Habermas: “… a progressively rationalized lifeworld is both uncoupled from and made dependent on increasingly complex, formally organized domains of action, like the economy and the state administration. This dependency, resulting from the mediatization of the lifeworld by system imperatives, assumes the socio-pathological form of an internal colonization when critical disequilibria in material reproduction–that is, systemic crises amenable to systems-theoretical analysis–can be avoided only at the cost of disturbances in the symbolic reproduction of the lifeworld–that is, of “subjectively” experienced identity-threatening crises or pathologies.” (Dump the functionalism, and one gets either Horkheimer, Marcuse, or Deleuze.)

Example: On 4 October, a pair of Wal-Mart employees in Ohio exchanged marriage vows in the lawn and garden section of their store “amid the retailer’s flowers, shrubs, and lawn chairs”, so reported the news story.


If there is any indication that the concept of surrealism has lost its world-historical significance, it is in the habitual application of this term to any fantastic intermingling of the mystic, representation, and the narrative of disaffected everydayness. No surrealist—nor for that matter a true Camusesque existentialist—could weep at the absurdity of ‘a wild sheep chase’. The existentialist, rather, would laugh, which is precisely what never occurs, what is excluded, from this kind of pursuit—the pursuit of nothing other than the weakness of one’s own spirit that remains opaque even as one struggles desperately never to surrender finitude for world-historical meaning. Time, rather, “is surely passing” for yet another—one wonders why we need more—alienated soul who can neither lose himself in everydayness—in a world of universal anonymity—nor transcend this everydayness through the standard retreat (“spirit quest”) into the inwardness of heaven (“the wind’s private thoroughfare”). All that is left is the trace of a melancholy catharsis that would be nostalgic were it not for the fact it has no object when one’s culture itself has been interrupted by war.

Images IV

(This is a spinoff from a work in progress.)

The primordial rain is Lucretius’ central image. “It is raining”, Lucretius says. The impersonal “it” of this expression is not quite like the silence of Cage for whom silence is filled with the rush of sound that is my presence to myself. This is the “it” of a positivity without presence, without concept—of that indefinable space between the raindrops that fall with a muted clamor not into the earth but into the ocean where it is not a question of limit or nourishment but, rather, the conjoining of infinity to infinity.

Can there be an experience of this image? This is the metaxiological question. Lucretius presents us with a conception of poetry that is nothing less than the imagination of matter (à la Bachelard): matter cleaved from form—a pure matter, an-archic matter, power, dunamis, tendency. But this presents a problem, for thought cannot admit of a material imagination thus separated from formal being, for such an imagination is by definition infinite, liquid, without principle or measure.

Thus we begin, as always, in sensation, that is, in aesthetics. The verticality of rain effaces location. On the one hand, the rain violates the law of the elements: it is a downward motion that does not move to the center. We cannot experience the downwardness of the falling rain, for a face turned upward is already immersed in the rain—it is all around—and no index permits a “there” (a Da-sein). There is only a “here”—I am here!—but it is not the rain that is around me. There is no outside because the rain is in me insofar as I am in the rain. The rain that falls on my skin does not merely entreat entry, but I become “soaked to the bone”. There is no inside; there is no location. If it is the rain that falls, it is I who rise—taking to the sky, to reverie. The rain lifts us from the earth, away from the center.

But is this not to imply a direction (to move away from the center)? Rather, the (primordial) rain “returns” us to the origin insofar as the center is not originary. But neither can we properly speak of an “original” rain. The primordial rain is infinite: it is the image that has taken the place of God—not the masculine creator but the feminine genetrix. There is no thinking of images, just as there is no thinking of God (Dante, Paradiso XXXIII). What the medievals had called the beatific vision can now be called material imagination. The image does not come from elsewhere, through the rays of emanation, from the outside. This form of absolute transcendence is, of course, impossible; but is not, too, the imagination of matter?

The imagination of matter requires a propaedeutic. Several candidates have been previously proposed for thinking: aporiai, contradiction and dialectic, epoche, reflection, etc. Lucretius proposes “attention”; similarly, perhaps what we need to expect is not clarity of vision but, rather, we need to learn how to listen.

Images III

In the middle of an astonishing text (and no less remarkable because it is particularly damaging to my recent defense of Deleuze), a friend wrote the following:

“… The evental function here separates us from the sterile transcendental illusion, and from the need to desire destruction.

If meaning or the possibility of experience require contrast, then with what would we contrast the real except the impossible? God or the impossible par excellence serves the most vital function not just for elucidating existence (philosophically) but for experiencing existence. This is not something that “belongs” to philosophy as a therapeutic interval, and gets discarded in a return to life. This is philosophy’s belonging to life, as its meaning. The meaning of existence is still meaning, though the meaning of meaning is existence.”

(Full text posted on 18 October at the link to the right.)

Indulge me an oblique approach: Every image, Nancy says, is sacred. But this can equally be said of the concept insofar as religion is the attempt—in good or bad faith—to form a bond with what is separated, absolutely other, unnameable, unpronounceable. Hence, I propose two exemplary religious images: (1) the Tetragrammaton. So inviolable was this word (Word) to the ancient Hebrews that it was soon lost and now exists only in the memory of a few Qaballic mystics. And (2) the Om. Man does not speak the Word; either one articulates the sound of a Brahman mantra or utters, simply, “Mu”. The Word is not the ordering vessel of the world (logos spermatikos). The Word does not “divide being” (Cratylus). Neither does the Word divide us “from” being (or even bring us “to” being). In the Maitrayaniya Upanishad, for example, we read: “There are two [!] Absolutes, Sound and Silence … Inundated by the Absolute-that-is-Sound, one arrives in the Absolute-that-is-Silence”.

The danger of these images, as we know, is that on their basis religion becomes the surest path to the death drive, one species of which is the frenetic and ascetic quest for mystic intuition of “ineffable experiences” into immortality. Neither, however, can we oppose (rational) philosophy to religion if for no other reason that, as the same friend who said the above has observed, it is a mistake to confuse the death of God with the end of history. Philosophy, rather, since the time of the presocratics has always been (i.e., is originally) religious.

This origin of philosophy is not, as those such as Freud and Jaspers have suggested, a primitive feeling of the divine within us nor its mistaken call. The origin, deconstruction tells us, is always double. The identity, the in-itself, of the origin immanently implies a reference to itself (qua origin and not to another division of itself) from which productivity and expression emerge as world, as logic, and as subject. Religion is thus immanent to philosophy itself insofar as this origin is unnameable (or “dark”, as Desmond would say) from the point of view of its world. Religious thought occurs neither in the space of mediations nor immersed in the darkness of the origin but, rather, in the space between these.

The conceptions of thought as edifying or therapeutic are extraordinarily varied and might even include some whom we might initially not want to cast in these terms (in addition to the assorted conservatisms around like Nussbaum, Hadot, Strauss, et al). One is Marx insofar as the function of philosophy is demystification of ideology (seeing through ‘distorted communication’, etc) for the sake of the material construction of free humanity. Another is Kierkegaard insofar as the function of thought is to negate totalization and edify the soul against skepticism by the construction of ideal structures for linguistic and cognitive reduction for the sake of an abstract existence (that thus requires the supplement of Christian faith to prevent a lapse into full-fledged nihilism).

In both cases—and their possible source of redemption—one sees a curious intermingling of the aesthetic and the religious that fails to live up to its promise. The one implants us by the feet and the hands into the earth and tells us that no height, no ecstasy is forbidden. The aesthetic here is what Nietzsche and Deleuze would call the affirmation and the immanence of life: not an affirmation of being because being is purely this power, this conatus essendi. Nietzsche’s/Zarathustra’s naïveté, however, consists in the doubling of this affirmation: the child’s affirmation of the affirmation. And yet this is not quite an excess. The master of excess reminds us that one only finds a real excess—that is, the explosion of an essence that pierces the sky, the limit of existence—in naked eroticism, in death.

Death is sunken into the earth, into the rhythms of nature and, thus, into life itself, just as the light of the sun pierces the earth’s skin. One often forgets the subterranean forces of decomposition and generation. But this immanentism of death forbids any commerce with any beyond of being, since all being refers either only to itself or to its conatus essendi, its will to power.

But power cannot be its own justification: the affirmation must be affirmed. This used to be the work of God (Aquinas, Leibniz, etc), particularly insofar as Being and the Good were identified (and evil consisted of a simple privation of being—Derrida, among others, has demonstrated the political consequences of such an error); and then by the autarkic moral consciousness (Kant et al). This remains the problem of religion today between fact and meaning. We cannot be done with religion (partial response to Gauchet) because the sacred, the unnameable, the impossible is the real, as Lacan as said. The real is that which is in-existent, that which is excluded from thought by thought itself, the invisible of the visible. God is unnameable precisely because he is everywhere and nowhere. (This is, of course, more than the impossibility of contradiction (NB: contradiction is one species of impossibility) and less than either a Hegelian dialectic or a leap to an other logic [logos].) The real is on neither side of the double origin; the duality of the origin (of the Absolute) is impossible—the two sides must be rigorously separated, which means that the double function of the origin cannot be limited.

What experience (taken in all of its philosophical senses) requires, thus, is not religious faith but religious thought in its perennial task: the thinking of the infinite.


Harvard just inaugurated a new president. I am less interested in her gender than in her resistance to farces like No Child Left Behind and other symptoms of the instrumentalization that is continuing to erode education. Quoting DuBois, Faust (I hope I am not the only one who finds the name highly ironic) said: “Education is not to make men carpenters so much as to make carpenters men”. To hear these words from a figure in education administration is nothing less than a miracle.

Despite several serious reservations, I have always maintained that more people need to read Adler, who said in 1939: “the basic problems of education are normative. This means, positively, that they are problems in moral and politiacl philosophy; and, negatively, that they cannot, they have not and never will be, solved by the methods of empirical science, by what is called educational research.” The temptation to read the instrumentalization of education as being symptomatic of “our times” is too easy. So too a crude Marxist reading that would say the instrumentalization of education (Head Start, NCLB, etc) is relevant for the working class who require technical degrees such that only elite schools like Harvard can afford (literally) to worry about “liberal education”. Neither of these can be the full story, even if both are true. The origins of this problem are (at least to my mind) well-documented in the history of American education; the more pressing problem is political–i.e., why the persistence of this problem, and what is to be done (when it has infiltrated even places like philosophy)?


1. An ideology of philosophy. A fellow academic responded to an article on philosophy ( by accusing this writer and others like him of demonstrating to the outside world that the university is “full of arrogant, useless assholes. Philosophers nowadays REALLY need to be smacked off their high horses”. (Michael Collins made the same point about the university in general in hackneyed tirades in his most recent nove. Unfortunately, while Collins is right about what he says, a novel is a poor soapbox and one cannot but get the impression it is the result of a disgruntled B student in literature.)

This article concerned the popularity and (alleged) success of books such as those published by Open Court attempting to bridge philosophy and popular culture (e.g., The Simpsons and Philosophy). Such projects are caught in a double bind.

On the one hand, as the article’s author says, the contributors to these volumes “tend to be fans of the particular show or band [being written about], and they are writing for other fans who may sense the intellectual dimension but not fully grasp it”. Philosophy, it is said, thus has the ability to reveal “deep meanings” through “sophisticated interpretations” for the New Yorker intellectual. Long time series editor Bill Irwin has hoped that these kinds of “accessible” books about philosophy will bring people to philosophy proper.

Philosophy, therefore, is something to which people need to be brought—to be “better democratic citizens” who can “think critically”—or just “better thinkers” because thinking without philosophy is slovenly. Philosophy’s pretension is that it has something unique to say to which people should pay attention if they want to know how to think properly and not be deluded by themselves. Philosophy thus “needs to be knocked off its high horse”.

On the other hand, if philosophers do not make the attempt to be “accessible” so their profession can become palatable topics of cocktail conversation, philosophy is accused of being “irrelevant”, “impractical”, or simply elitist; once again, therefore, philosophy “needs to be knocked off its high horse”.

For the record, I cannot resist mentioning that the contributors to the Open Court series are not always philosophers (and when they are, rather mediocre ones at that) and include writers from my colleague’s own discipline. Even if one generalizes the problem to the university as a whole, however (one wonders why this accusation is unique to philosophers and also to, say, literary theorists or any of the humanities), the question remains the same: what is the nature of this double bind of “professional thinking”?

Consider a story (which I may not get exactly right) about Derrida. Having sat through a roundtable about justice, when the discussion moved to him, he burst forth with a diatribe, asserting that instead of sitting in the room talking theory, everyone in the room should march to the prison down the street where an innocent man was being held. Or recall Rousseau’s indignation at the moral philosopher who sits in his armchair looking down at the atrocities in the street.

On the one hand, the partisans of moral and political action (over and above grand theorizing) are obviously caught in a manifest performative contradiction—one which should have been known to literary theory for quite some time (i.e., saying one doesn’t have a theory for practice is itself a theory). For myself, I see no other solution to the failure of recognizing a contradiction than Aristotle’s.

On the other hand, philosophy can no longer be content either with Enlightenment foundationalism nor with a blithely naïve pragmatism (for which someone like Rorty, for example, has been soundly disciplined by his colleagues in Europe). It’s most pressing institutional concern is to re-evaluate its relation to its interlocutors.

2. The ideology of philosophers. Philosophers learn techniques for argument. The layman is under the thrall of common sense, of opinion, of ideology. The bigot, the fascist, has a “closed mind”. The intellectual has an “open mind”. The philosopher has an “active mind”—an open mind that is at the same time “critical”. The fascist refuses to change his mind—his belief is his belief and he has a right to his beliefs, damnit. The philosopher goes one better: the philosopher, so every introductory handbook says, is the one who can “justify” his beliefs … which is precisely why the philosopher is least apt to change his beliefs. The philosopher has an earned right to his beliefs, and it is the philosopher (the philosopher-king) who then, through his generosity and liberality, grants the fascist the right to his own beliefs in the name of “toleration”.