Act the Second: “The Truth must be said and the world must be shattered by it.” (Fichte).

 

Even so, the act of acknowledging the forgetting of Being, and thus escaping nihilism, can’t be taken for granted and couldn’t have a rational foundation; it is a question of ethical decision. And it’s not abstractly, but concretely ethical: because in the world of the authoritarian commodity, where the renunciation of thought is the first condition for “fitting in socially,” consciousness is immediately an act, and an act for which the typical punishment is that people will starve you out, whether directly or indirectly, by the gracious service of those you depend on. Now that all the repressive courtrooms where ethics were alienated into morality have fallen to pieces, it has finally become clear what ‘ethics’ means, in all their original radicalness, which designates it as the unity of the morals of human beings and their consciousness of them, and as such the absolute enemy of this world. This could be explained in more decisive terms as follows: you’re either fighting for the Spectacle, or for the Imaginary Party; there’s nothing in between. All those who could accommodate themselves to a society that accommodates itself so well to inhumanity, all those for whom it already sits well to give the alms of their indifference to their own suffering and that of their peers, all those who speak of disaster as if it were simply another new market with promising prospects - are not our brothers. Rather we would find their deaths highly desirable. And we’d certainly not blame them for not devoting themselves to Critical Metaphysics, which, as a mere discourse, could constitute a particular social object to decide to take up, but for refusing to see the truth in it, which, being everywhere, is beyond any particular decision. No alibi holds up in the face of such blindness; a metaphysical aptitude is the most common thing in the world: “you don’t need to be a shoemaker to know whether a shoe is going to fit you” (Hegel); in the present conditions, refusing to exercise this aptitude constitutes a permanent crime. And this crime, the denial of the metaphysical character of what exists, has enjoyed such a lasting and generalized complicity that it has become revolutionary merely to formulate the a priori principles on which all human experience is based. And here we must recount them; our times should be ashamed of the fact that we have to.

 

1.  Like a disease is obviously not merely the sum of its symptoms, the world is manifestly not the sum of its objects, of “the case at hand,” nor of its phenomena, but rather it is a characteristic of humanity itself. The world exists as a world only for mankind. Conversely, there is no world-less humanity; Bloom’s situation is a transitional abstraction. Each person finds himself always already projected into a world which he experiences as a dynamic totality, and he necessarily goes out into it with a prior understanding of it, however rudimentary it may be. His mere preservation requires that.

 

2.The world is a metaphysics, that is: the way it presents itself first of all, its supposed objective neutrality, its simple material structure, are already part of a certain metaphysical interpretation that constitutes it. The world is always the product of a mode of disclosure that brings things out into presence. Things like the “perceptible” only exist for man relative to man’s superperceptible interpretation of what exists. Obviously, this interpretation does not exist separately; it cannot be found outside of the world, since it itself is what configures the world. Everything visible rests on the invisibility of this representation, which is at the root of that which lets itself be seen, which conceals even in its disclosure. The essence of the visible is thus not something visible. This mode of disclosure, imperceptible as it may be, is far more concrete than all the colorful abstractions that people would like to pass off as “reality.”  The given is always the posed, its being comes from an original affirmation of the Mind: “the world is my representation.”  At their bottom, that is to say in their emergence, humanity and the world coincide.

 

3.The perceptible and the superperceptible are fundamentally the same, but in a different way. Forgetting one of these two terms and hypostatizing the other renders both of them abstract: “to dispose of the superperceptible is also to suppress the purely sensible and thus the difference between the two.” (Heidegger).

 

4.Primitive human intuition is but the intuition for representation and imagination.  What’s called perceptible immediacy comes only after that. “Men start by seeing things only such as they appear to them and not such as they are; by seeing not the things themselves but the idea they have of them.” (Feuerbach, Philosophy of the Future). The ideology of the “concrete,” which in its different versions fetishizes the “real, the “authentic,” the “everyday,” the “little nothings,” the “natural” and other “slices of life,” is but the zero-point of metaphysics, the general theory of this world -- its encyclopedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point of pride, its moral sanction, its ceremonial complement, and its universal grounds for consolation and justification.

 

5. By all evidence, “man is a metaphysical animal” (Schopenhauer). By that it should not only be understood that he is the being for whom the world makes sense even in its insignificance, or whose disquiet does not let itself be appeased by anything finished, but quite eminently that all his experience is woven in a fabric that does not exist. That’s why materialist systems properly so-called, as well as absolute skepticism, have never been able by themselves to have a very deep or a very lasting influence. Certainly, man can for long periods of time refuse to consciously engage in metaphysics, and that’s most often how he deals with it, but he cannot completely do without it. “Nothing is so portable, if one wants, as metaphysics […] And what would be difficult, and even totally impossible, would be to fail to have – would be to not have a metaphysics of one’s own, or at least some metaphysics… But it’s not just that not everyone has the same one, which is only too obvious, but not everyone even has the same kind of metaphysics, nor the same degree of metaphysics, nor a metaphysics of the same nature, nor of the same quality.” (Peguy, Situations).

 

6. The metaphysical is not the simple negation of the physical; it is, symmetrically, also its foundation and its dialectical transcendence. The prefix meta-, which means both “with” and “beyond”, does not imply a disjunction, but an Aufhebung in the Hegelian sense. Hence metaphysics is in no way something abstract, because it is the basis for all concreteness; it’s what stands behind the physical and makes it possible. It “goes beyond nature to get at what is hidden in it or behind it, but it considers this hidden element only as something appearing in nature, not as something independent of all phenomena” (Schopenhauer). Metaphysics is thus the simple fact that the mode of disclosure and the object disclosed in a primordial sense remain “the same thing.”  Thus all together it is experience as experience, and is only possible on the basis of a phenomenology of everyday life.

 

7. The successive defeats that mechanistic science has for a century ceaselessly mopped up and repressed, both on the battlefront of infinitely great matters and on the battlefront of infinitely small matters, have definitively condemned the project of establishing any physicality without metaphysics. And once again, after so many foreseeable disasters, we must acknowledge along with Schopenhauer that the physical explanation – which, as such, though it refuses to see it, “needs a metaphysical explanation to give it the key to all its presuppositions – […] clashes everywhere with a metaphysical explanation that suppresses it; that is, one that takes away from it its explanatory character.” “The naturalists try hard to show that all phenomena, even spiritual phenomena, are physical, and in this, they are right; their error is that they don’t see that all physical things equally have a metaphysical side to them.” And we read the following lines as a bitter prophecy: “The greater is the progress made by physics, the greater it will make felt a need for a metaphysics. In effect, though on the one hand, a more exact, more widespread, and more profound knowledge of nature undermines and ends up overturning the metaphysical ideas ongoing up to then; on the other hand it will serve to give a clearer and more complete perspective on the issue of metaphysics itself, by removing it ever more severely away from its physical environment.”

 

8. Commodity metaphysics is not just one more metaphysics among others; it is the metaphysics, that denies all metaphysics and above all denies itself as metaphysics. It is also why it is, among all, the most null of metaphysics, the one that would sincerely like to pass itself as simple physicality. Contradiction, that is, falsehood, is its most durable and distinctive character, the one that affirms so categorically what is but pure negation. The historical period of this metaphysics’ explanation, and its nullity, is one of nihilism. But this explanation must itself be explained. Once and for all: there is no commodity world, there is only a commodity perspective on the world.

 

9. Language is not a system of symbols, but the promise of a reconciliation between words and things. “Its universals are the primary elements in experience; they are not so much philosophical concepts as they are real qualities of the world as we confront it every day. …Each substantial universal tends to express qualities that surpass all particular experience, but which persist in the mind, not as fictions of the imagination or as logical possibilities, but as the substance, the ‘matter’ our world is made of.” From this it follows that the operation by which a concept designates a reality is simultaneously the negation and the realization of that reality. “Thus the concept of beauty encompasses all the beauty not yet realized; the concept of freedom all the freedoms that not yet attained.” (Marcuse, One Dimensional Man). Universals have a normative character, which is why nihilism has declared war on them. “The ens perfectissimum is at the same time the ens realissimum. The more a thing is perfected, the more it really is.” (Lukacs, Soul and Form). What is excellent is more real, more general than the mediocre, because it realizes its essence more fully: a specific concept does indeed unify a specific variety, but it unifies it by aristocratizing it. Critical thought is thought that brings about an exit from nihilism, starting from a profane transcendence of language and the world. What is transcendental to critical thought is that the world exists, and what is unspeakable is that there is a language there. There is an uncommon faculty of conflagration to a consciousness that spends its time on the edges of such nothingness, gazing into its abyss. Every time it finds that language to communicate itself, history will be marked by it.  What’s essential is to concentrate our efforts in that direction. Language is both what’s at stake and the stage that the decisive part of this will be played out on. “It will always only be about knowing whether we can reconcile speech and life, and how.” (Brice Parain, On Dialectics).

 

10. The basis for the “categorical imperative to overturn all the conditions in which man is a humiliated, enslaved, abandoned, and contemptible being” (Marx) can only be a definition of man as a metaphysical being; that is, a being open to the experience of meaning. Not even Hans Jonas, that earthworm of intelligence, who will remain one as long as he exists, has failed to recognize this: “Philosophically, metaphysics has fallen into disgrace in our days, but we could not do without it -- so we’ll have to risk going into it anew. Because only metaphysics is capable of telling us why man must exist, and thus does not have the right to provoke his disappearance from the world or to permit it by simple negligence; and also how man must be so as to honor and not betray the reason by virtue of which he must exist. . .thus we have a renewed need for metaphysics, which must, with its vision, arm us against blindness” (On the ontological foundations of a ethics of the future).

 

11. We mention in passing that reality is the unity of meaning and life.

 

12. All that is separated remembers that it was once unified, but the object of this memory is in the future. “The mind is what finds itself, and thus what had gotten lost” (Hegel).


 

 

13. Human freedom has never consisted of being able to go, come, and pass the time as one pleases- this is more suitable for animals, which people thus say, very significantly, are “at liberty” - but in giving oneself form, in realizing the figure one contains, or wants. Being means keeping your word. All of human life is but a bet on transcendence.



People could, in the past, treat such pronouncements with the special and amused contempt that philistines have always reserved for considerations apparently deprived of any effectiveness. But meanwhile, the metamorphoses of domination have conferred upon them an unpleasantly quotidian concreteness. The definitive and historic collapse of really existing liberalism in 1914 cornered commodity society; revolutionary assaults were making manifest, in all western countries, the incapacity of the economic perspective to fathom the whole of man, and finally to ensure the abstract reproduction of its relations.  Thus in order to keep the fiction of that liberalism feeling obvious, it had to colonize all the spheres of meaning, the whole territory of appearances and finally, as well, the whole field of imaginary creation, at first in a state of emergency and then methodically.  In a few words, it had to infest the whole of the continent of metaphysics in order to ensure its hegemony over all of the earth. Certainly, the simple fact that the very moment of its apogee, the 19th century, was dominated not by harmony, but by an absolute, and absolutely false, hostility between the figures of the Artist and the Bourgeois, was in itself sufficient proof of its impossibility, but it took the great disasters that washed over the first decades of this century to fill its absurdity with enough pain to actually make the whole edifice of civilization itself appear to shake. Commodity domination then learned from those who were against it that it couldn’t content itself anymore with seeing man simply as a worker, an inert factor in production, but that to remain what it was, it was going to have to organize the whole of everything that stretched outside the sphere of material production as well. However repugnant it may have seemed at the time to it, it had to impose a brusque accelerando on society’s socialization process, and lay hands on everything it had denied the existence of up to then, all that it had disdainfully written off as “non-productive activity”, “private fantasy”, art and “metaphysics.”  In the space of a few years, and at first without significant resistance, Publicity had entirely given itself over to the arbitrary power of the spectacular protectorate - it is a general fact that the undertaking of ancient offensives is rarely recognized when they make use of totally new means. Since the commodity interpretation of the world had been revealed in acts to be insane, people undertook to put it into the very heart of all acts. Once commodity mysticism, which formally and externally postulated the general equivalence of everything, and the universal interchangeability of all, proved itself to be a pure negation, a morbid official takeover, people resolved to make all things really equivalent, and beings inwardly exchangeable. Since the systematic liquidation of all that contained a hidden transcendence in its immediacy (communities, ethos, values, language, history) put humanity in a place where it was dangerously likely to make demands for freedom, people decided to industrially produce cheap transcendences, and to hawk them priced like gold. We stand at the other extreme of this long night of aberration. Because even as it was its failure that in the past created the basis for the infinite extension of the world of the economy, the contemporary accomplishment of this universal extension carries the announcement of its upcoming collapse.

 

This critical realization process of the ever-impoverished commodity metaphysics has been referred to variously as “Total Mobilization” by Junger, as the “Great Transformation” by Polanyi, or the “Spectacle” by Debord. For the time being the lattermost concept remains indisputably one of the war machines it pleases us to use, as a Figure that transversely penetrates all the spheres of social activity -- one where the object revealed merges with its mode of disclosure. Though the Figure can’t be deduced simply from its manifestations, since it is at their very root, it could nonetheless be useful to take note at least of some of the most superficial of them. So in the 1920s, advertising took it upon itself to inculcate the Blooms with “a new philosophy of existence,” in the terms of its first ideologues, Walter Pitkin and Edward Filene; to present to them the world of consumerism as “the world of acts” with the declared intention of thwarting the communist offensive. The adjusted production of cultural commodities and their massive circulation - the lightning deployment of the movie industry is a good example of this – was responsible for tightening up the control over joyous behavior, spreading lifestyles adapted to the new demands of capitalism, and above all spreading the illusion of their viability. Urbanism was responsible for building a physical environment commanded by the commodity Weltanschauung. The formidable development of the means of communication and transportation in these years began concretely abolishing space and time, which had put up such annoying resistance to the universal putting into equivalence of all things. The mass media then initiated the process by which little by little they concentrated together into an autonomous monopoly on the production of meaning. Then they had to extend over the whole realm of the visible a particular mode of disclosure, the essence of which is that it confers upon the ruling state of things an unshakeable objectivity, and thus models on the scale of the whole human race a relationship with the world based on a postulated approval of what exists.  It should also be noted that it was at that time that the first literary mentions of the repressive function of the Young-Girl were made, by Proust, Kraus, or Gombrowicz. It was among their contemporaries, after all, that there began to appear in the productions of the mind the figure of Bloom, so recognizable in the work of Valery, Kafka, Musil, Michaux or Heidegger.

 

This terminal phase of commodity modernity appears in a necessarily contradictory light, because in its process it denies itself while realizing itself. On the one hand, at this stage each of its advances contributes a little more to the destruction of its own foundation -- the negation of metaphysics, in other words the strict disconnect between the perceptible and the superperceptible. With the virtually infinite extension of the world of experience, “the speculations…tend to obtain an increasingly realistic content; on technological grounds, the metaphysical tends to become physical.” (Marcuse, One Dimensional Man). The separation of the perceptible and the superperceptible is ever further undermined by the new productions of industry. “the marvellous and the positive (contract) an astonishing alliance, the two old enemies swearing to engage us in a race of unlimited transformations and surprises ...The real no longer has a clear end. Place, time, and matter permit unanticipated liberties. Precision breeds dreams. Dreams take body. . .The fabulous is today to be found in business. The manufacture of marvel-making provides the livelihood of the thousands,” remarked Valery in 1929, with all the disarming naivety of a time when the meaning of life had not yet become just another consumer product in the shopping cart, just the most hackneyed sales pitch. Even when the total realization of abstraction - in the mimetic behavior of hip youth, the televised image, or the new city – makes obvious to everyone the clearly physical character of metaphysics, Biopower, a differentiated moment of the Spectacle, shamefully admits the political character - and there is a “metaphysical nugget present in all politics” (Carl Schmitt, Political Theology) – of the rawest physicality, of “bare life.”  Underneath this relationship is a process of reunification between the perceptible and the superperceptible, meaning and life, the mode of disclosure and the object revealed; that implies commodity society’s complete disavowal of its very basis, but at the same time such reunification only operates on the terrain of their separation itself. It follows that this pseudo-reconciliation is not a passage of each of these terms through each other and onto a superior level, but rather their suppression pure and simple, which brings them together not as united, but as separate. So much so, that on its flipside the Spectacle presents itself as the realization of commodity metaphysics, as the realization of nothingness. The commodity here effectively becomes the form in which all manifestations of life appear, the objective form itself both of object and subject - love, for example, appears from now on as a regulated exchange of orgasms, favors, sentiments, where each contracting party is ideally to benefit equally. The Spectacle is no longer content to externally tie together processes independent of it by monetary mediations. The commodity, that “superperceptible yet perceptible thing” (Marx), transforms into something perceptible yet superperceptible. It imposes itself in reality as the “universal category of total social being” (Lukacs, History and Class Consciousness). Little by little, its “ghostly objectivity” comes to drape itself over all that exists. At this point, the commodity interpretation of the world, the only content of which is the affirmation of the quantitative replaceability of all things, that is to say the negation of all qualitative differences and all real determinations, reveals itself to be the negation of the world. The principle according to which “everything has a price” was certainly always the morbid refrain of nihilism before it became the global hymn of the economy. Also, and this is an everyday experience that no one can escape, putting this interpretation of the world into acts would consist exclusively in taking away all the qualities of everything, purging every being of all particular meaning, and reducing everything to the non-differentiated identity of general equivalence – in a word, to nothing. There’s no more this or that; and singularity remains but an illusion. What appears now no longer arrogates to itself any higher organic nature, but gives itself over with infinite abandon to the simple fact of being, without being anything. Under the effect of this rising disaster, the world has ended up starting to look like just a chaos of empty forms. All the pronouncements made above, which people thought were safely cut off from having any possible effectiveness, take form in the ensembles of a tangible, oppressive, and, to put it plainly, diabolical reality. In the Spectacle, the metaphysical character of existence is taken as a obvious, central fact: the world has become visibly metaphysical. Even the narrowest of minds, whose custom it always was to hide in their comfortable sense of objectivity - whether it’s rainy weather or nice out – can’t even be spoken of without immediately evoking the decline of industrial society. There, the light has solidified, the incomprehensible mode of disclosure that produces all being-there has become incarnate as such, that is to say independent of all content, in a sprawling sector of social activity all its own. That which makes things visible itself becomes visible there. Phenomena, by autonomizing themselves from what they manifest, that is by manifesting no more than nothingness, immediately thus appear as phenomena. The surroundings man exists in, the metropolis, itself proves to be a mere “linguistic formation, a constituted framework comprised above all of objectivized discourses, pre-established codes, materialized grammars.” (Virno, The Labyrinths of Language). In the end, since “communicative action” is becoming the very material used in productive activity, the reality of language falls among the number of things that can be experienced in a mere leisurely way. In this sense, the Spectacle is the final figure of metaphysics, where it objectivizes itself as such, becomes visible and shows itself to man as material evidence for the fundamental alienation of the Common.  In these conditions, man’s metaphysical dimension escapes him, confronts him and oppresses him. But just as well, before man becomes completely and totally alienated he cannot concretely comprehend it, or consequently hope to reappropriate it for himself. The darkest days give us the greatest hope, precisely because they will come on the eve of victories.

 

“It would be ridiculous to reproach chewing gum for being an affront to metaphysics’ good taste, but one could probably show that Wrigley’s profits and their Chicago palace were due to its operation of a social function consisting in the reconciliation of men with their impoverished conditions of existence and dissuading them from criticizing them.  It’s a matter of explaining  that chewing gum, far from being harmful to metaphysics, is itself metaphysical.

(Theodor W. Adorno, Prisms)


As soon as the economy becomes flesh, it must perish like all living things. It falls under the hard law of the mortal realm, and knows it. In the overthrow of all things, in the chasms that we see opening up everywhere, we can already see the hints of its impending shipwreck. Commodity domination has now embarked upon an endless, hopeless war to put up obstacles to the necessity of this process. It’s no longer a question of whether it will die, but of when it will die. Life within such an order, which has as its only ambition anymore just to last a little bit longer, is distinguished by the extreme sadness attached to all its manifestations. Here, the survival of commodity domination, which is but the prolongation of its death agony, is hanging from a thin thread: it must ensure that the visible not be seen, and thus must carry out an ever more brutal takeover of the totality.  It can only exercise its sovereignty under the constant threat that people might make its metaphysical character explicit, and that it might be recognized for what it is: it is a tyranny, and the most mediocre tyranny that ever was -- the tyranny of servitude. Everywhere, domination’s efforts to maintain a particular interpretation of the world that when realized finds that it is itself subject to interpretation end up more and more tending towards brute force. Certainly, the naturalization of the commodity mode of disclosure required a constant dose of violence towards humans and things in the past. It had to raze, intern, enslave, confine, brutalize or imprison in camps the whole mass of phenomena that contradicted commodity nihilism. For the others, suffering teaches everyone how to see them only from the point of view of reification, utility, and separation, and generalized equivalence, over the whole course of their lives, in an uninterrupted manner. But now a new configuration of hostilities is coming about. Commodity domination can no longer limit itself to merely keeping its contradictions in a frozen state, getting alienation, corruption and exile taken for granted by everyone, and repressing any aspirations Man might have to Being. It must make its progress a forced march, though every step it takes towards its perfection only brings it closer to the moment of its collapse. With Biopower, which, under the cover of ameliorating, simplifying and extending “life,” “form,” or “health,” leads to the total social control of behavior, it has played its last card: by supporting its whole weight on the cardinal illusion of common sense, the immediacy of the body, it ended up destroying it. After that, everything is ambiguous now. Bloom’s own body appears like a foreign jurisdiction that he inhabits against his will. By buying its further survival at the price of putting the metaphysical to work for it, commodity domination has robbed this terrain of its neutrality, which alone guaranteed its victorious advancement: it made metaphysics into a material force. Every bit of progress it makes must henceforth be responded to by a substantial rebellion that will oppose its faith head on, and which will proclaim in one tone or another that humanity “can only be revived by a metaphysical act of reawakening the spiritual element that created or maintained it in its earlier or ideal existence” (Lukacs). And so the commodity order, which is taking on water everywhere, will have to physically eliminate, one by one, all extremism or sects, every independent metaphysical universe that may manifest itself, until the unification and victory of the Imaginary Party. All the individuals that refuse to wallow in its half-starved immanence, in the nothingness of entertainment, all those who are too slow to renounce their own most human attributes, and in particular to renounce any concerns beyond mere being-there, will be excluded, banished, and starved out. For the others, they must be maintained in an ever more vicious fear. More than ever, “the holders of power live haunted by the terrifying idea that not only some handful of loners, but entire masses might one day free themselves of their fear: this would be their certain downfall. It’s also the real reason for their rage in the face of any and all doctrines of transcendence. There’s a supreme danger hidden there: that man might lose his fear. There are places on the earth where the word ‘metaphysics’ itself is hunted down as a heresy.” (Junger, Crossing the Line). In this final metamorphosis of the social war, where it’s no longer mere classes, but “metaphysical castes” (Lukacs, On the Poverty of Mind) that enter into conflict with one another, it is inevitable that men - first a few at a time, and then in their vast numbers - will gather together with an explicit project: to POLITICIZE METAPHYSICS. From now on, those that do so are signals of the coming insurrection of the Mind.

changed August 26, 2010