Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Enlightenment Eczema

On February 16, 2006, the same day Carl Sachs proposed his very brief theory of the historical Enlightenment,“Enlightenment is the overcoming of myth through critique,” he also asked the following questions:

-What was the Enlightenment?

-What was the Counter-Enlightenment?

-What is “the dialectic of Enlightenment?”

-Why is the Enlightenment currently under attack?

-Why did the Left abandon its traditional defense of Enlightenment principles and ideals?

Responding to Carl’s questions with Carl’s own very brief theory of the historical Enlightenment, do we or do we not obtain the following:

Question: “What was the Enlightenment?”
Answer: “Enlightenment is the overcoming of myth through critique.”

Question: “What was the Counter-Enlightenment?”
Answer: “The Counter-Enlightenment is the overcoming of critique through myth.”

Question: “What is ‘the dialectic of Enlightenment’?”
Answer: “The ‘dialectic of Enlightenment’ is progressive sublation of myth and critique.”

Question: “Why is the Enlightenment currently under attack?”
Answer: “Assuming the Enlightenment is currently under attack, it would be because the relative value of critique to myth has changed.”

Question: “Why did the Left abandon its traditional defense of Enlightenment principles and ideals?”
Answer: “Assuming the Left did abandon its traditional defense of Enlightenment principles and ideals and that the Left has not become corrupted (i.e., assuming that the Left is still the Left,) it is because overcoming myth through critique is no longer progressive.

However this may be, Carl’s very brief theory of the historical Enlightenment contains three elements: 1) myth; 2) critique; 3) overcoming.

Carl gives us some idea of what each of these elements mean. For example, he says that myth is totality.

As I remarked in my last post, I found the making of myth into totality a very surprising move. I expected myth to be interpreted as appearance, while critique would be interpreted as the uncovering of reality; or for myth to be illusion,while critique would be discovery of underlying truth; or for myth to be a preference for beauty and feeling,while critique would respond to a need for clarity, essence, and utility. If Carl had proposed myth as appearance and critique as the uncovering of reality or something to that effect, his theory would have been quite conventional; it would also have corresponded to way I have always assumed the actors of the historical Enlightenment understood themselves.

But myth as totality? A critique of this totality leading to an infinitization of the historical Enlightenment? There is, I think, a peculiar jump made in that, and it has taken me a long time to see it. Seeing it, though,may help us to move forward in our inquiry of the historical Enlightenment in terms of the subject, the “I” and the “We” and whether the subject, the “I” and the “We” are useful or harmful in concept creation for autonomy.


I think taking myth as totality skips over Kant and the 18th Century Enlightenment as we’ve considered this to be defined, almost altogether. We move suddenly into Hegel’s realm. What happens in Hegel’s realm? Reason and rationality lose nearly everything of their revolutionary potential (which is present even in the earlier Hegel,) and become State forms of thinking. You as an individual can dare to use your reason to draw your own conclusions, but these conclusions must be always equal to the conclusions which have already been drawn by the State. You may desire whatever you want, as sanctioned by the State. One's own reason leads one to ineluctably conclude that obedience is always the very best idea.

(Note: I’m as incompetent in Hegel as in Kant. I’m trying to reach into Carl’s “myth is totality” idea and draw out something of its desire. Why I need to reference Hegel and Kant, I don’t know. Probably simply because I think it is making things easier for me.)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, Yusef, for persistently keeping our focus on the Enlightenment.

If we use Kant's philosophical terminology against himself, the Enlightenment is "das Ding für uns" = our CONSTRUCTION of "das Ding an sich". This might give some credence to the "myth as totality" concept but we (or the multiple "I's") need to take into account the historical context. Even voicing opposition to the ruling paradigm in the latter part of the 18th century constitutes a revolt by scientific thinking to the faith-based myth-making that was the order of the day.

This might of course be the substitution of one "total" myth by another, but it is also a recognition of the advancement of human knowledge. Just stating THAT is revolutionary.

All the best,


5:59 PM  
Blogger Yusef Asabiyah said...

Orla, believe it or not I plan to pursue the path you suggested not too long ago. I think there is a potent connection between "totality" and "myth" and "private reason" and the "I" and the "we" and I want to exploit a potential continuity between the new curiosity and the original concerns expressed by Carl.

9:11 PM  

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