Erik (eriktrips) wrote,

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the universal and the particular

that was very interesting. a little more involved than the compulsive tail-chasing i was doing the other night but it did get me to thinking about the opposition between the romantic and the rational and wondering if there isn't another way to figure it. (link courtesy annie_r and i was just going to respond to her comment on the respond to comment page but i can see already that this is going to be a bit unwieldy for anyone's inbox.)

because i don't think that setting up another dichotomy that lines up with all the other dichotomies in the world works very well or gets us very far or leads us to the 'progress' that this fellow sees as the promise of science and reason. and because i think that the romantic reaction to science and reason has legitimate complaints if not particularly satisfactory answers.

for instance, german fascism may have been romantically motivated but technology was unable to resist being deployed in the service of death camps and atomic bombs. this of course has been pointed out over and over. one wonders then if reason and science can be depended upon to reveal their own ethics or if belief in the universality of reason is its own protofascism which simply repeats the gesture of 'discovering' the 'proper' principles according to which we should operate while trying to cast out those it sees as incompatible. if romanticism believes in a golden age of the past and science believes in a golden age of the future, what might it mean to question the desirability of a golden age? or to question the desirability of a set of universals that will lead us to it?

this is where romanticism's objection to the universal is legitimate: what are the possibilities for excess in allowing a technological regime to impose its values on all areas of life? what violence might there be in 'progress' itself? to what extent does the emphasis on consistency and order forcibly exclude, for instance, the nonsensical, the paradoxical, the illogical?

and i would say to what extent is the rational founded on the paradoxical and unable to do without it. an argument for that though would take up far too much of your time. one thing i will say is that the dependence of western civilization upon violence to impose its form of progress is an indication of a perhaps more pessimistic way to think of the ties between rationality and irrationality. all is not fun and postmodern games in the land of the irrational. this messiness -- and bloodiness -- is one reason (ha! reason!) i think the whole polarized field needs to be rethought.

and it's being rethought. i'm only repeating what i've heard elsewhere and hoping some spark of novelty intervenes from some other elsewhere.

basically one of the things i am trying to get at is a way to move between romanticism and rationality, between the individual as sole source of resistance and the universal as sole arbiter of value, in such a way that can take the arguments of both sides into account, and in such a way that teleology is unable to impose itself on either side as a despotic ideal.

what i am wondering is whether the opposition between romanticism and rationality, between the particular and the universal, aren't false dichotomies in that the oppositions themselves operate according to assumptions shared by both sides of the oppositions, and whether a reorientation of assumptions might trouble the oppositions and offer a way of moving past the impass that they always seem to reach.

one shared mode of operation seems to be that of the negativity and exclusion most easily seen at work in the dialectic and therefore often deployed on the side of reason, but also to be found in the romantic rejection of all things reasonable. such is the characteristic of the oppositional conception and of course as everyone knows defining a thing by what it is not binds it very tightly to that which it is not.

but there is more to the situation than that: defining a thing by what it is not implicates it irretrievably in that which it is not and this is where things become paradoxical and funny and perhaps promising. in fact this implication is itself a condition of negativity as well as its contestation as well as its effect. at bottom the gesture of articulation which is the beginning of metonymic differentiation and the beginning of language itself confounds itself in a region prior to any possible opposition between universal and particular, prior to the distinguishing mark between subjectivity and objectivity.

this is not to say that articulation unfolds in the realm of undifferentiated substance. for even the undifferentiated is already differentiated in being represented as 'the undifferentiated.' the condition of representation is precisely the prior to any such specification. as such it eludes language and both subjectivity and objectivity. one could say (and one has) that it eludes being as well.

this is getting overly long and overly abstract but really this is just the product of my own compulsion and see this is where my tail-chasing always leads me in the end. we start with the church ladies and end up at a metaphysics that is paradoxically unmetaphysical. the funny thing is that the church ladies only very rarely have anything left to say by the time we get here. i fool them by reminding them that Levinas calls all this 'god' and even though he means a god without presence or being and therefore not a god at all in the common sense of the word it still shuts them up.

anyway i profusely apologize if you made it to the end. this is just something i have to do.

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