Ideological Morphology. Thought of the Day 105.1

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When applied to generic fascism, the combined concepts of ideal type and ideological morphology have profound implications for both the traditional liberal and Marxist definitions of fascism. For one thing it means that fascism is no longer defined in terms of style, for e.g. spectacular politics, uniformed paramilitary forces, the pervasive use of symbols like fasces and Swastika, or organizational structure, but in terms of ideology. Moreover, the ideology is not seen as essentially nihilistic or negative (anti-liberalism, anti-Marxism, resistance to transcendence etc.), or as the mystification and aestheticization of capitalist power. Instead, it is constructed in the positive, but not apologetic or revisionist terms of the fascists’ own diagnosis of society’s structural crisis and the remedies they propose to solve it, paying particular attention to the need to separate out the ineliminable, definitional conceptions from time- or place- specific adjacent or peripheral ones. However, for decades the state of fascist studies would have made Michael Freeden’s analysis well-nigh impossible to apply to generic fascism, because precisely what was lacking was any conventional wisdom embedded in common-sense usage of the term about what constituted the ineliminable cluster of concepts at its non-essentialist core. Despite a handful of attempts to establish its definitional constituents that combined deep comparative historiographical knowledge of the subject with a high degree of conceptual sophistication, there was a conspicuous lack of scholarly consensus over what constituted the fascist minimum. Whether there was such an entity as generic fascism even was a question to think through. Or whether Nazism’s eugenic racism and the euthanasia campaign it led to, combined with a policy of physically eliminating racial enemies that led to the systematic persecution and mass murder, was simply unique, and too exceptional to be located within the generic category was another question to think through. Both these positions suggest a naivety about the epistemological and ontological status of generic concepts most regrettable among professional intellectuals, since every generic entity is a utopian heuristic construct, not a real thing and every historically singularity is by definition unique no matter how many generic terms can be applied to it. Other common positions that implied considerable naivety were the ones that dismissed fascism’s ideology as too irrational or nihilistic to be part of the fascist minimum, or generalized about its generic traits by blending fascism and nazism.

Nihilism Now! Monsters of Energy by Keith Ansell Pearson and Diane Morgan

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Blurb: Have we had enough? But enough of what exactly? Of our mourning and melancholia? Of postmodern narcissism? Of our depressive illness and anxieties of not ‘being there’ any longer? Enough of enough! We now ask: what of the future of the human and of the future of the future? Is it now possible to produce revitalised ways of thinking and modes of existing that have digested the demand for transhuman overcomings and so are able to navi- gate new horizons of virtual becoming? Is it possible to save thought from its current degenerative and vegetative state at the hands of a smug and cosy postmodern academicism? Can we still invent new concepts?

If one follows certain influential contemporary accounts, it would appear as if the experience and question of nihilism have become passé. Is not the urgency informing the question of the `now’ of nihilism redundant and otiose? For Jean Baudrillard, for example, there is now only the simulation of a realised nihilism and little remains of a possible nihilism (a nihilism of the possible) in theory. In relation to previous forms of nihilism ± romanticism, surrealism and dadaism ± we find ourselves in an ‘insoluble position’. Our nihilism today is neither aesthetic nor political. The apocalypse is over, its time has gone and lies behind us:

The apocalypse is finished, today it is the precession of the neutral, of the forms of the neutral and of indifference. (Baudrillard)

Baudrillard goes on to make the claim, terrifying in its full import, that all that remains is a ‘fascination’ for these indifferent forms and for the operation of the system that annihilates us.

Surely, Baudrillard is being ironic when he claims that this mode of nihilism is our current ‘passion’? How can one be passionate about indifference and one’s own annihilation? As Baudrillard acknowledges, this is the nihilism of the observer and accepter. It is the nihilism of the passive nihilist who no longer aspires towards a transcendence or overcoming of the human (condition), but who simply announces and enjoys its disappearance, the spectator watching the spectacle of his own demise. History, politics, metaphysics, have all reached their terminal point, and willing nothingness appears to be the only desire of the will available to the post-modern mind:

The dialectic stage, the critical stage is empty. There is no more stage . . . The masses themselves are caught up in a gigantic process of inertia through acceleration. They are this excrescent, devouring, process that annihilates all growth and all surplus meaning. They are this circuit short- circuited by a monstrous finality. (Baudrillard)

Diane Morgan and Keith Ansell Pearson Nihilism Now Monsters of Energy

Phantom Originary Intentionality: Thought of the Day 16.0

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Phantom limbs and anosognosias – cases of abnormal impressions of the presence or absence of parts of our body – seem like handy illustrations of an irreducible, first-person dimension of experience, of the sort that will delight the phenomenologist, who will say: aha! there is an empirical case of self-reference which externalist, third-person explanations of the type favoured by deflationary materialists, cannot explain away, cannot do away with. As Merleau-Ponty would say, and Varela after him, there is something about my body which makes it irreducibly my own (le corps propre). Whether illusory or not, such images (phantoms) have something about them such that we perceive them as our own, not someone else’s (well, some agnosias are different: thinking our paralyzed limb is precisely someone else’s, often a relative’s). One might then want to insist that phantom limbs testify to the transcendence of mental life! Indeed, in one of the more celebrated historical cases of phantom limb syndrome, Lord Horatio Nelson, having lost his right arm in a sea battle off of Tenerife, suffered from pains in his phantom hand. Most importantly, he apparently declared that this phantom experience was a “direct proof of the existence of the soul”. Although the materialist might agree with the (reformed) phenomenologist to reject dualism and accept that we are not in our bodies like a sailor in a ship, she might not want to go and declare, as Merleau-Ponty does, that “the mind does not use the body, but fulfills itself through it while at the same time transferring the body outside of physical space.” This way of talking goes back to the Husserlian distinction between Korper, ‘body’ in the sense of one body among others in a vast mechanistic universe of bodies, and Leib, ‘flesh’ in the sense of a subjectivity which is the locus of experience. Now, granted, in cognitivist terms one would want to say that a representation is always my representation, it is not ‘transferable’ like a neutral piece of information, since the way an object appear to me is always a function of my needs and interests. What my senses tell me at any given time relies on my interests as an agent and is determined by them, as described by Andy Clark, who appeals to the combined research traditions of the psychology of perception, new robotics, and Artificial Life. But the phenomenologist will take off from there and build a full-blown defense of intentionality, now recast as ‘motor intentionality’, a notion which goes back to Husserl’s claim in Ideas II that the way the body relates to the external world is crucially through “kinestheses”: all external motions which we perceive are first of all related to kinesthetic sensations, out of which we constitute a sense of space. On this view, our body thus already displays ‘originary intentionality’ in how it relates to the world.