The Negative of the Negative
May 18, 2007
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Determinate negation seems to be in the air these days! I wanted to draw attention to a fantastic post over at Grundlegung, which picks up on Steve Shaviro’s concept of obliqueness in relation to a Hegelian notion of determinate negation. The take on determinate negation is subtly different from the one I’ve outlined below – Grundlegung unpacks the term in the following way:
To cast matters in Hegelian terms, it belongs to the broad class of negativity proper to the dialectic: it is determinate negation. For negation to be determinate is for it to have a content and so for it to be intentional, thus being the negation of one thing but not another.
By way of contrast, indeterminate negation would be negativity without ties to the specific character of the negated object. We might go on to delineate two possible modes of this indeterminate (or ‘mere‘) negation. The first of these would stem from the nature of the normative standard employed in the critique that precludes any real engagement with the determinate features of the object. Here, for example, we might group scepticism, nihilism and ‘Beautiful Soul’-ism, which in their own ways negate the object abstractly — a rejection pre-determined by the very co-ordinates the critique would take place within that entails that no matter what the object is it can never qualify as the True, the Good or the Righteous.
A second mode of mere negation would fail to treat the object with the requisite specificity through a failure to relate it to the conditions that make its appearance a necessity; an error Hegel introduces us to in the very first passages of the Phenomenology (Preface, 2). One of the multiple reasons why this negativity remains shallow is that it is left with meagre resources to explain falsity and semblance. That is, given that the object of critique has been discovered to be somehow inadequate, we are faced with the question of why no-one had realised this heretofore. Is it that people ‘just have’ been mistaken or are stupid or exceedingly gullible? The systematic regularity of such purported ‘errors’ calls for a more precise examination of the conditions undergirding them such that we do not remain content to wield an external critical standard, judging upon truth and falsity without accounting for the necessity (or for the faint-hearted, increased probability) of these so-called mistakes. This will involve critique in the task of determinate negation which proceeds to engage in a qualitative (i.e. more fully ‘contentful’) investigation of the negated object.
Much, much more in the original post – which (unlike my own intervention into this discussion) actually does manage to comment directly on the recent debate over Zizek’s review of 300. (Something about this discussion reminds me of the old joke about how the worst novels make the best movies – do the worst movie reviews spark the best blogspheric debates?)
When I have more time – a prospect that, unfortunately, is looking more and more like some kind of counterfactual ideal – I hope to be able to pick up on some of the concepts from this post, as well as return to Steve Shaviro’s posts, for a more detailed discussion of ways of conceptualising negation and critique.