Beyond Capital

Polemics, Critique and Analysis

Posts Tagged ‘messianic

Kafka as a saint of revolutionary pessimism

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“There are two main human sins from which all the others derive: impatience and indolence. It was because of impatience that they were expelled from Paradise; it is because of indolence that they did not return. Yet perhaps there is only one major sin: impatience. Because of impatience they were expelled, because of impatience they do not return.”
–Kafka, The Blue Octavo Notebooks

Which is perhaps why for Kafka prayer, as patient persevering, was the only messianic imperative that could break with the worldly as a horizon of reconciliation between the apparent conflict of passive waiting for the miracle, something that is nurtured by indolence, and a celebratory sense of quick accomplishment bred by impatience. For this alone, Kafka should be crowned as one of the reigning saints of revolutionary pessimism.

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Written by Pothik Ghosh

September 4, 2015 at 4:58 am

Nietzsche’s Hellenism: A case of heroic failure

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Is it any longer historically possible to retrieve the non-moral ethics of Classical Hellenic antiquity? For, is the inescapable modern condition of our historical being — not just in the West and the Muslim world, but even in our apparently pagan polytheistic society too — really pagan and polytheistic? Objectively speaking, isn’t the polytheistic appearance of our society not the realisation of a metaphysical pantheism? One where every difference is not singular, as it would be in a situation that is historically and fundamentally pagan, but a particularity of a universal, because each such difference is a placeholder for that universal. Conversely, are societies where monotheism, in some form or the other, determines the religious belief of the majority and gives their respective cultures the appearance they have, really monotheistic?

Wasn’t, therefore, the attempt to retrieve Greek ethics constitute Nietzsche’s most heroic failure? The following passage from Karl Loewith’s ‘Nietzsche’s Revival of the Doctrine of Eternal Recurrence’ — the second appendix of his ‘Meaning in History’ — unambiguously reveals that: “Nietzsche undoubtedly achieved the metamorphosis from the Christian ‘Thou shalt’ to the modern ‘I will’, but hardly the crucial transformation from the ‘I will’ to the ‘I am’ of the cosmic child, which is ‘innocence and forgetfulness, a new beginning and a self-rolling wheel.’ As a modern man he was so hopelessly divorced from any genuine ‘loyalty to the earth’ and from the feeling of eternal security ‘under the bell of heaven’ that this great effort to remarry man’s destiny to cosmic fate, or to ‘translate man back into nature,’ could not but be frustrated. Thus, wherever he tries to develop his doctrine rationally, it breaks asunder in two irreconcilable pieces: in a presentation of eternal recurrence as an objective fact, to be demonstrated by physics and mathematics, and in a quite different presentation of it as a subjective hypothesis, to be demonstrated by its ethical consequence. It breaks asunder because the will to eternalize the chance existence of the modern ego does not fit into the assertion of the eternal cycle of the natural world.”

In such circumstances, when pantheistic modernity — and the capitalist mode it is constitutive of — is an inescapable global condition, might it not be, politically and intellectually speaking, a better idea to save the tradition(s) of monotheism from the conformism it has fallen into — one which articulates and construes monotheism in terms of church-like institutionality — by historicising and rethinking the tradition(s) of monotheism as a witness of the messianic eruption of the singular, thereby seeking to practically render such eruption of the singular multiple. In other words, would it not be politically more meaningful not to shun the conceptual in the name of some kind of phenomenology of multiplicity and difference? Something that would not only give rise to the problem of epistemological void but would also result in infinite regress as the only possible practice and thinking of politics. Would it not, instead, be more productive — both intellectually and politically — to re-envision the conceptual in terms of the impossibility of knowledge: that is, concept of the impossibility of knowledge? Adorno in his Negative Dialectics, for instance, gives us precisely such a rethinking of the conceptual when he affirms the concept as one that is orientated towards nonconceptualities.

Prayer as Revolution, Revolution as Prayer

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Prayer, thought in its extreme, is dystopian irony. That is because it’s a radically pessimistic act, and thus act as such in its pure immanence. The act of praying comes into being, and perseveres in itself as that act, precisely by disavowing all that is (and, in advance, all that can and will be ‘that is’). For, when one prays, is it not for that which is not? And does that, therefore, not render prayer in its impersonal genericness as the pursuit of the real that is not mortal reality? It is thus an act that can only proceed through disavowal of all mortal hope, and is yet an act. Prayer, therefore, is an earthly, mortal act that proceeds both despite and because of the lack of mortal hope.

That prayer is an act constitutive of the negation of all mortal hope, even as it proceeds affirmatively precisely through such hope, renders it a dystopia that is ironical in its dystopianism. Prayer, therefore, is an act that is in its affirmation ceaseless precisely because its motor is that of absolute, unmitigated pessimism. Or, conversely, prayer is a mortal act that is impelled by a hope that is in excess of all hope one can be mortally conscious of. It’s driven in its affirmation, to borrow Kafka’s messianic language, by the fact of there being infinite hope that is not for us. It is, to borrow from Benjamin’s essay on Kafka, an act that proceeds in and through the dialectic of “rumour and folly”. In other words, it’s the dialectic of faith and doubt — or faith as doubt .

Thus prayer is not merely faith, it’s reason too. For, reason pushed to its radical extreme is nothing but the excess of all mortal (and moral-normative) determinations, the hope they induce, and their power. Prayer as this radically pessimistic — this ironically dystopian — act is the mode of singularisation of faith and reason (faith as the coming-into-being of reason a la Thomas Muenzer). Prayer then is the act that doubts the consciousness of hope of its concrete mortal agents through which it must nevertheless necessarily proceed.

And what of redemption? Is that not the goal of prayer? Without doubt! But that goal of prayer is prayer itself: prayer as its own goal. Hence, redemption is the world as the act of prayer persevering in itself. More precisely, redemption is the world in and as the mode taking-place and thus in radical antagonism to world in and as the mode having-taken-place. For, insofar as the world in mode taking-place is interruption of the world in mode having-taken-place, it’s redemption. This is what a Spinozist utra-rationalist faith — seemingly an aporia — would arguably amount to. One that is far more rigorous in its post-phenomenological radicalism than the experiential and phenomenological radicalism of Nietzsche’s anti-rationalist “will to power”.

In such circumstances, one can speak legitimately of prayer as redemption — i.e. if prayer is not to remain mere illumination by existing only in the interiority of thought and experience, but appear as the in-existence/in-existing it thus is vis-a-vis the world in its existence/existing — only if one speaks the revolution. In other words, while prayer (as illumination) is the practice of thinking, and thus experiencing, the redemption to come, redemption, or revolution, is the prayer as its own immanent thought (or, experience) in action. So, revolution is fundamentally an affirmation, not a negation. Such affirmation is, however, not simply an assertion and celebration. It is, instead, the negativity or void in and as the time of its own determinate presentation or taking-place. and thus an excess of what exists. This is in radical contrast to negativity simply being the negation of what is. Revolution is, therefore, the actuality — or shall we say, profanation — of this ironically dystopian modality of prayer in its radical, and thus messianic and exilic, form. Therefore, revolution as its own affirmation can only be more revolution: Marx’s “revolution in permanence”.

Charlie Hebdo: Shun the liberal politics of condemnation

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Attacks, not merely on free speech, but on freedom of life itself, and yes, in all its myriad, multiple forms, can be effectively countered only if one begins thinking in terms of interventions that will radically shift the ground on which politics currently happens. And that, in my opinion, will have to begin with the effort to move away from the politics of condemnation as critique. For, regardless of whether the outrage that evokes such condemnation is in the idiom of majoritarianism(s) or minoritarianism(s), the politics of condemnation as critique is, in the face of such outrage, patently reactive and defensive. One that is, therefore, stuck on the political ground of precisely the enormities it purports to counter.

The politics of condemnation — or, to be more accurate, condemnation as politics — is thus stuck in the entirely ineffectual stance of insisting that it is equally critical of both minoritarian and majoritarian violence, notwithstanding its apparent, declarative vigour. Such horizontalisation of various forms of otherising violence, which have as their condition of possibility the structure of differential inclusion (productive inclusion through hierarchical exclusion), serves, in the final analysis, to reinforce and reproduce that structure and the abominations it makes possible. Therefore, such ‘even-handedness’ that condemnation as politics proudly displays, nay is compelled to display, is actually equivocation. In other words, the fight against various expressions of otherising hatred can hope to be effective only when it’s a subtraction from the reactive terms of responding to the operations of otherising violence.

Such subtraction, however, cannot occur as long as one is caught within the universe of the juridico-legal and its conception of peace, and thus fights shy of reclaiming and operationalising violence in a law-unravelling mode that is overdetermined by the will to solidarity. That is revolutionary violence, or what Walter Benjamin affirmed as the messianic “divine violence”. After all, the abominations and enormities one speaks of here are abominations and enormities not because they are violent. Quite the contrary, they are abominations and enormities precisely because their violence is otherising, and thus law-preserving.

Therefore, if one agrees that such “divine violence” is the only possible way in which attacks on free speech, and freedom of life in all its forms, can be effectively countered, one will have to begin thinking on how to make such divine violence possible in the concreteness of the here and now of history. And that is contingent on grasping how divine violence in its incipience, and thus also thwarted in that incipience, is objectively the heart of every action (repeat action), not ideology, of otherising violence, whether majoritarian or minoritarian. But one can begin to make sense of incipient divine violence in concrete socio-historical terms only when one starts redirecting one’s political-intellectual efforts towards patient and persevering inquiries into the concrete interplay of concrete causes behind various kinds of otherising violence in their concreteness. Alas, such redirection of intellectual politics cannot happen as long as one continues to think that writing articles for mainline newspapers and magazines in predetermined liberal terms of condemnation-as-criticism contributes in some measure towards countering different forms and kinds of expressions of otherising violence. If anything, struggles against such expressions, and their structural condition of possibility, and writing such well-meaning, heart-in-the-right-place kind of vigorously outraged articles are now at cross-purposes. And no this is not meant as an attack on radical elements among journalists, who have to write to earn their keep. This is the best they can manage within the constraints of such a compulsion. It’s meant for those ‘radicals’, and liberals, who strut around exhibiting such signed pieces of theirs as their badge of honour.

Charlie Hebdo Attack: Who will criticise the critics?

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What would criticism of heaven be without criticism of the earth? And what does one do when criticism of heaven fails to be a criticism of the earth and becomes complicit precisely in conserving and/or reproducing the earth as it stands? Is that not the question that comes to us via Marx’s critique of Bruno Bauer’s secularist criticism of Jewish religioisity, or Feurbach’s (liberal and partial) atheism? Shouldn’t, therefore, the criticism of heaven begin with criticism of the earth — a criticism that is as much a critique of heaven as a critique of those whose criticism of heaven serves, unwittingly or otherwise, to conserve and reproduce the earth as it stands?

To paraphrase and slightly modify comics-artist Alan Moore in Watchmen:who will criticise the critics? In other words, shouldn’t criticism of murderous fanaticism in the name of Islam, if such criticism has to be really effective, locate it in its condition of possibility that is capitalist modernity, even as it unsparingly condemns the concrete operations of such murderous fanaticism. In the event of criticism of murderous religious fanaticism failing to achieve such comprehensiveness, which would admittedly be a tortuous and complicated articulation, it becomes no more than liberal breast-beating. In the current instance of the murderous attack on Charlie Hebdo, such liberal breast-beating and the attendant politics of condemnation from an Archimedian point participates in, whether it admits to itself or not, the prevailing climate of Islamophobia. However, the class culpability and complicity of such politics of liberal-secularist breast-beating, which smacks of utter political irresponsibility, is equally in play when such politics seeks to confront the mobs of lumpenised unwashed masses rallying out in favour of majoritarianisms of different kinds.

Such liberal, secularist politics, which is supposedly pacifist and for peace, is against the violence of fanatical mobs — whether minoritarian or majoritarian — not because such fanaticism is religious but because through opposition to such fanaticism this politics seeks to ensure that the utterly unequal and iniquitous class structure, and its inherent structural violence, is left undisturbed and in peace. Clearly, what bothers the purveyors of such politics most is how such violence openly manifests the violence and inequality always inherent in and foundational to the structure that makes possible their privileged peace. It’s precisely on account of the adoption of such secularist politics of dubious peace by even those who project themselves as champions of revolutionary leftist politics of social transformation that the eruption of structural violence into the open inevitably comes to have a mystified-fanatical direction, whether in a minoritarian or a majoritarian idiom.

In having adopted such liberal secularist politics of dubious peace in their fight against majoritarianism(s), our so-called revolutionary leftists have been rendered incapable of nurturing the violence internal to the iniquitous structure of capitalist-modernity against that structure. And that is at the root of their failure to mobilise and articulate the open eruption of structural violence in a revolutionary-messianic, structure-unravelling direction.

It’s, therefore, only to be expected that most such liberals in revolutionary-leftist garb should ambivalently oscillate between unwitting (if not deliberate) Islamophobia, and condemnation of majoritarianism(s). That many of those liberals in revolutionary-leftist clothing should, in the context of the Charlie Hebdo affair, be found making statements that are serving to strengthen the prevailing Islamophobic consensus, is thus not surprising at all. In fact, even those who are not exactly doing that are being driven to make weak, ambivalent statements such as we condemn the attack but we also condemn the fetihsation of secularism and so on and so forth. What more can a politics impelled and guided solely by the registration of condemnation of iniquities of modernity be expected to deliver? To say that such ambivalence, and ambidexterity of ‘on-the-one-hand-and-on-the-other’, is no good for forging an effectively concrete politics of anti-capitalism is a no-brainer. An effective anti-capitalist politics would be one that in the face of iniquitous multiplicity that is modernity targets capital as the structural condition of possibility of those historical iniquities in the process of targeting those iniquities in their empirical concreteness. The politics of condemnation as criticism, driven as it is by the tendency to horizontalise all iniquities wrought by the global and globalising system of modernity as the manifest operation of the capitalist structure of differential inclusion, can do precious little than reproduce precisely that structure and its iniquitous systemic operation in and through history.

So, yes condemn the murderous attack on the French satirical periodical by all means. Because the condemnation of all such vengeful acts of violence — which are immersed in ressentiment, reactivity and slave morality — is the first step of divine violence. But what is perhaps more important if we truly wish to begin abolishing such vengeful violence is to focus on making sense of such acts of violence in terms of elaborating their structural causality, which ought to also include the elaboration of how the western phenomenon of satire of Islam — and its liberal, supposedly anti-fundamentalist mediatic ideology — is a key enabler of that differentially inclusive structure of capital that as its realisation in and through history is the systemic iniquity of modernity. Without such elaboration divine violence gets hypostatised as its first step of condemnation to undergo an absolute reversal to become an integral dimension of the law-constituting and/or law-preserving violence that is as vengeful, if not more, as the overtly murderous violence it is meant to be a criticism of.

And yes, this is roughly how I would want to approach not only the recent massacre of children in Peshawar by the TTP but also, and more importantly, the global outrage and condemnation that followed.

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