Just so Alexei doesn’t feel too different, I thought I should point to the current Now-Times (hmmm – can one have past Now-Times?) post on
self-reflexivity “self-referential, performative actualization” that continues the cross-blog discussion on self-reflexivity begun at Larval Subjects, and that also responds to Gabriel Gottlieb’s reflections (non-reflexive reflections?) on Fichte over at Self and World. I tried to intervene in this discussion earlier, but have been told that I’m discussing reflexivity, not self-reflexivity, so I suspect I’ll continue to be selfless, and stay out of this… 😉 (At least until I’ve gotten a bit of work done today…)
Alexei’s concluding passage gives a taste of the post as a whole:
I take it that this final characterization of intellectual intuition in terms of an ontological difference between a given self, and the meaning of subjectivity, to be precisely what Pepperell is trying to suggest with the notion of self-reflexivity. That is, Intellectual intuition qua self-reflexive activity is an immanent development of the human potentials to act and understand, one that begins from a concrete, historical situation (although i can’t find the page, Fichte actually calls the development of the Absolute self, ‘History from a pragmatic perspective), and gestures towards an absolute ideal of human agency and freedom. It is critical, in other words, because it does not merely re-affirm the status quo, but recognizes its limitations and tries to move beyond them.
Very nice to see a roving discussion that highlights, from a range of different perspectives, how the sometimes very abstract-sounding debates around issues of (self-)reflexivity are motivated by the concern to understand the possibility for emancipatory transformation.
Updated to add: I just wanted to mention that I’ve tossed a few comments over at Now-Times to continue this discussion. Hopefully Alexei won’t mind if I cross-post a bit of one of my comments over here, as these observations may serve a slightly different purpose for regular readers of this blog, than they do in the context of the discussion of Fichte over at Now-Times and, if nothing else, I wanted to leave this as a placeholder for myself:
…the form of the presentation suggests that there is something already there – latent – that is then realised historically through some process of externalisation and actualisation. This is a common structure for an argument attempting to explain the origins of critical sensibilities: I tend to characterise this sort of argument as an account that describes “nature realising itself historically”. I also tend to see it as a non-self-reflexive form of argument in a very specific sense: it (tacitly or explicitly) takes as given the qualitative characteristics of the phenomenon it is analysing (critical sensibilities or whatever else) – it sees the historical process as a form of uncovering of what it posited as already existing in some latent form.
A self-reflexive theory, in the sense in which I mean the term, seeks a more thoroughgoing analysis of the constitution of critical sensibilities – such that these sensibilities are not latent, aren’t there waiting to be uncovered, aren’t a sort of target toward which we progressively reach ever-more-closely – but are themselves products through-and-through, constituted to their core, not pre-existing the process that constitutes them.
The distinction is a bit difficult to express, but the basic idea is: does a theory act as though its object was discovered or uncovered (in which case, I would suggest, its object is actually no longer a product or a producer within a process – it instead sits outside the process, which serves only to uncover what was already there, unconstituted, even if the existence of this unconstituted thing was only ever discovered in a particular time and place, when time was ripe). Or does a theory take seriously the notion that its object is a product (and, if a self-reflexive product, then also a producer that refashions itself out of the products generated by earlier rounds of production). This latter mode of theorisation, I would suggest, does not see in history a telos that points toward the realisation of some determinate thing (some latent object progressively uncovered or realised over time), but is instead more open-ended in its conception of what history can “achieve”: it doesn’t necessarily believe that we know what we can become, what history can do, what subjects can be – none of which precludes critique of the ways in which we are constraining ourselves in the present time from realising the determinate forms of freedom that we have taught ourselves to desire and shown ourselves are possible.
To shift again to Marx: Marx treats the commodity as a sort of telos latent within capitalism, generated by a historical process, progressively more and more clearly realised over time. But this teleological movement is Marx’s image of domination, not freedom: it is this with which we need to break, to forward emancipatory goals. This is Benjamin’s leap in the free air of history – breaking the treadmill of progress – a step that we can take, however, only by using those materials generated by this process of progress itself – those documents of barbarism, envies for air we could have breathed, experiences, resources and desires generated nowhere else, but in and through the reproduction of that very thing we now need to overcome…
At least, that’s my take on self-reflexive theory… 😉