Monthly Archives: August 2012

Marx’s “Theses on Feurerbach” #11

“Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.”

Marx’s final thesis on Feurerbach constitute one of the most quoted portions of his oeuvre (along with the opening words of the manifest and his, generally misunderstood, “opiate” assertion). In his eleventh, Marx builds upon the distinction laid out in the tenth thesis.  Yet, here his distinction between traditional materialism and his “new” materialism has been broadened; it is no longer merely Feuerbach who is the recipient of his critique, but philosophy in its totality.

But, what is the essence of this critique?  simple quietism?  Is it merely the passivity of philosophy?  Perhaps.  But let us consider the historical situation of Marx.  Having been brought up under the shadow of Hegel’s dialectical philosophy, Marx abandoned Hegel for Feuerbach.  Yet, following this detour into “traditional” materialism, Marx became disenfranchized with the couter-idealistic (i.e. post-Hegelian) movement of his contemporaries.  Citing the reification of abstract concepts and similar critiques, Marx similarly abandoned this group, setting out to establish his own “dialectical materialism.”

Yet, contrary to those who misinterpret his rejection of Feuerbach as a return to Hegel, Marx did not fully abandon this post-Hegelian culture. Instead, his critique of philosophy’s tendency to describe–its failure to change reality–may be seen as a direct critique of Hegelian conservativism.

Although leftist readings of Hegel’s philosophy have been popularized since the beginning, an honest reading of Hegel cannot fail to recognize a deep Prussian conservativism.  In Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, the state is presented as the objectified manifestation of the Absolute Spirit (i.e. God).  Such an assertion smacks of the radically conservative “divine right” political theories of the early enlightenment.

Against this Marx posits a new philosophical possibility: philosophy as a radically progressive movement.  Philosophy must not merely record reality, implicitly condoning its structure, but much seek to rearrange this structure through its own activity.  Philosophy itself must become a force of revolutionary reconstruction.  In this way, Marx completes the work begun in his tenth thesis and fully unites his philosophical and political projects under a single banner of revolutionary, social, living, sensuous, practical, reality.

(Thank you to those who followed me through this short project.  I ♥ my wordpress followers.)


It’s Official

I am now officially a Doctoral student at Duquesne university!  One class down, only about a hundred and fifty to go.


(oh, and that whole “dissertation” thing.  lol)

Accounting for the Saturated Phenomenon

A great introduction to Jean-Luc Marion’s Saturated Phenomenon by Fides et Ratio, Check out their blog!

Fides et Ratio per Mysterium

The concept of the saturated phenomenon is a difficult on to get a hang of, and even then it still feels unwieldy. My goal in this post is to introduce this concept, as developed by Jean-Luc Marion, just to get our heads around it. The next few posts, excluding the pop culture ones, will hinge on this concept, so it’s important for this to make sense.

Before we even begin to consider Marion’s concept, we need to review our Kantian metaphysics 101. According to Kant, the mind formats our experiences into certain predetermined forms of thinking, or categories. These categories of quantity, quality, relation, and modality are found by Kant to be the conditions for the possibility of experience. In other words, there are certain elements of experience that are necessarily imposed by the human mind, and serve as a consistent framework for objects of our experience. The table of…

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Phenomenology and its Futures

Impossible Not To Post: Hospitable Readings of Derridean Hauntologies

Critically Inclined

The impossible would no longer be the opposite of the possible but, on the contrary, would be what “haunts the possible,” what truly “enables” or possibilises the possible. The impossible, Derrida would claim, is possible, not in the sense that it would become possible, but in a more radical sense in which the impossible, as impossible, is possible.34

-Raffoul, François. “Derrida and the Ethics of the Im-possible.” Research in Phenomenology 38
(2008): 270–90. Print.

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R.I.P. Neil Armstrong

R.I.P. Neil Armstrong

A sad day.

Marx’s “Theses on Feuerbach” #10

“The standpoint of the old materialism is civil society; the standpoint of the new is human society, or social humanity.”

In his penultimate thesis, Marx offers a resounding hammer-blow against Feuerbach, if not mid-19th-century materialism in toto.  Having mapped out a new materialism, one based upon “sensuous human activity, practice,” one which does not reduce human reality to an abstract “man,” Marx here attempts a clarification of the distinction between his new materialism and that former.

In the “old materialism,” the philosophical foundation remained “civil society,” that is, the political product of human activity and praxis.  Yet, this grounding of materialism in civil society is inescapably a grounding in irreality, in an abstract concept.  For Marx, civil society does not possess true reality, for reality is found only in the practical enactment of human life.

In order to overturn this “old materialism,” Marx seeks a new foundation of philosophy, a grounding in “human society, or social humanity.”  While certainly, at its face, “human society” appears to be a mere repetition of  “civil society,” this thesis must be read in the context of the prior theses.  For Marx, this distinction is essentially a question of source and product.  “Human society” and “civil society” cannot be identical because the latter ideality is grounded in the former reality.  It is true that, for Marx, human reality is essentially social, that is, communal; yet, this sociality is not “civil”: it is not institutionalized.

Grounding his philosophy in the reality of social humanity, Marx is therefore able to bypass institutionalized politics and found a new materialism upon the true essence of human value: sensuous practical activity, human life.  Through this bypassing, Marx is no longer tied to the particularities of an historical civil or political instituition; he is not bound, as Hegel* and Feuerbach before him, to cauterize this political institution into a philosophical necessity.  Rather, radical or revolutionary politics is now a possibility.  In this way, the link between Marx’s philosophical and political thought manifests itself; a link which will be further clarified in his final, 11th thesis.

*(Hegel is notorious for his idealization of the Prussian state, which provided the grounding of the conservative “right Hegelianism”)

Ouspensky on Phenomenological Description

“Therefore in order to observe and study habits one must try to struggle against them.  This opens up a practical method of self-observation.  It has been said before that a man cannot change anything in himself, that he can only observe and ‘record.’  This is true.  But it is also true that a man cannot observe and ‘record’ anything if he does not try to struggle with himself, that is, with his habits. “

-Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous (p. 111)

Simon Silverman Phenomenology Center

Simon Silverman Phenomenology Center, Duquesne University’s massive library of phenomenology.

Be jealous.

The Phenomenological Dignity of the Unconscious

Working thorough Freud’s infamous Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria, one cannot fail to recognize a profound ambiguity within both Freud’s concept of the unconscious and its related contents, the presence of two minds–two Freuds.  The unconscious, it seems, rests upon an unsure footing, tipping between the irrational, non-objectifible realm of affectivity, and the realm of consciousness: the rational, the conceptual, the objectifiable.

It must first be recognized that psychoanalysis always works with two distinct forms of evidence: the conscious and the unconscious.  Moreover,  the latter is not to be subsumed under the former, but retains its own evidential dignity.  As Freud expicitly states:

“I handle unconscious ideas, unconscious trains of thought, and unconscious emotional tendencies as though they were no less valid and unimpeachable phsychological data than conscious ones.” (p. 134)

Yet, what is the precise nature of “unconscious ideas”?  Is it even possible to designate the unconscious as a “train of thought” without sacrificing the clear phenomenological distinction between these two realms?  It is precisely this conflation of the conscious and the unconscious that manifests itself throughout Dora.  Our “first” Freud explicitly proposes the absorption of the unconscious  into the conscious, marking this phenomenological disingenuity as the principal role of psychoanalysis.

“Dreams in general can be interpreted, and that after the work of interpretation has been completed they can be replaced by perfectly correctly constructed thoughts which find a recognizable position in the texture of the mind.” (p. 29)

“The practical aim of the treatment is to remove all possible symptoms and to replace them by conscious thoughts.” (p. 32)

“The technique of psychoanalysis enables us first of all to infer the unconscious phantasies from the symptoms and then to enable the patient to become conscious of them.” (p. 148)

The question must again be repeated.  Is such a transubstantiation of unconscious material into conscious forms possible without a loss of the original material in its entirety?

If we might consider the second strand of Freud’s thought, one that does not propose the subsumption of the unconscious under the conscious, than we might find a psychoanalytic theory which retains the phenomenological dignity of the unconscious as illogical (or perhaps pre-logical), a theory which does not reduce the unconscious to mere messenger of the conscious as signifier of a conscious signified, but allows the unconscious to retain its own effectivity.

At many points, Freud moves in precisely this direction.  Refusing the critiques of hysteria often proposed by laymen, Freud writes:

“People who speak of the patients in this way are right except upon a single point: they overlook the psychological distinction between what is conscious and what is unconscious.” (p. 62)

Yet, is this not precisely what Freud himself has proposed as the mission of psychoanalysis? In his effort to reduce the unconscious to the conscious, it is precisely the phenomenological difference, the “psychological distinction,” that he must overcome (or overlook).  Instead of supporting such an “overlooking”–even if disguised as a “replacement”–the maintenance of phenomenological dignity requires that we side with our “second” Freud, the Freud which recognizes the irreducibility of unconscious material, the Freud which wrote:

It cannot be resolved by any effort of thought, either because it itself reaches with its root down into unconscious, repressed material, or because another unconscious thought lies concealed behind it.” (p. 72)

As long as the unconscious is recognized as a distinct psychic realm, it must be treated as such.  Its contents must not be relegated to a secondary role, images of the principal mind, consciousness.  Instead, psychoanalysis must side with Lacan who recognizes that the unconscious does not follow the logic of consciousness, it is not reducible to consciousness.  Like Michel Henry’s affectivity, the unconscious is the realm of where life is lived, and life does not play by logic’s rules.