Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Althusser links his ideas about ideology to Lacan

Louis Althusser's "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses" Dr. Mary Klages, Associate Professor of English, University of Colorado, Boulder, November 6, 2001
Althusser makes some final points about ideology working this way to "hail" us as subjects, so that we think these ideas are individually addressed to us, and hence are true. He says that ideology, as structure, requires not only subject but Subject. In using the capital S, he invokes an idea similar to that of Lacan (whom Althusser studied and wrote about), that there is a small-s subject, the individual person, and a capital S Subject, which is the structural possibility of subjecthood (which individuals fill). The idea of subject and Subject also suggests the duality of being a subject, where one is both the subject OF language/ideology (as in being the subject of a sentence) and subject TO ideology, having to obey its rules/laws, and behave as that ideology dictates.
The interpellated subject in the ideology of the home gym commercial would thus order the gym, behave as if bodybuilding or rigorous exercise was a necessity, something of central importance. The Subject here would be some notion of physical perfection, or body cult, the rules that the subject is subjected to. Althusser uses the example of Christian religious ideology, with God as the ultimate Subject--the center of the system/structure.
On p. 248 Althusser links his ideas about ideology to Lacan directly, noting that the structure of ideology is specular (like Lacan's Imaginary, like the mirror stage). There are a couple of things worth noting about Althusser as a "bricoleur" of other theorists. Althusser was enchanted by Freud, and even more enchanted by Lacan; the ideas of the imaginary, the mirror, the specular, and the subject/Subject are all gotten from or parallel to Lacanian notions. Also, as a Marxist, Althusser privileges SCIENCE as a form of knowing that is outside of any ideological structure, a type of knowledge that really IS simply true, because objective and material--hence his comment on 246 that the only way to know when ideology is ideological is through scientific knowledge.
Is this theory useful to literature? Yes, because it enables us to talk about how a literary text, as a subset or transformation or production of ideology (or of specific ideological formations) also constitutes us as subjects, and speaks to us directly. The most obvious form of how a literary text might interpellate us as subjects is one that uses direct address, when the text says "dear reader" (as Uncle Tom's Cabin does with annoying frequency). All texts interpellate readers by some mechanism, in some ways; all texts create subject positions for readers, whether that construction of subject positions is obvious or not. We will look at this idea of subject positions within literary texts further with Foucault.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Romanticist "escape from reason"

Soren Kierkegaard - Existentialism, Nominalism, and the Three Spheres of Existence
The dawning years of the nineteenth century were indeed years of great historic change. The Age of Reason was slowly disappearing over the horizon and the Romantic era was gradually rising to the fore. Moreover, it was a time of momentous social change and industrial progress, an age of revolution and powerful human expression. While Rousseau and Jefferson assailed the divine right of kings and proceeded to carve out their respective revolutionary ideals, great artists such as Beethoven, Goethe, and Goya were offering to the world their timeless creations. Meanwhile, the engines of the industrial machine were set in motion by the inventive genius of the age, creating a momentous force which has not ceased to this day. Thus the dawn of the nineteenth century was pervaded by the spirit of optimism and human ascent, and it was posited for the first time that the "theoretical possibility of uninterrupted human progress might be concretely realized."1
But as contemporary historians have observed, the Romanticist "escape from reason" was nothing more than a "fallacy of hope,"2 an imaginary dream of utopian ideals from which the European man would awake in horror.Perhaps this shattered dream is best represented by the story of Beethoven and Napoleon, a story which seems to encapsulate the death of political idealism in nineteenth century Europe. As the story goes, Beethoven, though not a political man, but a grand admirer of Napoleon as an apostle of revolutionary ideals, dedicated his Third Symphony (Sinfonia Eroica) to the French general, inscibing "Buonaparte" at the very top of the manuscript's title page.
However, in 1804 when the orchestral master heard that Napoleon crowned himself Emperor in the cathedral of Notre Dame, Beethoven flew into a rage and said, "Now too he will tread under foot all the rights of man, indulge in his own ambition; now he will think himself superior to all men and become a tyrant!"3 Infuriated, the master stormed to the table upon which his work of art lay, and tore the title page into shreds, the name of "Buonaparte" being committed to the hearth and flame. The resulting imperialism of Napoleon, then, would cause much dismay and disillusionment in the hearts of the European people; the intellectual edifice of Romanticism was doomed to collapse and a new context was being formed in which a new philosophy might emerge -- indeed, the philosophy of existentialism.Perhaps more than any other system of thought, the existential worldview is dependent on the socio-cultural context of the age. Unlike any form of transcendental idealism, existentialism envelops and engages troubled civilization, responding to the predicament of the existing individual.
Thus, we can say that existentialism is a philosophy which is attentive to the anguish, aspirations, and needs of the people, a philosophy which moves the existent to realize his "ultimate concern,"4 and thus attain an authentic existence. So, when we reflect upon the societal conditions which prevailed in post-Napoleonic Europe, and then take into consideration the fact that rationalism and higher criticism had already contributed greatly to the erosion of biblical authority, it is not difficult to see how the philosophy of existentialism could have taken root, even though it would not flourish until the twentieth century. In truth, a concrete definition of existentialism is elusive, indeed a difficult assignment. For, it is not a philosophical system or school of thought per se, nor can it be reduced to a series of propositional truths or tenets. # posted by Mysterium Dei : 7:46 PM Monday, October 16, 2006

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Kant, Herder, Schopenhauer, and Duns Scotus

Andy Smith Says: October 11th, 2006 at 2:53 pm Here it is: Socrates or Muhammad? Joseph Ratzinger on the destiny of reason. by Lee Harris 10/02/2006, Volume 012, Issue 03 To the memory of Oriana Fallaci
This was the question taken up by one of Kant’s most illustrious and brilliant students, Johann Herder. Herder began by accepting Kant and the Enlightenment, but he went on to ask the Kantian question: What were the necessary conditions of the European Enlightenment? What kind of culture was necessary in order to produce a critical thinker like Immanuel Kant himself? When Kant, in his Critique of Pure Reason, methodically demolished all the traditional proofs for the existence of God, why wasn’t he torn limb from limb in the streets of K√∂nigsburg by outraged believers, instead of being hailed as one of the greatest philosophers of all time?
Herder’s answer was that in Europe, and in Europe alone, human beings had achieved what Herder called “cultures of reason.” In his grand and pioneering survey of world history and world cultures, Herder had been struck by the fact that in the vast majority of human societies, reason played little or no role. Men were governed either by a blind adherence to tradition or by brute force. Only among the ancient Greeks did the ideal of reason emerge to which Manuel II Paleologus appeals in his dialogue with the learned Persian.
A culture of reason is one in which the ideal of the dialogue has become the foundation of the entire community. In a culture of reason, everyone has agreed to regard violence as an illegitimate method of changing other people’s minds. The only legitimate method of effecting such change is to speak well and to reason properly. Furthermore, a culture of reason is one that privileges the spirit of Greek philosophic inquiry: It encourages men to think for themselves.
For Herder, modern scientific reason was the product of European cultures of reason, but these rare cultures of reason were themselves the outcome of a well-nigh miraculous convergence of traditions to which Ratzinger has called our attention as constituting the foundation of Europe: the world-historical encounter between Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry, “with the subsequent addition of the Roman heritage.” Thus, for Herder, modern scientific and critical reason, if it looks scientifically and critically at itself, will be forced to recognize that it could never have come into existence had it not been for the “providential,” or perhaps merely serendipitous, convergence of these three great traditions. Modern reason is a cultural phenomenon like any other: It did not drop down one fine day out of the clouds. It involved no special creation. Rather, it evolved uniquely out of the fusion of cultural traditions known as Christendom.
A critique of modern reason from within must recognize its cultural and historical roots in this Christian heritage. In particular, it must recognize its debt to the distinctive concept of God that was the product of the convergence of the Hebrew, Greek, and Roman traditions. To recognize this debt, of course, does not require any of us to believe that this God actually exists. For example, the 19th-century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer was an atheist; yet in his own critique of modern reason, he makes a remarkably shrewd point, which Ratzinger might well have made himself...
For Schopenhauer, as an atheist, the rational Creator worshiped by Christians was an imaginary construction, like all other gods. For Ratzinger, as a Christian, this imaginary construction is an approximation of the reality of God; but for Ratzinger, as a critical thinker, there is no need to make this affirmation of faith. In offering his “critique of modern reason from within,” it is enough for his purposes to point out how radically different this imaginary construction of God is from the competing imaginary constructions of God offered by other religions–and, indeed, from competing imaginary constructions of God offered by many thinkers who fell clearly within the Christian tradition.
For example, Ratzinger notes that within the Catholic scholastic tradition itself, thinkers emerged like Duns Scotus, whose imaginary construction of God sundered the “synthesis between the Greek spirit and the Christian spirit.” For Scotus, it was quite possible that God “could have done the opposite of everything he has actually done.” If God had willed to create a universe without rhyme or reason, a universe completely unintelligible to human intelligence, that would have been his privilege.

Not the spirit of Pius IX; it is the spirit of Socrates

Andy Smith Says: October 11th, 2006 at 2:53 pm Here it is: Socrates or Muhammad? Joseph Ratzinger on the destiny of reason.by Lee Harris10/02/2006, Volume 012, Issue 03 To the memory of Oriana Fallaci
On September 12, Pope Benedict XVI delivered an astonishing speech at the Uni versity of Regensburg. Entitled “Faith, Reason, and the University,” it has been widely discussed, but far less widely understood. The New York Times, for example, headlined its article on the Regensburg address, “The Pope Assails Secularism, with a Note on Jihad.” The word “secularism” does not appear in the speech, nor does the pope assail or attack modernity or the Enlightenment. He states quite clearly that he is attempting “a critique of modern reason from within,” and he notes that this project “has nothing to do with putting the clock back to the time before the Enlightenment and rejecting the insights of the modern age. The positive aspects of modernity are to be acknowledged unreservedly.”
Benedict, in short, is not issuing a contemporary Syllabus of Errors. Instead, he is asking those in the West who “share the responsi bility for the right use of reason” to return to the kind of self-critical examination of their own beliefs that was the hallmark of ancient Greek thought at its best. The spirit that animates Benedict’s address is not the spirit of Pius IX; it is the spirit of Socrates. Benedict is inviting all of us to ask ourselves, Do we really know what we are talking about when we talk about faith, reason, God, and community?
For many, it will seem paradoxical that the Roman pontiff has invoked the critical spirit of Socrates. The pope, after all, is the embodiment of the traditional authority of the Church, and the Church is supposed to have all the answers. Yet Socrates was famous as the man who had all the questions. Far from making any claims to infallibility, Socrates argued that the unexamined life was not worth living, and he was prepared to die rather than cease the process of critical self-examination. Socrates even refused to call himself wise, arguing instead that he only deserved to be called a “lover of wisdom.”
Socrates skillfully employed paradox as a way to get people to think, yet even he might have been puzzled by the paradox of a Roman Catholic pope who is asking for a return to Socratic doubt and self-critique. Benedict must be perfectly aware of this paradox himself, so that we must assume that he, too, is using paradox deliber ately, as Socrates did, and for the same reason: to startle his listeners into rethinking what they thought they already knew.
But why should Pope Benedict XVI feel the need at this moment in history to emphasize and highlight the role that Greek philosophical inquiry played in “the foundation of what can rightly be called Europe”? Christian Europe, after all, was a fusion of diverse elements: the Hebrew tradition, the experience of the early Christian community, the Roman genius for law, order, and hierarchy, the Germanic barbarians’ love of freedom, among many others. In this cultural amalgam, Greek philosophy certainly played a role, yet its contribution was controversial from the beginning. In the second century A.D., the eminent Christian theologian Tertullian, who had been trained as a Roman lawyer, asked contemptuously: “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?” For Tertullian, Athens represented hot-air and wild speculation. Many others in the early Church agreed, among them those who burned the writings of the most brilliant of all Greek theologians, Origen. Yet Benedict’s address can be understood as a return to the position of the man who taught Origen, the vastly erudite St. Clement of Alexandria.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Superman and transformation of man

NIHILISM The Root of the Revolution of the Modern Age by Eugene (Fr. Seraphim) Rose
The Nihilist rebellion and antitheism responsible for the "death of God" give rise to the idea that is to inaugurate the "new age": the transformation of man himself into a god. "Dead are all the gods," says Nietzsche's Zarathustra: "now do we desire the superman to live."[63] The "murder" of God is a deed too great to leave men unchanged: "Shall we not ourselves have to become gods, merely to seem worthy of it?"[64] In Kirillov, the Superman is the "Mangod," for in his logic, "if there is no God, then I am God."[65]
It is this idea of the "Superman" that underlies and inspires the conception of the "transformation of man," alike in the Realism of Marx and in the Vitalism of numerous occultists and artists. The various conceptions of the "new man" are, as it were, a series of preliminary sketches of the Superman. For just as nothingness, the god of Nihilism, is but an emptiness and expectancy looking to fulfillment in the revelation of some "new god," so too the "new man," whom Nihilism has deshaped, reduced, and left without character, without faith, without orientation--this "new man," whether viewed as "positive" or "negative," has become "mobile" and "flexible," "open" and "receptive," he is passive material awaiting some new discovery or revelation or command that is to remold him finally into his definitive shape.
Finally, the corollary of the Nihilist annihilation of authority and order is the conception--adumbrated in all the myths of a "new order"--of an entirely new species of order, an order which its most ardent defenders do not hesitate to call "Anarchy." The Nihilist State, in the Marxist myth, is to "wither away," leaving a world-order that is to be unique in human history, and which it would be no exaggeration to call the "millennium."
A "new age" ruled by "Anarchy" and populated by "Supermen": this is the Revolutionary dream that has stirred men into performing the incredible drama of modern history. It is an "apocalyptic" dream, and they are quite correct who see in it a strange inversion of the Christian hope in the Kingdom of Heaven. But that is no excuse for the "sympathy" so often accorded at least the more "sincere" and "noble" Revolutionaries and Nihilists; this is one of the pitfalls we found it necessary to warn against at the very beginning of this chapter. In a world thinly balanced on the edge of chaos, where all truth and nobility seem to have vanished, the temptation is great among the well-meaning but naive to seek out certain of the undoubtedly striking figures who have populated the modern intellectual landscape, and--in ignorance of genuine standards of truth and spirituality--to magnify them into spiritual "giants" who have spoken a word which, though "unorthodox," is at least "challenging."
But the realities of this world and of the next are too rigorous to permit such vagueness and liberalism. Good intentions too easily go astray, genius and nobility are too often perverted; and the corruption of the best produces, not the second best, but the worst. One must grant genius and fervor, and even a certain nobility to a Marx, a Proudhon, a Nietzsche; but theirs is the nobility of Lucifer, the first among the angels who, wishing to be even more than he was, fell from that exalted position into the abyss. Their vision, in which some would see a profounder kind of Christianity, is the vision of the Reign of Antichrist, the Satanic imitation and inversion of the Kingdom of God. All Nihilists, but preeminently those of the greatest genius and the broadest vision, are the prophets of Satan; refusing to use their talents in the humble service of God, "They have waged war against God with His own gifts."[66]

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Liberation from colonialism, chauvinism and capitalism

Reflections on THE IDEAL OF HUMAN UNITY By Debashish Banerji by Debashish on Mon 09 Oct 2006 11:33 PM PDT Permanent Link THE IDEAL OF HUMAN UNITY - Chapters XXXII - XXXV: Internationalism, Internationalism and Human Unity, The Religion of Humanity, Summary and Conclusion.
Certainly, in Sri Aurobindo's vision, the liberation from all forms of oppression, the oppressions of colonialism, of chauvinism and of capitalism must constitute any acceptable form of future society, but the peril of the oppression of individual liberty by machinery of whatever kind is a defeat of the human spirit and its destiny. On the other hand, alternate to the World-State, the principle of free variation that has developed as nationalism may be maintained in the form of a federated world-union. The idea of voluntaristic federation appeals to our sense of Liberty, just as the idea of Socialism answers to the sense of Equality. However, the idealism of a loose voluntary federation of national or regional social/cultural groupings of humankind rests on the assumption, once again, of the clear perception by each constituting unit, of the "common good" as the "common goal". Such an assumption could only be justified under prevailing conditions of conscious psychological development, which present world-conditions do not evidence.
A persistence of the federal idea, under existing conditions, could not maintain itself on a basis of free choice and would inevitably transit in a direction of greater central control, as has happened in national federations, such as that of the U.S.A. Thus, "a federal system also would tend inevitably to establish one general type for human life, institutions and activities; it could allow only a play of minor variations. But the need of variation in living nature could not always rest satisfied with that scanty sustenance". [SABCL, 553] Attempts to ensure the free variation, on the other hand, would, under present conditions, tend to a breakdown of unity; "a looser confederation might well be open to the objection that it would give too ready a handle for centrifugal forces, were such to arise in new strength. A loose confederation could not be permanent; it must turn in one direction or the other, end either in a close and rigid centralization or at last by a break-up of the loose unity into its original elements". [Ibid]
Thus, whatever the political turn the urge for world-unification might take, however idealistic, its engineering and maintenance by rational and mechanical means is demonstrated by Sri Aurobindo to lead to failure, without the corresponding development of the principle of psychological unity in the peoples of the world. The ideal of Internationalism seems at first sight to provide the foundations for such a psychological basis. Sri Aurobindo points out that this ideal was a child of the French Revolution, with its triple call for "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" for all human beings. Of these, the mechanical solutions to world-union have rested, as shown above, on each of the first two principles predominantly. But it is the third, the principle of fraternity, which if it can be made real and active, can provide the necessary psychological basis for a durable union. This is so because fraternity takes its origin in the spiritual truth of Oneness which is the Power that seeks realization through world-union. Moreover, it would seem that just as the ideal of Equality is linked closely to the idea of the State; so, the ideal of the brotherhood of all human beings would be bound to the idea of Internationalism. If an international sentiment could awake in the peoples of the world, replacing the narrow separative and genocidal nationalisms which prevail, the necessary psychological conditions would have been laid for the eventuality of world-union.
But can an international sentiment develop anywhere near the same passion and effectuating power that makes people die for their country? Sri Aurobindo points out that nations have come into existence, serving territorial and cultural commonalities, which give them a basis of vital necessity less evident in the case of a world-union. Moreover, nations define themselves as identities and acquire power through a double process of amplifying factors of internal unity and external difference; whereas the international idea could not derive the strength that comes from opposition and resistance. "[T]he collective ego created would have to rely on the instinct of unity alone; for it would be in conflict with the separative instinct which gives the national ego half its vitality". [SABCL, 539] It also suffers from the danger of the rooting out of free variation and cultural diversity, if made into a dogma and applied prematurely. This is more obvious today than when Sri Aurobindo was writing, though his prophetic thought shows ample indication of its possibility.