Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Essences

The dialectical approach is usually seen as trying to locate the phenomenon-to-be-analyzed in the totality to which it belongs, to bring the wealth of its links to light, and thus to break the spell of fetishizing abstraction: from a dialectical perspective, one should see not just the thing in front of one, but this thing as it is embedded in all the wealth of its concrete historical context. This, however, is the most dangerous trap to be avoided: for Hegel, the true problem is the opposite one, the fact that, when we observe a thing, we see too much of it, we fall under the spell of the wealth of empirical detail, which prevents us from clearly perceiving the notional determination that forms the core of the thing. The problem is thus not that of how to grasp the wealth of determinations, but, precisely, how to abstract from them, how to constrain our gaze and teach it to grasp only the notional determination. We should thus totally reject the pseudo-Hegelian commonplace according to which the Understanding deals with simplified abstractions, while Reason understands things in all their complexity, in the endless intricacy of their mutual relations which only makes them what they are.

Another commonplace tells us that, when engaged in a struggle, we automatically adopt a partial or particular standpoint, while the universal standpoint has to be elevated above the melee of passionate commitments. Hegel's authentic position inverts both these commonplaces: it is the Understanding that insists on the endless complexity of a situation, always pointing out that things are more complicated then they appear ("on the other hand..."), while Reason is the power to simplify, to isolate the essential feature, the one which really matters in a complex situation. Furthermore, this isolation does not emerge out of a distanced"objective" analysis, but through our engaged ("partial") approach to reality. It was Heidegger who elaborated this feature apropos language when, in his reading of "essence or Wessen" as a verb ("essencing"), he provided a de-essentialized notion of essence. Traditionally, "essence" refers to a stable core that guarantees the identity of a thing. For Heidegger, "essence" is something that depends on the historical context, on the epochal disclosure of being that occurs in and through language, the "house of being." His expression "Wessen der Sprache" does not mean the "essence of language" but the "essencing," the making of essences that is the work of language.
language bringing things into their essence, language "moving us" so that things matter to us in a particular kind of way, so that paths are made within which we can move among entities, and so that entities can bear on each other as the entities they are... We share an ordinary language when the world is articulated in the same style for us, when we "listen to language," when we "let it say its saying to us."
For a medieval Christian, say, the "essence" of gold resides in its incorruptibility and sheen, which made it a "divine" metal. For us, it is either a flexible resource to be used for industrial purposes or a metal appropriate for aestheic purposes. For Catholics, similarly, the castrato voice was once the very voice of the angels prior to the Fall. For us today, it is a monstrosity. This change in our sensitivity is sustained by language, hinging on a shift in our symbolic universe. A fundamental violence inhabits this "essencing" ability of language: our world is given a partial twist, it loses its balanced innocence, one partial color gives the tone of the Whole.

Hegel's formulation is very precise here: the reduction to signifying "unary feature" contracts actual;ity to possibility, in the precise Platonic sense in which the notion (Idea) of a thing always has a deontological dimension to it, designating what the thing should become in order to be fully what it is. "Potentiality" is thus not simply the name for the essence of a thing as actualized in the multitude of empirical things of this genre (the idea of a chair as a potentiality actualized in empirical chairs). The multitude of the actual properties of a thing is not simply reduced to the inner core of this thing's "true reality"; what is important is that it accentuates (profiles) the thing's inner potential. When I call someone "my teacher," I thereby outline the horizon of what I expect from him; when I refer to a thing as "a chair," I profile the way I intend to use it. When I observe the world around me through the lenses of a language, I perceive its actuality through the lenses of the potentialities hidden, latently present, within it. In other words, potentiality appears "as such," becomes actual as potentiality, only through language: it is the appellation of a thing that brings to light ("posits") its potentials. In short, impartial observation gets caught up in the "bad infinity" of complex features, without being able to decide on the essentials, and the only way to arrive at true universality is by way of reasoning that is sustained by practical engagement.
- Slavoj Ziziek, "Absolute Recoil: Towards a New Foundation of Dialectical Materialism"

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Quantum Knowing

This paradoxical status of the knowledge of the Other enables us to draw out another feature of the distinction between what Badiou calls (hedonist) "democratic" materialism and dialectical materialism. For standard materialism, things exist independently of our knowledge of them; for subjectivist idealism, esse=percipi, i.e., things exist only insofar as they are known or perceived by a mind, as perfectly formulated in the famous Berkeleyan limerick on "God in the Quad" (a courtyard on a campus):
There was a young man who said, "God
Must find it exceedingly odd
To think that the tree
Should continue to be
When there's no one about in the quad."

To which God replies:

Dear Sir: Your astonishment's odd;
I am always about in the quad.
And that's why the tree
Will continue to be
Since observed by, Your faithfully God.
Note here the formal similarity with quantum physics, in which some kind of perception (or registration)_ is needed to bring about the collapse of the wave function, i.e., the emergence of reality. However, this similarity masks the fundamental difference: the agency which registers the collapse of the wave function is not in any sense "creating" the observed reality, it is registering an outcome that remains fully contingent. Furthermore, the whole point of quantum physics is that many things go on before registration: in this shadowy space, the "normal" laws of nature are continuously suspended. The theological implications of this gap between virtual proto-reality and the fully constituted form are of a special interest. Insofar as "God" is the agent who creates things by observing them, quantum indeterminancy compels us to posit a god who is omnipotent, but not omniscient: "If God collapses the wave functions of large things to reality by His observation, quantuum experiments indicate that He is not observing the small." The ontological cheating with virtual particles (an electron casn create a proton and thereby violate the principle of constant energy, on condition that it reabsorbs it before its environs "take note" of the discrepancy) is a way to cheat God Himself, the ultimate agency taking note of everything that goes on: God Himself does not control the quantum processes; therein resides the atheist lesson of quantum physics. Einstein was right with his famous claim "God doesn't cheat" - but what he forgot to add is that "God is unconscious" (God does not know), quantum physics is indeed materialist: there are micro-processes (quantum oscillations) which are not registered by the God-system.
- Slavoj Zizek, "Absolute Recoil: Towards a New Foundation of Dialectical Materialism"

Monday, June 26, 2017

Slavoj Žižek, "About Peter Sloterdijk: The revolution takes place, only differently "

from the Zizek Times
Peter Sloterdijk is one of the most accurate diagnosticians of our time. In his work "Wrath and Time", he offers an alternative history of the West as a starting point from the distinction between Eros (desire, ie, the desire to possess, ie the possession of objects) and thymos (pride, thus giving-will) History of anger administration. The "Iliad", its founding text, begins in fact with the word "anger." Homer calls the goddess to stand by him when he sing the song of the anger of Achilles. Although the quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon concerns a woman - Agamemnon robbed Achilles of his slave girl Briseis - it is not about the loss of an erotic object, but about injured pride. And that is Sloterdijk's point.

While anger can explode in ancient Greece, he experiences a profound change, a sublimation, a postponement in the Jewish-Christian tradition. No longer we, but God is keeping a record of our transgressions, and decides on the Day of Judgment. The Christian prohibition of revenge is the exact counterpart to the apocalyptic scene of the last days. The idea of ​​a Last Judgment, in which all the accumulated debts are paid off and a world out of joint is corrected, lives in secularized form in modern leftist projects.

Now the judge is no longer God but the people. Left political movements in fact act like anger banks. They collect collective anger investment and, in turn, promise the people long-term revenge interest, thus establishing a more just world. Because, after the revolutionary anger explosion, the ultimate payment never takes place, and inequality and hierarchy always reappear, there is always an urge for the second - true, total - revolution. It is only to satisfy the disappointed and to bring the liberation to an end: in 1792 after 1789, October after February 1917.

And the revolution?

This leads us to the great problem of Western Marxism today: the absence of a revolutionary subject. Who can take the role of the proletarians? In the Third World, students and intellectuals, the excluded are presented. In the meantime, the refugees are to revive the European left, free according to the motto: If there is no real proletariat at this stage, the revolution is just being transferred to imported substitute subjects. This way of thinking is cynical through and through. It bears witness to a leftist paternalism, quite apart from the fact that it gives new impetus to the violence against immigrants.

The problem is that there is simply never enough spontaneous anger capital - so the leaders have been borrowed from other anger banks by the nation and the culture. In Fascism, the national anger prevailed, Mao mobilized in China's communism the cultural anger of the exploited peasants. In our time there are two main types of anger left: the anger of the Islamic modernist losers against capitalism as a decadent system, and the wrath of the right-wing populists, which is aimed at immigrants. In addition to this, Latin American populists, consumerists and other representatives are less resentful of the resentment that refuses to recognize globalization. The only thing that is clear here is: the situation is confusing, all the different forms of anger do not come together.

Sloterdijk now recommends overcoming resentment and renouncing a revolution, which never happens anyway. He is concerned to delegitimize the connection between intelligence and resentment in all its forms, including feminism and post-colonialism. In capitalism, he sees not only the problem, but also the solution - Sloterdijk pleads for a turn of capitalism against itself: Instead of accumulating still more wealth and consequently fearing the loss of the wealthy lifestyle, the inhabitants of the Western Crystal Palace As proud beings who rather give than take. This would be, so to speak, Sloterdijk's cultural revolution without a revolution. But is she really realistic - and more than a philosophical imagination?

Capitalism, according to Sloterdijk, is therefore capable of effecting a change from Eros to Thymos, from the perverse erotic logic of accumulation to public recognition and honor. If you think so, you must inevitably praise figures like Soros or Gates. In this optic, their charity is not merely a personal idiosyncracy; On the contrary, the new capitalists are supposed to work towards a new balance of welfare through their willingness to donate, without obeying the destructive logic of resentment and forced state redistribution. We must, therefore, learn to live in a meritocracy which respects civilized norms and personal rights, in a balance between elitism and egalitarianism.

But is Sloterdijk really a reason for his denunciation of any global emancipatory project as a case of envy and resentment? What if his urge to sense revenge and anger behind every form of solidarity is itself an expression of revenge and resentment? His envy dims the view that there is indeed a position of ethical universality that applies to all people. And which exerts its own fascination on more and more young people.

Corbyn shall judge

Jeremy Corbyn, this dry, impish British labor leader, represents precisely such an attitude - with success. From the establishment, he is regarded as an idiot, a jihadist, an anti-Semitic, in short, as an unseemable, but this does not touch him, he remains faithful to himself. Of course, Corbyn is a nuisance - and yes, with his position of global solidarity and justice, he will prevent Labor in the foreseeable future from winning the majority in Great Britain. But that is not the point. For Corbyn represents the actor of a radical social change for the boys beyond the British Isles. Corbyn is an eminent representative of those who are serious about an ethical turn in politics - and the vulgarization of political speech in public turn. Propriety and argument were once bourgeois virtues, but these were long ago betrayed by the populist bourgeoisie. Now it seems to be on the left, to demand exactly these virtues by the fact that they live the same way.

Corbyn, however desperate and naive he appears, speaks of the important problems that ordinary people deal with, from economic necessities to the threat of terrorists. He is politically incorrect, not self-righteous, not off-hand, no blender - and above all, he speaks without anger and resentment. His performances are worthy, he preserves a basic decree. It is precisely because he acts like a politician from another time, that he is well received by the boys. Would Sloterdijk be prepared to recognize, in the success of figures like Jeremy Corbyn, the expression of a new social force that is not just beyond capitalist logic, but also beyond anger and resentment? We older men should remain attentive. I wish Peter Sloterdijk all the best for his 70th birthday.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Does Capitalism Depend Upon Envy?

We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness; ...
- Thomas Jefferson, "U.S. Declaration of Independence" (rough draft)

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Opening Iris...

Philip Hermogenes Calderon, "Broken Vows" (1857)
The title of this painting suggests that the woman has recently discovered that her lover, whose initials are carved in the fence, has been unfaithful. Further details, including the discarded necklace and dying flowers, indicate her unhappy situation. The ivy-covered wall may symbolise her previous belief that their love was everlasting. Disappointed love was a popular theme in Victorian painting, and viewers were expected to unravel the situation from the symbols and expressions of the characters.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017