Is Philosophy Revenant?

This piece is in no way trying to endorse the polemical happenings in philosophy on the continent and across the channel and the Atlantic in the English speaking countries. The tradition of analytic philosophy and continental philosophy are indeed compossible and also in a way in a state of cold war. But one thing that is running like a common thread in the minds of many of the philosophers is the proclamation of the ‘End of Philosophy’. I want to shy from giving recognition to the eschatology that philosophy is facing and hence try to show that the death of philosophy is in no way in sight as it would mean the tragic abandonment of reflection and meaning, which keeps me in doubt if at all we would want to suffer such a loss. Indeed we do face a spate of intellectual terrorism and often badly defined and badly done philosophy, but then our valiant attempt, to echo Oliver Wendell Holmes, ‘to churn void and make cheese’ isn’t here to stay.

We have heard that physics is nearing its end. Physicists are trying to set up a system of equations which are together called the Grand Unified Theories (GUT) that would enable to answer all the possible phenomena in the Universe. Although this claim has been made for a long time, the end as such is in no way in sight. Similarly starting with the initial years of the last century, philosophical problems or systems are either being given the confident death knell or they have been branching off to explore new fields. This in a nutshell definitely lends legitimacy to what Ernst Gellner said in his Words and Things: “a cleric who loses his faith abandons his calling, but a philosopher who loses his redefines his subject.” But on the other hand there have been constant questions asked about the purposefulness nature of doing philosophy in the first place. The only philosophy one might engage in after all that has happened would no longer make any pretense of being in control of the absolute. Indeed, it would have to forbid itself to think the absolute, lest it betray the thought. And yet it must not allow anything to be taken away from the emphatic concept of the truth. This contradiction which was closely followed in the earlier days of the Frankfurt School critical theory tradition defined the precise element of the purpose of doing philosophy.

It is definitely not the case of growing contempt towards philosophy, but a sense of decadence in doing it. This despondency in no way should be linked with the building up of contempt. Bertrand Russell in his ‘Unpopular Essays’ thinks that if contempt for philosophy is developed to the point, at which it becomes systematic, then it becomes a philosophy.

My intention in this talk is to side with what EM Forster once said: “Death destroys a man; the idea of death saves him.” In this particular saying, I wish to substitute man with philosophy. It is precisely this thought or the idea that philosophy is dead, that the entire studies in philosophy are continuing in the process of ongoing history.

One must remember the fact that when the Greeks spoke of the end of philosophy, they had telos in mind as the end and not like today’s usage wherein the end depicts the cessation or the terminal end of doing philosophy. Philosophy from the days it began had one companion always following it and that was sophistry. That clearly does not mean that we need to read the history of philosophy along with a history of anti-philosophy.

Before going any further, I would like to quote from Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling:

“Heraclitus the obscure said, ‘One cannot pass twice through the same stream’. Heraclitus the obscure had a disciple who did not stop with that, he went further and added, One cannot do it even once’. Poor Heraclitus, to have such a disciple! By this amendment the thesis of Heraclitus was so improved that it became an Eleatic thesis which denies movement, and yet the disciple decided only to be a disciple of Heraclitus… and to go further-not back to the position Heraclitus had abandoned.” 

In the universities where new courses in psychology, anthropology, applicative sciences and business sciences are being set up rapidly, philosophy departments are seeing a major decrease in enrollment. Even funds at the disposal of philosophy studies are getting reduced. This could very well mean that philosophy is at an end. This phenomenon is precisely what Heidegger calls the growing impact of specialists in the sense of being more scientific and less democratic control on the various aspects of associate life. This particular train of thought could very well be linked with Plato’s philosopher kings not getting manifested. Heidegger here expresses concern with the emergence of power vested in an uncontrolled manner that he condemns as being very deceitful and dangerous with the ever-increasing inevitability of ‘striking at the heart of the state’. This power according to Heidegger is democratic in format. Many contemporary philosophers are trying to label this scenario in a psychiatric metaphoric manner by terming it as schizophrenic.

The end could be thought of in two manners: the first being Philosophy coming full circle, and hence an aporia is reached and to do philosophy, one starts from where one originally began. This notion is Hegelian. The other is the doctrine of ‘Quietism’, which indicates the clarification of language such that the philosophical problems are not solved but dissolved, the Wittgensteinian notion. He says in the Philosophical Investigations that we are seeking complete clarity in that philosophy is given peace and hence is no more tormented by the questions that bring itself into it (PI, #133). If this is achieved, it is possible to will a stoppage to doing philosophy. But that is not all. There is Deleuze with his proclamation of the end of the verticality of ideas and replaced by the horizontality of ideas, the rhizomatic. I’ll be concentrating on Deleuze’s treatment at the hands of Badiou.

On the continent, it was Nietzsche, who is responsible for killing God. He never achieved any success in consummating philosophy, in setting it any impossible task, but then showed the futility in the very act of doing philosophy. His non-acceptance of traditional pillars of the ideas of classical age indeed persuaded the non-analytical philosophers to accept thinking as the systematic distortion of reality and Heidegger further cemented his notions. If the philosophers on the continent subscribe to this stand, it is indeed trying to correlate with the Hegelian notion of ‘coming full circle’ and thus getting stuck in nostalgia. Heidegger’s notion of ‘metaphysics’ is precisely the idea that being is order,  objectively given for once and all. If being is decidedly given once and for all, history is arrested and finds itself in a closed circuit thus ruling out any possibility of openness.  Heidegger cites in his lecture on the end of philosophy, the overturning of metaphysics at the hands of Marx. Metaphysics is still a talk of some philosophers either as a continuation of the classical thought or by analytical tradition in which it is taken to connote rigidified ‘regional ontologies’ deprived of the historicity that one traces in the Kantian and Husserlian transcendental as the condition for the possibility of any philosophy or science. Heideggerian notion of metaphysics in contemporary philosophy is largely rejected.

As I promised earlier, my focus is on the philosophical thought of Deleuze. To take his treatment at the hand of French philosopher, Badiou is my primary interest here. His contribution could lead us into a created framework wherein we could be led out of the labyrinth of this badly defined continental philosophy. This might not be any space of hope as it could also play itself on the flip side. There are occasions where his doxa that are traces or rather traits of the Heideggerian or Deleuzian doxa are compelling him to fall prey to; thus cutting off a truer confrontation with the radicality of his work that he starts off with.

Badiou talks of the reinvention of the categories of truth and subject against Nietzschean critique, eventuality, politics vis-a-vis ontology born again and the treatment of European nihilism and capitalism. He takes the cases of Heidegger and Deleuze in explicating these issues. In his treatment of Heidegger in the Manifesto and of Deleuze in the Clamor for Being, he has caricatured Heidegger’s opinion supporting crypto-teleology of the ‘end of philosophy’, while opening up the thought of Deleuze for a conceptual confrontation. Badiou’s system echoes Deleuze’s philosophical injunctions in that he never believed metaphysics to die a natural death but insisted it’s stifling at the hands of sophistry, philosophical thought as immanently multiple and without taking any recourse to nostalgia as far as explaining phenomenon like Nihilism.

For philosophy to be revenant, Badiou advocates a concept called ‘Platonism of the multiple’. According to Badiou, the first responsible cause of the death is borrowed from Lacan’s concept of Suture. That philosophy sutures (binds) itself with the non-philosophical conditions i.e. the destiny and the praxis of philosophy is sutured with these conditions. His four conditions are politics, science, art and love. For instance, political suture: Marxism, that is philosophy binding itself to a particular political programme. It is extremely essential if philosophy has to travel historically, these sutures are to be retained. The problem of the end of philosophy arises in the case of ‘double suture’ when a belief in the complicity of the ‘metaphysics of subjectivity’ and technological determined totalitarianism is maintained. Such complicitous natures urge philosophy to abandon its consistency and thus compel a cadence of a kind. This is in a nutshell is the jettisoning of independent procedures philosophy is used to take to.

Badiou demands that philosophy thinks of the discontinuity in the productions of evental subjects as holes in the fabric of knowledge thus undermining living philosophical traditions and reinventing Subject and Truth. Both these reinvented categories are thought of as ‘event’ emerging out of the void (inconsistency) of any situation. His fidelity to the event as rare, the subject as finite fragment of the post-event objectless truth and truth as the event of the void of the situation has adverse ramifications. In his study on Deleuze, the only way of reinventing these categories is through the reinvention of meontology that is the equating of Being with Multiple-Composition of the world through set theory. This is his Platonism of the Multiple. Badiou not only denies the phenomenological subject, but also the continuity of Being thus rejecting the notion of philosophical temporality. To that even Deleuze was anti-phenomenological in his approach, as he would take the experience to its utmost consequences and then de-suturing the subject/object distinction to make it impersonal.

Badiou took the approach to the Set Theory only to discern his denial of the concept of experience and primacy of language. If truth has to be given a rebirth as objectless, the problem of indiscernible must be dealt with. He takes the help of the set-theoretical approach to de-suture being and language. He defines truth as the singular and extra-linguistic production of the multiplicity within one of the four conditions viz, politics, science, art and love of philosophy. If truth is looked at like a supplement rather than any recourse to the transcendence, then there is this inconsistency of the void in the form of an indiscernible (not nameable, but capable of conceptualization), and then are we not dealing with the truth of the situations as such rather than the truth of this situation? What singularity can we attach to this inconsistency? Are truths only to be differentiated on the basis of decisive intervention of meaning? Badiou’s taking to meontology fails in its defence of the singularity of the event. So it seems clear here that the very destination of Deleuze’s thought is the One, and that the profusion of cases does not attest to their irreducible singularity and that alleged philosophy of the event is already there.

As for the treatment meted by Badiou on the topicality of Eternal Return, the opposition is Nietzsche contra Mallarme and is regarded on the basis of chance and accountable to the topology of the fold. Badiou opposes any conceptual probabilism that would allow Events to be tendentially captured by the entropy of the Same. Univocity must approve of divergence. However, Badiou is not too articulating in his distinction between the actual and the virtual with regard to the Bergson’s duration. In Deleuze’s treatment of entropy (D&R), the thought is for both the efficacy of the statistical reduction of events to identity and the inability of this position to account for its own genesis and for genesis itself, a sort of a double bind. What is questionable though is the very transformation of entropy to simulacrum. The philosophical ‘plane of immanence’ and the scientific ‘plane of reference’ are in a sort of unproblematic opposition and this antagonism precisely is the continuity for the philosophical endeavour.

Both Badiou and Deleuze share an utter disdain for ‘End of Philosophy’ and Badiou especially feels a deep scorn for spreading the ‘Empire of Opinion’ as in one conference, he said that ‘The Freedom of Opinion is the Enemy of Philosophy’.

Gerald Bruns mentions in his end of philosophy essays that philosophy is to be located at the level of the singular and irreplaceable rather than at the level of the universal and the necessary. He talks about this openness precisely in the sense of alterity in that this openness finds a way of substitutability of the sovereignty of the subject. Bruns believes that philosophy can recapture ‘an intimacy with the world’ of the kind Levinas talked about of the relation of proximity. This means that our relation with the world is not just confined to purely a theoretical one, but that of practical relation with those situated within an ongoing history. Now with the primacy placed on the practical, ethics can be given a privileged position in establishing a dialogue between philosophy and literature. This thesis aims at subverting the inherited conception of philosophy as the foundation of knowledge by elevating the singular over the universal and event over the law.

I do agree to a complete detour being taken on the continent in the very practice of doing philosophy and that was the reason why I had commented on Badiou being the protector. Postmodernism sounded the death knell for the classical way of thinking of philosophy in terms of grand narratives. Micro or localized narratives are the more sensibly thought of in answering the changing world scenario. Even by the time, post-modernism could actually sink in by dethroning the ideas related to modernism, talks of ‘Performatism’ started to surface. This concept signifies the sign, subject to come together in ways for creating the aesthetic experience of transcendency…locating it in a place where meaning is constructed. Performatism is looked at as ‘New Faith’. Together these new epochal ideas have come to be known as ‘New Sincerity’ and are the talk in the west of a loose connection between cultural studies and philosophy post 9/11.

Thus is to concur that philosophy as revenant is indeed what we are witnessing today as the break from the ideas of the classical ages gone by is getting more and more subscriptions. All is not lost, if we pay heed to deconstruction techniques in the sense that the end is deferred and yet to come. We need to get the old methodology back from its marginalized occupied space to the center. This may just be a lot of demand but then it is the most viable way to encounter this apocalypse.

If philosophy is to be realized, it has to be eliminated – Marx…..

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