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Archive for the ‘Hegel’ Category

Bacon sizzles, Plates clatter, Light falls

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Bacon sizzles,
The coffee refills
My meals late,

Plates clatter
The check comes,
Got 100 cash.

Light falls
on coffee mugs,
and people sing.


Written at Junior’s diner, in Portland Oregon, 2006. The stanzas’ proximity to one another is merely conventional, and seem at first to be written about the same thing. These are examples of poetry written at the level of Hegel’s “sense-certainty,” which when in Kevin Hill’s Hegel-class at PSU in 2007 was curiously suggested to be some kind of Zen simplicity.

Written by Joe

December 26, 2009 at 2:04 pm

Posted in Buddhism, Hegel, Philosophy

Who Thinks Abstractly?

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Hegel’s essay can be summarized in contemporary terms with a response as pithy as his own terse statement: “the uneducated, not the educated.”

Those who think abstractly are those who believe in some kind of metaphysical common-sense: whether the universal rationality that supposedly governs market-actors’ choices or some common-sensical naturalistic “way”. This goes for the fashionable, artificial back-to-nature simplicity of new agers and their western-buddhist, -taoist and -hindu cousins.

“Be yourself” is metaphysical common-sense. The romantic appeal to feelings is metaphysical common-sense. “The invisible hand” is metaphysical common-sense. Ideology as Marx engages and critiques it is metaphysical common-sense. “The way things are” is an appeal to metaphysical common-sense. The super-ego is metaphysical common-sense as an obscene agency shaping ahead of time the contours of how our ownmost convictions even appear to us as our own.

Written by Joe

June 30, 2009 at 11:08 pm

Acting, Political Theatre and Enjoyment as Political Factor

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[From an exchange between Derek and I, where I start out asking:]

Me: Isn’t it funny how theatrical a term “jobless” is?
Derek: How so?

Me: It sounds like a title you’d give to an actor. It has a very different connotation from “unemployed,” which still retained this a sense of a larger function (“you are being unemployed by the Market,” which is the dirty secret of the more popular notion that you are “employed by the Market”) and the more pagan notion of being a functional part of everything else, whose peak form of art is the ritual. Theatre has a deep connection to modern politics in this sense, and gives rise to a sense of collectivity that is essentially Marxist before Marx.

A play is a collective endeavor by a bunch of individuals, whose places are not pre-determined by and yet some how fixed according to the narrative. The narrative is is not a higher sort of function that pulls the strings and makes the actors perform the play. The actors come together of their own (of course, through a rigorous, almost religious training period before hand – i.e. study and rehearsal) and perform the play.

The play can seem like a constraining superfluity (the sort implied by deriding ideology as naivety) or as what the actors themselves put on and make for/of/by themselves. This is effectively art for no one though; how does it, like Nietzsche’s “Thus Spake Zarathustra,” be for everyone too? Theatre can be enjoyed by any and, in the digital era, everyone. An audience at the Globe Theatre of Shakespeare’s plays, in his time, is at once radically egalitarian communal enjoyment and a scene of obscene enjoyment of the court).

This is why Zizek says, in his “Arcitectural Parallax” essay he says Mozart is on the side of the poor! Everyone is there minimally for the sake of enjoying the performance, which is itself a kind of self-enjoyment (i.e. for no one) of the actors putting on and yet working together to accomplish “the play,” but the upper classes are their to enjoy their very presence, which is ob-scene (as Dr. Clark was always fond of explaining: literally “off or out of the scene”).

This other scene, in the fully Freudian sense, stages a distraction from the real enjoyment at hand. The performance is not a re-duplication of class-relations and social conditions, for that would suppose that one set was the original and one was not (c.f. the zen koan about what your original face looked like before you were born), but social life and class-relations are themselves performative, which is to say we all put on “a play” called everyday life wherein our our relationship as actors and the performance as a whole is of a class-nature.

In this universe of political theatre, God is a machine (Science and its support in power), and one isn’t unemployed by society, but is nonetheless acting out a jobless role in its infinitely possible flavors. Makes you think about how Keanu Reeves gets picked on for being such a one-dimensional actor, and how in a way he embodies a certain kind of ideological critique of celebrity, which he certainly has some of himself—as if his various characters, and the celebrity they gained for him, screamed out the secret of many or even most great actors: you’re really, actually boring. Could any other actor had pulled “Neo” off as well as Reeves did?

This is what Jesus meant by turning the other cheek: you (my abuser) cannot but give me equality, for it is what your own law compels you to do when I “turn the other cheek” (which given the impropriety (a very different sense of “bad” from the bad sort of thing that you could do to someone without being dishonored by it yourself) of things to do with the Left hand means striking them as an equal with an open palm or fist. To us today, it may seem that it would make more sense, from the angle of wanting to demean and degrade someone, to use the left-hand: that’s what you use to wipe your ass, after all.

Propriety and honor point towards this social commitment that we make as a kind of self-positing, where we oblige ourselves to honorability as such. Acting done well is a similar self-positing.

The link here is what Hegel called “the sensuous expression of freedom,” which strikes most of us as an expression you’d intuitively apply to something like a painting, a poem or book, or a musical performance or a gourmet dish— but not a a theatrical performance. It is here though, and the danger is always that the freedom experienced on the stage will be mis-recognized. Through this mis-recognition on a mass scale, along with other forms of mass theatrics (television shows, especially) we are more likely to relate to our own roles in a democracy as if it were a show being watched. This is why enjoyment is a political factor.

Written by Joe

May 2, 2009 at 11:59 pm

Zizek’s Bodhisattva; or, Hegel as Shuzan’s Disciple

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From the aforementioned appendix to Metastases of Enjoyment:

In our everyday lives, we constantly fall prey to imaginary lures which promise the healing of the original/constitutive wound of symbolization, from Woman with whom full sexual relationship will be possible, to the totalitarian political ideal of a fully realized community. In contrast, the fundamental maxim of the ethics of desire is simply desire as such: one has to maintain desire in its dissatisfaction. What we have here is a kind of heroism of the lack: the aim of the psychoanalytic cure is to induce the subject to assume his constitutive lack heroically; to endure the splitting which propels desire.

What I have bolded could be a very succinct definition of what a bodhisattva does in renouncing Nirvana and “remaining in” Samsara. Perhaps, in this sense, we could say Dharma is pre-Oedipal, that Samsara is the Unconscious as such in its groundless materiality, and awakened being is that which determinately does not wake up, which forecloses the father function after already accepting the Oedipus complex. That precisely as he says it the previous sentence:

This gap that forever separates the lost Thing from symbolic semblances which are never ‘that‘ defines the contours of the ethics of desire: ‘do not give way as to your desire’ can only mean ‘do not put up with any of the substitutions of the Thing, keep open the gap of desire’

‘That’ precisely in the sense of ‘the This’ in Hegel’s chapter on Sense-Certainty:

Sense-certainty itself has thus to be asked: What is the This?

‘The This’ precisely in the sense that Shuzan’s monk yelled “what is this?” when Shuzan said:

Call this a shippe and you assert; call it not a shippe and you negate. Now, do not assert nor negate, and what would you call it? Speak, speak!

We could also call Dogen’s “non-thinking” (his response to the question, “how do you think not-thinking?”) a possible response to Shuzan’s disciple. When the disciple breaks the shippe, he might as well be holding Heidegger’s hammer, in whose broken (i.e. samsaric) state we experience its ‘disclosedness’, its openness (in the sense of Heidegger’s ‘clearing’ or Lichtung). All dharmas are empty, all tools (for skillful means) can be broken, and in the end it makes no sense. “It” in the sense of Freud’s Es. The sense that it doesn’t make, besides the idiomatic phrase, is that captured in Hegel’s phrase “sense-certainty.”

“The This,” again, is that interrogated by the Siddharata on his four trips with his charioteer (a potential superego figure, who almost seems to enjoy telling Siddharata that everyone (including the Prince) gets sick, ages and dies) where he saw old-age, sickness and death, but also the mendicant. “This” gave rise to bodhichitta, to desire that persists in its renunciation (i.e. the desire to awaken all beings and therefore put off complete enlightenment) Bodhisattvas (and psychoanalysts) are beings who practice one thing: the arousal of bodhicitta. The Buddha’s bodhicitta expresses how the ego-ideal introjects itself and begins the process of symbolizing, of putting into words, this painful split caused by the wall of language.

Siddharta’s encounters are moments of the shape of consciousness called Sense-Certainty. “This” is the ground zero of critique (the Buddha was a HUGE critic, was the basis of Nagarjuna’s school of dialectical criticism). In the sense, the interpreters of Job’s suffering were all answering in addressing Job’s story a version of a question that is really more than Job, “what is this?” To this end, they simply “don’t get it.” The Buddha strays down an ideological path of his own when he tries to strike it out as an ascetic, though he was left unsatisfied — “This is not it!”—and his bodhicitta grew, like a baby in the womb.

The ascetic ideal and the pleasure principle are two (always-already unsatisfactory, “failed” in the sense Zizek describe feminine and and masculine sexuation as failed-whole) ways of enjoying, but jouissance rears its head as a painful excess of this-enjoyment, which we desperately address by enjoying the enjoyment some more. The Buddha’s renunciation of his ascetic-life recapitulates his renunciation of his pleasure-life after having his four sights, and the gesture is still the same one of not enjoying samsaric existence. The middle-way is the way that is beyond the pleasure-principle, beyond good and evil, and as Badiou expresses it in talking about a peace that is “beyond the war, and not merely the lazy hand of it.”

Shuzan’s disciple asks the Buddha’s same question of the broken shippe, but leaves the back door open for affirming and negating. As with the Buddha after his four sights up until his enlightenment, the wall of language and alienating identification persisted for Shuzan’s disciple, who having uttered the full truth doesn’t yet realize that it was not all said. Only by virtue of his double mis-recognition does the Buddha finally become awakened. If his disciple returned Shuzan’s message to him in inverted form, the form of the broken shippe, the “This” which Hegel shows already betrays its supposed concreteness and stability by being the highest abstraction and negation, what should Shuzan say then, if he is to effect the same dialectical reversal that his student makes?

Written by Joe

April 25, 2009 at 11:56 pm

Good Question

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Where are we aware of the breath; when (and) does that awareness end? It is the essential object of zazen because it is the living object, the object whose extent is the co-dependence of birth and death. Try it in reverse, which sounds a bit more awkward: when are we aware of the breath; where (and) does that awareness end? In this moment; its end is not external, but internal to what it is – impermanence, emptiness, Hegel’s “night-of-the-world,” the Cartesian-Lacanian subject.

Written by Joe

August 31, 2008 at 2:44 pm

Hegel’s Return to Rhetoricality, and Getting High With Moses

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One of Hegel’s complaints in the Phenomenology is against what he calls “picture-thinking.” If it’s not a complaint against it as such, it’s definitely a complaint about a way of thinking about the world people have used it for. A great example of this latter sort of ambiguity is in paragraph 346, where after finishing his discussion of phrenology and otherwise physiognomy, Hegel turns to a rather potent analogy (pun most definitely intended). Since his discussion of phrenology was more or less a discussion of the difference and relationship between the objective world (i.e. explicit appearances) and Spirit, and specifically in the context of phrenology the relationship between the physical skull and the Spirit, he makes a nifty point: the genitals, but more obviously the phallus, are at once the organs of perhaps the highest ecstasy natural to human physiology (Hegel actually refers to its specialness in it being “the organ of regeneration,” which is to say procreation) as well as the organs that handle some of the most nasty stuff we regularly deal with, like urination (cf. Woody Allen in Sleeper: My brain, it’s my second favorite organ!”). While not necessarily making an interpretive point about human physiology (like Freud does with the Oral, Anal and Genital stages of development, which are all sites of otherwise nasty physiological function and pleasure, which we can easily think of as organs of (re)generation if we think of the painful pleasure (jouissance) neurotics seek out of repetition compulsion), Hegel uses this duplicity to say something about how Reason can take this fact.

Brain fibres and the like, when regarded as the being of Spirit, are no more than a merely hypothetical reality existing only in one’s head, not hte true reality which has an outer existence, and which can be felt and seen; when they exist out there, when they are seen, they are dead objects, and then no longer pass for the being of Spirit. But objectivity proper must be an immediate, sensuous objectivity, so that in this dead objectivity—for the bone [of the skull] is a dead thing, so far as what is dead is present in the living being itself—Spirit is explicitly present as actual. The Notion underlying this idea is that Reason takes itself to be all thinghood, even purely objective thinghood itself; but it is only in the Notion, or, only the Notion is the truth of this idead; and the purer the Notion itself is, the sillier an idea it becomes when its content is in the form, not of the Notion, but of picture-thinking, i.e. if the self-suspending judgement is not taken with the consciousness of this its infinitude, but as a fixed proposition the subject and predicate of which are valid each on its own account, the self fixed as self, the thing fixed as thing, and yet each is supposed to be the other. Reason, essentially the Notion, is directly sundered into itself and its opposite, an antithesis which for that very reason is equally immediately resolved. But when Reason is presented as its own self and its opposite, and is helf fast in the entirely separate moment of this asunderness, it is apprehended irrationally; and the purer the moments of this asunderness, the cruder is the appearance of this content which is either only for consciousness, or only ingenuously expressed by it. The depth which Spirit brings forth from within—but only as far as its picture-thinking consciousness where it lets it remain—and the ignorance of this consciousness about what it really is saying, are the same conjunction of the high and the low which, in the living being, Nature naively expresses when it combines the organ of its highest fulfilment [sic], the organ of generation, with the organ of urination. The infinite judgement, qua infinite, would be the fulfilment [sic] of life that comprehends itself; the consciousness of the infinite judgement that remains [i.e. gets stuck] at the level of picture-thinking behaves as urination.

What Hegel is anticipating is his eventual turn back towards Christianity (now that he has just made a certain turn away from it in his ostensible critique of the Unhappy Consciousness), when by the end of the book he ends up arguing how his metaphysics is the literal truth of what is only the metaphorical truth of Christian theology. What is amazing about this move is how it restores the place of the rhetorical, or at least rhetoricality, in contrast to hundreds of years of literalistic picture-thinking qua knowledge as representation. It goes back even further if you consider Hegel’s subtle alignment with medieval Christian mysticism. What Hegel shakes loose, decades before Nietzsche was even born, is the ascetic ideal. Nietzsche is still necessary later on though, because Hegel does not really take himself seriously enough: even in Hegelianism we idealize the transitory world, which is implicitly an attempt to escape from it that Hegel never makes explicit.

The literal truth Hegel wants to suppose for his metaphysics as opposed the metaphorical truth of otherwise symbolic Christianity, which for the most part looks ludicrous when taken literally (a fairly popular approach), is a sort of lala-land that pragmatists, starting with James want to reject. I know I skip over Emerson, who in his own way rejects the foundationalist lala-land of literal meaning or abstract truth, but not only is he not exactly writing polemics like James kind of is (a good thing, on Emerson’s part, by my read), I’m in no position to distill anything interesting about that right now. What Rorty inherits from the pragmatists and Nietzsche is a love for language and its inescapability in how we talk about truth. One thing to which this leads him, much as with Nietzsche and to a lesser extent with Freud and Lacan, is a romantic view of language that argues for a return to, if not a full on valorization of poetry. For other anti-foundational thinkers, like Bloom, this linguistic turn has meant more modestly returning to texts themselves.

This was Hegel’s creative and not logical response to the philosophers of his time and before, though his thinking otherwise would prove to limit his system in the end. When he simply says (mind you, not argues) in Paragraph 82, “…call to mind the abstract determinations of thought and knowledge as they occur in the consciousness,” he is acting more like a poet than a philosopher typical of his time. In a certain sense, he takes experience in general to be a text, to which he returns us when he just starts interpreting it. The logical necessity, the truth of his project is, as Rorty says of truth in general, a compliment he pays to how well thinking this way, saying these things works for him. That it has and hasn’t worked for others since him has nothing to do with the text he produced, but with whether it has worked for them. I like this return to the text, but it the book, the speech of the analysand, or to what is there in all its stupid ambiguity and debatability.

It’s thinking of the text like this that I was pissed off by Benny Shannon. Professor Shannon, as he’s referred to in the article published in the Daily Mail about the burning-bush story of Exodus being a case of drug-use, is laughable and potentially dangerous as the religious zealot who claims Moses is really (no, seriously, really) talking to God in the burning bush. The story has the air of another Bible-story debunked, and I’m all for giving historical depth to otherwise literary documents, but there is no depth to be had by Professor Shannon’s interpretation. The Exodus, certainly the portion recounted in the burning-bush story, is on fairly shaky historical ground, in terms of outside, contemporary sources talking about it on terms outside of the deeply ambiguous and sometimes fantastic terms of the text itself. Professor Shannon wants to, like religious zealots, take this text as for serious about something that really happened, but wants to say what happened was something else. If we were dealing with a historical document, then I’d have less of a problem with this, but what Shannon is doing is interpreting the meaning (his meaning, his 21st century experimental drug-taking and academic meaning) “of the text” as what for serious is meant in the text itself.

On its face, we can take this as just another interpretation, but in its appeal to a real historical happening about which there are clear meanings, it asks to be nothing less than the word of God. I’m not a Christian or a Jew, but I find something fiendish in this, just as I find something fiendish in interpreting anything absolute in user-supplied meaning of the text. I am with Lacan in this respect, whose big beef with Ego Psychology was its insistence on interpreting the transference (i.e. the imaginary relations) rather than the analysand’s Symbolic context, which is to say the text that is the analysand’s situation. There is nothing particularly dangerous about Shannon’s interpretation, which is why my complaint may seem a bit over-blown, but neither is there anything particularly harmful about interpreting the text the way religious zealot does. What’s at stake for me is the very orientation to the text these interpretations take, or rather don’t take. Neither of them really have anything to do with the text itself, and that in itself is what is dangerous about this kind of thinking. Not having anything to do with the text, but ostensibly grounding themselves “in” it, this sort of thinking is effectively made up, but on dangerously unchecked grounds.

I think the more radically middle path would be give up both the concern for what the text really means, and to return to the text itself. When you hear people start talking about what this or that means, you can be sure as sunday that they’re in lala-land, because it is obvious that if we’re talking about this or that that it means something. It’s when they foreground their description with a statement of what we already know that we should be suspicious, like Zizek is of the Bush Administration’s to up-front talk of torture, and wonder deeply why are you saying this; what do you mean by your foregrounding of what this or that means?

Written by Joe

March 8, 2008 at 1:27 pm