Thursday, September 27, 2007

Quick note on Byron and Property

I have to clean it up, but I put it here now for what its worth:

why does free indirect discourse arise at the end of the 18th century along with a way of surveying property--with a relationship to property?
the obviosu answer is that they are two sides of the same phenomenon: the rise of the economic gaze, the way of seeing things as a capitalist concretely.
but if this were true, would we not get something more like defoe?
if this were true, why the focus on the survey as immediate, quick, sketchy, and yet in tension with the forming of an aesthetic whole in that instant?
indeed, this is what the emphasis on landscape description as a reflection of the economic gaze would seem to overlook: the immediacy within this gaze, the lack of a distinct relationship to property, the lack of ownership as stable--i.e. as property.
Rather, we might just as well argue that this is a nostalgic gaze to a time when land was not property, when it has an immediate relationship to the person who moves through it precisely because he does not contractually own it, but inhabits it.
But here is the thing that is key: this would be to efface the focus on the forming power that comes about due to this immediacy. it is not directly a return, but what a return gives you--i.e. memory, nostalgia in the present, effecting concretely and psychologically the present--that is important. Being thrown back into a concrete relationship with the land in the present is what this yearning back to a lost, memoralized, immediate relationship gives you. It is the start of the via negativa, but through the shock of memory throwing you back, ejecting you back into the present, and the present as space, as land. It is the rejection of time in order to relate to owned space, land.
This is why Byron's Childe Harold is so interesting: it takes this into the orient not wholly as a colonizing vision, but as a nostalgic vision. it thereby accomplishes free indirect discourse, in a poem, which could not unify the poem with relationship to any person that is uttering it. it is the suspension between two viewers, the getting thrown back out of the view and onto the land itself as nontemporal, and yet owned, space, that is accomplished throughout the poem. it is this that is its unity; not the growth or development of a particular character, whether this be the narrator or the childe. the whole poem is a staging of the subtraction of time from the economic point of view, the ahistorizing of ownership, the birth of the fetish. it is a subtraction that transforms its remainder into a spatial trace, an affective trace, a feeling of immediacy or sublimity. but this is also because it is the destruction of memory, the destruction of the archive (cf archive fever) the death drive that produces the fetish, the subtraction of time.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Negativity, Repetition, and das Geschehen das Daseins

The "historizing" of Dasein, or, rather, das Geschehen das Daseins, is repetition at the same time as it is negativity, Heidegger says. At first, this appears to be the same thing that Hegel claims.
For Hegel, consciousness lifts itself to the level of Spirit, and thus to history, whenever it negates itself determinately, when it employs the power of Spirit and not merely just consciousness. Employing this other power, it becomes other than itself, obviously. But it becomes other than itself in such a way that it reasserts itself as itself, takes all of itself up into itself and comprehends this self through negating the whole of it. This is repetition of the self, but repetition in such a way that it is the repetition and also the denial of repetition, in having this repetition make consciousness other. In other words, it is a repetition that does not just merely reassert, but reasserts so consciousness is lifted into a higher sphere of consciousness, i.e. Spirit, the Concept in its work.
For Heidegger, however, we must reevaluate precisely what we mean by negativity and repetition. Historizing then will still be a matter of repetition through negation, but it will not be a reassertion of a consciousness after it comprehends its own action on the level of the Concept. Rather, it will be repetition as understood through what Hegel calls abstract negation. In other words, it will not be repetition through determinate negation. The negation that Dasein will undergo will be a holding fast to a negativity that is not merely the death-in-life of determinate negativity, of negativity that produces being and is produced by the being that it negates. Rather, this abstract negativity is a death that is abstract, that is, in Hegelian language, pure nothingness, except that it does not, like in Hegel's Science of Logic, remain commensurate with pure being. It is a holding fast to a death that is indeterminate in its negativity, in its lack of being, in its nothingness--this is why we call it "abstract."
The sense of repetition through negation that Heidegger employs is one that is true of a being "frei fur seinen Tod an ihm zerschellend auf sein faktisches Da such zuruckwerfen lassen kann," that is, free for its death in such a way that in breaking itself against it, this being can get thrown back to the fact of its openness, into its "there" (Sein und Zeit, 509; Being and Time 437). The breaking or shattering of oneself against death is an act of negation that holds fast to death as indeterminate and uncertain: it is what Heidegger calls Sein zum Tode, being-towards-death. Thus, it is negation in the abstract, in its indeterminacy.
As such a negation, we can see that it produces repetition not in the sense that in this negation Dasein takes up all of itself into itself and annhilates it determinately. No. Dasein takes itself and shatters itself against annhilation itself, its own possibility of not being in the abstract; that is, its own possibility of being nothing at any time, in any place; its own indeterminate possibility of being nothing. Put a different way, this is Dasein's access to the withdrawal of its own Being. It is not access to Being itself. Rather, it is the access of Dasein to the potential for its Being to not be, to go away from it, and thus in this access Being itself withdraws, or at least unconceals itself in its withdrawing as the withdrawal of Being. Heidegger will later say that this point of access is the enowning of Being, Ereignis, the acceptance of a being into the play of the movement of Being in its withdrawal and the giving of Being. Regardless, it is clear that this negation repeats in a way in which it repeats itself as the shattering against death that it is.
Repetition through this shattering of Dasein against death then is the movement in negation in which Dasein gets thrown back into its openness, into its potential to shatter itself. It is not a repetition of the identical, but of a holding together of the Same (cf. Identity and Difference). Why does it get thrown back? Well, if Dasein is not taking itself up into itself and annhilating this totality, it must be a sort of taking-up that cannot be a taking-up of something. In other words, it cannot be a taking-up at all, a reassertion, a return of the identical (for the identical is always what gets taken up; what gets taken up is taken up by something that can comprehend it, and therefore that for it is selfsame, never shifty, never able to become something different so as not to be taken up by what comprehends it). Nothing is doing any comprehending here, any totalizing, that would require the reassertion of what is comprehended as "a totality," as "the comprehended." Rather, by a process of standing out into a void, indeterminate nothing, Dasein is sustains itself as this indeterminacy, because it is this indeterminacy, it is this potential that is, at this moment, in being-towards-death or abstract negation, the potential for itself not to be. In relentlessly remaining here, in the nothing, Dasein gets thrown or projected back (zuruckwerfen) onto itself. In other words, the self that projects itself into the nothing brings itself with it into the nothing, into the indeterminacy of the potential to be nothing. This bringing-along is what Heidegger means by "throwing back." The "back," is also a "forward into." Projecting itself into the nothing in its indeterminacy, Dasein throws itself back into what is projected forward into the nothing, the projection itself. Thus it repeats: it returns to itself as itself.
This is das Geschen das Daseins, "historicity." The "bringing-along" or "stretching itself along," (Sicherstreckens, cf. Being and Time, 427) is the process that makes up the historicality of the Being of Dasein. In other words, historicality is the holding together of Dasein in the withdrawing of its Being, the effacement or sending away of itself in such a way that Being is sent back, given as it is, i.e. again as itself. History is not the presence or return of past moments of presence. It is what happens as we lead ourselves into the future, into nothing. But back to repetition.
The "stretching itself along" into indeterminate nothingness is distinct from the projection itself only in its inauthenticity. Authentically, the bringing-along of Dasein into the nothing is the same as the projection of Dasein into indeterminacy itself. It is this projection "explicitly," as Heidegger says. The explicitness is only there because the same is not what we are used to seeing. Explictly being itself, in this moment Dasein repeats itself, because it is itself (the bringing-along of itself) going back into (brought along into) itself (the projection of itself). The bringing along of itself is brought along into the projecting of itself into the nothing. This is what Heidegger means when he says that "repetition is a [delivering, destining, handing-over Uberlieferung] explicitly--that is to say, a going back into the possibilities [or projecting-power] of Dasein" "Die Wiederholung ist die ausdrukliche Uberlieferung, das heisst der Ruckgang in Moglichkeiten des dagewesenen Daseins..." (Being and Time, 437, Sein und Zeit, 509).
The handing-over of itself to itself in bringing itself along into its projecting of itself into nothing--this is repetition according to Heidegger, the repetition that takes place in abstract negation. Thinking through this is absolutely astounding, and it is the most crucial task that anyone had performed with Hegelian negativity after Marx and Kierkegaard. But both Marx and Kierkegaard, while inquiring into negativity (the first through the his dialectic, the second through his analysis of anxiety), did not inquire into the repetition that this determinate negativity entailed. For Hegel, repetition is the bringing back of a past moment. As Heidegger comes to show, a repetition that takes place in an abstract negation would not focus on a bringing back of what is past, of what gets determined and then negated: it would have to be a "repeating of what is possible," or, in other words, a bringing oneself along into the possibility that one is in indeterminate nothingness. As Heidegger says, "die Wiederholung des Moglichen is weder ein Wiederbringen des 'Vergangenen,' noch ein Zuruckbinden 'Gegenwart' an das 'Uberholte,'" "The repeating of that which is possible does not bring again something that is 'past,' nor does it bind the 'present' back to that which has already been 'outstripped'" (Sein und Zeit, 509-10, Being and Time, 436). Repetition is the negation taking place indeterminately and manifests itself in a historizing, a bringing along of possibility. As such, it takes place not in a present, but in the future as what is pure, indeterminate possibility. Therefore repetition does not bind a present to an occurance that is-not-now. Repetition brings Dasein along into the future as possible, or historizes into the future, into abstract nothingness. Historizing then is the withdrawing of presence, the withdrawing of presence itself into abstract negativity, the futural possibility of itself as a future. In fact, it has no concern for a present in a Hegelian sense. As withdrawal of presence itself, it is the trace of the future, the trace of nothingness.
I put these last reflections down quickly and without clarity, but I hope the general sense of "historizing" and its difference from a Hegelian historizing will be made clear. Historizing is repetition in negativity, but it is indeed this in a very specific sense that requires one to dispense with the notion of the present. Repetition and negativity do not take place in the present for Heidegger. They take place in the future of Dasein, as the coming-to-itself and bringing-itself-along of Dasein, i.e. as historizing.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Blanchot and Hegel's abstract negativity

In "Literature and the Right to Death," Maurice Blanchot invokes, like Bataille throughout his Inner Experience, the concept of pure nothing, (or, as a power, a becoming) abstract negativity, that Hegel defines early on in the Master-Slave dialectic in the Phenomenology of Spirit as well as in the beginning of the Science of Logic. The use for this is clear, and also aptly summarizes what I think Bataille thinks of it also, with respect to the work of literature. Blanchot says that "Literature professes to be important while at the same time considering itself an object of doubt," (301), in the sense that it, "by its very activity, denies the substance of what it represents" (310), and thus is "its own negation," (301). This is clear enough. Why? Because it is in this instance merely a contradiction, a determinate negation of itself, a negation that does not overcome our ability to determine the extent to which it is a negation, our ability to discern that it only contradicts itself.
This will become clearer when we contrast it to the abstract negativity that Blanchot outlines next as the real core of this contradiction in literature:

We should point out that as its own negation, literature has never signified the simple denunciation of art or the artist as mystification or deception. Yes, literature is unquestionably illegitimate, there is an underlying deceitfulness in it [because it claims importance and undermines it at the same time, as Blanchot said above]. But certain people have discovered something beyond this: literature is not only illegitimate, it is also null, and as long as this nullity is isolated in a state of purity, it may constitute a marvelous force.
-"Literature and the Right to Death," 301.

Nullity here is something infinitely more than mere negation. It is its nothingness in the abstract, in a way that we cannot determine, "its own unreality," as Blanchot says, "realized" in the extreme. In other words, at the core of literature is something much more than a contradiction, in that it professes legitimacy and at the same time (i.e. as it is constructing its legitimacy--as Blanchot emphasizes, these are simultaneous processes) undermines that legitimacy. Instead, it questions its own legitimacy or constructs its own illegitimacy to such an extent that it is impossible to determine the extent to which this questioning goes: in questioning itself, it goes beyond itself into everything else. In other words, it is impossible to determine how much it is illegitimate, how much it calls itself into question--i.e., whether it is not calling more than itself (society, political regimes, existence, morality) into question with it.
This is Hegel's abstract negativity, or, isolated in the Science of Logic, pure nothing, at play. It escapes all dialectic except by determining itself--and if one rejects the way in which Hegel says it determines itself, then one is only left with its nullity, with its own self-questioning. That is, unless one thinks it in the realm of the Absolute, as something that already must be its own Concept, it will indeed pull everything into question.
In literature, indeed, there is often no speculation such that a dialectic may condition or determine this abstract negativity. Thus there is either denial, which many works of literature engage in, or the process of "opening up completely" to this abstract power, this nullity, this questioning that goes beyond itself, embodying it and allowing it to develop itself, questioning everything.
As a note, we should say that this does not mean that the work of literature is indefinite or vague at its heart. Quite the contrary. This is why it is important to note that the work constructs its illegitimacy within or as its legitimacy: precisely in its determinateness it opens itself up to this abstract negativity. Therefore, the calling-into-question is never just calling into question anything, but rather, in its power to question everything, can particularly question specific entities which it directs itself towards (the state, morality, etc.) in its (de)construction of its legitimacy. This is why Blanchot says that "it is not a question of abusing literature, but rather of trying to understand it and to see why we can only understand it by disparaging it" (302): the work that accesses abstract negativity is not just any indefinite work of the pen--it is precisely the work that is trying to understand itself. Indeed, this is why it can question anything in the first place.

Postscript: After reading this essay over a few times, it seems that Blanchot might, most of the time, be invoking regular Hegelian negativity--i.e. determinate negativity--to explain writing as a work. In the interest of not distorting this invocation, we should not stretch it always into something abstract which it is not. But in the end, however, he really does have in mind and consider literarture as the abstract negativity pointed out by Bataille (whom he befriended about a decade before this essay was written and published): the type of negativity that he is using can only be abstract because it not only questions beyond itself in such a way as to lift the questioning work of literature out of the sphere of its immediate influence, but also calls the reality of everything into question. This is what Blanchot is saying in the following: "The influence authors exert is very great, it goes infinitely [my italics -MJ] far beyond their actions... His [the author's] negation is global It not only negates his situation... but bypasses time" (315). The "global" negation is the abstract negation: "global" and "abstract" mean the same thing here. Indeed, after this passage Blanchot clearly puts forth the general thesis regarding abstract negativity in general:

This negation negates nothing, in the end... the work in which it is realized is not a truly [read: determinate; true according to Hegel, who considers only determinate negation the operation of truthl] negative, destructive act of transformation, but rather the realization of the inability to negate anything [we might also call this "abstract," then], the refusal to take part in the world.
-"Literature and the Right to Death," 315.

Thus, the essay as a whole is attempting to lift the contradiction of determinate negation, the contradiction of bad faith that presents itself as the very form of literature into the sphere in which it operates or acts as itself, constituting itself as literature. All in all it is a rebuttal to Sartre and his ideas on a literature of action which precisely as action withdraws itself into the work of literature--i.e. into the work of constructing a call to action to a world distant from the work. The act for Sartre, Blanchot reveals, is therefore a non-act, a refusal to act (Blanchot criticizes Sartre in the same way, then, that Hegel criticized Kant): Blanchot puts this poignantly when he quips that this would be "making the wall into the world" (310)--"The Wall," ("Le mur"), of course being Sartre's famous short story. Blanchot is showing that the work is already within the world, already "disappears," in the world as he often puts it ("for failure is its essence, disappearance constitutes its realization", 308), and as such has a greater potential for negativity than can actually be determined through any artistic or, on the side of those who receive the literary work, social act. This power is the power of an abstract negativity: it is what, within the bad faith which we do not merely enter as a consequence of our actions (Sartre), but are born into, reside within, and begin any action out of, shatters this faith by developing and refining it to its utmost extent, the instant at which it becomes infinitely indeterminable (abstract). This is why Blanchot says "Literature is not nothing" (313). It is not nothing because it is a nullity, pure nothingness, nothing so simply and purely it is nothing excessively. It is so much nothing that it cannot be nothing. In this respect, it cannot be in any way either, not even as the other side of pure, abstract being in a process of becoming. It is a residue, a product of this determinate becoming, simultaneously being prior to it as well as what cannot be, "not light that has become the repose of noon but the terrible force that draws beings into the world and illuminates them" (326). In other words (that Blanchot essentially uses), it is a self-effacing trace. It should be clear from this last metaphor that most of this is made clear by Derrida in "From Restricted to General Economy" in Writing and Difference, and cannot be thought with respect to Blanchot without the rigor with which he clarifies the mission of Bataille and Hegel.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Translation of Heidegger

I think I'll try to translate, or at least paraphrase, a little addition Heidegger made in 1969 to his often looked-at My Way to Phenomenology, entitled "Über das Zeitverständnis in der Phänomenologie und im Denken der Seinsfrage," or, "On the Understanding of Time in Phenomenology and in the Thinking of the Question of Being," part of the Second Book of Band 14 of Heidegger's Gesamtausgabe, Zur Sache des Denkens. If I understand it right, it roughly outlines the treatment of time by Husserl and how Husserl reacted to the treatment of time in what he saw of the manuscript of Being and Time in 1926. It also points out the way to the question of history for Heidegger out of Husserl's teaching, and might be elucidatory most in that respect. I should be done with it in a couple of weeks, and will post it here.

"Factical Life Experience as the Point of Departure"

Like I was talking about in my last post, here is a great, short passage from Heidegger's The Phenomenology of Religious Life (Winter Semester, 1920-21), that introduces you in a remarkably loose fashion to what Heidegger calls "the world," and, as the title of the section (quoted above) says, that basic phenomenon from which he sees his inquiries taking their departure:

The peculiarity of factical life experience consists in the fact that "how I stand with regard to things," the manner of experiencing, is not co-experienced [or experienced also]. What belongs to cognition according to its own meaning must be phenomenologically isolated prior to all decrees that philosophy is [in its essence] cognition. Factical life experience puts all its weight on its content; the how of factical life experience at most merges into its content. All alteration of life takes place in the content. During the course of a factically experienced day, I deal with quite different things; but in the factical course of life, I do not become aware of the different hows of my reactions to those different things. Instead, I encounter them at most in the content I experience itself: factical life experience manifests an indifference with regard to the manner of experiencing. It does not even occur to factical life experience that something might not become accessible to it. This factical experience engages, as it were, all concerns of life. The differences and changes of emphasis are found entirely in the content itself. The self-sufficiency of factical life experience is, therefore, grounded upon this indifference, an indifference which extends itself to everything; it decides even on the highest matters within this self-sufficiency. Thus, if we pay attention to the peculiar indifference of factical experience to all factical life, a specific, constant sense of the surrounding world, the communal world, and the self-world becomes clear to us: everything that is experienced in factical life experience, as well as all of its content, bears the character of significance. But with this, no epistemological decision has been made, either in the sense of some kind of realism or in the sense of some kind of idealism. All of my factical life situations are experienced in the manner of significance which determines the content of experience itself. This becomes clear if I ask myself how I experience myself in factical life experience:--no theories!

Generally, one analyzes only theoreticaly and thoroughly formed concepts concepts of the soul, but the self is not problematized. Concepts like "soul," "connection among acts," "transcendental consciousness," problems like that of the "connection between body and soul"--none of this plays a role for us. I experience myself in factical life neither as a complex of lived experiences nor as a conglomeration of acts and processes, not even as some ego-object in a demarcated sense, but rather in that which I perform, suffer, what I encounter, in my conditions of depression and elevation, and the like. I myself experience not even my ego in separateness, but I am as such always attached to the surrounding world. This experiencing-oneself is no theoretical "reflection," no "inner perception," or the like, but is self-worldly experience, because experience itself has a worldly character and emphasizes significance in such a way that one's own experienced self-world no longer stands out from the surrounding world... One [a "philosophical psychologist"] could object that I experience myself--how I feel--nonetheless factically, without special reflection; I know that right now, Iacted clumsily, and so forth. But this how, too, is no thoroughly formed manner of relating to something but a significance factically tethered to the surrounding world. The factical of which cognizance is taken does not not have an objective character but a character of significance which can develop into an objective context.

-from The Phenomenology of Religious Life, tr. Matthias Fritsch and Jennifer Anna Gosetti-Ferenci (Bloomington: Indiana University Press), 2004, pages 9-10.

I'd suggest reading the whole passage, which I do not duplicate here. I should note that Heidegger emphasizes just afterwards that factical life experience, as "attitudinal, falling, relationally indifferent, self-sufficient concern for significance," does not focus on significance as if significance were a general and theoretical phenomenon like "value:"

Significance seems, then, to be the same as value; but value is already the product of a theorization and, like all theorizations, has to disappear from philosophy... In the falling tendency of life experience, a connectedness of objects increasingly forms and increasingly stabilizes itself. In this way one arrives at a logic of the surrounding world insofar as significance plays a role in the connectedness of objects...
-ibid, 11-12.

...but in this arrival one has already missed the primary phenomenon that makes up factical life experience itself, significance. That is, in explicitly specifying any logic of the world, one moves into the sphere of abstract values and away from the significance of the world as such. As Heidegger puts it, one is just calling the "how" a "what." One moves back towards this significance, back towards the "how" itself (which indeed makes possible the relational significance of objects that one can "value" or not), only when one stops valuing and experiences it as factically significant, i.e. through a "how." As Heidegger says (to himself--indeed, these are lecture notes--and this only reinforces how hard it is to talk about factical life experience, to stick with the "how" as a "how" and not reduce it to a "what"): no theories!

Another note (on Hegel and the dead)

A better way of putting what I was getting at in my notes is featured in this (other) note:

-There is no thinking that would not already be thinking the death of the thing. One-sided thinking is a thinking that only respects the life of the object. It fails to see that the death of the thing is as important for and constitutive of its life as life itself. Overcoming life by the recuperation of death into life is the fundamental action of a thinking that raises the thing to the level of the Concept. As such, it must think the death of the thing, and think it as (as we already said), already present in the life of the thing. (For death and life, one can substitute being and nothingness: we're using Hegel's earlier Schellingian vocabulary that one finds in his essay on "Love," for example, because that gets at what he later calls "negativity" in a more concrete metaphorical manner.) The thinking of the death of the thing as already present in the life of the thing is, in a sense, killing it, killing the one-sided conception of life, pure life, that one attributes to it. Thought in the opposite way, one-sided thinking is attributing life to the object. A thinking that refuses the Concept and therefore produces phenomenality, appearance (as separated from essence), would be a thinking that attributed (only) life to the thing.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Quick notes on the Concept and death

Here are some more thoughts of the idea of the Concept as the killing of the thing. I'll develop them later:

-The withdrawing of the thing out of the present and into negativity/history brings forth the Concept--it is the appearance of the Concept, it is the phenomenon, in the Phenomenology of Spirit. On this cf. Heidegger's book on the Phenomenology.

-The above is evident in the chapter on sence certainty: when one says "the now" the now is already gone, Hegel says. What he means is that the now is dead, killed, the moment it is grasped as present. Bringing it into your grasp has lifted it already to the level of the Begriff, the Concept. Thus, every now is already dead.

-The demonstration of sense certainty or indeed any stage, then, is the demonstration of this stage's already being the Begriff, the Concept. It exists only as a stage because it already comprehends what it denies as a stage, as a phenomenon or a showing. Not only every now is dead, killed: everything is already dead for Hegel. Thinking is dead thinking: the thinking of death, the dead thinking (itself), refusing to remain alive as much as it refuses to remain dead.

"Die Reinheit," and purity

I never noticed that Kant's first and most famous critique, the Critique of Pure Reason, really stresses "purity." Kant in his title (Kritik der reinen Vernunft) and in his terminology uses die Reinheit to specify a type of reason that would grasp the a priori synthetically, that is, via pure intuition, pure apprehension. This reason is reinen Vernunft. One could argue that this would be better translated as "clean reason." Die Reinheit is the weiss, the white, without blemish, just as much as it is the abstract, the absolute, the immediate. In German, one says "reinen" when one is talking about a "clean slate," about a "clear intention." Translating it as "clean" would efface Kant's stress on abstraction, indeed. But it would also bring forth what an absolutely revolutionary task this book undertook, and indeed saw itself as undertaking: it is the destruction of the purity of the mind naively thought as what has access to the absolute; it is the destruction of the innate cleanliness one attributes to the human. Hannah Arendt concretely embodies the unbelievable thrust of such a critique in words when she says that Kant's intentions bring forth a "destruction" of the world as we knew it ("Existenz Philosophy," in The Phenomenology Reader, 349): in other words, the only world we live in after a critique of a reason that is supposed to be clean, will be a destroyed world, a sullied, unclean world. Even in the title of the work, Kant is out to destroy, to render unclean.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

"The Concept is the killing of the Thing"

Thinking the thing, the object, means thinking the death of the thing as well as its living relation to you: this is what Kojeve means when he says that the Concept is the killing of the Thing. Thinking, for Hegel, is always therefore a thinking of death. It is a thinking that thinks and indeed enacts the death of the thing thought. This is because, at bottom, the being that is thought is at the same time nothing--at least this is what Hegel says in the Science of Logic. The crucial thing to grasp is that even if we consider the thinking of the thing's nothingness, its death or relationship to you [the thinker, the thinking] as dead--even if we consider this thinking of nothingness a reduction of the abstract, pure nothingness of the thing to a determinate nothingness, one still has to think the death of the thing in this act. In other words, sometimes too much stress is put upon Hegel reducing nothingness to something determinate and something able to be exchanged in an economy of being--Bataille and Derrida are guilty of this--and not enough on the fact that what is indeed interesting about the determinate nothingness is that it is nothingness, that it is the death of the thing, the thinking of its negativity as related to whatever that negativity brings about. The recuperation of negativity into a determinate economy of negativity, the extraction of negativity from its abstractness, its purity, is secondary to this engagement with negativity as the other side of every single thing. Only if one stresses that thinking is a thinking of the death of the thing, a simultaneous lifting it into death and out of abstraction, does one really get what Hegel is talking about when he calls this thinking in the Preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit submitting to the "labor, the patience of the negative."
Quickly, I'll just finish by being clear: thinking is the thinking of the death of each thing because at bottom each thing has its being purely, in pure abstraction--in pure being. Now, this is at bottom the same thing as nothingness. Insofar as a being is a being it is equal to nothing--thus, with any thinking of the being of something, one also has to think its negativity. Even when determinate and not pure, the abstract equality of nothing with being reigns... it is what brings about this determination of being and nothing. Thus, one is thinking at the same time of a being and of its death, its abstract nothingness. It is only by thinking this nothingness as part of the thing that one can say something is at all. Also, it is only by thinking this nothingness that one can lift what is equivalent to nothingness out of its abstraction and into the Concept: the Concept is therefore the thinking that comprehends the nothingness, the death of the thing, giving it its determinacy and its nothing equally as it gives it its being. Thus Hippolyte can also say that Language is the death of the thing, along with Hegel, and be right: associating the Concept with language as he does, Hippolyte equally shows us that language is what accesses the nothingness, the death of the thing.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Contributions to Philosophy, Derrida and the "other beginning"

There is perhaps no better way to characterize Derrida's thought than the way Heidegger characterizes his endeavor in his Contributions to Philosophy: that is, as a "crossing over to the other beginning" (3). The other beginning--that is, of Western thought. This beginning is, as Heidegger says in his lecture on "Hegel and the Greeks" (within his book Holzwege, or Pathmarks), is not a beginning and is a beginning at the same time: it is what has remained unthought and presupposed even in the beginning of the Western tradition of thinking. In other words, crossing over to the other beginning of Western thought means not naively beginning again but rather thinking that "to which we are not sufficient [in our thinking] and never have been" ("Hegel and the Greeks"), the withdrawing-movement of Being that gives Being, Ereignis or enowning. Or, as Heidegger himself puts it: "reverence for the first [i.e. forgotten] beginning... must coincide with the retlentlessness of turning away from this beginning to an other questioning and saying" (5).
I say that this phrase "crossing over to the other beginning" exactly characterizes Derrida's effort because it is really what the phrase "deconstruction" means, primarily through its emphasis on construction. Derrida no doubt used the term because it is similar to what what Heidegger occasionally used to explain his philosophical effort of decentering the tradition of Being as presence--a positive "Destruktion." But what is really meant, as Heidegger shows us, is a thinking of the forgotten: it bringing this forgotten to the fore that will enact the "Destruktion" of metaphysics as the metaphysics of Being as presence. As such, by the link we have already established, it is a return to the origin of the origin, the beginning of the beginning, the non-beginning that is the beginning of beginning, the "other" beginning.
And the otherness of this beginning is primarily Derrida's stress throughout his career. While Heidegger probably focused on it more as a beginning, as a presupposition that the beginning of Western thought left behind and yet brought with it everywhere since Parminides, Derrida wanted to find out, and cross into himself, the otherness of this beginning and to think from it. That is, he not only wanted to think from its standpoint (which would be of necessity a non-metaphysical standpoint) as a beginning, he not only wanted to found the task of thinking on this forgotten beginning, but he wanted to think from its standpoint as other, found philosophy as a thinking within the otherness of this beginning, to the maximum possible extent. Thus Levinas remains crucial for him throughout his career.
But perhaps describing deconstruction as a "crossing over to the other beginning" of philosophy would help us think through Derrida's work in a more honest way, and render ourselves able to concretely demonstrate the positive character of deconstruction--that is, what it does that exceeds powerful critique, namely, establish philosophy in this other beginning.

Early Heidegger

A great place to start with Heidegger that I recommend to absolutely everyone is in his Phenomenology of Religious Life, the short (all in all it is 7 pages or so) sections on "Factical Life Experience as the Point of Departure" and "Taking-Cognizance-of." Here Heidegger essentially outlines, in the Winter Semester of 1920-21, what would later become his conception of the "world" in Being and Time, not in a rigorous way (as these issues are pursued in Ontology: the Hermeneutics of Facticity), but in an accessible, surprisingly easy manner. One can also see Heidegger's conception of the world stemming out of the teaching (not publications) of Husserl and his interest in the "life-world." All in all, before anyone tackles Being and Time it is probably good to go here for clarification and orientation to Heidegger's overall view.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The early Hegel: interesting quotes

Significant or just interesting quotes from the early Hegel (1788-1807) perhaps to be elaborated on a later occasion:

The State is a mechanical thing... We must go even beyond the State!--for every State must treat free men as cogs in a machine; and this it ought not to do; so it must stop
-"The Earliest System-Programme of German Idealism"

The higest act of Reason... is an aesthetic act... the philosopher must possess just as much aesthetic power as the poet... The philosophy of the spirit is an aesthetic philosophy.
-"The Earliest System-Programme of German Idealism"

Interestingly, Hegel just after this last passage links the aesthetic with spirit by using the term "geistreich," literally, "rich in spirit" or "rich in soul." The term is usually one designating the "witty" or "quick-minded" or "intuitive," as we might say now. Hegel says: "...even about history one cannot argue in a manner that is geistreich without aesthetic sense." The geistreich is somehow innate to refined or cultured or aesthetic discourse, or the discourse that has experienced or undergone the aesthetic: this might hint at the role Hegel gives to logic or the logos in his later philosophy, and the sense in which he conceives that role. Logic, as what constitutes the form of the concept or Begriff and as such is what joins with immediacy to lead immediacy out of itself into the mediated, is in its heart only thinkable at this stage in Hegel's thought as something resembling cultivated discourse. If I wanted to argue this, I'd point to his later essay, written sometime in 1807-8, entitled "Who Thinks Abstractly?" There, Hegel says something revealing about how he conceives abstraction and thus also about how he conceives concrete or concretizing thought: those who think abstractly are not the cultured and learned, but the unlearned, the common. Thus, cultivated discourse is the power to remove from abstraction, or, put another way and indeed in the way we just put it above with regard to art, cultivated discourse is the power to move away from the immediate and to mediate.

Nothing is unconditioned; nothing carries the root of its own being in itself.
-"Love"

Hegel will later in his Science of Logic affirm this sentence, which constitutes his most concrete opposition to Kant (who affirmed the existence of the a priori thing-in-itself), literally. That is, literally, Nothing will be what is unconditioned. Nothing will be the only thing that carries the root of its own being in itself. This is the thesis that Nothing and Pure Being are identical. Nothing for Hegel is really the Kantian thing-in-itself, and so too is abstract, Pure Being, being that has no conditions or is empty of all essence.

True union, or love proper, exists only between living beings who are alike in power and thus in one another's eyes living beings from every point of view; in no respect is either dead for the other.
-"Love"

Since love is a sensing of something living, lovers can be distinct only in so far as they are mortal and do not look upon this possibility of separation as if there really were a separation or as if reality were a sort of conjunction between possibility and existence.
-"Love"

In other words, what Hegel is getting at here is that the lovers do not look at their lover as if he or she were an existing lover that would be annhilated by death possibly in the future: they are just their lover. They do not project into the future with the distinction that it will be a future without their lover, because they have united with that lover in a way that exceeds death: they have united as living entities. It would be interesting to compare this reflection on the reality of death with Heidegger's: Heidegger it seems would call this idea of death that the lovers share, since they refuse to see its immanence and its determining capability, a they-understanding of death, a fallen understanding of death, a refusal of being-towards-death authentically and thus an inauthentic mode of being-towards-death. But Hegel is on to something here. We can only see death as something determinative of the individuality of the two lovers insofar as we abstract from their love, which occurs in such a way that it lives with them between them and in each of them, i.e. that it annuls their individuality. As Hegel goes on to say,

To say that the lovers have an independence and a living principle particular to each of themselves means only that they may die and may be separated by death. To say that salt and other minerals are part of the makeup of a plant and that these carry in themselves their own laws goerning their operation is the judgement of external reflection and means no more than that the plant may rot.

In other words, we designate something more than mineral when we call the totality of the minerals a plant. A plant is not a totality of particular minerals. So too is true union, or love proper, not the totality of the individuals involved, however much this seems counterintuitive to our atomistic thinking about selves. Love is these individuals (and a plant is these minerals) joined to the concept, linked to it as that about it which is infinite and annhilates its finitude, i.e. its constituent elements or individuals (or minerals). In other words, love is not what happens between two individuals, but is precisely what is beyond any individual in a union. Thus "this genuine love excludes all oppositions," as Hegel says earlier: it is the realm of the beyond and the beyond only (but again, not as a thing-in-itself). Or, as he puts it, "In love the separate does still remain, but as something united and no longer as something seperate." In love two individuals remain, but only as "lovers," just like in a plant the minerals still remain, but only as what we can designate as "minerals that are parts of a plant."

This raging of love against individuality is shame. Shame is not a reaction of the mortal body, not an expression of the freedom to maintain one's life, to subsist.
-"Love"

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Being in Hegel's "With What Must Science Begin?" (finished)

There is confusion and a seeming contradition in perhaps the most essential passage to grasp within this crucial preliminary remark in Hegel's Science of Logic.
Hegel says the following:

[At the end of the Phenomenology of Spirit] pure knowing as concentrated into this unity [of subject and object] has sublated all reference to an other and to mediation; it is without any distinction and as thus distinctionless ceases itself to be knowledge; what is present is only simple immediacy.
Simple immediacy is itself an expression of reflection and contains a reference to its distinction from what is mediated. This simple immediacy, therefore, in its true expression is pure being. Just as pure [i.e. infinite], knowing is to mean knowing as such, quite abstractly, so too pure being is to mean nothing but being in general: being, and nothing else, without any further specification and filling. [It is with this, therefore, that the Science of Logic must begin.]

-Science of Logic, "With What Must Science Begin?," 69.

Everything revolves around grasping of the necessity of the "therefore" within this passage. This "therefore" says essentially the following in this passage: simple immediacy is pure being because simple immediacy contains a reference to its distinction from what is mediated. But this "therefore" seems to go against what it attempts to prove: it seeks tp prove the link between pure being and simple immediacy, when pure being, unlike simple immediacy, which contains a reference to its distinction from what is mediated, is defined as being, and nothing else, without any further specification and filling. In other words, something that is a reflection, that contains a determination, is linked via this "therefore" to something that supposedly must have no filling, or as Hegel says later, "cannot contain within itself any determination, any content" (70).
Let's clear this up, for in answering this question, we understand nothing less than two things: 1) how Science must begin, i.e. we understand why we must begin Science with pure being and 2) we understand why we can move past pure being to anything else, i.e. we understand that most basic of movements in the Logic from pure being to nothingness to becoming and then to determinate being, from which we can easily project other determinations. In short, understanding this means understanding how determination originates, which is nothing less than understanding how dialectic and speculative thought in general originates.
Our question reduces to the following: simple immediacy contains a determination. Pure being does not. How are the two "therefore" identical?
First we must clarify something that already sounds odd about the first term in this identity: that simple immediacy should contain a determination, should be a reflection. Immediacy is in complete contradistinction to the mediate: the mediate contains determinations while the immediate does not. In Hegel's words, if something posseses any determination, any content, this "would be a distinguishing and an interrelationship of [the] distinct moments [of the thing], and consequently a mediation" of the thing considered (70). Now, doesn't saying that "simple immediacy is itself an expression of reflection and contains a reference to its distinction from what is mediated" mean that what is distinguished from mediation, the simply immediate, is, as immediate, mediated?!
I guess if we were to superficially investigate what Hegel is getting at here we would look at what is signified by "reference" in saying that the simply immediate contains a reference to its distinction from the mediated. But the problem does not lie with the mere word "reference" or with referentiality in general. It lies in refrentiality being an expression of reflection, or, more simply put, with the determination of the immediate only through the development its immediacy as a certain type of mediation, namely, reflection. That is, it lies in the point in which the immediate transfers itself and transforms itself into the mediated. Thus, we won't get into what exactly "reflection" means for Hegel, and even less will we bother with what "reference" means, but we will specify how this point is, within the sphere of pure being that we are considering and trying to render commensurable with pure being, the already mediated immediacy inherent to the simply immediate, which is, Hegel asserts, the determination of pure being.
Let's put this in a simpler way. Simple immediacy contains a determination. Hegel will show us that the immediate can, in a special way, contain a determination. Doing show will therefore allow us to see how pure being is simple immediacy, and, at the same time, how it must be the beginning of Science, for the beginning must be in contradistinction to what is not simple and therefore contains a determination in a different way.
Now, Hegel shows us that the immediate can contain a determination, and thus a mediation, when it passes, as immediate, into its opposite. Already we can hear the inner workings of the dialectic begin to announce themselves in their essential nature: the dialectic will inhabit this process of mediation by something passing unhindered into an opposite, not by this something setting itself up against anything and then "resolving" the contradiction that it has created. The dialectic is an internal, subtle movement whereby one thing becomes identical to another at the same time that it is distinguished from it. It is never at work directly where there is a "compromise," and anyone saying so has never read Hegel. But back to the point: the immediate can contain a determination, and thus a mediation, when it passes into its opposite while remaining as itself, as immediate. How can it pass into its opposite? By making itself identical to that opposite even in its distinguishedness from it. This is obvious. But we are dealing with the immediate--and, in the case to which the immediate must apply most rigorously, pure being as what is supposed to be the simply immediate. How can something have an opposite if it is immediate purely, simply? That is the real question--and we begin to understand Hegel's use of terms like "simple" when we pose it. For anything can be opposed to anything, and immediacy in general can be just another one of these things. But the real question we are looking at is how immediacy, at its origin, can possibly become opposed to something and therefore pass into it so as to be determined (in a sense we have yet to specify). Now, immediacy can have an opposite in this original sense--i.e. when it is immediate simply--if it is already this opposite.
How can this happen? How can what is simple and immediate already be its opposite? If it is in its identity already its difference to itself. If it contains a difference within itself such that it is both its identity and, in its identity, its difference from itself. Expressed in different terms, if it is what it is not, at the very same time that it is. That is, if it is its negation. What do we mean by negation? Well, that, at its most basic level, what is simply immediate is both what it is, and what it is in its nothingness. Here is where we understand the passage regarding being in the Science of Logic. It merely reflects the structure this first necessity of showing how what is immediate and simple can be mediated. Being, Hegel asserts, is, in its innermost essence, the same as nothing, and vice versa. What this means is what we have been getting at: that something is already its opposite when it is what it is in its nothingness. In other words, we understand by this passage, which we shall refrain from explicating in detail in favor of bringing out this fundamental problem of the mediatedness of the immediate--we understand by this passage nothing other than how what is something (immediacy, for us) can be already its opposite: it can be already its opposite by being at the same time both extant and not extant, both being and nothing, both what it is and what it is not. If simple immediacy can, at its very core, be the same thing as nothingness, then it can already be its opposite. For what is immediate and simple then is at the same time as it is itself not itself. This is what we mean in saying that simple immediacy can already be its opposite by being its negation.
If simple immediacy is, at the same time as it is itself, not itself, it passes obviously into its opposite, i.e. what is not itself, both already, and as itself. While remaining itself, it becomes what is not itself. If it is immediate, and also simply immediate, it is already then what is not itself. If it is already this opposite, it has a determination. Now, this determination is not directly "mediated,"--we must be careful of attributing this to what simple immediacy is in its opposition to itself too quickly. For what the determination of the simple immediacy passing into its opposite really is, is not just what we naturally think to be the opposite of whatever term we are starting with--i.e. simple immediacy. That would be to confuse the determination with the opposition that the simple immediacy passes into. And again this is why people who say the dialectic generates its oppositions arbitrarily have never read Hegel--or at least have never read thir Hegel closely. Conceived rightly, the determination lies not in what is opposed, but in the way that the opposed was passed into. That is, it was precisely not passed into as something external to the simple immediacy. Rather, it was passed into by this immediacy developing itself, i.e. by existing as itself. The determinacy lies in how the opposite was passed into already, and not as a result of this process of passing into. This already is the determination that has been accessed by the process: it matters not what the opposite is of any immediacy, but rather that it was contained already within the immediacy as such--was only actualized where before it was latent or only potential. (We might remark that is here that Hegel most essentially reaches back to Aristotle and the original dialecticians.) In passing into its opposite, simple immediacy in this case has passed into its opposite as what it is already--this is the origin of the expression "y is the truth of x," the characteristic speculative way of talking about this behavior. What is "true" is what has a determination that is internal to what, as immediate, develops or passes into its opposite. What is false or contingent is obviously what is external to this development. Thus, saying that immediacy passes into its opposite as what it is already is saying that simple immediacy has passed into its truth.
Anyway, as these last remarks are inessential to what we are trying to show, we should summarize what we have gleaned from this process of watching simple immediateness or indeterminateness itself pass into its opposite: it has determined itself as passing into its opposite as something that already contains this opposite, already is this opposite--as something that only has passed into what it already is. This is the determination of the immediate, if we consider this immediacy simply: it should be quite clear then, that the immediate is therefore mediated, and mediated already in its immediacy: what is indeterminate has already become determined in its remaining indeterminate, simple, immediate.
It should be obvious now that what we have just described, the process of becoming the opposite of oneself while retaining that self or that identity, is what Hegel means by saying that immediacies are, within the dialectic, Aufgehoben. The term Aufheben means nothing other than what we have just described, i.e., how something can contain a determination as immediate, and thus be simple immediacy at the same time that it is mediated.
With respect to being as that with which Science must begin, clearly--as we have already remarked--describing how something can be immediate and mediated at the same time is all that is done by the section on being. As what turns into its opposite first and foremost, being must be that with which Science must begin. Nothing becomes what being turns into or is identical with, and becoming expresses the determination that constitutes the truth of being, its development as being into nothing.
But we started on this reflection to elaborate really how simple immediacy can be being in the first place if being is not determined and simple immediacy "contained a reference to a determination:" since then we've said being is a mere function of what is contained in this elaboration, and have not returned to this original point. It should be clear now that since being is what simple immediacy needs to be if it is to contain a reference to a determination, i.e. to be mediated as we have shown, through being at base what is opposed and yet identical to nothingness, being just is simple immediacy itself. Thus the "therefore" of the passage above is comprehended: we see that pure being is what simple immediacy really is at its core. Science must begin with being, then, because it is the simply immediate, and with the simply immediate because it is being--and this is because Science is nothing other than the elaboration of the necessity of determination: as what makes possible determination, being as the core of the simply immediate is the beginning of Science.
This last remark will no doubt have to remain a little fuzzy, as well as the relationship between the passage on being and the issue of simple immediacy and mediation in general, but I hope this has brought out at least how the dialectic can be conceived correctly and how fundamental a role it plays in understanding even minor statements in Hegel.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Spivak on Derrida

If I argued below, like other Heideggerians of late, for looking at Heidegger as a philosopher of truth rather than a philosopher of Being, the same argument applies to who I also argued to be the best reader and developer of Heidegger in the last century, Derrida. Recently I found a remark of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, written on the occasion of Derrida's death, that concisely puts forth this view:

His concern was not the exposure of error but an investigation into how we produce truth.
-From a letter to the New York Times

The locution "how we produce truth" seems to step into the place of what we might expect to be present, given the rhythm of the rest of the line--namely, just "truth," (so the line would run, "was not the exposure of error but an investigation into truth"). But Spivak is getting at something which can easily be misread (especially and primarily in the case of Derrida, but also in the case of Heidegger).
Spivak is not emptying out the simple, classically philosophical term "truth" into the more relativistic formulation "how we produce truth," as if to remain undecided as of yet as to the existence of truth, or even to remain decided against this existence. No. Spivak rightly uses "how we produce truth" because the efforts of Derrida were directed towards showing that truth is already at play in how we produce it. Notice I did not say what is often popularly regarded as the insight of Derrida and other "postmodernists" (even by those postmodernists themselves, most significantly in Lyotard's famous summary of the condition): that truth is how it is produced, that how we produce truth is truth. If anything, this is a Marxist thesis, one that Derrida could be shown to be chiefly at work criticizing throughout Spectres of Marx. No, read correctly, and how I am sure Spivak would like it to be read, the displacement at work in her sentence consolidates a central thesis that lets the work of Derrida show itself as stronger than any relativist postmodernism and, for that matter, than any analytic effort that presumes truth is never found at play in its production. Indeed, this is why Derrida's concern was not the mere "exposure of error:" if this were true, the second, weak reading of this sentence would suffice.
But Derrida investigates the truth already in reserve within its production, in its presencing, and, like Heidegger, therefore attests unremittingly to its existence--indeed, to the point where saying truth "exists" or "has Being" cannot itself get at the real ability for truth to determine our lives and give us freedom (this is in fact the most basic premise of both Heidegger and Derrida). It is not that truth does not exist: it is that saying it exists does not encompass the phenomenon of its existence. The same goes with saying that it is the "highest:" the true is not the most real or actual in the sense of the most in-existence or in-Being, nor is it the existence that, as what is most in-existence or in-Being, determines all other existents or beings. Heidegger coined a term for investigations that hold these conceptions of truth early on, ontotheology, and called for the overcoming or the leap out of of it. And Derrida begins his work with this concept and this task at hand for him. Thus, we shouldn't expect him to be doubting the existence of truth by emptying it out into the process of its production. Rather, like Spivak is saying here, we should be looking at how from the beginning Derrida seeks like Heidegger to find a language other than that of Being and existence to bring the massive impact of truth upon us into our sights--or, put in a better and more expansive way, how he seeks to find a language that can answer to the truth already at work in existence.
All this makes it apparent that Spivak writes that Derrida investigates "how we produce truth" instead of just "truth" because "truth" is an inadequate term for truth after Derrida: the displacement of truth into the possibility of its being in reserve within its production is his legacy, a legacy Spivak understands and seeks to teach us. So, in the end, it is in this sense that we must speak of both Derrida and, in a different way, Heidegger as philosophers of truth. That is, like Spivak, we must speak of them equally (or, even better, evoking a displacement) as philosophers of how we produce of truth.

The Big Marx, Hegel, Feuerbach post, part 4

...Feuerbach begins by analyzing the strengths of the Hegelian perspective in dispelling the otherworldliness of God or Spiritual meaningfulness by having God be the product of a dialectical movement of worldly actions, as we noted just now and earlier. Spirit is in the world (or, rather, is the world) for Hegel, dependent on the actions of beings for its completion: this is an improvement for Feuerbach, who believes that this lends incredible and holy determinateness to God. Indeed, God’s otherworldly guarantee of meaning for the world was detestable for both Hegel and Feuerbach not because they just felt that God should be in the world and not outside it. Rather, they objected to this conception of an otherworldly God based on its specific effect: this view left God and meaning ultimately indeterminate. God and meaningfulness was only the mere negation of what was worldly or came about due to the actions of beings: because it was merely what was not worldly, it could be anything not worldly. In fact, if God could be anything except what was worldly, he could just as well be nothing instead of something. Thus this view’s specific effect that offends Hegel and Feuerbach was that it encouraged a profound skepticism concerning whether there really was meaning to the world: if God or significance was otherworldly, unable to be affected or known by beings, the statement that “God or significance exists,” could, for Kant and those of the Christian tradition, mean essentially the same thing as saying “God or significance may not exist.” Thus God and meaningfulness needed to be in the world, have qualities, be determinate, if they were to exist. And so Feuerbach says, after summarizing the Hegelian achievement, that

A God who is injured by determinate qualities has not the courage and the strength to exist. Qualities are the fire, the vital breath, the oxygen, the salt of existence. An existence in general, an existence without qualities, is an insipidity, an absurdity.
-The Essence of Religion, in Nineteenth-Century Philosophy, 240, italics added

Translated into the language of Hegel, this means that Spirit, in its most developed or completed or Absolute form, the form where what exists Spiritually is nothing other than Spirit itself—this Spirit must be determinate or have qualities in order to actually exist. Now, Spirit or the meaningfulness of the world (and world-history) of beings attained this stage supposedly after it had developed itself out of itself, or, to use the Hegelian language of Feuerbach here, determined itself to the fullest extent. Does it necessarily follow, then, that merely because this determination through development occurred (as Hegel said it did) Absolute Spirit or God existed? No—and this is the point at which “the spell was broken,” and “the system was cast aside.” In other words, because Hegel cannot answer this question sufficiently Feuerbach disparages Hegel’s idea of the Absolute as merely a subtler skepticism, “a still milder way of denying the divine” (240), and outlines how this divine should be replaced.
Now, why does Hegel’s reasoning flawed? Well, Feuerbach points out that Hegel needs Spiritual events to effectuate the Absolute, God, and not merely the completed form of Spirit. For it does not follow that when Spirit determines itself, it will at this point bring forth anything other than completed and totalized Spirit—what then ensures that this completed Spirit is indeed the Absolute, that they are identical? Even if there is nothing more than the completion of Spirit, even if all that meaningfully exists is the totality of meaningful action, and even if this action is determined as that which possesses an elusive, intersubjective quality, the result of the development of Spirit is nothing other than existing Spirit.
The crucial turn in Feuerbach’s reasoning appears here: after showing us this indeterminacy in Hegel, he turns around and advocates the Hegelian conception of God—i.e. he affirms that the Absolute is Spirit. So he outlines how Hegel’s conception of the necessitation of God from the full development of Spirit does not follow, only to then affirm the result of that error. This means two things: 1) Feuerbach believes that there can be no coherent conception of God or the Absolute other than that of fully developed Spirit, the totality of meaningful action, and 2) that he nevertheless believes that the way this conception is proved in Hegel is erroneous. Feuerbach does not advocate another type of God than Hegel’s fully determined Spirit, and yet he finds this God must be shown to arise in a different way. Thus, in this sense, our remark that Feuerbach seeks to replace Hegel’s conception of the divine or Absolute is completely wrong, for Feuerbach does not substitute any other “better” type of Absolute for the Hegelian determinate Spirit. At the same time, our remark is completely correct insofar as the way this Absolute is proved is really the crucial thing for the beings that are to conceive and access it—in short, Feuerbach does seek to replace the Absolute as an object of religion.
Now, instead of specifying what “as an object of religion” actually means (we will get to this later), it is important to stick with and emphasize this first point for now, because it brings Feuerbach’s position with respect to Hegel into sharp focus. That Feuerbach assents to the Hegelian conception of God reveals to us that his motives in showing how Hegel’s fully determined Spirit is only Spirit, and necessarily not anything more than this, did not arise from any indignation at the fact that the Hegelian determinate Spirit does not “resemble the traditional features we ascribe to God,” or some similar notion. Feuerbach is in fact quite ready to affirm a conception of God that is “nontraditional,” to the extent that he virulently attacks the critics of Hegel who advance lines of argument like this. Feuerbach feels that Hegel’s God, as merely the culmination of Spirit, is a more coherent conception of the divine (that is, we remember, of reality or the real) than any anthropopathized (“humanized”) conception of God—the God with which all existent religions would supposedly replace this Hegelian Absolute in order to “more accurately reflect the Divine,” to be “more in conformity with the nature of God.” Indeed, this argument against the common practice of anthropopathizing or ascribing human features to God is the main thrust of Feuerbach’s remarks throughout The Essence of Christianity: Feuerbach thinks anthropopathizing is an irreligious act that wishes to make God somewhat determinate yet retain his indeterminate and otherworldly character, that has the effect of bogging the divine itself down in contradiction. By making God merely the meaningful culmination of worldly action, Hegel, in Feuerbach’s eyes, purges the conception of the divine from this inconsistency, as well as his otherworldliness. What results is a consistently determinate conception of the meaningful for the world—what Feuerbach indeed thinks is in conformity with the essence of Christianity...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Derrida and Heidegger at the end of the summer

I just realized I spent most of the summer reading a lot of Heidegger. As classes begin, I'm wondering how what I read, and how I read it, relates to the tasks within an English department that I'll have to manage. In short, I'm wondering how the philosophy I read will relate to the critical theory I will engage with. This relationship will articulate itself I think as the relationship between Heidegger (who represents philosophy) and the person who is closest to my concerns with texts, and thus with literature, Derrida (who represents critical theory). Now, these two categories were and are constituted for me not by any intrinsic content: it is not as if Derrida is not philosophical and Heidegger is not able to be used heavily within critical theory. It just stems from the way I read the works--and this reflection in itself I think is an important one, perhaps one of the most important I've culled from out of the summer. I read Heidegger in a philosophical tradition (whose concerns were for me concepts like being, existence, essence, dialectic, appearance, time, etc.), whereas I read Derrida within a tradition of critical theory (whose concerns are for me concepts like the subject, the body, society and ideology, exclusion and inclusion): this is all that really made these texts philosophical or not. And the context in which I read them does make a difference: that is, each context for me constituted a different method of reading and interpreting, and its these two ways that I need to reconcile now. So, I'll put forward two ideas that will sum up what I know now about this relationship thanks to all that reading:
1. Derrida is, at his core, an immensely powerful reader of Heidegger--perhaps the most powerful of all readers of Heidegger. Derrida does not "copy moves" from Heidegger, or import them as something external to what he is talking about, but elaborates Heidegger, develops him, takes him further than he was willing or able to go. This makes the work of Derrida extremely philosophical and extremely anti-philosophical, if only because this was the character of Heidegger's work as well. But because Derrida elaborates and develops Heidegger, he pushes this philosophy/anti-philosophy towards new concepts that even the anti-philosophy of Heidegger could not develop (the closest Heidegger came to something this refined, this concretely anti-philosophical--and it is an amazingly significant intervention into "theory,"--were with his reflections on technology). In other words, Derrida links the philosophical/anti-philosophical tradition of Heidegger (characterized by concepts like being, existence, essence, etc.) with new concepts that this tradition can engage with (like ideology, the subject, exclusion, etc.) but no longer as this tradition, even in its anti-philosphical or anti-traditional strain. In other words, Derrida accomplishes the break with metaphysics that Heidegger sought, and this allows him to formulate what were metaphysical/philosophical questions with new concepts, or concepts that had been developing alongside philosophy for ages. Whether this break is a real break with metaphysics or is merely a substitution of other fields of thought for philosophical thought is questionable: all I'm saying is that the conception of the break (not how it was carried out) was the conception Heidegger sought. He accomplishes this break via our second idea:
2. Derrida develops the ideas of Heidegger by replacing the concept of Ereignis with the concept of the trace. Derrida, throughout his entire corpus, keeps ready to hand an amazing passage by Heidegger that appears in "The Anaximander Fragment," which tries to articulate, essentially, the presencing and withdrawing of Being--or the operation of Ereignis throughout the ontological difference--via a metaphor of writing, the metaphor of the trace that appears and yet erases and yet remains. In this passage, Derrida writes in "Différance," "the present becomes the sign of the sign, the trace of the trace... it is a trace, and a trace of the erasure of the trace" (24). "Différance" becomes the name for this locus of the trace in its movement, what in Heidegger was the ontological difference between Being and beings, and "trace" itself which makes up this locus and the essential movement itself becomes sort of a substitute for what Heidegger thinks through in his concept of Ereignis--that which brings Being to presence but, that does not have Being, that which is prior to the most prior, Being. It is this replacement of Heidegger's almost anthropomorphic metaphors that constitute his most essential terminology that Derrida is able to bring Heidegger's thought back into the thinkable and at the same time completely out of the concept of metaphysics (which may or may not be metaphysics itself) that he was trying to break with. Like many French appropriations of German concepts (think of Lacan's work with Freud, Merleau-Ponty's appropriation of Husserl, or Sartre's interpretations of Hegel via Kojeve--and I mean all this in no bad way), this replacement reifies and concretizes what Heidegger can only describe as a movement. But this reification works against the process of reification itself with this particular concept: it is nothing less than what Heidegger needed to do with his thinking but could not bring himself to do.
Maybe this is too rigid a conception of the significance and not to mention the actual thought going on here, and maybe its totally off--I'm not sure if any of this is even right. But it seems to look this way, and if you make this connection at least you can pursue the relationship between Derrida and Heidegger without reference to their external connections: you see the movement between them, and between issues in critical theory and philosophy more generally, developing out of the concepts themselves as they work in their thinking. For me, its the limit of what I found this summer, amidst all sorts of other amazing things, and what will underlie much of what I deal with in the upcoming months. I hope its helpful!

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Office and the eternal return

If I were teaching Nietzsche and looking for an example of the eternal return, I would show episodes of The Office (the American version--it is interesting how the British version does not really engage in this structure). What the characters strive for is a way of repeating that is genuine, that could withstand the test of eternity in the sense that a repetition would be so significant and final there would need to be no more repetition. In other words, they struggle to live according to the eternal return: they struggle to will something into reality such that it could only repeat itself if the universe recurred eternally--and especially Jim and Pam. But besides them, there is also Michael, who falls back into dating Jan. We recognize this as a bad event for Michael because it means falling back into a structure of repetition that does not will eternal recurrance. I had many more examples but, as I have to run soon, I can only list those two. But just think of the last moments of the season finale in season 3: Pam is busy saying that she would will a relationship into reality with Jim except that he and she always seem to time things wrong. It is with this reference to time that Jim walks in and she does will that into reality. The reference to time is so significant here in showing how deep this Nieztschian idea structures the show: towards the end of the episode, as various moments like Pam and Jim talking at the end of "Beach Day" (significantly cut out of that episode and placed in this last one) come before us and before Jim, as the show becomes more and more repetitive in its form, it mirrors the struggle of the characters to find a way of repeating that is willing repetition never, willing a type of repetition that only occurs under the condition that everything recurs eternally, at the end of time. In other words, as the show condenses and becomes more invested in memory, it is at that moment, and significantly with a reference to time, that Pam immediately siezes the moment as well as Jim and repeats in that authentic sense, throwing us into the future. I could explain this all better, but I hope its somewhat clear! Regardless, its an awesome show!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Big Marx, Hegel, Feuerbach post, part 3

...Feuerbach gave these thinkers a significant thrust in the desired direction—indeed, Engels gives some sense of Feuerbach’s impact when he describes it thus: “the spell was broken; the [Hegelian] ‘system’ was cast aside… One must oneself have experienced the liberating effect of [Feuerbach’s work] to get an idea of it. Enthusiasm was general; we all [that is, the Left Hegelians] became at once Feuerbachians” (Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy [1886]). Feuerbach did this by relentlessly tackling the question of “nature” in Hegel, trying to preserve the Hegelian system and yet open it up to the empirical truths of science. His attack of Hegel was masterful, and revolves around the point we noted earlier would be important: for Hegel, meaningful or real actions have to be actions that have occurred; actions cannot be guaranteed to mean. Feuerbach’s innovation simply consists in saying that, for Hegel, actions or events are guaranteed to mean anyway, and they are guaranteed precisely by the nature of the beings Hegel says act and mean. In short, Feuerbach says that Hegel essentially relies upon the fact that the nature of beings is to mean; beings are structured to be meaningful or Spiritual. This structure, therefore, is not Spiritual itself, but natural, empirical, material. A whole realm of meaning suddenly opens up beside the Spiritual realm Hegel specified, a realm where science is at home.
The way Feuerbach went about proving this in his Essence of Christianity was by analyzing Spirit as a religious phenomenon. In other words, he analyzed Spirit from one of the perspectives that Hegel definitely was invested in employing in his analysis of reality, the Christian religious perspective: the reason Hegel was so concerned with having meaning be within the world and not outside of it as Kant or the Christian scholars asserted was because he wanted very much to have that Christian God within the world. Spirit, for Hegel, was essentially just another word for God; God was precisely what was named by the term Absolute Spirit, or Spirit (the history of meaningful actions) that was fully developed or complete. Indeed, the accumulation of meaningful acts throughout history is, for Hegel, nothing other than the development of these acts or Spirit towards a state of completion—in other words, towards God. History, then, is the history of God developing himself or coming to be. And since God or Spirit had a beginning, since there was one first meaningful act that resided at the bottom layer of history or before all the others, then this development of Spirit or meaning is nothing other than a development that proceeds out of itself. In other words, if we simply view the series of meaningful events from the perspective of the events themselves and how they follow or layer themselves upon each other—i.e. from the perspective of how they both exist as well as relate to themselves, excluding all other actions—then the meaningful acts will form a definite, complete structure and this structure, because it is piling only itself (meaningful actions or events) on top of itself, therefore can be said to develop out of itself, or develop only in relation to itself. In this sense, then, the history of these meaningful events is God not merely developing himself, but developing out of himself—and, it should be noted, this precise process is what is named by the word “dialectic.” Thus all worldly action brings about all worldly action, to the point where God, the Absolute is brought about. But what do we mean by Absolute with reference to Spirit? What does “the Absolute” mean translated into the terms of Spirit? That precisely is the question for Feuerbach. In order to address this question, then, he situates himself squarely within this dialectical avenue and thrust of Hegel’s work and refers to Spirit as God, attempting to cull out of the Hegelian idea of Christianity—which is, to sum it up, literally enacting God through bringing about or participating in (what Hegel determined as) meaningful events, events that are nothing other than events following from a meaningful beginning and moving towards a meaningful, complete end, developing out of or only in relation to themselves—to cull out of all this the real essence of Christianity...

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Hegel's Science of Logic

When we encounter a sentence from the main exposition of logic in Hegel’s Science of Logic, what exactly are we encountering? In order to understand anything about the work, and much of Hegel’s philosophical endeavor more generally, we must ask this question. Committing an error in answering this question—which inevitably will happen if, first and foremost, the work is just simply read and this question remains unasked—committing an error in answering this is fatal for knowledge of anything in this work, and much of Hegel becomes closed off. Attesting to the treachery of dealing in any way with this work’s subject matter—let alone the quest to define the essence of its content—is the admission by Hegel himself that logic is “the absolute culture and discipline of consciousness” (58). So we should proceed carefully, first by looking deeper into our question.
In the first chapter of the first book of the Science of Logic, entitled simply “Being,” we read: “A. BEING: Being, pure being, without any further determination. In its indeterminate immediacy it is equal only to itself” (82). Our question comes before us: of what is all this asserted? What is “being” here asserted to be? What are we talking about here? It is obvious that being is here something “indeterminate,” “immediate,” and “equal only to itself” (whatever these terms mean), but we do not know what element is being determined in rendering itself this way. This is the fundamental question we will answer—that needs to be answered. To put it in perhaps its best form, we must answer the question as to what is the matter of thinking within the Science of Logic? What is getting thought?
This answer seems quite simple at first. Heidegger, who believed the Science of Logic to be the best and most crucial of Hegel’s works, put it this way whenever our question came up in his seminars, lectures or texts: “For Hegel, the matter of thinking is: thinking as such” (“The Onto-theo-logical Constitution of Metaphysics,” in Identity and Difference, 42). In other words, what is getting thought in the Science of Logic is thinking as such. Preliminarily, we may assert of the passage on being we cited, then, that the being that is said to be indeterminate, immediate, etc. when it is in its purity is the being of thought. In other words, what gets defined through the exposition of being in this portion of the Science of Logic is the being of thought.
And Heidegger is not deviating from what Hegel says in asserting this. In his introduction to the work, Hegel himself says the following: “the subject matter of logic [is] … thinking” (43). But by phrasing it this way, Hegel has already stolen away from us the simplicity of our answer. For here Hegel qualifies thinking by situating it under the title of his book: thinking is a definition or clarification for the real matter of what a book entitled Science of Logic should contain, namely, logic. The matter of the Science of Logic, then, might be said to be logic and (therefore) thinking. But what does this mean? How is thinking logical? According to traditional definitions of logic, logic is only a type of thinking. Here logic and thinking seem to be identical, such that the matter of thinking in the Science of Logic can be both logic and thinking; be logical insofar as it is thought, and vice versa. How can this be? If we return to how we have preliminarily interpreted the passage on being, can we still say that what gets defined in this portion of the text is the being of thought? Could it not be just as easily the being of logic? And what does that mean?
It was said we normally think of logic as a type or species of thought. Let us elaborate this conception, because Hegel himself addresses it and sees his conception of logic as related to it, even if it might not look like this is so. Now, the “normal” conception of logic Hegel was addressing was essentially that which Aristotle outlined. For Aristotle, logic is a language or a set of rules for the production of truth, given a content to which the rules can be applied. In other words, logic is set of rules that are indifferent for the most part to the content upon which logic as this set of rules applies. The main problem for this logic, then, is to devise a system of articulating rules that can represent every conceivable content and apply rules to them successfully. Hegel puts it this way: “hitherto, the conception of logic has rested on the separation… of the content… and its form” (44).
Now, when we say that Hegel himself addresses this view of logic, what do we mean? Fundamentally, as we have already seen, he addresses this view of logic by conceiving it as identical to thought. This, then, would mean that thought would be what is specified by the content and (especially) by the form of this rule-based conception of logic. The set of rules that constitute logic would be, in their essence or make-up, thought: specifying them would be specifying what thought is.
But this makes no sense. Of course, insofar as the logical form is constituted, it is considered by Aristotelian logic as, indeed, thought. When we say of something that it is a part of a logical construct like a syllogism, i.e. when we represent it as a part of a syllogism, we are representing it essentially (Aristotle would say) as in thought. A logical sentence in a syllogism is a thought: tracing out its coherence within the syllogism--i.e. by seeing whether, in the syllogism, it as a premise produces truth or not--is a tracing out of the coherence of a thought. There is no problem there. But where Hegel does not seem to make any sense is in asserting that the logical content addressed by this sentence, insofar as it too makes up logic, is also thought.
Let’s make this clear According to Aristotelian logic, if I represent a person as part of a syllogism by saying, for example, that “This person is the teacher of Plato,” Socrates (i.e. the person) is obviously not a thought. He is something other than thought, namely, an object of thought, a content on which a logical rule or form is applied. It is only as an object of thought, as a thing, that Socrates can have thought in the form of a logical statement applied to him. But Hegel disagrees with this Aristotelian view. Thus, we must ask, how would the content of a logical statement like Socrates in this example be thought for Hegel just as much as the rule or form?
(To be continued in another post...)