philosophy as not philosophy: para-ontology, hauntology, schizoanalysis

"Articulating the past historically does not mean recognizing it ‘the way it really was’. It means appropriating a memory as it flashes up in a moment of danger. Historical materialism wishes to hold fast that image of the past which unexpectedly appears to the historical subject in a moment of danger. The danger threatens both the content of the tradition and those who inherit it. For both, it is one and the same thing: the danger of becoming a tool of the ruling classes. Every age must strive anew to wrest tradition away from the conformism that is working to overpower it. The Messiah comes not only as the redeemer; he comes as the victor over the Antichrist. The only historian capable of fanning the spark of hope in the past is the one who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he is victorious. And this enemy has never ceased to be victorious."
- Walter Benjamin, Thesis VI

"The materialist doctrine concerning the changing of circumstances and upbringing forgets that circumstances are changed by men and that it is essential to educate the educator himself. This doctrine must, therefore, divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society. The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-changing can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice."
- Karl Marx, Thesis III

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Economy: Inside-Out

Some notes on a paradox, a paradox central to both the modern economic/administrative paradigm we know as bio-politics, and to its relation with the juridical paradigm of sovereignty. First of all, we find power originally abiding in a nexus between two forms of 'rule' or 'lead', two forms or loci. Even 'rule' may yet admit too much. To lead - it is to guide, direct, to show the way by already going along that way before, both chronologically before an other, and standing before another, already in the way. In the way, standing in the way, at once blocking the way and opening it, preventing another from going farther, and allowing that other to go forth after, in following. The archon is not merely setting an example, but constituting what can be exemplified at all.

The two forms of lead, or rather, two loci of leading, are then to lead the way, opening the way, and to stand in the way, blocking the way, or making any other in the way already following, deficient and imitating. These are, respectively, the oikos and the polis. The leader of the oikos will lead forth where the leader of the polis will stand in the way. Or better - the former will block in order to lead forth, the latter, lead forth in order to block. The former, prevent in order to allow, the latter, allow in order to prevent. This, as should be evident, is a drastically sketchy and oversimplified account, but it will do for the moment, as a prop.

Before venturing further, we should dwell for a moment on the sense of 'paradox'. For a term so indispensable for philosophical reflection, it is itself left, all to often, unreflected and taken for granted, dogmatically or doxically held as self-evident. Para-doxa is literally that which is beside, alongside, or bordering on doxa, which is opinion, common sense, shared assumptions or assertions held dogmatically in self-evidence. It lies on the same level, the same ground as the doxa, but cannot be assimilated to it and stands outside it as much as beside. Or we can say that it is not something outside, but the evidence of an outside that is nonetheless coextensive with the inside, it is the intrinsic, necessary possibility of an externality or exclusion that is immanently included in the constitution of the category.

Paradox is what the doxa must admit, must allow for, but which cannot be contained or admissible, it is the violation whose possibility the prohibition necessitates and sustains, the excess of allowance that is already given in the structure of allowance, as the spectre inhabiting the allowed and allowable. Outside, but along-with; beside, or bordering on, but in doing so constituting the border, the definition or limit that is always necessary for the bordered-upon to be at all. In this way, paradox is of the same being, it shares its being with the being of doxa, they are univocally aligned alongside one another and on the same ground, of the same 'kind' or nature. And yet it is that which cannot be held as doxa, cannot be the opinion of anyone, unassimilable to that which it is, is of and is by.

Paradox runs counter to doxa, but it is not one doxa against another - it is counter to doxa itself, turning it against itself, forcing it to admit its own outside or inability to close upon itself: disclosure. Paradox holds the characteristics of doxa, in its common assertability and iterability, and yet the self-evidence of a paradox is that of the impotence of doxa, disclosed as such, in that cannot rely only on itself, but folds in on itself at the point where it must admit its reliance on an opinion that cannot be held by anyone. Not because this opinion is too radical or intense, not because it is too inconsistent with the majority of opinions, but rather, because it is already inconsistent with itself, it is the inconsistency of opinion with itself exemplified.

What we have with the oikos is an inside that is sufficient with itself closed upon itself in maintaining and dealing with the subsistence and reproduction of what already is there, inside the borders of the household. The border, as pointing to an outside, is not primary, and just because economy necessitates commerce and intercourse with an outside does not entail this is primary. The primacy rests with what is thereby bordered, and its perseverance in regards to itself, not in relation to its outside. By contrast, the polis begins with having taken-leave of the household, having passed a border and gone outside of... We already enter the polis as a point of arrival and destination, which entails a primacy not of the location, destination no less than point of departure, but of the crossing of a border, and the relation of a location to its outside, to the dislocation assumed by location. This is evident not only in that we must begin by entering the polis and crossing the border of the oikos, but also in the political relation to its own outside, to other cities and peoples and the threats they may pose.

And yet, if the oikos only establishes limits and borders as a means of relating the located to itself, to its perseverance regarding itself, as in the way and continuing in the way (of life), does this mean that it has within itself its every resource, immanently containing its entire being, including the outside in the instrumentalization of recognizing it as such? Or does not the possibility of an outside already inhabit the immanence of the oikos? We can say, in a similar vein as Levinas, that economy already entails a primary taking-leave-of that undermines the consistency of the location, or being-located. In this sense, the economic being - life itself in relation to itself, persevering in relation to itself - is already caught in a relation to its outside, to a political task of living a Good Life that exceeds life as its own standard, that cleaves life against itself and with itself, into life and the good life.

The problem here is, which is originary and pure? Life in itself, bare and unconditioned, or the Good Life as qualified and adorned, but in its 'proper' fashion? There are too many consequences of this problem to even begin here. But we should note the fashion in which this paradox presents itself: the economic being cannot be cleanly distinguished from the political being, having already been contaminated by a taking-leave and relation to the outside. Is there a life that can be its own and only measure, standard, and principle? Or does the political cleavage originally inhabit life? At least we can say that economic life cannot simply and cleanly instrumentalize its outside to its own ends, to life in its way, persevering in its way, as this outside is already and necessarily admitted as a possibility, if not an actual end. The point is that life, in its own way or on the way to another, is already leaving behind what life was to-be before it became what it is - alive, living, the living.

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