Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Myth of Interiorty, Take One

I've been busy -- too busy to give the Underground the attention the needs and deserves.

Elsewhere in cyberspace, I've been developing the thought that there is a "myth of interiority" which stands in need of critique. (In fact, I think that this myth is the founding myth of the second Enlightenment, and that the critique of this myth is one of the key organizing ideas of the third Enlightenment.)

The Myth of Interiority is the thought that the mind of the conscious subject can be thought of as a sort of 'container' in which one discovers one's own thoughts, and that communication consists of translating these "inner representations" into an external medium for the express purpose of transmitting representations from one interiority to another.

Interiority becomes a myth when it becomes dogmatic: when it puts a choke-hold on what is thinkable, and prevents us from thinking differently, feeling differently, and living differently.

The myth of interiority receives its initial formulation in Descartes. In the Meditations, the myth of interiority is used to safeguard the Christian (more specifically, Augustinian) doctrine of the soul from Galilean physics. But in Locke, the myth of interiority is coupled together with "possessive individualism": bourgeois revolution in social relations. (One might say that Locke synthesized Descartes' epistemology with Hobbes' political theory. Thus, bourgeois philosophy was born.)

The myth of interiority has had a long and distinguished career. It took a few bad hits here and there, but it proved to be so crucial to the bourgeois self-understanding that even sophisticated and powerful critiques of it had little effect. (There is, however, one important exception, which I'll return to below.)

Twentieth-century philosophy began with the resurgence of the Myth of Interiority in two of its most effulgent versions, with Husserl and Russell. As I see it, the third Enlightenment takes, as one of it main points of departure, the critique of these most recent versions of the myth, as worked out by Merleau-Ponty, Adorno, and Deleuze in "Continental" philosophy, and as worked out by Sellars, Davidson, and McDowell in "analytic" philosophy.

Yusef asked if the critique of the myth of interiority commits me to the affirmation of exteriority. It does. Yusef then asked if the affirmation of exteriority will be Marxist.

Marx and Marxism put into motion a political critique of bourgeois society, and this critique took shape as a radicalization of the critique of the myth of interiority that began with Kant and then Hegel. So the critique of interiority took on a political configuration as it was worked out, from Kant to Hegel to Marx and beyond.

So, to answer the question whether the affirmation of exteriority will be Marxist: yes, but it will not only be Marxist. It will be Marxist, and Freudian, and Spinozist, and Nietzschean, and Deweyan, and Deleuzean. It will be the joy of the outside, the multiple, and the material, but also the sadness brought about by the forms of subtle tyranny that prevent us from thinking, feeling, and living to the n-th degree.

Is there a worry that the Nietzschean/Deleuzian rhetoric of affect will distact us from taking seriously issues of political economy? This is serious concern. I hope not. And this is one of the reasons why Marx remains indispensable to the affirmation of exteriority; without Marx, critique cannot become a political force.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Yusef said...

"(In fact, I think that this myth is the founding myth of the second Enlightenment, and that the critique of this myth is one of the key organizing ideas of the third Enlightenment.)"

Cool observation.

10:12 PM  
Anonymous Yusef said...

I pointed to Marx and asked about Marx, not because I necessarily wanted any other thinker to be excluded, but because I think that in order to speak responsibly about " desiring our own repression," will involve an unavoidable confrontation with whether the truth claims of Marxism, in particular those involving his analysis of the commodity, can be accepted. We find it a hard swallow to accept that Marx's ideas about the commodity were thought by him to be scientifically objective. I believe that they were also accepted as such by the Frankfurt school of critical theorists.

I think that the theory is that social relations for the "interiorized" are "exteriorized" in capitalist societies through the commodity form.

Certainly the commodity is desired, nowadays throughout the entire world.

If the commodity is an embodiment of repression, an exteriorization of social relationships of exploitation, and if I desire the commodity, then I desire my own repression.

This all collapses if Marx's theory of the commodity form is merely the subjectivity of Marx, Mr. Marx's peculiar form of telling an interesting story.

I had what I thought were some interesting ideas about some loose connections between exteriority and materialism that I wanted to share, but they are really so shaky that I am going to hold off.

BTW, thanks for offering the further development of your ideas.

12:00 PM  
Anonymous Yusef said...

W. Reich, who first offered up this interesting question of why there is a "desiring of our own repression," ( I believe that I am correct about this attribution of authorship,) was a Marxist, although he did succeed in getting kicked out of the communist party.

I think that it is fascinating that some people ( I think you know who I am talking about,) claim to have read all of Reich and yet have failed to note his Marxism.

Deleuze and Foucault were also Marxists, and even though they attempted to criticize Marxism, my opinion is that they never wavered in their upholding of Marxist principles. I do not think that there work would make any sense otherwise. Without the implicit Marxism, it seems to me that it would all collapse into relativism.

12:08 PM  
Blogger Dr. Spinoza said...

I very much like the suggestion that commodity-fetishism is a way of "desiring one's own oppression." And you're right that this requires a Marxist analysis of what a commodity is.

One way of putting this, I think, would be to say that a commodity is a distorted expression of human social reality. But distorted how? Just because one desires a thing rather than another person? (Marx builds on Hegel's insight that every consciousness desires the Other consciousness in order to be recognized as consciousness.) Commodity-fetishism results when we try to get from commodities what we can only get from other people.

The Frankfurters and the historical-libidinal materialists accept Marx's analysis of the commodity and his theory of capitalism as a social form (not merely an "economic" one) in which commodity production and circulation dominates over all other social processes.

Without the implicit Marxism, it seems to me that it would all collapse into relativism.

Yes; or something just as bad, or worse. In What is Philosophy?, Deleuze and Guattari dismiss a certain version of "post-philosophical culture" as merely providing entertaining dinner conversation at Mr. Rorty's house. Unlike Rorty, Deleuze and Guattari did not lose sight of the thought that philosophy matters; this is yet another respect in which Deleuze and Guattari remained Marxists.

1:23 PM  

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