Thursday, July 19, 2018

More Theses on the End of History

Expanding on the last post with this....would like to keep expanding and make this into a larger work. I provided the previous entry as the third thesis (out of the three here). These new theses (the first two) expand on and introduce the previous ideas.... They also seek to emphasize that History cannot be isolated from an inquiry into History; even an inquiry into History is a part of that very History. How else could Hegel's thought have had such an impact?

I. Stalingrad

Omne possibile exigit existiturire "Everything possible demands to exist."
-Leibniz, De Veritutibus Primis, On the First Truths

"With respect to demand, every fact is inadequate, and every fulfillment insufficient. And this is not because it exceeds every possible realization, but simply because it can never be placed on the level of realization."

-Agamben, What is Philosophy?

Historia exigit tendere finem. An amateur student of Latin might translate this statement as “History demands to reach its end,” but the Latin more properly implies that “History goes out to stretch towards its threshold.” It should go without saying, also, that the vagueness in the Latin mirrors the unclarity of the whole project of historiography, beginning with the most difficult of all thinkers: Hegel. Regardless, does History demand to reach its end, does it always drive itself forward grasping desperately for the door?

Something with “exigency” is demanded, its objectives are urgent. But a demand, with no play on words, does not demand its outcome. That is, a demand does not imply necessity, as Agamben has rightly pointed out, but instead the existence of a possibility being actualized. A demand is something driven forth: it is an attempt the accomplishment of which is reserved for the imperfect tense.

One can strain a tendon or tend to a child’s scrape and show a tenderness of heart or have a tendency for selfishness or preside with tendance over attendees. And one tends to know the denotation of words. The root -tend- always implies a metaphoric reaching, stretching, but always without completion. Tending to a wound does not mean healing it; and tendencies are habits, not essential modes.

The French habit of ending films with the elegant Fin does not indicate the end of a piece of cinematography, but rather the transition between the image and what is meant to be represented in it, between the referens and the relatum, between possibility and its actualization. In no other way can cinema be inspiring.

The poetic element of philosophy, writes Agamben, lies in its definitions. Exigit (from ex-agere), means to “drive out” — not an enemy or some infestation, but oneself. Tendens isn’t so much a “reaching” (as if one had already captured the ultimate) as it is a “stretching.” But most importantly, finem is not merely an end, beyond which no one could dare to venture, but a border — a threshold.

Therefore, historia exigit tendere finem is not merely true, but must be regarded as a basic starting point for any historiography. In studying it, History is revealed as an incessantly self-propelled movement to the next. This remains true whether finem implies a true “end” or not, whether we take the term “reach” to imply finality or potentiality.

This is the same thesis which defined Left Hegelianism, the philosophy which emptied Hegel of all of his content but kept the form. At Stalingrad in 1943, as Lewis White Beck has noted, this force met its antithesis in a bitter, frostbitten battle, an enemy comprised of those who kept the content of Hegel’s philosophy but abandoned its form. It is this conflict which has played out indefinitely since the end of World War II and well beyond the collapse of the German Reich or even the USSR: the fight between those who insist that History has ended and those who wonder if there is more to it — and if there is an end to it at all.

II. Basics for an Archaeology of the Present: A Brief Inquiry into the Contemporary

"...of those that were great in earlier times most have now become small, and those that were great in my time were small in the time before.... I know that man's good fortune never abides in the same place...."

"This is the bitterest pain to human beings: to know much and control nothing."

-Herodotus, The Histories

We live in the most densely populated cities in the history of the world, but the loners strolling down their abandoned concrete paths can’t make eye-contact. Our cities are littered with trash and pollution and decrepitness, but Teslas and magic erasers wipe out everything. Poverty has been abolished — or at least covered up —, but only to damn us to the most hellish meaninglessness.  

We are a humanity which dawns on the horizon of the final moment in History, but we’re horrified by what we see. As we scale the mountain of dialectical struggle and peer over its glorious peak, we see nothing but still snow blanketed over a suffocated potentiality: schussing apparently defines the remainder of human temporality.

The ultimate history, the most far-reaching Classics, and the least essentializing anthropology all seek to comprehend the strangeness of the present — not the barbarism of previous periods or the insanity of some sort of outdated religiosity, but the absurdity of the current situation. Any system which grasps historical knowledge must finally make an inquiry (“inquiry” in Ancient Greek is ίστορίη, historiā) of the contemporary. This was, after all, the main project of Herodotus’s Ἱστορίαι.

The true goal of any historiographical endeavor is, therefore, a deconstruction of the present or, in other words, critique. Inquiry — historiā — can only exist in negativity.

III. A Negation of "the Negation of the Negation"

"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 paths with their canes pointing to the future — just a few meters ahead! — which awaited their progeny?

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.

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