awareness, Hegel, justice, language, law, levinas, objectivity, ontology, Politics, reason, society, teaching, time, tyranny

Hegel and Universality

(by Will Godfrey)[Photograph by Will Godfrey]

In an essay Hoffmeister suggests was written in 1808 or 1809, Hegel — certainly not without some irony — identifies an important ethical connection between abstract thought and power:

Who thinks abstractly? The uneducated, not the educated. Good society does not think abstractly because it is too easy, because it is too lowly (not referring to the external status) — not from an empty affectation of nobility that would place itself above that of which it is not capable, but on account of the inward inferiority of the matter.

[G. W. F. Hegel, Who Thinks Abstractly?]

Abstract thinking sets the thinker apart from good society, for their general opinion considers it too easy, too small, too obvious, even in poor taste. As Hegel understands it, abstraction is that faculty through which we spontaneously discover nothing in the subject but an abstracted notion of his concrete behavior. The inner life, the event of being, the very actuality of the will, is subsumed beneath an objective product. Ontology precludes apology.

Judgment indeed confirms the event in its original and fundamental movement, but every human quality in us is erased by the absolute imposition of a simple meaning — the reduction of living to some finite series of directions: past-tense, third-person verbs. Thus abstract thought — which we will now recognize as something common, even inferior or “ignoble,” at least in its operation and chosen material — functions effectively as providing (social) justification for punishing, terrorizing and humiliating others: “This is abstract thinking: to see nothing in the murderer except the abstract fact that he is a murderer, and to annul all other human essence in him with this simple quality.” (ibid) Our capacity for abstract thought is what allows the army officer to beat a soldier like a dog, like an object, without any trace of empathy.

However, somewhat paradoxically, it can also be seen as that faculty whereby we become capable of transcending simple explanations for complex phenomena, and for recognizing the corruption of morality indicated by the folly of such ‘abstract’ justifications: “This woman saw that the murderer’s head was struck by the sunshine and thus was still worthy of it. She raised it from the punishment of the scaffold into the sunny grace of God, and instead of accomplishing the reconciliation with violets and sentimental vanity, saw him accepted in grace in the higher sun.” [ibid] Abstract thought may be considered then as similar to a faculty of metaphor, a kind of improvised or dancing thought which reaches the real only indirectly, as though it had to be transmitted by an “untrustworthy” third.

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alterity, awareness, being, difference, inequality, inhumanity, language, levinas, love, metaphysics, Politics, reason, truth, tyranny, Uncategorized, violence


The relation between me and the other commences in the inequality of terms, transcendent to one another, where alterity does not determine the other in a formal sense… It is produced in multiple singularities and not in a being exterior to this number who would count the multiples. The inequality is in this impossibility of the exterior point of view, which alone could abolish it. The relationship that is established–the relationship of teaching, of mastery, of transitivity–is language, and is produced only in the speaker who, consequently, himself faces. Language is not added to the impersonal thought dominating the same and the other; impersonal thought is produced in the movement that proceeds from the same to the other, and consequently in the interpersonal and not only impersonal language. An order common to the interlocutors is established by the positive act of the one giving the world, his possession, to the other, or by the positive act of the one justifying himself in his freedom before the other, that is, by apology.

Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity 251, “Beyond the Face”

Levinas argues forcefully that the truth of our being is compromised when we submit to tyranny. It is neither suicide nor resignation to declare this truth, but rather love itself, revolted by the violence of reason. There is a plane of reality that must be indicated, whose very existence at once presupposes and transcends the revelation of the other, wherein the I bears itself beyond death.

Yet in this movement, where subjectivity itself is posited as a function, the I also recovers from its return to itself. This plane is certainly love: the other who faces us arouses an infinite desire, and reveals a mode of subjectivity which is the meaning of language, or justice, and which is the very actuality of love, living for others. The mere existence of this plane implies both separation and transcendence — a revolt against the violence of a “reason” that would reduce interpersonal discourse to silence.

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creation, dialectic, intellectual, madness, music, philosophy, play, production, rationalization, reason, science, sickness, Uncategorized, waste, work

Abolishing Distinction: Adorno and Sense

I should account as the foremost musician one who knew only the sadness of the most profound happiness, and no other sadness at all; but such a musician has never existed yet.
Nietzsche (The Gay Science 183)

The dialectic cannot stop short before the concepts of health and sickness, nor indeed before their siblings reason and unreason. Once it has recognized the ruling universal order and its proportions as sick — and marked in the most literal sense with paranoia, with ‘pathic projection’ — then it can see as healing cells only what appears, by the standards of that order, as itself sick, eccentric, paranoia — indeed, ‘mad’; and it is true today as in the Middle Ages that only fools tell their masters the truth. The dialectician’s duty is thus to help this fool’s truth to attain to its own reasons, without which it will certainly succumb to the abyss of the sickness implacably dictated by the healthy common sense of the rest.
Adorno (Minimal Moralia 73)

For Adorno, dialectical thought is a studied, passionate opposition to reification in several important senses. A fair bit of Minima Moralia is dedicated to analyzing the social regulation leading to the gradual alienation of academic philosophy from positive materialism. Adorno decries the blindness, the manic fixity of professional intellectuals, their degeneration from paragons of reason to the producers of a mass rationalizations.

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activity, Aristotle, contemplation, God, happiness, idealism, materialism, philosophy, reason, virtue

Aristotle and Light


Aristotle and Light
Contemplation, Activity and Happiness in the Nicomachean Ethics

For while the whole life of the gods is blessed, and that of men too in so far as some likeness of such activity belongs to them, none of the other animals is happy, since they in no way share in contemplation. Happiness extends, then, just so far as contemplation does, and those to whom contemplation more fully belongs are more truly happy, not as a mere concomitant but in virtue of the contemplation; for this is in itself precious. Happiness, therefore, must be some form of contemplation.


What is reason? Aristotle tries many times to answer this question; but perhaps most vivid and penetrating among his responses is the spiritual “answer” he offers in the conclusion of the Nicomachean Ethics. There we find Aristotle claiming that the exercise of human reason cultivates ‘something’ in the human animal which is the “best and most akin” to God (1179a11). God loves and honors those who love and honor reason: those who “care for the things that are dear to them” and act “both rightly and nobly” (1179a14). In this sense the philosopher is dearest to God (1179a17) and is the one who “will presumably also be the happiest,” moreso — potentially, anyway — than any other (1179a18).

Why may we presume the philosopher’s life to be happiest? Even assuming he were to possess the virtues attendant upon a cultivated exercise of reason, does this ensure him a happy life, even the happiest of lives? Aristotle repeatedly acknowledges the serious difficulties barring the way to human happiness, perhaps most importantly our need for external sustenance. (It seems clear to Aristotle that it would be difficult to contemplate anything but food if you are starving — thus leisure, freedom from activity, is an essential requirement for contemplation.) Yet in this respect, too, the life of the philosopher is superior, even to other men of virtue, since his virtues require neither money nor power in order to be recognized.

Indeed, the philosopher’s contemplation may even be hindered by the sorts of conditions and resources which allow other kinds of natures the opportunity to exercise their highest virtue — money for the liberal man, power for the brave man, a tempting hint for the temperate man, and so on (1178a28). Moreover, despite the human need to attend to the health of our bodies, “we must not think that the man who is to be happy will need many things or great things, merely because he cannot be supremely happy without external goods; for self-sufficiency and action do not involve excess, and we can do noble acts without ruling over earth and sea; for even with moderate advantages one can act virtuously (this is manifest enough; for private persons are thought to do worthy acts no less than despots–indeed, even more); and it is enough that we should have so much as that; for the life of the man who is active in accordance with virtue will be happy.” (1179a11)
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architecture, health, love, multiplicity, noise, Politics, reason, space, transformation, voice

Tunnels and Voices: Love and the Cultural Architectonic of Space

(Ken Garduno)

We were a silent, hidden thought in the folds of oblivion; and we have become a voice that causes the heavens to tremble.
(Kahlil Gibran)

Love is the voice under all silences, the hope which has no opposite in fear; the strength so strong mere force is feebleness: the truth more first than sun, more last than star…
(E. E. Cummings)

The voice — what an unnatural and traumatic element! It is the theoretically irreconcilable, the ever-ambivalent (a voice is never univocal.) It is an everted organic flow, a living sonority: the voice is the elemental flow exchanged through the logic and the architecture of social arrangement. But the really critical question is the architecture of spaces: how are the tunnels and pathways through which the voice flows formed? How do we ‘build’ these vacuoles, tubules, these micro-vortices?

In brief, our question is: how are subjectivities produced which are able to listen, which can become points in a signal-sign network? Where does this noise-filled tunnel lead, where else but somewhere within, somewhere between? The voice comes from inner space, between the tribe, a virtual univocal space that becomes individual, becomes a part-object; or rather, the individual, the voice-machine, rises up only against the tribe, in pitched battle against its calming background-noise and static ritornelles. The tribe reacts against the jagged neologism, this unsanctioned activity of deviational intuition, the echoic profanation; the word which cannot be integrated becomes a war, it is the spark which flies between disparate spaces, presaging millennia of arguments, violence and bloodshed.
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becoming, chaos, culture, Deleuze, desire, multiplicity, nomad, reason, Science / Mathematics / Technology, Serres, space, state, unity

Nomads: Space, Solitude, Science


Royal science is inseparable from a “hylomorphic” model implying both a form that organizes matter, and a matter prepared for the form; it has often been shown that this schema derives less from technology or life than from a society divided into governors and governed, and later, intellectuals and manual laborers. …all matter is assigned to content, while all form passes into expression. (Gilles Deleuze, A Thousand Plateaus)

The difference between state science and nomad science is practice; the difference is as great and as narrow as that between geometry and poetry. The practice intrinsic to each mode of scientific exploration is implicit in their method, in their metaphysical categories, and especially in their respective divisions of labor. Nomad thought works continually against the grain of traditional categories and conventional methods; it upsets orders of scale, imparts unusual rhythms, creates social turbulence and sometimes, if it is fortunate, gives birth to new modes of expression.

The state cannot spontaneously create scientific assemblages any more than it can create poetry; the state struggles only with its habitat, its Other, its medium, never (or only in extreme cases) with itself. And in the end, nomadic science draws the state bloodhounds to its hide-out by its exotic odors. The nomads are not only killed formally and indifferently; they are annihilated precisely for their indifference to the state formalism. Nomadic signals hijack the royal message, forge the signature of the state; such floating signals are seeds, impressions of novel forms, sparks which sometimes inspire revolutions. Conventional science is quite effective at reincorporating these signals, as it is skillful at organizing prepared matter; but minor science contraverts every state by inventing new forms of matter, and just as easily a poet dreams up novel expressions.
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