The Trajectories of German Idealism (3)


Following from my last two posts (1 and 2) I have argued that German Idealism (and this is a fairly common observation) is a non-substantial monism by which the philosopher is set up as a figure of navigation having absorbed skepticism and the subsequent self-conditioning, to create or synthesize in a way that has global ramifications. Or, to put it more directly, German Idealism attempts to organize levels of abstraction in order to approach not the thing in-itself but that which is maximally stable, what can be taken as the objective. It is not surprising that the German Idealists were so interested in mathematics (Fichte was especially taken with geometry, Schelling with algebra and arithmetic as infinite series, and Hegel with logic) given their investment in the construction of construction as such. The issue becomes, as with any navigational model, whether the fascinations or foci of these thinkers tip them into the realm of a strong ontology/correlationism or is the ambit or targeting of these particulars what ultimately adds up to a incomplete universality? If there’s a gap between the weak ontologies of Meillassoux and Badiou it is that the unexpected of the future generates in such a sense that the past becomes immune from the instanciation of conditions. Related is Zizek’s ontological signification of the ‘blank X’ of the subject discussed in part 1. Given the activity of the self-conscious shared ,albeit differently aligned, by Fichte, Schelling and Hegel, this erases the work required to reach that self voiding which is not ontological so much as it is pragmatic. As Schelling writes in Über die Nature der Philosophie als Wissenschaft or “On the Nature of Philosophy as a Science (1821):

“Those, then, who want to find themselves at the starting point of a truly free philosophy, have to depart even from God. Here the motto is: whoever wants to preserve it will lose it, and whoever abandons it will find it. Only those have reached the ground in themselves and have become aware of the depths of life, who have at one time abandoned everything and have themselves been abandoned by everything, for whom everything has been lost, and who have found themselves alone, face-to-face with the infinite: a decisive step which Plato compared with death. That which Dante saw written on the door of the inferno must be written in a different sense also at the entrance to philosophy: ‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.’ Those who look for true philosophy must be bereft of all hope, all desire, all longing. They must not wish anything, not know anything, must feel completely bare and impoverished, must give everything away in order to gain everything. It is a grim step to take, it is grim to have to depart from the final shore.”

Whether or not the German Idealists’ mode of navigation is fundamentally different from such a mode in Kant (which Reza Negarestani has defended) remains an open question particularly via the question: does the explicate ‘monisization’ of Kant’s dualism afford more options for the navigational subject than the more cautious view of Kant which is (arguably) also maintained in analytic moves of emphasizing normativity as a practical cut-off of the roots of the conceptual. The difficulty is exacerbated by the subordination of the grounding or ungrounding gesture in order to articulate the terms of worlding or, of how the extraction of the world from the earth bypasses the creation of the world from the earth. It is not surprising, to return to the note above regarding mathematics, that German Idealism focuses on the vectorial in order to find out how to enter the labyrinth of the continuum. The weak ontological rejection of the epistemological in terms of epistemology being equated with ‘what is the world for me?’ is voided by the German Idealist move to ask ‘where am I to think this world for me?’ insofar as it recognizes that to get to the Earth, for instance, I must pass through two idealisms – ‘how I think how I think to think where thought comes from non-thought?’ this is the focus of Schelling’s idealism as a maximally inclusive naturalism (Grant). It is only by nullifying the importance of a non-foundational and positional aspect that weak ontologies can clay claim to an effusive production of entities from a view from nowhere that assumes that such a view does not effect (read: not fully determine!) that production.

The difficulty, in particular for Schelling, is how to avoid the myth of the given, the myth of the non-given (as Adrian Johnston put it in a talk here referring to a poeticization of the night of the world) while doing justice to nature as well as to the human capacity for creation via reason. Creation only occurs through self-limitation since an act of creation is a vector from somewhere. As Reza has suggested elsewhere, this emphasis on the vectorial can be overemphasized in that the primacy of the algebraic “without geometrical always risks being polarized as either a genericity incapable of local focalization / conceptual structure / topos-inference or the pluralism of a bunch of local orientations and disparate claims of grandiose operativity incapable of coalescing into anything global, hegemonic or combined (anti-universalism par excellence). In either case, what we face is trivialization – philosophically, mathematically, epistemologically and politically. The only solution to overcome the latent algebraic trivilization and unleash its true powers is by synthesizing it with geometry. Insofar as geometry is capable of generating different synthetic operators (both local and non-local, attentive to both particularities of local orientations and global invariances), it is able to non-trivially integrate and differentiate, translate and transform various local orientations and fields of operativity. In a nutshell, geometry is a solution to the bipolarity of the algebraic. It literally puts all fields of operation / orientation into a perspective that not only grasps all orientations / vectors but also prevents their multiplication slips into the quagmire of indefiniteness. “

Furthermore this navigational mode applies to ethics as well as numerous other fields. Again, following Reza, ethics, as well as other philosophical pursuits, become an augmentative or enhancing asceticism – where one must lose sight of the shore altogether to take Schelling’s step and face the infinite as if facing death (and not death in a paltry Heideggerian sense) in the proper Stoic sense (again, as Reza has quoted it from Seneca): “Reason, too, advises us to die, if we may, according to our taste ; if this cannot be, she advises us to die according to our ability, and to seize upon whatever means shall offer itself for doing violence to ourselves. It is criminal to ” live by robbery””; but, on the other hand, it is most “noble to “die by robbery.”

If we are to avoid philosophy as “the increasingly elaborate (and veiled) betrayal of the modesty of thought” then philosophy should admit its own nature as the errancy of reason (Grant). But this errancy is not production for production’s sake but one which creates by self-limitation, coordination, and realizes the production extains (Chatelet, Grant) in that each addition adds to the pre-existing world. This addition, this augmentative model, does not imply that thought is self-standing (selbstehende) but that the dialectic of thought and act participate in larger scales of motion. In this sense the gap between Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel is not so big – it is their choice of engine to trace out the map of the world and plug it back into the world, that differs. That against German Idealism conditioning could be taken as anti-freedom ignores the stubbornness of both nature and the necessity of the synthetic for both mind and world. A self-depotentiation of the abstract potentiates the pragmatic.

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2 Responses to “The Trajectories of German Idealism (3)”

  1. Keep it coming!

  2. 2 Melek-Taus

    Reblogged this on Manticore Press.

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