Tuesday, March 12, 2013

‘One Last Hit’: Marx’s Vicelectic with Hegel

"Kant and Fichte soar to heavens blue
Seeking for some distant land.
I but seek to grasp profound and true
That which in the street I find.

Forgive us epigrammatists
For singing songs with nasty twists
In Hegel we're all so fatedly submerged
In with his aesthetics we're to be purged."
                     - Marx

I heard you say 'you know I hate myself
but I love everybody else'
and did you say 'I can't escape myself'?
and then you did, and now there's no one else.
                     - Sonic Youth

What else did Marx and Engels mean when
they declared that history always progresses
by its bad side?
                     - Althusser

Hegelianism is a debilitating disease, a pathogen of philosophy that appears to merely append ethically grotesque normative conclusions to otherwise neutral methodology and procedure – but the contagion is primarily and surreptitiously vested in the latter, that is, within the method and procedure of the dialectic itself. Stripped of its hideous lipid-protein host-cell – Hegel – the viral dialectic remains, the hard kernel of conflict and the divine law of identity as the supreme core of its mediation.

While incurable after prolonged exposure, Hegelianism is nonetheless treatable with access to the right medication. Fear not, you too can live a productive and fulfilling life with proper care and management of your condition: Schoppenhauer, Marx, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Freud, Heidegger, Russell, Whitehead, Feyerabend, Deleuze & Guattari.
Lather, rinse, repeat.

There’s even a dosage of Isaiah Berlin’s ‘Freedom and Betrayal: Six Enemies of Human Liberty’ that you can get in a patch form, it just goes on your arm and the urge to participate in, arbitrate, and submit to universal subjugation and subservience under the dialectical progression of history just melts away.

This ailment wasn’t so easily managed for a 19th century German. Back then it was like the wild west of speculative metaphysics and the only serum for Hegelianism at the time was Ludwig Feuerbach. An odious triple X bottle of putrid idiosyncratically theological swill that nonetheless left one at very least disabused of any semblance of metaphysical pretention, if not disabused of one’s eyesight as well.

Open your gullet, swallow.

Like chalky methadone powder mixed in with anonymous fruit drink for a materialist trying to get clean; trying to kick the habit of pure black tar rationalist metaphysics.

As Feuerbach wrote:

[W]hy, after all, should that which owes its truth and certainty only to itself not stand higher than that whose certainty depends on the nothingness of its opposite? Who would, therefore, give mediation the status of necessity or make a principle of truth out of it? Only he who is still imprisoned in that which is to be negated; only he who is still in conflict and strife with himself.[1]
All is mediated, says the Hegelian philosophy. . . but something is true only when it is no longer mediated; that is, when it is immediate.[2]
Potent stuff.
‘Cures what fates and ails ye’ is the slogan they yell from their old-timey apothecary.
Dr. Feuerbach’s splendiferous serum.

Indeed amongst the backwater slush communities of, as Paul Levi Bryant writes “crank Marxists, queer theorists, media theorists, semioticians, religious nuts, schizophrenics, poets, novelists, experts in obscure figures, and wrecked, tormented, lonely people”[3] it is still prescribed regularly today for everything from ‘principle of sufficient reason’ outbreaks to the most severe cases of Hegelimortis, or the ossificiation of the extremities in the progression of history.

Nonetheless Karl Marx struggled with Hegelianism from a very young age – his habit was deep – getting help, binging, going off the rails, getting help, binging, going off the rails, getting help, binging, going off the rails – immanence, representation, simulacrum –  getting help, binging, going of the rails. He pinned the original copy of his Theses on Feuerbach above his writing desk like one of those pathetic ‘one day at a time’ posters with a kitten on it that you’d find on the back wall of an AA group, a monkey hanging from a tree, ‘hang in there, babe’ – ‘one day at a time.’

In addition to getting everything else wrong about Marx, Althusser got Marx specifically wrong when he ascribed the worst symptoms of Marx’s battle with Hegel to Marx’s youth, whereas the elder Marx – so far as Althusser read him – got away scott free with the “crucial gift” of the dialectic.
The philosophical equivalent of the ‘one last hit.’

There, under a bridge, two junkies – one as tragedy, one as farce – ‘last one!’ a strung out Marx assures Althusser, ‘last one’ Althusser says unsteadily before shooting up. Well, not quite – it might be true in the case of Althusser but its less so in the case of Marx – Marx was neither Marxist nor a vulgar Marxist, nor a Marxist strung out on a pale and glassy-eyed re-enactment of Marx’s rejection of Hegel.

‘Marx made doing dialectics look cool,’ says a wayward, abstract, systematic, out of touch and trainspotting Althusser, shivering in urine soaked clothes, drugged out of his mind on reason, bad-tripping behind the couch while France was in the streets. Aleatory materialism is just the addled shakes of an old man who couldn’t afford the rising prices of his structuralist pushers: Lenin, Mao, Lacan.

No, Marx was a materialist, he wrote his dissertation on Epicurus and Lucretius – they didn’t have the data on Hegel we have now, there were no ‘may cause irredeemable statism’ warning labels on the back of Phenomenology of Spirit packs, there was no Technicolor photo of the gulag or the camp on the back of a bottle of The Philosophy of Right. No, all Marx had to go on was the experience of his own disease, and hence there is no clean break – no purge – he neither ever got entirely clean nor did he ever give up trying to get clean (though his very late writings on mathematics might indicate that he was eventually wholly claimed by the phenomenological fairy).

There is no cure for Hegel; there is no ‘epistemological break’ in Marx. There are just better or worse years, days when the itch didn’t hit him so hard and he could write about the struggle and emancipation, days when he fell off the wagon and laid down on the side of the road, convulsing in withdrawl, waiting for the wagon of Minerva to arrive. The disease of Hegelianism functions in Marx as a kind of Calvinist fever-dream, the room spins as your eyes roll back in your head, visions of the powers of the dialectic supplanting your own. I quote 

Zizek from the 2010 Guardian article on him at length:

‘I will tell you my problem openly and for this my publisher will hate me. All the talk and the writing about politics, this is not where my heart is. No. I have been sidetracked. I really mean this.’
He opens a copy of Living in the End Times, and finds the contents page. ‘I will tell you the truth now,’ he says, pointing to the first chapter, then the second. ‘Bullshit. Some more bullshit. Blah, blah, blah.’ He flicks furiously through the pages. ‘Chapter 3, where I try to read Marx anew, is maybe OK. I like this part where I analyse Kafka's last story and here where I use the community of outcasts in the TV series Heroes as a model for the communist collective. But, this section, the Architectural Parallax, this is pure bluff. Also the part where I analyse Avatar, the movie, that is also pure bluff. When I wrote it, I had not even seen the film, but I am a good Hegelian. If you have a good theory, forget about the reality. . . I am writing a mega-book about Hegel with regard to Plato, Kant and maybe Heidegger. Already, this Hegel book is 700 pages. It is a true work of love. This is my true life's work. Even Lacan is just a tool for me to read Hegel. For me, always it is Hegel, Hegel, Hegel,’ he says, sighing again. ‘But people just want the shitty politics.’[4]
I therefore agree with The Guardian’s Sean O’Hagan when he concludes:

Only time will tell if Žižek is serious about becoming utterly serious, but if he devotes the rest of his brilliant, brainy, slightly bonkers, utterly singular life to Hegel, and Hegel alone, it will be a great gain for pure philosophy and a great loss to radical, risk-taking political theory.[5]
Indeed the same ought to be said of Marx himself, to the extent he was a victim of his condition it was a great gain for philosophy and a great loss for radical, risk-taking political theory.

Dialectics for Marx was like high class Columbian cocaine – the way literal cocaine was for Freud – it let him speak in absolutes, pour drinks on the heads of all variants of socialists in front of their girlfriends, to wear Ed Hardy T-shirts and randomly lash out at the very poor. ‘Hey! You!’ A coked out Marx interpolates across the alleyway to the poetic bohemian ‘lumpenptoletariat scum’ he used to be. He slurs drunkenly, making vague, paranoid accusations regarding all the “reactionary intrigues”[6] that the “passive dungheap”[7] across the road will get up to when the revolution comes – the bouncer is eyeing him warily, Engels is attempting to coax him back inside the club, whispers amongst the gawking  crowd of bystanders, ‘hush hush, don’t get him started on the Jews.’

The method of dialectic – that is, a presumption of strife and conflict, of identity as prior to difference at the very heart of mediation – hence produced a Marx that was at once chest-thumping and programmatic and at the same time silent and neuter, insofar as all the dialectic offers by way of its bombastic prescriptions is ever more negation, a proliferation of everything that Marx in his lucid moments acknowledges as that which must be overturned in communism. Hence dialectics, like club cocaine, is referred to colloquially, amongst recovery circles of the Pacific-Northwest, as a ‘douchebag drug.’

Whereas Badiou, Althusser and Zizek’s Hegelianism functions more like crack or meth. Solitary and obscene. They find you one day malnourished and hiding under a dirty mattress, trying to pick out the material realities of on boots on the ground ontic political association like so many ants from one’s skin. How do you feed 5000 people at Occupy New York? How do actually do things in ways that are different than how they have been done before?

*Scuttle-scuttle-scuttle*. . . the rationalist retreats further beneath the mattress.

I’d like to suggest here briefly that Marx came closest to divorcing himself from the dialectic as a conception and as a procedure in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon. That what Marx really meant in correcting Hegel – that history not only occurs twice but occurs first as tragedy and second as farce – is that dialectical history, as representation, is already the second movement, so to speak. Or, in other words, the dialectical progression is already itself the tragedy, and moreover that, following Feuerbach, only the immanent is revolutionary. The recognition of the historical and the dialectical as part and parcel of that which must be overturned must be addressed in an immanent way, as revolutionary, as non-dialectical and a-historical – as indeed any attempt to address historical and dialectical struggles in an historical and dialectical way, i.e. when premised on preceding forms of association, or on the basis of existing social forms, is bound to fail and repeat  endlessly – failure then farce, failure then farce, failure then farce. In the Eighteenth Brumaire Marx figures the dialectic and history as the method by which ‘a history in which the proletariat are never liberated’ perpetuates itself, or even could perpetuate itself – history and dialectic as the infectious programing failure by which the emancipation of man glitches-out and chooses its own subjugation to the interests of the bourgeois.

The social revolution of the nineteenth century cannot draw its poetry from the past, but only from the future. It cannot begin with itself before it has stripped off all superstition in regard to the past. Earlier revolutions required recollections of past world history in order to drug themselves concerning their own content. In order to arrive at its own content, the revolution of the nineteenth century must let the dead bury the dead. There the phrase went beyond the content; here the content goes beyond the phrase.[8]
If we read Marx’s invocation of ‘universal suffrage’ allegorically, as from the old French for ‘prayers or pleas on behalf of another,’ if we read the revolutionary moment of being for and being with as immanence, then we can say that the dialectical and the historical is simply what reappropriates the revolutionary, what consumes and debases it – so that, as Marx writes, “[it] seems to have survived only for a moment, in order that with its own hand it may make its last will and testament before the eyes of all the world and declare in the name of the people itself: All that exists deserves to perish.”[9] In other words, there is the immanent, and then the historical/dialectical gesture which appropriates it, first as tragedy, then as farce.

The holy symbol of this dialectical historical progression wherein “the scum of bourgeois society forms the holy phalanx of order”[10] is Napoleon. In other words it is not simply Napoleon the first who is the tragedy and Louis Napoleon the farce – no, it is rather that they both contain within them, as historical disclosures, the possibility of a break with the teleological progression of history, they both contain revolution as a possibility, but possibility as a yet-to-be-realized event, as diremption, caesura; it is precisely that this possibility is never realised; it is this failure to break entirely with the dialectical progression of history that has played the saboteur in every revolution; it is nostalgia and a soft heart for half-measures, hand-me-down tactics, and dog-eared failed ideas and politics that shoots the project of the emancipation of man in the foot.

“Communism abolishes eternal truths, it abolishes religion and morality, instead of maintaining them,” as Marx and Engels write in the Communist Manifesto “it therefore contradicts all historical development up to now.”[11]

Both Napoleons demonstrate the three movements of dialectical history, which is here figured as the history of the oscillations between bourgeois interests and authoritarian control – the overthrow of a constitutional monarchy by bourgeois interests results in a bourgeois republic whose authority is annexed by a singular charismatic authority who is eventually overthrown by bourgeois interests whose authority is eventually annexed by a singular charismatic authority who is eventually overthrown by bourgeois interests whose authority is eventually annexed by a singular charismatic authority, ad infinitum. This is the historical dialectic, and revolution must then be understood in the sense of breaking with the historical in a non-dialectical fashion.

For Napoleon the first it was his role in the overthrow of the squishy soft Louis the sixteenth – known to have been well intentioned but weak and bullied by bourgeois interests and members of his own court into servicing those bourgeois interests – the establishment – and then his roles within the bourgeois republics of the National Constitution (1792 – 1795), The Directory (1795 – 1799), and Consulate (1799 – 1804), and his eventual  inauguration of the First French Empire – (apocryphally, history long held that he indeed literally crowned himself as emperor, ripping the crown from the hands of Pope Pius VII to place upon his own head).

For his nephew, Louis Napoleon the third, it was his role in the overthrow of the once Jacobin and revolutionary-turned-Orlesian-monarchist Louis-Philippe, and then his roles within the bourgeois republics of the Constituent National Assembly (May 4, 1848 to May 28, 1849) and the Legislative National Assembly (May 28, 1849 to December, 2, 1851) and his eventual coup and his inauguration of the Second French Empire.

The immanent: the execution of the sovereign as the radical caesura, rife with indeterminacy;
the tragedy: the codified interests of the few above the interests of the many;
and the farce: the inevitable collapse of these interests into the figure of the sovereign.

The immanent is the material – “the self-grounding position of sense certainty,”[12] as Marx writes – it is that to which the codification of interests is unfaithful, it is that to which re-inscription into the will of the singular bourgeois subjectivity is farce. Dialectical progression cannot be emancipatory in and of itself – as Sartre holds it to be – as negation of negation would, of course, entail the dissolution of the mechanism of negation itself, the dialectic, producing not an affirmation but rather simply the space for one.

What the Eighteenth Brumiare articulates is that, for Marx, the negation of the negation is not itself an affirmation – that is, the negation of the negation is the possible grounds for an affirmation but does not necessarily entail affirmation, rather it is merely the possibility of an affirmation, a space, a clearing. Obviously the negation of the negation – whether it be the negation of a constitutional monarchy, the negation of a bourgeois republic, the negation of authoritarian control, or the negation of the pure sign of late capitalism – must functionally occur for there to be an affirmation, which is to say the conditions of negation must end. That said, the negation of the negation is the possible precondition of but not sufficient for 'revolution' in a qualified sense - it is not itself sufficient for an affirmation. Revolutions that are dialectical and historical, as Marx writes, “throw [themselves] into doctrinaire experiments, exchange banks and workers’ associations, [and] hence into a movement in which it renounces the revolutionizing of the old world by means of the latter’s own great, combined resources, and seeks, rather, to achieve its salvation behind society’s back, in private fashion, within its limited conditions of existence, and hence necessarily suffers shipwreck.”[13] The urge to negate the negation dialectically is the height of Hegelianism, the compulsion to strip the manifold complexity of the sum characters of a given environment of their inherent difference and incommensurability in the service of a grand historical gesture is the Hegelian relapse par excellance. Recourse to the dialectic is anti-revolutionary.

Indeed, while the negation of these historical formations contains ‘the revolutionary’ as a possibility, such negation is not by definition revolutionary, nor would such negation be sustainably ‘revolutionary’ in any tangible sense. No, the revolution that Marx articulates is the revolution of those who do not merely want to supplant one negation for another, but who abolish negation as a principle in themselves.

Political power in its truest sense is the organised power of one class for oppressing another. If the proletariat necessarily unites as a class in its struggle against the bourgeoisie, makes itself into a ruling class through revolution, and as a ruling class forcibly transforms the old relations of production, then it will transform, along with these relations of production, the underlying conditions for class conflict and for classes in general, hence its own supremacy as a class.[14]
As Marx notes in the Critique of the Gotha Program:

[A]fter the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and there with also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly -- only then then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs![15]
Marx in other words vests the authority to negate purely in the hands of those who he believes hold the interests of each and all in their own and would, by his reckoning, dissolve themselves as dominant class in the event of their becoming the dominant class: the proletariat. That is, Marx figures the proletariat alone as those who wish not merely to supplant one negation for another, but to abolish negation as a principle in themselves and hence abolish it as principle whatsoever. But Marx does this in order to indeed have a delineable class that he might oppose to Capital dialectically, and hence he collapses all difference into the impalpable figure of the same.

Reading Marx harshly, then, one might say that he replaces the bourgeois domination of all other classes with domination by a larger and more benevolent class, the workers, but that the deployment of a contrived dialectical opposition stops him short of an affirmation of one and all, each in their difference rather than in spite of it, against the negation of Capital as such. Reading Marx generously one might counter that, as Marx himself never alleges that the negation of the negation is an affirmation, he knows all too well that the revolution and emancipation of each and all is not coextensive with the proletarian overturn of the conditions of capital, but merely that this is the only method of which he can conceive in the dark pangs of his addiction, afflicted as he is by the Hegelian phage of Either/Or, contradiction, conflict, strife.

It is 4AM, Marx wretches beside his bed and calls his sponsor who listens intently and offers benign and patronizing platitudes. He hangs up and stares at his ceiling and masturbates. He scrawls a note in the left hand margin of a never-ending work on the relation of the individual to a class and a class to a whole:
‘the negation of the negation = the precedence of difference to identity.
buy milk.’
The dialectic is not the tool by which emancipation is achieved it is the mirage that keeps one wandering away from it, it is the parasite which occupies the mind and replaces revolution with process, event with history, haecceity with systematicity, and the interests of the many with the interests of the few.

Every year hundreds are stricken with the false promise of a useful mechanism in Hegel, waking to find their bodies sublated, their wills churned into the grissle-mill of an abstract progression that bears little resemblance nor reference to the material that it purports to progress. More research is needed: the virus mutates frequently – Kojeve, Sellars, Strauss, early Heidegger, Brandom et al. – and is particularly skilful at the trigger of auto-immune responses to attempts to extricate it wholesale. Research is to be conducted as though one were working with highly reactive (read: reactionary) substances, with the proper equipment, and infrequently – breaking often for surrealist poetry and Japanese literature – and always under the supervision of a professional who is not themselves a habitual user.

If you or someone you know comes into contact with Hegel administer Karl Popper’s ‘The Open Society and its Enemies’ topically in gel form to the afflicted area, though discontinue use after two days to avoid allergic reaction to inconsistently deployed philosophical terminology. The dialectic is, in its very viral icosahedric Platonic core, both conservative and reactionary, it cannot be purged, it does not admit of the immanent but only the teleological, progression by negation, consuming the flesh of its unwitting and usually well-meaning hosts, leaving them far from emancipated, leaving them frustrated husks in conflict with one another towards the realization of itself in the diseased and disfigured populations of the bourgeois republics and authoritarian rule it waxes and wanes between.

Thus the dictum “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past”[16] is herein figured as merely frequently misread. He continues from the same passage:

The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language.[17]
Far from Dialectical Materialism, Marx is articulating – from the depths of his own addiction, even – a materialism liberated from the dialectic. The anxious conjuring of the spirits of the past, the bourgeois folk-medicine for the dialectical infection, is merely the extention of the dialectic – it is precisely this which must be broken with.

[1] Ludwig Feuerbach, German Socialist Philosophy: Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels Ed. Wolfgang Schirmacher (New York: Continuum, 1997), 64.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Paul Levi Bryant, “An Ode to the Internet” Larval Subjects, http://larvalsubjects.wordpress.com/2013/02/28/an-ode-to-the-internet/, posted Feb 28, 2013, accessed March 3, 2013.
[4] Sean O’Hagan, “Slavoj Zizek: An Interview” The Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2010/jun/27/slavoj-zizek-living-end-times, posted July 27 2010, accessed March 1st 2013.
[5] Ibid.
[7] Marx & Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (UK: Merlin Press, 1998), 20.
[8] Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon (Maryland: Wildside Press LLC, 2008), 18.
[9] Ibid, 21.
[10] Ibid, 26.
[11] Marx & Engels, The Communist Manifesto, 26.
[12] Marx, Karl Marx: Writings of the Young Marx on Philosophy and Society Ed. Loyd David Easton and Kurt H. Guddat (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1997), 317.
[13] Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, 24.
[14] Marx & Engels, The Communist Manifesto, 27.
[15] Marx, Marx & Engels Selected Works Volume Three (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1970), 16.
[16] Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, 15.
[17] Ibid.

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