Monday, February 22, 2010

Shestov on Groundlessness

"Groundlessness is the basic, most enviable, and to us most incomprehensible privilege of the Divine. Consequently, our whole moral struggle, even as our rational inquiry--if we once admit that God is the last end of our endeavors--will bring us sooner or later (rather later, much later, than sooner) to emancipation not only from moral valuations but also from reason's eternal truths. Truth and the Good are fruits of the forbidden tree; for limited creatures, for outcasts from paradise. I know that this ideal of freedom in relation to truth and the good cannot be realized on earth--in all probability does not need to be realized. But it is granted to man to have prescience of ultimate freedom."

- Lev Shestov, Athens and Jerusalem

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Conor Cunningham on the Holocaust of Modern Knowledge

"Every description literally takes the place of that which it describes; reducing it to nothing, except the formal difference of an epistemic description…It is possible to argue that systemic erasure is the basis of modern knowledge—in all its postmodern guises. For the moment let us tentatively, yet somewhat insufficiently, endeavor to develop an understanding of this disappearance; a disappearance referred to as a ‘holocaust,’ because every being which falls under such description is lost, and every trace erased.

What we may begin to realize is that the form of nihilism’s discourse is complicit with a certain ‘holocaust.’ It will speak a ‘holocaust.’ But how can one speak a holocaust? We do so if when we speak, something (or someone) disappears, or if our speech is predicated only on the back of such an erasure. We have to think of those who are ‘too many to have disappeared.’ They must have been made to disappear; we may be able to discern three noticeable moments in modern discourse which encourage the speaking of a ‘holocaust.’

The first moment is when the systemic description effects a disappearance. This is accomplished by placing what is described outside the divine mind, rendering it ontologically neutral—a given rather than a gift. The notion of a given allows for the invention of such neutrality. That which ‘is’ becomes structurally amenable to experimentation, dissection, indefinite epistemic investigation. For the first time there is something which can render the idea of detached, de-eroticized, study intelligible. There is now an object which is itself neutral, the structural prerequisite for ‘objectivity.’ This ‘holocaust’ is the a priori of modern knowledge. The second moment comes when modern discourse describes the initial disappearance, the first moment. Consequently, the first moment, the event of disappearance, disappears. Modernity will ask us ‘what can it mean to disappear’? Any ‘hole’ is filled up, every trace erased.

More obviously, but with greater caution and difficulty, we see modern discourse describe the disappearance of a ‘number-too-great’ to disappear, in terms that are completely neutral. It is unable to describe this dia¬-bolic (meaning to take apart) event in a way that is different from its description of the aforementioned leaf. This loss of countless lives can only be described in neutral terms, however emotionally. But discourse is predicated on a nothing to which every entity is reduced.

Our knowledge of a ‘holocaust’ causes that ‘holocaust’ to disappear (like leaves from a tree in a garden fire: kaustos). We see the disappearance of a ‘holocaust’ as it is erased by its passage through the corridors of modern description: sociology, psychology, biology, chemisty, physics, and so on. All these discourses speak its disappearance. ‘Holocaust,’ ice-cream, there can be no difference except that of epistemic difference, which is but formal. Both must be reducible to nothing; the very possibility of modern discourse hangs on it. In this sense all ‘holocausts’ are modern. The structures, substructures, molecules and the molecular all carry away the ‘substance’ of every being and of the whole (holos) of being.

The third moment comes upon the first two. We see modernity cause all that is described to disappear, then we see this disappearance disappear. In this way a loss of life, and a loss of death is witnessed. It is here that we see the last moment. If we think of a specific holocaust, the historical loss of six million Jews during the Second World War, we see that the National Socialist description of the Jews took away their lives and took away their deaths. For those who were killed were exterminated, liquidated, in the name of solutions. The Jews lose their lives because they have already lost their deaths. For it is this loss of death that allows the Nazis to ‘remove’ the Jews. That is to say, if the Jews lose their deaths then the Nazis, by taking their lives, do not murder. This knowledge, that is National Socialism, will, in taking away life, take away the possibility of losing that life (death becomes wholly naturalized). This must be the case so that there is no loss in terms of negation. In this way National Socialism emulates the ‘form’ of nihilistic discourse. There is nothing and not even that. There is an absence and an absence from absence. (This is the form Nietzsche’s joyous nihilism took.) So we will not have a lack which could allow the imputation of metaphysical significance.

The life that is lost is always lost before its death. They who lose their life are already lost in terms of epistemic description. When their life is ‘physically’ lost it is unable to stop the disappearance of that life, and the death of that life. So the living-dead are always unable to die; death is taken away from them before their life, in order that their life can be made to disappear without trace and without ‘loss’. Thus, the living are described in the same manner as the dead. Modern discourse cannot, it seems, discriminate between them.

In some sense, it takes a loss of life and a loss of death to engender ‘holocaust’. For it is this which forbids the registration of any significance—any significant difference between life and death. ‘Modern’ description has no ability to speak differently about lost lives, because before any physical event ‘dissolution’ has already begun to occur (all that remains is for the bodies to be swept away). The preparation is carefully carried out so that a ‘nonoccurrence’ can occur.

The fundamental and foundational neutrality in modern discourse is here extremely noticeable. Its inability to speak significantly, to speak ‘real’ difference, carries all peoples and persons away. In ‘modern’ death there are no people, no one dies. Here we see the de-differentiating effect of nihilism. Bodies come apart as different discourses carry limbs away. This cool epistemic intelligibility of a Dionysian frenzy fashions whole systems of explanatory description."

from Conor Cunningham's Genealogy of Nihilism: Philosophies of Nothing and the Difference of Theology

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Three Observations by Philip Reiff:

The present age, rather, is one in which everything is so very signifying because everything takes its significance from our relentless signifyings, and signifyings of signifyings. This is what culture as criticism has come to. The intellectualization of the world signifies its relentless profaning--its only profaning. Such a signifying would, of our ready-makings, signify that there is nothing to signify except ourselves signifying. Everything can mean everything is the profanation of that order in which, were we in it, "all things are possible."


"'Every new construction becomes a new ministry.' [Kierkegaard] Cultural pluralism and privatized religiosities--the pneuma beating false time in two intimate circles of dancers round the ideal of creative Selfhood--are the representative structures of endless deconversion cults which produce those new ministries which moralize the demand for endless order-hopping. The intellectualization of culture is the condition for the vulgar profusion of theorists almost self-consciously offering their practices as The Way for Awhile."


"Sacred order is a world without [Freudian] repression. The world of repression is built upon the death throes of sacred order. That is why repressions must fail. If they succeeded, then they would not be repressions but truths so commanding that we would fear and tremble at the thought or feeling of disobedience. That fear and trembling would be a self-betrayal, the self-defeated in its very act of disobedience.

As obedience in sacred order--a historic faith--fails, repression succeeds it. The mastery/repression, by Freud himself and others easily, of sacred order itself is the ultimate danger to our Reason. Coming as it does at the end of a historic sacred order, its registrations uncommanding and yet troubling, repressions are treacherous surrogates of command. So they set some condition for doing what is not to be done. Repressions represent negational mindings of a sacred order at the end of its historical tether."

- Philip Rieff, Sacred Order/Social Order: Crisis of the Officer Class - The Decline of the Tragic Sensibility