Posted by: HAT | April 28, 2009

Blast from the Past

Manuscript arrived in the mail

Manuscript arrived in the mail

Was going to write a bit about my progress through Chapter 5 of Ethics of Dissensus (!!), the labor of the negative, temporality (core issue for utopian studies), and the like, but have been sidetracked by an unexpected gift that came in the mail this morning.

The library has an extra copy of my Th.M. thesis, “Theological Norms for Decisionmaking in a Christian Community.” Which the librarian in charge of collections, and also theses, sent me, thinking I might like to have it. This action is, I suspect, about the only thing that would have induced me to read this particular document, or any part of it, another time.

But since it was right there, I did take a semi-nostalgic look at the table of contents, and turned to the conclusions, just to refresh my memory (“What did I say?”).

Evidently, I have been thinking about the same idea for a long time. Only now it takes the form of utopian community, and instead of looking at what three theologians have to say about explicitly Christian communities [ahem — need I point out that the church must be regarded as, at least in its inception and principles, a community with utopian aims? No argument about the church being a failure at its utopian praxis, but I think a strong one in favor of its core traditional utopian orientation. Not to mention “messianic anticipation” and its relation to utopian expectation . . .] I’m looking at what three secular philosophers have to say about utopia and utopian imagination more generally.

But what more surprised me was that I had some paragraphs on the problem of, as I would say these days, “predication” — sorry, don’t really have a better term at present — and its illusory character. Which, upon this re-reading, struck me as almost exactly what Adorno is talking about when he talks about (criticizes) “identity thinking.” The problem: we want to aim at something we can’t see, or can’t see very well, something our relation to which is uncertain. We could call it truth, or God, or freedom, or utopia . . . and maybe we should go re-read or read Derrida’s “Play in the Structure of the Social Sciences” before we talk much more about this centering term, but anyway, this Whatever we want to approach.

Because of the uncertainty, we want signs (“This way to the Whatever,” “now you are in the presence of the Whatever,” “Sure Sign of the Whatever.”). Also, possibly, because of the specific nature of the Whatever. We might want to add that this Whatever is elusive. Also that we are capable of being deceived about it. So we want signs.

But the only really adequate sign would have to be identical with this Whatever. Because any divergence/separation of sign and Whatever will at least potentially and in practice almost certainly, eventually, invalidate the sign-status of the sign. The sign is not the Whatever. Only the Whatever is the Whatever.

Only truth is truth. (If we can even still talk about “truth” in this way.) But certainly not identical with truth is “the progressive consciousness of the proletariat” or “the enlightened direction of the party” or “the decision of the market” or “the voice of the people” or any other predicate, whether concrete or abstract. You can say “vox populi vox dei”, but you can’t actually mean it.

[feel Plato here? back to my shocked amazement that Adorno, Irigaray and Agamben all want to retain this character of the forms — which amounts to an appeal to a critical authority beyond language and usage, and beyond procedure, all the way back to the real — even the Lacanian Real is unrepresentable. Big surprise?]

Surely this position is more difficult to hold at present, because of the suspicion that there are significant realities (bodies, identities,. . .) that really are functions of processes, relationships, social discourses, etc., so there aren’t in the case of those entities (hope I can use that word), or wouldn’t be, something like this critically-empowered Whatever to render a verdict on whether this or that sign was or wasn’t “working” or “true” (say, in the sense of magnetic north being true to true north)?

But to find this problem (which is intimately related to the problem of prophecy in relation to authority, to the problem of the relationship of “desirable” in the sense of “something I would want if I knew what would be good for me” to “desirable” in the sense of “something I want”, to the problem of faith and doubt, theory and action . . .) in this old paper, it was a surprise, a good one.



  1. Metonymy not equal to identity.

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