I know that kind of man
its hard to hold the hand
who's reaching for the sky just to surrender
Amie, in the comments, writes that she has a question about my last two posts about the image of the limited good:
“It relates to the question of time and when wishes still "worked" and the limit where they seemingly went away - for good. Did they ever, "really"? I wonder if there is not always a non-contemporarity of time, a multiple and disjointed time, in which wishes and hopes still hold sway, return and burst forth.”
This is an excellent question, in as much as it makes me realize that I might have given a too hasty impression, in the last two posts, that I’ve seized a key to all history or something. My goal from the beginning has been to make it possible to ask the question: why did happiness take on the tripart form of an emotional norm, a judgment on life, and a reference that justifies political and economic arrangements? And all the themes I have been pursuing have been related to both making that question possible – that is, attacking the notion that man self evidently wants to be happy and human social structures self-evidently are judged on whether they facilitate happiness – and showing how the self-evident came into being. I’ve wanted to avoid a totalizing history – which means that I don’t think I can explain everything by simply showing that one set of dominant economic attitudes or practices gave way to another, or one episteme gave way to another – because, well, the time in which wishes still work is still part of our time – that is, as the past in which wishes still worked and the future in which wishes will work again. In fact, the triple function of happiness both occludes and supports itself on a disjointed sense of time.
To put this in terms of my obsession of the month – the war between enlightenment and superstition – that superstition is perennially being driven out and perennially coming back should warn any historian against taking his or her periodizations as natural laws, or stages in some predetermined, unalterable progress. Zatorski’s article (from my August 6 post), which gathers together several of Lichtenberg’s comments about superstition, nicely binds together the notion of discovery, science, and the peculiarity of the “again” – the Wiederkehr:
“The philosophy of the common man is the mother of ours, out of his superstitions we make our religion, just as we make our medicine out of his home remedies.” Even the concept “science” itself is observed to be highly unclear: “Where in the past one found the borders of science, we now find its middle.”
This demands a high degree of judgmental foresight. A quantum of distrust is evidently indispensable, but this means, at the same time, a certain distrust against dogmatic laws of reason. One would rather “neither deny nor believe.” For even the offerings of “rational” philosophy is nothing other than a treaty of peace that has come to stand “in the “counsels of men” – “superstition is itself a local philosophy, it also gives in its voice.” For this reason, even reason must remain continually conscious of the relative and time conditioned character of knowledge. Thus it would be adviseable to be very careful in labeling certain beliefs as superstitions, because what counts as such today can be transformed tomorrow into a serious theory: “There is thus a great difference between believing something “still” and believing it “again.” To still believe that the moon effects plants betrays stupidity and superstition, but to believe it again shows philosophy and reflection.”
Foucault’s Les mots et les choses has been both a great help to me, figuring out the 17th and 18th century, and a great target. In MC, he writes, in the section on exchange, something which I’ve pondered a great deal:
“Une réforme de la monnaie, un usage bancaire, une pratique commerciale peuvent bien se rationaliser, se développer, se maintenir ou disparaître selon des formes propres ; ils sont toujours fondés sur un certain savoir: savoir obscur qui ne se manifeste pas pour lui-même en un discours, mais dont les nécessités sont identiquement les mêmes que pour les théories abstraites ou les spéculations sans rapport apparent à la réalité. Dans une culture et à un moment donné, il n'y a jamais qu’ une épistémè, qui définit les conditions de possibilité de tout savoir.”
“A monetary reform, a banking protocol, a commercial practice can very well be rationalized, develop and maintain itself or disappear according to its own forms; they are always founded on a certain knowledge: obscure knowledge which doesn’t manifest itself for itself in a discourse, but of which the necessities are identically the same as for the abstract theories and speculations without apparent relation to reality. In a culture and at a certain given moment, there is never more than one episteme, which defines the condition of the possibility of all knowledge.”
I have to kick against this. In order to make this claim, Foucault has to systematically diminish the moments in which abstract theories, or real practices, are openly self reflexive. Knowledge isn’t just endlessly productive – that is, one discovery after another founded on a certain obscure knowledge – but it is also controversial. That’s why superstition is so important – here you can see that there is, in fact, more than one episteme, and that the past is not quietly and submerged, to form an archaeological strata, but persists and returns. Thus, Foucault’s emphasis on representation as the dominant episteme of the classical age simply doesn’t explain the strategic aspect of the enlightenment – there are no other powers at play, here. Self reflection leaps out of philosophy and into real life when it becomes apparent that there are other powers at play. One shouldn’t shy away from self reflection out of Hegelophobia.