Three (more) questions

1. Has any age ever known how to be timely? Have we ever been fit for our age or does our history always flee from its own consciousness? A “false historical consciousness” can take many forms; many of these result from either the confusion or conflation of natural and calendrical time—that the calendar is more or less a representation of natural time (the turning of the seasons, the revolution of the Earth, the phases of the moon, etc). Millennial thinking, as various historians have shown, is not the result of calendrical time but the reverse: the very notion of the calendar is grounded in millennialism.

Millennialism presupposes that we are never modern—we are never fit for our time because “the time is near”. But is not what has gone under the sign of modernity (which is often confused with post-modernity) in contemporary discourse, i.e., that claims that “our time has come” (the third age, the end of history, etc), not simply another (bad faith) iteration of this same schema? A secular redemption is still teleological. Or, alternatively, we are still not timely because there is no longer any time—we see this in the chronology of museum pieces, in the homogeneity of sense presupposed in scholarly citation and commentary, in the ideology of federal holidays, in globalization (where, incidentally, we can witness the extraordinary reduction of time to space), in the paroxysm of the avant-garde, in both the vulgar forms of relativism that masquerade as post-modernism as well as the post-modernism of pastiche (Jameson) and enjoyment (Zizek).

Nevertheless, to be timely does not mean a self-congratulatory imprisonment within certain “conceptual schemes” or necessarily any other variety of horizonal hermeneutics. To be timely, as Nietzsche understood better, perhaps, than any of his successors, means not to have a historical consciousness but a historical unconsciousness (Cioran demonstrates the malady of a historical consciousness unable to forget: the name he gives to his malady is “despair”). The task of a historical unconsciousness is not the constitution of sense but, rather, in the division of sense. In short, what Zupancic has called the figure of the Two in Nietzsche with respect to the psyche must be extended to history.

2. What is the task of criticism? At the risk of positing an “essence” of philosophy—which would give philosophy the unity of a discipline—at least since the time of Plato the task of philosophy has been critical.*

*This is not the best word, particularly since we cannot ignore its Kantian and Hegelian meaning; but neither can we say “political” since that word too is contaminated either by the Straussians (who claim that philosophy is inherently political) or by naïve conceptions of that in which “politics” consists.

We need not aver to the usual ethical readings of Platonic criticism to make the claim that philosophy is intrinsically critical (in Plato’s language, anything else is sophistry). Neither need we pay disingenuous homage to the usual banalities about Socratic irony or ignorance (Socrates is wisest on account of knowledge of his ignorance; the philosopher is the lover and not the possessor of wisdom, etc), which usually miss the point of the prefix phil- entirely (usually by confusing philia with eros and, additionally, confusing eros with lack). Neither, finally, need we appeal to the counter-ethical claim (for example, of Adorno or Mannheim) that the critical imperative is historical.

There are several ways we might express the critical imperative of (double genitive) philosophy. In metaphysics it is the non-identity of thought and being (what I have suggested might instead be called the ‘chiasm’ of thought and being); alternatively we might look to the material conditions of thought, the historical conditions of experience, or the topology of subjectification. (These are, incidentally, more perspicuous ways of talking about what in contemporary continental philosophy goes under the name of “difference”, which has the unfortunate tendency to succumb to questions about the “priority” of difference over identity and so on.) The task of philosophy is not to identify itself as criticism (under the name of “critical theory”, etc) but, rather, to perform this criticism. Critical philosophy cannot, without reneging its imperative, proclaim its intention to be critical (hence the question is no longer one of “praxis”) if for no other reason than that in doing so, i.e., in providing logoi of criticism, we presuppose the unity (correspondence, correlation) of thought and being.

Criticism is an imperative precisely because it cannot ground itself in an account of itself, i.e., a logos (which is not, however, to oppose language to a “feeling”). The critical imperative is not discursive nor, strictly speaking, practical (in the Kantian senses); the critical imperative is what might be called “affective”, which criticism has always been at the least. Even in common usage, what motivates the critic is a certain experience that by definition cannot merely be interior—judgment is always public (aesthetics has always recognized this since Baumgarten and Kant). For Hegel and Kierkegaard, criticism was thus not merely aesthetic but ethical. For the Marxists, criticism has, by extension, always been economic and/or political. These are, of course, external divisions of affectivity—i.e., the non-coincidence of self and other or of self to self, in short, the splitting of sense and non-sense. The fundamental question of criticism is how to handle this split—either to deny it tout court (first-order logic), to subordinate non-sense to sense, or to tarry at the limit of sense (what goes under the name of “experimentation”, the event, undecidability, etc).

3. What remains for phenomenology? From phenomenology to ontology: Phenomenology has never been what its Anglo- and psychological readers have thought it is—i.e., a first-person discourse. We should not be surprised, then, that the problem of appearances could not be settled without an account of the divisions within appearances not merely in their modes but in their logic (Husserl the mathematician was well aware of this problem from the 1920s on, quite independent of the encounter with Heidegger and well before the usual identification of the “turn” in the 1930s).

From ontology to …: To what? to history, to life, to science, to the unconscious, to givenness, and so on, whether through mathematics, structuralism, etc. In any case, the question remains: what is left for phenomenology as such, particularly insofar as it gets recalled amidst these other discourses as an appeal to “conscious experience” (has there been anything else that phenomenology has not been)? Of what value is phenomenology to us as a method if its concerns have thrown us outside of consciousness (and not just phenomenology but insofar as the technical world continues to encroach on the interiority of consciousness—even a discourse on consciousness can no longer rely on the reduction)? Without method, do we still have the right to use the name “phenomenology”? Is phenomenology the only available discourse on consciousness (even presupposing that such a discourse still carries purchase), or is phenomenology still guilty of wedding consciousness to a certain (viz., transcendental) conception of subjectivity?

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