Sunday, January 24, 2021

 The difference between self-abnegation and self-destruction, between ideas and responsibility.

The advantages of literature over philosophy.
Gravity's Rainbow describes two acts of collective suicide by two groups of Herero tribesmen almost half a century apart: the first as a refusal to accept death at the hands of Germany and as a last humanist act of choice against the inhuman; the second by the remnants of the Schwarzkommando, the elite Herero stormtroopers, as last act of nihilism after their war is lost.
2 decades ago as a 21 year old I read Gravity's Rainbow and a pair of fragments from it became touchstones of my intellectual life: the description at different points in the novel of two acts of self-destruction, the mass suicides of the Herero in Südwest as a refusal and denial of the authority of their masters, and of the Schwarzkommando as the final act of nihilism. The significance was context: that identical actions could signify categorical opposites. Academic freedom historically has been tied to general freedom of thought and to democracy, but now it's linked to institutional privilege and defended with references to monarchy. 


He's not G.A. Cohen, and yet he's unable intellectually to engage the Golden Rule any more than he can The Story of O, or Gravity's Rainbow: to engage the dualities of obligation in human society, to self and other, to self-interest and selflessness, nobility not of ideas but behavior.  He wants to resolve conflicts; he's unwilling to face them. Corey Robin mocks "agonistic desire" and "agonistic romance", seeing them as elitist.  He forgets they're the foundation of democracy. 


In a passage from one of the Five Lectures on Psychoanalysis Freud says that as the result of a successful treatment repression is replaced by 'a condemning judgment'. He doesn't explain the difference between the two. What's the difference between "I don't want to kill my father and sleep with my mother" and "I don't want to kill my father and sleep with my mother." Is the first, louder and more nervous? More declarative? More cocksure? I don't know but it's a question conceptualists can't answer. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comment moderation is enabled.