Monday, April 02, 2007

Idealism-Repression: Desire Idealism?

Due to Orla’s innovation of equating “self-incurred tutelage” with “desiring one’s own repression”, we are now able to ask what Enlightenment is while simultaneously continuing on with our project of learning how to speak accurately and responsibly of “desiring one’s own repression.” This seems remarkable and uncanny to me: I had never believed that these two questions were at all related. I am excited, because I think that combining the inquiries in this way creates a new kind of articulating surface or fold which may allow me to work toward another accomplishment: to problematize the present.

I have tried to insist, as more or less a methodological principle, that we not allow ourselves to become FOR or AGAINST the Enlightenment, nor to be neutral. However, it does seem as if I am establishing myself as AGAINST the Enlightenment, in spite of myself. If so, I will recant. However, what I am really struggling against is a certain tendency to see the Enlightenment, and the great Enlightenment actors, such as Immanuel Kant, as innocent. This sense of innocence, which may be in part a nostalgia for the past, or perhaps a gratitude to the past which has become uncritical, is a factor in what makes the present appear unproblematizable – by conferring an acceptance and authority on to inherited Enlightenment ideas which they in no way deserve.

In one of the earliest and to me one of the most important exchanges here at the Enlightenment Underground, Carl and Orla discussed the way that the concept of agency—and even effective political action-- becomes unthinkable in Deleuze, Guattari, and Foucault.

Orla said,

“On an intellectual level I get this, as well as his [Deleuze’s] idea of ‘immanence’ as the pure flow of life and perception without any distinct perceiver.

But I find it hard on a personal level to accept this way of thinking. Wouldn't this mean the impossibility of the individual as an active agent? ”

A collateral, but I believe important advantage to linking “self-incurred tutelage” with “ desiring one’s own repression” is that it will allow me to show how Deleuze’s thought of agency is not impossible – merely different. It comes to seem impossible only when we can’t escape from using Kant’s concepts of agency and autonomy – when we use these concepts as reference points, or standards, by which we coordinate and evaluate other thinking. Riddled as Kant’s concepts are with ambiguity, hypocrisy, ersatz morality and the rest, we could, rather than calling impossible Deleuze’s individual as active agent, be asking something like, “ Don’t the Kantian discrepancies between the transcendental and empirical self render the Kantian self as active agent into an impossibility? Doesn’t ‘pure reason’ render the human being into a thing, and where’s the ‘autonomy’ in that?” Accepting the Kantian political ideas as established, makes thinking the Deleuzian ideas seem impossible or undesirable.

If we are relying on Kantian conceptions of it, we have no basis for thinking that we’ve got an effective idea of the individual, especially not one considered as an active agent. If we think we do, and declare alternative conceptions as blurring that, we are doubly deceived.

Adorno and Horkheimer had this to say,

“As solid citizens, philosophers ally themselves in practice with the powers they condemn in theory. The theories are logical and hard while the moral philosophies are propagandistic and sentimental, even when rigorous in tone, or else the moral philosophies are acts of violence performed in the awareness that morality is nondeductible, like Kant’s recourse to treating moral forces as facts. His attempt to derive the duty of mutual respect from a law of reason, although more cautious than any other such undertaking in Western philosophy, has no support within the Critique. It is the usual endeavor of Bourgeois thought to ground the respect without which civilization cannot exist on something other than material interest—an attempt more sublime and paradoxical than any that went before, but just as ephemeral.” – Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments, page 67.

To attempt to ground the respect without which civilization cannot exist on something other than material interest seems innocent enough . Can the Kantian project be deemed a bad thing, deserving of the harsh condemnation given it by Horkheimer and Adorno, as an “act of violence”?

If we embrace the Kantian project , do we or do we not embrace an act of violence against ourselves? If the Kantian project is an "act of violence" and we embrace this "act of violence", do we desire our own repression in this way?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Yusef,

That's a provocative and throught-inspiring post. Thanks.

I'll try to respond some time next week. I'm currently vacationing in Madrid, Spain. And all the walking around has made even my mind pedestrian.

Hasta la vista,


2:21 PM  
Blogger Matt Scofield said...

Provocative indeed, I look forward to you further exploring the topics brought up, and the answer to the question you ask. Where can I find a link to what Orla said about the link between tutelage-desiring repression?

3:14 PM  
Anonymous Yusef said...

Hey Matt,

Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

We have been commenting on the famous " letter to the editor" of Immanuel Kant, wherein he addresses the question: what is Enlightenment?

In the very first two sentences of his letter, Kant says:

" Enlightenment is man's release from his self-incurred tutelage. Tutelage is man's inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another."

In the first sentence of the second paragraph, Kant says:

" Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why so great a portion of mankind, after nature has long since discharged them from external direction, nevertheless remains under lifelong tutelage, and why it is so easy for others to set themselves up as their guardians."

I'll try to come back here tomorrow or so to give you the link to the full Kantian text and Orla's commentary which has initiated this particular thread of exchange.

12:40 AM  
Blogger Orla Schantz said...


Here's the link to the English version:

- and to the original German:


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