The Ethics of the Present

                                                The Ethics of the Present

            Nothing can make us be the past: it is only a spectacle before us which is there for us to question. As the questions come from us, the answers in principle cannot exhaust historical reality, since it does not depend on them for existence. (Merleau-Ponty 1973:10 [1955]).

            This ‘strange object which is ourselves’ is at once a scientific object – History ‘proper’ as a discourse and as a study – and also an objectification – a shifting ground lensed through ideology or even personal memory. We as present-day human beings can object to it, and in the ‘confrontation with the tradition’ this is in fact our collective duty, and yet we are, as Marx famously noted, subject to it. We do ‘make our own history’, and yet not entirely as we choose. Increasingly, so it appears, we often find ourselves unable to raise a metaphoric finger against the ‘forces of history’, since the present is, in this sense, only the sum total of the weight of effects which emanate yet from what was supposed to be ‘only’ the past. If we do not take the present to be either presence in the immanential sense of being-there and just there, just now, or as the presenting of the moment as some kind of disconnected exclamation of Being-present, then the present as the ongoingness of history does indeed carry all of this said weight around within it and about it. History is ourselves precisely for the reason that we ourselves are nothing other than our own respective histories, and History but a Gestalt of a gestalt.

            To think through the veil of history is part of the confrontation with what we can know of the tradition, what has come before us and yet remains within us; the unthought aspect of selfhood and at the same time also the temporally conscious sense of thrownness. This ‘veil’ is present both by the fact that much of actual human history remains unknown, and a portion of that – just so, we also do not know which proportion – forever unknowable. And it is a justifiable shock to realize how recent this other portion reaches. Lost films are a simple case in point. Much of the cinematic archive has been destroyed, irreplaceably, mainly because of the material upon which it was first recorded. In 1917, for example, an important suffragette documentary entitled ‘Birth Control’, by Margaret Sanger, was censored and banned before general release, given its then radical contention that woman must have complete control over their reproductive rights in order for them to take their place as fully human beings, both politically and existentially. No copies of this film are known to exist today; it is categorized as a ‘lost’ film. What is also lost for us is the ability to gauge the amount of maturity we have gained with regard to such a question in the intervening century. Sometimes, it seems, not much. In many regions, even within modern states, women’s reproductive rights are questioned, limited, stigmatized, denuded or co-opted. We have already noted that bio-power is certainly a factor. But the rationalizations given forth in the effort to continue to subject women to external control, and object to women’s bodies as inherently uncontrollable, rest only in a past which has yet to be fully confronted.

            Hence the great import of doing just that. We must first maintain the distinction between the ideal types analytic brought to the fore by Weber and the sense that we have living ideals, the way we would live if we could, the ‘blue sky’ of corporate forecasting, the everyday Nirvana of the ‘perfect family’ or the ‘well-adjusted child’ etc.. In Weber’s methodology, an ideal type is a non-historical model, constructed from aspects of real world cases that betray a pattern. Ideal types are not so much simulacra nor even reifications, but tend more to being expressions of the human desire to attain absolutes. Indeed, Weber’s Wertrationales Handeln – ‘rational action directed to an absolute value’ – speaks clearly of this orientation. The study of history as History also has this tendency, since, as Merleau-Ponty noted, it is we who are asking the questions of ourselves. The fact that we have progressed to the point of understanding this relation is a noteworthy first step and also a recent one, beginning with Vico in 1725. If we have kept close to our hearts the sense that we can live in an ‘ideal’ way, or even that there should be ideals at all – in James, of course, we have the ‘saint’ as a standard by which the rest of us could judge our own behaviors – it is due to the concurrent human situatedness of being perennially finite and increasingly discrete, the living equivalent of a Gaussian curve, perhaps. Beneath the center of such a distribution live the ideals of the day to day, those whose normative sensibilities and aspirations betray nothing of the larger historical apparatus around which we are encompassed, but also through which we can clamber up to the top for another point of view, a vista which would remain unknown to us if we did not first learn about the scaffolding underpinning it. The casual expression, ‘standing on the shoulders of history’, speaks not only to the sense that what is holding us up is not only not part of we ourselves, though we might mimic it in microcosm, but is also greater than ourselves. So much greater, in fact, that we must again confront the fact that much of it, perhaps most of it, will remain unknowable.

            But not unthinkable. This is the second distinction we must keep in mind, that between what cannot ever be known and that which, in spite of its mysterious or partial quality, can yet be imagined and thence thought through. What we need to avoid is the pitfall of all ideal types analysis, and that is the disconnect it makes between the pattern and the case, the model and the lived time of this or that social reality. Idealism in general is suggestive of this disconnect, and even if the superordinate benefit it brings to the analytic mindset is that of abstracted depth, leitmotif, deep structure or grammar, archiphonemic apse, or phenomenological ground, the ‘intuition of essence’, or even ‘simple’ ontology, its corresponding weakness includes a departure from lived time, and thus from Dasein itself. Abstraction in the study of history is also self-limiting in another manner: “In a word, we might say that it makes the specificity of ideological or religious organizations unthinkable. It transforms them into ‘representations’, or into ‘reflections’ of social structures. Put otherwise, it eliminates them as real factors of history: they become additions and secondary effects, precious only insofar as, through their transparency, they shed light on what instigated them.” (De Certeau 1988:119 [1975], italics the text’s). As persons, we live in a specific manner which at once, even if it is not analyzed in any objective way – ‘common sense’ reality and that scientific are also disconnected from one another in both worldview and purpose – must remain thinkable for us, and not its opposite. Life, in another word, must be both doable and thinkable; it must be able to be lived, whatever its depths of misery or blisses of joy that happen to be contained within its pulsing embrace, and what is bracketed or put to the side as ‘secondary’ or ‘additional’ is the very opposite of what ideal types analysis dockets and transcends.

            We are given to placing aside abstraction in day to day life not because we do not aspire to philosophy or because we might imagine ‘thought’, or yet the history of thought or consciousness, to be somehow beyond us, but rather because we already know what either needs to be known to do something, or we know where to look to find out. It is not the paucity of the intellect in the mundane sphere that limits human action, it is instead the list of questions that are liable to be asked. It is in the vested and invested interest of social institutions to both manufacture such lists and limit them, sometimes stringently, in order to reproduce themselves, which is ultimately the absolute value of rational organizations as Weber has discussed. If it is the case that such values and the means to attain them in principle occupy radically different spaces – the usual analogy of choosing amongst a number of closed doors and passing through this or that one – characterizing rational action directed to a finite goal, or Zweckrationales Handeln – in contrast with the metaphor of the fixed point in the heavens which can direct my action but in fact cannot itself be attained – the ‘absoluteness’ of such a value may well contain its own absolution but this as well cannot be experienced by me – then it is equally the case that historical institutions that do in fact exist or did exist are possessed of an absolute that, in a brilliant if oft disingenuous maneuver, turns the firmament of values into means.

            This is not a confrontation with tradition but rather a manipulation of it, but if we consider these two alternatives, it is clear that for social institutions, if the goal is simple reproduction and not even growth – this is characteristic of bureaucracies proper in Weber more so than say, mere for-profit companies, for instance, or ideologies over against religions, in general – manipulation is the correct choice. Not so for persons. For the individual, struck with having to both choose a door or two or three over the mortal cycle of one’s ability to so choose, and yet also being aware, even sometimes blinded by, that light hung up in the sky above, manipulating the light to show what is behind the door is clearly not an option. Instead, the groundwork for attaining different perspectives on the light from below is characteristic of our historical condition. It would appear at first, that any absolute value would forever be in the same relative position to its perceiver, but this is true only of unquestioning belief. Faith is shaken by perspective, knowledge amended, wisdom acquired. Perhaps the greatest legacy of the history that can be known is that the nature of the light itself alters over time, sometimes radically so.

            Even so, there is another horizon that in our contemporary world situation both attracts and repels us. It contains the questions both addressing ‘why have a light at all?’ and ‘what if the light is my reflection, what if I myself am the light?” in the same way that we have come to know ourselves as the ‘strange object’ of history. The first question is that borne on the critiques of the enlightenment, the key differences between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the history of modern thought. In a sense, these two questions are obverses of the same post-deistic coin; one side heralds the successor figure, humanity, the other is simply blank. Perhaps we are to imagine crossing over from one to the other, for as Nietzsche proverbially remarks, with the death of god the death of Man becomes imminent. Or it may be that what human light there is in the world develops itself into a model for its own action, through ethics and reflection both. If we are our own light, and if this thence becomes our absolute value, then such a being must desist in imagining that this light shines more upon the one than the many, we more than they, or yet the meek more than the magnanimous. If the light is a mere reflection or refraction of Dasein’s action in the world – perhaps this is the reason why it appears to follow us around so closely, since we are always where we are in some basic sense – then it can still serve as an inspiration as well as a check to note if we are still amongst the living, still alive and making our own history within either the confines of a tradition not confronted or oblique to the past, the present as a parallax and not as a mere reproduction. If the absolute value of modernity is individual freedom, then it befalls to each of us our own confrontation with every ounce of that historical weight which tethers us yet beneath the light of the world as it is.

            Social philosopher G.V. Loewen is the author of forty-five books in ethics, education, aesthetics, health and social theory, and more recently, metaphysical adventure fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

The ‘Anals’ of History: e-scatological excrementalities

                        The ‘Anals’ of History: e-scatological excrementalities

                                    …the only pre-existent Logos is the world itself.

– Merleau-Ponty

                Just as did exegesis come to be generalized at the beginning of the nineteenth century, so, at the beginning of the twentieth, we see a generalization of the concept of immanence. It begins with Husserl’s lectures on internal time consciousness, given in 1904-5. The experience of time differs from measured, objective time. Lived time, to be analyzed with reference to the analytic of depth psychology in 1933 by Minkowski, includes a specifically human orientation to World and thus a specific comprehension of its worlding. This brings to immanence an entirely novel aspect, unknowing intentionality.

            The mascot deity with a human interest elides its Being into history and makes that history into the History of itself. Thus Yahweh inserts Himself into the human drama, somewhat begrudgingly, it may be admitted, but with the intent to take part in that drama, to shape it, to enroll its actors and to guide their decisions. At the same time, He brings an expectation that His people will not only act more or less within the compass of His interdicts, but also will remain loyal to His Being, even if it fragments itself within the historical world. This is knowing intentionality, and it does not alter the essential character of immanence because what is immanential to the phenomenology of eschatological history is a God itself.

            Although much of the interaction between the ancient Hebrews and their divinity is forgettable, a series of false starts and circumlocuted intrigues – the mere fact that Moses has to re-ascend to get a second copy of the Decalogue speaks volumes about the challenges facing a community that had defined itself by virtue of the previous ‘astral’ or great year procession age, that of Taurus the bull; viz. the golden calf – the power of the metaphor of that transition remains clear: any people who participate fully in the godhead of Being will now transcend their own pre-history; will bring to the world a new kind of Logos that is not beholden to history as it has been known. The newer ‘pastoral’ religions of the late agrarian epoch all re-evaluate this older authority relationship and reject it while maintaining cultural ties with its wider worldview; Christianity and Islam in the West, and Buddhism in the East. Instead of a mascot coach, as it were, we now see a shepherd guide, a messiah or prophet on earth, ensconcing himself yet more deeply into a history which is not his own. This risk is all and all; for Prince Gautama it means turning away from the world entirely while at once acting as a role model. In the West, we have two kerygmatic figures who are both role models and messengers, Jesus and Mohammed.

            These late agrarian ethical systems still have much to offer, especially in an age of anonymous social relations and material idolatries. At the same time, the conception of immanence is still possessed by a knowing intent, whether it is the understanding of Nirvana in the East or a soteriological path in the West. Only in our modern period do we depart from this once shared path. We find ourselves, rather abruptly, in a world that has no exclusive and inherent meaning. Meaningfulness has become, for us, a history rather than a destiny, an act rather than a fate. Enter subjective intent and unknowing intentionality. These two ‘events’ characterize human interaction with the world as well as underpin a new experience of time; the ‘flux’: “We can only say that this flux is something that we name in conformity with what is constituted, but it is nothing temporally ‘Objective’. It is absolute subjectivity and has the absolute properties of something to be denoted metaphorically as ‘flux’, as a point of actuality, primal source-point, that from which springs the ‘now’…” (Husserl 1964:100 [1928]). This ‘actuality’ also includes resonances of what is now past, from the just now past to the remote primordiality of consciousness, which Husserl immediately refers to as ‘a continuity of moments of reverberation’ (ibid). Then, as if to sunder any connection with any previous Logos, he declares, ‘for all this, names are lacking’.

            Heidegger, who is the original editor of these lectures, reminds the reader in 1928 that intentionality designates a ‘problem’, not an explanation. It is a problem in the same way as history is a problem, or at least, our experience thereof. By far the majority of what occurs is not at all noteworthy, and much of the noted is itself base, emanating from the ‘cloacal vaults’ which Lingis comments upon with regard to the possessive character of a psychoanalysis and a phenomenology too closely imbedded in one another. This is the content of the ‘anals’ of history, the subterranean excrementa that is certainly worthy of new life and indeed, could foster it in the same way any fertilizer would. Similarly, intentionality has within it a majority of either otiose or downright obtuse intents. This is so precisely because it has been transfigured as unknowing. We do not expect any deity to have this base layer within the kerygma of knowing intentionality. Yes, there are trickster gods, but these gods know that they dissimulate, and so the point stands. Human beings, rather, and as often as not, do not appear to know what they’re doing to this regard. It is one thing to calculate a deception, but it is a greater feat not to be yourself taken in by it.

            This novel immanence that brings Dasein into radical sensory contact with subjectivity, while at the same time not forcing only this definition upon it, lacks prescience even though it is characterized as being essentially ‘ahead of itself’. Yet all is hardly lost: our very analytic of consciousness is based upon how we presume any God to have been operating, or more mutely, be operating yet. This is the sense of the fullness of Being-now. Husserl uses the phrases ‘all-together’, and ‘all-at-once’, and this presents to us the nowness of consciousness. Indeed, each of us must designate a degree of autism to this regard, for not ‘all’ which occurs to our senses can be processed ‘all at once’. Bleuler’s interest in coining this today too-fashionable term concerns the radically inward reorientation of consciousness. Minkowski cites Bleuler as defining autism as ‘the detachment from reality accompanied by a relative or absolute predominance of the interior life.’ (1970:74 [1933]). Though originally of great interest in the study of schizophrenia, Minkowski states that as a ‘principle of life’, schizoidism cannot be reduced to purely autistic reactions to the world or to the environment surrounding the subject. No, it is rather a secondary phenomenological feature of all subjectivity that we must sift the inputs since we cannot know ahead of time what will be of greatest import. Beyond this, the value we place on this or that will change over time, as our situation is altered by acts in the ‘now’ and also by histories in what is now the ‘then’. The contrast between lived time and historical time is, in part, built along the phenomenological experience of them both, ‘at once’, and also, as separated from one another by both the fact that most of history is, and never was, ‘personally’ available to us as fully present beings – we live as a biography, not as a society, for instance; we possess a memory, not a history – as well as the sense that we ourselves can never be fully present for most of the experiences through which we do live. The usual suspects are trotted out, in no nonchalant manner, to assuage the growing suspicion that unknowing intentionality is somehow impotent, mute, and forever ignorant of itself. Sexual union, the encounter with art, the cheating of death, the giving of new life and like events certainly appear to be moments where we are most present, even to the point of our subjectivity breaking down and a genuinely shared experience occurring. And even if this is not quite the case for some of us, it does remain clear enough that autism prevents these kinds of human experiences rather than presses forward into them. Bleuler again, speaking of ‘advanced’ schizophrenics: “They are enclosed, so to speak, with their desires, which they imagine are achieved, or with their suffering, resulting from the persecutions of which they believe themselves to be victims.” (in op. cit:279). This could well be taken as an ethnographic description of any culture whose world-system never attains the wider hold of a cross-cultural franchise. The Hebrews found themselves in this perilous and fragile condition, squeezed between two great empires, Egypt and Babylonia. Today, a diaspora that observes, with some irony and even astonishment, the remains of its own ethics taken up and transformed to be more relevant to society as we know it, by two world religions.

            Cultural autism is a function of marginalization. It too shows its majority case to be something for the ethnographic ‘anals’ this time, and we, shamefully, treat these margins as at best, our own excrementalities. The exegetical meaning of maintaining such sub-cultures, even those with vast reserves of patent cultural value, such as ‘The Jews’ possess, speaks of the clique of youths who allow an eleventh wheel to ‘hang about’ more as a butt than a member. Young women are especially notorious for this – the well-known film ‘Heathers’ explores this psychology – and this is a function through which the dominant culture can assuage its own bad conscience for wielding this dominance against all others and ‘all at once’ at that. If the pariah group knows only about itself, the empire knows only everything else. Thus the one perspective that could resolve the projective overtaking of Being as world by a culture too possessed of its own Babelian destiny is missing, while the ability to communicate this perspective held within the margins is precisely unavailable to them.

            What we can take from this historical outcome is a way in which we can begin to explore the relationship between a concept of immanential structure that contains no past as certain and no future as predictable and intentionality. In this, immanence does differ strongly from the day to day experience of lived time and thus could appear to have retained its irruptive character. This is mostly incorrect, however, as the source of the irruptive quality in human experience can no longer be said to emanate from a transcendental point of knowing intentionality, as we have seen. The weight of responsibility that has fallen upon our shared shoulders at the same time does contain both the advantage of not ‘working to spec’ in any metaphysical manner as well as not having to bear any stigmata for failing to measure up to any non-human ethic or position in History as an autographed copy of a yet more distant and unknowable Being.

            Social philosopher G.V. Loewen is the author of forty-five books in ethics, education, aesthetics, health and social theory, and more recently, metaphysical adventure fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

The Higher Infidelity

                                                The Higher Infidelity

          Can’t you go to bed with a woman without loving her, and can’t you love her without going to bed with her?- de Sade

            Two areas of contemporary gender equality are of immediate interest in the history of sexuality; infidelity and voyeurism, the first measured in intimate disloyalty in both formalized and informal conjugal relations and the latter observed with regard to the consumption of erotica. These suggestive scenes point us in the direction of imagining that the politics of the body have been somehow separated from that of the State or corporation. This specific disconnect was certainly well-practiced by the church, but during this pre-modern period the schism between the dominant sexes was shot through the entirety of society. Now, and for the first time since mechanical social organization where all was apparently equal in its inequality, we see a diversity of equalities and inequalities. Why should this be, in our own time, the case?

            In ‘The Higher Immorality’, C. Wright Mills reminds us that while noble ideals can summon ignoble efforts in the hopes of achieving them, it is also true that these dubious means can themselves attain a more highly valued approximation to the ideals to which they supposedly would lead. This gentrified baseness is operative not only in the State and its functionaries, but also in individuals. Previously, the ‘martinet’, the one who aped the emperor in a style hyperbolic in order to assuage any misgivings others might have about his loyalty, was the sole vehicle for the sense that baseness could cover itself over in nobility. But it was well known both by the martinet – whose political ancestor might well have been the court jester; both are, to once again use Mills’ vocabulary, ‘inside dopesters’ – and by everyone else that this was only a masquerade become a charade. Today, however, there are true believers in this new livery; one need only recall Oliver North to mind.

            While sociology is not itself caught in a bind of its own creation, any observant human being may well imagine that she now is, precisely due to the problem of self-fulfilling prophecy, much analyzed by Robert Merton and others. For on the one side, we have actual people sincerely believing in the fascism of political  or State loyalty, and on the other we have Thomas’ proverbial sensibility that ‘if you believe something to be real, it is real in its consequences’. Therefore it is to political reality that such an analysis might at first cleave. Yet almost everyone remains aware that politics is at best, a performance containing ulterior motives, some of which may be publicly known, others of which may be discernable in policy statements, and yet others occluded in personal networks or even childhood friendships, each exerting its own brand of loyalty. But the reality of politics is too transparent, even so, to be a radical enough ground into which an analytic may place itself and thence become a fertile engine for social change.

            Instead, it can be taken as a sign of sexual politics and the more literally interpreted ‘body politic’ that women and men share both a patent disdain for one another as well as find that betraying one another on an equal basis makes them more equal. Is this too a delusion? Mills’, in his review of de Beauvoir’s great work, The Second Sex, summarizes a crucial point she makes about the institution of marriage and also its sabotage. As de Beauvoir writes, marriage as a ‘career’ for women must be prohibited. Instead, sex and love should be candidly separated and distinguished along the lines of a partnership and a liaison: “Sexual episodes do not prevent either partner from leading a joint life of amity with the other; adultery would lose its ugly character when based on liberty and sincerity rather than, as at present, on caution and hypocrisy.” (1963:342). Yes, young women in particular are yet portrayed as ‘darling little slaves’, but not always. 2021 is not 1961 in many ways, though it may be astonishing for some that much if not most of the world’s population vehemently prefer women to be only servants.

            What I recommend in such cases is not disloyalty to one another as human beings, but rather a higher infidelity directed at social institutions, including the formal idea of marriage, the State and in particular, its educational system – this is not to say that most current attempts to set up alternatives are based on some liberating consciousness; rather quite the opposite – as well as party politics and political machines, state sponsored media corporations and further, the sense that one is a ‘fan’ of anything too particular at all, including specific sports teams or entertainers. Fine to love soccer and metal, not so fine to zero in on singular people with the effect of aggrandizing them beyond their shared humanity. No, they must rather be levelled with those who show them interest. Many celebrities are uncomfortable with their status – one only need call to mind Prince Harry to this regard – and so we should also not attempt to blame those in the limelight simply because they find themselves to be so. Like the state of governments in democracies, it is we who are responsible for the hounded harried hurry of celebrity. It is certainly correct that the stereotypical genders should be eliminated, as Mills goes on to say later in his review, and not only that of the female. Men are just as oppressed by our system of gender relations as are women. Though it is unfashionable to admit to this, it is nevertheless the case. One only need to look at the rates of male suicide to raise the bar equal to the rates of female mental illness. Men simply don’t stick around to become or remain ill, and thus provide a grim recompense for public health care.

            This said, it remains a deeper understanding that infidelity directed at one’s own selfhood is by far the greatest danger. The sources of auto-disloyalty are many and various. Given that sexuality is in the process of being equalized, at first on a covert or semi-covert level, as we have seen from the examples of ‘cheating’ and pornography consumption, we should take a look at how these two scenes are first constructed. Both contain a servility and an attempt at an aesthetic. The base and noble mingle as if they were one thing. One can certainly fall in love with another and betray one’s spouse. This additional love may be as noble as that current, or it may supplant it. The base side of the dynamic is the subterfuge, not the emotion or even the sexual act. With the sex industry proper, sleaze and usury conjoin beauty and empowerment, once again, the base and the noble. In the coming of age short story ‘Strip!’, I seek to contrast these two elements. An out-take:

            “Yes, that is it. Now just slip that dress right off, okay sweetheart?”

            “Bryce, get the fuck out of here.” This from Mitts. But Bryce, who clearly ran the operation, stared stonily back at his camera-woman. “First day, Bryce. Come back tomorrow.” Now the middle-aged man moved off, nodding his acquiescence but not without a grin. Mitts groaned and stopped her production entirely until the uninvited third wheel rolled his half-flattened self back out the door.

                “Just take it right off then?” Virginia asked. Mitts had to strain to hear her.

                “Look, whenever you’re ready. Keep the heels on for now. But I do need to see you naked at some point, okay? For now, ease into it.” Okay, I knew it. I fucking just knew it. Fine. I’m not a child. I know I’m hot. Everything and everyone everyday tells me so. This is no different. No, it is different. It’s better. Better by far. I’m getting paid now. People want to look, then they pay. That’s the way it should be. My gods those volleyball shorts. Huh. Okay, I’m not a prude. Mom and dad, huh, after attending the first game I ever played, back in grade eight. Even then. They had to say it. I could tell in the car ride home they weren’t happy about something or other. Well, my team won, so what the fuck was it? No, it was our athletic gear that had geared them up. But Mom was nice. If I recall correctly she said something like, ‘So, honey, are you comfortable wearing your team uniform as it is?’ That was rich. Team ‘uniform’. Come off it mom. But at that juncture I simply said, ‘for sure’. Later, when I was older and bolder, I said, apropos of nothing after a game, something more like ‘this gear fits like a glove. Don’t even know I’m wearing anything. How about that, dad?’ I like to tease him, for obvious reasons. He can’t answer back. He can’t do anything at all.

                “Okay, yes, so I figured. Brilliant. Let’s go through the entire series of poses again, and I’ll call them off just like we’re doing a square dance call, hey?” Good, I’ve got this. I hate heels though. I want them off already. I could never ever be wait-staff. Almost every other girl on both the volleyball and basketball teams was a waitress. Hmm, they don’t even use that word any more. Okay, sure, keep it coming. I’ve got this. Fuck me it’s a fucking work-out, actually. Hah! “Beautiful.” Mitts concluded before coming up for air from behind her camera.

                That one word. That’s what I live for now. Maybe I’ll die for it too, but I’m eighteen now, an adult. I need to at least act like one even if I can’t immediately actually be one. How many times have my teachers and even mom and dad said the same words to me. The very same. Act your age, for goodness sakes. No threat of punishment of course. I love my folks for that alone. Nothing like that in our schools at least either. All good. But the way they still speak to you; adults, I mean. Surely these older people can’t quite be ‘adults’ either, in the same way that I’m not quite one. No, they’re not. They’re actually only like us, just bigger and sometimes smarter. And they use both of those advantages against us, at least, a lot of the time. Here, I’m in control. Okay, this is the moment, I can feel it. I’m ready though, for sure I’m ready to get these gosh-darn shoes off. Like they’re meant for a ballet practice!

                “Just go with that now. Not the whole thing quite yet. Let’s do some yoga. Anything you want. Anything. Okay, breathe. Hold it in. Release. Now: its just you, okay? You in thin denier tights. Everything about you is beautiful. The sun wants to know you, and the moon tells its secrets to you. The bedding braces itself for your embrace. The linen longs to robe you in its folded fearlessness. The hands of time desire to caress you, to take your youth and make Time itself stop. That’s what you’re doing right now, beautiful Ginny; I can no longer feel my heartbeat for it has flown on wings of joyful wisdom and arcs over your youthful breast.” Holy gods. I have never heard anyone speak like that to me. It fills me with desire. I’m actually getting seriously aroused doing all this. If that sleaze-ball Bryce walked in on me now I wouldn’t even notice him. I can’t hear the camera clicking and whirring. I can’t see Mitts. All I feel is a lightness, a denial of gravity, as if I had stayed in dance, which would have been past a joke.

                Now it’s gone. Huh. Wipe your eyes, you big baby. You’re such a pussy. Such a coward. Grow up, you. No wonder you’re so worried about graduation and what comes next. Moving out? Fat chance. You couldn’t survive a week on your own. College? Well, my grades are awesome so college can go fuck itself. No, its not the world that’s scary, it’s you who are scared. Just plain scared.

                “Hold that!” All the surf of sounds then washed over Virginia, as if she were nothing more than a grain of sand, but also nothing less than an entire beach. Back and forth, from large to small, from universe to bedroom, from game to shower, from object to subject, objecting to both and yet subjected to both. Subjecting herself to both? Is that what adults do then, in the world? Do they really choose their fates? Eighteen and a model. Still in school and a nude model. Now that’s fun to think about, that is. Okay, let’s think about that and that alone. …

            The traditional separation of sex and love, beauty and shill, subject and object, have been collapsed in the arenas of social life wherein the genders have sought to collapse themselves. This quest is itself noble, but our means for doing so are, thus far, not so much. Instead, within a dialectical dynamic there exists the freedom to bracket both these oppositions and transcend them. If we are disloyal to the other in our vainglorious and yet life-willing guerrilla attempts at liberations, if we are disloyal to ourselves in allowing others to prevaricate their own freedoms at our expense, then we can yet commend to ourselves the higher infidelity of a space which does not admit to either man or woman. Case in point, Marx’s ‘atheism’ has been misinterpreted as a disbelief in a god. No, for Marx, in communist society, the question of God cannot arise at all. Since we have been able to imagine such a freedom as this, one cast in the direction of metaphysics no less, surely it would be no such feat to imagine a social world where the questions of marriage, family, the State, subjection and objectification, exploitation and yet ‘beauty’, and even gender itself could never themselves arise.

            Social philosopher G.V. Loewen is the author of forty-five books in ethics, education, aesthetics, health and social theory, and more recently, metaphysical adventure fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

On the Fear of ‘Death-in-itself’

On the Fear of ‘Death-in-itself’

            Though we remain mortal beings, and though we are, at some level, aware of this most of our lives, we do not tend to dwell upon this existential condition. Life is not only ‘for the living’, as the chestnut runs, it is also true, and by definition, that it is we the living who are charged with living it. Brooding upon its also definite limits, its mortal immortalities, is at the least a distraction from going about the business both at hand and, at least as existentially oriented, planning for a future, no matter how murky may be its details. This said, there is a thread of twentieth century thought that seems to have overtaken this at most pragmatic outlook we bring to the day to day and made it into more of an anti-philosophical credo. I do not think such a supercharging of ‘being practical’ is warranted. I do think that such an issue, however ephemeral or even ethereal it may at first appear to be, is important in that it takes away, or downplays, the authentic condition of human beings who, though we both face and face down a basic finitude, cannot know death ‘in itself’.

            Heidegger is well known as speaking of our basic thrownness as ‘being towards death’. The motion of this original existential arc can be understood as ‘running-along’, also towards death. Though this is the common lot, nevertheless we must at last actually face death alone. Our own personal death is what is at stake for Heidegger and his followers, and the deaths of others can only serve as some kind of analogical dress rehearsal for this. The place of the other is to witness for us our own deaths, as I have written elsewhere, and thus we reciprocate this duty, solemn and profound, when we find ourselves living on after this other departs from us.

            There seems to be nothing objectionable about this phenomenological view. On the one hand, it acknowledges a simple ‘fact of life’, and on the other, it seeks to interpret this facticality as a ‘facticity’, or an existential and historical experience of selfhood in the world. But how do we experience this facticity? What does it mean to run along towards something which in itself cannot be experienced? Isn’t Heidegger trying to have it both ways, or all ways, or, worse, is he trying to avoid having it any specific way at all; this last by making death so specifically my own that I cannot, once again, by definition, experience it in any meaningful manner while yet alive? Heidegger is also famous for stating that the ‘Nothing’ of this existential anxiety is emblematic of a facticality that rests beyond the usual sense experience of fact and world. Gadamer, for one, pushes this along by declaring that ‘we cannot experience our own deaths,’ once again and at first, seemingly a simple enough description that one would not think offensive in any way.

            Even so, given that the twentieth century – the ‘century of death’ as it has become known both historically, aesthetically, politically and existentially – has seen the closest to what we can imagine as the very bottom of the abyss of meaning and the end of everything – a kind of furtive and shadowy companion to our aspirations to observe the Big Bang, perhaps, the ‘creation’ or origin of everything – any writer who casts doubt on our ability to understand mortality might appear to be disdainful of, or at least, indifferent to, this other kind of facticity; the glaring factuality of we humans being quite capable of inflicting the experience of death upon another. Couple this with Heidegger’s brief stint as a Nazi party member for one, and his marginal notebook editorials venting his own personal bigotries against ‘the Jews’, for two, and one might be tempted to imagine that death in general was something with which this writer – still, the most important single thinker of that same century, warts and all – wasn’t all that concerned. I think this is a temptation that we should avoid.

            And it is easy enough to do so. Let us begin with the sense that in Heidegger’s ethical phenomenology death is the counterfoil to Care. This is a different sensibility than had his early period influences, if indeed they had one at all. Compare Mahler’s powerful dichotomy of death versus love, for instance, and though we are aware that it takes two to tango, we already danced that other dance back in Wagner. It is this earlier pairing that the real Nazis latched themselves onto, thanks much to Wagner’s own political writings. One can only imagine, aside from anything personal Wagner and Nietzsche may have had against one another – we can only recall they were both in love with the same woman who so happened to be Wagner’s wife – what I tend to think precipitated the ultimate break between them ran more along the lines of Nietzsche critiquing Wagner’s politics, rather than his art or even his love. For Wagner grasped, fairly early on, the retarding effects of strict ethnic identity on general human maturity. He notoriously declared to his many Jewish friends and musicians, that they were ‘perfect human beings’, and all they needed to do was ‘lose their Jewishness’. If this were meant only as a simple example, with no other implications, it is an idea with which Nietzsche, for one, would have certainly agreed. But Wagner made the conception of maturing beyond strict ethnic loyalties, perhaps originally stated with clarity in Vico in 1725, too specific in light of his own political tracts. On top of this, instead of following through on such an emancipatory doctrine, he instead with much of his own art fronted a mostly fraudulent Nordic mythos as the best future answer to the ‘ethnic question’. This is not of mere historical or even ethical interest, as we may be observing a similar sensibility coming of age in China, where to ‘be Chinese’ is considered superior and where other loyalties should be overcome by whatever means. Not that ‘Chineseness’, excuse the term, is any single ethnicity, of course, but since this culture, profound in its historical gravitas and willing to make great sacrifices to attain some kind of global standing worthy of its own history – this is something that we in the West tend to both misunderstand and underestimate – is most definitely on the make, leaving many others in its expanding wake, Wagner’s call to abandon archaic loyalties resonates.

            What does all of this have to do with our experience, or lack thereof, of death? What Heidegger is asking of us as individuals is not entirely different from what Vico – or Wagner, in his own clipped and thence disingenuous fashion – asked of us as persons. Gadamer is also well known for stating that one of the crucial elements of mature being is the recognition of one’s own mortality. This generally comes to us, in Western culture, around age twenty-five or so, perhaps earlier or later depending on one’s individuated experiences of life thus far. But this is, to borrow from Stendhal, just the ‘first crystallization’ of this evolving maturity. The second and more important aspect of self-existential recognition is not that ‘I can die’, the post-adolescent sensibility which lasts for perhaps a further quarter century, but rather that ‘I will die’. It is this second level of understanding that transforms what was mere knowledge into a knowing. And it is this knowing that represents to us an experience of what phenomenologists refer to as facticity. Just so, an example of facticality is the first realization that strict ethnic loyalties – putting your group ahead of all others and identifying your very personhood as a ‘kind’ – is a regression, a throwback, and a reactionary stance against the future orientation of both modernity and individuality as Dasein. But to establish this as a facticity is a different, more complex matter. Wagner, needless to say, cannot make this more profound step, though his art remains, as art, firmly ensconced within a realm transcendent to petty loyalties of any kind. Perhaps he as an artist remains the most ironic of the great aesthetic figures precisely because of this disconnect. One can as well certainly think of Bach’s religiosity, or for that matter, Brahms’s atheism, as somehow impediments to not only creative work of the highest order, but also challenges for us as listeners or what-have-you. But these other examples pale beside Wagner, if for only the dark events that later transpired long after his death.

            Similarly Heidegger, where what appear to be quite personal feelings might get in the way of fully understanding the works at hand. Nietzsche himself provided the necessary caveat, which should be generalized to any important thinker or writer, artist, composer et al. ‘I am one thing, my books are another’. This is no mere cop-out. In a much smaller fashion, I myself have difficulty imagining ‘someone like me’ having done all of the work I have done thus far. I ask myself, ‘how has this been possible, given the other?’ But just as we as readers and listeners, viewers and lovers need to remind ourselves that great work is not at all enthralled to great personhood – it has been said often enough that only Goethe as a life was worthy of his own great works – the creator themself must remind this very person that their work is only one aspect of existence, and that life is equally, if you will, ‘not for the working’.

            If we have so far suggested that there must be a separation between work and life in order for the rest of us to authentically understand the other’s work – after all, we have neither lived their life nor, all the more self-evidently, created their work – this should by now ring another bell for us. What we are born into is also separate from what we must become. This firstness of birth includes ethnicity, gender, lineage, nation, creed and worldview. Vico, though unable to predict with any detail what a species-wide conscious maturity might look like – it was left to Marx and Engels to provide the first response to this, a response that is still a challenge for many of us today to reimagine – was nevertheless correct in pointing out the road towards it. If the twentieth century was the century of death, it was also, perhaps in a more roundabout manner, the century of the individual. And it had, in its chronological infancy, the very best of exemplars as role models for this second characterization: Nietzsche, Freud, Mahler, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Camille Claudel and Lou Salome, Richard Strauss and Marie Curie, amongst many others. That today we have seen a halting yet growing return to larger forms of being which are backward-looking truly represents a regression in human maturity. The way in which we often view recent history, allowing ourselves to be tempted by that other siren, the idea that the great individual is foremost a transhistorical menace – ‘Hitler’s war’ and not a war of competing nations and ideologies, most grossly – travels concomitantly alongside the sense that we are somehow better off as part of a strictly sanctioned and bounded group, with all others as, at best, allies with similar goals. This constitutes the gravest threat to the human future we have yet devised, precisely because it combines the ancient bigotry of identifying ‘we’ as human and ‘they’ as other and possibly non-human with our hyper-modern technologies of self-destruction. This combination of ancient and modern was precisely the same dark alchemy that the Nazis effected in their military operations and their purges, their sense of both gender roles and public loyalties. Perhaps the two are related even more intimately, as tools and politics alike have always been developed in the face of the need to survive in an anonymous and sometimes dangerous world.

            Today, however, there is no such world. What I mean by this seemingly odd statement is that we have moved, fully and bodily, from a world of autochthonous Nature to a world of culture. ‘Nature’ in its very conception is now wholly cultural in both its import and its origins. We, as humans, have no ‘natural enemies’, to put it ethologically. That we have so far failed in the main to understand that our only enemy is ourselves and not some murky ‘otherness’ whose ethnicity or credo might differ from our own in some equally petty manner speaks to that same general regression in maturity to which we have above alluded. We highlight the Taliban as a danger or yet even castigate the Evangelical as at the very least a reactionary, but some of this is certainly a mere and transparent projection. As well, today there are ‘good’ ethnicities, such as those with Jewish background – horribly ironic and perhaps a façade for something else given how these particular humans who have very much ‘value-added’ to our shared and wider culture have been treated historically – and ‘bad’ ones, unnamed here. All of this makes one both suspect and a suspect; one becomes suspicious of oneself.

            Rightly so, given that both death and personhood have taken center stage at the same time and in the same place. Perhaps, if we are to credit all human acts as having their basis in a basic will to life, those who desire regression into enclave identities, whether based on sexuality, gender, ethnicity, or still, most glaringly and most evilly, wealth, are striving for mere survival in the twilight of knowing that to be a singular being is to accept death as personal. This is what I think lies at the heart of the matter: we are anxious to avoid the radical personalization of death. No compassionate being would disdain such an anxiety, and Heidegger himself often calls attention to it at least as a general state. It is the corresponding inner turmoil of what he refers to as ‘entanglement’. Its function, as it were, is to provide some insulation against the horror of Nothing, which for human consciousness, is unimaginable. This is reflected in art, for instance, at least since the Greek ceramic period where the ‘horror vacui’ was seen by art historians as driving creativity. Yet Eastern world-systems have had much less difficulty imagining this Nothing, and some aspects thereof actually strive to experience it both in life and as a kind of blissful afterlife. So once again what we are observing is an effect of insularity, of taking one’s own beliefs to be what must be for all. In this way, all of us, for shame and again, are evangelicals.

            Instead, Heidegger specifically, and ethical-ontological phenomenology more broadly, is asking us to consider taking up the authentic challenge of thrownness. Perhaps it is a little hyperbolic to envisage ourselves as ‘running along’ towards death, or even that our primary orientation in life is to be present as Care – Sorgeheit – in the face of death, but even so, it is also quite incorrect to give a cold disdainful shoulder to this sensibility, as, for instance, do both Schutz and Heller. Nor can this reaction be put down to the fact that many thinkers of Jewish backgrounds have been critical of Heidegger along these lines and others. Schutz, who died in 1959, was no ideologue and remains the greatest social phenomenologist in the history of thought. He was also a student of Heidegger, and the fact that Natanson reports that Schutz told him that he thought Heidegger’s analysis of death to be ‘perfectly phony’ should not imply anything other than a criticism directed at the possibility that phenomenology as a whole has overdone the ‘existential anxiety’, and this mainly thanks not so much to Heidegger but rather to Kierkegaard before him. This orientation, opposed to but also part of the very Care we bring to life and that we embody as Dasein, could also be impugned with an impracticality to the point of decoying one away from the matters of an equally authentic existence in the day to day, as does Agnes Heller charge. Though she reports that she came to Schutz only after completing her seminal work, Everyday Life, she states that her work is unequivocally ‘anti-Heideggerean’, and that only certain ‘twentieth century intellectuals’ worry about death as an existential or fundamental anxiety, which in turn, considering this supposedly disconnected source, casts aspersion on whether or not this should even be a concern for us. Yet Heller, herself a superior intellectual, could have no possible business courting the kind of anti-intellectualism her apparent stance would entail. So what, in reality, is at stake here?

            Just as the existential anxiety is lensed through mundane life, taking up an enormous variety of forms from addiction to reactionary and archaic group loyalty, so we should come to recognize more authentically the dynamic between the harsh sentence of mortality and equally firm demand that life is for the living. We are told, in Promethean fashion, that we cannot have one without the other. Aside from fire, Prometheus’s more profound gift to humanity was hiding from us the moment of our own deaths. In this ironic ignorance, all things thence became possible. If our Godhead is fleeting, if our freedom is limited, if our consciousness is historical, if our Dasein is care, then so too is our divinity keenly curious, our liberty loving, our imagination unbound, and our very being also a taking care. And if this last entails itself as caring for both ourselves and others, the everyday by way of life and the transcendental by way of art, then at once we are freed from both the suspicion of self-limiting apparatus and the very desire to limit ourselves by reactionary means. This is the deeper instruction that phenomenology bequeaths to us, and it is with this that I would recommend coming to terms, for it represences with the utmost gravity the fundamental maturity authentic human consciousness has in fact become. That this becoming, for the first time in history, entails of each of us the radical acceptance of our own personal death, should not be understood as also being that other death which would, in its current regression and its contemporary reaction, eclipse us all.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of over forty books in ethics, aesthetics, education, health and social theory as well as more recently, metaphysical adventure fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

The Dialectic of Elemental Forces in Mahler

                        The Dialectic of Elemental Forces in Mahler

                No more wooing, voice you’re outgrowing that don’t let your cry

                                be a wooing cry even though it could be as pure as a bird’s

                                that the season lifts up as she herself rises nearly forgetting

                                that it’s just a fretful creature and not some single heart

                                to be tossed towards happiness deep into intimate skies.

                                Like him you want to call forth a still invisible mate

                                a silent listener in whom a reply slowly awakens

                                warming itself by hearing yours to become

                                your own bold feeling’s blazing partner.

– Rilke, from Seventh Elegy

            It is at once remarkable but also commonplace to understand great historical movements as being borne on the shoulders of specific individuals who themselves seem to be placed beyond history. This is misleading on the level of historical consciousness, wherein we come to understand our own times through the ‘confrontation with the tradition’ and the ‘fusion of horizons’, often aesthetic in character. At the same time, with the most superior visions of humankind, one finds culminations expressed by singular persons who have themselves been embraced by the entire history of their chosen art. In music, we have four such figures from whom everything else in their respective centuries followed; in the seventeenth century, Monteverdi, in the eighteenth, Bach. For the nineteenth century, it was Beethoven who gave birth to the ideas the rest of the music of that century took up, and in the following century, it was Gustav Mahler. That both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw competing and somehow ‘dualistic’ interpretations of these origins – Brahms versus Wagner and then Schoenberg versus Stravinsky – only suggests that there were at least two essential elements already present in the original. In Beethoven, the ‘classicism’ and the ‘romanticism’, in Mahler, the tonal and the ‘atonal’. But in fact these elements are mere glosses, refracting much more profound essences present in the art at hand. For music in our modern era has been about the disquiet distances with which contemporary humanity is both burdened and challenged.

            What do I mean by this ‘distance’? We have a longing, expressed in the gap between self and other, individual and society, mind and body, spirit and nature and so on, which is unique to our modernity. Less profound, but still profoundly disturbing, are the distances that separate the genders, citizen and State, nation and nation, rich and poor. All of these distances combined are said to produce in us a kind of subjective alienation, that which Durkheim referred to as ‘anomie’. At the heart of this unease, communicating itself to us as an inability to bridge this or that gap and the corresponding assignment of blame for such ongoing failures, is the very sense that I should be myself and no other. This selfhood, this ‘fretful creature’ is indeed no ‘single heart’. And we are not so much thrown up as of our own volition, but rather, as Heidegger proverbially and repetitively states, thrown into the arc of worldhood. We are thrown beings, and our being-thrownness declares to us both our birth and death. We glimpse this existential caveat through the sense that much of ‘life’ is beyond our daily control. Certainly the machinations of nations, the coruscations of corporations, even the emotions of one’s beloved, lie elsewhere than within my grasp. We are responsible for these ‘events’ and acts only insofar as we act in concert with them, abet them, or ignore them. Yet ultimately, even with the deepest compassion and most critical voice, they escape our possession. This is the distance of distanciated being, which is necessary to the modern person given his existence as an individuality.

            We would likely not trade in that kind of self-consciousness for other versions of being human, embodiments we associate with previous ages or cultures past. On the one hand, this may serve as a salve, a tool by which one might reconcile one’s sense of thus being ‘stuck with’ oneself as one is. Even so, the shared consciousness of mechanical solidarity escapes us, the idea of becoming an automaton rightfully revolts us, and the sensibility that, though a self, our whole reason of being is to exist for the other, is a difficult ethic. Indeed, we might well suggest that a neighbor figure who was always in the mode of ‘being neighborly’ could no longer distinguish herself from the socius of normative daily life. In a word, the radical act of the neighbor would be no longer available to us if the neighbor itself became a social role. So distanciated being is the lot of we moderns, if for no other reason than there are no other models that appeal to us.

            Given this, the dual complexes of elements that we harbor within our individuated breasts must somehow be reconciled. The individual may engage in all sorts of activities that promote ‘wholeness’, including forms that often hail from a metaphysics different from our own, such as meditation. Within Western consciousness, however, it has been the role of art to transcend opposites and oppositions alike. And when this transcendence appears to not merely overlook the structure of existence, its birth and its death, its light and its dark, but to actually combine the two essences into a new element, we are in the presence of the greatest art of all. This is the case in the music of Mahler.

            Bernstein’s epic and deeply felt commentary on Mahler 9 is well known and well taken. He stresses the dualistic nature of both the man and his art. Yet what is left out is equally important, if not more so, and indeed supports not only the argument that Mahler was working with and working through the most basic elements and forces of life and Being, but in fact overcoming them, transfiguring them into a novel expression of human consciousness. Just so, the ability to do precisely this is the essence of the distinction we make between consciousness in general and that of which we, as human beings, are in possession. Mahler 9 has been iterated as being ‘about’ death and the ultimate inability of humanity to overcome its own innate mortality. Yes and no. As a set piece, the ninth is in itself a compendia of the past and future, of soaring transcendental, if also heartbreaking, tonality and searing unearthly dissonance and partial atonality; life and death in their mortal embrace. But as part of a life’s work, Mahler 9 is simply the sibling work to his previous symphony – though the cycle ‘The Song of the Earth’ was written in between them, almost as a chaperone of sorts, a liminality; a threshold into which one can step from both sides, as it were – and just as Mahler 8 expressed the inexpressible joy and verdure of the fullest life possible to human consciousness, so Mahler 9 provides us with the sorrow of that same life, equally overfull and too powerful for the quotidian senses of rational being. In Mahler’s own terms, it was never death per se but rather more specifically, the death of love, that imbricated the ninth. The death of love, inversing and balancing the Wagnerian paean which exhorts the love of death, is in fact the more difficult challenge for we humans. For all must die, and in that sense death is most impersonal and anonymous. But to face death in a more intimate and very much personal manner one has to lose love and when one does not desire to do so.

            The expression of transcendental love in Mahler 8 is simply balanced by that same expression of its absence in the ninth. There, we die whilst yet still alive, and yet life without joy has both no merit but also is no longer life. At this point another important ‘dualistic’ contrast should be noted: the eighth is arguably the greatest work of art ever created but it is tremendously difficult for the ensemble and conductor, whereas the listener is transported into 90 plus minutes of infinite bliss; contrast this with the ninth, which is easier on the musician – though by no means easy! – and correspondingly infinitely more difficult for the listener. If an ensemble can make it through Mahler 8 they can make it through anything. If the listener can survive Mahler 9 they can survive any other work. Perhaps there are technically more demanding works for both musicians and audience – Schoenberg’s Opus 31 comes readily to mind – but there are no more demanding works existentially than Mahler’s two final completed symphonies. Our very being is at stake, and we must rise to the occasion on both counts.

            With that in mind, it is also well to recall that Mahler himself, though he was, as Bernstein points out for instance, well aware of his imminent demise, did not throw himself over the cliff in any premature manner. He kept conducting, writing, mending fences with his estranged wife, teaching and promoting musical talent, and touring right up until close to the end. Mahler, in his ability to live the life he was granted, remains a role model for us no matter our relative talent. His own humanity, though somehow able to access the pinnacle of human achievement and recreate it time after time, remained both his own and thus also our own. Mortality can advance itself on the one hand as a personal threat, and this is the atmosphere of the ninth, wherein we feel every base emotion and existential fundament; the glaring, striding, unimpeachable power of the first movement, the risus sardonicus of the intervening scherzos, the shimmering otherworldliness of the final farewell, all of this in a dialectic which seems nothing human uplifts the light and dark into a chiaroscuro and in doing so, overcomes the very chiasmus that gave birth to humanity’s oppositional ‘nature’. But in the eighth, mortality is advanced as a creative force, that all life might well ‘become immortal’ through dying many times, as Nietzsche intoned. Mahler was a profound reader of Nietzsche, though of course they regrettably never met, in contrast to the fact that Mahler and Freud knew one another. Mahler 8 expresses first the previous understanding of existence, the Imago Dei of revealed religion at its most noble. In the second part, we have moved from God to Goethe, from the old metaphysics to that of our own age, and as murky as some of this millennial author’s metaphors can be, they nevertheless are themselves transfixed and transformed into an art that can be understood by all.

            The ‘marriage of light and dark’ is a hallmark of modernity. Yes, the twentieth century, so absolutely foreseen and understood by Mahler the aesthetic prophet, was indeed the century of death. Mahler 9 expresses this horrifying vision to us, but not as an acceptance thereof. It is a warning, an enlightenment or ‘Aufklarung’, an alarm bell, a Tocsin. It does not warn us of the imminence of death, for we already understand this condition as our own. It rather provides a caveat that tells us ‘do not make death into an immanence’. That is, do not allow death to ascend any higher than does life, do not let it attain an immanent domain into which we as a species-being would be swallowed. And though we have been on that brink more than a few times in past one hundred years or so, we have retained the sensibility that life should be ‘about’ joy, love, and even transcendence of itself, as contradictory as that may sound. If death is then somehow more ‘real’ to us, it bespeaks first of the distance between our realities and our ideals. The rationalization that one ends a life to save another is also real, if ethically strained. What is at stake is a conflict which remains at the horizontal level of the elements Mahler uplifted and combined. Differing opinions, beliefs, genders, cultural communities, competing nations, the perennial war of classes, all of these and others gainsay their very vocation through the medicated brevity they provide to their actors; ‘actors of their own ideals’, to once again reference Nietzsche.

            Mahler’s art speaks differently to these regards. Though the dialectic of elemental forces culminates in his final works, it was always present, something that commentators have sometimes forgotten. The contrast between distraction and focus, folk art and transcendental art in Mahler 1. The overcoming of death through love in the second and the dialogue between nature and culture in the third, Mahler’s ‘most personal of works’, as he himself put it, and the one in which Nietzsche’s work is most directly used. The dangerous decoy of feeling and atmosphere in the fourth, where we are placed on a too sunny shoreline, our backs turned to the conflict of interpretations by which human life lives its days, and the first signs of the ultimate dialectic between death, including the death of love, and life triumphant in the fifth. In the sixth, the death of the hero, the soteriological compassion and passion combined of the hero’s beloved companion, the menace of a too gendered socialization – in the third movement of Mahler 6, his own children, an older boy and a younger girl, play with one another and yet also play with the elemental forces of life and death corresponding to their essential Goethean ‘natures’ – and finally, just before we are taken into the depths of the very cosmos Mahler has opened up for us, the interplay and contrast between animal nature and the civil humanity of the salon culture in the seventh. Bird calls punctuating a forest trek, and yet chamber music to soothe an after dinner digestion, nothing escaped Mahler’s musical lens. That we are in his debt regarding our very understanding of the modern condition which is our shared predicament is an ongoing understatement.

            Even so, the towering figures of art, to a person, would not have suggested that their accomplishments represent the end of anything. Mortality as a creative force, life as the interregnum wherein creative work may be sought, and all of this as an unending principle of existence, this is the message of dialectically transcendental art. Mahler expresses this aspect of universal consciousness to us, through his singular works which retain their absolute relevance more than a century later. Who will be the next singular figure, the one from whom our own century’s music shall proceed apace? Perhaps it will be a woman this time, which is one important part of this intriguing question. But whomever it will be, the same forces will be at work in her efforts, and the same dialectic of transcendence will need to be accomplished. For us lesser beings, we too must come to grips with the polar forces animating our existence as both individuals and as a culture history writ into the wider, if still woefully provincial, consciousness of our time. If we take just one step in each of our lives to broaden that view, we will have advanced the maturity of our shared species and will have made ourselves more worthy of the gift that the art of ages has bestowed upon us.

            Social philosopher G.V. Loewen is the author of over forty books in ethics, aesthetics, education, health and social theory, and more recently, metaphysical adventure fiction. He was professor f the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

The Problem of Allegorical Distance

The Problem of Allegorical Distance

            “A pathway which is long ‘Objectively’ can be much shorter than one which is ‘Objectively’ shorter still but which is perhaps ‘hard going’ and comes before us as interminably long. Yet only in thus ‘coming before us’ is the current world authentically ready-to-hand.” (Heidegger 1962:140-1 [1927]).

One: A brief phenomenological pedigree of the concept of distance

            What ‘occurs’ to us is brought before us in the manner of an encounter. We take it to be part of the living world, just as we ourselves are taken by that world to be at least alive, sentient, somewhat conscious, perhaps also conscientious and even beholden to conscience. The ‘coming before’ does not reference history directly. What has objectively preceded us concedes nothing to our presence other than the dumb luck of happenstance. So it must think, if it is to be able to remain present without having itself such presence. Instead, this phenomenological occurrence at once occurs and is presented. The first is seemingly of its own volition, as in the unexpected or even, after some deliberation, the untoward. It stops short of the uncanny because it is not irruptive. It remains an encounter and not an outright confrontation. The second is an event that takes into account our presence and thus must realign, or even reassert itself. The new ‘presents’ itself in this second sense. It comes to be present in our own time and space, and it also performs an introduction for itself, as if it had in its possession and old-fashioned calling card, served up to us on a silver salver. Persons can of course, deliberately ‘put in an appearance’, and the more commonplace understanding of what it means to present oneself is thus called forth. Even so, we are not generally thought of as metaphors for ourselves. Nor are we mere likenesses, presenting ourselves as if we were but a simile, worse still, a facsimile, of some other and more ‘real’ being.

            Since this is mostly the case – one might suggest that we are all ‘actors of our own ideals’ in presentation perhaps more than in any other social instance; coming before another does mean some kind of adjustment in our own subjective ideals as no other person will precisely conform to our self-understanding – one aspect of the puzzle of distance in narrative as well as in living-on occurs to us precisely as does the otherness of the presentation, of selves, of events etc. At first we would balk if we were to understand ourselves as living allegories of the Dasein which we are and within which we dwell as the subjection to others, the subjectitude to the world, and more pleasantly, one would hope, the simple subjectivity of our imagination. Let us not decide prematurely that all relationships that involve some distance must necessarily be violent in this way. We too subject the next person to our presence, some more than others. We too manipulate and reconstruct the world, mainly through material technology and yet also through a more ‘symbolic’ history. Subjectitude is phenomenologically diverse if not ideally value-neutral. Subjection, a harder term that has commonplace connotations, is at least symbiotic if not particularly dignified. And apart from the Diltheyan problem of boundaries in subject-object distinctions – though our ‘much vaunted subjectivity’, to again refer to Nietzsche, may not be all that it has been cut up as being – it remains a profound ethical conception along the simple lines of being-able-to–be-with another or the others. In a word, this fragile aspect of auto-epistemology – and not ontology, to respect one key difference between Dilthey and Heidegger – allows us to maintain ourselves by maintaining our selfhood in the face of knowing that another to self has her own sense of what this must mean. This shock also ‘comes before us’ in both senses we have been touching upon. She exists already, in the world, and thus also in my world given that I too inhabit this space, and as well, she also presents herself to me as an event of ‘intersubjectivity’, an occurrence that is too personal to be overlooked as one might think about measurable distances. Here, Heidegger desires to speak about the experience of distance and not its physicality. Even when we do measure, as when comparing our speed with the mileage signs on a freeway, it still remains for us to flesh out that basic framework in terms that will be more familiar to us having undertaken to actually drive it. At first, we might consider such aspects of world such as road conditions, weather, speed limits, construction, proximity to towns, curves in the road and all of this. We then might bring forward to consciousness the amount of time we have already been driving, our relative fatigue or freshness, and whether or not we have a second driver with us. Are we under a deadline? Must we stop to refuel? Could there be an accident up ahead, or might we ourselves be prone to become involved in one? Yet further, we might then factor in more personal aspects to such a journey and its corresponding conception of distance. Is the terminus sought a desired one? What kind of welcome might we expect upon reaching it? Indeed, whether there is room at the inn or no, what others might have also arrived with whom we would generally not wish to spend time or be in proximity to?

            If, after all of these ruminations, none of which are yet phenomenological in scope, we find our right foot failing on the throttle, we will have begun to access a more potent meaning to our undertakings. We are at the threshold of asking more important questions of ourselves, ones that are ethical, even existential, in their notice. What is the merit of such a trip? This is more than asking ‘what will I get out of it?’ which is often a standard part of consideration once again, ‘coming before’ we actually set out. This ‘more’ touches upon our self-understanding in a metaphoric way. Here, we skirt the boundedness of both limits that are, or can be, placed upon human life in general – in this case, objectively, driving remains the most dangerous statistical risk with which we engage in the everyday – as well as the value we place on our own lives in particular. Indeed, the simile at work is an imagined doppelganger, a ‘stand in’ for ourselves, who undertakes the same trip in an ideal fashion and arrives just as we thought he would, on time and intact. In a well-known analysis, Schutz states that we engage in ‘projects of action’ in order to more objectively comprehend the idealized occurrence which we might plan to undertake or yet undergo. A road trip might be closer to the former, a medical operation closer to the latter, for instance. Either way, because Dasein is a being which is always ahead of itself as part of its ontological structure, I must visualize, so to speak, a future which not only does not exist but in fact will never exist. This is so because there will inevitably be some diversion from the ideal in practice. Even when a surgeon sums her work up as ‘textbook’, no two operations are exactly the same. Projects of action are, however, not decalogic in character. We always allow for some variation, insofar as we can imagine it at the time. This is the equivocal chestnut of experience, of course, and also the chief reason why young people are apt to sniff at an older person’s view of the world. On the one hand, the world has changed, so that I cannot in all certainty explain what will happen to a youth if she decides to apparently follow in what have passed for well-trodden footsteps. On the other, experience does mitigate variation, and so it is never itself completely at a loss to engage even a changing world. That one can only test the apparently wobbly balance through the undertaking itself in turn presents its own two-souled premise: one, there is the anxiety of trepidation; will I be able to complete this task within a reasonable variation from my ideals? And two, the very uncertainness regarding this question presents me with a liberating freedom of decision, improvisation, spontaneity; perhaps I will innovate and surprise even myself.

            Projection in this quasi-temporal sense is the most common manner of constructing some distance between the real me and the future of what I will become through and after the next undertaking or undergoing. It is sourced in an imagination specifically turned to the future and just as specifically tuned to my action within it. Thus phantasms, in Schutz’s language, or actionable ‘daydreams’, are the most common form of allegory. Each of us is also a ‘writer of our own ideals’ as it were. The specter of failure is always present, but we deem it far less misery to have thought things through as best we can, no matter mice nor men, and given it our best shot, than to have gone off ‘half-cocked’ and promptly made a hash of things. In the first instance, we can always ‘plan it again’, with more experience and thus hopefully more foresight. Schutz is himself keen on maintaining this distinction: though we can never ‘swim in the same river twice’ – both the river and ourselves have been altered by the more or less simple passage of time – yet we can ‘do things again’ because doing again does not mean doing over. Just as Freud poignantly notes that lost loved ones can never be replaced, he equally emphatically asserts that we can find substitutions for them, and indeed, must find such substitutions, not only to honor our love for those passed on but also to live on. Just so, living again is not living over.

            Understanding this, Dasein nevertheless finds itself already and always within its ‘primordial spatiality’. The beloved, present or absent, found or lost, past or present, remains as part of the intimitude of ‘closeness’. I here use the term ‘intimitude’ to suggest another kind of space that is the phenomenological obverse of infinitude. Heidegger himself now: “That which is presumably ‘closest’ is by no means that which is at the smallest distance ‘from us’. It lies in that which is desevered to an average extent when we reach for it, grasp it, or look at it.” (ibid:141). This aspect of worldhood is ‘severed’ from our being-in at a number of levels, including its thingness, its lack of sentience, its abruptness, its silent objection to a presence it cannot understand or undertake in any way recognizable to me, as well as its relative age – many things in the world outlast by far a human life, for example, though perhaps equally others do not – its cultural value or absence thereof, and so on. ‘Desevering’ in phenomenology includes all of these aspects of distance, resulting in a composite ‘distanciatedness’ which can be then accounted for. Along with projects of action, another quite commonplace function of the individuated imagination is the series of questions which follows from such encounters. Why was this thing built? Why does it exist, and exist here? Who built it? What is it made of? Does it still have a recognizable function? What is it worth as infrastructure, artifact, even as aesthetic object? These too are allegorical versions of similar questions we might – though we tend not to – ask of ourselves.

            We now begin to sense that though simile is generally a value-neutral exercise – I am going to travel from here to there and what might I expect to encounter along the way? – the function of metaphor is not so lightly regarded. Metaphor is, in a word, pregnant with meaning in a way mere simile is not. Just as doing again does not mean doing over, so ‘asness’ is not ‘isness’. It is more than old hat to recall classroom definitions at this point: a simile suggests that one thing is like another, but a metaphor states that one thing is another. The first is prosaic, the second poetic, as Bernstein, in his 1973 Norton lectures, frequently points out. The casual distances between Dasein and World, or, more experientially, between myself and the world, are given to simile first, before metaphor can occur to us or place itself before us. One place reminds me of another; perhaps it is my home I am missing. But at the end of the day, this new place is not my home in any sense, let alone that poetic. In order for a new experience to actually be some other that I have already had, it appears on the face of it that we must refute both Freud, Schutz, and many other thinkers. This is, however, not absolutely the case. In substitution I recognize that simple sameness is not the same as metaphoric consubstantiation. In simile, there is resemblance, not exactitude. But as sameness itself cannot in fact be – what is lost is lost, past is past, dust is dust – we forgive our casual language in contriving in the face of asness a sense of ‘just like’. Here, embedded in the meaningfulness of our use of such a seemingly trite phrase, lies our ability to merge phenomenology with ethics. Likeness, or asness, need only remind us of the other. But consubstantiation, while not ever being exactly the same river, is yet more than a simple likeness. It has, through devotion, experience, or even time served, attained the just value and status in our existence to connote a certain kind of justice when it is present. We may be warm if we think of vindication, valediction, even veneration if we were so adoring of what is now forever absent. Yet, just as with the composite whole of distanciatedness we encounter when coming into or up against the world as it is and thence the unshared cosmos arcing out into infinitude, we also now are immersed in a holism of closeness that plunges into the shared existential arc of intimitude.

Two: Allegory in Popular Narrative as an attempt to obviate infinity and intimacy

            However revelatory this newly recognized holism may occur to us as, it presents itself before us neither as an objection nor as an intended subjection. Certainly, the range of human charm and gloss may be fraudulently intending us as its next victim, but even so, such is eventually detected and cast aside, or it may yet ennoble itself confronting our presence, or that same may occur to us. In fact, this is in itself a narrative oft given over to sentiment; the usurious – or at least, the relatively ignoble, and this known to themselves or no – are redeemed by love (Winston Smith), by fate (Oedipus), by charity (Scrooge), and so on. And yet in each of these examples redemption is itself only partial. Orwell’s hero is not so heroic after all, giving into his material fears, Sophocles’ regent is blinded so that he can see the better, and Dickens’ caricature remains a caricature, even though he’s now suddenly a decent fellow. Rather than any of this, what we do in our own lives is experience the partiality of largesse and egress therefrom along the way, at each moment and in each encounter. R.D. Laing’s difficult and disconcerting dialogue ‘Knots’ speaks to the first without necessarily providing the second. And we do know that much of what is lost in living narrative is so because I and Thou have not been able to come to meaningful terms about what each of us holds as indeed meaningful. This said, there are enough, once again, living examples of egress that allow us both to simply live on without an overwhelming self-mockery, as well as undertake the self-understanding that relies not so much on experience alone but rather in the just likeness of the next.

            This ‘next’ is raised beyond her mere instrumentality. Though we place a great deal of import on events and things, other persons remain for us the most fulfilling, as well as the most inscrutable, encounters and presences over the life course. We may understand the mystery of the non-conscious cosmos well before we attain the same facility with human consciousness, let alone that of prospective other species. But in undertaking the second task, we bring to it some in-built existential advantages. One is our ability to circumspect: “When something is close by, this means that it is within range of what is proximally ready-to-hand for circumspection.” (ibid:142). Here, closeness is itself concerned-with ‘concernful Being-in-the-world’. It is an apprehension regarding intimitude. Once again, this experience is two-souled: we are apprehensive about such an encounter, especially if we have, in our phantasms, projected an imaginative sequence upon the to-be-lived narrative in which we emerge heroic or at least redeemed. Yet we are also apprehended by it; one, we may be ‘caught out’ either in our daring dulcissimo  – I’m not her type after all, or more widely, not God’s gift to women et al – or two, we may become entangled by her own wiles, however contrived or authenticating. We keep to ourselves as best we can the first, but in both species of the second, all becomes known. Hence the gift and task of circumspection. How will I avoid being apprehended? How can I accept my apprehension? How might the other seek to avoid apprehending me in the manner of an ethical vivisection – we are not generally ‘out to get’ one another in this sense, for instance – and how might she as well overcome her own trepidations about any potentially ensuing closeness with me. Our casual language betrays these ethical bemusements. We say ‘there is a certain intimacy between us’, or that ‘the two of us are like one thing at times’. Inherently contradictory, such phrases and many others exemplify our equivocal understanding of both ourselves and the others involved in any ‘coming before’. The terms ‘intimacy’ and ‘between’ are at odds, and the simile of the two-in-one is always to be taken as a kind of passion, or at best, a compassion, and not a reality to be discovered as one might discover a way to ‘observe’ the Big Bang. Though we are not desevered from another being in the same way was we are with the world’s elemental presence let alone with our own presence upon the planet as physical world, we nonetheless are aware of the proximal relations between objects in the world and the thou. In the end, we are not one thing. With sobriety, there is a between after all. So redemption is but partial in real life as well as in story, and heroism is just as human, if not generally as hyperbolic, as it is narrated to be.

            This is not a resignation. Only novels and epics have patent endings. Dasein is completed not when it ends but when it no longer exists. I am completed in my personal death. I am made complete by it. I am not a creation of another, and thus I am also not a character let alone a caricature, that is, unless I permit myself to descend to such a level. Personhood has its penumbra, certainly, but nevertheless its authenticity remains in its concernfulness, in its care. It cannot be ‘written over’ though it can write itself again and again. Through circumspection, we might identify with a fictional figure and recognize in him an aspect of ourselves. Writing is like waking dreaming in this way. Akin to therapy but with both a more noble and a deeper concern and outcome – this second due to its generalizability and its occurrence in the lives of others whom we otherwise would never touch – writing is the isness of being. Yes, poetry, as mentioned, attains a loftier height because it no longer feels the recursive pull that recourse to simile exerts upon meaning. But because we are beings of language first and history only following from this – the instance comes before the circumstance, as it were; we encounter one another through language and only then do we place ourselves in a history towards one another – writing overcomes what is at first only likeness by virtue of reading. The reader becomes what the writer only suggests. This of course may be a passing encounter, kindred to all those we would have loved if only we had made more intimate contact with them. Even so, the key to de-severing what is at first almost as desevered as is the world is to engage in the language of self-understanding; taking the isness of metaphor ironically quite literally. I am Thou. But equally so, she is me. Much of western ethics travels from this point of self-recognition. Yes, the currents of our contemporary river state that we must recognize the other for herself, and this too follows therefrom the moment of self-recognition. But even so, we are compelled to primordially accept that what can happen to one can happen to all.

            I thus direct my being not to the world as something which objects to me or to that which makes me into an object, but rather a being who is subjected to my presence inasmuch as I am to her own. I may not intend such subjection in any darker sense, but my coming before the other is at least a two-souled prospect into which my Dasein is at first desevered. My very subjectivity – itself a distanciated composite of subjection, of becoming a subject in another’s narrative, as well as perhaps more obliquely, the sometimes shocking subjectitude of being merely another and neither hero nor redeemer – confronts her own and forces upon it a self-recognition. If not, we risk the holocaust of fatal deseverance, where the other is no different from the object alone. Enter once again Dasein’s ability to not only engage in circumspection, but also to be circumspect: “Both directionality and de-severance, as modes of Being-in-the-world, are guided beforehand by the circumspection of concern.” (ibid:143, italics the text’s). Often enough thus far, I and Thou are beholden in degrees to this ethical process that the nominal sharedness of the world is at least seen as an impediment to its self-destruction.

            Not so in fictional narrative. In the main, contemporary allegory is shamefacedly in avoidance of self-recognition, and by this I mean it seeks to do the very opposite. Whenever current disquiet is addressed, whether it be ethical iniquities or material inequities, entertainment fiction distances the world portrayed far enough from us so that the audience can ultimately dismiss it as ‘mere fiction’, which it unfortunately is, or at best, ‘a good metaphor’, though in fact here it is neither. It is not good because it does not participate in the ‘just likeness’ with enough ethical proximity. It is thus also not a metaphor because it remains stuck in asness. Yet it is more than a mere fiction, for the injustice of such narratives comes before us because in fact they were planned ahead of time to be just that. Their projects of action included the caveat that the reader or viewer must not take the story metaphorically. It cannot be real; it cannot possess the isness of intimitude. ‘Three Percent’, an oddly glamorous Orwellian dystopia, is set into the future. ‘Game of Thrones’, an unsophisticated Shakespearean political melodrama, is set into an alternate world. ‘His Dark Materials’, Paradise Lost meets Harry Potter, is at once set into 1950s Britain and into the warmed-over theatrical settings of an imperial nostalgia, if not as well a nostalgia for imperialism; of the world, by the word, for the idea of truth. Once again, distancing, calculated and cynical, attempts a composite of distanciatedness in mimicry of that which Dasein brings to the world of objectifying encounters. Popular narrative is but a simile of existence.

            If this were unplanned we might take it apart and adjust it the better. We might simply rewrite the tired sophism of plot and the mechanical inevitability of plot device. We might engender a new respect for our shared weaknesses, or yet we might even engage in circumspection. But because popular allegorical narrative is deliberately distanced from reality in a manner no classical epic would have tolerated, we instead must interrogate the motives for such undertakings that in reality eschew metaphor all the while proclaiming themselves to be ‘only metaphorical’, that is, not to be taken literally or at face-value. The dishonesty of such works is both patent – in that it repeats itself without end in streaming, gaming, novels and film – and potent – in that it seeks the impotence of the agentive interlocutor by turning him into a mere consumer of sentiment. If it is the reader/viewer who brings the isness to the narrative, the story must first be set at such a distance as to sabotage the existential metaphor. We cannot become overly concerned with a fictional character who must, after all, act in a world which does not in fact exist. We cannot overtly care for a factional cause that animates a community or organization that is not real. We cannot truly empathize, within the ambit of Dasein’s authentic self-undertaking, with a hero who betrays his chorus by reaching for a zenith of excitement about, or desire for, or camaraderie with, yet another heroine who in her turn, makes false the lie that we viewers are forced to live. This screening over of reality is popular allegory’s dominant task. Its function is to distance ourselves from ourselves, decoy us from our shared lot. It does so by at once pretending to show us our condition ‘at a distance’ so that we can reflect upon its reality in the world as it is. But the allegory is too distant, the characters too villainous or too heroic, or perhaps yet sometimes even too introspective, to be ultimately believable. They might be believable as characters, yes. They have, in their best moments, attained the asness of simile which reminds us of ourselves. What we so desperately need is, however, characters who are ourselves and narratives which intend the isness of concernful being in the world. The distanciatedness of composite metaphorical narrative in allegory must give way to the authentic metaphor of a playing out of actuating circumstance that in turn seeks concernfulness in the world.

            Contemporary and urban fantasy genres in their most realistic instances have the greatest chance of providing this more authentic metaphor, if only in principal, and not necessarily in actual product. Here, outré elements are secondary to both plot and character development. The setting is our own world, not some other distant in time, space, imagination, or all three. The concerns are our own concerns, not those of Milton, Orwell, or Shakespeare, let alone Marvel or DC Comics. It is still somewhat sage to nod to perennial human conditions, that Sophocles still tests us, though in a different way, even as he tested the Greeks of his own era. This much remains true, and it is also, after all, enough. But even dramatizations of the canon cannot save us. What needs be done is that the kerygma of concernfulness that exists in literature and art be ported into the reality of worldly concern. Art should no longer ‘imitate’ life, for this is but another asness, another simile. That human life cannot be art in any literal sense is also not what is at issue. Rather, it is the lack in popular culture of what art itself interrogates us with that allows us to blithely go on watching as the wearied world passes us by and along with it, any sense that caring, concern, circumspection, and justice should continue to animate our once-shared consciousness.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of over forty books in ethics, education, aesthetics, health and social theory, as well as more recently, metaphysical adventure fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for two decades.

Gandalf Hitler: on the Fascism of Fantasy

Gandalf Hitler: on the Fascism of Fantasy

           “The will to pleasure and the will to death also live with one another, even within one another. Is one only angelic and the other only demonic? Hardly so. Pleasure induces a great suffering, second only to that of love, and death could well be its merciful release. She is an angel, yes, but angels too have needs. They are not exactly human but all this presents to me is a challenge.” (from Loewen 2020c).

                A cursory view of the fantasy genre suggests a puzzle which might engender a quest of its own: which is more phantasmagorical: The reality from which we desire escape or that which we use as an escape? On the one hand, the novels, the cycles, the screenplays, the scripts; on the other, and adding to their simultaneous simulacra, the actors, the directors, the producers, the publishers. Akin to Bartok’s ‘The Miraculous Mandarin’, fantasy as entertainment and escape present to society a massive decoy game which outlasts political regimes and the ebb and flow of wealth. Yet this kind of fantasy is not ancient in the manner in which religion, for instance, is understood. We moderns have replaced deistic religion with that civil, but the State remains all too real, in spite of its presentation of self as our guardian angel. So the enchanted element of religious belief, its sheer demand for a faith rather than for a proof – there can be no ‘proving’ magic, as it were – is left to the culture industry.

            The very phrase is a contradiction in terms. Not only by virtue of modern redefinitions of what constitutes ‘production’ – something that generates capital directly; and yet how can a Tolkien or a Rowling not be seen as producers of impressive capital? – but as well by equally contemporary aesthetic standards; culture as Kultur or Kunst cannot be ‘produced’ in this way. Art either transcends the mundanity of productive history or it presents itself as an horizontal egress from it. The one is sometimes still referred to as ‘serious art’ and the other correspondingly ‘popular’. Fantasy writing etc. occupies the latter, and hence – or is it thence? – so does fantasy itself.

            With approximately 55% female readership, fantasy writing nevertheless has been historically written mostly by men (though one study states that in the first quarter of 2019 female authors accounted for about 60% of the more current publications). Of the women writers covering the last fifty years or so, bracketing possible pseuodonymy either way, about 80% of publications etc. which contain female leads have as their plot a romance centering around that heroine who is from the beginning already fully equipped for the task at hand but has been unfairly denied the opportunity to press on with the necessary quest. She may have been betrayed by her mentor (Sarah Maas’s eight volume cycle is likely the most known example), or she is absented from an important male who actually turns out to be the rightful heir dispossessed (Crusader Kings 3 and other such digital media), or her love interest is driven by the desire to wield power from behind the scenes (Game of Thrones). The ‘Lady Macbeth’ trope dies hard, and that amongst women who should know better.

            Even where ‘enchantment’ in the purely phantasmagorical sense is irrelevant, the fantasy itself continues apace. In the recent Millie Bobbi Brown affair ‘Enola Holmes’, the teenage heroine is again a displaced genius with all of the skills of an unlikely Ninja but with none of the opportunity. Yet the already famed Holmes brothers’ much younger sister, in spite of her tactical heroics, ultimately favors the conservative path of lesser resistance, in disregard of her mother and mentor being a political radical. What the heroine does resist is love, for it is, though authentic, apparently too paternalistically in the way of her chosen vocation. She tells the camera that her name spelled backwards is, after all, ‘alone’, and thus she follows in Sherlock’s footfalls, alone and aloof if not entirely inhumane. The message for youth, especially for young women, is to simply get your due piece of the action as it is, and not to alter anything structural about the system of belief or of production as it is. The unreality of the heroine’s skill set is only matched by that of the plot – there is a moment where she could have, given her martial arts abilities, simply thrown Lestrade out of a third story window and thereby taken her cause into the authentically political; another wherein she is slapped in the face by her oncoming finishing school governess and then cowers before her instead of snapping her neck, and so on – which hurtles along its ludicrous path while purporting to inspire young people to ‘become who they are’. The individuated sense of heroism overtakes the social reforms that occur through her saving of the rightful male (again), a young lord whose vote facilitates a progressive bill for the era, and this in a currently neo-fascist UK that remains nostalgic for empire and tirelessly promotes its historical literature, both serious and popular, as part of its equally tired civil religion. Where female youth continue to attend schools in pleats and where corporal punishment in the home has yet to be outlawed. One is tempted to reply to the Russian minister of defense when he commented that the Royal Navy’s new carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth II was ‘simply a large target’, that England itself is in fact a much larger one. The fantasy of Britannia as the ocean-ruling-sword-wielding Atlantis is also ‘simply’ the expensive version of Hogwarts. It is furthermore a masculine fantasy that itself wields the topless pale nymph upon its nautical escutcheon as a kind of ironic talisman. Fittingly, we do not see even a hint of Ms. Brown’s cleavage let alone the other, setting the tone for a church-mouse chastity that reminds one of a Victorian Emma Peel. Dame Diana Rigg, herself schooled in a harsh religious institution which she later felt ‘built her character’, resigned from the projected panache of sexualized violence of ‘The Avengers’ after only two seasons. No doubt the role clashed with her own sensible sensibilities which are after all, also Britain’s very own. Male viewers of the time were nevertheless transfixed.

                Male readers of fantasy as revealed by social media studies complain that fantasy heroines are ‘too perfect’ and ‘unrealistic’, though it should be immediately noted that there is no such concern if the leads are male (‘The Witcher’, for example). But patent sexism aside for the moment, the vast majority of fantasy heroines are indeed portrayed as if they were members of some occluded suffragette movement with the quest to take back the prematurely gifted grail of ‘just give us the tools, and we’ll finish the job’. In fact, in the scripts at least, they are already well in possession of the tools. What they lack, so we are told, is the job, any job.

            In spite of the compelling necessity to exeunt from the penury of wage-slavery as well as from the equal pressures of familial piety, consumers of fantasy, no matter the media of presentation, succumb to narratives which only reinforce the very systems from which they seek relief. And within competing brands of fantasy there is also to be found the fraudulent Sturm und Drang of male heroes who exude a toxic masculinity (James Patterson’s ‘Harry Bosch’ must be the recent paragon of this vile type, to stick within the detective genre for a moment; a ‘man’ who threatens to assault his handsome adolescent daughter, perhaps in lieu of having actual sex with her) as if to provide a bellicose balance to the heroines who in their turn exhibit a strangely disloyal selfishness. The customary sensibility that women should be automatically altruistic and engage in self-sacrifice is at first subverted. These ready-made legends carry all before them but even so, their entire redemptive purpose is to restore the male to his rightful place. This too is a tired real-world fantasy that many women have found, with experience, to be both unworthy of whatever skills they do in fact possess, but also, in these days of dishonor and unchivalry, with most men, quite impossible.

            The other 20% of female-authored fantasies which also have female leads are, however, much more realistic. Here we find the young women ill-prepared for the task at hand, unknowing of either the goal of the quest or of the skills necessary to undertake it. This is the model I use in my own epic, by the way. These superior plots recognize that the phase of any quest which is at least of equal importance to the epic action is the learning curve itself, taken on without promise and sometimes even without premise, for the mystery only gradually unfolds before her as she becomes more of an initiate into the other world. Indeed, there is much less fantasy overall in such texts and thus, correspondingly, much more reality, the kind within which persons are faced with in the day to day. Rather than abruptly excerpting the consumer from their sordid mundanity, they impress upon the reader the necessity of self-understanding, which is a form of love, and which as well can only arrive at some kind of authenticity from within the call of conscience. What inhibits this human process is precisely the fascist fantasy we make daily of social reality as it stands, and which has a far greater consumption rate than do even the most famous fantasy cycles or series. Almost all of us consume it, and any escape therefrom – given that it mostly occurs not by virtue of virtuous wizardry but rather through a doubled-over expanse of distracting entertainment ‘events’, from sports to politics to parenting and ‘even’ to education, voluntarism and worship, all hard-ruled by fascist forms and norms whose goal is control Über Alles, and that together seek to define what the human being is and thus what we are capable of being – is had at the cost of changing that world which is at present our own into one more humane in both its scope and meaning.

            My sense of a true heroine who learns to love herself outside of the objectification of ordered obsolescence (James’s ‘Portrait of a Lady’), outside of the glare of glamorous Glasglocke (Plath’s self-portrait), and eschewing the too-educated senses of an Austen or a Bronte, the duet of female fantasists of the preceding age, is one who first overturns filial piety, through parricide if necessary, then overtakes the lead male and cuts him down from behind, unexpectedly, ruthlessly, but also with pleasure, the undressed redress of all ‘discipline’ that has been suffered upon young women as the theatre of surrogate sex. My invocation of the true heroine of the nearest future is an orison not to the beyond but to the coming birthright of the days of decision, wherein humanity as a whole will be forced to confront the effects of its own self-made cause. For

                “The unpolished edge of futurity will draw our collective blood. If it must be spilled, then let the one who holds the sword be a visionary and not a reactionary. Let her raven eyes be the windows of our collective soul. Let her joyous judgement be the compassion of our call to conscience. Let her unknowing be but innocence and never ignorance. Let her knowing become the working wisdom of light before heat”. (from Loewen 2020c).

                Social philosopher G.V. Loewen is the author of over forty books in ethics, aesthetics, education, health and social theory, as well as more recently, metaphysical adventure fiction. He was professor in the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

The Desire to Possess through Transgression

            The Desire to Possess through Transgression: an excursus

            Durkheim’s brilliant ability to take the mundane and through it understand social structure makes this sort of impression. Deviance is necessary because it reinforces what is normative and we can thus know what it means to transgress without ever having to actually do so. Crime is thus functional, and while the judge, in organic solidarity, ‘speaks nothing of punishment’, he is still evaluating a condition which has been impressed with an imbalance. It is the same metaphor that is used in the health sciences, since the ‘body politic’ takes its Aristotelian homology too seriously in its bid to outlast the eroticism of bodies in general: “…we can say that in biology it is the pathos which conditions the logos because it gives it its name. It is the abnormal which arouses interest in the normal. Norms are recognized as such only when they are broken. Functions are revealed only when they fail.” (Canguilhem, op. cit:208-9). A hammer, to use Heidegger’s oft-cited example, is understood in its very being only when it breaks, fails us, becomes something other than it was fashioned to be. And so we too become ‘something other’ in this manner; indeed, our ‘arousal’ for the normative might be seductive in its own perverse way. Who, after all, desires the norm with the lustful ardor we bring to the taboo? The too-young woman is a cliché at best, at worst a sacrilege, though such a conception is itself akin to an authentic blandishment pronounced upon a sacrality, not so much of childhood itself as females mature at a far faster rate than do males, but rather of the idea that we ourselves should be able to regress so that the youth would actually desire us. This is worse than a joke, and all those who anchor close in to the official definitions of pedophilia – the American Psychiatric Association speaks of ‘prurient interest and desire for children under twelve years of age’ – are attempting to throw themselves across a backward looking chiasmus that has become in due course a chasm. While it is historically accurate to portray the sexual exploitation of young children, those who are not yet biologically sexual in any consistent manner – under most national laws, children under twelve can only have sex with themselves, as it were, and are not beholden to wider legal sanctions as are youth; this is a far cry from the nineteenth century wherein the bourgeois sense of blood and biopower took shape, culminating in our contemporary understanding of childhood; until circa 1892 in the United States, for instance, the universal age of consent was a startling ten years of age – as a figment of the bourgeois imagination, compelled as it was by the sense that it was the heir apparent to the aristocracy and indeed, also divinity, yet there is something more authentic to our protective and at least, official concern that true children are not exposed to eros ‘before their time’. It is, intriguingly, a successful measure of familiality that adults and older children do not exploit the young in this manner. The bourgeois family was understood as a seething crucible of repression, resentment, lust and violence, and in many cases, this combination of Dasein’s entanglements in the world of others was indeed manifest. But if this was the rising class’s predicament, only a bourgeois perception would have privileged its own children and more or less utterly forget about all others. The children of elites were a dying breed in any case, and could be dismissed. The children of the working classes were simply younger animals of the same stock as their parentage, and if they were sexually abused they would accept it as part of their ‘training’. It is only recently, in post-war democracies, that childhood in general has been granted the belated privilege of being sacrosanct: “This explains the problematic, or if one prefers, ambiguous nature of bourgeois consciousness. It also explains [ ] the contradictory reaction of fascinated contempt the idea of ‘success’ has evoked during the last two hundred years.” (Moretti, op. cit:84). On the one hand, the French Revolution ontically exposes a moment in which power is shown to be a simulacra of a certain kind of politics, rather than the traditional obverse of this. The bourgeois sensibility – I must attain the status of the aristocrat but through my own individual merit and not through blood; yet I must make sacral the blood of my class as something preserved and inviolate so that my children may also be meritorious – is ‘by definition’ ambiguous. The supposed meritocracy of bourgeois dominated democracy prefers the nobility of wealth to all other merits. In this it mimics more closely the assignation of divine rule than it would acre to admit. But all of this is old hat. The most important aspect of nineteenth century class self-understanding is that it took upon itself the mantle of authority and not so much power. This is also the age in which direct sexual abuse of children became surrogate in direct physical abuse, which lasts to this day amongst the ironically most recent social groups to ape the status and trappings of bourgeois life: evangelical sub-cultures the world over.

            Not unlike the developing world, which is seen as passing through the same industrial and technical phases in a series as did Europe et al before it, sub-cultures once very marginal to the bourgeois revolution are now in that phase of attempting to take over some of the politics and authority of their once betters. They have adopted all of the modernist rationales for the discipline of youth and cloaked it in irrelevant scriptural nonsense which was directed at only very young children, ironically, the very same age group that the nation state defines as chattel today. Such sub-cultures are able to display such oblivious hypocrisy only due to their sense that history in their case does not truly exist, or at least, it is telescoped radically from its inception in the messianic period to its end in an apocalyptic judgement. For them, pursuing the revolution in reality means speaking only of revelation in the imagination: “For a man whose future is almost always imagined starting from past experience, becoming normal again means taking up an interrupted activity or at least an activity deemed equivalent by individual tastes of the social values of the milieu.” (Canguilhem, op. cit:119). Of course, the tendentious and irascible marginalia of the Levant was never ‘normal’ in any contemporary sense. While it may have been that messiahs were a dime a dozen, the vast majority of persons in every culture lived without their credos. This was, after all, the this-worldly aspect of the Pauline injunction. Even so, as Weber has noted in detail, the ‘routinization’ of charisma begins with the first apostolic missions; begins in their wake, as it were, for the mission itself must be couched in a mimesis of the original kerygmatic experience, one in which acolytes must feel the sense that they too can be, or would be, ‘overwhelmed with joy’. But after the fact, one can only experience the glad tidings and not the being himself. Being, on the other hand, is to be found within such revealed truths of existence and is thus intended as universalistic in its ability to impart the same sensations and feelings.

            And it is this last dynamic that lasts, so to speak. The living-on through each era casts Being as a shadow over the past. History on the one hand, life on the other. Achievement and newness. For human beings, “…these two desires are not hostile and irreconcilable, but form a homogenous and complementary whole. Only the man who is always able to achieve happiness can [ ] do without it.” (Moretti, op. cit:112). ‘Always able’? Now who is that? Moretti immediately accedes to Freud; no, such constant happiness is in fact impossible and streben, which Freud referred to as a ‘benevolent illusion’, must be recast as being a dynamical synthetic term that brings together two things that are forced upon Dasein, ‘change and freedom’ (cf. ibid:112-3). This is more realistic, surely, but at the same time, any evangel raises neither of these. His version of streben is perfect happiness in the ambit of heavenly arc. This is the lighter side of evangelical satisfaction; the darker is of course that the rest of us our damned. As Natanson comments, “…there are some insults for which apology is out of the question.” (op. cit:185). His general remark may be taken however one wishes, as it is generally applicable to social circumstances in which all of us must find ourselves once in a while, but his conception of ‘noetic failure’, the phenomenological equivalency of what he refers to as ‘social aphasia’, fits the bill. Any reactionary or regressive social movement is proclaiming not so much the end of the world but rather their own inability to adapt to the world as it is. These persons are, aside from their entanglement with an imaginary history, or better, the imaginal cast as if it were history, are always already ‘abnormal’ due to their ‘attachment’ to values which have, in this case and to be fair, for better or worse, been passed by: “To define the abnormal as too much or too little is to recognize the normative character of the so-called normal state. This normal or physiological state is no longer simply a disposition which can be revealed and explained as a fact, but a manifestation of an attachment to some value.” (Canguilhem, op. cit:56-7). Now this is not at all to suggest that all those who do not publicly cleave their hearts to some antique religiosity are necessarily ‘normal’ in any way. But they are normative. And both behind and beyond this sense of what is ‘normal’ lies, as Canguilhem assiduously points out, the conception of perfection (cf. ibid:57).

            Perfection is not available in the this-world. Both evangel and once-born agree upon this. The latter shrugs this condition off, arguing that perfection is not necessarily a human or humane thing. The former agrees that ‘too err is human’ but that we should seek to ascend from this sorry condition to something higher. Perfection may not be available here, but it awaits in its fullest presence elsewhere. But the turning away from reality and the celebration of the inner life are the two most important aspects of Bleuler’s original definition of autism (cf. Minkowski, op. cit:74).  Evangelism is autism projected.

            But if that is so, eroticism, so often portrayed by evangelism as its patent enemy – apparently these persons prefer surrogate sex to the real thing, and perhaps ironically, more radically than do those ‘normative’, since they use their children in this manner under the euphemism of ‘discipline’, a fitting abuse of the word of which the Reich would have been proud – is autism internalized. It is a compulsion betraying itself through self-love, a sensuous narcissism that is oddly more tolerable to others because it involves them, even if only as objects. But to be someone’s ‘toy’ is better than to be someone’s enemy, the masochist argues in turn. This obsession (cf. Natanson, op. cit:264, for references here), because it does not compel the entangled Dasein to seek happiness or contentment either in the otherworld or in the underworld, but rather simply enjoins the other to join the self of self-annihilation – who, in the end, can resist this hortatory appeal when all of us are potentially alienated? – allows the Dasein to imagine that it has triumphed over delusion, specifically, the religious delusion. For the evangelical, sex is not so much a villain as a competitor. It is a decoy of the devil, perhaps his ‘pet’ decoy, to stay within the torrid vocabulary of BDSM for a moment, because the devil wishes to convince humanity that earthly life can be even better than that heavenly. Hieronymous Bosch’s ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’ portrays this tension brilliantly and yet not without some sardonic skepticism as well. Hollywood and pulp fiction have transfigured a great artist into a half-man half-bully in their detective Harry Bosch whose ‘manhood’ is expressed at one point by him threatening to assault his own daughter (season one, episode ten). Whether or not evangelicals watch cop shows, this would be one to their taste.

            But neither evangelism, our somewhat straw man, nor eroticism, our somewhat stuffed shirt, exemplifies a ‘lack’. Rather, cites Minkowski, we are after a ‘difference’ because it is the entire ‘structure of psychic life’, recall for a moment, this is held to be a unity by almost all of our sources here, that is altered (cf. op. cit:248). What brings these two apparent poles together is that both religion and sex must be pursued as serious hobbies only. The ‘dreaded hobby’ of Adorno is metastasized into a pseudo-vocation that makes time off from work into a consistent ‘vacation’ of the spirit. This word is used advisedly; the spirit does indeed vacate the scene in both eroticism and evangelism. Like art, religion and sex, if taken to the nth degree – the reader should already be aware that the author has no quibbles with either in moderation – can be ‘taken under’ only if some other station is maintained: “In short, the pursuit of art is sanctioned when it is undertaken b people who have achieved identification with some other socially sanctioned role.” (Griff, 1960:221). So our unknowing and unbecoming selves go to workplaces wherein an evangelical or a BDSM artiste lurks, the one hiding in the light which blinds viewers to his ‘true identity’ and the other in the usual murk of the shadows, suitably cliché and melodramatic. Both partake fully of the theatre of comic books; one relishes his superhero aspirations – he has the strength and build to beat his kids, at least – the other his sultry villainy – he has the strength and build to beat women, perhaps, or maybe it is the other way round. Well done both! The only problem is that the rest of us are not inclined, as it were, to tread either set of boards alongside these would-be teachers. Indeed, all sense of pedagogy is lost to the one who ‘knows the truth of things’, as both the evangelist and the eroticist proclaim, the former to the world, alas, but the latter at least only to himself. And there is a good reason why neither is art, in spite of our indirect comparison: “The creative powers of teachers disappear because the teacher tends to lose the learner’s attitude.” (Waller, 1960:341 [1932]). Perhaps the closest normative world analogy to these extremities of entanglement would be the journalist, especially the one who heads up the media room, editors, producers and the like. Kristeva’s amusing update on Proust’s character Mme Verdurin is called to mind, wherein this ‘Mistress’ of what is fit to print is a vulgar Pauline figure – well, how much more vulgar than a fellow who exchanges ethnic identities, travels with an amanuensis with who it would have been culturally normative to be involved in a pederastic relationship, and then criticizes everyone else for being hypocrites will be left to the imagination or perhaps even to one’s taste – who can be everything to everyone and maintain her utter mastery of every situation (cf. Kristeva, op. cit:69-70). All of this “…suggests that the narrator believes in transsexuality, the idea that every individual belongs to (at least) two sexes and that each of us negotiates the officially unbreachable partition of sexual difference by way of an underlying, implicit, ‘involuntary’ passage.” (ibid:71). Transsexuality is itself a transformative concept; it itself has its own ‘transsexual’ character in the loosest sense, shall we say. If we are also charged with narrating our own lives, giving at least the air of existence to a biography that no one else would read let alone write for us, then are we not also faced with the transsexuality of personhood, the eroticizing substrate of an existentiality which knows itself as these changes and not so much as change in principle?

            Akin to the narrator whose Pauline burlesque hardens himself against not worldliness but the world, just as passion is available to us but never as a replacement for compassion, so an internal conflict is engendered, given bodily form, sensuous appetites, desireful urges, and the like. It is, in its either vulgar or overindulged sense, a grassroots claimant upon the breaching ‘behavior’ of any scientific or philosophical analytic: “Existential analysis, therefore, constantly has the character of doing violence, whether to the claims of the everyday interpretation, or to its complacency and its tranquillized obviousness.” (Heidegger 1962:359 [1927], italics the text’s). This is not quite the same thing as Boss and Binswanger would later develop out of Heidegger and Freud but the principle of non-acceptance of the normative world remains. This is, by virtue of its ownmost question – not, though, by virtue of the direction such questioning may lead – no different than Paul’s critical interrogation of the cultures of his day. Discursive questioning sanctions its own question, sometimes questionably, pending academic and institutional circumstance. But this aside, there is a socially sanctioned space wherein the question of Being might arise. Yet for the phenomenologist, this is merely another example of what is ‘tranquillized’; one does not feel the violence of the question from within the insulated interior of an institution. It is bracketed in much the same way that the authentic radicality of philosophical reflection brackets the rest of the world, object, other, and norm. For a question is not just an objection. In erotic action, objectification is part of the dynamic that does a violence upon the personhood of the Dasein involved. But this is, ideally, agreed upon as its own social convention. An authenticity of question, the question of Being, does not harbor in its action a ‘safe word’, as it were. This is more than restating the cliché ‘nothing is sacred’. This is more like a carnival, however Pauline in intent. It inverts the social order in order to expose its iniquities and perhaps also its vices. Indeed, it can use vice to expose virtue. This is what any modern erotiste, at least since De Sade, in fact does. The facticality of his repetitive and projected onanistic activity at once takes away any edge of incipient critique – the violence here is all theatrical even if sometimes physically risky; there is a reason, aside from our misplaced esthetics, why BDSM models are young and built like a certain kind of athlete – as well as confronting the ‘vanilla’ Das Man to at least nod his head to his own desires, however suppressed. Even so, we rapidly regress into farce, and much literature of this tenor cannot be said to entirely escape this same fate: “The narrator keeps his characters’ ambiguities alive, and he also engages in the inversion of values, either through the passing of time or by merging disparate points of view into a single instant. In doing so, he amasses contradictory meanings that produce a comical effect drawn from the inadequacy of meaning.” (Kristeva, op. cit:154, italics the text’s). Not to mention his own inadequacy as a writer, perhaps. For him, the reality of his characters is a parody of all that he suspects in real persons around him. What he suspects of himself he keeps to himself, as if he were the carnival landscape embodied, a Las Vegas writ yet smaller and into an interiority which objects to its presence along with the co-presence of a theatrical Eros. If the circumstances are pleasant enough – who would not want to have a young person worship one and service one’s every sensual desire, even if it were not real? And then again, whose to say either way? – then one could call it ‘time well wasted’. But the idea that time was lost, either Time itself or as in Proust, some experience of time that had thence to be regained though in a most circumlocuted fashion as imaginable, is debatable. We are told that Proust maintained both ‘the violence of marginality’ and the ‘grace to construct a world of communion’ (cf. Kristeva, op. cit:171). The nightmare one engenders dreams of the other, one might well imagine. The observation of the first suggests the vision of the second, and so on. Even so, it is very much the wider case that, outside of this ‘lost time’, Dasein runs along, tarries, is distracted, curious, fascinated, just as par for the course. One manifestly does not need Eros to extend, deepen, heighten, or yet transfigure any of these commonplace situations. So what then, does Eros as an existential critic actually and authentically accomplish?

            Let us begin again, in a sense: “Common sense misunderstands understanding. And therefore common sense must necessarily pass off as ‘violent’ anything that lies beyond the reach of its understanding or any attempt to go out so far.” (Heidegger, op. cit:363). Right away we have a reiteration of Heidegger’s two basic senses of the ontological structure of Dasein: one, that understanding is mode of Being-in Dasein, and two, that such a Being is ‘constituted as care’ (cf. ibid). Now it is not that ‘common sense’ – a term that is the unabstracted sibling of ‘human nature’; the person who uses the one will inevitably use the other and very often in the same conversation – does not ‘care’ about things. But just here, we have the objectively apprehendable duality that obtains between Anxiety and anxieties: Care and cares separate the authenticity of Dasein’s in-Being in the world and Dasein’s being in the world of forms, norms, and others. Of course we care about things! The problematic term is not care, but rather ‘about’. The denial or avoidance of the primordial structure of Dasein’s subjectitudinal complex is contained in the projection of Sorgeheit only as a reaction to this or that which is already in the aforementioned list of worldly realms. Heidegger is rather stating the Dasein is care, as the primordiality of its also being interpretation or understanding. But in reality Dasein reacts only when its own being is already understood as care. It is almost as if Heidegger is responding to Kant: how do we have an experience (in the first place)? How do we exhibit care or act caringly or ‘care about’? But there is more: “If we make a problem of ‘life’, and then just occasionally have regard for death too, our view is short-sighted.” (ibid, italics the text’s). This is, in a way, saying the least of it. We are rather more literally narrowed, made stenochoric, by this sense that life is to be lived apart from death – here is an in for both ‘common sense’ and human nature’ to respond at once and in chorus, heaven help us – and it is this lack of perspective, this myopia of which Heidegger speaks, that allows for time to be ‘lost’, whether through nostalgia, transference, projection in the analytic sense rather than that Schutzian or phenomenological more broadly, and of the utmost, through eroticism. In his efforts to narrate an autohagiographic epic, Proust comes across more like Augustine than Cervantes. For a gay Jew this would seem to be an error, at least of taste if nothing else. To be fair, Proust also should be credited with maintaining a desire for what is, on the face of it, despicable or even grotesque, so that he can show the rest of us what it means to inhabit the ‘deontic facticality’ of an absurd projection we call ‘social life’, especially one in which D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf were confronted with the same basic problem as was Proust; where lies the meaningfulness of intimacy within social strictures? What can be maintained of the reality of love, for example, which can only gain meaning through the reality of death – Isolde realizes this perhaps right at the proper time – within the structure of social organization as a whole? “It can be maintained only on the condition that one discover what was alluring in the fact that an object is horrible – or shameful – and, in the face of shameful nakedness, make shame and desire a single, violent convulsion.” (Bataille, op. cit:78). Violent, once again, because norms are here not so much transgressed in principle – this occurs during the contemplation of the act – but they are subverted and bent to the new principle of possession. Once possessed ,the object is no longer part of the world of forms, others, or norms, and though much of lovemaking and associated mischief may be highly scripted, Eros as a force is kindred with the neighbor, irruptive and perhaps even uncanny, as when it discloses to participant Daseins the reality of once lived-through horror. Even as it heals, it reveals that healing is necessary. Thus the horror and shame of unshared life is also revealed in its nakedness. The object is horrible, but so are we.

            Norms provide cover for their transgressors. The form in which such a blind takes place, takes over, takes cover or even undertakes to fake its own death, is torn asunder by the desire to possess anew and again. Both chicanery and theater aside for a moment – and who can tell the lover from the love? – what Eros itself desires is the dissolution of the personhood of the persons. Generally, even the carnival does not admit to this more radical understanding: “Where there is no such practice or understanding, however, benign deviation becomes malign deviance. To violate the acceptable social patterns is to put myself outside of society, to be alienated from it, to be considered obscene, insane, criminal, traitorous. My freedom is to be whom I choose within a kind of personhood that is never itself in question.” (Allan, in Cook, op. cit:26). More’s the pity, Bataille might respond, but of coursed pity, like forgiveness and guilt, is one of those archaisms that authentic freedom frees itself from. This is not a naked will to power simply due to the facticity of anxiety and the facticality of desire. Power desires but more of itself, but will focuses and restrains power because it, in turn, must be bent to the purpose at hand. At-handedness must become in-handedness, being-in to in-Being, the finite goal must overtake, or even ‘take over’ as being must do to Being, the absolute value. At ne level, of course, is the usual sense that one’s loyalty cannot be divided, at least in public, between self and society. This is Spencer’s discussion, inherited somewhat obliquely from Kant. It is still a reasonable conversation in which to engage, and if it is a trifle Whiggish at least it is not downright quaint. At the same time, the necessity to maintain what is also beautiful – though there is also beauty in horror, as the twentieth century attempted not merely to experience but also to celebrate; perversely, precisely because it desired to make the horrible itself horrible instead of letting the being of horror simply Be – constrains our freedom: “Because all human beings are subject to necessity, they are entitled to violence toward others; violence is the prepolitical act of liberating oneself from the necessity of life for the freedom of world.” (Arendt, op. cit:31). This is why, when political regimes retreat into violence, they lose their authority. Authority is always lost before power. Will might remain but it too does not endure. This is why shame and desire exert a moment of violence, because anything more would destroy both subject and object instead of simply placing them sous rature, as it were. I have used this transparent analogy before, but imagine a Durchstriechung in the form of the Reich’s swastika as juxtaposed with the Buddhist emblem, for instance. Place either over text, certainly, but go further than this; Eros as willed desire must adorn the beloved with some kind of effort at erasure. Not a complete success, for we do not desire the object of desire to simply be obliterated – this is not a private genocide – but rather to behold the beloved dressed in the violence of our will. She may resist but once again, as above, her resistance too is necessary. it brings the horror of desire to the fore, it makes naked the shame of eroticism. This is not the shame of guilt but instead the term used more like ‘is it not a shame that such a beautiful face should be contorted in the agony of ecstasy, that the ‘tears of eros’, to borrow from Bataille, should arouse me so, that her own objective nakedness should be turned to a prosthetic nudity, and so on. I desire to possess her, but on my terms. This is Eros naked, shameful, and yet full of desire.

            So while sex, and especially in our time, sexuality, may be a political act, having sex is prepolitical in the Greek sense that Arendt is discussing. Authentic shame cannot be found within its folds, however manifold. No, the shame of a post-agrarian worldview must be felt in the horror of inequality and poverty, very much real and not esthetic, let alone aesthetic, circumstances: “Everything that ‘justifies’ our behavior needs to be reexamined and overturned: how to keep from saying simply that thought is an enterprise of enslavement; it is the subordination of the heart, of passion, to incomplete economic calculation.” (Bataille, op. cit:105). Once again, tell me how this is not a proclamation of the humane, for humanity as a free disclosure of Dasein’s authenticity? Yet for Bataille’s scalpel and scythe, even here there is slight reservation; the term ‘incomplete’ might have been rendered as ‘incompetent’ if one took a different tack. Of course, there is a sense that all is indeed calculated, that suffering if measured out in proportion to the relevance of this or that segment of global society that will act, submissively of course, to keep power channeled the way it has been so: through national states of varying degrees of ultimate power. Now this is shame, and not ‘a shame’ or ‘a pity’. Now this is horror, and not simply horrible or horrifying. Now this requires little reexamination and much overturning.

Being as it has Been: an introduction

Prologue:

Who am I’ is the most difficult question yet posed to any human being. Not ‘what am I’, which bears several immediate responses from biology to sociology; not ‘how am I’, which can be answered by evolution and psychology alike; not ‘where am I’, which is a geographical and astronomical query, and not even ‘why am I’, which cannot be responded to unless and until the identity of the being in question is established. This ‘who’ is a moving target, changing over the life-course or yet from weekday to weekend. It is intensely personal, confrontational, intimate, subjective and liable to libelous label. It is something that simply being human does not directly address. Humanity is a ‘what’, an objective facticality of history and evolution both. It is also a cosmic fact, though an insignificant one, so we are assured – and is this not the beginning of the avoidance of the other question? – and it is, in the end, an ‘essence’ that does not alter itself in any serious manner over the generations. The basic constitution of the human species bears little resemblance to its much vaunted ‘humanity’, relatively present or absent, leaning towards the humane inhumane, aping its apical ancestry too closely or shunning it altogether. No, this ‘who’ must needs remain uncategorized in that way. And yet the question remains.

            It is the kind of question that tests also the remains of human faith, for to ask a question one must make the leap of faith that there can in fact be at least a response, if not an outright answer. An explication, an interpretation, if not an explanation or a certainty. In short, that there is a way to understand the question, of whatever character, and that in turn this understanding will contribute to the Selbstverstandnis of selfhood. The specific question of the ‘who-ness’ of beings involves us in a lengthy journey through some of the shadows of modern thought. The stations of this unholy book follow below, but though its finite goals are charred with the flames of desire and the smoke of despair its absolute value is a new humaneness from which humanity can only benefit. I ask the reader to tread this fearsome sanctuary with me, to walk on the proverbial coals that linger like the spilled blood of a murder, spreading still.

            To do so, an examination of many of the key thoughts that animate, or reanimate, the thread of discourse known loosely as ‘anti-humanism’ must be accomplished. But such an analysis must differ from the liberal humanist stance that calls out anything that appears to deny the sovereign soul inherited from godhead, lately truncated. No, decapitation leaves the head intact. That it is parted from the body of works is not the final thing. It is not fatal to thought, for thought, in its freedom and its interiority, needs not the ability to speak its name. John the Baptist’s head spoke onward gifted with divine force. The solitary head of the old god still nods sagely at us in its afterlife. No, the mind of this our own artefact must be exhumed and vivisected while it is still within mortal memory, while it speaks in its own unhurried silence the language of the inexistent. It whispers without lips this message: that you as a human being are yet more than Being could ever be.

            This is the call of lived time. Being retreats, yes, but not merely in the presence of beings. More so than even the presence of others, it is the Das Man of the social world at its least social and most sociable that forces upon Being a self-recantation. But the response has ever been, ‘civilization is a thin veneer, it is Eros which is the more serious mode of beinghood, that and the thanatic.’ This is too simple, for the erotic life, as we shall see below, is not only not the fullest life – only love is real, as the artist tells us – it is also not a rehearsal for death. It is already death in life, for it wishes the timeless, the non-conscious. This is why it can easily be an addict. It commits life to live on in the penumbra of fuller being. We will examine this problem in some detail. Along with this, ‘anti-history’ accompanies the so-called ‘anti-humanism’ as its own shadow selfhood. What then, is it? There are various candidates: the unwritten, the prehistoric, the structural – deep or mythic or naked or what-have-you – the phenomenological. One thing is more certain; it is time bereft of time, which in turn will be examined to further the sense that a rejection of an historical consciousness that is effective in lived time poses the greatest ethical risk to a human future. That said, after the dark reaches of a cloying and clasping unadulterated Eros, we shall encounter a compendium of ethical implications to understanding that ‘anti-humanism’ in fact is our singularly best hope for that self-same future. Indeed, it may be the case that humanism anew, the topic of the conclusion to this book, must rest solely upon the series of drastic insights brought into the lighted space of beings now, and not Being, that resolves the challenge of all modern thought presents to its authors.

            Being as it has Been

            It must have been a primordial sensibility that gave up the first clue to consciousness. Now forever beyond the obscure, so much so that the prehistoric cannot include it in its wider ambit, that first moment wherein our ancestors recognized themselves for what they just as suddenly were, that moment alone stood to be repeated for a finite infinity of other moments. Not similar in depth, to be sure, but alike in astonishment. The death of another who was to that moment like oneself. That first internecine violence, wherein the surviving proto-hominid stared starkly down at the unmoving eyes of his would-be rival, all the way to Nuremberg and Hiroshima and beyond, repeats the penumbra of that moment. It is the naked sword of vision, with the blade bloodied by lived being, as if the numinosum of nakedness unveiled another layer of flesh. What lies beneath what is already naked? Why is there an unconscious when consciousness would seem more than enough? Why is there structure when there is already grammar? Why is there an unsaid lurking behind all that is spoken? Why the genotype, why the quanta? It is not so much the interior of truth that gives it its sometimes sullen and sudden depths, but rather its interiority.

            Recently Being is not what it was. Its history had not been questioned. If beings were historical, which had never been seriously disputed, why not Being ‘itself’? At one hand lay the newly quantum reality, a sub-structure so deep that the very term depth began to lose its meaning. It was uncertain, not quite measurable, seemingly random. It was not a structure so much as a void, full, not of things, but rather of itself. This must have been mindful of the person who is nothing but arrogance. And was it not arrogant to imagine that, for the first time, what underlay cosmos was its very opposite? The back side of a god was the truer face of Truth. Yet at the other hand lay infinity. Ordered, obeying the same laws no matter the billions of light years, showing itself only in a minority – today we understand that a full two thirds of the universe is made up of the furtive ‘dark energy’, for instance – and stretching back to the most recent beginning of all things, of all realities. If only we could see it! To glimpse creation is, at one level, to prove the existence of God itself.

            Though it may be ironic that beings seek to prove Being, to excuse themselves, perhaps, to give them a reason that they are mere beings and nothing more, or yet to give themselves a goal to which to aspire – all of these and maybe more together circulate as modernity’s lifeblood – we as quanta do live in a highly structured, fastidiously ordered social world that mimics the wider cosmos. This worldly microcosmos is not of course the World which worlds itself, as in Heidegger, but what it is defies the sense that at the deepest level yet known, randomness and chaos could generate anything meaningful at all. Yet it was up to ourselves not so much to discover this ‘relationship’, but in fact to give it meaning whatever might be the truth of things. This is so because “Dasein is an entity which does not just occur among other entities. Rather it is ontically distinguished by the fact that, in its very Being, that Being is an issue for it.” (Heidegger 1962:32 [1927], italics the text’s). Hence ‘Being ontological’, as he puts it, comes before ontology, which is, at the core, a study of itself as Being. Myself as a being must be counted amongst this study, which is at the essence of self-understanding. But the ‘as’ is here not a mere simile or even an analogy. It is as-ness because beings are historical, as is the study thereof and therein. Now, that said, does this imply that Being too is historical in its ultimate character? Modern thought answers a resounding ‘yes’ to this question.

            And this is where the trouble begins. Or rather, it is the end of the beginning of the troubling ‘issue’ that human being, Dasein, has for and in itself. It is both as this issue and it is also simply this issue; it is this issue and it remains so. In the lead-up text to Being and Time, Heidegger asserts that “It is the history of the incapacity to pose the question of being in a radically new way and to work out its first fundaments anew…” (1992:6 [1925]) that is ‘grounded’ in the very being of Dasein. Because I have an issue with my being, I cannot radically formulate it to myself. Instead, I take an interest in the time of beings, whether that time is the one in which I live my actual life, or perhaps it is a historical period deemed somehow ‘relevant’ to me personally or to the apparent Zeitgeist in which I am ensconced, etc. Thus the conception of time cannot only be an historical one and thence it is directly related to the conception of Being that cannot be parsed from beings, or can no longer be so parsed. And why is this, Heidegger asks us. Clearly, at this point and long after in Heidegger’s work, phenomenology is the only manner in which or by which to investigate such issues. It is radical where one needs radicality. It is of the essence where one needs the essential. It is focused on the ‘beforehand-ness’ of beings that does not necessarily result in the pat response ‘Being’ as such. Indeed, one might better use the term ‘beforehandedness’ to designate such territory as may be located in the depths of primordial existence.

            The first station along this way, whether we approach from our own condition or imagine that we are first descrying it from the far side to our own, the side of myth and magic, occurs with the earliest idealism to which we are historically privy. That is to say, the earliest that does not appear as mere myth itself: “Ever since Plato turned his back on the Athenian democracy and set out his scheme for an ideal city, political philosophers had been writing about politics in a way that systematically ignored the most salient political features of human beings – that they are plural, that each of them is capable of new perspectives and new actions, and that they will not fit a tidy, predictable model unless these political capacities are crushed.” (Canovan, in Arendt 1998:xii [1958]). This is the direct result of the ‘issue’ of Being amidst beings. Being is itself a perspective that, while apparently unchanging, allows for and indeed may be said to provide a rationale for, the mutability of beings as both culture and individual. One could extend the idea of organismic evolution into culture, the ‘superorganic’, as Kroeber called it in 1917, but it is not simply a matter of cultural ‘adaptation’ running by itself. How does humanity adapt? Through a conscious effort on the part of each of us. This consciousness is ‘effective’ in this sense long before it became historical per se. Still later, “Man became aware of consciousness itself; the fact of thought became itself an object of thought.” (Jaspers 1960:598 [1948]). Yet we may suggest that the ‘issue’ of Being as beings, that being a being prefaces all such thought ‘about’ being in the way that one is ontological before there is ontology and also is historical before there is history – in the sense that one is aware of the passage of the temporal and not necessarily that one has measured time in intervals or even seasons – means for us that we also have become our own objects. Certainly we ‘use’ others and are used by them in the way we might pick up an instrument. This may lead to a kind of aesthetics or make itself aware of the ethical, or it may simply be an instrumentality. However it may turn out for individuals in different periods of their singular lives, the consciousness that I am part of something greater than myself – and this awareness must have been primordial and presumably extends beyond and before the genus Homo – may have given rise to the incomparably more recent distinction between being and Beings. For in social contract societies we do not find the language for the one, only the all. Yet what we do discover is an acknowledgement of the smaller and the larger and it is to this that we must cleave our historical analysis of Being in the light of beings.

            If this is a perennial puzzle, it is partly due to a simple narcissism that refuses to undertake itself in that self-same light: “All in all, man has become a riddle for himself. The elements of this riddle are scattered in history, and in the present only those sovereign moments in a diffuse state, contribute to a possible solution. The contribution comes from within ourselves, but its objective existence is firmly established.” (Bataille 1991:232 [1976]). As in Durkheim, this induction could be reframed as an inductivity, something ‘electric’ and thus something of the body as well as of energy. Material and spirit, the answer to the riddle of ourselves is at once a little cliché and Whitmanesque, but as well reaches outward, perhaps in an equally stereotypical manner, into the atomic age. How could a series of related species known only for its flint-knapping skills for over two million years or more have ‘harnessed’, as the word is so used, the power of the atom? The obvious links – tool-making, action at a distance in terms of injuring or killing another whilst keeping oneself safe from harm (and how does nuclear war do that, one wonders), the projection of consciousness into what is non-conscious, the affirmation of cosmic evolution in that the same basic material is used to construct both our bombs and our brains – work round the riddle of the selfhood of humanity. ‘Harness’ is a term from the previous epoch, when not only weapons of such magnitude could not be imagined – or was Revelations that very imagination writ into the mythic bracket of divinity? – but the realm of the smallest, the quanta, was something that once again, only angels could achieve. How many muons fit on the head of a pin?

            However scholastic the genesis of the riddle, any response must take us out of the realm of the scholar and into that of thought and thought unthought. Perhaps the beginnings of our historical response occurred even before Plato: “According to Aristotle, Homer does not depict himself, as do many less talented authors, but ‘…introduces a man, a woman, or any other character, and no one is deprived of character, for everyone has one.’ (cited in Kristeva 1996:120 [1993]). Just below, it is ‘style that is the intermediary’ in the creation of character or a character, and we are told, famously, that the ‘poet makes himself into another god’ (ibid:122). Yes, because he is creating a new set of myths to supplant the old – Homeric literature makes the transition between the purely mythic murk of primordiality and introduces human action in the world, or informal history (we await the arrival of Herodotus and Thucydides to formalize this dynamic) – but more than this, the poet speaks for the rest of us who remain would-be gods. She is more than Sophia, who imparts wisdom to those in ignorance. Here, we are all possessed of the wisdom of the riddle. We are all as is the Sphinx.

            Yet ancient history is something we moderns have invented for ourselves. By definition, classical authors were writing about recent history, as we might write about modernity. For them, what is ancient for us was nothing more than contemporary. Indeed, Homer represented both the beginning and the end of another kind of time. Afterwards, the recent, before, the ancient. It was left to us to understand that history is more seamless than all of that, and this due to a new conception of experience: “One of the conceptual achievements of the philosophy of the Enlightenment was enhancing history into a general concept which became the condition of possible experience and possible expectation.” (Koselleck 1985:200 [1969]). We become historical beings as part of the riddle of pre-ontology, rather than beings before whom history is set, as in the fates of the Greeks. Now fate rests in the heart of myth, so ancient literature, especially drama but also narrative that is based upon presumed events such as the Trojan War, at once brings myth into the world as well as making myth more worldly. Though our recent conception of agency is, in that very world, likely as limited as was the Greek’s theoretical sense of existential action, we are much more concerned that we in fact possess this agency and imagine that we can alter our destinies inscribed in the arc of thrownness. This additional achievement of modern thought rests in the human heart and as such, cannot stand with any ultimate certainty vis-à-vis history as we can know it, let alone myth as we have forsaken it. Even so, “…the theory in question conveys the humanist conviction that man’s action on his environment and on himself can and must become completely one with his knowledge of the environment and man…” (Canguilhem 1989:104 [1966]). Such a unity is only possible because of ‘existential a prioris’, as Heidegger has investigated them. If for the enlightenment experience is itself as form of knowledge – it may be unsystematic, illogical, even irrational, but nevertheless it is known as is any memory or feeling – then the next sensibility that is brought to bear upon human experience is its obverse; that we cannot experience what we cannot know, even if this knowledge is post hoc. Just so, an hermeneutic experience is said to be one about which one had no prior knowledge, hence its ‘confrontation with the tradition’ in the objective sense of discourse and the history of thought, and its radicality to the subject who nonetheless experiences it. Perhaps ‘it’ may be loosened somewhat here to remind us that we, at first at least, do not know what ‘it’ actually is that we are experiencing. This comes later, even if this later is but momentary. Yet an hermeneutic experience, if it can exist as stated, is still not the same thing as an irruptive one. This later breaks into mundane experience and is radically alien to interpretation, forcing us to engage in none other than the non-rational analogical processes that animate myth and perhaps even fate.

            It is so that such irruptions may in time be assimilated, just as modern science claims that its territory can ever expand to take into account objects or experiences that for now perhaps remain beyond its current explanatory frameworks. But this is only the case because of the wider ambit of the existential a prioris, something that phenomenology has provided for us. These “…are the universals or forms that stand to the experience of each human being in the same manner that the Kantian categories of the Understanding stand to the objects that we know.” (Needleman 1963:27, italics the text’s). If the mind is not quite such an object – insofar as it is a reification on the one hand, and insofar as we have but partial knowledge of it itself, since indeed it is our own mind that must know itself – then existence takes from the object world its deliberate and self-conscious objection to it. It is through Dasein’s objection to the world into which it has been thrown unannounced and involuntarily that it itself knows itself as its own Being. It is not the Being of beings that partakes of the older metaphysics, but it cleaves to itself the Being of the Understanding. It is this Verstehen that at once is nothing other than Selbstverstandnis and being-in-the-world. It is formed in the world of forms but it is not a form. It is formal without necessarily becoming a formula. And more than this, it is always forming and never set. As much as social institutions attempt to instill, sometimes brutally, a set form, human beings overcome it. If they do not, and of course there are examples of this as well, they can no longer truly be referred to as being human: “…the word human never denotes, as simpleminded people imagine, a stabilized position, but rather an apparently precarious equilibrium that distinguishes the human quality. The word man is always connected with an impossible combination of movements that destroy one another.” (Bataille, op. cit:342, italics the text’s). The marriage of light and dark occurs only through the human presence.

            Yet we have persisted in mimicking the natural order in our human relations. Perhaps this is what all children of the cosmos must do, at least at first. It would be one of the many vital questions that would have to asked of any extraterrestrial species, for instance; did their self-understanding pass through this same childhood? Such questions are, for the time being, moot, but it is important that they remain so. Not for any objective purposes, of course, but solely so that we have enough time to ask them, most seriously, of ourselves. Indeed, this may be a prerequisite to contact, as many science fiction tales have implied.

            However that side of things may be or may yet be, it is more important to recognize the plural ‘nature’ of humanity to juxtapose it with the two forms within which this living plaster is supposed to set. We are not made of clay for nothing, to speak metaphorically, and a jar is meant to hold something or other. It is a vessel, not only of the spirit, but of knowledge and experience and finally, of existence. It can be shattered as can the clay jar, but even in its shards it is recognizable as something which was what we are. No archaeology, either of the ground we tread upon or of the phenomenological ground of beings, would be possible without this immediate resonance, as well as of course our sudden sense of loss at beholding what had been lost before us. This much is crucial, “…for the question as to who ‘we human beings‘ actually are has never received less of an answer than it has in our age, and today we stand again at the threshold of new queries with respect to this we.” (Binswanger 1963:226, italics the text’s). The ‘we-ness’ of humanity has also never been challenged more seriously. It was one thing to deny it and yet not have the power to destroy it, as almost the entirety of the historical epoch bears chief witness. This often witless adumbration of the sameness ‘in spite of’  – why act upon it when one can merely state it and appear noble? – carries us headlong into our own time wherein we now deny it at our peril, collective and complete.

            Such a ‘we’ as we are can be partly understood by noting that Dasein is ‘alongside’ other things instead of in fact being them: “Being-in-the-world has always expressed itself, and as being alongside entitiesencountered within-the-world, it constantly expresses itself in addressing to the very object of its concern and discussing it.” (Heidegger 1962:458 [1927]), italics the text’s). Even if this is ‘grounded’ in the sense of time, in temporality, as Heidegger puts it, the first thing one actually addresses is the being-otherness of the entity in question. We do not in fact immediately nor instantly know, even if we are ‘constantly’ expressing ourselves, if this otherness is an other to self, an object, a force of nature or culture or both, etc. So a ‘concernful reckoning up’ of these possibilities into relative plausibilities (op. cit.) – in no manner within-this-world do we attempt to assign numeric ‘odds’ to such encounters during this process – takes place. What can be said of this process is that it at once ‘expresses itself’, as Heidegger notes more than once in these passages, but that it also ‘reckons’, pronounces a kind of always penultimate judgment on these encounters, rather than upon them. The ‘upon’ is more final, perhaps even fatal, in such a context, and it closes Dasein off from the world within-which it must encounter itself and express itself. Such otherness as there may be – and it is constant in itself and it also expresses itself – begins amorphously. For instance, Arendt speaks of Marx’s ‘labor creating man and labor’, in other words, itself (op. cit:86), or that products, commodities or no, become independent of and alien to human life (ibid:89). So here we have two omnipresent examples of the encounter with otherness in modern society; the forces by which labor transforms humans and the force by which that same labor transforms the world. The results are, at best, mixed. How do we express the ‘itself ‘of Dasein under such conditions? How does the world now world itself under the grind of capital? What kind of character does the individual Dasein take on in order to avoid the distraction of objectified expression, which may still be self-expression if selfhood is itself a commodity, which it often appears to be or to have become? But it is self-expression without self-understanding: “Hypertrophied and giant consumers of their time and other people’s time, these characters are endowed with a symbolic value after they reach a temporality superior to that of the phenomena – and indistinguishable from the dynamic of Being.” (Kristeva, op. cit:323). Only after they have reached this ‘superior’ temporality – contrast this with the drive to attain merely a superior tempo in all things – then there is a sudden upshift of the dialectical variety. Something is conserved or bracketed without being bracketed out. But is it not this very leap that makes for a disconnect? We go from what is not even Dasein all the way to Being, as if we were subject to an objective enlightenment of a more Eastern sensibility. What is overleapt is ‘man’ itself.

            We know from Nietzsche’s famous caution that Man cannot be so overleapt, and one must rather become a bridge to the superior form. What life looks like from this side of the existential chasm is defined by not only distractions that are calculated to decoy, but also by the simple detail of living on. The casual expression that references the devil, who is to be found in such details, speaks to our sense that we can know an other’s scheme. Calculated distractions are just that, and betray themselves when we return to what passes for mundanity, as when we attend an evening entertainment event and then go back to work the next day. But the details of the quotidian seem to be part of the very fabric of what it means to live day to day. We are attentive to them because we think them necessary or at least, unavoidable. Even so, and however their numbers, we are enthralled to them, and sometimes by them as well: “In the view that defines us as modern, there are an infinite number of details. Photographs are details. Therefore, photographs seem like life. To be modern is to live, entranced, by the savage autonomy of detail.” (Sontag, op. cit:126). ‘Stills’, as they are sometimes still called, capture a reality that in fact was real for so momentary an instant that it tends toward the irreal, as if it called into being a Being, placed essence into existence, made the phenomenal noumenal. Such an image contradicts itself. It isn’t real, but it exposes a level of reality that cannot be noted in the flux of either tempo or temporality. Is it the ‘superior temporality’ we seek or is it only its ‘character’? No, it is neither, we contemporary skeptics state. It is only an image of what occurred and more than that, what partially occurred,. What actually occurred can only be captured in a film – ‘rolling stock’ – and never a still. This skeptical sensibility is also of our own time, very much guiding the tempo of our temporality or very much trying to do so. Nietzsche’s friend, the historian Jacob Burkhardt, “…places it at the origin of modernity, in that ‘ontological’ scepticism inherent in the incessant change of all human institutions.” (Moretti 1987:140). Why should change ‘itself’ not be responded to by an essential skepticism? Are we reacting then to this or that change or to the wider sense that change is what we are? At the same time, why should we react this way if it were not for a sense that we are both singular – how dare I change or be forced to change when I am one thing? – or at the very least, if not singular, are yet sovereign – I can command change, but only the changes I myself want and seek. Skepticism, that hallmark of modernity – though it emerges in Classical Greece and then flourishes in the Hellenistic period when the Alexandrian empire brought home to that small group of city-states the wider relativism and relevance of the known world – must ultimately be turned against the selfhood of the self. In fact I am not one thing, we drily note, in fact I cannot control much of what occurs. Much of what occurs, occurs to me, and not because of me.

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            If we make a preliminary response to the question ‘who am I?’ by simply saying ‘I am change’, then is it the case that this being-in-the-world is, by definition, change ‘embodied’ or am I the very body of change in an otherwise unchanging world? By this, of course, we do not mean the world of nature or the worlds nature has created by and for itself, but rather the world in which we find ourselves thrown. There would be no change in that world without us mutable beings making and remaking it, one might argue: “…if existence is definitive for Dasein’s Being and if its essence is constituted in part by potentiality-for-Being, then, as long as Dasein exists, it must in each case, as such a potentiality, not yet be something.” (Heidegger 1962:276 [1927], italics the text’s). This appears so simple that we want to simply nod our heads at it in fulsome agreement. But the implication of not yet being anything at any one moment only strikes us more deeply when we maintain the notion that we are this or that, even that we are change ‘itself’ or at least, embody it. Later on, Heidegger notes that anticipation must therefore take in the ‘whole of Dasein in advance’, the possibility of existing in this entire potentiality, even though we cannot exhaust possibility in the existential sense (op. cit:309). But why cannot we be something and still ‘not yet be’ something else? Why does the not-yetness of our Dasein, its forward-looking, anxiety and concernfulness as Sorgeheit exclude the being of something or other for the time being? Its seems, on the face of it, an overstatement to decline the being of A because we are not, or not yet, or never, the being of B. This appears reasonable, but we are also not yet grasping the fuller meaning of potentiality. Even in being A we are aware that A could be different, could be more than it in fact is for us. B is not of immediate interest unless we ourselves have given up any aspiration to be the more of what we already imagine we are. And it is this, more than the world, that disallows one to complete one’s being in the wider existential sense whilst existing, as Heidegger is often wont to point out, as well as in the more local sense of not ‘reaching one’s potential’ to use a casual phrase. We say more than we know in this case. It is an admonition often directed at children but also at those who have ‘given up’ before they had, in our eyes at least, fully tried to become this other, better, version of simply A.

            We have, in a word, taken over the divinely inspired goal-oriented and above all, finished state of being to which worldly and mortal life can aspire. We know we are unfinished beings, but instead of being finished by another force and in another space, we are simply completed by death. In modernity, completion is judged the only possible result of potentiality. One never finishes anything, let alone oneself: “A previously divine teleology thus encounters the ambiguity of human design, as can be shown in the ambivalence of the concept of progress, which must continually prove itself to be both finite and infinite if it is to escape the relapse into the naturalistic and spatial sense it earlier embodied.” (Koselleck 1985:104 [1969]). As in the more formal difference between a discrete and finite distribution such as the binomial curve under which one can make predictions based on series probability, and the infinite and continuous curve of actual data in the natural world, a completely human sense of history understands the finite as itself, yes, but also conceives the infinite as a God. It is this latter which needs to be brought into the human ambit. There is a role reversal, if you will, for the more recent historic period agrarian gods cleaved themselves to a human interest. They initiated history whilst we actuated it, and continue to do so. Now, humans must have an interest in Godhead, to fill both a power vacuum but also a symbolic space, as if the ‘horror vacui’ of the Greeks had shown up our finiteness for what it actually was.

            If a relapse was to be avoided one had to throw oneself into the mix, as it were. Dasein’s thrownness, its projection, always had a certain sense of regret about it. Yet philosophy became even more necessary to our sense of selfhood, as well as science. The first now represented the thought that emanated from the only form of consciousness now indeed understood as understandable. The second the fruits of that conscious, and often self-conscious, labor. Certainly, “…it was at least as decisive that man began to consider himself part and parcel of the two superhuman, all-encompassing processes of nature and history, both of which seemed to doomed to an infinite progress without ever reaching any inherent telos or approaching any preordained idea.” (Arendt, op. cit:307). Yet we have found, rather to our collective chagrin, that inserting ourselves into these processes – in the Victorian period, as their summa cum laude, in our own time, as their reticent and often incompetent stewards – that this not only vouchsafed nothing with regard to either a final destiny or an ultimate end but in fact guaranteed that Telos would forever be banished from both the historical and the cosmic mindset. Rather, we have witnessed a sense that time has been, as Koselleck puts it, ‘temporalized’. This Verzeitlichung, leads into a kind of flux, which exceeds the boundaries of the previous era’s sense of what constituted a ‘period’, as in that suggested by art history or archaeology, for instance, “…at the end of which there is the peculiar form of acceleration which characterizes modernity.” (Koselleck, op. cit:5). Even the use of the term ‘era’ should provide a caution. Indeed, we can periodize the pre-temporalized history in a manner which no longer cleaves to our own. Just as that era’s Gods possessed, and were possessed by, a human interest – this defines them in the same way that their predecessors were defined by their lack of interest or even their outright enmity towards humanity – the sign transcendent of time gave that era its very form. Without such a position, without a supra-Godelian viewpoint, history and time become the same thing.

            Yet reason remains. Used or no, the defining character of our own humanity must somehow assume, or at the very least, presume to assume, the position vacated by the sign of the transcendent. So “Only now have we established ourselves as ‘universal’ beings, as creatures who are terrestrial not by nature or essence but only by the condition of being alive, and who therefore by virtue of reasoning can overcome this condition not in mere speculation but in actual fact.” (Arendt, op. cit:263). Here we do not take Arendt as suggesting we overcome our lot as living beings per se – though of course much more recently this has been in fact the drive to construct artificial vehicles to house our intelligence, including our reason; what then would be the reason that is divorced from life, one might ask? – but rather those conditions peculiar to our own time. It is, subtly and almost silently, a revolutionary statement. Relative reference points, specific purposes, finite goal-oriented actions, and most indubitably characterizing our own era, the equally centerless value systems which conflict with one another all over the globe, all of this is the life-condition with which Dasein is faced. Though back-dropped by an older evolutionary process, the resonance of which might be seen in both dreams – falling or being chased motifs, for instance – or the semi-conscious awareness that gives us tingles when in the presence of either the profoundly sublime or the profoundly dangerous – the elevation experienced with great works of art or the unreasoning shudder in the face of what could still be called evil – our present-day life-condition is apparently more or less controlled only by ourselves. It is now old hat to recite the losses incurred from geocentrism to heliocentrism though in 1958 it was very much of the moment, given Arendt’s own early reference to Sputnik etc. This ‘drama’ of modernity is more than mere spectacle on the objective side, more than mere theater on that subjective. It is nothing less than the elevation of originally organismic evolution, in spite of it being also sometimes nothing more than the degradation of the same: “…we must envisage the transition from animal to man as a drama, which we can take as having lasted and as having had ups and downs, but whose unity we must grant.” (Bataille, op. cit:73). Yes, we can never know what actually occurred, there, on the ground, some seven or so millions of years ago. It has been said before now that palaeoarchaeology and cosmology are two arcs of the same circles, closing in upon one another and closing round the compass at which the center stands humanity. But no matter how detailed the fossil record and no matter how fine our optics, so far creation, that cosmic and anthropic both, has eluded us.

            How could it not have? The very concept hails from the previous metaphysics. To imagine we can arrest what is essentially a ‘divine’ moment through technological means alone marks us as just as essentially arrogant, if not worse. But there is another level of technocratic means and ends which affects us much more personally. The individual, politically and morally part of a group, yet ethically and existentially solo, at once human and a human being, the latter enveloped in the task of Dasein-as-it-is, is marked by our sense that creation and construction can be made into the same thing: “A paradox within a paradox is generated: the problem of uniqueness replaces the unique person, and the former is itself typified. The formula: ‘Treat each person as a unique individual’ contains its own refutation.” (Natanson 1974:258). This ‘obversion’, so to speak, forces each of us in daily life to self-typify. The common-place question ‘what do you do?’, which is meant to be read as concerning what one does for a living, tends to take the place of ‘who are you?’, which is our original question. Certainly the former is more easily answered. To be fair, it has taken on various guises, like ‘what’s your line’, or ‘where do you work’ etc, which are more honest and direct. Even so, its obverse is assumed to have something to do with our authenticity in that one’s identity, so wrapped up within one’s ‘day job’ to the point of predefining social role, is or can be holistically understood through it alone. And this is merely the most prevalent form of typification in mundane life. Yet we are aware, sometimes painfully, that not only are there numerous social roles occupied by a single individual – perhaps the rationale that our particular personal ‘recipe’ of them is what actually makes us an authentic individual – and that social roles overlap they also often conflict with one another. This is so basic, both to social discourse and the discourse of sociality alike, that in order for it to function as it does it must simply be overlooked. Akin to the disconnect between a culture’s ideals and its realities, the microcosmic version thereof that lies within ourselves cannot be too closely scrutinized. Koselleck notes this issue is reflected in the problem of there being a crisis that is unsaid but that critiquing this issue does not resolve the crisis. Quite the opposite: “…the critical process of enlightenment conjured up the crisis in the same measure in which the political significance of that crisis remained hidden from it.” (1988:9 [1959]). Just so, the casual expression ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’ encapsulates the challenge facing any person or culture which attempts to excavate its basic assumptions regarding the interface between reality and ideal, self and world. Sovereignty is an ideal for a national entity and plays forcefully into one’s conception, as a citizen, of national identity, so-called. But in an interconnected world there are severe limits placed even upon governments and their ability to act for and by themselves. Writ small, these same limits occur in the daily life of individuals. Indeed, there is almost nothing that one can accomplish entirely by oneself. ‘Projects of action’ are an attempt by the individual to maintain her individuality in the face of the world, not of forms, but of others. They begin from a rarified height of phantasm, as Schutz has stated, and yet have an openness about them simply because they are future-directed. Since Schutz’s ‘because’ motives are a closed book – the action is in the past and thus can seem to be free of the same limits that are about to enthrall ‘in order to’ motives – even so, they still provide the model for courses of action to be taken (cf. Natanson, op. cit:42). It is a bit of a sleight of hand, and we feel slighted, even slightly awry, when we are forced to recognize both limit and ‘work around’, as the managerial phrase has it. There is a rustic dialectic to all personal ruminations of this sort; I am made aware of the locale of my ability, its relative paucity of power and its truncated reach. In this, the most important aspect of ‘enlightenment’ has to do with language itself and how it no longer cleaves to the model of behavioral schema: “Language is just as much infrastructure as superstructure. The schema of the infrastructure and the superstructure must be rejected resolutely, for here we encounter a strict circular phenomenon in which the two terms, in turn, implicate each other and transcend each other.” (Ricoeur 1965:202 [1955]). This circle is hermeneutic in character. The action of the other must be recognized – this is done mostly tacitly and based upon social conventions learned, for most of us, early on – but their motives must be interpreted. ‘Confessions’, whether on the stand, in the box, or in the bedroom, can be faked.

            This location, recently touted as only ‘social’ in its nature, is in fact also personal and historical, as well as perhaps structural. More than each of these in turn and all of these combined, it has a phenomenological location, or better, position, that doesn’t merely reflect a worldview but refracts it, Weltanschauung lensed through Wesenschau. It tempers the temporality of its time, and just as the Zeitgeist hovers above the agent, pushing us to separate ‘infra’ and ‘super’ if we heed its power alone, so we as actors have the ability to confront the day, as well as the tradition, through the use of language which can also conceal intent: “Action is subject-bound, it builds up in a temporal development, and its full significance is always on the far side of the actor’s intention. The act is a unitary phenomenon which is object-oriented and whose meaning is graspable.” (Natanson, op. cit:38). Meaning is not ‘attached’ to an act in the same way as history is not ‘added’ to being. This circle, unity, or is-ness of human action-in-the-world may remind one of an instinct of sorts, in the way that animal being is in its world. But there is a crucial difference: aside from the fact that it already and always has meaning and is thus meaningful in a manner that the behavior of animals does not – this is why it is behavior and not act to which we refer in this other realm – human beings live by virtue of their acts and how they are interpreted by others. In a word, our world is both intersubjectively meaningful and is something that stands over against us. Animals are part of the natural being of a world which worlds itself away from all meaning. Unlike the autographed hand of the divine in medieval understandings of nature, our contemporary view is that humans remake the world, for better or worse, solely in their own image.

            This new world, brave or no, is only fully realized in the eighteenth century. It becomes part of ‘public life’, as it were, just as meaning in general now seeks its autochthonous advent: “The movement which blithely called itself ‘the Enlightenment’ continued its triumphal march at the same pace at which its private interior expanded into the public domain, while the public, without surrendering its private nature, became the forum of society that permeated the entire State.” (Koselleck 1988:53 [1959]). This advance was mirrored in intellectual life. Ideally, the source of the state, its own people, were to remain within a freedom that disclosed itself through the division between private and public. This distinction appears to have gained yet further merit today, when privacy issues are both fashionable but also in some cases serious, as in the medical sphere. Publicly, we are but a citizen within the modern nation state, a resident of one of its geopolitical subsections, and so on. We are immigrants, emigrants, migrants, or even transients. The phrase ‘no fixed address’ has become the ultimate indictment against our would-be citizenship but also against our oft elusive freedom. It is true that some homeless persons choose to remain so in front of other possibilities, but these people are rare. The idea of home itself still carries an undeniable weight, and is the objectively identifiable converse to Dasein’s existential identity.

            Just as personhood became enveloped in the notion of citizenship during this period – it has been pointed out that for the final dozen years or so of Nietzsche’s life he was stateless, which is somehow fitting, or that Marx was ejected from no less than three states before rusticating in London; could there are also be infra-persons and super-persons? – ideas ‘themselves’ must also have an origin point, a home. Speaking of the enlightenment intellect, Heidegger suggests that “…what alone mattered, what was decisive for them, was concrete work, and that meant the propensity toward ‘facts’. Accordingly, the first task to be carried out in history was to disclose and to secure the sources.” (1992:14 [1925], italics the text’s). If the person has a birthplace and thence perhaps also a birthright, just so, ideas too have sources, origin points, places of birth and growth, ontogenesis and phylogenesis alike. Sources ‘positioned’ ideas in history and towards history. Philology, historical analysis and historiography were all of the moment. In this very same period, beginning with Chladenius’s ‘optical’ logic c. 1740, the historian could now assert a position of his own, take up an argument from a specific point of view or historical location. This was the modern beginning to our understanding of social location and epistemic privilege, among other recently fashionable sensibilities (cf. Koselleck 1985:140 [1969]).

            A century or more later, however, it had to be admitted that the source-based optical gaze, the reportage of historical witnesses, the tracing of genealogies in the traditional sense, was not going to be enough to fully understand existence not only as it had become by this time but also in its essence. Therefore, Dilthey took up the task by focusing upon the ‘object’ of history as a structure of ‘life’ (cf. Heidegger, op. cit:17). Dilthey’s version of psychology, also a new and burgeoning discourse, made singular the sense that history was akin to reality and that consciousness ‘itself’ was constructed through their mutual imbrication. The ‘sources’ of this sensibility are obvious enough; Marx and Engels stunning statement of 1846 that ‘consciousness is itself a social product’, an historical condition, Darwin’s 1859 exposition of nature as cleaving to a non-conscious non-teleological set of forces, and so on. Diltheyan psychology did not examine its case through the lens of either deviance or pathology, but rather took it to be not only the normative but necessary condition of human existence. The discursive step toward Dasein must assuredly follow. In between, as it were, it fell to Husserl to construct the analytic that moved the former into the latter. This was “…a special method for prising apart the merely taken-for-granted from the intuitively graspable, and for describing delicately and in detail the region of intuitive transparency that this distinction opens up.” (Wood 1989:39). What is this ‘intuitive region’? Heidegger states with emphasis how phenomenology simply is ‘scientific ontology’, and that there is ‘no ontology alongside a phenomenology’ (1992:72). Wood continues by reminding us that for Husserl, no ‘general cognitive framework of science’ could ever be the subject of an empirical study. One does not scientifically study the autochthonous region by which thought is possible. Science is secondary to phenomenology; all science (op. cit:40). Just as is our ‘natural attitude’ hallmarked by its lack of concern – in that concernful being does not manifest itself automatically within such a sphere and indeed cannot normally do so – phenomenology in its pre-objectivity is no less than a ‘title’ for being. (Heidegger, op. cit:74). Any previous take on what ‘comes before’ does not make a viable enough distinction between immanence and transcendence (ibid).

            But what, exactly, is this distinction that must be made? By the time we are able to read the fuller statement contained in Being and Time, two years later, we find that thinkers such as Schutz and much later, Natanson, have, perhaps ironically, practiced the ‘disappearance of praxis’: “So if one posits ‘practical’ concern as the primary and predominant kind of Being which factical Dasein possesses, the ontological possibility of ‘theory’ will be due to the absence of praxis – that is, to a privation.” (1962:409 [1927], italics the text’s). Of course, this does not imply that ‘tarrying’, ‘looking around’, ‘inspecting’ and so on constitute the beginning of a theoretical attitude. Not in the least. They are part of the detailed carrying on of a practice, almost like a diagnostic. They are neither pre-theoretical nor post-theoretical as they never attain the circle in which reflective thought is ensconced. Yes, one could certainly admit to the presence of interpretation during this carrying on which is also something that Heidegger relates as ‘being at a standstill’ in its relation to praxis. But lingering is not thinking. Simply put, it is a kind of manipulation, not in the ethical sense per se or immediately – though one may now wonder if tarrying in general is tantamount also to malingering and not merely lingering; is it not the case that when we do not know how to practice this or that we must either admit it through repetitive failure or try to cover over through deceit our incompetency? – but rather as within the context of the ready-to-hand (cf. ibid:410ff). Language is itself not exempt from this manipulation. Insofar as we communicate our intents through and by language, even if these be deceitful in that we communicate something other than our ‘authentic’ desires, the primordiality of concernful being ‘comes and goes’ as it were. It does not find a home within language as such. Wood notes that there are three ‘levels of concern’ regarding the metaphysical ‘adequacy’ of language in general: “…that of metaphysis, that of the permeation of ordinary language with metaphysical concepts, and the problem of the original lie of language as such.” (op. cit:296). Nietzsche’s famous early essay is a testament to this line of questioning. This is not only a question of style, as many commentators have noted Nietzsche is equally famous for. Certainly, style allows the artistry of creative thought to be communicated, without regard for authorial intent, on the one hand, and one’s own peccadilloes on the other. But serious art contains serious messages, and we cannot be distracted by style to the extent that a text becomes ‘only’ art, even if Nietzsche’s early work could be considered such by the usual standards. Even the variety of translations of the title of the 1871-2 essay that seems to disallow not only concernful being as an authenticity in the world but also language as ever an authentic expression or manifestation of Being transfiguring world should put us on guard. Each reader is looking to render this intriguing work – surely, along with the Communist Manifesto, the most important short piece of the nineteenth century – in her own way: sometimes it is ‘truth and lie’, others ‘truth and falsity’, in a sometimes ‘extramoral’, or ‘non-moral’, or even ‘ultra-moral’ sense and so on. Yet is it really such a scandal that words have different meanings pending context, that they can tell the truth or no depending intent, that they can dissemble and dissimulate and duplicitously duplicate? Hardly. It is not that Nietzsche simply overstates his case, but his youthful mind appears quite taken by what would become in Saussure, for instance, a model of precisely how communication does take place and how we are able to identify both truth and lie in the vast majority of contexts and cases. In a word, we know our own language as it is and we are not daunted by this knowledge, but are rather given an essential aspect of our human freedom.

            One must project a form of empathy to elevate one’s mundanity into the space of concernful beingness. Yes, language may well hinder such a venture, but so might reflection, if we are to take the radical idea of the neighbor seriously. No act, observed or perhaps more profoundly, witnessed, takes place beyond language just as it does not transcend the temporal. It is something that is done, after all. How it is acted makes all the difference and in this it is no different than how language is used. Praxis may vanish in order for the theoretical attitude to be attained, but thought as Being-there does not. Yet it is a specific aspect of thought which is of foremost concern: “The imagination has a metaphysical function which cannot be reduced to simple projection of vital, unconscious, or repressed desires. The imagination has a prospective and explorative function in regard to the inherent possibilities of man. It is, par excellence, the instituting and constituting of what is humanly possible.” (Ricoeur, op. cit:126-7). Herein, ‘myth’ does itself also refer to a phenomenology, that of consciousness and of humanity. It is, ironically perhaps, the pre-logocentric function of myth that animates the prose of not only storytelling in general but also life-narrative. Imagination is the harbinger of human mythos. And just as this mythic imagination ‘persists’ – a term of which Simmel, just after the following, is very critical – the human vehicle for myth, the soul, continues within human consciousness as a makeshift but also as an aspiration. This must be so, “…otherwise it would be inconceivable that tomorrow this soul calls exactly the opposite particular into the same psychic life.” (Simmel 2011:96 [1918]). Just as both the saint and the murderer sleep – perhaps their dreams do regularly differ? – I as a singular Dasein perform well or badly, harbor bitterness or happiness, regret or contentment, look to a future unlimited or dwell in reminiscence. What remains is not merely the remanant of all of the other unsaid or undone words and deeds that make up each life, but rather a thought-through existence which, from our phenomenological standpoint, is the same thing as essence.

            This ‘psychic unity’, however suppressed or conflicted, is challenged not along lines stemming from social role but rather along its stifling stenochoria, its narrow boundedness that has the effect of making it either less than it is or less than it could be. The most dangerous myth may indeed be the last one, the one of final, fatal ends, the one of the apocalypse. No noble god would frame a human end and call it its own, and one would hope that no higher being would welcome a human engineered mass suicide. There is merit to the stratigraphy of myth, even if we should not apply it to ourselves. ‘Higher’ really does confer responsibility upon the being deemed to be such. Whether or not we humans can aspire to such reaches is perhaps another matter. But in one sense, we have already attained this space, and that through the sense that the ‘psychic life’, the life of the human psyche, lives within us but is also greater than us. And we are aware of this larger sensibility even in the quotidian: “We do not see flesh and infer a human being inside it; we confront a psyche in seeing a man. The Other lives and is recognized at the focus of his glance, in the space he warms, and in the void his language fills. In this bodily presence the sociality of man achieves its primordial expression.” (Natanson, op. cit:109). Indeed, it is as well a primordial expression of our own humanity in recognizing the Other in this way. Not Otherness, of course, for it is the uncanny obverse to the neighbor figure, which is likely why some older authors have interpreted it as possibly evil if not in origin, at least in intent. But the Other, or others, or one another, this intersubjectivity is only possible because she recognizes me in the same manner. The ‘looking glass self’ has this other level to it: it is a mirrored selfhood, back-dropped by the tain of personhood and framed by culture. In this image, the unframed personhood cannot be said to be a person at all.

            This said, such a mutual recognizance embraces not the other per se, but the human relation writ into a microcosm of solidarity. Often passing, especially in large-scale anonymous societies shot through with the aptly labeled ‘loosely coupled networks’ and such things, and oft taken for granted in a way more extreme than is implied by the ‘natural attitude’, the ‘world-taken-for-granted’, is nevertheless a constant and consistent reminder of our own humanity. We only remain human with regard to the others, and these whether living or dead, and thus they may be said to be fully present in their immanence in the same way as a phenomenological a priori is claimed to be. More so, they too are objects in the phenomenological sense. If our subjectivity, however radical, however ‘glancing’, and however singular, makes an object out of what is at first a comprehending ‘ray’ purely subjective, then it suggests that otherness, though an abstraction, is a fundamental object of resistance at the macrocosmic level. Even so, this does not directly address the question: “The problematic of knowledge may be expressed thus: how can something be an object for a subject? In an idealistic context, the question is: what is that in the subject which renders possible the appearing of an object for him?” (Ricoeur, op. cit:156). It is sometimes glossed over that we too are objects, and that, first and foremost for others. This then is another, related, question: Why is consciousness so predominant that it brackets the objectitude of Dasein instantaneously? How is it that our object status in the wider world of forms of being – alongside the world of modes of being; action, intent, care, looking-ahead, and so on – can only be recognized through the back doors, as it were, of objection and objectivity? The former resides in our resistance to not only social norms but also to the presence of others. The latter rests in the aspiration that we can apprehend the truth of things through our being-there. If “…knowledge as such cannot even be grasped if we do not from the outset see the specific context of being in which knowing as such as possible.” (Heidegger 1992:165 [1925]), then this ‘inversion of its being’ that Heidegger immediately discusses cannot access more than an epistemological know-how regarding Being or Other or World. Next, the term ‘contextures’ appears, implying that Dasein’s worldly location is to be also thought of as textured in specific ways native to this or that context. This is ‘in-being’, kindred with the interiority of phenomenology, though such a term expresses the objective status of what for us must remain intimately subjective, though not essential. Since Dasein is a priori not an entity, the ontological ‘decipherment’ to which it is subject is clearly not the same kind of ontology as is to be found in metaphysics as we have known it (cf. ibid.). Here, an ancient rubric is given a new ‘contexture’, the ‘diminishing of the difference between logos and experience’ (cf. Koselleck 1985:172 [1969]). Both the inner life of reason and the worldly life of social forms and formations were guided by the same singular law. This idea resonates in both modern science and in science fiction alike, wherein consciousness and cosmos are somehow to be related, either through an anthropic principle or through evolution itself. But phenomenology excavates this structure more radically. It could only do so, perhaps ironically, by virtue of the just as radical break modern science undertook to make with the previous metaphysics: “It is this cultural event of the birth of experimental science which brought about the destruction of the philosophico-theological synthesis of the true, or at least made its dissolution visible, for [ ] this synthesis never existed but as an intention or a pretension.” (Ricoeur, op. cit:167). By the mid-17th century, the distinction between veracity and veridicity was also given a new sensibility. The first became something that had an eminent plausibility about it, an eye-witness kind of accounting, or self-accounting, but still very unlike say, a traveller’s tale or, with fitting irony, a ‘likely story’. The second was subject to a much more stringent definition, one that partook from that point on only in the context of the experiment. Indeed, to this day, experimental control attempts to remove context, let alone contexture, from the to-be-recorded. The idea of witness also drops away, rather precipitously, when we move from veracity to veridicity. Not only does it retain something of its visionary or religious baggage, the witness is yet called forth in the sphere of justice and the courts as if this person was also a kind of judge, or at least, his presence is to aid the construction of a final judgement. It is almost as if the witness is a premonition of the just, though after the fact. The witness is, in this sense, the ethico-subjective converse to the neighbor.

            For the scientific researcher, however, recording is objectively different from bearing witness. One, it is most often the case today that non-human ‘observers’ are doing the recording. The scientific sensate is as technical as are the questions it asks of the world. When asking the same order of questions of itself, science must at first pause. Diagnostics performed by or on machinery or technology, or the laboratory rubrics and processes, distillations of theoretical models aside, have limited scope and agenda. Are the machines functioning correctly? In the end, how would we know if they were or were not, if the question confronted by the research is indeed a new one? We project our sensibility into the machine and hope for the best. We hope, in a word, for enough veracity to preclude doubts about veridicity: “Only ‘in the light’ of a Nature which has been projected in this fashion can anything like a ‘fact’ be found and set up for an experiment regulated and delimited in terms of this projection.” (Heidegger 1962:4141 [1927]). There are no ‘bare facts’, he concludes, and even within the purely mathematical ‘disclosure’ of nature, the key idea is the a priori itself, discovered by the ‘prior projection of their state of being’ (ibid). This is crucial, for such a sensibility immanentially tells us that science even as practiced is part of phenomenology, rather than other way round or that they are somehow entirely divorced from one another. Can Being ‘itself’ be subject to the same kind of projection?

            This seems a long way from both mechanism and behaviorism, the two fundamental concepts animating the science of non-sentient nature and that of animal nature respectively. The singularity of the contemporary idea of will, however conscious or no, has granted us enormous subjective freedoms, including the ability to think more and more critically about our own condition, if we so choose. Even so, “The brilliance of the modern view is that human behavior is thus subject to mechanistic explanation because rational analysis can be made of the organization of means to achieve goals, and the goals themselves are set by vectors of inertial forces.” (Neville, in Cook 1993:150). We should at once remind ourselves that rationality is not rationalization nor is it to provide rationales for something, nor to merely construct ratios. Canguilhem notes that the measure of quantity does not annul quality but rather merely denies it (cf. 1991:110 [1966]) as well as that ‘scientific knowledge invalidates qualities’. Here too is a new term: validity. Resting uneasily between veracity and veridicity, and connoting a probabilistic version of them both at once, validity is often said to have at least seven statistical forms, including aspects which denote ‘face value’ and interpretive validity. But it is conceptual validity that is the aim, and to attain this, quality itself must be sacrificed. One cannot have a concept that carries any predictive or predicative power based on a single case alone. Just so, the singularity of the person in modernity guarantees her nothing in regard to any of the knowledge of modernity. How I ‘fit into’ the world as we now know it or have come to known it through science and its applications such as medicine and engineering is perhaps more of a mystery than ever before. Previous worlds worlded differently enough, and though with a great vanity hooked into that of the concept of the mascot and then general human interest godhead, human beings understood their relationship to those worlds more comprehensively than do we today. This is so because we at first do not understand the questioner herself: “World in its most proper sense is just that which is already on hand for any questioning. The questions persists only on the basis of a constant misunderstanding of the mode of being of the one who raises this question.” (Heidegger 1992:215 [1925]). Our being is both ‘constitutive’ of the world but at once is thrown into a world which has nothing to do with its constituting force. The world is ‘already discovered’ in constituting being and is thus thought of as an ‘entity’. The resistance one encounters in the world of forms and all the more so, that of norms, should be enough to convince us of the veracity of this world. It is less amorphous than we imagine, just as we ourselves are more so. Of late, of course, the world in its most natural form, its predetermined and already discoverable form, has felt the resistance of human presence, to its detriment. Even so, we are destroying our own world, and not the world in its most base sense. It may be possible in the future to do both, to leave this beautifully marbled blue ball in lifeless pieces kindred to the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, where another planet likely once existed before being torn apart by conflicting gravitational forces during some primordial epoch. But surely this is not only not a noble mission for Dasein it is also one that asserts quantity over quality. Heidegger notes informally how important Simmel’s 1918 work was to his own formulations of the next decade, including this sense of unity held within the thrownness of Dasein ‘into’ the world. Simmel’s own view “…sees the form of its unity immediately in the fact that it expresses itself in changing contents or, more correctly, that it consists in their being lived and done.” (op. cit:153). Each act holds the entirety of life responsible for it and likewise, and these contents are experienced as a continuity. Each act ‘works back upon the ground’ which cannot be given any further definition, such as that of either essence or transcendence. Simmel speaks with emphasis about the obligatory quality of each act, that our life becomes defined by our continuous action but also, and more tellingly, that each act, in its singularity, tells of the whole (ibid). This is first and foremost an ethics, but it is also an existentialism that verges upon phenomenology in the Heideggerean sense. This is different than its psychological offspring or cousins in terms of its understanding of rationality and typification. It is not ‘affective’, to use Minkowski’s description. The psychic unity of Dasein is, as we have seen, not part of something other than itself within the arc of its project. Modern knowledge, which is almost entirely epistemological in character, does not apprehend the psyche and can only reduce it to measurable components. But in doing so, the deeper question has to do with our motives, to render ourselves in this pixelated manner. Perhaps we are weary of psychology as it once was, and thus also wary of its return. But archaeological analytics of the self are still used to ironically reduce the existential continuity of life-acts to some prior trauma, performance, theater, or relationship. Bleuler’s original understanding of autism – it was he who also coined the term – is a prime example of this problem that has recently received a second childhood, as it were. Autism is synonymous with ‘interiorization’, the schizophrenic is merely a ‘wakeful dreamer’, and so on. But “This psychology, though born of a reaction against rationalism, has by no means rid itself of it. In replacing the rational with the affective, it subordinates (as rationalism did), the psychic life to one of its functions and thus remains faithful to the principle of cutting-out and breaking-up, which is so dear to discursive thought.” (Minkowski 1970:280 [1933]). Minkowski asks us whether or not the interior life could play such an essential role for the schizophrenic, especially given that most, if not all, of his delusions are drawn from popular culture, that is, the social world at large and not from some inner and private sanctum of the distorted imagination. ‘Empty talk’, is how Minkowski refers to what in earlier periods might have simply been put down to the Victorian ‘ravings’ of the ‘lunatic’ mind. There is a surfeit of theater in both daily life and the life that shuns it. Insanity per se, is at base a turning away from the norms; one is a ‘moron’, according to the Greeks, and indeed, if the fates still exist for some of us, to turn away from these as well makes one the fabled if astonishingly reckless ‘hyper-moron’.

            This ‘folding-back’ upon oneself that is the core of the first definition of autism, is nonetheless not the rule for schizophrenics in general. This selfhood has been distended, broken apart, and not by discourse but rather by the self! These public actions take place in the external world of fellow-humans and it is as if the Dasein has distorted itself not to fit some mysterious ‘inner’ life but to make the world into a dime novel in which they alone are the principle. It is, in a sense, a contemporary rendering of an anonymous world into the language of personal myth. Personal, yes, but not private, because, like any genius – the one who goes beyond her time, perhaps equally recklessly as does the schizophrenic who uses that same time to make a self-styled heroine of herself – the person ‘with autism’ craves disciples and attention. And yet, this is a challenge that all of us today must face: how to place oneself in the world as it is, as we noted above: “Modern man, however, must build his own personal world, after making himself lord and master of his own life and death; and the external world, ruled by material, economic, and technical powers, can no longer offer him a foothold.” (Binswanger 1962:235). We realize that it is not so much general myth that the schizophrenic or related person seeks to reinvent but rather mere theater, a theater which is intensely social without being responsible in any way to the world of sociality. It is, in a word, asocial theater, a presentation of self shorn of obligation and mutual aid, a story all too likely in the midst of the self-adoration of capital and the self-aggrandizement of individualism. The ‘lunatic’ today is thus merely an overheated version of ourselves.

            If the world as lensed only through such humanity is but a titanic ship of fools, there is yet a resistance associated with the objectivity or, to use Arendt’s term, the ’durability’ of the world: “From this viewpoint, the things of the world have the function of stabilizing human life…” and through these human beings can achieve a kind of sameness. This is not directly contrary to the Heraclitan chestnut about the ever-changing stream, and it was not so even in his own time. But what it does signal to us is that our subjectivity has nevertheless constructed something over against itself, and this quite apart from the “…sublime indifference of an untouched nature…” (op. cit:137). Even the problem of mortality can be solved, if not entirely resolved, along these lines. The world worlds on, but the social world also continues. History does not end, nor does it begin again. This is the sacrifice the modern person must render if his world is to continue at all. Once again, only in myth does time stop and the adunatic advent of an uncannily new adventure appear. We face the resonance of this apical ancestor of our conception of measured time but we must not mistake it for that precise primordiality. Our incomplete understanding of both ourselves and of history – and this quite objectively in both cases, between archaeology and the history of consciousness as lived – forces us to make a decision based upon what we can know at the time, which is a very different thing from saying that time stops for us in order that we make such a decision, whatever it may be: “…man, in order to be able to interact efficiently with other human beings, must, at intervals, make a total orientation out of a given stage of partial knowledge.” (Erikson, 1960:78 [1956], italics the text’s). Given that almost all of our decisions at the personal level have to do with this kind of intersubjective action, our understanding of ourselves – recall this is not yet the same thing as a phenomenological Selbstverstandnis – is both partial, in that it is incomplete, but also partial in that it is biased. I am partial to myself. If the spontaneity of the neighbor – another reckless figure who acts away from himself without a ‘because motive’ – can overcome this self-interest momentarily, it does so by way of an irruptive insertion of the mythic into sociality, the epic into history. Such an event is rare enough and does not constitute an adunatic force in any cosmogonical sense. Time does not stop and restart itself anew due to the acts of one heroic individual who seeks nothing other than to save the other. But in that moment, time has no meaning for either party, nor does partiality or incompleteness. The act is everything and it consumes us precisely because it has nothing whatsoever to do with the interior life of the individual, distorted, navel-gazing, irresponsible, and unresponsive as that life is.

            Thought has sought this freedom in both directions, as it were. On the one hand, the thinker posits himself as the considered and considerate neighbor of all. But on the other, he also turns away from the world and not only in order to interpret it. The world becomes for him a mere receptacle of his thought, which is the gift of both myth and epic combined. It is true that to free ourselves from praxis we must nurture “…the intellectual freedom that does not obey the dictates of specialized knowledge. At the same time, by abstaining from all definite content, whether as a formal logic and theory of science or as the legend of being beyond all beings, philosophy declared its bankruptcy regarding concrete social goals.” (Adorno 1991:6 [1964]). The authentic neighbor exists through and by her act alone, and not by any consideration that may come afterward. This act is to-be-shared as its mode of being, but it is not shared in the usual sense of intersubjectivity. It is a gift but without presentation or ritual. Its gift reaches back into a communal hearth of shared consciousness that is the stuff of the mythic life. Is there something within our long-evolving mind that could be said to remember such a reality, or is it merely and ethics of aspiration and hope, one that ‘saves’ us for another day?

            Either way, consciousness must at once shake off technique for its own sake and yet confront both the tradition and immerse itself in the world-as-it-is. The act of consciousness, thought ‘itself’, can only become an ‘event’ in this way. Generally, once again perhaps since Plato, thought has often failed to accomplish either of these joint tasks: “I’m not saying that thought, constituted as such, is unacquainted with that which it calls ‘inhuman’, or foul or shady, but it cannot really integrate it; it knows it from above, through condescension, from the outside: all that is strictly a subordinate object for it, which it considers arbitrarily, without recognizing its own involvement, in the way medicine regards the diseases.” (Bataille 1991:22 [1976], italics the text’s). The ‘spirit’ of consciousness is often lost to its letter. But thought is not law, and indeed, it is the very thing that keeps the legal order from becoming the natural one. That alone is worth the price of having to think as a selfhood and think the being-of self into being. In the end, we are only demeaning ourselves if we heed only the letter of thought, its technical virtuosity and its endless feats of linguistics and logic. Necessary as is the day’s repast, nevertheless, the letter of thought is something that, akin to the tradition that it gradually accumulates for itself, must be overcome. In our own time, this tradition is not religious in character or stature, but rather positively scientific and even technological. Science is perhaps the most objective tool humanity has yet constructed, but it too has a spirit that reminds us that it is the direct descendent of religious thought, despite its overthrow of religion as an explanatory framework: “The function of the concept of science has become inverted. The often invoked methodological neatness, universal confirmation of the consensus of the competent scholars, the verifiability of all assertions, even the logical rigor of the lines of reasoning, is not spirit: the criterion of watertight validity always also works against spirit.” (Adorno, op. cit:38). To remind ourselves that technique, let only its objectifying marque, technology, is only a means to an end becomes more difficult in a world so engrossed with the manipulative power of the machine, its res extensa, its aluminum angel. Upon these wings we can ride, bodily, into the void, but kindred to the denial of rationality to be found in affectivity, the denial of spirituality which is also a rational aspect of human consciousness – self-understanding consciousness cannot but run up against the problem of that self-same consciousness; how is it possible that a thinking being exists in an unthinking universe? – can only in time deny our very existence.

           This is the first section of my new book ‘The Penumbra of Personhood: anti-humanism reconsidered’ due out later this year.

The New Mythology is Demythology

The New Mythology is Demythology

     “Life as a whole appears as a fragment insofar as each particular piece of it is naturally only a splinter relative to its form as perfected in autonomous creativity. From this comes the further fact that we can speak of defective art in two entirely different senses. There is defective art, insofar as the work is indeed entirely formed for the sake of the artistic invention and remains within the strict bounds of autocratic artistic forms  – but does not satisfy that immanent demands of art, and is uninteresting, banal, and powerless. And there is defective art, when the work, though perhaps not showing the latter impairments, does not yet fully free its artistic forms from their existence as means to their existence as values in themselves has not yet taken place in absolute measure. This is the case where a tendential, anecdotal, sensually excitative interest resonates as one somehow decisive in the presentation. Here the work may be of great psychic and cultural significance, since for this it need not be bound to the conceptual purity of a particular category. However as art it remains imperfect as long as its formative elements still display something of that significance with which they fit in with the currents of life – however deeply and comprehensively they may have assimilated these currents.” (Simmel 2011:48 [1918] italics the text’s).

            Kristen-Seraphim is defective art. That is, the second of Simmel’s categories. It is so because it does not, and cannot, stand alone as a work of art or as an aesthetic object. Nor was this ever my intent. On the one hand, the conceptual impurity of the work – falling as it does across the fantasy, science fiction, adventure, quest saga, thriller and even romance genres – was only what was necessary, not for the sake of literature, certainly, but for the sake of what Simmel refers to as ‘psychic and cultural significance’, however great or nominal. And second, my sense has always been that adventure fiction can never be art. By definition, because even the idea of adventure itself is bound to content and does not elevate its form beyond itself. Long before I ever sought to become a writer I knew this given my own youthful reading, Enid Blyton, John Buchan, Robert Louis Stevenson, Conan-Doyle, C.S. Forester, Jean le Carré, Arthur Clarke, H.G. Wells, Kurt Vonnegut and others. Excellent writers all, but not artists. Then again, matriculating a little later later to Balzac, Dickens, Lawrence, Twain, Stendhal, Cervantes and de Sade et al, I didn’t really understand why these guys were somehow better than their middle-brow cousins.

            I do now. After having completed a work which ran through some six thousand pages, none of them literary – there may have been a few good paragraphs here and there – it is precisely Simmel’s distinction that may be applied. If the agency in one’s work is to address the world, then once again by definition it cannot be art. Yet the older and seemingly very dated wisdom ‘art for art’s sake’ is not quite what Simmel is getting at: “Art is our thanks to the world and to life. After both have fashioned the sensory and spiritual forms of our comprehension, we thank them for it as we create a world and a life with their help.” (ibid:164 [1920]). This realization helps immensely with the at first puzzling issue that is contained in great literary works as the discourse defines them. For they too, including all of the authors mentioned in my second list above, sought to address, redress, expose, explain or even resolve worldly problems and contents. Dickens, for example, is famous for it, but so is Lawrence. And when I had the privilege as an illiterate human scientist to teach Cervantes, Shakespeare, De Sade and others in a Great Books Canon program in the USA, I haltingly gained the understanding that while at once did the work hail squarely from within its historical epoch it also overleapt the ‘bounds’ of its respective period, and in so doing, enacted the incipience of what was to come. No more so than Cervantes, whose ‘errant’ hero invented the picaresque, a genre type that lives on today in popular culture protagonists such as Don Draper of Madmen. It would be a stretch, for example, to call Oedipus ‘picaresque’.

            It’s stock to have stand-up characters juxtaposed with dubious ones, a greying of the simpler design of hero and villain. Even the most ruthless of the heroines of Kristen-Seraphim, Seraphim herself, is in love with more than one other person, balancing out her narcissistic love for herself. More current is the idea of having standpoints; asking the question, ‘who is standing for what, where and when and why?’, and so on. Can this character be relied upon in this situation, under these conditions, in the company of these others versus those? The answer must be given situationally, and in this the work is a refraction of the world at large. In adventure fiction, the heroes are inevitably larger than life, as they exist in their own world, the one we have created with the help of the factical life of the world as it is, as Simmel stated. But this alone does not make them party to the aesthetic object. Their fictional lives, in other words, are no closer to art than are our own.

            Critics speak of the ‘identification factor’, suggesting that a good read allows a reader to identify with the hero or someone important within the narrative, at least some of the time. The response to this for those like myself who do not and likely cannot write literary art is to have many characters, some forty plus in Kristen-Seraphim, so that one can cover the bases regarding the widest plausible readership. Even so, the principals in any narrative must be polymythic enough to appeal to anyone who has lived just enough to understand that, as Goethe noted, ‘the devil is quite old’. Another formulaic trick is to extend the narrative over a goodly portion of the life course in order to chart the career of the characters through different phases of their own created existence. In this, the work takes on a life of its own, but it still does not approach art. But unlike in Gogol or Faulkner, for instance, we do not need to repeat indefinitely generational conflicts and lineage bigotries, cultural customs and the unending circuit of the peasant. Could it be that what once was art descends, given historical prejudice, into mere story, mere image, mere content, ‘mere’ history? The general argument runs that ‘once art always art’ but this is clearly not necessarily so, given the discursive careers of figures such as Vermeer and much of contemporary art from the impressionists onwards. And though it is no doubt correct to levy against philosophy and related work that it so seldom ascends the other way, becomes art in itself, one must resist the inevitable resentment that, as a social philosopher myself, for instance, one feels against the defining character of great art. But if the novelist has the daunting task of facing up to Middlemarch or Don Quixote, then writers like myself have the equally intense gaze of Thus Spake Zarathustra or Being and Time eyeing us and finding us more than wanting.

            What can one do in the face of such works, the work itself, world, life, and an understanding that art is at once from the world and yet overcomes that very world to herald the new and to grasp the as-yet-unknowable, just as science is charged with doing the same to the as-yet-unknown? Simmel again:

     “…that one seeks to give his own life a value such that this value may be something subjective, without any real or ideal connection back to the Ego. This is the practical application of the purely spiritual fact that man can make himself into his own object. When we first regard ourselves objectively, we reach the bridge by which to extinguish the Ego altogether and to exist only for the object. The highest intensification of this is creativity. Here, the Ego has not only repressed and forgotten itself in order to exist in and live from the object, but it is metamorphosed into an object. Its powers have themselves become the object – it is now no longer Ego and yet has left nothing of itself behind. In creative achievement, spiritual objectivity has overcome its opposition to the subject – it has absorbed the subject into itself.” (ibid:172-3).

            The idea of a ‘legacy’ is the lesser part of this process. Minkowski (1933) has reminded us that to dwell within the ambit of the creative work, once concluded, is to kill both it and ourselves. One cuts off the future and with it the next world, the one that must come, for the old world now contains that which was once new to itself. ‘Moving on’ is the casual if not causal casualty of loss. Indeed, there must be art ‘out there’ that has as yet gone unrecognized, originating in any time period, coming from any culture. New worlds, in other words, are already extant even if their existence in the old world is as yet part of the radically unknowable. So one cannot truly refer to this or that work as ‘radical’ as well as being ’defective’ as art. Such works that address the world and have the fate of the world as their chief content are rather revolutionary, and not radical. The revolution in Kristen-Seraphim consists of the new mythology being in fact a demythology, which in itself can be radical only in the worldly sense. Not only do we find that the definition of fantasy departs from utility into principal – until now ‘fantasy’ has described means and not ends, for instance (the modus operandi of such adventure fiction never attains its own metaphysics, let alone threatens it; phantasmagorical means and characters alike are there merely to either defend or attack the good-evil spectrum) – and thus the ontotheology of the fantasy genre, from Lewis to Pullman, is overcome, we also find that the social order defended therein is itself dismantled. If metaphysics requires of us radicality, then it is the lesser, revolutionary mode that is needed in the face of cultural institutions. Ideas cannot be killed in the same way. Demythology is the halfway house of revolution. Kristen-Seraphim brings home a new world and makes one at home within it, but it cannot claim to have utterly understood ‘nature’ or to have overleapt it. What it has accomplished is to have understood – and vanquished – the nature of morality as one literary genre has supplied it.

            The heroines and heroes of the new mythology are hardly upstanding in the usual sense. Their nobility is restive, their rest unquiet, their deaths equivocal and their resurrections awkward. They eventually triumph, but what is the true nature of their collective victory? “Who claims to recognize surely where the truth of my nature lies?” Simmel asks us. “Perhaps it becomes visible only in one single hour of my existence.” He is here speaking against the usual differences that are connoted by good and evil, and as did Nietzsche before him, senses that our new world, and thus our new myths, must leave them behind: “This whole distinction is most problematic. The person is at one time thus and another otherwise, and only optimism or pessimism about our own value moves us to conclude merely from the more frequent appearance of a specific quality that one resides in principal in a different characterological or metaphysical layer than the other. That this possibility of life, to be really entirely good or really entirely bad, exists; that we are not inwardly divided into layers of different ethical-metaphysical depths of being so that one act falls unalterably into the fundamental, the other into the superficial – this is human freedom.” (ibid:132-133 [1918], italics mine).

            The new demythology is dedicated to human freedom in all of its uncertainty and aspiration, its doubts and its hopes. In book seven, the second Kristen reflects: “For life was not meant to be lived as such. Life not only wasn’t art, as many an artist himself had discovered over time, it also wasn’t meant to continuously be larger than itself, as many a politician and the like had discovered. No, life was meant only to be lived, but in that word ‘only’ lay the secret of the good life. ‘The demands of the day’, she quoted again.” Simmel interprets this proverb of Goethe’s to mean much more than whatever the material day brings to us. It ‘proceeds from the deepest inner life’  which tells us of the next step, and then the next, without revealing what is to come before this point (ibid:109). It is the ‘life of the Ought’, and in this all of us live like heroes. For the Ought is larger than our own life and directs if not our actions per se, then the obligatory nature of the meaning we understand from taking them. Early on in book six we find the same character given pause by her community’s potential complacencies: “The heroes themselves turn into those they destroyed because of their self-centered adoration of the unthought freedom of the present.” Like ourselves, the fictional characters are not always prepared to meet the demands of the day, either on the surface of the world or in the depths of being. Their own beings. Even so, one of the hallmarks of heroism is that when the bell is rung, they do respond because they know, if not the full meaning of their actions to come, horrifying as some of them turn out to be, where meaningfulness must be found in life. In book seven the first Michelle intones: “I can tell you this: we are here in Paris by happenstance, mimicking the great chain of non-being that has brought every one of us to live a human life. Deny that, in any way, shape, or form, and you are denying the basis of life itself, the essence of all life.” Just so, our birthright and our demise is of the moment, a demand of this day like any other. We neither ask to be born nor ask to die, Gadamer reminds us, and it is this combination, to which philosophers refer as being part of the essence of human finitude, that impels the heroic figure to impale herself upon the day, so that what is at hand can be taken into one’s human hands and given both form and meaning.

            If not, if we do not act heroically in spite of the fact that life can never be by itself either art or myth, we are left with musings alone, realizations that limit not only action but living as well. Life remains merely a dream, and as we read in book eight: “Not many people yet realized that the self who dreams is not the same self who then wakes and lives out the day, day after day. And in such dreams from which we do awaken – and indeed, there are those additional to the unconscious from which we never again emerge – what, perchance, remains of the days within which all dreams come to grief?” The heroes are, of course, about to find out, but what certifies their heroism is that they bear up the fear associated with ‘being the new’. This is also what takes them ‘beyond good and evil’ and into the truer, if still human, nature of freedom itself.

G.V. Loewen is the author of over thirty-five books in ethics, religion, education, and aesthetics. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for two decades in both the USA and Canada.