Stewart Home’s po-mo homer
Stewart Home, Proletarian Post-Modernism, Test-Centre, 2013
Stewart Home’s ecstatic absurdity is an assault on modern culture bringing a Homeric pre-Socratic anti-Platonism to the table on the twin-back fun-ride of the funky German materialism started in the 1850s and the materialist-based Marxism a little later. One of its back-stories (there are at least two) goes something like this: German Idealism was a reaction to Kant. This response includes Fichte, Schelling and Hegel. The ‘comprehensive conception of reason’ explaining metaphysics, epistemology and value all broke down. It splintered into (at least) eight big strands – Materialism, Marxism, neo-Kantianism, Phenomenology, Hermeneutics, Existentialism, Structuralism and Post-Structuralism.
German Materialism of the 1850s and ‘60s included the likes of Buchner, Moleschott, Czolbe, Vogt and then Feurbach, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche who took physiology seriously and advocated replacing philosophy with science. Marxism replaced philosophical doctrines with a philosophical method conceived as politics, critique and scientism. Dissatisfaction led to Lukas, Gramsci, Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse and Habermas, who returned to Kantian questions of justifications. Neo-Kantianism was a response to the emergence of psychology and included Helmholtz, Fischer, Cohen, Windelband and Rickert. Windelband was the guy Sam Beckett read and quoted from. This alone is a reason for doubting my recent claims that Beckett was a Nietzschean materialist. Out of this came Phenomenology which was a reaction to psychology whereby questions of the nature of thought, meaning and logic were to be returned to the empirical study of the facts of mental life. Michael Dummett claimed that Analytic philosophy developed out of rejecting this Husserlian psychological turn via the work of Gotleib Frege. Heidegger further developed Phenomenology to emphasise the relationship between structures of meaning and the lived experience of particular individuals and this led to French Existentialism prioritizing existence over essence.
When Idealism and Neo-Kantianism blend they become a Hermeneutics touching on the centrality and distinctiveness of interpretation in understanding language. When Idealism and Phenomenology blend then Hermeneutics becomes about the relationship between language and thought, the nature of historical and social understanding and the finitude of human understanding. Go-to guys here include Herder, Schleiermacher, Dilthey and Gadamer. Structuralism came from linguistics and social science and included Saussure, Levi-Strauss, Barthes and Althusser. This strand emphasized the autonomy of systems and contrasted them with psychological, historicist or teleological explanations. Key guys here were Lacan and Foucault. Post–structuralism included Derrida, Deleuze and Foucault again and was a modern skepticism based on Heidegger and a misreading of Nietzsche.
Like I said at the start, Stewart Home’s assault on modern culture brings the Homeric pre-Socratic to the table on the twin-back fun-ride of the funky materialism started in the 1850s and Marxism a little later. He rejects the fetishisation of autonomy begun by Socrates and developed by Kant as our modern idiom and presents as an alternative pre-Socratic, Homeric heteronymous forces. Back then, these forces were personified as Gods and furies in Homer and were the explanation of the moods and tendencies that could dominate and define a whole life, not merely a moment. These days we call them laws of nature. The general idea is that claims of autonomy and choice are post hoc rationalizations of pre-determined laws. You can’t, as Heidegger thought, get behind these moods, forces, Gods, and change them, control them or choose them. They control you, choose you and define you. They are sacred because they are inescapable and have higher authority than you. Openness to the authority of something higher than your will, to heteronymous law-givers – Gods – something that cannot be resisted, is an idea reviled by modern culture where freedom to choose is presented as its highest value. But for the Homeric Greek the modern evaluation makes no sense, and Nietzschean reevaluation of all values strives to make it possible to think of a way out of the modern.
Nietzsche is the philosopher who wrote to assault the Socratic Kantian autonomy-soaked culture and who presented the Homeric as an example of a possible alternative. His fear was that the modern presented its historically created limits as if they were natural and conceptual limits, as if thinking of modern self-freedom as anything but good would be the contradictory nonsense of the confused. Unlike the modern reified post-Socratic version of freewill, Homeric free will was a dowry from the Gods, where, as Nietzsche puts it, “thought is one thing, the deed is another, and the image of the deed still another: the wheel of causality does not roll between them.” The primeval delusion still lives on that one knows, and knows quite precisely in every case, how human action is brought about,” yet the reality is that “all actions are essentially unknown.”
Nietzsche is an anti-metaphysical philosopher. He rejects all metaphysical interpretations of humanity and replaces them with a naturalistic one. Mankind is part of nature without remainder. When he nevertheless discusses issues that seem to be standard metaphysical fare, he is engaged in what Charles Stevenson in 1938 called ‘Persuasive definition.’ A persuasive definition is where one takes a concept that the reader has heavily invested in and keeps the name but radically changes its internal features. So Nietzsche is taking a persuasive definition to the language of freedom and freewill, radically changing the content of the language and concepts but relying on their emotive aspects to keep the reader engaged in the hope of persuading them to accept his revisionary project.
The naturalism of Nietzsche makes him a fatalist. There is no freewill and therefore there is no moral responsibility for anything an individual does. Physiology and environment control the individual without remainder. The feeling of freewill, (and other metaphysical thoughts) are epiphenomenalist products of the impersonal forces of environment and physiology that determine action. They follow but in no way have influence on actions. The projects of the metaphysician is therefore one Nietzsche is not embodying, as Heidegger thought, but opposing. He argues that metaphysicians have the causal description of events exactly the wrong way round. Events happen and metaphysics is just post hoc rationalization, rather than causal explanation of action via something like the autonomous will.
There are two deflationary ways of reading Nietzsche’s discussion of the ‘soverign will.’ On the first view it is an exercise in mockery of the bourgeois. The overblown rhetoric supports this approach, and its target, the petty instrumentalism of bourgeois education in a postmodern age, is accurately nailed so long as it is not haunted by metaphysical presences such as an autonomous sovereign will that escapes the fatalism of Nietzschean naturalism. So long as any metaphysical language is merely an exercise in persuasive definition, using the surface language of ‘sovereign will’ to disguise a naturalized, fatalistic content of impersonal drives from physiology and environment, then the account is thoroughly Nietzschean.
[Photo: Daniel Brackenbury]
On another deflationary reading Nietzsche is just engaged in a revisionary persuasive definition of the ‘sovereign will’, deflating the idea of freewill and autonomy to a notion of fatalism. This is the account that Leiter takes, although he is persuaded that the rhetoric Nietzsche uses suggests that bourgeois values may have been a target as well.
He claims that either view, however, explains the creation of the sovereign individual. And on either reading, the role of any non-naturalistic explanation is removed. If his extreme skepticism about freewill can be used as a stand in for any such metaphysical ideal, then how he discusses this can be used to explain how Nietzsche treats all such metaphysics. Freewill is therefore being treated as a parade case for all metaphysical speculation and explanation. Hence, if Leiter’s deflationary reading is right, then Nietzsche is not a philosopher who should be considered supporting anti-naturalistic, metaphysical philosophers such as Levinas, Murdoch and especially Heidegger who did try to co-opt him as a supreme late instantiation of Kantian and Hegelian thought. If either of the deflationary readings above is right, one that is used to attack bourgeois life and the other as an exercise in persuasive definition alone, then Heidegger gets the story about Nietzsche exactly wrong and the wrong way round.
In ‘Human All Too Human’ Nietzsche presents an incompatibilist view whereby freewill is incompatible with a fully deterministic universe. In the mature works of the 1880s Nietzsche is forthright in arguing his skepticism about freewill. In ‘Daybreak’ in section 128 freewill is explained by the reasons we have for accepting it, not by its reality. In ‘The Antichrist’ section 14 he denies freewill. In ‘Daybreak’ section 124, he mocks claims of freewill and compatibilistic explanations of causal will in a determined universe. I may identify with my will but if the will has no causal role then I can’t be responsible for it. In the ‘Genealogy of Morals’ section 13, the metaphysician is likened to those who separate lightening from its flash and assume some substrate that is lightening to explain the flash. But there is no substrate because of course the lightening and the flash are identical. And once we abandon the substrate of an active will that attends thinking about actions then we should also abandon the reactive attitudes and values that attend it. So no longer should we hold people responsible for their actions, for responsibility, and blame, and guilt, are all concepts that require the notion of freely responsible action. Where there is no free will, these have to be abandoned. So argues Nietzsche there.
Essay 2 of the Genealogy is about how we breed an animal. The animal in question is a human and the kind of animal to be bred is one that can make a promise. The naturalistic question is answered in naturalistic terms. The explanation appeals to causal mechanisms acting on the animal to cause stable dispositions. The explanation requires regularity of behaviour and memory as being essential to create the animal who keeps her promises. Custom creates regularity of behaviour, working like a straightjacket. The individual mistakes the straightjacket as his own freewill. The sovereign individual is she who is the most penetrated by custom, describing custom now as conscience. The perfectly free individual is no longer needing custom, for that has been internalized through memory and made manifest as individual, unique, autonomous conscience. This is of course delusional.
Animals have drives and drives can be resisted. But only by other drives. Resistance of a drive is evidence that another drive is resisting. Self mastery is merely the description of whichever drive wins out in the internal strife. It isn’t about a free intellect organizing drives. It’s about drives blindly organizing themselves according to their relative strengths. Freedom is not part of this process, and when Nietzsche does use freedom and freewill he is being revisionist in his use. The positive valence of freewill is useful for him because he has a target audience and he wants to reach them with something that will appeal to these types and cause them to be led to his new ideal.
Freedom for Nietzsche is being subjected to indeterminate laws, not being free from such laws. It is about doing necessity. To create ourselves is to discover the laws of physical science and accept their blind operations on us that explain without remainder all we are and think and do. We can be proud, courageous, strong without taking responsibility for being so and freewill is therefore not to be associated with these values. To accept the natural is to accept reality. In ‘Twilight of the Gods’ section 49 he writes that it is the position of Goethe, who opposes the Kantian project of separating mankind from nature, and therefore of reality, to which freewill in his revisionary sense is referring. Everything is redeemed and affirmed in the whole, and refuses the negation of nature that the metaphysical project of Kant instantiates. It is this that he calls Dionysus. Naturalism and realism are associated with Goethe and Napoleon. Acceptance of this is associated with Dionysus.
So here there is a problem with the understanding of Dionysus with a content opposed to the ‘economies of exchange’. Dionysus is merely seeing things as they really are, not as mystifications of a metaphysical substrate such as the sovereign will. The positive valences he places on Dionysus are again examples of Stevenson’s ‘persuasive definitions’, hooking the target audience with positives to lead them towards his revisionist stance.
Napoleon is the instantiation of Nietzsche’s conception of the ‘return to nature’ and is contrasted with Rousseau’s conception. This is written about in Section 48 of ‘Twilight of the Gods’. Rousseau’s version was equated with the rabble, and was understood as a thing of disgust by Goethe. Any idea of natural equality is rejected by Nietzsche in this passage equating Napoleon as the truly natural man. Inequality is reality. Yet Goethe is also equated with the Dionysian understood as recognition of the way things really are. Goethe is free in the sense that he is free of the dreams of metaphysicians who would that the world were other than it is. The unequal, terrible and cruel world is the truth about the world, as instantiated by Napoleon. Dreaming that it was something else is for Nietzsche a weakness, a failure to be brave, strong and truthful in the face of such horror.
Nietzsche is therefore a philosopher who does not argue that we are in charge of our own destinies (nor could she ever be), he does not believe that we have any freewill, any autonomy, and he does not argue for any metaphysical substrate (be they moral, aesthetic, existential) that explains away the reality of nature of which we are merely a part. The epoch he valorizes, the Renaissance, is understood to be so valuable by Nietzsche because it was a time when metaphysical unreality was replaced by naturalistic realism. As such, Bernard William’s attempt to understand Nietzsche as a moral thinker, and Heidegger’s attempt to understand him as the last metaphysician, are equally mistaken. Bourgeois values were certainly something that Nietzsche attacked. But he attacked them because they falsified reality. They instantiated the delusions of metaphysical substrate and hindered the fulfillment of the higher types, such as Goethe, Nietzsche and Beethoven, whose blind inner drives harmonise in creative projects untrammeled by such delusions to produce immense art necessary for the survival of tastes and culture that are themselves fated as the higher needs of a civilisation. Nietzsche is much more appalling than either would have him be.
Like Nietzsche, Stewart Home is concerned to burst the reified bubble of that modern delusion and the oppressive asceticism that modern culture wields in order to give meaning to what is from whichever way you look at it the terrible truth about the human condition. “However far a man may go in self-knowledge, nothing however can be more incomplete than his image of the totality of drives which constitute his being. He can scarcely name even the cruder ones: their number and strength, their ebb and flood, their play and counterplay among one another, and above all the laws of their nutriment [Ernährung] remain wholly unknown to him” wrote Nietsche in ‘Daybreak.’ We are defined by our moods and heteronymous laws and mechanisms that are unknown to us but seem to have little to do with the official stories told in order to apportion blame and guilt. Nietzsche writes that values “belong among the most powerful levers in the involved mechanisms of our actions, but…in any particular case the law of their mechanism is indemonstrable” and Home’s deliberate provocations and scandalous affronts are designed to prod and probe at this issue.
His field is the modern art world– performance art and writing – but not because he wants to be an artist but because he sees a symptom of regression lurked in this art world, likewise a danger, a seduction, a poison, a narcotic, through which the present is lived at the expense of the future. Home’s art world is the world of commodity fetishisation moneterised into the soft oodlings of comfort and fashion and he ridicules claims that it transcends the terrible world organized for and by our ludicrous mega-rich masters.
Homes’ new album gives us a chance to savor the gob on Home, the caustic sharp edge of it that tunnels through our sand culture – our small, soft, round, unending sand culture of contemptible and ridiculous happiness seekers.
It shows us a long logic in all of his activity. Home has the ability to extend his will across great stretches of his life and to despise and reject everything petty about him. It is not the works, it is the faith that is decisive here, that determines the order of rank…: some fundamental certainty that a noble soul has about itself, something that cannot be sought, nor found, nor perhaps lost. The noble soul has reverence.
Home is not a self-professed Nietzschean. His Marxism would offer an extreme strain on any whole-hearted Nietzschean scheme. But the erotic, intoxicating Gods grip his writings and intensify the excitability of the whole Homean, Dionysian machine. Above all, the intoxication of sexual excitement, the most ancient and original form of intoxication married to an intoxication that comes in the wake of all great desires, all strong affects; an intoxication of the festival, the contest, of the bravura of performance, of victory, of all extreme movement the intoxication of cruelty; intoxication in destruction whose essential thing is the feeling of fullness and increasing strength to reevaluate our values, these gods of sex and pleasure loom large in these detonating texts as incarnations of the possibility of revolution. They are his self contained signs, done brilliantly as pornography or skinhead violence or whatnot, all very artful, precise and deliberate.
There’s another context (this is the second back-story hinted at at the start). He has defined one in his brilliant ‘Assault on Culture’. He writes that “it is easy enough to perceive a tradition running from the Free Spirit through the writings of Winstanley, Coppe, Sade, Fourier, Lautreamont, William Morris, Alfred Jarry, and on into Futurism and Dada–then via Surrealism into Lettrism, the various Situationist movements, Fluxus, ‘Mail Art’, Punk Rock, Neoism and contemporary anarchist cults” . He argues: “If the term ‘art’ took on its modern meaning in the eighteenth century, then any opposition to it must date from this period–or later. . . . Art has taken over the function of religion, not simply as the ultimate–and ultimately unknowable–form of knowledge, but also as the legitimised form of male emotionality. The ‘male’ artist is treated as a ‘genius’ for expressing feelings that are ‘traditionally’ considered ‘feminine’. ‘He’ constructs a world in which the male is heroicised by displaying ‘female’ traits; and the female is reduced to an insipid subordinate role. ‘Bohemia’ is colonised by bourgeois men–a few of whom are ‘possessed’ by genius, the majority of whom are ‘eccentric’. Bourgeois wimmin whose behaviour resembles that of the ‘male genius’ are dismissed as being ‘hysterical’–while proletarians of either sex who behave in such a manner are simply branded as ‘mental’. Although its apologists claim ‘art is a universal category’, this simply isn’t true. Every survey of attendances at art galleries and museums demonstrates that an ‘appreciation’ of ‘art’ is something restricted almost exclusively to individuals belonging to higher income groups.’
Overlay that with the German Idealist back story we opened with and its clear that Home rejects more or less everything except the Materialist and Marxist strands. Given that most of what passes for art theory these days finds little in either Materialism and Marxism and is heavily stacked towards varieties of the other six strands (neo-Kantianism, Phenomenology, Hermeneutics, Existentialism, Structuralism and Post-Structuralism) its easy to see why Home is one of the strangest of writers. He just comes from a different place from most authors, and therefore uses an idiom that is spookily antagonistic towards what Frederick Beiser has labeled ‘the aporias of the present.’
Beiser claims: ‘The aporias of the present is that there really is no aesthetic criticism anymore, and that there are really no standards about art. Anything goes, and anything is good or excellent “in its own kind”. We got here because some aestheticians and philosophers took the avant-garde too seriously, and held that even snow shovels, urinals and soup cans can be works of art. I think that the avant-garde was making all kinds of interesting and valid points; but one it was not making is that these kinds of things are works of art. They were not intended to be works of art but, for all kinds of complicated philosophical social and political reasons, works of anti-art.’ Home’s new version of Nietzschean Dionysian activity is aimed at an art world that has been appropriated by the ascetic planet Nietzsche opposed. Home takes the Dionysian critique to the original Dionysian source.
And of course that leaves it quite open whether there are or can be standards for art. Beiser for one thinks there are. He says, ‘There really are standards of criticism, and there really are rules of art, even though people shudder at the very thought of them. You only have to listen to film critics and book critics to see that they apply all kinds of standards, like the need for verisimilitude, the need for unity in variety, for coherence, for capturing the interest of the reader. You only have to talk to artists to see that they work according to rules, and that they know all too well that they can employ only certain means to achieve the ends they want. The question is to spell out these standards, and to make clear these rules, and that means first knowing what an aesthetic standard and an aesthetic rule means. The whole issue has to be re-thought, and to re-think we have to go back more to the past, when there was a lot more thinking about these issues.’
Home stages a succession of movements and scenes to detonate art and literature. He is in the catalogue of the post-avant-garde (as noted earlier) but not to make better art but to make his interesting social and political points (such as his claim that art is only for the middle class posh). He is also denying the subjective turn in aesthetics, which he links to antimaterialism, anti-realism and anti-Marxism. In this the analysis of Beiser is helpful when he writes:
‘One of the reasons standards and rules have been so undermined is because of the doctrine, common since Kant, that taste is only a matter of subjective pleasure, and that it has nothing to do with the object itself. This Kantian doctrine, which appears perfectly explicitly in the first paragraph of the Kritik der Urteilskraft, has been decisive in turning people away from criticism because there is no need to look at the object itself, to look at its qualities, to determine what is good or bad. Kant wanted universal aesthetic judgments, of course, but he could hardly guarantee them because there was no reason one could give for them. There was nothing about the object itself that made it pleasant or unpleasant to look at. We might as well look at snow shovels and urinals.’ If we look at some the strands that fell out from Kant – ‘Phenomenology, Hermeneutics, Existentialism, Structuralism and Post-Structuralism’ – there’s a heavy emphasis on the subjective so it’s no surprise to find Home kicking around with the Marxist materialists!
He might have gone elsewhere – Beiser writes: ‘The reason why I like Diotima’s children — the aesthetic rationalists of the eighteenth century — is because they stress the importance about something in the object itself that makes it good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant to look at. They all defined aesthetic pleasure in terms of the perception of perfection, intuitio perfectionis, where perfection meant something like unity-in-multiplicity, a formal structural feature of an object, what we also call harmony or beauty. They did not deny that there is a subjective component to aesthetic experience in the feeling of pleasure; but they believed that there is also an objective component, that they judgment rests on a perception of this perfection in the object.’
He goes on; ‘I think that there is something to this doctrine, and that we do well to revive it. Oddly, one of its tacit proponents, though explicit opponents, is Hume himself. When Hume insists that taste is a matter of delicacy, that it is a matter of having a sensitivity to features of an object itself, he is very close to the rationalist doctrine. Hume was really a covert objectivist (or partial one) about aesthetic pleasure because that pleasure had to be based on the sensitivity to features in the object. It was only having that sensitivity that allowed some people to be good critics. As soon as we explain what is involved in that sensitivity we get something along the lines of the rationalist’s intuitio perfectionis.’
This takes us some way from Home – Home is not at all interested in putting together a constructive theory of art, and certainly has shown no interest in basing one on reason. He sticks to his well-defined aim of showing why art is no longer capable of achieving what Nietzsche, for example, once claimed for it, which was a redeeming meaningfulness in the face of the terrible pointlessness of life. Perhaps the conditions for producing an artistic genius in the Nietzschean mode are no longer available. However Home is someone interested in using objective formal features in his work. He constructs carefully and composes his writings with formulations that give them a formal structure that is at odds with anything like an ‘anything goes’ approach. He stages his edits so that we can get a bombardment of anti-stupidity.
Rather than go back to Beiser’s seventeenth century rationalist aestheticians, I’m saying Home goes further back to where Nietzsche went, the Homeric pre-Socratic Dionysics. But the emphasis on the erotic forces, and stagey violence, suggests that he is going back to the Old Gods, the Furies of the Oresteia rather than the Homeric Olympians, symbolically presenting them via a modern idiomatic trope of S & M play. The Furies are only mentioned four times in Homer, so here is where Home is veering off from Nietzsche, and from his Homeric focus, and is recognising a different group of forces with older roots than those in Homer but which were realized in literature only after Homer. These Furies are always in the dark and do their deeds from the darkness. These are the Gods that lurk in the hooded night. They are older than the juridical Olympians, determining deeds based on community rather than quasi-universal laws. These are deeper, more basic irresistible instincts and energies. For a Home who claims allegiances to a form of Black Atlantic communitarianism the Furies have the right level of determining intimacy.
What Home can respond to in Socrates is what he rejects in Plato. What he rejects in Plato is what he rejects in Heidegger. Heidegger read Plato from his fascist perspective. Both Heidegger and Plato resisted Socrates’s arguments which were about resisting tyrants. Socrates argued for civil disobedience and non-violent protest. He died fulfilling this point. Socrates is not Plato or Xenophon or Heidegger. Socrates is Gandhi and Martin Luther King. (Gandhi called Socrates ‘the first satyagrahi’ (a Hindu who defends to the death a Muslim). King in prison in Birmingham recalled Socrates three times.
Socrates was a democrat. Plato found democracy repulsive. Heidegger too. Plato’s Academy was a secret school that excluded most people and whose teaching was secret. The Academy was the school for philosopher tyrants. It is mirrored today (explicitly so in the USA) by extreme right wing reactionary neo-cons who believe that the rule of law is unworthy of the great Empire and that a ruler is most wise when able to be unconstrained by law and able to draw upon philosophical learning to rule. Most states have leaders who argue for exceptionalism from the law.
When the philosophers of fascism read Plato they find in Plato – but not Socrates – their man! In ‘The Republic‘ Socrates asks ‘what is justice?’ the fascists answer in terms of Socrates’s enemy Thrasymachus: ‘justice is nothing but the advantage of the stronger.’
The tyrant can commit any number of crimes so long as he listens to the reasonable man ie the philosopher. Plato in The Republic and The Laws slyly argues for the rule of the tyrant aided by the philosopher. Plato (not Socrates remember) created the Academy to train students for tyrant politics. In ‘The Seventh Letter‘ of Plato writes, ‘ And chiefly I was urged by a sense of shame in my own eyes that i should not always seem to myself a kind of argument pure and simple, never willing to set my hand to anything that was action.’ This is an approach that veils itself, wishes to hide and find distance from interpretations of mere obvious, open revelation. In ‘The Eleatic Stranger’ the stranger says to Socrates that the best kind of rule is one without law, but just a man. Why? ‘ Because the law does not perfectly comprehend what is noblest and most just for all and therefore cannot enforce what is best… the law is.. like an obstinate and ignorant tyrant.’
The law is an ignorant tyrant. Plato opposes the ignorant tyrant with the wise tyrant. The wise tyrant can force people against their will, even ‘ driving out or murdering some’. Wisdom becomes absence of rule of law.
Plato’s Academy was set up to advise tyrants, to make them wise ones! Alan Gilbert writes that according to the letters of Plato and the writings of Plutarch, Plato’s pupils advised tyrants Hermeias (of Atarneus) and Perdicass. These pupils included Aristotle, Erastus, Coriscus and Xenocrates.
So the secret teachings of the Academy of Plato was opposed to Socrates’s views. The school was a secret society for wise tyrants. French postmoderns and existentialists of the twentieth century take their lead from Heidegger. What they miss is that ‘Being and Time‘ is Heidegger’s version of Plato’s ‘The Republic‘. Heidegger lectured on ‘The Essence of Truth’ in 1930 and ‘On Plato’s Teaching Concerning Truth‘ in 1931/32 and expanded on these in ‘Plato’s Cave- Metaphor and the Theaetetus‘ in 1943 where he said that the Guardians must be philosophers shaping every aspect of political and social life. They are to be free to enquire into anything and this was the ‘inner truth and greatness of national socialism’ that he wrote about in ‘Introduction to Metaphysics‘ of 1953. Naziism was what his philosophy is about, the rule of wise tyrants beyond the law.
What is Dasein? It is the essence of the Nazi who is a transformed human, a new being dwelling in the world opposed to those petty men who merely transform nature with their technology. These petty technocrats do not grasp the radical transformation of self through grasping Dasein and so are condemned to superficial changes and a war against nature that can never be won.
Heidegger’s brilliiant reading of Plato’s Republic books 6 and 7 is how he philosophises all this rubbish. He writes on book 6: “We must now see if what has been said can be verified from Plato’s own presentation. With this intention we turn to the final section of book VI of the Republic. In regard to the ‘state’ (as we somewhat inappropriately translate polis)and its inner possibility, Plato maintains as his first principle that the authentic guardians of human association in the unity of the polis must be those who philosophize. He does not mean that philosophy professors are to become chancellors of the state, but that philosophers are to become phylaches, guardians. Control and organization of the state is to be undertaken by philosophers, who set standards and rules in accordance with their widest and deepest, freely inquiring knowledge, thus determining the general course society should follow (paragraph 13).
Plato’s term ‘aletheia’ is Heidegger’s ‘ revealedness’ or ‘unconcealedness’ (Verborgenheit). This all stems from Heidegger’s reading of the metaphor of the cave. In the cave what’s going on according to H is that the true philosopher has to move through five stages of being until he can fully grasp Being and then he returns into the cave to liberate those still in the dark.
The cave is Dasein, of Being and history. It is mortality which is always someone else’s, a statistic. It is through understanding that we will die that we can be authentic (ie ‘falling into one’). So the cave is the place of inauthentic life. Authenticity is about being your own true self. One needs to get out of the cave. Heidegger’s ‘Being and Time‘ is Platonic – the mortality of others and shadows are the Cave. If there’s one thing to say about Home that is uncontroversial it is that he attacks this idea of authenticity. Heidegger can’t get enough of it and for this reason Heidegger is the philosopher Home is strenuously resisting.
The authentic philosopher, according to Heidegger risks everything: “As liberator of the prisoners, the philosopher exposes himself to the fate of death in the cave. Notice that this is death in the cave, at the hands of cave-dwellers who are not even masters of themselves. Plato obviously wants to remind us of the death of Socrates. One will therefore say that this connection between the philosopher and death is only a singular occurrence, that this fate does not necessarily belong to philosophy.” (par 10, p. 61)
This philosopher troubles the cave and may suffer the fate of being killed. Heidegger’s version of philosophy condemns what we think is philosophy to being merely scholarship.
“Otherwise and on the whole,” Heidegger says, “philosophers have fared very well, for they sit undisturbed in their homes and occupy themselves with beautiful things. Today, philosophy (assuming there were such a thing) would be a perfectly safe occupation. In any case people no longer get killed. But from this, from the absence of any such danger, we may conclude only that no one any longer ventures so far, thus that there are no longer philosophers.” (par 10, p. 61)
“There in the cave the only thing that matters (as Plato describes it) is who is the cleverest, who can work out most quickly where all the shadows among them philosophy belong, i.e. in which discipline and under what type of received philosophy. Down there they don’t want you to know anything of philosophy, i.e. of the philosophy of Kant but at best they take an interest in the Kant Association. The philosopher will not himself challenge this all too obligatory cave-chatter, but will leave it to itself instead seizing on one person or a few and pull him out, attempting to lead him on the long journey out of the cave.” (par 10, pp. 62-63)
Truth about law is unsayable. It can only be grasped through personal questioning and application (desire and process towards). This Heidegger takes from Plato’s ‘Seventh Letter.’
“The task and goal of the interpretation must be to bring the questioning of this dialogue to you in the actual proximity of your own most Dasein so that finally you no longer have a foreign text and an accidental Reclaim edition in front of you, but have in yourselves a question that has become awake and inwardly awakened. If you still find it unconditionally necessary to read current philosophical literature, this is a sure sign that you have not grasped anything of what we have been dealing with thus far.” (par. 17, p. 94)
See how this chimes with the idea of questioning brought into Dasein being the truly authentic state of being. But you may wonder why being in this state isn’t owning the completeness or wholeness we desire. Because Plato/Heidegger believed that authentic philosophical freedom is not merely of being free for the light (outside the cave) but means to be a liberator from the dark (in the cave). That’s why the philosopher returns into the cave, to liberate the others there to rule the cave.
“The descent back into the cave is not just some diversion on the part of those who have become free, perhaps undertaken from some curiosity about how cave life looks from above, but is the only manner through which freedom is genuinely realized.” (par 11, p. 66)
Home’s sturdy backlist of novels and writings wrings-out the authentic. ‘Proletarian Post-Modernism’, the third album in the spoken work series from Test Centre, a London based experimental label, recorded as a live performance (on the 12th of June 2012 at Hannah Barry Gallery, London), consists of readings from a selection of Home’s many novels including, ‘Down & Out in Shoreditch and Hoxton’, ‘69 Things to do with a Dead Princess’, and ‘Blood Rites of the Bourgeoisie’. He has his own stories showing that he is out of synch with the literary establishment: ‘“I did a project to prove that the literary establishment didn’t like me,” author Stewart Home is explaining in a crowded East End pub on a late Saturday afternoon: “I applied seven years in a row for an Arts Council writers award, and didn’t get it. The eighth year I applied, they’d introduced blind submissions and I won, that was my vindication. I had the joy of Salman Rushdie refusing to shake my hand when I got the award.”
What does his ‘po-mo’ leave us with? It may well be a type of pre-Socratic skepticism. What we thought we knew was art and literature and it is this knowledge that Home erodes. Pre-Socratic skepticism is Pyrrhonian. This is a specialized skepticism. The contextualist and relativist overestimates and overgeneralises their pessimism about whether we know. Trivialists overestimate their pessimism about whether we can be ignorant. Conversationalists that track both pessimism and optimism in equal measure, moving to and fro more accurately track normal epistemic positions.
Unwelcome knowledge can be truculent. David Lewis overestimates dream skeptism in his ‘Elusive Knowledge.’ He assumed that by introducing the possibility that knowledge claims may be based on a dream (and so be erroneous) he introduced enough doubt to erode knowledge. But ‘it was all a dream’ scenarios prove to be easily disbelieved. Knowledge survives. Roy Sorensen suggests the fanciful nature of dream scenarios erode the credibility of the skeptical challenge and so makes them ineffective for knowledge erosion. He predicts that the repeated use of such scenarios by Hollywood and entertainment will continue to erode the usability of such scenarios for skepticism.
Local skepticism is more common than universal skepticism. Ring-fenced areas for doubt can be useful and have been skillfully exploited for various ends. In law experts in local skeptism work to create doubt by presenting alternative accounts of events. If successful, they erode the knowledge required for conviction. They drive the standard of knowledge up by introducing uneliminated defeaters . Outside of these controlled scenarios, local skepticism may be a cause of regret but not remorse. Recalcitrant knowledge may survive through recognition that there is always the possibility that greater care might have been taken but if called upon, the standard of satisfaction would have been reached. Teachers faced with recalcitrant knowledge in their students will apply local skepticism, presenting students with unexamined alternatives to dislodge student knowledge and generate learning.
Robert Fogelin’s account of Pyrrhonian skepticism advertising a global skepticism that avoids common pitfalls. His skepticism avoids fantasy routines such as David Lewis’s and so is less easily ignored. Daniel Dennett discusses ‘cognitive auto-stimulation’ (Dennett 1984,p 41). Fogelin produces a species of this, what Roy Sorensen calls the ‘auto-jittery’. These work as in scenarios above, introducing eneliminated defeaters which erode previous knowledge clams.
His peculiarity is that he denies that auto-jitteries produce ignorance. Rather, he says the auto-jittery introduces doubt and erodes knowledge but not to the extent that ignorance is assertable. Sorensen worries that this is a ‘quasi-doubt’ analogous to ‘… the moviegoers quasi-fear of the creature in The Blob.’ Will quasi-doubt do? Perhaps the doubt is not doubt but a recognition that there are potential uneliminable defeaters that once considered would erode belief. Knowing that potential auto-jitteries exist is not enough o erode knowledge. As Sorensen points out, even a mental tour of uneliminated defeaters only shows how I could lose knowledge (Sorensen 2004, p 220). Historical process is important in determining whether knowledge is eroded and the right kind is lacking with a merely potential auto-jittery process.
Attitudes to knowledge and ignorance matter. Global skeptics are pessimistic about knowledge. Trivialists are pessimistic about ignorance. The latter position is perhaps underestimated by philosophy. By not treating recalcitrant unwelcome knowledge and focusing on supposed recalcitrant ignorance suspicions arise that philosophers have overestimated the idea that knowledge is always welcome. The skeptic who uses auto-jittery mechanisms claims knowledge is merely wish-fulfilment. Unwelcome knowledge works against such a supposition. The universal skeptic supposes knowledge is welcome but unobtainable. Her position is consistent where she does not protect ignorance or avoid knowledge but few obtain this consistency.
Pyrrhonian skepticism advertises itself as universal skepticism but Sorensen doubts its pedigree as skepticism. The Pyrrhonist claims to universally suspend judgment. In order to achieve this universal neutrality she suspends judgment about the proposition that she universally suspends judgement. The inconsistency at the heart of this position arises by considering the anti-dogmatism towards all beliefs and the dogmatism of attitude towards the anti-dogmatism. The irrationality makes the position resilient through irrationality. To defeat it would require supposing the global neutralist holds a position viz that of global neutralism. She denies this. Of course, her denial is also an assertion of some other position. Denial is a substantive propositional attitude (Sorensen 2004, p 225). Universal neutraility is confounded by sincere assertion requiring belief.
The skeptic is not a quietist. She asserts her position. Suspension of judgement is also not a quietist position. This is illustrated by Kripke when he shows someone in two minds being in both a state of belief and a state of suspended belief. Sorensen summarises this thus: ‘Inconsistency does not require a clash of beliefs’ (Sorensen 2004, p 225).
Sorensen argues that the skepticism of Pyrrhonian skepticism is unfounded. Confronted with the proposition that ‘Pyrrhonian skepticism is untrue’, Fogelin concedes that this may be true, as might it’s contrary, and suspends belief in both. But a skeptic requires less concession, just as a theist requires more than the concession that God might exist. The distinction between agnosticism and skepticism is one that raises the distinction between sincere assertion of disbelief and suspension of belief. Global suspension of belief places itself out of any philosophical positioning. Yet Fogelin places his Pyrrhonian suspension of belief at the disposal of a critique of dogmatic skepticism. ‘ The Pyrrhonians (as I have described them) … refuse to privilege the philosophical perspective that the dogmatic skeptics and their opponents share. When they hypothetically enter the philosophical perspective, they will be inclined to say that nothing is known. Here they simply say how things strike them. For the most part, however, they will occupy a normal perspective where skeptical scenarios and remote (and not so remote) defeaters are simply ignored’ (Fogelin p 99). As Sorensen points out, the whole passage is self defeating as it takes its place in a philosophical context and asserts a philosophical position. If sincere, it beggars belief. As Home is someone whose writing eschews sincerity (sincerity being a species of authenticity) this seems an apt way to end this.
Just buy the album. It’s a groovacious hoot.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Richard Marshall is still biding his time.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, December 29th, 2013.