Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Blind Process and Critical Vision

So, since today is a horrific day teaching, and I’m unlikely to find time to write anything here, another pointer to Now-Times, where the discussion on self-reflexivity continues to unfold, in two main posts (linked here previously, but just to mention that the discussion in both is still “live”).

I also wanted to cross-post another comment fragment, again because it outlines some things that I should take up here in greater detail at some point – with the caveat that, since this is written contextually in response to an ongoing conversation, it’s rather… abbreviated and somewhat problematic as written, and should therefore be read as a placeholder in need of development):

Both Marx and Hegel make gestural comments in various places about “things appearing as they are” – among other things, this sort of comment indicates that they are both trying to develop a form of analysis that does not reduce from appearance to essence, while still capturing the qualitative determinacy of what they are analysing. Both of them are attempting to figure out what it might mean to criticise, without having a notion of objective truth at our disposal.

Hegel tries to square this circle with a sort of developmental notion, where the forms of thought being criticised are both necessary (as moments in an unfolding process), and yet also partial (as revealed when they are compared with later, more adequate, moments). Hegel can do this, though, because he has a concept of the universal realising itself in time.

Marx inverts this argument: his “universal” is capital – a blind, meaningless, destructive force – a mockery of Hegel’s Spirit. However, this blind, meaningless, destructive process is also generative: potentials for freedom arise from it, even though nothing and no one sets out to create them. Marx sees an historical opportunity for us to seize these potentials from the alienated forms in which they have been constituted, and derives from this potential the immanent critical standards against which he judges existing forms of social life wanting.

I tilt more toward Marx than Hegel. That is, I don’t think there is a “meaning” to the overarching process (historical or natural) that has brought us to where we are. However, I think this blind, aleatory process has generated the possibility for meaning. I don’t think history or nature “needs” the individual, but I think individuals have been generated – and, more specifically, potentials for free subjects have been generated. And I think that being constituted in and amongst such potentials has impacts on what we desire – on the kind of world we will find adequate to our own constitution: we do not feel at home in the world as it currently is, precisely because, as its creatures, we know that this world could be other and more.

I think this would be compatible with the evolutionary/emergent concept you suggest above – just with a stronger emphasis on the notion that nothing has necessarily been “pointing” human or natural history in this direction “all along” – and nothing is going to lead quasi-automatically to any kind of transcendence now. It’s just that the blind process that has tossed creatures like us out of itself as unintended side effects, has generated creatures who might be subjects – and it is toward the realisation of this immanent possibility that I would understand critical theory to be directed.

I’ve also been meaning for some time to point to Sinthome’s piece on Morphogenesis, Marx, and Coagulation– Questions for a Materialist Philosophy – a fantastic set of reflections on Marx’s use of metaphors of coagulation and congealment, which then moves to a discussion of morphogenesis and materialist philosophy. Sinthome’s post, I suspect, was part of the constellation out of which the above comment crystallised.


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