a few parting words… [symptomatic philosophy, philosophical romance, etc.]

This will be the last of my posts for about 4 months. I’m sure no one will mind since this blog is not often updated anyways. I’m moving out of my parents house for four months studying programming at a bootcamp for twelve weeks. Its a gamble–I’ve never done well in 9-5 situations and I am wary of intensives since I have blown Middlebury twice–but its a safer bet than academic stardom, my previous professional delusion.

Anyways, anyone who has scanned this blog knows that I am ambiguous about these types of candid posts. I am not necessarily proud of the drama (you can snoop the internet to find it if you want) that has led up to me switching gears entirely to learn programming when my passion is philosophy. However, it has been liberating to switch out of the persona of The Philosopher (something crafted to perhaps allay the insecurity of being a C-/D student for a decade) to a mere human. It has also been tough to admit that I need help with a laundry list of psychological problems (it was harrowing to see the list: OCD, manic depression, bipolar, ADHD, possible amphetamine psychosis, etc.) but I didn’t need a psychiatrist to notice that I had anxiety, depression and severe insomnia and that I was pretty dysfunctional. This is the heart of the matter for me since there is a popular brand of “high performance” philosophy that scans broadly and deploys/performs/validates these symptomatic tendencies which I was more or less emulating.

My drama at the end of the summer was attenuating to the fact that normal people do not behave like this and that I ought to slow down and come back to philosophy after maybe bettering myself, getting more emotional/psychological support and acquiring a skill. In a manner of speaking, an ambiguous role-model of mine drew attention to this need to separate from philosophy (although I consider anyone who makes light of depression, goes out of their way to insult people who are already in bad shape, and swings so radically from honest care to utter loathing somewhat dysfunctional themselves–sure, be possessive of your shit but, I don’t know, perhaps some precautions should be made and some understanding fostered when dealing with screwed up people, its just theory yeah?). Whatever.

Its also been very tough to focus on weaknesses rather than strengths and to try to cultivate a true skill with something fairly alien but the cultural switch to this type of work requires a “care of the self” that philosophy does not really promote or provide and is indeed, highly critical of. I think, in other words, I’ve been too critical of “practical philosophies” such as mindfulness or self-help (which, is a craze but what the hell else are people supposed to do? not plan their days to fight capitalism? refuse to let themselves de-stress and unwind? starve? go insane?). Its absurd to be “critically potent” 24/7 like one is on philosophical Viagra so they are critically DTF at every opportunity. Meanwhile, I certainly have no claim to have some superior integral conceptualization of something like, say, quantum physics that would allow me to turn it into a metaphor to advertise a Marxist critique of capitalism or psychoanalysis. This is why the “counter-intuitive” logic of philosophy (its game of paradoxes, reversals, unity of opposites and so on) is actually just an enthusiastic performance that disguises a rather rote procedure of conceptualizing certain philosophically amenable material and then theoretical deploying it (now as a proprietary concept) for the sake of critique. Another term for this might be “interpretation.” To be original in this regard, I now believe, means eschewing a method, leaving the material as untransformed by language as possible, and requires a genuine spark of non-conceptual insight. It is disingenuous to simulate this with a philosophical conceptual apparatus. Certainly philosophy has a conceptualizing priapic tendency as well (maybe, finally, I understand what the feminists mean when they critique philosophy’s phallocentrism). Anyways, anyone familiar with Laruelle will find my griping unoriginal and this is not my purpose.

I want to present a piece that I wrote during a reflective moment last April before the shit hit the fan. It was regarding my plan of concentration but also some stuff regarding science, Marxism and psychoanalysis that would later take up here (not that that makes it worth anything). I wrote it for my grandmother as the forward to my plan since she wanted a bound copy of my plan as a birthday gift. I wrote it with the intention of showing her and anyone who read it that I was a true philosopher or at least sort of smart. I stand by it since it admits to a lot of mistakes but, of course, not nearly enough–I was still under the spell of philosophy despite being exposed to non-philosophy (I doubt I’ll ever give it up). It also has a lot of hubris to adopt the tone it uses, I sound like I’m 1000 years old not like I’m in my early-mid twenties. Whatever, here it is philosophy role-playing at its best:

Since this text is being put into a book, there are some preliminary notes and considerations I wanted to share about how this project came to be and under what circumstances. The first consideration is that this is the work of an undergraduate in a very small school populated with inflated and egotistical personalities. Marlboro College resembled and appeared to want to resemble, as we made it resemble, a “little ENS” in a “little France” just after ’68—indeed, Occupy Wall Street had just died down, I stupidly made the decision not to go because the Spinozists and logical positivists were leading the charge, this I took as a genuine sign of its inauthenticity. This example alone displays all of the hubris and arrogance of someone relatively young and who does not possess a tremendous amount of formal philosophical training but undertakes philosophy as a political passion boarding on an obsession. This can be seen by the text’s “strategy” of recursive or retroactive authorization-validation (which, as Derrida notes in “Structure, Sign, Play,” is typical of structuralist texts) and, accordingly, its intentional and unintentional reduplication of structuralist mistakes, its dangling of controversial philosophical positions that exploit the reader’s potential humanist or ethical tendencies, its indulgence in answering “the big questions,” its use of philosophy to opportunistically strike at New Age, Christian or Buddhist philosophical positions, etc., its willingness to dabble in anticipated positions (Deleuzian, Derridean, Foucauldian, etc.) while intentionally censoring them, its bizarre judgement that Genesis and Structure is the seminal text and the evental site of Hyppolite’s philosophy and not Logic and Existence, and so forth. In this regard, the project displays an unconscious Althusserianism in its regulated dissemination of Hegelian ideas and philosophical politics in the name of legitimizing psychoanalysis. Further, it was more or less written on two wagers: that I, because I possessed the anxiety of a philosopher but was not a philosopher myself could overcome any lack of knowledge or training because symptomatically I could see where the text was going and what it desired. In other words, it was written at a height of a philosophical enthusiasm for the power of thought and an infatuation with Hegelian discourse that saw that the world was regulated by ideas—ideas that were regulated by a dialectic—so if one mastered the dialectic, with some adjustments here and there, one could comprehend the secret of the world. Thus, if one found the right texts, the right philosophical analogue for an attitude, psychological state, or political situation one could reason through it by knowing the philosopher better than themselves, internalizing their way of reasoning, comprehending the nature of their “event” and thus know people better than they know themselves. The second wager is based on the premise of the “material” circumstances I was working in: if one had to very rapidly learn philosophy, if one had exactly one text to base ones work on and very little time to write a properly “philosophical” intervention (namely, meaningfully writing “knowledge about knowledge”) what text would one choose? For me, there was is no other option but The Phenomenology of Spirit; every other option would be based on a “hipster” preference for obscurity or philosophical politics (a Jewish philosopher perhaps, maybe a feminist? Nancy?), philosophical predilection (Spinoza, Husserl, and Heidegger seemed to be the choices for affirming my peers’ spontaneous scientism or spirituality respectively, Bergson was the choice amongst the literati, Battaille, Sade, and Kristeva for the poets and sensualists), intentional heresy (Deleuze and Derrida), or conservative orthodoxy (Kant)—it was my belief, based on the philosophical politics of my little school, that a genuine confrontation with Hegel was being avoided or repressed. I concluded that when he was confronted he was being made into a New Age puppet or an idealist straw man; my foolish peers didn’t realize that all these “spontaneous ideologies” could be found and resolved in Hegel. This of course smuggles in a caveat: only the philosopher’s commenting on this text were able to apply Hegel’s logic to himself when he could not and therefore they were the only ones who “knew” anything about it. Accordingly, it was Hegel’s commentators that were worth reading and not necessarily Hegel himself. Thus we have the theoretical groundwork that allowed the materials I was working with to take on a bizarre representation: “knowledges about knowledge about knowledge.” I saw it as my task to dialecticize their work by removing plural of the first word in this sequence.

The second is that it was undertaken as a disciple looking for a master. Marlboro College, short on professors and possessing a small student body, was short on masters who shared my particular philosophical predilections and viewpoints. Somewhat condescendingly and as a task of genuine philosophical politics, I wrote this project to prove to my advisers that one could philosophize with psychoanalysis and that psychoanalytic discourse was as valid a discourse and tradition as the Greek philosophy, German idealism, existentialism, phenomenology, deconstruction, critical theory, psychotherapy, and cognitive psychology that they taught. In other words, I had to sell the names Freud and Lacan to my advisers and mitigate some of their reservations. Over the course of two years a few close friends and I built a close coalition of students who expressed a genuine interest in psychoanalysis and took every opportunity to write about and proselytize psychoanalytic discourse—much to the annoyance of my professors. There were three “eventual” moments: one was a class in 2010 on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, where my comrades and I begin our task of “theoretical formation,” of both our teacher and ourselves. Professor William Edelglass, a Levinasian by trade, introduced us to the famous French Hegelians but made little of it; began our campaign by rapidly internalizing them and using them as a discursive pathway into a larger conversation on Heidegger, Zizek and Lacan, who we opportunistically injected into our discussions and writing every time we could—perhaps to William’s chagrin. The second was a slew of tutorials throughout 2010-1 where we were allowed to periodically lead discussions and give presentations on our works in progress; here we emerged as unabashedly even hysterically Freudian: we used our presentations as times to situate ourselves as “little masters” to disseminate Freudian ideas and undo the taboo surrounding their legitimacy. We also took it as an opportunity to curse and be obscene by adolescently doting on the most offensive aspects of Freudian vocabulary for the sake of vulgarizing and democratizing academic discourse. Notably, it was Professor Edelglasses’ preference, before my sophomore year, to keep class sizes small and discussion very formal with long periods of silence. I took our efforts to be a success when William analyzed one of Kierkegaard’s turn of phrases in Concluding Unscientific Post-Script “it just dropped out” as a shit joke. Overall, at least where we were involved, he began to make increasing use of anecdotes, absurd examples, memes and jokes as pedagogical devices—coincidently, he saw his class sizes rise. An epiphenomenon of our “work” was the popularization of philosophy itself. The final moment was a tutorial on Lacan in the fall of 2011, a semester before my graduation in 2012: in a properly Lacanian, move our adviser Tom Toleno (who had seen Lacan’s popularity periodically wax and wane in his time and warned us against the ideas of charismatic French intellectuals) refused authority and deferred to us: we taught the class ourselves and freely popularized Lacan. When it came time to complete my “plan of concentration,” we had trapped them in the position of unwilling masters who, over the years, had adapted to our demands to teach French structuralism and psychoanalysis by reluctantly familiarizing themselves (by grading our work at the least) with our ideas. By the final year I had educated the educators to the point where they could accommodate my verbose writing style and desire to deal with the most impenetrable texts.

Finally, I confess, this work was written in a state of relative madness and suffering. Without delving into the details, I had undergone psychoanalysis to deal with depression and anxiety after a psychological breakdown regarding a situation of romantic politics worthy of a Rohmer or Goddard film but which felt something more like a Lars Von Trier film yet was truly worth zero time or emotional energy at all. My mental health took a compound blow as I began to suffer from lapses in attention, motivation, and working memory—of course, the cluster of symptoms is easily recognizable as ADHD but I refused to admit I had it or seek help because of my somewhat symptomatic Francophilic attitude regarding mental illness)—as well as the effects of long-term amphetamine use. I admit this because it attests to a properly subjective problem confronting the dignity of philosophy: that philosophy is not a science and is conducted purely in the odd realm of ideas which vary to their degree of objectivity and are given movement by a personal and subjective physics of enjoyment and desire. That my project concerned the mythic origins of knowledge and truth and had pretensions of asserting that the scientific aspirations of philosophy find themselves realized in psychoanalysis is not a coincidence, neither is the vulgar conclusion that knowledge and jouissance possess more than an intimate connection since these are all the original insights of Lacan but concerned me on an intimate perhaps symptomatic level. (Consider that the discourse of philosophy is one of mastery: knowledge about knowledge via—as Paul de Man notes—the use of language about language). Nor is it a coincidence that I would discover that knowledge is defined and pursued in relation to its limit since this is Hyppolite’s Hegelian conclusion but, again, was apropos my social/psychological situation. My project seemed to write itself and was guided by this strange synchronous and reflexive logic of the “discovery” of what I already knew by virtue of my present situation. However, the project’s Lacanian and Zizekian authorizations already anticipated a way out, a passage à l’acte that would end philosophical speculation by incurring an extreme break with the world in its current symbolic consistency. It is clear that the Hegelian discourses that the project takes up, “Kojevean” and “Hyppolitean,” certainly contain the Hegelian origins of Lacanian psychoanalysis and were decisive for influencing him, it is even compelling to imagine that the Hegelian idea of Science—achieving the proper re-articulations and advancements through these figures—could be seen as spiritually present in Lacanian psychoanalysis, it is even correct to ultimately conclude that one can only see this progression only in the light of psychoanalysis—which thereby unites Hegelian and Freudian discourse in a filial-history, filial-epistemology and by their dialectics and scientific aspirations—however, it is not strictly logical to conclude by way of exit. Knowledge—once its technical and political origins, limits, unconscious and conscious expressions, and enjoyment are exposed—needs to be differentiated into regional epistemologies, have its truth-procedures taxonomized, its specific political effects on bodies and subjectivities identified, its physical centers of power localized and made specific (institutions, bureaucracies, etc.), its political economy of (re)production and distribution analyzed to reveal where/how it flows and to whom it aggregates, the specificity of these recipient agents must be analyzed as well as its modalities of dissemination (disciplinary, educational, propagandist, consumerist), how this might attribute to it a purposive aspect that differentiates knowledge from the deployment of knowledge, and so forth. In other words, the entire post-structuralist project to date (in its anthropological-sociological aspect) must be considered or at least recognized. Psychoanalysis is but one steppingstone in this discourse that is increasingly appropriating psychoanalysis’ one-time philosophical investigations and procedures in the name of a more scientific project.

The question of whether or not philosophy can become scientific will not be taken up here. However, the question of the continued relevance and importance of philosophy remains highly pertinent. The work of Francois Laruelle in his new field of “non-philosophy” recalls some of Lacan’s most intense periods of philosophical hostility. Badiou continues to assert the dignity and privileged status of philosophy unabated but under the sign of the prohibitive stricture of mathematics. The work of the late Deleuze and Guattari has yet to be fully reconciled. But the endless traversal of positions that comprise the inflationary and neurotic discourse of philosophy cannot continue for much longer before reaching a critical point of diminishing returns. If philosophy is to survive it needs to re-imagine itself as a discourse that does not necessitate the interiorization and preservation of its entire history of proper names. It must be able to capture and preserve, for instance, the beautiful vitalism of Nietzsche that allows for a unique form of analysis (deconstruction, discursive agonism), a new truth procedure (aesthetics), and a new philosophical priority (anti-humanist psychology) while not allowing it to devolve into philosophical politics and theoretical fictions (individualism, voluntarism, anti-Judaism); the rationalism of Descartes and Spinoza (advanced in its integrative or synthetic capacity by Bachelard and Canguilhem), the holistic scientific cosmology of Plotinus and Proclus, etc. These figures, and many others, must be preserved as a truth-event, the discovery of a sign that opens up new theoretical operations that make philosophy more than a matter of reading but of thinking. This was Hegel’s great task and achievement in the Science of Logic who aspired to teach the entire history of philosophy to high schoolers. This is the paradoxical humanist Jacobinism of philosophy: the reason it engages in its various regional philosophical politics is because what is at stake is the interpretation/dissemination of its own history. Philosophy wants to aggregate and centralize this history then the masses to roughly the same level of comprehension via education so it can reproduce itself as Tradition. That is why philosophy appears to be perpetually dying: its task is to continually preserve itself; its teaching is really self-ministration without which it would cease. However, wherever thought is preserved, spoken or written, wherever its conditions (science, art, politics, love) exist philosophy exists. This paradoxical immortality is the condition-symptom of philosophy that authorizes it. Hegel sought to disrupt this restless and uncoordinated situation of philosophy and saw the disunity and fragmentation of the German state as an occasion for philosophy to unify itself and thereby emerge as a unifying centralizing discourse. What is the Hegel-event then? It is an attempt to set philosophy on its course toward a science by decomposing it to its most fundamental terms and preserving and comprehending the history of philosophy by putting these terms in an ordered set and attributing to them a basic tendency of movement into their opposite, the spontaneous result of which was the appearance of a historical mode of philosophizing as a position that is negated and surpassed on the way to science. Hegel accomplishes a philosophy that simultaneously occurs without the disruptive overdetermination that proper names typically incur, i.e., they are no longer necessary for philosophizing, and with the reduction-preservation of proper names into a useful function or position. In other words, he eventalizes philosophers into occasions or moments of philosophy: a philosophers name for Hegel is similar to a named constant or equation in physics.

This is why there is no substitute for reading Hegel today and this is why the greatest disruption ever incurred on philosophy was the program introduced by Karl Marx a philosopher for whom there is still no equal and who resists pure eventalization since the area of his effect is well beyond philosophy and continues to this day (if the philosophy of the event might have difficulty eventalizing Marxism it is because it is “inside” Marxism and because, for it, Marxism is what eventalized the event in the realm of philosophy; it is thus both its unsurpassable horizon, i.e., there is no “outside” of the Marxist event, its ongoing effect or non-resolution is what allows one to establish criteria for events, and the sin qua non of this eventalizing procedure). What is obviously missing from the discourse presented here is psychoanalysis’ challenger to this Hegelian inheritance: Marxism, which also aspires to scientific status but has a far different fate as a science. Here, necessarily, the manuscript must “break off” because the theoretical capture of Marxism and the discourse surrounding it is impossibly large to say anything meaningful about. For Marxism itself, there is no “determination in the last instance.” At least, not yet, as Derrida’s discourse in The Specter of Marx attests to, and hopefully not ever. Meanwhile, I find it is ill advised to try to comment authoritatively or philosophically on the usual slew of events (the revolution of May ’68, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the revolutions of ’89, and the collapse of the Soviet Union) and what this might mean for the future of Marxism. There were many who thought that is was the destiny of philosophy to transform into Marxism and that this concluded its apotheosis into science, this thesis is appealing for a number of reasons. However, while it may be politically urgent to decide on the scientific status of Marxism and to evaluate the truth of philosophy’s evolution into Marxism there is also every reason to withhold. Despite the fact that the broad work done for the sake of the advancement of philosophy is being done by people who outright identify as Marxist and philosophical discourse is almost impossible without Marx, it is apparent that philosophy remains a different field that is comprised in Marxist discourse but is not yet subordinated to it. Further, Marxism as a political practice and social science has thus far failed to attain scientific status, despite the affirmation of philosophers to the contrary. What is required across all fields aspiring to scientific status, of course, is the perspective and real engagement of the scientists themselves. It is for this reason, perhaps, this lack of scientific perspective in philosophy, that Badiou’s mathematization of philosophy has not yet been fully appreciated as a real advance (although Laurelle’s criticisms certainly stand) and why psychoanalysis continues to fail to achieve scientific status today.

Regardless, these considerations will certainly be taken up either by myself or someone else at a later date. For now it stands that Hegel represents the highest form of philosophy as itself. The reason Hegel and those who subsequently break with Hegel represent either decisive advancements or retreats (Kierkegaard for instance, appropriates Hegel for a theological discourse, Nietzsche for a psychological discourse, Marx for a political discourse) is that it is clear that for philosophy to continue it must become other than itself. If anything, that is the major conclusion to be gleaned from this project, despite its shortcomings. In most other ways, this project represents the capabilities and limitations of philosophy at its limit and for that reason is highly naïve since it operates unaware of that limit. However, the positive research program outlined and partially answered in the introduction, namely, how did Lacan read philosophy? and what constitutes a psychoanalytic reading of philosophy? remains highly intriguing and a potentially fruitful line of inquiry for future research. The project’s dialectics, which comprise its body, however, remain somewhat suspect.

All this commentary is meant to merely defer the reader’s judgement and mitigate my embarrassment. This was avoidable had I decided to go in and make corrections update it with my more recent findings and more mature philosophical sensibilities, etc. or had I simply done this in the first place. However, I think it is just to let the project stand on its own as it is with all its problems and naivety. If this text authorizes the psychoanalysis of philosopher’s through their texts, preserving this text’s myriad problems is certainly in line with that spirit.

What to make of this writing? Maybe its a good example of what not to do? Its unclear. I just figure it is trying to express something–albeit in a stilted formalistic way–about my temporarily mistaken and deeply personal pursuit of philosophy. At least I finally make it more about myself than philosophy (shit, where am I if that is improvement?). However, I miss arguing with my friends and getting them to embody the writer that most recently seduced them, I miss drunkenly pouring my heart out about whatever I just read, the manic free associative saloning, and the grandiose ecstatic play of dealing with “big” ideas. I dunno, I dunno, I was in love, it was a crutch. However, “adult” life and academic respectability has really made “intimate” philosophizing like this impossible for me. Meanwhile, it is a tragically inefficient if not suicidally romantic way of doing academic work. I haven’t given up philosophy but it now seems so solitary and unforgiving and a more reserved stoic seriousness is necessary. It has really become quite unpleasant to be so overly exposed and passionate all the time about philosophy when everyone seems to be taking it easy yet doing philosophy with more rigor. Meanwhile, non-philosophy, you can imagine, is heartbreaking for me since it requires a kind of non-discursive auxiliary practice (math, science, economics, etc)–I’m terrible at fucking math, I fucking hate math, that’s why I ran to philosophy in the first place. Regardless, being more efficiency minded might have allowed me to get more work done rather than suffer for the art.

Oh well, water under the bridge, it doesn’t make sense to put all your eggs in one basket for your confidence anyways. I’ll be back.


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