Saturday, February 18, 2006

Note on Authority

In a short text named On authority (which could be read as an unexpected precursor to Benjamin's notion of revolutionary violence) Engels deals with the problem of discipline, authority and violence. In opposition to anarchism - that is, to a doctrine that abolishes legitimity of every authority - Engels asserts that authority is a necessary ingredient of every complex process of production. Authority is the principle that organizes the work in factory, it is what establish order and discipline in procedure of work. This sounds very Foucauldian. In the first half of Engel's text, authority is understood as a "microprinciple" that functions in place anterior to politics proper - in fact, authority which is necessary to our "material conditions" (that is, our procedure of production) cannot be dissmised even by the supreme act of revolution:

"We have thus seen that, on the one hand, a certain authority, no matter how delegated, and, on the other hand, a certain subordination, are things which, independently of all social organisation, are imposed upon us together with the material conditions under which we produce and make products circulate... Hence it is absurd to speak of the principle of authority as being absolutely evil, and of the principle of autonomy as being absolutely good"

But then suddenly Engels moves from the argument of authority as a "micropolitical" principle that structures the work procedure to the sphere of politics proper:

"But the anti-authoritarians demand that the political state be abolished at one stroke, even before the social conditions that gave birth to it have been destroyed. They demand that the first act of the social revolution shall be the abolition of authority. Have these gentlemen ever seen a revolution? A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon — authoritarian means, if such there be at all; and if the victorious party does not want to have fought in vain, it must maintain this rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionists. Would the Paris Commune have lasted a single day if it had not made use of this authority of the armed people against the bourgeois? Should we not, on the contrary, reproach it for not having used it freely enough?"

What is suprising in this theoretical leap is its sudden transformation of object: at first, Engels deals with the problem of authority versus freedom in a sphere of material production, that is, in a sphere that ex definitio doesn't allow the freedom from all authoritarian constraints. It is an authority that is inscribed in the very tissue of material production, indivisible from the process of production. But then Engels turns to the sphere of politics - and as philosophy Aristotle to Hegel teaches, this is is the sphere contrary to that of production: it is a place where feedom is the principle of structuration. When we read On Authority, we anticipate the following turn: surely, the place of material production is governed by the principle of discipline and order, but on contrary, the freedom of political is where we, the true socialists and anarchists, agree. But in text we encounter exactly the opposite: the political is precisely the place where the true authoritarian principle shows itself. It is not mere internal function, localised in the procedure of production or in any other "microcosmos": it is TERROR IN ITS PURE FORM, free of any functionality or "material conditions". But what is suprising is that this terror of authority strangely coincides with the highest freedom: what is freed in the revolution is the authority itself.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Two brief remarks on the possibility of possible

Aristotle once wrote that the "change is the actuality of possibility qua possibility" - an assertment which was more than once declared as lacking in clarity. But as far as I am concerned, this statement is perfectly clear. What Aristotle is trying to say is that the possibilty as such has its own form of actuality: and this paradoxical actuality is that of change. In other words, possibility and actuality are not two distinct ontological "spheres" - they are rather interwoven and inscribed into each other. Thus the possible is not merely lurking on the borders of the positive fullness of the actual but has its own mode of actuality, and the change is that which actualizes the possibility, makes it manifest in the actual itself. But we must be careful on this point. The actualization of possible qua possible, of possible as such, is not the same actualization as that of, for example, man's ability to run. While running, his potentiality to run is indeed actualized. But what is left aside is the actualization of this potentialiy as potentiality. And this is exactly the point Aristotle is turning our attention to: to the question of what is the specific mode of existence of the not-yet-existing and what is the Being of yet-to-be.


The ontology of a capitalism seems like a kind of philosophical bricolage made by a rather confused mind. Basically, one can find elements of any given philosophy: in capitalism, there is the rule of Leibniz's principle of sufficient reason (the reason of the market), spinozian notion of good and bad as utilitarian categories, Deleuze's dispersion, Heidegger's elaboration of the role of technology, and so on and so forth. But there is one principle in this chaotic mixture of philosophical statements that can claim an axiomatic status. This axiom of capitalism (and its coresponding phenomenons, such as democracy) goes something like this: what is false (or nonexistent) in actuality is as such impossible. Or: what is false in empirical is false in principle.
Let me illustrate this axiom with well-known example of modern utopias and their criticisms. Today, when one tries to subvert the concept of various utopias, one doesn't have to do it on a plane of principle. The critics of kibbutz namely can only say the community ignoring the role of the kinship and the famous "maternal instinct" is as such doomed to unsuccess. In fact, what they are trying to say is that kibbutz is bad IN PRINCIPLE because it is bad EMPIRICALLY. Or, to use even more vulgar example: critics of communism say it is wrong THEORETICALLY because it "doesn't work" in PRACTICE. In capitalism, there is no longer any distinction between what holds in principle and what stands the test of time and space. What is today concidered true in principle is only that which is proven as endurable and sustainable in the empirical. To put it in Aristotle's terms: the actual has absolute ontological primacy over the potential. While Aristotle thought that only that which was once in potentia can also become in actu, today we know that inversely only that which is actual can be posited also as possible.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Crisis and Eternal Present

One could say that since Hegel's philosophy has adopted rhetoric of crisis - rhetorics of an end, decadence, eschatology and apocalypse. We can trace this rhetorics in the work of numerous and diverse intellectual figures, such as Marx, Nietzsche, Husserl, Valery, Spengler, Heidegger, Lyotard and Kojeve. What is common to all these authors is an idea that history is about to stop, "values" about to disintegrate and human beings about to redefine, or even worse, lose their essence. Nietzsche's rhetoric of coming threat of nihilism, Marx's prophetic visions of decline of bourgeois society, Heidegger's words on the loss of Being, Husserl's famous krisis and Kojeve's influential idea of the end of history are all the expression of the same rhetoric. But let us be naive for a moment and ask ourselves: isn't it a little strange that philosophy doesn't become weary of this constant divination? How come philosophy claims that the mankind, history and philosophy itself are on a verge of a breakdown for nearly two centuries? Let's be even more abrupt: doesn't it get a little dull to constantly proclaim an almost certain end? How long do these values need to fall? After all, wasn't it already Nietzsche who turned our attention to the unstoppable threat of nihilism? But still - quotidian philosophical texts are full of warnings of the same nihilism monster and complete loss of all what is worthy. Why is it then that we, philosophers, are still driven by this mad compulsion of diagnosing the effects of decadence? Why are we still so happy to announce - every time an opportunity comes along - the corruption of men, the "withdrawal of the Being", the end of intellectual legacy of Europe, the closing act of history, the end of the "great narratives" or any other similar "epochal" event?

Of course, there's another trend of philosophers and thinkers firmly opposing themselves to this rhetoric. And to solve the aporia sketched above, we must undoubtedly turn to them. Michel Foucault (he is in fact not a philosopher of crisis, as he is usually regarded, based on some misreadings of his Mots et choses) stated in one of his interviews that the rhetoric of crisis is a kind of constant presence, a mark of a certain "eternal now". This indeed is a very enigmatic saying. How can it be that the rhetoric of crisis evoke an eternal presence, if the declaration of crisis is in its very essence a declaration of a certain gap in time? How can it be that those philosophers proclaiming the inevitable crisis in reality evoke eternal presence and homogeneous time, if crisis is in fact a void that separate two times, the time of "golden history" from that of decadence and decay? And, most importantly, how could krisis have such meaning, considering its original meaning (my Classical Greek dictionary says "separation, discord, dispute")? It seems that Foucault is quite mistaken on this point. But, if we look carefully at the rhetoric of crisis, we perceive that his statement is in fact very concise. Let's take a look at a typical statement that could be pronounced either by Nietzsche, Heidegger, Spengler or Husserl: "Europe, its humanism and spirit, and everything we hold sacred is in a process of decay". What does this sentence say? Firstly, one could of course call forth the original meaning of krisis: this proposition says there is a fundamental discord between past and present. Past, the time of prosperity and immediate living in cultural and moral milieu is literally thrown back and the present, the time of uncertainty, threatening corruption and decadence is proclaimed. If we formalize a bit more: sentence says that something is thrown into past and by virtue of it the present is opened. In this final stage, what does then a prophet of crisis utters? He simply announces the presence as such. He says the openness of presence is constituted by excluding the fullness of past. In this sense, what is present becomes eternal: it is discorded from the past and thus from history. When Marx remarks crisis is coming he does not mean that we are entering a new epoche of relation between the means of production and production forces: his statement cancels this "epochity" as such. And when Nietzsche speaks about nihilism, he does not understand it as a new turn of genealogy of morals: this nihilism is something defying the very notion of genealogy. The philosopher of crisis is unable to name or define his epoche, because he sees in the present a force that annuls the historicity in itself. To him, the present does not allow any name or positive content. It is embodied decadence, a story out of history, a time thrown out of time. An eternal present in which we are caught since Hegel.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Theory and Art in Cases of Calvino and Godard

In sixties emerged a debate on the status of semiology and autonomity of the work of art. The question, if I simplify it, goes like this: is semiology as a science of signs (of meaning, signification, sense, narration, tropes and so on) necessary to disclose a production of meaning in the work of art, or is it the very work that in its immanence shows (or stages) the genesis of meaning without any need of theoretical commentary or analysis? Let me rephrase it - is theory of art's meaning anterior or interior to the work of art? Is text (literature, movies, a play) self-enclosed and provides its own theoretical terms by which we analyze it, or does theory have an external status and its own conceptual apparatus? A lot of praised intellectuals joined the dispute, among main protagonists being Queneau, Calvino, Eco and also Pasolini and Derrida.

Italo Calvino was one of the theoreticians who proposed a view that the text doesn't need any external intervention, since it can stage its own reading. And that is exactly what his well-known novel, If on a Winter Night a Traveler, does. It is a book about itself, a book whose protagonist tries to read a novel called If on a Winter Night a Traveler, but in his search for lost chapters always finds some other novel, passage or story. It ends with him lying in bed with his girlfriend while reading what seems to be the last chapter of the text he's been looking for. While I myself was finishing this truly superb novel, I found myself being in the exact same situation : my girl was lying next to me half asleep and I was perusing the last chapters. In that truly sublime moment I realized that Calvino's reproaches to theory and artificial academical reading (readings, proposed by femminists, deconstructivists et cetera) are in complete accordance with what I was experiencing. Once the final words of the novel slipped before my eyes, for a very brief moment, maybe a second or two, I felt a complete coincidence (in its double meeaning: that of a happy and unexpected meeting of events and that of an overlapping) of me, my girlfriend and a novel on one side and the content of the last chapter on the other. I felt there was no place for theoretical stance, no room for a concept that would transcend Calvino's novel and guide my reading of it.

Godard once reproached Pasolini because of him merely joining an academical debate over semiology and movie (Pasolini wrote some realy excellent propositions on the poetical language of movie, which were sadly abolished by "official" semiology). Pasolini's answer was, as always, pregnant with lucidity: he said Godard's movies were NOTHING BUT pure theory. Works like Masculin/Feminin and A Bout de souffle are purely theoretical meditations on concept of genre. In his movies distinctions like that between theory and work of art, parody and genre, movie and a text on it, are completely abolished. That is why watching Godard changes the very experience of watching a movie. Because his films situate themselves in a location where parody and genre cannot become separate, his movies stages the very experience of watching a movie. After Godard, one could no longer go to some forgotten theatre, lost in narrow and crouded street, between cafes and nightclubs, and watch a movie with a girl he loved or with a group of old friends in the same way one used to. His movies literally stage that experience of watching some old American movie (a western, a noir or some other golden genre) in an "authentic" place of old and rusty theatre.

These days I am writing a paper on aesthetics (concerning a problem of the site of the artistic work) and I must admit that despite my infinite belief in theory, writing on art repels me. For me, art is a blind spot of theory. As Alain Badiou argues in his Short Manual of Inaesthetics, a philosopher should learn how to let the art speak in its own language about itself. It is a willingness in complete opposition to every philosophical instinct: a willingness to listen to art, to let it ground itself, to wait for the art to offer you a thought and a word of it. It is a gesture that truly turns platonism on its head: a gesture of waiting for a work of art to stage itself as an event that ripples a calm philosophical surface.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

We, Nietzsche's readers

I believe that in the course of life of every philosophy student Nietzsche plays an outstanding role. His wild use of antireligious rhetorics, reproaches to platonism and "destruction of all values" makes him a voice that easily attracts many a youngster, who perceives himself one way or another exceptional.

But the most important of elements of his writting is his common and highly sophisticated usage of the term "we". He is the only philosopher that, in his texts, builds some sort of a partnership, or better, alliance with his reader. If we, while reading his late works (such as the Twilight of Idols or Genealogy of Morals), pay attention to his style, we notice that he never addresses himself to the subject of his critique or his contemporaries, but only to a secret communion (or a pact), formed by himself and his readers. But who are these readers? They (or "we") are nothing but a rhetorical function in his texts. "We" that Nietzsche speaks about when he says "we, the nihilists", "we, the moderns", "we, the lovers of the fresh air" or "we, the hyperboreans", is an internal function of his writing, or even better, one of the psychological types that Nietzsche is so fond of producing. His "antichrist", "priest", "donkey", "the spirit of weight" are all figures of a play that his philosophy stages. And among these roles one also finds the "we", the pact of Nietzsche and his reader, the secret and conspirative, the "supramoral", the "suprareligious" figure that lurks on the borders of the stage of his "philosophical plays". It is an textual entity in which we cannot separate a figure, a playwriter and the spectator. Nietzsche's "we" signifies a knot of himself (the "playwriter"), his reader (a "spectator") and a specific personification of a concept (a "figure") of his philosophy.

Aleš Bunta, a young Slovenian philosopher, recenty wrote some remarkable things concerning Nietzsche's usage of the term "we", one of his thesis being that Nietzsche's "we" must be understood in connection with his "deconstruction" of subjectivity. Nietzsche's short remark, "subject as multiple", is quite telling regarding this point. In his critique of subjectivity (see especially Will to Power), Nietzsche states that subject is not a selfclosed, selfreffering, spiritual and undivisible entity, but a compromise of a struggle of man's instincts. In La verite et les formes juridiques (see Dits et ecrits) Foucault observes that this kind of subjectivity is deeply political - it is not a harmonious and stable entity, but a resultant of a certain struggle, of a certain relations of powers. Here the second dimension of Nietzsche's "we" is disclosed: that of a tension, a struggle and a fight. When Nietzsche says "we", he does not simply means himself, an indivisible point of autorship, nor a homogenous and conspirative community of his readers, but a certain state that is barely holding its homeostasis. Nietzsche's "we" thus points to a certain multiplicity of authors, a certain struggle within Nietzsche's philosophy itself, to a certain polyphony of his style, to a battle, internal to his philosophy. That is also what is singular in Nietzsche's work: we can never totalize it, we can never fully know "on which side" is Nietzsche really on, we can never fully identify the figure/concept that truly inscribes Nietzsche into his writing.

This tension of the two "we" - the one of the community of his reader and himself, and the one of a sign of struggles and multiplicity, of an undecidedness of his texts - is one of the reasons why Nietzsche's philosophy can claim such an intimate position in a student's life and work. It is as if Nietzsche can become a part of one's life by offering a place in his texts, where one can examine or read oneself, laugh with Nietzsche, witness his philosophical struggle, and most importantly, breathe fresh air with him.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Pure Thought and the Limits of Language

Herder's Treatise on the origin of language offers some really deep insights into the nature of language. Of course, contemporary philosophy on language will quickly dismiss the work of Herder as maybe too poetic, too unscientifical, too "pre-Saussurian". But, if I may sound Heideggerian for a brief moment, language in itself maybe is poetical and thus only what is of poetry can offer us language as such.
In his Treatise there are two sentences, expressing - only in a germ - the most astonishing aporia that comes to mind when thinking about language:

"How far can we go without language? What is that which we must think with language?"

These two sentences of course deal with a known problem of relationship between thought and language. Is thinking limited by language? Is pure thought, philosophy, science, mathematics, free of particular language constraints, or is it perhaps so deeply dependent upon language that any attempt to even think those constraints necesseraly fails?
Since Herder, there has been a lot of relevant texts written on this topic, one the most famoust being Benveniste's Categories of thought, categories of language and Derrida's consequent commentary. But I still haven't found a formulation of such density, as that of Herder just quoted.
What Herder asks is clear. In first sentence he poses a question concerning a limitation of thought, and in his second question he deals with the constraints that are internal to thought. It seems that in his first question - "how far can we go without language" - the problem is expressed extensionally, that is to say, it deals with the extension and reach of thought before it falls to barriers, imposed by language; and in his second sentence - "what is that which we must thought with language" he express the problem intensionally, in other words, he wants to define the positive content of thought that is necessary, when that thought is produced in language.

But on a closer inspection we see that we cannot grasp the full meaning of Herder's questions in terms of extension and intension. Herder's question - "how far can we go without language" - precisely cancels the terminology of barrier, constraint, extension and limitation. When one asks how far can one go without something one asks how far is possible to go with absence of something. So, that would mean that Herder is asking what is the limit of a thought that has ALREADY crossed the "limits" of language. What Herder's question imply - and this is the point that fascinates me - is that there is a constraint of a thought already free of any constraints . It seems that language returns with its limitations, its force of transformation, its power of superimposing, only when thought already succesfully escapes from its limitation. In other words, the relation between thought and language is put to a question only when thinking surpasses language, only when it claims an universal position above any particular linguistic expression. The repression of language is in force only when one already escape its grasp.

And that is precisely why Benveniste, when writing aforementioned article, chose as a example of his thesis a text that claims an universal status, a text that is far beyond the particularity of language: Aristotle's Categories. Only a text that eludes all of limitations posed by language serves as an adequate example of language's real limits, which are always evasive, ungraspable, changeable and misplaced.

This is why it's impossible to understand the precarious relation between language and thought as that of form and content, outside and inside, region and its limit. Does this imply that Wittgenstein's famous thesis - "the limits of my language are limits of my world" - misses the point? Of course not. What Wittgenstein meant is that although we can posit an identity between the limits of language and that of a world of things, those limits as such can never became be crossed. If I am precise, they can never become sayable. Limits of language are only showing themselves (in it's syntactical structure, in it's nature of representation) but as such cannot become scrutinized or theoretically graspable. And this is exactly what Herder's question imply - the absolute impossiblity of localisation of language's limits. Those limits are without location and produce no location. They do not mark a division of two things, they do not divide pre- or postlinguistical thought from that of language's. In this sense the world, in its ability to cancel every limitation or extension, completely coincides with the a-topos, produced by limits of language.

Friday, January 20, 2006


Schelling once wrote that beginning must not know itself - it is always hidden, misplaced, obscured and forgotten. That is why I won't allow myself more than a word in my first entry: but nevertheless a word on beginning.
To begin writing a blog on philosophy, and even more to begin writing it in a form of scattered fragments and comments, seems a rather pretentious task. After all, does a series of fragments have a beginning? Can we ever say that a comment begins, when it is by its very essence a continuation, a text, written post festum, a mere echoing remark?
Maybe this only outlined problem will be a sufficient excuse for a beginning. I say "excuse" because as a student of philosophy I came to learn that a beginning, a start or an origin are the philosophical themes. From Plato's Timaeus (and its famous beginning: "one, two, three") and Plotin's One (this time without two and three) to Rousseau's origine (of language, of society, of inequality) and Fichte's relentless attempts to stage a beginning of subjectivity, beginning is indeed a subject that philosopher cannot avoid and a theme that we can almost measure a strenght of thought with. This is why my "excuse" for a beginning is maybe a sign of certain humility - humility, that suits well with what I'll be writing here: fragments and coments on my study of philosophy.