Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Pluralism as Critique of Totality

What has me perplexed and fascinated at this point in the conversation is how to connect James and Wittgenstein (also Adorno) with "the Enlightenment." Part of the trick, I now think, is to see how the critique of "absolutism" and "intellectualism" in James is a critique of totality that belongs to a conversation shared with Wittgenstein, with Foucault, and even with Adorno.

Note: Adorno is a difficult case because one of the voices in his texts is a nostalgiac longing for a a lost totality and a utopian yearning for a totality-to-come. Deleuze is also a difficult case because, like Foucault, Derrida, and Wittgenstein, he demands a ruthless critique of totality, but unlike them -- and in this respect he is in the same camp as James and Bergson -- Deleuze thinks that a critique of totality is possible by way of an ontology of difference. Whereas his comrades-in-arms of la pensee 68, like Wittgenstein and Adorno, think that a critique of totality is only possible by stringently adjuring from ontology, that ontology is only possible as totality. Here too Levinas would concur, and Levinas' influence on Derrida can scarcely be overestimated.

The critique of totality belongs to the Enlightenment, and it can be difficult to see this clearly, because it is not sufficiently well-appreciated how much of the Enlightenment itself was a protest against totality, against intellectualism, and against absolutism. And this had an immediate political significance, because in protesting against these "sins against thought," the Enlightenment philosophers were directly attacking those whose legitimation was based on those sins -- the authority of the aristocracy and the clergy. When Smith argues against mercantilism, he is argung against the totality that speaks in the name of the king. When Hume argues against the existence of miracles, or demolishes the argument from design (or at least one version of it), he is attacking the basis of the self-understanding of the clergy.

And this way of looking at things may help get into better focus the difference between James, whose pluralism took on a political voice in the first half of the twentieth century (partly as mediated through Dewey), and Goodman, whose pluralism has thus far remained an academic exercise.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Yusef said...

I appreciate the way you are folding these themes back into a discussion of the enlightenment, and it will really be something to see how these very different thinkers relate in this way.

I don't think I have much of an idea of James's effect politically, and I hope you will have an opportunity to fill me in.

I also agree very much with what you are saying about Adorno's case. This attitude of Adorno to totality seems to double his attitude toward " subjectivity", subjectivity understood as a specific concept.

It is crucial to my project of geological smashmouth that this doubling of totality in the form of an idea of subjectivity be "broken up."

1:05 PM  
Blogger Dr. Spinoza said...

Yes! This is part of why Adorno's complaints about the "dissolution" of the subject are difficult to take entirely seriously.

8:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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3:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, I've been reading that the clash between the counter-enlightenment and the enlightenment was responsible for what we recognise to be "pluralism." does anyone have any pointers to works or journals which go into this in a bit more depth? Thanks, Jim

4:27 PM  

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