Conditions II

1. Why philosophy? What are the (material) needs for which thinking finds expression in philosophy? These may be political (e.g., Plato), religious, scientific/physical, etc. What is at stake is not simply the articulation of the philosophy of “our time” (as if thinking required stimulation by the environment). Even if such an account were possible (e.g., in a so-called “sociology of philosophy”), we are not asking “what” philosophy is but why philosophy? What is the wisdom we need, if ever there is wisdom that we seek?

2. Against the ideology of “eternal wisdom”—which in the name of a vague humanist subjectivity ultimately reifies thought into the most sterile objectivity—philosophy today is not merely an inflated commiseration on the injustices of the human condition. Modern philosophy exists as an account of conditions. The first step for the philosopher is not to ask “what is it?” but to notice that this object (thing, situation, circumstance, affect) is and has come to be. In science we would speak of causality and in mathematics we would speak of entailments: i.e., a physics of place, time, mode, and manner. But any account of how anything is is also an account of how it is not (in this time, in that place). A physics is therefore always a science of complexes. The philosopher asks “why this complex? why this combination? (gyms and rock music, suburbs and chain stores, fate and circumstance, guilt and punishment, science and technology)”. This account of conditions constitutes the theoretical component of philosophy; the practical, of course, is nothing other than the material performance of philosophy in the formation of the body or the corpus (which is not, of course, merely to speak of the biological body); finally, the logical component of philosophy is the construction of the thinking subject (i.e., thinking the conditions for thought). Broadly speaking, philosophy has three allies for these respective tasks: politics, aesthetics, and psychoanalysis.

The politics of music

“By voicing the fears of helpless people, [music] could signal help for the helpless, however feebly and distortedly. In doing so it would renew the promise contained in the age-old protest of music: the promise of a life without fear” (Adorno).

“… [music] is not a copy of the phenomenon, or, more accurately, the adequate objectivity of the will, but is the direct copy of the will itself, and therefore represents the metaphysical of everything physical in the world, and the thing-in-itself of every phenomenon … music gives the universalia ante rem and the real world the universalia in re” (Nietzsche).

A sort of constellation: Adorno and Nietzsche. But, instead of drawing a line through Wagner (as Bauer and Ramply have already suggested in their respective ways), perhaps we need instead to detour through Kant’s first Critique.

The temptation is to think that what we need is an undistorted image of suffering, such that there could be a direct correlation between representation and the will by means of the concept. But it is precisely because of the distortion of the image that an aesthetics of thought is possible—through a secondary mimesis that refers thought to nothing other than non-coincidence. But this space is unlivable, perhaps even unbearable—and we express or discharge this experience in our bodies: in a tremor, the closing of our eyes, in the next step, in the sense that something—I know not what—has happened.

Addenda: 1. “Music” cannot be the name for a genus. There is no essence of “music”. We can only relate singular performances to a unique line extending to each of its inter- and contexts on the one hand and to its future effects on the other. Consequently, there is no one criterion for music (and its redemptive power).

2. After hearing “Blue Cathedral”, one would be quite justified in the hope of a truly feminine music from Higdon. Unfortunately many of the other works, such as “City Scape” ultimately amidst the bombast try to do too much, i.e., attempt to communicate a concept or a representation instead of quite literally creating a new space (a new aesthetic) through the material of the sound image (which is the greatest virtue of the tone poem). Instead of an image proper, “City Scape” gives us the self-indulgence of infinite romantic subjectivity masquerading as a beautiful object.

Discourse and democracy

À propos of our holiday today, I stumbled on this photo. I cannot think of a better rejoinder to anyone who still thinks “deliberative democracy” is an option or, for that matter, how anyone can still seriously defend the ideology of individualism–for only such an ideology would permit the conjunction of “Get a brain!” with “Morans” insofar as what counts is merely conviction and patriotism.

Why write? (On the prelude, à la manière de Sartre)

The danger of writing is falling into the false dichotomy of production and consumption. In both cases, writing is therapeutic and, therefore, outside the economy of use: either we write to “express ourselves” (discharge of affect) or we take pleasure in words that express what we are not ourselves able to say. In both cases, the appropriate response is merely “Amen” and our words fall flat despite our enthusiasm precisely by being absorbed into the economy of exchange according to which the meaning of our words is exhausted by either our intention or by our understanding. There is writing, however, whose existence is not that of understanding. This is not, of course, to say that the purpose of such writing is to be misunderstood. This is a writing that enables us to go on, i.e., not to persist in being but, in a precise sense, to ex-ist. This is the sense of the corpus that we get, for example, in its most profound sense in Nietzsche (here Gasché is most certainly correct). What, Nietzsche asks, is a writing that sounds? What is the body the writer creates? What is the experience that writing makes possible?

Mysticism and the mythopoetic imagination

Against the easy conflation of mysticism and “the ineffable”–and the ineffable and the unsayable–Wolfson continues to offer us the resources to think the passage from representation to knowledge in ways that are not beholden to the problematics of sense or reference. Framed as a hermeneutic/phenomenological investigation into kabbalah, in what is more than an account of the kabbalistic vision of the divine and a fairly damning accusation of androcentrism in medieval rabbinic culture, alongside the likes of Marion and Desmond, Wolfson provides an account of an imagining of the difference between idol and image, between remembrance and forgetting, particularly in terms of the mutual conversion of sexual difference into identity. i.e., the “suffering of eros as the indifferent identity (one-that-is-all) becoming identical difference (all-that-is-one), a process that is collectively conceived by kabbalists as amelioration of feminine judgment, her restoration to and elevation through the morphological prism of the divine, culminating in the reconstitituion of the male androgyne in Keter, the place that is no-place (atar law atar) …” In the space of a paragraph it would be impossible to approach the complex of speech and eros in the “process” (if we speak in philosophical terms) of the Sefirot. Consider, nevertheless, Wolfson’s treatment of the Song of Songs: “… the Song is directed to Binah, the “supernal world” or the “world-to-come,” which is also identified as Solomon (shelomo) … the “king” is Binah, who is called by this name on account of her demiurgical role in the birthing of the lower seven sefirot. The shift in symbolism underscores the fact that the theurgical purpose of the Song is to arouse the joy of Shekhinah, the “world of the moon,” in relation to Binah, the “upper world,” so that the two worlds may be aligned in one pattern”. Wolfson’s own analysis following this passage is remarkable in itself, but instead of inflecting this logic ontologically into a (para)logic of eros, what we have here is too a logic of affectivity whose resources call for immediate attention.