Thursday, June 10, 2010

Old Criticism

Feuerbach, Ludwig. “Provisional Theses for the Reformation of Philosophy” (from Stepelevich ed, The Young Hegelians)

The essay is basically a critique of Hegel. Feuerbach say, “the method of the reformatory critique of speculative philosophy in general does not differ from the critique already applied in the philosophy of religion. We need always make the predicate into the subject and thus, as the subject, into the object and principle. Hence we need only invert speculative philosophy and then have the unmasked, pure, bare truth” (157). I wonder, idly, if anyone has ever presented a ‘queered’ Feuerbach. Seems like it wouldn’t be that hard to do.

The major critique of Hegel, after it is established that he hasn’t, formally, moved at all from theology, is that he rejects in every case things in themselves as they are (to import a phrase), or in Feuerbach’s words, the exoteric, for the esoteric. Meaning is always far away from what is. The meaning of the world is found in the posited negation of the world, which itself is in fact only ever what we as human beings bring to it. That is, “the night which it [philosophy] supposes in God in order to produce from it the light of consciousness is nothing but its own dark, instinctive feeling for the reality and indispensability of matter” (161). The result of this critique, which follows from defining theology as the study of God imagined as the unimaginable, and Hegelianism as a re-iteration of theology, is basically the injunction to take what is, what is least philosophical, as the basis for philosophy. Put philosophically, “Being is subject and thinking a predicate but a predicate such as contains the essence of its subject. Thinking comes from being but being does not come from thinking. Being comes from itself and through itself” (167). Or, in a poetical language, “Look upon nature, look upon the human being! Here right before your eyes you have the mysteries of philosophy” (168).

Now, the ‘gesture’ of this philosophy is depressingly familiar. The new philosophy will be the negation of academic philosophy. It will be of ‘our time.’ It will begin with being as it is. (Of course one must be careful not to, as I want to do, project a future phenomenology and its consequences onto this: ‘the world as it presents itself’ or the already mentioned ‘things in themselves as they are.’) Having tried to ‘go into’ Hegel first through the Phenomenology, it does seem to me that this is startlingly naïve, that as much as one would like to reject and dismantle Hegel’s system, one must deal, as he did, with the always-mediated nature of reality. We do not have ‘being.’ We just have some kinds of mediated representations of it. A strong phenomenological position would meet the objection, but isn't presented here. Art, I suppose, is marshaled as evidence that such a theory isn't necessary--the inadequacy of that evidence from my point of view is no doubt an index of the historical distance between 2010 and 1840.

A similar objection would meet Feuerbach’s assertion at the end of the text that “All speculation about right, willing, freedom, personality without the human being, i.e., outside of or even beyond the human being, is speculation without unity, without necessity, without substance, without foundation, and without reality. The human being is the existence of freedom, the existence of personality, and the existence of right” (170). It seems that he really means the physical, empirical (as it were) human individual. I’m not unsympathetic to this position, but it does seem inadequate.

This text is full of interesting aperçus that might or might not be significant, that can’t really be evaluated without reading more. I get the sense that they are generated often enough by the stated method of predicate-subject reversal. I’ll end with one, “whatever the human being names and articulates, it always articulates its own essence. Language is thus the criterion of how high or low humanity’s degree of cultivation is” (169). Which is a fine argument for not allowing Microsoft Word to tell you what is grammatical and what is not.

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