5 June 2012
Giovanni Tiso’s piece, ‘An Essay on Criticism‘, surrounds a particular question. We are evidently enraged by the power of criticism to conquer and dispel what we find valuable, but who is this rage addressing? And what is it in answer to? Tiso gives us a delightful response: that the explosion of modes for sharing cultural products is marked by a terrifying positivity, as he puts it, the “chorus of Yes! and THIS! and Like and +11 and subscribe”, but further, that this positivity binds us to a frail consumption, where we are “left alone with our likes, and not unduly exposed to our dislikes”.
For this critical point, there is nothing to add to the premise or the conclusion, but Tiso has opened up a range of other questions that are here unresolved. First, we should ask, what is the importance of the second half of that notion, to be “not unduly exposed to our dislikes”? It is important to add to Tiso’s description that the compulsion to sub-tweeted, undirected critique isn’t just to target those who tenuous friendships might not stand up to forceful criticism, but is perhaps more commonly a flagellation, seeing the marks of our own mistakes in others and getting our disciplinary work done on the cheap. We can stand stronger, so we suppose, against our shitty impulses to gauge whole human beings on their differing taste, that is, against our habit of being unduly exposed to our dislikes, by condensing our selves through speaking against it in others.2
The other side of this positivity is the purpose of this compulsive sharing. A difference of intensity perhaps, but Is it different in form than forcing a friend to listen to the album or song that has you riled up? Instead of the blank face watched expectantly, don’t we have the sad blue globe, uncommented, unliked and unshared? Yes, of course, but different in a particular way, the difference of sharing to those who potentially already know, an aristocratic flush, between those in a shared cult of recognition? Linguistic reduction has no greater disproof than the variety of likes and favorites expressed over a single posted youtube.
This positivity is turned on mode of acculturation (and acculturating) that is more Christian than before, even as it is catastrophically more protestant. A sparkling city of stronghold apartments, each dedicated in two and threes to its content, which is assumed to be True in a deep sense and so wary of any others who would deny it, and at the same time, this is the point that I think Tiso is making so eloquently, aware that they are all engaged on the side of “culture” against… Against what? Against. That’s probably enough. A false skirmish on allies in the fake war against no-one makes everyone more robust. As long, of course, as we have a sense of shame about it. A mechanism to turn away from actual internal strife, and turn back toward the absent enemy. “Don’t be a dick about the things you don’t like.”
The curious thing about absent enemies is how prophetic they turn out to be. The old Christians used to scream about atheists who weren’t to be found, even among the most fearlessly honest of their critics. They could always see that a gap moves in two directions, toward a fulfillment and completion of the unresolved whole in armageddon, or toward the shattering into particulate,3 Thus any challenge that doesn’t come from the purity of the Whole is an agent of the gap’s chasmatic growth and the source of a frenetic cover-up and delegitimization.
The most formally interesting philosophical innovation of Pascal wasn’t in probability, the nightmare that haunts utility and therefore capitalism, but his insistence that Atheism was produced by its aggressors, the Jesuits. Nietzsche completed the turn with his analysis of Christian nihilism, how the insistence that a god of transcendence be measured by fact, logic and truth. We should recognize the further turn is even more dangerous; the opposition to merely formal possibles, like atheism or non-culture, require the transcendence of god to rouse to the heights of the universal, that is, the depths of the “servant, mailman, calendar man—at bottom, a word for the most stupid of all accidents”4. Similarly, the Art, the Culture that is being ground into being is not what we expected from a particular, fractured and bottomless culture, but that old freneticism returned as the Final work, the Gesamtkunstwerk that can heal us, resolve us back to the One whose rejection was so costly and hard-fought.
The question of what this kind of work could look like takes, necessarily, in a different direction. Instead of asking why we respond to criticism in the ways that we do, this question is, needs to be, toward what are we asking in such responses? Why do we respond at all? Isn’t there a powerful fantasy remaining, in which we casually ignore the unpleasant and ugly and stupid? What is the nature of the wall that stands between us and our freedom to not give a shit?
Here we are up against this nihilistically undermined Gesamtkunstwerk. In our particulate and contestatory world, we are left only, sadly, with politics. And not just politics, but, perilously for all involved, radical politics. That is, a politics beyond utility and material, useless when their truth is marked by struggle, but a politics whose truth-function is only fidelity to the limit or the ideal. What was dismissed as a subset of identity politics seems crucial now, the nearly exclusive growth of schools of criticism based in race, class, gender, sexuality and revolutionary potential. These are each aspects of a larger domain, the supposedly binary search for a work of art formed within systems of domination that eludes them and attacks on those works that are reactionary. Because the former is contaminated by incoherent dreams of romantic human creativity, the binary returns to its pessimistic source; exclusive criticism, not critique, criticism of the fallen world.
Though the critical binary has fallen, the pleasure of inversion still stalks criticism of this kind; while liberalism is a dirty word for a number of reasons, in criticism it is the affront, the dare to proclaim a revolutionary capacity in a reactionary mode. The more the work claims to speak on revolution and uprising, and the more visible it is, the more forceful and widespread the criticism What else explains the terror of Avatar, which bloomed a thousand blog posts, all screaming “NOBLE SAVAGE” at the top of their incensed, predictable lungs.
Another, related, side of this projective Gesamtkunstwerk is the shift in the term “problematic”. What once indicated that a work or concept needed to be carefully deployed because it had more or less dangerous aspects has become an indictment of concepts, and works, as a whole. And not only must a work turn toward feminism, queerness, anti-racism, communism, etc, but it must do all of these at once, binding the doubled-back prophesy of a Whole left back to itself, against the uniformity it [pr]op(p)oses. The existence of a strain of racism, misogyny, homophobic or the various strains of privilege is enough to disqualify a work from consideration.
I abandoned this train of thought a few years ago for seeming too dead-ended and ethereal, too easily deployed with too little to say, but maybe it’s time to revive it. Criticism’s proper role is to identify the new possibilities, new modes, new styles available within a piece, and to overthrow, not identify, the reactionary elements within it. The notion of positive critique is well-known, if too rarely understood but it seems time for a forceful strain of argument in its favor, if only to avoid another article about how ‘Girls’ is insufficiently conscious of its race and class privilege.
The strain I propose is Anarchism. Instead of the various non-hierarchical organizations this upsprings, I’d like to emphasize the discontinuous immediacy that lies at the heart of any anarchism, the power and reality of the particular against the laws, rules, orders and structures which are merely formally persistent.5 The turn toward immediacy suggests that history breaks on those moments when the conception of powers and their organization are parallel. Whether these are Events in the grand sense or not doesn’t really matter, instead, they overload a moment adequate to itself. The moment becomes too much itself, too powerfully identical, and has to overflow. The universals of the past may be empty, but they lurk like cisterns, the most easily occupied, and safest, destination for the dangerous power exploding out from the accident of adequacy. Their awesome force institutes a persistence that conditions the conception of selves and structures under its aspect, even as its particulars, those of the empirical world, deviate immediately. A new sign might mark on the world, but so often it is too weak to overcome what exists. And when it is finally strong enough to overtake the domain, it is more often a sign that the founding moment has decayed under its inability to reconcile difference, or as my earlier example of nihilism suggests, the turning-in of strains of power bundled together, rather than a new power urgently pressing in upon the world. Anarchism, if I can still call it that, is then the powerful adequacy that that exists, before it collapses under its own rushing into the persistent universal, the point where every being in the moment has the voice of it, and the dead and sclerotic past is properly ignored. Whether this moment takes the form of political anarchism is irrelevant; political anarchism is only the attempt to coerce this moment into being, not its definition or telos.
What does this mean for the projective Gesamtkunstwerk, or rather our resistance to it? Here, I want to go back to Tiso’s piece:
“Are there even any genuine snobs left? Are there cultural critics willing to argue that, say, reality television is bad for its public and for society, and that if you watch Police Ten 7 you might be an arsehole? Or is it true on the contrary that even the most derivative or exploitative manifestations of mass culture have been almost universally subsumed under the rubric of taste, concerning which, as we have known for some time, there can be no dispute? As for the artistic and cultural legitimacy of what is popular, that is another battle that was won decisively some decades ago. Nobody but nobody is relitigating that.”
This is true, in such a brutally hopeful way, but the reasons why it is true are left fallow by their obviousness. I would suggest it has become too obvious, or at least too obvious to remember the real lesson of paracinemas and shit culture apologetics and polemics against the Art Nerd; Art is not a limited range of possible actions, to be judged on the fidelity to those limits. Art is not, then, any variety of radical politics. It is a collection of strains from which we can choose and emphasize to distortion. These strains that occur within and among it, insofar as critical capacity and artistic production are both only aspects of the Aesthetic. In order to both renounce the stupid binary of the Proper work in abstraction and the fallen, problematic works of the existing world, we need to steal from this binary its beating heart; the celebration of those strains in each piece which can conquer or escape the bleak-eyed and broken whole. The presence of sexism or racism or homophobia or privilege is absolutely a legitimate discussion, if it is that aspect we are considering as a tool for radical practice. But works aren’t wholes, nobody but nobody is relitigating that, not contaminated environments and not incomplete for still appear in the real world, they’re collections of aspects. Aggregations to be torn through and harvested for their potential to overcome, to overwhelm, to usurp.
1. ha! +1. ha!
2. Whether this girding is necessary, or this violent judgement is bad, is a different, and more important, question than the one I’m trying ask here, a question I hope to return to in another piece.
3. The one so familiar to us that even philosophers are free to be bored with it again, in their laughably faddish and careerist style.
4. Nietzsche, The Antichrist, §52
8 May 2012
This, the introductory lecture in Michel Foucault’s first series at the Collège de France, La Volonté de Savoir or Will to Knowledgewas presented on December 2, 1970. Many of the themes work as a familiar restatement of Foucault’s work, but it is necessary to mention to the peculiar finale of the lecture, an homage to Jean Hyppolite. Foucault replaced the recently deceased Hegel scholar, and renamed his chair from the History of Systems to the History of Systems of Thought.
I would really like to have slipped imperceptibly into this lecture, as into all the others I shall be delivering, perhaps over the years ahead. I would have preferred to be enveloped in words, borne way beyond all possible beginnings. At the moment of speaking, I would like to have perceived a nameless voice, long preceding me, leaving me merely to enmesh myself in it, taking up its cadence, and to lodge myself, when no one was looking, in its interstices as if it had paused an instant, in suspense, to beckon to me. There would have been no beginnings: instead, speech would proceed from me, while I stood in its path — a slender gap — the point of its possible disappearance.
Behind me, I should like to have heard (having been at it long enough already, repeating in advance what I am about to tell you) the voice of Molloy, beginning to speak thus: `I must go on; I can’t go on; I must go on; I must say words as long as there are words, I must say them until they find me, until they say me — heavy burden, heavy sin; I must go on; maybe it’s been done already; maybe they’ve already said me; maybe they’ve already borne me to the threshold of my story, right to the door opening onto my story; I’d be surprised if it opened’.
A good many people, I imagine, harbour a similar desire to be freed from the obligation to begin, a similar desire to find themselves, right from the outside, on the other side of discourse, without having to stand outside it, pondering its particular, fearsome, and even devilish features. To this all too common feeling, institutions have an ironic reply, for they solemnise beginnings, surrounding them with a circle of silent attention; in order that they can be distinguished from far off, they impose ritual forms upon them.
Inclination speaks out: `I don’t want to have to enter this risky world of discourse; I want nothing to do with it insofar as it is decisive and final; I would like to feel it all around me, calm and transparent, profound, infinitely open, with others responding to my expectations, and truth emerging, one by one. All I want is to allow myself to be borne along, within it, and by it, a happy wreck’. Institutions reply: `But you have nothing to fear from launching out; we’re here to show you discourse is within the established order of things, that we’ve waited a long time for its arrival, that a place has been set aside for it — a place which both honours and disarms it; and if it should happen to have a certain power, then it is we, and we alone, who give it that power’.
Yet, maybe this institution and this inclination are but two converse responses to the same anxiety: anxiety as to just what discourse is, when it is manifested materially, as a written or spoken object; but also, uncertainty faced with a transitory existence, destined for oblivion — at any rate, not belonging to us; uncertainty at the suggestion of barely imaginable powers and dangers behind this activity, however humdrum and grey it may seem; uncertainty when we suspect the conflicts, triumphs, injuries, dominations and enslavements that lie behind these words, even when long use has chipped away their rough edges.
What is so perilous, then, in the fact that people speak, and that their speech proliferates? Where is the danger in that?
Here then is the hypothesis I want to advance, tonight, in order to fix the terrain — or perhaps the very provisional theatre — within which I shall be working. I am supposing that in every society the production of discourse is at once controlled, selected, organised and redistributed according to a certain number of procedures, whose role is to avert its powers and its dangers, to cope with chance events, to evade its ponderous, awesome materiality.
In a society such as our own we all know the rules of exclusion. The most obvious and familiar of these concerns what is prohibited. We know perfectly well that we are not free to say just anything, that we cannot simply speak of anything, when we like or where we like; not just anyone, finally, may speak of just anything. We have three types of prohibition, covering objects, ritual with its surrounding circumstances, the privileged or exclusive right to speak of a particular subject; these prohibitions interrelate, reinforce and complement each other, forming a complex web, continually subject to modification. I will note simply that the areas where this web is most tightly woven today, where the danger spots are most numerous, are those dealing with politics and sexuality. It is as though discussion, far from being a transparent, neutral element, allowing us to disarm sexuality and to pacify politics, were one of those privileged areas in which they exercised some of their more awesome powers. In appearance, speech may well be of little account, but the prohibitions surrounding it soon reveal its links with desire and power. This should not be very surprising, for psychoanalysis has already shown us that speech is not merely the medium which manifests — or dissembles — desire; it is also the object of desire. Similarly, historians have constantly impressed upon us that speech is no mere verbalisation of conflicts and systems of domination, but that it is the very object of man’s conflicts.
But our society possesses yet another principle of exclusion; not another prohibition, but a division and a rejection. I have in mind the opposition: reason and folly. From the depths of the Middle Ages, a man was mad if his speech could not be said to form part of the common discourse of men. His words were considered null and void, without truth or significance, worthless as evidence, inadmissible in the making-authentic of acts or contracts, incapable even of bringing about transubstantiation — the transformation of bread into flesh — at Mass. And yet, in contrast to all others, his words were credited with strange powers, of revealing some hidden truth, of predicting the future, of revealing, in all their naïveté, what the wise were unable to perceive. It is curious to note that for centuries, inEurope, the words of a madman were either totally ignored or else were taken as words of truth. They either fell into a void — rejected the moment they were proffered — or else men deciphered in them a naive or cunning reason, rationality more rational than that of a rational man. At all events, whether excluded or secretly invested with reason, the madman’s speech did not strictly exist. It was through his words that one recognised the madness of the madman; but they were certainly the medium within which this division became active; they were neither heard nor remembered. No doctor before the end of the eighteenth century had ever thought of listening to the content — how it was said and why — of these words; and yet it was these which signalled the difference between reason and madness. Whatever a madman said, it was taken for mere noise; he was credited with words only in a symbolic sense, in the theatre, in which he stepped forward, unarmed and reconciled, playing his role: that of masked truth.
Of course people are going to say all that is over and done with, or that it is in the process of being finished with, today; that the madman’s words are no longer on the other side of this division; that they are no longer null and void, that, on the contrary, they alert us to the need to look for a sense behind them, for the attempt at, or the ruins of some `oeuvre‘; we have even come to notice these words of madmen in our own speech, in those tiny pauses when we forget what we are talking about. But all this is no proof that the old division is not just as active as before; we have only to think of the systems by which we decipher this speech; we have only to think of the network of institutions established to permit doctors and psychoanalysts to listen to the mad and, at the same time, enabling the mad to come and speak, or, in desperation, to withhold their meagre words; we have only to bear all this in mind to suspect that the old division is just as active as ever, even if it is proceeding along different lines and, via new institutions, producing rather different effects. Even when the role of the doctor consists of lending an ear to this finally liberated speech, this procedure still takes place in the context of a hiatus between listener and speaker. For he is listening to speech invested with desire, crediting itself — for its greater exultation or for its greater anguish — with terrible powers. If we truly require silence to cure monsters, then it must be an attentive silence, and it is in this that the division lingers.
It is perhaps a little risky to speak of the opposition between true and false as a third system of exclusion, along with those I have mentioned already. How could one reasonably compare the constraints of truth with those other divisions, arbitrary in origin if not developing out of historical contingency — not merely modifiable but in a state of continual flux, supported by a system of institutions imposing and manipulating them, acting not without constraint, nor without an element, at least, of violence?
Certainly, as a proposition, the division between true and false is neither arbitrary, nor modifiable, nor institutional, nor violent. Putting the question in different terms, however — asking what has been, what still is, throughout our discourse, this will to truth which has survived throughout so many centuries of our history; or if we ask what is, in its very general form, the kind of division governing our will to knowledge — then we may well discern something like a system of exclusion (historical, modifiable, institutionally constraining) in the process of development.
It is, undoubtedly, an historically constituted division. For, even with the sixth century Greek poets, true discourse — in the meaningful sense — inspiring respect and terror, to which all were obliged to submit, because it held sway over all and was pronounced by men who spoke as of right, according to ritual, meted out justice and attributed to each his rightful share; it prophesied the future, not merely announcing what was going to occur, but contributing to its actual event, carrying men along with it and thus weaving itself into the fabric of fate. And yet, a century later, the highest truth no longer resided in what discourse was, nor in what it did: it lay in what was said. The day dawned when truth moved over from the ritualised act — potent and just-of enunciation to settle on what was enunciated itself: its meaning, its form, its object and its relation to what it referred to. A division emerged between Hesiod and Plato, separating true discourse from false; it was a new division for, henceforth, true discourse was no longer considered precious and desirable, since it had ceased to be discourse linked to the exercise of power. And so the Sophists were routed.
This historical division has doubtless lent its general form to our will to knowledge. Yet it has never ceased shifting: the great mutations of science may well sometimes be seen to flow from some discovery, but they may equally be viewed as the appearance of new forms of the will to truth. In the nineteenth century there was undoubtedly a will to truth having nothing to do, in terms of the forms examined, of the fields to which it addressed itself, nor the techniques upon which it was based, with the will to knowledge which characterised classical culture. Going back a little in time, to the turn of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries — and particularly in England — a will to knowledge emerged which, anticipating its present content, sketched out a schema of possible, observable, measurable and classifiable objects; a will to knowledge which imposed upon the knowing subject — in some ways taking precedence over all experience — a certain position, a certain viewpoint, and a certain function (look rather than read, verify rather than comment), a will to knowledge which prescribed (and, more generally speaking, all instruments determined) the technological level at which knowledge could be employed in order to be verifiable and useful (navigation, mining, pharmacopoeia). Everything seems to have occurred as though, from the time of the great Platonic division onwards, the will to truth had its own history, which is not at all that of the constraining truths: the history of a range of subjects to be learned, the history of the functions of the knowing subject, the history of material, technical and instrumental investment in knowledge.
But this will to truth, like the other systems of exclusion, relies on institutional support: it is both reinforced and accompanied by whole strata of practices such as pedagogy — naturally — the book-system, publishing, libraries, such as the learned societies in the past, and laboratories today. But it is probably even more profoundly accompanied by the manner in which knowledge is employed in a society, the way in which it is exploited, divided and, in some ways, attributed. It is worth recalling at this point, if only symbolically, the old Greek adage, that arithmetic should be taught in democracies, for it teaches relations of equality, but that geometry alone should be reserved for oligarchies, as it demonstrates the proportions within inequality.
Finally, I believe that this will to knowledge, thus reliant upon institutional support and distribution, tends to exercise a sort of pressure, a power of constraint upon other forms of discourse — I am speaking of our own society. I am thinking of the way Western literature has, for centuries, sought to base itself in nature, in the plausible, upon sincerity and science — in short, upon true discourse. I am thinking, too, of the way economic practices, codified into precepts and recipes — as morality, too — have sought, since the eighteenth century, to found themselves, to rationalise and justify their currency, in a theory of wealth and production; I am thinking, again, of the manner in which such prescriptive ensembles as the Penal Code have sought their bases or justifications. For example, the Penal Code started out as a theory of Right; then, from the time of the nineteenth century, people looked for its validation in sociological, psychological, medical and psychiatric knowledge. It is as though the very words of the law had no authority in our society, except insofar as they are derived from true discourse. Of the three great systems of exclusion governing discourse — prohibited words, the division of madness and the will to truth — I have spoken at greatest length concerning the third. With good reason: for centuries, the former have continually tended toward the latter; because this last has, gradually, been attempting to assimilate the others in order both to modify them and to provide them with a firm foundation. Because, if the two former are continually growing more fragile and less certain to the extent that they are now invaded by the will to truth, the latter, in contrast, daily grows in strength, in depth and implacability.
And yet we speak of it least. As though the will to truth and its vicissitudes were masked by truth itself and its necessary unfolding. The reason is perhaps this: if, since the time of the Greeks, true discourse no longer responds to desire or to that which exercises power in the will to truth, in the will to speak out in true discourse, what, then, is at work, if not desire and power? True discourse, liberated by the nature of its form from desire and power, is incapable of recognising the will to truth which pervades it; and the will to truth, having imposed itself upon us for so long, is such that the truth it seeks to reveal cannot fail to mask it.
Thus, only one truth appears before our eyes: wealth, fertility and sweet strength in all its insidious universality. In contrast, we are unaware of the prodigious machinery of the will to truth, with its vocation of exclusion. All those who, at one moment or another in our history, have attempted to remould this will to truth and to turn it against truth at that very point where truth undertakes to justify the taboo, and to define madness; all those, from Nietzsche to Artaud and Bataille, must now stand as (probably haughty) signposts for all our future work.
There are, of course, many other systems for the control and delimitation of discourse. Those I have spoken of up to now are, to some extent, active on the exterior; they function as systems of exclusion; they concern that part of discourse which deals with power and desire.
I believe we can isolate another group: internal rules, where discourse exercises its own control; rules concerned with the principles of classification, ordering and distribution. It is as though we were now involved in the mastery of another dimension of discourse: that of events and chance.
In the first place, commentary. I suppose, though I am not altogether sure, there is barely a society without its major narratives, told, retold and varied; formulae, texts, ritualised texts to be spoken in well-defined circumstances; things said once, and conserved because people suspect some hidden secret or wealth lies buried within. In short, I suspect one could find a kind of gradation between different types of discourse within most societies: discourse `uttered’ in the course of the day and in casual meetings, and which disappears with the very act which gave rise to it; and those forms of discourse that lie at the origins of a certain number of new verbal acts, which are reiterated, transformed or discussed; in short, discourse which is spoken and remains spoken, indefinitely, beyond its formulation, and which remains to be spoken. We know them in our own cultural system: religious or juridical texts, as well as some curious texts, from the point of view of their status, which we term `literary'; to a certain extent, scientific texts also.
What is clear is that this gap is neither stable, nor constant, nor absolute. There is no question of there being one category, fixed for all time, reserved for fundamental or creative discourse, and another for those which reiterate, expound and comment. Not a few major texts become blurred and disappear, and commentaries sometimes come to occupy the former position. But while the details of application may well change, the function remains the same, and the principle of hierarchy remains at work. The radical denial of this gradation can never be anything but play, utopia or anguish. Play, as Borges uses the term, in the form of commentary that is nothing more than the reappearance, word for word (though this time it is solemn and anticipated) of the text commented on; or again, the play of a work of criticism talking endlessly about a work that does not exist. It is a lyrical dream of talk reborn, utterly afresh and innocent, at each point; continually reborn in all its vigour, stimulated by things, feelings or thoughts. Anguish, such as that of Janet when sick, for whom the least utterance sounded as the `word of the Evangelist’, concealing an inexhaustible wealth of meaning, worthy to be broadcast, rebegun, commented upon indefinitely: `When I think’, he said on reading or listening; `When I think of this phrase, continuing its journey through eternity, while I, perhaps, have only incompletely understood it …’
But who can fail to see that this would be to annul one of the terms of the relationship each time, and not to suppress the relationship itself? A relationship in continual process of modification; a relationship taking multiple and diverse forms in a given epoch: juridical exegesis is very different — and has been for a long time — from religious commentary; a single work of literature can give rise, simultaneously, to several distinct types of discourse. The Odyssey, as a primary text, is repeated in the same epoch, in Berand’s translation, in infinite textual explanations and in Joyce’s Ulysses.
For the time being, I would like to limit myself to pointing out that, in what we generally refer to as commentary, the difference between primary text and secondary text plays two interdependent roles. On the one hand, it permits us to create new discourses ad infinitum: the top-heaviness of the original text, its permanence, its status as discourse ever capable of being brought up to date, the multiple or hidden meanings with which it is credited, the reticence and wealth it is believed to contain, all this creates an open possibility for discussion. On the other hand, whatever the techniques employed, commentary’s only role is to say finally, what has silently been articulated deep down. It must — and the paradox is ever-changing yet inescapable — say, for the first time, what has already been said, and repeat tirelessly what was, nevertheless, never said. The infinite rippling of commentary is agitated from within by the dream of masked repetition: in the distance there is, perhaps, nothing other than what was there at the point of departure: simple recitation. Commentary averts the chance element of discourse by giving it its due: it gives us the opportunity to say something other than the text itself, but on condition that it is the text itself which is uttered and, in some ways, finalised. The open multiplicity, the fortuitousness, is transferred, by the principle of commentary, from what is liable to be said to the number, the form, the masks and the circumstances of repetition. The novelty lies no longer in what is said, but in its reappearance.
I believe there is another principle of rarefaction, complementary to the first: the author. Not, of course, the author in the sense of the individual who delivered the speech or wrote the text in question, but the author as the unifying principle in a particular group of writings or statements, lying at the origins of their significance, as the seat of their coherence. This principle is not constant at all times. All around us, there are sayings and texts whose meaning or effectiveness has nothing to do with any author to whom they might be attributed: mundane remarks, quickly forgotten; orders and contacts that are signed, but have no recognisable author; technical prescriptions anonymously transmitted. But even in those fields where it is normal to attribute a work to an author — literature, philosophy, science — the principle does not always play the same role; in the order of scientific discourse, it was, during the Middle Ages, indispensable that a scientific text be attributed to an author, for the author was the index of the work’s truthfulness. A proposition was held to derive its scientific value from its author. But since the seventeenth century this function has been steadily declining; it barely survives now, save to give a name to a theorem, an effect, an example or a syndrome. In literature, however, and from about the same period, the author’s function has become steadily more important. Now, we demand of all those narratives, poems, dramas and comedies which circulated relatively anonymously throughout the Middle Ages, whence they come, and we virtually insist they tell us who wrote them. We ask authors to answer for the unity of the works published in their names; we ask that they reveal, or at least display the hidden sense pervading their work; we ask them to reveal their personal lives, to account for their experiences and the real story that gave birth to their writings. The author is he who implants, into the troublesome language of fiction, its unities, its coherence, its links with reality.
I know what people are going to say: `But there you are speaking of the author in the same way as the critic reinvents him after he is dead and buried, when we are left with no more than a tangled mass of scrawlings. Of course, then you have to put a little order into what is left, you have to imagine a structure, a cohesion, the sort of theme you might expect to arise out of an author’s consciousness or his life, even if it is a little fictitious. But all that cannot get away from the fact the author existed, irrupting into the midst of all the words employed, infusing them with his genius, or his chaos’.
Of course, it would be ridiculous to deny the existence of individuals who write, and invent. But I think that, for some time, at least, the individual who sits down to write a text, at the edge of which lurks a possible oecuvre, resumes the functions of the author. What he writes and does not write, what he sketches out, even preliminary sketches for the work, and what he drops as simple mundane remarks, all this interplay of differences is prescribed by the author-f unction. It is from his new position, as an author, that he will fashion — from all he might have said, from all he says daily, at any time — the still shaky profile of his oeuvre.
Commentary limited the hazards of discourse through the action of an identity taking the form of repetition and sameness. The author principle limits this same chance element through the action of an identity whose form is that of individuality and the I.
But we have to recognise another principle of limitation in what we call, not sciences, but `disciplines’. Here is yet another relative, mobile principle, one which enables us to construct, but within a narrow framework.
The organisation of disciplines is just as much opposed to the commentary-principle as it is to that of the author. Opposed to that of the author, because disciplines are defined by groups of objects, methods, their corpus of propositions considered to be true, the interplay of rules and definitions, of techniques and tools: all these constitute a sort of anonymous system, freely available to whoever wishes, or whoever is able to make use of them, without there being any question of their meaning or their validity being derived from whoever happened to invent them. But the principles involved in the formation of disciplines are equally opposed to that of commentary. In a discipline, unlike in commentary, what is supposed at the point of departure is not some meaning which must be rediscovered, nor an identity to be reiterated; it is that which is required for the construction of new statements. For a discipline to exist, there must be the possibility of formulating — and of doing so ad infinitum-fresh propositions.
But there is more, and there is more, probably, in order that there may be less. A discipline is not the sum total of all the truths that may be uttered concerning something; it is not even the total of all that may be accepted, by virtue of some principle of coherence and systematisation, concerning some given fact or proposition. Medicine does not consist of all that may be truly said about disease; botany cannot be defined by the sum total of the truths one could say about plants. There are two reasons for this, the first being that botany and medicine, like other disciplines, consist of errors as well as truths, errors that are in no way residuals, or foreign bodies, but having their own positive functions and their own valid history, such that their roles are often indissociable from that of the truths. The other reason is that, for a proposition to belong to botany or pathology, it must fulfil certain conditions, in a stricter and more complex sense than that of pure and simple truth: at any rate, other conditions. The proposition must refer to a specific range of objects; from the end of the seventeenth century, for example, a proposition, to be `botanical’, had to be concerned with the visible structure of plants, with its system of close and not so close resemblances, or with the behavior of its fluids; (but it could no longer retain, as had still been the case in the sixteenth century, references to its symbolic value or to the virtues and properties accorded it in antiquity). But without belonging to any discipline, a proposition is obliged to utilize conceptual instruments and techniques of a well-defined type; from the nineteenth century onwards, a proposition was no longer medical — it became `non-medical’, becoming more of an individual fantasy or item of popular imagery — if it employed metaphorical or qualitative terms or notions of essence (congestion, fermented liquids, dessicated solids); in return, it could — it had to — appeal to equally metaphorical notions, though constructed according to a different functional and physiological model (concerning irritation, inflammation or the decay of tissue). But there is more still, for in order to belong to a discipline, a proposition must fit into a certain type of theoretical field. Suffice it to recall that the quest for primitive language, a perfectly acceptable theme up to the eighteenth century, was enough, in the second half of the nineteenth century, to throw any discourse into, I hesitate to say error, but into a world of chimera and reverie — into pure and simple linguistic monstrosity.
Within its own limits, every discipline recognises true and false propositions, but it repulses a whole teratology of learning. The exterior of a science is both more, and less, populated than one might think: certainly, there is immediate experience, imaginary themes bearing on and continually accompanying immemorial beliefs; but perhaps there are no errors in the strict sense of the term, for error can only emerge and be identified within a well-defined process; there are monsters on the prowl, however, whose forms alter with the history of knowledge. In short, a proposition must fulfil some onerous and complex conditions before it can be admitted within a discipline; before it can be pronounced true or false it must be, as Monsieur Canguilhem might say, `within the true’.
People have often wondered how on earth nineteenth-century botanists and biologists managed not to see the truth of Mendel’s statements. But it was precisely because Mendel spoke of objects, employed methods and placed himself within a theoretical perspective totally alien to the biology of his time. But then, Naudin had suggested that hereditary traits constituted a separate element before him; and yet, however novel or unfamiliar the principle may have been, it was nevertheless reconcilable, if only as an enigma, with biological discourse. Mendel, on the other hand, announced that hereditary traits constituted an absolutely new biological object, thanks to a hitherto untried system of filtrage: he detached them from species, from the sex transmitting them, the field in which he observed being that infinitely open series of generations in which hereditary traits appear and disappear with statistical regularity. Here was a new object, calling for new conceptual tools, and for fresh theoretical foundations. Mendel spoke the truth, but he was not dans le vrai (within the true) of contemporary biological discourse: it simply was not along such lines that objects and biological concepts were formed. A whole change in scale, the deployment of a totally new range of objects in biology was required before Mendel could enter into the true and his propositions appear, for the most part, exact. Mendel was a true monster, so much so that science could not even properly speak of him. And yet Schleiden, for example, thirty years earlier, denying, at the height of the nineteenth century, vegetable sexuality, was committing no more than a disciplined error.
It is always possible one could speak the truth in a void; one would only be in the true, however, if one obeyed the rules of some discursive `policy’ which would have to be reactivated every time one spoke.
Disciplines constitute a system of control in the production of discourse, fixing its limits through the action of an identity taking the form of a permanent reactivation of the rules.
We tend to see, in an author’s fertility, in the multiplicity of commentaries and in the development of a discipline so many infinite resources available for the creation of discourse. Perhaps so, but they are nonetheless principles of constraint, and it is probably impossible to appreciate their positive, multiplicatory role without first taking into consideration their restrictive, constraining role.
There is, I believe, a third group of rules serving to control discourse. Here, we are no longer dealing with the mastery of the powers contained within discourse, nor with averting the hazards of its appearance; it is more a question of determining the conditions under which it may be employed, of imposing a certain number of rules upon those individuals who employ it, thus denying access to everyone else. This amounts to a rarefaction among speaking subjects: none may enter into discourse on a specific subject unless he has satisfied certain conditions or if he is not, from the outset, qualified to do so. More exactly, not all areas of discourse are equally open and penetrable; some are forbidden territory (differentiated and differentiating) while others are virtually open to the winds and stand, without any prior restrictions, open to all.
Here, I would like to recount a little story so beautiful I fear it may well be true. It encompasses all the constraints of discourse: those limiting its powers, those controlling its chance appearances and those which select from among speaking subjects. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the Shogun heard tell of European superiority in navigation, commerce, politics and the military arts, and that this was due to their knowledge of mathematics. He wanted to obtain this precious knowledge. When someone told him of an English sailor possessed of this marvelous discourse, he summoned him to his palace and kept him there. The Shogun took lessons from the mariner in private and familiarised himself with mathematics, after which he retained power and lived to a very old age. It was not until the nineteenth century that there were Japanese mathematicians. But that is not the end of the anecdote, for it has its European aspect as well. The story has it that the English sailor, Will Adams, was a carpenter and an autodidact. Having worked in a shipyard he had learnt geometry. Can we see in this narrative the expression of one of the great myths of European culture? To the monopolistic, secret knowledge of oriental tyranny,Europe opposed the universal communication of knowledge and the infinitely free exchange of discourse.
This notion does not, in fact, stand up to close examination. Exchange and communication are positive forces at play within complex but restrictive systems; it is probable that they cannot operate independently of these. The most superficial and obvious of these restrictive systems is constituted by what we collectively refer to as ritual; ritual defines the qualifications required of the speaker (of who in dialogue, interrogation or recitation, should occupy which position and formulate which type of utterance); it lays down gestures to be made, behaviour, circumstances and the whole range of signs that must accompany discourse; finally, it lays down the supposed, or imposed significance of the words used, their effect upon those to whom they are addressed, the limitations of their constraining validity. Religious discourse, juridical and therapeutic as well as, in some ways, political discourse are all barely dissociable from the functioning of a ritual that determines the individual properties and agreed roles of the speakers.
A rather different function is filled by `fellowships of discourse’, whose function is to preserve or to reproduce discourse, but in order that it should circulate within a closed community, according to strict regulations, without those in possession being dispossessed by this very distribution. An archaic model of this would be those groups of Rhapsodists, possessing knowledge of poems to recite or, even, upon which to work variations and transformations. But though the ultimate object of this knowledge was ritual recitation, it was protected and preserved within a determinate group, by the, often extremely complex, exercises of memory implied by such a process. Apprenticeship gained access both to a group and to a secret which recitation made manifest, but did not divulge. The roles of speaking and listening were not interchangeable.
Few such `fellowships of discourse’ remain, with their ambiguous interplay of secrecy and disclosure. But do not be deceived; even in true discourse, even in the order of published discourse, free from all ritual, we still find secret-appropriation and non-interchangeability at work. It could even be that the act of writing, as it is institutionalised today, with its books, its publishing system and the personality of the writer, occurs within a diffuse, yet constraining, `fellowship of discourse’. The separateness of the writer, continually opposed to the activity of all other writing and speaking subjects, the intransitive character he lends to his discourse, the fundamental singularity he has long accorded to `writing’, the affirmed dissymmetry between `creation’ and any use of linguistic systems — all this manifests in its formulation (and tends moreover to accompany the interplay of these factors in practice) the existence of a certain `fellowship of discourse’. But there are many others, functioning according to entirely different schemas of exclusivity and disclosure: one has only to think of technical and scientific secrets, of the forms of diffusion and circulation in medical discourse, of those who have appropriated economic or political discourse.
At first sight, `doctrine’ (religious, political, philosophical) would seem to constitute the very reverse of a `fellowship of discourse'; for among the latter, the number of speakers were, if not fixed, at least limited, and it was among this number that discourse was allowed to circulate and be transmitted. Doctrine, on the other hand, tends to diffusion: in the holding in common of a single ensemble of discourse that individuals, as many as you wish, could define their reciprocal allegiance. In appearance, the sole requisite is the recognition of the same truths and the acceptance of a certain rule — more or less flexible — of conformity with validated discourse. If it were a question of just that, doctrines would barely be any different from scientific disciplines, and discursive control would bear merely on the form or content of what was uttered, and not on the speaker. Doctrinal adherence, however, involves both speaker and the spoken, the one through the other. The speaking subject is involved through, and as a result of, the spoken, as is demonstrated by the rules of exclusion and the rejection mechanism brought into play when a speaker formulates one, or many, inassimilable utterances; questions of heresy and unorthodoxy in no way arise out of fanatical exaggeration of doctrinal mechanisms; they are a fundamental part of them. But conversely, doctrine involves the utterances of speakers in the sense that doctrine is, permanently, the sign, the manifestation and the instrument of a prior adherence — adherence to a class, to a social or racial status, to a nationality or an interest, to a struggle, a revolt, resistance or acceptance. Doctrine links individuals to certain types of utterance while consequently barring them from all others. Doctrine effects a dual subjection, that of speaking subjects to discourse, and that of discourse to the group, at least virtually, of speakers.
Finally, on a much broader scale, we have to recognise the great cleavages in what one might call the social appropriation of discourse. Education may well be, as of right, the instrument whereby every individual, in a society like our own, can gain access to any kind of discourse. But we well know that in its distribution, in what it permits and in what it prevents, it follows the well-trodden battle-lines of social conflict. Every educational system is a political means of maintaining or of modifying the appropriation of discourse, with the knowledge and the powers it carries with it.
I am well aware of the abstraction I am performing when I separate, as I have just done, verbal rituals, `fellowships of discourse’, doctrinal groups and social appropriation. Most of the time they are linked together, constituting great edifices that distribute speakers among the different types of discourse, and which appropriate those types of discourse to certain categories of subject. In a word, let us say that these are the main rules for the subjection of discourse. What is an educational system, after all, if not a ritualisation of the word; if not a qualification of some fixing of roles for speakers; if not the constitution of a (diffuse) doctrinal group; if not a distribution and an appropriation of discourse, with all its learning and its powers? What is `writing’ (that of `writers’) if not a similar form of subjection, perhaps taking rather different forms, but whose main stresses are nonetheless analogous? May we not also say that the judicial system, as well as institutionalised medicine, constitute similar systems for the subjection of discourse?
I wonder whether a certain number of philosophical themes have not come to conform to this activity of limitation and exclusion and perhaps even to reinforce it.
They conform, first of all, by proposing an ideal truth as a law of discourse, and an immanent rationality as the principle of their behaviour. They accompany, too, an ethic of knowledge, promising truth only to the desire for truth itself and the power to think it.
They then go on to reinforce this activity by denying the specific reality of discourse in general.
Ever since the exclusion of the activity and commerce of the sophists, ever since their paradoxes were muzzled, more or less securely, it would seem that Western thought has seen to it that discourse be permitted as little room as possible between thought and words. It would appear to have ensured that to discourse should appear merely as a certain interjection between speaking and thinking; that it should constitute thought, clad in its signs and rendered visible by words or, conversely, that the structures of language themselves should be brought into play, producing a certain effect of meaning.
This very ancient elision of the reality of discourse in philosophical thought has taken many forms in the course of history. We have seen it quite recently in the guise of many themes now familiar to us.
It seems to me that the theme of the founding subject permits us to elide the reality of discourse. The task of the founding subject is to animate the empty forms of language with his objectives; through the thickness and inertia of empty things, he grasps intuitively the meanings lying within them. Beyond time, he indicates the field of meanings — leaving history to make them explicit — in which propositions, sciences, and deductive ensembles ultimately find their foundation. In this relationship with meaning, the founding subject has signs, marks, tracks, letters at his disposal. But he does not need to demonstrate these passing through the singular instance of discourse.
The opposing theme, that of originating experience, plays an analogous role. This asserts, in the case of experience, that even before it could be grasped in the form of a cogito, prior significations, in some ways already spoken, were circulating in the world, scattering it all about us, and from the outset made possible a sort of primitive recognition. Thus, a primary complicity with the world founds, for us, a possibility of speaking of experience, in it, to designate and name it, to judge it and, finally, to know it in the form of truth. If there is discourse, what could it legitimately be if not a discrete reading? Things murmur meanings our language has merely to extract; from its most primitive beginnings, this language was already whispering to us of a being of which it forms the skeleton.
The theme of universal mediation is, I believe, yet another manner of eliding the reality of discourse. And this despite appearances. At first sight it would seem that, to discover the movement of a logos everywhere elevating singularities into concepts, finally enabling immediate consciousness to deploy all the rationality in the world, is certainly to place discourse at the centre of speculation. But, in truth, this logos is really only another discourse already in operation, or rather, it is things and events themselves which insensibly become discourse in the unfolding of the essential secrets. Discourse is no longer much more than the shimmering of a truth about to be born in its own eyes; and when all things come eventually to take the form of discourse, when everything may be said and when anything becomes an excuse for pronouncing a discourse, it will be because all things having manifested and exchanged meanings, they will then all be able to return to the silent interiority of self-consciousness.
Whether it is the philosophy of a founding subject, a philosophy of originating experience or a philosophy of universal mediation, discourse is really only an activity, of writing in the first case, of reading in the second and exchange in the third. This exchange, this writing, this reading never involve anything but signs. Discourse thus nullifies itself, in reality, in placing itself at the disposal of the signifier.
What civilization, in appearance, has shown more respect towards discourse than our own? Where has it been more and better honoured? Where have men depended more radically, apparently, upon its constraints and its universal character? But, it seems to me, a certain fear hides behind this apparent supremacy accorded, this apparent logophilia. It is as though these taboos, these barriers, thresholds and limits were deliberately disposed in order, at least partly, to master and control the great proliferation of discourse, in such a way as to relieve its richness of its most dangerous elements; to organise its disorder so as to skate round its most uncontrollable aspects. It is as though people had wanted to efface all trace of its irruption into the activity of our thought and language. There is undoubtedly in our society, and I would not be surprised to see it in others, though taking different forms and modes, a profound logophobia, a sort of dumb fear of these events, of this mass of spoken things, of everything that could possibly be violent, discontinuous, querulous, disordered even and perilous in it, of the incessant, disorderly buzzing of discourse.
If we wish — I will not say to efface this fear — but to analyse it in its conditions, its activity and its effects, I believe we must resolve ourselves to accept three decisions which our current thinking rather tends to resist, and which belong to the three groups of function I have just mentioned: to question our will to truth; to restore to discourse its character as an event; to abolish the sovereignty of the signifier.
These are the tasks, or rather, some of the themes which will govern my work in the years ahead. One can straight away distinguish some of the methodological demands they imply.
A principle of reversal, first of all. Where, according to tradition, we think we recognise the source of discourse, the principles behind its flourishing and continuity, in those factors which seem to play a positive role, such as the author discipline, will to truth, we must rather recognise the negative activity of the cutting-out and rarefaction of discourse.
But, once we have distinguished these principles of rarefaction, once we have ceased considering them as a fundamental and creative action, what do we discover behind them? Should we affirm that a world of uninterrupted discourse would be virtually complete? This is where we have to bring other methodological principles into play.
Next, then, the principle of discontinuity. The existence of systems of rarefaction does not imply that, over and beyond them lie great vistas of limitless discourse, continuous and silent, repressed and driven back by them, making it our task to abolish them and at last to restore it to speech. Whether talking in terms of speaking or thinking, we must not imagine some unsaid thing, or an unthought, floating about the world, interlacing with all its forms and events. Discourse must be treated as a discontinuous activity, its different manifestations sometimes coming together, but just as easily unaware of, or excluding each other.
The principle of specificity declares that a particular discourse cannot be resolved by a prior system of significations; that we should not imagine that the world presents us with a legible face, leaving us merely to decipher it; it does not work hand in glove with what we already know; there is no prediscursive fate disposing the word in our favour. We must conceive discourse as a violence that we do to things, or, at all events, as a practice we impose upon them; it is in this practice that the events of discourse find the principle of their regularity.
The fourth principle, that of exteriority, holds that we are not to burrow to the hidden core of discourse, to the heart of the thought or meaning manifested in it; instead, taking the discourse itself, its appearance and its regularity, that we should look for its external conditions of existence, for that which gives rise to the chance series of these events and fixes its limits.
As the regulatory principles of analysis, then, we have four notions: event series, regularity and the possible conditions of existence. Term for term we find the notion of event opposed to that of creation, the possible conditions of existence opposing signification. These four notions (signification, originality, unity, creation) have, in a fairly general way, dominated the traditional history of ideas; by general agreement one sought the point of creation, the unity of a work, of a period or a theme, one looked also for the mark of individual originality and the infinite wealth of hidden meanings.
I would like to add just two remarks, the first of which concerns history. We frequently credit contemporary history with having removed the individual event from its privileged position and with having revealed the more enduring structures of history. That is so. I am not sure, however, that historians have been working in this direction alone. Or, rather, I do not think one can oppose the identification of the individual event to the analysis of long term trends quite so neatly. On the contrary, it seems to me that it is in squeezing the individual event, in directing the resolving power of historical analysis onto official price-lists (mercuriales), title deeds, parish registers, to harbour archives analysed year by year and week by week, that we gradually perceive — beyond battles, decisions, dynasties and assemblies — the emergence of those massive phenomena of secular or multi-secular importance. History, as it is practised today, does not turn its back on events; on the contrary, it is continually enlarging the field of events, constantly discovering new layers — more superficial as well as more profound — incessantly isolating new ensembles — events, numerous, dense and interchangeable or rare and decisive: from daily price fluctuations to secular inflations. What is significant is that history does not consider an event without defining the series to which it belongs, without specifying the method of analysis used, without seeking out the regularity of phenomena and the probable limits of their occurrence, without enquiring about variations, inflexions and the slope of the curve, without desiring to know the conditions on which these depend. History has long since abandoned its attempts to understand events in terms of cause and effect in the formless unity of some great evolutionary process, whether vaguely homogeneous or rigidly hierarchised. It did not do this in order to seek out structures anterior to, alien or hostile to the event. It was rather in order to establish those diverse converging, and sometimes divergent, but never autonomous series that enable us to circumscribe the `locus’ of an event, the limits to its fluidity and the conditions of its emergence.
The fundamental notions now imposed upon us are no longer those of consciousness and continuity (with their correlative problems of liberty and causality), nor are they those of sign and structure. They are notions, rather, of events and of series, with the group of notions linked to these; it is around such an ensemble that this analysis of discourse I am thinking of is articulated, certainly not upon those traditional themes which the philosophers of the past took for `living’ history, but on the effective work of historians.
But it is also here that this analysis poses some, probably awesome philosophical or theoretical problems. If discourses are to be treated first as ensembles of discursive events, what status are we to accord this notion of event, so rarely taken into consideration by philosophers? Of course, an event is neither substance, nor accident, nor quality nor process; events are not corporeal. And yet, an event is certainly not immaterial; it takes effect, becomes effect, always on the level of materiality. Events have their place; they consist in relation to, coexistence with, dispersion of, the cross-checking accumulation and the selection of material elements; it occurs as an effect of, and in, material dispersion. Let us say that the philosophy of event should advance in the direction, at first sight paradoxical, of an incorporeal materialism. If, on the other hand, discursive events are to be dealt with as homogeneous, but discontinuous series, what status are we to accord this discontinuity? Here we are not dealing with a succession of instants in time, nor with the plurality of thinking subjects; what is concerned are those caesurae breaking the instant and dispersing the subject in a multiplicity of possible positions and functions. Such a discontinuity strikes and invalidates the smallest units, traditionally recognised and the least readily contested: the instant and the subject. Beyond them, independent of them, we must conceive — between these discontinuous series of relations which are not in any order of succession (or simultaneity) within any (or several) consciousnesses — and we must elaborateoutside of philosophies of time and subject — a theory of discontinuous systematisation. Finally, if it is true that these discursive, discontinuous series have their regularity, within certain limits, it is clearly no longer possible to establish mechanically causal links or an ideal necessity among their constitutive elements. We must accept the introduction of chance as a category in the production of events. There again, we feel the absence of a theory enabling us to conceive the links between chance and thought.
In the sense that this slender wedge I intend to slip into the history of ideas consists not in dealing with meanings possibly lying behind this or that discourse, but with discourse as regular series and distinct events, I fear I recognise in this wedge a tiny (odious, too, perhaps) device permitting the introduction, into the very roots of thought, of notions of chance, discontinuity and materiality. This represents a triple peril which one particular form of history attempts to avert by recounting the continuous unfolding of some ideal necessity. But they are three notions which ought to permit us to link the history of systems of thought to the practical work of historians; three directions to be followed in the work of theoretical elaboration.
Following these principles, and referring to this overall view, the analyses I intend to undertake fall into two groups. On the one hand, the `critical’ group which sets the reversal-principle to work. I shall attempt to distinguish the forms of exclusion, limitation and appropriation of which I was speaking earlier; I shall try to show how they are formed, in answer to which needs, how they are modified and displaced, which constraints they have effectively exercised, to what extent they have been worked on. On the other hand, the `genealogical’ group, which brings the three other principles into play: how series of discourse are formed, through, in spite of, or with the aid of these systems of constraint: what were the specific norms for each, and what were their conditions of appearance, growth and variation.
Taking the critical group first, a preliminary group of investigations could bear on what I have designated functions of exclusion. I have already examined one of these for a determinate period: the disjunction of reason and madness in the classical age. Later, we could attempt an investigation of a taboo system in language, that concerning sexuality from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. In this, we would not be concerned with the manner in which this has progressively — and happily — disappeared, but with the way it has been altered and rearticulated, from the practice of confession, with its forbidden conduct, named, classified, hierarchised down to the smallest detail, to the belated, timid appearance of the treatment of sexuality in nineteenth century psychiatry and medicine. Of course, these only amount to somewhat symbolic guidelines, but one can already be pretty sure that the stresses will not fall where we expect, and that taboos are not always to be found where we imagine them to be.
For the time being, I would like to address myself to the third system of exclusion. I will envisage it in two ways. Firstly, I would like to try to visualise the manner in which this truth within which we are caught, but which we constantly renew was selected, but at the same time, was repeated, extended and displaced. I will take first of all the age of the Sophists and its beginning with Socrates, or at least with Platonic philosophy, and I shall try to see how effective, ritual discourse, charged with power and peril, gradually arranged itself into a disjunction between true and false discourse. I shall next take the turn of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and the age which, above all inEngland, saw the emergence of an observational, affirmative science, a certain natural philosophy inseparable, too, from religious ideology — for this certainly constituted a new form of the will to knowledge. In the third place, I shall turn to the beginning of the nineteenth century and the great founding acts of modern science, as well as the formation of industrial society and the accompanying positivist ideology. Three slices out of the morphology of our will to knowledge; three staging posts in our philistinism.
I would also like to consider the same question from quite another angle. I would like to measure the effect of a discourse claiming to be scientific — medical, psychiatric or sociological — on the ensemble of practices and prescriptive discourse of which the penal code consists. The study of psychiatric skills and their role in the penal system will serve as a point of departure and as basic material for this analysis.
It is within this critical perspective, but on a different level, that the analysis of the rules for the limitation of discourse should take place, of those among which I earlier designated the author principle, that of commentary and that of discipline. One can envisage a certain number of studies in this field. I am thinking, for example, of the history of medicine in the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries; not so much an account of discoveries made and concepts developed, but of grasping — from the construction of medical discourse, from all its supporting institutions, from its transmission and its reinforcement, — how the principles of author, commentary and discipline worked in practice; of seeking to know how the great author principle, whether Hippocrates, Galen, Paracelsus and Sydenham, or Bocrhaave, became a principle of limitation in medical discourse; how, even late into the nineteenth century, the practice of aphorism and commentary retained its currency and how it was gradually replaced by the emphasis on case-histories and clinical training on actual cases; according to which model medicine sought to constitute itself as a discipline, basing itself at first on natural history and, later, on anatomy and biology.
One could also envisage the way in which eighteenth and nineteenth-century literary criticism and history have constituted the character of the author and the form of the work, utilising, modifying and altering the procedures of religious exegesis, biblical criticism, hagiography, the `lives’ of historical or legendary figures, of autobiography and memoirs. One day, too, we must take a look at Freud’s role in psycho-analytical knowledge, so different from that ofNewtonin physics, or from that an author might play in the field of philosophy (Kant, for example, who originated a totally new way of philosophizing).
These, then, are some of the projects falling within the critical aspect of the task, for the analysis of instances of discursive control. The genealogical aspect concerns the effective formation of discourse, whether within the limits of control, or outside of them, or as is most frequent, on both sides of the delimitation. Criticism analyses the processes of rarefaction, consolidation and unification in discourse; genealogy studies their formation, at once scattered, discontinuous and regular. To tell the truth, these two tasks are not always exactly complementary. We do not find, on the one hand, forms of rejection, exclusion, consolidation or attribution, and, on a more profound level, the spontaneous pouring forth of discourse, which immediately before or after its manifestation, finds itself submitted to selection and control. The regular formation of discourse may, in certain conditions and up to a certain point, integrate control procedures (this is what happens, for example, when a discipline takes on the form and status of scientific discourse). Conversely, modes of control may take on life within a discursive formation (such as literary criticism as the author’s constitutive discourse) even though any critical task calling instances of control into play must, at the same time, analyse the discursive regularities through which these instances are formed. Any genealogical description must take into account the limits at play within real formations. The difference between the critical and the genealogical enterprise is not one of object or field, but of point of attack, perspective and delimitation.
Earlier on I mentioned one possible study, that of the taboos in discourse on sexuality. It would be difficult, and in any case abstract, to try to carry out this study, without at the same time analysing literary, religious and ethical, biological and medical, as well as juridical discursive ensembles: wherever sexuality is discussed, wherever it is named or described, metaphorised, explained or judged. We are a very long way from having constituted a unitary, regular discourse concerning sexuality; it may be that we never will, and that we are not even travelling in that direction. No matter. Taboos are homogeneous neither in their forms nor their behaviour whether in literary or medical discourse, in that of psychiatry or of the direction of consciousness. Conversely, these different discursive regularities do not divert or alter taboos in the same manner. It will only be possible to undertake this study, therefore, if we take into account the plurality of series within which the taboos, each one to some extent different from all the others, are at work.
We could also consider those series of discourse which, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, dealt with wealth and poverty, money, production and trade. Here, we would be dealing with some pretty heterogeneous ensembles of enunciations, formulated by rich and poor, the wise and the ignorant, protestants and catholics, royal officials, merchants or moralists. Each one has its forms of regularity and, equally, its systems of constraint. None of them precisely prefigures that other form of regularity that was to acquire the momentum of a discipline and which was later to be known, first as `the study of wealth’ and, subsequently, `political economy’. And yet, it was from the foregoing that a new regularity was formed, retrieving or excluding, justifying or rejecting, this or that utterance from these old forms.
One could also conceive a study of discourse concerning heredity, such as it can be gleaned, dispersed as it was until the beginning of the twentieth century, among a variety of disciplines, observations, techniques and formulae; we would be concerned to show the process whereby these series eventually became subsumed under the single system, now recognised as epistemologically coherent, known as genetics. This is the work François Jacob has just completed, with unequalled brilliance and scholarship.
It is thus that critical and genealogical descriptions are to alternate, support and complete each other. The critical side of the analysis deals with the systems enveloping discourse; attempting to mark out and distinguish the principles of ordering, exclusion and rarity in discourse. We might, to play with our words, say it practises a kind of studied casualness. The genealogical side of discourse, by way of contrast, deals with series of effective formation of discourse: it attempts to grasp it in its power of affirmation, by which I do not mean a power opposed to that of negation, but the power of constituting domains of objects, in relation to which one can affirm or deny true or false propositions. Let us call these domains of objects positivist and, to play on words yet again, let us say that, if the critical style is one of studied casualness, then the genealogical mood is one of felicitous positivism.
At all events, one thing at least must be emphasised here: that the analysis of discourse thus understood, does not reveal the universality of a meaning, but brings to light the action of imposed rarity, with a fundamental power of affirmation. Rarity and affirmation; rarity, in the last resort of affirmation — certainly not any continuous outpouring of meaning, and certainly not any monarchy of the signifier.
And now, let those who are weak on vocabulary, let those with little comprehension of theory call all this — if its appeal is stronger than its meaning for them — structuralism.
I am well aware that I could never have begun to undertake these researches I have just outlined to you, were I not able to benefit from the aid of certain models and props. I believe I owe much to Monsieur Dumézil, for it was he who encouraged me to work at an age when I still thought writing a pleasure. But I owe a lot, too, to his work; may he forgive me if I have wandered from the meaning and rigour of his texts, which dominate us today. It is he who taught me to analyse the internal economy of discourse quite differently from the traditional methods of exegesis or those of linguistic formalism. It is he who taught me to refer the system of functional correlations from one discourse to another by means of comparison. It was he, again, who taught me to describe the transformations of a discourse, and its relations to the institution. If I have wished to apply a similar method to discourse quite other than legendary or mythical narratives, it is because before me lay the works of the historians of science, above all, that of Monsieur Canguilhem. I owe it to him that I understood that the history of science did not necessarily involve, either an account of discoveries, or descriptions of the ideas and opinions bordering science either from the side of its doubtful beginnings, or from the side of its fall-out; but that one could—that one should—treat the history of science as an ensemble, at once coherent, and transformable into theoretical models and conceptual instruments.
A large part of my indebtedness, however, is to Jean Hyppolite. I know that, for many, his work is associated with that of Hegel, and that our age, whether through logic or epistemology, whether through Marx or through Nietzsche, is attempting to flee Hegel: and what I was attempting to say earlier concerning discourse was pretty disloyal to Hegel.
But truly to escape Hegel involves an exact appreciation of the price we have to pay to detach ourselves from him. It assumes that we are aware of the extent to which Hegel, insidiously perhaps, is close to us; it implies a knowledge, in that which permits us to think against Hegel, of that which remains Hegelian. We have to determine the extent to which our anti-Hegelianism is possibly one of his tricks directed against us, at the end of which he stands, motionless, waiting for us.
If, then, more than one of us is indebted to Jean Hyppolite, it is because he has tirelessly explored, for us, and ahead of us, the path along which we may escape Hegel, keep our distance, and along which we shall find ourselves brought back to him, only from a different angle, and then, finally, be forced to leave him behind, once more.
First, Hyppolite took the trouble to give some presence to this great, slightly phantomlike shadow that was Hegel, prowling through the nineteenth century, with whom men struggled in the dark. He gave Hegel this presence with his translation of the Phenomonology of the mind; proof of the extent to which Hegel came to life in this text was the number of Germans who came to consult this text in order to understand what, for a moment at least, had become the German version.
From this text, Hyppolite sought out and explored all the issues, as though his chief concern had become: can one still philosophize where Hegel is no longer possible? Can any philosophy continue to exist that is no longer Hegelian? Are the non-Hegelian elements in our thought necessarily nonphilosophical? Is that which is antiphilosophical necessarily non-Hegelian? As well as giving us this Hegelian presence, he sought not merely a meticulous historical description: he wanted to turn Hegel into a schema for the experience of modernity (is it possible to think of the sciences, politics and daily suffering as a Hegelian?) and he wanted, conversely, to make modernity the test of Hegelianism and, beyond that, of philosophy. For Hyppolite, the relationship with Hegel was the scene of an experiment, of a confrontation in which it was never certain that philosophy would come out on top. He never saw the Hegelian system as a reassuring universe; he saw in it the field in which philosophy took the ultimate risk.
From this stem, I believe, the alterations he worked, not within Hegelian philosophy, but upon it, and upon philosophy as Hegel conceived it; from this also, a complete inversion of themes. Instead of conceiving philosophy as a totality ultimately capable of dispersing and regrouping itself in the movement of the concept, Jean Hyppolite transformed it into an endless task, against the background of an infinite horizon. Because it was a task without end, it was also a task in process of continuous recommencement, given over to the forms and paradoxes of repetition. For Hyppolite, philosophy, as the thought of the inaccessible totality, was that which could be rejected in the extreme irregularity of experience; it was that which presents and reveals itself as the continually recurring question in life, death and in memory. Thus he transformed the Hegelian theme of the end of self-consciousness into one of repeated interrogation. But because it consisted in repetition, this philosophy did not lie beyond concepts; its task was not that of abstraction, it was, rather, to maintain a certain reticence, to break with acquired generalisations and continually to reestablish contact with the non-philosophical; it was to draw as close as possible, not to its final fulfilment, but to that which precedes it, that which has not yet stirred its uncertainty. In order not to reduce them, but to think them, this philosophy was to examine the singularity of history, the regional rationalities of science, the depths of memory in consciousness; thus arose the notion of a philosophy that was present, uncertain, mobile all along its line of contact with non-philosophy, existing on its own, however, and revealing the meaning this non-philosophy has for us. But, if it is in repeated contact with non-philosophy, where then lies the beginning of philosophy? Is it already there, secretly present in that which is not philosophy, beginning to formulate itself half under its breath, amid the murmuring of things? But, perhaps, from that point on, philosophy has no raison d’être, or, maybe, philosophy should start out on a priori foundations? We see, thus, the theme of the foundations of discourse and its formal structure substituting itself for the Hegelian one of present movement.
The final alteration Jean Hyppolite worked upon Hegelian philosophy was this: if philosophy really must begin as absolute discourse, then what of history, and what is this beginning which starts out with a singular individual, within a society and a social class, and in the midst of struggle?
These five alterations, leading to the very extremities of Hegelian philosophy, doubtless forcing it to spill over its own limits, evoke by turns the great figures of modern philosophy Jean Hyppolite ceaselessly opposed to Hegel: Marx, with his questions of history; Fichte, and the problem of the absolute beginnings of philosophy; Bergson’s theme of contact with non-philosophy; Kierkegaard, with the problem of repetition and truth; Husserl, and the theme of philosophy as an infinite task, linked to the history of our rationality. Beyond these philosophical figures we can perceive all those fields of knowledge Hyppolite invoked around his own questions: psychoanalysis, with its strange logic of desire; mathematics and the formalisation of discourse; information theory and its application to the analysis of life — in short, all those fields giving rise to questions of logic and existence, continually intertwining and unravelling their links.
I think this work, articulated in a small number of major books, but, even more, invested in research, teaching, in a perpetual attentiveness, in an everyday alertness and generosity, in its apparently administrative and pedagogic responsibilities (i. e., doubly political), has traversed and formulated the most fundamental problems of our age. Many of us are infinitely indebted to him.
It is because I have borrowed both the meaning and the possibility of what I am doing from him; because, often, he enlightened me when I struck out blindly; because I would like to dedicate my work to him, that I end this presentation of my projected work by invoking the name of Jean Hyppolite. It is towards him, towards that hiatus — where I feel at once his absence and my failings — that the questions I now ask myself are pointing.
Because I owe him so much, I well understand that your choice, in inviting me to teach here is, in good part, an homage to Jean Hyppolite. I am profoundly grateful to you for the honour you have done me, but I am no less equal to the challenge of succeeding him, I know nonetheless that, if that happiness should have been granted us, I should have been encouraged by his indulgence this evening.
I now understand better why I experienced so much difficulty when I began speaking, earlier on. I now know which voice it was I would have wished for, preceding me, supporting me, inviting me to speak and lodging within my own speech. I know now just what was so awesome about beginning; for it was here, where I speak now, that I listened to that voice, and where its possessor is no longer, to hear me speak.
It happens, in literary or music criticism, that “movements” are invoked. Either as the new shit that we can all get on, if we only wrote or sang this way, or the way to understand a broad group of artists without knowing much about any in particular, an easy slur or a cheap metaphor for the contemporary.
Sometimes, disturbingly often when academics write about rap music, it’s supposed to be a compliment, like the following disturbed paragraph from The Poetry Foundation article on OFWGKTA, “Odd Futurism“.
When I listen to Odd Future, the closest parallel I can come up with is Futurism. The early-20th-century Futurist poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s high-energy verses about the beauty of warfare are (in nearly tragic ways, today) pumped up for all the wrong reasons, and similarly out to force the modern world on us in ways that turn the new and uncomfortable into something ordinary. If you can’t adjust, Marinetti and OFWGKTA imply, it’s your own problem. Certainly, his role is to do nothing more than hammer away with the best modernity has to offer, love his job, and spit at anyone who ends up with his feelings hurt. Yet Marinetti is, to say the least, problematic, as Walter Benjamin obliquely noted in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” and countless others have since. Spectacle, as stimulant and necessary assimilation, puts volume and aesthetic at the forefront—with nothing bringing up the rear. This was the popular and intellectual rationale for fascism, both in one place. So it’s not as though we want a new hip-hop Marinetti in the world.
Everything particular to futurism, the obsessions with speed, with machines, with dynamism, with its neo-Heraclitian vision of a war-fire burning off the weak and womanly until we all eat from pills and have flying trains, is ignored because “Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All” has the word “future” in their name. The reference to Benjamin is so uselessly deployed, to such a bizarre end (will violent rappers incite a new fascism?) that the failure to deal with Odd Future is almost forgotten; the argument about the particulars of Marinetti and Mayakovsky and Benjamin obscures, as it is meant to, some new shit that the writer doesn’t have the creativity to grapple with or the respect to allow unmolested by their Modernism survey course-packet.
Which leads us to Kat Dixon, and her post about the “Neo-Dada”. There is no “movement” so misused as a description (fascism excepted), nor prefix so vapid. So what the fuck might a “Neo-Dada” mean, at least to Dixon?
It seems to mean, first, an internet epistemology. It is Tao Lin “known through and by the Internet”. “Internet Primitivism” is Dixon’s description of a peculiar use of a contemporary “straightforward” language, culled from or styled in the manner of chatlogs, tweets, and text messages, again conditioned severely by the technological environment where the words occur, the Internet. While Dixon includes “meaninglessness, irrational emotionality, and an overdependence on shallow introspection, drug-use, and sex” in her description, only “meaningless” seems important to her description, insofar is it blooms from the dead-eyed flat patois of the internet gutter. What really bothers Dixon is the lack of “actual poetic conventions (traditional or otherwise)” that make a literature, that further make an “art”.
Whether the “Neo-Dada” appellation is accurate to the “boykittens,”1 isn’t really the point. The term is just vague enough to be meaningless. All such recourse to dead, non-working “movements”, as they are here conceived, misunderstands the degree and style of a movement’s holism, and whether the persistence of obsessions (which do not factually exists between the “boykittens” and Dada, but if they did) is a kind of resurrection of this holism. That it is an intellectual crutch to append “neo” or “post” to things, that is avoids considering them in their unique configuration and location, makes me wary. Why not put up some small effort or attempt at a less analogous critical description?
This isn’t to ignore the genuine dispute here, particularly over meaning and the internet-demotic, which is worth exploring outside the confines of English major name-calling. Of the poets noted by Dixon, I’ve decided to focus on Poncho Peligroso, whose manifesto is as close to an outline of the group’s ideology, and who has responded most concretely to Dixon’s claims.
What is most prevalent, to me, in the writing of the “boykittens” are the aspects of technological production, rooted in a conscious theory of literary democratism. That these themes, broadly described, exist elsewhere, are we doomed to call them Neo-Post-Transcendentalists or Re-Post-Bellum? Fuck me, I hope not. Here goes. The technological contortion of language is, explicitly in Roggenbuck’s DOWNLOAD HELVETICA FOR FREE.COM, MSN Messenger and it’s “history” feature. Blog publishing, twitter, facebook particularly, whose multifacets Roggenbuck explores natively, these domains contort, limit, and produce the ground of the poetry being attempted here. Word economics are short, curt, stylized projections of broader, alluded to conversations. Themes recur, ghosts, bees, swag, that give us poems in conversation, composed as conversations, and conversations excerpted and granted the title “poem”. The use of found poetry, even “found” in one’s own chatlogs, gives us a vernacular that Dixon calls “hyper-simplistic”. As an argument for stylistic nihilism, this doesn’t make a lot of sense. There is something rather traditional in the “boykittens” detached performance of close-contemporary language, including exploring the new practices and technologies that form its evolving parameters, these possibles and propers of a way of speaking. The 1990’s had actual news articles, written by paid adults, that detailing the use of “emoticons” for elderly reader, while the actual practices were actively introducing a textual distance in the fraught and compromised speech of intimates and a new grammar, or better, a new etiquette, between strangers. When Dixon writes that these new poems are “nothing but the bare bones of language” it makes me wonder what the fuck a bare bones of language might be; the question plaguing 20th century philosophy, and its aesthetic contemporaries like, goodness, Dada even, is clear to Dixon. Even the now canonical post-Derridean use of quotation marks loses its standard ability to indicate the failure of correspondence central to this conception of meaning, and instead are perhaps merely “poorly chosen”. Problems with Derrida’s theses are irrelevant, this is the faddish ignorance, and even better, dismissal of those things once called “post-modern”, leading down a blind alley where Dixon can mischaracterize and castigate without a positive understanding of the ground she’s repeating, or more importantly, the specificity of what it is she’s describing.
Beyond the vernacular shifts, Roggenbuck and Peligroso use platforms themselves as media. Roggenbuck makes poems from the functions of facebook itself, the styles of alerts, the giddy juxtapositions. They collaborated to ingeniuously turn google into a medium, google bombing Peligroso to the first link responding to “2011 Poet Laureate”. It’s a funny stunt, to make up a fake position like poet laureate of a given year. More interesting is the use of affiliated bloggers and twitter accounts to establish Peligroso in the position, less genuine self-promotion (most people googling a made-up position are familiar with Peligroso already) than a community building game, a fan kingdom identification practice. The title of Roggenbuck’s book, upsettingly miscited in several reviews as merely HELVETICA, is the closer to the real thing, using the frequently googled question as a prop, a distribution device, and a clever referent to the internet as the proper environment for the writing and reading of these poems. Roggenbuck even helpfully provides a link, so you can finally download helvetica for free after reading his delightful book, written, of course, in helvetica.
And finally, there is the democracy of the thing, what I would characterize as an “anti-theory” drive in the “boykittens”, particularly in Peligroso’s “manifesto on the universality of poetry and the equal validity of words”. There is a rejects the aristocracy of Heidegger’s caveat in ‘The Origin of the Work of Art’, “only [great] art is under consideration here… .” Peligroso poses himself explicitly against the “magic words” of the pseudo-Heideggerean, or as Dixon alludes toward, “postmodern” conception of language, that the essence of poetry has anything of Hölderlin or Homer left in it. Words, the kind of words that Peligroso values ever so slightly, are “wholly unnecessary to the continuation of a life”, mere “entertain[ment], influence, instigat[ion of] thoughts and emotions that would have been unthought and unfelt”, even a psychological palliative to “lessen loneliness when you find one you really connect with”. The democracy of words, “all words are equally valid”, “poetry is universal”, further, against “‘poets’ .. projecting an air of pretension or exclusivity”, a “simultaneous humbling of poetry and elevation of common language”. This is a theory of flattened meaning with relations to technology’s erasure of “aura” in Benjamin. It isn’t clear how much consideration has been given by these poets to the formalizing of their language by the technical practices or media, but it doesn’t matter; the “superficiality” of the “boykittens” is given to trust their formalizations, to embed and inhabit them.
There is some degree to which Peligroso is aware of the pitfalls of his method, but his democracy is posed against the alternative, people “dissuade[d] … from starting to write at all … locked into stagnant vocabularies, fearful from exploring the limits of the language they use every day”. The democracy of writers and the democracy of words aren’t exactly congruous here, but they are related insofar as Peligroso considers the exclusion of the quotidian (an essential project of the “modernists”, Dada among them, which which the “boykittens” have been nonsensically compared) incapable of undermining or “exploring the limits of” language.
In the landscape of the internet we now inhabit, there is a tendency to allow “great works” an unhealthy exclusivity. If one considers the growing infinite availability of “masters” in online texts, the project of writing something new can appear to be superfluous, or it can lead to all things being reduced to previously canonized forms like “Dada”, all newness denied an identity other than a prefix. Yet, however spirited my defense of Peligroso in particular and Roggenbuck and other associated writers in general, I diverge pretty concretely from this assumption. It relies too much on pairing “democracy” and “exclusivity”. That there are works that extend historically, that is, disrupted and translated by history, these can have a differential value. There is a flatness, not just of affect, to this conception, where radicalism gets untethered from “mistakes”, of which meaning and value are two, but not in the same way, and when there is a connection, it renders a flatness that the poems themselves don’t deserve, a pretense of fleshlessness that these embodied and intensified dislocations gain by being set in a particular typeface, that political gestures like self-publishing or open copyright works require for weight. Twitter poetry, blog poetry, zine poetry and chapbooks, online journals, these things have a sort of meaning and a condition to them, not necessarily a “value”, or not a value that has to be accepted and given to hierarchy. A person who recognizes the limits of their own affections doesn’t need to pretend they don’t exist, that there aren’t poems that draw them with more strength, that orient them “properly”, as Peligroso says, “connect with” you. Provisionally, it is more meaningful to be connected with, and poems that do that are better. Again, the utilitarian re-girding of tradition, that a poem that so enlivens many is better than a poem that merely interacts with you, is mistaken, but it sometimes seems like the argument between Dixon and Peligroso is formed on similar mistaken premises, Peligroso arguing preemtively, to misquote Dixon, that “Poetry – and literature in general – can now hold anything. That does mean that it should.”2
I don’t entirely fault Dixon; Peligroso’s manifesto, which triggered the reponse to a movement that Dixon was already irritated with, is rooted in many of her same assumptions. An example, not by Peligroso directly, but cited in response to Dixon, is composed by “Mom” Peligroso. Dixon countercites Wordsworth’s “Daffodils…” to argue that Wordsworth was not as “anti-Magician” Roggenbuck claimed. A snide point, surely people can choose the vein of their influences without having to accept the “whole” and submit their project to every stanza of their claimed heritage. But in a response written by “Mom” Peligroso, the “elitism” that Dixon re-assigns Wordsworth is rejected and the poet is dismissed as “ha[ving] way too much time on his hands”.3 The rejection takes the argument of the rejected too easily, and misses the potential in the work, or the counter-productive strains that alleviate in Wordsworth and animate when extracted.
This response isn’t representative of Peligroso, but the dialectical form is. Before Dixon wrote a word, Peligroso was speaking in response. Dixon’s disdainful references to Duchamp bring up the root of the mistake; the insufferable freshman year question “Is it art?”. Both positions ultimately retain the question, Peligroso answering in the affirmative, Dixon in the negative. The question isn’t just insufferable because of its persistence, banality and uselessness, but for its inability to elicit anything but the affective prejudices of its audience, and further, to drive them to the extremes evidenced by both disputing parties, canon and anarchy. That is, the question is stupid, and all answers, regardless of earnestness and intention, carry some degree of its mistake within them. There isn’t any description of value that can be assigned to work produced within different regions, not even their rigor toward their own construction, the ugly turns of “authenticity”. Mere “art” or “words”, as an argument, erases the specificity of things, crafts opponents to be opposed (the unflagging cheerfulness of the based laureate and helvetican ringleader aside) instead of positively manifesting what the poems already are.
The best argument against Dixon are the poems themselves. The poetry of Roggenbuck or Peligroso doesn’t need a theory or manifesto to back it; theories and manifestos fail them. I’ll take two examples here, my personal favorite poets embedded in this mess wrongly conceived of as a movement, Aurist and Pauline4. Where Peligroso has an earnest exploration of loneliness, relationships, and sexuality, where Roggenbuck projects a beaming, sweet openness and self-confidence, Aurist has a more despairing vision, a dissolution of himself into ghosts, their haunting, their ephemera. In the poem that begins “i have killed some stuff i have eaten”, the voice is upset, returning again and again to death, imagining the food he has eaten as ghosts following him around, sensitive even to the death remaining in “an intangible, years-old pork chop”. The voice ventures toward being ghosted itself, telling someone “that i was literally / haunting them / by talking to them”. Too deeply aware of himself, he undercuts his open sensitivity to this other person by pretending “that i was joking”. In the last line, “can ghosts haunt each other”, the poet returns inward, wondering at his own ghosting. The circular haunting, the identification through guilt, and guilt revealing another mode of being, the “ghost”, the gravity curls up around you and allows us the intimacy the poem denies to his someone. Sympathy at the loneliness of the expression is mixed with honor that the expression is ours too, and a final curiosity, is the question at the end still a caveat or a mask?
Where Aurist is despairing, Pauline is a contrast to the dry humor in the other poets, bodily sexual without the abstractions of some of the other poets, violent and caustic, bloody, scratching, prone to glossolalia, circling around words and then fucking using the shit out of them. She has put together two long scrolls, so far unpublished. While her work is profoundly shaped by twitter and chat programs, (she is my absolute favorite on twitter, follow her, I insist), it emphasizes different aspects; what Roggenbuck captures in …Helvetica…, the staccato, the conversational, above all the short, the Twitter of Pauline is a torrent, a pervasiveness, each line’s craft more or less important but the overwhelming mood of it is the thing, the sense of itself so thoroughly moment to moment that the moods are the crash of moods and urges against each other. Yet, it overflows the technical founding essence more often than the other poets, is less coherent, perhaps less systematic but in the best sense, and in the scrolls it explodes. It’s difficult to give a sense of a work that envelopes you so thoroughly, but I’ll try.
I WANT TO MAKE YOU CRY AND I PROMISE IM GOING TO DO IT SOMEDAY
last night when i went to bed i was hearing hip hop music in my head and it made me worry about my mental health again
i’m a good writer *whips my dick out and waves it around*
i seriously need to get laid. by someone i don’t actually have feelings about other than attraction. i need human sex.
let’s stop trying to be otherworldly beings and just get each other the fuck off
hail satan *gets a bigass boner*
i’m a faggot bitch with your girl on my dick
there needs to be a word for internet exes who you never actually met or declared a formal relationship with
change all instances of “love” in a song to “swag”
some things we do for money, and some we do for swag swag swag
swag, swag me do / you know i swag you / i’ll always be true / so please / swag me do
and in her eyes you see nothing / no sign of swag behind the tears
all you need is swag / swag is all you need
going to self-publish this .txt file as a book and throw it at people in st louis and they will read it and cry because of how bad a person i am
hey do you know who pauline is. here’s her book. Read It And Weep
hoes on my dick cuz i’m a seriously flawed human being
~*~but at least im cognizant enough to hate myself~*~
What a fucking monster this section is, I wish I could keep quoting it forever. The swagger of it, the violence, both in the piece and in the vascillation between worlds, moods, sense, selves, it’s indescribable. I keep wanting to just go back and read it, why write about it at all.
stray cats in cemeteries
a young man wearing expensive clothes passed out on the steps of a cinema
old men who go to parks to read
young men who sit outside parks with their heads in their hands
girls asleep in the sun with textbooks open next to them
kids selling orange juice to tourists
a guy drives a donkey cart full of cardboard down an avenue and i naively feel surprised that this is happening in 2011
girls in denim skirts look at me like i’m the one dressed poorly
i smile at a boy with dreadlocks
a girl wearing a grey tanktop with short hair and i can’t stop staring but she doesn’t seem to notice
two years ago i bought shoes from this place
couples making out at bus stops
Here, the surfaces of Buenos Aires burst in precisely their surfaces. The interior of the poet’s voice is nearly erased, “surprise” already detached to it’s naivete, what could be a memory just a description, “two years ago…”, actions like staring and smiling. Pauline’s work embodies the closest thing I would venture to a description of poetry, from Novalis’ Soliloquy: “[f]ormulas comprise a world of their own: they play only with themselves, express nothing but their own wondrous nature and are for that very reason so expressive.” Placed in such an expansive context like her scroll, they do so in an environment as precise as “the Internet”, with a more adamant voice.
What distinguishes Pauline here, for me, is the confrontation that permeates her work. When Roggenbuck responded to the Dixon piece with such uncanny grace, “hi kat thanks for the attention paid to all our writing in this piece. i like dada so i’m happy someone is making the comparison. / i hope u can have fun and relax now u got this off ur chest. i don’t think u need to be upset over my poetry or anything, i’m just doing what i love and trying to inspire people every day”, it has such a strangeness to it. Maybe that’s a healthy response, maybe it’s a confident response, but one so estranged from any way I have of seeing things that I couldn’t help but think of it as the theory of the poems overwhelming the darkness, anger, upset and fear that makes them interesting.
Ultimately, while Dixon and Peligroso might be related in their mistake with regard to the question of art, Peligroso still has made the right mistake, making a strong push away from the control and hierarchy that drives people like Dixon, whether they’ll admit it or not. It’s a position I hope will shift over time, as the poems being written better define themselves without reference to questions of art or words, and the critiques will fall to the thinkers, the theories will fall to the theorists, and the movements can be again be constructed by the anthologists and the historians.
1. A name coined by Dixon and gleefully overtaken by Roggenbuck and Peligroso.
2. Peligroso clarifies his position slightly in a response to Dixon by saying “i did not mean that all language everywhere was poetry / what i meant was that all language has the potential to be poetry if we want it to / we should not exclude casual vernacular and new vocabularies from poetry”. I don’t think this escapes my point, Peligroso is still much more “inclusive” than agnostically “non-exclusive”.
3. I don’t necessarily disagree, of course; it’s very difficult at times to read Wordsworth without noticing his insidious bourgeois habit of gazing at things like an eyeball with a body fed by exploitation. I still remember the rising anger of reading The Solitary Reaper, whose “subject” is annihilated to a flat object for inspection by the elitist on the road.
4. One of the many reasons I kind of loathe the “boykittens” name.
1 December 2010
I’m going to being by restating J—dV’s thesis: Western rationality insists on an absolute correlation between the understanding of propositions and the acceptance of resultant conclusions, “It is necessary to accept conclusions having consented to their formative propositions.” This has implicit structural corollaries, that it is impossible to dispute a conclusion having accepted the propositions, that it is impossible to refuse the terms of the proposition while accepting the conclusion (not formally, but if we are talking about any meaningful content then something more than formal truth-preserving functions are necessary. If I disagree with your proposition and agree to its conclusion, I am agreeing to something synonymous, not identical.), and finally that a failure to accept a conclusion necessitates failure to accept the premises. What J—dV is seeking is a form where we can accept the premises and their coherence with the conclusions without being bound to the conclusions, or later in his post, a modified version where, via another, we de-couple statements from agreement or disagreement at all. J—dV rejects two further “escapes”, one we can broadly call the subjective, what he calls, the “contextual” outlet where truth value is relativized, making “coexistence … possible” but “dialogue … elusive” and the other which diminishes the importance of claims, setting them outside “the rational” and turning them into merely “opinions” or opinion-like trifles. A final option, “Empathy” is proposed where we experience the argument and conclusion of another so that when we return to ourselves, we grant it an autonomy, both as valid yet different from our own, and more deeply, the discourse is allowed to exist without our needing to have any opinion on it whatsoever, a sort of micro-secularism.
I’ll begin by saying that I think this last point is absolutely correct and one that I think should be broadly developed. Much of the danger residing in subjectivating practice is the metastases of the “Ethical”, where all actions and thoughts require a constant pruning. The technologies of the self both refine the substance and perpetuate the strain. However, I am going to disagree with J—dV’s argument on four points. First, there doesn’t seem to be a clear notion of “understanding” here. At points it indicates acceptance of terms or premises, at others, simultaneity of worlds, while avoiding the deep Spinozan sense that might have real implications here. Second, “agreement” and “disagreement” as terms don’t ever release us from “truth-value”; these terms psychologize or subjectivize the quality referred to in truth-value. It is impossible to preserve them as terms outside of a truth-value criterion. It might be possible that different truth-value criteria are advanced, a realist perspectivism for instance, where we are all accessing a shared really existing reality but from excluded points of view, but I think the terms as they’re presented here can’t be coherently reconciled with non-truth-value criterion. Following this, my third objection; twice he opposes terms that are the same sense at different intensities; “contextualization” is merely the practice of “rationalities”, where we still have truth-criteria like coherence or fidelity, and “empathy” is without truth-criteria in the same way mere opinions are; we are still beyond disagreement. Further, in order to genuinely empathize with an “argument”, I have to take onto myself the frame by which it is produced, if only to look through it, and again we are back to a truth-criterion of coherence or fidelity to the frame; that is, one can’t empathize with a position that is self-undermining (whether any position can be self-undermining is a different question; I tend to think that this is only a misunderstanding of the frame in which it is occurring, by either disputant). At this point, what seem like four different options, a universal logical truth criterion, multiple local logical truth criteria, a non-truth criterion of “respect” and a non-truth criterion of “empathy” are reduced to a weaker version of the first, disputed, premise: a coherence between the ground of the proposition and the conclusion.
However, none of these problems are really my issue here. What really seems striking about this problem is that it isn’t a problem at all. It’s one of those classic moments where Heidegger’s phenomenology and Wittgenstein’s deflationary analysis of philosophical problems align; the problem isn’t how will it be possible for us to a) argue and b) understand, but that the premises we are using fail to explain something that happens all the time. Our question should be instead: What is happening when you say something that I don’t disagree with, elaborate a relation that I don’t disagree with, and come to a conclusion that I disagree with?
Let me not simply critique but instead put out a more positive thesis: Something like a faculty of “judgement” is occurring. Suppose we agree that music exists on a spectrum of quality. Suppose we agree even on the poles of this spectrum. Where a particular piece of music falls on this spectrum for each party isn’t going to be the result of the application of these notions, but our composition as a location in the shared “world” of disputants that makes us intelligible to each other. “Judgement” here is the application of one’s composition to these terms, which have enough intersubjective meaning that allows us to speak, while still remaining limited. Perhaps even so limited that they are, as in Pascal’s critique of skepticism, that we can only assume from agreement that your terms have a relation that is the same as the relation between my terms while saying nothing about the terms themselves. In disagreement, we can say even less, that the formal relations aren’t necessarily aligned, though they could be if the disagreement is in the further remove of the relation of the relation of the relation. Our ability to “understand” and “disagree” is a recognition of the infinite recursion at work, that is, it will always be too unclear whether or not we actually agree on a “logical” relation because the discontinuity of the “world” is self-evident. This premise is obviously limited to practices with a similar position on the impossibility of self-undermining statements that I mentioned earlier.
We might further unfold this practice by insisting that the question as originally posed suffers from limiting the terms. I don’t respond to propositions but to fields. I’ll take a personal example. Suppose we accept the premise that without a master signifier, there exists no way to ground our moral judgements, and that there exists no master signifier. The obvious conclusion is to suggest that there is no ground to moral judgements. However, suppose this conclusion has all sorts of effects that we would be opposed to, the stupid claim that we wouldn’t be able to distinguish between good and bad actions is one, but a better example would be the loss of impetus to engage in actions one considers “good”. If social justice is merely a local frame, maybe I skip that protest or don’t work at the Food Not Bombs kitchen. Foucault’s description of the spirituality of the Iranian Revolution is crucial here; how do I commit myself to a struggle where I will be sacrificed without a master signifier, and how do I smash the state without such a commitment? Instead of accepting the obvious conclusion, I can escape western rationality with the absurd, insisting on a master signifier, concocting mystical or obscurationist or noumenal access arguments for its existence, and believe up myself a god. (That this would merely be self-deception again limits the terms too narrowly by ignoring the will’s propulsive need for this idea.) I elaborated this too much perhaps, but the point I’m trying to demonstrate here is that our affinities for or against an argument aren’t limited to the propositions of that argument, or even to its conclusions, it’s to the fractured “world” which is discontinuous while constantly circulating references and values in a non-rational way.
This last thesis is far too expansive to be anything other than a sketch here, but I think it’s getting closer to this phenomena; that we agree or disagree on meaningful statements isn’t limited to the formal aspects of the proposition, nor to the content that we put into this form, but is instead an affinity between ourselves as composites, the world as composite, and the composite of the terms in their infinite mutual relations with both of these.
Regarding Hitler’s Nazism, a few preliminary notes on the most absolute positions.
In the first place, it can’t be dismissed as irrelevant or merely ontic failures of the sort that immediately spring to mind. Not only was the mind that was so exquisitely perceptive at grasping the character of things and earths and worlds the same that decided that Hitler was some integral (and positive, because one could certainly imagine the alternative; certainly some strains of apocalyptic christo-zionist readings of the Holocaust event can be said to see Hitler as the consequential yet evil figure who prepares the way for the restoration of Israel. There are further examples, including some which do not repeat the antisemitism of both given here, or do not repeat it in the same way perhaps, but this example at least provides the related antipode.) figure in the restoration of being against the object-cartesian nihilism of modernity. Hitler mattered to Heidegger, and not for a moment of ecstatic commitment made in the heat of thinking, but for a(n indefinably, perhaps to his end,) prolonged period of time.
In the second place, it should be dismissed that Hitlerism or Nazism’s integrality was such that it determines the entire structure of Heideggerian thought, either through past-directed interrogations of the secret fascisms underlying Being and Time, especially authenticity, or through the secret permeation of anti-semetic Germanic militarism into those writings of the period of his party memebership, where the concepts as they present themselves are always another language describing fealty and a prophetic desire for the Camp, or finally in a projection, as Zizek has done, of Heidegger’s actions in 1933-34 as the culminating experience of his life which determines the entire course from that point on, both in the rejection of politics and in the dangerous silence which grows only more virulent when broken (as in the letter to Marcuse), which all his later works can be supposed to be enacting and reenacting, repressing and returning shame, guilt or defiant yet stealthy loyalty to the principle of the Principal, not the historical principal who presented himself at the decisive moment. Each of these should be dismissed in their facetiously twee conception of philosophy as a practice both of immanent coherence and as a necessarily ethical practice (here I mean particularly ethical in the sense that philosophy should always becoming toward itself as an organizing of the behavior of the self who practices it, not that it is presumed that philosophy has to abide by this or that ethical practice). Certainly in its practice of a search toward instead of an elaboration of present knowledge, a practice of which Heidegger is among the greatest examples, there can never exist a coherence to the body of work that is characterized most spectacularly as an always withdrawing. Further, it isn’t a mistake exactly that philosophy should be characterized as ultimately ethical, or ultimately aesthetic or ontological or anything, as long as this characterization is limited to the particular application of the thought and not to its essential character. In other words, if one were searching for tools for making an ethics, the Heideggerian texts are not the correct ones. Heidegger is explicit about this. In other words, if one could eventually maneuver Heidegger’s Nazism into coherence with the rest of his work, it would at that point be a question of whether the Nazi’s mistake was ontological or aesthetic (in the sense of a stimmung not toward the particulars of their explicitly favored styles of art) or whatever one’s question is relating to Heidegger.
This is not, in itself, a rejection of the thesis proposed by many of those who seek the un-denazification of Heidegger. They hold that their repeated attempts will one day get clear how exactly it was that Heidegger was a Nazi in a way more profound and consequential than that he was a Bavarian or a philosopher or a man or anything else, and simultaneously that the Nazis could only have committed an atrocity like the Holocaust if they were mistaken, philosophically, about everything.
Here I suggest two mistakes. First, another pretense of naivete which treats philosophy as the final ground for decisions, where the Nazis were only led to their particular catastrophe by an incorrect ontology or aesthetic or ethic or logic, etc., as if these were the determining forces for the Holocaust. Bizarrely, this perpetuates the Nazi-led and Christian-sustained myth that Hitler was some sort of Philosopher, heavily engaged with the thought of Nietzsche. He was not, nor was philosophical practice in Germany such that the mass-movement-horror of it was somehow a premeditated rational sequence. The second mistake is even more Hegelian. While positing Heidegger as a uniquely coherent self is perverse, returning to the darkness of Hegel’s nationalism, where the Spirit of Nazism is some truly coherent evil is simply juvenile.
What seems plausible to me is that Heidegger isolated the power of the Volk in much the same sense as someone like Fanon isolated the power of identifying with the colonially produced nationalities in order to overthrow colonialism. This isn’t to equate the two thinkers in any way but rather to draw out the differences. In Fanon, liberatory nationalism is a self-conscious construction which can effectively disrupt and destroy the powers that instituted them by contorting the control mechanism of disruption of pre-colonial fidelities into the disruption of expected behavior of properly colonial subjects, turning the production of the educated elite from the release of virulent ideology into a context where it can take root in the extended openings available to the knowledges limited to natives into the return of the repressed. In Heidegger, of course, Soviet Marxism provided the image of a colonial invasion but in his melodramatic organization, the domination of Germany isn’t the direct enslaving oppression of European colonialism or even the immediate context of late 1920’s economic collapse, but perhaps the final Production, that of the Last Man. Heidegger, however, despite his acute historical sense, is unable to tear himself away from his cultural nationalism and imagines a Germanness that is beyond the national identity (one formed ironically at the same time as the various Maghrebian nationalities to whom Fanon addressed ‘The Wretched of the Earth’). By turning the power of German thinking into the outgrowth of the German language (the only modern language to which he can allow properly philosophical work), he doesn’t produce an effective weapon, dangerous to those who deploy it yet perhaps much more dangerous to those for whom it is being fashioned, but imagines a transhistorical People who exist or worse, must exist. At this point, Heidegger’s brilliant reveal of spatio-temporal truths gets away from him and he can’t break himself away from the easy slippage toward the traditional prejudices of his youth and the metastasizing movement that surrounds him. The important difference between the advocates of Heidegger’s expulsion from thinking and the position I outline here is the Hegelian or Heideggerian nature of the mistake. If the transition between historical states is the inevitability of the thought that precedes it, the dialectic returns and Heidegger’s coherent self enacts its rational solution (in the sense of relating properly to his understanding of technology) to the loss of meaning is to become a Nazi. If, however, it is one of a number of possible responses, then it is in the end something that can be correctly seen as coming from the same intense historical tones that were resonating with millions of Germans, not from the peculiar and rarefied vibrations which result in his thought.
It should be said here that this is the common and hideous redrawing of a history in which the defeated enemies’ sin was themselves. In the case of the Nazis, this position makes even more bland and homologous the particular and contingent decisions that went into its apocalyptic violence. The common German, despite his adherence to such grotesque ideals, despite his professing of admiration for such grotesque figures, despite his support, perhaps military, perhaps social, perhaps even political, is not the same as Goebbels or Goering or Hitler, who are not even equivalent among themselves. With Heidegger as “the introduction of Nazism into philosophy”, mere party membership is elevated to world historical evil by the flattening of “Nazism” into a single event, the Holocaust, which not only ignores the decade of suffering by those who were not put into camps, but also ignores the twenty million Soviets who were destroyed by a different node of the Nazi mechanism (one, it should be noted, which is far easier to relate to Heidegger’s thought than the objectivation of Jews and Communists in the camps.)
Pervading these critiques, in order to identify Heidegger with the Nazis, are absurd monoliths (Him psychologically, his philosophical practice, philosophy as such, the Nazi Nation state) and teloi (the historical necessities of his work coming out of his reactionary background, that further as a result of the work Heidegger must become a fascist [despite Arendt, Sartre, Marcuse, Merleau-Ponty, Gadamer, Foucault, Derrida, etc.], even worse, that the Nazi state of 1933-34 flow necessarily toward the Holocaust itself.) Neither is present in Heidegger’s work in a positive sense and both falsify, sometimes deliberately, the nature of these events in order to blame a collection of conceptual devices for the behavior of its thinker, the behavior of his cohort and the violent imposition of new orders of his contemporaries. It removes the location of these errors from within those who committed them and turns Nazis who still, even until 1942, did not have to proceed with the Shoah, into automatons whose primordial error, perhaps better put original sin, was a Nazism from which all evils flow automatically. That these critiques persist has more to do with the defense of the domains which Heidegger rendered problematic, particularly liberalism, capitalism, truth as correctness, metaphysics and ahistorical universals, than it does with a secret Nazi heart beating beneath the surface.
It is this element of the Heideggerian indictment which is so dangerous. Instead of detailing the failures of Heideggerian mechanisms, it rejects the value of these mechanisms regardless of their relation to the contemporary or the effects of the mechanisms. It merely asserts that those concepts which were produced most clearly and recently by a thinker who held membership in the Nazi party are necessarily going to result in similar effects, while using the flat notion of Nazism as infinite evil to verify the thesis in a relative relation to such an evil, yet insisting that the taint is merely an indicator of the secret infinite which always overwhelms any actual effects or unconcealing or correctness which occur in the practice of the concepts themselves.
“One must be careful not to conflate envy and resentment. For resentment is a moral feeling. If we resent our having less than others, it must be because we think that their being better off is the result of unjust institutions, or wrongful conduct on their part. Those who express resentment must be prepared to show why certain institutions are unjust or how others have injured them.”
John Rawls, from A Theory of Justice
The feeling that Rawls is trying to describe here, a negative reaction toward those who have unjustly prospered where I have unjustly not, is not resentment. It’s a whole crab of others; anger, but usually not targeted to the beneficiary of the injustice, indignation, at the gall of the unjust institution and the dishonest acceptance of poorly-gotten gains, these are the reactions to structural injustice. Resentment is the phenomenon that Rawls is trying to erase, the hatred of those who have succeeded honorably, through their application of themselves to the proper justice of their time.
Because of his error in placing resentment in injustice, the putting-into-words of one’s resentment is assumed to erase that resentment: “Ah, yes, I was angry at him for being successful, but now that I’ve tried to trace the source of this injustice I see that it was diligent hard working on his part which has led to such a result.” But for a resentment aware of its own nature, that is, aware that it is without ground, this confessional exercise deepens resentment, makes it more evident that it is the speaker who is at fault or is deficient, is not fit to inhabit their projected futures or their expected station.
If the propellant of resentment toward itself is finding the justice in inequality, what is the initial source of the resentment that becomes examined? It seems to be the fear of experiencing resentment itself. When the disparity between oneself and another becomes bothersome, it is in greater or lesser part the disparity between oneself and the presumed perception of oneself, but this reaction is inchoate and can be angry or defiant or otherwise. The investigation into the justice of the anger is only one reaction then; I could have gone out and built a better empire or gotten a better job, I could have physically attacked him, etc. The decision to investigate is still not resenting because, fearful as I am of being resentful, I assume it must be that I am better than this person but that my own progress was hindered while their progress was unfairly promoted. It is only when I discover the righteousness of the success of my target that I can experience resentment proper.
I must modify my original thesis then; it is not the discovery of the justice of one’s own lesser position that deepens the initial resentment toward the successful, it is the production of resentment itself. Rawls’ thesis is then outrageous; he insists that the unsuccessful not only seek resentment in the examination of their circumstance, but that they present their search to to others and have this judged. If they are clever and healthy enough to concoct some story about the hidden injustices and therefore remove the violence of resentment that roils them, this too will be dashed and the judging public will insist that they return to their paralyzing resentment.
If Resentment is the inverse of the question of justice itself, if it is a negative and passive phenomena that prevents the inchoate from becoming actively engaged, why champion its production? Because of the alternatives described above; to become actively productive in the mode that produces success and to become violent. Rawls’ goal is not to prevent the first; underneath itself it assumes that becoming naked to one’s faults and aware to the justice of the world in which one lives is a productive force of success itself. This is wrong, but it can be retired with his resentment thesis generally. The more dangerous phenomenon, the one toward which Rawls’ is addressing this passage, is violence, either the local violence of the resentful person attacking their target, or the social violence, where the conditions of justice and success are redrawn. His real position has a familiar ring to it: “No,” he brow-beats the discontents, “You cannot remake society because you are not fulfilled. You must understand that your unhappiness is your proper social position. If we allowed you to try to be happy, that is, to produce the type of societies where you think you want to live, you would still be unhappy but you wouldn’t have enough food and there would be a lot of violence and terror that would soon be directed at you. Therefore, you should recognize the inequity of society as your own.”
To put the downtrodden before a tribunal where they are forced to self-inquiry is not just the production of resentment, it is the prevention of the rupture of justice itself, in the character of Violence. That is, it is the reproduction of justice, the embedding of the code according to which a person must orient themselves, the enfeebling of the rejection of such a code and yet its final maintenance, the bouyed contradiction that searches the code for its own errors and corruptions.
27 August 2009
To begin with, the premise of the Void. My thoughts go to the strands of intellectual history that occur in relation often to Hume. It can be skepticism, pyrronhism, radical empiricism, whatever one wants to call it, the general category of thoughts that subject experienced reality to a construction through biological and supposedly non-biological mechanisms, rationality, culture, etc. either unrelated to underlying substantial reality or perhaps in lieu of it. Vaguely, perhaps even a caricatured idiocy, this is the challenge that Kant proposes in the practice of the Critique, that Hume begins from non-existent premises to produce chimerical results but that we cannot help but use these non-existent premises given our available philosophical tools and desired effects (for instance, we could very easily become nihilists and ignore most of these problems, but the desire is currently absent).
Now Kant’s practice of Rationality grounding is desperately attractive here and seems the necessary exit for at least the time in which Kant occurred. But it failed, not in Kant’s thought, but in the delightful auto-critical mode of Kant’s existing presumptions. This could continue for pages, of course, but let me hold it as provisionally true for a moment. Part of the danger of this assumption is that Kant looms, dramatically. We mistake our position in relation to him and begin to argue with ourselves that if Kant, originator of the system of Critique, couldn’t succeed in establishing a legitimately rational ground even with the concessions he built in, then perhaps no one could.
Now, we can see the strings of constructivism appearing in the ground that Kant gave away from older metaphysics and constructed rationalities remain vigorous through Nietzsche and Heidegger’s revolutions. Yet there doesn’t seem to be a way to deal with his problems any other way. This is the looming, I think, we are all Kantians because the problem of Empiricism can’t be resolved according to our desire without returning to him and the constructivism that results.
Now a constructivist rationality works until we begin to define rationality too extensively. If rationality is a way of producing reality, of taking proliferating possible interpretations of phenomena and constricting them in order to organize and experience them, then we coherently think it via systems of conscious production based on historical and theoretical experiences. Here is my sympathy with Nietzsche in his location of some sort of fall around the time of Socrates, the collapse of the Tragic under the will to knowledge. But who corrupted our sense of the chaotic pulsating real with concepts of continuous time or actually existing matter?
The plausible answer is the troubling one of biology or that processes like these are the aftereffects of a biological process. Here, natural selection favors those organisms that can construct comprehensions of reality that are linear and causal, or at least transmittable and effective. This could even be a non-universal characteristic, perhaps the first paramecium spawned randomly from the primordial fertile mash, experiencing no competition for resources, could experience total disuniformity by virtue of needlessness. The paramecium reacts, “What need have I for rationality prior to others?”
But like Nietzsche and later Heidegger, this begins to decay into a promotion of an Eden, the point of experience-in-itself, pure will, being, becoming, a stupid prejudice re-appearing in order to further produce effective lies and rationalities. If we are dedicated to critique today, it is to produce effects without the falsity, to undermine the lies and keep the constructions, yet constructions are after the ground of consciousness, of a total object-forming rationality/temporality. One must see moments in a series before a linear program of operations can be suggested.
So, how can we propose a consistent method of achieving inconsistent reality, a rationality of irrationality? If our biological apparatus are the only premise for an originary rationality of causality or temporal consistency, then following a pattern of rationality to comprehend a total chaotic substance or a static method of deriving a constant becoming would be itself chimerical. It could occur, no doubt, if the premise of a totally chaotic universe is true; in the infinite possibility there could exist a method of rationality that culminates in such an event. The specific type of rationality discussed here, however, would require a nihilistic erasure. If our experiencing of chaos and becoming could be understood and replace the “fallen” rationality by which we ingest reality and compose its forms, then of course that which composes the mistake “we” would cease to be and Hey! We’re becoming totally!
Advancing this premise leads us toward our glorious fever dream but its impossibility lies in the method of derivation. It wouldn’t be more likely, this scenario, that a philosophical proposal of reality would be more valid than anything else. It would by virtue of being chimerically defined possibly be less true in that it has an equal chance of being universally true (none) but a very high chance of being immediately false, in whatever non-universal physical laws that are accidentally circulating at the moment.
Secondly, communicating a non-causal theory of reality is absurd. Attempts to communicate require a pattern of reality reproducing itself in consecutive, related forms. Is this monastic valorization? Maybe, but monasticism has the benefit of being consistent with any radical pyrrhonic skepticism about communities.
Here is the bottom of my argument; Suppose our realization of a noumenal chaos, one that approaches even the marriage of the void to the formed world. It would necessarily remain apart from “understanding”, something like the position of quarks or string theories which might occur with reality but outside comprehension. However, unlike quantum science, it would, by virtue of its theoretical content, have no observable effects. Toward what end then are we pursuing this?
What might be more beneficial insofar as we are occurring in what appears to be contemporary reality is a practice of selves is a consistent provisionalism. What occurs occurs as a result of a series of known and unknown premises regardless of their truth-value, something easily resonant with a theory of a universal underlying will or substance or becoming, but that desires constantly to extend itself to the currently appearing reality. Instead of being skeptical of easily understood reality, we might be skeptical instead of attempts to locate it outside of that experience, and act in an attempt to practice our understanding regardless of its truth status.