Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Short Thesis on the End of History

"The negative of the object, or its self-supersession, has a positive meaning for self-consciousness, i.e. self-consciousness knows the nothingness of the object...."
-GWF Hegel, "Absolute Knowing," The Phenomenology of Spirit

"All my life, my heart has yearned for a thing I cannot name."
-Andre Breton, The Surrealist Manifesto

These trees which line the path make one think that he is an emperor. But he surely isn’t. He is one among a million who make that same walk, and this became true the moment that aristocracy itself was commodified. Why else do the lamps which accompany these trees display such a nineteenth century aesthetic, if not to harken back to a time when men in trench coats and top hats strolled down lanes with their canes pointing to the future — just a few meters ahead! — which awaited their progeny? The modern writer even writes with a taste for the archaic, as I do presently.

All of this subdues us for now, it appeases our appetite for another dialectic: for haven’t we already reached the end of History? Now only the steady flow of technological obsolescence keeps our time, seemingly dead events which signal the infinite positing of “absolute knowing” without any conflict or negation. And anyway, when the world merely posits endlessly, at an ever increasing rate, there isn’t much time left for the leisure of negating.

The end of History in which we currently find ourselves therefore itself represents the new dialectic. This notion goes far beyond the postmodern theories which deny history the status of being an object of Wissenschaft, views which ironically only became popular once history visibly ended. With the end of History, a new dialectic occurs in which the form of the dialectic struggles against the fact that it no longer contains any content. The mere form of History is impossibly preserved, despite the fact that any content which can make its dialectic real has vanished. The revolution continues — but against whom or what? Negation without object is a paradox which philosophy has not yet detailed.

Time becomes violently empty in the modern period. Wars flow into one another endlessly, like rivers of blood which feed a common reservoir. An insurrection in Greece, Libya, Chechnya, rises against a phantom only to recreate the same horror show with a different cinematography. The "negation of the negation" therefore takes on a new meaning: negation, for the present age, does not negate "some" negation, but negates negation itself. The modern dialectic must play out between nihilism and the radical desire for a something which has not yet been elucidated. 


  1. I just sort of wrote down comments as I read, so they come in chronological order with respect to the flow of your essay. I started to understand things more by the end, so the comments get longer and more investigative. Also, I say this at the end already, but I thought this was sick.

    That’s a cool Hegel quote — I actually understood it!

    “The modern writer even writes with a taste for the archaic, as I do presently.” Lol you funny maxine but also i disagree (not that it’s important for this).

    Very dope point tho — in terms of History with a capital H, we do tend to think of the modern era as the end. We are sort of content with progression within society, without any real dialectic of the sort that could change History,

    “There isn’t much time left for the leisure of negating.” Another funny ass line, and I like the point this time.

    Get the fuck outta here using Wissenschaft without a footnote or something explaining it.

    Damn am I good reading “form” roughly as “possibility” or something along that sense? Like when you say “the mere form of History is impossibly preserved”, that sort of means that the potentiality (or feeling of potentiality) of Historic change is preserved in society (in our minds, in the various societal narratives, etc)? Then the content would be some actual concrete dialectic struggle happening (of the nature/scale that can change History) — which, you’re saying, is absent from modern society, despite the (perhaps seeming?) potentiality for such a change/struggle?

    I hope that’s right…this shit is hard for me to follow lol. At any rate, if I have it right, that’s pretty cool what you’re saying. There sort of is this pervasive, yet vague, idea of a revolution that’s right on the verge of happening which would totally upheave society for the better — in most people’s minds (I feel like), in the big societal narratives, etc. But the idea is always vague to the point of, as you said, being contentless — or, any content that is assigned to these ideas is either wrong, or disarms the revolution of any real power to change History (e.g. think about how Trump tried to fill the vagueness of this idea with “Washington’s Swamp” and “The Liberal Elite”). And it sort of leaves you feeling empty/powerless…you want the revolution to happen, and feel like everyone else does too, but you don’t even know how to begin describing it. And something that vague can’t be negated.

    Awww yeee bringing the negation of the negation back…I can’t believe you actually got that phrase to make sense for me.

    All in all, I really liked this, and honestly don’t have anything too critical to say. Looking back over the whole thing now, it’s also really cool how you start by saying that everything is trying to bring us back to the past — I didn’t think about this on the first read, but it does sort of remind us that while things have definitely changed, none of the changes have been big enough to fundamentally alter society. Very cool read, Maxine. I am interested to hear you expand a bit on how the modern dialectic “must play out” — if negation itself has been negated, is there any room nihilism to negate that radical desire? Also, what’s the word Hegel uses (the english translation) to describe when the two opposite things come into contact in a way that spawns something new out of the negation? I feel like it coulda been that the two opposites are “synthesized” into the third, but I also feel like it was some cool obscure word lol.

  2. Thanks for reading! Your comment reminds me of something Hegel supposedly said on his deathbed: “only one man has understood me, and even he hasn’t really understood me.” As if to say “hm, charming, you thought I wanted you to understand me.” ��

    I meant “form” as in “mode” or “way,” but your interpretation is basically correct. The “way” that history moves (ie dialectically) is preserved despite an absence in any concrete dialectic. And you’re right to say that it’s either absent or so diffuse that it renders itself powerless.

    The word you’re looking for is, in German, Aufhebung, or, in English, sublation. The English echoes its Latin etymology: an “undercarrying” I suppose. So it is suppressed (hence the sub / under) but it is also carried along with the suppressor. The German etymologically implies something more like an uptaking.

    Anyway I’m not sure I have an answer to this question. I should have named this a short question rather than a short thesis. I’ll leave by quoting an observation made by Tiqqun which might hint at something like an answer: “Historical conflict no longer opposes two massive molar heaps, two classes — the exploited and the exploiters, the dominant and dominated, managers and workers — among which, in each individual case, one could differentiate. The front line no longer cuts through the middle of society; it now runs through the middle of each of us.”

  3. Quickly from skimming --

    I'm not sure that the dialectic or any sort of anarchist movement would posit that negation was against time ... and if that doesn't seem like a relevant statement, then its very likely that i misunderstood what the purpose of "negating time" in the piece was.

    Instinctively, I want to play the contrarian, so in addition to requiring some proof of my above claim (assuming I understood your original one correctly), I am also trying ot think of something else that can be negated rather than negation itself. Though, that isn't a bad conclusion in itself.

    Anyway --- good piece and will definitely give it some thought. As it is, I've imbued my mind, spirit, body with many a "substance" ......



  4. What I mean by History (capital-H History, if you will) is not time (which would be closer to lower-case history), but the playing-out of the dialectic (which isn’t necessarily an anarchist dialectic). The dialectic is what Hegel termed the contradictions which have run through human history. One thesis (say, Spartan oligarchy) is ideologically and materially opposed to its antithesis (eg Athenian democracy). The result is the negation (more precisely, a sublation or Aufhebung) of the two by each other which in turn results in a synthesis (perhaps Roman republicanism). This process plays out throughout History and defines it. Spirit is the unity of this process which both takes-up yet cancels (hence the vagueness of the term Aufheben) itself in each jump to the next era of History.

    Anyway, in turn this negation negates itself in the next jump. In other words one synthesis becomes a new thesis which must dialectically be opposed by a new antithesis. This is all Hegel means by negation and negativity, and specifically by “the negation of the negation”: one negation is in turn negated at the next stage of History.

    So here I’m saying that in the modern era, which is maybe a pretender to the end of History (which again isn’t an end of time but an end of the dialectical conflicts which run through society, ie utopia), the process of negation has itself been negated. I’m implying that this is a sort of false end of History, perhaps, which functions through an imposed negation of any sort of negativity. The utopian end becomes a dystopian (and infinite by imposition) purgatory.

    I didn’t mean to imply anything about anarchism, but since you bring it up I might say that the ultra-Left, whatever form it takes, is the only part of society which realizes, even unconsciously, this negation of negativity and what it entails. There’s a Situationist comic of a woman at the beach, the caption being “suntan lotion, a good book, my radio, and, most importantly...that nothing happens!” This comic somewhat captures the idea I’m trying to get at. The infinite positing of a pretender to an end of History is in reality just the imposition of an order which attempts to make sure that nothing (dialectically) happens.