Monday, April 24, 2017

"Of the dear I": The modern world's belly-god

Pretty much everywhere one hears about "experience", which is basically the new word for "gold". However, unlike older images of the pudgy bourgeois capitalist overlooking his factory, or some Scrooge-like figure hovering over his fortune like a greedy mountain dragon of old, the new image of this new capital is sexy, young, and robust. The purpose of life, it seems, is to acquire experiences. Why travel? To experience the world. Why go to this or that event, concert, show? To have a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Why do legions of twenty-somethings enter, willingly, into a form of slavery, where they do low-level, menial tasks for free (the phenomenon of the intern)? To gain experience so that someone on the job-market will hire you. Why should young men and women sleep around before they get married? Because, as someone once told me, they need to get the experience to sexually please their future spouse. The examples continue on and on.

This connects to the uninterrupted reign of the subjective that Kant, accidentally it seems, unleashed with his so-called Second Copernican Revolution, the radicalization of Descartes' subject-object divide into the turn to the subject. J.G. Hamann was a friend and contemporary of Kant, and remained his fiercest critic. However, unlike his student Herder, Hamann did not utilize Kant's subjective turn to attack reason, but complicated the whole as the mess of a world post-Babel. Here's Oswald Bayer's reading of Hamann:
When assumed and dealt with, this conflict [of the unity or diversity of languages and reasons] can have a productive effect and yield gain for language. Hamann, however, refuses to expropriate this experience for the productivity of modern subjectivity and thus wring surreptitiously from necessity a virtue "of the dear I." Hearing and reading as continual converse in translation with the natural and social world cannot simply be reshaped into the function of an individuality that opens itself to the other and strangers only in order to expand and enrich itself, thus in the understanding of the other always returns to the self and uses the variety of languages or reasons only to enjoy itself. Romanticism and Schliermacher along with it misunderstood Hamann's hermeneutic. The same is true of Hegel, for whom the contemplative Spirit is enriched by empty into the other, but in this emptying merely comes to itself, becomes aware of itself, "through sinking, being sunk in the other," and gains nothing but itself.
The Subjectivist, whether he be the Kantian critic with his withering gaze, the voluntarist Fichtean who makes the world according to the will, or the synthesis of eternity and temporal into Hegel's process theology, is nothing more than a belly. The Subjectivist turns the Human into the ultimate consumer, far more destructive than the crass materialism of the shopping-mall idiot. This endless consumption threatens to transforms all else into objects, passive and inert, to be absorbed. It is the chief jewel crowning the headdress of Human vanity, which ultimately results not only in man's attempt to destroy creation, but also bring about the destruction of Humanity.

Film has, in recent years, done a great job at revealing the horror of this Human capacity. While one can clearly point to sci-fi, where aliens, apes, or machines mimic and adopt this Subjectivist posture, I think a more interesting example is the new horror movie Get Out. I admit I haven't seen it, reading reviews and plot synopses has been enough fuel for my imagination. What is amazing, in a black humor that, I hope, becomes the mark of Jordan Peele's directing career, is how Humanist liberals operate according to a vicious appetite. In a fantastical scenario, black men and women are being turned into vessels for fashionable liberals, consuming their flesh in a vampiric-zombie-esque form, reflecting this Subjectivist desire to "experience" all things. This goes beyond the complaint of cultural appropriation, which, as far as I understand, is completely irrelevant. Rather, it's taking the modern obsession on experience to an absurd conclusion. This ramps up the sexual commodification of experience to a completely different level (i.e. the "I want to sleep with a black man/woman" becomes "I want to be a black man/woman"). It's a tongue-in-cheek deconstruction of how evil our modern ethos can really be.

Hamann stands outside of this tradition, even as he appreciates the Enlightenment emphasis upon the crisis of multiplicity, discovering diverse worlds and forms outside of Europe. Hamann's response, however, is shaped by his Christianity, as a firm disciple of Luther. I will end with Hamann's cross-shaped hermeneutic, and leave it for further consideration:
What frees Hamann's understanding of language from illusion is the cross of Jesus Christ. It is for him the source of his critical contact with the conflict of languages and rationalities. The tyrant and sophist [i.e. the plurality of language is a battle of both illusions and seductions, but also violent conforming force--CP] can be "disarmed by nothing than mathemata pathemata, suffering erudition, aesthetic obedience to the cross." 
Addendum 5/6/17: It is interesting to consider that in the film Get Out the hypno-body snatching of the evil white liberals is the sending of the black consciousness to the "sunken place". This parallels Hegel's phrasing in how the Spirit, the ultimate Subject, most fully realizes itself in the created Other-Object. While the Synthesis appears, in its most positive construal, as a coming together of Subject and Object, it is possible to see it as the evolution of the Subject by the domination of the Other-Object. This reading makes more sense of Hegel's notion of the Subject's revelation of Self when confronted with the Other-Object is most properly realized in the dialectic of freedom and slavery. The Master is only free when he sees himself in the Slave, the Other-Object. Frederick Douglas famously reversed this formula, where the Slave becomes Subject by recognizing the Other-Object Master, who is merely a force of nature to be overcome. Both presuppose an antagonism at the heart of creation, which reflects the Fallen state of This Age. However, if, like Hegel, one makes a metaphysics of this, then we have rejected the Scripture. The agon of body-snatching is then the dark heart of reality, and we live in a world akin to Ridley Scott's Alien, where the Xenomorph is the most real Real subject, who truly comes to be by colonizing the Other. If Hegel is right, then God is the Devil and we are all in Hell.

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