The transcendental dialectic

1. The One and the Two: The hermetics taught that the Kosmos is God’s image. But God himself cannot be presented in images: “He is hidden from our sight. … [But] thought alone can see that which is hidden, inasmuch as thought itself is hidden from sight …” The ban on graven images and the prohibition of idolatry maintains a rigorous separation between the world known through images and that toward which thought is drawn outside of itself. The totality of images is only possible by the exclusion of that which cannot be presented in an image. But, we should stop to wonder why that which cannot be presented should be forbidden from such presentation. To foreclose what is impossible to thought is the monist gesture par excellence. But this too is the fundamental dialectical question; in short, the choice between monism and dialectics is not essentially metaphysical but concerns what is available to thought: specifically, the dialectical gambit is that the impossible really is impossible, while the monist, by declaring the impossible as such, makes all things possible and thinks that all we need to do so is declare the limit.

2. Explanation and criticism: Both metaphysics and hermeneutics after Kant have thought that the task of philosophy is to explain the thought that explains the world (thus Kant imports logic into epistemology). Yet we all know how ineffective genealogy, etiology, and natural history are to the one who must form a life against the receding horizon of self-knowledge. No amount of theoretical understanding, for example, makes injustice tolerable and no explanation can provide a sufficient account of a betrayal. Instead, criticism’s material is not the unity of what is presented to thought but the cracks and ruins, the traces of the noumenal in phenomena. Such a speculative thought surrenders the desire for the absolute for the systematic destruction of experience.


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