Historicism. Thought of the Day 79.0

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Historicism is a relativist hermeneutics, which postulates the incommensurability of historical epochs or cultural formations and therefore denies the possibility of a general history or trans-cultural universals. Best described as “a critical movement insisting on the prime importance of historical context” to the interpretation of texts, actions and institutions, historicism emerges in reaction against both philosophical rationalism and scientific theory (Paul Hamilton – Historicism). According to Paul Hamilton’s general introduction:

Anti-Enlightenment historicism develops a characteristically double focus. Firstly, it is concerned to situate any statement – philosophical, historical, aesthetic, or whatever – in its historical context. Secondly, it typically doubles back on itself to explore the extent to which any historical enterprise inevitably reflects the interests and bias of the period in which it was written … [and] it is equally suspicious of its own partisanship.

It is sometimes supposed that a strategy of socio-historical contextualisation represents the alpha and omega of materialist analysis – e.g. Jameson’s celebrated claim (Fredric Jameson – The Political Unconscious) that “always historicise” is the imperative of historical materialism. On the contrary, that although necessary, contextualisation alone is radically insufficient. This strategy of historical contextualisation, suffers from three serious defects. The historicist problematic depends upon the reduction of every phenomenal field to an immanent network of differential relations and the consequent evacuation of the category of cause from its theoretical armoury (Joan Copjec-Read My Desire: Lacan against the Historicists). It is therefore unable to theorise the hierarchy of effective causes within an overdetermined phenomenon and must necessarily reduce to a descriptive list, progressively renouncing explanation for interpretation. Secondly, lacking a theoretical explanation of the unequal factors overdetermining a phenomenon, historicism necessarily flattens the causal network surrounding its object into a homogeneous field of co-equal components. As a consequence, historicism’s description of the social structure or historical sequence gravitates in the direction of a simple totality, where everything can be directly connected to everything else. Thirdly, the self-reflexive turn to historical inscription of the researcher’s position of enunciation into the contextual field results, on these assumptions, in a gesture of relativisation that cannot stop short of relativism. The familiar performative contradictions of relativism then ensure that historicism must support itself through an explicit or implicit appeal to a neutral metalinguistic framework, which typically takes the form of a historical master narrative or essentialist conception of the social totality. The final result of the historicist turn, therefore, is that this “materialist” analysis is in actuality a form of spiritual holism.

Historicism relies upon a variant of what Althusser called “expressive causality,” which acts through “the primacy of the whole as an essence of which the parts are no more than the phenomenal expressions” (Althusser & Balibar – Reading Capital). Expressive causality postulates an essential principle whose epiphenomenal expressions are microcosms of the whole. Whether this expressive totality is social or historical is a contingent question of theoretical preference. When the social field is regarded as an expressive totality, the institutional structures of a historical epoch – economy, politics, law, culture, philosophy and so on – are viewed as externalisations of an essential principle that is manifest in the apparent complexity of these phenomena. When the historical process is considered to be an expressive totality, a historical master narrative operates to guarantee that the successive historical epochs represent the unfolding of a single essential principle. Formally speaking, the problem with expressive (also known as “organic” and “spiritual”) totalities is that they postulate a homology between all the phenomena of the social totality, so that the social practices characteristic of the distinct structural instances of the complex whole of the social formation are regarded as secretly “the same”.

Gothic: Once Again Atheistic Materialism and Hedonistic Flirtations. Drunken Risibility.



The machinery of the Gothic, traditionally relegated to both a formulaic and a sensational aesthetic, gradually evolved into a recyclable set of images, motifs and narrative devices that surpass temporal, spatial and generic categories. From the moment of its appearance the Gothic has been obsessed with presenting itself as an imitation.

Recent literary theory has extensively probed into the power of the Gothic to evade temporal and generic limits and into the aesthetic, narratological and ideological implications this involves. Officially granting the Gothic the elasticity it has always entailed has resulted in a reconfiguration of its spectrum both synchronically – by acknowledging its influence on numerous postmodern fictions – and diachronically – by rescripting, in hindsight, the history of its canon so as to allow space for ambiguous presences.

Both transgressive and hybrid in form and content, the Gothic has been accepted as a malleable genre, flexible enough to create more freely, in Borgesian fashion, its own precursors. The genre flouted what are considered the basic principles of good prose writing: adherence to verisimilitude and avoidance of both narrative diversions and moralising – all of which are, of course, made to be deliberately upset. Many merely cite the epigrammatic power of the essay’s most renowned phrase, that the rise of the Gothic “was the inevitable result of the revolutionary shocks which all of Europe has suffered”.

The eighteenth-century French materialist philosophy purported the displacement of metaphysical investigations into the meaning of life by materialist explorations. Julien Offray de La Mettrie, a French physician and philosopher, the earliest of materialist writers of the Enlightenment, published the materialist manifesto L’ Homme machine (Man a Machine), that did away with the transcendentalism of the soul, banished all supernatural agencies by claiming that mind is as mechanical as matter and equated humans with machines. In his words: “The human body is a machine that winds up its own springs: it is a living image of the perpetual motion”. French materialist thought resulted in the publication of the great 28-volume Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des méttrie par une société de gens de lettres by Denis Diderot and Jean Le Rond d’ Alembert, and which was grounded on purely materialist principles, against all kinds of metaphysical thinking. Diderot’s atheist materialism set the tone of the Encyclopédie, which, for both editors, was the ideal vehicle […] for reshaping French high culture and attitudes, as well as the perfect instrument with which to insinuate their radical Weltanschauung surreptitiously, using devious procedures, into the main arteries of French Society, embedding their revolutionary philosophic manifesto in a vast compilation ostensibly designed to provide plain information and basic orientation but in fact subtly challenging and transforming attitudes in every respect. While materialist thinkers ultimately disowned La Mettrie because he ran counter to their systematic moral, political and social naturalism, someone like Sade remained deeply influenced and inspired for his indebtedness to La Mettrie’s atheism and hedonism, particularly to the perception of virtue and vice as relative notions − the result of socialisation and at odds with nature.


Left/Right Paradigm, According to the Left


There is the traditional “right” (a bunch of NeoCons and Rinos in the pockets of the same oligarchal scumbags who own the Democrats) who consistently (by pure coincidence, of course) lose every significant battle, even when controlling both the Executive and Legislative branches of US government. Plus the normalcy bias-afflicted status quo-worshipers; moderates; and coincidence theorists who vote for them because Fox News tells them anyone better is too radical. Both the office-holding surrender monkeys and their gullible voter base have recently been labeled “cuckservatives” or “cucks” for short.

And now there is the “Alt Right”–those who intentionally lump you together with the cucks if you value individual liberty and representative government higher than racial identity. In other words, the loudest voices in the “Alt Right” are both the mirror image of the goose-stepping collectivist SJWs on the left, and the caricature of a “right-winger” that those goose-stepping collectivist SJWs cling to as a vital component of The Narrative.

If you don’t want to join the hive mind of the left, then your choice is either to assimilate with the socialists in “conservative” drag (NeoCons, RINOs, cucksevatives, the GOPe, etc.); or to buy into white supremacy (also referred to as “Western Civilization” in the white tribalist  blogosphere).

NRx seemed to provide a space where intelligent ideas could be discussed freely and a rallying point for those intelligent but dissatisfied people of the right. However, with the infusion of the alt-Right, thought policing–admittedly of different kind–has returned with methods of the SJW, driving away the intelligent people.

For the Left, this state of affairs is particularly fortuitous and sometimes you have to wonder if they bring out their alt-Right hitmen every now and then to discredit intelligent Rightists through guilt by association.

Tailoring French Theory


In the words of Cusset, the goal of French Theory is,

“…to explore the political and intellectual geneology, and other effects, even for us and up to today, of a creative misunderstanding between French texts and American readers, a properly structural misunderstanding––in the sense that it does not refer simply to a misinterpretation, but to differences of internal organization between the French and American intellectual spheres.”

Without any kind of specificity, this is another way of saying about the knower and the known crafted together by a meditation that rides on instability populated by discursive and linguistic norms and forms that is derided as secondary in the analytical tradition. The autonomy of the knower as against the known is questionable, and derives significance only when its trajectory is mapped by a simultaneity put forth by the known.

The knower, if guided by the dictates of language, is guided more on lines of the Derridean deconstructionism, where there is nothing outside the text. This is also reflected in Rorty, where descriptions of the world are constructed by us, and where these very descriptions are categorized for us to fill up the content depicted by our perceptions. Obviously, it becomes quite naïve to embrace this one-sidedness of French theory in its totality, and the real acid test gets encountered in dealing with the socio-political implications. Political implications are far and between, or at times not there at all excepting feigning their presence/affectivity. This is since, in reading a text, what gets surfacial visibility is almost always against the background of repressed internal contradictions and oppositions within the text, that deconstruction purports to unearth, thus creating a visibility that has to maintain its status quo, by not asking the questions that it is supposed to ask in order to shake its self-identity. Thus politically, it is a fall-back on itself, a sort of ideology that refuses to die on the one hand, and spring up surprises under new vocabularies on the other. But, this apolitical, asocial shortcomings should not be taken to mean something entirely pejoratively, for, by invoking the logic of deconstruction, anything goes or everything is, furthering the directedness of critiques that are not singular, but harboring the vastness of multiplicities. Stanley Fish puts it brilliantly (I quote him at length) when he says,

Criticizing something because it is socially constructed (and thus making the political turn) is what Judith Butler and Joan Scott are in danger of doing when they explain that  deconstruction “is not strictly speaking a position, but rather a critical interrogation of the exclusionary operations by which ‘positions’ are established.” But those “exclusionary operations” could be held culpable only if they were out of the ordinary, if waiting around the next corner of analysis was a position that was genuinely inclusive.

Deconstruction per se, has no terminus, as it feeds itself upon a loop of signifiers in movement, unearthing depth with every question asked in a way that resembles nothing short of ad infinitum. It gets derogatory only because of this endless movement, wherein anything social or political that gets constructed is transient, or simply abhorred. So, to make any social/political and even philosophical-literary sense, the method of deconstruction has to undergo confinement, or freeze-framing, a being that has been fixed, and waiting to undergo a further becoming. To quote Cusset,

Deconstruction thus contains within itself a risk of the withdrawal from the political, a neutralization of the positions, or even an endless metatheoretical regression that can no longer be brought to a stop by any practical decision or effective political engagement. In order to use it as a basis for a program of subversion or a discourse of conflict, the American solution thus was to “detourn” or divert it, to fragment it, to split it off from itself in order to break out of this paralyzing epistemic balancing act.

Whatever fragmentation occurred, whatever split the theory underwent, or whatever was the diversion that was undertaken, the net result was the entry of French theory through the annals of literature departments only to explode on to the terrain of various disciplines by the sheer force and triumphant nature of the narrative. The narratives had relativism that garnered enough force to question the very veracity of other disciplines by intervening into the discourses of these diverse disciplines with the sole intention of giving them a re-reading. The narratives were machinic, in the sense of producing truths that hitherto had been the sole and isolated responsibility of individual disciplines. With the permeability on offer because of re-reading carried upon the discourses, truth started to undergo a shift in its position from pre-historical intuitive valuation to literary productions, thanks to the maneuvering attitude of narratives. The powers that be, invested in the narratives were a propellant force to dismantle (shake) the dominion of authoritative discourses on truth and create a level playing field with the provision of dragging the marginalia accounts of truth into the fold, thus giving rise to a certain form of democratic space. These democratic spaces invited cultural domains to participate in their own productions of truths, thus becoming more and more machinic resulting in such unprecedented theoretical productions (these obviously preceded truth productions), that were eventually heading towards each domain forgetting its own accumulation, and thereafter suffering from the disappearance of theory in the production of its effects.