Tuesday, 17 January 2006

Fewtril #56

A little hysteria can go ill-favoured in effete and radical circles – what may be required is a great deal of hysteria, lest one be thought insufficiently impassioned and devoted.

Monday, 16 January 2006

The Rector of Decrepitude

Let it fall to your credit that it has never occurred to you to say that the banks of a stream lie across from one another because of the existence of bridges:
The bridge [Martin Heidegger tells us] . . . does not just connect banks that are already there. The banks emerge as banks only as the bridge crosses the stream. The bridge expressly causes them to lie across from each other. One side is set off against the other by the bridge. Nor do the banks stretch along the stream as indifferent border strips of the dry land. With the banks, the bridge brings to the stream the one and the other expanse of the landscape lying behind them. It brings stream and bank and land into each other’s neighbourhood. The bridge gathers the earth as landscape around the stream. [1]
A thought so absurd as this could occur only to a man who has nothing left to say, but who, for the sake of his upkeep, has to say something nonsensical that will provoke amongst his acolytes a solicitous interpretation that takes such sayings as tokens of a profound understanding.

In the genealogy of pseudo-philosophic hogwash, Professor Heidegger stands out as an unhinged and fecund ancestor to the vacuity and decrepitude of certain strains of modern intellectual life. If, for instance, you feign to agree that “[w]hen Dasein does not exist, ‘independence’ ‘is’ not either, nor ‘is’ the ‘in-itself’” [2], then most likely you stand as an intellectual scion of this sorely afflicted line, a defender of the great shyster’s claim that “[m]aking itself intelligible is suicide for philosophy”. [3]

For anyone who has not given up sense in favour of a faddish and craven pretension, however, the works of Professor Heidegger provide an almost inexhaustible source for wonder at how such hogwash might pass for philosophy. Consider, for instance, the following:
We also catch sight of the nature of nearness. The thing things. In thinging, it stays earth and sky, divinities and morals. Staying, the thing brings the four, in their remoteness, near to one another. This bringing-near is nearing. Nearing is the presencing of nearness. Nearness brings the near—draws nigh to one another—the far and, indeed, as the far. Nearness preserves farness. Preserving farness, nearness presences nearness in nearing that farness. Bringing near in this way, nearness conceals its own self and remains, in its own way, nearest of all. [4]
Hereafter, for all that might be said against Heidegger’s philosophy, let no man deny the existence of German comedy!

[1] Martin Heidegger, “Building Dwelling Thinking”, in Martin Heidegger: Basic Writings, ed. and tr. D. F. Krell, (London: Routledge, 1993), p. 354, original emphasis.

[2] Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, tr. J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson, (New York: Harper, 1962), p. 255.

[3] Martin Heidegger, Contributions to Philosophy (From Enowning), tr. P. Enad & K. Maly (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1999), p. 307.

[4] Martin Heidegger, Poetry, Language, Thought, tr. A. Hofstadter (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), pp.177-178, original emphasis.

Wednesday, 11 January 2006

Fewtril #55

If you come across a person who claims that all is political, then you know what to think when he claims that his acts are moral.

Monday, 9 January 2006

Faith and False Scepticism

The great Jacob Burckhardt said that the world was suffused with false scepticism, and that of the true kind there could never be enough. The good professor also predicted the rise of the “terrible simplifiers” [1], those totalitarian social engineers and intellectual barbarians who have, in the words of H.L. Mencken, “an easy solution to every problem—neat, plausible, and wrong”. [2]
And so I see today a false sceptic and terrible simplifier in the letter-pages of The Guardian, the newspaper par excellence for intellectual barbarians:
Faith, which often divides the world into good and evil, can lead to violence. The antithesis of faith - free thought, scepticism and doubt - does not.
Francis King, Letter to The Guardian, 9th January 2006.
Such faith, simplicity, and false scepticism! For what reason on earth do we have to suppose that the antithesis of faith does not lead to violence in the same way that faith might? By way of an answer, we might even apply Mr King’s own suggestion that the division of the world into good and evil causes conflict and violence; and so we find in Mr King’s scheme, that faith is a root of the evil of violence, and is thus an evil itself, and scepticism is the goodly cure thereof, and thus a good itself, and thus the world is divided into good and evil.
That faith and its antithesis can lead to violence should go without saying; and it should be evident that all manner of differences can cause conflict. But so what? Is the solution then uniformity – but this sounds like the antithesis of free thought! It might be seen as a good thing that a man judgmentally divides the world into good and bad, right and wrong, for it is a sign that he has not cultivated for himself the moral and intellectual ambivalence of a par-boiled cabbage.
The tone of Mr King’s letter implies that an at least partial solution to the problem of violence is the removal of all faith – as the root of all evil. It would require a great faith, however, to believe that humanity thus stripped of its natural proclivities would be more peaceful. At least one ought to be sceptical about the prospect, but then I suspect that a faith that comes by the name of scepticism is the hardest to remove of them all, and does not take kindly to true scepticism.

[1] see The Letters of Jacob Burckhardt, tr. and ed. By Alexander Dru (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2001)
[2] H.L. Mencken, “The Divine Afflatus,” A Mencken Chrestomathy, (New York: Vintage, [1949] 1982), p. 443.

Friday, 6 January 2006

An Upset Mind

If Anthony Browne, who has recently had published his tract on the ravages of political correctness, is looking for a pithy exposition of the mind-set of its adherents, he would do well to consider this example from the letter-page of The Independent:
Sir: The fact that affluent white men such as Anthony Browne can so easily get their absurd and unsupported arguments published suggests that political correctness has not gone nearly “mad” enough.
Ruth Kelly, Letter to The Independent, 6th January 2006.
It has the essential ingredients: the outrage that anyone dare question the cause, the obsession with group-identity, the hatred of putative privilege, the wild defamation of other’s views, the despotic proclivities, and the radical-extremist creed that no measure is ever enough – which together speak of a dark and corrupt character.
Then again, Mr Browne was asking for trouble; for the bounder had not even the decency to be poor black woman.

Thursday, 5 January 2006

The Doctrine of Permanent Adolescence

When Julia Kristeva proclaims that “revolt is our mysticism” [1], we may assume she speaks on behalf of her fellow soixante-huitards attardés and of other permanent adolescents, for such wretched and wrackful tantrumists have made revolt against both authority and norms of behaviour a sacred doctrine, a fashionable posture, and an end in itself.

What makes sense today [opines Dr Kristeva] is not the future (as communism and providential religions claimed) but revolt: that is, the questioning and displacement of the past. The future, if it exists, depends on it. . . .

. . . In counterpoint to certainties and beliefs, per­manent revolt is this putting into question of the self, of everything and nothingness, which clearly no longer has a place. . . .

. . . The permanence of contradiction, the temporariness of reconciliation, the bringing to the fore of everything that puts the very possibility of unitary meaning to the test . . .: these are what the culture of revolt explores. [2]

Accordingly, this nihilistic revolt has no end in sight, no wish to replace falsehoods with facts, or ugliness with beauty, or wrong with right, or misery with happiness, or worse with better, nor even a wish to preserve what goods we might have; it seeks only a “permanent crisis” and a “continuous subversion” [3] in all areas of life:
it is not exclusively in the world of action that this revolt is realized but in that of psychical life and its social man­ifestations (writing, thought, art) . . . Yet as a transforma­tion of man’s relationship to meaning this cultural revolt intrinsically concerns public life and consequently has profoundly political implica­tions. In fact, it poses the question of another politics, that of permanent conflictuality. [4]
This new kind of revolutionary action, a permanent “questioning” of all aspects of life, that ostensibly seeks no final establishment of its ideals, that would like to remain wholly and for ever irresponsible and in revolt against authority, marks apparently a split with the old. Yet one might surmise that Dr Kristeva describes what was always a crucial psychical aspect of many a socialist-revolutionary of old: namely, that a great deal of the motivating force for his revolutionary action was the will to destroy rather than to build—or in other words, to some extent the means was the end. Nevertheless, having expressly made permanent revolt into an ideal and end in itself, Dr Kristeva speaks directly to that pathetic irresponsibility and pointless destructiveness that marks the worst kind of adolescence—and in our times, she has the gratifying prospect of reaching a very large audience indeed.

[1] Julia Kristeva, “Intimate Revolt: The Future of the Culture of Revolt, The Life of the Mind, and the Species”, International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, Vol 3:1, January, 2006.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Julia Kristeva, Revolt, She Said: An Interview By Philippe Petit. Ed., Sylvere Lotringer (New York: Semiotext(e), 2002.) p. 42.
[4] Julia Kristeva, “Intimate Revolt”.

Wednesday, 4 January 2006

Fewtril #54

If it is only power that our politicians find persuasive, then, though it would be a shame to do so, we should have to consider that the course of propriety may be better illuminated for them by the occasional burning down of a town-hall.

Tuesday, 3 January 2006

Knowing Nothing

Might a pseudo-philosopher take himself to be a god amongst men? For how is it that he might claim to describe the world beyond his own mind by claiming that no man may describe the world beyond his own mind? Does such a claim bespeak a true megalomania, or is it rather a carelessness, a confusion, a deliberate deception? But then who knows what species of madness or world-weary disappointment lies behind it! What we know for certain is that it is an ancient pox of thought. Gorgias of Leontini maintained that,

(a) “nothing exists”; (b) “even if it exists it is inapprehensible to man”; (c) “even if it is apprehensible, still it is without a doubt incapable of being expressed or explained to the next man.”

Cited by Sextus Empiricus, Against the Schoolmasters, VII, 65, in The Older Sophists, ed. Rosamond Kent Sprague (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1972), p. 42.

The modern intellectual is more sophisticated – or less open – than the ancient sophist. He might couch his nihilism in the language of science, though it is no less absurd:
The chances that our brain experiences resemble some mind-independent truth are remote at best, and those who would claim otherwise must surely explain the miracle.

Donald Hoffman, “A Spoon is like a Headache”, The Edge Annual Question — 2006: What is Your Dangerous Idea? Edge, 1st January 2006.
The chances that this statement resembles some mind-independent truth are—by its own lights—remote at best, and the author must surely explain the miracle of knowing it.

Tuesday, 20 December 2005

Fewtril #53

With mass education, one must expect that fools will no longer be satisfied with simple truths, and will most likely become fodder for the sophisticated falsehoods of clever men.

Friday, 16 December 2005

Fewtril #52

Many fools believe the surest way to appear clever is by declaring dissatisfaction with compelling explanations, as if they see deeper, and by denying widely attested phenomena, as if they see beyond the myths. It seems that some amongst them have achieved such mastery of this trick that it comes as a natural reaction without conscious pretence.

Fewtril #51

The ideologue prefers ideas to facts – and so might every man, yet not every man is so luxuriant in his dealings with the world nor so indulgent in treating himself to his own preferences, that he would buy at the price of his intelligence a serenity and a stupidity and a security therefrom.

Fewtril #50

Feminist scholarship may yet secure its greatest contribution to human knowledge in attempting to prove that the man in the moon is in fact a bearded lady.

Tuesday, 13 December 2005

Stark Megalomania

Whining brats sometimes complain that they never asked to be born, and though this complaint might lack grace, it resounds with truth. That one wasn’t present at one’s conception, signing a letter of consent, or even holding out for a better deal, is a fact as uncontroversial as one is ever likely to meet. It is similarly uncontroversial that one cannot live for as long as one does not agree to die. Acceptance of these things – that one is born without one’s agreement and that one will die whether one likes it or not – marks a basic acceptance of the world about us, and one would hope that everyone accepts these facts without controversy, without fuss, and preferably without penning dreadful plays peopled with cheerless pillocks lamenting them.
But life amongst the squabbling apes of this planet affords us the view that nothing is necessarily without controversy:
My world view . . . is not like that of many people with whom I have either close or distant relationships or acquaintanceships. It begins with a deliberate movement by me to agree to conception, and travels and weaves through the lives and deaths of others near and far, leading ultimately to my own ending which will take place with my full agreement. I do not mean to suggest that I know the time or the how, only that I am sure that life will require my agreement to leave as it did to arrive.
Khyla Russell, “Movements”, Junctures, Vol 4, June 2005.
No doubt some academic defence of these words could be mustered, proclaiming them to be helpfully metaphorical or instructively mystical or deeply wise or some such piffle. As far as I can see, however, these words indicate a detachment from reality and a stark megalomania. Is it pertinent or flippant to mention that the author has a PhD in Anthropology?

Monday, 12 December 2005

Fewtril #49

When many people, citing rational thought as their guide, come to the same non-sequitous conclusion, then one ought to consider that there is in common a philosopher who has done their thinking for them.

Friday, 9 December 2005

The Professor of Absurdity

If it were true that “[t]he belief in truth is part of the elementary forms of religious life . . . [and] is a weakness of understanding, of common-sense” [1], and one believed it to be true, then necessarily one would be weak of understanding and common-sense. This is of course an absurdity, than which in the sophistication of modern life it is hard to find a more salient example. In consideration of the works of Jean Baudrillard, however, from which the quoted words are drawn, such absurdities are neither rare nor hidden.
.....It has been said that Jean Baudrillard is “a symptom, a sign, a charm, and above all, a password into the next universe” [2], which hagiographic hogwash nevertheless leads me rather to the opinion that we should take our chances with the reality of this universe. But Prof. Baudrillard, for whom “[r]eality, in general, is too evident to be true” [3], would like to make it known that he has boldly gone where nobody can go. At least, if it is from the evidence of real life that he believes that “nobody . . . believe[s] in the evidence of real life” [4], then I presume he must be that nobody of whom he speaks and who boldly goes.
.....Such silliness has provoked ridicule of Prof. Baudrillard, and it has obviously caused him some hurt, which he hopes can be soothed by more silliness:
Say: I am real, this is real, the world is real, and nobody laughs. But say: this is a simulacrum, you are only a simulacrum, this war is a simulacrum, and everybody bursts out laughing. With a condescending and yellow laughter, or perhaps a convulsive one, as if it was a childish joke or an obscene invitation. . . . Truth is what should be laughed at. One may dream of a culture where everyone bursts into laughter when someone says: this is true, this is real. [5]
The vehicle by which Baudrillard believes we may travel beyond truth and reality is that which he terms “radical thought”, which “is in no way different from radical usage of language. . . . [and] is therefore alien to any resolution of the world which would take the direction of an objective reality and of its deciphering.” [6] Furthermore,
This thought wants to be illusion, restituting non-veracity to the facts, non-signification to the world, and formulating the reverse hypothesis that there may be nothing rather than something, tracking down this nothingness which runs under the apparent continuation of meaning. [7]
The efforts of many an intellectual to implement this “radical thought” are humble in comparison to those of such a master-absurdling as Prof. Baudrillard, who is in “the next universe”, as it were. It takes a special kind of dedication, for instance, to produce such pretentious drivel as “Photography also questions ‘pure reality.’ It asks questions to the Other. But it does not expect an answer” [8] or “[O]nly in our sleep, our unconscious, and our death are we identical to ourselves.” [9] Nevertheless, our academicians are coming along nicely, and our journalists and politicians have made sterling efforts at “restituting non-veracity to the facts”. This must fill him with hope.
.....It would be wrong to say that reading through the works of Jean Baudrillard is always a chore; for one may find relief in questions that require of the reasonable man only short answers: “Couldn’t we transpose onto social and historical phenomena language games like the anagram, acrostic, spoonerism, rhyme, strophe or stanza and catastrophe?” [10] or “Does architecture still exist beyond its own reality . . . ?”. [11] The short answers are: “No” and “No”. (If you require the long answers, then there is little hope for you.) Moreover, we owe him a debt of thanks for expressing what could stand as the confession of the modern ideologue: “Consequences and effects interest me less than devaluing” [12].
.....Indeed, it is to Jean Baudrillard that we owe one of the clearest formulations yet written of the creed of pseudo-philosophic obfuscation: “The absolute rule of thought is to return the world as we received it: unintelligible. And if it is possible, to return it a little bit more unintelligible.” [13]
.....
[1] Jean Baudrillard, “La Pensee Radicale”, in Collection Morsure, ed., Sens & Tonka, (Paris, 1994); tr., F. Debrix, “Radical Thought”, online at The European Graduate School.
[2] Arthur Kroker & Charles Levin, "Baudrillard's Challenge," The Canadian Journal of Political and Social Theory, vol 8:1-2 (1984), 5-16. p. 5.
[3] Jean Baudrillard, “La Pensee Radicale”.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Jean Baudrillard, “La Photographie ou l'Ecriture de la Lumiere: Litteralite de l'Image,” in L'Echange Impossible, (Paris: Galilee, 1999), pp. 175-184. Translated by Francois Debrix as “Photography, Or The Writing Of Light”, online at the European Graduate School.
[9] Jean Baudrillard, “La Pensee Radicale”.
[10] Jean Baudrillard, Hystericizing the Millennium. (L'Illusion de la fin: ou La greve des evenements (Paris: Galilee, 1992.)) Excepted and Translated online by Charles Dudas at The European Graduate School.
[11] (“Existiert die Architektur noch jenseits ihrer eigenen Realität . . . ?”) Jean Baudrillard, “Architektur: Wahrheit oder Radikalität?” At The European Graduate School.
[12] (“Mich interessieren weniger die Konsequenzen und Auswirkungen als das Entwertende”), Jean Baudrillard. (Interview) “Demokratie, Menschenrechte, Markt, Liberalismus.” Frankfurter Rundschau, 28th November 2002.
[13] Jean Baudrillard, “La Pensee Radicale