Monday, February 04, 2008

Enlightenment Hives

Carl Sachs, in his very brief theory of the historical Enlightenment posted here at the Enlightenment Underground on February 16, 2006, stated “Enlightenment is the overcoming of myth through critique,” providing a nice succinct starting point for discussion and inquiry.

Immediately following this nice succinct starting point, Carl partially backtracks when he says, “However, the predisposition to mythic thinking is inscribed in the cognitive structures through which any complex, hierarchical society is produced and reproduced. Therefore, the task of critique is without end. An infinite and incompleteable critique.”

This backtracking on his original succinct statement seems to lend a great deal of support to my own brief theory of the historical Enlightenment: that it is an acceptance of extreme anxiety at the very heart of a project of selfhood…Enlightenment is the overcoming of myth through critique HOWEVER myth, as Carl conceives of myth, cannot really be overcome and so in a sense there is no such thing as the historical Enlightenment—we’re just anxious that Enlightenment be possible (even knowing that it isn’t.)

And why would we be anxious that it be when we suspect it to be impossible?

In the same post I’ve quoted from above, Carl makes a tricky but probably well-meaning move: he says that “myth is totality: the total and complete picture of the real.” I was relieved Carl bothered to give us some idea of what he understands myth to be – my immediate reaction to this “myth is totality” thing was that it might be useful, might be workable. However, I don’t really think it is. For one thing, I don’t see any reason to assume that myth is more totalizing than rationality or anything else it might be contrasted to. I don’t think it is obvious that myth is totalizing while critique is not; in fact, if critique is without end, doesn’t that mean that what is critiqued (myth) is also without end? Then Carl’s theory collapses in false problems…Myth isn’t total; what overcomes it (critique) doesn’t overcome it (if critique did overcome myth, critique would be total, and then critique would be myth,) and myth is apparently necessary anyway, (in cognitive structures through which any complex, hierarchical society is produced and reproduced.)

If myth is necessary, then the historical Enlightenment was unnecessary…I think there’s an eerie resonance here…Myth does seem to be retained by post-Enlightenment western social systems for precisely the reasons Carl lists – society requires it for its own production and reproduction—which suggests that myth is productive of polis-socius, of the “WE” while the Enlightenment tears that apart, producing an “I” which actually turns out to be something of a phantasm, or fake.

In order to make this brief theory, “Enlightenment is the overcoming of myth through critique” work, I think it needs to be understood that several totalizing sub-theories (but can a sub-theory be totalizing?) would be required. To know what a myth is and how a myth works, we practically need a complete theory of mind, the notorious theory-of-mind, (ToM.) My opinion is that to know what “totalization” is and how “totalization” would work, we also require a very extensive and, bluntly put, total and complete theory of mind. Is that what we aspire to here? Isn’t it more true we as a group share a suspicion of some areas of thought as massive fly bottles, and wish to avoid those so we can continue surfing free? I don’t think we can treat totality without becoming trapped by it; let’s not call myth totality and let’s not theorize the historical Enlightenment in terms of reactions to totality. Theorization of becoming doesn’t require a concept of “totalization” in order to overcome it, although how and why that is turns out to be mind-blowing, and I can’t go into it now.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

And now, a short break for something entirely different!

6:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought I would share some more of the Best of Crocker, with y'all

On food:

On cussing'

On how to defeat depression

7:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the 'cognitive structures' needs to be explained. What are those structures? EF

1:03 PM  
Anonymous Yusef said...

That's a good question,EF, and ideally it would be answered by Carl, as he is the author of the quoted statement. Unfortunately, Carl is AWOL.

My interpretation is that Carl, by tying myth to these "cognitive structures" was implying that mythic thinking is innate to the human mind. I couldn't understand, though, why he qualified this innateness to complex, hierarchical societies - if mythic thinking is innate, it would be found in simple, nonhierarchical societies -- it would be found in all human societies. Perhaps the point being that all human societies are complex and hierarchical? I could buy that.

If it is said Enlightenment is the overcoming of myth, but then claimed that myth is innate to human thinking, I take that as meaning that Enlightenment is wanting to have or do something it can't possibly have or do, and that while it is possible to work towards something it is impossible to achieve, this is fraught with anxiety and other forms of emotional misery.

2:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isnt the whole idea of the Enlightenment itself a myth? The events that caused or was a representation of a radical and final overcoming of myth and introduction of history and rationality, that is civilisation vs. savageness -- maybe those events that constituted the "break" with myth and the savage, was themselves mythologised and then called the Enlightenment.

The great story about evolution, of how savage man became civilised man which became the center of the world and history. EF

8:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Myth cannot be overcome and neither can fiction. If anything can be said to be truely innate to thought or mind, it must be that it is fictive.
How real it a thought? And yet it is essential to reality as we know it, because reality itself is highly fictious! In particular the way we make sense of factual events. EF

8:51 AM  
Anonymous Yusef said...

"Isnt the whole idea of the Enlightenment itself a myth? "

And also: isn't myth itself already Enlightenment?

Your comments are very interesting to me as an echo of the thoughts of Nietzsche. What also interests me is that Carl, who is a serious student of Nietzsche, offered this theory of the historical Enlightenment, at this blog never made a space for these particular echoes, and I have wondered why, and have wanted to start to deal with that absence.

Part of the reason for the absence, I think, is that if we make the transition or modification over to what you are suggesting, we seem to lose the power of critique. I say "seem to" because I don't believe we really do suffer this loss. However, some sort of perceived weakness besets us, and I think this may have been troubling Carl back in Feb 2006 when these remarks were made.

8:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This weakness that besets us, I find that interesting. What is this weakness? Is it something we percieve when confronted with uncertainty? That we cannot know ourselves completely? Or that we can only know ourselves completely by letting someone else know us. And that this is riscy? Or that we may find that the "I" is a fiction, and our relation to the world is a reproduction of something which is innately mythic.

If that is the starting point, where would a critique begin? I think maybe Heidegger could have something relevant to say about this. EF

3:39 AM  
Anonymous Lucien said...

bonne écriture qui aide vraiment à dissiper les vieux mythes

5:02 PM  

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