Kant, Schlegel, Derrida, and Negative Representation

JacquesDerrida

What happens when the philosophical investigation reaches its limits? Why does the philosophical investigation strive to cross these same limits? How does such striving change the philosophical investigation itself?

I will give a very general outline of these problems as a preparatory work for future posts on the negativity in dialectical logic and more specifically in dialectic materialism. My focus is on three authors: Kant, Friedrich Schlegel, and Derrida viewed in their common effort to represent the unrepresentable or at least to define, within the horizon of what can be represented, the nature of the unrepresentable.

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Canetti and the Auto-da-fé of the Modern Reader

auto de feCanetti’s “Auto da fé” was an excruciating reading, a literally painful experience from beginning to end. Rewarding, for sure, but disturbing nevertheless and deeply unsettling. I have always believed in the right of a reader to simply toss a book away if the narrative would simply not get a grip on him.

In the case of Canetti’s novel, I had to resort to a form of unconscious trust in the perspicacity of the author. Like many readers, I came to know Canetti first and foremost through his opus magnus “Crowds and Power.” I had no expectations to find in the novel any diluted version of the sociological/political theories to which Canetti owes most of his fame, but I was somehow confident to find the same voice, the same insightful gaze. Instead, from the very inception of the novel, I was placed in the midst of a very dry and aseptic narrative landscape, where a man and a boy are engaged in an unusual conversation: Continue reading

Macondo

340x340x100-anos-soledad11.jpg.pagespeed.ic_.qY0ExExh3L1I was lying in bed in a warm night of August when I turned the last page of Marquez’s One hundred years of solitude. The end of the novel, as all its readers know, is the end of an entire world. Literally.

I found myself wondering about what arcane reason had kept me away from that book until the age of thirty-five. That was my first thought. Why not sooner? And for the first time I could see my thoughts in the past, during my high school time, growing magically different, softer, more apt to conceive the magic of life and death beyond the philosophical constraints of understanding, of the search for a meaning. I remembered my nights with Dostoyevsky and his devils, the exhausting conversations with Kirillov, Myskin, Stavrogin, Ivan and Aleosa Karamazov. I recalled the decadent and languid art of Dorian Grey and Des Esseintes and how they taught me to paradoxically despise any excess of wealth. I recollect the shadows, the smells, and the smoky rooms of Paris traversed by an unfathomable spleen. And right there, in the midst of my vision of the dying cities which set up the architecture of my imagination for so long, right there I wished I could find a place for Macondo. Continue reading

Kurtz and the Silence of the Horror

Annex-Brando-Marlon-Apocalypse-Now_16-e1418881299292The echo of Kurtz’s final words resonates clearer and louder than ever. The horror. The horror. The last whispers of the charismatic and ruthless leader are the seal over the experience of the absurd violence ruling human existence. The horror is not the fear of a guilty consciousness, nor the cry of an agonizing body, but the final enlightenment of a man who lived beyond the customs of an ordinary society and made a king of himself in the midst of the jungle. What horror? Is it the colonization and transformation of the jungle into a profitable land? The slaughter of animals for the decoration of imperialist wealthy houses in the old continent? The annihilation of a “savage” culture in the name of civilization? Perhaps. Continue reading

A Relative Objectivity

objectivity1Numbers don’t lie. Or shouldn’t. Like everything else, numbers can become a rhetorical device of deception, the subtle instrument of a cunning persuasion. There is something Machiavellic about numerical constructions. Especially in mathematical equations which too often we mistake as the simple establishment of an identity between two terms.

Modern economics -that so much resembles what Marx used to call the ‘vulgar economy’- seems to feed on this confusion, generating what it is a paradoxical relative objectivity.

Frederick Jameson, in his Representing Capital, asserts that Capital could be seen, among other things, as an attempt to resolve the “riddle of the equation.” In other words: if we are all good people who exchange commodities or sell them (i.e. exchanging them for money) for a reciprocal benefit, if we buy and sell according to fair laws, how is it possible to make profit out of an exchange?

If we pay the right amount of money, if we give something to receiving something in return as an equal and fair counterpart, how is it possible for someone to gain any wealth through this simple operation? There is of course some sort of mystification at work disguised by the technicality of modern economic theory. The numbers contribute to entrench the riddle of the equation behind a protective wall. Continue reading

Nomos Without Oikos

raphael-the-school-of-athens-detail-plato-aristotleThe language of ideology, as Althusser prophetically noted, is everywhere. It is not only in the dominant institutions, but also in the small private components of our society, those “private institutions” which according to the neo-classical and liberal tradition should assure the plurality of voices and freedom of expression within society.

Within. That’s precisely the point. Not without. The redundancy of the contemporary debate on ideology has only the effect of poisoning the individual’s perception and to make inextricable a very simple and basic concept: ideology is a way of preserving and reproducing the status quo. More specifically, as Althusser always remarks, a way to reproduce the social relations that are at the basis of the particular mode of production of a given society. Ideology is a practical matter that has little to do with ideas or, at least, only a part of it actually has to do with ideas. Continue reading