Utopia as Emergence Initiating a Truth. Thought of the Day 104.0

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It is true that, in our contemporary world, traditional utopian models have withered, but today a new utopia of canonical majority has taken over the space of any action transformative of current social relations. Instead of radicalness, conformity has become the main expression of solidarity for the subject abandoned to her consecrated individuality. Where past utopias inscribed a collective vision to be fulfilled for future generations, the present utopia confiscates the future of the individual, unless she registers in a collective, popularized expression of the norm that reaps culture, politics, morality, and the like. The ideological outcome of the canonical utopia is the belief that the majority constitutes a safety net for individuality. If the future of the individual is bleak, at least there is some hope in saving his/her present.

This condition reiterates Ernst Bloch’s distinction between anticipatory and compensatory utopia, with the latter gaining ground today (Ruth Levitas). By discarding the myth of a better future for all, the subject succumbs to the immobilizing myth of a safe present for herself (the ultimate transmutation of individuality to individualism). The world can surmount Difference, simply by taking away its painful radicalness, replacing it with a non-violent, pluralistic, and multi-cultural present, as Žižek harshly criticized it for its anti-rational status. In line with Badiou and Jameson, Žižek discerns behind the multitude of identities and lifestyles in our world the dominance of the One and the eradication of Difference (the void of antagonism). It would have been ideal, if pluralism were not translated to populism and the non-violent to a sanctimonious respect of Otherness.

Badiou also points to the nihilism that permeates modern ethicology that puts forward the “recognition of the other”, the respect of “differences”, and “multi-culturalism”. Such ethics is supposed to protect the subject from discriminatory behaviours on the basis of sex, race, culture, religion, and so on, as one must display “tolerance” towards others who maintain different thinking and behaviour patterns. For Badiou, this ethical discourse is far from effective and truthful, as is revealed by the competing axes it forges (e.g., opposition between “tolerance” and “fanaticism”, “recognition of the other” and “identitarian fixity”).

Badiou denounces the decomposed religiosity of current ethical discourse, in the face of the pharisaic advocates of the right to difference who are “clearly horrified by any vigorously sustained difference”. The pharisaism of this respect for difference lies in the fact that it suggests the acceptance of the other, in so far as s/he is a “good other”; in other words, in so far as s/he is the same as everyone else. Such an ethical attitude ironically affirms the hegemonic identity of those who opt for integration of the different other, which is to say, the other is requested to suppress his/her difference, so that he partakes in the “Western identity”.

Rather than equating being with the One, the law of being is the multiple “without one”, that is, every multiple being is a multiple of multiples, stretching alterity into infinity; alterity is simply “what there is” and our experience is “the infinite deployment of infinite differences”. Only the void can discontinue this multiplicity of being, through the event that “breaks” with the existing order and calls for a “new way of being”. Thus, a radical utopian gesture needs to emerge from the perspective of the event, initiating a truth process.

Hegelian Marxism of Lukács: Philosophy as Systematization of Ideology and Politics as Manipulation of Ideology. Thought of the Day 80.0

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In the Hegelian Marxism of Lukács, for instance, the historicist problematic begins from the relativisation of theory, whereby that it is claimed that historical materialism is the “perspective” and “worldview” of the revolutionary class and that, in general, theory (philosophy) is only the coherent systematisation of the ideological worldview of a social group. No distinction of kind exists between theory and ideology, opening the path for the foundational character of ideology, expressed through the Lukácsian claim that the ideological consciousness of a historical subject is the expression of objective relations, and that, correlatively, this historical subject (the proletariat) alienates-expresses a free society by means of a transparent grasp of social processes. The society, as an expression of a single structure of social relations (where the commodity form and reified consciousness are theoretical equivalents) is an expressive totality, so that politics and ideology can be directly deduced from philosophical relations. According to Lukács’ directly Hegelian conception, the historical subject is the unified proletariat, which, as the “creator of the totality of [social] contents”, makes history according to its conception of the world, and thus functions as an identical subject-object of history. The identical subject-object and the transparency of praxis therefore form the telos of the historical process. Lukács reduces the multiplicity of social practices operative within the social formation to the model of an individual “making history,” through the externalisation of an intellectual conception of the world. Lukács therefore arrives at the final element of the historicist problematic, namely, a theorisation of social practice on the model of individual praxis, presented as the historical action of a “collective individual”. This structure of claims is vulnerable to philosophical deconstruction (Gasché) and leads to individualist political conclusions (Althusser).

In the light of the Gramscian provenance of postmarxism, it is important to note that while the explicit target of Althusser’s critique was the Hegelian totality, Althusser is equally critical of the aleatory posture of Gramsci’s “absolute historicism,” regarding it as exemplary of the impasse of radicalised historicism (Reading Capital). Althusser argues that Gramsci preserves the philosophical structure of historicism exemplified by Lukács and so the criticism of “expressive totality,” or spiritual holism, also applies to Gramsci. According to Gramsci, “the philosophy of praxis is absolute ‘historicism,’ the absolute secularisation and earthiness of thought, an absolute humanism of history”. Gramsci’s is an “absolute” historicism because it subjects the “absolute knowledge” supposed to be possible at the Hegelian “end of history” to historicisation-relativisation: instead of absolute knowledge, every truly universal worldview becomes merely the epochal totalisation of the present. Consequently, Gramsci rejects the conception that a social agent might aspire to “absolute knowledge” by adopting the “perspective of totality”. If anything, this exacerbates the problems of historicism by bringing the inherent relativism of the position to the surface. Ideology, conceptualised as the worldview of a historical subject (revolutionary proletariat, hegemonic alliance), forms the foundation of the social field, because in the historicist lens a social system is cemented by the ideology of the dominant group. Philosophy (and by extension, theory) represents only the systematisation of ideology into a coherent doctrine, while politics is based on ideological manipulation as its necessary precondition. Thus, for historicism, every “theoretical” intervention is immediately a political act, and correlatively, theory becomes the direct servant of ideology.