Thursday, September 25, 2014


Along these lines of the constitutive "homelessness" of philosophy, Kant formulated the idea of the cosmopolitan "world-civil-society [Weltburgergesellschaft ]," which is not simply an expansion of the citizenship of a Nation-State to the citizenship of a global trans-national State; it involves a shift from the principle of identification with one’s "organic" ethnic substance actualized in a particular tradition to a radically different principle of identification —one can refer here to Deleuze’s notion of universal singularity as opposed to the triad of individuality–particularity–generality; this opposition is the opposition between Kant and Hegel. For Hegel, "world-civil-society" is an abstract notion without substantial content, lacking the mediation of the particular and thus the force of full actuality, i.e., it involves an abstract identification which does not grasp substantially the subject; the only way for an individual to effectively participate in universal humanity is therefore via full identification with a particular Nation-State—I am "human" only as a German, Englishman ... For Kant, on the contrary,"world-civil-society" designates the paradox of the universal singularity, of a singular subject who, in a kind of short circuit, bypassing the mediation of the particular, directly participates in the Universal. This identification with the Universal is not the identification with an encompassing global Substance ("humanity"), but the identification with a universal ethico-political principle— a universal religious collective, a scientific collective, a global revolutionary organization, all of which are in principle accessible to everyone.

This is what Kant, in a famous passage of his "What is Enlightenment?", means by "public" as opposed to "private": "private" is not the individual as opposed to one’s communal ties, but the very communal-institutional order of one’s particular identification, while "public" is the transnational universality of the exercise of one’s Reason. The paradox is thus that one participates in the universal dimension of the "public" sphere precisely as a singular individual extracted from or even opposed to one’s substantial communal identification— one is truly universal only as radically singular, in the interstices of communal identities.

The task of philosophy as the "public use of reason" is not to solve problems, but to redefine them; not to answer questions, but to raise the proper question. In an old joke from the defunct German Democratic Republic, a German worker gets a job in Siberia; aware of how all mail will be read by censors, he tells his friends: "Let’s establish a code: if a letter you will get from me is written in ordinary blue ink, it is true; if it is written in red ink, it is false." After a month, his friends get the first letter written in blue ink: "Everything is wonderful here: stores are full, food is abundant, apartments are large and properly heated, movie theaters show films from the West, there are many beautiful girls ready for an affair—the only thing unavailable is red ink ." The structure is here more refined than it may appear: although the worker is unable to signal in the prearranged way that what here ports is a lie, he nonetheless succeeds in getting his message across—how? By inscribing the very reference to the code into the encoded message, as one of its elements. Of course, we encounter here the standard problem of self-reference: since the letter is written in blue, is not its entire content true? The solution is that the very fact that the lack of red ink is mentioned signals that it SHOULD have been written in red ink.The nice point here is that this mention of the lack of red ink produces the effect of truth independently of its own literal truth : even if red ink really WAS available, the lie that it is unavailable was the only way to get the true message across in this specific condition of censorship. And is this not the matrix of critical philosophy, not only in "totalitarian" conditions of censorship but, perhaps even more, in the more refined conditions of liberal censorship? One starts with agreeing that one has all the freedoms one wants—and then one merely adds that the only thing missing is the "red ink" : we "feel free" because we lack the very language to articulate our unfreedom. What this lack of red ink means is that, today, all the main terms we use to designate the present conflict— "war on terror," "democracy and freedom," "human rights," etc. etc.— are FALSE terms, mystifying our perception of the situation instead of allowing us to think it. In this precise sense, our "freedoms" themselves serve to mask and sustain our deeper unfreedom—this is what philosophy should make us see.
-Slavoj Zizek, "Philosophy, the Unknown Knowns, and the Public Use of Reason"


FreeThinke said...

Sounds like a DISCO Revival. Or maybe it IS Disco?

Anyway, reminds of my errant youth.

Noisy, but fun. ;-)

-FJ said...

It is loud, that I'll grant. IMO, Stadium Music.