Beyond Capital

Polemics, Critique and Analysis

Posts Tagged ‘Kant

Some critical observations on the Kantianism of Levi-Strauss’s dialectic and how a ‘formalised in-humanism’ could be extracted from it

leave a comment »


“The savage mind totalizes. It claims indeed to go very much further in this direction than Sartre allows dialectical reason, for, on the one hand, the latter lets pure seriality escape (and we have just seen how classificatory systems succeed in incorporating it) and, on the other, it excludes schematization, in which these same systems reach their consummation. In my view, it is in this intransigent refusal on the part of the savage mind to allow anything human (or even living) to remain alien to it, that the real principle of dialectical reason is to be found. But my idea of the latter is very different from Sartre.
“In reading Critique it is difficult to avoid feeling that Sartre vacillates between two conceptions of dialectical reason. Sometimes he opposes dialectical and analytical reason as truth and error, if not as God and the devil, while at other times these two kinds of reason are apparently complementary, different routes to the same truths. The first conception not only discredits scientific knowledge and finally even leads to suggesting the impossibility of a science of biology, it also involves a curious paradox; for the work entitled Critique de la raison dialectique is the result of the author’s exercise of his own analytical reason: he defines, distinguishes, classifies and opposes. This philosophical treatise is no different from the works it examines and with which it engages in discussions, if only to condemn them. It is difficult to see how analytical reason could be applied to dialectical reason and claim to establish it, if the two are defined by mutually exclusive characteristics. The second conception is open to a different objection: if dialectical and analytical reason ultimately arrive at the same results, and if their respective truths merge into a single truth, then, one may ask in what way they are opposed and, in particular, on what grounds the former should be pronounced superior to the latter. Sartre’s endeavour seems contradictory in the one sense and superfluous in the other.
“How is the paradox to be explained, and avoided? Sartre attributes a reality sui generis to dialectical reason in both the hypotheses between which he hesitates. It exists independently of analytical reason, as its antagonist or alternatively its complement. Although in both cases Marx is the point of departure of our thought, it seems to me that the Marxist orientation leads to a different view, namely, that the opposition between the two sorts of reason (analytical and dialectical) is relative, not absolute. It corresponds to a tension within human thought which may persist indefinitely de facto, but which has no basis de jure. In my view dialectical reason is always constitutive: it is the bridge, forever extended and improved, which analytical reason throws out over an abyss; it is unable to see the further shore but it knows that it is there, even should it be constantly receding. The term dialectical reason thus covers the perpetual efforts analytical reason must make to reform itself if it aspires to account for language, society, and thought; and the distinction between the two forms of reason in my view rests only on the temporary gap separating analytical reason from the understanding of life. Sartre calls analytical reason reason in repose; I call the same reason dialectical when it is roused to action, tensed by its efforts to transcend itself.”
–Claude Levi-Strauss, ‘History and Dialectic’ (The Savage Mind)

That dialectical thinking is fundamentally and precisely all about vacillation — envisaging dialectical reason and analytical reason as complementary, and then oppose them to one another as truth and error – is something that is completely lost on Levi-Strauss when he criticises Sartre for his (left-Hegelian) articulation of dialectical thinking by way of such vacillation.

The problem with Sartre’s articulation of dialectical thinking is not this vacillation between analytical reason as the concrete instantiation of dialectical reason as the determinate overcoming of analytical reason, and dialectical reason as the abstraction of such overcoming. In fact, the explication of dialectical reason as such an interplay of the concrete and the abstract, makes such vacillation its lifeblood. The problem, instead, is that this vacillation is orientated in Sartre’s thinking in terms of pure seriality. But even on this count the stress of Levi-Strauss’s criticism of Sartre falls not so much on his conception of pure seriality as on the escape that this pure seriality is meant to be, in my view an unrigorous, articulation of. That, needless to say, leads Levi-Strauss to a conception of dialectical reason, wherein it is not the pure seriality of escape from analytics. Rather, for Levi-Strauss, dialectical reason is destined, in its infinite perpetuation, to yield analytics. He construes the infinition of dialectical reason as the infinite proliferation of infinite analytics or analytical reasons. Thence his conception of the savage mind as one that totalises.

Therefore, the paragraphs excerpted above — which are, in a sense, the crux of Levi-Strauss’s theoretical and philosophical approach – unambiguously demonstrate that his conception of savage mind is not only an anthropologised and ethnicised conception, but is, in the same movement, a kind of Kantian elevation of the same to the status of a metaphysical tribune of pure reason, which is a governmentalising constitutivity of multiple practical reasons by way of adjudicating among them and thus interpellating them into being integral parts (placeholders) of that constitutive governmentality.

It is, therefore, hardly surprising that the dialectical reason Levi-Strauss affirms through his conception of savage mind is — notwithstanding his insistence that its provenance is in Marx – basically Kantian. And this, not surprisingly, compels the French anthropologist to conceptualise or formalise the dialectic as a structure, a deep structure to be precise. Or, how else can one explain Levi-Strauss’s conception of dialectical reason here as an expressivist totality of infinite analytical reasons (or, infinite analytics of finitude)? And this Levi-Straussian conception of structural dialectic is arguably nothing but a reformulation of Kant’s “transcendental dialectic” (in his Critique of Pure Reason), albeit in the discursive locality of ethnology and modern anthropology.

Kant’s “transcendental dialectic” is a formalised dialectic, wherein the dialectic is grasped in its abstraction and thus conceptually rendered a transcendental or a priori structure and form that is expressed in and by an infinite multiplicity of concrete practices and their respectively specific practical reasons. Here we can clearly see how Kant’s transcendental conception of the dialectic – not unlike Levi-Strauss’s structural dialectic — renders it a govermentalising, adjudicatory metaphysical tribune of pure reason vis-à-vis an infinite multiplicity of practical reasons that are, therefore, mutually relativised analytics precisely on account of being mutually articulated.

That is so because Kant does not grasp practical reason (or analytic) as the effect of the noumenon (thing-in-itself) as the determinate excess of the horizon of relationality. Rather, for Kant, the noumenon becomes the basis for envisaging a new order of relationality among multiple practical reasons because in his eyes there is an ontological similitude among all of them precisely because those multiple practical reasons in their difference determinately express the noumenon (thing-in-itself) as the excess of the horizon of relationality. Therefore, it’s not for nothing that speculative materialist Quentin Meillasoux sees Kant as a figure of Ptolemiac counter-revolution, not Copernican revolution, in western philosophy. The noumenon is precisely that which cannot be inscribed within the horizon of relationality – or the symbolic order — that it nevertheless founds in the process of effectuating itself as the determinate presentation of void of the horizon of relationality, or the symbolic order. Kant’s philosophical move is counter-revolutionary in that he thinks the noumenon only, however, to conceptually articulate it by privileging its effect over itself as its own instantiation.

The fundamental philosophical kinship between Kant’s “transcendental dialectic” and Levi-Strauss’s structural dialectic shows, among other things, why the latter’s attempt to articulate a critique of ethnology, as a discourse complicit in the colonial enterprise, by way of developing the discipline of structural anthropology ends up as a heroic failure. Thanks to his Kantian conception of the dialectic as an ahistorical, and thus metaphysical, structure, the ethics of Levi-Strauss’s anthropological critique of colonialism is unable to develop a political register for articulating itself. In fact, his Kantian conception of the dialectic as an ahistorical deep structure does not allow his ethicality of critique to move beyond its moral registration. And that, not surprisingly, once again restores the colonial civiliser, albeit this time around as the benevolent anthropologist-tribune, who is now there to enforce the moral law of mutual respect between the savage and the civilized (or the raw and the cooked) by way of instituting the structuralist epistemological project of relativism in order to conscientise the latter.

In this context, it must be said that Levi-Strauss’s conception of the dialectic as an a priori deep structure, not unlike Kant’s “transcendental dialectic” with which it has a fundamental philosophical affinity, amounts to what Hegel called “bad infinity”. The “bad infinity” of Levi-Strauss’s structural dialectic derives, not unlike Kant’s “transcendental dialectic”, from it being transcendental in its infinite totality. That does not, however, imply that we take recourse to Hegelian, or for that matter Sartre’s left-Hegelian, “good infinity” as the way to critique and break with this Kantian/Levi-Straussian bad infinity. For, this Hegelian – or left-Hegelian – “good infinity” is nothing but transcendental bad infinity by other means. By introducing history as the unfolding of the geist – or an expressivist, quasi-materialist human ontology in case of the left-Hegelians – all such good infinity amounts to is transformation of infinite totality of transcendental bad infinity into infinite totalisatiion.

What we need to do, instead, in order to rigorously critique and break with the transcendental bad infinity of Kant, and the Kantian Levi-Strauss, is to think the Hegelian good infinity in its extreme. This Hegelian conception of good infinity, a la the quasi-historical dialectic of Hegel, admittedly enables the envisioning of the historical dialectic by providing what is, in essence, still an ahistorical dialectic with the appearance of epochal motion. And while that can, and often is, dangerously deceptive because the repetition of the ahistorical structural dialectic now has the appearance of historical motion and epochal change, it also opens the way, as it did for Marx, to think it in its longee-duree, and thus in its extreme, so that its appearance of the structure-exceeding historical motion becomes its own immanent thinking, rendering that historical motion and the attendant epochal change real, and not merely apparent. This thinking-in-the-extreme, it must be stated here, is not something that has to be forcibly interpolated into this quasi-historical dialectic. Rather, the very fact that the transcendental or formal dialectic now has a historical appearance, renders Hegel’s quasi-historical dialectic — his so-called good infinity — something that virtually calls out to be thought in the extreme, and thus against its own grain. After all, the shift that is effected, from infinite totality of transcendental bad infinity of the Kantian dialectic to infinite totalisation (repeat totalisation) of the so-called good infinity of the Hegelian dialectic, shows that totality is no longer an accomplished a priori fact but is a project that one has to perpetually seek to accomplish through a perpetual process of totalisation. Clearly, the a priori, and thus teleology, of infinite totality continues to persist but now as a schizz, a crisis: it opens itself up precisely in closing itself.

To get a sense of what thinking Hegel’s good infinity — or his quasi-historical dialectic — in the extreme amounts to, we might do well to attend to the following excerpt from Fredric Jameson’s The Hegel Variations:
“…the form of of the syllogism can also be useful if we focus attention, not on its results or conclusions, but rather on that ‘middle term’ shared by both subject and predicate–a kind of Hoelderlinian primordial unity, from which…both terms emerge and to which they strain to return at the end of the logical process. Even these examples, however, suggest yet a further lesson, namely the need to stress an open-ended Hegel rather than the conventionally closed system which is projected by so many idle worries about Absolute Spirit, about totality, or about Hegel’s allegedly teleological philosophy of history.
“Indeed, the doctrine of the middle term suggests a very different Hegel who may serve as a corrective to the traditional ones: this is the Maoist Hegel proposed by Alain Badiou, in which the metaphysical spirit is expansive rather than centripetal or cyclical. Here the central dialectical movement is identified as One dividing into Two, and it is clearly quite distinct from those figures that emphasize (for example) the return of consciousness into itself….”

Clearly, this move of brushing Hegelian (and left-Hegelian) “good infinity” against its grain, also, at once, does the same to the transcendental bad infinity of Kant and Levi-Strauss. Such against-the-grain reading of transcendental bad infinity – which is concomitant with the thinking-in-extreme of the so-called good infinity of Hegel – will amount to an affirmation, not of some new good infinity against bad, but an immanentist bad infinity in radical antagonism to both the transcendental bad infinity of Kant and such Kantians as Levi-Strauss, and the good infinity of Hegel.

This immanentist bad infinity, which is immanentist in an active practical-materialist sense, is the infinity of remainder and/or excess. More rigorously and precisely, it’s the infinity of determinate production of void vis-à-vis the horizon of relationality or symbolic order in its concrete mediations. This is, therefore, not escape as Sartrean pure seriality but is, instead, a leap that seeks to suspend precisely such seriality that is merely the obverse of the bounded seriality of Kant’s transcendental dialectic (or Levi-Strauss’s structural dialectic), or, for that matter, the seeming open-endedness of the Hegelian geist in its historical unfolding. This immanentist bad infinity is a conception of nowness or finitude in its uninterrupted infinition. This immanentist bad infinity, or finite-infinity — the transfinite in Badiou’s Cantorian set-theoretic terms – is “infinite thought” in radical and thus unpunctuated antagonism, not only to the infinite totality of transcendental bad infinity of Kant (and Levi-Strauss) and so-called good infinity of Hegel; it’s also in radical antagonism to the phenomenological and/or deconstructive conceptions of practice of infinite finitudes. In the latter, the suspension of infinite totality/infinite totalisation is thought as the difference of the “a-whileness” (Heidegger) of finitude as an interiorised and thus phenomenologically-reduced experience.

In radical contrast to that, the immanentist bad infinity — which late Althusser variously conceptualised, by way of a protracted detour through Greek atomism, Lucretius, Machiavelli, Spinoza and even Heidegger, as “transcendental contingency”, “necessity of contingency” and so on – is the remainder or excess (as the determinate production or presentation of void) as the institution of its own duration and historicity.

This immanentist bad infinity — which stands affirmed in breaking with transcendental bad infinity of Kant by brushing it against its grain in the process of thinking the Hegelian good infinity in the extreme – is also a reading-against-the grain of Kant’s formalised “transcendental dialectic”. So, this immanentist bad infinity, as an against-the-grain reading of Kant’s formalised dialectic (and thus of Levi-Strauss’s Kantian structural dialectic too), is an envisioning and articulation of the dialectic as the limit-form of the ontological excess of both the dialectic itself as an abstracted structure, and the individualised hypostasis of concrete practical reasons that in being hypostatised thus mediate into being the dialectic as that abstracted structure.

This conception of the dialectic as limit-form of ontological excess, as opposed to the formalisation and abstraction of the dialectic into a transcendental structure as in Kant (and Levi-Strauss), is what Badiou terms “formalised in-humanism” in his The Century. Badiou’s “formalised in-humanism” is, unlike in traditional epistemology, not an identity between the form or concept, and its object of “in-humanism”. Rather, as the term demonstrates through its fraught lexical and semantic appearance, it’s meant to articulate the form or concept of precisely the impossibility of formalisation or conceptualisation. And, for Badiou, this impossibility in being an active occurring – a “taking-place” – is the Real in its human-exceeding in-humanity. In other words, Badiou’s “formalised in-humanism” – which is our immanentist bad infinity in and against the transcendental good infinity of Kant’s formalised dialectic – is an allegorical conceptual figure of constellated construction of transindividualised ontological excess. This would be nothing save the truth of the absent-cause – the a priori of no a priori as it were – in its forcing.

Advertisements

An observation on why Spinoza’s conception of the ethical is materialist

leave a comment »


“We see that this natural Divine law does not demand the performance of ceremonies—that is, actions in themselves indifferent, which are called good from the fact of their institution, or actions symbolizing something profitable for salvation, or (if one prefers this definition) actions of which the meaning surpasses human understanding. The natural light of reason does not demand anything which it is itself unable to supply, but only such as it can very clearly show to be good, or a means to our blessedness. Such things as are good, simply because they have been commanded or instituted, or as being symbols of something good, are mere shadows which cannot be reckoned among actions that are the offspring, as it were, or fruit of a sound mind and intellect.”
–Spinoza, A Theologico-Political Treatise

A rather obvious reading of the above passage would be to see it as a version of the fantasy of pure reason. But then we could also follow in Macherey and Althusser’s ‘Spinozist’ footsteps and read this quite differently. Spinoza’s god is the singularity of being and reason — a la the Spinozist conatus. His conatus or being can, therefore, be construed as the uninterruptedly, as opposed to sequentially, continuous excess of symbols that are deposited in and as the determinate moments constitutive of precisely this infinitely excessive, and thus dispersive and non-teleological movement, and which as those symbolic deposits tend to acquire a life of their own by getting instituted as commands (or, as Spinoza would say, human laws). That Spinoza conceives of being as a willing-knowing singularity becomes evident if we follow, later in this text, his explication of god as the concomitance of willing of things that come to comprise the world and the knowledge of those things.

Read in this manner, this Spinozist ‘version of the fantasy of pure reason’ can be envisaged, as it indeed is by Althusserians, as a theoretical mode to ground the practice of ideology-critique, which as that practice is derived from Marx’s articulation of his dialectical method as the theory of critique of political economy. Following Marx, who adopted Hegel’s dialectic only to see it precisely as the inverted reflection of the antagonism to the dialectic itself, Althusserians, particularly Macherey, would read ideology — which Althusser quite correctly characterised as the movement of its own displacement — as the image, or symptom, of its own absence, void or impossibility. And this is an approach that can arguably be read off Spinoza, including from his unambiguous suggestion here that “symbols of something good, are mere shadows” of that good.

The reason why Spinoza is open to such a reading is possibly because his thinking of being a la conatus — which for him is also, at once, “the offspring, as it were, or fruit of a sound mind and intellect” — precludes the need for it to be the ground for some kind of a moral law. In Kant, on the other hand, we have the moral law kick in as retroactive rationalisation (read metaphysicalisation) — and thus prospective regimentation — of multiple instantiations of pure reason as practical reason.

What is “true metaphysics” and why materialists should embrace it?

leave a comment »


Whether one aspires to be a militant of revolutionary action or strives to be an artist committed to a radical aesthetic, one would do well, in a certain sense, to follow Foucault in giving up the Kant of Critique of Pure Reason, and its project of theoretical philosophy as analytic of finitude, and affirming the Kant of Critique of Practical reason and its project of practical philosophy as the ontology of the present.

However, instead of conducting this operation in the Foucauldian mode, which amounts to abandonment of the Kantian project of theoretical philosophy as analytic of finitude from the standpoint of Kantian project of practical reason (or ontology of the present), which is thereby rendered ethics a la care of the self, one would do well to adopt a different modality for setting aside the Kant of the First Critique and its project of theoretical philosophy. And that modality would be thinking the Kantian project of theoretical philosophy as analytic of finitude and the Kantian project of practical reason as ontology of the present together, but in their separateness — in a dialectically articulated separateness to be precise.

That would arguably be constitutive of what Alberto Caeiro (a heteronym of Fernando Pessoa) calls “true metaphysics”. This “true metaphysics” is, pace Badiou, thought as already always the presentation of its own void or the instantiation of its absent-cause (which is non-thought) in its limit. Hence, it’s not about thought as knowledge but thinking as that which exceeds thought as knowledge by subtracting from it. It’s thinking as excess of — or, more precisely, subtraction from — its own cogitative capture. In the words of the Marx of The Holy Family, it’s matter that thinks. Not what matter is in thought, but matter as its own immanent thought in action as disavowal of matter in thought.

Thus propositional knowledge is not, in the first instance, its own limit as knowledge. Rather, it is the limit of the presentation of the impossibility of knowledge (which is ontology of the present) that therefore then amounts to propositional knowledge being its own limit. Not metaphysics but metaontology. That in Caeiro’s words is “true metaphysics”.

So, Caeiro as “the keeper of the flocks” — a witness to the emerging of thought as the instantiation and interruption of the non-thought, whose importance as such a witness lies in his vigilance that prevents thought from valorising its limit and thus become metaphysics. Here is a poem by Caeiro that acutely demonstrates that even as his “true metaphysics” is thinking the void, it is not nihilism.

“If at times I say that flowers smile
And if I should say that rivers sing,
It’s not because I think there are smiles in flowers
And songs in rivers’ running…
It’s because that way I make deluded men better sense
The truly real existence of flowers and rivers.

“Because I write for them to read me I sacrifice myself at
Times
To their stupidity of feeling…
I don’t agree with myself yet I forgive myself
Because I’m solely that serious thing—an interpreter of
Nature—
Because there are men who don’t understand its language,
Being no language at all.”

True metaphysics, a la Caeiro, is a new order of affirmation that is not productive. Badiou’s in-existing as invention (his “nothing-as-something”) is, as far as one is concerned, what Caeiro’s true metaphysics amounts to. Not for nothing does Badiou insist, “Non-thought is rather, for him, the living wisdom of thought itself, and in particular of philosophy in its entirety.” The Swiss-German writer, Robert Walsermust also be mentioned here in that context. Walser’s prose fiction both declares and seeks to enact precisely that singularity of “living wisdom” — excess as ontological subtraction amounts to that — in its inimitably peculiar minoritarian register. Here is a small tale that comprises his ‘Six Little Stories’ in his A Schoolboy’s Diary and Other Stories: “Now I’ve just remembered that once upon a time there lived a poor poet, very oppressed by dark moods, who since he had seen his fill of God’s great world, decided to put only his imagination into his poems. He sat one evening, afternoon, or morning, at eight, twelve, or two o’clock, in the dark space of his room and he said to the wall the following: Wall, I’ve got you in my head. Don’t try to trick me with your strange and placid visage! From now on, you are the prisoner of my imagination. Thereupon he said the same thing to the window and to the gloomy view it offered him day after day. After which, spurred on by wanderlust, he undertook a walk that led him through fields, forests, meadows, villages, cities, and over rivers and lakes, always under the same beautiful sky. But to these fields, forests, meadows, villages and rivers he continually repeated: Guys, I’ve got you locked tight in my head. Don’t any of you think any longer that you make an impression on me. He went home, constantly laughing to himself: I have them all, I have them all in my head. And presumably he has them there still, and they can’t (however much I want to help them do so) get out again. Isn’t this story very full of imagination???”

For a new aesthetic of revolutionary exhibitionism against the aestheticised politics of liberal bourgeois voeyurism

leave a comment »


There is a need to think a new revolutionary aesthetics of exhibitionism against liberal exhibitionism — for me, the latter is basically the politics of commodity abstraction and society of spectacle a la Situationists such as Guy Debord. However, in order to do that the scopic drive will need to be rethought and re-envisaged, not in terms of contemplativeness, but contemplativeness pushed to its extreme that renders the contemplated object into a dialectical image. [Now, this is already a displacement of contemplation into practical-materiality — or, at any rate, the former being placed under the condition of the latter — in Marx’s sense of the terms as he explicates them in his Theses on Feurbach and The German Ideology.] That is crucial if desire is not to be conflated and confounded with its cathection (investment). Such cathection or investment being the interruption and concomitant distortion of desire precisely on account of its determinate instantiation. After all, as Lacan would tell us, the “petit object a” is not much more than a metonymy of desire.

And here Nietzsche’s acute poser about whether truth is not a woman can be deployed rather productively. “Woman” here in its Nietzschean articulation must, arguably, be grasped in terms of “becoming-woman”. That is, woman not as an anthropological difference (which is difference-as-identity) but as an ontological difference (difference as differing away from identity). Translating this antidialectical conception of “becoming-woman” into the conceptual framework of the asymmetrical or materialist dialectic we could say, following Lacan, that woman-as-truth or becoming-woman is to be understood as the Real that cannot be inscribed within the horizon of the symbolic even as it founds that horizon. Clearly then, ‘woman’, in “becoming-woman” or Nietzsche’s “woman-is-truth”, is now no longer thinking of even ontological difference but is, instead, a limit-conceptual figure of ontological subtraction.

This, I beleive, dovetails with what I have tried to get at above with regard to grasping the exhibitionism/voyeurism couple not simply as a dialectic, but as an asymmetrical dialectic, and thus as determinate presentation of exhibitionism-voyeurism singularity in excess of their symmetrically dialectical coupling as exhibitionism/voyeurism duality. In that context, the exhibitionist desire of revolutionary militancy is not merely exhibitionism but Dionysian exhibitionism (a la Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy, for instance). And here, therefore, the exhibitionist revolutionary-militant is not a declarative-constantive object — or a directive tribune — vis-a-vis a milieu of passive contemplators/consumers he/she subjectivates thus. Rather, he/she is a semiosis of impulse or symptom of performativity, which is the object-exceeding force in the distinct temporality of its own singularising/singular subjective-materiality. Something that renders this sign/symptom a unit of the milieu of active and continuous producers in the Brechtian sense.

In fact, that is precisely the reason why I think Marquis de Sade’s ‘pornography’ poses and articulates a revolutionary-republican aesthetic. If we attend carefully to the apparently pornographic discourse of his literary production — particularly, his ‘Philosophy in the Bedroom’ — we see that not only does it have a didactic form but one whose mode is Dionysian (performative), which this form strives to transparently reveal. Clearly, De Sade’s discourse ceaselessly registers the thinking of the ethical imperative of desire and the moral law together, but in their separateness. It’s this form and mode of what I wish to call the Dionysian didacticism of desire — and not just any form of BDSM pornography — that renders De Sade’s ‘pornographic’ discourse the index of counter-contemplative revolutionary-republican aesthetics. And it’s arguably this formal and modal dimension of De Sade’s literary discourse that Foucault misses when he critically describes the former as “the sergeant of sex”, who, in Foucault’s estimation, elevates transgression itself into a law.

After all, it’s not for nothing that Lacan impressed on us the indispensability of thinking Sade with Kant. In short, the new revolutionary aesthetic of exhibitionism-voyeurism — as a historically concrete reconstitution of the revolutionary-republican aesthetic of De Sade — will be one wherein a form of contemplation is already always a demonstration of the displacement of contemplation. That is to say, such an aesthetic will truly fulfil itself only when exhibitionism is already always the demonstration of excess of exhibitionism in its limit.

Therefore, the problem of pleasure, from the standpoint of revolutionary politics, is ineluctable. However, the question then is whether pleasure is merely subjectively interiorised experience that is grasped by way of phenomenological reduction, or, is the question really of pleasure founding its own duration and historicity. For, if it’s the latter, then it is already a post-phenomenological displacement of pleasure beyond its phenomenological experientiality, albeit necessarily in and through that experientiality and phenomenology of pleasure. Hence, what we have is pleasure as an existential experience informing the constitutivity of an austerely neutral extension, which is the historicity of suspension of history — “historicity without history” in Alain Badiou’s terms. This, to my mind, amounts to pleasure founding its own duration and historicity.

And this, as far as I understand, is the path Freud also prefigures and indicates in his engagement with the question of pleasure. For him, the problem of pleasure is not, in the final analysis, one of interiorised experience, subjective intentionality and thus joyous productivity. Rather, the problem of pleasure (read in terms of jouissance) brings to him, particularly if we read him through a Lacanian lens, the question of lack and/or trauma as the Real. This, from what I understand, is the crux of his “beyond the pleasure principle”. And this reveals why Freud is no phenomenologist of pleasure, one who would be concerned merely with the question of alternation between the reality principle and the pleasure principle. Rather, Freud’s concern — in his concerted engagement with the problem of pleasure — indicates the need to develop an approach that thinks the problem of pleasure and its politics in terms of the suspension of the horizon of this alternation of the reality principle and the pleasure principle.

To think the question of pleasure in those terms – i.e. to think pleasure as an experiential-phenomenological moment of the post-phenomenological movement of its own overcoming (beyond the pleasure principle) — is to already have pleasure-as-joyous-productivity displace and thus transfigure itself into the neutral of subtraction. An engagement with the affective experience of pleasure, if it’s rigorous, is, arguably, bound to lead one towards its post-phenomenological beyond – which, in the same movement, would also obviously be a radical break with the horizon of the reality principle. That is demonstrated, besides Freud, by Roland Barthes: a thinker of pleasure for whom the twinned-questions of “zero degree” and “the neutral” are what ultimately matter.

As for me, I have been helped quite a bit in this respect by Badiou’s critique of what he calls “democratic materialism” – the differing alternation of bodies and languages (or joyousness and its interruption) – as also his attendant critique of Deleuze’s anti-Freudian productive conception of desire (“desiring-production”).

%d bloggers like this: