Saturday, May 20, 2006

Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Part I

I'm working on a synopsis of what Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud have in common, what distinguishes them, and the respects in which they do and do not have something to tell us about ourselves in contemporary society.

Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud all attempt to develop a different kind of science that will yield knowledge of the transcendental structures that constitute contemporary subjectivity. In all three, the transcendental is re-cast in material, naturalistic, and historical terms. (As labor, will to power, or libido.)

Contemporary ("bourgeois") subjectivity can be characterized in terms of a contradiction between the transcendental category and its means of self-realization; labor is alienated, power is twisted in on itself (asceticism, nihilism), and libido is subverted (repression, neurosis). (But here, too, the accounts offered by Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud have clear antecedents in Kant and in Hegel.)

So, the Kantian distinction between the empirical and the transcendental is retained, but thoroughly modified . . . since the transcendental cannot be conceptualized through rational argument, but through scientific inquiry. Yet this cannot be same kind of science
as the Bacon-to-Newton tradition would have it. (Cf. Horkheimer's distinction between "traditional" and "critical" theory.)

And this kind of science is supposed to be normative, in that it would be both critical and emancipatory (Marx's analysis of capital, Nietzsche's call for a "gay science" and a "geneaology," Freud's "talking cure").

In each case, the core commitments of German Idealism are thrown open or contested or transformed through a conversation with a branch of empirical science: political economy (Marx), philology (Nietzsche), and psychiatry (Freud).


Anonymous john c. halasz said...

A very nice little synopsis, but I'm going to make a little "anti-French" objection. If the structures that would determine or constitute "subjectivity",- (and, of course, in the Hegelian prospect of Marx, more than that would be needed to be of account),- are to be "material", then they can not be "transcendental". If anything, what they would "constitute" "transcendentally" would precisely be "false" consciousness. In other words, what is at stake is not just the tearing open and contestation of idealism, but the de-transcendentalization of philosophy and reason as such, which, by stripping them of their alleged "autonomy", is, yes, an extention and radicalization of the basic impulse and project of the Enlightenment. But the upshot here is how one understands the new, peculiar notion of science and its relation to "critique", that is, how one understands the notion of ideology and its relation to "truth". The paradox involved is the notion of necessary, because real, illusion, that is, of something being at once "true" and "false", which does go back to Kant's critique of "transcendental illusion", but ideology is not to be opposed to science, in the manner of Althusser. My (Wittgensteinian) reading of the situation would go like this: given a basic prior practical and existential-normative commitment, such as, e.g., a commitment to the movement for the emancipation of the working class, one can project/construct a theoretical framework in which empirical-analytic statements can be made with a claim to objective truth within that framework and hence lay claim to a "science". (Other basically different commitments would also allow of a "science", but the comparisons of their respective claims to objectivity would have to be mediated across differences in their frameworks). Hence Marx works out a theory of political economy with a reasonable claim to science, (which is to say it must be revisable), that not only shows forth the workings and long-run dynamical tendencies of the social reality of capitalism, but also demonstrates how those tendencies and workings, from the standpoint of variable positions within the system, "necessarily" generate certain recurrent occlusions and illusions in the variously situated positions/agencies of that system, which are necessary to its workings and maintenance: ideology. But the critique of ideology, qua a distortion and misrepresentation of normative claims and factual conditions in their interrelations, then makes a (basically rhetorical, though in a good sense), appeal to the (transformation of the) practical motives and orientations of participants in the system to, in turn, materially alter that system and the relations and illusions that it renders "necessary" and that sustain it. And the point is that the practical transformative aim, which concerns both the factual and the normative and which is traceable to the basic prescientific practical normative-existential commitment, does not simply confront and thus deflate an illusion with a "brute" reality, but rather seeks to recuperate a factual and normative "truth" out of its distorted representation in and as ideology, which would be the very motive power of that transformation. Hence the ideology itself is not entirely a negative and false thing, (any more that can be wished away or dissolved in an instant, regardless of the persistence of its "necessary" conditions), and the opposite of ideology is not science, but rather truth, albeit a "truth" that is "transcendent" to the conditions of the present reigning world, that pertains to the possibility of another "world", (in which all talk of "transcendental" would be unnecessary, indeed, nonsensical). Hence the "critical" moment precedes and exceeds the "scientific" or "theoretical" moment, both logically and existentially.

I would guess that a similar "praxiological" account of the work of both Nietzsche and Freud could be hazarded, though in a more Kantian than Hegelian prospect.

6:05 PM  
Anonymous Yusef said...

I very much appreciate the way you are utilizing concepts of subjectivity and subjectivization as the hinge for your comparison and contrast of these thinkers.

This is an original approach, isn't it?

3:59 PM  
Blogger Dr. Spinoza said...

John: Whether the transcendental can be material: if one distinguishes sharply, as Kant did, between transcendent and transcendental, then the transcendental could be material, but with some important (and un- or even anti-Kantian) provisos.

The distinction between "formal" and "material" is one of the big but unstated faultlines of the critical philosophy. What is transcendental is formal, not material. This trades on an Aristotelian set of assumptions about "matter" (hyle) and "form" (morphe). In rejecting these assumptions, I want to develop a very different, un-Aristotelian theory of what matter is -- of what it means to say that something is "material."

On the competing picture which I favor, to say that something is "material" is to say that is a relation of forces from which a provisional (but real!) form emerges. Form is not extrinsic to matter or alien to it. And once form is regarded as immanent to matter, the entire Aristotelian (and also neo-Platonic) metaphysics grinds to a halt.

If form is immanent to matter, then the transcendental (the form which structures experience) is material.

Ideology (Marx), asceticism (Nietzsche) and neurosis (Freud) are "transcendental illusions" because they are flawed forms of self-understanding. One is in the grip of ideas which lead one to systematically mis-interpret one's economic position, one's cultural or moral practices, or one's libidinal economy. In each case, critique consists of showing that what is taken to be original or self-grounding or foundational really is not -- ideology is an expression of the contradiction between productive forces and relations of production, asceticism is a denial of the will to power but also an expression of it (a sick or decadent expression), neurosis is an expression of the desire for a forbidden object together with the disavowal of that desire.

The key move here that I discern in all three is that the transcendental is conceptualized as something other than the subject and which constitutes the subject, rather than as the subject per se. There is no "transcendental subjectivity" (except perhaps in the writings of the young Marx?). How much of a break this is with Kant and the post-Kantian transcendental tradition is something I'm still thinking about.

Yusef: I don't think my approach is at all original. As I see it, I'm at best only filling in a few of the blanks provided by Adorno, Marcuse, Foucault, and Deleuze. Perhaps I'm understating my own distinctiveness?

9:29 AM  
Anonymous john c. halasz said...

Dr. Spinoza:

I was focusing on the issue of possible alternative sciences and arguing against a hypertrophy of theory, especially in its epistemological/sceptical guises, suggesting an alternative "praxiological" alternative. I understand "transcendental" to mean "an argument in terms of conditions of possibility such that a given phenomenon could not otherwise be conceivable". That does line up with the formal, but the point is to detranscendentalize philosophy, such that the formal is not separated out, but rather is an aspect of the experience of a phenomenon, a way in which a phenomenon approaches us and in which we take hold of our openness toward it, taking account of ourselves and our underlying practical situtatedness in the process. What is at issue here is what Adorno called "the preponderance of the object". But the point is that "the object" is not an unbreachable solidity: no matter how much we have lost our way, no matter how futile our efforts, no matter how much the given reality reasserts the impossibility of any alternative possibility, "the object" is already riddled with our practices. "The object" is disintegrated and misdescribed in its very solidity. So whatever compensatory "sciences" would arise in the face of such "solidity", it's important not to forget the prior commitments (and acceptances) and the alternative efforts that would transcend them. But I'd doubt that any revised conception of matter would do the trick. Rather it would be a matter of communicating across our attitudes to the matter that we've got.

9:57 PM  
Anonymous Yusef said...

"As I see it, I'm at best only filling in a few of the blanks provided by Adorno, Marcuse, Foucault, and Deleuze. Perhaps I'm understating my own distinctiveness?" - DrSpinoza

It might be relatively easy to make a synopsis of the works of Marx,Nietzsche, and Freud.

There are a lot of good,short summaries of their work prepared for the general public, ( you would be in a much better position than me to choose which of these was best,) from which to draw your material.

You wouldn't necessarily need to make any connections between them to do what's wanted of you.

But you are making connections, and I see you creating philosophy in the way you are doing that.


7:06 PM  
Blogger Christoffer said...

What do you mean by the word "false consciousness"?

3:06 AM  
Anonymous Dharamjeet said...

Hi everybody. This is quite interesting, the relationship, if there can be any, between Nietzsche, Marx and Freud. I request you please suggest me some good reading on Marx and Nietzsche. As far as I am concerned, I think the Marxian project and the Nietzschean project of "revaluation of all values" is entirely different. That is, their problematic and their approach towards that problematic is completely different. To make any sense of contemporary global neo-liberal capitalist order, one has to essentially situate and contextualize both these thinker and their projects, and inevitably has to prioritize the urgency of making a choice.

I will be glad if you can suggest me some reading on this.

1:56 AM  
Blogger Sumi said...

Hi! I stumbled onto this blog in the midst of trying to understand Marx's outlook (without actually reading anything by him, of course) by way of reading about Feuerbach's thinking. I found myself repeatedly coming back to Nietzsche. Hadn't considered the Freud angle. I have a sense of the target being naturalism in which matter is understood to be real for all practical purposes. Perhaps the stance that life is but a dream while engaging it as real. But yea, Freud. Hmm.

6:43 PM  

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