"Dialectics at a standstill"

1. The formal and the transcendental: The distinction between the formal and the transcendental is beholden to a naïve opposition of subject and object. Both idealism and materialism attempt to introduce a third term into this opposition: the idealists say that not everything is a thing because there is negativity (which takes a number of ultimately equivalent formulations: things disappear, there is time and death, there is language), i.e., there are subjects; the materialists say that not everything is an idea because there is (something called) truth and discourse, i.e., there are objects. Between ideas and things, the dialectician erects the structure of subjectivity.

The dialectician asserts that the ‘I’ of any subject is neither an idea nor a thing, so there are at least three irreducible ontological terms. But perhaps we should acknowledge at least four:* that which appears (usually nominated as “fact” or “world”), that to which appearances appear or the “place” of such appearance (the “subject” or “thinker”), the appearance of that which appears (“cognitions”, “representations”, or “ideas”), and that to which appearances refer (“forms”). For the sake of simplicity, we might name these, respectively, object, subject, idea, thought. A series of relations among these four obtain.

i. {subject, idea} In cognition, we feel and experience. That of which we do so are objects {object, idea}.

ii. {subject, thought} Just as objects are that to which cognition is referred, there are multiple subjects because in thinking subjects must refer to thoughts (in Frege’s sense of the word “thought”). Both thought and object exceed cognition.

iii. {subject, object} A world. Experience and thinking are always local.

iv. {idea, thought} Truth.

The naïve subject/object distinction, then, can be recast in two different orientations: either as {subject, idea} and {object, thought} or as world {subject, object} and truth {idea, thought}.

*”At least” four insofar as these do not, it seems, quite account for time.

2. Mediation without dialectics: There is no immediate unity of thought in being—neither in the divine intellect nor in the phenomenon of an ‘I’: this much is taken for granted. But not all mediation is dialectical. The disjunctions between expression and the expressed, for example, are often not the condition but the failure of meaning; something new emerges from the “infinite abyss of meaning” when the laws of sense dissolve or from the gaps and ruins of history. These have otherwise been called the minimal things (Gaché), the most subtle touch (what Derrida calls the “barely touching touch”), the objet petit a (Lacan), the void (Badiou), or perhaps even Bataille’s “expenditure”. What is at stake here is more than the naïve infinity of a reflection that, since Fichte, has failed in the task it sets for itself. What emerges not only from the failure of such reflection but even from the destitution of a world that refuses to be destroyed? How can the necessity of thought (including the sense of its imperative) be understood as more than a resistance against its dissolution (e.g., the persistence or conatus of life) but also as the construction of new objects (even from, but not requiring, the destruction of worlds)?

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