inferential errors: 

1- the ad hoc reduction of to P, without a serious counterfactual analysis,*** 2- assuming that P explains M and 3- assuming that P causes M.**** 

Next post: Hegel's axiomatics and the metaphysical grounding of M.

* For Habermas M and "modernization" are isomorphic to each other, with "modernization" becoming the economic side of the coin. From Habermas' neo-Marxist perspective, M plays the superstructure part of the two.** In his well-known Antiquity of Nations Professor Anthony Smith critiques the received modern idea of nation as a modern development: "A nation is a type of community that is based on the idea that people perceive a given territory as belonging to them, rightly or wrongly." The second characteristic is that it's a community of myth, memory, and symbol. "This is what the members of a nation share in common, to a greater or lesser degree: myths, memories, symbols, traditions, which differ from those of other nations." Thirdly, the members of those nations have forged a distinctive public culture, "which includes rituals and ceremonies and public codes of conduct; a political culture of symbols, flags, anthems, stamps, coins, and so on, that mark out this nation from another nation." Finally, members tend to observe common customs and laws. ***To establish definite causation we need to counterfactualize particulars in order to distinguish whether a given event does not occur at all from ones at which it occurs but is somewhat unlike (the way it actually was). ****Is not Habermas begging the whole question of M?