Friday, June 04, 2010

Notes on where the hell I am so far

My intent, with this Kierkegaard thread, is to bring forward certain changes in the way boredom is experienced – or articulated, or signified – in the 18th and 19th century. Boredom, which, as we saw in Kant, provides a strange motive when needs are satisfied – boredom, a nameless suffering that would even afflict Adam and Eve in paradise, in as much as Adam and Eve are constituted as human beings save for the knowledge of good and evil. Surely in the artificial paradise, built on the surplus value squeezed out of the industrial system under the reign of capitalism, premised on viewing the world under the sign of substitution, whether of commodities or humans, all in the service of the abolition of the human limit, must, if Kant is right, produce boredom in ever greater amounts. And thus let loose a motive that plays a lesser role in the society of the limited good.

In Kierkegaard’s Repetition, repetition is not linked explicitly to boredom – but to a certain impossibility to repeat. But taking repetition otherwise, taking it in relation to the routines that link one substitution to another in a great invisible code, we have another sense of repetition and its effects altogether.

In this world of motivations that are other than that of need’s perpetual pursuit of satisfaction, of routines that become tedious to the human product caught in their meshes, experiment, which both affirms repetition as the principle of validity and – in the aesthetic stage, to use Kierkegaard’s terms – offers an image of the never-before, takes on a poetic life which escapes the philosophers of science and the critics who use the word trivially. Experiment has somehow escaped, in its nubs, the historian – although surely here is matter for the Gnostic historian, vowed to Marx and the witch, to batten on.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Goethe's essay on experiment

I’ve been thinking about Goethe’s essay about experiment – Der Versuch als Mittler von Objekt und Subjekt – in relation to my recent, dogged circling about Kierkegaard’s ‘experiments’.

Kierkegaard might have read it – it was published in 1790, and then in Goethe’s scientific works – but then again, he might not. Kierkegaard’s mature work is directed against not only Hegel, but also against Goethe – representatives, both, for the system of modernity, with its elimination of the religious ‘stage’, against which Kierkegaard fought.

And yet, Kierkegaard’s very use of the term experiment shows – as he must have known – that he fought from within the net, the vast net of the Great Transformation, the net beneath the Artificial Paradise. Roger Poole quotes a passage in a memoir of Kierkegaard written by his friend, Hans Brochner, who wrote:

“ I once walked through a whole street with him while he explained how one can make psychological studies by so putting oneself en rapport to passer-by[s]. As he explained his theory, he put it into practice with almost everyone we met. There was no one on whom his glance did not make an obvious impression. On the same occasion he surprised me by the easy way he took up a conversation with all sorts of people. In some few talks he picked up an earlier conversation and carried it forward to a point where he could pick it up again as opportunity served.” [167]

Oh, these city walks!

Je vais m'exercer seul à ma fantasque escrime,
Flairant dans tous les coins les hasards de la rime,
Trébuchant sur les mots comme sur les pavés
Heurtant parfois des vers depuis longtemps rêvés.

Further on in his account, Bochner uses the word “experiment” to describe these walks. And here we should recall that the early modern idea of experiment was closely linked to the term, experience. The introduction of observation – of an experience for the sake of experience, like a card game played for the sake of the game – brings us, I think, to the roots of Kierkegaard’s attraction to the word – while at the same time the “experiment” is always ironic, rather than scientific.

In fact, Kierkegaard, in spite of putting Repetition under the sign of the psychological experiment, seems incurious about the category of the scientific.

Goethe, of course, was not. He was, among other things, a scientist, which is why his essay on the experiment is infused with his own experience – and takes up, from the beginning, the deep connection between Versuch (which can also be an Essay) and Erfahrung.

I don’t have time today to do justice to Goethe’s essay. Later.