Sunday, August 29, 2010

Hume, David - Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

Cast (in order of appearance)
Pamphilus - narrator, though not unbiased, eventually endorses Cleanthes's views as nearer to the truth
Hermippus - Friend of Pamphilus, to whom he retells his discussion with the others
Demea - orthodox religionist, though drawn to skeptical arguments
Philo - skeptic, views on religion unclear, possibly Hume
Cleanthes - Deist, proponent of natural religion, echoes Newton

Goal: Show that all arguments proving God's existence (especially the so-called argument from design), or establishing anything about his nature, were empty.
  • However, it is difficult to determine what Hume thought the take-home message of all this was.

  • Introduction - Frame Narrative Pamphilus to Hermippus
    • Pamphilus begins by discussing the respective merits and shortcomings of writing philosophical texts apodictically or in dialogue form.
      • He claims that any issue of philosophy which is obscure and uncertain, like natural religion, and in which "human reason can reach no fixed determination with regard to it" almost necessarily leads to conversational or dialogic treatment.
      • The joining of opposite opinions, where one position cannot be decisively proven, leads "to the two greatest pleasures of human life: study and society."
      • Nothing is so obvious as the existence of God, but nothing is so disputed as His nature, attributes, etc.
    • Then turns to recount the dialogue between, Cleanthes, Philo, and Demea
  • Part I
    • Dialogue opens on the question of whether natural religion should be the first or the last topic in a youth's education
    • Demea argues that it is best to show students the falsity of all philosophy before introducing them to the study of natural religion, earlier on though they should be taught simple piety
    • Philo radicalizes Demea's program and claims that student's should be taught the extreme limits of human reason before they approach attempts at natural religion
    • Cleanthes, however, disagrees with Philo, who, according to him, is trying to "erect religious faith on philosophical skepticism."
      • He questions whether anyone is actually as skeptical in real life as they claim to be in philosophical debate.
    • Philo responds in a number of ways:
      • He argues that though one cannot entirely suspend judgment in practical matters, some measure of the skepticism cultivated in philosophy is retained when one returns to ordinary life.
      • Admits that one is forced to act and reason in ordinary life and that many matters in philosophy are not that far removed from ordinary life so one can make conclusions about them. Ordinary life and reasoning, however, are closely connected with experience.
      • But argues that natural religion is far removed from ordinary life and reasoning and that it more likely that reason's abilities have been exceeded in this domain that in any other. After all, in this area we are dealing with matters with which we have no experience. So skepticism in this domain is more proper than in ordinary life.
    • Cleanthes responds:
      • Questions how skeptics can except reasoning and evidence in scientific matters, but question them in religious matters. Also claims that the distinction between ordinary life and more obscure matters is arbitrary, it is the same reason that operates in both.
      • Remarks on the strange union of faith and skepticism
    • Philo claims that the relationship between faith and skepticism, on the one hand, or dogmatism, on the other, is an opportunistic and apologetic one. Faith, more precisely, priests will ally with whichever will make them better able to dominate others at any particular time.
    • Cleanthes responds to Philo that it is natural that men use whatever tools will best defend their doctrines. Moreover, the confirmation of religion is the best mark of the truth of philosophical principles.
  • Part II
    • Demea objects that it seems from Cleanthes remarks that he is defending religion against atheists. No one denies God's existence. What he is denying is knowledge of God's nature. Quotes Malebranche in support of negative theology.
    • Philo agrees with Demea and adds:
      • That God exists is self evident because nothing exists without a cause, the original cause of the universe is called God.
      • However, we can know nothing about his attributes because:
        • Our ideas reach no farther than our experience
        • We have no experience of divine operations and attributes
        • Therefore, we have no ideas of divine operations and attributes
      • (It should be clear that the above are in tension with one another, Hume does not believe that we can know that 'nothing exists without a cause' because our knowledge is limited by our experience)
    • Cleanthes articulates the argument from design
      • Nature, in its order and adaption of means to ends, resembles a man-made machine
      • Using the rule of analogy, since the effects resemble each other, the causes must resemble each other too. A mind created the machine and a mind created the universe.
      • Though the cause of nature will be proportionally greater than the cause of a machine: divine mind: human mind
    • Demea objects to two aspects of the argument:
      • It sets up resemblance between God and man
      • It is a posteriori so it only yields probabilistic certainty, an a priori argument, like those used by theologians in the past, delivers demonstration and absolute certainty
    • Philo argues that to the extent that effects are different, the rule of analogy is weakened and, therefore, one can be less and less certain about the similarity of the causes. Man-made machines are very different than the universe, thus the analogy is very weak, and one cannot be very certain about the similarity of the causes.
    • Cleanthes argues that the similarity of the universe to a man-made machine is closer than Philo admits. He points to the "order, proportion, and arrangement of every part."
    • Philo now argues against both Demea and Cleanthes:
      • He defends Cleanthes against Demea's objection to a posteriori argumentation. He basically makes the Humean point that before we have experience we don't know anything and anything is just as likely as anything else. Only through having experience with matter do we come to learn that order, organization, etc., are found in material objects that have been caused by an intelligent being, that they don't arise in matter spontaneously.
      • He argues against Cleanthes that
        • Reasoning by analogy from objects in the universe to the universe itself is fallacious. "But can a conclusion with propriety, be transferred from parts to the whole? Does not the great disproportion bar all comparison and inference?"
        • Why should thought be the cause of the universe just because it is the cause of man-made machines, the universe has many other examples of cause-effect relationships?
        • We have yet to experience order arising without an intelligent artificer, but our experience is very small in comparison to the whole universe. It might be that it does arise so.
        • More generally and directly, "when two species of objects have always been observed to be conjoined together, I can infer, by custom, the existence of one wherever I see the existence of the other; and this I can argument from experience. But how this argument can have place where the objects, as in the present case, are single, individual, without parallel or specific resemblance, may be difficult to explain."
  • Part III
    • Cleanthes replies to Philo:
      • Stresses that the resemblance of two effects, notwithstanding their order of magnitude, suffices to enable the argument from analogy.
      • Uses thought experiment of talking and procreating books to extend the argument from design to encompass human reason - surely this must be evidence of a designer
      • Poetically urges Philo to consider the order and fineness of human anatomy
    • Demea replies to Cleanthes
      • Argues that even his thought experiment of talking and procreating books is not similar enough to the case of the universe and God - God's way are not our ways
      • Using Cleanthes's type of argument from design is to succumb to anthropomorphism
      • Excurses on negative theology, how different we are from God
      • (Note that Demea is not really on the same page as Philo - he derogates the senses as a source of knowledge, whereas Philo, in Humean fashion, believes that it is our only source of knowledge.)
  • Part IV
    • Cleanthes questions Demea's negative theology, essentially asserting that the Divine nothingness that is left from this approach is no different from the view of skeptics and atheists.
    • Demea replies by pointing out how the anthropomorphism implicit in Cleanthes's argument from design contradicts the 'perfect immutability and simplicity' that theists affirm of God.
    • Cleanthes bites the bullet and acknowledges that radical simplicity is not compatible with intelligence, which is modeled on that of human intelligence. But claims that insisting on radical simplicity entails atheism. As long as we are going to call God intelligent, we have to do with less than radical simplicity.
    • Philo argues back against Cleanthes
      • Cleanthes's view would label almost everyone but himself an atheist, this would undermine the argument from the universal consent of mankind to God.
      • Shows some of the negative results of his eschewing Divine simplicity in favor of intelligence. If he believes that the Divine Mind, or Intelligence, is not simple, then there will have to be some cause for the order of the Divine Mind. No progress has been made in trying to figure out what caused the order, we just moved from material order to divine-mind order. We are still going to need some simple cause.
    • Cleanthes responds that he is not concerned with finding causes of causes. There are ultimate causes that cannot be explained by anything else. "I have found my Deity; and here I stop my inquiry."
    • Philo remarks that, true, one has to be content with unexplainable causes at some point, but often this at a point that has some sort of explanatory pay-off. Scientists move from particular causes to more general causes and stop there. They don't usually stop with particular causes. In contrast, "an ideal system [the Divine Mind], arrange of itself, without a precedent design, is not a whit more explicable than a material one which attains its order in a like matter; nor is there any more difficult y in the latter supposition than in the former."
  • Part V
    • Philo continues to show problems with Cleanthes's approach
      • Cleanthes principle is that 'Like effects prove like causes' a corollary to this is that 'the liker the effects are which are seen and the liker the causes which are inferred, the stronger the argument.' And vise versa.
        • But if this is true, to the extent to which we discover that nature is more wondrous and magnificent than human artifacts, the argument is actually weakened.
          • The effects become less and less similar, thus undermining the argument
    • Cleanthes objects that this is not true, all of these new discoveries are just new instances of 'art and contrivance,' that is that they are not less like human artifacts, they only differ in degree.
    • Philo now moves in with more objections:
      • According to Cleanthes we could never say that God is infinite. We only know of God from his finite effects, finite effects do not license an infinite cause.
      • We could also never say that God is perfect. Human being see imperfections in the world. One could perhaps construct an a priori argument to show that God is perfect and that his work must be perfect, however, limiting oneself to a posteriori arguments one could not get from observations of the world to a perfect creator.
      • Moreover, even if the world was perfect that would not necessarily mean that God was, he might just be a perfect world-maker.
      • Also, how could we say that God is one, it could be that a bunch of gods got together to make the world, like in human productions.
        • It cannot be objected that this is to multiply causes for no reason, because we have no reason to think that all the attributes necessary to make a world are or could be contained in one being.
      • Furthermore, while we are anthropomorphizing….and on and on….
      • Basic idea is that reasoning from the effect to the cause only gives us a finite creator and then we can say whatever we want, all bets are off.
    • Cleanthes bites the bullet. If Philo wants to go off on all these flights of fancy that is fine with him. As long as the hypothesis of design in the universe is affirmed the foundation of religion is secure.
  • Part VI
    • Demea responds with horror. Why should we worship the type of God that could be possible on this minimalist foundation.
    • Philo presses further objections against Cleanthes
      • On Cleanthes principles or one similar to it, that "where several known circumstances are observed to be similar, the unknown will be found similar, one could easily claim that the universe is an animal and that God is the soul of the world. Indeed, the world seems more similar to an organism than an artifact.
        • Moreover, it is consistent with ordinary experience that there should be a mind without a body, therefore God should have a body - the world. If you insist that we cannot reason from ordinary experience, then the underlying rationale of your argument falls away and you should embrace the idea of the absolute incomprehensibility of the Divine Nature.
    • Cleanthes responds cautiously
      • The resemblance between the world and an animal is defective in some respects, it is more similar to a vegetable.
      • Philo's theory implies the eternity of the world
        • However, he has an empirical argument from the localization of species of trees against that hypothesis: How is it possible that trees that could thrive in Europe region never developed there, but existed in another, if the world is eternal? There would have had to be some sort of convulsion to destroy all vegetation in Europe.
    • Philo responds that
      • Cleanthes do not have an argument against some such convulsion having occurred.
      • Philo affirms that he does think that there is an eternal principle of order in the world, albeit one that involves continual revolutions and alterations.
        • He then seems to imply that no other explanation for the universe is necessary.
        • God or gods seem to be superfluous explanations, they do not ultimately explain anything.
  • Part VII
    • Philo continues to press his arguments:
      • The universe more resembles an animal or a vegetable therefore its cause should resemble that of an animal or a vegetable; the world is therefore more likely to have come about through procreation or vegetation than reason or design.
        • Furthermore we have more experience of animals and procreation and vegetables and vegetation than human's operating on matter on the basis of design and reason. Why select this small bit of experience for the analogy as opposed to opening up all of our experience?
    • Demea objects against Philo's arbitrary hypotheses
    • Philo acknowledges that all along his goal has been to show that we actually have no data from which to reason about the creation of the world, it being entirely different than generation within the world. But if we are going to reason about the world ,jumping to the analogy of human design and reason is mere prejudice, we have other examples that are more widespread in our experience.
    • Demea presses Philo to elaborate about how this universal vegetation or procreation would go.
    • Philo responds with classic Humean arguments about how reason, generation, vegetation, and instinct are just names that we use to label powers that we don't actually understand.
    • Demea argues that positing a universal vegetation or procreation only pushes the question back further, what accounts for the design in the vegetation or procreation. Once again, we are back to a Divine designer.
    • Philo responds that
      • There doesn't need to be a designer of the universal vegetation or procreation. Just as one tree gives rise to another tree without designing it, so too the universe. To assume that there must be a designer is to beg the question.
      • Just as Cleanthes could not answer what the cause was for the Divine reason and intelligence and argued for ultimate explanations, he can do so to. He just fixes on generation.
      • Also, his analogy is tighter than Cleanthes.
      • Further, if Cleanthes wants to insists on a designer for the universal vegetation or procreation, he can insists on some sort of vegetation or procreation as the cause for Divine reason.
    • Cleanthes basically admits he can't answer Philo but accuses him of sophistry.
  • Part VIII
    • Philo responds that it is not because he is so clever that his is able to come up with all of his objections, but because of the particular subject matter. Basically what he is saying is that here is little to control speculation in these issues. He proposes that the world might be simple made up a of a number of finite particles going through the finite number of arrangements in an infinite amount of time.
    • Demea objects that this would assume that matter could acquire movement without a first mover.
      • (In the Cartesian system matter does not move itself, therefore many religious Cartesians left a role for God as the first mover of matter.)
    • Philo responds that
      • A priori matter moving itself or needing to be moved by something else are equally probable hypotheses. We need to look at experience to see what is the case.
      • Why not suppose that there is an constant amount of movement eternally present in the universe?
        • Weaves together a cosmogony in which the universe is in eternal flux until it falls into some pattern of stability and order. The world is somewhat stable and that is why we perceive order, there is no explanation above and beyond that. If it did not have order it would not subsist.
        • This holds as much for the universe as it does for animals. If there was no order at all in animals they would not subsist, it is not that they have so sort of designer.
    • Cleanthes responds but what about order in animals above and beyond what is necessary for their continual existence?
    • Philo responds that
      • Yes, there might be problems with his theory, in these areas all of the theories are problematic.
      • Cleanthes has the deeper problem because his approach, which is based on analogy, directly goes against experience. In our experience, experience comes before mind, ideas come from without and effect thought. But Cleanthes theory has mind acting on matter, without matter acting on the mind, which we never encounter.
      • Holes can be found in every religious system, the best thing to do is to be a skeptic and withhold judgment
  • Part IX
    • Demea now tries to shift away from the inconclusive a posteriori argumentation:
      • Proposes that we use a priori arguments for God's existence. This would be better as through it we could show God's infinity and unity, things we couldn't show a posteriori, as discussed above.
      • Offers the classic argument for a first cause or first reason
    • Cleanthes responds:
      • It is a fallacy to try to demonstrate a matter of fact a priori.
        • Nothing is demonstrable unless its contrary implies a contradiction.
        • But nothing that can be conceived implies a contradiction.
        • Anything that can be conceived to exist can be conceived to not exist.
        • Therefore, one cannot prove a priori that something must exist.
      • Necessary existence either does not have a meaning or none that is consistent
      • Further, why couldn't the material universe be the necessary existent, stop the chain early.
      • Further, an eternal chain of causes and effects would not need a first cause, it would just be eternal, each one causing the next
        • Objecting, yes but what causes the whole chain, is misguided, there is no whole chain, there is just one cause causing the next
    • Philo raises the possibility that the world just is the way it is on account of necessity.
      • He also raises the issue of how little religious succor individuals derive from a priori reasoning.
  • Part X
    • Demea stresses that everyone feels within themselves the truth of their religion and connects it with it use as a resource amid the ills of life.
    • Philo joins him in discussing how human misery draws out the religious feeling in people. But then moves the conversation through a consideration of natural evil to social evil.
    • Cleanthes interjects that he himself does not feel human misery in himself.
    • Philo, on the basis of these reflections, formulates the classic argument from evil.
      • Argument from evil
        • God is good
        • God is all powerful
        • Evil exists
      • More locally he uses it to challenge Cleanthes's position that God's attributes can be conceived anthropomorphically. Can we say God is good, in a sense that meshes with what we call human goodness, if he allows such evil?
      • Proposes instead seeing God's attributes as infinitely perfect but incomprehensible.
    • Cleanthes notes that Philo isn't really agreeing with Demea in his religious mysticism. He is really trying to undermine all religion, why should we worship a Deity who lacks a moral attributes.
    • Demea replies that
      • Cleanthes is wrong for mistaking a discussion of man's evil for an attempt to undermine God's justice.
      • All the evil in the world is balanced out by goodness in other parts.
    • Cleanthes responds that
      • Demea's apologetics have no support, there is no evidence of all this goodness that is supposed to outweigh the bad.
      • The only way to affirm God's goodness is to deny that there is as much human misery as he has been suggesting.
    • Philo responds that
      • Even if pleasure is more frequent than pain, its intensity is greater
      • Questions Cleanthes attempt to found religion on such an uncertain basis as the happiness of mankind
      • Even if there is more pleasure than pain in the world, this is not what we would expect from an infinitely good and powerful God, why isn't the world even better?
      • Even if we could prove that there is more pleasure in the world then pain, we could never argue from that that God is infinitely good, the cause assumed is greater than the effect it is trying to explain
  • Part XI
    • Cleanthes responds to Philo and Demea
      • Infinity is not something we can really comprehend, so if we assume that God is infinte we don't really have any object for religion.
      • As long as we think that God is infinitely good and infinitely powerful, it is impossible to reconcile him with any amount of evil in the world
      • Therefore let's just suppose that God is finitely perfect
    • Philo responds that
      • If an individual did not have an commitments and just worked from experience he would not even infer on even a finitely perfect being as the cause of the universe. The world is not what we would expect if we considered beforehand what a world created by even by a finitely good and powerful being would create.
        • The world is not strictly speaking incompatible with having such a creator, but it s not what we would infer on the basis of experience.
      • The evils of the world are based on four unnecessary causes coming together:
        • The pain that results from hunger and thirst
        • The conducting the world on the basis of general laws
        • The weakness of powers and faculties in the every being
        • The inaccurate workmanship of all the springs and principles of the great machine of nature
          • Basic point here: "If the goodness of the deity (I mean a goodness like the human) could be established on any tolerable reasons a priori, these phenomena, however, untoward, would not be sufficient to subvert that principle, but might easily, in some unknown matter, be reconcilable to it. But let us still assert that, as this goodness is not antecedently established but must be inferred from the phenomena, there can be no ground for such an inference while there are so many ills in the universe, and while these ills might be so easily have been remedied, as far as human understanding can be allowed to judge on such a subject."
      • There are four hypothesis concerning the first causes of the universe
        • Endowed with perfect goodness - the mixed experience cannot prove this
        • Endowed with perfect malice - the mixed experience cannot prove this
        • That they are opposite and have goodness and malice - uniformity and steadiness of nature speaks against this
        • That they have neither goodness nor malice - this is the most probable
    • Demea now freaks out as his former ally in the fight for an incomprehensible God has become a heretic
    • Cleanthes rips Demea for being so stupid not to have realized this before
    • Philo re-expresses how apologetic literature will change itself constantly to fit the times
  • Part XII
    • Demea leaves
    • Philo unexpectedly launches into a an extended discussion of the order and design that "strikes everywhere the most careless and most stupid thinker."
      • (There is obviously a lot of reasons to think that Philo is being slightly disingenuous when claiming the mantle of the design argument now.)
    • Cleanthes joins in now that Philo has finally seems to be agreeing with him. He mentions that perhaps one could suspend judgment for a little while, but that this is not possible in the long-term.
    • Philo continues to articulate views almost entirely contrary to that which he voiced earlier:
      • He describes the analogical relationship between art and an artificer and the universe and a creator.
      • He then argues that much of the dispute between the theist and the atheist is merely verbal, one calling the orderer of nature an original principle the other an original intelligence.
      • He also, even more disingenuously, mentions how it is OK that God's moral attributes are not evident from his effects, as we already know that his absolutely and supremely perfect.
      • He explains that while he cherishes true religion, he attempts to destroy vulgar superstition.
    • Cleanthes responds that he disagrees on the last point, in light of the rewards stored up in heaven, it is better to have corrupted religion than no religion at all.
    • Philo contests that corrupt religion is better than no religion by claiming that it is responsible for much misery throughout history.
    • Cleanthes responds that this is only when religion "act as a separate principle over man" as opposed to cultivating morality.
    • Philo responds that
      • All religion will be like that as long as it is not rational and philosophical.
      • He also questions whether religion ever has the moral effects that Cleanthes claims for it.
      • Philosophers have no need for the motivation that comes from religion to act properly, while the masses tend to only be drawn to religion that will divert them from moral deeds. They will want a religion of meaningless superstition instead.
      • Indeed, the vulgar religion can even motivate the zealous to act directly against moral principles.
    • Cleanthes cautions Philo not throw out good philosophical, true religion with the bad.
    • Philo responds that most people are only motivated out of fear to embrace vulgar religion.
    • Cleanthes replies that that is true but that religion often comforts people.
    • Philo replies with a number of comments about emotion, religion, and true worship:
      • Fear and terror are the primary emotions behind religion, most of the other, positive sentiments involved in it come from philosophy.
      • Most of the time when people are cheerful they do not concern themselves with religion, but with sociality.
      • Religion might give rise to joy, but fear is still primary. Religious joy might then lead to excessive enthusiasm, which only paves the way for more despair.
      • It doesn't make sense to have such religious terror. It is based on an absurdity and an inconsistency:
        • Absurd to believe that God has human passions; moreover, the need for praise from us.
        • Inconsistent to think God has this passion but not another, lack of concern for the opinions of those inferior to him, us.
      • Only knowledge of God is true worship.
      • The whole of rational theology is that "the cause or causes of order in the universe probably bear some remote analogy to human intelligence."
        • But this statement "affords no inference that affects human life."
      • One should merely assent to it and await revelation to take one further.
      • That is why being a philosophical skeptic is good preparation for being a Christian.
    • Pamphilus concludes by ranking the participants in terms of the probability of their principles: Cleanthes, Philo, Demea

Friday, August 27, 2010

Allan Megill - Prophets of Extremity


All the writers examined here share an aestheticism, not a concern with aesthetics, but a desire to expand the aesthetic to embrace the whole of reality. Foucault's discourse, Heidegger's language, these stand as successors to the work of art (3). Like the Romantics, these authors saw themselves as living in a time of change. But unlike the Romantics, they saw no promise of return, only a circuitous journey, a crisis without resolution, a dialectic without reintegration. All followed in the footsteps of Kant's third critique, which sought to bring together science (the realm of unfree objects) and morality (the realm of free subjects). All desire to circumvent the subject/object distinction, using art as a mediator. They all follow Schiller in theorizing modern alienation, and Schelling in putting art above philosophy. They all also desire to break down the barriers between philosophy and literature. Megill would have liked to have included Gadamer in this bunch because he thinks of the work of art as the model for all experience, but Gadamer rejects the notion of a radical crisis.


1. Nietzsche and the Aesthetic

Against the "naturalist" interpretation of Nietzsche, Megill argues for an aestheticist view, which sees Nietzsche as questioning the very notion of "natural." Nietzsche gives art an ontogenetic, or world-making, significance (31). He thinks of the "natural" as a human creation, and that nothing is "behind" this web of illusion. As he says, "It is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that existence and the world are eternally justified."

Nietzsche condemns the present world as null but rejects the alternative of searching for another, saying that there is "no true world," only perspectival appearance. Nietzsche desires a return to myth, and he sees in art the method. While the Romantics thought that art could penetrate to the truth of things, Nietzsche believed art is a vehicle of illusion. He sees immediacy as unattainable but still desires it. He delights in the play of language for its own sake.

The early Nietzsche opposes Apollonian formalism and Dionysian formlessness. Men cannot bear the full burden of reality, so the Apollonian veil shields us from its harshness, while the Dionysian tears aside the veil, opening the way to the mysterious primordial unity.

In his later writings, Nietzsche comes to oppose Schopenhauer's will and to desire a justification of life, an affirmation of reality. In the Gay Science he distinguishes between two kinds of art, that done suffering from an impoverishment of life and that done suffering from the over-fullness of life. Only the latter is truly Dionysian. Kaufmann believes that the two figures of Apollo and Dionysus become congealed in Dionysus in the later Nieztsche, but Megill argues that the Dionysian itself undergoes a change. It becomes less an intoxicated reality and more a reality that can be turned into art. With this new conception of Dionysian realism, Apollonian illusionism goes by the wayside.

Nietzsche shares Kant's view that the aesthetic offers an alternative to the mediating and complexifying influence of concepts (48). But while Kant thinks these concepts constitute our world, Nietzsche thinks they dissimulate it. The human intellect claims to give us a true knowledge of the wold when in fact it does not. The world, in Nieztsche's view, is made up of absolutely individualized fragments: no thing, no occurrence, is exactly the same as any other thing or occurrence. We can nonetheless grant concepts an aesthetic, metaphoric status. Truths are illusions of which one has forgotten that this is what they are; metaphors which have become worn out and have lost their sensual power. A free play of intellect delights in play for its own sake, in bringing forward "forbidden metaphors" and "unheard-of combinations of concepts." In Kant, the process of constructing reality is the same for all humankind, but in Nietzsche, the process is highly individual and arbitrary. Concepts order reality for Kant, they dissimulate it for Nietzsche.

The later Nietzsche equates theoretical learning with Apollonianism, which is irremediably hostile to art, which means it is also hostile to culture. Creativity comes from the instincts, the passions, the unconscious - from the dark, hidden recesses of the human spirit, not from theory. The immediacy of unconscious creativity made the Greeks great, and Socrates ruined everything for them by making consciousness creative. After him follows a total inversion of Greek culture. He was the founder of an entirely new system of culture which believed in the profound illusion that thought can penetrate the deepest abysses of being (56). But at its limit, Socratic questioning turns back into and pronounces the need for art.

Logic is the attempt to comprehend the actual world by means of a schema of being posited by ourselves. It is one of man's many arts. But it becomes a problem when rigidified, when philosophers try to mummify our experience in concepts instead of accepting the evidence of the senses, that all is in constant flux. The eternal return is the myth that expresses this flux, but it remains an intuition, never fully developed in Nietzsche's work. He justifies his lack of definition by saying that it is enough to create new names and estimations and probabilities in order to create in the long run new 'things.'" N's remedy for all things is: become an artist. Art is the 'cult of the untrue' that makes bearable for us the general untruth and mendaciousness of the world (64).

2. Nietzsche and Myth

In the positivistic middle period, Nietzsche represents artists as intellectual lightweights. He here thinks of art in a kind of Hegelian way, as a stage on the way to something greater: science. But this is not to say he was a positivist, for he approached science in anticonceptualist terms. Thus, even in his positivistic period, he views science in terms of art, but remains uncertain about its mythical potential.

Myth begins by creating culture, but then it is hardened into religion, where the feeling for myth perishes. The resurgence of myth in Greek culture died with Socrates and the new Alexandrian culture of the theoretical man which sought to dissolve myth (73). We live today in a culture within which the binding force of myth has been loosed. We have made mythic consciousness all but impossible by examining the past in a critical and scientific spirit. The destruction of myth has robbed our culture of any fixed and sacred primordial site.

The problem, then, is to recover myth and to restore the lost vitality of culture. The process by which myth was lost is not to be followed by the reverse process, the gradual awakening of the Dionysian spirit in our modern world. One is reminded of Schelling’s Ages of the World, which looked forward to a golden age when truth becomes fable and fable truth. From logos to mythos we go from a debilitating skepticism and ironism to a renewed ground of certainty.

The myth of the future is the doctrine of eternal return, which is an attack on the ridiculous overestimation and misunderstanding of consciousness (82). Language is the prime expression of the will to power operative in the eternal return. Nietzsche intended eternal return as a denial of both the Christian myth of redemption and the 19th century bourgeois myth of progress. Like many of Foucault and Derrida’s concepts, it is easier to say what eternal return is not than what it is.

The process of interpretation is an infinite unfolding in which a ground is never reached because a ground does not exist. Foucault claimed that Nietzsche contributed a great deal to the liberation of the signifier from its dependence or derivation with respect to the logos and the related concept of truth (85). Nietzsche claims that it is a mistake to the believe that if all perspectives on the world were deducted, a world would still remain over. Facts are precisely what there is not, only interpretation. Interpretation is a total imposition of meaning and reality upon the world.

Though Kant and Nietzsche share many of the same concerns, Kant saw himself as a critic, Nietzsche as an artist and mythmaker. Kant views the categories as world-constitutive, Nietzsche as Verstellung, dissimulation. Nietzsche delighted in interpretation, suggesting that there is a positive enjoyment and nobility in the attempt to throw a new interpretation over the world. What matters for Nietzsche is not the objective “correctness” of interpretation but rather the courage and daring of the interpreter and his ability to pursue his insights at length and in a single direction (91). Nietzsche avers that good interpretation does not stick too close to consciousness, which is a more or less fantastic commentary on an unknown, perhaps unknowable, but felt text. The true thinker is one who escapes an academic gravity and seriousness, who is able to remain airborne, spinning out interpretations of a reality that lies irremediably beyond human ken.

Nietzsche does not believe that language distorts reality but that it is reality – with nothing outside of language to be distorted. Thought is brought back towards language itself, toward its unique and difficult beginning. N’s conception of language as active, independent being, speaking what is allegedly its own truth, provides the framework within which we are able to grasp the role that eternal return plays in his thought.

N’s true predecessor as a mythmaker is Jesus, who is a symbolist par excellence. Nietzsche could not create a myth on his own, however, and only appealed to a hoped-for revival of myth.


3. Heidegger and Crisis

In his book about Nietzsche, Heidegger tells us that thinking only begins when we have come to know that reason, glorified for centuries, is the most stiff-necked adversary of thought. Heidegger opposes all manifestations of the scientization of man. He shared the prewar belief that all continuity had been lost and that in consequence new and unexpected possibilities had, for good or ill, been opened up. Like Simmel, he thought of modern man as essentially alienated, characterized by a contradiction between a need for personal spontaneity and an objective, oppressive culture. World War I gave to the crisis notion a much greater currency and breadth. Integrally connected with this sense of crisis was the notion of apocalypitc change and regeneration. While Foucault would embrace the imaginative side of the Nietzschean heritage, Heidegger embraced the nostalgic side. He perpetually wants to go back, to return, to go home again.

In Being and Time, Heidegger says that the banal and superficial life that we lead when, in the broadest sense, we are out meeting the public conceals from us the knowledge that we are alienated beings and makes us feel at home in the world. Fallenness and anxiety here are manifested at all times for Dasein. Through the Destruktion of the history of ontology, Heidegger wants us to return to the question of being. At present we are so concerned with knowing about things that we risk not knowing anything at all. Our conscience calls us back to a (mythologized) origin, but this calling back is also a calling forth. As Derrida notes, Heidegger’s discourse in B&T is dominated by a metaphorics of proximity, of simple immediate presence, neighboring, sheltering, guarding, listening, etc. Heidegger’s nostalgia for an immediate presence can be read as a longing for the immediate Dionysian presence of the origin, from which all division, all separation, all difference is excluded.

Though most of the analysis in B&T is abstract, Heidegger does occasionally get into the particulars of modern life, for instance, when he writes: “In utilizing public means of transport and in making use of information services such as the newspaper, every Other is like the next.” Or when he is concerned with “the anonymous and depersonalized subject of the modern industrial city.” After B&T, Nietzsche became a bigger deal for him. He says in “Plato’s Doctrine of Truth” that ours is the age in which metaphysics is completed or the age in which nihilism comes to the fore (nihilism = the forgetting of being for beings). We are separated from being, from our beginnings, by both the Christian-theological world interpretation and the mathematical-technological thinking of the modern age (132). Heidegger lauds the thoughtfulness and sense of remembrance in peasant and thinks that philosophical work belongs in their midst. His idealization of the Volk is nostalgic in bearing.

In the political writings of the 30’s, Heidegger still thinks there is something to be done, but with his shift toward technology, his thinking becomes less a willing and more a waiting. In the Age of the World Picture, Heidegger accuses Descartes of unjustly equating the hypokeimenon/subiectum (foundation of beings) with man, which prevented beings from simply being. Henceforth being was violently seized upon by the Cartesian cogito, which grasped the world as a picture or model (Bild) standing apart from and against the human subject. This representation is not a self-unconcealment but a laying hold, an assault of man upon beings (139). So too is modern technology a seizing, a challenging-forth, as opposed to Greek techne, which still allowed beings to be. The nihilistic impulse of Western culture finds its culmination in technology, which turn everything into standing-reserve.

4. Heidegger’s Aestheticism

By the early 30’s, Heidegger had become a prophet of extremity. His later writings center around technology and art, the destroying and the saving powers. For the Greeks, techne was a poetic or revealing art, and Heidegger imagines a return to this openness. The later Heidegger is a radically ideal utopian because he feels an absolute revulsion against the present. The crisis of the modern age demands a turning, but the turning itself lies beyond our grasp, and we can only wait.

Heidegger and Hegel share many concerns, and Heidegger takes from him the idea of the end or fulfillment of history. But while Hegel sees what comes earlier as poorer in determination, Heidegger mythologizes the beginning, the Greeks.

The later Heidegger views language as a work of art and as an ontogenesis. He repudiates Sartre’s view that man alone creates, saying instead that what principally exists is being and that man stands out only in the truth of this being. Like Marx, Heidegger posited the estrangement of man but did not look to change the social order. The problem of freedom for Heidegger was rather a personal one, one of thinking. Such thinking is a recollection of being, and nothing else. It has no result. It is to think the world as a poem of its own making. This also means undermining the subject/object division, to question the being of the subject rather than simply assuming it as Kant did. Truth can no longer be conceived as a correspondence between knowing subject and known object but must rather be seen as an “uncoveredness” or “unhiddenness” of the things themselves.

In our “normal,” propositional-conceptual-representation thinking, we project a grid onto the world, onto “things.” But the thing resists this conceptualization, it “evades thought most stubbornly.” Art presents us the thing as thing. Heidegger’s ontological view (as opposed to the aesthetic view) of art holds that art is not mere play (as in Kant) but is rather a revelation of truth and hence of being (159). Hegel held the same view but nonetheless put philosophy above art. Heidegger attacks the “subjectivist” view of art, saying things like, it is not van Gogh who speaks through the painting but the painting itself that speaks. Art simply is, and questions of subjectivity and objectivity are irrelevant. Artwork speaks in a nonsubjective, being-attuned voice. Blanchot and Derrida follow Heidegger but reject truth in art.

In 1959, with On the Way to Language, Heidegger turns from the work of art to language. Language, like art, sets up a world; we must let this enigmatic center that resists clarification speak for itself. Language is the original essence of the truth as there. In language, we find a dwelling, the means for overcoming our crisis. There is no difference between language and being/reality.

Among the poets who Heidegger praises, Holderlin is at the top. With Holderlin, the Hegelian crisis acquires a more markedly nostalgic basis. Holderlin, like Heidegger, sought the rediscovery of the authentic Greek spirit (173).

For Heidegger, thinking is laying inconspicuous furrows in language. The philosopher is a creator who initiates profound transformations by devious paths (reminiscent of Nietzsche). Today we are dominated by a calculative, technological thinking. Heidegger recommends Gelassenheit, a releasement towards things, to combat the uprootedness that our excessive seizure of things has caused us. In the end, then, Heidegger recommends quietism, a reality left as it is.


5. Foucault and Structuralism

Foucault assumes a crisis similar to Nietzsche and Heidegger. He persistently misuses and misinterprets texts, but this is because he wants them to go out into the world and, by the power of their rhetoric, change it. He wants his works to self-destruct after use, like fireworks. He recognizes his predecessor as Nietzsche, wherein he sees the promise of a postanthropological future. Foucault’s activism is in marked contrast to Heidegger’s quietism. Heidegger embraces the nostalgic side of Nietzsche, Foucault the imaginative side.

Foucault’s influences outside of philosophy include Artaud and Bataille, who intensified Kojeve’s notion of the violence of the dialectic to shake up the dialectic. Artaud and Bataille both expressed an “excessive” character similar to Foucault. He was also influenced by the structuralisms which attempt to move the center of intellectual concern away from the speaking subject and toward the structure of the language being spoken.

In his first works, the History of Madness and the Birth of the Clinic, Foucault is still concerned with uncovering an “experience,” though this notion of experience drops out of the picture in the Order of Things and the Archaeology of Knowledge, replaced by a concern with “language” or “discourse” (191). In these two later works, Foucault is under the “illusion of an autonomous discourse,” like the aestheticist Nietzsche and the later Heidegger.

Foucault sees the history of the west as a conflict between Same and Other; when an Other is absent, it must be invented, as demonstrated in the History of Madness, where a society deprived of lepers turn toward the insane to enclose. And in the Birth of the Clinic, which places bodily illness under the same gaze. And in Discipline and Punish, where criminals are put under observation in the same way as the insane. In all, Foucault is concerned with a mounting series of attacks on the existing order of things. The presence of crisis is indicated by his well-known penchant for seeing history as broken by a series of ruptures or discontinuities. Foucault identifies with no particular subjugated knowledge but with subjugated knowledge as such. All knowledge is connected to power, and since there is no such thing as objective knowledge, one must be active in shaping it.

Megill portrays Foucault as a utopian idealist in rejecting the present in all its forms. But utopia can never be reached, and thus all one can do is constantly contest the existing order, involve oneself in a permanent revolution.

In his early “phenomenological” works, Foucault contends that the concept of mental illness has wiped out our contact with this experience, and thus he wants to go back and let madness speak for itself, before it was captured by knowledge. This is not unlike the phenomenologist’s desire to get back to the “thing itself.” In his next “structuralist” stage, being the Order of Things and the Archaeology of Knowledge, experience disappears; he now proposes to substitute for the enigmatic treasure of ‘things’ anterior to discourse the regular formation of objects that emerge only in discourse (203). The object, a something independent of the subject, is destroyed, and the destruction of the object is accompanied by the destruction of the subject as well.

Foucault might be characterized as a structuralist inasmuch as 1) he is concerned with language, 2) he attacks subjectivism and anthropologism, 3) he focuses on discontinuity rather than diachrony, 4) he speaks in binary oppositions (Same v. Other), 5) and he talks about the concept of the sign. Megill rejects these attributions one by one. First, Foucault’s concern with language has more to do with Mallarm√© than Saussure, and his rejection of subjectivism more to do with Nietzsche and Heidegger. His focus on discontinuity has nothing to do with the synchronic/diachronic division, and his attraction to binary oppositions was rather temporary and unimportant. Finally, there is his concern with the sign. The Order of Things is no doubt concerned with language, but less language as a system of signs and more language as an ontogenetic work of art. He argues that representation is characteristic of the classical episteme in the way signification is of the modern episteme. Representation involves a doubling, a signifier and a signified. Signification involves only signifiers in a play of difference. Because for Foucault there is no transcendental signified today, there can be no sign, and thus the fifth connection to structuralism is refuted.

Megill continues with more debate on whether or not Foucault is a structuralist. He then talks about Derrida’s view of structuralism, which is of course that it is intimately tied up with logocentrism, the metaphoric of light and vision, the persistent Apollonianism of Western philosophy, etc. Foucault is part of this tradition too, portraying for us a lucent, Apollonian world, says Derrida.

6. Beyond Structuralism

In Foucault, as in in Nietzsche, art is a matter not of truth but of lie. Foucault radically denies the notion of return as involving the recovery of something that is simply there, waiting for us to pick it up again. The Archaeology of Knowledge displays this disappearance of any such nostalgic and lyrical suggestion. In it, both “work of art” and “language” are replaced by “discourse.” Foucault holds up Nietzsche, Marx and Freud as having discovered that there is no solid and objective truth that can serve as a point of termination. In this middle period, we see Foucault turning away from discourse conceived as a system of signs pointing outward and toward a discourse that would systematically form the objects of which it speaks. Yet his commitment to the principle of exteriority, which states the lack of any depth or ultimate referrent, remains inconsistent, for he continues to conceive of his project in terms of the visual and spatial metaphoric evoked in Chapter 5. See the Order of Things, where he talks about an “order that manifests itself in depth” and “this order, taken as a firm foundation.” But by the Archaeology of Knowledge, his rejection of images of depth is unequivocal. “We do not seek below what is manifest the half silent murmur of another discourse.”

The Archaeology of Knowledge is the most consistently misread of all Foucault’s works. One should know first that it is a parodic repetition of Descartes’ Discourse on Method. Its basic thesis, insofar as it can be said to have one, is that the uncovering of the archive - the first law of what can be said, the system that governs the appearance of statements as unique events - can be carried out only by an analysis that is concerned neither with the internal play of signifiers (literary critics) nor with the external reference of signifieds (historiography). But what the uncovering of the archive is is never made clear. The work is an attack on science, on the whole idea of an objective knowing. He writes that in “archaeological analysis,” “one is not seeking to pass from the text to thought, from talk to silence, from the exterior to the interior, form spatial dispersion to the pure recollection of the moment, from superficiality to profound unity. One remains within the dimension of discourse.”

The Archaeology of Knowledge is still, however, caught up within the spatial metaphoric. In the writings that come after it, Foucault abandons the lingering theoreticism of that work. This shift toward a notion of discourse as praxis can be linked to the events of 1968. After 1970, Foucault characterizes his work not as archaeology but as genealogy, at which point he also acknowledges the fictional character of his historical writings. He says in an interview that “I am well aware that I have never written anything but fictions. It seems to me that it is possible to make fiction work inside of truth, to induce truthful effects with a fictional discourse.” Foucault accepts, in his later writings, Nietzsche’s notion of history as something that propagates, or at any rate ought to propagate, myths that will be useful in the present. If Heidegger’s project may be titled Waiting for Godot, Foucault’s may be called Running after Godot - it being understood that Godot will not allow himself to be caught, if he exists at all.

Whereas in the Archaeology of Knowledge, discourse was a kind of plane surface that one seeks to order or disorder, it is now seen, in his later work, as that for which, that by which one struggles, the power that one seeks to seize. Pre-1969, he dealth almost exclusively with linguistic practices; after 1969, he deals with social practices that formed by institutions and discourse.

In the Will to Knowledge, Foucault denies the “repression hypothesis,” claiming that sexuality has not been repressed in the modern world but has rather proliferated. He portrays discourse here as something that goes out to battle. He is viewing the world as if it were discourse. In the reigning discourse, homosexuality is subjected to exclusion, and Foucault wants to show that absolutely arbitrary character of that exclusion. To be sure, when the present order is overturned and the subversive discourse becomes the reigning one, it, too, will be subject to discursive attack. Foucault articulates an instrument of systematic suspicion toward any order whatsoever.

Power in the later Foucault “tends to occupy the ‘anonymous’ place which classical treatises in metaphysics reserved for substance” (240). One can only understand Foucault’s conception of power when we understand his turn to Nietzsche. He conceives power not as a negative but a positive phenomenon: “Power produces; it produces reality; it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth.” Discipline and Punish testifies to this new conception of power, for its central contention is that the social role of the prison was not to repress delinquency but to create it. By manufacturing a threat to social stability, the prison provided a rationale for the construction of the vast apparatus of control and discipline that now dominates bourgeois society. We all are caught within disciplinary systems - micro-pouvoirs. These systems exist throughout bourgeois society and control our behavior without our knowing it. This disciplinary power is exercised through its invisibility, yet at the same time, it imposes on those whom it subjects a principle of compulsory visibility. Foucault engages in a reversal of Rousseau, viewing as insidious and threatening what he saw as desirable. Foucault said in an interview that “what I am trying to do is grasp the implicit systems which determine our most familiar behavior without our knowing it. Against the will to knowledge that has dominated our perception, he deploys a will to creative opinion. He engages in a legitimate rhetorical tactic, telling us lies about the past in order to open our eyes to the reality of the present. But the present reality is also a fiction. The question remains, however, whether the “dream of Apocalypse” that Foucault puts before us is really one we want to make our own.

Marx and Foucault both see the connection between knowledge and power, but Marx is committed to a notion of objective science, which grounds his revolution. Without a similar ground, Foucault’s revolution is against everything. Again, why should we opt for Foucault?

Foucault believed that thought is not theoretically, that it acts. This notion of the ontogenetic function of discourse has a strategic potential: it opens up a space within which the bearer of discourse can act to change the world. In the Will to Knowledge and elsewhere, Foucault articulates an antinaturalism, claiming that there is nothing natural about the current order and that it can and ought to be changed. There is no “natural,” just successive regimes of power. The same goes for Foucault’s own writings: there is no one Foucault, just a succession of positions.


7. The Deconstruction of Crisis

To interpret Derrida is already an act of violence because his writings are literally non-sensical. As opposed to Foucault, with Derrida one finds an anti-ocular, antispatial stance so radical that all positions seem to be wiped away as soon as they become visible. Derrida’s irony is so radical that he rejects the ideal, utopian worlds of Nietzsche, Heidegger and Foucault.

In the Critique of Judgment, Kant founded the philosophy of art; Derrida seeks to undermine this philosophy by calling into question the distinction between art and reality. This attack on aestheticism is coupled with one on the root of nihilism: historicism (being any attribution of directionality to history). This also undermines crisis thought. Megill chooses to see Derrida’s project as twofold: deconstruction of crisis (historicism) and deconstruction of art. Derrida’s comical catharsis is postethical, aesthetic laughter.

Derrida shares much with the other prophets of extremity, but undermines their projects in important ways. Against Foucault’s apocalyptic vision of history, Derrida makes no ringing claims to have detected earthquakes in the offing or the imminent wiping out of man. Derrida’s real interest seems to be in opening us up to the hermeneutical possibilities of the written word (271). His project is explicitly anti-Hegelian. He refers ‘to Hegel, who is always right as soon as one opens one’s mouth in order to articulate meaning.’ All Derrida’s texts are prefatory, meaning they do not point toward a rational end but are rather dogged and aimless crisscrossing of territory.

One of Derrida’s favorite tools is the “rule of four,” also known as dissemination. If the threefold dialectic is a process of reproduction, the fourfold dissemination is a falling of seed on barren ground. The possibility of a fourth moment of the dialectic destroys the whole dialectical machine. Position, negation, negation of the negation, deconstruction (Nietzsche, Heidegger, Foucault, Derrida).

As opposed to Foucault, who gave up the formal study of philosophy, Derrida remained within philosophy. Whereas Foucault’s concern with alterity was with different oppressed groups (the sick, the insane, criminals, sexual deviants), Derrida’s was with alterity as such.

Derrida devotes a great deal of time to literature, specifically Artaud, Bataille, Sollers and above all Mallarme. Like Blanchot, he rejects Heidegger’s idea of truth in art; art, in Blanchot’s view, hides itself from signification, designating that region where nothing lives. Blanchot makes a distinction, following Mallarme, between parole brute - language as it is concerned with the reality of things - and parole essentielle - language which distances us from things, making them disappear. Parole essentielle is the language of poetry.

Derrida’s primary “thesis” is that over the course of Western history writing has been abased in favor of speech. Speech stands for immediacy, writing for secondariness. Writing, the sensible inscription, has always been considered by Western tradition as the body and matter external to the spirit, to breath, to speech, and to the logos. Writing is presented as the dissimulation of the natural, primary and immediate presence of sense to the soul within the logos. From this follow Derrida’ attack on Hegel’s “here and now” and Husserl’s “living present.”

Adopting Rorty’s “hermeneutical stance,” Derrida tells us that there is nothing outside of the text, that interpretation is an endless play that connects with no extra-interpretive referent. Literature is at once reassured and threatened by the fact of depending only on itself, standing in the air, all alone, separated from being. “Traditional” criticism always seeks a theme that is outside the text. Derrida hopes that “language is beginning to let itself be transferred to, or at least summarized under, the name of writing. Yet Derrida’s apocalypticism is tempered by humor, not at all like Foucault’s.

Derrida undermines crisis philosophy by revealing that it is based on a certain view of history that is linear or directional. 19th c. historicism gave way to 20th c. crisis commitment. The convincing power of the crisis notion depends on one’s prior belief in the linear or directional character of history, yet the whole point of the crisis notion is to undermine any such belief.

8. The Deconstruction of Art

The other prophets of extremity flirt with their aesthetic strands, but Derrida’s is so prominent that we might be inclined to confine ourselves to a reflection on art and aesthetics alone. Derrida can be seen as providing the intellectual or philosophical complement to such aesthetic developments as Duchamp’s urinal/foundation and Christo’s monumental sculptures.

The two traditions Derrida deals with are philosophy and Judaism, which he conceives as both an historical reality and a symbol of marginality. Megill links Derrida’s deconstruction of art to four names: 1) Levinas and the question of the other, 2) Jabes and the question of writing, 3) Freud and the question of interpretation, and 4) Kant and the question of art.

With Levinas, Derrida calls into question Husserl’s unswerving allegiance to the visual metaphors of theory and intuition. He also argues against Heidegger that his distinction between Being and beings, and the alleged priority of the former to the latter, is a manifestation of the most vicious of all tyrannies, that of the same over the other. This compromises the alterity of the other, enclosing it within an other-denying totality. The distinguishing feature of Western civilization has been the advance of reason; this project is utterly dependent for its persistence on the preservation of precisely that interiority which the advance of reason aims to destroy. To Western philosophy Levinas opposed eschatology, which institutes a relation with being beyond the totality or beyond history. Derrida focuses on Levinas’ conflict between an eschatological Judaism and a totalizing Greek philosophy. Against Levinas he sees in the Greek tradition an alterity that is explcitly denied. He also maintains that the “themes of nonpresence” work over phenomenology unceasingly. In brief, he argues that Western philosophy is always already fissured by alterity, and also that Hebraism is corrupted by the totalitarian violence that it seeks to evade. Whereas Levinas presents himself as an apologist for a pristine Judaism, Derrida can do nothing more than point out the impossibility of such a Judaism. Derrida thus attempts to erase the distinction between Hebraism and Hellenism.

The name of the secondariness that follows from the death of God is writing. Derrida stands as a successor to the Kabbalah, for where the Kabbalists sought, through the manipulation of words and letters, to find a path back through the ten Sefirot to God, Derrida takes the manipulation of words and letters as something close to an end in itself. While Nietzsche deals with nihilism, Heidegger with technology and Foucault with humanism, Derrida confronts the holocaust. Derrida is attracted to Jabes because he connects Judaism and writing. Viewed in a longer historical perspective, the labyrinthine text that is Derrida’s can be seen as having its precursor in the labyrinthine wanderings of the Jew. The encyclopedic, that is, circular Book gives way to the post-Nietzschean figure of the ellipse - the ellipse of writing that lacks the center of a meaning. Two figures are important for Derrida: the poet and the rabbi.

Since Freud saw himself as a man of science, he is distant from the prophets of extremity and their antiscientism. Lorin Anderson argues that Freud was a secret disciple of Nietzsche. But Freud is better seen is one of the prime mythopoeic thinkers of our age. The modernist Freud offers a way of living. The Freudian analytic attidue gives us the detachment needed to survive the modern, crisis-ridden civilization. Post-moderns reject this, praising him rather for his skills as an interpreter. Freud the modernist as epistemologist, Freud the post-modernist as hermeneut, playing with text. An investment in “reality” supposedly separates Freud from the prophets of extremity, but his reality is highly elusive. It is not what happened that is important but what the fantasies about what happened were. Freud had the courage and imagination to build, on a foundation terrifying in its exiguousness, an immense interpretive edifice. Freud’s hostily to art marks him off from other aestheticist thinkers? Derrida stresses the fictive aspect of psychoanalysis. And Freud’s dream interpretation bears a striking resemblance to Derrida’s wordplay. Glas is an intellectual fantasy constructed from the detritus of 2500 years of western culture just as the dream work is constructed from the detritus of the day.

All the prophets of extremity desire a “mythic moment” except for Derrida, who is too ironic to articulate myth. He argues that art is as much under the sway of the Greek logos as philosophy is. That central to Derrida’s project is an importing into the realm of ideas what was already present in practice in the realm of art. Like postmodernists he substitutes for the modernist faith in depth and penetration an adherence to surfaces. One has in Derrida the sense of an ending, of both Hegelianism and Nietzscheanism.


Modern Western intellectual history has up to now been mainly defined by the thought of the Enlightenment. The prophets of extremity try to deal with the crisis of the Enlightenment with aestheticism, which Megill defines as “an attempt to bring back into thought and into our lives that form of edification, that reawakening of ekstasis, which in the Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment view has been largely confined to the realm of art.” Aestheticism can lead to both activity (Foucault) and passivity (Heidegger). Megill expresses worry about Foucault’s confusion of discourse and world. He concludes by saying we ought to approach this kind of aestheticism with a sympathetic skepticism. The intent of the prophets of extremity was to break us out of our routine, but once they accomplish this, one must ask, “Now what?” They are therapeutic thinkers, attacking received ideas, demolishing previous platitudes. Megill worries about the crisis notion as itself a danger.

The thinkers in this book remind us that there are compelling reasons for disbelieving in the One True Way. This is all the more important today when total destruction is a real possibility.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Writing and Difference 8 -11

Jacques Derrida

“The Theatre of Cruelty and the Closure of Representation”

The piece centers on Antonin Artaud (1896-1948), leader of surrealism, avante garde actor, writer, theorist, and general crazy person. The theatre of cruelty concretely worked by using disconcerting sounds and lights to create the maximal affective response. My favorite story about him (wikipedia, so take that for what it’s worth):
In 1937, Artaud returned to France where he obtained a walking stick of knotted wood that he believed belonged not only to St. Patrick, but also Lucifer, and Jesus Christ. Artaud traveled to Ireland in an effort to return the staff, though he spoke very little English and was unable to make himself understood. The majority of his trip was spent in a hotel room that he was unable to pay for. On his return trip, Artaud believed he was being attacked by two crew members and retaliated; he was arrested and put in a straitjacket.”

That being said, on to Derrida. Derrida is most interested in the way that the theatre of cruelty is an effort to break from representational theatre. Artaud seeks art that isn’t imitative. Representation, of course, is deeply bound to Western metaphysics; to shatter it through theatre, which should be the privileged site for exploding representation - though it’s totally unclear why - requires a whole new type of theatre, distinct from the tradition.

The theatre of cruelty “produces a non-theological space.” The stage is theologcial so long as it is dominated by speech; the stage which only illustrates a discourse isn’t really a stage. Thus, Artaud wanted to break from this model, dissolving the stage and the spectator/performer distinction. We would have instead a closed representation, an original representation, that wasn’t directed from some distant space. Speech will assume a specific, delineated role.

Speech and writing will become gestures. In a sense, this seems to dovetail with Freud’s discussion of speech in dreams as deciphering hieroglyphics. Despite his interest in psychoanalysis, though, Artaud rejects the idea of psychoanalytic theatre, which would assume a spectator, an analyst, and outsider. The point of the theatre of cruelty is to dissolve that distinction between interiority and exteriority, and the other presuppositions of metaphysics. Additionally, Artaud rejects the idea of dreams having a substitutive function as diminishing the power and weight of dreams. The theatre of cruelty should also be de-sacralizing.

An attempt at the theatre of cruelty fails if it:
  1. is non-sacred
  2. privileges speech and the verb
  3. is abstract but excludes something fromt the totality of art (dance, music, etc)
  4. attempts alienation, because alienation merely reinforces the spectator/actor divide.
  5. is non-political.
  6. is ideological.

Artaud, of course, failed at the theatre of cruelty and knew it.

“From Restricted to General Economy A Hegelianism Without Reserve”
This piece is a pretty straightforward explication of Bataille. Bataille takes Hegel to be formative, but tries to dislocate his discourse, through laughter. the center of the twisted reappropriation of Hegel is the concept of sovereignty.
In one sense, the sovereign is parallel to the master in the master-slave dialectic. Both are figures of expenditure, of overcoming, of mastery. But in his mastery of the slave, the master becomes implicated in the work. His mastery is put to use. this is what Bataille is trying to resist. Bataille is trying to linger with the moment of the negative, the non-meaning, the useless, rather than making the leap to Hegelian synthesis.

Basically, the gist of this essay lies in this passage by Derrida, at the end.

“The phenomenology of the mind...corresponds to a restricted to meaning and the established value of objects, and to their circulation. The circularity of absolute knowledge could dominate, could comprehend only this circulation, only the circuit of reproductive consumption. The absolute production and destruction of value, the exceeding energy as such, the energy which can only be lost without the slightest aim, consequently, without any meaning” - all of this escapes the phenomenology of the restricted economy. The latter can determine negativity only as facets, moments, or conditions of meaning: as work. Now the non-meaning of the sovereign operation is neither the negative of nor the condition for, meaning, even if it is this also” (276).

It’s finally worth noting that despite Bataille emphasis on destructive, the transgressive, etc., Derrida remarks that he depends on the solidity and preservation of these structures in order to make his transgression meaningful. Sort of like how Derrida’s own appropriation of the excessive, the playfulness of language is only possible within the tradition of Western metaphysics.

“Structure, Sign, and Play.”
This turns out to be the essay by Derrida in the The Structuralist Controversy,” without the amusing exchange with Hyppolite, so see my notes there.

So the closure of the book is associated with the theological encyclopedia; the opening of the text with the erased God and man. The opening of the text(?) is “an expenditure without reserve, made possible by the closure of the book.

But the book returns. It is pure repetition, the eternal return. I’d keep going, but I couldn’t tell you what any of this means.