“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Sunday, February 18, 2007

eine kleine Hegelmusik

In the Phenomenology, Hegel introduces some of the dialogue from Rameau’s nephew in the section on the “self alienated spirit”. Here, the social conditions that frame the dialectical image embodied, eventually, in the “myself” and “him” of the dialogue are State Power and Wealth. They inevitably impinge upon “Bildung” – education, the development of the intelligence (Einsicht) – and there is no resigning from them, or turning away from them. Since State Power and Wealth are, indeed, the spirits that preside over our current miseries, the current sad state of American culture, American aggression, American cluelessness – the whole D.C. daisy chain – the dialogue between the sage and the buffoon takes on a whole new relevance. One has only to read, say, in the Friday Washington Post a profile of Michelle Malkin by Howard Kurz entitled Hard Right Punch to see how the transaction between decency (o decency), the false transparency of the media, and buffoonery plays out in these dire days of the mock apocalypse, how we are invited to suffer, and do suffer, as comments galore demonstrate, for the victimization of the wealthy. In the course of the article, a homespun little piece in the genre of here's looking at you kid, it is reported that “after a few liberal sites posted her home address and phone numbers last year, Malkin received a wave of harassing calls. She responded with a defiant post, headlined "I AM NOT AFRAID OF YOU." Malkin and her family have moved elsewhere in Maryland” jostles, without comment, next to this description of Malkin’s rise to notoriety: (“Malkin's detractors -- whom she derides as "moonbats" -- were further riled by her book "In Defense of Internment," in which she said the confining of Japanese Americans during World War II was justified, and backed racial profiling as a vital tool against terrorism”) The opinion is driven by, with the aplomb of a person who knows that he will never have to give up his house because of his race - ah, that wonderful superiority of it all. Of course, moving Japanese families out of their homes and behind barbed wire is a question that is up in the air – was it a good thing? a bad thing? and what is the ideological slant of those who are “riled” by the defense of it?. This is neutrality pleased at its own shamelessness, the view from nowhere that just happens to look exactly like the view from the cancer zone of the status quo, with its mortgages up the asshole and its soldier f/x on tv - this is the voice of the sage, except that the dividing line, the wall, has been lost that separates it from the voice of the buffoon. Or rather, the sage has become completely vacuous, found no relation to wealth and state power that would preserve its own in-itselfness, the potential to become a beggar in a brothel - no, rather the buffoon multiplies and becomes both the sage and the interviewee, the reporter and the provacateur, the producer and the propagandist, the politician and his campaign consultant. The orgy of the minimal self, armed with the orgy of the maximal weapon - such is the environment in which the sage has vanished.

Hegel sets the stage for the entrance of the buffoon – as I am calling this figure – by giving us a history of the relationship between the state and the noble spirit, which is the spirit of “heroic” service: (this is the J.N. Findley translation).

“State-power has, therefore, still at this stage no will to oppose the advice, and does not decide between the different opinions as to what is universally the best. It is not yet governmental control, and on that account is in truth not yet real state-power. Individual self-existence, the possession of an individual will that is not yet qua will surrendered, is the inner secretly reserved spiritual principle of the various classes and stations, a spirit which keeps for its own behoof what suits itself best, in spite of its words about the universal best, and tends to make this clap-trap about what is universally the best a substitute for action bringing it about. The sacrifice of existence, which takes place in the case of service, is indeed complete when it goes so far as death. But the endurance of the danger of death which the individual survives, leaves him still a specific kind of existence, and hence a particular self-reference; and this makes the counsel imparted in the interests of the universally best ambiguous and open to suspicion; it really means, in point of fact, retaining the claim to a private opinion of his own, and a separate individual will as against the power of the state. Its relation to the latter is, therefore, still one of discordance; and it possesses the characteristic found in the case of the base type of consciousness — it is ever at the point of breaking out into rebellion.”

In our case, us in these here states, the individual, at least the individual as interviewee, both promotes the risk society and survives it pretty well - as indeed do the soldiers who are privileged to fight for the interviewee. In fact, the win win only breaks down on the margines, with the fought-for - the terrorized/terrorist masses. They are, however, not interviewees, and so have an ambiguous status. Heroic service has become properly commoditized, and thus a new form of reconciliation between state power and the noble spirit becomes possible: state power pretends to be two things, a self-abnegating force that only wants to diminish itself into small government with all its heart and soul, and a universal abstraction representing liberty that requires being able to build enough missiles and host enough armed servicemen to destroy vast tracts of the world – while nobility becomes a mere position filled in by a meritocracy that embodies clap-trap (Geschwätze), which has found a way to make every sacrifice turns into profit in its hands – a miracle much more impressive than the loaves and the fishes.

Hegel supposes that the noble self, defining itself by a mortal sacrifice and thereby preserving itself, is genealogically precedent to the alienation of the self that is the condition of the rise of state power:

“It comes thereby to be actually what it is implicitly — the identical unity of self with its opposed self. In this way, by the inner withdrawn and secret spiritual principle, the self as such, coming forward and abrogating itself, the state-power becomes ipso facto raised into a proper self of its own; without this estrangement of self the deeds of honour, the actions of the noble type of consciousness, and the counsels which its insight reveals, would continue to maintain the ambiguous character which, as we saw, kept that secret reserve of private intention and self-will, in spite of its overt pretensions.” In this way we come to language in the age of the self-divided self – and to Rameau’s nephew. Which we will return to at some future post.

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