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

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Making History

What is historicity? We can see it when there happens to be, there emerges or occurs an event that breaks with the chronological chain of presents, distinguishing itself from that which does not distinguish itself from it (Deleuze). In its own wake it becomes unaccountable, inexplicable in terms of chrono-causality, lacking an intelligible or schematizable situation in relation to the rest of history. Yet for this same reason it is, for historicist chronology, indiscernible, invisible, or unproblematic. Regarding itself it cannot explain itself in relation to chronology. Regarded by that very chronology, there is nothing to explain, it does not stand out, or does not even possess a unique and distinguished existence.

Such an event appropriates the whole of history, past and future, to itself, making history its own history. It deciphers history - which is not to say that historicism presumes history as ciphered and opaque. On the contrary, historicism can be minimally defined by the presumption that history is transparent, clear, and already intelligible, in principle if not in fact. Rather, the event of historicity bears witness to a cipher that is itself ciphered, a code itself encoded, hidden in that intellgibility. It reveals the ciphered character of history as such: not the hidden meaning or telos of the past, but only its opacity and hieroglyphic character. What is hidden, ciphered in history, is the very fact that something is hidden or ciphered. The form of the cipher is also its only content.

The event does not endow the whole past, even the most insignificant and 'unhistorical' instants, with a new or hidden significance. Rather, it reduces all of the past: it does not reduce everything to it, to its own omnipotence or determination, but leaves it to a reduction with no significance, separating everything from its significance, so that even the grandest, the seemingly most 'historical' and weighty of things, are reduced to the same stature as the most insignificant. The past is reduced to a collection of monadic punctures that cannot be reduced further, for they are infinitely shirinking or falling from any significance. They are not, for all that, irreducible, for they are nothing in themselves but their reduction, the reduction of reduction, the very insignificance of insignificance, in inessentiality or innecessity or the inessential. The past is reducted to (almost) nothing, to that bare minimum that persists in nothingness.

Historicism would nonetheless consist, or begin anew, in maintaining the very irreducibility of the event - not to chronological history, but to itself. It cannot think the event as reduction itself, the reduction of all of history to a series of bare, meaningless hieroglyphs, marks, or wounds. It makes history reducible to an event, which is in turn reciprically reducible to history, to its historical instances, which is to say, to historical instances themselves, to its own instantiation, as it is history. We should hence distinguish two senses of 'event':

1) The historical or historicist sense, which constitutes a proper history in reducing history to itself and itself to history (what Deleuze and Guattari refer to as bi-univocality), while remaining irreducible to itself, in itself. These are the events of great significance that 'make history' and define a tradition, appropriating everything that exists as past while excluding only what did not exist, what did not happen.

2) The event in its historicity, or the event of historicity, reduces all of history, seeing in all of the happenings of the past - not what did not happen, in the sense of what could have happened otherwise or what could otherwise have happened, but - what must not have happened, thereby reducing the past to the zero level of an exclusion. And it reduces itself to itself - or, as reduction implies the dissolution of what is, its dissolution in something else, we can not say it is reduced to itself, but to its being-in, in-itself and thus not itself, in that it no longer is by virtue of being-in. In itself, reduced to being-in itself, it is other than itself, in-and-not-itself. As in-itself, it differs from what it is in, and hence is not itself. It is what had to not-be in its being, what could not be so that it could be. It is a monad, the navel whose umbilical cord reaches inward, as if the thing itself were its own prosthesis or parasite.

In the event of historicity, all of history is rendered insignificant - both the significance of the significant and the insignificance of the insignificant. Rendered insignificant or meaningless, not in the sense of a meaningless statement, but as a cipher: the cipher does not depend on the significance of what it encodes, but only on its own opacity, impenetrability, the insignificance of the signifier in itself. It is irreducible to the meaning it encodes, but reduces itself to its own insignificance regarding what it encodes, to the necessarily excluded potential to mean anything.

The sense in which the event of historicity appropriates all of history is very different from the corresponding operation on the part of the historical event. The latter institutes a proper history, endowing the past with significance and propriety. The former, itself already reduction and expropriation in itself, is the appropriation or owning over of history to expropriation. History is disowned and abandoned in the sense that it radically identifies with what it had to abandon in constituting itself. Historicity is hence the paradoxical propriety of the improper or expropriated, in which history gives itself over to its own loss, its irreparable abandonment.

Whereas historicism resorts to a concept of history as given, its intelligibility as such thereby presupposed and not accounted for in its genesis, historicity raises the question or is already the question of the conditions under which the historical is constituted. History, what is history, is not taken as self-evident, but must be investigated. History in this sense does not simply refer to a discipline or field, a science or mode of writing, but primarily to the object toward which the are directed, the matter at hand. It is therefore not a question of historiography, of methods employed by the academic discipline of History. It is an ontological question concerning the very being of history, and hence, of time.

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