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Tag Archives: Benjamin

The Unlived Life and Unnecessary Triviality

Poetix offers a beautiful post on the meaning of the unlived life Latourian/Marxist valuation and its necessary connection to vitalism.

“A premise of Marxist economic theory, in particular of the Labour Theory of Value, is that exploitation is odious: the “surplus value” extracted from workers is a part of their life (that is, of their labour) which is taken from them and not returned. Not only is the working life of the worker actively curtailed by exhaustion and immiseration, but even the life he has left is not lived to the full inasmuch as he never enjoys the full fruits of his labours.”

From this comes to mind the Process Theology definition of “Evil”, derived from Whitehead and Aristotle, presented by Cobb and Griffin. Process Theology is an off-shoot of Whiteheadian metaphysics. Under this definition, there are two kinds of evil, absolute as Discord and relative as needless Triviality:

“Discord, which is physical or mental suffering is simply evil in itself, whenever it occurs. Triviality, however, is only evil in some cases. A trivial enjoyment is not evil in itself insofar as its harmony outweighs its discordant elements. But if it is more trival, and hence less intense than it could have been, given the real possibilities open to it, then it is evil. Hence while discord is absolutely evil, triviality is only comparatively evil.”

[Briefly summed up here: A Non-moral theory of Evil ]

With this in view, the soterial drive is the drive for the redemption of the “triviality” of other lives, a re-inscription of the meaning of their persisting notes in the strain. It is perhaps why Zionist movements and Christian Eschatology have played a heavy hand in the history of the West, in particular during it turning points of modernity 17th century and early 20th(and perhaps now). Keeping with an analogy of music, notes that are played trivallyso in history, the banal, sing-song jingles of an immature happinesses, or worse, the culdesacs of suffering, sour notes let out, each can take on a difference juxtaposed meaning when considered with our own actions. In this sense, our actions are genetic fulfillments of the hopes, unconscious and conscious, of others.

I think it is right to read the very question of continuity within the question of the maximalization of the intensity of our present lives, and hence attribute an implicit vitalism to any rational scheme to make sense of our world. As we stretch the living band to its most taut, discord reaching point, and form counterpoints to that tension, it is ever the graves of others that we retroactively over-turn and rebury.

The Angel of History

I differ though from Benjamin’s notion of historical impasse, the sense that we are ever removed from the paradise of a growing piling up of corpses and fragmentations, the haunting of a hautology:

A Klee drawing named “Angelus Novus” shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe that keeps piling ruin upon ruin and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.

– Walter Benjamin,

Ninth Thesis on the Philosophy of History

And I do not read individuation as a necessary ghosting as Benjamin evocatively summons up,

Standing behind the doorway curtain, the child [who is hiding] becomes himself something floating and white, a ghost. The dining table under which he is crouching turns him into a wooden idol in a temple whose four pillars are the carved legs…. Anyone who discovers him can petrify him as an idol under the table, weave him forever as a ghost into the curtain…. And so, at the seeker’s touch, with a loud cry he drives out the demon who has so transformed him – indeed without waiting for the moment of discovery, he grabs the hunter with a shout of self-deliverance.

Walter Benjamin, One Way Street

The reason for this is that given a Spinozist conception of sense-making, one already takes any notes played as optimally intense, not from their perspective, but the perspective of the fullness of Substance’s expression. But, this is not to say that our position, or own historical attempt to maximalize ourselves beyond the locality of our individuation, beyond the ghosting implicatures of the Symbolic, necessarily doesn’t keep a record of the relative intensities and trivialities of others, not only of the past (!), but of the present and the future. It is musicology. As such, there is more than enough room though for the Caliban Question, and the imagination as prophetic, including the spectres of ghosts.

[Also recommended, the “Life Beyond Life” post at Complete Lies.]

Virtual City of the Sun

How Philosophies Stand Citied

The City of the Solarians

Here we find a virtual model of Campanella’s utopian City of the Sun (1602), written of in the year that he received his life sentence for a leadership role in a local failed revolution in Calabria, apparently with the anticipated help of the Turkish fleet, (not to mention astrological, millenial confluence). Bruno had been burned at the stake two years before (Campo de’ Fiori, Feburary 17th), an event which for some marked the end of the Renaissance, and the birth of Modern times. Campanella, not relegated to the heretical flames, rather employed a legal strategy of feigned insanity, the endurance of torture, and then decades of imprisonment, inspired writings to forward his quest for religio-political “mutatione”. The city is taken to be a blueprint for the kind of communitarian state Campanella hoped to help establish in impoverished Calabria.

What I am taken by, as I have recently been thinking about the prescriptions for society that tend to flow from Lacanian inspired analysts, is how each and every philosophical complex, as it seeks to explain the world coherently, and fulfills what Walter Benjamin called its Representational role, cannot help but enter a citadel dimension…that is, carve out a conceptual space in which we are meant to live.

Campanella conceived his city, archetecturally, as a Representation of the Universe. A Representation, and an expression. In a kind of sympathetic magic the 7 walls represented the 7 circuits of the planets. Further though, on each of the walls were fresco depictions of knowledge from every science so that the entire city, and its inhabitants manifested the discourses that shaped them:

As one traveled a circuit of a wall, one enacted a planetary course, absorbed a degree of knowledge. It is in particular the nature of these heavily defensive walls, the representive, expressional nature of them that fascinates me.

Rorty pointed out that to a great degree the ontological is a product of a fundamental ontology/epistemology divide, one governed by a primary metaphor of reflection. What we can and do know is supposed to be a mirror of, a corresponding aspect of what IS. And once this metaphor is given up, so is something of the ontological question. One is then left with either just epistemology, or just ontology, but not both.

This is only partly right. Much as in Campanella’s walls, the discourse of knowledge assumes an ontological dimension which Causes what we hold to be the case. Any theory works as a witness, engaged in the world, bringing it into relief, and organizing our place within it. The “walls” of any theory (its internal coherence), didactically tell us how the world is (ideologically), manifest essential aspects of the world (participating in its expression), and buttress the space they have created (coherence). It is a community of visions for those that inhabit it. The phraseologies, deductions, defintions all circulate to establish a civic realm. It is u-topia, in the sense that it is No-place, in particular, even if it is given an address in history. The ontologies of even the most post-structural and avant gaurde, are expressed not only in their ontological commitments, but if their very causal connection to the shared world. Even multiplicites stand carved and frescoed.

How many times have you traversed a text (Semper’s textile), passed your eye back and forth as you crossed it, on your way, aware of where you were, and were going, yet pleasurably puzzled over the signification, this figure of a phrase, this nexus of a meaning-logic, positioned on a city-scape on a landscape, knowing that others pass beside you?

There is a sense, in philosophy, where the invitation is ever…here, live in this world, Heideggerian, Foucaultian, Fregian, Lacanian, Wittgensteinian, Spinozist, Nietzschean, Sartean, Kantian, Augustinian, Deleuzian, Humean, Whiteheadian, Lucretian etc., etc., etc. It is not that philosophy is LIKE city-building, or architecture, or that the products of philosophy are helpfully applied to ways of living, modes of social building. It is likely best to say that philosophy is borne of the architectural impulse, the very space-organizing, living conceptions that first orient the species-organism. Philosophy is a kind of compass-work and an οἶκος. 

We might say as well that Tommaso Campanella in his commitment to legal insanity and utopian closure, enacted the very limit at which the philosopher operates. Architecturally outside of what she/he is inscribing, seeking to express herself/himself within what causes the inscription. Prescriptions to lives and society are immanent to the walls of structure and connection. The philosophical impulse is territorial.

And who is to build the City of the Lunarians? Where do you wish to live?

English Text of Campanella’s City of the Sun

From its end:

Sea Captain: [Speaking of Catholic Spainish power in the New World]…They sought new regions for lust of gold and riches, but God works to a higher end. The sun strives to burn up the earth, not to produce plants and men, but God guides the battle to great issues. His the praise, to Him the glory!

Grand Master: Oh, if you knew what our astrologers say of the coming age, and of our age, that has in it more history within 100 years than all the world had in 4,000 years before! of the wonderful inventions of printing and guns, and the use of the magnet, and how it all comes of Mercury, Mars, the Moon, and the Scorpion!

Sea Captain: Ah, well! God gives all in His good time. They astrologize too much.