Wednesday, April 05, 2006



Keeping one's distance. - Positivism reduces the detachment of thought to a reality, that reality itself no longer tolerates. Cowed into wanting to be no more than a mere provisional abbreviation for the factual matter beneath it, thought loses not only its autonomy in face of reality, but with it the power to penetrate reality. Only at a remove from life can the mental life exist, and truly engage the empirical. While thought relates to facts and moves by criticizing them, its movement depends no less on the maintenance of distance. It expresses exactly what is, precisely because what is is never quite as thought expresses it. Essential to it is an element of exaggeration, of over-shooting the object, of self-detachment from the weight of the factual, so that instead of merely reproducing being it can, at once rigorous and free, determine it. Thus every thought resembles play, with which Hegel no less than Nietzsche compared the work of the mind. The unbarbaric side of philosophy is its tacit awareness of the element of irresponsibility, of blitheness springing from the volatility of thought, which forever escapes what it judges. Such licence is resented by the positivistic spirit and put down to mental disorder. Divergence from the facts becomes mere wrongness, the moment of play a luxury in a world where the intellectual functions have to account for their every moment with a stop-watch. But as soon as thought repudiates its inviolable distance and tries with a thousand subtle arguments to prove its literal correctness, it founders. If it leaves behind the medium of virtuality, of anticipation that cannot be wholly fulfilled by an single piece of actuality; in short, if instead of interpretation it seeks to become mere statement, everything it states becomes, in fact, untrue. Its apologetics, inspired by uncertainty and a bad conscience, can be refuted at every step by demonstrating the non-identity which it will not acknowledge, yet which alone makes it thought. If, on the other hand, it tried to claim its distance as a privilege, it would act no better, but would proclaim two kinds of truth, that of the facts and that of ideas. That would be to decompose truth itself, and truly to denigrate thought. Distance is not a safety-zone but a field of tension. It is manifested not in relaxing the claim of ideas to truth, but in delicacy and fragility of thinking. Vis-a-vis positivism it is fitting neither to insist on being right nor to put on airs of distinction, but rather to prove, by criticism of knowledge, the impossibility of a coincidence between the idea and what fulfils it. The passion for equating the non-synonymous is not the ever-striving toil that at last attains redemption, but naive and inexperienced. Thought has known and forgotten the reproaches of positivism a thousand times, and only through such knowing and forgetting did it first become thought. The distance of thought from reality is itself nothing other than the precipitate of history in concepts. To use them without distance is, despite all the resignation it implies or perhaps because of it, a child's affair. For thought must aim beyond its target just because it never quite reaches it, and positivism is uncritical in its confidence of doing so, imagining its tergiversations to be due to mere conscientiousness. A transcending thought takes its own inadequacy more thoroughly into account than does on guided by the control mechanisms of science. It extrapolates in order, by the over-exertion of the too-much, to master, however hopelessly, the inevitable too-little. The illegitimate absolutism, the allegedly definitive stamp of its formulations, with which philosophy is reproached, derives precisely from the abyss of relativity. The exaggerations of speculative metaphysics are scars of reflecting reason, and the unproven alone unmasks proof as tautology. In contrast, the immediate proviso of relativity, the modesty that remains within whatever conceptual area has been marked off for it, denies itself by its very caution the experience of its limit, to think which is, according to Hegel's superb insight, the same thing as to cross it. Thus the relativists are the real - the bad - absolutists and, moreover, the bourgeois, who need to make sure of their knowledge as of a possession, only to lose it all the more thoroughly. The claim to the absolute that overleaps its own shadow alone does justice to the relative. By taking untruth upon itself, it leads to the threshold of truth in its concrete awareness of the conditionality of human knowledge.


Anonymous RJ said...

Jesu! That was a long paragraph.

11:20 PM  
Blogger Comandante Gringo said...

Sartre also had a lot to say about Hegel and Marx and objectification vs. alienation. I really like what Adorno sez here about the dialectical relation of identity with the object vs. separation from it -- vs. reification of that process of separation in positivism. Life is nothing if not both dynamic AND confusing, no..?

Adorno certainly lost his way, finally. As did Marcuse. As did the whole fucking Frankfurt School. Who's next I wonder..?

3:47 AM  

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