Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Enlightenment Anxiety

Enlightenment Underground was to be a collaborative effort, but it never was.

The theme of the Enlightenment was not one I would have chosen. That choice was not made by us in collaboration: it was dictated by Carl.

It was dictated by Carl, who then abdicated.

I was willing to try to play along, but it is apparent to me now I am unable. I am freaking unable.

I am freaking out and I have freaked out all along.

I have more than ambivalence to the Enlightenment: I have extreme aversion to it.

What is the historical Enlightenment?

It’s a willingness to accept an enormous level of anxiety about the basic project of the self. Is that level of anxiety completely unproductive? Quite possibly – I wouldn’t be surprised to see the entire three centuries of intellectual edifice founded on this anxiety come crumbling down.

I might be one of the people cheering, in that event.

I have no willingness to bear this excruciating burden of anxiety.

Kant said, “Dare to use your own Reason.”

But what I would reply is, “There is no such a thing as one’s own Reason.”

Whatever reason is, it is social and political and decidedly not private or natural.

If my autonomy, or my sense of my own autonomy, is founded on use of “my own Reason” but in my heart I suspect that there is no such thing as “my own Reason,” I am suspended, in my project of selfhood, in anxiety.

It is painful to contemplate the anxiety of one’s own anxiety.

I feel regret about freaking out, though.

I would easily understand why my co-collaborators would not want to stay in the “room” with me – how would it be possible to collaborate with, or even talk to, someone freaking out? I think one of the weirdest and most awful things about my participation in the blog has been how difficult it has been to be honest. The “freaking out” wasn’t even honest, a guarantee of honesty. It didn’t provide a way out of the inhibition I’ve felt, either. And this is very strange.

Daring to use my own reason, I boldly state: I have no private reason? (And is it possible to say such a thing boldly?)


Blogger Fido the Yak said...

I'm hoping you don't intend to quit blogging altogether.

I have regarded the tension here between "Sapere Aude" and the criticism of Reason as productive. When Horace used the phrase it seems that it was an exhortation to finish a job and not to procastinate. Although I think I understand your dispute with Kant, I'm not sure why you can't make "Sapere Aude" mean something other that what Kant says it means. Well, I wouldn't try to convince you not to abandon "Sapere Aude" if you feel you must. I'll say again that I hope you keep blogging.

12:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yusef, I second fido's remarks. You need to keep thinking and blogging and we need you. I haven't had much to add to the blog recently for various reasons, but maybe one way forward is to delve into the whole concept of the "I" and the (im)possibility of "private reason".


4:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What makes Orla think that he knows what Yusef needs?


7:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're right, EF. I don't. But judging from Yusef's blogging activity over the last couple of years I think he needs to think and to formulate his thinking. What I do know is that I need to check the blog daily - and sometimes to post.


10:35 AM  
Anonymous Yusef said...

"I'm not sure why you can't make "Sapere Aude" mean something other that what Kant says it means."

What I want "Sapere Aude" to mean is: the public(people) can create public-reason (people-reason, or maybe to put it another way, pop philosophy.)

I also thought Orla's "power intensifies desire" was an interesting reconfiguration of "Sapere Aude."

I want to entirely detach the issues, what's problematical for me, from the philosophy texts we keep circling. Part of what makes me feel dishonest here is the philosophical pretence -- I can't really speak with a great deal of integrity on any of what I am attempting to speak about:Kant, the Enlightenment, Nietzsche, Deleuze (which is a truly strange assortment, anyway,)and I don't want to even give a hint that I think I can. On the other hand, I am genuinely aggravated by the very problems motivating these texts -- I want to isolate the problems from the texts without reference to the texts, if that's possible.

This detaching of the problems from the texts and making Sapere Aude mean seem to me to be compatible projects. But I guess I need to be wary of my own tendency to make assertions -- if I say I want Sapere Aude to mean the public(people) can create public-reason (people-reason, or maybe to put it another way, pop philosophy) that's just an empty and bland assertion. The problem behind it is real and quite staggering,I think.

It is interesting and very relevant when Orla says,"maybe one way forward is to delve into the whole concept of the "I" and the (im)possibility of "private reason"." This is an excellent suggestion. However it made me remember one of Carl's earliest posts on "the myth of interiority." I've been nagged by this undeveloped theme in the background...It must be that Carl has his own Enlightenment aversion. The first posts of the blog read as if he's suggesting we go "back to the Enlightenment" but then he's interspersed the posts about the myth of interiority and desiring one's own repression in between the pro-Enlightenment ones, and I think the myth of interiority and the nexus of problems behind desiring one's own repression are deeply anti-Enlightenment. It's taken me a long time to get even the small insight I have about that now, though.

12:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Enlightenment anxiety, that is an interesting phase. So we grand that the enlightenment was a project, that had to do with a realisation of the self: a preclude to the modern man, the subject. And that this had to do with using ones own rationality, according to Kant. But was not rationality for Kant something closely related to a universiality? A deed was rational if it could be applied in every circumstance, and the understanding of this universality, was not a subjective move. It transcended the individual. Did Kant deliberatly want to mislead us? Did Kant in fact sum up the motto of the enlightenment to be something that ran contrary to his own philosophy?
And if so, why would he do that?


7:15 AM  
Anonymous Yusef said...


These are excellent questions and I hope we will find it possible to address them in depth.

I think one problem we've had vis a vis Kant is, for purposes of facilitating the conversation, we've restricted our attention to his short essay,(actually it was a letter to the editor) "What is Enlightenment?", which has caused us to overemphasize its importance within the full range of Kant's work. However, there is, in my opinion, a lot of deeply disturbing drek in this essay which in my opinion meaningfully illuminates what Kant(and other Enlightenment thinkers,) really had in mind when they were speaking more abstractly and theoretically of universality and objectivity.

I have not wanted to directly discuss how I think about the nature of rationality here at EU, but perhaps that's yet another reason for me not being able to achieve a satisfying coherence when I'm talking about the Enlightenment. Is rationality a kind of tool for achieving autonomy and individuality, or for creating a common ground, or is rationality, as Adorno and Horkheimer thought, equal to imperialism? My opinion is that it is the latter. I am afraid I can see a motivation for Kant to wish to impose mind-colonization. He was,I think, working for THE MAN.

12:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What man is that?


1:00 PM  
Anonymous Yusef said...

I meant THE MAN, working for the man, as it is used in slang, which use I feel is quite acute and precise.

I also was thinking of Kant's patron, an "enlightened despot," who wanted an empowered citizenry, or did he?

I also meant THE MAN as the majoritarian figure in this sense,

"Majority implies a constant, of expression or content, serving as a standard measure by which to evaluate it. Let us suppose that the constant or standard is the average adult-white-heterosexual-European-male-speaking a standard language(Joyce's or Ezra Pound's Ulysses). It is obvious that "man" holds the majority, even if he is less numerous than mosquitoes, children, women, blacks, peasants, homosexuals,etc. [...] Majority assumes a state of power and domination, not the other way around. It assumes the standard measure, not the other way around. Even Marxism 'has almost always translated hegemony fro the point of view of the national worker, qualified, male and over thirty-five.' "- Deleuze and Guattari, A thousand Plateaus, page 105.

If Kant's rationality,universality, and objectivity presuppose this constant, standard of measure, or whatever you want to call it, and I think it does, (change for change, so as not to transmute the 18th century to the 20th,) Kant's way to achieving autonomy is going to serve(IMO), loss of autonomy if autonomy and becoming have any necessary relationship.

The composition of the economy and the technical development of the society were changing rapidly during Kant's time. The composition of the work force, the work force's ideology, also needed to change. The ideologies of freedom and progress become very important during this time, as we all know. Things get murky when we attempt to criticize these ideologies if our available modes of criticisms presuppose the very ideologies (as basic truths, as standards of measure, as criteria, as limits,) we are attempting to criticize.

1:08 PM  

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