The problem with the concept of ‘cynical reason’ is not that it gives us no hope but that it presumes that people are in the know and just don’t care. But really, the problem is that people don’t care to know. This means that there is still a power to knowing. Yet such a power has to be used as a weapon and not as a cure. For, if they don’t care to know, truth is only as good as it is more useful than illusion. [Because, the question is not why truth works but why illusion is so effective.]
5 thoughts on “A2: Cynical Reason”
Agamben’s answer to the question of where whatever singularities come from in ‘The Coming Community,’ touched on the issue of illusion and its potential for effectiveness, by extrapolating from St. Thomas’ questions regarding unbaptized children and purgatory. In it Agamben stated:
“If they were to feel pain they would be suffering from a penalty for which they could not make amends and thus their pain would end up leading them into hopelessness, like the damned. This would not be just. Moreover, their bodies, like those of the blessed, cannot be affected; they are impassible. But this is true only with respect to the action of divine justice; in every other respect they fully enjoy their natural perfection. The greatest punishment – the lack of the vision of God – thus turns into a natural joy: Irremediably lost, they persist without pain in divine abandon. God has not forgotten them, but rather they have always already forgotten God; and in the face of their forgetfulness, God’s forgetting is impotent. Like letters with no addressee, these uprisen beings remain without a destination. Neither blessed like the elected, nor hopeless like the damned, they are infused with a joy with no outlet.”
Is it such a problem if people are consciously blissful in their ignorance? Between the conscious rejections of contemporary politics with debatable measurements of knowledge, versus a withdrawal just as emphatic as one based on an academic excavation of circumstances, born out of purposeful ignorance or perhaps partially derived from a general sense of futility, which is the wiser option in the search for happiness?
Agamben is such a beautiful writer. Though, to be honest, I don’t really consider the ethical dimensions of my thought, so I’m not sure I would have anything intelligent to say about that quote. I did do a little background writing to figure out where I stand v/v Agamben on The Example (which you may have seen here: https://anarchistwithoutcontent.wordpress.com/2012/01/13/leading-by-example-or-the-power-of-a-good-example/ ). But, when it comes to “ideology” or the role of knowledge in life, I’m quite partisan. I think i would draw a lot more on the recent work on Machiavelli e.g. the recent work on Machiavelli post-Althusser, or Machiavelli and Spinoza.
So, to respond to each one of your (somewhat rhetorical) questions in particular:
Is it such a problem if people are consciously blissful in their ignorance?
–Thought is not a necessary element of life. In fact, most people probably go through life without ‘really thinking’ much. Whether we go toward Hume (Deleuze) or Heidegger (Derrida) for our answers, I think thought is a special category. Now, is thought good for us? I would say: not always, and maybe thought can get in the way. Fanon’s impatience w/ thought in Wretched of the Earth always seems like a better model than Heidegger’s austere encampment in the woods. The Deleuzian formulation would say that many ‘systems’ like biological systems work without thought (genetics, autonomic system, etc), and even habits of thought tend to carry us through life quite well. However, the power of thought is the power to create a different world. And, while that thought has been mobilized by capitalism far more than it has been mobilized before, the response isn’t necessarily less thought (and more action, as some would have it), but a different type of thought.
Between the conscious rejections of contemporary politics with debatable measurements of knowledge, versus a withdrawal just as emphatic as one based on an academic excavation of circumstances, born out of purposeful ignorance or perhaps partially derived from a general sense of futility, which is the wiser option in the search for happiness?
–Subtraction is no doubt a powerful strategy. But to what ends? If capitalist integration works according to the principles of integral calculus, then simple mathematical functions like addition and subtraction have already been taken into account. In the event of _mass_ subtraction or _mass_ addition, we could see a disruption & recalibration, but a few single acts (no matter how thoughtful or principled) rarely make a difference.
Alternatively, groups like Tiqqun have thought about the power of a _relative autonomization_. By that, I mean that they don’t seek to pre-figure a completely different world, but rather, they uses spaces of autonomy to opportunistically attack and transform the world they’re already in. One could distinguish this from a Lenin’s “dual power” model that has been taken up by Maoists, and more recently North American Anarchists, who seek to establish and expand an outside to governance. Conversely, relative autonomy is the constitution of an outside that is inside governance, in order to break up governance from within. There is a sort of silly rendering of this, as in the caricatures used to denigrate the British Autonomism of Holloway, De Angelis, et al, which argues that “everything we have for revolution is already at our disposal, produced inside capitalism.” A more sophisticated take, however, is to think of the struggle over/against governance as a race – where capital acts from a position of hegemony, and autonomy acts from a position of subversion. The key, of course, is to find non-Hegelian forms of subversion that ultimately break autonomy’s servile reliance on governance as a master to rebel against without that subversion suffering from the same problems of hegemony (‘win the race’ and make your competitor irrelevant).
Yes the key, but similar as well to a lock that Foucault clearly identified but never got around to picking. Autonomy often coincides with patriarchy or it’s representations. Even the Tiqqun experiment, which I thought had previously been identified as a theatre of interplay between the subject and power, could just as readily produce a return of the city state, or village as it were.
And that’s the debate between Blanchot, Nancy, and Derrida on community, right? The tiqqun intervention comes out clearly in terrible community, but I agree w you that Derrida and politics of friendship on masculinity.
I don’t know if the problem of community will ever be satisfactorily resolved theoretically, let alone on a practical level. According to some of his contemporaries, Derrida extended himself to absurd lengths in order arrive at the nothingness that lies beyond text; extrapolated to mean the problem of an absence of experience with reality outside of the ontology of language and the respective archeological excavations undertaken by philosophy. Foucault and Camus converge on this point to lead us in circles. Social democrats, or liberals as they are sometimes referred as, don’t appear to be any more advanced in their methods than a looter attending the scene of a broken storefront window. Each denomination of thought, or its absence, reaches for the same thing to consist in the acquisition of whatever happens to be available. A how to program set down as a guide within a milieu dedicated primarily to bare survival through looting, is separated by mere degrees from the one percentile with their governing codes and enforcement mechanisms.