nikki moore

Posts Tagged ‘kant’

reading un-adorned?

In Uncategorized on February 1, 2009 at 3:04 pm

“the mania for foundations”

politically, psychologically, it is not only compelling but isn’t it simply ‘good rigor’ to search for antecedents?  we live out this mania in every sphere, asking what lead up to the current gaza conflict?  what was behind my last slip of the tongue? etc, etc. etc…

is it to all of this back peddling that Derrida writes, ‘there is nothing outside the text?’

many modes of critical reading have taken this route: close reading, new criticism, they all boil down to the acknowledgement of nothing beyond the page.  no history, no biography.  just the words as you see them there, which of course has with nothing ‘just’ (as in mere) about it as the apparent restriction, the requirement to only see what is seen opens up everything for the reader.  metaphor, puns, word choices all take on a weight formerly lost in the baggage of history. Adorno knew this as well as anyone else.  In his lectures on Kant, beginning to clarify his own methodology, he writes:

“When Kant says that we are drive by our nature to g further and further in order to arrive at some sort of primary and absolute knowledge, it is legitimate for us to cast doubt on this supposed natural disposition.  Or, to put it less anthropologically, since that is not how Kant meant it to be understood, he believes that the compulsion lies in the matter itself.  I should like at least to invite you to consider whether it is not an illusion that if our knowledge is to be secure everything that is known has to be traced back to some ultimate truth or to some primary certitude.  That raises the question whether we are not faced here with what I have elsewhere called the ‘mania for foundations’ (Fundierungswahn).  This is the idea that no piece of knowledge can be understood simply within the framework in which it happens to be located.  I can only be satisfied with it once I have pursued it back to infinity, to the point where nothing further can happen, and nothing can deprive me of this piece of knowledge.  You should be quite clear in your minds that this principle – which is indeed a principle accepted in the entire tradition of Western philosophy – actually implies that there is a match between the knowing mind and the objects of possible knowledge that allows us to reduce every object of cognition to such an absolute.  Only if I start from this metaphysical premise of an ultimate, conclusive identity between the object of cognition and the cognitive faculty can I legitimately require everything I know to be able to demonstrate its credentials in terms of its own founding principles.”  (Adorno, Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, Stanford: 1995.  pp. 52-53)

While deconstructive readings, close readings, as Adorno is here offering and inviting his students/readers to, (though not using that coded terminology, have been criticized as anti-political, or agency leeching… Adorno opens up something almost ethical (though i cringe from the word and its implications, i can’t think of a better…) in asking us to read the text in front of us.  To weigh what is happening in the right here and now of a reading.  Slipping this method of reading into other contexts is both fruitful and dangerous: it would allow us to read a combat scene as the violence it is, without precursor, without justifications of vengeance, right of defense or otherwise.  It would evaluate each moment on its own terms, nothing outside the present tense, present text…

I don’t know if that is what Derrida was getting at.  But by this methodology, what he was getting at is outside of my readable space and I am left with the weight of my own response to his written words.

I’ve outlined the fruit. I imagine you can see the danger, and it is important to remember, to consider, that Adorno knew his audience.  Speaking to a group of well read students, surely he knew for them that history could never be erased even if it could be momentarily bracketed.  We could suggest that this close reading should, might, be coupled with what Judith Butler calls a ‘politics of mourning’ that allows for not only memory but critical commentary on (especially) topics under erasure in order to ensure that history’s most heinous mistakes are not repeated in ignorance.  While this may first sound like the reintroduction of all that lies outside the lines we are inscribing, Butler’s call is an even more rigorous call to read the present.  All of the present – both that which can be easily seen, read and counted, and all that which falls below the readable speakable lines of every present tense/text.

read this way, it isn’t only reading.  or perhaps it is, but reading more fully, more responsibly, responsively, than i had formerly understood it…


light as a…

In Subjection on November 10, 2008 at 9:03 pm

feather.  stiff as a board.

it’s a game you play in junior high, maybe earlier.  willing yourself to be lighter than air and hard as a rock.  

i could never make it work.

so today i’m reading zizek’s ticklish subject.  trying to read, trying to find to read…

and Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Penelopiad’.


First, on ‘The Deadlock of Transcendental Imagination, or, Martin Heidegger as a Reader of Kant’:

in a fascinating discussion of heidegger reading kant, zizek points to (creates?) a mis-step in heidegger’s reading of kant’s theory of the imagination.  to do so, zizek first proposes that Heidegger’s project is, contrary to popular belief, political.  It is a decisionism, Dasein’s decisionism given throwness and all the rest.  All the rest for Heidegger of course being an engagement with the nazi’s that zizek considers a wrong step in the right direction: i.e. rather than revamping the project of Being and Time to pull out the subjectivist transcendental centers that still remained (ex: starting with dasein to get to the existential analytic) (which are said to be the flaws that lead to his nazi affiliations) heidegger should have instead, stuck to those subjectivist approaches.  “nazism,” zizek writes, “was not a political expression of the ‘nihilist, demoniac potential of modern subjectivity’, but, rather its exact opposite: a desperate attempt to avoid this potential” (p.21).

(purportedly zizek means this for heidegger… because clearly…) but moving on…

along these lines, (those above) heidegger’s unfinished project of Being and Time is unfinished for the same reasons that heidegger saddled up with the nazi’s.  it is a problem of imagination.  really.  “what heidegger actually encountered in his pursuit of Being and Time was the abyss of radical subjectivity announced in Kantian transcendental imagination, and he recoiled from this abyss into his thought of the historicity of Being” (p.23).

the problem lies in designation.  with imagination being the site of spontenaity in Kant the question is: phenomenal or noumenal?  “on the one hand, [kant] conceives of transcendental freedom (‘spontenaity’) as noumenal: as phenomenal entities, we are caught in a the web of causal connections, while our freedom (the fact that, as moral subjects, we are free, self-originating agents) indicates the noumenal dimension.”  yet kant’s own reasoning shows that given access to the noumenal we would in fact be puppets, bound to the law and utterly dictated by it.  So whither transcendental freedom?

zizek points out that heidegger reads kant faithfully through this problematic and levels a fair critique at his regression to traditional metaphysics.  yet when kant (unknowingly?) splits the noumenal into two parts (that which cannot be known and that which appears to the subject as the unknowable) something radical takes place that opens a path for Hegel’s later reading of “imagination qua the ‘activity of dissolution” and ultimately gives zizek grounds to stake out an invasion/inversion of the subject.

Drawing from an amazing passage in Hegel’s phenomenology on this dissolution: “To break an idea up into its original elements is to return to its moments, which at least do not have the form of the given idea, but rather constitute the immediate property of the self.  …The activity of dissolution is the power and work of the undestanding, the most astonishing and mightiest of powers, or rather the absolute power. …But that an accident as such, detached from what circumscribes it, what is bound and is actual only in its contects with others, should attain an existence of its own and a separate freedom – this is the tremendous power of the negative, it is the energy of thought, of the pure ‘I'” (p.30).

the power of imagination, as cited in this passage from hegel is the power to tear apart.  It is not, then, reason which dissects and does violence to thought, but imagination which is a more originary violence, and always already ‘dismembering’ of thought.  zizek reiterates this in an investigation of kant’s work on the sublime, again inverting the traditional reading of the sublime as violent to thought, to reason, instead to the sublime which is the ‘real’ of imagination, barely veiled by reason as what it already is.  

“Our (Hegelian) point, however, is that this mythical/impossible starting point, the presupposition of imagination, is already the product, the result, of the imagination’s disruptive activity.  In short, the mythic, inaccessible zero-level of pure multitude not yet affected/fashioned by imagination is nothing but pure imagination itself, imagination at its most violent, as the activity of disrupting the continuity of the inertia of the pre-symbolic ‘natural’ Real” (p.33).

Ok, so then moving quickly as this recap is surely dragging…

‘The Passage through Madness’.  zizek resituates normality as a paranoiac psychosis (via lacan) and doesn’t stop before citing sexual difference (again via lacan) in kant’s work on the sublime.

where he goes next will have to wait until i’ve had some sleep…