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The Ideology of the 1\estl>etic

The Ideology of the
Terri' Eagleton

0 1990by'Terry
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lntroductioo I
1 Free Paniculan 13
2 The Law oftbe Shaf'tesbury, Hume, Burke 31
3 The K.antian Imaginary 70
4 SchiDer and Hegemony 102
S The World as Artefact: Fichte, Stbelling, Hegel 120
6 The AnhW' Sdtopenhauer 153
7 Absolute Ironies: S..renKierkeg:wd 173
8 The Marxist Sublime 196
9 Trw: Illusions: Friedrich Niewche 234
10 The Name o( the Father: Sigmtmd Freud 262
11 The Polilics ofBeing: Martin Heideggr 288
12 The Mmlst Rabbi: Walter Benjamin 316
13 Art after Auscbwitt: Theodor Adorno 341
14 From thePoluto P061modernism 366
Index 418
The Ideology of the Aesthetic
This is nut a hiswry of Tbcrt arc ll1llllY important
aestheticiaas whom I pass Oer in saencc: in this book, and even in the
case of the thinkers I do it is not always th.U must obviously
aesthetic te.U which auract my anention. 1be book is rather an
anempt to find in the c3legory of the aesthetic a woy of gaining access
w certain central questions of modem European thought - to light
up, from tbat particubr angle, a range of.,.ider social, poUrical and
etbicotl issues.
Anyone who inspects the history uf European philosophy sine-.: the
Enlightenment must be suu.:k by the curiously hlsJI pricrity os.<igned
by it to oesthelic qu-.;tioos. For Konr, the aesthetic holds out a
promise uf n:concil.iation between Nature and humanity. Hegel
grants an a IO\\'Iy sratus within his theoretical system, but nt\"ertheless
produces an dcphantine treatise on it. The aesthetic for IGerkegaanl
must yield ground to the higher truths of ethks and reUgious
f:lith, but remains a recurrent preoccupation of his thought. For
Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, in sharply contrasting ways, aesthetic
experience represents a supreme fimn of value. Marx's impres.<ively
erudite allusions to world literature are matched bv Freud's modest
confession that the puel> had said it all before him. In our own
century, Heideggcr's esoteric meditlltions ctdminate in a kind of
acsthctlclzed ontology, whlle the lepcy of Western Marxism from
Lukacs to Adorno allots to art a theoretical privilege surprising at lint
gblnce for m:ncrialist curtent of thought.' In the contemporary
debares on modernity, modernism and postmodernism,
would seem key Clltegory for tilt analysis undcr>tanding of late
capitalist society.
To claim such a lofty statu.< for aesthetic in modem European
thought in genenl might seem roo unqualified a gesture. Almost all of
the thinkers I discuss in this book arc in fact German, ew:n if some of
the concepts I bring to bear upon their wor.k stem frnm the
intellectul miliu of m<)dl'Ilt Frnnce. It would seem plausible to
argue that the charactcristic:ally idealist c:ast of German thought has
proved a more hospiuble medium for ae.theric enquiry than the
ratwnalim of Frnnce or the empiricism of Britaill. Even so, the
influence of this largely Gennan legacy has spread tar beyond its
own national frontiers, a.< the so-called Engli<h 'Culture and
Society' mdition would attest; and the. question of the StnllJ!C
tenacity of aesthetic mancrs in modem Europe as whole thus
upon posing itself. Why, more particularly, should llus throrfliud
persistence of lite aesthetic typify an hUtorical period when cuiiUral
praaitr might be claimed to have lost much of its tnditional soci31
releance, debased as it is to a branch of general commodity
One simple but persuasive answer to this question springs from the
progres<il'ely abstract, technic-JI nature of ntodem Eur,.,ean thuugbt.
In this contel<l, an would stU I appear to speak of the human
am! the cuncMi; providing us with a welcome respite from the
alienating rigours of nther mOTe and offering,
at the very heart of this great explosion and division ofknowledges, a
re-sidually common world. i\s far as scientific or sociological questions
are concerned, only the t.\pelt seems licensed to speak; when it
comes lo art, each of us can hope to contribute our two h.a'pcncc
worth. Yet the peculiarity of aesthetic discourse, as opposed to the
bnguages of art them.<elves, is that, while preserving a root in
realm of everyday experience, it also raises and elaborates such
supposedly natural, spontaneous expression to the status of an
inrricatt intellectual discipline. With the birth of tbe ae.sthrtic, then,
the sphere of an itself begins to suffer something of tl1e abstractiou
and formalizlltion characteristic of modem theory in gencr>l; yet the
aesthedc is nevertheless thought to re12in a ch>rge of irreducihle
particularity, providing us with a kind of paradigm of what a non-
olienatcd mode of cognition might look like. Aestltetics is thus always
a contradictory, self-undoing son of project, which in promoting the
theoretical value of its object risk< emptying it of exactly that
specitictty or iJ!effability which was thought to rank among its most
precious fearures. The very la11guage which elevates art offers
perperuaUy to undermine it.
If the aesthetic has plll).d such a domin:lnt role in modnn thought,
it is no doubt in part because of the tersatificy of the concept. f'or a
notion which ;,, sUJlllOsed to ignify kind of functionlessncss, few
ideas can Jur\e setVed so many disparate functions. Some readus will
doubdcss find my use of the categruy inadmissibly loose and broad,
not least when it comes at times to merge into the idea of bodily
experience as such. But if the aesthetic returns with such persistence,
it is partly becousc of a certain indctcnninacy of definition which
allows it to figure in a .aried span of preoocuparions: frt.dom and
l.epliry, spontaneity and necessity, sdf-deu:nuination, autunomy,
particularity and univet$0Hty, along with ,....,e1'21 others. My argument,
broadly speaking, is that the c"tegory of the aesthetic: assumes the
impornonce it do"' in modem Europe bc<.-ausc in speaking of art it
speaks of these other mlltlers too, which are at the heart of the middle
class's struggle for political hegemony. The consrructioo of the
modem notion of the aesthetic artefact is thus inseparable from the
construction of the dominant ideological forms of modem cbs.s-
sodety, ond indeed from a whole new fonn of bumou subjectivity
appropriate to that social order. It is on this account, rather thall
because men and women have suddenly awoken to the supreme \'lllue
of P""inling or poetry, that aesthetics plays so obtrusive a role in the
intellectual heritage of the present. But my argument is also thai' the
:aestheric. understood in a certain sense, prmides an unusually
powerful challenge and alternative to these dom.inant ideological
forms, and is in this sense an eminently contntdictory phenomenon.
In ch3rring any inteRectual current, it I& always difficul t to know
how far back to go. I do not daim that, as for as discourses of art are
concerned, something entirely novel sprang into being in the mid-
eighteenth ccnrury. Several of the aesthetic motils I mce could he
pursut!d back to the or even to classical anriqllity and
little of wluot is said of self-realization as a goo! in itself would have
been un&mlll2r tn Aristode. There is no theoretical calllclysm at tlte
ceoiTe of the Enlightenment which throws up a nunncr of llllking
about art utterly devoid of intellectual antecedents. Whether as
rhetoric or poecics, sucll debates cxrend back far be)'Ond the earliest
historical moment of this rudy, wbich is tlte writing of that devoted
disciple of Renaissance neo-Piatonism, the F.arl of Sbaftesbury. At
the same time, it belongs to my argument that S<lmelhing new is
indeed afoot in the poriod which this work takes as its starting-point.
Ir idess of absolwe breaks are ' metaphysical', so lliso ue notions of
wholly ul11'llp(llred continuity. One of me aspeC1S of that novcll) hos,
indeed. already been alluded to - the fact that in this particular epoch
of clm-soci.,ty. with the em.,rgl!nce of the early boUrgl!<>isie,
aesthetic coucepu (some of them of distinguished histOrical pedigree)
begin to pia), however tacitly, "" unusually central, intensive palt in
the constitution of dominant ideology. Conceprioru; of the unity and
integrity of the work of an, for example, are commonplaces of an
'aesthetic' disGourse which 51retches back 10 classical antiquity; but
what ernerg<'$ from such familiar notions in the hlte eighte<nth
century is the curious idu of the work of an as a kind of $11./ljta. It is,
to be sure, a peculiar kind of subject, this newly defined anefact, but
it is a subject oonetheles5. And tbe historical pressures which give ri.e
to such a stntng<' style of thought, untilte concepts of ae>1hetic unity or
autOnomy in gentral, by no means exrend back to the epoch of
This is a Marxist srudy- at once. it might be claimed, too much and
too litde so. Too much so, because the book could be aceused at
tim<s of into a species of which reduces
the internal complexity of the aesthetic to a direct Sd of ideological
fuoctiotu. It Is true that for a cenoin kind of contemporary critic, any
historical or ideological cOillextualit.ltion of an whal$0e'ler is ifl foa
n:ductionist; the only difTen:nce betw""n uth critics and old.,.tyle
formafuts is that while the Jamr candidly adnowlcdg<'d this
prejudice, elevated il indeed to a whole elaborate theory of an in
itself, the former tend to be a tittle more elusive. It L nol, they feel,
that the relation betwocn an and history m:ed be in principle a
rcducti\'C one; it is just that somehow, in aU ac:tual mlllife>tltiOilll ofit,
it always is. I do not really intend to sugge.<t that the eigbteenm-
c:enrury bourgeoisie .....mbkd around n toble fJ>Ie< their cloret to
dream up the concept of lbc aesthetic as a solution to their political
dilemmas, and the political concradictoriness of lhc catCIOfY is itselr
te<timony to the mistakennt.s o( uch a iewpoi.nL The pol.it:i<al left
always needs to be on suud against rcdut1iooism and oonspirocy
theories- thouKb as far as the latter arc coacemed it would be unwise
for r.tdic;ds 10 wax so subde and sophisticated. become so coy of
appearing crude, as to forget that ccnain theoretical conc.-pu are
indeed rom time to time put to the uses of political power, and
sometimes in quite direct ways. If it may seem fon:ing the isstle
somewhat to discern rebdons between the tum to the aenhetic in the
Enlightenment and cert.ain problems of ob""lutisl political power, one
bas only to read Friedrich Schiller to find such relations explicitly
fonnulat<d, no doubt to the eml>ana.5sment of tb""' 'and-rcductionlsts'
who might hr;e wished him to be somewhat more discreoet about the
matter. If the study is, on the other hand, roo Uule M2rxist, it is
becall5e a satisfactory historical materialist account oflhe work or any
one of the writers with wh.Kh it deals. placing their thought in the
context of the material development, forms of Stllte puwer and
balaru:e of clu for<:e< of their hi.rorical moments, would have
required olume to itself.
In the current lcti triptych of cone<ms with class, rare and gender,
it is sometimes felt that an excessive emphasis on the first of these
categories is in danger of dominating and distuning enqujt:y in.tu the
Olber two, which are ar present somewhat less securely established in
the left theoretical canon and thus \"Uwrable to appropriation hy a
narrowly conceived ckss politics. It would be foolish for those
primarily concerned with political emancipation in the spheres of race
and gender to rein their\i gilance in this respett - to acce(lf rhe mere
good intentions or blcecl.inJ-heart liberalism uf those white malo
radica!B who, pmducht a. riley are of a political hiuory which has
often violently marginalized these issues, cannot now be trustt.d to
hac miraculously \'Oidtd such bad habits from their systems
overnight. At the same time, it is difficult not to feel, in surveying
cerrain quaners of the left politicnl in Europe and above aU in
the USA, that the complaint that socialist discourse oow univenally
these political projects i not only increasingly
implausible but, in some contexts at least, darkly irooic. Tit truth is
that a combirunion of factors has conuibuted in many areas of con-
n:mpomy left-wing thought to the open or surreptitious denigration
of such questions as social cl:>M, historic! modes of production ond
forms of state power, in the marne of a coaunitment tu mUI'l::
modes of political sttuggle. Pararnoant among these facron has been
the newly """ssive turn to the political right of se.eral Western
bourgeois regimes, under p,..ssure of global capitalist nisis - a
dramatic shift in the p<>titical spe<:trum and ideological climate which
has suc:eded in muong and demoralizing INIIIY of those who =lier
spoke up more combatively and confidently for a revolutionary
politics. There has been in this respect what ooe can only chanocterize
as a pen-2She f.ailurc of political nen-c, and in some cases an
accelerating, sometimes squalid prooess of accommodation by sectors
of the left to the priorities of a capilalist politia. 111 such a 0011text,
whe"' certain long-term forms of emanclpatory poUtlcs appear dtber
intrat1able or inoplausible, it is understandable that some on the
political left should tum 1110"' retdily md hopefully to alternative
kinds of is.<ues more iltunediate gains miiJht s..:m possible -
issues whi<.-b a narrowly doss-based politics has too often demeaned,
tnvesticd and excluded.
To claim that this attentiotlto non-class styles of polities is in pan a
response, COilsciously or not, to the cur"'nr difficuhi<s of mo"'
traditional political a>pintioru is in no sense to unde,.alue the
intrinsic importance of these alternative mOYementS. Any project of
socialist tna.formation which hoped to succeed without an aOi:mce
,.;th such cum:nts which fully rc>pectoo their autonomy would
deliver no more than a hoUow mockery of human emancipation. It Is
rather tn rem.ind OUNielves that, jwa as a scx:Wl<t 5trltcgy which left
unaffected those oppressed in their race or- gender would be
resouncJinlly empry, so these particular fonns of opp.r<:ssion COil
themselves only be 6nally undone in the context of an end
social relations. The for-mer point is no,..days often enoogh
emphasized; the laner is in some danger of being obscured. The
paucity of sociaUst thought in the USA in particular- in the sociery,
that is to say, when muoh culmral theory has been
elaborated - has gnvcly intensilioo this more general difficulty. or
the left triprych of preoccupations, it has undoubtedly been social
class which has been in such quaners the subject of the mon polite,
perfunctory bat-tipping, as the feeble American concept of'cla.<Si.,m'
bean wimci$. But the problem is a prc,;sinJ one in Europe too. We
have n<>w produced a generation of kft-inclined theorists and
students wlw . for '""SOilS for which th.cy are in no s..,.. culpable,
have often tittk poUtic:2l mcmwy ur socialist education. Link political
memory, in the sense that a post-Viemam gc.nentiorl of radicals has
often not much of rndical political substance to remember within the
conJin"" of the West; tittle socialist education, in that thr b<t thing
that can now be taken for granted is a close familiaritJ with the
complex history of international socialism and iiS anendmt thcontical
debates. We live ..,;thin societies whose aim is not simply to combot
ndical ideas - that one would ffildily - but to v.ipe them from
li\ing memory: to bring about an amnesiac condition in which it
would be as though such notions had oever aisted, pla1:iog them
bqoond our very powers of conception. In such a situation, it is ital
that lhe more recently prominent forms of poUtical engagl:ment
should not be an owed to ..._...., distort or overshadow the rich
of the international socialist moemem. I write as one born into and
brought up within a worting-cbss socialist tradition, one who has
bt:cn r<'8SC)Itably active in such politics since adolescence, and who
believe$ that any fonn of politic::ol radicalism today 'hich altc:mpl$ tu
b)-poss that lineage is hound rn be impoverished. There ue now,
predominantly in the USA but also in many orcas of Europe,
undoubted radicalism on panicular pulilital issues co-exists
vith an insouciance and ignorance of socialist stru"'e typical of any
middle-ciiiSS suburbanite; and I do not believe that socialist men and
vomcn should acquiesce in this inditferene< for fear ofbeinr thought
sectarian or unfoshionable.
There is a relation berv.een lhese issues and the that one
constant theme of this book concerns the body. Indeed l am half
inclined to apologize for the modishness of this topic: fev. literary
texts are likely to mttke it nowadays into the new historicist canon
unless contain at least one mutilated body. A recovery of the
in1purtaoce of the body bas been one of the most
aclili:vemmts of rceent radical thought, and l hope: that dtis book may
be as extending that fenile line of enquiry in a oew dirtclion. 1\t
the same time, it is difficult to read the later Roland Barthes, or even
the later Michel Foucault, without feeling that a certain style of
meditation on the body, on pic= and swfiiCes, zones and
techniques, hos acted among other things as a coDY<Dient displacement
of a Jess immedi>tely COIJlOTcal publics, and acted also u an mal%
kind of ethics. Tberc is a privileged, pri..rited hedonism about such
discourse, emerging as it does at just the historical point where
cenain less exotic forms of politic-s found themselves suffering a
setback. I tty in this book, then, to reunite the idea of the body .,.itb
more traditional political topics of the Sl:lte, cla.'iS conft ict ond mode.
of production, through the mediatory category of the aesthetic; and to
this extcnr the srudy distances itself equally from a clw politics which
has Uttle of significance to say of tht body, and from a posr-class
politics which takes from sucb reb.ubolivdy 'global' matteD in
the body's int ensilies.
In writing this hook, I am clearly concerned to argue agairu;t mose
crit.ics for whom any linkage of aesthetics aod political ideologies
must appear scandalous or merely bemusing. But I 1111m confcs:s tbat
I also ba-'e in my dghu those on the political left for whom the
aesthetit: is simply 'bourgeois ideology', to be worsted and ousted by
ahemadve forms of culturll politics. Th< aesthetic is indeed, as I
hope to show, a bolll!eois concept in the most literal historical sense,
hatched and nurtured in me Enlightenment; hot only for the
drastiCll!ly Ulldiall:(:ticlll thought of a vulgar 1\tanist or 'post-Marxilot'
mnd of thought coWd this fact cue an autoi!Wic condemnation. It is
left mol'lllism, nm hi<wrical materialt<m, which having the
bourj:eois pt'QV(:oancc of a particulor cooc-rpt, practice or institution,
then disowns it in an access ofldeoiQiical purity. f'rom the CommuniJt
Af,.,.i[nw onwards, Marxism has never ceased to sing the pl'llises of
me buurgcuisic - to cherish and recollect that in its great
revolutionary heritage from which raditals must tither enduringly
learn, or face th< prospect of. closed, i!Hbel'lll oocialist order in me
future. Those who have now been correctly progrannned to reach for
their dcceni'I'Cd subjeetivities &t lhe very mention of lhe dread phrase
'h"benl humani.<t' reprt$$ively dioavnw the very hi<Jory vhi<:h
constitutes tl\ern, which i!l by no means uoifurmly oegolive ur
oppressive. We forget at our political peril the heroic suunJcs of
earlier 'liberal humanists' against the brutal of feudalist
absolutism. If we can and must bt: s"""re critics of Enlighteoment, it
i Entigbtr:nrrn:ot which has empowered us tu be so. Here, as always,
the most intnctable process of emancipation is that which in\'olves
f ... oing """"''""' from ourselves. o .... of the t:osks uf radical critique,
u Marx, Br<cht and Walter Benjamin undmwod, is m salvage and
redeem for left political uses whatever hi slill viable and valuoblc in
the classleg-.t.<ies to which we are heirs. 'Usc what you ea.n' is a sound
enough Breehti&n slogan - with, of course, the implicit corollary that
what rums out to be W1US1blc in such traditions should be jettisoned
without nosralgia.
It is the contr>dictoriness of the esthetic which, I woold claim,
only a dialocti<-.al thought of this lind can adequately rnc'Ompa.,.. 'The
emergence of the aesthetic as a theoretical category is closely bound
up with the material pro<:ess by which cultural production, at an early
stage of bourgeois socieryt becomes :1u1onomous, thar
is, of the vari0t1s social funclioos which it has lr.ldilionally served.
Once mefacu become commodities in the market place, they exist for
nothing and nobody in ponicuW-, and can consequmdy be
ideologically speaking, as uisting mtiRly and gloriously for them-
selves. It is this notion of autonomy or self-referentiality which the
new discourse of aesthetics is centtally concerned to elaborate; and it
is ciA:ar enough, from a radical potitical viewpoint, just bow disabling
any such idea of aesthetic utonomy must be. h is not only, os radical
thought has familiarly in.<isted, that an L thereby COilveniently
ocqucstcred from aU od1er social pnoctices, to become an isolated
enclave \\itbin wlti<:h the dominant social order an find an idealiz<d
refuge from its own actual values of compeoriveoess, exploitlltion and
m.uerial posscssil'eness. ltis also, rather more subdy, that the idea of
autonomy- of a mode of being wbich is entirely self-regulating and
self-determining- provides th middle class .,.;th just the ideological
model of subjectivity it requires for its material operotions. Yet this
concept of autonomy rodically double-edged: if on the one band it
pi"O\'ides a central constituent of bourgeois ideology, it also marks an
emphasis on the natUre of human powers and
capaciries wflich becomes, in the wort of Karl Mane and others, the
authropological foundation of a revolutionary opposition to bourgt:<li>i
utiliry. The aesthetic it at once, IS I try to shcr.r, the "''Y secret
prototype of human wbjecrivity in early capitali<tsociery, and a vision
of human <"1lcrgies as radical ends in themselves which is tho
imp1.1cable enemy of all dominamc or instrUmentalist thou&ln. II
signifies a creative rum 10 tbe sensuous body, as well as an itJ,;cribing
of that body \\ith a subtly opprcsoive la1V; it represents on the one
hand libuatory concern with concrete parlicularity, and on the
ot!Jer hll!ld a specious form of universalism. If il offers a generous
utopian image of reconciliation between men and women at present
dlvidtd from oru. another, ir also blocks and m)'Siilies the real political
move-nt towards such historical community. Any account of this
amphibious concept "'hich eith..- uncritically celebmres or un-
equivocally denounces it is thus llkely to overlook its real historical
An eoaunple of sucb one-sidedness can be found, among other
places, In the later work of Paul de l\.1an, between which and my own
I am glad to observe a cmain um:xpcctcd <.'tJnYerp:m;c.
De J\bn's later writing represents a bracing, deeply iotri<ate
di!1TI}'!>1i6cation of the ide-d of the """"lbetic whicb, it could be clAimed,
was present in his thought throughout; and there is much that he bas
to soy on this score "'itb which I find myself in tnlire agrtement. For
de Man, aestbttic idrology involves a phenomenalist reduction of the
linguistic to the sensuously a confusing of mind and world,
sigu and thing, cognition and percept, which is consecrated in the
Hegelian >ymbol and resisted by Kant's rigorous demarcation of
aestltetic judgement from the cognitive, ethical and polilieal realms.
Such oestllttic ideology, hy rrpresslng rhe contingent, aporetic
rdatiun which hulds between the >pbcrcs uf language and the real,
naruralizcs or pbenomer>31izcs the former, and is thus in danger of
converting dte accide/lls of roeanig to orgonic nolur:tl process in 1lte
dutra<1c-ristic manner of ide-ological thooghL A valuable, resourcefUl
politics is undoubtedly at work here, Pol those left"ing critics for
whom de 11-bu is merely au tmrrgenernle 'fonnalli;t'. But it is a
politics bought at an enormous cosL In what one might sec as an
excessive reaction to his O'IYD c.uficr involvements with organici5t
ideol('brir$ of :1.11 extremt: right-wing ki1"1d, tit:- Ma.n is led 10
the potentially positive dimensions of the aesthetic in a way which
perperuates, if now in a whoOy new style, his earlier hoslilicy ro an
em.ncipatory politics. Few critics ha\-e been more bll'\t.ly unentbused
by bodiliness- by tile whole prospe<1 of a creative d<!velopment of the
crearurely aspects ofhuroan existenCe, by pleasure, Nature
and self-defighring po1Vers, all of which !lOW figure as insidious
aesthetic seductions ro be manfully resi5ted. The last critic by whom
one can imaJine de Man being in the least enchanted b Mikhail
Ba.khtin. One might question some of the assumptions of de M""'s
later politics - not least the. unwammtcd belief that all idrology,
without exception, is crucially concerned to 'nawralizc' or orpnicize
social practke. But there is no doubt thar de is indeed
thuroushfy potiti<:al LTitic from the uul.sct. It i:o >imply that the
consistency of that politics, the figure in the carper ofbi work, lies in
an unremitting hostility to the practice of politico! enoancipation. In
thill sense Antonio Gralll>('i was right wben, in a remarkable Oash of
prescience, be wrote in his f'risqn that 'It could be asscncd
tlt>t is the la$t of the Ideologue.<, and rhar de Man is also an
There an: two 111ajor omissions in this work which I should perhaps
cbril). The tint is of any extcnsi>c rcfcn:rn:c to the British 1n1dilious
of a<"Sthetic thought. Readers will no doubt 6nd a number of ..:hoes
of that history, of Coleridge and Matthew Arnold and WiUim
Morris, in lhe mainly German writing I examirn:; but this particular
ternio bas been wdl enough ploughed 3lready, and since much in the
Anglophone tradition is in fact derivative of Gennan philosophy, I
b.a>e thought it best to have recourse here, so 10 speak, to lhe horse's
nouth. The other nmi.<;..;oo, pcrh:lps a more irritating one for some
readers, is of any examination of actnal works of an. Those trained in
litenry critical habiiS of thought are usually enamoured of 'concrete
illustration'; but since I reject the idea that 'thoory' is acceptable if
and only irit p<.'lforms lhe role ufhumblt handmaiden to the aesthetic
work, I have tried to rn .. lnlte this ""J'Cctadon a far as possible by
remaining for lloe most part resolutely silent bout particular
anefaciS. I must admit, however, that I did originally cun(.'Civc of the
book as a kind of doubled text, in wbicb au aceoum of u ~
aesthetic thi!Ory would be toopled t eery point to consideration of
the literary cultnn: of Ireland. Taking my cue from a pas:;ing
reference ofK:rnt to the rcvolutioMry United lrilhmeD, I would have
looked at Wolfe Tone and his political colleagues in the context ofrhe
European EnliJhtenment, and reviewed Irish cultural nationalism
from Thomas Davis to Padraic Pe31'6e in the light of t::uropean
idealist thought. I also iotnded to homess somewhat loosely such
6gures as Motl<, James ConnoUy and Sean O'Casey, and to link
Niel7.sche with WUcle and YeaiS, Freud with joyce, Scbopenbauer
and Adorno wil!t Samuel Becten, and (wilder Rights, th=)
Hcidcgger l'>ith ecnain aspectS of j ohn Synge and Seamus Heaney.
The result of this amhitiou.< project woulcl have been volume which
unly reader.. in regular wtight-uaining would have been oble to 6ft;
and I will lhereforc rescr\'C this work either for a patenred board
g-Jme, in which players would be awarded points for producing the
most fanciful possible connections between European phaosophers
and Irish writers, or fur same future study.
I hnpe it wm not be thouglu that I consider the kind of research
embodied in this book somehow prototypic.! of what mdical critics
should now most imporlllotly be doing. An anall"'is of Kant's lhird
Cririque or an inapection of Kierk.egaard's religious medituions are
banlly the most urgenttosks f:a:ing the politic:!lleft. There re many
fOrms of radical cultural enquiry ol cumidcrobly gn:ater political
siKDil\can<:c than such high du:oretical-bbour; but a deeper under-
standing of the mechanisms by which political hegemony is eurrently
maintained is a necessary prerequisite oleffectiw pu61ical octiuo, and
!his is one kind of iruigln which I believe an mquiry into the aesthetic
can yield. While suth projeet is by no means everything, it nor,
perhaps, to be sniffed at l'ith.r.
I am not a professional phllosophcr, as the reader is no doubt just
about to discover; and I am therefore deeply grateful to v3rlous
friends and colleagues 1110re expert in this area than myself, who have
read this book in whole or pan and offered nuny valll2ble criticisms
and suggcstions. I must thank in panicular John Joy
llel'll>tcin, Andrew Bowie, Huward Caygill, Jerry Collen, Peter
Dews, joseph Fell, Patrick Gardiner, Paw Hamilton, Ken Hinchkop,
Toril Moi, Aluander Nehama.s, Peter Osborne, Stephen Priest,
Jacquc:6nc Rose and Vigdis Souse M0ller. Since these individuals
or carelessly overlooked my mistaku, they :m: to that
t'Xtenl partly responsible for them. I am gratdul as al.,..ys to my
cditora Philip Carpenter and Sue Vice, whose acumen and efficiency
r=ain lllldintinislted since the days of their srudcnt essays. Finally,
since I am now Jaking my leave of it, I woold like to record my
gratitude to Wadlwm College, Olford, which for almost twenty yCllrs
haB supported and encouraged mo in the building uf an Engli>h
school there true to its own klns trodilion. of onnconformity and
critical. dissent.
I See Peny Anderson, C..UiC<mim .. Wormr .Uar.rilm (London, 1'17<)),
2 See in particubr Paul de Man. Pbenomen:aliry md Materiality in Kant',
in G. Shapiro and A. S><a (eds), Qpatiuru tmd Pmpcm
M .... ,
3 Aotonio Gramsci, Stltaiu [nnrt tilt PtiHn edited and
tniUI>ted br Q!rintin Hom: and Groffrq Novt:II-So.ith (Londoo,
1971). p. 376.
Free Particulars
!\esthetics is born as a dilicu"""' or the budy. In its original
fonnularion by the Germn philo$0('h<r Ale><3rN!er Bumganen, the
term refers not in the lirst pla<-e to art, as the Greek aisJksis
would suggen, to the whole region of human perception and
sensatioo, in conlnlst to the more f3rcfied domain of conceptual
thougllL Tbe distinction which the term initially elll'on:es
in the midciglUeenth century is not one between 'an' and 'life', but
between the material and the immaterial: between things and
thouglliS, -tions and id=. that which is bound up with OlD'
crearurely life .. oppoud to lhat which conducts some sbada..y
existence. in the recesses of the mind. It is s though plu1osophy
suddellly wahs up to the &ct that tlu:re is a d<:nse, .-..arming tc:rritQIJ
beyond its own merul enclave which thl'e3ttn< tn f:>ll unerly oobide
its S\\'liY That territOIJ is nothing less than the. whole of our sensate
life together - the business of afleaions and a\ersions, of how the
world strikes lhe body on its sensory surfaces, of that whicb bkes root
in the gue and the guts and all that arises from our most banal,
biologkal irumioo into the world. The aesthetic concerns this liii)St
gross and palpable dimension of the human, which post-Cartesian
philosophy, in sume curious lapse of :tUentiOn
has somehow
managed to OYCrloolc. It is thus tht fint stirrings or a p.rimiU\'e
materialism - of the body's long inankulott rebellion agsinst the
tyralliJ)' of the theorcticnl.
The oversight of classical philosophy was 110( without its polJtlcal
cast. For how can any political order flourish which does not addr"'-<
itself to this most tangible orca of the 'lived', of everything that
belongs to a society'S' somatic, sensational life? How can ' uperlence'
be to fall outside a society's ruling concepts? Could it be that
this is impenetrably opaque to r<a'!Cn, eluding its categories as
as the smell of th)l1lle ur the ta>1e of powoes? Must the life of
the body be p""n up on, as the sheer unthinbble olher of thougtu, or
are its mysterious ways somehow lllllppoble by intellection in what
would then prove a whuUy novel science, the science of sensibUity
itself? If the phrase is nothing more than an oxymoron, then !he
politic31 consequences ore surely dire. Nothing could be noore
disabled than a ruling rationality which can know II<Xhing beyond its
own concepts, forbidden from enquiring into the. very stuff of passion
and perceprion. How can the absolute monarch of retain its
legitimacy if what Kant ..tied the 'rabble' of the senses n:mains
lo,._r beyond its ken? Dot:s net power require .ame ability to
an2tomize the feelings of what it subvnlinates, some science ur
concrete logic at its disJlO"'i which would map from the inside the
very of breadting, sentient life?
Tile for an oestbeti-s in eighteenth-<:entuey Gennany is among
other things a response 10 the problem of political absolutism.
Germany in that period was a parcdlized tenitory offeudal-<lbsoluri.<t
states, marked by 3 particularism and idiosyncra.o-;y con .. trequent o.u its
lack of a general Clolture. Its princes imposed thcir imperious dikcats
through elaborate bureaucr:scies, while a "Tetebedly eJ<Ploited
peasantry languished in conditions often little better than bestilll.
Beneath this autocratk sway, an inelfecrual bourgeoisie remained
cramped by the nobiliry's mercantllist of stare-controlled
industry and tariff-protected trade, overwhelmed by !he conspicuous
power of the couns, alicnued from the degraded masses and bereft of
any corporate influence io national life. The Junkerdom, ndely
confiscating frono the middle class their historic rule, themselves
spollSOred much of what indust:riaJ development thcn: wa.t for their
own fiscal or mililltry purp<JSes, leaving a largely quiescent middle
class to do business with the state, rather thn fon:e the >tate tu >hape
ill; pulkic to their own interest>. A pciValiM: lad of capital and
enterprise, poor communicatiOII$ 2nd locally based trade, guild-
donlin:ued towns morooned in bad ward t'Uuouyside: such were the
unpropitious conditions of the Gennan bourgeoisie in this parochial,
benighted soeial order. Its professional and inteOectual stnt:l,
however, were steadily growing, to produce for the first rime in the
Iller eighteenth centuey a professional literary cas1e; and this group
show.:d all the sisns of c<ening a cultural aod spiritual leadcnhip
beyond the re.1ch oflhe self-serving aristocracy. Unrooted in political
or economic power, howe\'er, this bourgeois enlightenment remained
in many respccu enmongaged to feudalist absolutism, marked by dun
profound "'spect for authorily of which Immanuel Kant, courageous
Aufoliir<r and docile subject of the king of Prussia, may be taken as
What germinates in the <ighteenth century as the strange new
dis<:ounc of aesthetics Is not a challenge 10 tlw polilleal authority; but
it can be read as sympfomatic of an ideologic:ol dilenwa inherent in
absolulil.1 power. Such p<>wtT needs for its OWD plll)l05CS to tal<c
account of 'sensible' life, for without an understanding of this no
can he seo,.,. The '""rld of feelings and sensations con
Slll.ty not be surrendered to the 'subjective', to what Kant
swmfully termed the 'qoistn of taste'; in.nead, It must be brought
within the majestic scope of reaon ilsdf. If the UbatSJlJ<h is not
rationally fonnalizable, have not all tbc most vital ideological iisues
been con<igned to some llmhn beynnd nne's control? Yet how can
reason, that most immlterial of faculties, gn>p the grossly sensuous?
Perhaps what mates lltings available to empirical k.aowkdge in the
first place, their palpable materiality, is also in a irony
whot banishes them beyond cognition. Reason must find some way of
penetrating die 'll'orid of pem:ption, but in doing so must not put at
risl< ill; O'M1 obsolute power.
It is just this delicate balance which Baumganen's aesthetics seek
to achieve. lfhisAatiuti<4 (1750) opens up in an innm'21lve gesture
the terrain of sen.'illtion, what it opens it up to is in effect the
colonization of reoson. For Baumgancn, uslltetic cognitioomcdiates
bel\\<een the genenllties of re:ISOn and !he paniculars of sense: the
aesthetic is that realm of existence which partakes of dte perfection of
reason, but in a 'confused' mode. 'Confusion' here means not
'muddle, but 'fusion': in their organic intei"J)!netration, th.e elements
of aesthetic representation resist thot discrimination into discrete
units which is of conccprual thought. But this does not
mean that such rcpresentalioru. are obscure: on the contrary. the
more 'confu<o<d' they are - the more uniry-in-wriety they attain - !be
more clear, prrft and dtterminatc dley become. A poem is in this
sense a perfected fonn of sensate discourse. Aesthetic unities are thus
open to rational analysis, though they demand a specialized form or
idiom of reason, and this is acsthc"lici. Acsthc:tics, Bawnpncn writ&:>,
is the 'ister' of lagi<:, a kind of Ntio infmor or femln!M analosu< of
reason at the lower ll!\el of seDS36onallife. Its task is to order tltis
domain into ckar or pcrfe<:11y determinate n:pn:scntations, in a
manner kin to (if n:latively autonomous of) the operatioll5 of reaaon
proper. Aesthetics is born of the recognition that the world of
perception and experience cannot simply be derived from abstract
unhtrS3l lws, bu1 demands its own appropriate discounc: and
displays its own inner, if inferior, logic. As a kind of concrete thought
or sensuous analogue of the concept, the aesthetic partakes at once of
the rational and the real, suspended between the two somewhat in the
manner of the LOvi-Stnussion myth. It is born as woman,
subordinate to man but with her own bumble, nec=ary tasks to
Such a mode of cognition is of ,1taf imponance if the ruling order
is to understand its own history; For if srnsation is charac.,terized by a
complex indi\id.ation which defeats the g1:neral concept, so is history
il<elf. Both phenomena are morked by an irreducible particularity or
concrete dctenninateness which tbreotens to put them beyond the
bounds of abstract thought. 'Individuals', writeS Baumgarten, 'are
detennlned in every reSPCCt .. p3rtlcular n:presentadons are In the
highest degn:e poetic.'' Since history is a question of'indi..-iduals', it
is 'poelic' in predsely this seose, a maner of determinate spccificilies;
and It would tbcn:fore seem alarmingly to faD ouuide the compass of
reasoo. What if the history of tbe ruling das.< were itself opaque to its
knowledge, an unknowable exteriority beyond the pttlt of the concept?
Aesthetics emerges as a theoreac.t discourse in respo- to such
dilemma.'; it is a kind of prosthesis to reason, extending a reified
Enlightenment rationality into vital regioDS which are otherwise
beyolld its reach. It C2l\ cope, for example, with questions of desire
and effectivity: &urngancn deseribes desire os ' ..,nsate
representation because a oonfused r<presentation of the good',' and
examines the ways in which poetic sensc-impressioll.s can arouse
particular emotive effects. The aesthetU:, then, Is imply rhe name
given lo thai hybrid fonn of cognition which can clarify the ravo stuff
of perceplion and historical praclice, disclosing the inner Slr\ICtUre of
the concrete. Reo.son as such pursues Its lofty ends far removed from
such lowly particulars; but a working replica of itself known as dte
aesthetic sprlnJ!$ into being as a kind of copitive underlabourer, to
lutow in its uniqueness all that to .. -bieh the higher 1'03SOn is
necessarily bUnd. Because rite aesthetic exists, the dense paniculars
of percepri(>n can be made luminous to rhough1, and determlaate
concretions assembled into historiClll nanat.ive. 'Science', writes
&umg:uun, 'is nor to be dawn to the region of scnsibilil)",
butlhe sensible is to be to the dignity ofknowledge.'' Dominion
over all inferior powers, he warns, belongs to reason alone; but this
dominion must never degenerate into I)Tanny. It mUJI rather assume
the form of what we might now, after term 'hegemony',
rulinl and informing the senses from within while allowing them to
thrive in all of their rclathe autonomy.
Once in posse.sston of such a 'science of the concrete' - n
contndicrion in terms', Schopenhauer was later to call il-lhm: is no
need to feor thot history and the body will slip tbrouglt the net of
conceptual discourse to leave one grasping at empty space. Wrthin the
dense ..-eher of our material Ufc, 1\itb all its amorphous Dux, certain
objects stand out in a sort of perfection dimly akin to reason, and
these are known as the beautifuL A kind of ideality seems to infonn
their sCIJ600us existence tiom within, rather llwl tloating above illn
some Platoruc space; so that a rigorous logic is here reveoled to us in
maner itself, felt instantly an the puls<:s. Because these arc ubje<"ts
which we can agree to be beaudful, not by arguing or an.alysing but
just by looling und seeing, a spontaneous consensus is brought to
birth wll:hin our crearurcly Ufe, bringing with it the promise that sw:h
a life, for ll its apparent :utitrariness and obscurity, might indeed
work in some sense ery like a rational law. Such, as we shall see, is
somethins of the rru:aOinl of the aesthetic for Kan1, who will look to it
for an elusive third way between the ngarles of subJective feeling and
the bloodless rigour of the understanding.
l'or a modem panllel to lhis meaning of the aesdledc, we might
look less to Benedeno Croce than to the later Edmund Husserl. For
Hu.,;crl's putp<J5C in Th< Crisis r( Sa-a is precisely to
rescue the tife-..-orld from its troublinJ opacity to n:ason, thereby
rene\\illg an ()cddenml rationality which has 011 alanningly adrift from
its somatic, perceptual roots. Pbirosophy cnnoot fulfil its role as the
unm:r>'al, ultimately grounding SICiencc if it abandons the Ufc-world
to its anOTI)mity; ir must remember lhat the body, even before it has
come to thinl, is alWli)'S a sensibly erperiencing org:anism positioned
in iu world in a way quite distinct from the placing of an objea in a
box. Sc:icnUtic knowledge of an objective realicy is always alrudy
!"'nded in tlti$ intuiliYe pre-given ness of things to the 11\doentbly
per<:eptive body, in the primordial physicality of our being-in- the-
world. We scientists, Husser! renwks wilh Jaim surprise, arc after all
human beings; and it is because a miSJUided r.uionalism has
ovulookcd litis fact that. European culture is in lhe crisis it is-
(Husser), 'ictim of fascism, is writinr in the 1930s.) Thought must
lhu.s round upon itself, retrieving the LJJm.,.il from whose mwly
depl)u it springs. in new \minnal science of subjecli\'it)''. Such a
scic:oce, however, is not in fact new in the leut: when Husser!
adrooni., bes us tlut we mu.<t 'consider the surrou.ndlng life-world
concretely, in lts neglected rclalivily . .. dle world in wiUcb we live
inruldvely, tosclher with io real enlilics'.' he is speaking, in the
original sense of the term, as an aesthetician. It is not, o,f cout5e, a
questioo of surrendering oo:rsc:lves to 'this ... -bole merely suhjectWe
and apparendy iutolllpreheDSible "Heraclitcan (lux '
which. is oor
d.oiJy experien, but rather of fiBorously fonnalizing it. For the life
world ohihits a gcneml structure, and this structure, to which
0\'erytbing dutt Cld.sts relalively is bound, is not icself reiame. 'We can
2ttend to it in its genenlity and, with sufficient care, fu it once.and for
ll in a v;ay equally acces<ible ro all. ,.lnd..,d it rum' out cnnveoiently
cnoush that the life-world .W.:Iuses ju.st lhe same >11uctures dlat
scicntifu: thought presupposes in its consttuction of an. objecm.c
reality. Higher and I ~ C r styles o,f r.easonlng, in BaumprteniiUl
u:nns, manifest a oornmon form. Even so, th.e project of f0011alizlog
the life-world Is not simple one, and Husser! is lnnk enoogh to
confess tbat 'OM ;. soon I>Het bJ extraordinaty .difficulties .. every
ground" that is reached points to further grounds, tvtry horitoo
opened up ""uens II<'W boritons' .' Pausing to console us with the
thougtu tbat this 'endless whole, in its infinily of Oowing rnove.mmt, is
oriented toward the unity of one m<2ning', HU.<Strl bruWiy undnes
Ibis solace in dle n<l<l brealh by denying that this is true 'in such way
that W< could ever simply grasp and unders(and the whol.e'
Kafka's hope, it would appear that there is plenty o,f toullty, but not
for us. The project of formalinng thc life-wnrld would seem to
scupper iiSCif before gettinl aff the lfOUIId, and witb it ibe proper
grounding of fe250n. h will be left to Maurice MerleauPomy to
develop this 'return to living histuy and lhc spoken word' - but in
doing SO tO question the IISSUIIIJIUOn that this is simply 'a prey.mltory
step ,.ilich should be foUowed by tbe properly philosophical task of
universal consrirurlon'.' Fmm Baumg:men to phenomenology, it is a
question of reason deviating, doubling b.>ck on itself, taking a tktfJ#r
through sen. .. rinn, experience, ' naivety' as Husser! calls it in tbe
Vienna lecture, so that it 0.111 not h:111e tn &UI'fer the ernharra<.<ment of
arrmng at its ttlm <1IIply- handed, big with wisdom but deaf, dumb
and blind into tbe bargain.
We shaD see a little later, especially in the wort of Friedrich
SchiUer, how such a detour through sensation is potitically necessal)'.
H absolutism does not wish to !rigger n:bellion, it must make
generous aocoJ:IIlllDdatioo for S<!nsoal inclination. Yet this tum to the
affective subject is not without its pcri!J foran absolutist law. lfit may
succeed in inscribing thor law aD the more effeethlely on the hearts
and bodic of thel5C it subjus-tes, it 101)' also, by a $elf-deconstra<:tive
logic, en= to wbjcctivizc sueh authority our of existence, clearing
the ground for a new concept of legality and political power
altogether. In a striking historical irooy recorded by Karl Marx, the
very idealist cast into ,.tuch conditions of social .baclwardncss had
fon:ed the thinking of the late eighteenth-century German middle
class led to the prciiguntion in the mind of a bold new model of social
tife as yet quite unachi .. able in reality. From the depths of a
benighted late feudal autocracy, a vision could b.! projected of
un11>erul order of free, equal, autonomous humon subjects,
no laws but thnse which they pve to themselves. This boorge<lls
publio: >1>hm: breaks decisively with doe privilege lllld particularism of
tbe aotim rigimt, instalong the middle eb.ss, In Image If not in rc:tllty,
as a truly universal subject, :md compensating with the gl':lndeur of
this dream for its politically supine sta!U3. What 13 at stake here is
nothing less than !he production of an entirely nN lind of human
subject - one which, lite the work of an itsdf, diswvers the law in the
depths of its own free identity, rather than in some opprmive
cxtemal po101:r. The subject is the one \\ilo has appropriated
lhe law as the very principle of its own autonomy, broken the
forbidding tablets of stone on which that law was origin2lly inscribed
in order to rewrite it on !he heart of flesh. To can.o;enr to the law is
thus to consent to one
s own inward being. The heart', writes
Rousseau in Enrilr, 'only receives laws from itself; by wanting to
enchain It one releases It; oru: only enchains It by lea\ing it free.""
Antonio Gramsci wiD write later in the Prisfm NotdN!ol:s of a form of
c:ivi1 society 'in wbicll tbe indi'.idual <an IJO"Cm himself "itbout
his self-gowemmenr thereby entering into conAict with poHrical
society - but becoming its normal continuation, its Ol"&'lniC
complement'." 1n a classic moment in 17u S.Oal Cofl'tltf, Rousseau
speaks of the moat important form oflaw as one 'which is 1101 graven
on tablees of mmble or bross, but on the hearts of lite cit.izens. Titis
forms ern, real c:on.-tirution of the State, takes on c.vcry day new
powers, 'Mic:n other laws decay or die our, restores lhcm or rakes their
place, keeps u people in 1he ways it was meant to go, and ill54'usibly
replaces authority by the foree of habit. I am 5p01king of murality, of
custom, above all of public opinion; a power """'"""' to political
thinkers, on which nonetheless suceess in everything else depends.'"
The ultimate binding fcm:e of the bourgeois social ordtr, in
contrast to the coercive oppantus of absolutism. wiD be habits.
pieties, sentimOIIIS and affections. And this is equivalent to uyingthat
power in such on order has become tMJtlrnitiud. It is at one with the
bod)"s spontaneous impulses, entwined wilh sensibility and the
affections, lind out in unreflecti\'C custom. Power is now inscribed in
the minutiae of subjective e>j><'rience, and the fissure between
abstract duty and pkasurablc inclination is accordingly bealcd. To
dts.olvc the w to custom, to sheer unthinking habit, is to identify it
with the human subject's own pleasurable well-being, s<> that I<>
IJllllSJress that law would signify a deep sel(violation. The new
subjea, which bestows on itself self-referentially a law at one wilh iiS
immediate experieme, finding its freedom in its necessity, is
modeUed <m th aesthetic artefact.
Thi.< centrality of custom, as oppoed 10 some naked reason, Uu at
the root of Hegel's ailique of Kantion moralily. Kant's prac:tic:d
reason, with its uru:ompn>mising appeal to abstract duty as an end in
it5tlf, smacks rather 100 much of the absolutism of feudalist power.
The aestheric theory of the Criliqut o/Ju.lgtmmt 'ugge<t:;, by contraSt,
o n:>uluu: tum tu the ub;ect: Kant rolllins the i<ka of a uni""r>al law,
but now discovers tbis law at work in the very stnteturc of our
subjective capaciti"'- This 'bwfulness ,.itbooJ a Jaw' signifies a deft
cornpromise between mere subjectivism on the one hand. and a
excessively abstracr reason on the other. There is inde\!d for Kant
ldnd of 'bw' at work in aesthetic but one which seems
inseparable frnm the vcry particularity of the artefact. As sw:h, Kant's
'lawfu!Dess "itbout a law' offers 1 panllel to !hat ' authority which is
not an authority' Soaa/ c.ntrad) which RoU$$UU finds in the
strUctUre of the ideal polilical stllte.ln both cases, a universal law of a
kind live wholly in its free, iDdividual illcam2tions, wbclher lhese are
po6tical rubjecl< or the elements of the aesthetic artefact. The law
simp!) is an assembly of autonomous, self-governing particulars
working In spontaneous reciprocal hannon)'. Yet Kant's rum to the
subject is hardly a tum to the IM4Ji, whne and desires fall
outside the disinterestedness of aesthetic rastc. The body cannot be
figured or represenud within the frame of Kanlian aesthetics; and
Kant ends up ..:oordingly with a formalistic ethics, an abstract theory
of potitigl riJI>IS, and a 'subjective' but nun-scnsuuw; aesthcti&:s.
It is all of these which Hegel's more capacinll< norian of rea.<on
seeks to sw""p up and transform. Hegel rejects Kant's stem
opposilion between morality and sensuality, dr6ning instead an idea
of reason which will encomp3SS the cognitive, practical and affecti,e
Hegelian Reason does not only apprehend the good, but
so and ttansfarms our bodlly inclinatioas as to bring them
into accord with universal rational precept>. And what
mediates between reason and experience here is the self-realizing
pNXis of human subjects in political life. Reason, in sbon, is not
simply a contemplatnoe faculty, bur a whole project for the hegemonic
uf sllbj-ts - . what S.yla Benhobib has Clllkd 'the
sucxe&'Cive and reeducation of inner nature. Rea.,on
works uut its CJWI\ myslerious ends through human beings' ""nsuous,
self-actualiziag acti\it)' in !he realm of Sittlidrktit (concrete ethical
Ufe) or Objective Spirit. Rational moral behaviour is thus inseparable
from questions of human happiness and ,.,If-fulfilment; and if this is
so then Hegel bas in some sense 'aesthcticizcd' reuon by ancfloring it
in !he body's affections and desires. II is not of course aestbeticized
away, dissolved to some mere or intuitionism; but it has
lapoed from the lofty Kantian domain of Duty to an a<Uve,
tra&figurative farce ill nwerial life.
The dirmnsion of this progrnmme can best be disclosed
by 511ggesting that what Hegel confronts ia emergent bourgeois
society is conJiict between a 'bad' particularism an the one band,
and 'bad' unnoer.;alism on the other. The former is a matter nf civil
society: it Siems from the private economic interest of !he solitary
ci Ill en, who as He set comments in the Phi/4scphy tt{ Rig/tr is each Ills
own end and has no regard for others. The latter is a question nf
the politkal state, where these ontagouislio monads are
deptively consdruted as abstractly free and equivalent. In sense,
bourgeois sodery is a grotuque tnlvesry of the aesdoetic artefoct,
whido harmoniously ioterrdates general and particular, univenal and
individual, form and content, spirit and sense. In lhe dWecticaJ
medium of SiuiidJ!tit, howrver, lhe subject's panicipation in
unive=l reason takes the shape at each momtnt of 1 unified,
concretely particular form of Jjfc, It is througll 'BiiiUmr, the ratioGaJ
education of de&ire thmugll pnuis, or as we might say a programme of
spiritual hegemony, that the bond between individual and wriveml is
ccaselculy colllliruted. Knowledge, moral prac:tice and pleasurable
self-fulfilment ore thus coupled together in the complex interior Wliry
of Hegelian Reason. The etbical, Hegel remarks in the Plri/.,., 6{
Right, appears not as low but as custom, an habitual form of action
which becomes a ' second 1111ture'. Custom is the law of the spirit of
freedom; the project of education is to show individuals the way to a
new birth, converting lheir 'tint' narun: of appetites and deslres to a
stiXllld, spiritual ooe which ,.;u then become customary to them. No
longer tom asunder between blind individualism and abstract
univcrsali.sm, the reborn subject lives iiS existence, we mlpt claim,
aesthctically, in accordance with a law which is now entirely at one
with its spontaneous being. What finally secures social order is that
realm of customary practice and instinctual piery, more supple and
reslllem 1hau obstntt riglns, where the living energies and affections
of subjects are ineSted.
Tbst thi!; shoald be so foDows necessarily from the social
conditions of the bourgeoisie. Possessive individualism abandons
each subject to its own prM&te Spolce, dis.lOOMs all positive bonds
between them and thnms lhem into mutual IIDiqOnism. 'By
"aruaJOillsm"', 'riles Kant In his 'Idea for a Universal History', 'I
mean !be uosociable sociability of men, i.e. their propensity to enter
inw sociery bound together with a mutual opposition wbkb coostantly
tbreate!IS m. break up the society.'" In a strikiog irony, the cry
practices which reproduce l><nqeois sociery also lhreaen to under-
mine it. Jf no positive social hood< ore possible at the level of material
production or 'cMI 50ciety', one might perhaps look to the polilical
arena of !he state to bear !he harden of such lnterreladoilshlp. wru.t
one Jinds here, however, is a merely noriooal community of abstractly
II)'IJUDtlrical sublectl, too rarelied and theoretic to prortide a rich
ezpt:rimrt of consensualil). On-.: the bourgeoisie: has dismanded the
centralizing polirieal appaTllll< of al>.loluti!lr!l, either In fanwy or
reality, it finds itself bereft of scme or instillltions which hod
previously organized sociol life u a whole. The question thcrcfon:
arises as to where it to locate sense of unity powerful enough to
reproduce itself by. In <ronomic life, indiliduals ore smtcturally
isolan:d and antagonistic; a1 the political levtl thae would seem
nothing. bot abstnct rigbts to link one subject to the other. This is one
rt11S<m why the 'aesthetic' ffillm of sentiments, affections and
sponuMOOS bodily habitl comes to assume the sipficance it doeJ.
Custom, piery, lnruition and opinion must now cohere an otherwise
abstract, atomized $0Cial order. Moreover, once absolutist power has
been .,..,rrumed, each subject must function as Its own sear of
gooemment. An erstwhile centnlized authority must be parcelli7.ed
and l001lizcd: absolved from continuous political supcnision, the
bou<Jeois subject must :usume the burden of ils own iatemalized
go.emance. This is not to suggest that absolutiS( power itself requires
no such internalization: like: any successful poUtical authoriry, it
demands complicity and collusion from. those it subordinates. II is not
a question of some stork contrast between a purely law
on 1lu: one hand, and an insidiously consensual one on the other. But
with the growth of early bourgeois sociery, the ratio between coercion
and consent is undergoing gndtt>l tr.tnsformotion: only rule
weighted towords the latter can effecli\-ely reJU)ate indmdlfols whose
economic activiry neeessiwes a hlgb desree of autonomy. It is in this
sense, roo, lhar the aesthetic moves into the foreground in such
condllions. Ute the worl: of an as defined by the discourse of
w;thetics, the bourgeois subject is autonomous and self-dtn:rminlng,
acknowledres no meoely extrinsic law but instead, in. some mysterious
lishion, gives the law to Itself. In doing so, the bw bomes the form
which shapes Into hannonioos unity tbe turbulent contem of the
subject's appetites and inclinations. The comptlsion uf tiuloctatic
p<)WI:r ill rcpbccd by the more gratifyini compulsion of the aub;ect's
To rely on sentiment as a source o( one's socinl cohesion is not :IS
proorrious a matter u it lools. The bourgeois state, after all, s1ill bas
itS eoctci>c instruments at the ready sllould this project falter; and
wh:at bonds could in any case be stronger, more unimpeachable, than
those of the stnscs, of'natural' compassion and instinctive .Ucponce?
Such organic li>isons are .surely a more trustworthy fonn of pouucal
rule than the inorganic, op_pressive sllUCt\lres of absolutism. Only
when governing imperam..,s have been dissolved into <j>Ontaneous
reflex, when human subjects are linked to caclJ othtT in their very
Oesb, CAD a INiy corporate be fashioned. It is for !his reason
that the early boiiiJ!toisie is"" preoccupied witb v;,.,,_ wilh the lived
habit of moral propriety, mther than a laborious adherence. to some
external norm. Such a beticf natunlly demands an ambitious
prop-amme of moral education and reconstruction, for there is no
3SSUnlllCe thor tbe human subjects who emerge from the ancinz rizi""
will prtM! n:6ncd aud enlightened enough for power to foond itself
on their sensibilities. It is thus that Rousseau writes the Emile md the
Nmmtlk He/oiu, intel"ening in the realms of pedagogy and se:<Ual
morality to construct new forms of subjecdviJy. Simllarly, lhe law In
The SO<itJI Cnrraa has behind it a Legislator, whose role is the
hegemonic OIM! of eduCAtillg the people to receive the law's decrees.
' lllc (Rousseauan) state', comments Ernst Cassirer, 'does not simply
address itself to already and given subjects of the wiD; rather
irs fir..-t aim is to <mJtt the son of subjects to whom it can address its
call.'" Not just any subjcc:t can be 'interpellated', in Althnsserian
phn.!e;" lhe wk of political hegemony is tn produce the very forms
of subjecthood which will form the basis of political unity.
The virtue of Rousseau's ideal citizen lll:s in bis passionate
affection for his fellow drizen.< and for the &hated conditions ofthei<
common life. The root of !his civic irtue is the pity we experience for
e11<:h other in the state of nature; and thls pity rcscs on a ldnd of
empathetic imagination, 'traliSpOI'Iins ourselves outside
and identifying ourselves with the suffering animal, leaving our being,
so 10 speak, in order ro take his ... Thus no one becomes seasitke
except when his imaginalion i& an.imated and begins to tr:mspon
himself outside of himself.'" AI the very rOOt of social relations tics
the aesthetic, """'" of all human bonding. If bOIIIJ!tQis societY
releases ill individuals inro lonely .wtQMmy, then only by such on
imaginati"" exchange or appropriation of ell(;h other's identities can
they be deeply enough united. Feeq, Rousseau claims iD i:.mlt,
precedes knowledge; and the law of conscience is such that what 1/1
to be right is right. Even 50, sudal harmony CO.IJDOC be f:rounded in
such sentiments alone, whic:h suffice only for lhc Slate of nature. In
the state of c:ivillzatlon, such sympath.ies must lind their formal
articulation in law, whkb inolvcs simil:u 'c..:hang<:' ur subjc:<:b:
'Each of us puts his ptrson and all his power in common under the
supreme direction of th<! smeral wiU, and, in our corpome capacity,
we receive uch member u an indi\'isiblc pan of the whole.'" In
Rousseau's view, for the subject to obey any law other than one it !u.s
personally fashioned is slavery; no individual is enlided to command
another, and the only legidmate law is thus of a self-conferred kind. u
all citizens their rights entin!ly to the community, 'each man,
in gMnr himself to all, gl\u himself to nobody', and so receives
himself back again as free., autonomous bting. "11te citizen
11rrendcrs his 'bad' particularism - his narrowly selfish interests -
and through the 'general ..;u identifies instead with the good of the
whole; bt retains his unique individuality, but now in the form of a
disinterested commitment to a commolJ 1ftll-bting. This fusion of
general and particular, in which one shares in the whole 11 no mk to
one's unique spccifu:ity, resembles the very form of the ""sthctic
anc&ct - thoufb since Rousseau is Dot ., orgJUiicist thinker, the
analogy is only approximotc. For the mystery of the aesthetic object is
that each uf il> sensuous parts, while oppcaring wholly autonomou.<,
incarnates the ' law' of the totality. Each aesthetic particular, in the
very at't of deterDlining itself, regul3tes ond is regulated by all 01her
self-determining particulars. The cohcartcnintf expression uf this
docrrinc, politically speaking, would be: 'what appears as my sub
ordination tu others is in fact self-determination'; the more cyniCll
view would run: 'my subordination to others is so effective that it
appears to me in the mystified guise of gDI'erning myself.'
The emergent middle class, in an historic dew:lopment, is newly
definilJg itsdf as a unillenal subject. But the abstnetlon Ibis process
entails is source of anxiety for a clss wedded in its robust
indr.idualism tu the concrete and the particular. If the aesthetic
intervenes bCI'C, It is as a drum of n:conciiUtlon - of individuals
woven into intimate unity with no delriment to rheir speciftciry, of
an abstract roralily suffused with all the flesh-and-blood reality of
th<! individual being. As Hegel writes of classical art in his PhifqsqplrJ
of Fine Art: 'l"hougb no 'Yiolence is done ... to ny future of
expression, any part of the whole, and 1!\'ery member appear.; in its
independencx, wd rejoices in its own c:ci>b:nce, yet cadi md all is
content at die same lime to be ooly an aspect in the totll evolved
presentation.'"' Rousseau's will, as a kind of mighty totalizing
artefact, might be seen as imaginative empothy osswuing a rational,
objective form.
Rous<eau does nor think that feeling can simply replace rational
law; but he does hold that reason in itself is insufficient for social
uniry, and that ro bec0111e a regubti\'C IOn:e in soek:ry it m\llit be
animated by Ill"" and affection. It is rhu..< that he quarreUed will
Encyclopaedists, whose dream of reconSiructing society from pure
reason seemed to him simply ro erase the problem ofthesubjecr. And
to oerlook the subject is to ignort tl!e vital question of political
hcgt:mony, which the ultra-rationalism of the Enlightenment is
powerless in imelf to address. 'Sensibility', then, would seem
unequivoc11lly on tl!e side of the progressne middle class, as d1e
aesthetic foundation of a new form of pu6ty. Yet if the consCJVative
Edmund Burke found Rousseau's sentimenralism ofTensiv<:, be was
al.\o revolttd by what he saw as his impious rationalism. Such
ratiunalism seemed to Burke just that effort to reconstruct the social
order lrom metaphysical first principles wbich was most calculated to
undermine an organic cultural 1n1dition of spontantous pieties and
affections." Rationa6sm and sentimenra6sm do indeed in this sense
go together. if a ncv. social order is to be consuucted on the basis of
Yinuc, custom and opinion, then a radical rationalism must first of aU
dismantle the political structures of the present, >Ubmitliug their
mindless prejudices and tnditionalist pm'ileges to disinterested
critique. Conversely, both ndonallsm and an appe.lto feeling can be
found on 1M political right. Ifrhe given socinl order defen<l itself in
Burkeian fashion through 'culrure'- through a plea for the and
affections richly impUcir In national tradition - it will tend 10 proi'Qke
an abrasive rariona6sm from the po6tical lefi. The left will round
scathingly on the 'aesthetic' as the very locus of mystification and
irnnio!UI prejudice; it will denounce the Insidiously naturalizing
power Burke ha. in mind when he comments that customs
operate better than laws, 'because they become a son of Nature lx>th
to the governors and the governed' ." If, however, the existing or<kr
ratifies Itself by an appeal m absolute law, then the 'subjecrne'
in.stincr.s and passions which such Ln.. seems unable ro encompass cao
become the basis of radical critique.
The fom1 which these coollicts take is partly determined by the
nature of the political power in question. In late eighteenth-century
Britain, an evolved tradition of bourgeois democracy had produced a
social order which sought on the whole to work 'hegemoniet1Uy',
hnwcvcr savagely coercive it could also show itself. Authority, as
Burke reconnllends, regard to the senses and sentimenu of at
least some of its subjc.:tsj and in this situation two alternative
counteHtr31egics become avail3ble. One is ro Cl<plorc the realm of
affective life. which authurily seeks to colonhe and tllnl it against th
insolence ol' power itself; as in some eighteenth-century cults uf
sensibitity. A ru:w kind of human subject - sensitic, possion>te,
individualist - pOS<s an challenge to the ruling order,
clabontlin! new dimensions of feeling beyond its narrow scope.
Alternatively, the fact tht poy.cr utilizes feelings for its own ends may
give rise to radical rationalist revolt against feeling itself, in which
scnsibUity is assailed as rhc insidious force which binds subjects to the
law. If, however, poliric::tl dominance a.<sumes in German fashion
more openly coerci\e (onns, then An taesthetic' counter-stratqy -
cultivation of the instincts and pletics over which such power rides
roughshod - C:ln always sther force.
Any such project, however, is likely tu be deeply ambivalent For it
is never usy to distinguish :m appeal to taste and sentiment which
offers an aht'mative to aurocrnc..J from one which aUows such power
to ground itself all the more securely in the living sensibilities of its
sohj..:ts. There is a world of poUtlcol difference between a law \\hich
d1e subject really does give to itself, in radical democratic style, and a
decree which still descends from on high but which the subject now
'authenticates'. Free consent may thu.c;; he the of oppressi\'C
power, or a scducti .. e ronn of (..'Oll u);ion widt it. To view the emergent
middle-class order ftom either standpoint alone is surely roo
undialecti(;l) on opproach. In one sense, the bourgeois subjecr is
indeed mystifit-d into misuWng nt-cessity for frccdum and oppression
for autonomy. For power to be individuaUy authenticated, there must
be constructed within d1e subjett a new form of whicll
will do the unp:tlatablc work of the law for it, and all the more
effectively since that bw has now app:trendy """porated. In onothcr
sense, this policing belongs with the historic victory of bourgeois
liberty and democracy over a oorbarously repressive state. As such, it
contains within Itself a genuinely utopian glimpse of free, equal
commu.nity of iodepeodeot subjecrs. Power is shifting its location
from centralized institutions to the silent, invisible depths ol' the
subject ill<elf; but this shift is also I"'" of a rrofound political
emanclpalion in which freedom and cnmpa.<sion, the im2gination ;md
the bodily affecrions, strive to make themselves b,anl witbin the
discourse. of a represSiYc rationalism.
1be aesthetic, then, is from the beginning a contradictory, double-
edged concept. On the one hand, it ligures os a genuinely
cmancipatory force - as a community or subjects now linked by
sensuous impulse and fellaw-feeling rather than by heteronomous
law, each safeguanled in its unique particularity while bound at rhe
same time into social hannony. The aemelic offers the middle class a
supemly vers;uile model of their political apirations, exemplil)'ing
new forms of outouomy aad sdf-dctcnuination, transforming the
relalions bciWI:en law and desire, morallty and knowledge, recasting
the links between indi\idual and totality, and revisillg oocial relations
on the basis of custom, nfTection nnd >)'Jfll'llthy. On the other hand,
the aesthetic signifies what l\.bx Horkhcl.mer bas called a kind of
'internalised repression', iBSeniog social power more deeply inlo rhe
very bodies of those it und so operating as a supr=cly
effective mode of poUdeal hqemony. To lend fresh significance to
bodily plea.<ures and driV1' .<, however, if only for the puiJ'O!>" of
colonizing them more dJidcndy, is always to risk foregroun<ling and
intensifYing them beyond one's connrol. The oesthedc as custom,
sentiment, sponlaneous impulse may conson ..-ell enough with
political domination; but these phenomena border embarrassingly on
passion, senswlliy, which are not always so easily
incorporabk. As Burke put it in his Appenl /rum ll:e N., tu the 0/J
Whip: 'There is boundaJy to men's passions when they act from
feeling; nooe when they ue undtr the inlluence of imagination."'
' Deep' subjectivity LS ju.;t what the ruling social order desires, and
exa<tly what it has most cause to fear. If the aesthelie is a dangerous,
ambiguous alTair, it Is because, as we shaH see in this study, there is
something In the body which can revolt against the power which
inscribes it; and that impulse <vukl only be eradil:llted by e.<lirpatinJ
along with il the capacity to aulhcnriean: power itself.
.\lennder R<forti""' '"' P.wy, tr.ansl .. ed by K. Aschen-
bm>nc r and W. D. Holthcr (Dcrkeky, 1954), p. 43. For useful recent
essay oo xe RcxLolphe 'Of aesthetic and historit.Cll
in D. Au ri dge. G. Rcnninl:{lon ancJ R. Ymmg Ccds),
Strwauralis., .,.d lltr Quatio. of !liuory (Cambridge, 1987). Sec also
David E. Wdlbecy, LruigHafXoit:: Snnioria m/Atsrlutia in thr Agt of
liMon (Cambridge, 1984), cb.apter Z. and K.E. GUben and B. Kuhn. A
n;,rozy of E!lhnics Yort<, 1939), chapctr 10. Yor. splendid SUI'\'C)'
of English and (Jerman amhctic from whicb I ""'" bcnetitcd a good
deol in d!aptl"I'S I and 2. see Hownrd Caygill, 'Aesthetics and CMI
Socio:ty: Theories of Art and Society J&ro- 1790' , unpublished Plo.D
lh.,;s, Unimity cf Su.ex, 19A2; and <a: C.aygill, Art .; Jrulgmumt
(Oxford, 1989).
Z lbUlJ181I!en, RtjftaiiJfiS on Puuy, p. 38.
3 Quo1ed by Ernst Cassirer, 'floc of rk lirrliglummt"' (Doston,
1951), p. 340.
4 Hussal, Tlu Cri1i1 of Eoropidr. Sdmm and Trrmtrmdnua/
Phtrtomm<Jkgy (Evansron, 1970), p. I 5o.
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid., p.
7 Ibid., p. 170.
8 Ibid.
9 Mauri<e (EvaJUton, 1964), p. 110.
10 Jean-JteqU<s Rousse>u, Emik dt /'l.tur4/i., (Paris, 1961), vol. IV,
p. 388.
II Antonio Gramsci, St/uri111s fntm lilt p,;,... ed. Q Hoare and
G. N<IWtll Smith (London, 1971), I' 21>8.
12 Jean-Jacques ROilS$(.tU.J
Tit!! Sf!tiol ConJrltd add Dismurust e d. G.O.B.
Cole (London, 1938). p.
13 S" Scyla Benhabib, IVrm. aod U"lia (New Yort<, 1986),
pp. 80-4. For the rtladon l>c:t\loecn amom and law lrt die Enli$htcnmcnt,
see 1.0. Wtdc, 1ht allll Frm I rltt Frmm
(Prinron, 1977), ,.1. I, Pn I I.
H lkuhabib, Nfnm, l ilt.itt
p. 82.
15 Immanuel '!d .. fO< a Uniwul History', in I. Kant, 0.
cd. Lewis '\\'bile Beek (Indianapolis, 1963), p. 15.
16 EmSt Casru<r, The Qumio of ]ta11} arqon R .,,., (Bioomincron.
1954), PI' 62-3.
17 Sec 'Ideology und ldeolngical State 1\pparatus.es', in
1-.in DN1 PJ.iloroplty (London, 1971).
18 milt, -.ol. IV, p. 261.
19 RoiiSScau, 'flo< SOli/ C.alnltt, p. 15.
20 G. W. Hcgtl, 7.,.., PloiiJop/ty o{Fi,.. Art (I..<HMinn, 1921\), I I, p. 10
(traDSlalioo slightly ameTKicd).
FREE PAln ct.v.RS
Zl Sec Annie Marie O.hom, R""'"""' anJ IJri< (l.omkm, 1941)), wmt
"'hich :.t ,..ne (l(lint !iJleak.co ornurke :m Englishman. See alw,
for Ro ...... u's po61ial thought, j. 1-L Broome, Ruwsto: A Stud! of his
71unspt (London, 1963): Stephen El<nbUJS, &.alldui Poliri<W PbiloJoplty
(lthac., 1976): Rorer D. Moster, Tlot PliriMI Plri/o,.ky of RD=
(l'rillc.,on, l908); Lucio CoU<rri, 1,_ I(..,,_ tD U.in (London,
19n), Pmt 3.
22 EJmund O..rke, A" Alm.JV"""t f 6-#is/. flutnry, quoted in W. J. T.
Mitchell,/co,.qy (Chito<>, 1986), p. J.IO.
Z3 17re Wr.ts of UmOJIII 8uW, ed. Geors< t'<ldlols (&.ton, 1865-7),
'01. 4, p. 192.
The Law of the Heart:
Shafiesbury, Hume, Burke
While the German middle dass languished beneath the yoke of
nobility, their English counterpartS had been energetically at work
transforming a social nrder still he:t\ily aristocr>tic in nature to lheir
own advantage. Uniquely IUDong European nations, lhe English
landowning etite had itself tons been a capitalist dass proper, already
accustomed to wogc labour and commodity production as early as the
sixteenth They thus auti'ipolted by o C011$iderable period lhot
conersion from feudal to e.pitalist agriculture which me Prussbn
JIIDkerdom wooold accomplish, more partially and pr=riously, only
in the ,.'3kc of ils defeat in the Napoleonic .. ars. At once the most
51:1ble and wealthy estate-owners in Europe, lhe English patriciale
succeeded superbly in combining high producti\-ity 011 the
b.nd ,.;th an eniable dqree of cultural solidarity and unbroken
continuity. It,... within this unusually faYOilfllblc matrix, offering at
once lhe general for furlher capitalist development and
a resilient polirlc1J framework 10 safeguard it, lhot the English
mercantile class was able to inaugnrntc its own key lnstirutioos (the
cxdlaugc, the Banl or England), and secure the predominance
of its """' form of polhieal Stall: (parliament), in the aftermath of
the 1688 revolution. Under llese propitious conditions, Britain was
able to emerge in. the eighteenth century as tbe world's leading
oommercial power, vanqulshlng irs foreign mals and its
imperial swoy across the globe. By the mid-eightreoth century,
London bad b<COIDc. the largest centre or internatiooal 1111de, d1e
premier pon and warehoiiSc of the world, ahd witnessed lhe forging
of some spectuculur fommes. The Hanoerian state, staffed :and
conrrollcd 1>7 me aristocracy, protected and promoted mercantile
intcn:sts with impr=i>c zeal, se<:uring tor Srilain a rapidly expanding
economy and an immenoely profit:1ble empire.
In l!ighlftmth-century Bri1ain, tl1en, we encounter :1 robust, weU-
unity of agrarian and m<rcantilc interests, accompanied by a
marked ideological NPPTf>dtcmatt between new and traditional social
elites. Tht! ideali>-ed self-imoge of ruling social bloc L< less of
itself as a 'state' class than as a 'public sphere'- a political fonnation
rooted i.n civil society itself, whose mcmbcn arc a1 once stoutly
individuolist ond linked to their fellows by enlightened social
intercourse and a shared set of cultural manotn. Assured enough of
its political and ecooomic stability, this governing blo<: is able to
disseminate some or its power in the forms of a general culture and
'civility', founded II.'SS on the potentially diisi,.., realitres of so6al rank
and ecooomk interest than on common styles of sensibility and a
hnmogeneoos reoson. 'Civilized' conduct takes i1s cue from tr.>dilional
its index is the Ouent, spontaneous, taken-for-granted
vinue of the gentleman, nthcr than the earnest conformity to some
extenul law of the petty bourgeois. Moral standards, while still
implacably absvlute in themselves, may thus be to some extent
diffused into the textures of personal sensibility; taste, affc<'t and
opinion testifY mon: eloquently to one's paniciparioa in a uni>c...J
common sense ch:an either mon.l or ideological
doctrine. Bo1h of these now carry with th .. m omi.nous remin.iscences
or. disruptive puriranisra. Yet if the prototype of this pub tic sphere is
drawn from 1M realm of gentilil)", the predominance it grants to
individual sensibility, the free dreulation of tnlightened opinion, and
the abs11'3ctly equalized starus ofits socWly diverse participants, mark
i 1 also as a peculiarly bourgeois sociol formation. A community of
sensibility consorts as well v.ith the bourgeois's stvut empiri<-ist
disregard for metaphysical abstracrion, and also with his deepening
domestic scntlmentali.sm, .as it does with !hat carelessness of
d>eoreticol justification which i the bodgt of aristoaacy. For both
stratll, an abstract raticmalism DOY.' >ioisterly recaUs the me12physical
excesses of the Commonwcahh. If social power is to be dJccrivdy
naturalized, it musr somehow take root in the sensuous immediacies
of empirical life, beginning with the offective, appetitive individual of
civil society, and tracing from there the affiliatiuns which might bind
him to a greater whole.
The project of early German as we have seen, is to
THt: L\W ot nn: Ht:AK"r
media1e berwcen general and particular, elaborating a kind of
concrete k>gic which will clarify the stnsmy world withou1
it away. Reason must gran1 its peculiar density) y,i thoul
aUawing il for a moment to esc.pc: and this is bardly an e.asy tension
tu mainlnin. The proto-ma(erialisr impulse or this project soon
surrenders 10 a fuD-bluwn formalism; indeed no sooner lws senSlllion
been ushered into the court of reason then it is subjected to a rigorous
disLTiminatiun. Only cerl:tin sensations ore fit subjec1 for aesthetic
enq uiJy; and this means for the Hegel of the Pltil,uphy of Finr Art
on!) sight and senses whkh >re, as he says, 'ide.tl'. Vision for
Hegel is 'appetileless'; all true looJ.:ing is without desire. There can be
no aesthetics of odour, texture or flavour, which arc mere debased
modes of aocess to the world. 'Bonicher's mere feeling with rhe hand
of rhe effeminately smooth portions of >"talucs of goddL-sscs', HL-gcl
re!IW"ks frostily, ' is not a pan of rtistic contempbtion or cnjoymenr
at a11.
Reason, then, in some sense those which
already appear to co Dude with it. The aesthelic representation of a
Kant i< quite a. unsensualas the concept, expemog the materiality of
iiS object. But if German rationalism has a problem in descending
from the universal to !he particular, the dilemma of British
empiricism is quite the reverse: how 10 move from the perticular ro
the general without the laner merely collapsing back into the former.
If rntionatism is politieoDy vulneuble, it is because ir ri.<ks a mere
empty totalization which expels tho experiential; if empiricism is
polirlcaUy problematic, it is because it has difficultY in totdizing at all,
mired as it is in a web of particulars. It is the impossible conundrum
of a 'science of the concrete': how is a ruling order to root itself in the
immedi:ne, )
et elabor:ne this into something mort:
than a heap of fragmenl>' Empiricism rub cnJing up
trapped here in rome intolerable impasse, eirher undoing its own
tot:di.:tations at sttp, or subn'Tting imme:di:u.:y in the try eort
to ground it more securely. If rati"""lism feels the need to
supplement itself with the logic of the acslhcrlc, then i1 would seem
that empiricism was all along too oesthetic for its own How is
!ltought already su thoroughly sensationalized lu break the hold of the
body ll\'cr it, drag itself free of the clammy embrace of the senses and
rise to a little m<>re conceptually dit;ni6ed?
The auswer, perhaps. is that there is no need. Could we not stay
with the senses themselves, aDd find there our deepest relation 10 an
THE l.A W OF nu: Hf' .ART
ovcnlll ratiorul design? What if we could dL.caver the trace of SU(:h a
providential order on the body itself, in irs most !;ponllllleous, pre
n:Ocxivc in>tincrs? Perhaps there is somewhere within our immediate
e!I'J)erience a sense \\ith aU the unerring inluilion of aeslhrtic raste,
wbkb discloses lhe mom! order to us. Such is the celebrated 'moral
scnoe' of lhe British cighteeoth-ceruury moralists, wbich allows us to
C!I'J)erience right and v.TOng with all the swiftness of the senses, and so
Jays the grOtllldwurk for social cohesion more deeply felt than any
mere rational totality. If the moral values which govern social life are
as self-evident as the taste of peacltt$, guod dt'lll of dismpti,c
wrangling '''m be di>pcns"d with. Socicl)' .. a whole, gilen its
fragmented condition
is op1que to tOt3liZing re-MODi it is
dinicull to distt'fll any mtiunal design in the worltings of the market
place. But we might rum ne-.nheless to what scerru the opposite or
all that, to the stirrings of individual sensibility, and find there instead
our surest incorpontion into a common body. In our natural Instincts
of bene,olence and compassion wr are brought by some providential
law, itself inscrutable to reason, into harmony with one anothc:r. The
body's affections are no mere subjective whims, but the key to a weD-
ordered state.
Morality, then, is becoming stt:llday acsthcticizc:d, and this in two
related senses. It has been moved closer to the springs of sensibility;
and it concerns a vimoe whih like the artefact is an end in itself. We
live well in society neither from duty nor utility, but as a
fulfilment of our nature. The body has irs reasons, of which the mind
III2Y know linle: a benign providence ha.' so txquisitely adapted our
fuculties to irs o"n ends as w make it keenly pleasW'IIble w .realize
them. To follow out our selfdctightiug impulses, provided they are
shaped by reason. it< umitringly to promote the cornmon good. Our
sense of monlllty, the E:tr1 of Shaftcsbury argues, consists in 'a real
anripathy or aversion to injustice or "Tong, and in a real affection or
love towards equity ond right, for its Oll1l sake, and on ac-ount of its
natural beauty and worth'.' The <lbjccll; of moral judgement an: for
immedi.ately attractive or repul11ive lhMe of
aesthetic tnste, whicio is not to convict him of morn! subj(!(tivism. On
the <'<lDir.tl)', he bclit:Vcs strongly in an ab>oluto:, objct'liw moral law,
rejects the suggestion thr immediate feeling is a sullicient oondition
uf the good, and holds tike Hegd tltnt the moral sense must be
educated and disciplined by re-ason. He also rcj<-ct:s tbc hedonist
creed that the sood is >imply what ple-JSc:s us. Ewn so, all moral
ctlnn for Slultesbury mu.;t be mediated through the aiTec:rions, nd
what is not done tb.rough affection non-muraL Beauty, trutl1
and goodness arc ultimately at one: what is beautiful i hannonious,
"'bat is h.umonious is true, and wlut is at once true and be:tutiful is
agreeable and good. The morally virtuous indiidual li1es with the
grace and symmeuy of an anelact, so that virtue may be known by its
irre.listible aesthrtic appeal: 'For wlut is then: on e:trth a fairer matter
of a goodlier iew or contemplation, !han that of a
beaudful, propottion'd, and becoming actionr' Politics and aesthetics
are deeply intertwined: to love ond admire be-uty is ' adantagrous to
sO<.ial afli:ction, ond .highly assistant to Yinuc, which is illidf no other
tlun the lo-e of order and bt3uty in society'.' Tnoth for this P"Ssed-
over Platonist is an anistic IIJ'PI"'hension of the world's inner design:
to undelSiand something is to grasp its proportioned place in the
whole-, and so is at r.nce cognitive and Knowledge ls a
creatie intuition which discloses the d)l\llll\ic fonns of Nature. and
has about it a brio and exuberance in.""prable from pleasure. Indeed
Nature for Shafiesbwy is itself the supreme artefact, brimful with ull
possibilities ofbeiag; and ro kDow it is to share in both the ereati'oity
and the sublime dlsinterestedne.s nf its l\'laker. The roOf of the idea
of the aesthetic is rhus rheologicl : like the work of art, God ami his
world an: autonomous, autotelic and utterly self-dctennining. The
aetheric is suirably secod.ui>ed version of the Almighty himself, not
least in its blending of freedom and necessity. Mere libeninism must
be rejected for a freedom based on law, restraint seen s the err basis
of emancipation: in the work nf art, ac; in the world in general) 'the
uuly austere, severe, and regular, rcsrraintie charaCter . . .
corresponds (not fights or thwarts) "'ith the free, the easy, the secure,
As the grandson of the founder of the Whig party, Shaftcsbury is a
firm upholder of civic liberties, and in rhis sense an eloquent
spol<esman for the bourgeois public sphere of eighteenth-century
Ensland. Yet he js also a notable traditionalist, au ari>10<.Tatic neu-
Plamnilll fiercely anagonlstic to bourgeois utility 2nd self-interest.'
Horrified by a nation of Hobbesian shopkeep<rs, Shaftesbury spe.'ll<s
up for the 'acsthl1ic' as its altemoti>e: for lllt ethics ent-.incd with the
sensuous affections, and for a human nature which is a self-
pleasuring end in itsdf. In this sense, he is able to furni sh bourgeois
sociecy, iicm his troditional aristocratk rcsour<:cs ..;th some rather
mor< edifying, eJ<periential principle of uniry than its political or
economic prnctice <1ln pro\ide. His philowphy unites the absolute
law of the old school "ith me subjective freedom of the new,
sen.su:iliring the one while spiritualizing lhc other. His genially
aristocratic trust !hat sociality is rooted in the very structure o( lhe
human animal runs counter to the whole of bourgeois practice; yet it
con supply just the fell, intuitive tinks between indmduals that the
middle class url!"ndy needs, unoble a< it is to derive any such positive
corporate existence from either market place or potitical state.
Shoftesbury is ln this SCJ1$e a central architect of the new political
hegemony, of justifi.d European ren0\\11. Cusped conveniendy
between traditionalism and progress, he introduces the bourgeois
public sphere to a rich humanist heritage, acsthcticising its social
n:Litions. But he also clings firmly to thot absolute rational law which
will prC\'Cnt such relations from lapsing into mere libertinism or
To live 'aesthetically' for Shafiesbury is to flourish in the well-
proportioned exercise of one.'s powers, conforming to the law of one's
free perso!Wity in the casual, affab!J:, taken-for-granted sty!J: of the
stereotypical arutocrat. \\ihat the middle class can learn from this
doctrine is its stress on autonomy and self-determination - its
deconstrUction of any too rigid opposition between freedom and
necessity, impulse a!ld law. If the wtocnt gives th< law to himself
indhidually, the bourgeoisie :>spires to do so collectively. To this
extent, the middle class inherits lhc .. sthetic as a legac')' from its
superiors; but some aspects of it are more usabl< than others. The
aesthetic as lhe rich, all-round development of human capacities is
bou!ld to prove something of an embarrassmem for a class whose
economic activity le<Wes it spiriruaUy impoverished and one-sided.
The bourgeoisie can appreciate the aesthetic as self-autonomy, but
mucb less as W<!alth of being, re-.W..cd purely fur it> own sub:. By tl1e
time it bas embarked upon its industrial career, its leadeo, repressive
Hebrilim will seem tight years removed from Schiller's 'grace',
Burke's or Shaftesbury's delight in wit and ridicule.
'Wealth of being', indeed, will become in the hands of Arnold, Ruskin
and Wtlliam Morris a I'O"'erful critique or middle..:lass indi\idualism. If
the aesthetic is in J)arta bequest from nobiUty to middle class, then, it
is a divided, ambivalent one- set of key concepts for the new social
order, but also for the critical tndition wbich opposes iL
In the 'moral sense' philosophers, ll>en, ethics, atsll>erics and
politics are dra.-n hormoniouslr together. To do good is deeply
enjoyable, a self-jusril)mg function of our norure beyond ail cross
un1iry. The moral sense, as Francis I!uu:beson argues, l< 'antecedent
to adv:ontag.: ml interest and is the fatutdalion of them' .' Like
Shafle$bury, Hutcheson speaks of vinuous actions as beautiful and
vicious ones as ugly or deformed; for him too, runntl intuit.ion is as
swift in its judgements as aesdtetic tiiStc. Human society\ writes
Adam Smith in his Theory Smlimmts,
when we cont<mplate it in a cenain abstraC1 and philo-
sophical light, appears like a great, an immense machine,
whose regular ond harmonious movements produce a
tbousand agreeable elfectt. 1\s in any other bcaudtUJ and
noble machine that ,. . ., the production of hunun an,
wbat(."\\Cr tended to render its murc smooth
and easy, woW<! derive a beaury from tbis elfect, and, on
the comrary, whnever tended to obstruct them would
di>l'k-.sc on that account: su virtue, whicb is, 3S it were,
the 6ne polish to the wheels of sociecy, necessarily pleases;
while vice., like the. vile rust, which makes them jar and
grate upon one onother, is as necessarily olfensi'"''
The whole of social life i.< aestheticized; nd what this signifies is a
social order so spontaneously cohcsi\e tbat its members no lOJllll'r
need 10 think boot it. Vinue, the usy habit of goodness, is like an
beyond all mere calculation. A sounJ political regime is one in which
subjects conduct themselves gnccfuUy- where, as we have seeo, the
law is no longer external to indi>iduals but is lived out, witb fine
cavalit:r insouc;.:lance. as the vcry principle of their free identities. Such
an internal appropriation of the law is at onoc contralto the work of
an and 10 the process of political hegemony. The aesthetic is in this
sense no more tban a mme for the political unconscious: it is simply
th.e way socilll hnnooy registers on our scns<:>, imprints itself
on our sensibilities. The beautiful is just political order lived out on
the body, the way it srrikes the eye and stirs tlte heart. If it is
ine>'Pl.ic:thle, beyond II r>rionol debate, it i$ becuse our feDow$1\ip
with others is lilrewist- beyond. all reason, as gloriously puinlless as a
poem. The socially disruptive, by conrnst, is as insuntly offensive a<
a foul smeU. The tutily of sociltl life sllStlins itself, requiring no
further legitimation, anchored as it is in our most primordial instinCIS.
Like the - rk of an, it is immune from 111 rational analysis, and so.
from aU r>tional criticism.
To aestheiicize morality and society in this "'"Y is in one sense the
mark of a serene confidence. If moral are as self-evident as
dte taste of sheny, then ideologiC111 consensus must. nto deep
What more- llattcring complim<nt cuuld there b< to the rati<Jnality of
the social whole tlun th:U ... e apprehend it in the least reRecriot
aspects of our li.,..,s, in the most npparenlly private, wayward of
sensations? Is there even any need for some cumbenome apparatus of
law and lhe slate, ynking us inorganicoUy together, when in the
genial glow of ben.,.oleoce we L'llll experience uur kinship with
others as immediately as a rastei In anocher sense, one
might argue, moral sense theory tesrifies to a bankrupt tendency of
bourgeois ideology, forced to sacri6o:e the prospect of a mtifflal
toullty to an inrultl\'elogic. Unable to found Ideological consensus in
its actual social relllrion.s, to derive the unity of humankind .from the
anarchy of the market place, the ruling order m ... ground that
con sensu.< instead in the sruhbom self-evidence of the gut. We know
there is more tu social existence than boot use we fool it.
What cannot be socially demonstrated has to be taken on tiith. The
appeal is at once empty and potent: feelings, unlike propositions,
C11Dnot be controverted, and if a social order ""ds to be rationally
justified lhen, one might claim, the Falllw already happened. Yet to
found society on intuition is not "ithout its proolems, as the critics of
these theorists were quick to see.
If the moral sense philosophers help to oil the wheels of political
hegemony, they also provide, contradictorily, what con be read o.< a
discourse of utopian critique. Speaking up from the Gaelic margins
(Hutcheson, Hume, Smith, Ferguson and others), or from a
threatened t.raditional culrure (Sbaftesbury), these thinkers denounce
possessOie individualism and hourgenis utility, insisting tike Smith
that me maladroit workings of reason can never render an object
agreeable or disagreeahle to the mind fur its own sake. Before we
hae even begun to reason, there is already that faculty within us
which makes us f<:cl lhc sufferings vf others as keenly as a wound,
spun us to lux.u.Ute in onother's joy with no sense of self-dvntage,
stirs us to detest cruelly and oppression. like a hi<kous wound. The
disgust we feel at me sight of I}Tanny or injustice is as previous to aU
rational calculation as the retching ooosioned by some noxious food.
The body is anterior to self-intere5ted rationality, and wiU force its
in&rinctual approbations and aversions upon our sncial practice. The
icious, Shaftesbury considers, must certainly be wretched; for how
could someone violate the very core of his or her compassion.ue being
and still be l t ~ p p y Tite Hobbesin ideology is fatally flwed, and
bound ro come to grief: how con my vision $urvivc which llattcns aU
that makes men and women wha1 they are - their tender delight in
each other's weU-being, their relish for hunllln company as an end in
itself- to this base caricature? If til ere is no developed longuage of
political protesr again.<t such a tr:nesty, then at leasr thue is
the ae..-thetic, the very >ign and modd of disintcrcstednt:SS. Dis-
interestedness here means lndilfC:Nnce not to others' interestS, but to
or"''s own. The aesd..:tic is dte <nemy ofbolfll!eois egoism: to judge
ac:sthctically m<:ms to bracket as lir as possible ot>e's own peny
prejudices in the name of a common general hUID3llily. It is in the act
of laste abu.e aU, Oa;d Hume argues in his essay 'Of the SWtdard of
Tasre', that 'considering myself as a mm In general, (I mustflilrger, if
possible, my individual being, nd my pe..-uliar circwnstauccs'.'
Acsthttic disinterestedness invof>cs a radical dccentring of the
subject, subduing its sdf-reg:ud to a commuoity of sensibility with
others. It is thus in its vacuously idealist way the image of a generous
new conception of social relations, the enemy of aU sinister interests.
Only the imagination, Adam Smith considers, can furnish an
autllentic bond between indi\iduals, carrying us beyond the selfish
compass of the senses into mutual oolidarity: '[our senses] ""ter did,
and never can, carry us beyond our OwtJ person, and it is by the
imaSinadon only that ..,.. can l0rm any conception of what are (the
other's) sen<ations'." The imginatinn is !Niler than sense but
stronger than reason: it is the precious key releasing the empiricist
subject from the prison-hOIISI: of its perceptions. If tile access it
alloo;s us to ot.,.,rs is poorer than direct boday e>']lffiene<>, it is at least
more immediate than r""son, for which the ery reality of others is
bound to remain a spccubn.e 6crion. To imagine is to havt a kind of
image, suspended somewhere between percept and cnne<>pt, of what
'11-l LAW OF ntE HE.\RT
it feels like to be somebody else; and the mont! sense philosophers....,
cominced that nothing less than this will ever be ideologically
dTtctive. Shaftesbury, Hutcheson and llume are deeply saprical of
the power of mere rotional comprehension to move men and women
to potiticaiJy virtuous action. From this viewpoint, the British
rationalist thinkers emerge as d:mgerously deluded: pu" eyors of an
abstract ethics, they wantonly efide the entire medium of S<."llSCS aad
senli.mems through whlcb alone such imperatives could take on flesh
in hum:m lives. The aesthetic is in this sense the or transmission
me.chaaimt by which theory is converted to practice, the detour taken
by ethlcal ideology through the feeUng,s and sei!Ses so as to reappear
as sponlllneous social practice.
If to acstheticizc morality is to make it ideologically ctTccmc, It is
also to ri<k luving it theorericaUy dtsa...,.,d. ' Our idea.< of morality, if
this account is rigl11\ complains the ratiooalist Richard Pric.:e, 'have
the same orilin with our ideas of the sensible qualities of bodies, lbe
hannony of sounds, or the beauties of painting nd sculpture . ..
Virwe (as those who embrace this schc:mc say) is an alhir of taste.
Moral ri!lht and wrong signify nothing i tbe o/Jjeas llrmut!M to which
they :.pplied, :any more than agrt:eablt: and h:trsb.; sweet :md bitter;
pleasant and painful; but only m1am rjfrliJ in w . . . An our discoveries
nd b03Sted knowledge vani<h, and the wbole universe Is reduced
into a creature of fancy. very ,.,ntiment of every being is equally
jusr.'" Price Is a miUtant and-aeslhetician, scandalized by this
rampant subjecri\:i2ing of \'alues.. The senses and the imagination can
take u.s nowhere in morn! enquiry, but yield to the understanding.
Is tonurc wrong merely because we lind it distasteful? If the moral,
like the aesthetic, is a of Ollr responses to the object
actiuns mere blank t<'lts culourt-d simply by our scnli.ments? And
what if those sentimcnll! di.sagrcel
U113ble to derive v:Uues ITom facts - which is to to ground
moral ideology in boutgeois social pntCticc- the moral>ense theorists
tum instead to the nolion of \'alue as autotelic. Hut they do thls, so
their opponents el.lim, at the cost of it wy, dissolving
it into the Yllgaries of subjectivism. In seeking to lodge an objective
ethics more securely in the subject, they end up dissevering the two,
leaving a delicate sensibili1y confronting commodified object
stripped of its inherent properties. To be sc:mimcnul is to consume
less the object itself than one's own fine ftclings about IL If ideology
is to work efliciendy, it must be pleasurable, intuitive, :iCtf-ratirymg: in
a word, But this, in a striking pradOO<, is exoctly what
threatens to undennine its objec-u.e force. The '""Y move of inserting
ideology more deeply in the subject ends up by subverting itself. To
aestheticize moral wlue is in one sense to an enviable
confidence:: vinue c-onsists fundamenllllly in being on.,., If. Yet it also
betrays a considerable an.'Ciety: vinue bad bencr be its own reward,
since in this sort of society it i unlikely to receive any other. We hae
somclhing liner 1111d subller than the concept to bind us into
mutualil)', namely a sentiment which appears evety bit as metllpbysially
founded as one's taste in stockings. To appeal to rational fotUtdat.ioos,
on the oth.er hand, would seem Iiiii<: more of a solution in a society
where a rational grasp of tbe whole, granted that it is even possible,
seems to have little influence on actual behaviour. The nding onler is
a<:cordingly cougln: between a rational ethia which sectru ideologially
ineffectual, and an affectively Jl"l'liUasive theory which apJl""rs to
rest on nothing more intellectUally than what Richard
Price scornfully tem\S 'a species of mental taste'.
Shaftcsbury's unity of ethic.< and oesrherics. virtue and beauty, is
mOSt evident in the concept of manners. Mannen for the eighteenth
century signify dtt mer.iculous disciplining of the body which
comerts morality to style. dccunstrurti.ng the "''positi<m between the
proper attd the pleasurable. In these regulated farms of civilized
coodw:t, a pervasive aesthtticizing of social pn<:tices gets onder wy:
moral imperatives no longer impose themselves with the leaden
weight of >me Kantlan duty, but inliltnte the veey rexrures of lived
exp<ricuce as tact or lmowbow, intuitive good serue or inbred
decorum. If the process of hegemony is to be successful, ethical
ideology must lose its coercive force and reappear u a prindple of
spontaneous oonsensus within social life. The subject itself is
accordingly aesthedcized, livinJ with aU the instincNal rigbmess of
the Like t.he work of an, the human subject lntrojects the
codes which govern it as the very 501ltte of its free autonomy, and .so
comes in AlthuS11Crian phrase to work 'aU by itself', without need of
polirial coft!traint." That 'la .. 1Uincss without a low' which Kant will
lind in the aesthetic representation is first of all a maner of the social.
seems to worl< with an the rigorous enoodcmtot of.
rational Jaw, but where sw:h a Jaw is never quite abstraaable from 11\c
concretely pani<:ular conduct which instantiates it.
The middle dll$$ has woo certain historic ictoric> within politial
sociery, by dint oflong rruggte; bur the problem with such srrum:Jes
is that. in rendering the Lot"' perceptible :ts :t they threaten
to denaiUl'lllizc it. Once the law of authoril}' is objectified through
political conflict, it becomes possible object of contemtion.
L.gal, poHtkal and .,.;onomic transfonnti<>ns mu,;t therefore be
translated into new forms of unthinl:ing social practice, which in a
kiod of <native repression or amnesio can c"""' to forget the very
conventions they obey. his thus that Hegel writes in the
of Spirit, with a sardonic eye on Sllbjecti>ism, of ' the blessed unity of
the law with the he11It'.
' Structures of power must become structures
of fccliog; IU1d the ac$thetic 11 .. itaJ mediation in this from
property ro propriety. Sh2ftesbury, comment< ),;msr c:a..s;,., ""!Uires a
tl1eory of beamy 'in order to answet the question of the tme
fashioning of character, of lhc law governing lhc stru<1Urc of the
inward personal world'." 'Manners', writes Edmund Burke,
arc more important than laws. Upon them, in a gn:ar
me3.SW'e, the Jaws depend. The Jaw touches us bur here
and there, and now and then. Milllners are what vu ::and
soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarise or
refine us . . . They gic their whole form and colour to our
lives. ACC(Irding to their quality, they add mor3.IS, they
supply them, or they totaUy destroy tlu:m.'
We encounter the law, if we are lucky, only sporadicolly, as an
unpleasandy coercive power; bur in the aesthetics of social conduct,
or 'culture' as It would later be called, the Ll.w is always with us, as the
very unconscious struct.ure of our life. [f politics and aesthetics, virtue
and beaury, are deeply at one, it is because pleasurable cooduct is the
true Index of successful hegemony. !\ graceless \inue is thus
sooaerh.ing of a contradiction in term.-;, since vinue is that cu]tivarion
of the instincti habit of goodness of whiclt social fluency is the
ourw:1rd expression. The maladroit or aesthetically di:sproponioned
thus signals in its modest way a certain c.risis of political power.
lf the ac.sthctic comes in the cighleentb century to assume the
signiJieance it does, it is beeouse the word is sbonhand for a whole
project of hegemony, the massive introj..:rion of abstract reason by
the life of the senses. What matters is not in the first place art, but tltis
P""' of refashioning the human subject from the inside, infornung
its subtlest affections and bodily responses v.'ith this low which is nor a
law. lr would thus ideally be as inconceiwble for the subject to violate
the injunctions of power as it would be w find putrid odoor
enchanting. The understanding knows well enough that we live in
conformity to impersoonl laws; but in th aesthetic it is as though we
""" forget about aU tlut - as though it is ,. who freely fashion the
laws to which we subjeet ourselves. Human nature, write.< Spiow.a in
his Trll(lntus TlffologiroPuliricus, 'will not subnlit tO unlimited
coercion', and the law mUSt. be accordingly framed to accommodate
the interests and desires of those over whom it holds sway''
The mom<-nt "'h<n moral actions can be classified chiefly as
' agreeoble' or 'disagreeable', when these aestheric rums will do
service for-more comJl)e,; distitlCtions, marks a c..-ertain mature point of
L'Volutiun in the history of a social class. Once the dun and hear of itS
struggles for political power ha>'C subsided, moral quesrions which
wn at that time neces.o>arily cast in stridently absolutist terms may
now be allowed to cryswlize into routine responsr. Once new ethical
habits have been instalkd and naruralil.ed, the sheer quick feel or
impression of an object will be enough for sure judgement, shon-
clrcuitlng discurme contention and thus mystifying the rules wltich
regulote it. lf aesthetic judgement is every bit as coercive u the most
barbarous law - for thor is a right and wrong to taste quite as
absolute as the death .sentene< - this is not at aU the .,ay it feels. Th<
social order has grown beyond the point where it was at cvery moment
the subject of apocalyptic debate, and its rulers can now senle down
to enjoying the fruits nf their labout, shifting from polemic to
pl.,..sure. 'lt has been the misfortune ... of this age', Burlte writes in
Tlrl FTtnclr Rtw/uti011, 'that e'tt)1hing is to be discus.<ed, as i.f the
constitulion of our country were to be ah ... ys a subj<'<:t ratltct of
alteroltion, than enjoyment.'" Th.e most glorious work of an is the
English Constitution in<elf, unformalizable yet .ineloctable. Puritan
utility wm )ield ground to an aestheticism of power only when society
is as an having no instnlmenw purpost beyond
our self-delight. It is then til a( the strenuous habits of philosophy will
gie place w wil, that t;tnteel act ofjouin8rta in which a thought lives
and die> in a single ludic momenL If one wished to name the rno.<t
important cultur:1l instnlment of this hegemony in the nineteeuth
Celltllt)', une which ""ver cease<; w gnsp uaiversal reason in
COIIC:Utely particular style, uniringMthin itself an e<:OII()my of abstract
form with the effect of lived experienc.,e, one might do worse lhan
name the realist novel. As Franco Morelli has wrinen:
It is not enough that the social order is 'legal'; it must also
appear syrtf/lo/itrl/1) lqilillftlk . It is also necesury that, as
a 'free indi;idual', not as a fearful subject but as a
convinced citizen, one perceives the social oOJmS as
oam. One must intem:tlise them and fuse t:Jo'lem:tl com-
pulsion and internal impulse into a new unit until the
fonner is no longer distinguishable from lhe Jancr. Tbls
fusion is what we usually call 'consent' CJr 'legitimation'. If
the appears w us still wday as an
pivotal point of our histocy, this is because it has succeeded
in representing this fusion Mlh a force of conviction and
opcimistic clarity that will never be equalled again.
The growing acslhcticization of sociol life, then, represents a major
hegemonic advance on the pan. of the (IOI'mlinl bloc. But lt is not, as
we have seen, without its attendant dangers.. Rich.ard Price once
more, in his f Moroh: 'But what can be more evidem, than
that rix/11 and p/llutsrt, """"!:and pili, arc aa diffcri:Dt as a cause and
ir. effect; ...t>at is unilmiiJOd, and what is fdt; absolute truth, and its
to the mimi?"" Price is W<:U aware uf the perils of this
subjecti\i:zing current, as is his mote celebrated nam.esW: f'anny
Price, heroine of Af PIITk. To uphold moral standards in a
dis.alute social ortler, FamJY must to some degree sacriflte the
aesthetically agreeable in h<r Kanrian devotion to duty, which then
rendeiS the moral law 'risible in all its uniOYely That
this gesture is at once admirable and. from an idenl Slllndpoint,
something of a regre1table necessity is the sign of an id<'Oiogical
dilemllliL In one sen. nothing could strengthen power more than Its
diffusion lhrough the unconscious telltUres of everyday life. Yet in
another sense this diffusion threatens fatally to undermine it,
debasing Its dikws to the le11el of en.loying an apple. 'Sensibility'
seems at once the surest foundation, and 110 foundation 'at an.
But there is another dang-er too, which is quire as porcntlally
harmful. O.,rman oeslhetics was born as kind of supplement to pure
reason; but we have learned from Jacque> Derrido that it is in the
manner of such lowly supplements to tnd up supplanting what !hey
are meant to subserve.'' Wh:n if it were the <as< mat nm only
morality, but cognition itself, was 'aesthetic'? That sematioo and
inruilion, far from figuring as its opposites, wen: in fact Its VC:JY basis?
The name for this alarming claim in Britain is David Hume, who oot
content with reducing morality to mere scnlimcnt, threatens also to
reduce knowledge to fictional hypothesis, belief to an intense feeling,
lhe continuity of the self to a fiction. causality to an imaginative
co!U1n1Ct and history to a kind of text." Indeed Norman Kemp Smllh
holds t.hat Hume's originaGty precisely in his ioverriog of the
traditional priorities of n:a:IOI\ and fccGng, S<:cing Francis Hutcheson
3S tile primary influence on his thought." Hume brackets 'morals and
criticism' rogerher in the Introduction to his Tfflllist of Hum1111
NiJJrr, and holds tftat morality 'consisu not in any mlltttr of f.a,
which Clln be discovered by the understanding . . . when you
pronounce any acdon or character ro be vicious, you mean nothinJ,
but that from the constitution of your nature you have a feeling or
sentiment ol blame from !he contemplation of it'.'' Like other moral
sense theorists, Hume argues in his E114uiry !he Pri11lipks cf
Momls that '>inue is an end, and is desirable on its own account,
wilhout fee and reward, merely for the immedate satisfaction which it
con.veys'. ts
If Humc lends his support to the a<"Stbotit:iution of ethiA:li, he also
extends the gesture 10 me under<tanding. Probable reason, he cl2illll
in the TumiJt, is nothing but a species of sentiment' (103), ond belief
is no more than 'a more mid and intense conception of any idea'
(1.20), 'more properly an act of the man of the cogitative
pan of our narurcs' (183). All reasonings, be maintains, 'are nothing
but the effect of custom; and custom has no influence, but by
inlivcning !he imagination, and gMJ1J us a strong conception of any
object' (149). It follOYo's for the fin4uiry that 'CU5tom, tften, is the
b'Tett[guida: of human a whose iffiJ-llicslions ror p(tlilical
hL'(tmony Edmund Burlc will not be slaw to sciu un. Cousality, in
perll2ps the most notorious of all Hume's doctrines, is radically
subjeclivized: it resides less in objects themselves than 'in the
determination of the mind to pas> from one to the other' (166), on
impuue entirely conditioned by inugin2tlve expecudoo. Continuous
identity, somewhat simaarly. is a quality which we attribute to things,
a bond Vlt feel ralher than perceive. Hume speaks in a revealing
aesthetic imge of the mind as 'a kind of theatre, "'nere several
perceptions successively make their ap,pc:arance; pass, re-pass, glide
and mingle in an iDlinite variety of JlOl"ftUCS aod siru.otions'
The lmaJinadon, indeed, is tor Hume 'the ultimate judge of all
<ystem< of philn<OJlhy' (255). Lest this oppeor too fr.tg.1e basis on
which to cr<et a th<ory, he insumdy distinguishes between those
imaginath't principles which are 'pennanent, irresistable [sic!, and
uni\ersal\ ami those which are tch.ange:rble, ,...eak, and in'egular'
(225). In th< extraordinary Conclusion to the lint book of the Tmttiu,
however, W1: observe the poiJ!IW!t specudc of this distinction
crumbling a .. ay to nothing in hls hands. Having laid out his systeaa
with aplomb, Hume breaks down before our eyes, 111ming helplessly
to the reader in an access of anxiety. He feels to be 'some
mange uncouth monster', C"!'<Ucd from all human sO<.iery and ' ldt
utterly abando11'd and disconsob.te' (Z64). What possible foundation,
he asks hims.tl; does he have for these SCillldalous o.ssertions, which
would seem to shake rational enquiry to iu very rootS? If belief is nO
more tlwt a vivacioos sort of feeling, not his belief that this is
the case be no more than this too, pointlessly on iaself?
'1\fter the most accurate and eact of my reilS<lnings', he confesses, 'I
C4ll gi\'1: no reason why I should assenrto [thls view!; and feel nothing
but a strog propensity to consider objecas strong/.f . in that view, under
wtuch they appear to me' (265). There em be no appeal beyond
e:q>erlence .. nd habit, which stimulate the imagin2rion; and it is on
these slender supports d1at all assent, and hence all social
is based. memory, senses, and undemanding, are, therefore, aU
of them founded on the im:ogiootion, or the vivaci\Y of our ideas'
(265). In an intended addition to the Trralist, Hume acknowledges
how completely this slips through the conceptual net in the
effort to di>1inguish between betiefs and fi<:tions: 'when I would
e:o:plain this manner, I scorce find any word that fully answers the e.se,
but am oblig'd to have recourse to eveay one's feeling, in order to give
him a perfect notion ofdis operation of the ruind. An idea ossr11cd to
frt!J dlfTertnt from ficlilious idea, tha< the laney :alone Jlf"Sents to us
.. .' (629). The 'imagination, source of all knowledge, is, so Hume
tells us, an 'inconsistent and fallacious' principle (265), which is why
philosophy tends to come ullStu(k; two pages bter, having just
reduced reason to imagination, be prorests thor 'Nodting is more
n1E UW OF n1E Ht.UT
dangerous to reason lhac the !lights of the imagination, and nothing
hos been the of more mis!Ues among philmophen' (267).
The very principle of retStlo, in short, would seent the sulwersion of
it. The due to dris apparent inconsi.srcncy lies in a distinction
bel'ncn wilder and more reliable forms of we must reject
'aD the trivial suggestioos of tbe tim<y, and adhere w the undersumding,
that Is, to the more general and more established propcnics of the
imagination' (267). 'What "'ill rescue us from the imagination i
reason, which Is just another , crslon of it; lhc imaginalioo must be
rejected for- the imagination.
This deconstruction is then in tum deoonstructed. The under-
standing, when ir am :l!onc, 'entirely subvms ilsclf': it consists
in nothing more than dizzying infinite regress, in which we check
the probability of our assenions, then cbeck our checking and men
check dur, ar each mge IMYing funher away from the original
evidence and introducing fresh uncertainties. What can arresl this
abysmal piUJ18C into scepticism is, of all things, the ilNglnadon,
which in the form of sentiment induces us to view certain
objectS in a stronger and fuOer .light, upon account of their custurnary
connc>eion with a present impression' (183). What we feel of the
certinty of the near, in other words, counrerwils the infinite ... gres,
of ll!Ukrstanding; it is beneficial that our beliefs are based on feeling,
on some 'scmsation or pccu!Lv tn31111Cr of CClllccption' (1&4), for if
they were not !here would be to stop reason piraUing
ceaoelessly down Its 0\\11 indetermlnades, one doubt doubting
anutber to infinity. Howe...,r, in "" far as Ibis <'tinging to tbe near
which arrcsu reason's self-destruction is itself a 'sioguhr and
seemingly tri<rW propen)' of the fancy' (268), it belongs to cnctly the
kind of inferior imagination which Hume has just told us constirutes
the chief threat to reason.
Either, then. we may dismis.s all elaborate JlltlCnSCS of reasoning
out of band, adhering to what feels closest and surclt; or we may
cling, .,.batever its perils, to sophisticated rat.ion:>lity. 1he former
option is nor only unplu. .. ntly drastic., cutting us off at a stroke from
all science and philosophy, but sclf-<:ontradictOfY, since it is only by
an cbbnrate pmc:e,. of rc=ning tht ,. . arrivt ot it. If we slay
f2ithful to reason, lwweYer, we land up with the self-undoing
cognitions of !he sceptic, and so might as well not bave bothered. 'We
have, therefore,' Hume remarks gloomily, ' oa choice lefr but a
false reason and non< at all' (268). His S<>lutioo to the. dilemma is, in
effect, to forget about it, since the problem is itself an instance of
highly refined reasoning, and 'Vel) refined reflections Juve little or
no inlluence upon us' (268). Practical peO(lle do well not to become
engrossed by such metapll)l$ical questions - thoush we can hardly
formulate this as a uoiYersal imperative, since thiJ is precisely pan of
what is in doubt. Hume's solution, in brief, is a carefully cultivated
false consciousness, whi<:b consigns the whole vexed affair to
comfortable obli-rion; he goes off to play bactganrmon and make
meny with his friends, and willlter lind his own speculations so
ridiculous that he has no hean to pur>-..e them further. Rather like
some contemporary <ceprics in the field of literary theoty, one
continues to c:nch trains and retr one's children, cook food and lace
one's bouts, in cava6cr disn.1f'll'd of one'> lhcorclical doubiS about the
ontological solidity of aU this. Theory and practice, far from being
mutually supportive, are entirely at odds, so tltat for Hwne ooly some
form of Nicaschean amnesia would seem 10 hold society together. It
is a sobering thought, bO'II'cver, that society survives only by dint of
ioteDectuol suicide, and Home is understandably rllttled by his own
defensive stratl:gy. Customary practice no longer mediates ab>Ol utc
norms, but acrually substitutes itself for dtem. P r a < d ~ must provide
their own rationales, :tnd theory, far from sec1.uing them, now <ilctive.ly
disables them. If intuition persuades you that there is truth, dteory
informs )'OU that there is just intuition. In an ironic reversal, society
itself, which work. by custom and blind sentiment in the manner of
Nieasche's healing Apollonian illusions, assumes chat dterc is
somewhere some solid ground for Its conduct, which philosophy can
supply; phaosophy, suwosed to demonsu-ate such grotnds, brutally
whinlcs them oway to cUSII)m and sentiment. Paradoxically, the
philosopher is an anti-social monstrosity precisely becau.<e be reduce
ideas to social practices - because his thought imitates how society
actually is. Society itself, by con\111$1, is romorsdessly m<:laphysical,
gullibly con,in<:cd that Its opinions have some unimpeachable basis.
The layperson in fact lives by hahit bur trusts that there is more to the
W<Jrld than this; the philosopher faithfully reOet.u the prllgDJatic truth
of this condition, and so becomes an oua:ast from lt. He Is a monster
not because he comes bearing some outlandish mesuge from beyond
the social pale, but bc<."BU>c he arrives ltotfoot with the rather more
dis!Utbing news that dte habits ofbWllln nawre are aU mere Is. The
hairy prophet howlins in the wildanoss is the one who discl""'s the
dreWful <e<:r<t that b..:kg;unm<>n L< more or less what it com<S down
to. The sole bme justiJicotioo Hume con then find for pbilosopby is
that it is relatively toothless- 1m socially disruptm, for example,
than religious superstition. If the metaphysical is a natural pos.<ibility
of tbe mind, if humanity cannot rest content with its narrow circuit of
scose impressions, then bener for II ro farmslze in tbe 'mild and
modemte' Sl}ie we term philcJsopby, than to cook up dangerously
fanatical Kbemes. Pbllosopby may be somewlw absurd, but at least it
is unlikely to topple tbe state.
We SCO!m, then, to ban: traced akin.t of circle. Reason, bavin' SPun
off with Baumgorren the subaltern dis<:ourse of aesthetia, llOW
appenrs to have been .-Uowed up by it. The rational and the
sensuous, far frum reprudUling onr another's inner structure. luve
ended up wbolly at odds. '1bus there is', Hume commeniS in the
Tr'<DtU<, ' direct and total opposition betwixt our reoson and our
senses' (231). Strr.ing to illcamate themselves in daily practice,
rational ordinances are now at risk o( being reduced to IL Reuon
seeks in the usthetic tn encompass the aperienrial; but wht, to
panphnlsc Niei2.Sdlc, if elq)Crience were a woman? \\'hat if it were
that elusive thing that plays fast aDd loose with the concept? At ouce
intimltc and unreliable, pro..ious ami precarious, cxp<:riCIIC(' woold
seem to have all the duplicity of the eternal female. It is this
treoeherous terr:tin that Daumgar1en must subject to reasoo. The
British moral sense thinker> foUow a more lihend path: the feminine,
in tbe form of pure inruition, is a surer Klfide to morallnltb than the
masculine cull of calculatre reason. But such intuitions do not hang
in tbe air. they are the inscription lllithin us of a pmidemial lO!Pc too
sublime for ratiooal decipherment. The feminine is thus no more
than a passage or mode of accoss to the tn2SCUfine regime of Reason,
wbuse S'llo11y, whatever lhe alanned prottsts of rationalists like Price,
ret!Wn$ unciWienl!"d In most moral sense phllosophy. lt will
1'10( prove very h31'd, however, to ldclt away this providential platform
altogether; and this in effect is what happens ill Humc, wbo has little
patience with the btggal!" tied to the monJ sense by
some of h!. coDeagues. Hume tales over something o( Fr:UlciS
Hutcheson's et:hics bur strips rhl t case of its strongly pnr.idcntial
C11St, substiruling for this the harder-headed idea of 1ociallllility. The
e'l"'rience o( beauty for Hume is a kind of sympathy :>rising from
THE 1...\W Of' niE Hl:AKT
reflected utility: the. aesthetically appealing object pkascs by virtue of
its uses to the species as a whole. His essay 'Of the St2nd2rd
suggest< just how unsrahle such aesthetic critecia are: 'the sentiments
of men', be writes, 'often differ with ' rrgard to beauty ar>d
defomllry',,. and though he is insistent that there ;are indeed uni..-ersal
standards of taste, it is 001 e:e.jl for him to say where they are to be
found. Some aesthetic conflic15, the essay coos by acknowledging, are
simply irresolvable. 'and we seek in vain for a standard, by which we
can reconcile the contrary senlimcnts'." Indeed Hume seeks In Y3ln
fnr a <ure standard in anything. Knowledge, belief, etl>ics: aU these
have now been remorselessly 'feminized', convtrtcd one by one tu
feeling, imagination, inruirion.
Not only these, indeed, but the whole material foundation of the
bourgeois social order. Home finds no metapbysic2l sanction
underpinning prlvote property, which depends like everything else on
the imagination. Our relenrlessly metOD)1loic oninds simply lind it
natural 10 make a permanent state of affairs out of somebody's
poss ... ing something at a ponicular rime. We ako tend ro make a
natural imaginative cunne<.1ion between we own and others
contiguous to them, like the work of our slaves or the fruiiS of our
wh.ich we therefore feel we can cbint a ') well. (Since the
imapnation passes more easily from smaU to great rather than vier
vma, it might seem more logical for a small proprietor to annex
larger contiguou.s object rather than the other way round; so Hume
has to tiiJlllS" in a deft piece of pbilosopblcal footwork to justify, for
example, me DririAh possession of Ireland.) If aU of this n:uuralius
posses.'live individuall<m, it also scandalously demysrifie.' all talk of
meuphysic2l rigbtJ. There is no inherent reason why my property
should not be yours tomorrow, wue it not for that imaginative inertia
which makes it easier to associate it with n.e. Since the idea of my
consunt possession of a !bing is imaginalivcly closer to my actUal
possession or it tfwt than is the notion of your 0\\11ersblp of h, the
indolence of the imagination tends ronvcniend) to confinn my
()06SeSSion in pelpCIWty. Hume, in ocher words, is fully <ODliCious of
the fictional nature of the bourgeois economy, blandly proclaiming
that property 'is 001 all)' thing real in me objects, bur is the offspring
of the cntimerus .. .' (509). The whole of bourgeois soclety is based
on metllpbor, metonymy, imaginary corre.<poruleoce:
The same lo\'t of order and unifonnity, which anangc:> the
books in !l libral), and t_he ch1irs in a parlour, C()ntrihmes
to the formation of society, and to the weD-being of
mankind, by modifYing the general rule concerning the
stahilily of pOSS<:S$inn. A.< property fonns a relation betwixt
a puson and an object, 'tis natural to found It on some
preceding relation; and propert) is nothing but a
constant possession, sccur'd by the laws of society, 'tis
natural m add it to the !)NSent possession which is a
relation that resembles it. (504-5o)
What guarantees the property rights of tile middle cla.'IS is less the
law of <eonomic than !he instinctual econontiziug of the llliud.
If imag!Mtion Is in this way the unstable foundation of civil society,
it is, curiously enough, a lack of imagination which forms the basis of
the political state. Sine-.: individuals are gvv.:med largely by !IC!f-
interest, their imaglnad.,.e sympathy with what lies beyond this narrow
circnit tends to be feeble; so that though they an share an interest in
maintaining social justice, it is one they an: likely to feel only dimly.
Objects close to us slrike us with more imaginative force than those
more distant; and the state is a regulative mechanism which
compen.utes for thi< parochial delidency, composed as it is of
indj.,.iduals wbo h""e direct interest in ensuring dte observance of
justice. Politics springs from a failure of imagination; civil society is
anchored in it; and so also is the re..lm of moral or interpersonal
relations. Pity and c-umpossiun, the very ground of our social
solidariey, in,-olve an imaginative empathy with ochen, for Hume as
much as fnr Adam Smith. All human creatures are related to us hy
RSemblant<!. Their persons, therefore, their interests, their passions,
their pains and pleasures must strll:e upon u.< In a lively nanner, and
produce an emotion similar to the original one; since a lively idea is
easily convcn<d into an impression' (369). Relations with olhen
invohe a lind of inner anisric miming of their inward condition, ~ set
ofimoginllry correspoodenc-s; ami Hume illustrates his point with an
aesthetic image, that of the sympathy for suffering "" experience
when \\':Itching tragic dramo.
Society, then, is based on a faculty which in its 'proper' functioning
ensures stability and continuity, but which as Hume recogn!us
carries within it the po.sibiUty of pr<iu<(icc and
extravagant fontasy. The principle of social C<lbesion is dw. at the
same time a ()01TC< of pntential :marchy. If this 'feoonine' aestheticizing
is alarming, howe\'er, it has a 'masculine' counterpart wh.ich iJ; equally
problematic. Like Joseph Buder or lmnwlucl Kan1, one can appu1
away rom !l<!odment to a moral duty which ha.< no direct relation to
human pleasure or happiness. But this is to rtplacc one IWul of
'aesthetic' moraUty with a dltferent kind: it leaves morallly, like the
artefact, self-grounding and t;elf-deternlining, lolly end in itself
be)'ond all utility. Womanly feeling is thus ousll:d by the phallic
obsoludsm of conscience ond the inner Ught. In neither c.se can
moral values be derived from <:Oncr<le social relations: either they
must be validated 1:>y in>1inc1, or they must validate thems<!lves.
It is not surprising, given what is at Slllu in these debates, that
Edmund Burke should begin his worl: on the sublime and the
beautiful by seeking to defend the possibility of a science of tam. If
beanty is merely relative, then the bonds which Jeo.<h society together
are in danger of loo,...ning. a ... uty for Burke is 1101 just a question of
I caD beauty a social quality; for wbeo men and
and not only they, but when other animals give us a sense
of joy and pleasure in beholding them (and there are many
that do so), they inspire us with sentiments of tenderness
and affection towards their persons; like to have them
near w;, ond we enter wUiingly into a kind of relation "'ith
them, unless we should have Slrong reasons to the
Burke is quite eonfulent that such taSie is uniform and uniersal: 'I
ne\'l:r remember that anything lx:autiful, whether a man, a bcasl, a
bird, or a plan!, wu ever sh<w.11, thougi> it were to hundred people,
that they did not aD in1nw:diately gr.ee that it was beautiful . . . ' (70).
If aesthetic judfemcnt is IJJlStllble, then so must be the social
sympai!Ues founded on arK! with them the whole fobric of polliical
life. Unifonnity of !liSle for Burl<e must be dependent on a unifunnity
of the senses themselves; but he is realistic cnOUJh to recognize that
the senses are 3C!U21Jy varioblc, and aesthetic responses occordiogly
divtrgenL Burl<e'< political consenalism i< thus to oome degree at
odds with his empiricist psyche logy. These discrepancies of response,
however, can be laid at the door of individuals lhemsdves, rather thm
of la!le itself, which relll3ins self-idenliA:al dtrougltout its manifold
iJregular e:qm:ssions. 'Witilst we oonsi<kr taste merely according to
its narure and species, we shaD lind iu principles entirely uniform;
but the degree in which these principles prevail, in the several
individuals of mankind, is altogether as different as the principles
themseh'es are similar' (78). It is as though human size is ai>Mlutely
Wllltcnble, eveu though indniduals happen to be or different
What knits society together for Burlce, a. with Hume, is the
aesthetic phenomenon of mimesis, which is a mauer more of custom
than of law: 'It is by imitation, far more than by precept, that,..., learn
and what we learn thus, we acquire not only more
effccwally, but more plcasantl;o. This forms our monners, our
opinions, our lives. It is one of the strongeu links of society; it Is a
species uf mutul compliance, which all men yield to each other
vithout constraint to tbemsetes, and which is extremely flanering to
all' {101). Lows or precepts are simply deriatives of what is 6rst
nunun:d through customary practice, and coc:rcion is thus scconduy
to c:oosenL We become human subie<:IB by pleasur-ably imitating
practic.J forms of social life, and in the enjoyment of this lies the
relation which binds us hegemonically to the whole. To mime is to
submit to a law, but one so gntil}ing that freedom ties in such
servirude. Such consensuality is less an artifu:ial social contract,
laboriously wrought and mainuined, than a kind of spontaneous
metaphor or perpetual forging of resemblances. The only problem is
where all this imitatinJ ends: social life for Burltc would appear a kind
of infinite chain of reprcsenutions or represenratioru, without ground
or origin. If we do as others do, wbo do the then all uf these
copies would seem to lack a transcendental original, and soctc:ty is
shanen:d to a wilderness of mirtors.
This ceaseless mutual mirroring has about it something of the
stasis of the imapnary, and iftalten too literaDy would spell the death
of difference and history. 'Although imitation is one of the
instruments ....,d by Providence in bringing our nature tow..-ds irs
perft'Ctiun, yet if men gave themselvt>s up to imi!Dtion entirely, and
eacb followed the other, and so on in an eternal circle, it is usy ro see
TilE LAW Of ntE tliWIT
that there could any improvement amongst them' (102). The
very couditiom which guarantee social order aho paralyse ir: sunk In
this narcissistic closure, men of affairs grow effete and enerwted,
sympathy becomes cloying and incestu<>us, and beauty sinks to a by-
word for mption. Somt countervailing enCfl)' Is therefore
n""essary, which Bwl<e disam:rs in the strenunusne!<S oi tbe
sublime. 'To this [complaceocy), God has planted in mau a
sense of ambilioa, and a satisfa<:don arising liorA die comempladon
of hi.< e=Ding his fellows in something deem.ed .. tuable amongst
tlu:m' {102). The sublime is on. the side of entaprisc, rivalJy and
lndiliduatiOII: it is a phallk ' swelliDg' arising from our coolrontntion
of danger, although danger- encounter figuratively, vic..nously, in
the pleasurable knowledge tlw. we cannoc acnWiy harmed. In this
sense, the sublime Is a defused, aesthetic:Ued rsion. of the
olues of the ana'ta nii-. 11 is as though those traditionalist p.trician
vinlles of dulng, reverc:nee and free-bootin( ambilion must at
once cancrUed :u:ul preserved within middle-class life. As actual
qualities, they must be outlawed by a 1Bte devoted to domestic peace;
but 10 avoid spiritual emascula!ion they must still be fostered within il
in the displaced form of ... metic eq>erieoce. 'The subtime is an
imaginuy compensation for aD the uproarious old upper-class
violence, tnjedy repeated as It is point of inner
fracture, a negation of settled o.rder witbout -..bich any order .,.ou)d
II""" inert and wither. The sublime is the anti-social condilion of all
sodality, the infinitely ulllq)ra>cntable which SJ)UfS us on 10 yet liner
representations, tbe .lawles.' masc:uline fo.rcr which viabtes yet
pcrperually renews the femiDine enclosure of beaUty. Its social
coMowions arelnterr:odngly c:onttadlctory: in one sense the memory
ttace of an historically surpassed baroarism, i1 also has sometbinc of
the eballcnJC of mercaDiile ea!1prisc 10 a too-dllbbablc arlstocralk
indolence. Wirhio the 6gure of the sublime, warring barons aod busy
speculators merge to prod society out of iiS specular smucnes."
These, it may be noted, an: the political tbo..PIJ of a aw1 who ti 1
child artend<d a hedge school in County Cod:.
As a kind of terror. the subl.ime C1U$hes us into admiring
submission; it thus resembks 1 coerer.e rather thao a tonsensual
power, engaling our respect but not, as with beaU!)', oilr Jove: 'we
submiLLu ..ru.t we admire, but we love what submi1s to us; in one case
ft are forced, in the ocher flattered, into wmpliance' {161). The
distinction between the be:outiful and the sublime, then, is th:lt
betWeen woman and man; but it is also tbe difference what
Louis Ahhusser had calkd the Ideological and du: rcprusloe sutc
appanoru.....s." For Althusser, the repressive institutions ol society
would stem to be purely ncpmc; It Is in Ideology alone that we are
coostnocted as subjects. For Burke, a more political t.ltenrisf. in
this n:spcct, this opposition can be to some extent deconstructed. The
sublime nuy terrorize us into cowed submission, but since we are aU
cooSiirutional masochists who delight in being humiliated, this
coerciveness contains the pleasures of the collSCII!t-ual as well as the
pains of constralnL 'Sensations of a pleasurable nature haYe nodting
inherently impelling about them', writes Sigmund Freud in 1M Ego
anti tire /d, 'whcn:as unpleiiSimlblt ones have it iD tbe highest degree.
The latter impel IOW2Tds change, towards discharge, aod that is why
we interpret unplc:asure as implying a heightening and pleasure as
lowering of enel'Jelic calhcxis.'"' Comcncly, the beauty wt>kb wins
our free consent, and beguiles us like a woman, is based nevertheless
on a J.ind of cunningly dissimubted Ia
Burke confesses lhat he can see no M)' of Wliling these two
which clearly poses a politic:ol problem. The dilenuna is that
the authority we Jove we do not and the one we respect we do
not love. 'Tbe authority of a father, so useful to our "-eU-being, and so
justly venerable upon aD accounts, hinders us from having thAt entire
Jove for him thAt we have for oor molbers, where tbe puent.al
authority is mehed down into tbe mother's fondness nd
indulgence' (I 59). The political paradox is plain: only love will truly
wiD us to tbe law, but Ibis love will erode tbc law to nolhiDg. A Jaw
attractive enough to engage our .inri.m afl'ectioos, nd so hege:m.-
onically effective, will tend to inspire in us benign contempL On the
other band, a power which rouses our filial fear, and hence our
submissive obedience, is Iii: ely to liente our affections and so spur
us to Oedipal rescnlmenL Caslin( around dcspcrattly for a recmciiing
image, Burle offers us, of aD dtings, the figure of tbe !lf311dWber,
whose male 3Utbority is enfeebled by age into a ' feminine p<lrtiali.ty'.
Msuy Wollstoneceaft is quick to assail tbe sexism of Burke's orsument
in her II{ rhr Riglra of Mm. His d.lstW:tloo between love
and respect, she points our, aestbeticiT.es women in nys which
remove tbero from the spbere of morality. 'The atfccdon !Women)
excite, to be uniform aod perfect, should not be tinctured with tbe
11lt: LAW' 01' UEART
respect which the moral Yi.rtues inspire, lest pain should be blended
with pleasure, and admiration diwrb the soft inlimacy of Jove.'"
'This laxity of mornls in the female', WoUsronecr.Ut continues, 'is
certlinly more captivating tu a imagination than the cold
ltJIIDICDIS of n:ason, that give no sex to Yinue. &I should experience
prcwe that there ts a beauty in charm in order, which
necessarily implies a.cnion, a depraved sensual taste may give way to
a more IIWI1y one - and feelinp to rational salisfactions.'n
For Wollstonecmft, Burke is a lind of aesthete whu divorces beauty
(woman) from moral truth (man); against this, sbc argues at ooce that
virtue is sexless and that it imolves a manly laS{C. We shaD sec,
however, that Burke is not so much an aesthete as an aestheticiz.er,
wbidt makes a sipilicant difference.
Authority, lhen, lives iD a kind of ceasele.s self-undoiog. ..
coercion and consent reinforce yet oondermine one another. An
cner.-ate beauty mliSt be regularly shanered by a sublime whose
terrors must in tum be quicl<.ly defused, in a constant rhythm of
erection and detumesco:oce. Ar the heart of puwcr the oxymoron
' fnlc bondage', of which the aesthetit is a mal symbol. The greater
the freedom the deeper the bondage; but the more, by the wne
token, spontaneity con get out of band. The mort the human subject
worb 'aU by itoclf', the l>ettcr- and the worse - for authorily. If
freedom the submi'Sion which is its very condition, the
repressi><eness of the cnn be invoked; but this ullimate
efficacy of power is also its potenlial downfall, breeding IS wen as
subduing rebellion. Po10'Cr is thw a lind of riddle, of which the
mystery of the aesthetic, with its impossibly lawless lawfulness, is an
apt sign.
The aesthetic experience of the sublime is conlined to the
cultivated few; and there would thus seem the need for a kind of poor
person's \'ersion of it. Religion is of course one obvious such
candidate; but Burke also proposes another, which is, surprisingly
enough, the lowly activity of labour. Like the sublime, labour is
muoc:histie affair, siDce Yo'C ftnd wort 11 once painful in its exertion
yet plea$urable in its arousal of energy. 'As common labour, which is a
mode of pain, is the exercise of the grosser, a model of terror is the
exercise of the finer pans of the system' (181 ). The sublime, 10'ith its
'delightful horror', is the rich man's labour, lnvisorating an otberwae
dangerously complacent mling class. If that class cann.nt lcnnw the
uncenain pleasures oflooding a sbip, ir e..n gv.e il\$lead ar one ros.,ed
on lhe nubulent ocean. Pmidence has so unnged that a
"""" of rest becomes sooo obooxlous, breeding melaru:holy and
despair; we are thus naturaDy driven to ..-ort<, reaping enjO)ment from
its surmowning of dillicultlcs. Labour im'Olves a paUJ;iDg cotiCiou-,
and is thm an aesthetic <Kperience all in itJiell, ar le2St for thD<e who
thcoriu: about it. Both material production nd political life, base and
supersll'IICIU1"e, display a unity of force and fulfilmcnr. Hegemony is
not only a maner of the political state, but is installed within the
procc.ss itself. Our wrcst.liof with Nature's re<.'1llcitnmce is
itaelfa kiud of socialized sublime; and this agreeablmcss of labour is
even more gratifying to those who profit ITom it.
What the aesthetic in Burke sets its face mast finnly against is lhe
notion of ll2tural rights. It is peclsely that drily theoretic dlscource, a
revolutionary one in his day, that the appe<ll to the intimate h2bit. of
the body is out to W<lfSI. Tbe essay on the beautiful and the sublime is
a subde phenomenology of the sense., a mapping of the body's
delicacies and disgusts: Burke is fascinated by what hoppeos when wt
hear low vibrations or srrotc smootll surfaces, by the dilation of the
eye' s pupil in dartnes.< nr the feel of a s6gftt up on the shoulder. He
is much preoccupied ,.;th swc:ct smells and .Wltnt mrtinp from
sleep, with the 'Oibratory power of salt and lbe question of whether
proportion is lhe sou rot of beauty in vegetables. AD of this strange
homespun psycho-physiology is a kind of politi<:s, williDg to credit no
lheoretical notion which c.mnot somehow be traotd to the musc:ular
SITUCture of the eye or the texture of the lingerpads. J( there are
indeed mclllphysical rights, then they enter this dense somatic space
as dispe,.ed and non-identical: like ' nys of light which pierce into a
dense medium', Burl<e rgues in R<}kaiQns q, 1/.e Fmoc4 RtfJOiodUn.,
such riihts are 'by the of nature, rcfraA:ted liotn their sll'llilbt
tine', enduring 'such a variety of refractions and reflections, that it
becomes absurd ro ralk of them "'' if rhey continued in dle simplicity
of their original dire<:tion'. What is aatural about lM:h npts is their
devionce or aberrancy; their sclf-dlt.seminalory power is Jl<lrf of thei.r
""'Y When Burke adds that ' the nature of man is intricate;
the objects of society are of the greatest possible compkxity', be
spe3s, ill the orlsinal sense of the term, as an aestlteric:ian.
!tis notth2t Burke rejero; aD concept of the rights of man. It is less
that such rigllts do nor eistthan that they are iocapeblc of dc6nitiou.
'The rights of man are in son of middlt, incapable of definition, bur
nor robe discerned.'" They are, in short, jusr the b w.;
of the artefact, indubitably p.resent yet impossible to abstlllcl from
their panicuJar incarnations. Tradition, for Burke, is equally a kind of
l>wfulness without law. The erne danger of the revolutionaries is !hat
as fanatical antiaesrheticians they offer to reduce hegemony rowed
power. They are Protestant extrenmts who would beliC11e insanely
that men and wu.mn could look on this teml>le law in all its
nakedness and still live, who would suip from ir every decent
mediation aru! consoling illusion, break every representational icon
and cxtilpatc every pious pr.u:ticc, thus leaving lh<: wnichcd citizen
helpless and vulnerable heli>re !he full ltldl<ric bb.<t or >uthority.
Angered by t.his iconoclasm, speaks up instead for what
Gramsd will later term 'hegemony':
But DfJW aU is to be changed. AU the pleasing musions,
which made power gentle and obedience liberal, y,bich
harmonised assimilation, i.ncorporated into poti.rics the
sentimentS whicb beautify and soften private society, are ro
be dissolved by this new conquering empire of light and
rea5Clo. AU me decent drapery of 6fe is to be rudely torn
ulf. AU lh<: superadded ideas, furnished from the wardrobe
of a moral ilNglntion, whic:h the bean oM>s, and the
understanding ratifies, as necessary ro cover the defect. of
our caked, narurc, and to raise it to diplity in our
own estimation, are to be exploded as a ridiculous, absurd,
ond antiquted foshion."
Wilh the executed "uric Antoinene in mind, Burke goes on to
denounce. revolution:uy to women: 'All homagw: paid to
the sex in reneral as such, and without distinct views, is ro be
regarded "' romance :md folly.' The bw l< lt)a[e, but hegemony is a
woman; this lr.ln>-vestite law, which decks itself out m female UI"'[>Cry,
is in donger or having its phallus Power is ceasing to be
oestbetici:ted: w.hat grapples individuals to it Ott thls radical view is
Jess their affections than the raUows. 1ru: wilole crucial middle
region of social life between swe and economy, the rich tapestry of
cusroms which trJnsmute bws 10 feelings, is boing disastrously
n\ese public sentiments, combined with manne.rs, are
required sometimes as supplcmeniS, sometimes as cor-
rectives, alwys a< aid< tn Ia .. . The precept given by a wise
mao. as wdl as a great (:ritic. for the construclion of poems,
is equally true as to states: Nrm saris"' pukltra tm pMnara,
Julria sur:IIJ. There ought to be a system of manners in
every nation, which a weD-formed mimi W(Juld be disposed
to relish. To ltl2ke us love our country, our country ought
to be lmely.,.
Womn. the ae_\lhetic and poUtical hegemony are nnw in efTt<:t
We e2n rerum in the Ught of this to the quarrel betWeen Burlce ar.d
Mary Wollstonecrafl. It is not quite true, a.< WoUstonecraft suggests,
that Burke is an aesthete cooccrncd to divorce beauty from moral
truth. On the comr3ry, be wishes to such truth, in order to
render it securely hegl!monit. Woman, or beauty, lhus becomes a
kind of mediation of man; but what Won.tonccraft rightly SC\:S is that.
this process does not nper3te in reverse. Btaul)' must be included
within the sublimity of the masculine Jaw, in order to soften its
rig<IUI'S, bur monl sublimity is nor m be include() within the
bea11tiful. \Vom.en are indeoo in this sen.<e excluded from the dolll2in
of tnlth and mo..Uty. Burke deconst.n..::ts tl1e opposition beNeen
beaury and truth, but only parrially and unllaterally. lkaury is
nece-ssary for but tloes not itself cuntaio it; :authority has need
of the very femininity it places beyond its bounds.
Burke's plea for the aesthetic L nnt rn be mistaken for some errant
subjectivism. Though he be Ueves strongly in an intuitive =ponse
antecedenl to nason, he i.'i; stem on what M ukes 10 be a pernicious
aestheticizing of moral ' 'alue. and f1dminates in his essay on aesthetic.
opinst ' 211 Infinite deal of whimsical theory' wltlch has 'misled us
both in the theory of tute and of morals' (159). We must not be
induced by these fanciful flights to 'remo-e the sdenlX'. of our duties
from their proper basi> (our our relations, and our DCc-.:s>ities)
to rest ir upon altogether \isiO!"W'Y and unsubstantial'
(159). When it <-omes to morn! ideology, Burke is quite as absolute
and objectivist as any rationalist: it is ju>'l that, like tbc moral Sl.'TlS<
theorists, he cannot believe thai any power not appropriated by
ntE. L\W OF- TilE FlE.o\RT
exptorience, livtd on the body, will move men and women to t1teir
proper civic duties. But Shaftesbury, as we have seen, was a strong
moral realist too, holding that virtue resides in the nature of things
mther than in custom, fancy or will. The moral rebri\ism wbich
others feared in him was what be himself denounced in the
we>rk of his rutor john Locke, "'ho 'struek at all fundamentals, threw
all order aod virtue out of the world and made the very ideas of these
.. unnatural and without foundation in our minds'." fnneis
Hutch<:son, equally, distinguishes between rather than simply contlatcs
the morol and aes1heric: senses: to assen that we possess a mnral sense
as as do< ae>thctic is nut tu identify the one with other.
And David Hume, like believes that ta'tte involves 3 firm
commhmenr to the _rational For both men, f.a1se taste can be
cuncctcd by argumt111' and reflection, as the unckrs!Jinding comes to
intervene in the process or feeling. Tbere is no question with any of
tloese thinkers of some wholes:d. aoomlonmnt uf b ... d for heart.
Even so, the general tendency of !his current of thought nn be
seen 35 a stcdy undcnnining of the mind in the. nome of the oody;
and the pulitic.:J oonsequeuces of this are ambi,alent. On the one
hand, there is surely no doubt that to affinn the claims of affecri\'e
experience against a ruthles.'lly exclusivi.<t reo.'IOn is in principle
progr<ssive. The very emergence of the aesthtic marks in this sense
a ceMain crisis of tnlditiolllll reason, and a potentially tiberating or
utopian trend of thought. By the end of the eighteenth century, such
appeals to feeling will have become identified as dangerously radical.
There is in lhe aesthetic an ideal of compassionate community, of
altruism and natural affection, whicb along "ith faith in the self-
delighting individulll reprcsctlts an affr<mt to ruling-class nllionalism.
On the other hand, It migbt be claimed that such a movement comes
evennmlly m represent devastoting k>ss for the political left. From
Burke and Coleridge 10 Matthew Arnold and T. S. Eliot, the acsthctic
io Britain is c!lcctivtly captured by the political right. The autonomy
of culture, &ociel)' a..r; expres$ive or organic totality, the intuiri\'e
dogmati>;m of the imagin.,tiun, the priority of local affections and
WJ.arguable alkgianccs, the intimidatory of the sublime, the
incontrovertible character of ' immediate' cxpcriCflcc, history as a
spontanoous growth impervious to rational analysi<: these ore some of
the forms i1.1 whic;h tlu: acstiu:tic bl:t-omcs a weaJ)(m in the hand-s of
poUrical reaction. Lived e.'<Perience, which can o!ler a powerful
THF. LA"'' OF nf'F. f.ff.AR.T
critique of Enlightenment rationality, can also he the very homeland
of co.nservative ideology. The cle.tr bold light of republican ratiooalism,
and the intimate affcctiw depths of the poetic, come to figure
lhroughout the ninetcenlit century as effectne antinomies. Tom
P.ine's plain-minded scoffing at Burke's extravagaody melaphorical
diction is an earlier case in point '.Mr. Burke', he commenrs in Tlrt
Rig/ttso[Ma11, 'should recollect that he is writing history and notpla:f1,
IUld thar his readers wiD e:.pcct trUiit, and not lite spouting rant of
hightoned exclamation: 1\.!ary Wollstonecraft writes scathingly of
Burke's 'pampered sensibility', ..,iewing his reason as 'the weather-
cock of unn:straincd fccliniJS' and his cast of mind as lamentably
etfemin3te. the ladies, Sir,' she mocb:, may your
sprigbdy sallies, and ro:tail in theatrical attitudes many of your
sentimental exclamations.',. Her 01\11 dc6nition of the rigbrs of man,
so she proclaim.<, will be by caniTa.>t a 'manly' one.
After the work of Blake and Shelley, myth and xymbol in English
liu:rarure becomes increuinsJy a preserve of the polidcal right, and
'political poetry' an effective oxymoron. The di>course of mdical
rationalism would seem peculiarly resistant to the aCSlhetic -
regstant, that is to say, to wh2t are now the hegemonic definilions of
art. There can be little tr10ck between an analytic language of politic'lll
dissent and those subdy sensuous intensities which are now coming to
monopolize the meanint: of poerry. At the same time, the aesthetic
dearly cannot serve as a dominant ideology for lite middle class,
which in the turmoil of industrial capitalist accumulation will need
a good deal more solid than sentiment and innoi tion to
secure its rule. Sentimentalism, from the standpoint of Victorian
EnsJand, will appear increasinsJy as the badge of an earlier, somowloat
more serenely self-possessed bourgeoisie, which had yet to endure
the C3tad)'SUIS of political revolution abrod and industrial trans-
formation at home. It is, of course, still intcns:ively cultivated on the
but the ruli1tg ideology of Victorian F .. nglaud i!'; a ,irulentl)
aesdoetic Utilitarianism, belated offspring ofEolightenment nuionalista.
Sclf-irotcn:st wins out over moral sense, a. custom, mdilion and
sensibility are subjected to the cold light of rational critique. Yet it is
not ca-y to see how this bloodlessly analytic ideology """ at1uaUy be
lived: if lite Bentlwnite subject must laboriously the
probable conseq uenct-S of each of its actions, how c:o n socful practices
ever be effectively natumlizcdl What has become of habit and virtue,
,;poutanoous impul$e and the political unconscious? And bow, shorn
of fcorurcs, can this upstart doctrine ever achiel;e moral
hegemony? Abrmed by these lacurue, John Stuart MiD rums ro a
>)'!ldtc>"is of the mtionolist and aesthetic tmditions, re\iving the
language of Burkl:im hegemony: '(Bcnthamism] will do ncrhillg ..
for the <pirirual interest.< of society; nor does it suflice of itself even
lor the matt'fial interests. That which alone causes any material
intereats to eldst, wltith alone enables any bc>dy of bumm ro
exist as " society, is national character . . . !\ philosophy oflaw. and
institutions, not founded on a philosophy of mtional chancier, is an
ahsurdity . . .... Bentham, Mill cbims, em in considering only the
moral aspect of human conduct, whueas one must also OOe regnrd
to its aesthetic (beautiful) and sympathetic (1011able) qualities. lf the
error of :nrimcnulism is to set the last rwo O\'er apinst the lim, the
<li>o>ter of on unreconsrructed is 10 ditch !hem entirely.
All tbar remains to be done, then, is to dovelllil Bentham aDd
Coleridge together, vi<'Aing each as the other's 'completing counter
part'. It is us though a sr.nctuml contmdiction in ruling-c:lass ideology
can be resolved by holdinr a different book in either hand
Yet Mill's gesrure Is not as idly academicist as it seems. It it true
thot the industrial middle cia.'>.<, with its :uidly instrument:lllst
is in<11p11blo of gc:n<ntting uuder its own st .. m a persuasive
esthetics - unable, that Is, to develop the Sl)1es and forms which
would weave its unlovely power into the fabric of euryday life. To do
this it mwt look elsewhere, to what Anwnio Gntmsci termed the
'tradiriooal' inrcUe.CIIlals; and this, in the evoludcm from r:be later
Coleridge to John Ruskin and Matthew Arno.ld, is exactly what takes
place. The unca>-y ninctecnth-c:entury alliance of potrician ond
philistine., euhure and socieey, Is amonr other things the tale of an
ideology in search of hegemony- of a spiriruaUy disabl<d 'bourgeoisie
constrained to go tu .chool with an aesthetictting rigllr which speaks
of organic unit)', intuitive cerhinty and the free play oflhc mind. That
this oestheric firuoage alsn produces a powerful Idealist critique of
bc>urgeois utility is the uthcr side of the story; if pbilistine nd
are allied in some ways, they arc at loggerheads in uthcrs.
Indeed the rtlations berwccn them are an exemplary case of the
fraught conn<ion bel'ol-een facts BJld vulues. The only truly
compeUing moral ideology is one wltich succeeds in grounding itself
to some degree in real material conditions; if it fai ls to do so, its
idealism "ill Jlf(We a constant source of poUtkal t mbaiTllSS!tlent.
Discourses of ideal value too palpably disse,ered from the way men
8lld .. omen aCNally experience !heir social conditions merely mark
lh<oir own redundancy, and are thus politically vulner:1ble. This is "
progressive problem for the nineteentl1-centwy middle dass, which is
still deeply dependent upon ccnaill metaphysical values for its
idenlogic:allegitimarion, but which is in danger of subverting some of
those very by lloe nature of its material actmtics. Its
sccularizlng, rationalizing pra<:tices are bringing many traditional
pieties, not le25t religious ones, into discredit; :md in this
sense the nature: of the 'base' is perilously at odds wilh lh<o
requirements of the 'supcrsuucture'. The Kaatian critique of
met:aphysiu marl:s t he point at which it has become lh<ooretically
dillicuh to jUSiify many of the doctrines on which, in its routine
ideological practices, the n.oling order still relies. lnd ustrlal capltollim
can b) no means brusquely discount spiritual' values; but such \Ia Iues
will come to have about mem an increasiDgly hoUow, impb usiblc
ring. As &r as the Victorian bourgeoisie is concerned, the Olll<talgic
neo-fe.tdolism o( a C.rlyle or Ruskin Clln be neither credited nor
entirely disowned: eeccntrlc and risibly unreal tboqh such visions
may be, they are :1 !iOUrce of ideological stimulus and
moral edilication which the marl<ct place, at k-ast fur the lower orders,
is diSO'I:SiiDgly unable to provide.
The aesthetic is one :mswer to this ve""d question or how values
are to be deri\"ed_. in a condition where ci\til society nor the
politial Slate would seem to provide such va!UJ with a particularly
plausible foundation. We hove seen alrt.1dy some of the dillicullies
involved for the middle class in founding its !.piritu:ol solidarity un the
degraded basis of civa and an alternalire strategy is there fore
to twn in Amoldian style to the stltt, as the ideal locus of 'culture'.
Throughout the nineteenth centtlty, many a thinker had recourse to
this apparently promising solution. It has, ho-er, one signal
drawback: the fact dlar the state is ulrimardy a coercive appararos,
and so at udds with tbe W.:al of a '"mmwlily which wuukl be
gmi!Yingly uncoosttained. The whole poiDt of aesthetic taste, as a
model of spiritual communi!)', is that it cannot he forced. If, then,
value is incn:asingly hard to derive either from the WlJ'j the world is or
from lhe way It might feasibly become; if civil society f.s too lowly a
hahit1tion for it and the roo lofty a one, then ohere would
Sm no alternative but to acknowledge such vlllue's profound
mysu:riousn<'ss. 'Moral sense' is equivalent to confessing dat !here is
no longer any rationally demonstrable basis fur \'aluc, 0\"en if ,. .
ne\'ertheless continue to experience it. Actornlity. lie aesthetic tasee,
becomes aje,.. Jis qiMli: we just know what is right and wronr , as '''c
know that Homer is superb or that someone is standing on our foot.
Such itwpoinl combines the dogmati>m of aU app.,.Js to intuition
or 'felt experience' with a serenely pre- Freudian t:rust in lhe subject's
immediate prtsence to itu l(
One aestheticizing response 10 the problematic origins ohaluc is
thus to root in the delicacie-s of the :alltcti\'e body. Another,
slurply different stratell)' is to found value not in
sensibility, but in itself. In this perspective, V3lue is not anything one
could e-ver get bdlirr.d, rcdw:c tu a more fundamcntll order or
principle; it Is radically self-derivati\'e, a law unto itself which bows to
oo exrernal dererminatiorr. This, io effecr, is the. standpoint of Kant's
scoond Critiljue, for wbich the moral law is wholly aulooomous. One
should be good not because it is pleasant or practical, but because it is
mOT:Il to be so, in the sense reason has ao interest in its vwn
pTliCtical function. Such a case draws not upon the aesthetic as
affective - indeed it sets its ace sternly against 411 mere sensibility-
but upon the aesthetic as outotdic: as that which in divine fashion
bears its ends entirel)l within itself, generates itself up miraculously
out of its own substance. mote, to be sure, secures \'2lue
absolutely; but il does so al the dirt cast of threatening to remote it
from the material world in wltich it is supposed w be active. As with the
earlyWingenstein, u lue is in a certain serue no longer in lbe "'Orld at
aU. If value is thus inviololble, it is partly because it is invisible. The
go.emiug order would se= left with tittle choice but tu
subjecrivizc value, thus draw;ing it rather too cloK for comfon to lbe
rebtitistic Oux of daily Ufc, or to seal it off from th2t SJ)Mre in a
splendid autonooty not easily rustinguishable from sheer impotence.
Once more, it is the dilemma of either enuusting value to the mercies
of everyday civU society, or alienating it to an Olympian height where
it will merely succeed in measuring the disabling diSiance beiWeen
itself and the actual world.
In a notable bisrorical irony, the binb of aesthetics as an inteUccrual
discourse coincides widJ the period when. cuhural production is
begiMing 10 suffer the miKries and indignities of commodification.
The peculiarity of lhe aesthetic is in part spiritual compensation fur
this degradation: it is just wbcn 1M artist is bccllllllng deha.<ed to a
petty ooiJllllm!ity producer that he or she wiD lay claim to
tnmsc:endent g.:niu>. But !here i> anvthtT n'liSOn fur the fan-gr<JW1ding
of the artefact which aestllctics achieves. What art is now able to
offer, in thor ide<:Jiogical rtoding of it known as the aesthetic, is a
paradigm of more general social - an image of self-
referenrialil}' whieh in an audacious move seizes upon lhc 'CJY
functionle!>Sntss or :lJ1i!>1ic proctice and trnnSforms it to. vision of the
lUshest good. 1\s a fonu of value grounded entirely in itself, without
practical rhyme or reason, the aeslhetic is at once eloquent testimony
to lhe obscure origins lllld enigmatic Aature of ,.Jue in a
W<Juld seem everywhere to deny it, and a utopilln gHmpse nf an
alternative to this condition. Fnr wh:1t the work of :;art imitates in
its very poimlessness, in 1he constant rno-.emcnt by which it <.unjurt-s
itSelf up from its own inscrutable depths, is nothing Jess than human
exisrr.nce itself, which for the rationnlists and Utililltrinns)
requires uo rationale beyond its own sdf-detiJ:ht. For this Romantic
doctrine, the an work is most ricb in political implications where it is
most cloriously futile.
It may 3lso b<, buvcvcr, that the aesthetic does more than figure a
new concept ofvaluc. !fit is on the one h>nd autonomous oflhe real,
it might also hold out protuise of reooociling the SWld<red realms of
fact and value. For Baumgancn, as we N\'C seen, the aesthetic is a
region ad_iacent tn bur di.<!i.tinct from 1he cogniti\'e; wi1h the
cognitive is steadily redueetlto a fonn of sensibility not far rcmO\'ro
from lite aesdtelil:. One can, however, look at the relation between
these nro in a quite different W:\)' \Vhen sciet1ct: contemplaHS
t:he world, wba.t it knows is an impersonal space of causes and
processes quite independent of the subject, and so alartningly
indifferent tn v-.1lue. Rut che f01<:l th:tl '.l't (. ':lfl know tile wurld at aU,
however grim which lhis might have to de:livcr,
must surely cnlllil S(I!DC fundamental harmony between ourselves and
it. For there to be knowledge in the first place, our faculties must he
somehow maJVellously adjusted to material re:11ity; and for lmmanul
Kant it is the conwmpbtiun of this purl' fono of our cognition, of its
very enabling conditions, which is the aesthetic. The aesthetic is no
longer on this \;'iew a to reason, or a sentiment to
which that n:ason can be n:du<-cd; it is simply the state in whlch
common knowledge, in the ct of reoclllng on t to its object, suddenly
arrests and munds upon itself, forgening irs referent for a moment
and attending instead, in a wondering llash ()[ sclf-cstnngemenr, to
the miraculously convenient way in which its inmost sttuCIUre seein.,
ge;ned to !he compreheru.ion of the real It is cognition viewed in a
different tight, taught in the act, so that in this tittle crl.'i' or
revelatory breakdown of our cogniti,,e rou1ines, nol luJJ we ko.ow but
rhat we know becomes the deepest, roost delightful mystery. The
aesthetic and the cognitive are thus neither dividbie spheres nor
reducible to one anotlter. Indeed the aeschetic is not a 'sphtre' at aU:
it is just the moment of letting go of the world ;and clinging instead to
the formal act of knowing it. If, then, society has cleaed human
experience down the middle, confronting an drained of
intrinsic n lue with a subject now forctd to generate all ,,.Jue from
itself, the aesthetic will become in Kant's bands a way of healing that
rift, reuniting humanity with a world whicll seems to have turned ill;
bck on it.
1 G. W. F. Hq;d, l ll, p. H.
2 Shaftesbury, 'An Enquiry Concerning Vinue or M.erit', in LA. Selby a
Digge (ed.), Briti<h JltunJut ((O. rorrl, 189;'), p. H. For the 'mor:.t
sense' school in g<ncnl, see Stanley Greon, Slzafia,.ry's PAc10J8114y of
Rtlipon nli ErMa (Ohio, 1967); Henning Jensen, Moti::otion And tAt
. .lforn/ Smst in HNtchtsoi ErhWJ Thtor:; (Tbe l bgue, 1971); Gbdys
Bryson, ,Hao and Sukry: TN SCOit#A Enqaity of tit< 18/h Cmt1111
(l'rinc.:ton, 1945); Peter Kivy, 1k Sa.YNth Sa:st: A Study of Fnmtis
Hucm"on< Arrrhttia (New Y<>rt, 1976); R.I.. 77tt 71riri uri of
Shaflcrbury (London. 1.951); md E. Tuvcson, 'Shaficsbwy and 1M A,e
of SensibilitY, in H . . >Utderson and J. Shea (eds), Srcul;, ;, AaJhttia J
Criticism (Minne:opolis, 1967). For.., :account or John I.oc:le'< inllutn<1:
on Hutcheson, sec]. Stolnitz. tLocke. iUld aesthetics', Phi/.Dfljthy,
\'01. 38 ( 196J).
3 Sclby-l!lfie, BritiJh Morrdistt p. 37.
4 Shaftcsbury, Ch<mUtrriflin (Glooccstcr, Mass. 1963). \'OJ. I , p. 79.
5 Shafu.s:tmry, So . .,J CA.IrtJtl.m quoted in Grean, Sha{u-slmry'J Plri!Vf.U(Jit.f
Jl. 91.
6 For a suit1bly .ccrbic review of Shaftesbucy's regressive ideological
reodtncies, .see Robert .Markley, as Ped.:mnance:
Sh.oftesbUI)', Sterne, and the Theatrics of VirtuC', in F. N""'bawn and
L. Brown (005), Tl11 Nno Eightmll, O.tr111 (New York. 1987).
7 HutdH:snn. 'An luquiry the Original of our lck:s of Virrue
or Mornl Good', in Sen,--Ri
'!1", Britnb M..,Wsts p. 70.
8 Athm Smith, ;The Theory of Mont ScntimcniS', in Selby Bigge, Britoh
MtmJIJlu p. 321 .. For a userul aooouJlt of problems ufsoci.:al cohe:sion in
the eigllltenth cenrury, see Jobn BmeD, EnQish Liunnurt in HiJwry
1730-80: A a EfU44 Wtb Sun<y (London, 1983), lntroduc:lion.
9 It i s ..-orth poinrinr out thar if the monl sauo mcorisu :ue correct in
wb2t they ffinn, then they are the laSt morallSlS. I' or if right conduct is
grounded in intuitio11, thm it is hard 10 sec why there is a need for ethical
discourse at all. Tbe mtmtl sense phiJosophtrs do of sec tht need
for such a way o( c:laborating, clari(ylng and if necessary
transforming our intuitions; bm the lent.iency of thekr c;rsre at its 1nlM
euphoric is 10 argue themselves steadily oot of OO.U...S. EtiUc:ol
discourse is necessary beuuse what aJOnts as being, say,
compauionate in p2nicvlar circumstances is: f.u from clear. Tbc \'tl')'
cxis:1cntc of'morallanguage' thus tc.stilics to our moral
It is prccisdy because of this sclfopaqucncn. and because we ar<
sonlelitnt'S confromed wi.dt choices in(:()mpatible goods, that
t.he l3nguage uf is nECt:SS2.ry.
10 David Hun1c, 'Of the Sundord ofTasle', in lis>J'S (London, u.d.), I'
175. s .. also Jerome Stolnitz, 'On the Origin.< of 'Ae.<Jhetic Dis-
interestedness', ; .. ,..J of Aal!ttria rmd Art Criti<ism, ,-oJ. XX, no. 2
II Selby-Biac, e,;IJS.4 Al.,..liJN p. 258.
12 Ridtard Price, 'A Rcriew of the Principal Questions in Morals', in
Selby-BiJ!S",llriiUio MondnN pp. 106-7, 133.
13 Louis Althusser, 'ld.Oiogy nnd ldeoJugic:rl Shlte Apparutusos', in Lmi11
onJ (Loodon, 19il).
14 Hegel, Phm--log; of Spirit (Oxford, 1977), Jl 222.
IS Ernst Cassitcr, Plti1Mtt4y oflh< /Jolif/tlo:rrt<ot (Jloston, 1951), p, 313.
16 Edmund Burke, 'First Letter on Regicide Puce', quoted by Tony
TanDU, ]arrt Amtm (LondOn, 1986), p. 27.
17 Btrncll Spinoza, 11rt Polwm Wom , ed. A. G. Wemlwn (Oxford,
p. 93.
18 Ed.mund Busb:, fl4lurimrs .., th< Frnulr R""'blli"" (Londoo, 1955),
p. 88.
19 F=co More11i, 11re 11'4)' o{tht Wor/J (l.ond.on, 198i), p. 16.
20 Selby-Dine. British MMJ/isn p. 107.
21 Sec jacques Derrida, Of Crrzmma1o/oty (l!alllmorc, 1974), Pan 2,
dtaptcr 2.
nit: L"W OF 111t: ll.CAKT
2Z r\s fir as- the '1cxtuality' of hi:stor)' goes, Humc comments in his 1'no:tiu
on the multiple copies by which :my p:tr1icubr fac1 is tr.ms-
mined: 'Before lhe knowledge of the fact coold come to the first historian, it
tnusl' be convcy'd tltro
many mouths.; and 2ftcr it is committed to
writing, each new copy iJ a ocw object, of which lhc conncKtion \\;th the
roregoing is knolm only by experience and obscmtion' {lirariu f
Huma" p. 145). Hume weU gntspt'd, (li.lrRrlla lht muJcrn
principle cf 'intenexwuaiity' :ttul lhe sceptitistn with which il is
.s<ncllOlt:S COtlpled; he COncludes Jhis rec:C of argument With the cb.im
rhat the .-,r al.l :un:ietd his.tory is now lost to us.
2J See NOilllOil Kemp Smith, Tk PMIOI.plry of Daoid lluo1t (London,
194 1). Sec: :also, fer useful accowus oi Huroc, Peter jones, 'Cause,
Reuoo and Objectl\il)' in Hume's Aeslhctlcs', in D. W. Uvinpton and
J. T. KJnr (eds), Hu,.c: A Jlccaluorion (New York, 19761; llany SllOUd,
HuMr (London, t9n); ll.oocn J. l'ogclm, Hu'""'s m rhr
Trnm'se fl.{ Huwwn Naiurt!' (l.or.u1oo, 1985), :m.d Alao;d:ai r Mac.lot)Tc:l
Wind. l?oJi.,../ily? (Londoo, 1988), chopters 15 and 16.
24 Daid Hume, TrulliseofHumiln N111ure, ed. L. !\. Sclb)BiJ!ge (Oxford,
1978), p. i69. All subsequent refer<nees to t:hJs wort will be pen
J>lU'CnWdollly after quotarions In the tcoet.
25 [)avid Humc, amrnning llu Huwwn lin.tkmtmJing 1mJ 1lu
PriNipla of Moroh, .,1. I.. A. Selby-Ri!!b"' (0>fon:d, l% I), 1' 293. All
sttbsequent references [0 this "'()rk will be gi\'cl\ pa.renthetically after
qool:UiCII)!O in the
26 Hume, Essys, p. 165.
27 Ibid, p. I 78.
28 EdmUIId Burt<, Phil ... pAiMI lquiry int Origin 11/ our )Iii., of the
Sul!lr'mNnd tht Jmutifir/, in 1iu Wor.ls o/ Ed MUM B'"*" (London, 1906),
'\'Ill. 1. p. 95. All !-."'UhSCqut:nt refcreru.:cl-1 to this wvrk will be given
panmthtH.ically nftr. r qu()l:ltinns in chc I ext. !iee al,;o, for of the
rellltions between Burke's politics and aesthetics, Neo>l Wood, 'The
Authetic Dimension of Burl<e's Politic>) Thousht', ]<Y.Jmol f 8rirish
Srvdia no. 4 (1%4); Rnn:ald Paulson, 'The Sublime nd the Beautiful',
in JlcpmcnrriMJ of !Uw/ution (Ntw Ha\'en, 1983), and W. j. T.
Mitchell, 'E)e nd Ear: F..dmund Burie and !he Politics of Sensibility', in
frmwlnfJ (Chicab>o, 19R6).
Althussu, 'Ideology and Ideological State ApparatuS<$'.
30 SigrnUDd Freud, 17r< Ego alfli th< ld, in Siprll1li "'"'''On MnaPfy<no!o/1)
(Harmot>dswortb, 1984), p. 3b0.
31 Mary Wollsronecmft, Jlinditdti .. o/ "" Rigl!ss of Mm (GainesvjU.,
tlori<ho, 1960), p. I H.
32 Ibid., p. I 16.
33 Ourl:e, /Uflut;tms rua lhr Fn.nck Rnxdutiatt
p. SQ.
34 Ibid., p. 59.
JS Ibid., p. H.
36 Ibid., p. 75.
37 Quoted in Ki\y, Tftt Sevm1h Smst p. 9.
38 Tbomasl'ain<:, ~ t Rishu of Matt (London, 1958), p. 2t.
39 Wolbwnc<:nft, l'imiifJJ!;..,, p. 5.
40 j ohn Stulart Mill, "'!1" "" Bmrbam and 01/rrlilgr, ed. F. R. Leavis
(London, 1962), p. 73.
The Kantian Imaginary
Why i it that modem philosophy ha. retumed so often to the
question of episteonol<'!n'? Wly slHl<ld the droma of subject nd
object, the fraught narrative of their couplintp and splittings,
m.uchings and misalliances, have so consistently dominated the
modem philusupbirnl stage, like the mle uf two incompatible partnrts
continually warring to gain an edge over each other, who nevertheless
cannot relinquish their fatal fascination for one another and rcsoh'e
yet again, after another painful separation, 10 make a go of it?
That the individual subj'ecr should come ro occupy centn: stage,
relru:erpreting lhe world with reference 10 Itself, follows logically
enough from bo"-'8"ois economic nd political practice. But the more
the world is lhus subjeclivizccl, the more this a!J..priviledged subject'
begins to undem1ioe tbe very objective condition< of it< own pre-
eminence. The wi<kr the >1Jbjcct extends its imperial sway over
reality, lhc more it relativizes that terrain to its own needs and desires,
dissolving the world's substance into stuff of it5 own senses. Yet
the more it thereby erodes any objective criteria by "tlich to measure
the signilieaoce or even reality of its 0'1>11 experience. The subject
n<!.ds w know that it is suprem.ty b.t i t c':lllnot know this if
its own sotipsism has eanccllcd out any S<:alc by which such value
might be assessed. What is this subject privilegcdiN<r, if lhe world
has been st..,dily dwindled 10 no moro than an mirror inuge
of itsdf1 The botugl'ois ubjto.ct would seem in this sense a trgically
sel{Cdeteating creature, one whose \'CI)' sdf-allinnalion tums in-
exorably bock upon itself to eat away at its own enabting conditions.
'We must ponder the ;momaly', writes Fredric Jameson,
dUll it is only in ""' most completely humanise<! emironn>ent,
the one the most fully and obviously the end product of
human labour, prnduc.rion, and transformarlon, tlw Ufe
bccomc.s mc:aningkss, and lhat e:x.i.sten.tiitl de.-.pair fi rst
appears as such in direct proponion to the elimination of
nature, d.e non- or ami-humon, oo the increasing rollback
of everything that threatens human life and the prO>l"'Ct of
a well-nigh lirniliess control over the extenul universe.'
A c.eltlin ohjecriviry is tbe '"'I)" condition of subjecrhood, -..i!lcb must
have .II the solidity of a mterilll fact, and yet which cannot be by
definition any such tbing. It is vital that the wurid eunlinru; my
subjectivity, yet I m a subject nnly in .<o far>.< I bring tht< world to be
in the first place. In appropriating the whole of external nature, the
subject to its OOCIStem>tion that it has appropriated
its own objecrivity along with it.
'Objectivity' could here be roughly translated as the imperative:
' You re.<pect my property and 111 respect yours.' The other
establishes my objectivity by le.,ing me alone, and confers freedom
and on himaelf1n the same act. l'roperry, the very mark
and seal of >ubj<c"tivity, is nothing if not backed by a comple> system
of legal safeguards and political guarantees; but the ,.cry subjectivlsm
of a property-owning order will tend to rum tre3<berously :agolnst on
S\ICh objtcti,c 5&a"-1ions, which can uever bave the same existential
force or ontological reality as the subject ltaelf. The non-subjccti"llc
can be outltenticoted only through the medium of the subject's
cxpc:ricncc, where it is aiWllys in peril of being oonvcrtcd intu sdlboo.t
and so abolished. Alternatively, tbat which remains beyond the seu is
equally derealized in a world where subjectivity is the measure of all
things. The bourgeois subject requires Orne Other to assure irseu
that its powers and properties are more than hallucinatory, that its
acti"llities Iurie meaning because they take place in a shared objective
world; yet such otherness is 2i<o intoleuble oo tbe subject, and must
be eitlrcr expelled or illlrojccted. There can be no sovereignly without
someone to reign over, yet his Y<."f'Y pn:sciJCc lhKa.tens to thruw one's
lordship into jeopardy. Th:rt which confirm. the ubject' identity
cannot help exposing it as constrained; to mark .J"'"' limit ('keep off
my property!') is oo sketch, impossibly, my own.
Wothout some slllndard or objectivity, the subject is reduced to
conferring value upon itself, in what is at once the defiant boast of the
modem ('I take vulue from myself alone!') and its hollow C'l)' of
anguish Cl am so lonely In this universe!'). It Is the double narure <>f
which appears to know no middle ground bc:n.ec::o the
mania of exerting its powers and the depressive knowledge that It
docs so in cmpry space. So it is that [(,u,t will strive to repai r the
subjectivist damage wrought by Humc's sceptical empiricism by
restoring the objecti\c order of things, but restoring it - since there
cn now be no lopsing back into a !.-ubj.:ctless rntionalism - from
within the standpoint of the subject itself. In an heroic labour, the
objective world must be S.llvaged from the ravages of subjectivism and
patiently reconstructed, but in a space where the subject, however
constimted by the celebrated categories, is still sovereign. Not only
>;QYereign, indeed, but (in contnst to the sluggish subject of
empiricism) lltloyantly octive, with all tlte produclive t'tlcrgy of an
epistemological entrepreneur. The point will be to preserve that
shapiog energy without subverling tlte objeclive realm which guarantees
its signifi<ane<:; and Kant will thus trace within the very texrure of the
subject's experience that which points beyond it to the re:tliry of the
materil world. Tbe productive acliviry of this ubject will socure
objectiviry rather than undermine it; there will be no more sawing
oway ot the branch on which one sit<.
If the essence of subjecthood is frccdOID, then bOulJCois man
seems condemned to at the very pe2k of hi< pnwefll,
sioce freedom is by de6n.ition unknowoble. \\1,.1 can be kotJwn is the
determinate; and aU we can say of subjectivity is that whatever it is it is
certainly not that. The subject, the founding principle of the whole
enterprise, slips through the net uf reprl'Sentation and 6gures in its
very uniqueness as no more than a mute epipiW!y or pregnant
silence. If the world is the sysrem of CO!:Diuble objects, then the
'Ubjecl which lrnows these objects cannot itself be in the ....,rid, any
more than (as the early Witrgenstein remarks) the eye can be an
oblecr within lts own visual field. The subject is not a phenomenal
entity to be reckoned up along with lhe objects it moves among; it is
that which brings such objects ro presence in the first ph!ee, and so
m<WeS in a different sphere enri rely. The subject is not a phenomenon in
the WClrld but a transcendental up<Jn it. We can, so to spek,
squint at it sidcwa)'S as it gives itself along with the things it
represents, but like the spectral othor whu walks beside }OU in The
Wll$k lAnd it '"'nishes if Y<lU try to look at it !rtraight. Getting a fix on
the subject opens up the dizzying prospect of an infinite regress of
meta-subJects. Perhaps, then, the subject can figure only negatively,
as empty excess or tNoscendence of any particular. We cannot
comprehend the subject, but as with the Kanrian subtimc we can, as it
were, comprehend its incomprehensibility, which appears as the
negarion of all detcrminat-y. The subject st-.:ms somehow squel.7ed
out of the system of .,hich it is the 1)11Chpin, at once soUKe and
creator and leftU\Ier. It is that wbich brings the world to
presence, but is banislled from its own creation and can by no means
be deduced from it, other than in the rhJ,nnmcnological sense that
there must be something whid1 appeanUice is an appearance to. h
govems and mnipulate.< Nature, yet since it eonulns no partide of
materiality in its own make-up it is :a mystery how it comes to ha,,e
truck 1\ith anything as lowly as mere objects. This prodigal
structuring power or unfathomable caracity seems aJ the woe time
sheer paucity and negation, l)ing- as it does at tbe very limit of what
can be known. Freedom is the very life breath of the bourgeois order,
yet it ('llllJiot be image-d in itself. TI1e moment we try to encircle it with
a concept, seize upon our own shadows, it slips over the borizDn of
our knowledge, leaving nothing in our grasp btt the grim laws of
necessity of external Nature. The 'I' denotes not a substance but a
formal perspective upon re3llty, nd there is DO dear way of
descending from this transcendental unify of apperception to one's
humdrum nwerW existence In the world. The enrerprise of science
is, possible, but nlUSt r:ttl C)tltside the domain it Knower
and known do not occupy a shared fidd, even if tbat intimate traffic
them which is knowledge might suggest that they do.
If freedom is to flourish, if tbe subject is to extend its colonizing
sway over things and sump them with its indelible presence, then
systematic knowledge of the world is nd this must include
knowledge of other subjec!S. You cannot hope 10 opente as on
efficient capitalist in blisbe ignorance of the law. of human
psychology; and this i< one rea.<nn why the ruling order needs at its
disposal a body uf detailed knowledge of the. subject, which goes by
the name of tbe 'human sciences'. knowledge y<lU caanor
hope to be yet knowledge anti freedom are also in a curious
sense antitheticaL If it is essential to my freedom that I should know
others, then it foUows that they can know me too, in which case my
ITeedom may be cunailcd. I can c<>rtJIOie myself' with !he
liought tllt whatever em be known of me is by de6oition not ote, is
beterouomow to my authentic being, since the cannot be
captured in an obicct:ilrc representation. Out in this case, one might
I merely purchase my freedom at its own expense, gain it and
lose it at strol:e; for 1 have now also deprived myself of the possibiliry
of knowing others in their very es.<;ence, and it might be thought mat
sucll knowledge is essential to my self-development
Knowledge, in otherwords
is to some drgrte in C()lltradicrion wilh
the power it exists to prom.o1e. Fur tht: 'human scit:nccs, subjects
must be inteltipblc and predictable; but the transparency whicll this
entails is at odds with the doctrine of the inscrutability of the human
with whlcb capitalism strives to mystify its social relations. All
knowledge, as Romanticism is aware, contains a secret irony or
incipient contradiction: it muSI at once mas.rer irs object and confronr
it as other, acknowledgl' in it an autonomy it simultaneously subvens.
The fntasy of toraltechnologicol nmnipotencr conceals a nighmure:
in appropriating Nature you risk it, appropriating nothing
but your own acts of consciousncS$. There is a similar problem .,ith
rredict:lbility, wblcll in surrendering pbOll<llll<Ona inm the bands of
the sociological priests threatens to abolish history. Predictive science
founds the great P"''f<'Sllivc narntiv<-s of middle-class history, but by
the same stmke offers to undermine them, convening all diachrony to
a se<.-ret synchrony. History as risk, enterprise and adventure is in
deadlock with rhc most pri,ilcg< form of bourgeois cognjtion, the
Eros of hi<tory at odds "itb the Th4Mios of science. To be frte means
to cakulate the muv"" of yuur competitors while s;,:urely
impervious to such calculability oneself; but such calculations may
themselves modiJY one's compelitors' bebariour in ways that impose
limits on one's uwn free project. There would be uo wy for lite mind
to muter this \'Olotile situation as a whole; such knowl<dgl', in Kant's
terru.5, woold be the metaphysiC3l fantasy of a non-perspectival
Wldcrstsndiog. A c<nain blindness is the ,.ery condition of bourgeois
history, whiC:h rhrive..' on its ignorance of .an assured outcome.
Know led!:" is power, but the more you hll'le of it tile more itthreatens
to reb you of your desire and render you impotent
Fnr Kant, all oognition of others is doomed to be purely
phenomenal, forever remute from the secret sprin&'S of subjectivity.
Someone can tabulate my interests and desires, but if I am not to be a
mere empirical ooj1 I mu>t be trns..-.:n<kut of things, of all
lh.1t can be mapped by empiric! knowledge. No ow:h researd! can
resulve the delicate issue of bOY. sudt and desire-s come to
be mitu - of what !t is for me, rather than you, to experience this
particular yearning. Knowledge of human subjects is impn.ssihle n(lt
because they are so devious, multiple aud decenrred as to be
imrenerrably opaque, but because it i.< simply a mistal:e to think that
the subjtct is tltc kind of thing that could ever possibly be nov.11.lt is
just D()t a feasible object of cognition, any more than ' Being' is
something we could know in the s.ame manner as a slab of marzipan.
\Vhatc-.cr we think we arc win always tum out to be some
suitably spirirualizcd entity, thought along the lines of a material
object, the mere p.m:><ly or t;hostly after-ima&e of a thing. Indeed
Jacques Derrida has shown how, when Kant cumes to imagine human
freedom, be sUps inoo conceiving this most immaterial of realities in
terms of an organic natural object.' The subject is absnlutely nothing
whatSoever of an object -which is to say that it is a kind of oodling,
rh3t this -vaunted libeny is also a vacancy.
Of course, to have a phenomenal koowlcdgc of others may in fact
be enough for using them to our own advantage. But it may not be felt
sufficient for cunstructing the kind of '"li'"rsal subjectivity whicb a
ruling class requires for itS ideological solidarity. For this pwposc, it
might be possible to main to something which, while not snictly
knowledge, is non<the!ess very like iL This pseudo-knowledge is
what is knov.11 as the aesthetic. When, for Kont, we find ourselves
concurring spontaueou.dy in an aesthetic Judgement, able to agree
that a certain phenomenon is sublime or beautiful, we exercise a
precious form of intersubjecti\ity, estabtisbing OUI'Selvcs as a com-
munity of feeUng subjectS linked by a qulck sense of our shared
The aesthc...-tic is in no v.11y cognitive. but it has about it
something of the form and strUCture of the rational; it thus unites us
with all the authority of law, but at a more affective, intuitive level.
Vihat brinp us together as subject> is not knowledge but an indl'abk
reciprocity of feeling. And this is cenainly one major reason why the
aesthetic has figured so cenlntlly in bourgeois thought. For the
alanning truth is that in a soci21 order marked by class division and
marlcet competition, it may finally be here, and only here, that human
beings belong together io some intimate Ccm<ittJ<ltsfi. At the level of
theoretical discourse, we know one auotber only as objects; at the
level of morality, "''C know and n:o-p<:ct ca<h olhcr as au1ono1110us
subjecls, but can have no concept ofwlw thi$ means, and sensoous
f""Ung for oc.hers is oo essen1ial element of such knowledge. In lhe
sphere of ac,;thrtic culture, how..-cr, we cin our shared
hwnanil}' ,.Uh all the of our response to a fi ne painting or
lllllgni6cent sympho.ny. it is in the apparently most
private, li'til and intansfble asptC15 of our lioles lhat we blend most.
hmmonioll.'lly with one another. Titis is at once an astonishingly
optimistic: and pessimistic doctrine. On the OtiC hand: ' How
marvellous lhat human unity can be found installed in the very
inwardness of the subject, and in that most sc:trninJiy wayward and
capricious of rc:;pons.:s, acslhctic 12Stcl' On lhe olher band: 'How
ickeningly JM'CCarinus human solidarity must be, if it can finally be
rooted in nolhing more resilient than the ''agmes of aesthetic
judgement!' If the esthetic must bur the burden of huiiWI
communil}, Ibm political society, one might suspect, must leave a
good deal to be desired.
Kant's OWD political society was not, of course, by any means of
fially-d..-elop<:d bourgeois kind; and to of him as a bourgeois
philosopher may therefore seem to some merely anachroDlslic:. There
ore many ways, however, in wf>icb hi< thought adumbrates the ideal<
of middle-class libenllism - in whicb his thinking is utopian in lhat
pooritivc, cllrichcnin( scru;c. from the bean of autocraa;y, Kantove;ks
up buvely for values which Will prOe ultimately sulwtrsive of that
r<Jime; but it is curioosly one-sided to claim Kant in this sl}:le as a
Iibellll champion, and to overtoot the ways in which his lhought is
already disclosing some of the problems and contradictions of the
emergent middle-class order.
If we cannot, strictly speaking, know the then at least- so
""' 0111 console ourselves - we caD know lhe object. In a no12ble irony,
however, Ibis latter operation rums out in bourgeois 50Ciety tu be
quite as unthinkable as lhc f()[Dier. If it is wen known that Kant views
the human subject as quite beyond the pale of conceptual
enquiry, then it is e\en betll:t knov.11 that be b<licvcs jut the >arne of
the object, the infamous, insCl'Utllble DinK-ae-Jidt which. slides over
one borizm of our knowledge liS the pban1asmal subj!'Ct vanishes
over the other. Georg LuUcs has argued that this opaqueness of the
object in Kant is an effect of reification, whereby nuterial products
remain heterogeneous in their rich particularity to the formal,
commnd;fied categories which seck to encomp2SS lhcm.' They mlJSt
accordingly be consigned to 1he 'irrotioool' outer darkness ol the
unknowable, leaving thought to confront lhc mtrc shad.,... uf it;cl
The Dint-an-sidJ is in lhis sense less some supmensible elllily lhan
lhe material limit of aU such reilicatory a fain1 echo of the
re:al's mute re.<;l<tlnce to it. To recm-er the so-called lhing in itself as
usc-value and social product would then be simultaneou.<ly to revul
it as suppressed socW rotallty, restoring those social relations which
the commodified c:negories ble:tch out. PreocC11pid with materiaUty
Kant undouba:dly is, it is as thuugh matter canout appear iu
all its irreducibility wi1hln the K.mdan system; but It is precisely this
matter, in the fonn of certain cuntraili""tory social relations, whicb
generates the strUcture of r.he entire in the fim pW:e.
The thing in iLSelf is !bus a kind af empty signiller of 1ha1 tow
knDWiedge which the bourgeoisie never ceases to dream ot; but "''hicb.
illi own fragmenting, disse...,ring activities continually fru.<trate.ln the
act of knowinJ, the subject ctrulot help but project from its inevitably
partial perspective the phantasmal possibility of knowledge beyond
aU catcgori<.'S, which then risks striking what it "'" know neagrely
relati1:o. The subjealanguishes In lhe grip of a rabid eplstemopbilla
whicb is at once logical to its project- to hold the whole world in a
single lbouglu!- and potentially subversive of it. For such mct1ph,.>Sical
delusion<; simply distract it from the proper business of actual
knowledge, which must always be koowledge from one perspective or
another. 'On the one hand', writes Lulics, ' (Jhe bourgeoilie)
acquires increasing oontrul mer the details of its social existence,
suhjocdng !bern to !IS needs. On the other band, it loses- likewise
progressively- the possibility of gaining intellectual control of society
as a whole and wilb that it loses its own quslilications for leadership."
At d1e height of irs dominance, then, the bourgeois class finds it5elf
<-uriously dispossessed by the order it has created, wedged as it is
between an ullknowab!e subjectivity on the one side a.nd an
uomasterble object on the orher. The real world is irrational, beyond
the mastery of the subject, a sheer invis<ble of resistam:c to the
catc:gories of the understanding, which confront it in the manner of
empty, abotrncl fonns expelling some brute faeticity. The categories
themselves are in lhis sense awdelled em the commodil)' fonn. In lhis
siruation, one can settle stoically for the irreducibility of the real to
thought, thus recognizing the limits of one's own subjectivity; or one
C3ll follow me pllm of a Hegel and seek to recuperate me material
object itself .. ithln the mind. The former, Kanrian strategy secures
for the subject a real environment, but ot me cost of a curtailment of
irs powers. indubitably exist, but they aon ne'ler be fully
2ppropriated. 1ne bner, Hegelian tlWloeu""' allows )'(lU fully to
appropriate me object; but in what it is then truly an obj<:d is
U'Oublingfy obscure. Expansive powers are secured for the subject,
but a1 the risk of di<soMng av.'ay the objective realm which might
gu.trantee them.
Once again, how<>er, lhe uathetic is able to come to philosophy's
id. For in the sphere of ustheric judgement, objec:ts ore uncovered
wbich seem at once real yet wholly given for the subject, veritable bits
of muerW Nature which arc nevenhcless deUgbtfully pliant to lhe
mind. However contingent dleir existence, these objects display a
form which is somebolr. mysteriously necessary, which bails and
enpges us with a grace quite unknm.n m lhe lhings in themselves,
which merely tum their backs upon us. IJJ the aesthetic represe.ntlllioo,
that Is to say, we glimpse for an exhilarated momeot lhe possibUily of
a non-alienated object, nne quite the re'l...., of 2 oommodity, which
6.ke the 'auratic' phenomenon of a Walter Benjamin returns our
tender pzc and whi>;pcrs that it Wllli or.:atcd for us alooc.' In another
sense, however, thi fl)l'tnal, desensualized aesthetic wllich
octs as 2 point of exchongt between can be read ns kind of
spiritualized \'ersion or the very rommodity it rcsis!S.
Displaced from lhe understanding, frum the domains of Nature aDd
hlsmty, totality In Kant comes to take up its home instead in the reUtl
of practical reason. To act monlly for Kant is In <et a.sidc ail de:;ire,
int.crest and Inclination, identifying one's r.uiornl will instead with a
rule which one con propose to oneself 2S a unhvoal Jaw. What makes
an a<.'tion moral is someth.iug it manifests u\er and above any
panicular quality or nom<ly it; wilkd tonformil)' to universal
law. What i$ impomnt i the act.ofratioftallywilling w action .. an
end. in itself. What we will when we act mor.tlly is the only thing of
absolute, unconditional worth: rational agency itself. We should be
moral bcc:lllSe it is moral to be so.
To be me and rationol - in sltort, to be a subject - ,_ns to be
entirely self-determining, obcyinr only such laws as I propose to
myself, and treating myself :L.'ld my action 2S an end rather lh2n a
moans. fn:c subjcctiYily i thus a noumcnal affair, quite absent from
the phenomenal world. Freedom C>MOt be directly caplllftd in a
cuncq>t or im:oge, ami must be known prnc"lically nther than
theoretically. I lnow I am free bausc I catch m)'SCif Kliag that way
out of the comer of my eye. The monl subject inhabits the intelligible
rather than material sph..,.., thougb it must coJJStllntly stri\1! in
mysterious fashion to materialize its values in the acrual world.
HuliWI beings live simultanooosly as free subjects and detennined
objec:ts, slalles in NaNrC to laws which have no bearing on lhcm in the
spirit. Like the Freudian subject, the K2nrian indmdtul is rodially
'split', though with cenain inversion: the world beyond appeazanc.:s
- the IIDCOlliCious - is where 10.. freud we arc lllOSI dloroughly
detennined, 2nd the 'phenomenal' sphere of rhe ego the place where
we c:m eun a fiail degree of will The material world for Kant is
nolhing like a subject, opparcntly inhospilable to freedom; but it is the
locus of free subjects even so, who belong to it completely al 0t1t l.vel
and not ot oD It onollwr.
The subject for Kant, then, is everywhere free 2nd everywhere in
chains; and it is not difficult to decipher- the social logic of dlis
contndiction.ln class sociery, the subject's cxctdse of freedom is nor
only ch2ncterlstiu0y 21 the expeno;e of others' nppres<ion, but is
gathered up into an aDOOymous, subjeclless process of cause and
effect which will finallr come to confront lhe subject itself witb all the
dead weight of fattlity or 'second n>ture'. In an eloquent passage,
Karl Man: sketches os social contradiction what remains for Kant an
unsurpassable conundrum in thought:
In our days, everything seems pregD211t with iiS contrary.
1'112chlnery gifted ,.ith the wonderful power of shortening
and fruccitjiog human labour, we behold stln'ing and
0\'erworldng it. The ncw-fanJied soorces of weoltlt, by
some Slrange, weird spell, are turned into sources of want.
The victories of art seem bought by the loss of cbaraccer.
At the same pace that mankind masters natllrc, raan SC:CIIUI
to hooc become enslaved 10 other men and to his own
infomy. Even the pure light of science seems unable to
shine but on llw dark backlfOW!d of ignorance. AD our
invention and progress seem to result in endowing material
forces wilh intoU"'-1ual life, and in stullitjing human life
into a material force. TIUs antagonism betw<!en modern
industry nd science on the one baud, between misery and
dtolution on the other; this antllgooism bttween the
productive forces and t11e social relations of our epoch is a
fact, palpable, 0\le.,.,hebu!ng, aud not to be contravened.'
In such conditions, freedom is botmd to appear al once as the essence
of subjectivity and a.s urmly unfathomable, the dynamic of history
which is nowhere locatable in the material world, the condition of all
actioo which nc-.ctthel<:>s cannut be rcpreserored wilhln iL Freedom
in such circumstances is strangely undecidable; be free if
oO this has come aboul, yet that what comes boul is ahe ne!l3rion of
libtny, is the sucial ""'""live of Kant's philosophical double-think.
My freedom inolves being tteated by others as an end ill
once I am established in that autonomy, I can then proceed in the n:al
!i10CW world to strip 1hose others of their DWn equivalem independence.
Nownenal and phenomenal realms rhus constllndy undo each oilier,
as the subjeca is toosed ro and fro'beaween lhtlla.just as rhe Diwg an
sidz is the dark shadow thrown by the !ipt of phenomenal knowledge,
so irOil necessity iJ the secn:t underside of liberty. It iJ n()(, as Kant
believes, lha t we mo,e in two simultanoous but Incompatible worlds,
bur ahaa our movement in the ghostly arena of'noumenal' frdom js
precisely the perpetual reproduction of phenomenal enslavemenL
The subject lives not in dh>lded and distinguished worlds but at the
aporelic imersection of the IWO, where blindness and insight,
cmaucipatlon and subjection, are muruaDy constlrulivc.
Alasdoir Macintyre bas argued that the purely fonnol of
mural judgement in ""ch thinkers as Kana is the consequence of a
history in which 1110ral questions Iurie ceased to be intelligible against
a settled background of social roles and n:lations.Jn certllin forms of
pn:-bouiJtuiS suciery, the qustion ofhuw subject uughlto behave
is closely bound up with its location wilhln the socialslnlct\m:, so that
a sociological deocription of the complex rebtions in which an
individual sr.ands would inescap.1bly :a norm:ttive discourse
too. Certain rights, duties and obliptions an: internal to sodal
functions, so that no finn distinction is possible bcnveen a sociological
idiom of fact and an ethical discourse of value. Once the bocugeois
social order beJins Ill reiJY fact, and to consttuct a kind of human
subject lr.IJISCendentally prior to its social relations, this historically
groomdod ethks is bound to enter into crisis. What one oupt to do
can no longer be deduced from what, socially and politically speaking,
one actually is; a new disttibudon of discourses accordingly comes
ahout, in which a positivist language of sociological description breaks
loose from ethical evaludon. EthleaJ norms thus float free, breeding
one or another fonn of or finalism. If one
can retun1 no social answer lo the question of lww one- ought to
behave, lhen vinuous behaviour, for some theorists " least, must
become an end in it<elf. So!lro is rem011ed from !he sphere of
hisrorical acrion and amlysis; one must behave in a particular way
simply bccaw;c one must.
The ln('>r:ol, th>t is to soy, is tending the autotelic ruature of
the aesthetic - or, what amowlls to the some lhiog, lhe work of an is
now becoming ideologically modtlled on a certain elf-referential
conception of ethical value. Kant has no truck with tlte heady
Romantic impulse to acathc:ticizc morality: the moral '""'is a supreme
court of aweal elevated abO\Ie all mere beauty, even if that beauty is
in some sense a symbol of it. \'\'hat is right is by no mcam ncocssarily
agreeable; inde<:d for the scvc:rcly purilanieal sage of Kiinissberg
there is a ckar implication that the more we act against a1Ta'1i,e
impubc, the UUlrc morally admirable we become. But if the moral law
is raWcally anti-aosthctic in dismissing all considerations of
happiness, spon12neity, benevolence ond creative fulfilment for the
;ingle 'tarl< imperative of duty, it nonetheless mimes the aesthetic in
its fonn. Practical reuon is wholly awonomous and self-grounding,
bears its ends within spurRS all vulgar utility and brooks no
argument. As 11.ith the wort of art, law and frtedom are here at one:
our submission to the moral law, IUnr reonarks, is at ooce free, yet
boond up with an wur.oidable compulsi<.>n.
It is in this sense, among others, !bat the moral and the aeslhetic
are for Kant somewhat analogcus. While in tire phel1011l0nal r""lm we
live subject to mechanical causality, our nonmmal selves arc
simulta11euuly wc.rving behind or across this region some
ancfact or magnifioenr poem, :as the tree subject shapes its actions not
in trms of mechanical c-use and effect but in relation tu tbat
tele<Jiogical totality which is Reason. A truly frte will is one
detertnincd only by its resolute orientation to this organic totality of
ends and ro the requirement of their hrmonious unity, moving in a
sphere where ll inst.rument'lll adaptation of means to ends has been
trsnsmured into purposive or expressive acliviry. Any hW!Wt act can
be ,;ewed simultaneously as conditioned by a causal chain of evems
received fr()Jll the past, and as dircctc-.1 towards future ends and their
systematic coherence - viewed, !hat is Ia say, as phenomenal facr
from the former perspective und as vnlue from the latter' And Ibis
rCCODCil.ation of ends and means in the kingdom of Reason is also the
conslruclioo of a noumenal community of free subjects, a realm of
norms and persons mher dwl of objectS and desires, each of whom
is an end in herselfyer by that very fuc.t integrally insened into a tow
inreUigible design.. If ,. . live our lives aJ one level in marerial history,
we live them at another level as part of an organic anc&ct.
Nothing is more reprehensible, Kant protes1S in rbe Criri9w
RMSM, than to '"'elt to derive the laws prescribing what ought to be
done fmm what actually is done. Faas arc one thing, and values
another - which is to say that there is a gap, at once troubling and
essenlial, between bourgeois soaal pracdce and the idcC>Iogy of that
practice. The distincrion between fact and value is here one between
ar:rual bourgeois social relations, and the ideal of a community of free
rational subjects who treat one another as ends in themselves. You
musl 1101 derive volueto from facts, from routine marl<et-pbee
practice, because if you did you woold end up with aU the 1110>t
undesirable tinds ofnluc: egoism, murual m&>gOnism.
Values do nol flow from facts, in the sense that ideologies are
intended not simply to reflect existing social behaviour, but to mystify
and legitimate it. A& such, values arc indeed reb. ted to that behaviour,
but in a disjunctive, contradictory way: the highly oblique affinities
between ideall.sm and c:lpitalln produclion arc cxactly their
most significant interrelation, as the fom1er comes to rarify and
ms..,mble the latter. .But if Ibis hiatus is csocnlial, it is also
embarmssing. An ideology too feebly rooted in. the actual will, as w.:
have argued, always be politically \'lllncrable, and Kant's nuwnenal
sphere ls in danger of just tbis implausibilily. If it safeguards ltiQral
dignity from the marlet place, it clots so only by remming it to a place
.., romote as 10 be effectively out of sight. Freedom is so deeply the
es<m<:e of everything that it is nowhere to be empirically found It is
not so much a (Waris in the world as a transcendenw viewjlnint upon
it, a way of tlcscribing one's condition which at once mikes an the
difference and seems to lean everything as it .. u It cannot
directly show iiSelf fonh as it is, and ide()logy is precisely a matter of
sensuous representation. Kant is thc:n:fon: in need of a mediatory
zone 'IVhicb will bring this order of pure intelligibi.lity borne to felT
e><pericncc; and this, as we shall see, is one of the meaning> uf lilt'
The qualities of the Kantian moral law are thnse of the commodity
form. Abstract, uni\'Crsal and rigorously selfidenlical, lhe law of
Reason i.< a mechanL<m which, like the commodiry, effeas formaUy
equal exchanges between isolated indivwual subjects, erasing the
difference of their needs and desires in its homogcnitinl injuncdom.
The K:mti:m community of mor.d subjocts is at Olle level a powerful
critique of actual market-place ethics: in this world, nobody is to be
debased from a person to a rhlng, In Irs general form, however, that
community appears us "'' ideali2ed version of the abstract, serialized
individuals of bourgeois socicry, whose concrete distincdoos are of no
account to the law which governs them. The equivalent of this law in
the discourse of psychoanalysis is the l:rlliiSt:cndcntal signifier of lilt'
phallus. Like lhe phaltic signifier, the moral law subjects indl\'iduals
to its rule, but brings them through that subjection to mature
subjecthood. In Kant's version of a!Tairs, it is a pocu!Wty censorious
Law or Name-of-the-Father, the pure distilled essence of authority:
rather than telling us what tu du, it merely intones 'You must'." Its
august aim is to persuade us to repress our sensual inclinations in the
name of its own higher imperames; the law is what seo;ers us from
Nature and relocates us in the symbolic ordo:r of a oupraacnsiblc
w<>rld, one of pure intelligibilities rather than of sensw>us objects.
The Kantiao subject is accordingly split. one part of it r.maining
forever encangled in the phenomenal order of instinct and desire, the
'id' of the unregenerate ego, while the other ctimhs UJIW!Ird and
inward to higher thini!S. lite lhe Freudian subject, the Kaotian
indnidual irrbabits simultan<ously r..o contndictmy sphet'CS, in
wloiclt everything which is true of the one is negated in the other.
Eci')'One may possess the phallus, have access to rational freedom;
)'Ct in :mocber sense nobody does, since this phaUic law of reason does
not r.rist. It is a ftetion, this n1oral law, a hypothesis which we must
construct in order to act as rational creatureS at all, yet an enlil)' of
which the world yields no troce of e\idence. The Kontian mom! law is
a fetish; and as such it is a poor basis for human solidarity, which is
preci!dy its ideological paucity. In order to uniersaliu my actions I
must have regard to others, but only ar the abstract level of the
understanding, not with any spont>neous sense of their complex
panicular needs. Kant valuts the role o( culiUJ'e In helping to develop
the ccmdltlons for men and women 10 follow lhe moral law; but that
la...- has loo little regard in itself for men and women's concrele
cultural cocistence. There is a need, then, which neith..- polili<:s nur
morality caD fulJil, 10 'promote a unity berween individuals on the
basis of their subjectr.ily';
and it i< this which the 3tSthetic c;m
If the aesthetic is a vital register ofbeiug, it is in part because
of the reined, abstract, individualist nature of the moral and political
Practical assures us dt:tt freedom is real; pure rea&on can
never lell us whal it is. To explain how pure reason can be pnclical is,
as K2n1 dolefully comments, beyond the power of human reason. All,
howeo;er, is not lost. !' there is afler aD a way in which Nature and
reason may be harmoniud, since there is a type of contemplation
which panicipaa:s equaUy in the principle of empirical explanation of
Nature ud in tbe principle of moral judgement There is a way of
\-Iewing Nature such thai the app....,nt lav.fulness of its forms might at
lea.<t susses1 the possibilil)' of ends in Nature which act in accordance
with the end.< of human freedom. It is possible tc look at the world M
though it"'""' itself mysterious son of subject or artefact, governed
like human subj""ts by a self-dctcnninillg rational will In lhe
aesdoetic and ttleological modes of judgement, a.< presented in the
CriliiJII< of Jodlfmt:?t l, th<: empirical world appears in its frc-.:dom,
purposiveness, significant totality and self-rCJ!IIlating autonomy 10
confonn to lhe end. of prnc'lical re:oson.
The pleasure of the aesthetic is in pan the surpriu lhat this is the
case. It is a delightful lucky that cenain phenomena should
seem to display a purposwe unity, where such unity is not in fact
dedudble .u n""essary from logical pKmiKs. The occurrence seems
fonuirous, contingent and so not subsumable under a concept of the
wo<krstanding; but it nevertheless appears as if it -u somehow be
brought under such a concept, os if ir. conforms spontaneously to
some law, eo;en though we are quite unable to uy wlut that law might
be. If doere is no actual law In which we might subsume this
phenomenon, then the law in question seems one inscribed in its very
material form, inseparable fmm its unique particularity, a kind of
contingent or fortuitous lllwfulntss intuitively present to us in the
lhing but quite wttlu:oritabk. In !.he of pure n:ason, we
bring a partiallar under a concert of unive.rul law, rhus sl.iding its
specificity beneath the get>eGII; in maners of prnctical reason we
suburdinatc the particular 10 a uni,crsal mllim. In aesthetic
judgement, bawe-.er, we have the curious sense of lowful totality
indissociable from Ottr intuition of the immediate form of the lhiog.
Nature appcan animated by an indwelling finaliry "ilicb defeats the
understlnding; and this finolity, in a pleo.urabk ambiguity, seems at
once a law to whi<:h the object conforms and nothing less than the
irreducible structure of the object Itself.
Since aesthetic judgement does not engage any determinate
'llnCCpl, we arc quite indifferent lo the nature of the object in
quesbon, or "'helhe:r it even But if the object docs not in this
sense invol.., our oognition, i1 oddresses ilself to what we might call
OlD' capacity for cognition in general, revealing to us in a kind of
Heidcgrerian 'pre- undt:r'Stllllding' !hot the world is the kind of place
we can in principle comprehend, lht il is adopted 10 our minds even
before any dctennioatc acl of knowing has ye1 taken place. Some of
the pleasure of the O<Sthctic, then, arises from a quick sense of the
world's delightful conQrmity to our capacities: ins1ead of pressins
ahead to subsume to some concept the sensuous manifOld we
confront, we ju<1 reap enjoymenl front the general formal possibility
of doing so. The imapnalioo <Tcatcs a purposnc synthesis, but
without feelin the need for a theoretical detour. If 1he aeSJhelic
yields us no knowledge, then, it proffers us somed1ing arguably
deeper: !he consciousness, beyond aU thcorctial dcmonstnOon, that
we are a1 home in tile world the world is somehow
designed 10 suit our capacities. Whelher !his is acwally
true or not .,.c cannot say, since we can know nothing ofwbatrealil)' is
like in itselt: That things are conveniently fashioned for oor purposes
musl remain a hypothesis; but il is the kind of heuristic fiction which
pcnniiS us a sense of purposiveness, centtedness and significance,
and thus one which is of the VCJY essence of the ideological.
Aestheric jtldgement is then a kind of pleasurable free-wheeling of
our faculties, a kind of parody of conceptual understanding, a non-
referential pseudo-cognilion which does not nan down the objecl to
an identifiable lhing, and so is agreeably free of a certain material
constraint. It is on undecidable balf-WII'I !wuse between the uniform
laws of the UJJdentanding and some uner chaotic indeterminacy- a
l<ind of dre:am or fantasy which display!< its own curious lawfulnes.,
but ooe of the image rather than the concept. Since the .esthetic
representation is not passed through a determinate thought, we are
able to &a\'0111' its fonn free of all 013terial content - as in
reading symbolist I'O"I!y, for eumple, we seem to be in the presence
of the pure eidelic fonns of language itself, pul!ed of any vel')'
detemlinate semantic substance. It is though in aesthetic
judgetnCnt we are lfOSPinl with out hands some object we cmoot see,
not bec:atJSe we need 10 use it but simply to revel in irs general
grospability, in the way its coove:Dty seans to insinuate itsdf so
pliantly into our palms, deleaably wcU deaigncd aa it appears for ow:
prehemi.le powers.
What we lurve in the aesthetic and 1eleulogical scmdpuints, then, is
the consoUng fanwy of a nwerial world which is perhaps notmcr all
indifferent In us, which has a regard for our cognili>e capacities. As
one of Kant's commentators writes:
It is a great stimulus to moral effort and scrong support to
the hw:nan spirit if men can beliO\'e that the mor.al Hfe is
something more tlun a mortal e:ruerprise in which he can
join with his feDow nxn against a background of a blind
and Indifferent universe UDlil he and the hwnan race are
bloued out forever. Man cannot be indifferent to the
possibility that his puny efl'OriS towanls monll perfection
may, in spite of appearances, be in accord wllh the purpose
of the universe . . .

Parr of the trauma of modernity is =ctly this mind-shaking suspicion
that the world is not cnlistable on humanity's side - thai human
vaiiiC$ must resign thtiiiSdves to being poUDded in uothing more
solid man themselves, and perbap< wlfer a panic-stricken in<emal
collapse on occount of this insighL For homanity 10
tlJ)Cricncc an exuberant sense of.ils own unique status is to find itaclf
tragicoUy marooned !Tom any amiably COI11J>Iicit Nature- &om some
answerable eD\ironmcmt which might assure man rbat his purposes
were Y2lld becall5e scaedy part of ilsclf. For !IOc:ial order to
demo6sh its own foUDdation is to risk. its
meaninp and values hanpng in empty space, as gntuitous as any
other sll'UCturc of meaning; and bow then ilft the members of such an
on:lcr to be persuaded of its authority? The urge to coopt reality by
theoretical violence into one's own projecrmoy !hen pfO\Ie ... n-nigh
irresistible; but it is pon of Kant'> admirable au.terity, testimony to
IUs sober, dear-eyed realism, dtat he ann01 wboUy follow tiUs
mythological pam. Thete i. simply n<> verificalion in tbe pr<>eedures
of reason for any sucb speculative hypochesis.
Then are, h<N-ever, few gr.aver threats to any ide<llogy than iJs
sense of reality's stony indifference to its own values. Such steady
recalcitralla: on tbe world's pan is bound to throw me limits of an
ideoJosy into harsh relief; and it is on concealment of such llmilll
that ideologies Rouri.\b, ia their impul<e to eternalize and universalize
thc:msdvc;, tu pRI<:at lh<:nudves as unpvcntcd and ben:ft of all
sibllngo. Tbe outrage which greeted the fi<tion of Thomas Hrdy in
late nineteeoth-<Xnturr EncJond may be 1m eked in the end simply to
Hwy's atheism: to his bard-headed refusal of the consolations of
collusn-e universe. By contrast, the desolate Tenli)'Siln of I
MmMitm struggles to wrench an insensate material world back into
illl proper lmagilwy place, as ally and suppon of human tndevour.
Kant sternly refuses to coovert the heuristic fiction of a purposive
uni\erse to ideolop,al mylh; but he c MOt dispense 'lt'ith tiUs
Imaginal)' dimension altogelher, and it is Ibis which the
provides. When tbe small infa.nt of Jacques Lacan's cdebnted
'mirror stage' encounters i!S reflection in the gbss, ir linda in this
image a plenitude lacking in i!S ()WI1 body, and thus imputes to itself
fuUness which in fact pertains to the representation. When the
Kantian subject of taste encounters an object ofbeauty, it disc:oYers in
it a unity and harmony which an in fact the effea of the free play of
its own faculties. In both ases, on imaginaJy misrecognition !likes
place, allhough with cemin rcverul of subject and object from the
mirror nf Lacan to the o1irror of Kant. The Kaotian subject uf
aesthetic judgement, who misperceives as a quai!Jy of the object what
is in fact a pleasurable coordination of iL< own powers, and who
ooostitut.. in a nwchanistic world a ftgure of 'idcatiu:d utrity,
resembles the infantile norcissist of the Lacanian mirror tall", whose
misperccptlons Louis Althusser has taught u to regord u :m
indispusable strucnJre of :all id.!nlogy." In the 'imaJ!nary' of
ideolot!Y, or of aesthetic taste, reality romcs to scom totalized and
pUJpOsivc, rcassuriJllly pliable to the subject, even though
theoretical undemanding m:ry more bleakly inform us that this is a
fina.Hty only with rcspet:t to the subject's faculty of cogn.ition. The
belluty or sublimity we pertei\'1: in uslhcric judgement is actually no
more a pr<>Peny of the object in question than th lnws of the
undentsmling are propr:rty of Natun:; r.ather, in Kmt's view, we
ascribe to the object a felt hannony of our own creative powers, in the
Freudian mechanism known as projection. It is as though we are
constrained to in .. n Kant's 'Copernican' priority of subject and
object, assigning 10 the object itself a pawer and plenitude which l.so a
more sober cognition inrorms u:;) belongs properly to ourselves alone.
The sense that the object makes consisiS entirely in the so:rue that It
makes for us. This theoretical insight, however, cannot undo our
imaginary projections, which are JlOt subject to the understanding; as
in the thought of Althusscr, 'theory' and ' ideology' llc on dillerent
planes, signify different registers, and to rluu extent do nor inrerf'ere
wid! one another even when they yield up muttmlly incompatible
versiom of realily.l\ social formation as known to theoretical enquiry
is for Althusser nothing like a human subject, lacks organic unity and
i in no way 'cenrred' upon individuals; but it cmtl()( succeed in
reproducing irself unless those individuals are permitted the iUusion
that the world 'bails' them, shows some regard for their faoulties,
addn:"cs ilsclf to tbcm u one subject to another, and It is thJs fiction
whlch ideology for Althusser to foster. For Kanr, Nature
similarly of an organic subject; but it 'Onfonns to human
undersWiding, and it is only a small step from this to the pleasurable
&nwy (one requhcd for coherent knowledge) that it was lksigM/ for
such understanding too. The esthetic is thus the won bope, in an
increasingly rationalized, secularized, demythologized environment,
that ultimate purpose and meaning may not be entirely lost. It is the
mode of refigious transcendence of rationafistic age - the plat<
where those apparcruly arbitrary, subjec!Mst responses whlch fall
outside the scope of such. rnriottalism may now be moYed to the centre
aod granted all the dignity of ao eidetic form. That which is purely
rc>idual to bourgeois rationality, thejt ot ,Qjs qr;oi of caste, now comes
to figure as nothing less tlmn a parodic image of such thought , >
caricanue of rational low. The margins converge to the centre, since
it is on th: margins that qiWittanscendental intuitions have been
preserved without which that centre cannot prosper. It is as though
the aesthetic represents some residual feeling left OYer ftom an earlier
social order, where a sense of transcendental meaning and harmony,
and of the centrality of the human object, were sliD octive. Such
meuphysic:al propositions CIJUIOt now withstand Ihc: critical force of
bourgeois and so must be preserved in conrentless,
indcrerminan: form, a$ slrUCiun:s of feeling ralher lhao sysrems of
doctrine. Unity, and symmeuy sli.ll exist, but !hey must now
be thntst d""p into the inwardness of the subject itself, rem-d from
the pbenomclllll wortd. Tbis is not to concede, however, that they can
ho..., no influence on our conduct in !hot reolm. For to entemin me
h)'!X'mesis that realicy is not altogether indifferent to our own moral
capacities may quicken ond renew our moral consciousness, ond so
lrad llS to a finer f<>rm u( Bc:auty is in this sense an aid to virtue,
appearing as it does to rally suppon for our moral rndea-oors from
the unlikely resou= of No tore itself.
We should not, however, rejoice too soon in this apptuent
comptidty of the uni\1:rse with our purpo<e:s. For all this, in me
K.antian aesthetic, happens as though by some felicitous accident. !tis
fonunatc lhat the worW's diversity should seem so obediently
commensurate with the mind's powers; so that in the very act of
revelling in this apparent prearranged harmony, in this well-nigh
mlnculous doublinJ of the structw'c of NaNrc and the structure of
the subject, we are ot me same time wryly conscious of its serendipity.
Only in the aesthetic arc we able to Nrn round upon oum:Nes,
stand a little 3pan from our own and begin to grasp
the r<latirm of our capacities to reality, in moment of wondering self
.. tnngement on which the Russian Formalists will later found an
entire poetics. In the routinized, outomated processes of under
st.amling, >-ucb wonder dat.-s nut occor; in the ocstbctic, by contrast,
our faculties ore suddenly fo11:grounded in ways which draw attention
to their fittingness. But this is also to draw attention tu their
timicltions. To be aD0\\1:d a rare experience o1 our own peculiu point
of view is, after .U, to sense thot it is only our point of view, and
that ..Uglu conceivably be transcended. In the pRSence ofbeaucy,""
expcri<:nce an exquisite sense of adapt2tion of the mind to reality; but
in the turbulent presence of the sublime we ore forcibly reminded of
the of our dw:1r6sh imaginations and admonished that the
world as intiniw totalily is not to know. It is u though in the
sublime the 'rul' itself- the eternal, uograspable totalliy of things-
inscribes itself as the cauti<lnary of aU mere ideology, of aD
complac:cnt subjc:ct-centredns, us to feel the pain of
Incompletion and unassuoged desire.
Botb ofmesc opcnrions, me beautiful and me sublime, ore in fact
es.<enti:>l dimensions or ideology. For one problem of .U humanist
ideology is how its centring and consoHng of the subject is to be made
compatible with a cenain essential reverence fnd submissiveness on
the ubjec-t's part. In making the world over 10 the subject, suclt
humanism risks undermining the censorious Other which will hold
bUIILlllity humbly in irs place. The sublime in one of irs aspects is
exactly this cbaSiening, humiliating power, wlrich det..,ntres the
subject inro an wesome awareness of its finirude, its own pell)'
position in me universe, just as the experience of beauty shores it up.
Morcov.:r, what would be threatened by a ,pun:ly 'imaginary' idcol"')'
would be the subject's desi.re 35 well .. its humility. The Kantian
sublime is in effect a kind of uncons<;ious process of infinilc desire,
which like the Freudian unconscious continually risls S\\'lUDJling and
overloading the pitiable ego with an excess of affects. The subject of
the sublime is acrordingly decmtred, plunged into loss and pain,
undergoes a crisis aDd radinl! or idenlity; yet without this unwelcome
<iolence we would be srirred out of ourselves, never prodded
inro enterprise and achievement. We would lapse bact instead into
me placid feminine enclosure of lhe imaginary, where desire is
and suspended. Kant associates the sublime with the
m"""ulinc and the miliuuy, Wi<ful antid.ote> agai.ui;l a pcaco whidt
breeds cowardice and effeminacy. Ideology mwn not so thoroughly
centre the subject as 10 C'IStr:tte iiS desire; instead we must be both
cajoled and ch:utized. made to feel both barnckss and at ho111c,
foldrd upon the world yet reminded mat our true resJing place is in
infinity. It is pan of th.e dialectic of the beautiful am! the sublime to
achieve this double ideological effect. It is now almost a commonplace
of deconstructi<e rhought tn see the subtimt ""' a point offracture and
fading, ao abyssal underminillg of melllphysi!'lll certinldes; bur while
there is much of value and inlcrest in lhls \iew, it bas sei'Ted in effect
to suppress just I hose modes in which the sublime also npera1es as a
thoruuply ideological ategory.
'file psychoan.alytlc register or the lma!Jlnary im'Oives a peeulLtrly
intimale rebtion of the infant to mother's body; and it is po!<6lole
to catch a glimpse of litis body, suitably screwed, in Kant's aesthetic
representation. What tlsc, psycboanal)1lcally speaking, is this beautiful
object which is unique yet univer<2l, wholly designed for the subjec1
and addrcucd lu its faculties, wbich in Kant's inlcrcsting phrase
'relieves a want' and brings us a keenly pkasunble sense of repletion,
which is miraculously :stlf-identical and which, though sensuously
pllfticular, C\'okcs absolutely oo libidinal impulse from the subject
itulf? The beautiful reprcstnl21ion,like the body of the mother, i< an
idealiud marerial forrn safely defused of sensuality and desire, wim
which, In a free play of Its facullics, lite subject can happily sport. The
bliss of 1M aesmeri suhjecr is rhe felicity of the sll1211 child playing in
the bosom of me mother, enmrallcd by on uuerly indivisible
wbich is ar once indmatc and lndcrcrmin&rc, brimmlnJ with
purposi\'e life yer plasric enough ro put ur no resistance ro rhe
subjccr's own ends.
The subject can lind resr in this cloisttal securiry, but its resr is
strictly temporary. For it is tnvelling to that higher location where it
will find irs ttue home, the pballic law of abstractlflSOn whicil quite
transcends the srnsible. To anain full moral starure we must he
wrenched from rhe marernal pksures of Niture and e><perience in
the majesty of the sublime the sense of ao infinite totality to wbich our
feeble ima!inatioos will never he equal." Yet in the ""'Y moment of
being thus subdued, sharply rccallcd tu our rruc 6nirude, ""' lurow a
new kind of exultant power. When the imagirwioa is forced up
tnumaticaUy aguinst its own limits, it finds itself straining beyond
them in a mow:meru of negative mnscendeoce; and the giddy feeling
of unbowrdeduess v.hich rhen results )idds us a prr;sentalion of
rhe infinity of moral Reaooo. In the sublime, morality and feeling for
ance come together, but In 11eprlve sryle: whar we feel Is how
imme:asunbly Rea.wn tran.'!AOends the senses, and thus boo; radically
'unatSthctic' our lruc freedom, dignity and autonomy an:. Morality is
' aestbedc!zcd' in the sublime as feeling, but as a feeling wlllcb; since
ir denigrates the sensory, is also ' nnti-aesrhetic'. Hurled beyond our
own sensuous limiu, we crasp some dim ootioo of the suprasenso<y,
which is nothing less than rbe Ltw ofReosnn inscnl>ed within us. The
pain ""' exp<rience under the weight of the paternal law is thus sh01
through with a sense of cxalt2tion above an merely conditioned being:
we lurow that rh.e sublime presrntarion is simply an echo of rhc
sublimity of Reason within """"'lves, and thus 1<$limony tu our
absolute freedom. In this = the sublime is a kind of anti-esthetic
which presses the lmaginalion ro extreme crisi.<, w rhc point of failure
and breakdown, in ord<r thst it rosy negarively figure forth the
Reason that rnnscends ir. 1\t the very moment this immensity of
R ... on Jhreatens to overpower us, we ore aware of its inscrutable
imprint within If !here Is fuuiJy no reason to fear the
phallic law of the father, it. is hecouse each of us carries
the phaUus securely IO<.IJI'd wilhin ourselves. The subjoct uf the
imaginary, who Imputes a fctishls1ic power to tile object, mUJt so to
speak coote to its senses, undo this projection and recognize thai this
power resides in it rntber than in the object. It thus exchanges the
fetish of the mother's body for the fetish of the piWlic law, trading
ooc abrolllle self-identity for aoother; but its reward for thus
submitting tu the pains of casttation will be a kind of reconstitution of
the imaginary at a higher level, as it comes to percein that the infinity
it fears in the sublime representation is in fxt an infu'lite power within
itself. This dauntins to!Riity is nut ours to .r.w,., and to this extent the
reverence and humility of !he subject arc pn:sen-ed; but iJ is ours to
foe/, and to that degree the subject's autonomy is gratifyingly
There is a difficult 1cnsion wilhin sociel)' bciW<en lhe
ideology of productioo and the of consumption. Since the
former realm is generally unpleasant, SlliCtions and disciplines are
required for lhe subject to buckle itscu to Its rasl:s. There Is no
suggestion that this world of production ensiS for the subject; but
things arc dilfcrenl ill the ax<'lll of cun>"Wilplioa, where lhe
commodity 'halls" the individual and impUcs spccil1 relatioruhlp
with him. 'l( t.be soul of the commodity which Marx occasionally
mentions in jes1 existed,' writes Wolter Benjamin, 'it would be !he
most empathetic ever encountered In lhe realm of souls, for it would
ha,e to see in everyone the buyer in whose hand and hou.>te it wan IS to
ou:sde.'" l.ike Kant's aeslhetic objecc. the commodil)' would seem
desiJIIed especially for oar faculties, addressed to us in iJs very bciniJ.
Viewed from the st2ndpoinl of the world is uniquely
ours, shaped to neslk in our palms; scon from the st811dpoillt of
production ir appears, lil:e Kanlian Norure, as an impersonal domOlin
of ptOCCSS6 and autonomous laws. Capilali.sm continua!1Y
centres the ubject in the sphere of values. only to dt'Centre it in the
realm of tbinp. One can tnce somelhing of this movement in the
dialectic of the beautiful and the sublime. If things-in-themselves are
beyond the re:och of the subject, the beautiful will rectify this
alienation by presenting reality, for a precious moment. as Jiven
spontaneo\ISly for that subject's powers. U this !hen scctnS likely to
breed complacency, the sublime is alwayo on hand ,.;th its
intimidatory power, but the dan"rously demoralizing effe<'IS of such
power arc in turD tempered b\1 the S\lbjca's joyful consciousness that
the JMIWer in qutstion is that of its own majestic Reason.
Acsthc:lic judgements, Kant argues in the Criliqru of]udfpnmr, are at
once subjective and universal . They thu. figure as th joker in the
pack ofbis theoretical system, since it is hard to sec on Kant's rerms
how the phrase 'aesthetic judgement' can be other than oxymoronic-
how somelloi.ng can be at once a judgement, which invokoes
subsuming poniculars to a Jaw of the undemanding, and }'tt no more
than a feeli ng. The grammatic! form of aesthetic judgtments, Kant
ct.ims, is in fact deceptive and duplicitous. In such statements as 'I
am beautiful', 'You are sublime', the adjectives would appear to be
predicative, hut this is reaDy an musion: such propositions have the
form, but not the real force, of referential utterances. To daim mat
yoo are sublime is not for me to identifY some property In you but to
report on some feeling in myself. Judgements of taste appetr to be
descriptions of the world but are in fact conecaled cmotiV( utterances,
performtives masquerading as constatives. The gramlll2ricalitr of
such emmciations is at odds with their true logical status. It would,
bowa-er, be quite impermissable to decode the pseudo-proposition 'x
is beautiful' as 'I tiko x', since judgements oft3Sie ore for Kant purely
disinlemted snd have nothing w do "ilh one's con.nt indiDadons
or desires. Such judgemenu are ceruinly subjective; but they are so
Jturt/y subjective, so e>pns.sive of the very essence of the subject,
untainted by idiosyncratic prejudice aad 'devoid of every possible
condition which would necessarily distinguish the Judge from other
that it is possible to spevk of also as universal. If the
subject transcends its ephemeral needs md desires, thCil a trUly
subjective judgement disregards all the :u:cidents which di,ide one
individual fn)m another and strikes an immediate chord in thon uU.
Aesthetic judgemt.:nb arc l.hus .. as it were, 'impersonally

kind of subjectivity without a subject or, as Kant has it, a 'universal
subjectivity'. To judge aeslhetitaUy is lmpllcidy to declar< that a
wholly subjectNe response is of the ki.nrl that every individual must
necessarily experience, one thar must elicit spontaneous aJI'ctrnent
from them all.
The a<-sthctic, one might argue, is in this SttlSc the very pandigtn
of lhe ideological. For the pecutiarity of ideokJ&ical propositions
mlght be sullllllaTittd by claiming, with some exaggeration, that there
is io fact no such thlng as an ideological proposition. Like oesthetic
judgements for Kmt, ideological uttennces conceal an essentially
emotive content uithin a rcferentbl furm, characterizing the lived
relation of a speaker to the w.>rld in tl>e oct of appearing to
cbaraacmc the world. This is not to that ideological
discourses do not i.n fact contain referential proJ'K)SidaM which may
be assessed as either tru< or fal>c, simply thot this i> nut what is most
specific about lhe ideologicoi. Ideology does indeed importantly
contain many foise propositions, such as lhe claim that Asians are
inferior to or tbar the Queen of England is highly
intelligent; but the fmity of such claims is not is peculiarly
ideological about tbem, since not all false propositions are ideological
and not aU swemcnts are false. What makes such false
claims ideological is the motivatum of their falsity; the fact !hat they
encode emotive attitudes relevant to the reproduction of social power.
The same is rrue of the many ideological unennces which happen to
be true, >'Uch as the claim !hat the of England tales her job
seriously and is devoted to her work. ldeology cannot tnionarily be
characterized in terms of fabe -cmcnts, not, as som<: have held,
because it does fl(lt conr.in more !ftan its fm share of them, bur.
bee. use it is not at root question of ptopositionality at all. lt is a
mancr of "'isl>ing, cursing, fearing, rcverencinr, desiring, dcnigratinJ
and so on - tmfo,.liut discourse, which like Kant's aesthetic
judgements does not rest upon conceptual of truth or
falsehood, even if it slgni6candy im'olves them. The statement vfhe
lrisb are inferior to the Brilish' is a pseudn-referenlilll encodement of
the impcrativt: 'Down ,.ith the Irish!' This is one reason why it is
notoriously difficult to orgue wilb.
The aesthetic in Kmt.shon-cir<uits the concepmalto link concrete
partioulart in their very immediacy to kind of univernd law, but
1 ... can be in no seiiSC formulated. In the aesthetic, in contrast
to the domain< ()( pure and practical reason, the individ.W is not
abstracted to the universal but is somehow (llised to the unier.;al in
its very penicubriey, manifcsdnl it sponwtcously on its surface. 'In
the phenomenon of the beautiful the incooceioable thing happens,
that in contemplating beauty cvay subjo:t remains in itself and is
punly immersed in its OWII state, willie ar the same time il is absolved
of aD particularity and haws itself to be the bearer of a
total feeling which no longer belongs 10 "this or "that" .'
ideological viewpoint, some\\ohat similarly, is at once wholly my own
and an utterly subjcctless truth - at once constitutive of me very
dcplhs of die Stlbject, who will from lime to lime light and die for it,
nnd u sort of univers:ol low, though one which seems so self-eridendy
inscribed in the very material phenomena thmuelves as to be quite
untheorizllble. In idt<llogy and the aesdtctiJ: we suy with the thing
itself, which is presetved in all of its concrete materiality rather than
dissolved to its abstract conditions; yet this very matcrialiry, this
uniquely unrepeatabk form or body, comes mysteriously to assume
all lhe compelling logic of a global decree. The ideologicu-ocsthctic is
that Indctermln:rtc region, smndcd somC\\iu:n: betwc:en me empirical
and. tbeoretieul, in which ahstl"liCiions seem Rushed with irreducible
spc'Cilicity and ICcidenllll particulars nised to pseudo-cognitive
sutus. The loose COIItingcaclcs of subjective experience are imbued
with the binding force of law, but a law which can ne\-er be hown in
abstractioo from them. Ideology corutantly ufftn to go be-yond the
c<Jncrete to some debatable prql()Silion, but that. propositioo constandy
eludes formulation and disappears bacl into the things themsekes.ln
this peculiar condition of being, the individual becomes lbt
bearer of a universal, lneluctahle sttucture \\'hkh lmpr=es
upon it as the very eSKnce ofits idenuty. What is &om one slliJldpuint
an absohnc impersonal righmcss is from another srandpolnt just
something one hawens to feel; but that 'happens' is oomehow
unavoidable. Ideology is on me one hand an 'everybody knows', I
ragbag of urnislled adages; but Ibis reach-me-down assemblqe or
rngs and is forceful enough to imp<! the subject to murder
or manyrdom, so deeply doe.s it the roots of unique
Just as it is illicit in Ka1n's view to decode the sllltement 'r is
beautiful' as 'I Ulc x', so irwould be clearly inadequate to translate the
'The Irish ue inferior to the British' as 'I don't like the
Irish'. If ideology were merely a qU<stion of such incidental
prejudices, then it would no doubt be somewhat OGier to uproot than
it is. The rhetnrical move which coavens an emot!Ye ultcrance to the
grammatical fonn of the referential is an index of the fact that ceruin
artirudes are or 011ce 'mcrely subjective' and somehow necessary. In
this sense, surprisinz!y enough, Kandan a..ahetics moe us a little
\113)' t.,.,ards a materiatist understanding of ideology. They define a
third realm, between those propositions of th..:ntiad reason whidl
do not necessarily CflPI'C subjectivity at all ('two plus two equals
four'), and men: whimsical predilcaioas. GMn the NI!W'e of our
immutable fa<'U!ti(>s, Kant hol<ls, it is that....,rtain'sub;ect;.e
judgemenu elicit the universal consent of others, since these
judgements arise from the sheer f011D41 workings of capacitie< we
have in common. Given certllin material conditions, one misht
similarly claim, it Is necess21)' that certain subjective response< be
invested with ail the force of universally binding propositions, and this
is lhc of the idcolosical.
In the busin<&.< or eothetlc judgement, the nature 0t ""en
existence of the is :11 rnatter of indifference, just as ideolO)' is
not primarily a question of thc troth of ccrtain dctenninatc
propositions. The real object makes its appcM2Dcc in the aesthetic
simply as an O(Xasion for the pleasurable harmonization of our
&cui ties. 'l'bc universal quality of taste cannot spring from the object,
which is purely contingent, or from any particular desire or interest of
the subj<!c't, whicb arc similiuly parochial; so it must be a matter of the
\'CI)' cognitive strUCtUJ<: of the subject itself, which is pre.umed to be
invariable 41110ng .n Individuals. P.ut of what we enjoy in the
aesthetic, dten, is the knowledge that our VCI)' stn.ctural constitution
as biiDWl subjeCIS predisposes us to mutuallwmony. It is as thousll,
prior to :my ierenn.inale dialogue or debate, we are al\ln.ys alre:'ldy in
agr<'t:mcnt,/ashiOJid to concur;. and the aesthetic is this experience of
pure eontendess consensus where we find OW'Selves spomaneowly 11
one without necessarily even knowing what, speaking, we
arc agreeing over. Once any concept is removed from
our JliliSP, we are left delighting in nothing but a universal sotidarity
beyund all vulgar utility. Such solidarity is a kind of sensus""""""";,,
whidt Kant opposes in his work to that fra,;rncnlaly, unreflective
c:oUeaion of prejudices and opinions which is d= or common sense.
Such d8x is what Kant himself, had he used the word, might h:IVe
termed 'ideology'; but smsus """"""'"is ideoiOCY purified, um"er.;aliud
and rend<red rclleerlve, Lkology raised 10 the second power,
ideali""d beyond aU mere sectarian prejudice or customary reflex to
resemble the VCI)' Jlhosdy slape of nrionallty itself. To itself
:IS truly univers:tl cl:rss, the bourgeoisie will need "' do more than
trade in a handful of tattered DUIXims: its governing ideology must
m>nifest :rt once the univerul lilnn of the rational and the podictic
content of the alfecli\;ely innnediate.
What aesthetic judgement signifies for Kant is essentially a fumt of
altruisr.n. In responding to an artefact, or to notural beauty,! piaC<:
own contingent aversions and appetenL;es in brackets, putting
insteod In everyone else's place and thus judging from the standpoim
of a universal subjectivity. .'t porrnit of cltee is not beautiful
because I happen to enjoy eating the stuff. ln this sense, the Kaminn
aesdretic challenges and confirms class-socU,ty at a stroke. On the
one hand, its Olympian disinterestedne.'s is at odds wirh what Kant
calls 'trUculent egoism' , the routine selfish intcrc.ts of social life.
Aesthetic intersubjectivity adumbrares 3 IJU)pian community ol'
subjects, united in the very deep structure oflheir being. The c1Jitur.ol
donWn is in this sense for Kant distinct from the political. where
individuals are bound together in purely extemol fa.Vtion for the
lnsrrumc:nllll pursuit of ends. Suclt merely e>minsic soHdariry involves
the ultimate b:ack-up of coercion: social life would ullimately coUapsc,
Kant bolds, if public standards were not violently enforceable. The
cultural domain, by contr:Lit, is one of non-coercive consensus; it is of
the essence of ae.sthetic judgements that they cam101 be compelled.
' Culture' thus promotes an inward, unconstrained unity between
citizens on the basis of their most intinute subjectivily. In this ethico
aesthetic 'no member shaD be a mere meanst but should 11lso
be n end, and scclng th:u he contributes to the possibility of the
entire body, should hove position and function defined by the idea
of the whole'. Potitics is restricted to pubtic, utilitarian behaviour,
nurt.ed off from that ' inner, personal interrelation between
as rational and feeling beings' which is the aesthetic.
If culture lhus
sketches the ghostly outline of a non-dominative social order, it does
so by mystifying and legitintating actual dominative social relation"'
The division between the phenomenal and the noumenal is, so to
speak, politicized, installed as an essential 6 .. urc within social life
Itself. Kant's highly forrtllllctic ethi<S prove incapoble of grnernting
any distiucrive political theory of their own beyond convcnti<>nal
liberalism; nd though such ethics proffeT the dream of community
where subjects are ends in thentselve., they are fill:llly too :>J,;tract to
bring this ideal home to felt tl<J>Cricnoc. It is this which the atiothctic:
is uniquely abk ro provide; but in doing so It reproduces something of
the vei'J' social logic it is out to resist. Kant's selfless .,.,thcric judge,
obsolvcd from aD sensual motivation, is among other things a
spiritualized version of !he abstract, serialized subjtct of lhe
market pbt1:, who t'llncds the concrete differences between himself
and others as thorooghly as does !he le>elling, homogenizing
t'Onunodity. In mauers of t:lSte, as of commodity tnu.sactions, all
individuals are iodifferendy exclw!gcablc; and culrure is thus pan of
the problem to which it offers itself as a solution.
The critical philosophy, and lhe concqx of ideology, are born at the
sarM hl<torical moment, as Michel Foucault no1es in Tlu Order tJj'
Tloittgs." But whereos, as Fou<.'ault arguo., the S<:iaJ<;c of ideuw!IY in
the bands of its founder, Dcsrutt de Tracy, rests content with the
bw;iness of pariendy examining the iws utlich
organize them, the Kantian t'ritique presses beyond this purely
phenomenal space (idcoiOfi.Y, Tracy remarks, is 'a parr of zoology1ro
enquire into the ery lr.UlSeendental conditions of such J't1ll't>"Diation,
its now nodling less dun represenubility iuelf. What will !hen
emerge is the ambivalently in.<piring and alarming truth that all that is
most precious falls outside the representational sphere. If this
preserves what is most V2luable from succumbing to the detcrmlned
starus of apples and armcltalrs, it 31so threatens to strike vacuous the
essence of the hwnan subj..:t. If freedom is finally unrepresent-
able, how is ilto exen ils ideologiw force, sm:n that ideoloi!Y is itself
a quer.rioo of reprtsentarioo? :\ way must consequently be found of
imagining sut'h liberty non-rcductivdy in the empirical World, and
this is one function of the Kandan aesthetic. The aestbeW: is !he
ren..:rion in the lower world of the highcr,the place where thotwhich
finally outstrips representation altogether, as the sublime reminds uS;
manages nevenhelcss to achieve some sensuous embodiment or
analogy. Humanity would see a sign; and the beautiful and tht
sublime cotm:niendy supply iL
We have seen that the acslhctic in Kant fullils a multitude of
functi<lns. It celltres the hWD3n subject in an imaginary relation to a
pliable, purposive reality, thereby gnmting it a delightful sestse of its
own inlier coherence and coolirmingits statuS as an'ethicalagenL Yet
it docs this without ceasing to discipline and chastise the subject,
recalling it to a piously subutissive aw:1reness of the infinity where it
rruly belongs. It ensures between human subjccu a spontaneous,
immediate, non-coercive consensus, providing the atTecti\'c bonds
which traerse the al.ienations of sCJCial It brings individuals home
lo uch other as imm<dlate C%JM'rience, in a diw.um: nf concret<
panicularity which has an th< irrefrJ!fJble fomt of. r.ttiunallaw bur
noDC of it> rebarbative abstraction. It alloW$ specific and universal
mysteriowly to coalesce, wilhout need of concepruol rnediotion, and
thus inso:ribes a global impel'lltive on the body of dte sem.llOusly given
in the manner of an heS"monic raliter than a tyrannical aulitority.
Filially, it offers 3n irn31le of sheer self-delennioing auloll()my, in
which Narun, the conditioned and determined, is subtly alchemizcd
inro purposive freedom, and iron necessity miraculously o.<
aboolute self-govermnent. h thus oJTers on ideological paradigm for
both individual subject and :;ocial order - for lite aesthetic
repcsentation is: a SIJdtty, in which each consriluenr component is the
condition of the purposive existence of eety ulher, and finds in lhar
feliciloUJ totalil)' the groWJd of its own identitY-
In the light of this litemy, it is dillicult not lo feel lhat many
traditional debares about lite relations between lbe aesthetic and lbe
ideological - as rellection, production, rnnsc<ndence, estrangement
and so on- .have been somewhat superfluous. From one viewpoint,
the aesthetic is lbe ideological. Botto claim that lite reconciliation of
freedom and necessity, self and others, spirir and Nature ties In the
ustheric is lantarnouor ro confessing, enough, lhar it is
hanlly anywhore to be This triumphant n:solution of social
contradiction. derend on an acti\iry for which, as Krl Marx wryly
commented, the middle class lllls l'Xceedingly little time. 'What
rnanas is less art tlun aatl:trit:r, indeed when Theodor Adorno
rem3rked in 1970 that ' Aesthetics loday is powerless to avert its
beccming a necrologuc of an.'" it is only that 'today' lhat one mlgbt
query. A double dlspbcement occurs in the Enlightenmenr, from
cultural production as Sllch to a particular ideology of the artefact,
and from that to ideoiOI)' in genenl. For it is clear lhat what the
ruling order rtquires is nothing as anaemically inteUectualisl
Destun de Tracy's 'science ()f ideas' , but theory of ideological
practice - a formalization of lbat whicb in its spontaDoo"" immedilM:y
would seem to C\'ade the concept. If the ideological is primarily a
queSiion of feeti ng. then the aeslhetic can model it a good more
effectively than zoology. If formalizing the non-dimusi"" would
seem a peculiarly sdfdefeating projecl - if th- is an oxytnoronic
ring to lite e.y phrase 'llteory of ideology' - then the moo.<
appropriate sign of this imp<>S>ibility i:i die mysteriousness of an iucll;
which is and is not a rule-governed re3lm.
There is no reason ro suppose, howe..,r, that 'idoology' net'd
be a pcjorativt- term, md thai the acsabetic SW>ds unequ.ivocally on lhc
side of sociAl oppression. Ag:ainsl a social philosophy founded upon
egoism :md appetite, Kant speaks up for a generous vision of a
community of ends, finding in lhc freedom md autonomy of the
aesthetic a p rotOI}'J)e ofhW1Wl possibility equally at odds with feudal
absolutism and possessive individualism. If there is no wwy in which
this adminble ideal of murual respect, equality and compassion can
enter upoo mater!:>! reality, if it is necessary to rehear.;e in the mind
wflat be enacted in the world, this is hardly lhc r.-sponsibility
of Kant himself.
It is within this bold vision that Man<'s immanent critique will find
a foothold, enquiring how it comes about that such dreams of
freedom and moral dignity succeed in reproducing the conditions of
violence and exploitation. 'In art, like everywhere else,' writes Adorno
of idealist aesthetics, 'nothing deserved respect unless it owed its
existence to the autonomous subjoct. What was 'lllid and true about
this for die subject W3S inwlid and untrue for the non-subjective
other: freedom for the former was unfrecdom for the latter.'" Kant's
own desperate solution to this dllemma was to sptit the subject down
the middle, seaeting its liberty at stJch an unsearchable depth dlat it
becomes at on<:e imiolabl<: and ineffecrual. Such a ndical division of
acrual aNI ideal, however, will prove a con<tllnt source ofideological
embarraSSOJ<:nt; and it. viU be left to Hegel to dnow the twu rcahm
together by the discourse of dialectics.
l Fredric Jamuon, TN PolitiaJI u,_.n..w, OS SacU1J}y
S>"""'lir An (llhaca and Loodon, 1981), p. 251.
Z Sec Jacques Derrid1, 'Ecouotnimesis', Di4mtia II :2 (1981). It is fair tn
add that Kant would no doubt luve !bought this need 10 tigwe lhc non-
phe-nomenal in pllenommal lema cnlirdy inc>itablc.
3 5,.., Lulcics, Histtwy Mil ClosJ (London, 1971),
pp.IH-H.SeeokoU.cienGoldmann, /-diWr<(I.-Jun, 1971).
I..W:aa, Hil<4<] anJ CIJw Co.saiJwnm, p. 121.
THE KAJo. 'TIA.'\,i
S See Walter Benjamin, Cluulo &w-Jdni,<: A Lyric P(}IJ in tltL Em of Htl,lt
(London, 1973), p. S5.
6 Sec Omic; Taylor, 'K2nt' Theory offmdom', in Phi!Mophy -t tht
n.,... Sdnctts, ..,). 2 (Cambridge, 1985).
7 Karl Matx, Tht l'aptr (19 April I 856). For"" account of
own polidc.t 'i""'. sec lioward Williams. Kant's r.UtiJJ l'hilos'fJhy
(Oxford, 1983).
8 S.c Alasdair .Maclncyre, A Stwn Hilt"'! cfl!Jhio (London, 1967), 111\d
Afrrr Virtru (l>ndnn,l981).
9 Sec Ems1 Cassin:r, Ka01'1 Lift ond T/uR;ghr (New Haven and London,
1981), pp. 2-lfi- 7.
10 Sigmunll Freud t:tlmmeml$ in 'The Ecunomic Probltm of Maw<:hism'
that Kant's categorical imperative lj,s 01 direcl inheritance from the
Ocdipu.< complex' (SwnJ.oro/ I:'Jiricn ofrht O.mJJttt l'tydtolorjJl Wor.b of
SigmonJ FmJ, cd. J. Sttacbey (London, 1955-74), ""'XIX, p. 169.
11 S>llm Kemal, fVw -t Fw An (o.!Ord, 1986), p. 76.
12 H.). Patoo. The O.f<X'>riul Jmp<rariot (Loodoo, 1947), p. 256.
13 S.e Jocqu .. Lacan, J'he Mirror Sug.'. in f:mu: A Srlttti (London,
1977), and I..<IU.t. Ahhu""'' 'hk<Jiotcy and ldwlot!i<al State
in U.io ,.,.{ (London, 1971 ).
l .f For accouru of the suhlinu; see Weid.t.l, 1"114
Sllblim< (Doltimon: and Loodoo, 1976), Part Z, 011d GiBes Ode=:,
l<lw't CritiaJ Philmoplry (Minnupoli<, pp. 50-2. Other <llldie.<
or ..w.ctics arc Donald W. Crawford, K .. r's Atsthttit Tlwry
(Madisoo, 197+); F. Coloman, Tlct llat11f1NrJ of Rusoa (Pitt<burgb,
1971); Paul Guyer, Kant aoJ r.lu CW"" qf T4Sit (c.n.bridge, Mus.,
1979); E .. Schaper, Stttdlts io KAm Atsthttltl (Edinburgh, 1979); 111\d
P. van 0.: Pille, KaN os Philosopltical AmbropofatiJt (The IUrut, 1971).
Two hostile accounts of Kanri:m aesthetics are D. S. Miall, 'K.anfs
Critique A Bio:o:d BriliJ!r JDWNI t( AeultttUJ,
01. 20, no. 2 (1980), and Karl 1\meriks, 'Kant and lhc Obicc:tMtJ of
Ta.ue', DririsA ]o..m.J qf Aatktics, vol. Z3, no. I (1983).
15 Benjamin, Clt4rla &u.JtWre., p. 55.
16 Ted Cohen aDd l'aul Guyer, Introduction 10 Cohen a11d Guyer (eels),
W'91 i o /(AM) (Chktgo, I !182), p. 12.
17 Ibid.
18 Cassi.-.r,IWrtHifo ""' 11um&ftt p. 318.
19 Kant, Crili4uc (Oxford, 1952), Part 1., p. Z3n.
20 K.emal, Kar allll Fuu Arl p. 76.
21 Mlcbcl l'oucault, 1M O'*r II[Titi"f} (New Vorlc, 1973), chapter 7.
22 Th<odor Adorno, Atstlutit Thtol] (London, 1984), p. S.
Z3 Ibid . p. 'fl.
Schiller and Hegemony
Kant's rigorous duality nf cogniti<m and aesthetic judgement contains
the seeds or its own deconstruction. some o( his successors were
not slow. to recognize. For if the aesthetic denotes the reference of ao
object. to a then it as Kant acknowledges, he present as
a moment of :all our knowledge. It is a necessary 541pposition of :all our
investigation of Nature that Narun: is struetured for, or 'sb.,..., some
regard for'. our cognitive faculties. IUnrs tCopemician in
thought centres the world upon the human subject, and by doing so
lends itself inherently to tbc aesthetic, making that whole rtgistcr of
experience seetn less n,.rgiJ>al, gratuioous or supp!J!menrary th.,.. it
might otherwise appear. The hannony of faculties which is aesthetic
is in fact a harmony requisite for evtlj empirical cognition;
so that if the aesthetic: is in a sense 'supplementary' to our odu<r
activities of mind, it is a supplement which turns out by some
Derridcon logic to be more like their foundation or precondition. As
Gilles De)eU2e argues, 'A focuhy would never take on a legi.sla6ve
and detennining role were oot :all the faculties together apable of dUs
free subjective hannony [of tbe ae.sthedc)."
The mot of all knowledge for Kant, a. John MacMurray has
pointed out . is the productive imagination; and this means to say that
Ka.ndao knowledge is always in some sense fictiooal.' This incipient
aestheticization of cognition, however, must he strictly curbed. lest
rationality roUap,., iura Romantic exo:ess; and for Kant to claim that
the aesthetic does not involve dettnninao: concepts is thus as much to
safeguard rationality from this unsettling parody of itself as to account
for its p<'lliiar mode of working. The is that of identifying
!ruth "ith. what is salisf)ing to the mind, as tht danger in the domain
of ethic. is to equate the good simply with what is creatively fulfilling.
Such hedunism is dc-.,ply oiTeJ.,ive to Kant's purillln austerity: truth
and goodom are tlO( so glibly come by, but require discipline and
exertion. Yet practic.t ruson, in its absolutely self-determining, self-
grocmding character, already resembles an 'aesthetie'pheJJOIJlen<m of
a kind; and it will thus always be possible for others to coaftate the
two dimensions. The estltelic is therefore a perilously arnbinlent
object fur bourgeois society. On the one hand, in its subject-
CCIIII'ed.ness, unt;erulity, spoi1WIOOIIS consensuallty, inlinucy, hmnony
and porposM:ness, ir offers to cater for some of that society's
ideoi<J!!i<;al needs uperbly w..U; but it threatens on the other hand to
I!SC3lte unco.ntmllably be)-ond this funcrion to undercut the vtry
foundatioas of ralionatity and moral duty. Taste, at one level sharply
sepanre from truth and morality, seems at another level their vtlj
basis; and the tenns an: thU5 ripe for a deconstruction which will
license some Romanticism to aestltedcize the whole of reatity.
Bourgeois thought would seem confronted with an unenviable choice
be"""en preserving its ratiooality only ot the COSI of marginalizing an
ideologic:ally liuitful mode, and cullh'llting that mode to lhe point
vh.cre it threatens to usurp truth and Yinue themsehes.
h might be claimed that Friedrich Schiller's Ott the AcstMti<
of Mtm adnncc:s some way towards such a dCCOil5lniCiion,
remaining ,.;!hin a Kantian pooblemalic it simullaneously interrogates. If
Kant has too severely dislocated Nature sad reason, Schiller will
deline the aesthetic as exactly the hinge or rransllioiLll stage
th.e brutely sensual and the subliotcly rationa.l. In the fonn of tbe so-
caJJcd 'pby drive', the aesthetic condition reconcih:s the sense drive -
the changing, shapeless, appetitive srufi of sen<arion and desire- with
the fiJilllal drive, the active, haping-, immutable force of Kanuan
reason. 'The (sense dri\ocl', writes Schiller,
in>isls upon absolute reatity: [man) is to tum everything
whicb is mere form into world, and make aU bis
potentialities fully manifest. The (formal drive) insists
upon absolure formality: he is to destroy evorything in
himself ...ruclt is mere vorld, and bring lwmony into aU
his changes. In other word<, he is tn extemalise aD that is
v.ithin him, and give fonn to aU that is outside bim.'
What brinf!$ about this rtsolution of sense and spiril, ntalter tlld
form, clwlse and permanence, finlrude and inJinlty, Is dte aoslhelic,
an epistemolngical category whkh Schiller has now thoroughly
The aesthetic, however, is simply a "'"YSiaf!" or passase to dtc
non-sensnous imperatives of pr.octicai re:ISOO, whicb Schlller as a
good cnou"' Kantian fuliy cndonc:s. There is no question, it would
seem, of his aesdteticizing truth and morality out of emtence: !hey
remain humnity's loftiest goals, but goals which appear somewhat
absolutist md unfeeling in dtcir demands on scusual bwnan uature.
One can read Schiller's wet, !hat ism say, os an essemlalsoftening up
of Kant's imperious superego of reiiSOtl, a tempcrln! wbicb carries its
own kk:oioglcal necessity. For if reason Is simply at war with the flesh,
how i< it ever to rake root in the body oflj,ed experience? How is
' theory' to flc:sb ilsdf out as 'idt-ulogy'? Scbiller is writing with the
sound of French revolutionary Terror in JUs ears, whicb might
suggest one re:>son why he believesobstrnct...,.son to Sland in need of
a liltlc compassionate moderation; but dtc idcologi<:al dacmma be
confronts is in fact more general !han !his. Rca!on will only secure its
SW41y if il is. in Gr.unsc.. ian tmns, oonsensual ratl-..:.r than bluotly
coercive; it must achit'llc hegemony in coOusion with dtc senses it
subduu, rather !han trampling roughshod over them. The Kantlan
duality of Nature and reason simply sbort-cireuiiS what we might coli
the question of idoologio:al reconstruCtion, leaving us with. litde clue
as to how we are to leap from the one realm to the other. SchUler, for
h.is pa.rt, recognizes that this tension between absolute edrical
injunctions, and the sordid sublunary state of bourgeois narure, must
be at once sustained and relaxed; and the aesd1etic is the category
which will perform this difficult double operation. We. shall see,
however, dtar it succeed! in darkening the question of the transition
from Nature to reason as much as illuminating it.
As a progressive refinement of sensation and desire, the aesthetic
ccomplishes a kind of decanstruction: it breaks down the cynnnical
dominion of the sense drive not by the imposioon of some extemal
ulcase, but from within. 'Through the aesthetic modulation of the
psyche, then, the autonomr of re.uon is already opened up within dte
domain of 5ense itself, the dominion of sensation already broken
within its o..-n frontiers, and plrysical man refined to the point where
spirinul man only need! to stan de\'l:loping out of dte physical
according to the lawo of ITeedom' (163). On the ten-.in of the
aestheric, humanity must 'play the war against Maner into the ery
territotY of Maner itK!f, so that )ill may be spared haYing to fight his
dread foe on the sacred soa of Freedom' (169). Tt is easier, in other
words, for reasoo to regulate sensuous NatuR if it has already been
busy eroding and .ubliming it from the inside; and it is precisely this
which the acstlu:tic interplay of spirit mel sense will achieve. The
aesthetic performs in this sense .an esscntiaUy propaedeutic role,
pro<:e!ising and defusing the raw stuff of sensational life for its
evemual subjugation Jt the hands of reason. It is as though, in the
ae;lheric, rea.o;on pial"' along with the senses, in<en"hes them formaUy
from the inside as a kind of 6fth columnist in the enemy camp,
therebr rehearsing us in those higher states of 1n1th and goodne$.<
tow:uds which we re lr.lelling. Odt.rwise, as <natures sunk
dqmerately in our de$ res, we arc likely to !he dictates of
reason as 4bsolulist and :ubilraJY, and so ail to comply
with them. Schiller shrewdly m:ogoizes that K11111's stnrldy deontologiad
decrees an: by no means the most effective ideologieal mechanism for
a recalcitnnt material world; Kant's Duty, like some
paranoid absolutist monarch, reveals too little ll'IISt in the masses'
instiocts for conformity to it. This churlishly suspicious
despot thus needs a touch of populist >-ympathy if its hcgclllOIIy iJ to
be ensured: 'Duty, seem -.oice of Necessity, musr mod<:rate tbe
censorious lone o( its precepts - a tone only justified by tbe resistance
the) cncounll:r - and show greatn respect for Narurc through a
nobler confidence in her wiJUngness ro obey !hem' (217). Dury
;.,ust cncaBC mon: closcly with inclination: that moral chuactcr is
defective which can assert itself only by sauificing !he natu1'31, just
as ' a political constitution will still be very imperfect if it is able
ro achieve unity only by suppressing variety' (19). The poUtical
aBusion is apposite, since there iJ no doubt that 1M 'sense drive' for
Scbilltr dirH1Iy evokes appetitive individuotism. His uncultiated
' s.tVage', ' self-seeking, and yet witbout a Self; lawless, yet "ilhoul
Freedom' (171), is no emtic tribal specimen bua the average Gemwt
midclk-clm philistine, wbo sees in Nature's splendid profusion
Nllhing but his own prey, and either its objects in an access
of desire or thrusts them horri/iedly aside when !hey threaten to
destroy him. The """"' drive iJ also the proletariat, with its 'crude,
lawkss instincts, unleashed with the looseniug of the bonds of cMI
or<kr, and hastening with ungovcrMblc fury m thclr animal
wi<factions' (25).
Whot Sdillkr tel'lll> the 'aesthetic modulation of the psyche' in fact
denotes a project of fundamental ideological reconsii'UC!ion. The
aesthetic is the missing mediation between a barbaric civil society
given <m:r to pure appetite, and the ideal of a well-ordered political
state: 'if nun is ever to solw! that problem of politics in .P.-actke he will
have to approo.ch it through the problem of the aesthetic, because it is
only through Be.uty that man maw his way to Freedom' (9). E,ery
progr=ive politics win founder as <urely as Jacobinism if it fails to
tak< a detour thruush the p:.Jchkal and addres itself to the problem
of transforming the hufiWI subject. Schiller's 'aesthetic' is in this
sense Gramsci's 'hegemony' .io a different key, and both concepts are
brooght to political birth by the dismal coll2pse of revolwioo;uy
hopes. The only politics that "ill bold is one lirmly rooted in a
refashioned 'culture' and a revolutionized subjectivity.
The aesthetic will leave humanil)l, not free, moral and ttuthful, but
inherently ready to receive and respond to these .rational imp<rarives:
'although this [a..U.etic] state can of itself decide nothing as regards
cidler oor insipiS or our conYiclioll!l, lhu.s kavmg both our
inreDecru:al and our moral worth as yet entirely problem.uic, it is
nevertheless the necessary pre-conditioo of our attaining to any
insight or conviction at all. In a word, there is no other way of malting
senwou. man ralio...t except by first malcing bim aestheric' (161).
Une-asily conscious that this might se.:m tu nake reason slavisbly
dependent 11[)011 sensuous represemadon, thus un<krmining irs self
vatiduory power, Schiller sweNes .instmtly bad< to Kmi>n o n h o d o ~ y
'Should truth ami duly nut be able, uf and by themselves alone, tu
gain access to sensuous maD? To which I must answer: they not only
can, they positively must, fftve their determining power to themse.lves
alone . . . ' (16l).lkaury impar1s the t-Tto think and deddc, and in
this sense underlies truth and monlily; but it lw no say at aU in the
3ct\13l uses of these p<wlers, whieb ue consequenrJy self-<lererm_lt)ing.
The aesthetic is the matrix of thought and actiun, but uercises no
dominion omr that ro which it gives birth; far !tom hubristically
usUJping the role of rt1lSOo, it simply smooths the path for itS august
appearance. It is not quire, however, a lad<kr which we climb only to
kick away; for though abe aesthetic is the mere precondilinn of truth
and virtue, it nc .. erthdess somehow prefigures what it will produce.
Truth is by no means beauty, so Schiller m2intains agoinst the
aestheticizcn;; but beauty nonetheless in principle contains it. A
n.urow pallrway can thus be opened up berwcen KAnt's disabDng
duality of faculties on the one hand, al\d _,. aestheticist conOarion
of ihem on tile ocher.
What it mean to daitn tltlt the a .. thedc is the HSential
prt:eondition of the moral? It means, more or less, that in Ibis peculiar
coodilion the rigorous detenninalion of the sense drive, and the
equoUy despotic power of the formal drive, play =selessly into one
other and so succeed in cancc:lling out each other's pn:ssurcs, thus
leaving us in a mtc of oqame freedom or 'free determinability'. 'To
the extent tht !the play drivel deprives feelings and possions of their
dynamic power, it "'ill bring them into harmony with the ideas of
rta!on; and to the otent tltlt it deprives the laws of reason of their
moral compulsion, it will reconcile tilem with the interests of the
senses' (99). The acsdletie is a kind of fictive or heuristic realm in
which we can suspend the force of our usual powers, imaginalively
transferring qualities from oDe drive to IIIIOther in a kind of free
wheeling of the mind. Having toomcntarily disconnc<:1ed
lhese drives from tloeir real-life come<rs, we con enjoy lhe faulllsy of
recons1ituting each by means of the other, reconstructing psychicatl
conlUc:t in terms ofhs potential resolution. This condition is not yet
liberty, which consists in Kaolian ,.ein in our froe conformity to the
moral Jaw; but it is a kind of sheer potential for such positive freedom,
the dattly Indeterminate source of aU our active selfdetermioat!on.
In the uesthetic, we are tempomrily emanciported from aU dettrminatioo
whai80CVer, eilher physicatl or moral, and pass Instead lhrouib a state
of utter determill2bility . .It is a world of pure hypothesis, a perpenool
' as if', in which we experience our powers and capecitics as pure
formal possibilities, drained or aU particularil); and it is thus a
condition of being SOOJewhat equiwlent to Kant's pure aesthetic
copacity for cognition, which rclll2ins untrammalled b7 the deter
mination of a sp<d6c concept.
All of this, however, males the aesthetic, that mighty force at the
root of oor moral humanity, sound likl: nothing so much .. a imple
apori/J. Two strermously antagonistic forces cancel each other out into
a kind of stalt:male or nullity, and this sheer soggcslivc nothingness is
our precapadry for aU Vlllue. There is, however, nullity and nullity -
mere blank negation, nd that richly potential wcuity whlch, as the
suspension of every specific constraint, lays the fertile ground for free
action. In the aesthetic colldilion,
(Man) must, conscquendy, in a t cr1ainscnsc, return to thot
negative state of complete absence of determination in
which he found himself befoo: anything ot aU h:ul mde an
impression upon his senses. But that former condition was
completely devoid of content; and now it is a question of
combinins such sh.eer absence of determination, :md :on
eqtWJJr lllllimib:d deu:nninability, with the gn:atr:st possible
content, since ditecdy from this condition something
positiY<: ;,; to The determination he has received
dlrouglt aensation must therefore be prescm:d, because
there must he no 106" of reality; but at the .arne time it
JllliSt, inasmuch as it is limitation, be annulled, since an
Ulllimited determinability Is to come Into existence. The
problem is, therefore, or. one and the 5:ame time to destroy
and to maintaiD the dct.-rmination of the condition - and
this is possible in one Vtrf only: by confronting it with
llllother determinativn. Tire of the balance stand
level when they aft empty; but they also stand level .,iJcn
they conmln equal weights. (1+1)
fbc aesthetic is a kind of acali<: impasse, a nirvanic suspension of
aU determinacy and del!ire overflowing with entire!) IJ1lSI)ecific
contents. Since it nullifies the li.mits of sensarinn along wit.b its
compulslvcncs&, It becomes a tind of sublime infinity of possibilities.
Tn the aesthetic swe, 'man Is Nought, if ..u: ore thinkinr of any
partiCIIior result rather than of the totality of his powers, aod
conaiderillg the absence In bill of any spedfic determination' (H6);
but this neg2thity is thereby everything, a pure boundless being wftkh
eludes all sordid 'lpCCifu:ity. Taken as a whole, the esth.etic condition
is supremely posidve; yet it is also sheer erapliness, a deep and
dauling darkness in which all determinations are n infinity of
notbillgness. The wrc1ehed social <:OIIditioo which Schiller mourns -
the fragmentation of human faculties In the division of labour, the
spa::ializinJ and reifying of capacities, the mechanizing and dissociating
of human powers - must be redeemed by a condition which is,
precisely, nothing m particular. A.s entirely inder.:rminatc, the
aesthedc upbraids the drastic one-sidcdness of SIOcie!y with its O'flll
serene playfulness of being; but its release from aU is
also a dream of absolute fn:cdom whicb belongs with lhe
ordtr iuelf. Unlimiled cleterminabilily is die alert po5IUre of one
ready for anything, as ....,u as a utopiut critique of aU actual,
being from an eternally subjW>Ctive stmdpoinL
Schiller speaks of the power which is restored to humanity in the
aesthetic mode as 'the hilbcst of all boumles' (117), and in celebrated
phrase rem arts !bat 11120 is fully human only when he plays. But if this
is so, dxo the anthctic must be the tt/<11 of human C>istmc<;, not the
tran.'lltlon to such an end. It would cerWoly appear more free than the
domain of morality, precisely because it disdves aU ethical
along with physi<:al o11es. Oo the one hand, die aesthetic 'only offers
us the possibility of becoming human beings, 011d for the rest le:IVes it
to our own free will to decide how fu we wish to make this a reality'
(149); on the other hand, as a state of pure untmnmclled possibilily, a
fusion of sensual and radoual, it would seem superior to what it
enables, a sround elevated above what rem upon it. 11tis ambisuiry
reflects a real ideological The problem "'ith Kantian
freedom is that the moral law which enshrines it would also -m to
undercut it. This fn:edocn is of a peculiuly peromptory kind, io;.oruing
it> imp<.'rious dccn:cs in appareot indiffrn:nee to the needs and
natures of its subjec:rs. True freedom may thus be shi.fttd to lbe
aeslhetic; butsiru:e this is iooocent of aU moral diredion and
determilladons, It is hard m sec how II wiU do as ID adequare IJlii8C of
soci;l pructice. The aesthetic is whatever is the otber of :my specific
social inrercst; it is wilhoot bias to any ddinitc ICIMty, but precisdy
on thai account a gtneral aainting capacity. Culture is the negation
of aD conaete claims and commitments in tb name of totality - a
totality which is therefore purely because It Is no more than a
!012lization of negated moments. The aesthetic, in brief, is mere
Olympiut indilferentism: 'because it takes under its protection no
sm,Je one ofmm's faculties to tbe exclusion of the others, It favolltS
each aDd all of them withoot dlstin<tion; and it finours no single ooe
more than anolher for the simple reason that it is tbe ground of
possibility of them all' (151). Unable to say one thing without uylog
everything, aesthetic ""}" nodting whatsoever, so boundlessly
eloquent os lo be spccchles>. In cullinting every possibilily to the
Umit, It risks leaving us musclebotmd and immobilized. If, aftrr
acslb<:lic enjoyment, 'we find ounel>cs disposed to prefer some one
panicular modt of feellng or action, but unlined or disindined for
aoolhcr, this llllly S<:l"o'c as infallible proof that we have not had a
purely aestbclic . .' (153). As the \'cry taproot of our
morol vinue, the aesthetic is ppocendy iovolid unless it
us im.liffcrcntly tu martydrom or murder. It ill the way we come to
think and act cruth'el]", the rran.sccndental ground of our pncticc, yet
all ponicular thought and action are a f:alling ofT from it. As soon as
we suffer c:oncrctc dctc:rminatioo we have lust this pregnant
notllinpesa, kcc:ing ewer from one abSCDCe uno another. Human
existence would s-eem a oscillation between two of
11eption, as aesthetic cspacity lapses through action .into
limiratlon of being, only to reven again to ind. The aesthetic, in
shon, is sociaDy useless, just as its philistine critics maiotain: ' for
beauty produces no parlicular reault wllatsOCVer, Dcitbcr for the
understand nor for the will. It ac:complisbes no particular p111pose,
neither iotcUectual nor moral; it di>wver.; no indinduallnrth, hdps
liS to perform no individual duty and is, in shon, as unfitted 10 pTO\ide
a firm basis for character as to enlighten the underst>nding' (147).
But all this, precisely, is the aesthetic's crowning glory: superbly
indifferent to any one-sided tnlth, pwpooc or practice, it is nothing
rhan me boundJ.,.. infinity nf our touJ ltuiiWiity, ruined a$ !!OOR
as reoliud. Cuhure, it would seem, is jiiSI a porpotual openness 10
By the close of Sc:hlller's tex1, the aesthetic is sbowing aign.s of
ovetreachiug its humble st>tus as haudmaitle.n of mtSOn. The moral
law it formally subscn'es wuuld seem inferior to it in one major
respect: it is inc3pable of gentrating posith'e 311'ectil!e bonds
individuals. The law sul>jeas the indnidual will to the genenl, thus
securing the gener.l conditions of poulblliry or social life; it seu
$ubject 011er against suhjecr, curbing their inclinatioo:s, but ca.noot act
as a d)'ll&lllic SOUKe of social hannooy and pleasurable
Rcuon implants ill humanity the prlnclples of soc:W conduct, but
beaury alone confers on this conduct a social character. 'Ta$te alone
brings harmony into society, because it f<mers ha.nnony in ihe
indmdtal .. only the aesthetic mode of commlUiication unites
society, because it relates to llw which Is common to all' (215). Tasre,
moreover, can offer all this and happiness too, as the grim strictures
of morality csnnot: 'Beaury alone makes the world happy'
(Zl7), whereas the price of moral virtue is clf-abncplion. The
aestheri<: .is the langu.tg<! of hum>n <Oli<larity, i" fu:e agoin.r
all socially elilism and privilege: 'No privilege, no autocracy of
ony kind, is tolerated where tlste rules' (Zl 7), and cseric
knowledge. led out b) ustc into the 'b=d daylight of Common
Sense', the COI1liiiOD possession of society as a whole. The
aesthetic nate, In short, Is the utopian bourgeois public sphere of
6berty, equality aod democracy, within which everyone is o free
cilizcn, 'havlnr equal rights with the noblest' (Z19). The CODStnined
social order or class-struggle and division of labour has already been
overcome in principle in the oonscnsual kingdom of bcouty, which
inauJJs itself like a shadowy pandise wi1hin lhe present. Tute, wilh
its llttonomy, universality, equality and fellow-feeling, is a whole
alttmative politics, suspending social hierarchy ond reconstituting
relations between indhidoals in the image of disinterested fraternity.
Culture is the only rrue SQCial harmony, a shadowy oppositiooal
society wilhin the present, nownenal kingdom of persons and ends
secredy traversing tbe phenomenal realm of things and causes. Yet if
the aesthetic thus suggests the fonn of a whoDy different S<lCial onler,
its actual comcnt, as 'A'C have seen, would seem no more thm an
indctemli.nate negalioR, brimming with nothing but its own in-
upn:>sible potential The posili>T llllity of elm society, in olbcr
words, would seem to be nolhing at all, potent but mysteriously
dusive; ony di.s<:OW'S<' capabl of spanning thai society's actual .
mulliJile dMsions must indeed be of rei!Wbbly low definition. As lhe
Ideal unity of a divided reality, the aesthetic is tw:essarily ambiguous
and obscure; to see it as a matter of pc>tenlial aiODe is to confess that
In this soeU:ey Individuals ue at odds wilh eaeb oilier as sooo as they
have Cultural unity n1ust be pressed back beyond aU actual
sclf-n:alizalion, which in this order is likely to proK dominative and
pUiial; eulturc exists to enable hWIWI self-determination, but ia also
violated by it: Its force can be preserved, thtR, only if its content is
steadily dwindled to nothing. Culrure in no sense: dctrnnines what wt
shuuld do; it u ralhcr that, in continuiniJ to do what eva we are doing,
we ac1' with an equipoise which implies we could just as easily be
doing somethinJ else. lt is thus a ql161ion of style, or 'grace' as
Schiller would term it we will learn best bow 10 beruve by Iakins our
cue from a oondilion vhicb in\'Oives doing nothing whatsoncr.
Neither the moral law nor the aeslhelir ccaclilion, !hen, will wholly
-uffic:e as images of the ideal society, which is why, perhaps, Schilltr's
work seems UDWittingly tom between devating the lllw aboYe the
aesthetic, and the aesthetic over the law. The law, of course, officially
reigns S\Jpn:rne; but it can offer no sensuous representation of the
freedom it slpllics, and tbc alarming tnlth m\ISI be faced thai
morality is incapable in itself of pro,iding the ideological bonding
encntial for social cohesion. In its Kantian form. it is too abslract,
individualist and imperious, too sadistically desirous of submission in
its subjects, to carry through the.;e consensual tasks at all effectively.
The onus of >uch a projoct tb.,Tcfure shifts to the aesthetic; yet if the
ethical is tOO formulaic aad unbending for such purposes, too linle
sensitive to indj.,idual differences, lbe aesthelic would, seem in its own
way equally empty of pr11ctical cootent. If the lllw is tOO
masculine, too implacable in iiS c:octions, the aa lhctic is too
malleabiy feminine. Culture marks aa m'iiDee on a formalisti c moral
ideology by its opeDDess to the senses; yet' that embrace of the
sensuous takes the fonn of delilsing its determinate contl:nts, hence
falling b;u:k into me very fD11D31ism it was out to transcend.
The aesthetic for Schilkr involves the creation of scmblaacc; and
sinee scmblaace involves a acative indifference 10 Nature, it is
through a delight in such beautiful appeorance that 'sa""ge' human
beings fim pope lhcir laOOrious way upward fiurn animal dependeocy
on !'heir env!mnment m the freedom of the awhetlc. Humanity
launches out on the path of its true liberty, effecting a breach in its
biological nature, once it 'SWt!l pn:fcrrinJ form rn substance, and
jeopardiing reality fOI' the sake of semblance' (205). If this movement
abandons Nature at one level. it also stays faithful ta it at. another - for
Nantre Itself has prodiplly la..W.ed on iiS crmures more than the
bare neeessitie< of existence, and offers in this lll2terial swplu. dJm
of th.e a!imitabaity of aesthetic freedom. The -thetic,
then, is in this sense natund: we mUAl be prodded upward into it by
the poW<!r of Nantre itsdf, since what ochc...Ue mlgbt impd us
towords it. - the wiU - is a product of lbe tile af fftedam, not its
pn::rondition. Butlhe esthetic is atlhe same time wmarund, since in
order to COllie lntn ill cno;n the lmaglnadon DIIISt llllkc some
mysteriously ineq>lic:able leap out of this purely ll>ll!erial supet-
abundance into its OWD fertile autonomy. The relatiun between
Nature and freedom, in shon, is aporedc: the latter breaks slwply
"ilh the fanner, but somehow under the former's own impulsion.
Freedom cannot 1:1ke off from it<elf, since tbi. would suggest that
thcTC was already a will to do "' thus n:ndcrin( fn:cdom anterior to
Bur if &eedom share$ some kinship wilh Nat:ure, how can it be
free? Th o<gative indeterminacy of the a""-thetic, transitional point
between Nature and freedom, necessity and reason, i5 thus required
as a solution to the riddle of where fre<dom oomes from, of how it
could ever have possibly been born of the un&ce. The eniJ!IIla of the
:teSiberic is the solnrion to this puZ>.Ie - which is to say rmt on riddle
is merely answered with another. The obscurity ofScbillcr's doctrine
of the aesthetic is the insmnibility of the oril!ins of freedom in a
soci<ty where rational subjoctivit) is the negotion of aU sensuousness
and materiality. How freedom and necessity, subject and OOjecr, spirit
and sense can possibly go together is, In such an aUerwed sod21
order, theoretically impossible to >ay. Yet there an: increasingly
argent poi tical reuons why they should do so, and the obscurity of
the aesthetic in Schiller's thooght is the upo;hoc of this impasse.
The ambiguilies of Schiller's won.., dutifully tidied away to
'paradoxes' by his English editors, are signs of genuine political
dUemmas. Indeed the whole teJtt is a kind of political allegozy, in
which the troubled relation.< between sense drlw and formal drive, or
Nature and reoson, are ne-er far from a rdection on the ideal
relations between populace and ruling dass, or tMl society and
absolutist state. Schiller draws the paraDe! quite explicitly himself,
comparing the relation between reason (which enjoins unity) and
Norun: (which demands muldpllclty) to the desirable reladon
belween potitical state and society. The state, while its demand for
uniJy is ab$olute, must IIC\'Crthcless the 'subjec:ti\c and
specific character' of its materials (the populace); it must nurture and
n:spt(.t "lJ<llltam:ous impulse, and ocbim: its unity ..mhout
plurality. Just as reason in the aesthetic realm cunnins!J inserts
within the sensual, relin.ing it from the inside into compliance with its
own injunctions, so lite polilical state 'can ooly become a reality
inasmuch as ias pans have been tuned up to the idea of the whole'
(21). It is the aesdtelic, as ideologicAl reeonstructioo and hegemooic
strategy, which will acwmplisb Ibis end; so that ' once man is inwardly
at one with himself, he wiD be able to presem! his indmduality
however much be may univenalise his conduct, and the State will be
merely lbe interpreter of his a.m finest loslinct, clearer rormuladon
of llis own sense of v.bot is right' (21). If this fails to bappen, Sclilller
warns, if'subjective mao sets his face against cbjeclivc man', then the
latter (the stan.) "'ill be forced Into the coercive suppression of the
former (cillil society), ond will 'ruthlt:SSiy truoplc underfoot sucb
powcrtillly acdlt!oas Individualism ill order llot to fall victim 10 it'
(21). In this blealt political rondiOOn, 'tluo concrete life of the
Individual is dcstroy1:d in order that the abst:ra1 idea of the Whole
may drag out its sony existence, and the St>t.e remain< fon:>er a
stranger to its citizens since at no point does it ewer m:tke conw:t with
their feelillg' (37).
Political power, in short, must implant itself in subjectivity itself, if
its dOJDioancc is lo be secun:; and this process requires the
production of a ciri>.4n whooe eth.ico-political dury has been
internalized as spontanoous indinatii.HL Moral greatness, Schiller
argues in llis essay 'On Grace and Oigrtity', is a question of obeying
the moral law; but mor31 11t1111y is the graceful dispc>sition In such
confOilllity, the law introjected and habinuted, the of
one's entire subJecthood In ils t:enru;. It is this w.hnle colturallife-sryle
which is the ttue object of moral judgement, not, as with Km.t, certain
discrete actions: ' Man is intended not to perf<mn separate mon1
actions, but to be a moral being. No< irtues, but Yirtue is hi< precept,
and vir11Je is n01hing else than an inclination to duty." An atomistic
ethic:>, earnestly o'lllculatiog the effa;1J of in.tentions of distinct
action, is anti-ar:sthetic: the shift from mora6ty to culnlre is one from
the power of the head to the rule of the heort,from abstmct decision
10 bodily disposition. The 'whole' human subject, .u we seen
elsewb-, must comoen its neces.'lity into freedom, transfipre its
etbinl duty into instinctual habit, and so operate like an aesthetic
'On Grace and Dignity', like TTt.Atstlutic IT{ MtJII, ltlaUs
no secret of the political foUIIdations of this aesthetic. 'Let us
suppose', Schiller writes, 'a monarchical state administered in such a
way that, although all goes on aording to the win of one person,
a.:b oilizc:n could pe,.uaalc twn.clf that he IU"Cmi and uh<')'S only
his own inclination, we should call that pemment a liberal
government' (200-1). Similarly, 'If the mind is manifested in such a
way through the sensuous nature subject to its empire that it executes
its behests with the most faithful exactitude, or expresses its
senliments in the most perfectly speaking manner, withoot going in
the least apinst that which the aesthetic scase demands from ir as a
phenomenon, then we shall see prodaeed tlw whieh we call grtz'
(201). Grace is to life, in brief, as the spontaneous
submissioa of the masses is to the political state. Ia the pofitical as in
the aesthetic order, ea.:h inc6vidual unit behaves as though it governs
itself by virtue of the way it i> guliemed by the law of the whole. Tbe
absolulist prince of reuon must neither restrict all free of
the senses which se,..e him, nor allow them liberti.ne sway. Schiller
llkcs Kant to 1aSk for lllljusdy scrclnr aside the rirhts of sensuous
nanore, cllliming instead that morality mll5J couple itself with
inclination and so become a kind of 'second natun:'. Kant's moral
theory, in otber words, is incapable of becoming effective
ideology. If the moral law, that most sublime l'itness to otu human
graadeur, does nothing bu 1 humiliate and accuse us, caa it reolly be
tr11e to its Kantlan starus as a rational bw of self-conferred Uberty?
And is it altogether surprising that human beings wo11 be tempted to
rebel against a juridical power whieh appears to be aliea and in-
diiTerent In them?
The dangers of aestheticiljog the law to notlling, howe\"er, remain
linnly in Sclllllcr's silftts. If it is as he arrues in 'On Grace and
Dignity', that ' lhe mor-JI pe1fection of man caMot shine forth e:rcept
&om this very usocitioa of his inclination widl his moral conduct'
(206), it is cquaUy the case, as he reminds us in bls =Y "!be Moral
Utility of Aesthclic Manners', that taste is in itself a dubious
foundation for moral eld.sltnce. Order, harmony and perfection are
not in m.emselves irtues, even if 'taste gives a di.rcctioo to the soul
which disposes it to virtue' (132). Another essay, 'On the NccCS5&1Y
UmltadOIII In the Usc of 8cau(y of Form', is Ukewise to
restore the edge 10 the r.ational: here SchiDer conlnlsts the 'body' or
matrrial wmension of a disc<lllnC, where the imagination may be
pennitted a cerWo rbetoricallkcnse, with illl ooru:cptual substance,
and warns of the d31lgtrs of rhetorical signifier coming to usurp
conocptuol signihcd. Such a move assigns roo hilft a stams tn the
feminine, for women are concerned with the 'matter' or cxrernal
medium of truth, its beauteous embc:Uislunents, ralher lban with
trUth itself. Good raste involves the regulated coupling of male and
femole, signified and signifier, constati-.e and perfonnative; but this
coupling is not symmetrical, since power and priority must always Ue
with the fonner terms. Rhetoric, or lhe scnsUOIIS body of a discourse,
must never forget that it 'carries out an order emanating from
elsewhere', lhat it is not its own offllizs it treats of; if this forgetfulness
were to occur, men mlght end up boming indlJTerent to rational
substance and allow themseloes to be sedu""d by empty ilflllearanee.
Wolllllll, in brief, is co-panner who miiSI know her plaee: 'wte
must be confined to resuJ.alinJ the external form, whik: reason and
aperiencr determine the substance and the essenc-e of cooceptions'
(245). Taste bas its dnswbiU:ks, in shon: the more it refines and
sophistioatfi us, the more it ups our inclinadon to perform action.
commanded by duty ,.-hicb revolt our sensibilities. The fact that we
should not be brutes is no excwc for becoming eunuchs.
Howard C.ygill has convincingly argu<!d that Kantian aesthetics
stonds at the ooulluencc of twu upposed tnditiDtJS: the British lineage
of 'sympalby', monl sense .and natunllaw, which believes it possible
to fMer a harmonious unity in bourgeois civil society independently
of juridical coen:ion and political decree; and the Gennan rationalist
herilllge flowinJ from uibniz and Cltrislian WolfT to i\lexander
Baumgarten, which in its concern with the universal validity and
necessity of the aesthetic is bound up with the ideologies ofleglllity of
an enlil!fltened absolulism.' Such German aesthetics, in its pre
ocaq>aJion with law and concept as agaiDSt sense and feeling, implies
the dominance of state legality over the 'moral' or affective domain of
civil society. SchUler's work is a signifieant qualification of this
tendency: social unil)' must be generated in a from 'below',
from an acsthcticaUy transformed or ideologically n:constituted ci\'il
society, not arbitnrily from Yet the resemttion of'in
a seme' is signific.mt, since the way this will come is not
through some scntimo:nW populist Iiiith in natural spontaneity, but, as
we have seen, through re.uon, in the disguise of the aesabetic,
smuggling i1self into tb;, enemy camp of sensation in an effon to
know, and hence master, its antaJOnist. 11; then, Seh!llcr is on the one
hand notAbly neMlus of law, which as be writes In his essay on the
pathetic tends to rtslriet and humiliate us, be also betn)'S from linl<
to time a pathological suspicion of the senses, which threaten to dog
the free soaring of ntlonal spirit. An Idealist impulse to <uhUmate the
sensual to the ()(lint of evaporation is at odds with a more judicious
materialist recognition of Nature's srubbom autonomy. But If the
former project plays too readily into the hands of rtionalist
ab>nlutism, the latter ' iewpoint acknowledges the reality of sensuous
experience only at the risk of hmng to the absolutism of
reason and lite J)(IW.Or of tile im:aginatioo.
The aeslhelic ideal, as we have seen, is an interfusion of sense and
spirit, which teaches 115 that 'the moral freedom of man is by no
meus abrogated through his inevitable dependence upon phr.;ical
tbinp'.' Yet this felicitous parmership is by no means as llllltU2l as it
loob: ' in the realm of truth and morality, feeling may have no say
but in the sphere of beiDg and weU-bdng, fon:n has every
right to and the play-drile every right to command'. The
deconslrUction, in other words, is aD one way: the form-giving
of male reason and subdues the inchoate aensual
feaule, but u 'feeling' she has no redpmcal voice in the phen of
truth and morality. In Lhe highest condition of hWD:lllity - the
usthelic state- >Cmblancc will mgn supreme, and 'aU that is mere
matter ceases to be' (217). Such beautiful veils the
squalov of sonsual reality, and 'by a delil!hdul illusion of freedom,
concuk from us our degra4lng kinship w!th matter' (219). An
idealized version of the woman os beauty is wielded against a debased
imare of ber as senruallty. Schiller's teXt has arril"cd at tbc very
lhreshold ofNiei2Sche's celebration of !he aesthetic as tife-enhancing
illusion in Tltt BirfA and a similar pessimism about material
Ufe undertics both allirmalions. His aesthetic programme is on the
one houtd positive and constructive -an hegemooic Slr.lte8}" for wbicll
culture is no solitary contemplative dreaming but an active social
force, offering in its utopian public phere of ci\'iliud intercoune the
missing mediation between the degraded state of civil society
(Narure) and the politieaJ n:qu!rcm<:nlS of the absolutist state
(reason). But thi< resource(ulocial project is in partial cootradiction
with ilS aulhor's acsthcticist idealism: the former involves a faith in
the SetlSIIOUS body and a liberal distrtlst of reason too
deeply qualilied by the Iauer. The bra effort to reline matter into
while somehow pr<KI"Vinf it "' matter, fonnders on die
inttamigcnt appetitive Ufe of civil society, and C4n rum at crisis-point
into an aestheticizing IWll)' of this wltole degraded domain. In this
IIIOOd, the aesthetic would seem less to ttans6rure material Ufe than
10 cast a decoi"OI&S veil over its cllronic unregenenq. Culrure Is 1t
once active social remaking and etllereal realm of being. authentic
freedom IDd the mere baUueination of a Wliversal
communi!) which can be louted 'only in <ome few chosen circles'
(ZI9}. If it is iruemally conlrldlctory, it is bcc:.ause Its rel2don m
society as a whole ean only be one of conOicL
Schiller's aesthetic thouglu provides some of the \ital constiruent!l of
new lhwry of buurgeois hegemony; but it also protests with
magnificent passion against the spi;irual devastation which that
emergont sncial order is wreaking, and this is th.e aspect of it which
bas perhaps been most remembered.' 'In the vel)' bosom of the most
exqllisltely developed social life', Schiller ,.Tires In the Anlhnic
U.UUWo of Man, 'egotism has founded its system, IIJid without e-ver
acquirillg thm:rom a heart that is truly sociable, we suffer aD the
oontagions and afflictions of society. We subject our free judgement
to ilS despotic opinion, our feelin!f to its fantastic customs, our will to
ils sedut:tiom; only our caprice do we uphold against its sacred rishts'
(27). The proliferatioa or techniclll and empirical kmr .. the
divisions of social and inteUeetual labour, have severed the 'inner
uniry or human nature' and ... its hannonious pov;en at variance with
one another in a 'disastrous conilict' (33). 'Everlastingly chained to a
sm,le Ultk of the Whole,IIWl himself develops into nothing
but a fragment; everlastingly Jn hi& ear the monotonoos sound of the
whed !hat he turns, he never de-clops the hannony ofhis being, and
instead of punin11 the stllmp of hwnaniry upon his own narurc, be
beC<llnes nothlng lTIOft than the imprint of his oeeupation or of his
knowJedse' (35). Such ont-Sided developtDent, so Sdilller
tniSIS, is a necessuy stage in the propcss of Reason mwuds some
future synthesis; and this i a .,;.,. he shares with Karl Marx, whose
of industrial capitalism is deeply rooted in a Schillerian vision
of stuD ted capacities, disaociatcd po.o-.:n, the ruiDed totality ofhutnan
natute. The whole radical aestheric tr.ldition from Cokridgc to
Herben Mamasc. lamcntiug the inorganic, mcchmistic nature
of industrial c:apillllsm, draws IUS!tnanee front this prophelic
denllDciation. What musa then be empha.ized is the coruradictory
nature of an aesthetic which on the one hand offers a fruitful
ideological mooel or the human subJect for bourgeois society, and on
the other hand holds out a vision of human capacities by which that
society can be measured and found gJ"ll\'cly wanting. That ideal, of a
rich, all-round defelopmeot of btlnWI subjective powers, is inherited
from a tr.lditionaJ, pre-bourgeois COJJTCnt of hwnanism, and stands
implaeably askew to possessive indhidualism; but there arc other
aspects of the aesthetic which can fulfil some ofthat individuolism's
ideological needs. In iiS crippling lop-sidedness, 0011feuis socieey is
the tntmy of aeslhcric thought; but tbat thought recasts the relations
bcl\l'l:en law and desire, reason and the body, in ways which hove
much to c-untribute to the emergent socW order. The test of a tnlJ,
radira.l aesthetics will be its ability to operate as social crldque without
simultmcously providing the grounds of political rati6cati(ln.
1 Gilles DelcUZ<, Kmrt's Cri!WI Phi/11J4Pity (Minneapolis, p. SO.
2 See johll MocMumy, Tlrr Stf., 1f1to1 (LoDdon, 1969), dlaptcr I.
3 Fricdrieb Schilcr, On tAr Amhnir Emwtioo 9/ MIIJ, ed. Ellzobelh M.
Wi!Dnson and L A. Willoughby (Oxford, 1967), p. T/. I.U subsequent
mermces to this I<Xl Will he given puentherically quolllioru.
4 'On Gtoce ond Dignity', in W.,., t{Fm.lritlo StAil'" (N<Y York, n.d.},
IV, p. 200, Allsubiequeol rcftrcnas 10 SciUlkr' <$$>)'$refer to this
'10111111<, aDd are given after quotations.
5 See Howarcl CoyiPD, 'Aatheda ud Civil Society: l'he<>ri .. ol An aod
Socley 1640-1790', unpubl shed Pb.D thesis, Unhusily of Sussex,
6 Schiler, On '"'A"IActi< MRo, p. 187. Sub>cqucntrd'cn:occs
ro this le%1: are given pvenlhelically .:tfier quotatjons..
7 Sec, for wmpk, Georg LuUc:s, C..W IINI/Iis 4 (Londoa, 196!1),
chapters 6 & 7; Fredric: Jam<son, M........, llNI F.,. {Princeton, 1971),
c:lupter 2, Pan II; Mupret C. h,.., Tlrt A...u.p.qf/1'"""01!1 (Loll\'ain,
1970). Yor other srudl<S of Sdlillcr's JCStbetics, see S. S. Kcny,
Wriliop .,AntMia (Msnchcltcr, 1961), aDd L.P. Wessel, 'Scbllleranci
the Genesis ol G<mWI ltonwuicism' , Sn.li<s itr &.mmtlmr, 'IOL 10,
no.. l (1971).
The World as Artefact:
Fichte, Schelling, Hegel
'Too tender for things' , w.s how Hegel disdainfully described Kant's
proto-mAterialist 1.ealto preserve the DitttIJJIsidz . . For why preserve
a realm about wbich absolutely nothing n be Slid: Sin<:c nothing
can be predicated of it, Kant's thing-in-itself is a cypher as resistant
to symbolization as the Lacanian more enigmatic een than God
(of whom we can pn:dic:ate cemln qualities), the mere sign of an
absence. The essence of reatity can be preserved only by being
rtiiU)ved frum the realm of cognition, and so canccllcd. In some
fanwy of the death wish, the world wiU be rendered safe by being
erased, insulated from the vagaries of subjectivism in the crypt of its
own non- being. That wbich cannot be named cannot be violated;
only nothingness, as Hegel himself laKw, Is purity of being, so
blessedly free of detennination that it does note>en exist. Intersecting
OW' world at every point is an entiR phaolasmallllliYenc, whieh is the
way reality might appear to us ifw., were not the limited crearurcs we
are. We Clio say that such appearance would be different, but since we
cannot say how it would be different the differeDCC in questfon
becomes pure, which is to say nothing whotsoever. As pure
difference, the Ding-flfl-rim makes no diffm:ne10 at all. It is
comforting, even so, to know that there Is an Inviolable domain of
being so f.tr removed from our life that it has all the inteUigibilily of a
square triangle.
Hegel will have oone of this effernlnaJe cringing be fen the thing-
in-itself, this timid last-minute withdrawal of thought from its full
penetration of the object. For bim, as more explicitly for
after him, it is "" though the sage of Kllnigsberg is a palhetic old
eunuch on this salre, too tender and fernlnine by holf, loiterinJ
irresolutely on the very threshold of some full possession of heing
wimout the potency to press oheod. His is at beSI 1 mere half-virilil)',
able to cooceive thought itself as active but then SIIIUkring it from illi
mQS(erful approprilltion of the object. Kant's Oedipal
towards the maternal body places the real m m:ndy out of bounds,
prol>ibiring that impious coupling of 5Ubject and object for which
Hegel's dialectical progrunme will clamour. His system is feebly
androgynous, active in respect of thought but passive with regard to
sensation, 1 shamefaced ideillism still senlimeotoUy ensnored in
empirimm. And the upshot of this lltiiiW1!y compromise, as Hcscl
and. others saw mere contradiction: like the maternal body, me
thing-in-itself is posited and prohibited at a stroke, so utterly sclf-
ldendcal thar langu"!e fahen and i'ftrvea off from it, leaving hehlnd
it the sheer 1r.1ce of a silence. Kant's epistemology mixea concept and
inluition, masculine form and feminine conll:nt, bot this marriaJc is
unstable from the ootset, neither fish nor fowl. Form is external to
content in the realm of left without content in
practical reuoo, and elevated to an end in itself in aesthetic
judgement. Hegel, by conlr.ISI, ,.;n have the courage of his idealist
virilil)', penetrating to the very essence of the object and delivering up
im Inmost secreL He will c:my lhe oonttadicdons of th01J8bt right inlo
lhe thing itself, into the veile!t and tabooed, and so will risk fissuring
lbe realily whieh for Kant muat remain chas11:ly intact, dividins it
against itself by the labour of me neg<ltive. But this is only JX)SSl'hle
because he already knows, in some Kleinian fanta.')' of reparation,
that this violated helug will finally be resmred ro itself whole and
entire. The namtive of Grot may he one of strenuou. conftict, but
this dislectic:al activism is folded within Crufs citculu, womb-like
enclosure, Its constant tautological return upon itself. Indeed from
this stmdpoint the se.rual roles of Kant and Hegel are reversed with a
vengeance. It is Kut, iD !M. swt soUrude of the ethical ' Ought', who
s tonds austerely aloof from de5ire, censoring all copulaliou he tween
freedom and Nature, SliJTtndered to a rea<()fl continually at war with
the ll.esh; and it is Hegel's dialectic which wiU re51on: to the&C
bloodless fonns their proper carnal e<mtent, subbting mere morality
into the sensuous body of 'coru:rele ethics' (Siulichltei{), returning aU
fonnal ca11:gooo to the rich, fertile mo.-ement of Grufs self
Hegel's restlessly actire subject, thrusting itself imo Nature's most
secret recesses in order to unmask her as an inferior version of
himself, need have no fear that his desire "'ill rip him from Namre
and lca>C him bereft of a ground. For the subjcc1's break from its
imagillary communion with the world, with all the selfesttangcmcnt
and unhappy consciousness which such a rupture involves, is no more
than a necessary moment of Spirit's imaJinary rciWn to itscl What
figures for the subject u a cawtrophic lapse into the &)mbolic order
figures for the Absolute as mere spume on the WIIVe of its imapaary
selfruperadoo. Thesubject's fall from narcissistic self presence to
alienation is simply a sttaregic move within the Absolute's own
broodinJ nar\."iloiism, a J'1ISC of reason whereby it will finally ris<: to the
delights of cnntemplaling i110elf in the mirrnr of human self
l'llnsciuusness. Like the SOil, lhe subject must surrender irs
unmediued Wlity wilh the world, endure splitting and desolation; but
its ultimate rewud will be inkgntion into reason itstlf, whose
appilftnl harshness is thus merely kindness mispm:eived. Division
and comndiction are the very constituents of a deeper imagina.ty
identity; in a consoling fantasy, is also healing, a bioding
lighter of the circle ofCrisr, which as the identity of identity and non-
identity will gamer such difference into itself as entlcbmc:nL Its
ceaseless loss of being is thllS the very dynamic by which h grows tn
Kant, as have sem, distlngulshes the ... tbedc liednn of a
world-for-the-5Ubjea from the clear-eyed re>lm of the underst:ulding,
which tells us that objects finally aist for lhcmsdvcs in a way quite
heyMd lhe reach of mind. Hegel m'etride this distinction at a
>1roke, refusing at once that dream of a Ficllte in which the object is
nothing apart from the qo, and !be bleak condition in whicb it rums
its bad on hlllJWiity altogether. JWiity for Hegtl is inseparably for
us and for itself, for us in the very essence of what it is. Tbi.ngs exist in
themselves, bat their trutlt will ordy through the steady
incorporation of their determinations in the dialectical whole of
SpiriL What makes the object tJU!y itself is simultaneously what turns
Its face rowards humanity, for !be principle of Its being is at one with
the roar of our own subjectivity. Hegel projects Kant's aesthetic
fiction into the very structure of the real, lhus n:scuing lhc .subject at
once from the llulms of subjectivism and the miseria of esmngetnmt.
The bourgeois dilemma,lhat what is objective escapes my possession,
and what I pos$CSS ceases to be an object, is lhus resolved: what is
wholly mine is nevertheless entirely real, and mine precisely in that
solid rtalil)'. Tile imaginary is from the aSthetlc m the
theoretical, shifted up gear from to cognition. Ideology, in
the shape of the identity of subject and object, is installed at the level
of scientific koowledge; and Hegel can rhus afford to o.ssign an a
lowly place in his system, sin"' he has cOI'enly aestheticized
lhe whole of the reallty which conuins it.
Hegel's great achievement, as Chari<$ Taylor ha.< argued, is to
resolve the conllict herwccn the bourgeois subject's drive for freedom
and its desire for an express! unil)' \\ith lhe world.' He offers, in
short, a fonnidable synthesis of Enlightenment at1d Romantic
thought. The dilemma of the bo\ql:oili subjcc:t is that it> fn:edum
and auronomy, the very essence of iu being, put ir at odds with
Nature ami so rut from benath it any ground by which it might be
nlidated. The more autonomous the subject grows, the less it can
justify its e>istence; the more full-blnodedly it realizes its essence, the
more alienated and contingent it becomes. The price of liberty is
radical homelessness, as the Schlcgelian doctrine of romantic irony
attests: the furious dynamic ofOO..rgeois desire exa<eds any objecti""
corrcla.tivc in rite world, threatening to suikc all of !hem provisional
and banal. A desire which reali:7.es comes to seem as
futile as one which does not. So it is, as Hegel shr ... .tly recognizes,
that the euphoric IC!Msm of the romantic subjc<t iii only ever a hair's
breadth a.,ay from utter rUhilism, likely at ony momont to keel 011er
into jaded disillusion, entranced as it is by the impo,;sible dream of
some pun prodw:ti\icy "ithout a product. One of ideology's most
fundamenllll requirements - that humanity should feel reasonably at
home in the world, 6nd some confirming edo of ils identity in its
emirons- would seem tragically at odds witb the libertarian ideology
of the bonrgeoisie. Fichte, detecting behi'nd Kant's Dig-dn-sid: the
mlnt.tory shadow of Spinozism, with its exaltation of Narurc and
consequent deni>.l of freedom, will propose the absolute ego as puu
subjective activity for its own sake, an ego which needs to posit
Nat11re simply as the field and instrUmeru of iiS 01\n expression. The
world is no more than a notional constnint against which the ego m:ty
flex its muscles and detight in its pD\\'ei'S, a convenient springboard by
which it can recoil onto iuelf. Nature as non-ego is merely a
necessary moment of the ego, a tempnr.uy given instantly
posited only to be abotisbed. Hegel sees that if this Fichtun ego is to
do more. than endlessly chase its own rail. if it is to be grounded and
guaranteed, then it must be forced down from its unseemly
megalomania to the sober terrain of Narure and histoey. Fichte's
frenetic is ooe form of aestheticism: li.k the work of art, the
absolute ego takes Its law from it5clf alone, expanding its own powcn
sin1ply for the sake of it. Hel:"l will curb l'ichte's rhapsodic self-
rcfcrc:ntiality by recalling us to the object, but in do;ng so merely
replaces one fonn or ae.sthetic:ization with another: in the milbty
artwork of c.isJ, subject ond object, form and content, part and
whole, freedom and nct'Cssity slide in and out of uch other
incessantlr, and aU of this, moreover, happens just for its own ue:
there is no point to these subtle str:\tegies other than Spirit's potient
Jr grounding the subject is not to negate its tieedom, then histOI)'
and Nature must first of a.U h:r\e been transfol'll'ltd into freedom
themselves. If the subject is 10 unite with the object without detriment
to lis autonomy, subjeamty must be smuggled into the object itsel f.
must be imbued with aU the 5elf-detennining autonomy of
reason, colonized as the homeland of Cr&r. Hegel can thus resolve
the Kaodan anlinomy of subject and object by boldly projecting one
of its temlS i.nto the other, con"erting Kant's aesthetic fiction - rhe
unity of and object in the a<.1 of judgement- into ontological
myth. If the world is SllbjectiYlud, the Nbject can be anchored in it
with impunity; the dynamic activism of Fichte's entrepreneuriol ego
can continue unabated, but now "ithout fen that it wiU simply <:ante!
out the objec<. 'Mind', remarks one of Hegel's disciples, 'is not aa
inert being but, on the contrary, absolute restless being, pure activity,
the m:gating or ideality of fixed catcgocy of the abstnlctive
inteDect.'' It is just that what an this frantic negating will unco-.cr is
the rational tol2lity of the world; and fnr its full disclosure, hW03D
subjc'Ctivity is indispensable. If we are at home in histOty, it is because
histocy has need of our freedom for its own fullilmenr. more
elegant solutions to the conOicr of grohndedness ond outonomy could
be imagined. It belongs to the freedom and necessity of the Idea that
it should come ro consciousness of itself, and the place "'here this
happens is the mind of the Hegelian pbilo<Qpher. rar from being
pointlessly coadngcnt, human subjecti';icy "'as reckoned into the
equation since the world began. Infinity, which for Hegel could not
subsist without finitude, needs us quite as much as we need it. This)
oo to speok, is an imaginory on the side of lhe object: !here is that in
!he object itself which posits a rational subject, 1\ilhout which the
object W<>Uid lapse iruo non-being. It is mind, Hegel writes in the
En<;d<>Jlodia, whi<h cogni1.es the logical Idea in Naltlre, and thus
raises Nature to its essence. As in the small infant's dreams of
hnmoruliry, the world would nor e>Cist if it itself ceased to be; what it
is for reality to be autonumuus is for it to centre upon us. The
bourgeoisie is thus no longer caught in the Hobson's choice of
clinging to its freedom but ob:andoning the world, or clinging to that
world butsacrifidng its autonomy. If reason is what estranges us from
Nomrc- if, for Kant, it dmcs a "'edge between being and humaniry-
then reason, this time as l'm>uofi rather d'"'' JlmumJ, can be twn-d
apinst itself to lead us back home, the rarlnrul g:tins of the
Enlightenment preserved but their lienatory losses liquidated. The
cry power that divan:<:$ us from bdng, given a dialectical l'o\ist, is
always in the of relllrning us safely to its bosom. The
cuntnodictioos of bourgeois history are projected into realily itself, so
that, in a cunning toap lk gr4 of the dialecrlc, to struggle with
contradicrlon is by that very act ID be at one "ilh the world, which has,
so ro speak, the same problems as ourselves. If the cssc.ncc of'
realily is contradlcrlon, then to be self-divided is to be rooted in the
Some hwuan beings, fichtc suggests in the Sd<n of KniiD'kt/q,
remain patlw:rically fixated in the mirror stoge, reliAnt for their :reose
of identity on utemal imS"S in llight from their own e>:istential
Some, who ha\>e not yet raised themselves to fuU consdous
ness of their freedom and absolute i.-dependence, 6nd
tlu:msclvcs only in ihc pMcntation of ihing>; lboy have
only that self-consciou..,ess which anache. to
objects, and has to be from d1eir multiptidty.
Their image is rdkcted back at them by things, as by a
mirror; if there were taken from them, their self would. be
.losl as weD; for the sake ofthei.selfthey cannot give up the
belief in the independence vf ihing>, for ihcy themselves
exist only if things do ... '
Hegel will - the subject from this benighted condition, but
unlike Fichte he will not ihereby maroon it on the desolate peak ufits
own aulonomy. Instead) he will reconmuct this imaginary re-gister ar
a higher theoretical level, gMng the world back to the subject bon this
rime a.< idea. The dialectical Nists and turns by which this is
a<:rompUshcd an: weU known. The be: subject, since
otherwise it would suffer determination from the outside and thus
cease to be absolute. Therefore '"")thing t.hat ex.i<ts is subject; but
this cannot be so, as there t"3n be no subject without an obitct. Then:
must, therefore, be objects; but these objects must be peculiar kinds
of subject. If th.is is a contr.ldiction, that is hardly a thought Hkely to
disturb such a mighty dialectician.
Hegel writes in his Pnface to the Pltarommology of Spirit that be is not
concerned with relating the work to the cin:umsunces which
surround it. This, the usual busints.< of prefaces, would be so much
Cl<l1aneous chitchat, inimioalto the unitfSaJ, self-mlidating
of a pi!Uooopbical S)'Siem. If such a system Is to be complete, then the
dnmininn it exens over the world must be deployed 2t the same saroke
over its own preconditions. A discourse of absolute knowledt:c woold
otherwise never be able to get oft' the ground, since whatever it
launches off from is rendered in that act :anterior to itself, and so
extrin<ic to its hegemony. Simply by stoning_, such a work risks
jcopanlizins its own tr.moc4'1ldcntal stllliS, its own
cblms in the VCI)' act of enunciating tit em. The system, it seems, must
somehow ulway< alrew:ly have begun, OT at l""st hong in some
perpetual present, ut1c-rly coc:val with itS ubjc:t:L It must in SOI11<: sense
t:d:c on froJU a point idcnlical with itSelf, opening llsclf to the world
without for :a moment relinquishing rhis intimate .tlfinvol\'emenl;
yet if 1 <fueoursc is to begin from nothinJ: what.soc>cr, 'pring self-
complete from its own depths, how would it ever come to enu11ciate
nn)thing but its own act of soying? How could its cootent ever be
anything but its form?
To say th.!t an absolute srs-em must !like off from itself is
equivaleat to claiming that the first postulate which founds it, and
sUStains it throughout, is nothing less than tbe pure act of theorizing
itself. The postulate of the work must be Implicit In It\ own acr of
enunctnioo, a.s indis.sociahte from it as ae.sthetic content from
aesthetic fonn. What is this first postulate that we can ne\er go back
beyond? For J. G. Fkbte in T1u Sam It can only be the
subject. For though I can itoagine something behind the subject
wbidt posits it, the fact "'mains that it is I, the subje<t, who am doing
the imagining. The subject = ne\'Cr gcr a !fip on i.,;clf from the
outside, since it would already need to be a subject ro do so, and this
outside would thus have b<-comc an inside. Like some dizl)ing vista
dwindling to infinity, the .subject stn:tches back endles<ly before :ill
conteivable beginning, intolerant of aU origin. 'Self-consciousness',
as Schelling writes in his ::.)sran of TMmmulmral ldttJli1m, 'is the
source of light for the entire system of knowkdgt, but it shine< only
forwanl. not backward ... In the act of self-positing, for Ficbte and
SchrBing, I know myself as infinite and absolute; and since
tnmscendcntol phiicJoophy is nn more than a complex elabomtinn of
that act, its founding absolute principle is the w:ry gesture of self
coMciou, ...,.,._, itJelf. The whole thcoMiieal enterprise becomes no
more than a reprise of that primordial, inconr:rovenible act by which
the subject posits itscl, a metaphor of that infmitc moment in which
the ceaselessly emerges and "'emerges into being. What
philosophy says is thus identical ..;th wbat it does, its form and
content quite indistinguishable, its cons12ti'le character at one ..;th iu
perfonnative practU:e.. Theory L' a living image of whot it speak. of,
in what it reveals, and is thus a kind of Romantic symbol
in dlscursive pro.\e:.
If the founding postulate of system is to be absolute, then it must
escape aU objectification and so cannot be in any way determinate.
For such a principle to be determinate would imply oome ground
beyond itself from which it cotdd be determined. thus ruining iu
absolute s12tus at a stroke. The subject is exactly tbis point of puJC
self detenninalion, this 'thing' sprung eternally from its own loins
which is no thing at .U but sheer unconoeptuolizable process,
infinitely in excess ofany degraded given. But if this is the case, how
does this irrefutable first principle not simply stip through the net of
knowlcd1c, leaving theory resting on !IOibing at .U? How C'ltll
philosophy lind sure anchorage in this elusive spe<IM of a subject,
this slippory parody of a phenomenon wbich is gone as soon as we
give n:une to i1, this unth'tlri<ablo source of all our ..:tions whil:h
seems fully present in none of theml How is the transcendental
philosoplu:r noc to end up clotchins emply air e<' u:h lime he tries to
round upon that which is the very unthinkable condition oflli!i efloru,
and which in knowing - in rendering determinate - he would stri\e
dead? Is such tnmstendental thought anything more than an
impossible hauling of up by one's own bootstraps, a farcically
self-undoing attempt to a subjectivity which, simply to be
"'bat it Is, must give the slip to all objecthity? All l:nowledge is
founded upon a coincidence of subject and object; but such a claim
cannot help slldiDg a disabting between the two In the ,.cry act
of announci.ng their felicitous marriage. Knowledge of the self as an
object canoot be l:nowlr:dgc of it as a thing, for this would be to >1rikc
determinate and conditiON! the very unconditio!UI first principle of
all philosophy. To know the self is inslaody to undercut i ts
rransccndental authority; not to know it. howC\cr, is to be left with the
vacuous tranSCendence of a C)'J)her. Philosophy requires an absolute
ground; if such a ground must be indeterminate it CllD!l()l be
determined as a ground. We are confrontr:d, it would seem, "'ith a
Hobson's choice between meaning and bclng, either destroying nur
principle in the act nf pnsses.sing it, nr preserving it ooly in
abysmal ignorauce. The only way out of this dilemma would be a fonn
of objectifying knowledge coterminous with, even coruritutlve of, the
self - a cognitive power by which we could generate objectivity from
the very depths of the subject without for a momcat endangerlag Its
self-identity, a knowledge which would mime rbe very strucrnre of the
s.obje<1 itscl(, rdtearsing the ttt:mal drama by which it brings itself
into being.
This uniquely privileged form of cognition is the snbject's intuitive
presence to itself. For Ficbte, the subject is oo m""' than this
inexhaustible process of self-positing; it exists exactly in so fir as it
app<ars for itself, its being and self-l:nowing wholly identical. The
subject becomes a subject only by positing itself as an object; but this
act remains entircl)' within the enclosure of its subjectivit)', and only
app<ars to escape it into otherness.. The object as such, cotnm<nt.<
Sc:belling, wnisbts into the act. of knowing; so that in this primordial
subject-object we glimpse a kind of reality which, far from preceding
the subject (and so dlslndging It from It< transcendental staru.), is its
v<:ry cvnstituU.e slruCtun:. The sdf is that :;pocial ' thing' which is in
no way Independent of the act of l:nowing it; It constirutes wlut It
cognizes, like a poem or novel, and like the work of an too its
determinate content is inseparable from the crc-:nivc act of positing it.
just as the determinate objectivity of the anefact is oo more than the
self-gener.tie process by which emergtS into bcing, so
the self is that sublimely suucturin! source which will come to know
TNt WORt.n A$ ArrtFACT
each of its determinate as mere transient moments of its
inJinite self-positing.
Since this infiniu: sdf-produc"lion is the cry cs.cncc uf the
subject's freedom, philosophy, wbicb repealS the act by which the self
comes to k:nuw itself, is an emandpatory praxis. 'Freedom
Schelling, 'Is the ooe principle on which everything is supponcd'; and
objective bring i no harrier to thi'l, since 'that which in all other
systems threatens the downfall of freedom is here derived from
freedom m.,tf'.' Being, viewed in this li8J>t, is merely 'freedom
suspended'. PMosophy is thus in no sense contingom 10 its object,
but an cascntial pan of its s<if-anic-ulation. for it is philosophy which
will show bow the objccri..-e being which the free subject experiences
as constraint is in fact a nece-Ssary condition of its infinity, a sort or
boondcdness or finitude posited by the subject only to be dynamically
surpassed. In the act of self-consciousness, tbe subject is infinite as
but knows itself as tinite; but such finitude Is essential to iJS
infi.niry, since, as Fichre argues, a subiect which overcome
objectivity as a whole by fully realizing its freedom would merely
cancel itself out, hl\ing nothing any longer 10 be conscious of.
In lhe oct of theory, then, tile subject :mains 10 its deepest self-
knowledge, b'-coming more cm"fllially and authentically what it
already is; and transcendental dlsco.mc is thus an even
existential praxis rather than a fusty set of theorems, a liberalory
action in which the self comes to experience t the le\el of full self-
awa...,nes< wlut was implldt in Its lnmoSI &rructure all along.
Philosophy merely writes large doe founding gesture of lhe. subject's
free self-production, achie\ing its absoluteness by miming an unerly
uncunditiontd reality of which it is the expressi'o symbol. Just as this
o-ansccndcntll subjectivity is quite unknowable from the outside - is,
indeed, pure process or acrivity, a son of ,-.heer contentles. quicksilver
energy - so philosophy itself can only be known in the doing, can
validate itself only in the formal process of its self-production. We
know the truths of philosophy, OS we know the transcendental nature
of subjectivity, because we dr< it and Jo it; so that theory is just a kind
of catching our.;clves in the acr of being subjects, a deeper
appmprialion of what we already""' The subject's act of transcendental
freedom groutllb lhe but not IJ.S some sepamblc rrom
it, since this would iostandy discredit the system's aspirations to
absolute self-ideority.lr is rather that this grounding is the system's
own free selr-production, the ' 'elY form of its cuMIIg bllct upon
the gesture by which ir spin.s itself at every point out of its own
guts. The fliSI postulate of the phi!vsophy cam101 be contended over,
as this would be the ruin of its primaq; it c:annor be thrust down to
the lowly Sl:otus of tl1t conditiooed and controversial, but must have
all the intuitive sdf-<'\iden<:c of the fact !hat I am at this very DIODJeDt
txpcrienciug. As this principle is gradtllllly unfolded in the discursive
intricacies of theoretioo argument, we shall beoome aware that it has
oe>er for a moment ceased to cling to the interiority of itself, that
everything which can be derived from it was implicit in it from the
uul!;t;l, and that we ate pacing the circumfcn.-m:c of an enormous
circle which is =tly the circle of our m;n free .. tf-posiriog. We are
dunking about ourselves d1inking, rehearsing in tlte "try fonnal
structuK of our acts of n:ading the mighty memes which tie beiOn: us
on the page .It is the dr.tnL1 of ourselves !hat we find mirrored. there,
but now raised to the dignified level of pure self-consciousness,
transparently ar one both with the act of philosophical enunciatiort
itself, and wid1 the praxis by which !he whole world comes to be. The
posndatc of trallsccndenlal freedom is one which, as bod! f'ichte and
Schelling remark, we must share already for any of this discourse ro
mke the slightest sense: we have already been in on this rgumcnt,
and if we have succeeded in undcntandinJ it by !he lime the
Conclusion arrives ir is because we have been undersunding it
already.] ust os we know our fr..,dum only by en:.cting it, fur anything
we could objcctil)' in a concept would by that token not be freedom,
so we gmsp lhis io lhe act of performing it, and could say no
more than we could of a poem or painting h.ow .its referential force is
separable from lhe shape of its enunciation. Philosophy Is not SMit
report. 011 human freedom bUI the very pnoctice of it, showing what it
since freedom is not some possible object of cogrdtlort, It can
be manifested only in the act of mind which refers to it. The con\Ot
uf the th<'Ory, as with the am: fact, is indeed in that >cnsc its form: it
does what it deso:ribes, inscribes tbe uasayable in its 'ery suucrure,
and by bringing the reading subject to a ccnain sdf-illuminalioo
validates itself in the very process of its own construction. Philosophy
fashions its 0\\11 object as it goes along, rather than rem:alnillJ
slavishly reliant on some set of premises removed from the mastery of
its writing: 'me whole science', as Schelling comments, 'is concerned
only with irs CN'D free construction'} Theory is a self-consuming
artefact, mikins itsdf ...,dundant in the very act of bringing the
subject to absolute
This is to say that the sclf-ref=ntiality of Kant's ethical subject or
work of art has now been projected into the very stl'llcture of cognitive
argwnent, which is always curled up on its own tail. It is as though the
Kanli.an text is still suuggling to handle in relist or represenration:al
style rbar unerly unrepresentable 'thing' which will finally be
encircled only by a break to full-blooded philosophical ' modemlstn'-
ro the kind of theoretic-! work u'hich, like the symbolist poem,
JCl<tatcs itself up cntirdy out of its 0\\n substance, projects its own
referent out of its formal dco.ices, In its absolute self-
groundedness the slightest taint of el<temal detemlination, and takes
itself as Its own origin, e2usc and end. The self-validating practical
5Ubjecr of Kant's philosophy is cranked up through several gears to
the act of cognition itself. Karat's own t'3rcfully discriminated
discourses- of pure and pr.11:tical reason, ancl'of aesthetic judgement
- are t'C!nflatrtl together at a stroke: theuretical reason, Sch.Uiog
remarlcs, is simply imagination in dte service of freedom. fichte, for
his pllrl, "ill rake the Kmtian mor:al subject and project it into a kind
of dynamic revolutioruuy And dtis whole openrion, so
Kant's successoB would claim, is enabled by a fatal aporia in the
Kaorian itself. For that system can be reod as both implying
and failinl! to thcmatizc a knowlcdgt of the ego which would be
neither logicol nor empirical - just as it refuses to concede that
knowledge of how subject and objl'CI interact. ro produce cognition
must itself somehow be absolute. Kant, from this viewpoint, has failed
to push the is5ue back far enough; und his inheritors, seizing wi th
alacrity on this apparent lapse of thcorc:dcal nerve, ,.;u accordiDgly
fall one by one over the edge i.nto the ullyss of transcendent.JI
intuition. Kant has dclivc'fl:d us a Nature from which it is impossible
to derive value, which must consequently become an end in itself; but
some urhis SUl'OI!SSOfS will, SO tu speak, putth;at wftofe prcx.:ess into
reverse, Nature itself after the freely self-generative
subject, and thus grounding that subject in a world wbose slniCt\lre it
shares. As a little work or art aU in itself, its fom1 and conttnt
miraculously unified, the subject is microcosmic of that more
imposing aesthetic toulity which is the uni\'erse.
For Ficfttc, the ego is a tcndcnt'Y to ac1hity for its own sake; but
when it reHects upon itself, it recognizes that this self-acti\iry is
subject to a law- cbe Jaw of detennining itself in accordance with the
notion of self-determination. Within the ego, then, law and freedom
are insc:pamble: to think of oneself as free is to be compelled to think
of one's freedom as falling under a Jaw, and to think that bw Is to bt
com1>eDed to think oneelf free. A.< in the artefact, freedom aod
neccssity coaleS into a unirary structure. What hss happened here is
that the imagination, which plays a certain role in Kont's pure reao;on,
l.,s been grossly expended in function. For Kant himself, the
imgination proides an answer to tbe problem of how tbe data of
intuition become subsumed under rhe pure concepts of the
lUlderstanding, for these two realms ppear quite betcrog.:nc'Ous to
one atlQtbcr. h is hen: that the imagination intcrvcn<:s as a mediatory
power, producing rhe 'schemar,a' which in rum produce the im3ges
which regubte the process of applying the c:ttegories to ;oppe:uaoces.
Fichtc assigns to the imagination a considerably more central role,
finding in it the very source of our belief in a world independent of
the ego. Fichtt's megnlomaniac philosophy of the ego has an evident
problem in explaining why, empirially speaking, ""' acwally believe
in the oistence in a =lity independent of our consciousness; ond
1his come-s abcur, so Fichu! argues, because there is within the
absolute ego a kind of spon12neous, unconscious force wbich
produces the ;cry idea of that wl>ich is non-<go. The absolute ego
lin1il$ its own restless a4;th it)' and pV$itS ilSelf
" ras-ively affected an object outside itself; and tbe power by
,d. idr i1 docs this the imagination. Fichte an then go ahead and
.kJue: ... rlu: categories. from this founding imaginative act: if
pparcntl)' nonomous objectS arc posited, lhcn a spat<: and time
mu.,; also be positd for them to inhsbit, as well os our mcaru of
l'onc.:eph.lally dctennining wht they are. Pure reas()l'l or ernpiri.r.al
knowledge, in shon, can now be demed &om the rranscendental
imagination; ;ond lhc Yme is rrue of practical n!ason or morality. For
t1u: world or Nature which 1he imagination posits is also
necessary for that incessant sttiving of the cs<> which for f'icbtc i the
basis of aU ethical ocrion; one could not speak of the ego as 'striving'
unless it encountered some kind of dteck, and the external world is
posited to pwdde it. The egoju/s its impulses inhibiced by something
appurcntll h<\ood it.<elf, and it is this feelingwbich is tbertfon: at tbe
root of our bL.Jief in real world. Realicy is established no Iunger
through theoretical knowledge, but tbrOIJ!b a kind of sentiment; and
f1cb1c bas 10 Ibis eXIcm aestbeticized the very possibility of
lmowledge. Our knowledge of the world is just a kind of spin-ofT of a
more fundamcnral unco!J!iCiou> tbrcc; behind the prcscnratiom of tbc
understanding lies a 151>0ntlncous 'drive 10 presenration'. Moral life,
in a similar way, is o kind of higher d"'elopment of these unconscious
inslincts, in an interesting anticipation of Sigmund Freud. h thus
becomes possible In deduce everyrhing there i< - the e>temal world,
moralil)', the categories of the understanding- from !he spontaneous,
uncor>Seiou< drives of the absnlurc ego, ar the ha.<is of which ,. .
dis(:ovcr the imaginalioo. Tite whole world has its root in an Rt.s!hctic
Friedrich Schelling, who starts out as a disciple ofFidlle, becomes
increasingly discontented with his mcnror's drastically one-sided
philosopy of subjecriviry. For to be a subject must surely entail being
condilioueil by an object, and in this sense !he conscious subjcti itsdf
cannot be an absolute. 1'1chtc, in olher words, is unable to break out
of tho: vidous circle of .U of the subject's identity with itself
as a rellmed object: if the subject is able 10 recognize its
obi<ctification as its ""''" then it mlLst somehow already know itself,
and what was to be established is rhus presupposed. It is not dear in
any hnw such theories are 10 avoid D in6oite regress, as Fichte
hitnst:lf was 10 come to acknowledge: 10 distinguish the ' I' thai thinks
from the 'I' lhougbt about would seem to posit a funhcr 'I' which is
able to do this, and ;o on indefinitely.' Schelling consequently
relt'eats to the notion of an absolute reason or identity which
tr:lnscends !he dualiry of subject and object altogerher as an
' indifference' to both, and which can itself never be objcL-tifi<:d. This
absolute then appears as a kind of unconscious force at work in the
consdous subject; but in the objective idealism of Schelling's
NaturphilsopAi< it become> equally the essence of .U objective beins;
and what mos1 supremely incarnates this absolute idenrity, prior to all
subja."t-object division, is art itse.lf.
F'or the ScheJJing of lhe S)11<m fTrans&mdmwlltlealism, the only
place in the world where we c:m find a tru<: obj ectificalion of that
,.intellccrual intuition' by whicb self produces itself ;,; the
aesthetic. 'The objcctillc world', Schelling v.'l'ites, 'is simply the
original, as Y<t unconscious pnetty of the ririt; the universal org:tn0l1
of and the kt)'Stone ofits entire arcb- is th< phi/4sr;phJ of
tm ... Tbc ordilwy subject in the world would seem cripplingly split
between conscious and unconscious: only that part of me "itich is
Jirnhed is p r e ~ n t rn my consciousness, where;tS the limiting nctivity of
the SubjeCt itself, pr<cisdy b"'-'1tUSC il is the L'1lUSC Of all SUch
coNtraint, is bound to faD out of reprcM:ntttion as an unspeakably
transcendent power.[ am oware only of my own boundedness, not of
the act through "ilich that is posited; it is only in limiting itself that
the qo can come to be, bot since it can thus only know itself as
JiJllited, it cannot in this way come to be for itself. Like bourgeois
society as whole, me self is tom between Its restless, unrepresentable
pnoductlylty anti thn<e detenninate produCTs (acts of self-positing) in
wbicb it finds and looes itself siluultaneously. There is an aporia at the
ery bean of the subject whleh thmns 111 complete self-identity: at
once sheer empty energy and detenninate product, the self can kn<>W
tlu.t it is bountlcd but is puzzled to know h(Jflt, since tO know h.,..
would entaD grasping itself from some subjcctless etcrior. Without
limimtion there could be no becoming, anti hence no freedom, but
the meciwlisms of !his process remain srubbomly uninrulrable.
Philosophy must therefore culminate in some concrete recondiution
of this dilemma, and the name of this unil}' is an. In an, the
unconscious acts through aDd identically with consciousness; aod lbe
aesthetic inNilloo is thus a unique material representati<>n of
intellectual intuition in general, prO<= by which the subjcctm:
cognition of philosophy becomes Itself objectijjed. 'Art', writes
Schdlng, 'is at once the only rrue and etornal organon of philosophy,
which ever and ogain continues to speak to w of what philosophy
cannot depict in external fonu, namely the UDCODSCious element in
acting nd producing, and its origiJtal identity with the can ... .'iollS.'' At
the very peak of its power.;, philosophy must logicaUy tiquidate itself
into aellthedcs, reoersing its forward momeDtUJD and flowing back
into the poelr)' from which it ,..,. .long ago bum. The pbilosophical is
no lllfJrc than a self-cffariog uack from one poetic condition to
another, a temporary S!>"Sm or contortion in the efflorescence of
lntleed Schelling's Syrtmo, as it nears irs own closure, enacts this
very rhythm of retwll:
We therefore close with the foD.,..'ing obscm1ion. A
system is completed when it is led back to Its starling point.
But this is precisely the case with our own. The ultimate
ground of all harmony between subject and object could be
C>hibited in its original identity only through intellecnml
intuition; and it is precisely this l:Jt>Und which, by of
the work of an, bas been brought forth entirely from tbe
and rendered whnlly objective, in such wise,
that we baYe gradually led our object, tbe self itself, up to
the very point where we ounclves were s12nding when we
bepn to philosophise.
Ha.ing arrived at the no1ion of the work of an, itself tile most
cxcmplaty objcctilication of subjectivity, Schelling's text mll5t logi<:ally
close its own circle and curve back upon itself, becoming own self-
sealing artefact in the very act of speaking of an. By culminating in
lbc wor:k of an, philosophy doubles back on iiS own abstnct
!;Ubjeclivism, returning to thar rubject sporuanenu.'lly objectified in
dte wocld which ..... s dte stBtting-point of S\<Ch reflections. At the
&onticr where it sublucs itselfinto art, philosophy Oips itself over and
rejoins that intellectual intuition from which it originally took off. An
is superior to philosophy because wheras the latter ara>l"' ubjcctivity
from within its own subjeaie principle, the formc:r renden this
whole process objective, raises it to the second power, performs it in
reality as philosophy enactS it 1\ilhin tbe arcane recesses of spiriL
Philosophy may unite subject and object within its (Win depths, but
these depths muat then themsclvo;s be com:rcttly cxt-rnalizcd. And
this 'must' is, omong other things, n ideological imperative. For the
pbin fact oftm matter is tbat tbe ordinary subjectin tbe-street is not
quite up to tbe mytttries 00" Schellingi.m phllosophlzing, and s1ands
in need of some more sensuously representational embodiment of it if
irs rcCOilcillng I'O"'tr Is to be cfttivc. !Is a materially objective
medium, art is a RlOI'I' uniwrsally awibble instance of inteUectual
intuition than philosophy itself, which for Schelling can nC'>er as such
become v.idcly current. lntcllccrual inlllilion Is confined to philosophy
alone, and males no :appearance in ordinary consciousness.
art ooncretely figures it forth. at least in principle, for cocryonc. Take
sensuous objectivity from an and it falls to tbe rank of philosophy;
add such ob;ectivity I<> philosophy and it riS<S to over.:ome itselfinth
aesthetic. Art, commentS Schening in Scttillerian phrase, bclmlgs to
the 'whole man', whereas philosophy brings only a fraction of him
with it to its lofty summit. To go bC)ond philosophy is thus in a sLnsc
10 r<lun> 10 lhe with art as lhe indispensable relay or
mediation bctvecn the two.
The aesthetic.. 1ha1 is 10 say. brings theory home to everyday social
experience liS ideulot:r, lhe place where all this fmc-drawn
obscurantist brooding fleshes itself 0111 ill spoDWleous wulerswuling.
Bu1 if this is true, i1 suspends huge question mart over the whole
sl3rus of theory itself. Rcasun, like SdtcOing's uwn n:xt, ends up by
immolating itseU; self-destrUcts and disappears into Its own sealed
circle, k.iclts away !he conceptual ladder which, os in Wiugenstein's
Tmtlillut, it has so laboriously climbed. This is not to ""Y that
Schelling's own philosophy is unnecessary, since only by the detour of
lheory will we be led to acrede 10 theory's necessary dellli$e, walching
il rum i1s own weopons against hself. Nor is it to soy that cognlri""
reason is finally ousted by aesth.elic imuition, since il wo.s 1hat, in
dTcct, all along. Indeed !he irony of 1he entire project is that r<-a>on,
to be sufficiently .self-grounding, must be modeUed from the outset
on lhe aeslhetic, a ' guamnlee' of which suc-ceeds only in
struing it cmpiy. But it is to say that once we han read Schelling we
really have no more aced for philosophy - that system, like
Hegel's a: little later, in this s.:.ns:e exerts its inexorable dominion over
dtc future as weU as the past.
Hegel, as is weU known, pans Schelling's full-blooded
of reason, contemptuoo.<ly dismissing his portentous
'intuiti<ln' as lhc nigh! in which all cows arc black. To lapse inlo such
rhapsodic ramblings ('fi<1irious creations tbat are neither fish nor
Res!>, neither poetry nor philosophy', Hegel grumbles) is to insult tbe
dignily of bourgeois reason, a defeatist surrender to tbe fear that the
world may not after aU be rationally intelligible. If that is so, then the
bourgeoisie mighl as weD obandon iiS inlel.tectual enlerprise before i1
has properly begun; and Romanrici>m seems to Hcgt:l a dreadful
illslallce of such dteorelieal suicide. His own philosophy, by contrast,
represents last-diu:h, el.,enlh-boolf, fuO-dress anompr to redeem
society for r:ttionalily -lo do aU !hat his intuitionist colleagues do and
mon:, yet to do it finuly fiom within tbe slatldpoint of reason. Kanr
bas OJlll"rently cut the real world off front .knowledge; Fichle and
ScheDing have restored it, but only in the vagaries of intuition; Hegel
\\ill strive to redeem tbe world and knowledge sirouluneousiy. If the
bourgeoisie is to establish itself as truly univCJ"Sal class, at the lcvcl
of culture a.s mll:h as of politico! and oconomic practice, then the
ucuously sclf-...JidariDg absolutism of a 1.-!Chte or Schellillg is not
only IMlC ideologic:ally sufficient; it also has an ominous ring, in a
rather different register, of that dogmatic absolutism which !he whole
project of bourgeois enlightenment arose to vanquish. Phikl<ophy is
in need of some surer fuurl<Lttion; and the problem with intuition is
mat it is surer than anything In one sense and pathetically feeble in
another. Nothing could be more ineluctable, self-evident, close to the
eyeball; and nothing <ithcr could be more quirky, Jrl!Uitous and
undemonsttable. Irs \'try force setmS instpQrable frnm its uner
emptiness; it merely is, which is at once its seductive power and its
embarrassing uselessness. It cannot be gainsaid, bur only beeause
there is oothing arriculote enough to be contradicted. In a complex,
contradictory society. where contentions over value have become
notably intense, the bourgeoisie yearns for the sobce of the apodictic;
but this v.ill only be found at a point of formalist abstraction so
tenuous that it vanishes ins131ldy into iu own purity. AchJC\'lng yoor
g011l and falling shnrt of it thus occur in the same instant. Nobad)' is
going to b<>tbcr dissenting a bla.n.t space; we are aU united at mat
sublime point where absolutely nothing is at stake, where what we
experience, as in the Kantian is just the very abstract forms
of our consensus, uncontaminated by any potentially diisi<e content.
For a theoretiatl S)'Stem to ground itself in such a spoce may render it
com'l!niently invulnerable to counter-argument, but only because it is
left hanging precariously in a void. To say that one's system L< rooted
in transcendental intuition comes cmbarras>'ingly clusc to saying that
it is rooted in nothing at 311 - that the farm31 emptiness af the self-
justifying Kantian moral subject has been generalized throughout the
system' s very lem:r, to the point where absolute self-groundedness is
indistinguishable froru pointless tautology. Such theories pivot on a
central blankness and so curve consnmdy back on themsciV, in'iting
to admire them as we -..'Ould admire some intricatdy self-
SIIJ'>I'Orting formation of acrobats whose dubious ttiumph is precisely
that they might at any moment come clancring to the pound.
It Is hard for any theory in\'Dking the cl>.im of absolute intuition to
avoid a certain appe:nance of stlf-conrradi<:tion. For the 6nal truth
which it wiU deliver us seems unavoidably at odds with the texrual
labour dc.oted ta disclosing it, tn the pnint where we cannot help
TIW. WOIU . .I) .'\5 .\llTFACT
!nJSfl"cting tlut ifthl1labour .,,.. indeed nec.,.,.ry, then the absolute
cannot be as ineluctable as aU tht. In the doubled, reveatingl
conc.:aling rhythm uf the symbol, the writing which uncovcn ultilrurtc
truth ca!UIOI help but occlude it too, pedantic.illy tracing in
postlapsariun time what secretly belongs to eternal immediacy. In this
scns<:, the absolute would seem distanced from us by tbe ery
ruscourse .. nt out in its pursuit. The fact that we have need of such a
discou= in the first place already suggests that sumething bas gone
awry, that philosophy comes about because of a Fall which It repeats
in the very act of trying to repair. If aU were as well as the theory
suggests, then why 11te we at all, n1ther than ju:."t revelliug in
the rich plcniwdc of our !ntullions? lf philosophy emu, then we can
alre:ttly deduce at least one otller existent, namtly contr.rdiction or
&ls<: cuns<iuu;nc-s> as its essential pre-condition. But if that is so tben
no philosophy can be absolute, since the very oppearance of it
indicates that in relarion to which it is inevitably belated. \lllrat need
would there be for science at all, if reality were not alredy fissured
and fragmented in ordinary con.o;ciotl!;ness?
Hegel's pbUosophy is among many other things a superbly cunning
riposte to tills dllemma. That there is coniHct Is JJUdt clear by
philosophy's very existence; indeed Hegel himself remark.. thor
division is the souro: of d1e noed for philosophy. But philosophy will
rcvcal that such dlremptlons :arc inhcr<:nt In the very truth it has to
deliver, rhus pro.iecting irs own historic:.t conditions iruo its q1irirual
>-ubstanoc. What brought us tu this philosophy in the first p!oce- the
fact tbat we were sunk in some miasma of false consciousness,
stumbling around fO< a likely - was ah ... ys already secredy
foreseen by it, as the very tan:fed pathway by which it would bring us
patiently to itselr. As in Freudian theory, these errors and blindnesses
belong to the very trajectory of truth, and are to be worked through, in
that lherapeutic process known as reading tbe works of G. W. f .
Hegel, rather than ausrerdy repressed:
In the. course ofiu process the Idea cre2n:s that illusion, by
st.ning an antithesis to confront and iu action consists in
getting rid of the iUusion which it has crested. Only out of
this error does the truth arise. In this fact lies the
reconciliation with error and with 6nitude. f.rror or other-
being, when super.edcd, is still a nec-essary dynamic
element oftnlth; for truth. an only be where it mokes itself
its OMt result.
Truth is not just the constative pro(l(l'ition< enquiry but
the rhetorical performance of the theory itself, entirely at one with its
subtlest coruortions and OCC3Sional culde-sacs, a practice rather than
an at..1ractablc statement. The Absolute Idea has alrtady charitably
included the reader's reiJYjng illusioM and shaky grasp orlogic "ithin
itself, and thus always takes ofT from a point preceding OOih the
reader ond the entire history which went into his or her making. If
philosophy is famously belated, the owl of Minerva which lakes fl ight
only at dusk, it is simply because the historical drama it recapitulates
requires its 0\1>11 fuR-dress entry as on octor onto me s<ene at
rdatively late point, for reasons tbe Absolute, as dirertor of the entire
theme, has foreseen from the beginning.
If diwision and contradiction are essnrial moments of lhe Idea's
stately unl\.uiing through time, lhcn it is because Hegel has subsumed
the hi<torieol conflicts which nece.sitare his meory, and so threaten to
rdativizc it, into tbe theory itself, its precondition> into its
''Cli' dialectical fonn. The PltmMtmo/Qg r(MinJ is lhus doomed to
repeat the 1'1!1)' negations its slri""s to overcome; and every reader of
the text will have to this process afresh, in !hat ceaseless
repetition which L< now all that L< left. of philosophy. Rut this
pcrfOlTIWIL'C is itself an =entia! part uf Grist's global sclf-apa.mio.n,
a post-history of me t<Xf determined by its very letter, a nec=ary
constituent of Spirit's arrival at fuD self-<:U11S4.'iuosness in lhe mirror
of the readlr\s subject's mind. In this sense, the c:onstative dimension
of the work is not at all at odds, much it might at first. appear
so, with the pcrformativc labour of tracking lhcsc issues through
discursive time. There is no need lOr any fooll<h R001antic fear that
to articulate the Absolute. is in that moment to disaniculatc it, since
the Absolute, as the identity of identity and diiTercnce, knows !hat
only by sLOCh internal rending or reading " 'ill it evtr be whole. lfit is
trw: that theory is only necessary be<:ause of false conscioosncss, it is
equ.Uy trw: that falst consciousness is itself nece=ry, so that
philosophy is instanlly redeemed from all)' mortly conlingent status.
Hegel's work L1kes otffrom loss and W:k, but will demonlltnte by its
ways of lilling them in ju>1 how inlrinsic to po!>itivity such negotion is.
The whole philosophy is historically essential, itself part of the
TilE WOIU.O AS Attrf"A(.T
upward eY<>Iution of Spiril, a fr but tktcrmincd moment of praxis
.,;thin the global praxis It both describes and mimi$; but to secure
itself thus in an historical ground is not to !.y itself upen to external
dctc:rminotion, since this histozy is itself the product of the vezy Spirit
which impels its 01\U di!alurse, and so is included within itself. The
Hegelian !ext is thus <'Onstative in its very performativeness: it is
exactly in ils self-referential consll'Uetion of iu own principles that it
manifests how the world is, for the ,...,rld is just like this too.
Philosophy springs from the same rooc as reality itself, and so in
cuning bact medltatl\-dy upon its own construaion delil'<r< us th.e
inner smtcltlre of everything that exisl>.
Such is therefore just the appo.!ite of that oftht
modernist leKt, since although its illner strategies are deeply ironic, it
expels aU irony from its own relation to the real. The se.lf-gencrativc
nature of modernist wrltins implies a kind offouu J. mina: iltbe rext
authorizes its own discouJSe, then this, so it wzyly insinuates, is
beusc no reliable bis1orical authorization can any Ianger be
a.<SU!IIed. The world I!; no longer stO<Y-sbaped, and !bus can prO'iide
no <m!mal determination of a textual form which is conscqucndy
thro'"ll back on its own de-rices, abandoned to the trapcomic
tautology of malcing itself up as it goes along. Self-grounding here is
just another name for IDUilasking the arbilrarincss of aU foundations,
dcmj'llil)ing the pn:sumptioa of some natural staning-point somehow
cued by the zy structure of the given. The
discount of idealism, by contrasl, hopes to mime the structure of the
given in mis very the more broodingly autOielic Sttcb
language bccom-s, the more rcsolulcly realist it grows. Tbcrc can be
no ironic play bdwcen discourse aod histazy, precisely because the
former bas always already >'Wl!Uowed up the Iotter. To 511). that such
idealist pbilosophy has no determinable foundations is paradoxically
to grant it the deepest possible guarantee, since its foundariorl is then
identical with the Wldetuminable first principle of reality itself. In
swting from itself; the modernist worl: is ironlcaDy ROll-identical
with itself, since it proclaims i!S own incapacity to validate the truths it
bas to cOIIlJIIWlil;atc. It might always at any moment be something
eloe, and casrs the blighting hadow of lhi po._ihiliry aero<< irs ac:tu2l
enunciation. For Hegelian dialectks, anythinf at all)! moment ac'tllally
is something else, but this is precisely the sign ofiu location within a
rational totality. To mink at aU for Hegel is profOIUldly ironic, since it
invohes suppussing the particularity of the given with th univrsality
of the concept, and viet t,..,...; but these loe2l ironies cannot add up i
14 rnndemi.vn ro <:>ne enonnous one, since in relation tO what would
the whole be ironic? T nnsccndcntal pbi!U>Ophy dues not validate
itself fote tk min<: if there is no authority to which it need appeal, it
is b-use it has alww)'S inttujected it.
1bc doubleness of Schelllngian iDtuidon Is that it is at once
experientially certain and ntionally discreditable; the ambiguity of
Hegelian reason is that it is internally coherent but notably hard to
feel. Both rnndels, then, have their strengths and drawbacks as
ideological paradigm,;. The problem for HCJCI is that, Ji'lcn the
grievous complexity and contradiction of social conditions, knowledge
of the whole can no longer be spontaneous; 1111d any project of rational
totalization will thus be forced into a coavoluted disc:ursivity which
threatens to Urnit its idmlilgial effec!Mnes&. In making the world
transparent to theory, Hegel run5 the: risk of maling theory opaque to
the world. We ha\'C left behind ancient Greece, a society which Hegel
likens to an mtefact, where a >']>Oiltall<ous knowledge of the whole
was still routiDely awilable. An immense dialectical labour is now on
the agenda; and Hegel in a !\ense does his job too well - too well at
least for Schelling's subjcct-in-lhc-srrcct, who is a Uak more Ukcly to
be imaginatively stined by art !han to take to the streets crying 'The
ntioml is the real!' or 'Long live lbc identity of identity and non-
identity!' This is not to claim that HegeBanism is incapable of
becoming a political force, ns Morx and !he Young Hegelians weU
enough demonstrate; but it is to susgcst a ccnain dlfficuhy mer !he
que<tion within the system of srnsuoos id..,logical representuion.
'Philosophy', so Hegel argues against &bd.ling, 'is of its vcey nature,
by \1rtue of iiS general mode of existence, available for IJII;" indeed
much of Hegel's oontempc for intuitionism >prings not only from a
fear that such dogmatic solipsism subverts all social bonds, but from
his belief !Mt only a determinate 5yltcm of thought can be properly
intelligible. Only what is perfec"lly tlterininate in fonn, he argues in
the PlteMmmology is at the same lime ema:ric, compreben.<ible,
and capable of being leamcd and possessed by everybody. Hegel's
baroque lucubrations, ironically m: intcntlcd to b.: in the
service of a general accessibility. Intuition, with .its 'horrified rejecrion
of mediation', is desperately esoteric and so ideologically crippkd
from the outset; the intelligibly dctcrmirultr, by contraSt, is common
to scientific and unscientific mind alike, thus, as Hegel comments,
enablillg the unscientific mind to enter the domain of science. Hegel
gravely undcresdmates the Ideological force &f Rnsuous represeru.atioo,
as the low status be assigns to art within his system itself
'The interruption by conceptual thouJJht of me habit of always
thinking .in figur.uive ideas', he writes testily in the Phnttmr .. oll:J' of
Spirit, 'is as aDllO)'ing and troubling to this [rational I way of thinking
3S to that forn:W intelligence which in its reasoning rambles
about with no real thought to rea>an \\itb.'"
In this atmere Proestant iconocLum, Hegclrcve>ls himself as the
true heir of Immanuel Kant, who in cdebrattd p:lSSOge from the
Crititpu 11{ J.J,mrml lilu:wisc >l'WDS the indignity of sensuous
r.,...,.enlatlon from the depths of a senerous Wtb In common
ration ali 1)1:
Pemaps there is oo more sublime pasuge in the Jewisb
Law than the couunandmen1: Thou shalt not make unto
thee any graven imase, or any lileness of any thing that is
in heaven or on earth, or under the. earth, err. Thi
commandment can alone explain the enthusia.sm which the
jewish people, in their moral period, felt for their reli!Jion
when comparing them.5<'1ves with others, or the pride
iDspin:d by Mubammedanisru. The very same holds good
of our represen121ion of the moral law nd &four nath ..
capadty for morality. The fear that, if we divest this
representatioo of evefY!hinr that can commend it to the
senses, it will tmn:upon be attended only with a cold and
lifoless opprobalion and not with any moving fore;! or
emotion, is wholly unwunntcd. The very n:vcnc is the
truth. For when nothing any longer meets me eye of sense,
and the uutnisllkable and inetrace-Jble idea of morality is
left in possession of the field, there would be need rather of
tenpering the ardour of ;m unbounded Imagination to
prevl.'lll it rising to enthusiltsm, than of seeking to lend
these ideas the aid of imase> and cltildish devices for fear
uf their heinrr wanting in potency."
ldeali..t phil050ph}, like the commodil)l on which so many of its
categories are modelled, musl StiiT<r no lapse into
Ttu: WOilW AS .Url:FACT
sensuousness, remaining sternly aloof from the body. But if this is
pan of Its awesome aulhority - that It generateS Itself entirely out of
abstract rell!lon - it is also what would seem to limit its ideological
efficacy. The bourgeoisie would appear caught here between a
raoooal self-:lpologio too subtly discursive to find appropriate
;-.:n>uUUll r<-pn:>t-ntation, and an idcologi<'ally scdu<1ivc form of
immediacy (aesthetic intuition) which spurns all rigorous social
totalization and so lesves itself noably wlnerable. It is a dilr:nuna
remarked by Schlller, who commenrs In one of hl< essays that
'sensuous presentation is, viewed io one aspecl, ritA, for in cases
wh<rc only one condition is desil'l:d, a complete picture, an entirety of
conditions, an individual But ,;....,d in another aspect it is
limit.d tmtl pour, be<'Uw;e it only confines to a single individual and a
single cue what ougtu to be understood as a whole sphere. It
therefore curtaas the understanding in the same proportion that it
graniS preponderance to the Imagination .'" Kant has left ultimJIIe
unknowable, ethics a resoundingly hollow Ought, and organic
purposi\'eness a mere hypothesis of wte; Fichte and Schelling, as
thoogh aghast at the ideological into which they are thereby
plungt:d, COD\'ert Kaut's ethics into a concrete principle of revolutionary
freedom and his aesthetics Into a form of blowledge. But this <imply
means that they have spread inluition through the whole ufthe ,.urld,
collapsing the cognitive into pure feeling. Hegc:l, then, must repair
this dire siturion, :avoiding t once the bleakness of Kantian
underslanding and the suffocating intimacies of Romantic iniUition,
reuniting mind and world in a style of ln!IWiedge with all the analytic
rigour of the but with something of the imaginative cnCJIY of
the laner. This form of t:no..ledge is the higher reason, Ymtlln/1 or
Willlin that dialet1ical sysrem, to be sure, Hegel will dexttrously
combine concrete and abstract, sen.uou. and spiritual, negating the
former terms only to reinstate them at a biper Je.eL But Ibis does Dot
acldc the question of the c011crete repr .. entllbOity of the system
itself; and if the aesthetic is exemplary of such repn:sentatioo, then
Hegt:l refu$<5 that parti-ular solution by consipiag an to a lowly
rung on the onmlogical ladder, below retigion and philosophy.
Aesthetic represento6ons for Hegel lack pbilos(Jphy's pure 11'011SpUCrlCy,
as their primary (material or allegorical) meanings tend to obscure
their ultimate signifieonce as expn:ssioos of Spirit. Indeed art for
'lllf WOltLI) AS An'EFACT
Hegel is nl)l properly representational at all, but rather an intuitive
prcscntatioa which Cllpresscs a vision rather dlm imillltes m object. It
incarnates senrunus awanness of the Absolun:, abolishing all
contingcn<:y and so showing forth Ccis1 in all i IS orgonic necessity. As
with Kant's aesthetic, this sensuousness Ia securelY non-libidinal,
freed from oil desire, beauty whose otbe(Uise disruptive material
fore< is defused by the spirit which informs its cv.:ry part. This
intimate yet idealized body, material yet miraculously undM<Ud,
wordlessly immediate yet shped aud Sl)'lized, is wbat Romntkism
terms the symbol, and psychoanalytis the body of the mother. It is
therefore not that Hegel 6nds something obscure and
enigmatic about this fonn of materiality, something within it trottblingly
resislllnt to the trnslucent power of reason. It berrnys its unsettlinJ
force most nb,iously in the 'bad infinity' of orienllll or Egwtian art,
tltat spawning of matter, vague, groping and boundless,
wflieb lbreatcns In itS fantaStic to swamp the pure spirit
like some nightmarish crearure of science fiction. Hegel finds siiCh
sublim< proliferation of matter distinctly unnening: within bis
system, this sbapdcss feminine srutT b redeemable only when
impregn:tted by rational form, neg:ared in irs material preseoce and
gathered into the inner unity of the Idea. Tire oriental sltlge of art is,
so to speak, the child smothered by a Oesb]y modler; in the
bannonious artef..:ts of ancient Greece, child and mother have
achieved some symmetrical unity; and at the higbl'St, Romantic stage
of art, when the almost disembodied spirit yearns for freedom from its
material enca.5ement, the child is in the process of definitively
OYercoming the Oedipal crisis and taking leave of the mother
ahogether. We do not, then, remain "ith the aesthetic for long, but
climb up a stage to religion, whicb stiU presents the Ab<;olute in terms
of images; and finally, if we can 5tlly the course, we rise to the rarefied
conc:eptual rcpre<entat:ioo.< of phllosophy itself.
Since the Hegelian system never leaes anything entirely behind,
however, the cbarms of art 111111 rclipoo do nut simply Occ at
philosophy's cold touch. They, and religion especially, rermin behind
tu pMidc what we might coD tbe ideology of this theory, its necessary
if inferior incarnation in -veryday life. To aa:use Hegel of a
rationalism wholly inimical to ideologi<:al eiTcctiveness would be to
overlook the key role played in his S)'Stetn by religion. Retigion is the
unnenal slill enmired in the sensual, but somewhat more successful
than an in Its obscure Slraiolng to coprurc lhe Absolute. II fulfils for
Hegel r.ro vital ideological functions which philosophy irself cannOf
properly perform: it oilers us !hat relation to the Absolute which is a
maner of feeling, he.ut and sensibility rather !han arid conceptuality;
and as a mltic aff:rir it belongs not simply to subje.:tivity but to the
'objective spirit' of institutionalized >Ocial practices. As ideology,
religion crucially mediates betwctn the affective and the
providing lite in which each nurtures !he other; and though the
political state mu.<r linally stand not on religious belief bur on the
firmly indepeo.lenr foundation of reason, it ne,ertheless needs
religion as a cultic, affective, represen!alional domain, realm of
ethical conviction in which rationol imperatives may strike an
instincrual chord. This task cannot be left to ethkal culture itself,
otherwise humanlry's relarion ro the Absolute woold remain narrowly
parochical, caught up with the _,., of a specific society. Religion for
Hegel is me medium in .. -hieh unM:rul uulhs of rwon arc
affectively reprcw.ted, and so pbr.; for him snmerhing of the role of
Kanr 's ar:>tlu:tic judgement. Humanity, de>irous as it i:; to sec a sign,
will be wered for In the Ideological region by reUgious faith, of'Mik:h
philosophy is the. open secret.
If Hegel demotes the concept of the aesthetic to a humble position
in the evolution of Gmt, it is partly because, like Gramsci after him,
he shifrs the whole concept of 'culture' from its aesthetic to its
everyday or anthropological sense. He thus steals an imponant
ad\'3n<e on Knt, whose idea of cultural consensus remains largely
rooted in the narrownr:>S o aesthetic judgement, and su ID sume
extent institutionally disembodied. It was Hegel, then, long before
Antonio Gramst:i, who helped to effa:t the deruive shift in potitit-al
theory from problems of idug to questions of The laner
concept is both bro:ldtr than, and iru:lusio.e of, the former. it denotes,
roughly speaking, all the ways in which potitiod power secures itself
through routine institutional practices, rather than, more specifically,
in those images and rcprescntldoos which wt term ideology.
Social cohesion, so Hegel recognizes, <aDllot feasibly be secured in
some abstnct, disinter-ested aesthetic intersubjecthity; It must anchor
itself in.\read in culrural practice, in rhat whole d....,ly tesselbted
fabric of oodal life which spreads our.anls from the cloistJlll intimacy
of the famUy to encompass !be nrious phenomena of social class,
corporations, associotions and the reS1. Urdess the sll!te, supremt
symbol of soci21 unity and locus of the divine wtll in history, is the
<vmprex >-ublalion of th""" more regiOIUJI, i1Dl11<diate, workaday
insliNtioru, it cannot hope to sustain iu august universal power.
Soda! unity can be es!llb!i.'lhed neither 3t the lenl of the political state
alone, nor in some universalized aesthetic inwardness divorced from
politics; but neither, for Kant at least, can it fiad a !I<CUrc base in
bourgeois economic pracrice1 'civil societi in that narrow sense, even
if Kant's hope Is that sw:b practice might tdtilrtJltdy lead to human
harmony. Indeed rile "Jll'renr impossibility ofthl< btter option L one
of the Jrell implicit questions tv "hid idealist thought in gcm:ral is
an atlcmpted answer. Like IU111, the question to which Hegel
addresses himself in this respect is simply: How is social cohesion to
be implemented In a farm of social tifc which everywhere denies it in
iiS most routine ecooomic actioities? If the ideological unity of
bourgeois society cannot be derived from its common social practice,
if the two realms are mutually inimical, then the temptation will be to
project such harmony into so rarefied " region (cuhure, the aestbric,
absolute intuition, the sutc) that iu power to c-npgc common
experience wiD he insto.ntly !\hart-circuited. Hegel's 'concrete ethical
life', v i ~ as the tquiwlent ofGramscian 'chri.l SC)Ciety', offers an
impressive solution to this quandary, as an intric'atc mechanism of
mediation btween the priYate domestic affections at one end and the
global truths of Ctit at the other.
Untikc !Unt, Hegel docs not commit lite nahe error of trying to
found 6J)iritwl community in mything a. slippery as disinterestedness.
Private prup<'Tt)' and abstract right are clearly roo sunk in self-
interested particularism to provide a basis in themscllll:s for
ideotogic"al consensus; but it is shrewdest ro begin ,..;lit these
unpromisingly parochial forms, and sec b.,.., t ia the mediations of
the division of labour, social class and the corporations, they
dialectiC$lly tnnscend them5elves into more nlrnustic modes of
association. The culmination of all litis will be Hegel's finest aesthetic
artefacr, the org;mic ' concrete universal' of the sate. lind since the
Heg.wm state is strongly interventionist, it reaches back into society
to reinforce iu social bonds. Totality, in short. must emerge
organicaOy fmm the actual dnisions of concrete social life, rother
than b IIlllpped artiflrially on to them; and Hegd will thus unify
concrete and abstract by a process of objective social mediation,
r:tther than merely linking the two in the act oi aesthetic judgement.
In the process of society, each smaller unit dialectically geru:rates the
need for a larger one, dissolving il particularity intn greater
untn:r>ality, in a series of progressively higher integrations; and since
these insrinnions incarnate the individual subject's free esse ace, it is
in this essentially prnctk,d realm, r.rther than in the r:ontemplative :act
of judgement, that subject and object become trUly at one.
Hegel's 'culture' is les. a special dimensioa than the con=te totality
of social tifc as viewed i.n the light of reason. h is into this concrete
totatity tltat he reinserts Kant's abstnct morality, from which, as be
sees, it is a one-sided derivation; and his social unity is thus at once
more materially grounded than Kant's inte!llubjectivo; c:oost:llliua, and
at the same time- since it can be present as a whole only ro tol21izing
reason - ill a certain sense more abstract. Confronted with an
aggres..ivei} individualist snclal order, K2nt panWly sepanres culture
from the tm11in of potitical institutions, eSlllblisbing consensus
through feeling rather man throuJh the conccpc; Hegel's dialectic of
culture ami politics represeniS a rnuruality of feeling and concept,
whereby the abstract repre5Cnlatians of univcnaJ reason will p:adually
emerge from the in which they arc dimly stirring.
The concrete ethical world is one of traditional, largely unreflective
pietie and practices; and as such it manifests a ldnd of 'spon1211eous
lawfulness' or 'lawfulness without law' which makes it akin to the
Kantian aeSihetic. To liW\'C from here ro the poljtigJ slate, boweV<.T,
sacrificing lhe immediacy of the Kanrian aesthetic lo the
discursivity of the concept, fusing individual and society nul in some
inruirive intenubjecti\ity but laboriously, indirec1ly, through the
complex mediatW>ns of family, class, corporations and the like.
'culNrc' appears from Hegel's viewpoint as excessively
idcaUzed; only by evolving social unity from the most apparently
unpropitious beginnings, from the competitive struglcs of civil
society itself, can ony political rule hope to achiee a sound enough
material grounding. And only by dissolving obsuact moraliry into the
rich, largely unconscious textures of cusronwy practice em !Unt's
dua.ijty of praaical reason and sensibility be transcended, and political
ia a dire<:tly Gnrms<:ian >ens<: of the term, be C<Jl1Wlidotcd.
To e.srherieit-e socil life in one direeti.on - to view it os a wealth of
concrete await ins- their fuU creative development- me:.ns
to adopt a properly dialectical form of reason, and so to brealt. with
aestheticization in tbe sen.\e l)f mere inruitive immediacy.
Hegel is surely wise to beticve that politirol unity must find it:s
foumlatiQn in civil so<.iety; it is just that in bourgeois society any such
stratqy is norably dillicuh to achieve. Bourgeois civD society does
indeed bring indmduals together, but only, as Hegel himself
acknowledges, in a largely negatiYe, objcctive, unconscious inter-
dependence. The dimlon of labour, for example, generates mutual
dependency by its separating and specializing of skills; but it is no
simple matter to transform this purely oblccllve murual reliance into
communfty-for-iudf, and Hegel anticipates much of the e:trly Man:
in his awareness of on polcotiaBy disaffected proletariat ('a
robblc ofpaupm', as be <al1s them) w.uulalized by the em-eme poles
or <OCUl wulth and poY<ny. It is precisely because the project of
evolving political harmony from a fissured civil society is at once
essential and implausible that Hegel has need of philosophy, which
will show individuals how such unity is attainable at the self-
conscious level of the political state. Unity will finally come about if
indhiduals read their Hegel and work to bnplement IL
Philosophy, in short, dnes not merely describe the ideal stAte, but is
a necessary insrrumenr for bringinf it abouL One of Hqel's nouble
a.chievemeniS is !bus to resolve in his ""''D fa.<hinn the dichotomy
between fact and value deeply entrenched in empiridstaod Kantian
thought. Oru: way be docs so is by holdinJ, as Marxism was later to
hold, that cerrain fnnn. of the<)l'edcal description are inescapably
normative beelu,_, they provide kinds of bow ledge .....-sential to social
emancipation. And this knowledge is nothing Jess than the whole or
the Hegelian system. The constative dimension of that discourse is
thus from a performative """Jli'ct: only by becominJ
conscious of Spirit (or more exactly by allowing it to rise to a
consciousness of itself in us) will that Spirit be politically nurtured,
embodied and extended. If phDosopby is to be anchored in the
Absolute then it must be essentially practU:aJ, since the e<sence of the
Absolute Is precisely to realize itself CCllselessly in the world. If
Ho:g.:lian theory were not ilsclf an active political foree, it would lo5c
Its absolute grounding. Hegel can thus shift from fact ro value,
cogniti'le to political, epistemolollY to elhics, with no sense of sharp
disjunction, as David Humc and his proJeny cannot Gtilf is the
essence of evCJYtlling that exists, and so a.n account of its ad\'tnWrcs
through time woold appear to be purdy descriptr.-..; but it is the
nsm of all that exists in the sense ofiu significant inner structure or
trajectory, such that an account of it provides us wid1 norms relevant
to ethical md politil:al bcJta,iour. :-lo historial epoch or social order
can exist outside Gcis1, which would thus appeu til b.. no more than a
mere description of the whole; but any particular epoch or order may
fall to realize Grin's imperatives adeqwtely - even if, in thus falling
shnrt, it wiD be unwirlingly contribnring to iiS finallriumph; and in
Ibis sense Ctist stands in critical judgement oer against the historial
If Hegd' philosophy is to be both theory and practice, pan of
Spirit's dynamic rather than a m&re conteroplative description of
it, then people must necessarily road that philosophy and oome to oct
apon it, fasbiooing those political Slrllctures appropriate for the
Ab.olure's self-realiz:nion in hi<tory. Such activity cannnt he left to
the spontaneous movement of history itself; there is a laclo. in uc:h
mo.cment, which only tile sclf-conseiousaess of philosophy can
supply. The wlue of phnosophy depends upon the limits of the
spon1211eous process it charts. The culmination of history is the ideal
political SLUe; but nor a"'n individuals li\ing in that state will attain to
1 spontaneous knowledge of the complex social whole, since the
differeno.Mns of modem society render any such tnowldge
impossible. Citizens of the ideal state will relate to the social whole
only mediately, through thar particular COJPOnriom aad estates.
Hegel d- not belieYe i.n the .,_;bility of a Slate in which, as in
ancient society, "'"''Y citizen would be immediately identified with the
principle of common life. Different wirhin the ideal swe will
live their rc:Jations to the whole in different ways, and no individual
"ill be able to unite all of these modes "ithin his or bcrown person. If
Ibis is "" tben Hegel's state becomes a kind o( ficti on, since no one
individual can possibly bJoor; iL It c:xis1s only at the level o( writing.
which is wby Hecel's own philosophy is necessary. The only place
where a lnowledge o( the totality resides is in the philosophy of
Hcccl. Absolute kno...l<:dgr, as 1\Jc.undre Kojh'e points out, e.Uts
for Hegel only as 'The citizen is thus only fully self-conscious
to the extent to which he has read (or written) the of
Mind.'" And this is because Hegelian "isdom consists not simply in
lilliog a relation to the toulity, but in hro01iog this tollllity too. The
Slate thus exists as a whole only for the specula rive theorist: it is Hegel
who keeps the ideal state in existence, sustaining it by his knowledge
rather a.< God sustains the world. tOialization of the stale liO'S
outside itself, in the mind which knows it. The politiClll materializes
11M: philusophical, but caJlllot be quite on equal terms with It; a gap Is
opened up berwecn theory and Jllllitical practice, such that wbeo the
state is ' lived' it is not as the complex totality present to and
when it is knO\\'D it is not as 'lived'. Theory and ideology, me;ming
;md being, are in this ulti.ll'l2tely at odds.
It is 6oaUy in this sense that the Hcgctian system, as Kicrkegaard
contilluaUy complained, cannot be iiT1tri. It exists 3S a whole only for
dte concept, of which there is no sensuous analogue. Reality is an
organic ancfact, but it cannot be spont.:llleously known as a whole
through aesthetic intuition. Wisdom for is finally conceptual,
never representational: the whole can be graoped through the labour
of dialcctiClll reason, but not figured there. An and relisious faith are
the closest approximatkms we .have to such concrete imaging; but.
both involve S<:DSUoUS whidt dilute the clarity of the.
concept. DWec:tical reason can render us realitY as an indi\'isible
unity; but in the very 11<:t of doing so it is wodemned from the
viewpoint of aesthetic immediacy to the division, linearil)' and
periphrasis of all mtianal discourse, disarticulating the very substance
it seeks to totalize. Only tbe smu:tur< of philosophical discourse can
susrcst something of the synchronic truth of the Idea it strives to
elq)ticate - an Idea which, as remarls, 'is the process of its own
becoming, the circle which presupposes its end as its purpose, and
has ilS end for ilS beginning'." The principle which philosophy
expresses is an 'aesthetic' one; but this Is no lusti6c1ltion far
philosophy to collapse into some portentous i.ntuirionism.
Thwry in Hegel follows after pracUcc, as the tardy llJBht of
Minerva's owl; and 10 this extent it cannot meddle with that practice
in ways barmful 10 i ts spontaneous "isdom. Spirit ript,ns within
habitual, unconscious social KIM!y, or 'culture' ; when it forrets this
location within concrete life and acts bstr:u:rly, prematurely, the
n:sult is revolutionary fanaticism, Jcobinistic blueprinting. The
belatedness of theoly pnsen'OS prac1ice &om such injurious abstraction,
it as tbe fertile soil from which self-con.sciousnes will
gradually aower. When theory finally begins to emerge from that
ground, when the Idea begins llfllduaUy to come into its ""'II, its
primary (lO"'llre is retrospective: casting an equable gaze back ewer
the whole historical process which produced it, it sees that all of this
weU. What. prospecti\'e, perfonnathe functions thwry scn-es
work within !he cantcA1 of !his sc:rene retrospect: the tasks of Reason
ore to en.<ure tlur what: lu! be.en slowly Is C2rrlcd forward,
t:.=<."Cming even more essenli:tlly it :alre-.tdy is. Yer it is, of course,
no simple feat to daim that cvcrydting has been for the best. On the
contrary, to orgue ""l' such grossly implausible claim will require a
'IAggering of dialectical ingenuity, whicb then begins to
foreground the operations of pure mind to a point whicb threatens to
cut tht mind off from the concrete, spontaneous history out nf "ilich
it grows. Theory thus pans company with history in the wry act of
justil)ing it; and this is another sense in whlcb the project of rescuing
the ,.urld for reason in\'oNeS in Hegel a degree of rarefied
speculation which is nocably difficult to 'naturalue' as 110 ideological
Confronted with the problem of establishing social harmony in an
unstable, conflict-riddrn 'i<Jcial order, the apologists uf emergent
bourgeois society find lhe1115Civcs caught in a deft sticl: between
reoson and intoiliun, and aesthetics. It would be convenient
ir the unity of society could be felt as immediately as the form of an
artefact - if the law of the social tnlality, as supposedly in ancient
Greece, somehow inscn'bed in the ery appearances of 'i<Jciety
itself, sponuneouly avoUable to each social participant. Such
aesd1eticized social knowledge, ghen the divi$ions and complexities
of modem life, is 1>0 longer to be hoped for: the ac:rtb1ic as a form of
social cognition yield! Mlhing but rhap!Odic vacuity. Society b
indeed a kind of artefact, a magniJk-eot ioterpeneuation of subject
and objrct, fonn and content, freedom and necessity; but this will
become "f'''aTcnt only to the patient probings of dialectical I'U.Ion,
given the strata of false conscious'""" which intervene between
empirical coDScioumess and tiM: whole. state and civil sockty
art clasped together in intima.te unity, thus .illO\\ing Hegel to found
ideological c01'1S40nsus in the cry material instirutions of the existing
social order. But to demonrnate the concealed linkages between
family, eMf odcty and .-.uc ca be done only at the level of the
concept, 1'11ther than experientially; and there is thus a difficulty
concerning the relation of Hcgetian thought to that system of
sensuous repr-nt:arion which t ideolog). \\-'hat is aaually lived out
in society, "'"n in the ideal political state, can never be tbe toalily as
such, which dudes all scns\10115 incarnation and lk'cs only In writing.
Confronted with these difficulties, it v.ill not bt long before some
bou'l!eois theory abandons rational opologia altogether, IU1d turns
increasingly to rely upon the aesthetic.
I Sec Clwlcs Taylor, Hqtl w Mcdmt Sctiny (Ua!brids<, 1979),
du ptrr I.
Z Quoted by SWIIc:y Rosen, C. W. F. H<g<l (New H .. cn and Loodoa,
1974), p. 51.
3 J. G. Fichtt, Stitn of Kno.W4dC.ambrirlgt:, 1982), p. 15.
4 F. W. J. Schellins, Spt"" tJf TTVIUD!Iflntial I.JuJi!.m (Cbarkc....,;Jh;
V'qini3, 1978), p. 34.
s Ibid, p. 35.
6 Ibid, p. 29.
1 See, for a useful dis<ussloD of tb<s< points, Peter Oews, fAtia .t'
(Londun, 1987), cboptcr I, and Rooo)phc: O..Cbc, T1u
Tain ofdte Mirmr (C:unbridge, Moss., 1986), Port I cb:opter 2.
8 Schelling, SystDa o/Tr...,arlintld !Je..lism, p. 12.
9 Ibid, p. 220.
10 Ibid, p. 232.
11 G .W. F. HtetJ, 17u L<Jtit(Odord, 1892), para ZIZ.
12 Quoted by Cborlts 1'aytcw, He (Cambridp:. 1975), p. HI.
13 G. W. F. Htgd, 17r, ! Spmr (Odord, 1971), p. 43.
H Immanuel K.wt, CriJift'< (Oxford, 1952), pp. 127- 8.
15 F. Schiller, 'Ort rhe l.imitariorS io the 1.ke uf Bauly or
Farm', iD Cg//UJ Wlll:s (New York, n.d.), voll\l, pp. 234-5.
16 Akundrc "*' JnnMraicn o/4 """" 1< Hqtl (Pw, 1947), p. 305.
17 H<J"l. Plrto4mml/oo of Spilit, p. 10.
The Death of Desire:
Arthur Schopenliauer
Though Schopenhouer is undcJubtedly ooe of the gloomiest philos-
ophers who ever wrote, then: is an unwitting comedy about Iris
work which has to do with the presence of the body .,ilhin it.
Scbopenhauer srudied physiology at university, and is impressively
learned aboolt the lungs and pancrea.\; indeed It is a strillng thought
that his choice of Wliversity subjects might have reshaped the whole
wursc of Westcm philosophy right up to the fashionable neo-
NieiZSeheanisms of our own time. For it is from Schopenhauer's
warsely materialist meditations on the pharynx and the larynx,
on cramps, convulsions, epilepsy, teW>us and hydmpbolm, that
Niettsche will derive much of Iris own ruthless pbysiological
reductionism; and aU that solemn, archaic
discourse on Man in tenns of the ganglia and lumbar regions, which
surnvcs at least as long as Lawrcn, thus forms a shady hinterland to
that of theoretical interest in the body wbich has also, in
our own epoch, rather more pomne and political dimensions.
Schopenah""r is quite unembamwed ro dete<t his celebrated
that blindly persistent desire at the root of all phenomena, in
yawning, sneezing and vomitinr, ia jerkinp and rwitchinp of various
kinds, and seems wloolly oblivious of the bathos with which hi
lang. .. ge without warning in the cowse of a page or so from
high-flown reflections on fr<e "ill to the suucrure of dte spinal coni
or the exaescences of the caterpillar. is a kind of Bdhtinian
bathos or Brechtian plu..pts Dmm about Ibis sudden swooping from
Grist 10 genitalia, from the oracular to tile orifidal, which in Bakhtin's
hands at leat is a political we.apon opinsl ruling-class idealism's
TilE DEA'rn OF DSia
pal'1Uioid fear Gf the flesh. With Schopenbauer it is less a queotiuo uf
political n:voltliwl of a lind of cncker-barrel cnssnc:ss, uilen he
solemnly iUusm"'s the conflict between body and intellect by
pointing 01.11 that people find ithord to walk and talk at the same time:
'For as sooo as their bnln lias to link a few ideas together, it no longer
has as much force left o""r as is required to the legs in motion
throueh the motor or:ncs.'
Elsc:wh<rc he speculates that the
boWidless, infinite objeaive world 'is reaDy <mly a cenain mo""ment
or affection of tle pulpy mass in the skull' (2, 273), ur suggests that a
shon stature and nc:<:k an: cspcciJJiy favourable to geniu>, 'beause on
me shorter path tile blood reaches the brain with more energy' (2,
393). AD of this vulgar is a kind of theoretical posture in
itself, a sardonic smack at high-toned Hegelianism from one who,
though a filii -blooded metapbytklan hlmself, regards Hegel as a
supreme charlatan and moot philosophy except Plato, Kant and
himKif as a 101 Gf hot air. Crottbery, arropnt and cantankerous; a
sathlngj.,..naun wirist who professes to believe that the Genrums
occd their loog words because it gM> their slow minds more tim< to
think, Schopenbauer's work reveals a eami\'l!esquc coupling of tile
imposing and the commonplace evideot in his very name.
Indeed incongruity becomes in Schopcnhauer's hands the basis fur
a full-blown tlu:<>ty or comedy. The ludieroiOS, so be Ifill"" springs
&om the pnadllllX>I subsumption of an object under a cooc.opr in
other ways heteroseneous to it, so th3t an Adomo-lit.e insistence on
tbe non-idturiry or md concept em come ro explain wily
.minuls cannot laugh. Hwnour, in this speciously generalizing view, is
by ond large high ...onls and low meanings, anti so like Scbopenhauer's
own pbiJo...,pby has ao ironic or dialogical structure. This is itself
profoundly irooic, siuce the discrepancy berwcen percept and coocept
which occasioos the rel ease Gf laughter is exactly that disjuncture
between O'perience and inteUect, or will and representation, which
lies at the very c<>re of Schopenhautr's disgusted view or ltumaniry.
Tbe inner structure of this bkakeSI of visions is thus the structure of
a joke. Rcasoo, that crude, blundcrins servant of lhe Imperious will, is
always pathetic &lse consciousnes.<, a mere rd e< of desire which
believes itself absurdly to present the world just as it is. Concepts, in a
famUiar bnnd of nlneteentll-centUJy irradorWlsm, c:aanor ding to the
rich lnrricacles of experience, but appear maladroit and cruddy
reductive. But if this fissures the very being of humanity into iUusiou,
so that merely to think is to be sd f-deccived, it .Jso provides the
elements of a f reudian theory nf humaur:
[l'cn:cprion] is the medium of the present, of enjoyment
arul cheerfulness; moreover it is not with ony
exerti<Jn. With thinking the opposite bolus good; it is the
second power of whose exercise always
requires some, often considerab]c, ex'crtian; md it i.s the
c'tlncepts of thinking that ore so often opposed tu the
satisfaction of our immediate desires, since, as the medium
of the pa.'il, of rhe fururc. and of what is sertous, they acl as
the >dude of our fcan;, our n:grcll;, and aU our cares. It
must therefore be dc6ghtful for u to sec this strict,
untiring, and mOSI governess, our foculty of
reason, for once convicted of inadequacy. There ton: on
this account the mien or appCM311ce of bughter is very
closely related to that of joy. (2, 98)
Comedy is the will's mocking revenge on the representation, t.he
malicious slrilce of the Schopenhaurian id against the Hegetian
superego; and this source of hibrity Is also, curiously, the root of oor
utter bople<.<ness.'
If humour and hupclcosncss lie so close together, it is bccaus.:
human existence for Schopenhuer less grand tragedy than squalid
farce. Wrilhiog in the tolls of the wiU, driven on by an
implacable appetite dley relendessly idealize, men and women arc
tragic protagonists than pitiably obtme. The mrn;t fitting emblem
of the human enterprise is the sh<wcl-pawed mole: 'to dig stn:nuously
with its enormou< <hovel-paws is the husin ... of whole life;
permanent night surrounds it . . what does it attain by this course of
life that Is full of U'OUble and de,oid of plusurel Nourishment and
procreation, that is, only the means for cmuinuing beginning
again in the new individual the same melancholy course' (2. 353-'1).
Nothins h< more obvious to Schopenhauer than the tact that it
would be infinitely preferable if the world did not exist at an, that the
whole project is a ghastly mistake which should lonr ago have been
called off, and that only some crazed idealism could pmsibly believe
the .Pleasur.s of existence to ourweigh its pains. Only the mnst blatant
self-delusion- ideas, ''lllues, the rest of that pointless paraphemaliJI-
could bli nd indi\iduals to this laughably sdf-.,ident truth. Sunk in its
gross stupidity, humanity insi>ts upon regarding as valuable a histOJY
which is so plainly lhe record of umage, misery and wretchedne<s
!hat our capacity to thi'nk it in the least Inferable must itself be
explicable only as a ruse of the will, lhe low cunning v.ith which it
shields iiSelf from our knowledge of its own futility. It is hard for
Schopenhauer to restrain a hu"t of hysterical laughter at the sight of
this pompously self-imponant race, gripped by a remorseless will-to-
ti,e which is secretly quite indifferent to any of them, piously
oon\inced of their own supreme v:!lue, scromhllng over each other in
pursuit of some earnest goalwhicl will tunt instantly to in their
mouths. The world Is one enormous market pluc, 'this world of
ooostaody needy creatures who continue for a time nterely by
dC\'Ouring one another, pass their existence in anxiety and and
often endure tenible atllictions, undl they fall at last into the arms of
de:uh' (2, 349). There is no gr:>tlll relos to this 'battle-ground of
tormented and agooizl:d hcincs' (Z, 581), only 'moml:ntaJy gntiliation,
fttiag pleasure conditioned by wants, much and long
constant struggle, bellum ""'niom, 0\erything a hunter and everything
hunted, pressure, want, ne<:d and anxiety, shrieking and howling; and
thi goes on i rtl<lkmlm or until once again lhe crust of the
planet (2, 354). If hum.1n beings were apable of ront<mplaling
objectively for one moment this per>ersc attllchmmt of theirs to
unhappiDess, they would necessarily abhor it. The whole nee Is like a
diseased beggar who appeals to us for help to prolong his miserable
existence, even though from an objective \'iewpoint his death would
be altogether desirable. Only some sentimental humanism could see
such a judgement a< callou< rather than coolly reasonable. The most
fornmate life is that 11;111 endurable want and eomparad\c painlesmess,
though the result of tbi< is boredom. Boredom for Schopenhauer is
the chief motive for sociality, since it is to avoid it that we seel out
each other's lovclc.s company. AU of thi> set> the """"" for high
tragedy, yet even !hat""' bungle: 'our Bfe must contain tO the .. oes of
tragedy, and }'l't we anll(lf even assen the dignity of tragic characters,
but, in rht broad detail of life, an: inC\itably the footisb characters of
comedy' (1, 32Z). Hlsrory is low burluque rather than Attic
solemnity: 'no-a"" bas the remotest idea ""Y the whole tragi-comedy
exists, for it has no spectators, and the actors themselves undergo
endless worT)' with little and merely negative enjoyment' (2, 357). Life
is a grotCS<jUely bad absurdist drama full of farcical reperirion, a ""t of
trivial variations on a shoddy scrit>t
Tht:n: is somcthing amusing about the very relentless consistency
of this Schopenh2ue!Un gloom, a perpet\&31 grousing with all the
monotonous, mechanical repetition of the condition it denounces. ff
comedy for Schopenhauc:r invohes subsuming objectS to inaflliJ'Iljlriate
then this is ironica]ly of his own pessimism. which
SlampS cvel)'thing with its own inc>01'3ble colour at1d so has !he
funniness of all rnonomonia. Any such obsessive conersion of
to Klcotity is bound to be comic, howl.-vcr tragic the actual
outlook. To sec no ditlcrcncc bel"oeen roasting a leg of lamb and
roasting a baby, to >iew both as mere. indifferent e>pressions of the
rnelllphysical will, is as risible "" mistlking one's left foot for the notion
of natural justice. Pan of our laughter at such remorseles.< runnel
vision is no doubt relief ot the wanton parade of a monstrous egoism
we o.melves ha"e had to c:omouflage - in the case or a
perva.<ivel}' pe.<simlsric visl<>n like Schopenhauer's such laughter may
contain a nef\'ously defensive quality too. His perverse ignoring of
what we feel to be the more positive aspects of life is outtageous
enough to be amusing, :as we would smue at someone whose only
interest in great painters was in bow lllllny of them bad halitosis.
intense however, is in one seose not io
the least outrageous - is, indeed, no more than the sober realism he
himself considers it tn he. One-sided though this viewpoint may be, it
is a fact lhot throughout history the fate of the great majority of
men and women has b<'Cn one of suffering and fruitless toil.
Sehopenbauer may not have all of the truth; but he bas a huger sh=
of it than the rumantic hmnaoists he. is out to discredit. Any mon:
hopeful view or hwnanity which has not reckoned his particular
narrative into account is bound to be enfec:bled The dominnt tale of
history ttl date bas indeed been one of aunage, misery and
oppression. Moral vinuc hu never flourished as the decisive force In
any political culture. Where such values aken precarioos root,
1hey ha\e been largdy confined to the priYate realm. The moootooous
driving forces of history have been enmil)', appedtc and dominloa;
at1d the scandal of that sardid heri12ge is that it is indeed po.ible tn
asl of the lives of innumerable indi>iduals whether they wouW not
have been better off dead. 1\ny degree of freedom, dignity and
comfort has been oonfined to :1 tioy minority, while indigence,
unhappintss and hard labour have been the lot of the vast majority.
'To enter at the oge of live a cotton-spinning or other factory',
Scbopcnlwer remans, 'and froot then 00 to sit there every day lil'5l
ten, then twelve, and finally founeen hours, and pcrfonn the same
mechanical work, is to purcha.o;e deorly the pka.<ure of
brt:llth' (2., 578). The dramatic mutations of human it>
epochal rupcurcs and upheavals, have been in one sense mere
aria lions ou a consistent theme of exploitation and oppression. Nor
could any future transfonrunion, however radiul, aftect this record in
any substaotl31 way. 'Fnr oU Walter Otojamln's efforts to raise the
dead themselv< .. with the cl:uioo call of his eloquence, for aU hi>
urgent attempts to muster around the. froail band of the Jiving the
fertilizing shades of the unju!\!ly quelled, it rem11ins the harsh tnoth
that the dead c11n be raised only in n-.oluriooary imagination.' There
is no literal '"'3f in wbich we can compensate them 10!' the sufferings
they received at the hands of the ruling onler. We c:annot recaU the
crushed medieval pcasanay or the wage-slaves of early industrial
capitalism, the children who afraid and unloved in the wretched
hovels of elliS> society, the women who broke their bocks for tegimes
which used thtm with arrogance and contempt, the colonized nations
which coUapsed under an oppressor who found them at once sinister
and cha.rming. Titere is no Gteral .,. . y in which the >had.,; of lhc>e
dead can be summoned to claim justice from those wbo abused them.
The p:umess of the put is the simple truth ihat, rewrite aod
recuperate them IS we may, the wrct<:hcd of history have pa,.ed away,
and will not slwe in any more compassionate social order we may be
able to create. For II its homespun eccentricity and obdurote
monomania, Scbopcnhaucr's appalling vision is aocuratc in many of
ilS essentials. He is mistaken to thinl: that the destructive will is an
there is; but there is a sense in which he is cuoect to see it as the
cm:nu of all history to datt:. This is not a truth partic:ularly palatable to
politital radic:als, even If it is in one sense the very motivation of their
practice. That this intolerable narrative cannot cootinue is the belief
wllich inspires their strUggle, even as the crippliDg burden of dw
history-uld seem to hear mute witness agoinst the feast'hillry of such
a faith. The source of energy of a radical politics is thus always the
potential SOUJ'CC of Its enervation.
Schopenhauer i.< perhaps the lim major modem thinker to place at.
the centre of hi> work the abstract of iurlJ, irrespective
of IIU or that particular hankering. It is this powerful absa-action
which psychoor .. Jysis will later inl1erit, though it is probublc that
Freud, who was said to consider Schopcnhaucr one of the half-dozen
greatest indniduals who had eoer lived, co.mc to know his work only
after his own theories were already formed. )Ulit as l'llpitnlist SU<.i<l)' is
in this period evolving to the paint where it will be possible for Marx
to extract from it the key oonccpt of obstract labour, a conceptual
operation only possible on the basis of certain material conditions, so
the detennirunt role and regular repetition of appetite in bourgeois
society now permits a dramatic theoretical shifl: the oonstrucrion of
desire as a thing in itself, a momentous metaphysical event or elf-
identic.'ll for, as s001e urli.er order in "'h.ich desire is
still too narrvwi)' too intimately bound up with local
or a-aditional obligation, to be reined in quite this way. With
Schopenhauer, de.,ire has become the protagonist of the hu1112n
theatre, and human subjectS themselves its mere obedient bearers or
underlings. 1'hi> Is not only of the emergence of a social
order in which, in the form of commonplace possessive individualism,
appetite is now becoming the order of the day, the ruling ideology ond
dominant <OCial pl'llCtice; it is more specifically becau<e of the
pt'n:Civ<'tl itt/in;r, of desire in s S<lcial order where the only end of
accumulation is to accu.mulatc afresh. In a lrauJnatic collapse of
teleology, desire comes to seem independent of any Jl"rtiCular ends,
or at least as grotesquely disproportionate to them; and once it thus
ceases to be (in the phenomenological sense) it begins
monstrously to obtrude itself as a Diog-an-sid1, an opaque, unfathom-
able, sclf-propc:lllng power uncrly without purpose or reason, like
some grisly caric:orun: of the deity. The Schopenhaueri:tn as
form of purposircness without purpose, is iu this sense a smage
travesty of the Kanti2n aesthetic, a shoddy,lnferior artefact we could
all weD do without.
Once desire is for the first time homop:nizcd a.s a singular entity, it
can become the object of moral judgement as such - a mave which
-uld have stemed quite unintelligible to those moralists for whom
there is no sucb phenomenon as 'desire, simply this or that particular
appentency on whlcb a particular judgement may be passed. If desire
beoomes hypostasized in this way, then it c< possible. in a long
Romandc-libcnarian lineage from William Blake to Gilles Delcuze,
Ill ..iew it "-< supremely po<itive; but the preconditions of such
Romaotic affinnarion are also !he preconditioM of the Schopenhaucrian
denuncit1tion of desire cvurt) the t..-at_egodes ofRo,_n;uu_K;
humanism but impudently in\'ming the valuatioiiS. Like Schopcnhaur:r,
you can remin the whole totllizing of bourgeois humanism
at its most aflirmali\'e - the singular rentr.ll principle infonning tlte
..f>olc of reality, the integrated cosmic "'hole, the stable reb tions of
phenomena and essence- while emptying lhese fonns
of their ideati1.ed content. You can drain off the ideological substance
of the system - freedom, justice, reason, progress - and fiU that
system, Slill intact, -.ith the actuol degraded material'! of ev.!cyday
bourgeois e><istence. Thi!;, pre.:isdy, is what Schopenhauer's notion
of the wiD achieves, which structurally SC!\'CS just the
function of rhe Idea nr Rnmandc life-force, but is nnw
nothing mort. than the uncouth rpcity of the average bourgeois,
elevated to cosmic status and lraiiSfonned to the prime metaphysical
rnover of the entire It i$ though one retained lhe whole
paraphernalia uf the Platonic )deliS but c.lled them Profit.
Self-Interest and so on.
of this U)O\'e On the Olle- band, it
naturalizes and bourgeois behaviour. everything from
the forces of gravity to lhc blind stirrinp of the polyp oc rumblinp of
the gut is invested with 1\otile craving, the whole world reca.<t in the
image of the market plac.:. On the other hand, this grandly
gener:tlizing gesture serves to discredit bourgeois Man all the more:
thoroughly, write bim repellently large, project his sordid appetites os
the very stuff of the cosmos. To redua= Man to th pol}p is at once to
exculpate him as a helpless poppet of the will, and to insult him. This
debunl<ing shakes boorgeois i<knlogy to the root, at the S3mt time os
itS nanrralizing effect rctDOYes the hope of apY bistorical alternative.
Schopenhauer's system thus stands at the cusp of bourgeois historical
fortunes, stm con.6denr enough in its forms to unll)<, essendalize,
universalize, but pr.'<.'isdy through these gestures inflating to
intnlenblc proportions the meagre ttJnunrs of social hfe. Those
l'Onteots are thus discredited by the very move which grants them
mcl>physical status. T he fomts of the Hegelian system are turned
against that philosophy with a vengeance; totalizatioo i!; still possible,
but now of a purely negame kind.
This is also true in another sense. For Hegel, tbe free suhject
articulates a universal dimension of eon.sdousness (Cmr) which is
nl:"erthcle,. at the very core of its idcnticy, that which makes it
uniquely whot it is. And this tran.;cendenlal principle, in order to be
itscU: stands in need uf such indhiduation. Scbopenhauer preserves
this conceptual structure but lends it a malevolent twist. What makes
me wliat I am, the wiU of whkb I nm simply a mnteriali:<alion, is
utterly indifferent to my individual identity, which it uses merely for
its Owtl pointless self-reproduction. At the very root of the human
subject lies that whlcb is implaeably alien to it, so that in a devastating
irony this will which is the very pith of my being, which I can feel from
the inside of my body with incompaNbly greater immedillcy than I
Clio know anything else, is abolutr:ly unlike me at all, ...;thuut
consciousness or motive, at: bb.nkly unfeeling and anonymous a.-: the
force which stirs the waves. No more powerful image of alienation
could be imagined than this malicious parody ofideatist humanism, in
which the Kantian Ding-<Jn-irh is brought nearer to knowledge as the
directly intuitable interior of the subjtct, but nevertheless retains all
the Impenetrability to reason of that Kandan realm. This impenetra-
bility is no longer a simple epistemological fact but an inert,
intolerable weialtt of mcaningtes.sr>css that we bear inside ourselves as
the principle of our being, as though permanently pregnant with
munstcrs. Alicuation now not in sumc oppressive mechanism out
there in the world, wllicb confiscates our producu and identities, but
in the mildest motions of our limbs and language, in the fointest
llil:ker of curiosity or compassion, in all that makes us Ji,ing,
breathing, desiring creatures. \\lnat is now irreparably llawcd is
nothing less than tltc whole C11K-g0f)l of subjectivity itself, not just
some perversion or c.srrangemem of iL Ills this which touclu:s on the
secret or impossible pamdo of bomgeois society, that it is
exactly in thtir freedom that men and women an: most inexorably
enchained, that we Jive immured in our bodies like lifers in a ceO.
Subjectivity is tlm which we c;Jn least our own. There was a time
when our dcsir<ts, hDWClc:r dtstructh'c, couJd at ]cast be. called ours;
now desire breeds in us an illusion known as reason, in order to con
us that its goals are ours too.
It is not that Schopeflltauer ignores the v.ill's more cream'< aspects.
If yawulng or yodelling an: expressions of the will, so are all our
nobler aspinttions; but since they are thus caught up with desire they
are pan of the problem nther than the solution. To fight injusricc is
to desire, and so to be complicit with that deeper injo.<tice v.iticb is
THE .I>ATH Of DESlllt:
human life. Only by SOOJtbow breakin&" absolutely with this chain of
call331ity, the terrible sway of teleolot!r, could true emancipation be
achieved. E-ery bit of the world, from doorknobs and doctonl
dissertations w modes of production and the law of the excluded
middle, is the fnlir of some stny oppetitelocled into rhe great empire
of intentions and effects; human beings arc just walling
m>tcrializations of their parents' copulatory instincts. "The world is
one vast of a useless passion, thilt alone is real.
Since aU desire is founded in lack, aU cksire is suffering: 'All riUing
springs from lack, from deficiency, and thus from suffering' (I , 196).
Riddled by the v.ill, the human race is cre"""d o'er omo <-cntral
absence like a man doubled up o-er his ulcer; and Schopenbauer is
y,ellaware of how, in modem psychoarulytical idiom, desire outstrips
need. 'For one wish that is fulfdkd there remain at least ten that are
denied. Further, desiring lasts a long time, demands and requests go
on to infmity; fulftlment is short and meted out sparingly' (1, 196). It
is nor therefore for the more creative impulses tbar we shoald be
searching- not a matter, as with traditional morality, of ranging our
d.,.ires un an e>aluati .. scale and pitting the more positive against the
mort: destructive. Only the quiese<nce of impulse itself would san
us; yet to strl: such qulescence, in a famillar Buddhist paradox, would
be self-defeating.
Where th<fl can we rum for a momentary staunching of this insatiable.
urge which builds the very stuff of our blood-stream and intestines?
The answer for Schopcnhauer to the aesthetic, which less
a pre<lCcupation with art than a transfigured attitude to reality. The
intolerable tedium of existence is that we C2ll ne>cr burst out of our
own skin.o;, never shuck off the straitjacket of our peny subjective
interests. We dng our egos with us in everything we do . tike some
bar-room bore inrruding his dreary obsc.uions into the most =ual
conversation. Desire denores our inability to""" anything r>traight, the
compulshe of all objects to our own sectariau
Passion ' tinges the objccrs or lmowied!e with its colour' (2, 141),
falsifYing the given through hope, oouiety, e>pe.:tarion; and Schope"-
haucr gives us a home-spun tittle instance of thB vielory of "'ill 0\ct
intcUect by gravely pointing out how, when "'" do our financ:W
accounb.i, the slips we make are nlmost always to our own
advantage. The aesthetic is a temporary escape from this prison-
bouse of subjcc"tivily, in which all desire drops away from us and we
are able for a ch.,nge ro ee the phenomenon a. ir really is. As we
relinquish oor hea1ed claiu1S: O\er it, we dissol\'e contentedly into a
pure, will-less subject of knowledge. Bur to become a pure $object of
l'Tlowlcdgc i. poradoxically to cease to be subjccr at all, to know
oneself utterly dec:enrred intu rhe objects of une's contemplation. The
gift of genius, Scbopenhaucr Mires, is nothing more or Ius than rhe
nwsr mmplere objectiviry. The aesrhctic is what ruptur<s for a
blessed moment the terrible SWIIY of teleology, rhe tangled chain of
functions and dfecu into which all things are locked, plucking an
object for an instanl our ofrhe clammy grip of rhe will and sal'Ouring
it pun:ly as spectacle. (Dutch interiors, Schopeobauer argues, are
Hawed aesrhctic objecm, !Iince !heir portrayal of oyEten,
crabs, wine and so on makes us The world can be r<leascd
from desire only by being aesrheticizcd; and in rhis process rhe
dC5iring subject will dwindle to a vanishing point of pure dis-
inrerestedaess. Bur 511Cb disinrerestcdness bas tittle in common with
an Arnoldbn large-mlndedoess, imparti21Jy weighing competing
interests with an eye to the affirmative whole; on the contrary, it
demands nothing less rhan a complete self-abandonment, a kind of
serene self-Immolation on the subject's part.
II is reaDy rather too easy, bow.-er, 10 regan:l this doctrine as mere
escapism. For the Buddhist ttadition to whi<h Schopcnhaucr is bert
indebted, nothing could be more bafflingly elusive thon this
apparently straightforward maHer of S<!eing s()lltething as it is, a naive
realism or (u Hcideggrr might say) a 'letting of thinp be' which is
never really wilhio our po..-cr, :md which con occur only
in a srny moment of mystical illuminoti001. Nor is such realism for
Schopenha1.1Cr any mere po$1tivism: on the comrary, he is a full-
blooded Platonist on thar score, holding that to sec thinp as they arc
is to grasp rhcm In tbcir eternal essences or species-being. It Is rhis
well-nigh impassible realism " 'e can anain in rhc blessed indifference
of the .esthetic - that stare in which the world is transmuted to
theatrical charade, its duicl.ins and howling stillccl to so much idle
Sl>lge chatter for the unmoved specrator's delighted contemplation.
The oesthetic is in dlis senu a kind of psyclaical defence mechanism
by which lbc mind, rhreatcned with an overload of pain, convcns the
cause of irs agony into innocuous illusion. The sublime is lhcreforc
the most typic:tl of all aesthetic moods, aUowing us as it dues to
contempbte hosrile objects with absohrte cqunimity, serene in the
knowledge that they can no longer harm u>. Jn the sublime, the
paranoid ego fantasizes some state of triumphal invulnerab!Uty,
wreaking Olympian vengeance on the sinister for<:es which would
hound it to dcarh. But this ultimate mastery, in which a prcdatoey
world is disarmed to a kind of fu:tion, is it<elf, as Freud taught us, the
condition of death . towards which the battered, pitiable e1o is driven
for ilS ultimate self-prcsc!Vation. The Scbopenhaucrt>.n subject thus
masters its own murder by suic-ide, its prtdarors. through the
prcmuutre self-abnegation of the aesthetic. 'The Schopenhauerian
aesthetic is the death drive in action, though this d-ath is sccrcdy a
kind ofl ife, IJro< disguised a.< Tio">:aJM: the $Ubjtct cannot be entirely
as long as it still delights, ew11 if what it takes pleasure in is
the process of its own dissolution. The aesthetic condition thus
presents 3D WlSU11110untable paradox, as Keats knew in contemplating
the nightingale: there is no "'"'Yin which one can savour one's own
e:<li.nc:tion. The more exultandy the aesthetic subject experiences il.<
own nullity before the object the more, by that very tokeo, the
CJ<perience must have failed.
Indifference for Schopenhauer is a poUtical a.< well as aesthetic
stare of being; aDd ro this extent he s\.IStains, wh_ile also subvert.ing,
the dassi<'lll Schilkrion e<>oCt:pt of an a.> SO<.;al paradip1. f or
Schopentuucr as for his prcdoce.<sors, the aesthetic is Important
because it spe:ab of more rhln itsr.lr. The detachment or ::mal"..txb we
attain for a procious moment in t'onto:mplatin& the anclilct is an
implicit alternative to appetitive egoism; an is n.o mere antithesis to
society, but the most graphic instnce of an ethical e>istence beyond
the understanding uf the state. Only by soolehow piercing the veil of
Afaya and rccosniZing the fictional statUS of the individual ego can
one behavt' to others with true indifference- which is to say, make no
signifi<.-ant distinc'l:ion bc111ccn them and uncsclf. Satiric detachme-nt
is thus at the same time loving compassion, a sene in which, the
intlit:iJtuJJitmn once unolDSked for the ideological fraud it
is, selves may be empathelically exchanged. Just as slJ true knowledge
springs from the death of the suhject, .., too does all moral value; to
act morally is nOI to act from a positive standpoint, hutto act from no
swtdpoint at aU. The only good subject is a dead one, or at least one
.. bleb can project itself by empathetic indifference Into the place of
every other. It is not a question of one individual behaving
<'Onidcratcly toward> the next, but of bursting beyond 1.he whole
wr:tched delusion of ' individualil)', in a Oa.'lh of what Waller
Benjamin would call profane iDwninatiou \ to sume
unutterably ar beyood it. Schopenhauer is thus led beyond the
apparotu. of bourgeois legality, of rights and responsibitilies and
obligations, since he rejec1S its prime datum of the individual subject.
Unlike the fetishists of difference of our own day, he believes that
what human beings share in common is ultimately of more substance
than what distinguishes them.
Moral action, like aesthedc knowledge, would thus appear an
unthinlablc paradox. For there 1.11n be no practice without a subject;
and with subjt<1S come domination a.nd desire. To speak of a
compassionak subject would s..,m oxymoronic: even if n purely
contemplad\e benc.olence were possible, it could only realize itself in
action at the cost of falling prey to the voracious will. Knowledge and
prncti<:e would appear as in>nicJtOy at odds for Schopenbauer as
'theory' and 'ideology' for some contemporary tflought: if ther-e can
be no trUth without a subject, there can be none with it either. All
prncticc for Schopcnhaucr inhabits the domain of illusion: to
prosecute my pity for you is in that moment to dispel to 6nd myself
writhing in1ead in the toils of ..,!(-interest. Only bY transcending the
diseaatd category of subjecthood altogelher could one individual feel
for another; but this very proposition cancels itself out. As William
Blake knew, pity and sorro,.. are signs that the catastrophe bas aln:ady
happened, and would be unnece-'sary if it had nnt. In society
powered by appetite, where all :tction appears irredeemably oon-
tmlinated, compwion must be banished to the realm of 'aesthetic'
contemplation. In one sense, the aesthetic offers us a whole new form
ol soda! tile: in ils ery dispil>sionate atnonility, it teaches us to shed
our disruptive desires and li\e humbly, ungreedily, with the simplicity
of the s:iint. It is tim. the first faint glimmerings of utopia, bearing
with it a perfect, virulendy misanthropie happiness. But this is not a
happiness which could ever be actively realized: like the aesthetic
state of a Schiner, it betrays and undoes irself .. , oon as it enters
upon material
It is in any cue diflicult ro know how this sutc of dlsintcrestednu
could ever come abnut. It can olwiously not be a product of the will,
since it involves the wiD's momentary suspension; but il is ltanJ to sc:e
how it can be the work of the alienated intcllca either, and in
Schopenhauer's drnstically reduced unr.-erse there.,.., no odter
ogenls aVllaable. He himself writes obscurely of lhc intcUcet acltlcvlng
in these momeniS a cenaln '!t!mporary prtponderance' over the wiU;
hut the sources or this llllWOnted f'C\'cr.;a( remain significantly vague.
There it positive value in bourgeois society, bur its origins are deeply
m_yl;terious. As with the O!trly Wingtnsrtin, .himself devoted disciple
of Schopcnhauer, value cannot really be in the world at aU, but must
be transcendental of it.' There is, it would seem, no way of
from fac'l ro v;due; and Sc:hupeohauer consequendy manoeuvres
himself into an inc>pticable duality between the torture clwnber of
history on the nne hand. and some vaguely Humcan notion of
intuitive affectio11 on the other. ln suc:h <-ompasoion fur othern, be
writes, we recognize our 'true :and innerm.osr self'i we b:a\'e been
told rime and ag-ain that this innennMt scM is nothing bur the
ravenous will
Scbopcohaucr is adamant that philosophy is quite incapable of
altering human conduct, and disol\'liS all prescriptive intent in his
writing. There no truck between the cognltt.e and lhe
which Jl"rtake in the eWlllll enmiryof the representation and the will.
Yet his whole philosophy can be read as an implidt disproval of this
claim. suggesting agaims: its awn conscious intentiO'I'lS how fact and
alue, description and pres.:riptioo may inde-ed be muiU&Ily mic-ulatcd.
In facr hi indcbtcdnc.. to oriental lhought bctra)'S just how
ethnocentric rhe facr/nlue dichotomy i - how deeply the con-
sequence of a technological history from which it is admittedly
impossible to deme vahtc, since iu faciS have been constinrU!d from
the ouiSel as volue's w:ry negarion. The Buddhist critique of the
principle of indi,iduatioo, by contrast, is at once descriptive and
pr..ccripmc - an account of the vay the wnrld is, as weU ao;,
indissociably, the recommendotion of a certain style of moral
behaviour. It is bard to sec how a genuine conviction of the relative
insignificance or berween could not :affect one's
pt'llctical conduct. Schopcnhauer would sC(m to agree that a
rcrusniliun of the foctioml nature of identity will show up in one's
actions, while refusing I<> th.lt his own discourse, which
speaks of these matter.;, might produc-e such ethical effects.
To do otherwise would be to concede. contruy to ooe ofbis major
tenets, that reason can inOuence the wiD. On such a remorselessly
instrumentalist version of reason as Schopeohauer's, this would be
clearly impossible. Reoson is no more than dumsycalculative device
for the realization of desires which are themsel>es quite insulated
from .-.donal debate. The lint age from Schopenhaucr and Nicasdle
to contemporary in this sense redupljcates the bourgeois
model of apper:ilin man of Hobbes, Hume and Bcnlham. Reason is
rile mere tool of interest and sm-. of desire - lnteresu and desires
ovtr which there can be fighting but no arguing. But if what
Schotlenhlluer asserts on this score wue true, his Olln work would be
strictly speaking impossible. If he really nedital his own doctrines,
Schopcnhauerwould be Wl>ble to write. If his theory is able to dissect
the wnrlings of the will, then rea.>n must be to that cortent
e2pablc of c:urving back ou scrutinizing the dri-es of wbich it
proclaims itself the obedient sel'\'al\r. Either he hlls somehow given
the will the slip in hi> theorizing, or that theorizing is just another of
its futile cxpre>sions ontl so quite valueless.
Schopenbauer's comparison of phiiDSOphy with music suggests
that he believes the former tu be the true one. or all the
ans, music is the most direct of the indeed it is tbe
will made audible, a kind of delicate, impalpable dlagramofthe inner
life of desire, a revelation in non-cooceptual discourse of the pure
ess<once of the world. Any true philosophy is rhus no more rhlln a
tnlosiation into conceptual tenus of what speaks in music, perfoming
nrionally what music achieves itJtUitively. A theory which knew tbe
world as it is would thus be by a kind of aesthetic
completion, would be an anefact all in i&self, resisting discursive
dindoru; and deferments so as ro represent In Its synchronic unity the
cohesion of aU things in the will. Philooophy must thus be
lraDSCenderual; )'ill the only lrallsceodcnral reality ir seems to idenliJY
i.< the will itself. It cannot be that philosophy lools at the world from
lhe vanlllgc point of the will, fur then it 1l'Ouid be umble 10 pass any
tnu: conuncm on it; so it would appear ro be inspecting the viii and
all its works from some other l.rnscendtntal viewpoint. But since
there is nu such vic10point acknowledrcd in Schopenhauer's writing,
philosophy must be standing in a non-place, spe.tking from some
locorion not included within itself. Th<re is inde<d such a non-place
identified in tbe theory irself - the aesthetic - bur this is not
conceprtW; and It is hllrd to see how it can be conceptually trllnslored
without faRing instantly foul of the delusions of the intellect. In shun,
U'Utb would appear to be possible, bur w.: are quite ar a Joss to account
for how this can he so. It can only he that the intellect, in rare,
m}'sterious moments. S4!izes :t hold on the will of '.4'hich it is
no more than a manipolatcd plaything. The>< are cpistemologkal
dilemmas which Schopenhauer will bt(fueath to his most famoU5
successor, Friedrich Nietzsche.
Bourscois thought tends to constrUct a recurrent binary oppollition
knowledge as the sheer determined reflex of desire, and
as a form of sublime disinterestedness. If me, fonner
caricatures the tnle S!lltc of ffairs of bour!eois civil socieey, where
no rcflectian would seem innocent of self-interest, the loner is no
ra<>r< than illi fant-tic '"'ll"tiun. Only a dcmonil: d .. ire oould dream
such an angelic antithesis. A an incrca.'!ingly reiJ\ed, fragmented
social on:ler comes gradually to dis<.'redit the idea of its own
intelligibility, sublime disinterestedness must be progressively sum:n
dcrcd to pragmatist disenchantment. The price of this, however,
is that any II10R ambitious ideological defence of the society as a
whole, uncoupled as it is lrom panicnlar interesiS, steadily loses
its hold upon sn<:ial praclicr. Scbopenlmuer and N'tel7.o;che are
tr.msitional figures in this r"'-pect, full-blooded totaliurs in ooe sense
yet disenchanted pragmatists in another. Caught in this contndiction,
Schopenbauer ends up with a ldnd m transcendcnlllltw ... tthnut
a subject: the place of absolute knowled@e is prcsCIVed, but it lads
all detenninate identity. There can be no subject to liJJ it, for to
be a subject is to desire, :m<f to desire is to be deluded. An
idealist philosophy whicb once dreamt of finding salvation through
the subject is now forcrd to contemplate the unspeakable prospect
that oo salvation is possible without the wholesale immolation
of the subject itself, the most privileged category of the entire
In ooe sense, of course, such an abject surrender of the subject is
no more than a routine feature of the bourgeois social order.
Schopenbauer's ent(l"thetic ethics serialize all individuals to equal
in much the same manner as the market place, if at a
some'l\'hat loftier level. In this most n11npantly indi\'idualist of
cultures, the indMdual is indeed little more than a ficdon, ghen the
blank indifference to it of d1e capitalist economy. It is simply thAt. this
prosaic IC\'ellinJ of individual specificity must now be subl&ted to a
form of spirirual communion, disdainfully turned (as in the Kanrian
esthetic) arooinst the L'gtliSm which is in truth its material
foundtion. It is as lhoug:b the cool disregard for specific identities
dispbyed by 1M c:apit>list mOO., of production mil.$! be dignified ro a
spiritual disdpline, elewted to a tend.r mutuality of souls. Yet if this
desperue rnategy mimes the problem to which it Is a solution, its
radicalism is at least equaOy srril;ng. Once the acnal
subject, rather th:lll irs higlt-minded idealist rcprcsenllltion, Is placed
a I Schopenhauer at lhe nub of lheory, !here seem.< no way of
avoiding Lite conclusion lht it must b;, liquidated. There can be nu
question any lonJCI' of Judicious r<:form: nothing shon of that
reYQiution of the subject which is its obliteration wiD setve ro
liberate it from itself. The philosophy nf subjectivity accordingly sclf-
desrructs, leaving In its wake a numinous aura of absolute value. which
is, precisely, nothing.
Enthusiastic Kantian lhOIJ8h he is, !he aesthetic for Schupenhauer
signifies in ooo sense the txact opposite nf what it means ror his
mentor. Fur as we have seen, the disinterested gaze which
reads !he world puR]y as form Is a way of eliciting the object's
enigmatic purposiveness, lifting ir out of the web of prctical
functions in which it is enmeshed sa as ro endow ir wilh >umclhing of
the self-detumining autonomy of a subject. It is by virtue of Litis
crypto-subjecti\-ity that Kant's aesthetic object 'hails' individuals,
speaks meartingfully to them, assures them that Narure is not after all
entirely al.ieo to their preoccupations. For S.:hopcnhauer, things are
quite otherwise: what we glimpse in the aesthetic realm is not yet
another muse of our 0\\'D intolerable subjcc:ti\;ty, bur reality
benignly indillhenr to our longings. If for Kant the aesthetic works
within the register of the illUiginary, it involves for his successor a
gratifYing shift ro the symbolic, 111here we cu come finally ro
that the object rums ils b2ck upon OS, has no need of US, and is afl lhe
better for thaL It is as !hough, h.-.ing himself rekndessly anthro-
pomorphi>,ed the wbole of reality, discerning analogies of hu1113D
appetite in the falling of a s1one or the blowing of rose.
Schopenhaw:r's nausea with that whole monstrously huiiWiized
world compels him to imagine how detightful it would be to look at
lhings as though we were not there. Yet this, of coune, is beyond our
reach: the dissolution of the grasping ego, as we have seen, is also,
unavoi<bbly, the ego's exultont fanlllsy of .ecuring an eremal,
uninjured c:xilircnce for irsdf. Perhaps, then, the aesthetic is no m.ore
than the last reckless card the will to live has to play, jusr as for
Tllf. oum Of uESttU:
suicide is simply a sick joke by which the wiU craftily
affimls itself through the individual's self-annibibnion.
The dre.am of transCending one's own peny subjectbood is a
familiar enough ide1list fantS)'i but it generally turns out to involve
a flight into some higher, deeper fonn of subjectivity, v.ith 11
corresponding gain of omnipotent mastery. On.e does no! give the slip
to the subject simply by oo0(-..1ivizing ur univcnalizing iL Scltopcnbau<:r,
howe\er, sees that since the subject is ils panicular perspeclive, aU
that can be left behind whm this has been surrnuunted is a kind of
nod>ing: the nirvana of aesthetic contempbtion. Even this nothing
1\Jm<i our to be a kind of somed>ing, a negative form of knowledge; but
"' least one hll$ now hed the iUw;iun uf a pusilive mode uf
mnsccndCtlt:e. AU that is left ro us is to tal:e pity on the objects of the
world, infected as they .re by our own cont::tgious :md save
them from uur.;oelvc'S by SCJIIIC miraculous >anishing tritit. What is
from one viewpoint an Irresponsible escapism is thus from another
\'iewpoint the last wont in mor.1l I"M!roisn.
It is in the body, above aU, that for Schopenhauer the impossible
dilemmas of existence !He on flesh. For it is in the body that we are
most starkly confromed with the dash betwa:n the twu utterly
incompatible worlds in which we Jive simulaneoiiS!y. In 11 rewritinr; of
Kant's celebrated du:tllsm, lht body which '''e live from the inside is
will, whereas lht body as an obje<t among others is representation.
' Jbe human subject, that is, Jives a unique double relation to its own
body as >t once noumenal and phenomell21; the flesh is the shadowy
frontier "here will and representation, inside and outside, come
mysteriously, untltinkably together, converting human bMSS to a
ki11d of walking philosophical conundrum. There is an un<pannable
gulf between our immediote presence to ourselves, and our indirect
representational knowlcdgt: of everything else. This, of course, is the
most banal of Romantic dichntomie.<; but Schopenbauer lend< it an
original inflection. If he prMlc'cs the inward in Romantic >tylc, he
nevertheless refuses to valorize it. This swift, umnediated knowledge
of ourselves, far from signifYing some id02l truth, is nothing other
than our anguished apprehension of the appetitive wiU. There is
indeed a style of <ngnitioo whlc:h by-paASes the uncertain bboDrS of
the concept, but it demers no value whatsoever. My inmirive
presence ro myself is the site of a problem, not of some logocenrric
solution; aod in any J can know the viii at v.'Ork within my body
on!) phenomenally, never in it$elf. Hut if the liJWlOfllneoll$ and
immediate are lhus brusqudy WICuupled from creativil)', one of lhe
cer11nl estheticizing strategies of bourgeois idealism is conceDed at a
str<>ke. It is not, for Schopenhauer, a qutstion of elr.ating a \':lloed
form of cogllition over a valueless one, but of suspending the -whole
question of value ilself, inemicobly bound up .u it is with the
terrorism of desire. The only true valut would be to abolish value
altogether. 'l'hls, Indeed, is the valueless value of the aesthetic state-
the illSight that things just are eternally what they are, lhe mind-
bending drama of 1111 slxcr idcntil)' wilh ibdf. To acl<nowledge
this ent.11lsa kind ofinlllition; but it is inlllidon to the second power, a
will-less overcoming of the spontliMOUS movement of y,ilJ, which
aUows us to guc unmoved for t moment into the very bean of
darkness as tht objecv; around u.< grow more luminously replete,
more satisfyingly pointless, and we ourselves dwi!ldle gradually away
to nothing. .
Despite its dispassionatenes.s, the aesthetic would seem best
figured by either weeping or laughing. lfit.signl[oes an infinite fellow-
feeling for otbcn, it is also the Incredulous cackle of one who bas
extricated himself from the wholt squalid melodrama and sun>eys it
from an Olympian height. These aotithetical n:sponscs an: deeply
interrelated, in the tt:tgicomedy of the Schopenhauerian \isioo: l
suffer with you btca- I know that your inntr stuff, the. cruel will, is
also my M\'11; but since everything Is built from this lethal subsfll!lcc, I
scorn its futility in a burst ofbbsphelll()lls laughter. The aesthetic is
the noblest form of cugnitnc and cthicol truth; but what it tells us is
that reason is useless and emancipation Inconceivable. As an apon:tic
stat in which UIW simuhaoeously alive and dead, moved and
umnoved, fUlfilled and erased, it is a condition which has gone
beyond all conditions, a solution which testifies in its very contra-
to the impossibility of a solution. Schopenhauer's wori< is
thus tht ruin of all those JtiP! hopes which bourgeois idcallsm has
invested in the idea of the aesthetic, even lhoogh it renuins faithful to
the aesthetic as some ultimate rtdemption. A discourse which btgan
as an idiom of the body has now become a flight from c<KpOrcal
el<istence; a disintertstednes.< which promised the possibility of an
alternative soda! order is now an alternative to ltistory ibd( By some
curious logic, the aesthetic bas tnded up demoli.shin! the vtry
category of subjectivity it was intended to foster. The embarrnssing
rift in a Kant or Schiller between the actual and the ideal, civil society
and ae>1hetic G....mtulu.jl, has now been pressed 10 a destrUCtive
extreme, as any practical coDDtctioo berwcen the two spheres Is
summarily rejected. Schopenhouer tells in his own dourly universali1.ing
wuy the plain, unvomished ia1e of bourgeois civil society, in fine
disregard for the affirmative ideolosical glosses; and he Is clear-eyed
and enough to pursue the grim implications of this
narrati\>e to their scandalous, insupporlllble condusions.
I Anhur Schopcohaucr, Tilt IY.md., Will 1111/lrprcrtotatiim, tn. E.F J.
Pt)m (New York, 1969), rot. 2, p. 284. All subsequent references to !his
worl are given after quotations in 1hc lcxt.
2 See alw, for one I)( nwnerous :uuicip:uicn.< of Freud, Sc.hopenbauer's
COIIUJlmt that 'the intellea remaills so much ududod from the rcol
resotutions and secret decisions of ita own 'Will that tome times it can only
ger to lnow them, Uke those I)( a SttmJtt, by spying out and Wdt>g
Ull4wutS; and it must surprise tbe will in the act of expre<sing itsdl; in
order mcrdy to discmcr rHl intmtiou.s (2, 209).
3 See 'W:dtn- Benj:u:nim,
TheHS on the!: Philuwphy in Hannah
i\rcodt (ed.), (London, 1970).
4 Few the io.Rucncc.ofSchopcnbautt oa \\,..ltfFnstein, see Patrick Gardiner,
Sdoopm!M#rr (Harmondrwonb, 1963), pp. 275-82, and Brian 1\.bcee.
17rt Plti!.,cplly o{Sdt.,.,U.4t1rr(Oxford, 19113), pp. 281>-JIS. A S<lm<Wiut
dtreadbare account of Sclwpcohauer's aesthetics is ttl be (ouod in
L Knox, 11uAarlutit'}l..,;n o{Kar11, Hf#{, _,SrMpmlo- (New York,
Absolute Ironies: Snren Kierkegaard
It is surprising in a s"""' lh:Jt Suro:n Kierlu:g:10rd - ironist, jester,
aposde of the aporetic and enemy of aU tocalil)' - has not rccci>cu
more anenlinn in a demnstructive age. In another sense, it is hardly
surprising at all: for Kierkegaard combines his devotion to difference,
sporti.e humour, play with pse!ldooyms and gueriDa-rald< on tbe
metaphysical with a pasionatcly one-siuL-d commitment, by which
few of our modem ironists arc likely to feel anything but unsettled. In
an era when neither existentialism nor evangeHcal Protestnntism are
In intellecrual f"'hion, it may be wonll casting a glance back at this
solitary eccenlr.ic, whose power to disrum has been .... eakened by
those shifts in fashion than one: might have suppos<d.'
One of Kierkeg3ru-d's many uctntriciries is his attitude 10 the
aesthelic. Of the major phaosopben from Kant to Habeml3S, he is
one of the few who ... ruse to assign it any pndominant value or
privileged starus. He thus stands srubbomly askew to tbe aesabelicizing
cum:nts of the modern European mind, wbicb is not to say that the
us the lie is not from first to lan one of hili central preoccupadons. For
him as for the originator> of the discourse, aesthetics refers not in the
first place to an but to the whole lived dimension of sensory
experience, denoting a pl>enomenology or daily lire berore it comes to
sipi(y culrunl production. As such, it indicates for Kierltegaard the
,ery homeland ofinauthenlic:il)'. Aesthetic emtence is empty abstract
immediacy, a zone of being which predates the temporal or historical
and in which the subject's actions are only dubiously its o ... n. In this
unreflective sphere, akin in some sen5e to tbe Freudian stage of early
infancy, the <ttbject 6ves in a <tale of fragmented mubiplicity, too
diffilse to be called a unitary self, unable to diffcrellliate itself from an
AUStli Nfl: IIW!<IES
environment of which it is little more lhan the detemuned n:Oe..
Dreaming itself 21 one with the world, it confounds iiS
<M'n exjstence wirh rhe sense-impressiOJJ in a which
resembles the Laconian register of the imaginaty. Most social fife for
is no mom than a hightr version of this seii5Uous
passivity - 'inunetliacy wilh the addition of little dose of sdf
reflection', he remorks in Tilt Sklarns unro Dea1h'- since
few individllllls can ri'le above their social conditioning to a stale of
dctcnninatc selfhood. The judgement of the world, he commeniS in
his Jnumals, is not moral but aesthetic, admiring 'everything that ha."'
power, cwming, self.shoess'.' Middle-class sociel)' hs never come of
ago, as mueb the deccntred pbything of iiS repetitive drives as the:
small infant.
The aesthetic, lhm, is in """ of its versions Hegel' 'bad'
immediacy; but it is also, contradictorily, an Hescfian 'bad' in61lity of
endless self-reflcclion. This 'higher' or reflcclive sugc of the:
represenrs a break \\ith sensuous irrunedia'-)' - not,
however, as a movement upwattls into determinate sellhood, but
n1lher as a lapse into some abyssal speculilrity, when: irony tumbles
on lhe heels of irony y,i lh no more resolute centring of the subject
dun can be found in the ' illl2giNr)' of bodily immediacy. Hamlet and
Calibao are dms inverted mirrorimages of each other; one is always,
in eilho.T 100 mw;h or 100 llttle oneself, ensnared in
ac:ruality or adrift in possibility, W:killg that dlalectlul tension
between lhese realms which is def\ned by the elhical paradox of
bctooJiug what one is. negates imrnedia<.-y, but lho.TCby
sbaners it to an inJinitc indetcnninacy nol wholly unl}pic:.l of
immediacy il5elf. The selfreRective subject, as radically empl)' as the
pseudo-self of aesthetic immediacy, crases temporality and ceuelcssly
reinvenll> iiSelf from nothing, seeking 10 preserve an unbounded
fn:edom which is in truth sheer self...:onsuming negativity. The naow.
of dlis mode o( existence is irony, of which the 6gwe of Socrates is
exemplary. Socratic Irony raises the subject out of its mindless
communion wilh lhe world, critically unhinging it from lhe real; but
since It yields no posilive alternative truth it lcacs lhe subject giddily
suspended berween actual and i<Je,d, in and out of the world
simultano.-otr.dy. Tbe actWll is the ironist's element, 'but his course
lhrougll actuality is hovering and clhcrial, scarcely toucltinlJ the:
ground. As the: aothe11ric ldngclom of ideality is stiD alien to him, so he
has not yet emign.ted but is ar every moment, a.a it were, abour to
depan." Socntes's very existence is ironic, an inJinite negation of the
social .-.rder which Is Mnedteless still subedlical, S1ill to arm-.: at
determinate subjectllood. lnto>.icated by endless p.-.s.o;.ibility, later
' ab5olute' lronlsts such as Fichte and the Romantics posit and destroy
nt a stroke, living subjutiCtively or hypothetic.ally and so bereft of aU
continuity of self. Tlu: lr.es actuality as sheer
poosibility, hubristicaUy usurping the divine prerogative in his
impollmt freedom to bind and loose. The despgiring subject of
Tlrt Si<*nm tmlo Dtiltl:, perversely determined to be what it is,
flambc>yand) refashions the whole ofits finlre beirlg in the image of its
arbill"aly desire. Such aesthetic experimentalism ('enchanting like an
orient2l poem', Klerkegaard remarks) is a kind of COIIjuring of oneself
up a nihil, t every momeor, ain1y erasing tile burden of historicity
and of the self's radical given ness. The panache of this artistic self-
fashioning or gWing of oneself the t..w thinly conceals its nihilism: if
the subject can dissolve this ebborate fabricotion to nothing at any
moment, Its omnipotence is at one with its: nulliry. The self as
perpetual QC/e gr.:Uuil is a mere self-canceUing liberty: 'irooy, like the
old \\itch, COIISillndy makes the tantalising attempt first 10 devour
everything in sight, tben m deonr Itself mo, or, as In the cue of tbe
uld witch, her own >"Wmacb.'' The aesthetic as free dc\<elopment of
one's multiplt puwen rcstll upon a violent, .. cuous self-willing.
'lnlnwdiate' and 'reflectin' oesthericism, then, decentre the
subject in opposed directions, either flattening it out into external
reality or plunging II fruitlessly into its own \"eniginous depths. Such
contrastive modes of aesthetic existence follow from the primacy
oondillon of the Kkrtepard!an self, as a contndittory synthesis of
finitude and in6nity. Once this precariow; unity splits apart, the
subjc:d either takes flight into finitude, obandoning ilsdf in
cnven conformity to the social order, or finds ilsclf IIIOIISttOIISly
inOated and vulalilized, carried drunkenly outside of itself in tllat
'pn:JCess of infinitizing' who5C illsidious root is the atsthetic
Imagination. t\5 an aporetle blooding of necessity and poulbllily, the
unregenerate self finds that tuh of these dimensions tends constantly
to outtun the other: 10 will not to be oneself is just u spiritually
desperate as m wiD deliandy to be It, m spurn necessity quite as
catastrophic as to deny possibility.
If irony is the joker In the aesthetic pack, tbe fault-Hne or
AUSOLUl't: lll<lNif.S
dccoostruc:tivc p<>inl at whim sell and world are initially uncoupled,
then it can be said to provide a threshold bcJWecn the aestlu:tic and
the ethical. It is lhe origin:uy splining or culling edge which enables
the subject to effect itS passage from the dtccntn:d immediacy of the
aesthetic 'imagin.uy' to the unifu:d, differentiated Slale of the ethical
'symbolic order'. Socrnles in Tire C9nt<(H of Irony is in this sense a
liminal figure, teererillg on the very brink of determinate subje<.1hwc.l
without yet having achieved sellhood as resolved project and
au10nomous decision. Only with judaism wiD lite law or sl2ge
proper be ushered in. If the hoUow inOnirudc of lhc ironic recalls the
'bad' immedbcy of the aeslhedc, the two conditions being akin in
their utter iBdelerminacy, the ironic neverthele.s nogolcs lhat
immediacy and so opens up a transition to the elhi<:al. Since irony
cannot avoid ))O<iting what it negates, it ends up by negating its own
negativity and thu.s allowing the affirmative tn appear. h is oot) then,
thai irony is to be rejected; on the contr.uy, as we siWI sec, it pnr.idc:s
the m3!ri of much of Kierkegurd's """' ,.Tiling. Irony Is essential,
but as a 'mastered moment' within the endlessly unfinished process of
truth - a moment wbieh as opposed to ' bad' innmiJI 'limits, renders
finite, .refines, and thereby yields trulh, actuality and content .. .'.'
honizing is not !hereby it>df nega1ed, brought to an obn1pt closure by
the act of commianent; instoad, it Uvc:> on "" the vory form of that
commitment, wh.ich knows a wry berween itt O\lll'l intense
inwardness and the externnl wurlcl ,.;th which it oonlinues lo havt
practical involvements. Commitment lhus raisc:s lhc ambirucncc of
irony to a higher prescning someming of its sceptical stance
towards socinl reali1y but combining it wid1 positive belief. To tbut
extent, irony is sublated to humour and comedy, whim in dc:bun!Ung
the world's pretensions carry with them a deeper positi\ity than
Souatic subversion.
There Is another mode of negativi!y in !Gerkegaard which in\-ad<s
the o1.herwise replete sphere of acsthedc immediacy, and this is !he
cxpcricn<:c of dread. Dread is the self's eru:oun1er wilh iiS own
nothingness, or more particularly our response 10 mat unseuling
niant which haunts even the pwest sensual bck of self-mnscioldncss.
Even immediacy, dreaming its blissful undifTerentmion,
always already betrayS some elusive negalioa, '!llhicb would seem a
kind of dim premonition of difference, olhemess and freedom. It is as
tlwugh spirit is already glimpsing its own future pos.<ihilities within
the serene self-igoor:mce of the aesthetic - a.< though, in Hegelian
rerms, the annulment of immediacy i an imtmnent muwmtnt wilhin
immediacy itself. The very repletcMss of the aesthetic state WUIOI
help being sinisterly suggestive of lack - nut, to be sure, lack of
something 5P"cific, for then how could this state be said to be replete,
but an absenc.!. necessotily entailed by its OWil sheer eJ<istence. One
might describe this uncanny feeling in Hcldeggerian or Sauelan
terms, as that nameless anxiety we tlq>erience when the very fullness
of some object unavoidably calls tu mimi the non-being it luis
contingendy filled in; or OM could picture it altemalively as
thai moment within the Lacanian - the dim presence
of the mober beside the child's mirror-image, for example -
which thru lens to puncture its coherence. It might even be that
Kierkegaardian dread has rcsonUK'cs of Julia Kristcva's of
the 'abject', that origin.afl' COI'J)erience of nausea, horror and diswtc
involved in our 6rst efforts to sepr.lle out from the pre-oediplll
mother.' Whatever the appropriate model, it is clear that for
Kierkegaard there can be no genuine aesthetic, Edenic or pre-oedipal
innocence- tllat the F aU has always already otherwise how
would Adam have been able to oiolate God's injunction In the first
place? Adam' di>obcdicncc is viewed in The Crmcrpt of Drt41i as an
absurd aporu: it was from his tranlllFCSSion that a knowledge of
difference sprang, so tho.t in this sense it was tlte primordi.;al
prohibition itself, in Freudian style, "'bich opened up desire; yet
Adam could not have fallen unless some vague pre-understanding of
lhe possibility offreedum was alre&dy at work wilhi.n his prelapsarian
innocence, to be catal}1cd by the taboo iiSelf. 1\dam was thereby
awakened to the pure possibility of freedom, of d1e simple state of
lx:ing able, and this is the condition of dread. Dread, Kicrkegaard
comments in strikingly ScbiDerian terms, 'is not a determinant of
oecessily, but neither is it of freedom; it is trammeUed freedom,
wbere fn:edom is not fn:e in itselt' but trammeUed. not by
but in itscl.P . Li.l:e ScbiDer's aesthetic condition of being, dread is
undecidably suspended between fn:edom and necessity; but what for
SebiDer wu a supremely positl\'e Sllla: of nameless pocential is for
Kicrt.egaard a form of ontological 411gi(.
'Sin presupposes irselr. Kicrkegaard writes, meaning perhaps that
ils oriains arc In any a:mporal seliSe quite Ullthinkable. Sin lw no
place or source, lying as it does under the sign of cootrndiction. To
sin is to have been always already able to do so; and sinfuln..,. i. thu.
as much the ruin of any rarional ethics or bunt for manscendent.Jl
origins as lhe of dn:ad i> the immanent ocg-lion of
innocence. Certainly any mythological temporalization of the FaU, as
with Pamdut [.,.,, wiD tend to run headlong into insurmoumable
paradox, as n., Concrpr 6/DrtaJ makes clcar.lf 1\dam is the sowce of
original sin then he did nor luve that t.Jint which puts him
outside the race be father..I and thereby excludes him from the fruits
of the Atonement. If he is the only Individual to have no history, then
the race stems from an individual vho '\\'act nor an individual, a racr
which anuuls the con''CJ'IS of both race and How cOI.Ild the
human race have a source outside itself? And if there can be no
origin which escapes contamination by the history it
then then: is oo urlJinary innUCL"ncc, and innOce-nce thus
springs into the world under the sign of its own ensure, 'comes into
existence as that which was before it w:l!) and is now
lnncx'l!ru:c is thus not a perfection to be recovered, 'for 1>
soon as one wishes for it, it is lost' . LW: Adam, we aU bring sin into
the world; what is originary is n<>t innO<.mce but that structural
possibility of transgression which mUSl always already have bt-cn
present, the anguished awareness of which is dread. Dread is a kind
of floating signifier, a dim primordial stnse of the possibility of
difference before difference ba$ acrually occurred, what Kierkegaard
calls 'freedom's :appearance befOre lndf In posslbUity'." It is less
immediacy's groping apprehension of some pos:1ibility othtr than
itself than, 1$ it were, the dawning of the possibility of pclIOili\y itself
- less the Intuition of an ocher than the first stirrings of the ve'1'
categorial possibility of otherness. There is a paranoid dimension to
this condition, since sucb otherness is at once intimidating and
attracti.. in its indeterminacy, generating Klerkegaud c:alls
'antipethetic sympathy'. As lollg as the other remains beyond the
self's pop, the subject is uuable to defme itself and so remains
extrinsic to its own bclnr, but tbc aruciety of this swe is also curiously
pleasurable, since for the subject ro define itself in the other Is to find
and 1ooe itself simultanenU<Iy. The self's ov;o nothingness is ooth
alluring and repcUent to it, combining as it does the terrors and
seductions of the sublime. It Is thus not swprising to find
Kierkegaud aSl!OC'jating dn:ad especially with women, who are
similarly both ftarful and teq>tlng. Dread Is a 'womanish debility In
ARSOU.Tn: IR0:-'105
which freedom sWflOns'," embodying like the sublime 'tho c:goi"ic
infinity of possibility, wbkb does not tempt like a definite choice, but
alanus and fascinotes with its sweet anxiety'." In her very sensuous
immtdiacy, her lack of spirit, woman will inspire the 1ttanl
of dread and su figure, contradictorily, as a sublime abyss ready lo
engulf the timorous self. Dread is !he 'inexplicable ootbing' which
shadows aU sen.<uality, the faintest, purely negative trace of spirit
lllrking within it, and thus a suirablc image of !he inna<:ent,
areacherou.< female:
Even that which, humanly speaking, is the mOSI. beautiful
and lovable thing of aU, a feminine youthfulness whlch
L< sheer peace and harmony and joy-even that is despair.
For Ibis indeed is happiness, but happiness is nut a
cbaneterlstic of spirit, and in lhe remote depths, in !he
most inward parts, in d1e hidden recesses of happine>s,
there dweDs also the anxious dread which is despair . . .
All immediacy, In spite ofits illusory peace and tranquility,
is dsead, and heDCe, quite consistently, it is dseod of
nolhing .. "
The more perfect a woman is, in short, the sicker she must be- just.
as the sensuous cheerfulness of Greece, cxduding'spirit' as it
does, is for Kieri:egoard onrshadow.od hy a profound SOIT(IW. Dread
i> durt place where spirit will later be, and which in its
arrival opens up within sellSIIOus the apace in which
5piril "'ill germinte. The 3tSihetic for Kierkegaard is thus inseporable
from disease, even if such disease is the nea:ssary barbingt'r of a
tramition to the et:hiul swe. Sensuousness is not in itself sinful, 1ht
CATIf't 9/ Dr<tld iooisls: but without sin there is no sexuatity. The
recognition of difference and otherness c:sscntial for sexuality to
operaJe arc :tl<a <rructurnl pos.<ibiliries of sinfulnes<; and since
without there can be no history, sin is the prcconditioo of
both. It Js in Ibis sense, !hen, that sin is origjrull - not as some
t.r.mscendenl31 source from "'hich a pustlopsarian history Oo ... s, but as
that ever-pn:scnt c'Onditioo of fn:cdom, difTcrtnct and othcmo:ss
which underUes our historiclll existence.
In c..,ntrast to !he polymorphous indeterminacy of t.lte aesthetic,
the ethical sphere for Kiertegaard sign!Jies :mrithe<i<, decision,
strenuously one-sided commitment. If the oestherie subject inhabits
p"'J'Ctual presenJ, as a kind oflow...- parody of th ell!mal momont uf
faith, the ethical self, through some impassioned resolution in the
present, bind its guilty post (dul) acknowledgod and -.epented of) to
a futul'e of unrelllized possibilities. h is thus lht it brings ilsclf into
being as a determinare, remporally con.istent subject, oDe 'lensed' in
every sense of the term. The paradox of this projecr is that the self
both docs and does not cxisr prior to this molulionary crisis of self-
choosing: for the word 'choice' to have meoning me self must
somehow thai momenr, 001 it is equaUy true that it emerges
into being unly lhruush this at:t uf dccisi<lfl. Oucc !hat de<isiun io
taken, .a fund.amenbl orienurion of one's being nther than at an
option for this or thai particular, it must be ceaselessly re-enacted;
and this process of <'1Klkss in which the >ubjct:t binds
together its history inro a self-consistent project, might seem in one
sense a form of aesthetic se)(- fashiooning. What distinguishes it from
such exotic auto-invention, however, is not only its radical one-
sidednes." bur its openness 10 .U that in !be subject which is sheerly
gft'"' its inescapable 6nitude and guilt-ridden temporality. If ethical
self-determinalioo is a kind of aesthetic constnlct, it is one "tlose
unity is fraught ;md provisional, wh05t origin lies beyond it own
mastery and whose end is nowhere in view. !11 any case, it breal.
dccisr.cly with the incnia of aesthetic being for the dynamic
of becoming, marked as it l< hy a passi<loale inrerestedness which
purm the alaraxy of the aesthclic as much as it denounce the lolly
of spccu.latlve thouJbt. (Humollt, Klerkegaard
remarked, wos his own alternative to 'objective' thought, a more
frui tful form of delllchmenr.) To tive in the ethical is to be infinitdy
interested in - 'existing' for Klerkegaard sigMyillg a wk
rather than a <kmk, something to be achieved r.lther !han received.
Aeslhctic and lbcoretical disinterestedness will nr:vtT yidd access to
goodness and tn11h; only aa implacable paniS21!Shlp can hope to do
that. To see life truthfuDy is to see it neilber sreadily nor whole; the
tn1rh is loaded, tendentious, jealously exclusille in a way no liberal
pluralism or aeslbetic .U-roundedoess can comprehend." 'That don'
is Kicrkegoard's contemptuous ride for the Hegel who sought
studiously to encompass C\'ery aspect of reality within Ills mighty
In >lO far as it is ut all possible 10 distinguish subject and object in
ABSOLtJT(. JRO:-llts
the sphere of us the tic immcdi2cy, this register of being C2n he said to
involve a mutlllllity of inner and out<r worlds. It is this symmetri<.'al
interchange which the ' rcOcctive' aesthetic disrupts: the selfironizing
n=issist either ignores the eXIemal world entirely, or treats it m=ly
as the manipulable material of his fanll!Sies. The seducer of Eithtr/Or
is preoccupied with his own erotic strategies, not with the hapless
object of them; his reOectivenc.s, so to speak, has b:ome
immediacy. To exist ironically is to tive a discrepancy beoveen
inward and extern.!, ambiguously su.<pended berween one's negating
sobjcclivity and the world it confronts. To !he extent !hat the
aesthetic is conventionally viewed as a harmonious relation of subject
and object, irony my thus be regarded as an anti-aeslhetic mode. For
Socrates, 'the outer and the inner did not form hormonious u.nity,
for the outer was in opposition to the inner, and only through this
refracted angle is he to he apprehended.'
The attainment of dte
ethical brings with it a rum to the subject, since the only ethically
pertinent is..QJe is one,s M\'ll inner reality; yet since the :also
concerns the public sphere, the relation of the individual to the
universal, it .recreotes a certain 'aesthetic' commensurability or
subject and at a higher level. Such, certainly, is the ethia!l
id.cology of Judfl" Wlihclm of Eit!ttr/Or, who finds ill I!W'riafl" a
prototype of the ethical life. Marriage for WOhelm unites subj:tive
feeling with an objective institution, and in doing so reconciles the
aminomlcs of individual and unlve..al, sensuou.< and spiritual,
freedom and necessity, rime and eternity. Such ctllics are thus the
very model uf Hegelian synthesis, and as such, for Wilhelm's authoc,
deeply suspect. 'The Hegelian philosophy', Kitrkega.anl writes in
C,mkling Umti..uific Postscript, 'culminates in the proposition that
the outward is the inwnd and the inward is the outward. With this
Hegel virtually finishes. But this principle i.< es.<enlially an
metaphysictl one, and in this way the Hegeli2n philosophy is happily
finished, or is fnu<lulendy Dnished, by Jumping every11llnf (includlog
the ethical and the religious) indlscrimlnately in the aesthedc-
metaphysical.'" Wilhelm's eminendy bourgeois ethics, with their
,aJues of work, family, duty and civic obligation, bi2Ddly e><pei all
contradiction in !heir obsessive mediations. As such they Stalld under
the judgement of Kierkeguard himself in his :foumoJs: 'let us not
speak aesthetically, as if the cthiul were a happy genialll).'" Wilhelm
clcntes the ethical above tht aestberic, yet his ethics re modelled on
ADSOI.Ilf ll0NtS
the very aesthetic notions they seek to transcend. For him, the elhical
pcrsonaliiY is !be truly beautiful, an absolute which like !be artefact
contains its teleology within itself. The ethical life, as a S)mmelrical
mediation of subject and object, inward and outward, Individual and
univemal, is a splendidly ooofficr-free anefoct of umnomously s.elf-
detennining particulars; and it is prccisdy such aestheticized ethics
which for Kicrktpord himself will be wrenched open and undermined
by religious faith.
Such faith shatters the smooth mediations of the ethical, subvem
the oomplaundy autonomous self and srands askew to all merely civic
virtue. Its intense inwardness thwarts any equitable interchange of
subject and object, as ir does any 2dequate objective
correlative: Christi3niry is spirit. spirit is imv.udness, inwardness is
subjecti-vity, subjecti>ity is essenti21ly JWSion, and in its ma>imum an
infinite, pers002l. passionate interest in one's eternal happiness.'"
Tbis ardent subjectivism is relendessly particular, resistmt to all
dWcctical mediation and universalization. The religion of an ethicist
like WHhelm L< no more than an underpinning of the universal, pan of
a rational discourse of totality which for Kierkegaard is bound to
sblpwreck on lhe rock of faith. Such smugly idealizing talk is unable
fully to aclnowledge the realities of sin aod guHt- the fact that before
God we are always already in the wrong, that the self carries a
crippling burden of suffering and injury wblch cannot be blandly
sublated. Sin is the Sandal or .munbling hlock upon which aU
'pbi.losclpby' and rational cthks is bound to come a Topper: 'If 1hi-.
include sin, its ideality is lost ... an ethics !bat ignores sin ls an
alrogether futile but on"" it postulates sin it bas"' ipso gone
beyond itself.'"' The crux of Christian faith, !be Incarnation, is
similarly the ruin of all reason- the truth dult, in some mind-warping
paradox, !be ekmally oninteUigible Olher became finite aod fleshly.
Unlike the Hegelian Ideo, God i.s wu impt:nernble otherness, and
the claim that a man <ould in.:amate him in dme is thus wholly
absurd. f'or Kierl:egaar<llhcre i> oo ne<'ess&ry relation between time
and eternity, which remain spheres quite extrinsic to each oilier; God
do not, fH1U Hegel. need the world, tempor26ty is no pan of his
necessity, and his appearance in history is therefore the breach of all
immanence and c:ondnllity . .Because God is IIOl Immanent in time,
bislory is less some rational, emlulionary tmality than a series of free,
contingent events. It is nevcttbclr:ss with this finite, degraded, empty
time that the inJinite bas mysteriously and !he failh of !he
indmdual strUggle tn :IJ'I'Mt>ri>te bsurdity. Such
un oppropmtion might be seen as lhe effort towards a higher form of
commensurability between subject and object, but bolh of these items
are now opoque and oporeric. The relation between lhem is thus
fraught wilh internal colllllliliction, the oppositions it
momenwily overcomes. If faith rc:eonstimtes a kind of tmity, and so
is to tltat degree ' aesmetic', it is a fissured unity always about to split
apan apin, and one that has therefore 10 be ceaselessly reapproprimd
in that. act which Kierkegaard names 'repetition'. Faith is an
endless tasl< rather than a triumphont Hegelian closure - a kind of
momentary paradoxical overcoming of the gap between inner and
outer, holding fast to the objective in a su.tge ofintensive inwardness:
'an objecti\'l! uncertainty, held fast in the mos1 p.,..;onat appropriation
of inwardness, is the trulh, !he hil!hes. trUth there is for an crisring
irrdivilbuJ ... The truth L precisely the 'enture which chooses an
objecrive tmcenainty with the passion of the infutite. '" The
' knowledge' of faith Is thus a SClR of unlty ln-confllcr, as the subject
binds itself unconditionally to nn objective reality it recngni>.es as
As such, faith involves a similarly unstahl<! relation tn the e1<temal
world. In abaudoninf the fmitc for the infinite, it opens up an byss
beNe en outer :tnd inner; but this gesnore is shadowed by a movement
of which a son of workaday oommen.snrability wim
the world, accepting the finite for what it is in the irunizing tight of
Infinity. Faith, Kicrkegaard c<>mmcnu, must grasp lhe eternal but
also somehow hold fast 1o the finite after having gi'"n up: 'To have
one's daily life In lhc decisive dialecric of the infinite, and yet to
continue ro 6ve: tit is is both rhe art oflife and ils difficulty.'" Turning
tuwards and awiy frum rcolity in n endloss dual movement, the
subJect of faith thus knows at once something of Jbc inner/outer
disiunction nf the 'reRecthe aesthetic, and tbat more hannoniotls
inten:hange of subject and object which is the ethical. But this is not a
condition Ia be comfanably inhabited or routinely lived: it can never
cryst:>llite into eu..<tom 0< spontaneou hahir, and an e<tablish itself
as o J>f'mlnJlant, coUet:tive, insritutionalizt>d fonn ol life (Hegel's
SiJIIidtktirl only at the J!m'C risll. of inauthr:oticil)'. l:'aith for
Kkrkegaard can ru:ver be naturalized in this ""Y a.'ISimilated In the
unconscious morn and lradirians of a social order, and so resists the
pUipOses of political hegemony. If the ethics of a Judge. Wilhelm are
an aestheti<ized """'ion of religious belief, reflecting
instinctual conformhy ro universal law, th2r belief for his author is ar
once roo dramatically individuali.r and roo perpetually in crisis to nil
!he wheels of daily social life. Fairll is J:airos rarher !han custom, fear
and trembling rarher !han culrural ideology. hs absolure disdains the
logic of social evolution and strikes apocalwticaUy into
time, so thar for Kicrkcpard as much as for Walter Benj:unin every
moment is the <trait w.ue rhrough which the Messi>h might enter:U
Nor dOtS such belief, for all of its radical individualism, ykld much
comfort to the autonomous ego of the bourgeois ethical sphere.
Religious commibnent is indeed a queslion of free self-delennination;
but in choosing oneself one assumes one's personal mility in aD its
facticicy, as always in !be wrong before God, and as an
ultirn.udy unma.<terable m)Siery. Only the agonized adnowledt;ement
of aU this wbich is repentence can unmake and remake rhe subject,
rarher !han some fantasy of'free' aesthetic sclfinyenrion. The self for
Kierkegaard i.5 a unity of freedom iUld necessity, spirir and sense,
infinity and finitude; but these antinomies C8MOl be d!ought on the
model of some rational dialectic. Wbat Is at wort in tbe moment of
faith is some J>Oreric, undecidable relation offreednm and necessity,
of the svbject's uucr on d!at which it neverthc:l<:SS opts
lor and actively appropriarcs. really only abtr because the
san>e instnt it e.isrs it rushes with inJ\oite speed to bind itself
unconditionally by resignation, tbc choice of wbid1 it is true
!hat in it !here is no question of a choice.'" Since d!e commitment of
faith is and is not the subject's own free act, it can be understood
neither on the model of aestheti< immcdiacy, wbcrc the self can
hardly caU its actions its own, nor on rhe palttm of rhe self fashioning
bourgeois ego, which would recognize no determinants beyond its
own precious libeny. The self clung to in f.Uth will alwa)-s remain an
enigma for the rolional ego, plagued as It ls by contradictions which
can be resoloed only exisrentially rather than thO()rerically, leashed
prorisionaUy IOJed!er in lbe moment tomommr venture of elcistence
rather dian unified in the tranquillity of the concept or in some
stabilized attefact. Instead of identity annulling d!c principle of
contradiction, KXrkegaard writes in his Coodudmt:
PMtJ<ript, It ls conrndiction !hat annuls identity.
To shift from the aesthetic to the ethical i.< not to liquidate !he
former. ' In choosing itself the personality chooses itself ethi<ly and
el<(;ludes absolutely the 31!$1httica!, but since it is itself it chooses and
it does not become anomer being by choosing itself, the whole of the
aeslberical comes back again in iiS rebli\U)'.'" If it is this unregenerate
self which the elhical transfigures, then it must hove truck with lhe
very aesthetic lifeS1)1e it upbraids. Similarly, the religioll5 by no
means merely erases the ethical, but puts it, as Kicrkegaard
comments, inro 'teleological suspension'. The figure o( such suspension
I< the Abraham of Ftar attd who In hi< fidelity to a God
bt:)'<llld aU reason comes to >"tand above and outside the ethical-
realm in a direct, unmediated relation to the absolute. for
Abnbam to sacrifice his son Isaac is to do nothing for the univers.11-
would indeed, from this viewpoint, be ro commit murder- and is thus
an act offensive to all KantW! and Hegelian reason. Abraham tm'eb
beyond the frontiers of the ethical into that paradoxical territory of
faith where language fails, sinec if lanpgc raises the panicular to the
general it is itself ineluct.ably on the side of the uoil<trsal. What is
t:u:;tomarily thought dillicult is not to rust as an indr.idual, bttt to
transcend that pa)IJ! egoism and tr2nslate oneself illlo the ttnm:rsal.
For Kierlegaard, however, the problem is .,.actly the olher way
round. 'ThA:re is a spurious aesthetic facility about the 'knight of faith'
of FrM dM Trembling who 'knows !tis and benign to be the
particular who trauslates himself into the unive.rsal, lbe ooe who so to
speak makes a clear and elegant edition of hlmseiJ; as Immaculate a.
possible, nod readoble for all . . .'." Such aesthelicired ethics,
speciously translucent and li1i6/r, in which the individual's cOildurt
becomes ll1lllinowly intelligible in the light of the lllliversal, knows
nothing o( the harsh opacity of faith and of the radu:al umcadability of
those subsisting in contr.adiedon. It is not in reladon to the Kantian
unioter.;al of pr3Ctical reason that Abraham's lunatic loyalty '11>ill
become decipherable, but in relation to an absolute impenti\e w!Uch
can never lK specuiWely mediated.
'"Rt31ity" cannot be conceived,' Kierkegaard remlllds himself in
bisJourll4ls;" and 'the particular cannot be thought. "'It is
this which "'ill be the downfall of aesthedcs - of tbe discourse which
seeks within the unique panicular a kind of rational uruaure. The
folly nf such a project i. just the fact that existence is radi<ly
beterogeneOII$ to thought -lbat the whole notion of a thought supple
enough to penetrate lived experience and deliver up its secret is an
idealis1: chin1era. The n>etap}l)sical principle of identity- the identity
of lhc subje-ct wilh i1>clf, wilh objects, wilh ulhcr subjects - t-rumblcs
before the fact of e.Ostence ilselt; which is precisely the
separation of subject and object ruther than thoir spontaneous unity.
It follows for Kierltegaanl that any a-ust in the immediate transpuency
of one buman subject to onolher, any dream of n aesrhelic
intersubjectivity or empath<tic communion of individuals, rests on
!his pernicious ideology of identity, and corresponds well enooh to
!he absrrctly equivale11ced subjects of the bourgeois ethical and
political domains. He writes of lhe ' ncptiw unity of the mutual
reciprocity of individwls' in such a sod :!I order, and of 'levelling' as
the triumph of abstraction 0\'<'1' puticular liws.,. Wbat<Wr community
oflove may be possible in some hi her, religious sphere ofbeings who
rdale 10 each other through the absolute of faith, it remains true of
secular history that hU111Jln subjeCts are profoundly imp<nelnble and
inac""'-<ible to one another. The reality of another for m< is never a
given fact, only " 'possibilily', which I can never mimetically
appropriate as my own. That imaginatil'C, cmplthedc imitation which
for eaclier thinkers was the very foundati<Jn of human sociality is here
abruptly dismissed; can be uo direct. oommunicat;i().n betweef)
irreducibly pmicular indi\iduals. No subject's inwardness can be
!mown other than indirecdy: all believers are, like jesus, 'incognitos',
causht in zn ironic discrepancy between their passionate, secreiWe
subjecti\'ity and their bland appcaram:c to olhcrs as citizCIIS of the
pubtic world. F:>ith, 31111 the individual, 3re that which cannot be
represented, and so are at root anti-aesthetic. The"""' development
of the !!" Kicrkegaard writes in cannM be political, for
politics is a question of the dialectical relation of individual and
community in the representative individual, and 'in our times the
indiiduol is in t.he proce&s far too reflective to be able to
be satisfied .. ith mcn:ly being rt7Jrerrntcd. '"' Politics and ae.lhetics
thus fall together: bach are given over to the fruidcss wk of seeking to
subsume the specific the bstract universal, and so simply
annul what they strive to sublate.
If Kicrkegaard i< not to be caught in a performative contradiction,
then it follows that what he asserts of the impossibility of direct
communicalion must logically apply to his own writings too. It is !his
... hi<:h necessitates his play of pseudonymous personae, as a set nf
perilla-raids on the n.'3der's false cOn$tiousnc:u, a crabwise
!lklnnishlng dlc re2der must be approached obliquely,
duplicirously, if genlline enlightenment is to d:nm. The author C2nnot
appear a.s some brash 'town crier of inwardness' but must practise
instead a kind of Soeratic ignorance, as the feigned or ficme pre-
condition of the reader's true ignornoc-e becoming reveale4 to him.
Kierllcgaard's writcrly suategy thus resembles that of a te\'Olutionary
propagandist in hard political rimes who promulgatts a stream of
pamphlets which du no more than question the linUts uf her
left-leaning tiberalism. Rather thil!l confront the
.,;th on absolute truth which would only be rejected, Kierl<egaard
must to'ertly enter the reader's own viewpoint in order to dOnstr<l(.1 it
from the inside, 'going along with the odter's delusion', .. he puts it,
so as r.o deceive them into the religious domain. He speaks therefore
of his pscudooymous -..vrl<s as his 'aesthetic production' : ' I always
stand in an altogether poetic relation ro my work, and I am, therefore,
o p,;.,udon)UL '" If the reader is presumed to inhabit the aesthetic
sphere, drinn by wayward impulse rather than ethically resolute,
then as Kierkegurd comments in A{y P1inr Q/ Via"' Dn AorJun it
would hanlly be appropriate to break rudely in on him with a direct
diJcussioo of Christianity. Instead, one invites the reader ro debate
aesthetics, and arrives at the truth in mat sideways mO\"ement. If rnult
ilsdfis resolutely subjC4"1ivc, then its conv<-yaoa: demand> some more
clttum.q>eet medium tlu.D the 1angwge nf scienritic objecrivily. That.
more underhand mode the aesthetic, involving as it does 'an
awareness of the form of the communication in relation to lhc
recipient's possible misundersttnding'." An aesthetic di..:ourse i.<
on which revises and reflects back upon itsolf in the ve.ry act of
enunciation, illl utterance raised to the second power which overhears
itselfin the ears of its recipients. If it is rru.. that 'all receiving cnn.<ist<
in producing'." then writing must reach out to engage the freedom of
its readers to accept or reject the offered rruth as they wish, thus
figuring in Its very something of the CI)J)hC, undemo..,nable,
nonapodictic nature of trulh itself. Writing which .,..,.. nut in thC;
sense radically dialogical, constituted in in -.ry lener by a putative
readerly response, would cancel in its <ery fonn the emancipatury
content of the truth it prolTcrcd. T ruth and irony, passiooate
commitment and serpentine scepticism, are therefore for Kierl<egaord
accomplices rnthcr than antitheses of one onothu; it is not that auth
is dttlogical 'in itselr , bur rather that its \'ery relentless absolutism
renders it urul!lldable for a fallen history and so consll'llins it to re-
emerge as irony, deception and feigned ignorance_ The problem is
not that truth is 'indeterminate'; it is quire delenninate enough, but
simply absurd. As such, it can be encompassed neither by the ideology
of self-identity o()t" by the dogmatism of an endless decomtrucrive
irony. Nor is it the case I hal Kierl<egaard himself has secure ae<:c"" to
the trUth bu1 entices others into it by cunning propagandist ploys,
since there can be nn secure to a trUih appropriated in fear and
trembling. If truth i:; that which can be Jived but not known, then this
mUll! apply just as much to Kierkcgurd's own experience ofi1 as to
that of his rcsders. Truth defeats all mediation lUld so is apprehended
instanliy or not at all; but since it defeats mediation there is nothlng
that can be directly said about which means thai it l< determinate
and indeterminate, ironic and at one and the same
If the content of !ruth i< also its form - if truth exi.<ts only in the
procr..ss of its free appropriation- lhen 'the mode of apprehem.-ion of
the mull is precisely the wth','' which would seem 10 confer on truth
that lndissociability of form and cnotmt wlllch belo"W' tn the aesthetic.
Process and end-product, as with the a<">1ht1ic artefact, an: profoundly
at one; and in this sense faith does not leave the aesthetic entirely
behind, bur re-enters and repossesses irlil:e a fifth columnist for its
vwn ulterior motives. The religious resembles the ironie-()t" reflective
aesthetic in its disproponioning of inner and nuter; but it also
porallels aesthetic immediacy, recrealing the dense opadty of the
sensuous at a higher spiritual level. Both faith and aesthetic
immediacy rhus resi!U that violent dissolution of specificity 10
universality which is the ethical. The subject of faith, as a kind of
spontaneous relation of particular to absolute without Jhe mediation
of universal Jaw, migbr therefore be 10 be a sort of artefact in
itself, working as it does by inluition rather than by reason; and its
mysteriousness might then be re-ad as a vtrsion of the Kand.an
aesthetic representation, which similar!) ru. .. $ the prriculor with a
greater 'low' wMe oulilmoking Jbe mediatory concept. If for idealist
thought the aesthetic lr.m$lllu:s temporal existence into the form of
its eternal essence, then there is a stn.se in which Kierkegaardian
beUef might be viewed as an aesthetic mode of being; bur the
conrnsts bctweeo the two spheres are finally more striking than the
analogies. Fur failh is always WliOtalized and internally fissured,
ogitated by paradox and contradiction in 3 way foreign to the achieved
aesthetic product; and this slate of t'Ootinuous <:risis and :.gonited
renewal estranges it, as we have seen, from all mere social custom and
civic virtue. Rt!iginus engagement re.i<ts aU trllnslation to the sedate
milieu of a takeo-for-gnnted cuhurnl legacy - to the insritutional
space in which, living tbeir conformity 10 !he law as instincruaJ
pleasure, men and women become the 'self-gmcming' subj<:tts c>r
bourgeois hegemony. Kierkegaard has norhing but contempt for the
'public opinion' nr collcttivc rnom ofboorgeois sodallhtory, and rips
Hegel's unity of mornlity and happiness rudely opart. The religious
has nothing 10 do with wcU-bcing or sensuous fulfilment, and is thus
;1 critique of tbc aesthetic in 1his sense too. The true Christian,
Kierl:egaard "Tires, is one who 'aDs one away from dte physico!
man's pleasure, life and {!Ltdness';" faith is 'no aesthetic emotion, oot
:';Omel.lting far higher, exactly because it presupposes resignation; it is
II()( lhe immediate inclination of the heart but the paradox of
existence'."' For Kltrkegaard there can be no Shafresbury-lile palh
from the heart's ffections to lhe absolutes of erhics, and rile religious
sense 1w little in (Ornmon with aesthetic wte. Poetry for faith is 'a
beautiful and anu:ab(e jest, Wh06e consolation religiousness nevertheles,,
spurns. because the rctigious comes to life precisely in suffering'."
There is a kind of 'poet-el<istenee' which, as F<llr and Trrmbliog
insists, is ' the sin of poelicising instead of being, of sl3nding in
rebtion 10 the Good and the True lhroogh imaginotion instead of
being thar, or nther of existentially striviug to be i t'." The poetic is
idealist speculation rather than religious activism; and even the
aesthetic register of the sublime is a poor image of divine
mnscerulencc ."'
Kierkcgaard's writing goes bock beyond Hegel's collectivized
'ethical tife', v;bich seeks 10 blend dul)' and desire, to Kant's rigorous
duality ofhappines& and moral rectirude; bur it cloes so In ways which
undermine both the autonomous suhiett of Kanrian ethics, and the
unity of that S\lbject with others in lhe universal .. We have seen
already how the individual believer is no mere conferet" of a rational
law upoo itsel(, swept up as it is in abject dependency upon a grace
whose logic entirely defeats it. The uncompromising inwardness of
thls then ruprurcs the lints between illdividullis, who become
indecipherable at one< to each other and 10 thcmselv; and In doing
so it thr<atens to subvert any conceivable strueture of S()ci.16ty. The
aestheticized politics of the bourieois public sph""' rests on a
h:mn.oniou.< reflection of autonomous subjecis one in the other, as the
inwardness of each is mediated through concrete ethia
to their
coUcccivc social cxisrence and men back to me individual. It is dUs
fluent continuity of inward and outward which
fcr<><ious individWtlism bruptly suspends; aod the resrdt is a
shanering of that imaginary register in whlch indl\iduals may lind
thcrnsel.es reflected and by the world around them. The
believer can nC\'cr feel ideologically centred in dUs way: 'finite
experience', Kierkegaard writes, 'is homeless'." There can be no
ubje<-ti,e correlative of a subjectivity lived at this pitch of passionate
intcnsil)'; and the subject is accordingly thrust beyond the world,
sustaining a merely ironic relation "'ith it, a thorn in the
flesh of all purely iosriturinnallife.
The parndox nfKierl:egaard's work is that it seizes upon the mnpant
individualism of bourgeois sodcty and presses it to an unacceptable
extreme, at which the social and Ideological unity of that order begin
10 come apart at the seams. In a further paradoxk:al rum, dUs
subversion takes place before any such individualism h11.< installed
itself in Danish sa<.icl)' un a signiliC<mt .. That socit1y is still in
Kierkcgaaod's rime one of monarchical absolutism, un.tltm:d in many
of its social practices sine the middle ages. Dtnmark's enrry into the
nineteenth cc'l\tury was marked by a series of t .. tadysms: the physiClll
dews12tion wrought by the Napoleonic wars, the Slate baokruptCJ' of
1813, lbe loss of one year later, the ec()fM)mic failures and
food slwnagcs of the 1820s. By the 1830s, Frederik VI's rigidly
conservative kingship held autoerotic s-<.-ay, brutally suppressing the
slightest espre..sion ofbl>eral thought. Despite some eorlier reformist
legislation, which broke the boadasc of peasant to landholder and
esrabli<hed a rudimentlry system of pubtic education, the Derunuk
of Kierkepud's day remained politically and culturally
benishted, a tndidonalist agrarian socicsy still several decades away
from indU9riali7.arinn. While church and censordllp stifled imeOectllal
life, a guild S)'Stem in rown.<hips thwarted commercial devdoptnent.
Within this restrictive carapa.:e, however, the forces of social
progress were tentatively assembling. Newly ....are of Itself as a
corporate social power, d1e Dantsh pea.sanrry pressed for greater land
reform, and through it$ a.<sociation !he Bander.cJtrmuJ
SrlsW (Society of friends of the Farmers) secured a limited
programme of agrarian improvement in die late I MO.. Fanners'
credit societies, the forerunners of Danish agricultural cooperatfrism,
assisted peasaniS to purtbase their own smallholdings; and this
graduallib....thatlon of the coonii)'Side was coupled in Copenhagen
with a .rising tide of al.legian<>! to rhe liberal trade principles ofBritish
political economy. In 1857, reforming legislation dismantled
rhe Danish guild system and swept Y rhe oncient monopoly of
tndc in rhe market tuwns. 18# had witnessed the arrival of railways
in the countr)', contributing by tbc 1860. tu a ignifi<'liiit opening up
of free internal trade. As impro\'ed popular education and cultural
revival movemeots graduaDy raised the puliti<:al consciousness of the
peasantty, middle-class libenl inteUeetuals strUggled throughout
dte 1330s and 1841k for constitutionol reform, ppeoling to the
beoe.,.olent despotism of Christian VTII for male suffrage 1111d an
elected legislarure. By 1849 such a liberal constitution was finally
declared, guaranteeing freedom of speech, religious tolerance and
other civic Ubenies throughout the realm. There had been,
no middle-class industri;ll revolution; indeed Denmark poo;es.d
little organized industry, and the nati0!13l bourgeoisie, lacking an
economic base and daunted by the leaden coNcrvalism of church and
pursued its own moderate interestS in that spirit of timorous
conformity 1111d calculative prudeot.-e whkh Kierkeg'Jord was to
denounce a.< the <ign ol a pa-.ionl..s age.
A ficn:c opponent of lhe National Liberals, Kiertegaard himself
was a full-blooded iiPOiollst for the fortes of politicd reaction."'
Elitist, puritanical and bitterly misogynistic, he drfended censorship,
church and monarchy, railed intcmperatdy against the 'mob' and
adl>tred to an orderly hierarchical Sb'UCtllte which would rellcct
God's rule Liberal refonnism's call for eq1.1:1lity meant
a mere abotnct kvelling. undermining- concrete sociol bonds aod
annihiladng the pure differences of individual life. His Lutheran
combination of social conserYatism and extreme in<frvidu.tism, tbot is
to say, took tbc regressive ideological form uf an impassioned plea for
lhe sociaUy speci6c indhidual, loyal of family, profession,
and fatherland, in the teeth of the abstractly universal subject
of bourgeois social theory. In thus turning individualism against
bourgtois society itself, Kierkegaard exposes that society's real anti-
social charaCier, elo.Xed os it is by its political 1t1d spiritual rh<toric.
His oocial criticism springs not from insisriog in ide:ilist style on
'community' as against egoism, but ii-om e>ploring tlut egoism at so
profoundly seious a depth that the abstract individual of mari:et.
sociccy is trllliSformed into an irreducible particular which resists all
social integration. Nothing could in truth be more abstract than thU
solitary Kierkegaardian self, hereft nf all .history and culture; yet this.
speciously 'concrete' subject becomes the ruin of all social consensus,
the wmbling block to bourgeois solidarity. Defore the proper
emergence of middle cla._'-' power in Oenmarl<, Kierkegaard has
already in a prc-<mptive sarik.: unuuaskcJ one of its rnaior cuutru
dictions: the fact tlut its entbmncmcnt of the uniquely nluablt
individual il1 the ideologi(al sphere .is ceaselessly, imnicolly &ub-erted
by its reduction of that individual t<> a.n arbitrarily interchangeable
cypher in the economic and political domains. In some sense, then, it
is the very r,;ac'li<>nary ch;mK:ter of his thought - its scom for the
public sphere, its Strident subjectMsm, its ponrician disdain (prefiguring
Nieu.che ond Heidcgger) for the f..:eless 'mass man' of modem
homogenized society - whiclt turns <>ut w be most explo!;ively radical.
Something of the same may be said <>f the repressive puritmism of
rhis oscetlc Done, with his door suspicion of the senses and birter
hostility to the body. S.nsation, the life of pleasure, figures
in his work as the aesthetic realm of mindle;s middle clll!is "''Petite,
the sluggish, self-satisfied LttrosrMI of bourgeois Copenhagen.
A$ a <ftiritusl individualism, Kieri:egaardian faith set< itself at once
apinst the life of degraded desire (bourge<>is. ciil society) and against
aU vaCUiludy ide.U.t unlvers:aUsm (the bourgeois ethical and political
sph<:res). His strategy, in Mlort, is to split into two parts lh<
comentional oonecpt of the aesthetic, which reconciles sensoey
experience with the spiritually universal. The fanner dimension thea
app<ars in itself, sbonl of all edifying universality, as the ae<thetic; the
larter tilrm of ab>tra't ideali>m takc:s up it> home in lbe wvrld uf the
ethicaL In this way bourgeois society L< doubly exposed, even before it
has properly got under way, as ootn grossly particnbri<t and
vacuously unspcdnc. Kicrkcgaard's ,c-hemenJ rips
the sensuous from the spiritual and the particular from lhc univ'l:raal,
thereby challenging all aestheticizing solurions to social dUemmas.
The Baumgartcnian effOrt to render the sensuous particular tnm-
parent1o reason -!he very foundation of modern aesthetics- is thus
decisi\'el)' undone. To this e>:tenr Kie.rkegaard, for aU his religious
absoluti>"m, is not t ntirely remote from the materialist logic he found
so spiriruaUy oiTcnsivc. Nor is his work as irrckvant as might be
thought to the present age, trapped as it is between the infinity
of deconstrucb\'C irony and c..,rtain too dosed, over-tollllizing theories
of the political subject. The subject of faith, abandoning the sobce of
an idealist ethics, 01ware of it<iel f as radically homelt:s..li and dcccntred,
turnS its horror-stricken face to its own guilty implication in the crime
ol'hi<IOry, and in that or revolutioll:lty repentence or mttanol is
freed to seize upon certain transfonnative poosibilities for the future.
Gripped by a one-sided commitment scandalous to tibcnl pluralism,
yet fuing also in the fear and trembting of ambiguity, it is
forced to acknowledge otherness and difference, the whole reolm of
the unmastcrably panicular, at the \' e!)' instant that it seeks
strenuously to remale itself in some fnndomenml, exclusive orientalion
ofits being . .'\t once dependent and self-dctennioing, it appropriates
irs own :Jnd becomes in rfut acr. but precariously
and provisionally, un hiswrically detem1inate being. If the subject
lives in intense seriousness it is also necessarily comic and ironic,
kMwing its own reolutionary option to be mere foolishness in the
world's eyes and secretly dctighting in that incoofiiWty "bile
malnuining the gr.rtcst of public miens. Ready to bandon its identity
in the trust tJlat SOUle unfittJlomable wisdom might Oow from such
tblly, it nonetheless forgoes the 'bad' utopianism of any final
synthesis for an endlessly <Anfulished existonce. But that open-
cndcdncss is a self-resolution continuaUy renewed, rather than a
spiral of evtsive selfironizing.
It is not the une-siddness of the age which is w be c-riticized,
Kicrkcgaard remarts, but rather its abstra<t onesidedness. Poril}' of
he:m L to will one thing; and an authentic existtnce must therefore
reject the alluring all-roundedness of the aesthetic, the beUef that the
good Ues in the rich, muldplc unfolding of human powers. It is in this
sense that commionent and the aesthetic are for Kicrkegaard
irreconcilable. For an alternative vi,..poinl - a one-sided engagement
as unwavering as Kierkcgaud's, but one in the cause of all-round
creati"" ckvelol>lllent - we must turn to the work of Karl MaO<.
I Useful pecll studies of Kierkegwd include lDU!s Madey, Klrrlr.tgwrd:
A Kind o[PIHI (Philadelphia, 1!171);john W. Elrod, Bdll( nd Exist<tu i
J(ltrluf41Zrd's hmJo.,..oas ff'om (Princctoo, 1975): Marl< C. Taylor,
Ki"*'f41Zrdt PJNJowymoftSAurhoniUp (Princeton, 1975), ondJounrqs to
Sdj/tood: H<gdantl (ll<rb:ky and Los Angeles, 19110); Niels
ThulstJUp, /(/<tRtf.'Mm!'< Rtlmio toff.!(od (Priru:ewn, 1980); and Stoplw.n
N. OutUling, Kin"'t;..,ni's Diakrtic of iltJN<Jnw (Princeton, 1985}. For
an intricote critique of lhc absu>etncss of !he Kierkcgwdi>n individual,
see Thcodor Adorno, I<.ttstntJaiM dts Atzhttistlrm (Fnnklitn,
2 Sercn Kicrtcpatd, /'tor 6nd trnnMing IIJid 17t< Sitt.m 3RIO Dmth.
mnsbtcd wilh an l.ntroduction by Walt<r Lowrie (New York. 1951), p.
3 Journtih of Sorm A Sclcaion, edited and ....,,.)aJed by
Aleundcr Dru (London, 1938), p. 385.
4 Seren Kierkegwd, 17tt C-of lnmy, tr.ln.SI:Iscd with aolntrodu<tioo
by Lee M. Capel (New York, 1965), p. 158.
s Ibid, p. 92.
6 Ibid, p. 338.
7 Sec julia Krisrcva, HiJIOim d._, (Paris, 1983), pp. 27-58.
8 Sertn Kiertrpard, 17tt tnnslated with :m )n1T(xluctirm
by Walter l .,..,;c (l'rinceum, 1944), p. '15.
9 Ibid., p. J3.
10 Ibid., p. 34.
11 Ibid., p. 99.
12 Ibid., Jl. 55.
13 Ibid., p. 55.
H KJcrkegurd, Tlu Sirhlns """ Dt:nh, p. 158.
IS Whicb is not 10 say that .li>eral pluralism has not rried to appropriate
KJcrtcgaard, as me pious Oourish on which Mark c. Taylor OOIJCiudes
his Jrmmcys 111 SdjJumd .,dl uempJi6es: 'Unit}' Ulithin plurality; being
witJrin lll'a)ming; coosbncy wiihi change; pexe rl'ithin flux; idtndl}'
,;rJrin difference: the union of union and nonunion - reconciliation in
tht roiJJr The end of d!e journey 10 sdfhood' (p. 276).
Tbough it is bard 10 tcU whit lhls String or vatuou< <logat" acrually
mc:aru, one suspectS it has more to do wi1.h a:mtcmpomry Nnrth
Amcril1lll ideology than wjtfl ninelemtbceotury Denrnarl:.
16 J(jericepml, 17tt Conaptl/[ Jro.y, p. SO.
17 Soren Kierkcgaard, C.m.diRJ! rJRS<i<!Uifo r .. introduced by
Waller Lowrie (PriDccoon, 1941), p. 186.
18 Kierkcprd,J.,.malt, pp. 18&-7.
19 Kiertepard, c-ludi#t Uouimrijir P.,rstripl, p. 33.
20 K.ierl<epanl, Tlrr fAtUtP of' Offltd, pp. 16-17, and f'mr artd Trrm/Nie.
p. 124.
21 Kierkcpatd, Cu.dw!U:g Umcimrific PI1SJJaif11, I' 182.
22 Ibid, PI' 78-BOn.
23 See Waltu Benjamin, ' Theses oo ohe Philosophy of History', in H.
Artndr (ed.), Jl/0111U:a.Ums (London, I 973).
24 Kierkepud, ]or,..b, p. 371.
25 Se,... Klerl<tpard, l!irltHIOr, ll'llnslated br Walttr Lowrie (l'rinccton,
vol. 2, p. l SO.
26 Kieri<"!""rd, Ftm " p. 103.
27 Kierlu:p..-d,Ja..,..J, p. 37.l.
23 Ki<r:lc"!""d. Condrt4i"K Unuimrific p. 290.
29 Q!roted in Taylor,JDmqs 10 Sr/foocJ, p. 51.
30 Ki<rtegaard,Joumo/s, p. lSI.
31 Ibid, p. 132.
32 Kiertepard, C.nd..Ji"' Um<imtifit p. 70.
33 Ibid., p. 72.
34 Ibid., p. 287.
35 Kierkeg:unl, Juu....!s, p. 363.
36 Kierkcgaard, C..diin UltSlim/ifi< p. 390.
37 Kierkeg:unl, Fearrul Tflltlhlig, p. 208.
38 See Kitttc:pard,Jo....ls, p. 346, where hescoms the sublime u a kind
of 'acstlledc attOUDtlncy'.
39 Quo<ed in T aylur, Jwmeys 111 Stlfl-', p. 1'>4.
40 A singularly uncon.mdns ottempt to quatify Kierl<egurd's reactionary
politics can be found in M;chael Plekon, 'Towanls Apocaln>st:
Kierkeaaard's in Golden Age O.:nmaB,' in Robert L. Perkins
(ed.). llml4limrtJ Kim.<g04rd c--tory; T""At (Maoon,
The 1\!Iarxist Sublime
In the narrative"" far, the aesthetic as a kind of Incipient materialism
would nor seem to have fared particularly well. Indeed tbere is a so: use
in which what we have seen so far as the aeSthetic might more
accurately he descn'bed as an anaeSthetic. Kant <>ll<l< :Ill sensuo"'<ne<.<
from the aesthetic representation, leaving behind only pure form; as
l'icrre Bourdicu and 1\lain Darbcl remuk, Kantlan aesthetic pleasure
is 'an empty which contains within itself the of
pleasure, p!Oll.sure purif.ed of pleasure' .
Scbiller dissolves the
aesthetic into some rich crc:ativc indeterminacy, at odds with a
materil realm it is nevenhekss in.tended to tnlnsform. Hegel is
fastidiously sekctive about the body, endorsing only thus of its
senses which seem somehow intrinsically open to idealization; whlle
in the hands of a Scbopcnhauer the aesthetic ends up a.< an
implacable refusal of material hisroey itself. If Kierkepard turns back
to the aesthetic sphere, it is in largely negative mood: the aesthetic,
once the very consummation of belluty, is now in effect synonymous
1\ith idle fanwy 2nd degraded A disCOUI'$C which set out
with Baumgarten to reconcile sense and <pirit ha.< been left starkly
polarized between on anti-sensuous idealism (Schopenlulu.:r) and an
unregenerate materialism (Kicrkcpard).
lf rhi is the ease, then i.twould oeem that the oaly fruitful
is to go b:lclt to tho,. beginning and think everything through agnin. but
this time from the standpoint of the body itsdf. The imptidt
materialism of the aesthetic migbr still be redeemable; but if it c.m be
retrieved from the bur<kn of ide:Uism which weighs it down, it cun
only be by a revolution in dtought which takes iis starting-point from
the body itself, rather than from a reason which struggles to mae
room for it. What if an idea of reason could be generated up from me
body itself, r.athtr thon the body iraoorporated into a reason which is
always alrcady in place? Wbat if it were possible, in a breathtaking
wager, to retrae one's steps and reconstruct eveeything - ethics,
history, politics, r.ationllity - from a bodily foundation? Thltt such a
project would be fr.aught with perils is undeniable: bow could ir
safegu:ord illielf from oaturalism, binlogism, sen:ruous empiricism,
from a mechanical materialism or false rrans<:cndentatism of rbe body
"""'Y bit as disabling- as the idenlngies it seeks to oppose/ How can
the human body, itself iu pon a product of histOJ)', be ml<en .,;
history's source? Does not lhc body in SU<:h an cntcrpric become
simply another privileged anteriority, as spuriously self-grounding as
the Fichtcan ego?
There might, n<:venbeless, be som< way of working laboriously
upwards from tlte opposing thumb or the or.ll drive to mystical ecsusy
and the millwy-industrial complex. And it is just this kind of project
whicb the three greatest 'ae.<theticians' of the modem period- l\12rx,
Nietzsche and Freud - will coungeously launch: Marx with ihe
labouriog body, Nietzsche wilh the body as power, f'rC\Id with lhe
body of desire. How one mn spc"l of ooch d>eorizing is then an
immediate question; for what is one to say of a form of thought which
denies itself? Denies itself, that is, ... , any autonomous reality,
returning us in.stcad to the bodily interests from which it was
generated. ' The element of thought ir..elf,' writes Karl Matll, 'the
element of the vital of thought, la/I'Uit<, is senSllous
nature.'' If a materialist discourse docs not necessarily betray its own
premises in the act of articulation, it is because, as Marl< suggests,
lheorl"lic:al reflection must itself be grasped as material pmctice.
'Sense ptr"'titm', writes Marx in the &:onomi& iJ1Jd
Manusnipts (EPM ), 'must be the basi> of all science. Only when
science starts out from <ense perception in the dual form of smsuous
con.o;ciousness and smsuow need - I.e. onl)' when science stans out
from nature- it is ITIJI science. The whole of history is a preparation,
a de\elopmcnt, for
nran" 10 become the object of snuuftW
consciousness and for dte needs of "man man lo become
(scDSUous) needs.''
Almost a century after 1\lennder llaumgarten's proclamation of a
new science, .Marx caUs for its rtinventiott. But the aeslheti<; that
humble prosthesis of reason, bas here supplanted with a vengeance
what it was >"Upposed to supplement. Sense perception, to be sure;
but as the baJis of all lmowlcdgc? And how is this more than a ,,.lgar
empiricism? Marx wiD devote much of the EP.# to thinking history
and soacry through ag2in, this time from tbe body upwards. Elaine
Sc:any bas remarked on bow Marx throughout his wrirings 'assum<'.s
that the world is the human body and that, having projected
that body into the nwle world, meo 3lld women are themselvu
disembodied, spiritualisl>tl'. The system of economic prodoction, .,s
Sc:any points out, is for Mm kind of 1112terioli:zed metaphor of the
hody, as when he spcili In the Gnnuirfue o( agriculture as a
of the soa into the body's proloop tion. Capi1lllacts .. the
capitalist' ourrog,atc body, providillg him ,.ith a \ic2rlou fe>rm of
semience: and if the gllostly essence of objects is exebangc-wlue,
then it is thcir mattrial use-value, as Marx ag,ain comments in the
Grundrfut, wllkh endows them 'l'ith corporeal existence.
The Man:ism has to tell is a clossicaUy hubristic tale of how
the humon body, throurh those extensions ofitsdf we caD society and
technology, comes to itself and bring itself to nothing,
abstracting its uwn sensuous w.oalth to a <'}'Jlher in the act of
com-cning the world into its own bodily organ. That this tragedy
should occur is nor. of course, a mere question of technologicol
<1\' etwe<: nins but of the social wnditions within which such teclmo-
logical development tak"" place. Since th..., are conditions of
stnoggle, in which the fruits oflabour are fiercely contested, there is
need for a range of social institutions which will have, among other
functions, the task of regulating 3lld stabilizing these otherwise
destructive 00111licts. The mechanisms by whic-h this can be
accomplished - reprenion, sublimation, ideolizatiort, disavowal- ore
as familiar to psychoanolyticol as to political discourse. Yet the strife
(y./er the appropriation and control of the body's powers is n01 so
cosily queUed, and wiD inscribe it>clf within the very institutions
which seek to reprcM it. [ndeed this struggle is so urgenr and
unremitting that it baUasts th ,.hole of that institutional history,
w.orping it out of tnle and skewing it out of shape. This process,
whereby a contention avet the body's l""'ers Ct>IMS to trace our
intellecrual and institutional life to its roots, is known to Marxism as
the doctrine of base and supc:rstnlcrure. LU.c the neurotic symptom, a
superstructure is that place ,.here the repressed body succeds in
manife$ting itself, for lhos.e who can read the !Wgns. lJndics of a
kind - 'prematurely' born, potentially communicative., needing
to labour - produce, unlike other animal bodies, a history; and
Marxism is the narrative of haw that history stips from the body's
grasp, thrustiog it into conlr.ldictiuo with itself. To describe a
particular form of body as historieal is to say that it is conrinuously
ahle to make something of that which roakes it. Language is in this
sense the very index of hwnan historicity, as a system whose
peculiarity is to enable evenrs which transgress ils own formal
structure. But one aspect uf this unfathomable capacity for sc:lf-
lnD$gt'eS$lon, on the pan of the linguistically productive animal, is
the power to extend its body into a web of abstractions which then
\1olate its own sensuous nature.
If Marx can call for a sensuously based science withoutlap<ing Into
commonplace empiricism, it is because dte senses for him are less
some isolable rqlon, whose 'laM' ntight then be rationally inspected,
as the Conn of our rcbtions to rc:>fity. 'The objectivity of the
po5Sible objc'C!S of experience', writes Jilrgcn Habcrmas, 'is thus I tor
Marx I grounded in the identity of natur:ll substratum, namely that
of the bodily organjsation of man. wlrich is oriented towards action,
and not in an original unity of apperception . .. '.' Sense pctceplion
fur Man is io the first place the constitutive srruaure of human
nthcr than a set of contemplative orpns; iD<kcd il Call
bec<Jme the latter only in so far as it is already the former. Private
property is the 'sensuous expression, of humanity's estrangement
from its own body, the dismal displacement of our sensuous plcnirude
onto a dri\'1! to possess: 'td/the physical and intellectual senses
have been replaced by the simple estrangcm.ent of'" these senses -
the ,.,.., of So that it might give l:>itth to its inner wealth,
human noture has beo:n redtK.-ed to this absolute pmt-ny.''
What comes about under capitalism for the young Marx is a kind of
splining and polari1.ing of sensory lift in two :tntithetic:al directions,
each a grotesque travesty of the autht:ntically sensuous body. At one.
capitalism reduces the badDy fullness of men and women to a
'crude and abmact simplicity of need' - abstract because, when
.beer materiJII surri\'lll is at stal:.e, the sensuous qaalilics of the objects
intuded by such needs are DOt in In Freudian parlance,
one might say that capita6st society collapses the drivn, by which the
human body transCends Its own boundaries, to the inslinas - those
fi..,d, monotonously ...,petirive which the body
within its own frontier.:.:
By nducing the worker's needs to the paltriest minimum
nec-..ssary to maintain his physical existence and by
reducing his acrivlcy to the most absrract mech.tnical
movement ... the political economist. declllres lhat man
hss no other need, either in the sphere or actr.'ily or in
that of consumption ... He turns the wmtcr into a being
with neid1er needs nor senses and tunlS the worker's
activiry into a pun: abstra<.-tion from all activity.'
But if the capitalist strips the worker of his senses, be equaUy
confiscates his own: 'The less you cat, drinl:, buy books, go to the
theatre, go dancing, gn drinking, think. loY<, theorise, sing, paint,
renee, etc., the more you and the grean:r will become the rreasure
which neither moths nor Jlta!Ots can consume - )'nut wpit.21.,. The
sigul advantage or dle C>lpitalist o,er tbe worker is dllt tbe Conner
opera1cs kind of double-displacement. Haoing aliCNted his sensory
life to capital, he is then able vicariously to recuperate that estranged
sensuolity by lhe power of capitl itself: 'everything which yo< are
unable t<> d<J, your money can dC> for you: it can eat, drink, gu dancing,
go lo the the am:, ir can appropriate an, Jeam.ing
historical curiosities)
political puwer, it can travel, it is capahlr of doing aU these things for
)'OU Capital is 2 ph.tiii2SIIIal body, a monsttous Dot>Ptlxiillvr
which stalks a brood while its master sleeps, mechanically 0011suming
the pleasures he austerely forgoes. The more the capitalist forsweus
his self-delight, devoting his labours instead to the fashioning of this
zombie-like the mon: S<:rond-hand fulftltticnts he is able to
reap. Uotb capitalist and capital are images of the lhing dead, the one
aninute yet anaesthetized, lbe other inanimate yet active.
Jf a bntlal ae.s(:etidsrn is one aspect of c::api lalisr its imened
mirror-image is a fillll2stic aestheticism. Sensory <-mstcn..: is stripped
to skeletal need at ooc leoel only 10 be extravagontly inflated ot
another. The ;ontithesis of blindly biologiS!ic wage-slave is the
exotic idler, the self-pleasuring parasite for whom 'the ro:alisation of
man's amuial porM'J is simply the reali5:1tion of his 01\'D disorderly
exi<tenc.o, his whims nnt1 his capricious and bizarre notioos'." If the
worker is devastated by need, the upper-class lounger is crippled by
the la<:k of it. Desir<:, unconstrained by material circumstance,
becomts in him perversely self-productive, a maner of 're6.ned,
unnatural and imaginmy appetites' which luxuriate in their uv.u
wpersubtlety. Such a figure is for M= the social correb.rive of
philosophical idealism, as indeed, ponuloxicaDy, is d1at moo.t prosaically
material of all pl!enomena, money; Money for Marx is Idealist
through nod through, a realm of chimerical font:r.;y in which all
identity is ephemeral and all)' object may be transmuted at a strukc to
any other. Like the imaginaiJ' appetites of the social parasite, money
is a purely aesthetic pheiiOfDenun, self-breeding. self-referential,
autOMmous of all material truth and able to conjure an infinite
plurality of worlds imo concrete existence. 1b e human body under
capilalism is thus fissured down the middle, tnumali<ally divided
betw<:en brute materialism and capricious idealism, ellher too
wanting or tva whimsical, lmcked to the bone or bloated with perverse
eroticism. The dialectical point, as one would expect, is that each of
these opposites brings rhe other into existence. N:1rcissism and
necessity, f.lmished and eorbilant appetites, arc (as Tbeodor Adorno
might have said) rhe mm halves of an integral bodily freedom, to
whitit however they do not add up.
The goal of Marxism ls to restore to the body its plundered
powers; but only .,.itb lhe superse-<sion of private property will the
senses be able to come into their a...n. If C0011llunism is oecessary, it
is we are UMble to feel, wte, smcU and tvuch as fuUy as we
The supersessi<ln of private property is therefore the
t'tlmplttc of II human senses and attributes;
but it is this emancipation because these senses and
nttributes have become lwman, subjectively as a.<
objectively. The eye has bccoJDe a human eye, just RS its
object has become a social, hum4n object, made by man for
n12n. The senses hove therefore become tllh>raitians in
their immediate praxis. Thq relate 10 the thing for its own
sake, but the thing Itself is an olljeait:e lruman rclalion to
itself and to milO, llUd vice-versa. Need or enjoyment have
therefore lost their qoisric nature, and nature has lost its
mere wilif) in the sense that its use has become human
Marx is most profoundly 'aesthetic' in his belief that the eercise
of hllliWl senses, powers and copscities is an absolute end in
itself, widlout need of utlllrarian jusdficadon; but rhe unfolding
of this sensuous richnes.1 for its own sake can be achif:"ed,
pat'3doldcaUy, only through the ris<Jrocsly ilmnlmemal praciice of
IM!rthrowing bourgeois social relations. Only when the bodily drives
have been released frum the despotism of abslnlct need, and the
object has been similarly restored from functional abstraction 10
sensuusly particular use-valoe, wiU it be possible-to tie oeslhelic:tllyc
Only by subverting the state will ""' be able lo cxpc:rimcc our bodies.
Since the subjectivity of rhe human senses is a rhoroughly objective
affair, rhe product of a complex material history, it is only through an
objective historical lftDSfonnalion that sensuous subjecmity might
Only rhrough the objectively uufolded w..alth of human
nature can the wealth of subjective humn sensitivity- a
musical ear, an eye ror the beaul) of form, in 5hon, senses
capable of human gnlification - be either cultivated or
crcatcd. For nat only the five senses, but also the so-called
spiritual senses, the practical senses (will, lme, etc.), in a
word, the hUitUVI sense, the humanity of the senses - all
these come into being only through tbe existence of tltdr
ohlecu, tbrqh hulftllniutl n.ature. The nJtivatVin of the
!We senses is the work uf .Ji pnviot>s history. Smscwhich is
a prisoner of crude need bas only a rtSiriad
sen.<e. For a man who Is surving the bU111211 form of food
does not exi...a, only its abstract form eruts; it could ju.'ll as
well be preseot in its crudest fonn, and it would be bard m
"'!how this way of uling differs from tmt of animllls .
the snciety tlmt is folly produces man in all the
riclm= of bls being. the ritlt man who is p,.formtlly
obomJ4ntly enJorNti D>itlr DJI tlu uruts, as ils cOOIUJII
re2UI)'' '
If aeSibelil: thought suspends, for a rare moment, the
distinction betw=t subject and objocl, Marx preserves this distinction in
the act oflniiSgr'tsslnJ il. Unlike bourJeois idealism, be imisiS on the
objectie tru1terilll preconditions of sensory emancipation; bua the
ntE .\WOOS'!' St.'BUME
scru;es an: already objective and subjcctiv.: tol!"thcr, mode of
material practice as as experiential wulth. What he calls the
'bist<ny of industry' can be submiued to double reading: what from
the historian's vie1\I)>Oint is an aecumubtion of productive forces is,
pllenomenologically <peaking, the mal<riali>.ed text or the human
body. the 'open book of lbe powers of man'. Sensuous
capacilics and social institutions ore the rttW and t'ffl of one another,
dNergont pcrspecti<es Ut> d>e sarne phenomenon. And jiiSt as the
discourse of aesthetics C\'Olvcd, ,.;th BaiiDlpnen, as an anempt to
map th- fearur'"s which an objectivist rarlonallty W1< in
danger u(suppressiug. so Marx warns that 'a pryd.lt/gy for whiclt this
book [of the s<:rlSCS), tho most lanpblo and aoc ... iblc pan of history,
is closed, c:.to never heeom.e 3 mU science with a genuine content 'u
What is needed is a form of kn<rotledge which can examine the
material preconditions of different scru;ory relarions to the world: 'the
sense perception of fetish -worshil'P'"r is different from that or
Greek because his sensuous existence is different.'"
Mane's Paris Manuscript< thus ....-pass at a stroke the dtullty
betcCD the pnctical and the aesthetic which ties at lbe heart of
philosophical Idealism. By redefining the relficd, commodified sense
organs of that tradition liS historic:ll products and forms or oocial
pnctict, Marx relocates bodily subj<ivity as a dimension of an
aolving lndustri.al hlstory. But this judicious curbing of ideatiSt
subjectMty is, ironically, .U in the name of the subject: the only point
of recalling that subject's cltaracter is so as the better to
comprehend the political preconditions within which subjective
powers may be exercised as sheer ends in themselves. In one sense,
the 'aesthetic' and the 'praaical' an: IDdlssolobly at one; in another
"""se, the Jarrer exist< for the sake of the former. As Mupret Rose
has point<d Mux inverts Schiller by pa>]ring human freedom as
a question of the realization of the senacs rather than as a liberation
from them;" but he inherits the Schillerian aesthetic idoal of an all-
round, many-sided human dcvclopmcnl, and like the idealist
aesdtelicians holds strongly that hWIWI societies are, or should be,
ends .in themset.es. Social intercourse requires no metaphysical or
utititarian gJOunding. but is a natural ellpression of human 'species
being'. Jwt as SchJIIcr, towards the conclusion of his Lt1tm 011 tloL
AestAttk Eaua.tilnt tt{ Nlma, speaks of how human society is born for
prapatic ends but evolves beyond such utility to become a ddlJIItful
end in irself, so Marx tinds the lineaments of sw:b 'aesthetic' bonding
at the heart of the poUtically instrumental:
When commtmist u>orltmm rogcther, their immediate
aim is instruction, pmpag:mdo, etc. But at the same time
they acquire a """' need - a need for society- and what
appears as a meaDS has become an end. This pr:!C1icol
denlopment can be most strikingly observed in the
gatherings of French soclallst workers. Smoking, wing
and drinking, ea:., are oo longer means of creating linls
betweefl people. Company, assoc:iation, conversation, wbich
in ill tum has society as its J!Oal, is eaouxh for them. The
brotherhood of man is not a honow phrase, it is a reality,
and the nobility of man shines forth upon as from their
work-worn 6gures."
If production is an end in itself for eapilallsm, so Is it also, in a quite
different sense, for Marx. The aCUJalkation of huiiilln powers is a
pleASurable neL'C:ssity of human nature, needing no more functional
Jwlllieatlon than the work of an. Indeed an 6f!Uns for Marx as the
ideal pandigm of material production precisely because it is so
evidently autotclic. 'A writer', he commerus, 'does not regard his
"orks as meam to an eod. They are an end in themselves; so little are
they -ans, for himself !Uid olhers, dUll he wiD, if nc:c.,..uy,
sacrifice his OWll existence to their oistence. '" n.e Gr,.Jrim speaks
of medieval handicraft 'still half anisric; it has its aim in itself';"
and in the EPi'd Marx chanoclerizes 'true' human prodw:tion as the
impulse to create in freedom from immediate need. The gratuitous-
ness of art, its lranscendence of sordid utility, contrasts with enforced
labour as human desire diffm from biological instinct. An is a fono
of creative surplus, a ntdical exceeding of in lacanian
tenninology, it is what remains when need is subtracted from
It is in the concept of use-value, above aU, that Man dtconsttucts
tho opposition between the pnctical and the ac:rilctic. When he
wrires of the em>ncipated senses as 'theorericiam in their immediate
pr.uis', he meaos that 1/mma, the plensurable <-ontemplation of an
object's material qualities, is an ac:tive process within our functional
relaliom with it. We experience the sensuous wealth of things by
dr:tw;ng them within our signifYing project.<- a srance which differs
on the one hand from the em de instrumentalism of exchange..,afue,
and on the other hand from some disinterested aesthetic speculation.
The 'practical' for Marx already includes 'aesthetic' responsivene.s
to particularity; irs lOrin enemies arc the commodif).ing abstraction of
both object and drive, and the aestheticist fantasies of the social
parasite, who severs the bond bel\\'ten use and plellSure. necessity
and desire, and so Uows the laner to consume themselves In
privileged disconnection from material determinacy. In so for :as this
idealism coovcns pleasure and desire themselves to commodities,
these twin enemies are seaetly nne; what the Idle rich consume is the
narcissim uf thoir own actS of plea5\ltlble consumplion. For Marx
himself, it is not the of an ohject which iolates its aesthetic being,
but that abstraction of it to an empty receptacle which foUO-s froor
the Nay of exchange-value and the dehumanization of need.
Clussical aesdtetics and commodity felishL.m both purge the specificity
of things, stripping their sensuous content to a pure ideality of form.
It is in this sense that Marx's profoundly anti-Kantian aesthetic is also
an anti-aesthetic, the ruin of all disinterested contemplation. The
utility of objectS is the ground, not the antithesis, of our appreciation
of them, just as our de6ght in social intercourse is inseparable fmm its
lf the early Mane is anti-Kantim in this sense, he is Kantian
enough in aoothu. 'II is ooly when objective reality universally
becomes for man the re:.lity of I!WI' s essential powers', Marx writes
in the EP.M, 'and thus the reality of b.is """' essential powers, that all
objms become for him the oi;(aijirmion ofhimsd[. objectS that confirm
and realise his individuo6ty, iliJ objects, i.e. N himrtifbecomcs the
object.'" N1llhinr could be funher from Kant than the politics of this
a .. .errlon; but it is difficult to see how it differs epl<temologlcally from
the specular, imaginaty relation between subject and object delilleated in
the third Critil/l't. The Paris wOII!d seem to envlsaae a
fundamental deconstruction of the antlnomy bellVCcn Nnue and
humanity, as the former is S1eadily bun..,ni:red, and the Liner
araduaUy naturalized, through emancipated labour. Thb equitable
interchange, whereby object and object pass ceaselessly into each
other, is for M""' ;m historical hope and for Kant a regulati\'e
hypothesis; but there is no iJlsupenble distance between .Marx's
subject-conlirming object, and Kant's w;stful glimpse in the aesthetic
represenlllrion of purposiveness enheorteoing to humankind. It will
be left tu a latOT Marxist materialism to tupture this imaiPJwy
enclosure by insisting on the heterogeneity of marttr to coo.<Ciou.<ne!\5,
on the material liS some irreducible extcnnility whith infli"t>; a
necessary wound on our narcissism. The theme of lhe specular
identity of subject and object, me:1nwhile, will poss not into the later
Mn< and Engels but into GCU<g Luluics 100 ..,me turrcnt>; of
Western Mmdsm.
If the yoW1g .'l'lan: thus stands in ambivalent relati<lnship to Kant,
he i> similarly double-edged in his attitude to Schiller. Marx, as we
have noted, inherits Schiller's 'dlsintcresred' concern with the all-
round realization of human powers as an end in itself;
but the
process by which this might historically come about is a. far fmm
cla.<.<ical di&i.ntereSJedness as one could imagine. The scandalous
of Marx is to harness this noble SchiUcrian \ision of a
symmetrical, many-sided humattil)' to highly partial, panicullll', one-
sided political forces. The nteans and the ends of communism are
interestingly at odds: a traditionally conceived Humamtilt wiD be
brought to birth by those whose humanity is mMt crippled and
deplered; :an :aesahe1ic society will be 1h.e fruit of the most
instrumental political action; an ultimate plurality of powers flows
only from the most resolute partisanship. It is as though Man< cross-
breeds Weimor humanism with the implacable tngagmrmt of a
Kierkegurd: the disinterested emancipation of bum111 faculties will
be accomplilhed not by by-passing specific social interests, but by
going all the way through them and roming out on the othe-r side.
Only such a move can resolve the Scb!Ucrlan riddle or how an ideal
culture by definition inimical to particular interests may enter upon
material existence without fataUy compromising itself.
The discourse or aesthetics addresses grievous alienation
between sense and desire and reason; and fur Marx this
aliC1lation is rooted in the nature of class-society itself. With lhe
increasing instrumentaliution ofNaNR and bumanll)' Wlder capitalism,
thel.oboor process comes unckr the sway of an impooed, abstract law,
which expels from it all corporeal plei!S\ft. Enjoyment, as Man:
argues in 171t Itinlon, then becomes a minor philosophical
cult of tht ruling cla..s. It would appear impossible under these
conditions to harmonize 'spirit' l!ld 'sense'- to reconcile tile coercive
radonal fonns of socW Ufe with its gro!>.<ly particular contents. In such
a sociaJ order, a desirable authetit ' identity of form and content
WC!Uid seem unaaainable. 'Tb:s d!cbcnomy then de;poes iLS patb
through the huiY!lln body: while die body's producrivc p...-er5 arc
rntiunnlh:ed :and t.'mnmucJifit: ll, il'o S:)'tubnlit
libidiJlal driOJts are either
abstracted co crude appetite or siphontc.l off rcdundan1. \"iithdTRwn
from the proc:css of labour, they are channelled into tbn:e
isolared enclaves of I .sib"Tiifio nrk.: :arl, n:ligin
and A

xsth.c'tic practice - a l'('btion to and
whidt would be Ill ltnt'e sensuous ratiott&J- bifurcates into
a brma I llSCCticism on rhc one hanci , and 11 h.aruquc ar:Siht:lit.isru nn
the other. Expunged from mattrial producril)n) humatl creativity
eith('r dissip.1tes into f:tnf'3J-}' nr run!> riul in 1l1a l t.ynictl
of'itsclfbown as posscssi\,.e appetloc. is at
una: au Ofltv of such iJDil l'Chic desire 011-.i 1hc: reign of a supremely
bodiless reason.. As ..,jth sornc hs
st:nsuou!O conlttlts degeoet ... le to sheer raw wh.ilc its
go\'cming fOnm; grow rigidly itbslnu.._1 -.tnd aultrltUl'IIUUS..
Aesthetics is, among othrr an ancr.1pt to rdoin dlcsc
sundertd social spben:s, dtsccrmng in dtem .1 /Q Daumg-artcn some
hl)lnoklgous lop:;c. A pcriJoushr rorma!istic reason muse reincorporme
th:lt which the capiWist system expels as so much wute material. If
nzoun amJ are ul lol(gt:rbcaU:., tlu:u tl:te toay
models of rccoDciliation. $C'Osualizing and r2rionafu:ing the
laUe!' in dte manner of Sd.illc:' s pia) drive-. h un oiTer, an
illuminating $0h11il)rl to the probk m of freedom 11nd fOr
ff(edom in thcie social c()nditions has into anar.:hy, and
necessir! into iron dt:let'rl lioistn. We shu.ll see blet in the case of
Nietzsche how artistit crc:uion promi9e-s to deconstruct this oppotition -
bow marvellously j{ is whelher dle attist io the :ltt of
prt)Liuctiun is :.IIJ)rt:md y ffee, ur gl\oerm:tl hy SHIUe: int:luuah!e
.'\esthetics scds to rcsol\'e in an way dle problem of why,
uuder certain ll i.stCKied ccuLi itious, hum:m hudily :tCti,ity generalts a
$(':1 ur 'rllri()nlll' frnms by whir:h the body iJt>Cif is then oonfisolttd.
Marx bhnself will rejoin the sensuous tht rati()tlal in the concept
of usc*value; but there <-an be no Jilx:ration of use-T:Uue as long lS the
u urunudily rl!igns supremt-:, which why ' rhe resohnM:m of me
th(llt'f!Val anrithescs thcmsch,.es is possible o11)y in a pr.urkal .. If
th.c: aesthetic ia to relizc: it$CH il must pass over into the polnic.aJ.
whiclJ is whaJ it sc:cn:lly :tlw:l)'!> W.:tS. If lhe rifl hL'1\ \ if'.en r:rw 3Pflt!ti1P
and cli5"mbodied re>SM is to be healed, it can only be through a
revulutiunruy anlhropology which tntcks the roots of human ntionality to
their hidden source in the needs and capacities of the productive
body. For in the rcoli7.3tion of sucb needs and capacities, that body
ceases to be identical with itself and opens out onto a sbared social
world, \\ithin which its OWD needs and desires will have to be weighed
alongside those of others. lr is in this way that we are led by a direct
route from tbc creative body to such appucndy abstract matters as
reason, justice and morality- which, in bourgeois society. have
sue<,ctdc-..1 in muting the inconvtnimt clamoor of the body and its
concrete interests.
Mony of Marx's most vital economic c:uegories are implicidy
aesthetic; indeed Mikhail Lifshitz reminds us that.lvlarx embarked on
a deuiled study of the Genrun aesthedcian Friedrich Viscber on the
very threshold of his major economic work." If there is one privileged
place in his writing where the problem of abstract and concrete is
focused "ith peculiar sharpness, it is surely in that celebrated
metnphysU:ol conundrum, the commodity. The commodity, one might
claim, is a l:ind of grisly caricature of the authentic anefact, at once
re!6ed to a grossly particular object and virulently and-material in
fonn, densely corporeal and elusi..,ly at the same tirne. As
W. J. T. Mitchell has suggested, 'the terms that uses to
characteri,;;e the commodity are dra.wn rrom the Jeiicon of Romantic
:oesthetit'S and hermeneutics.'" The commodity for Man: is the site of
some curious disturbance of the relations between spirit and sense,
form :md conttnt, univers:al and p311icular: it i at once an object and
not an obje<:t, 'percepnole and imperceptible by the senses' as he
comments in CapiJtJ!, a false concretizing but also a f:alse abstracting
of sociol relarion.s. In a mystif)ing ' now you see it, now you don't'
logic, the conunodity is present and absent simultaneously, a tangible
entity whose meaning is whoUy imm.ueri:al and elsewhere, in
it< fonnal relations of exchangt with other ol:>jecrs. lts value is
ecceutcK: to itsdr, its soul or esscuce displaced to anuthcr. <.:ununoclity
whose essence is 'similarly elsewhere; In an endles deferral of
identity. In a profound act of narci<si<m, the commodity 'looks on
every othLT t'Oirtlllodity as but the form of appcararu:c of its own
value','' and is promiscuously eager to exchange both body and soul
with them. It is blankly disconnected front its own body, since 'the
existence of tbings qu commodities, and the v:alue-relation between
the products of labour which stomps tho:m as commodities, bave
absolutely no connection with their physical properties and with the
material relations arising therefrom.''-' The commodity is a schizoid,
self-contrndlctory phenomenon, a mere symbol of an entity
whose meoning and being are entirely at odds and whose <ensuotJs
body cxlsiS only as the contingent bearer of an extrinsic fonn. Money,
th.e un.iversal commodity, a. Marx writes in lhe Gnmdriue, ' Implies
the s.-pantion between the >-..lue of things aod their subslaoce'."
As the antithesis of the aes1hetic object, a kind or andact gone
amy, the ('OIJliiWdity's material being is a mere random instantiation
of the abstract law of exch2nge. Y ct if this is a casc of Hegel's 'bad'
universality, t he conm1odity "-' fetish also exemplliics a 'bad'
iauncdia<:y, ncptinJ the 8"J1Cral social n:lotions within which it was
produced. As pure exchange-value, the commodity craso:s from itself
every panicle of matter; as alluring allratic object, it parades its own
unique sensual being in a kind of spurious show of materiality. But
this matcrilllity is itself a foma of abstraction, serving as it docs to
ocdude the c011crete social relations of its ""'n productiun. On the
one hand, the commodity spirits away lhe subswu:e of those
relations; on the other h2nd it invests its own abstractions with
specious material density. In its esotericism, as well as in its rabid
hnstility rn matter, the comm<>dlty is a parody of metaphysical
idtalism; but it is olso, as fetish, the ery type of degraded materialil).
It thus forms a compact space in which lhe pervasive contradictions of
bourgeois sociel)' bizarrely coovergc.
Just as much of Marx's economic thought turns on lhe acslhetic
ca!J!gories of (o(!Jl and .., alS<l does a central pan of bJs
pulilical writing. When M..,. accuses Hegel of'politicol fonnalism' in
his f Doarmt II/ rht S14re, be surgcsts that HCJcl's
poliri.cal thought is faithful tn the real conditions ofbourgcclis sociel]i,
in whicb the purdy abstrat'l equality of individuals within the polilical
state sublimes and suppresses their oonCI'Ctc dlfTercnccs and in
equalities in civil society. In such conditio111, Man: argues in the
EP!If, 'real human beings, real society' appear simply as 'fonnless,
inorganic: maw:r.v Onoc again, n:ilic;d furmalism and raw mattrilli>m
emerge inverted miM'Or-images or each other. BourgeniA society
drives a mill! wedge b.tm:en lhe >-ubject of civil society in bis or ber
' seosuous, individual and imm<diau existence', and the 'abstnct,
artilicw man, """' as an o/kgtlri,.}, mt>rol person' of the palitic.tl
state'' It is in this &ense tht 'the perfection of the ide.ilism of lhe
state (isJ at the """'" time lhe perfection of the materialism of civil
society.'"' Political emandpalion v.ill be possible only wben this
di<location between abslract and concrete,' form and oontcnt, has
been surmounted - when ' real, individual man resumes the abstract
ddzen Into himself and an individual man has become a '[ltcUt-
ll<in: in his empirical life, his individual work and ru, individual
relationships .. .' .... Only iD democracy, Mm argues in the Crilifueof
Doatiltt nf th< SIIJU, is ' lhe forrtuU principle ... identical "ith
the ruislantivc principle'," conCTctc particuhrity at one with one's
public polilical role. DeliUICDtic society is the ideal anefact, slru:e its
form is the form of its content: 'in a democracy, the ronstitution, the
law, i.e. the political sutc, is Itself only a self-dcrermln.allon of the
people and a determinate mntent of the people.'" Non-democrnric
societies are inept works o( art, in which form remains tnrinsic to
substanCe: lhe law iD such political conditions fills to lnfonn lhe
material of wcial 5fe frofll 11iitbio, and so 'is dom.inant, but without
really dominatinf, i.e . .,ithuut materially penetrating the content of all
lhe non-political spben:s'." In the democratic state, by contrast, Ibis
abstraCt juri diu! SIIUCIIJU will be absmbed into ci\il <Ociety itself, to
become its living Org>tnic form. rndividuals will form the subs!llnce of
the stlllt: ill lhcir unique pani<ularity, rather than as facch:ss public
C)'pbel'$. Mux's contn..r between non-demoentic and democratic
societies thus reproduces lhe Kantian distinction between '' pure or
practical reason which i> heteronomous to the specific, and lhat
tny31erioos aesthetic 'law' which is at one with tile material content it
organizes. The emancipated sociel)', for Marx as much as for the
Rousseau from whom be bas learnt here, is an aesthetic interfusion of
form and content.
An interfusion of form and content, ill fact, may be uten as Man's
aesthetic ideal. He spoke of slriving to achieve such a unity in hl< own
o;aupulously crafted literary style, and detested what be saw as
Romantici&m's disproponionins of lhe nvo, embellishing prosaic
coolents with exotic ornamentatloo. It Is this tllsaep:mcy, as we &hall
see, which becomes the basis of his critique of the bourseois
revollllions in Tilt Eit/Jimlllt Bnll'lllzitt f lAuis &IIIJtllnt. In an article
of 1842 on the German propeny laws, Mmt declares that 'fonn is of
no alue unless it is the form of its ."
The key to Ibis line balance of form and content is for Marx !he
concept of M4U, mea.qure, standard, proponlon, IIIOdenlion,
or e\'tm at limes the compact inner structure of an To
preserve due proportion, 'to apply tu c:adt obj:t its inherent
would seem Marx's aim, one whlcb ofTen a convenient
standpoint from which to critici2e capitlism. As e:arly as his doctornl
diuerudon on ancient Greece, Marx was contr.Uting wl!at be called
'dialectics of meaSClre' with the reign of 31\d it
is l)pical ofhls thought in gcnenlro discern in ancient society a kind
of li}'1llllleh)' and proponlon consequent upon its very bocltw:ardness.
It is this t>c,lief which motivates his notorious remarks in the
Introduction to the Cnn:Jnnt about the unn:capturabk perfection of
Greek art, rooted as ir in material immaturity. J6 CapitaliJm too is a
matter of curbing ond constraint, as the straitjacket of Ol!Changc-
value impedes the free production of use-value; but unlike andent
society these limit lend it no internal S)'lllJDet:ry. On the contrary,
.-pitalism is immoderate, intemperate, one-sided, disproportionate,
and thus offends Marx's aesthetic as .,.ell as his monl sense. Indeed
the two faculties are deeply interrelated. 'The capillllist mode of
produttioo ccminly deploys a measure: that of labour lime. But one
of the system's ironies is that, as it advances into the mathlnery stage,
it begins progressively to undercut its own yardstick. 'Capital itself is
the moving conmulietion', Marx writes in the Cnn:Jnne, 'in that it
presses to reduce Labour time to 3 minimum, while it posits labolll'
tim.t, on the odter side, as the sole mt"asure and suun:-e of wealth,'
Once the. DI3SS of worktrs ban: appropriated thtiJ' own surplus
labour, a new measure will be instalkd: th3t of the 'need of the social
individual', which '1\ill now come to detennine the amollllt of time
spent in labouring.
Ir this is measure, it is remarkably Aen'hle one. si.nce such needs
ate of course for Marx sodaUy and historically variable. Ju the
Critiqru Df the P"'17"'"nu he is St\'ete with tbe notion of
applying an equal. stondard to inevitably unequal individuals, and
rebukes Ibis 'soaalist' as a hansovcr from bouiJCoislegaliry. If
human needs ore historically mutable ond open-ended, then so must
be Mane's measure; therr i:s a measurelessness about thls
measure which distinguishes it from any fixed uni\'eml standard,
even if ."dane has little time on the other hnd for the fan!Jl.'i)' of
infinitely unlimited needs. True wealth, he claims in tbe Cnmdrisse, is
'lhe absolute working-out of[hurrum] creative potcntiallties, with no
presupposition other than lbe previous historical development, which
mokes tbis totaUty of development, i.e. the development of all human
powers os such the end in itself, not as me<OSt1rtd on a pmktcmoincJ
yardstick'." It would seem, then, that the working out of
human capacities i111 somehow in own transgressing any
fixed or given form. If humanity is to be oonsidued, as 1'vlarx un
to insist, in itS 'absolwe movement ofbecomin(,lben it Is hard to see
how lhis ceasdess mut:lbility, in which the only norm would se.:m
changt itSelf, docs not throw into question the more static, dassical
parodlgm of an equilibrium of form and comeru. There can ceruinly
be no question of a 'pmletnmined yardstick', of forms and standards
emnsie to the 'content' of history iiSelf. Such content must find its
own form, aa as iu own measure; and it is difficult to see whether this
signifi es the triumph of an 'organic' conception of form. or the-
dissolution of form alwgether. What will in/11Tf11 this constantly
shifting process or freely powers?
One might claim, then, that tbere are two kinds of 'aestbetic' at
work in l\'larx's teXIS, whkh are not wholly compatible with one
another. If one can be called the beauliful, the olber might be
properly named the sublime. There is, to he sure, a 'bad' sublime for
Marx, aloog the liru:s of H.:gel's 'bad' infinity: it resides in the
f'estleu. ovenveening mmemenr of capitalism iw:Ir, its
dissolutiun of form$ and commingling of identities, its confowuling of
all spedfic qualities into one indeterminate, purely quantitative
process. 1be movement of the commodity is in this sense a form of
'bad' sublimity, an unstoppable metonfmiC chnin in which one object
refers itself to another and that to another, to infinity. Like Kant's
mat.hematical sublime, lhis endless accumulation of pure quantity
subverts all stable representation, and money is its majQr signiJier.
'The qrumtilJI of money', Marx writes in the EPM, 'becomes more and
more iu sole imprt41ll property. Just u lt reduces evOI)1hing to its
ovm form of abstractiort, so it reduces its<lf in the course of its own
m0>.1lment to something gwmtilllrivt. and inmrMmrllhililJI
become its true standard.' ... Once apin - but now in a negative sense
- Marx's measure is itself immeasurable. Mooey for Marx is a kind of
monstrOUS subUmlty, an infulitcly spawt)ing signifier w'bkh has
severed aD relation with the a fanta<tical idealism which blots oot
specilic value as sun.iy as those more conventional figures of
sublimity - the raging ocean, the mountain crars - engulf d l
p:utiUJI3r idtmilies in their unhow1dtd e:\)>iiOse. The subli1ne
.\1ao: 3S for K<l nt, is f>a.t Ut!limn: finmlr:s." nr mnno;mm:o; .
l nts 'ba<l' sublime, h&wever, can be counterpointed b)' a 'good'
llne, whit:h cnu:rgt$ miN t:\it.lt!nt1!f iu Lht BnmrNirt-..:- Tht:
opocnint pages of t_h3t ten, surrly .\1111'\'s major w.ort.: , depict
the great bourgeois re""'Jurions .u Jjving jun lh.n hiat\ls fonn
and ;,;1gnitier nn1l s.ib'Tolfi*!l, which I hr. c:b:s.sit:::tl :u:!>tht:lid:m in
finds most insuppcwtable. In a kind of historical t ross-dr(ssiog,
each bourgeois rc,olution tricl.s itself out in the Jl uhy insignia of
pr!!vinus r.put:h:-o, in nnlt: r 111 L'Uilt:t:a.l ht:u\'Uth inllu.tct.l the
shameful paucity of its true socill content. In ' ' ti'Y act of
ial>hKming :t iuturl!, .sudt iuliurm::liuns. find t.:tJUijJUhivdy
repeating the JX!St:: hiSJ:(n'}' is the nightmart from whkh hey 10
awaken, but which in doing so lht.')' men:ly dre.am a.watn. Each
rew.lhnion io: :s fank:sl IT:S"'t'!SfY nf the l:m, o1ppmpriann ils E'.Xtt'!m:J!
symbology in an interteXJual chain.
r<'VOiudons are
inbcrently a ruaner of !)Qllache :1nd breathless rhetori, , :&
IJaruqut: frenzy wlursc (1\ltlit: art! in i ul't: l'!lot' (ln'J(IIll rtimt lh
their meagre substance. The!'(: ts kind of ficriw: n.css in tbdr very
a hidtleu O:.w wltich disarticu1Jtts forUJ and \X!Jiltnt.
IT.''ohuiomry rcperi rions, howr:n-:r, nr)t rarodil;.
c.trieatures of whal was no doubt already a caric.lhJre. On tbt
thP. pntnl n( p:t.sf ts rn 1'-Umrntm llu: rlc:ul tu rht:
aid of the presen1, drawing from them something cf their dang(rom
Thus "'' of me doad ;n mm n;volutions
ser\'ed Lhe purpt.l'OC uf l11e J)tw nru.ggles, out c1f
pan"l)ing- lht: uld; uf magnifyint( 1hr: t(i\'<:n in
imagin,tion, net of fleeing irom ils s&lution in re.1Jity; of
fi nding um.'t: mure lht uf revnl uriun, nut nf mukmg ifs
ghoir walk agaio. a
Ont.r br dteatning the paS-L coul rt:,'Olutiouart.z [root iu
nigfum:.re, sinc:-e rhe p11Sl is the)' are made or. Only by
()ac1c, with the horrornrlclun face of Walter Oc:njamin' s
lfWtt.t, c.;m the revQiution be b) the winds- of hisiOJ)' iuh' t1tt:
rt:c3lm uf 1hc huure.11w pca,:a, t(u the bourgwnis revnl urioMriP.S ns for
Rc:njomin, mtt..a he pressc:tl lfm:ihly inru I he: r.l:'rvit;e nf rht:
classical m1ditions he-redt nll y oppropriactd tmd miswrinen in ordt-! t6
redeem the dmc. The I"C''olution:ll')' i5 the offspring not onlr of
politica! pllt'eul:o, but of <J IK. 'estnal bruthen>lll td si:sltr:> whu
usurped the patriarch in their O'ND time and have b;;qucathcd
scu:tlellliog of th:;al periJus power to later gc:m::ratic)uS. i ht:re is :1.
sibtinr: solidaril) which n us ath-art 1hc cmpl)\ homogcnc:ous
ccmrinuum of ruling class. history, and which Oenjamin terms
' trJdHitm"'. Recycling tht then. is botb opiate and iru;piration -
thie .. ing of Its 'aura' which uonethekss, 1.s lk-njamin might
p11t i1, .)uspends the smooth 1low of historical time in a sbockitlg
' t:rmsh:lllllinn', ullo\lolll){ :t sut.klt:n c::otll cric ..:urrc:spundc: tK.:e lo flastl
bel\\.'-.?en the needs of the prcsenr a redeemed moment oi
Lin: p:ast.
Thr ;g)wtru!t Bm...,;,,. y.oc on 10 contrnst the scmiolo(!Y of
bourgeois insWTccrion ni th the S<l<ialist rcvolutiO'n of the future:
The S(;('ial revolution of tbc ninetee-nth ccntury cannot
dnw its liUel l) front d..te J)aSt, buL oaly from the future. II
l'annnt begin with irsdf bcfrwt if has !>tripped nff aU
.super$tition in regard to the past. Earlier revolutions
or p:."t wnrld his.lury in order tu
drug themsehei concerning !heir OW1.'I cootcnt. In order ro
arnve .-1 its W'J\ C01\tent, the RVOiution of tt.e nineteenth
C.'L'TII U ')' must lt:l the: .Jcad bury lhc:ir dead. 'T'here the
phnse wcru beyond the <:onrcnt; here the ccmteot goes
hr.yu:uJ lhe phr.tse."
What is in qutstion hc:rc: is the whole concept of a represen1ationa1
aesd'l etic:'s.. Previous re\o"((luti oM have bel!n fc)fltl:tli"'nt:. r:ngr:.fting a
factitious &"phrase. or torm ()nt() their ('()nttnt; but me conscqoC"ncr. of
rhts is a dwarfing o( the signifiC'd by the The content of
socialiM revol ution, contrast, 15 of all form, out in
acf\anct of Irs own rhe.toric. h is unr('flrt$cnmbk: hu1
il5Clf. $ipi6cd only in its =abS(IIUlt mo-...;ment .. oftu:<'oming", ;nvl thus
a tind of su\:llimity. The representational de\ices of bourgeois socitt)'
t.h0$e ;If' bur u 1s pra:i.sd)' thi8 sit Jtifying (j;une
that the prodlcti,c J0tc<'S m\1(01 hl'(ak hcyrml. rclc:a.;ing- a
of W\ique par1icularlry w()uJ.d stem to refuse all
st:md:m li.zwl It is ks.o.: :.. m:tllt:r 11f diM:u\'t: ring the:
exprrui,e ' zdt(!l.atf tbc substan('e of JOci<dism, than of
rtdtil)k.ii \8 lla.l whole oppo,ilion- of gi'4Spiug form no tonger as the
symbolic: m(mld i nto which 1ha1 is (}(tUrnl t but a..; the "finn
of the comcntl, as tbc Sb'U(turc of a ceasclcts sclf-proclucrion.
Tu uf form in war i!i 1101 wbolly iucomp;nible with
Man-$ clal:isieal aCl;l:ht:ric:; ind,o l it c;an be !'(:en fn.lfTl one .,;e"4'Jlninc
as just a unity of form and content. The content of <'ommunist
likr. lhe Romanik :utei:u:t, must t;cru:r:ue IIW11 fe'lnn i nl tn
withint lind its owo leve-l nd But what kind of form will this
be, if communism is the all-round liberation o( a mul tiplidry ()(
particult r when: Lht Oldy oili:dl!re stt tu de\eJ()pment
itsclf.l Socialism i:; able tO ptescribc lhc inStitudonal 10rms which
wtJut..l be necesuJ'y if this wealth of use. values_, this seJ(;.deJigbtill@
plurafity o{human (Mi'Yo'(T'i, 'llo't:r>: 10 he fi-llm ehe
prisanhou!e ()( ex-change\'.tlue; yet such unlocking relca!n the non
(rum 1hr. idr.ntic::tll :tnd lht: qtu:stiun is unc ufhuw this rum-
idenrity is to reprtsem itself. 'R<'<"onciliation': \l:rites Theodor
Adorno, 'would rcle:.ise the non idenrkaJ. would rid it of C(l(rcion,
i.t!cluding spiritw.Jised it wc,ufd opet) the road to tbt
muhiplidty of di!fcrer.t lhin!{S and strip of its pwer over
Certainly the content of suclt a !otiy caMot be ' read off'
fi'um the in.;rilutiuns in tu pnxlul1: it. ' \h htM: lfl t:nloun: tltt:
means of life, and the mc:ms of community', wriu:s Raymond
Wi11i:.uns in 1 lB0- 1950. ' Bul wh:al ..... iU
lhe.se rneansl be lived> we C'.l nnot b'low or s11y.- Mnnis.m is nOt a
theoty oftbc funue, but a theory and praCcicC" of how to make a futurt
possible. As a doctJ'inel 1t tutirely to what Marx ca!ls 'pfe-
hlstory' ; irs role is simply to r('sol\e thOS(" cootrtdicdons whic-h
cWTent1)' prevent U$ &orn moving beyond that cpocb to history
prOjlt'r. 1\i.M) ul tJ..a1 history proper, M01rxism Jws lillie 10 SOl)', amJ Mau.
him:stb- gtncrall)' maintain! a silence on this scort.
The only truly e.vef\.1 would be LO get hislot) swtt\1. by
dr.:ning :J\1.'3}' lht! uh.; t:tdt!S in liS poth. S 1) fttrl nnthing
;:pc:cial occurred: hisrory to (bte h.:.s sin'IJ'IIY been the $l11'1('. old
1 set of vari2ti.:.os on persistinr structures of oppression an<l
txploitatiuu. Tltt: n::qding and mcin:ubti111; u( Cit: vunmuxlity b
lht: must recent pha"c uf lt.aT hi:srurical dc:adlock, tfw ('ICJTICTU:sl
J>TCScnt by which implicitly denies that it wat ever born.
since oo confess that one wns born is to acknowledge that one can c.lic.
But this circuit cannot be broken by representing- a future, since the
mems of representation belong rn a superseded present, and ore
po'\\erle:c; s to take the tl'lellsure of hut whiCh will hae transgressed
theDL It is in ihis sense, precisely, that the 'content goes beyond the

Just as the pious Jews, so Walter Be.njamin reminds us,
forbidden on pain of idolatry to fashioo gnen inuges of the God of
the future, <n political l'lldic:ols are prohibited under pain of fetishism
from blueprinting their ultimate dc'Sirc. This is not to denigrate the
power of utopian thought, but w recall its fictive or regulalive starus,
the lim.its of its representational resouroe.s. Marx began his political
cmeer in contnrioo -..ith what one might <'211 the subjunctivo mood of
socialism, with the 'wouldn't it be nice if' kind of radkal idealist; and
his brusque imperative to 'let the dead bul)' their dead' is a reminder
that all utopia sprinJs from the past rather than the future. The 1n1c
soodw.yen: or clainnyants are the technkal expert.< hired by
monopoly capitalisn> <O peer into the entrails of the system ond assure
irs rulers that their profits are safe for lllOihcr twenty years. /Is Walter
Deojamin knew, it i not dreams of liberated grmdchlldren which
spur nten and women to re .. oh, but mernories of cnslR.owec.l ancestor.;,
Like any cmiUKipatory tboory, Marxism is concerned with putting
irsclf progressively out of blaincss. lr exists to bring ahoot the
material conditions which will spell its own dentise. and like Moses
will not pMS with its people into the promised land. All cmandpatory
theories carry some self-destruct device within them, eagerly
anticipating the moment when they can wilber away. If there are still
political radicah in a <'Cntury's it \\ill be a grim prosptct. There
is no way, then, in which the diverse. uses to which men 3lld women
\\ill tum their emandpated powers in a socialm future can now be
imaged; such a process defies representation, and is in that sense
sublime. The mon: recalcitrant probkm, as we have seen, is to know
how that process could be represented even when it is under way,
given that it is of lhc essence of sensuous P"nicularity to pye the slip
to general representational forms.
There ts another sen')e in \\ilk:h Marx's conc:em to
reconcile form and content is significantly qualified in his work. To
di.ltinguish berween the nuner (productive forces) and form (social
relation.) nf a particular society, :tS G.A. Cohen has orgued,
n IF. .\11\RXI.ST SUBJ.l.\tl
<disnedin capital's pretension to bdog an irrcplao::ahh: nn:arr> uf
..:-reatillg mare:rial wc:afth .. . Confu5ion of conltnl and form crtates:
the illu:'>itm I hal ut1d matet&.al gcowth
c.1n be adtie\ed by capitatist invcstmcnl.'" It is lhc boul'!eois
pnluk:aJ t:(.'<tnt nuislh who art: in 1his stnst the 'classicists', wedded 10 il
oootl arion C)( capit:llli.st form and pmdut:ri\'r. material. Cumrnunism,
Cohen comments. may bt described 2s the 'conqueit of form b)
m:tneT. F'or in r.lt t:h:mge-v:duc t.:Uinrnunis!n
coatent fedshiscd economy imprisoocd in form.""' r s this then II>
claim ch;at communism is formks:s? Cohen'$ rcspo:tse 10 this query is
Lu ilrl{llc tlnll human wh:ltr roanmunism lS not uBSI:nlcturcd,
but lhat it is al:so nOt prc-strucrured. No soC'ialiOrm is upon it>
hut it diJtS have ;a f01m. '011e might S<i)': site form is " QW j ust tltt
b!lureMry (fmu;d l!rJ IIW/trr

nncc sgaif1, Man: r:q ui-.'CH..JIIt!S
between the cbs!icaJ aOO the Tbc fonn of commW'Iiam is
at nne with c..unJenl , :tnd In this t:XI t:nl t)lle c:Ul "l'e:ak uf a
d auical syrrtm(ll'y or idcntit) b(N'OCn lhe I\''0. Ccnainly .:C.immuni<;m,
unlike the COrl''entional is not shapeLess and amorphous. Dut
l11iS itltutity or fOJ'U'I i&Od COflti!'JU iS SO absolute that ibt rormer
disapptars into the lant r; Md sinct- rhe IAtttt is no more
man a <ootinually self-apaooiug rnultiplicit) bounded oni) by itsdf,
the: c:llet:l i.s tht:n om: uf ct:rlain :mblimity.
There i$ another 1f1faJ of putting dJis poillt. Cohen writes oi the
SltUC(UJ t ilispfa)ed b) C(JIIUUUIIiStn :il> ' :IU lllUrt: lh:llt I he UULJi nt! ur lhe
(If its mcrnbc;rs. nOt somC'Ihing into which they muSt fu
themscfv<s';.s and lhis is ttrong)y rcminiucn1 of the Kanban of
beoluty. Tholt 'law', as v.-e llO:lve seen, is w>'l10Uy iu)Jllo&neftt 10 its c:o:attftl:
it is d'l e Vf:1Y tO..m of dun content' s i.ntcmal organization, rather than
some CAtcmal. abstracubJe regubtion. Wlu.t Mux ha.s eoecli\ltl)l
doJ)t:, then, is 10 J)rt)jet.1 Umoiii Jtaou:: intu Kant's al1crnali'o'c
state) tM sublime. If Kant's hc2.uty i$ too staric, roo
harmonioll5ly organic for political pwposes, his sulJiimt iii Luu
furmlt:ss. ctmdiliuu of c::ummunism c:xmld ht: cmisagtd nnly by
bk.-nding of the tw(l -lry :t process whi.cb has aJI oi the sublimt' J
potentially infinixe but which neverthcles$ carries its
fOt'til.;d law within ib.t:lf.
Mane' s acoount of modem history may be fait!) straighlforwardly put.
The capitalist mode of pl'oductiun i:s by the
motives ()f profit and <elf-intero.<t; hut the overall product of such
discreditable intentions is the greotest accwnuhotioo of productive
forc'eS that hi>tory has e-ver witnessed. The bourgeoisie have now
brought those forces to the point where the socialist dreom of a oocial
order free of toil cnn in principle be realized. For only oo the basis of
such a high k>'CI of material development is socialism possible.
Without such stored productive eapaciry, the only 'soci:ilism' would
be ,.bat Marx described ns 'generalized scarcity'. It is
uguablc that men and wom<n could seize control of the productive
forces in sure of underdenlopmcnt and "'Jland them in a socialist
direction. The case against this is that modcratc:ly h<:donistic humut
beings would not mcly submit thtmAelves '"such hack-bre3king,
dispiriting task, and that if they did not dten it wu.tld be left to n
de<potic bureaucrnric state to do it for dtem. the merits of
these opposing arguments, theJC can be no doubt that Marx himself
erwisaged socialism os riding on dte boc.ks of the bourgeoisie.
This massive unkasltinf of productive powers is for Marx,
insepanbly, the Wlfolding of human richness. The capitalist division
orlaboor brings w.ith it a high refinement or individual capGlcities, just
as the capitatist economy, in uprooting- all parodlial obsucles to
global intercourse, lays down the oonditions for intermtiOIW
community. In <imilar way, bourgeois political and cultural
traditions nurture, howf)'ller p:utially and absttac:11y, the ideals of
freedom, equality and lllliveml juslice. Capil.tlism representS a
feticitous Fall, even if one might believt with the Milton of ParwliJe
Ltnt that il would have been br:ttet' had it never occurred at aU. There
need certainly be no vulgarly teleological implie2tioo that every
society must pass lhrough lhi< baptism of fire if it is to attain
socialism; but 1\.hrx's praise for the magnificent revolutionary
chievemeots of the bourgeoisie is a steady keynote in his work,
inimical to all Romanric- rndical nostalgia lllld monlistic polemic. It is
custonwy these day> among to link the bourreoisic with
pGltriud\y, as cqui\oaJently oppressive formations; but this comes near
to a C2tegory error, since there ha.< never been a good word to say for
patriarchy, and tltere is much to be admired in the history of the
middle class. Through capitalism, individuality is enriched and
&\'eloped, fresh po"'ers ore bred, ond new fonns of social
intercourse created.
All of this, of course, is booghtat the most teniblc cost. 'More than
any other mode of production', MIII'X writes in C.pital, '[cpitalisml
squander.; human lives, or Jiving lahour, and not only flesh and blond,
but also nen e nd Indeed it is only through Lhe most enormous
waste of the individual development that the development of mankind
is at all preS<:IVed in Lhe epoch of history immediately preceding tbe
conscioos organization of sociery.'" This dynamic, exhilaroting
relea<e of potential is abo a long unspeakable human tragedy, in
which t.he great majority of men and women are condemned to a life
ol wretched, toil The division of labour maims and
nourishes sinluhittle(HL(jly, gene:nuiug fresh sl:ills 111td capacities baH il\
a cripplingly onc-sidc<l way. The n:ativc whi<:h enable
humanity to coniTol irs en\>ironmeot
eradicating disease, famine,
nalUJ'Il also enable ir to prey upon itself. Each n<w
medium of communication is al the same time an instrument of
division and alienation. Culrure is at once a docutnent of civilization
and a record of barbarism, the rwo as closely imbricated as the rrao
and vm of a sheet of paper. Capiralisr development brings the
individual to new heights of subtle self-awareness, to an intricate
.,eaJth of subjectivity, in the very 3ct of producing him as a predtnry
!\II of thi<, for Mane, is of the exploitative social relation.<
under which rbese otherwise life-bringing productive forces have
been evolved. Those sodal rclalions w.:rc ncccmt.J)' in their dll)' for
such evolution, such that no dicl1oromy of 'forces good,
relations bad' is feasible; but they haw now come to act as fetter.;
upon free producti,e development, and must be swepr aside by
socialist transformation. Under socialist relations of production,
fon:es which currently create misery and estrangement will
deployed for the crearive self-realiz:nion of all. Capitalism has
generated a sumptuous wcoltb of capacities, but under the sign of
scarcity, alienation, one-sidedness; it now remains to place as m:IDY of
these copadties as po.sible at the disposal of each individual,
convening within her powers which wen: historically bred in murual
This whole problemAtic, of a dynnnlic energy bJodc,d and thwarted
by ossiJicd instirulions, would seem to place MIII'X squarely in the
camp of Ronunric humanism, with in; e:orpr=ionlrepression model
of human exisrence. This is no longer model which we can look
upon uncritically, wltatc:vcr partial truths it doubtless contains. To
wgin with, there is 0 notable difficulty in Marxist writing OYer the
reblion between the productive forces as material techniques, and
the human powers and abilliies which farm a pan of them.
The would seem to arise, in part at lea..<t, because the
productive forces indJJJt such human powers, yet arc to be developed
for IM sDlu oflhlrll. In one sen.<e, pm<luctive forces and hullWI power<
would .cern indissoluble; in ooothcr sense . nn essentially instruroeniol
reladon holds between them. Man himself ,cncraUy brackets the IWO
C:lh:gories t.ogerher, :'IS \Iibert he wriu:s of human weahh as 'the
univena6ty of individual needs, CIIJl'lcities, pleasures, pn:xlut'l.ive
forces ete.'/' elsewhere iD the Grundrisst he >-peaks of 'lbc highest
development of the forces of production, hence also the riche!;t
development uf individuals'." G. A. Cohen comments un the
'eneDSNe coincidence' in Marx's thought between lbe e>;pansion of
the productive forces and the growth ofhuman capacities," Jon
Eisler remarks that the 11-l.arxist lbeory of history could be summarized
as 'uninterrupted progress of the productive force!;, interrupted
progrc"" of human dcvclopttKnt and social intcgntiun' What this
means is that the development of the productive forces under
capitalb.m, which will then pennit to actualize human
capacities to thcirfuDest, in fact involves lhc stunting and curuiling of
cenain C3pacilies in lhe capitilist en. In this sense, the dt"Jelopment
of the productive forces and of human powers are SJRonymous io tk
md; but one condition of their coming to be so is lhe tngic mutilation
of such powers under lhe of capital. For such mutilation is
inevitable under capitalism; ond capitalism is essential to the
development of lbe prcduclivc forces, which is in wm the precondition
for a realization or humaD Capacities.
Art, for Marx, is a supreme instance of this irony. l n his view, art
flourished in conditions of social imm3turity such as ancient Greece,
when and proportion could still be preserved from the sway of
the commodity. Once it eruers under that quantifying influence in
more dt\'tlnped historkal epoch, it begins to degenerate in reltion to
its earlier perfection. In this field of achievement human capacities
and the forces of production are not only not synchronous with one
another, but are actually in Inverse proportion. But this Is only pan of
the "ory. For ihe power.; which capitalism bneds, once h'berated
from the t)'Ntlny of C)(Change-value. will provide the basis for a future
socialist art een more splenclld than Its ancient prc:decessor. Once
the c;..pansion of :.lnd of forces converge in the long
run; hu1 a pl:riud uf nn pari uf the f(,rmc:r is
esstmia! if this is 10 come about.
TI1e reloltioo betwe<:n forces and capJclties, then, is OOl quite as
homolog<. loS Mru'Xisa: inchding some (){
014'n., would 51lJ8'eit. This is aiso true in another h is
t .lS)' to see how the model may work fCJf We
!(IJ'C('S of proc:lucdon, which hav<' simply [() burst duough me
integunlalt of capitalist social reb.bons in order to come into their
own. Hul du: motld is I ellS illumin:Hing in lhc: uf bum:HI puwcrs.
SocialiST rcvol,nion <l oe.s not simply in t ).prcssi,iit styfc,
whate'lfe;r capac::iries ha\e been generated by capitalism, the!je
cap11cirje5 Are by no means indiscriminately posirive. 1r me.
mode of production ha$ brought forth humat'l 5ubjecdve wealth, it has
also fos.tC!(d die hilbits of domination, agpcsswn and ( XpiOHOltiOil,
uhkh no soci.aJist \lo'Ottld s.impJy Wfnt to see 'rcleased' , ('an not, l'ot
cxarnple. easily c::xnact the rational kernel of the control of Nature
from tlte shell of tht OpJHessiou uf hutt'l:lll beiuw;. Marx is lll his must
in hi-.; :f(')Jlen:nt assumption that human f."(l{'l*.ifii';S
become morbid only b)' virtue of their alienation.. repre.ssion,
nr Au I rhis is surd y :t t.l:ttl!,.'CI'IIU!-: Illusion;
;,;c mnSt ('(ltmt among our c:tpaC'it.ics lllc powtr ro 1orn1TC and wage
war. Tht very tcnns and ' c.apac:iti have a dc,eptiotly pos-itive
ring to them. as ot' course does the tenn 'crerni\'e'. Bur li.'Ar is A form
of matiQO, s.nd the building ()( concentution camps is a rtalization of
lmmao T hese uneonu''otubte (c>tollaries of Mar.xs ihJctrit'te
um he r:scRr)t:(l trnl)' bv dc:l ming-'c:apaci ti.:s' in .511 hmatl ami nr:OOiuus
a sense th:n the term bomc-.s effccti"el}' Y2cuous.
It is (XISSibk: tcJ Jull!t auutber kind of u J Mau\: duclrim:,
whic:h is that the icl1:al nf rhc free rcali;r.ariun of human f'O'IIVCt'S and
capacities is both masculint5t and ethnocentric. It it not to detect
wilhin sl.reuuuusly suhject thr. sh:ad1,.,.. c1f rhe \' irilc
Western Such an Clhk.al oudooL: would sctm w lea11e Unle
$pa<e fo.r the v:Jlues of n iUness and rcccplivity. of being creatively
;Ktell ul't)lt, of wi.st: passi ... erte:SS aDI.i all of the murc: pusili\'C: uf
the condition whjch. Heidegger will lrer cerm There is
probably in this a certain itx.lsm structural to Marxist
as th e is also perhaps in it$ privilesing of dJat tuditionlll male
spherf! nf prudm;rion. Tr this is a to rej ecf
Mal'>ism, then it is equUy a reason to reject almost tvery cultural
prodoct from the Stune Aa:e ru Star Wars. It is, ne<renhelcss, cuse
for a ccnain critical resistance ro the otherwise attn.cti\'c vision of an
all-round human ""lf-actualizarion.
If human powers are far from spontaneously positive, then. their
emancipation would seem to require careful dicrimination. ju<t the
same, might be argued of the productive forces in gencrnl,
where the ""''ressiunlblod:ag pantdigm might once more prove 100
simplistic. A nuclear powt:r &ration i.< a productive force; yet 003Jly
radicals would argue against its development. There a quc:.1ioo. in
oth<r words, of whether the <:l<Jl"DSion of the productive forcts must
not itself be c.trried on within the framework of socialist values, and in
ways compab'ble with sucialist relations of production. Jon Elster
notes thls potential conHicr in a somewlt2t cursory footnote, when he
commeniS that 'a technique that is nprimal in terms of efficiency rnay
not be su in terms of welfare.'" Cenain fonns of work migbt be
simply incompatible with the socialist nlue& of ""If-autonomy,
cooperation and creative self-realization; indted Mnt himself seems
to hold that svme residual drudgery will always characterize the
labour process, and that the expansion or lhe producme forces is
necessary to men and women M far a.< po.<.<ible frorn such
unwelcome labour. Andrew Levin and Eric Oliu Wright have mado
rhe telling point that certain technological advances may ha,.., rhc
effect of weakening working-cia .. organiJ.arion and <lrengthening the
politic.! antl ideologic.! power of the boura:coisic." The cvclution of
the productive forces, ID other words, may involve an actual
regres.<ion of tbaoe capacities which need to be nourished if
such forces are to be apprQJniate for socialism.
There are, then, twO distinct cases. One sees the expansion of the
produaive fOrces a value in iLctelf, and views 1;0cial.ism simply :as rhe
appropriation and funher development of them for the general gaud.
The other c:a,;o is swnmarizcd by Marx's comment that the forces of
production must be developed "under most f:avourable to,
and worthy of, humn nature' '
The whole concept of a produ<1ive
force hoven; indcttorminatdy between fact and value, rather, as we
shall see, like the Niell.Schean notion of the wiD tn power. If hunran
capadties are reprded as inherently positive; and iA:wed as ;an of
the productive forces, then it might seem 10 follow tbu tbe expansion
of those forces is a good in iiSelf. If, howeer, the development of the
forces of JUY.Idnction is seen as iHS!nimfr.ttrl ro of
human co;;pac;iries, then the question of which form of m:i.tcrial
dc:\elopr-nr. nt is hl!st lu lhis guctl puses
There rem:JiM, the need to diK.r iminate am.;')ng human
nnct: ft !'\ grnntf!d lh:J! sumeo rn:ay he de::truc:tive.
Whence are we to d(riv( tl'.e criteria to form such iudgemeoc;?
Romantic is quite unlblc ro answer this question: 1f
powers uisr, rht"n the only imp('mti, e js dun they !>boukl be
\'aJuc, so tO speak, is inscned within f:act: the very face: thu
we ce11aiu JKI'I'Itl'S .. seem to hriuy aloog wiLh it tlte
ttllrtllllthc itHigw:mr.nr 1hat we rcali;o.r. tht:m. (Jrw \11n
res'*-e tbt fact/vaJue dilemma b) the simple device of projecting the
l::auer fnrn thl! furmf'..r. The prttcP.o:& nfimm2n cap:u.:i ties will nfll
infonn us of \lo'hkh art to be actualittd .and which not, wm supply us
with no built-in criteriJ of sdectioa\; and it migltt tbtn be thought
such criteriA hlwe to be imported trom some mlrLSc:enctetnal spat'l'.
Mar:t is h()Stilc 10 $uch an idea., since part of his thcQrctkal
pl'cject is. to abolish lhe whole ttmion of moral discoucse an
st:pamhle lftm
Whether Marx aetually bclicvtd in mor.at' oonoepu: is ;;a contro\.;:rsial
issue wi rhin .. Tiae i ... tl1a: ht: wnuliJ .:.ppr::tr ufrr: n
C:llongh to dismiss rr.orali()' as idoologkal. wl1i1e drawi.n_g impli(itly on
moral notions in critique of class-5ocicty. The truth is tlut Marx
doK not so mucl\ rej<'l't rooml i(\', as tmos:bte it in measure from
supcrSINcturc to base. Tbc ' mor21' then becomes identified with the
dyll:.tmi t: uf huntu: (klwt: n> - pmitt:ttd
a.o: it wt>u:, into
prodtn:r:ivc; process rath('r than nuroon('d as a set of
supcn.tructur.al institutions and idcologjes. Human prcxlli!Crio;e powers
wuuld nm scxm In n:quire mnrnl jm.lgt:ment" fmm
cls('wherc, from a sp(c-ialittd e.thical they \l'Otdd sc.tm instead
intrinsically positive, and 'immorality' would appear to c.oi\Sist in lhci:r
and tlisp,...,onioning, Marx (l(l('S ind('f'(!
po.sscss an 'absolute" moral criterion: the unquestionable virtue of a
rich. ;all-tound of caJ)' .. cilies fur each im1i ... idu:a1. h is ft-um
thJs thai lCJmnJtiluu i:. lu bt: IIS. 'itsM:J ._ cit.ltt:r in
hs currenr Ability to 11 llow t(lr s.uch or in its potential
coauibution to $\lch a condition in tile future.
T his, hO'Y'-e,er. Je;hes ;;a number of questions Wh)
slrou/J 'aU-round' development be the most morally admirable goal?
And what is to count>< w.:h? Is it the aim of historical struggle to
balance my <"'J'd'Y to tonure in synunetrical, proportionate relation
to my capacity to l011e? Marx's vision would seem in this sense
curiously formalistic. It would appear les.< a matter of witaJ powers we
express, than of whether we Jur.e recuperated them from their
estranged, lop-sided sate and actualized them as varioo.<ly, fully and
comprehensively a.< possible' '
There is, however, a powerful rebun21 of this whole interpretation
of Mm<'s case. The riposte to the charge that Man: bdieved all
human po..ers tn be inherenrly JlOSitive is simply tbattbis constitutes
a misreading of his tcxll;. Marx d01.'0 indeed disaiminatc
bCIWcen diftcrent hWIWl cap&Cides, on the basis of doctrine which
be inherited from Hegel, and which provides tbe fouodarioo of a
communist ethics. The discriminatory norm in qu<:Siion is that ""
should foster only those particular powers wblch allow an individual
to reaUze herself through and in term of the simibr free self-
realizatJn of others. It is this, bovc all, which distinguishes socialism
&om tibcralism. This constitutes an imponant quatificatioll to the
Romantic interpretation of Marx; hut it sdll lt:IVes some problems
unrc:wlvo;'tl. For one thint, even if this is indeed the kemd of
Marx's potitical creed, it remains true that be ery often writes as
though human cpacitie$ were indeed inherenrly positive, in oblhioo
of his own rmMJ. For another thlng, any such normative concept of
self-realiwion instantly impticates nocions of justice, equality and
associated moral ideas, whicb means thot morality cannot after aD
belong purely to tit productive. 'bose'. On lhe contrary, it is preruely
for this reason that societies requir<: 'supersttucrural' inR!rudons of a
juridical and ethical kind, apparatu.scs which regulate the complex
business of dedding between more and I= reasonabl<, creative
biJJliJIJI needs and desires. There is o'Vidence 10 betieve that Man:
hii!IS<:If, despite his 'productivist' mor:illty, acknowledged this fact,
and did not simply dismiss the notion o{iustice, or tl1e need f sucb
juridical institutions, out of hand. It could be argued, bowcve.-, that
the ideal of self-realization through and in lenns of other1i simply
succeeds in pushing the question at issue back a stage. For Marx's
vision of such reciprocal self-expression Is not, for instance, that of
Hegel, for whom it was fully compatible with S<>Cial inequatity. What
are to count as desirable modes of mutual self-realization? By what
criteria they to be evaluated? Such criteria must be discursively
et:tbNshed; and Marx, as Jtirgcn Habennas has argued, reJmins
within pM"""''hY of the subject which passes over this
process of intc:rsubjectivc conununtciltion.
r h is nor for him so much
3 m>ncr or discursk>ely evaluating human capacities, as of actualizing
them- a position which nOI only takes for granted the positive nature
of human .POWt:n, but SCCJJI$ to assume that such powers aJld needs
arc intuith'cly present to the subject, spontaneously given by the
historical pi'O<><'lS outside the conttxt of intersubjecrive argn.,.,ntatinn.
But if human subjcCI! have needs, then we know already wflat at least
nne of those needs must be, n>mely the need for the subject to know
what illi needs actuaOy are. Gnen the subject's self-opacity, this is f.Jr
&om self-evident, which is why moral discourse becomes necessary.
The problem for Mane would seem rn he not moral but political: bow
are power; which we can presume to be potentiaOy beneficent tn be
historically realized? 'By reducing the selt'-posiling of the absolute ego
w the more tangible productive ;octivity of the species', 'Mites
Habennas, ' (Marx] eliminates rdlct lion as sutb as a motive force of
history, a en though be retlins the framework or die phUosophy of
reflc:ction. "'
Ifl\.hrx inserts value within fact, a number ofSccorullntcmatiooal
Marxist found themselves caught in an WIComforuble
duality between U.e cwo. Morxist science could disclose the L1m of
history, but wos incapable of assessing wfletflcr their supposedly
in.,..itable outccme was :actually desirable. A neo-Kantian ethics bad
therefore to be imported, to supplement ao apparently ooo-nonuatiV<:
positivism. Dut as Leszek Kolakowski h2s argued, .\tandsm 'is not a
mere descripti<m of the world but the expression and self-bO\Iiledge
of a social process by which the world is revolutionized, and thus the
subject of that self-knowledge, i.e. the proleta!Ut, comprehends
reality iD the very act of transfanning it'." What the fact/value
dichotomy f.Uis to account for. in shon, is emancipatory knowledpo -
that peculiar kind of cognition which is essential for human freedom.
In the critical consciousness of any oppressed group or class, the
undemanding and the transfonning of realil), 'fact' and 'value' , are
not separable processes but aspects of the same phenomenon. As
Kolakowski puts it: 'Since subject and object coincide in the
knowledge of society: since, in this case, science is the self-knowledge
of society and, by the same token, a factor in detennlning its situa.tion
at any stage of hilrnry; and in the cue of the proletariat> this
self-knowledge is at the some time a revolutioruuy movemenl, it
folJQws that the proletariat cannot at any point disjoin its "ideal" from
the actual process of rc-aliDng it.'''J
If lhis is the <'Sse, then Marxism has its own particular answer to
one of the problems to whieh aesthetics offers an imagin2l)' soludnn.
A reified reaon which believes it..,lf to view the world non-
normatively will forte the issue of value beyond its frontiers, and the
aesrbetic then one place '-''here rhar issue can take up a home.
Momlity, of course, is another: but the Kaotin dilemma is one of
how lhis nuumcnal >]lhcrc intcn.:cts with pbc:nomcnal histol)' .
. M..ar:tasm, by contrast, th.e uniry nf 'fact.' 3J)d 'value' in th.e
pr.octic.l, critical ot1ivity of men and women - in a fonn of
undei"SSaalding whkb is brought to binh in the fim place by
el11ll11Cipatory which is hred and deepened in active
smaggle, and whicb is an indispensable pan of the realization of value.
There are certain kinds nf knowledge which "" must at all cosrx
obtain in order to be free; and do.is cASts the fact/value problem in a
quite different light.
MaO< is in entire agreement with Ule Earl of Sl1atlesbury- an unb'kely
candidate, othcrnisc, for hi5 approval - that human powers and
human society are an absolute in themselves. To live well is to
live in the fn:e, many-sided realization or one's (.'::'.Jpacities. in
reciprocal interaction with the similar self-expression of ochers. We
h3ve seen some of tbe difficulties of this doctrine; but it remains, for
all the single uwst (-reative a>l"'ct of the aesthetic tmdition. As
an acstbctician, MaO< is offended by the insuumentaliution of
human powers, iomtable though this process may be in pre-history.
He looks fur his desirable moral goal to the 'absolute workiug out of
cre.ativc potcnti.1fi1ies . ["ithj the development of aU human powers
a.; ""'b the end in it.lf' ... rn the realm of socialism, work m11 remain
n<ccssity; but boyund d1at hori><>n begins 'dwt devel<>psucnt of
human energy which is an end in itself, the b'IIC realm of freedom,
which, however, can (f)rth only with this realm ofnec..ssityas
its b,.,.is. TI1e shortening of the is itS basic prereqtrisite. "' If
an mancrs, it is as a type of that whkh has its end entirely in itsclt;
and rhus is most politically charged in it< very 2utonomy.
Unlike Niet,,;cl,e aud Heidegger fter him, Mrx does not press
through rhis #Csthctici:catioo to co;tnition it:Sc-U: This is not
anaemic rJLiiiJ-naW.m: the ttu:al uf hun1a0 life. for Marx a.s rur
Aristotle, is DOl truth. bm or His wort is an
exrcnsi\'C enquiry into wbat m:uerial condition! "WOuld be necessary
fc )t this I(Uill Ill be n:ali.t.td liS li gcuer:.t l hufllllll WHdiliou, iUUJ lht.t:i
bcl6ng, to the discourse of Man: l, t moralist in
the ll'!tst traditil11rdl sense uf' tll t tdanl "h.iclt is to say tlt.U he is
conccme<l with the polirirnl dc.rcnninrioo:-o (If the gtiOd tif.;;. Hi:i
mo)rality thus stand! opposed to that withered modern sense of the
' morol', to i.nterptrson31 relations and 'spiritual' vJlues
done-, fOr wiUch cht M.AI'Xist ttnn is moralism'.
II is because this !about o( enquity is bistoric.illy neces.sal)' that
thonl(ht , ftn Ms:n, ha:o at least lir the prest:ntm n:main i nslrum<:nlal.
Truth may not be the ulcs ofhisto:y; but it playt a vital
1'113rl in scxurins th:tt t:ucl. lliAI fi nal :tt lithcllcizat..icm H( hun1au
txisrencc wh.ich \\'C .:aU rommtJni!lm cnnor be prctn:!lrurcly :mricipar('()
by a n::ason which 5\lrreondcrs itself wholly to the ludic and poetic, t<l
ami iuluition. hl5lt:w.l
u aLlulytical r.!l.itJilulit)' is
occdc<L tO t.clp unlock the which prcvcn1 us from
:tllaiuiug the Cl"JUdiliou iu whid1 ifiSiswflt:lllalisJU lllay lost its
dominam;-c. If may wdl he 1hat in $t;lm<:. fimm;
order theory, inur\Jmental L\ougbt. takubti\'C reason will oo longer
pl:ly :i ' :.t!nlr:tl m1e: in human lift:
hul wiiJ havr: hr.:tn IT:tnsfurrned uu1
of rccogn.iOOn. To prdigure such an order now. by (ior enmpk) tt.c
deconstruction of theory and poetry, may thU$ be l ''alu3ble pr<';cpric
g:r:shut:. But if an ott-slhcliC e.x.i:>tt:IIL"\" i:t tu be f'i ,r all,
in general must not be prematurclJ ac:thcticizcd. Such a mO'c would
(,t in .. tlu.' tu pby, io
or eke-.. is the pre5crvc of the few. Thosc. po3t
$1ructur.ilist wh() urge dut we abandon truth for dance :tnd
l:oughll!r migh1 p:mse '" infnnn us just who this we is tu
signifY. Thcor)'. u Htgd kocw. is onJy ncssary in tM first
because contradictions exist; as a material event, it emerges from a
..:erruiu l'ruduced bl:lwten the lk.1. ual anti the
poos;tdc. \.\'hen M11rx jn tbc Ji,-q-,.,"1-. Md PhiltlSGplu'(Ml .A.1atJttsm:cn
logj<: as il o( lhe m.ind'. means thit theory i-1
itsdf a ki nd of conceptual e;"changcnlue, 01.0d abstracting
with :; ttn:ain (OOeg:ard (Qr H(' holds}
hc>Wcvtr. d1<1 r u:irhout SJJC"h cxch!\ngt-'':llbc, '3Cnsuott>
specificity will continue to be a minority cult. If the aesthetic is to
flourish, it can only be by virtue of political ttansform:nion; and the
political thus stands in a meta-linguistic relation to the aeslhetic, If
Marxism is a meta-language or mera-narrative, it is not because it lays
claim to !!'orne absolute ttuth., a chimera it hv; con.c;istently spurned; h
is rather on account of its insistence that, for 11ny human oarntiYc
whatsoever to get under way, ccruin other histories must be already
io place. Of Marxism anend to the one which
(."Oocc:ms macerial sunival and social rc:prodm:tion; but one must add
to Ibis the narrative of sexual reproduction, about which Mancism has
had for me most part little of interest to soy. Without thes. particular
grand stories, every other rkil would grind literally to a halt. It is not,
hnwever, that lhe<e histories merely prmide a space .,ithin which
other stories may be produced; on the controry, they are so utredy
vit:al, engage such enormous resources of buman enell!)', that they
leave their grim imprint on all of our more contingent tales, scorriog
and disfiguring tbem from within.
Sormthlng of the ambivaleoce which characterizes Marxism's
anitude to tbe oestbeticization of lloowledge can be detected also in
its \'ic.w o( morality. In one sense, as we ha\'C seen, Marx "4ishcs to
aestbeticize morality, shifting it fiom a ser of supra-historical norms
to a question of tl>e pleasurable realizotion ofbistoriCOil powers as on
end in itself In another sense, however, Marxism Ides !be point of
Kant's austerely anti-aesthetic SI/Jm. Such a St:aJt conccpr of ducy
need by Tl() means be simply repr<s.,ive ideology, whateer it might
signify in tbe hands of Kant himsel( On tbe contrary, its force can be
felt in the tragic IWT2mes of socialist struggle, where men and
...-ome.n have courageously sacrificed their own fulfilment for what
tbey have hoped \\outd be the happiness or omen. Such self
sacrificial action, performed with linle pleasure orul often with less
prolit, is, one might claim, a kind of love; and though love and wdl
being may be: at one, they can ente.r into traP: conflict with
one another in anything less than lhe long term. For a genenl
happiness to flourish, it.,.ould seem mat individual gratification must
sometimes be forgone. 1\'larxism is thus not a hedonism, even tbough
it is all about the enjoyable self-realization of incli\iduals; indeed
Marx bas sume acute comments oo the material basis of hedonist
ideology in Thr G<mUI JJeo/OfJ.
'Sacrifice' is a potentially macherous morol notion, to be handled
with circumspection. It ha< been, for eumplc, the tndltional
prerogative of women; if men hve the h3ppiness, wwnen have the
love. If the idea of self-Stcri6ce is to be more dun oppressive md
life-denying, it must be viewed in the contrn of a wider richru:ss of
life, and so seen under the sign of irony. In lhc regimes under whicb
live, the successful we are afforded are usuaUy
somewhatttivial in contrast to the enduring rcatil)' of failun:. Radicals
are those .,.bo seek to preserve in some way a compact with failure, to
remain faithful to it; but there is then always a dmgerous temptation
to fetishlze it, forgetting that it is not in that, but in human pkoitude
and affirmation, that the end nf political action Ues. The trogic lesson
of Marxism is that no such plontitudc is atlllinabk wilhout having
gone right the way through failure and dispoosession, io order to
omerge sumewh.re on the other side.
l\llanism subsists, lhcn, in the twilight zone between twu worlds,
the one too much with us, lhc other as yet powerless to be born. lf It
clings to the protorols of analylic reason, md insi>"tS upon Wlpleasurable
politico! responsibilities, k docs so ironicaUy, in the awareness that
these necessities are in the ,.,me of " future where they will no looger
be so essential. It is iD this sense that there is for 1\,larxism both
rupture and continuity beiWren present and future, os opr-d to
riiO'SC brands of reformism, apocal)pticism or 'bad' utopianism whicb
sbcken thJs difficult dial.clic at tither pole. \\'hat one might call 'bad'
or prtnlllhlre utopianism pabs instantly for a future, projecting itself
by an act of ,.ill or imagination beyond the compromised political
strutrures of the present. By failing to attend to thost forces or fauh
lines wirhin the present which, developed or prised open in particular
ways, might induce dut conditiom 10 surpass itself into a future, sucb
utopianism is in d.nger of persuading us to desire useles!lly rather
dun feasibly, aod su, like the neuxoti<, ro faU ill .,.;th IOOJing. A
desirable but unfeasible future, one whicb fails to found itself in the
potentialities of present in order to bridge us beyond it, is in this
sense the reverse of the future offered to us by some bnnds of social
determinism, which is inevitable but not necessarily desirable. Once
more, lyajuc' must be some hoYt' ext:r.lpo1ablt-from 'fact', the outline of
a future worth strupg for discerned within the practices of the
degr.uled present. It is this, surely, which is the most it.U meaning of
that currently contemned term, teleology. A utopian thought which
does not simply risk making us ill is one able to ttaoe within the
present 1hat secret lack of identity with itself which is the spot where a
feasible furore might germinate - the place where the furure
overshadows and hni!DW!< out the present's spurimL' repleteness.
The hopeful side ofdte nam li\e is exactly that 'value' is somehow
demable, historically speaking, from 'faa' - that oppressive social
orders, as a matter of their operations, cannel! help gtneratiOJ
dte kinds of torc.:s and deSires whieh can in principle ovcnhrow
them. The grimmer side 'of the narrative is then tht we bave, in
effect, no way of undoing the nighmwe of history other than with the
few poor, contaminated instrument! with whieh that hiMory has
furnished us. How can history be turned against itself? Marx's own
response to this dil<mlllll \\'liS the boloot im.aginable. History would
be transformed by its matt contaminated products, by those hearing
d>e most livid marks of its brutal ity. In a conditioo in which the
powerful nm illsanely rampant, only the can provide an
image ofthar humanity ..,.bich must in its tum come to power, and in
doing su tramligurc the very meaning of that term.
l Pic= Bourdicu and llloin Darbcl .. Liz Diftintti .. : crili'{f s.a.k lilt
jugtmmr (Paris, 1979), p. 573.
2 K rl Marx, .Em<...U OJUl J>lr;bMphioJ Mmuucrij>u, in .Karl Mn: F.mfy
Wnliop, introduced by Lucio Colletti (Harrnondsworth, 1975), p. 356.
Here2fter cited PM.
3 CoOetti, EPlrf, p. 355.
4 Ebiae Surry, 17u 8'* in Pin (Oxford, 1987), p. 2+1.
s JiitJc Hahmw, Kn .. Jdv a"' HulfWI Jnrmm (Oxford, 19m p. JS.
6 Colletti, EPM, p. 352. Sec abo I. Mcs!iros, Mr:r'r 11rtory of Alinrlltin
(lundu11, 1970), Prut 2. chapltr I .
7 Ibid., p. 360.
8 Ibid., p. 361.
9 Ibid., p. 361.
10 lbfd., p. 359.
II Ibid., p. JSI.
12 Ibid., p. JSJ.
13 Orid, p. 354.
H Ibid, p. 364.
IS Margaret Rose, Mor.rHSIAtrtlun'c(C:unbridge, 1984), p. 74.
16 Coletti, PM, p, 365.
17 Quoted by S. S. Prwtt, Klll'i Manr 114 World LitmJturr (Oxford, 1976),
18 Karl Mar:c, G""'llriur (Hanncmdswonh, 1973), p. 511.
19 Colletti, EPM. pp. 352-3.
20 Sec Oaid Mclellan, Man: &fi>rr Mam1m (HIIntlondswonh. 1972),
pp. 243-i.
21 Colletti, EJ>M, p.
22 See Milduil Lifs!Utz, 11rtPAilwJphy of An <>[KAriMnr (L.oodon, 1973),
pp. 95-6.
23 WJ.T. (Chicago, 1986), p. 188.
24 .Kart Marx, G.pit.t, \'01. I, lotroducxd by Emest Mandeel (Harmonds-
wonh, 1976). p. 165.
25 Ibid., p. 167.
26 Marx, Gnmlri!S<. p. 149.
Z7 Colletti, EJ>M, p. 181>.
28 Ibid., p. 234.
29 Ibid., p. 233.
30 Ibid., p. 234.
31 Ibid., p. 88.
32 Ibid., p. 89.
33 Ibid., p. 89.
34 in Pnftr, KArl Ma,.. "" Wtlof Liurtrr, p. 291.
35 Collcni, EPM, p. 329.
36 Sec l\1arx Cruodrisu, pp. 110-11.
37 Ibid., p. 706.
38 Ibid., p. 488.
39 EPM, p. 358.
'I() For an intcrcsting account of the semiotics o( this text, see jeffrey
Mehlmw, Rcvolwiun ,.,./ R.pffltilm (llerl:eley, 1977). Sec also Jem
Lyowd's commcniS on die 'Manlsl Sllblime' in Lisa
Appignancsi (ed.), Pwmodmtism: 101 Dca.mnus 4 (London, 1986):
'Wiut is me sub!Jme ia M..r Very precisely h is"' be found at the point
be calls labour for<:< . . . nu. Is a 111erapbysical notloo. And withln
mnaphpics, it is a notion .. -hich designates what is ntn dctc:nninalc.
Wbtt is not prest!'nt :md pnsence , . , The theory of
c..plo>itatiou rest< oa this Wca, which is sublime' (p. I I).
-4ol Jrintertextuality is rhe theme or the roJiowiog pass:agr, it is al"> its roml. I
h;l\'C dr.awn bcre, in adapted for.m, on various o( my prc\ious comments
on 1he Bru,.,ir<: fi'Oill Crititim aod (Loodon. \976),
Jllalw Bmjdmin . ., T-trls Rro#lulio""ry Critimm (London. 1981),
'Mamsm and the Pttsl', in Sa/mt1f.Mdi (f'all 1'.185-Winttt 1986), and
'Tile God that Failed' , ill Mary Nyqui>t alld Marprct W. ferguson
(edt'), li.t:-:Wo'mltlf'ingMil:t<n YC'rk 11nd l95i). 11n1Silh!t
this is the time: I $hall 'I'.Ti tc on rhi<l ten.
42 FnU{:.: (I.Andf)n
1'"68), p. 98.
<43 Sc.oe V.'ahcr Ren}amiB, nn Philno:ophy d l-l i$10I'f, in li:mn.h
.o\J?.rwif (t;'d.), lf!tnJtlttilliMI! (J )CJ73:1.
H .4flllrr and F.rtg!s: Sr,'u:,-dlf'.,,Js, p. 4l'.l.
45 AtltlrM, l>tnLA1111$. (L..'\nrk:m, 1973), r. 6.
46 Raynumd \\i lliam.--., C:u1nl1'1 arui Sr .. i try /780- f()J()
-17 fltuti'tMUmu, p. 2M.
48 (j, A. Cum:n, K:.:rJ Hrwy ;.j'Hi!t<Jry; A (OxtUr:J. 1978),
I' !05.
<!'! p. JZY.
so . 131.
51 Jhill p. 131.
52 "brx,

wl. :l , qoote..J by (.()hen, Kil.r! ' "'IX'S '/itti"J t(

p. 2.5. Foe ;,ui..:M.dlcut .:1.v11nt ofllu: }imultaaJWUsl) cmauUp;altlry :t:1ll
(lpprt:<:!oi'll: dt."ldupmem of \.'3fl fi:JJf:m, t:t: .\lan.haU Heman, All J'lutt It
SWiJ :'.frfh /11;, AiT (1\:cw Yuli.. 1982), !'an I 1.
SJ (i,,.,..,J,i;Si, p. +88.
54 Jb,d., p. H I.
55 Coh<-n: Ka'U"'TX': u-y t{ I +7.
56 j()ll SOt l!{lrla1;r 1985j , V 304.
S'i . p. 2-1-Sn. El$l JS admittedly wnting here I'Jf' !be IJbo\lr J)tCtCCS.'\
iw::f, ather thut >f 1h.; vrodllt.'ti'..: voptr. lM dt Ius
perhaps a mM< general appliutioo.
58 Andircw A: .. ine Eric Olin Wrtllbt. a.od Cla.ss Strunk ,
in Ltfl Rtr irm, no. 123 (Scptcmt..::r-Octcbt.:J. 1980). p. 66.
59 .\1an , (.'cpital, vol. J (,\totoO'", l962), pp. 799- 8:00.
60 for the issut of l'llOfality in .\bn:is:m. sec . Karnml:a. :Heux/f"' ,;e,f
tltia (I..()Mon, 1969}, K2r.e Soper, 0.: Ntis (Hri,r:"ltM, 1981),
Dtnys Tum<r. Man!lm -uJ CJm'Jii&Nit:; (Oxford. 1983), I luge) .\leyndl.
,.t.fc.nrlt (Loadon, 1981), G. Brt-nk.trt, ,;,;(f 4
f)y,'f!tHn (l .rondtm, 1 ?R:l), S1.::w:n IAlkt:t, 'MaMsm, Mora hi) and
in G. 11, R. (td.), lib,. <J nJ Mt:rritnl (C:mhridtt, 19R2),
Steven M:.m!m (Oxfu:d, 6 . Oilman.
Alit.n;,;i 'Jn I 'Ill' I), f'rt I, cltaptt ... 1\1. t,;ohen, T. NiCtl
:aod T . (eois), ""' (Ptmcctoo,. 1980j, lind
Nom:un Gcl'.as, ' On M.vx and U;'i Ra.-.,trP, r10. 150
(March- April 1985J. On the qtt<Niion of the of btlman
C'l p1.ci!:iet, it thai M11.rx 'll-TOit', "nd tb:n f.lut,. th(
f(IJ!ov.i ng ln Tltr C(f'tlfillt

(qooted In .\gn(s Htlltr, Ur

'nti'IJry ;, ,\t.n (l..otlrlon, 14)74, p. 4)):
Communi..'\t atganisation has .a rwo-fold nTect Oll dC':SirC':S
ptduccd in the individll-al Komc
ol these dc,irn - namd) thMc ('xisting und('r a.IJ
which ch2n!(C lllcir f<J.tm and directi-on under di tYcrcrtt
S00.-1 roodiliCmS - ;uc mcrd y Jl tcrt b) 1hc ('(lfM!uni:lt $0Ci.AI
system, for arc the opportunity to develop
l)(ht rs, those in a P-ll"'.iculu w,iai
s}"!ircm . . . -arc rnra!ly dt:pricd or rllri r cnndirtr.ns of u i:;rcnc:c.
61 for a brid critiquc of the oodon ()( seli-realludo)n, Stt ,l(ln ,in
/11trohtticn 10 !Guf (Cambri<lg{' , 1986), l . Fw11 more
at<"-rl dcd, dctailc-d and illumlNidnf ac:roun( cl MarYs ' producrh'i.wn\
.sec Ka.tc S<lpcr, On Htl1ltil1tl .
1/NfiJ, especially chtpu:-rs 8 and ),
62 Sec Jiirgcn Hodxrmn nJ Htn.'ltlflf lwntJll , diaj'lfcr :l and
T'ltNI'tl 1'0l l (BMI.(In, 1934), ()l prer ... For
an cxcdknt cridque of dlc ' ('hllosnrhy or rhe :'luhjttf', :;ce &)i a
l\t.nh.ahlh, Critiqut; N11,.,_ .J#J (NcY!' YDf'k: )986), 4,
6l 1uti Hu."'"" p. 44.
64 I A':WCk Kn-l:tkf'I'N:'!ki, M,;i11 r.ttrrntu r.J .Mtmi;M. \'<ll. II : Tire Brr,;i:Jcur;
(<h:for<.l, 1978), p.
,:.; 1hid., p. 170.
66 Cnt'1r!n'1:r, p. 4&tl
1.7 M,..., Catdtal, mi. II (New York, 1967), p. 820.
68 SCC' Dcnjs T lltftCr, I (:11-ri.u.iulty (C I YXJ), l':tn I.
True Illusions:
Friedrich Nietzsche
II is not difficull to trace certain gencnl parallels bc1wec-n hi>1urical
materialism and the thoupu.of friedrich NiciZSCbc. Jo'or Ni<czscbe is in
his ov.11 way a full-blooded materiali!<t, whatever scaot regard he may
pay to tlw labour pnx;css and its suc;al relations. One might say tbot
the root of all cultun: for Ni<rzschc is the human body, ~ r e it not
that the hody itself is fOT him a mere epheme.ral expression of the will
to power. He asks himscJr in Tlte Gll)l Srimre whether philosophy bas
'not been merely an intupreration of the body and a misudmtan!ling
ofth< botly;
and notes 1\ith mock solemnity in the 1i;!ilight ofth< Idols
that no phit.Jsopher has yet spoken wirl r e v e r e n ~ and gratitude of
the human nose. Nicttsche has more than a smack of vulgar
Schopenh.luerian pbysiologism about him, as when he speculates that
the ''P""'d of Buddhism may be attributed to a I= of vigour
consequent on tlle Indian diet of rice. But he is right to identifY the
body as the enonnous bllndspot of all traditional philosophy;
'pbilos<>pby says away widt dte b.JJ, this wretched id<c [tx< of dJe
senses, iniccted with all the faults of logic tlw o:ist, n:futcd, even
impossible, although it be impudent enough to pose a< if it were
real!' ' He, by contrast, wt11 return 10 the body and anempt 10 think
everything through again in terms of it, grasping history, an and
reason as the unstable producrs ofiiS needs and drives. His work thus
presses the original project of a""'hC1ics to a revolutionary extTeme,
for the body in Nierzscbe returns ,.;th a enJC2DCe as the ruin of all
djsinrerested !ipeculation. The aesthetic, he writtS in NitlZlCht ConiTiil
Wf1&11<T, is 'applit-d physiolog'.
It is tlle body, for Nierzschc, which produces whate-.er tnlth we can
achieve. The w<ntd i ~ the way it is only bec3use <>f rhe peculiar
>triiCIUr< of our senses, and diffen:nt biology would deliver us
difTeunt universe entirely. Truth is a funcrion of the malerial
evolution of the spt:cie.: it is the passing effi!Ct of our sensuous
interaCtion with our emironmeot, the upshot of what "'e need to
survive and llourish. The \\ill to truth means constructing the kind of
worid within which one's powers can best lhrive and one's drives
most freely funCtion. The lJJl!e to knowledge is n impulse to
conquer, an apparatus for simplifying and falsifying the rich
ambiguity of things so thai we mighttaltc possession of them. Truth is
jusr reality tamed and tabulated by our p.racricol needs, and logic
is a false equivalencing in the intensts or survinl. If Kant:t
lrallSQ:ndcnw unity of apperception has any meaninJ at all, it rcfcn
not to the gbosdy forms of tbe mind butto the pmvisiorul unity of tbe
budy. We think ll5 we do becouse of the son ofbodi<> we have, and
lhe complex relations wilh reality which this enu.ils. It is the body
rather thilll the mind wbic:h interpret< the world, dlllps it into
lllllnageable cbunlcs and assigns it approximate tneaninp. What
'knaws' is ()lJJ multiple sensory JlO"ers, which are not only rtefacts in
d.enuet.es - the products of .. ogled history - but the sources of
artefactS, generating as !hey do those lif-cnhano:lng 1\clions by whkh
we prosper. Thought, to be sure, is more than just biologicol reOex:
it is a specialized function of oor drive-s ,.hic:h CliJ1 n:finc and
.spiritualize them over time. But it remains the case that evct)'thing we
think, feel and do moves within a frame of interests rooted in our
'species beinr', and can have no reality independendy of this.
Communicltion itself, which for Niecuchc as for Marx is effectively
synonymous ,.;,h consciousness, develops only under duress, as part
of a material struggle for SUI'\Toal, bowe'o'er much we may later come
til delight In ir os an crivity in i ~ S e l f The body, a 'richer, dearer,
more tangible pheoumt.."l1U0
than Cuns<.-iotJsnCS:S, J figures in effect ror
Nlerzschc as the uncooso:lous- as the submerged sub-tem of all our
more finely reDective life. Thought is thus sympwmatic of materi:U
fom:, and a ' P'}'Chology' is that sccpal hcrmcocutic which lays bare
the lowly moti\'U which impel it. One does nor so much contest idft<
:1> find inSlCribed ,.;thin them the traces of humanity's hungering.
Thinking is thus inherently 'ideological', the semiotic mart.: of a
viokncc that now lies erased beneath it. What fascinate Nie11J>:he is
the incessant hankering which lies at the core of reason, the malice:,
rancour or ecstasy which drives it on, the deplo)tnCnt of instinct in
instincfs own r<:pn!Ssie)n; what he to in .1 di5Cl0urse is the low
murmur of tbc bod)' svcalung! it1 of Jts gl'e.:d ot guill, Marx.
:"Jietzsche Is cut to bring dc"'n !bought's <rcduklu:S trust in hs 01.1.1\
autonom)', md <lbo'o'C all thar spiritualit} (whethe its uau\t= is
religion ur phihrsllflhr) whilh ir.-. c,..c::.o; in hnrrm fmm
dtc Wood and mil in which idea; arc a<tu:ally born. That blood a.nd
1uil ;,,.. lu: nauu:" g.trtt::alog)''. in t:unlr.tl<l l 111 1he: om!-(ding-
C\'01utionisrn of 'hisrl)l)'' . CTh:n gn1csom<' dominion of nooSC'nsc .ilnd
acddtot that ha& so far been g)Jcd "history'", he scotTs in
r;,.,,a md uuuwsb Wsn:11t1ta!Jic utixitls uf mblt
notions. th< of their functions. iUwninatiog the dark
WtlrlshiJj) whtrc: all thuugl11 il. lnt1t:1l v:a.lue"
a!'\' the bloodstaiocd fi1.1it Cif a b:trbarous Mswry of debt, ronurc,
obligation. rt:\'Cngc. the .,.hole OOrrific pro'c-ss b, which the hvman
anilll!ll wns s;stemrnic:-ally rmd detli!ifnted to be rt>ndert"d lit
(or dvilited society. I fi5tory i-; .iufl a morbid morallurion through
which hwmuLil )' lt:ot.ri'IS lube a:)hamal of its uwu iu:>LinCL-t, am.J
smallesT ';tC)l on c:.arrh h:a.-, b('<.' n fi>r h)' spiri"Tal :mel physi,.,.)
torture . . . how much blood .1nd CT\Ielty lies .11t the bottom of.tll "'good
lhi ng&'"!'' f'nr :l!i (m M.:mc, mnr.tliry' 1., nul ">U rnut:h
mancr of probkms as .1 problem all io itsdf; philosophers may hJ''(
queritd this or tbal tntJrJ I vaJut, but Lhe)' have ll<ll yel problemattl.ed
the very concept of morality, wtuc:h fo.r Nkt2s<he is 'rllC'.rely a sign
lauguJge of the ill e.::
Rnther ,,s fi)J' Marr thl.' rmduc:tivf:' hec::umf! shat:kl(:d 2ml
<On$tnined by .1 set of social rtlatioos. so ior the
Jjfe-iostu-.cu; ;'lfC enfeebled and 'orrupted inro what we
lnO\'' f!S mortJ the gulle;s
gbl;trnct ' herd' ml)l':.liry of
conventioM;} society. This is e5SentiaJJy a movement from coercion U)
l!t:g:en1un.v: 'Munlil,'t is !Jy iJldeed, it itseli
rcmain.f compul$ion f()f' some time, to which one Stlbmhs ro twoid
disagreeable <:onsequcnces. L;;;.ter it becomes cuuom. J.ner still free
:mc.J lius lly becorues ifStinct: tlttn, Jike every thing:
long ancl mm1ral, it is link<:d wi1h gratilK:1111iuu - wuJ Ull\lo is

\Vh.at we have sec!\ in Rousseau Md other

mor:th!>.ls :as !ht: SIJIIn:ntt.ly '<il esiDeric' mmsition from Jaw to
sponwnd cy. naked l'lf)Wcr ro plc::ruruhlt hubit, is lur .'tit:tz.'i\:ltt: the
last in The old bartlaric law ;riell.h to the
jmcntion of 1he free' subject . <1
introjection of authority opens up that interior space of guilt, sickness
and bod conscience which son>e like to call 'subjectivity'. Healthy vital
instincts, unable to discharge themselves for fear of social disruption.
turn irtwllrd to gin birth to the 'soul', the police agl!nt within tach
individllll. The inward world thickens and expands, acquires depth
and impan, thus heralding the death of 'wild, free, prowling men"
who injured and exploited witlto..t a care. The new moral creture is
an 'aesthelicized' subject, in so far as power has n01< become
pleasure; bqt it signals at the same rime the demise of the old style of
aesthetic hWillln animal, which lived out illi bcauriful barl>aric
instincts In splmdld unconstraint.
Such, for NiellSChe, were the warriors who originally imposed
their despotic powers on a population hwnbly waiting to be hammcn:d
into sbape. 'Their \liOrk is an instinctive creation and imposition or
forms; they are the most involuntary, unconscious arti>'U there arc ...
They do not know wht guilt, responsibilily, or consideration are,
these born organisers; they exemptif) that terrible artisls' egoism that
bas the look of bronze and knows ilsclf justified to .U eternity in its
''work", like a mother in her child."' It is this brutal rulingdass
dominion which drives underground the free instincts of those it
subjug:Ues, creating the self-k>.uhlng Ufe of religion,
asceticism. But such sickly subjecthood is thus the product of
magnificent artistry, and rcfleC!li that formative dimplinc in its own
festering mosochism:
This se<:rct self-r.Mshment, this artists' cruelty, this
delight in imposing a form on oneself as hard,
recalcitrant, sullering md in burning a will, a
critique, a con.tt:ldicrio", a :1 no .lmo it, this
uncanny, dreadfully jO)'Ous labour of a soul voluntarily at
odda with Itself that makes itself suffer out ofjoy in making
sutTer - ewnt11:ally entirely aaiw conscience'
- ,-ou will have guessed it - as the womb of .U ideal
md phenomena, also brought 10 light m
abundance of strang<! new beauty aod affirmation, and
pub"P" beauty itself .
There is no question of Niettsche simply r<grclling the horrific birth
of the humanist subject, unlike some of Ills less wary modcrndar
acolytes. In in< :l!luring unity of disciptine and sronuneiry, s:>distic
form and mollwble rn:nerial, such a Cr>v.!n, self-punitive animal is an
aeslhelic mcl2<-t oil of i1s own. If m is npe and violation, the
humanist subject reaps lhc perverse aesthetic dcligbrs of a ceaseless
self-violation, a sado-masochi5tn Nietzsche much admires. And since
an is lh2t phenomenon which gires the law to iw:lf, r2ther than
receiving it pa."iSiiwly from there is a in which rhe
anguished monl self is a more exemplary aesthelic 'YP< than the old
warrior cbss, who master an essentblly alien mate.W. The authentic
art work is crearure and creator in one, which is truer of the monat
subject lhasr of the imperious war-lord. There is something beautiful
aboul the bad COI!Science: Niet7SChe derives erotic stimulalion from
humanity's self-IOrture, and so, he implies, does humanity itself.
Moreover, this compulsively self-r2vishing creature is not Dilly a work
of :m in irself, bur the source: of oil sublimation, and so of aU usthelic
phenomena. Culture bas its roots in self-odium, and triumphantly
vindicates lh2t sony condilion.
All of this ma) seem gntifYingly remote from Marxism; hut rhe
parallel lies in a cenain shared releologism, however uncomfonably
lbe word may ring ill lbe em of at least NietZSChe's present-<by
disdples. Tele<>logy is a grossly unfashionable concept tt>day even
among Mnrxisrs, let alone but like many a demonized
notion it is perhaps due for a linle redemption. For Niei:!.SChc, lbc
breaking down of the old, reliable instinctual slruerure of lhe human
animal is on the orae hoond catastrophic loss, bringing forth the
cringing, sclt:.lacenling subjccr of moral ideology, and throwing
humanity on rhe mercy of rhat mos1 tre:Jcheroos, deluded of all its
faculties, consciousne-ss. On the other band, this tlcclcnsion marks a
major advance: if the corruption of instinct makes human life more
precarious, it also opens up at a srroke &..sb possibilities uf
experiment and adventure. The repression of lire drives is !he basis of
aU grear :Itt and civilization, leaving as it does a void in hum:m being
whi<b cullure alooe can fiU. Moral man is thus an essential bridge or
transition to lhe OY<rman: only when the old savage inclinations have
been sublimed by the imposition of 'Mrd' morallcy, by the craven kwe
of the law, wiD the human animal of the future be able to take these
propensities in hoond and bend them to his autonomous will. The
subject is born in sickness and subjection; but this is an essential
wmkshnp for the tempering and organizing of ntherwi.<e desarucrive
powers, which in the shape of the ovemun will burst through morol
fonnations as a new lind of prod11l1ive force. The individual of dte
furure will then buckle such powers to the wk of forging himself into
a free creature, releasing difference, heterogeneity and unique
selfhood from the duU compulsion of a homogeneous ethics. The
death of instinct and the birth of the subject I in thl sense a
fortunate F.U, in which our perilous reliance on calculative reason is
at once an iruidious oof1<:11ing of fibu and the ad\lent of an enriched
existence. The morel law w"" necessary in its day for lhe refining of
human powen, but boo now become a fetter which must be throwu
off. 'Profoundest gratitude for that which morality ha. achieved
hithcno', Nie12:Sehc wrircs in The WiU to Po=r, 'but now it is only
burden which moy become a

'Many ch2ill$ have been
placed upon I!Wl', he remarks in T/:, WanJm.r and his Shtubnz>, 'that
he might unlearn behaving 2S an animal: and in point of f>et he has
become milder, more IJU)re joyful, and m<>re circumspect
dwr any animal. But oow he still suffers from having bome his chains
too long . . . " There cn be nn sovereign individll21 without
straitjacleting custoon: having been disciplined to interlllllize a
despotic law which ftanens them to faceless monads, human beings
are now ready for that higher al'5thetic self -government in which they
will bestow the bw upon themselves, each in his or her own uniquely
autonomous way. One ind o(inrrojectinn, in shon. wjJI )ield gmuod
to another, in which the wealth of evolved consaousm:ss will be
incorpomted as a fresh kind of insrinctu31 !tructure, tr.-ed out with B
the robust spontaneity of the old blubaric drm=s.
There Is surely a remote analogy between this vision and historical
mterialism. For Marxism, too, the transition fmm traditional society
to capitalism a falsely homogenizing law - of economic
exch>nge, nr hourgeoi detll<lCracy- which emdes contrele particu-
larity to a shadow. But this 'faU' is felicitous, one upwards mther than
downwards, siru:e within this dull carapace of abstract equality are
fostered the very forces which might beyond the kingdom of
ncc-.sil) to some future realm of freedom, difference md excess. In
necessarily fa&hlonlng lhe organized collective v;orker, 2nd in
evolving a plurality of historical powers, capitalism for Marx plant>
the seeds ofitsov.n dissolution as surely as the epoch of the 111lbjettin
Nie11.$Che' eyes pnpares the groomd for that which will ovenum it.
And Marx, like Niettsche, would :romctimcs seem to view thiJ
<7""'C:rt\lrn.iog as an oeccomw.g of IHl)Ci!lity as sut:h. WJu:u
ul chc wuy in whit:h L111tsc:iousnc:st ah:..itacfs intpfl'\'c;.ri5llr,.,. 'i
the his lan,:uagc is cognarc with Mar:ts disc01.1rsc on 0::\<: h.a.ng:e
Chrning to the n.uur.:: of the 'W(IrlJ of
...,hid! \loc t::m t:rmsdmLo.; is: unly :1 nnd
sign-world, :1 -.orld that is made common aad mtaner;
wh3tC"'Cr becomes cortScious by the &31\\C roktll
sl1alluw, tJtiu: rt:lali\dy stupid, !(t:fll:rul: hcnl sixnal;
all bcc()mirllt eons.cious im'Q)vc:; a grc1t and thorough
oonupticm. fals.iiicar;cu. ft ductior w supetJit:ializit s: :mtl
\Vh;at is true of coosdousacss as such. in Nietzsche's eMn:tue
nnminali.:; f vic-:w, is fi t Man an r:fl(:cl ul' c:mnnudiliottinn, whcrchy a
coMf)Jcx wealth of usc-value is stripped to a meagre index ()(
exchange. f or both phll05ophers, however, hist'Jcy by its bad
side: if for Mux commodifying pn:l('('S':: hllmRnicy
from the and ptr()6.ia.l:ism oftradi1iooa.l layinjtdown
the condilioos for fret , equat. uni,ersal fot 1'\ietzsebe dK-:
drelll'Y narrative ot hl.lman.ity's ' becoming calrulablt> is a
its specics-bcing. for without su<:h. calculability it would SW\'i\e.
LA111.io.: is a lk:tiut! iu t:)t>S
sine..: oo l wu t.hiugs can he
but liL:c the C(tnivalcncing or vah.tc. ir i<; :.t once
repressi'wc: .md potcnti.d ly
nu: present i:-> fur l:M11 h Nietzsche :md Mun. pmrac-
dcnic: to a ITI(If'(" dc::sirabk \:onditir.n.. at on<."e impeding and enabling
it, a protective matrix now ddlniti\<:lyoutgrown. (f the two are alike in
thi!:l rtu.'!Y :HI! nloo s1nUngly similu in nlhers. Anrh st:orn nil
anodyne ideaUsm aod othcrworklliDC'ss: '1lu: mte \\'f.d'ld,
(\'ietzsd:ae in notably !\1arxist jdiom, ' ha,s been erecttd (m a
uf real wurl t.l."' Ea..:h lays 1,:lai.m tu an uf
pmdut.,.ion, 'lifE>' nr the will 1n pA"ter - whkh i!; 1h1 smart:<.! :tnl
mca:5-urc of all vllhl c b\lt lies lx:)'ond such wh1<; . They :m; a1
one in tbeir negali\'C

which spccihcs tht gencnl forms oi
01 futwt: r..thrr thau its :.sud t:tdt lhat
ruttJTt in IC:ml :i IJf :>UTJl)tiS, CII \.'<.".SS, U\'ert:nmiltg: iflC(IfnJTICUSUrubilit):
tC'-"0\'<' rin.g a &ost ar;d throug.h a transtigul"t'd
OOflt:t:pl uf m.tiiSure. Both th.inkcri dc:cousttu<:l idealii'.td u.uittes imo
their tMJccaltd material confliC'tiv(nt3S
and art dc('pt) wa.ry of aU
altruistic rhetoric. beneath which they detect the fugltive moti<1ns of
powtr and stlf inttrest. lf onty lhose actions art mom.l which are
done purel) for the iake of ochers, >-lieW<he remark$ wryly in Oilmn,
then thc:n: art f.Omund actions al all. Neilht-r uS(;rih.:s a hi,;lt
value o consciousness .mieb is berated f or its idealist bums and
th.rusa 1r.&d to its ntu<.ltst loc:atil .. withio -a field of b.ish)ric.al
cl<:l(nnina.tiuns. For Nic::t.-:o;chc. I.!C.mS(.. -inu :-.1l t':SS a.-s $Uc:h io; inc:nrahi)'
idc-al:iSI, a d'tpdvely ttable (being' on tht maruial pross
of ;cbange, becoming; multiplicny, opposition, rontr3dic.tiol-t war\"
l'"or Alarx, dtis meoophysiC.lJ or reihcatof! impulse of the mind .,..ouJd
Sm to inhere in the: specific conditions of commodity fetishism
dwuge is sintilurly frozen and noal uJaJjt.t:tl. Both art: SL-qlliud uf
the c:uqrory of the subject, alt.hougt. Nicaschc a good deal more so
dJan Mal'.x.. For clte latel" MaOt, the subje<:l appeats &imply as a
.o;uprorr the: !'rruc:'lurc; ; n Nicrt.<;ehc'.') view rhr. stbicrt i.-. a
rtiCJ"e trick of grammar, a convenitnt fiction to sustain the deed.
If thought cao be pilf;'llle:IOO to .\ 1arxislll, it can abo be
deciphered by it. Th.e con1empt which. Nieusc.he e\incco; ti:w
bourgeois mora.li'Y is UJldcntandablc enough in the .;onditiortS of the
Genm.1u t lltPiJt u(b.is time, the:- cls; W'd."i fOr lht:
1)1\n C'OIItcOt to seck inOucnce v.ithin Bismarck's: autoer:>.tic regime
rathe-r cltao ()fl'er it a decisive J>Oiitical chaUt:n@t:. OefeH:11tial and
Jtrugmaric. tht:: C ic: rman huurgt:nisic: di.-oonwncd tl i'inwi': rcvl)lnrion-
:t ry role for he bene6ts capiulism in!ti'.lkd in larte measure from
'above' - by th.c: prote.;tion.ist Bi:smarck.ian St<l lt ilsdf - Olitd for the
prottjon which. such tm to rulin$-dass polities
might furnish <lf3in.st "hat rapidly to become the greatest
scxial.ist p11t1y io iJlt:' vo.odd. Dtprivt:tl uf piUI)I.!f" 11ulitiud rqm .. .;erdaJion
by Bisma.rd's implacable oppositicn to parliamentary government,
thwaned overshadO"Wcd b)' :.IJl lltrogant arist(J(;tatisua: d1e middle
<lass c.."1 llll lnHu..i Sf:d and within rh(; :'itruc:tun;s of :;tate
in iu politi.CJI on its superiors and ttrrlfied
by the swdling sociali4t damour of its subot"dillates. ln the f3Ct of
this mert, t:1mfurmisr w :uum sw11ggeringly 3ffl rm.-:;
'<irik, (rc(;-b<J.oring va.lt1cs of the c!d nobility or warrior c.Het. Yet
it ls equally possible to see this autarchic, individ\lalism :15 an
\'L'I"siun of the buur!>"Etrisir. itself, with :all the daring.
dynaruism :lJKl ir an:ai11 in m(N't" propuwus
.. 'ial d rt;ltmo; tances. Tht" s;dvenmrous UbmtJroJth <: .ms a
D<lstalg:i< backwards to the old miliury nobility; hm iu hl">
insoleudy t:xpltcit he alsu a
bourgtois subject. 'To ;and to want to have more-grow,h. in one
word - thai is Ji(e its.elf'l IXnluucnls 1\:iclZSJ.:he in Tiu Wtf! !(t Pt..rrur, in
the t.:llurse nf an anti -socidi:d <iiarrib(. (f Conly manuiacturcrs were
noble. he retJ(cts in T,'te Gay ScitN, tbcre might no1 be any SOC1ali:-;m
of lht n1as:;cs.
' l'ht pr oj('("(. howevH, is mort' complex and panad9xk-:al than some
Carl)iC'.m or Disraeli.u1 drum of grafting tht hetYJic vig-:mr uf
arisl tK:nlt)' mlu s leaden hrJUrgt:oisic. It tunc:t:m.s, nuhcr, an aC' lllC
oonrraJiccion within rhc middJ-e cLass itself. The problem is tJu.t the
mural, reli&oitiU" jurittk.1l ' o;uflen.:tn.t.:rure" t.)f rh:u t:l:l":>s is
inw conOict with hs own productive entr),rieS. duty,
ts5cnti31 foundoltio:.s of tlte t-owgooxs otder ; )et
they also Si! r'ie ro impede the unbridled stlf
dewelopmem of tlle-
bourgcoi:; subject. Tlut adf-<kvcloprnc:m i; ironica.lly at odds with
the \'t:F) ' nu:lalbysit.::.d' 'Val ues - abso.lult gtlJuttdS: slable itlt:uliti.::s,
nnfi.ssurcd llfl'.ln whidl midd)c: -cJ;;o;,:o .sociC'J)' for
its politi<:al:sc<:urity. The dream of cntrt prtotur is to he .,..iJqlly
nm;ortstmioed in b.is (W."' whiJI.' rtnmring- in
fonns of law, polirici, religion and t thics from the
potemall)' mjwious acti.,. ilies of othtr!> of his kind. Such ' on:srrilinrs.
h1.twccr, must then ecaually hi undermining rhc vet;'
tht)' were meant to $a(eguard. lndhidual 3.nd
1m:ummr.m:m:ah1llty :are n ( du: esscm:t:, Y"'l \\nuJtl st::!tll :tttainable
only by a hcrd-lilcc lc\c;Uing an(! hnmoy.t:niring. A11 shc.cr :miln:hit:
prOte or for::e, the bourgeois threatens in it!
sa1btimely inext-,austible ber.oming 1n 1mden :m lin: nry :-;l:lhih;o,mg
social rcprcS<'ntations i1 requires. h ill the bourgrois h.i rnsdf. if onl)
he would acL:nQWicdge 1t, who i!. the lrue anardist .anti nil:li.l ist,
kickiJ)g away at every Sltp tilt ulctaphysical fou.ncbtLon on which he
T o relllize itsE-lf tillly, Then, rhis. scll-rhwar1ing
subject must somehow 6vt: rtbrow h'K'l(; and this is :;urc1)' <" ccnrral
meaniJlg of the sclf-OV'crcoming The aesthetic as ..
i.co in c:nnllic: r wirh rht: ill> h:.rwuny, ami
NiftzS('h( b r(c:klesilly J'I I'(:J>l' r('d to $acorihC'\oo: 1he lann tn ttw fimner.
Bourgeois man .u moral, legal political $Ubicct is 'more sick,
uncertain, indeterminate than any other animal, ttl ere is.
no doubt of thar - he is the ridt animal';" yer be is also lhe bold
adventurer who has 'dared more, done more new thln!JS, bn\ed more
and challenged fate 100n: than all the other animals put together: he,
the great eJq>erimenrer with himself, discontented and insatiable,
wn:slling with animals, nature, and gods for ultimte dominion -he,
still unnquishtd, eternally dir<:cted toward the future, wbose own
reslless energies never leave him in peace .. . ' .
This magnificent
self-entl'q)N:ncunhlp tragically enWis the mmbid gmn of tooscious-
ness; but Niw.&che wiD, so to speak, lift such productive: dynamism
from 'base' to '>'Upcr.;tructure', >!tattering the metaphysical fotms of
the lancr with the furious creativity of th fonner.
Both subjects nd objects re for Niet21Che mere 6ctioos, the
provisional effects of deeper forces. Sud1 an eccentric iew is perhaps
no more than the daily truth of the capitollit order: the objc:<c'IS wbidt
are for Niet>.5Che sh.eer transient nodes of force ore as commodities
no more than ephemeral points of exchange. The ' objectie' world for
Niet7.<ehe, If nne can speak in such terms, would seem at once
turbulently 'ital and blankly meoningless - an accurate enough
phenomenology, no doubt, of mart.et society. The human subject, for
all its ontological privile!!", i.< likewise stripped in 5\IA:b conditioos to
the reflex of dcqx:r, 1Jl()re determinant processes. It is this filet that
Niewche will seize on and rum to advantage, hollowing out thi>
already deoonstructed figure to clear a pdt for the advent of the
avcnnan. As tbc ideal cnrrcpn:neur of the future, thi> bold creture
has learnt to relinquL<h all the old con.soWions of soul, essence,
identity, continuity, li'iog prtJ\'isionaUy and resourcefuUy, riding with
the vital current of Hie ltsdf. In him, the cxisdng social order has
come ro sacrifice its security to it< liberty, embracing dte
ness of existence u the 'cry source of it> <XalOt!ess sdf-experiment. If
bourgeois society is caught in a cleft stict eocqy and
ontology, betw.,.n. pro.ecuti11g its ends and legitimating them, thea
the laner must yield to the fonn<:r. To aDow the old metaphysical
subject to Sfllinltr apan is to tap directly into the will to po,..er itself;
appropriating this force to f.1shion a """'' ungrounded, esthetic
being who carries bis justification entirely in himself. In a reversal of
Kierkcgaard, ethic.< will then hzoe given way to aesthetics, as the
foeti on of a >lHble order is sweptoside for the more authentic fiction of
eternal self-creation.
Tile most no.abiA: difference bcrween Niet2SChc and Marx is that
NU.12SChe is not a MarxisL Indeed he is not only not a Marxist, but
bdligm:nt opponent of almost e-ery enlightened b'bc:ml or democratic
value. We must resist all sentimental weakness, he reminds himself:
'life itself is mmtial/j appropriotion, injury, overpowering of what is
alk11 and weaker. suppn:ssiun, hardness, imposition of one's own
forms, incorporation, and at least, ot ils mildest, eocplo!tadon ... '."
Much of Niel7.<che's writing reads like a brochure for a youth
adventure scheme, or the dyspeptic grousings at liberal eiTeteness of
some pensioned-off Penugon general. He desires
spirits strengthened by war and 'lictofy, for whom conquest,
dvemure, danger, and even pain have become needs; it
would require habituarion to the leen air of the height<, to
winter journeys, to icc and mountairu in every sense; it
would requJre even a ldnd of sublime wickedness, an
ultimate, supremely self-r.onfident mischie\ousness in
knowledge that goes with greu health."
We must steel ourselves 10 the sufferings of others, and ride our
chariotS over the morbid aud de.cadenL Synlf'llthy and as
we have tbcm arc the virtues of Jud.aeo-Chri!Jtianity,
symptoms of that self-odium nd disgust for life which the lower
arden, in their rancorous resentment, have by a strok< of gmiu
persuaded their own mas1ers to internalize. The poor have cunningly
infected the >trong Mth their own loathsome nihilism, so NieiZSCht
will speak up in Nm for cruell)l and deligbt in domination, for
' everything haughl), mmly, conquering. dotninl:ering'."' Like William
Blake, he suspects that pity and altruism are the acceplable faces of
aggression, pious masls of a predatory n:gime; and be can see
nothing in socialism but a dls3strous elltenslon of abstract levelling.
Socialiso1 is insuffiendy revolut:icoary, a mere coUectiviz.ed version of
tile enfeebled bourgeois virtues which l'ails to challenge die whole
of mnraUty and of the subject. It is simply an alternative brand
of social ed1ics, bound in thi< sense to its poliriClll antagonist; the only
wonbwhUc future m\151 involve a transvaluation of an ,'Jiur:s.
One does not have to glimp6e In NietzSChe a precursor of the
Thin! Reich to be repelled by th.is grO\'elliog self-abasement before
the phallus, with all its brutal misogyny and militarist fantasi2ing. If
Niei2Sehe means such talk as 'lhe annihilation oflhc decaying raOC-<'
lit=lly, thon his elhics are appalling; ifht intends it metaphorically,
then he is recklessly irresponsible and cannot be entirely exculpated
from lhe sinister USI!S to which SU(h ugly rhetoric was later put. It is
remarkable bow blandly most of his present-day acol}1es bave edited
out lheSI! more repuguant features of the N!etzschean creed, as a
previous generation edited in a pr01o-fascist anti-Semirism. The
Ubmnenuh, to be sure, is nor some latter-day Gcnghis Kllan Jelling
rip his murderous impulsf:!< but a tempered, refined individual of
serenity and self-control, sensitive and maguanimoos in his bearing.
Indeed one proper objection ro him is less mat he will exterminate the
poor dum that he represents little advance, for all the Oamboyant
Oourishing with which he is heralded, on the well-balanced, sclf-
di.<ciplined individual ol a famili.:ar cultural ide.illsm. Een so, ir is a
crucial distinction berween Nietzsche and Marx that the release of
indMdual human powers from the fcncrs of social ualformily- a JOal
which both thinkers propose - is m be achieved for Marx i o and
through the free sdf-rcaliulion of aU, and f<)J Nittzsche in dlsdainful
isolation. Nie123Che's oontempt for human solidarity belongs with his
fundamental values, not >imply ..,;th his denunciation of o cum:nt
confotmlsm. The overman display compassion and benevolence,
but these are simply aspectS of the pleasurable e>ercise of his powers,
lhc noble decision of lhc strong to unbend magnanimously to the
we.tk. lfhe decides that such compaAAionate unbending is inappropri
ate, thon the we:tk are at his men.-y. It is aesthetic:.lly gratifying from
time to time for the overman to deploy his fullness of strength to
succoor others, "lways delightfully conscious dut he t<luld equally
use it to <..TUsh tht!m.
Given that Ill<: free indi\iduol cannot be the product of coUective
action, 311swer to how he at all must remain
somewhat vacuous. It cannot be by voluntarist transformation, since
Nietzsche has no time for sucb mcntallictions as 'acu ofwill'. lndeed
'wiD J10Wtr' and 'will m power' would stem effective opposites In his
thought. But nor can it be by any vulgar hisrorical evolutionism, for
the ovennao slrikes .;olcntly, unpredlcubly into lhc compbc:cnt
conrinuum of history. It would just seem the case that certain
privacgcd subjects such as Frio:drich Nietzsche arc able mystt:rioosly
to tranSCend the nlbiHsm of arodem life and leap at a bound into
another dimension. Such leop c:on certainly not occur through the
exercise of crilical reason, which Nietzsche believes uupossiblc. How
coukl the inteHo:ct. !hat crude, fumbling insttwnent of lhc will tn
power, pick itself up by its own boocstr.ops and reflecr critically on the
interesl< of which it is the blind expression? 'A critique of lhc fao;ulty
of koowledse', Nietzsche writes, 'is senseless: how should a mol be
able to critic:i"" it.<elf when ir can only use itself for the crilique?'
Li1e several of hi> present-day foUowcrs, he would seem to assume
lbat all such critique entails a serene disinterestedness; and then
there is nolhing between this impossible metalinguistie dream and a
start.ly Hobbesim conception of reason as tbe obedient slave of
)>0'0-cr. Cognirino, as we have seen, is ju.<t a fictional simplification of
the world for pragmatic ends: like the artefm itself, the concept cdil>,
scbcmatlus, disregards tbe inessential, in a reductive faWfication
essential for 'life'. There would seem no way,lhen, in whicb it could
gain an analytic bold on irs own operations, even if NU:tzsche's own
wrilinp would appear paradoxically to do ptecisely this. A.s Jiirgen
Habennas has rem:uted, Nietzsche 'denies the critical puwer of
rdkclion with and only with tht m<IUU of r<j/trtion itu/j'." Marx, for
his Part. would endorK Niet=be's insistence on lhe praclical nalure
of l .nowledge, its :tochorage in m>teri:ll intor .. u, but reject the
pragmatist ooroUary lbat an avenU emmcipamry critique is !hereby
nece=rily undercut. Wlw concern.< Mon are ju..r rhOS<> historically
specific, 'persptival' interests which, being what they are, can only
realize lhcmselves by passing 0\'l:r from !heir <WID particularlly to a
profoundly interested enquily into lhe structure of a whole <OCial
formation. The link for Marx between local ond general, pragmatic
and tOilllizinl tlloupt, is secured in the tim place by the cnmradlctoty
narure of das< society itself, which would require global transforma-
tion if certain highly sp<:dfic demands were to lind !heir fulfilment.
JrNietzSCbe is able to know that aU reasoning is ~ y lhe prod act
of the wiD to f>Oil'"' then lhi< knowledge itself .tw-e. something of
reason's classical nmge and aulhotity, unloc\ing the o;ery essence of
lhe real. lt is jiiSI that tbis essence turns out to be me truth lhat there
are only ever sectoral interpretations, 311 of which are in fact false.
The quanel between Marx and Nietzsdtr turns not on whether there
is something more fundamental titan reasoning- both thinkers insist
that there is -but on lhe consequent locus and StiWS of reason within
this more determining contm. To delhroae reliSOII from its
vainglorious supremacy Is nor necessarily to reduce It to the funclinn
of a lndc(d just as Nletzs<'.hc at ooc poinr
that reason passion arc not simple opp06itts - it is nUsttken, he
in 'Ou Will"' Pnnor.r, tn talk if C':\'C:Tf did not P055CSS
its quantum of rca.son- so critical reason for Marxism is a potential
within the: gruwdt or inlt:R.$l ... l lu: n itit-:t.l rr:ao;on
might enablr. an (n't:n:omi:ng of is for immu cm
within that &)'Stem rather as for Niet7.$Che rc.150n i5 a quality
immanent tn desire. M:t n.i!':r is Mithf'r p:tr:!chnteti int o
hiStory &om some outer sp!C't, nt)f to a rtt1ex
of narrowly partkular irueres.ts. lns1cad, it seizes inioleutly on the
itlt:ah. of IMlU;xt:uis Sll&.:it:tJ and t lKju in::-; why it i!t. that in current
COiflditions those ideals arc curiot!sly, p<rsislcndy unrealizable.
Mar:x:ism i; mnch with power. btlt refers this issue to
ct:rtain contlicts of interest bound up with material production.
Niet?!:a.iu. .. hy h ) 'Jlll::OT:l!i-il'oos ptM\-er nn end in itself, v.ith llO
r:uionalc beyond its own expansion. Th( aim of
Nietzscbun power is not naterial suf\lival bu1 profus i\)0,
cxc;c;s; it f(lf nu ulher rea:,;lm than tu rc:al:zc i!Sclt: lrunit:ally,
then, there is a sense in which f<>r l\ieltSCh( power is ultimately
d isiftltJ'eSI.td. Ou tbe ooe ha1td, it is w1tu0y iust:par.Jblt: frum play
of i:nrc... "Tcst:o; <. ln other hJnd, it. broods: coc .. mally upon its
own being in sublime inditfert.nee to .my of its loc.alizcd expression&.
In :1..-. m mhc:r W:lys., l\'it.l7.'i.dl4o:an JlflWf!r fs rurui:Jmertt:tlly
aesdletic: it bt ars its ends within itself, thnn as mere
points of resistance essential to its own self-wualizing. 11ttougb Uae
L1mtin}(t:nl l!uaJs it ltlm'olo:. up. rw1wcr returns t:h:m:tll) to it!idt: and
c-an be ( ).tr.aoeous teo it. It is thus tba1 Nietu<'he can be
br.u11Jed by Hc:it.Jeg!):t:r :as l:r:l u( 1hr: md:tphysilins-nut lh:tt rhe
wiD to p.owa i:; any ..u.ln of Hegelian behind the .. orld (since
for Niett.sche's pheaomenalism there is ab5olutcly
bt:hind ' :IIJJ't:!lnm.:cs'), hu1 1h:1.1 i1 is 1he sult!
uni\'Crsal fonn the world takes. Will to powu mean; the d)namic self
enhaoccment of ill! thing5 in their warring rnultiplicity, me shilling
force- field by "'h1ch they eXtf.&nd, :Hrugglt' ilml 01 pprupritlu::;
:mel it ts rhus nn lc illl:l of 'l:ll!ing' llt ;all l:tllt sint'e i1 denoltS that
differential relation of quaot:t of fortt'i wbich is the $hape Q{
lWCrytbi ng, it inevitably to fulfil the conceptual function of
bt:int .. .Su it i!'> th:u 3 mcldt:m de1ouree of rhe m:a..,er, Gilles
Delellle, can write with a rhetorical strain that ' The will to
power is plastic, inseparable from each case In which it is determined;
just :IS the eteJruJI return is being, but being which is affirmed of
becoming, the will to power is unitaJy, but unity which is affirmed of
We have already encountered more than onC<! the idea of a force
whicb is 'imcparablc from each case in which it is determined', and
this is the law of the a<:sthetic. The will to pmnr is and is nota uniwy
esstn<-.. in jw.'t the way that the lnDer fonn of the anefact is and is not
a universal law. The 'brw' rcgubting the work of art is 110( of the kind
that could be abstracted from it. even pra,isionally, to become the
subject of argument nd analysis; it evaporoteS without trace into the
stuff of the anworl: as a 11hole, and so must be intuited rather than
debated. Just the same is true oftbe Niw.schean will, which is at once
the inward shape of aU there is, yet nothing but local, >tratgic
variations of force. l\s such, it can provide an absolute principle of
judgement or oniOiogkal fuuadati<m while being nothing of the sort,
as Heeling and quicksilver as the Fichtean process of becoming. The
K:mtian 'law' of taste, similarly, is at once universal and particular to
the object. Poised at this conveniently ambivalent point, the idea of
the 11ill to power can be: used In one dlrectloo to lambaste those
metaphysicians who would hunt out an essence behind appeanmces,
and i:n another direction to the myopic heduni.sb,
empirkists and utiliurlans who are unable to peer beyond their own
(mainly Eogli.<h) noses to applaud the mighty cosmic droma unfolding
around them. It pennits Nietzsche to combine fuU-blooded
fouadalinllallsm, one wblclt bas searched out the secret of all
existence, with a scandalous pcrspecsivism which cao uphraid u
effeminate fantasy the abject will to truth. Will to power is jU>t the
universal tnub thatlherc is no unmrsal trUth, the interpretation that
aD is interpretation; and this not least in the hands of
NietzSChe's modem inheritors, aUows an icomx:lastic radicalism to
blend with a prudently progmatist suspicion of aU ' global' theorizing.
As with Schellingiau 'indifference, or Derridegn 'difference:', it is
impossible to trump this quui-uanscenderual principle because it is
entirely empty.
It is worth enquiring whether the wm to power is for Nietzsche a
matter of 'fact' or 'valuc'.lt would seem that it cannot be a good in
itself, for iflt i coterminous with everything, by wbar standard could
!his be assessed? One cannot in !'liielzScltc's view >l'Cak of the value or
valuelessnU$ of existence a whole, since thl would presurpnse
some oo1111atie crileria outside of exis1euce itself. 'The value of life
cannol be estimated', he "'rites in 1'ht 1'r:>ililhr oj'tht ld4k; and this is
at least """ sense in which he is not a nihili$1. The wiD lo power
simply u; yet it is also at die source of aU value. The sole objective
measure of alue, Nietzsche comment< in 17tt Will ID PoiPtT, is
enhanced and OJB'<Inized power; so that what is valuable is less the will
to power 'In itSelf', whatever that might mean, than the ways it
promotes and enriches itself in coordina1ed complexes of energy.
Since human life is one such possiblt <nrichmcut, Nietzsche can
claim that 'life itself forces us to posit values; life itself values duouglt
us when we posit values'." But the .,ill to power would seem to
promote and complexitY itself anyway, b)lmtw: ofiiS ery 'essence'.
Dandelions, for instance, are a lriumph of the will to power, resdessly
e.q>anding their dominion by appropriating new IU'CSS of space. If it
belongs to the 'nature' of the \\ill to power to eoharu:e hself, !Mn as a
'priJciple' it hoven; intlelerminat.Jy between faL1 and value, i'" sheer
existence a perpetual aluadon.
lf the world for Niel7->che i> valueless, meaningles.> chaos, then the
point would Set III to be to create one's own in defiance of its
blank Indifference. Nletz.IChe Is accordingly stem with those senti-
mental moralist< who hold that to Ji,e well is to live in acconlonce
"ith Nature. Such thinkcl'!l merely proje<1 their own arbitrary values
onto reality and men, in an act of ideological consolation, unite
nartissistically with this self-image. In a subde of dominion,
philosophy always fashions the world in its owu likeness. NletZ5Che is
out to disrupt this imaginary closure, maliciously reminding os of
Nature's sheer amorality:
'According to nature' you want to lfu.' 0 you noble Stoics,
what deceptive words these are! lm"8fnc a being like
nature, wosteful beyond measure, indiiTerent beyond
me3sure, without purposes or witJ\out
mercy and justice, fertile and desolate and unc:cnain at the
same time; imagine indifference la;elf "" a power - how
auJJ you live according to this indiiTercn<o?l'
Humanily, in whal Nictz.scltc terms a ' monstrous stUpidity', regards
itself as the IIlCasuJC of aU things, and oonsidel'!l anything to be
lx:auliful which reflects back its own visage." But lhe very indiff<rence
of the Nk12Sd!ean universe, in contrast to this anrhropomorphism,
so1mds ironically close to some of his 0"11 most d!eri.<hed values. He
.. -nres in Bormd Good Evil of Nature's 'prodig.l and indiffen:nr
m3gni6ccnce which is outrageous but noble'," implying t1w Nature's
indilforenee 1o wlue is precisely irs value. The circle
bctv;een humaniry and world is duu ruptured with one hand only to
be resealed with the other: it is the \'el)' hllughty heedlessness of
Natute w!Uch would seem to mirror Nietzsche's own ethics.
It is in this sense that Niewche, for all his mockery of the
sentimentalists, is not exactly an existenrioillst. At one level, be would
indeed appear to argue such a ease: the world's lack of inherent value
forhid< you from uking a moral cue from ir, leaving you free to
gmenue your own grnt11itous ' " lues by hllmmering this hrut<ly
mcaningk., material into aL-,'!br:tic shape. The ethical here is purely
dccisionistic: 'Genuine philosophers . . . are commanders and
legislntors: they s;,y; thus shall it be!'" Bur to live in this <tyle is
precisely to imitate Nature as it truly is, an acbicR-mcnt beyond the
purv<yors of th pathetic faOacy. For the way the world i is no way in
particular: re:oUty is will to power, a variable complx of self-
promoting powers, and to live a life of auronomous self-realization is
therefore to u,.., in accordance "itb ir. h is precisely by becoming an
end in \)'\<self that on most accur.otely mirrors the universe.
Nle173Cbe opptaJS ro equivocate bel\\een e.\islmtialist and naturalistic
cases; bur this opposition can be deeonstructed, to give him the best
of aD .possible ideologil'21 world;. The splendid ungrounded autonomy
of le,islaring ooc's own n!ues in the teeth of an amoral reality can
il<elfbe metaphysicaOy grounded, in the way the wortd essentially is.
'Lifc:l is hard, savage indifference; bul this is a value as much a.-. a
a form of exuberant, indestructible to be ethically imitated.
' Jbe will to power does not dictate any p<Jr1irolizr values, as the
sentimentalists believe of Narure; it ju.\1 demands that you do what it
does, namely tivcin a cbanS<=ful, o>puimenral, self-improviSlltory scyle
through the shllping of a multiplicity of alues. In this sense it is the
'form' of the will which the overman affirms rather than ny moral
content, since the will has in faL't no mond content 'Content
hencoforth becomes something merely formal - ()UT life included',
Nietzsche writes in Th Will to Prnr." And this is one sense in which
the ,.;n would SI.'Cm at once the highest kind u( value:, aJK! 110 ,-aJue at aD.

There is a problem, however, about wiry one should affinn the wiU
to J>O"er. One unnot call it a .. Jue tn ctfmJl lhl force, since
everything expre.-ses it anyway. Tiuore is no point in legislating tbat
thlnp should do wmt they cannot help doing just by 'irtuc of wbat
they are. What i.valuable is mluJn<ingthe will; but wbat is the basis of
zlris Yllue judgement, and whence do we derive the criteria which
might determine wbat Is to count as an enhancement? Uo we just
know th.is aesthetically or inmitively, as when Niettsdte speaks of the
pleasurable fulig of power? 'Wbat health is', remarks Heickgger
nmlnou.\1) In his srudy of Nieasche, 'only the healthy can say . . .
What truth is, only one who is truthful con discern.'"' If the will to
power is itself quile a.moral, wbat is so moraUy positive about
en.ricbing it? Wby should one cooperate with tllis force, any more than
with a sentimentalized Namre? It is ct..ar that one can choose, tile
Scbopcnbauer, to deny the will to JK>I'er - even though aU such
denials must for Nietzsche be perverted expressions of it But it is
undear on what grounds one judges that sudt negation is bad, and
tlw affirming the wiD is good. Unless, of course, one has aln:ady
projected certain suprem..!y positive values into tllis force, such that
promoting it bec:omes an indubitable virtue. Cannot the effects of the
"ill to pnwer be celebrated only If one l.s already in possession of
some criteria of value b:; which to ossess then.?
The truth, of course, is tlw Niea:sche doos indeed smuggle certain
already assumed'""""' into the concept of the ";u ro power, in jlJSt
the cin:ular manner for which he scorns th natut:Jiists. In
a DI)'Siificarory gesrure quite as deluded as thein, he naturalizes
certain quite specific oocial alues- domination, agg:res.'lion, explnita-
lioll, appropriation - as the very essence of the universe. But since
such relaricm. of confllct are not a 'thing', their tuenrlallsm is
mysti6c-d in ill; tum. When accus.:d of S>Jbjeetivism., Niettsche can
re!Rat to a kind of positivl.sm: he Is Dot so much promoting any
partio:ular v:alues as describing the way life is. Life is c:tllous, wa>teful,
merciless, dispa.sionate, inimical as such to human Yllue; but thtse
terms an: of coune thorolll!hlY normative. True value is to
admO)Wledge tbotthe amorality of the competitive life-SlJ'US!Ie is the
finest thing there is. The market place would seem hostile to Yllue of
a traditional spirit\W kind; but dUs pl.aiDtninded insistence on
certain brute of life is ttself, ineoitably, a value-judgement. 'My
idea', writes NiebSChe, 'is that each speciAc body strives to become
over the whole of spaoe, nd 10 spread ou1 its power- ils Will-
to-Power - repc!lling whatever its expansi<>n. Dut it strikes
continually upon a like cndeii\'OUr of other bodies, and ends by
adjusting ("unifying") with them.'" Few more explicit theoriza-
tions of capilalist oon>petition could be imagined; bur is out
in his own way 10 spirirualize this predatory stale. The will 10 power
may be in one sense philosophical code for !he marke1 place, but it
also delivers an 'aristO<.ntic' rebuke to the sordid inslrumenlalism of
such Sll'llggle, urging ins1ead a \islon of an acsllu:lic delisht
in il>elf. Such an irrationali<rn of power, scornful of all base purpose,
dissociates ioclf from an ignoble ulilitarianism in the nry act of
reOccling the imtionaliJm of capitalist production.
How does one come, unlike a Schopenhauer, to 'chouse' the will to
power? Eitmr !he act of choosing to affinn the will is an effect of the
will itself, in which case it is hard to see how it can be a 'cbCiice'; or it
is not, in which cue it would seem to fal l, impossibly for Nietzsche,
outside the will to power'< cru;mic SC<lpe- Nleascbe's own ruponsc to
this dikmma is to deconstruct !he entire opposition between free wm
and detenninlsm. In llu: act of affinning the will, liberty lind necessity
blend undecidably together; and ohe primary Niet>J<chean image of
this aporia is the acti\ity of the artis1. Anistic creation is no mere
mmer of 'volilinn' - a metaphysical delusion for Nictzsch.c if ever
there. \VaS one; but it figures nonetheless ots our finest instance of
Indeed m is Nietzsche's theme from begiuning to end, and the will
to power is the supreme anef.u:t." This is not to say lhal he places
much credence in classical aesthetics: if the world is work of art it is
nol a< an organism bu1 as 'In all eoemily chaos- in the sense 1101 of a
lack of oecessity but of a lack of order, arrangemen1, form. he:ruty,
wisdom, and whatever other names there are for our aeslhetic
anlhropomorphisms' ." The aesthetic is not a question of h.annonlous
repr<Senlation but of the formless producU...e energies of life itself,
which spins otT sheerly provisiun21 unities in ill; ctci'Dlll >')>On with
itself. What i< aesthetic about the will tn I'M"' is elCICtly this
groundless, pointless self-gener:tling, the way it determines itself
differeruly at every moment uut of its """' sublimely unsearchable
deplhs. The uni\'erse, Nietzsche comments in 7'11< Will to Po111<r, is a
work of art which gives binh 10 itself; and the anisr or Obmttensth is
can tap this pnx:ess ill the. 1wne of his own free self
production. Such an acslhctics of production is tbc CJ'lc.my of aU
collttlilplative Kantian taste -of thai disinterested r ue on the rcihed
aesthetic ubj.:cl which SIJil pctSSCS Lbc tutbulau. ltodeotioos process
()(its making.
The crilical ewnacbs OluSI dw& be overthrown by the virile artisti<
pracriritmcrs. An i:o K:Ofli.')Y raplun; t.lc:mOJtic: and. u
physiologicaJ rather than spiritual affair. It is a matter oi suppk
m1.1S<:les :.N:t nene.;, :m tuni11g aud teCis;ius of the:
body ..,.hieb blends sensual irnoxianioo \\i d1 effortless <lisciptine.
ideal artis1 sounds more like a commando th.an a
.-i .. innary. An i.s sc:uuliu:tl Ht ib n ' l(ll: 'M;J.ling music is just oootber
way of making cbiJdrcn.'J 'f'b(: ancrapt ro render il dlsin!atsttd is
mr.rr.ly anuillhcr L':L.,IralinB feminine 01\ the wiD lO powet, :dong
-.ith science . truth 11nd ascx.tkism. As Heidc=gger nntes in :t sl111hhy
little <ommwt 'True, 1\:tetzsehe speak!i against feminine aesth-etics .
.tJ\It in doing so he for mas...1Jiinc: :acslhetks, ht:m.l: fur
The O\erman is artist and arrtfact, ('rtarure. and cre.nor
io one, wbjch is precisely nol to suggest thai he Jet$ rip h.is
spontancuu.-; On IJu: W!llrar)
Njtu.scbe deuouus the
'blind illdulgcDCC of a.n affea' 3.1 the caust of tht C"oi.ls, AAd
of cllar:acler as a manly oontroi of lhe instiu<ts. The
highest ar.sdlcrit: amditinra i-; alter thr. ch:gra&JinK
labour of submission lo moral law, the 011nmntJth will finally an,ii.
s.wert!ignty hi!> 011\l' !>uhhmr.d 3Jllll!lites., !Uid
them in with t U dle DODChalaoce of the stlperbly oon6deor ;artist
<uffiog his into shape. The whole of existence is accordingly
W\: must 'j)O(L"'i uf our Lives', Niecz.sd\e prodauus, io
the minutcsl everyday matrerS.J' The OV<'rman imprcwises bls bting
t'Com 1'tlOl\..Ul iO lllomcnt out of' a of power and high
:.'(lirirs, .stamping li1nn un the Uu1t uf lhc wurld
thws i.utu
fleeting order. :To become master of the chat>S one is: to compel
Utu::'a; ch:un, to t )rt;J .. lt fim1l is tbt bigim.l aclUevemem,
which only me mos1 S!lth.l-m:asnc:hist t:an :main. The mly
w-ong man is sertne tnougb !<l to sllC.h larari.ng sclf-
di!cip]inc; thMe who resent this (:OOstl"Jint .-. re ttJe who fear to
1)et:omc: !ihv....-...
The c:onstraim in <auc;srion. in fact, is ur an enhancing ralh<:r than
()f>pressi,e kind. What ar sake, as Heidcgger puts it, is 'not the
mere subfcction of cbaas oo a form, but !hat mastery which enables
the primal wilderness of chaGS and the primordiotity ortaw to advance
under the same y<>ke, ine11itably bound to one another with equal
necessity':''' The law of the furore human animal is of a curiously
antinomian kind, utterly unique 10 each individuaL Nothing oulnges
Nictzsehe mon: than the insu1tinJ suSJCS!ion !hat lndMduals mlgbt
he in some way commensurable. The law which the Ohmwtmch
confers on himself, like the 'law' of the anefact, is in no sense
heteronomous to blm, but simply the illner necessity of his
incomparnble self-fashioning. Tite aesthetic as model or principle of
social cooscruus is utt<'Jiy routed by this radical insistence on
auronomy; and it i.s here, pert,aps, !hat NietzSChe's thought Is at Its
most politically suboersive. The i'llmntnSdt is the enemy of all
csubtisbed social mores, all proportionate political forms; his delilht
in danger, risk, perpetual self-reconstirulion recalls the 'crisis'
philo<Oflhy of a Kierkegaard, a.< equally disdainful of meekly habitual
conduct. The aesthetic as auroaomous self-n:aliution is 110w at
loggerheads witb the aesthetic as cu..tom, JuWilus, socW unconscious;
or, more precisely, tl>e latter have now been audacionsly
from the public domoio to the pem>nal life. The 011ennan fives from
habitual instinct, absolved from the clwnsy n:ckoninp of conscious
ness; but what is admirable in him i< inauthentic in society as whole.
Hegemony is wrested from the political ateua and relocated within
each incommensurable subject. Nie12SCbe's writiDgs bem.y profoundly
masochistic love of the law, an erouc joy in the severity with which
artists of their own h umanity ,.Tench the materials of their being into
burnished fonn. llut the idea of a law entirely peculiar to the
individual simply aDO<>'S him to reconcile :his disgust for morbid self-
indulgence witb an extreme libertarianism.
We seen dm the moral law for Nietzsche, as with the Mosaic
code forSt Paul, is merely a ladder to be lticked away once mounted.
It forms a protective shelter within which one SJ'O'I'S to maturity; but it
must then be alxlndoned, in a Klcrkeg;aardian 'suspension of the
ethical', for the nf free s.elfaearion. this enterprise
involves is the tr.msmuting into instinct of aU that oonsciousness bas
painfully acquired in the epoch when it reigned supre.tm. In that
period, the humat1 organism learnt to absorb into its structure the
'umnuh' essential for it to flourish; it remains to be seen whether it
can now In rum incorporale the II'Uth - which Is to say, the
l ioiUf. l l.U SIUNS
tee(lgtlition that there is net truth. Tbt O'Vetlll1J\ is 1le who can
and n:uurlt&tJ; c.:vc;n chis terrible l:ncl'Wicdg(., corm:n: it ro
fiotly inStin(tual habh, dance v.i tho,ut cc.1't:aintics on the brink of tht
ab)'SS. Fot him. tbe vef)' groulldlts:SftesS. (Jf Lhe world hc.l 11
source- of ac;r.l\etk deJigbt and an oppnunity for sclf-ir."cnlion. In
thus lhiog our .acquired cultural n..lues as uncooscious f(Rex, the
o-..cnnllll rc::lluplk:111c.; al a hixher tlu: h11rbarian whn simfll)'
unleashed his drives. In a ()( the classic 01esthetic project,
ino;linct wi ll nnw uu:urpurarr. re:L..,Hn: duly
ts bodily inmidon) will uke- cwt:r the functions 01\("t
fulfilled by the ' lower' dri,es; and tb( consequence will lx rhat
dt:t:O.\Sl.r ut.:liun o( lhe UJ'fli r.-.ilion inh::lkt:l and iu.-.Uu..: c,
volldon and nec-essity, ofwhicb art is the tupremc pt'OCOcypc. 'Arti1s
seem 10 h:.t ,e !lu)t'e sensiltve Jl iJSes: in lhtse maltets:
, Niell.sche writts,
' \muwint nnly rou wc:l lthat rhc)' nn long<: r dil anphing
'volu:ntuily' but do C\'Cry1bing 1>f their feeltnr of ircedom,
suhtlc: ty, full f".twer, nf pl:tdng, and firming
reaches its ptol.: - in short, thrn necessity and ':frte<lom of the will'"
then become one in them .. ..,
r\ietz.:"che's. uatcative, titt:n. bcgit\S with :m odginill of
blind impulse. amblvalcntly admirable and terrible; shifts t(l n mornl
consci<:nce which imperils but also enrKhc:s SU(h and
t:ubninulc"> in a ltight:r :.)llthc:si.s iu which budy aud ntiud ;are uu.ited
under the 'legis of the former. An origins:;- brutal ('()trcion gives binh
111 :u1 er1 ( Jf mur..tl hegetll<tll), v.:hich i.u luro J)aves the wa) for the self ..
of overot;m. new comhines., m
tr3ns6rurc:d form .. the: spontaneity C>f du: 6rst period with the 1cgaUry
of rue Sttoud. A 'bold' iutroiecnoo of tbe lav. in the edlic.:.l-subjetth' t
f'J'es way to a 'goj)d' sutb inremaii2;uion in the flt'St'hetk
(poch. when freedom and will each find irs ro(M in the
mhr:r. FnT suc:h !1 remor:.des:-1) thid.c::r as N.iett.S4:'hr,
this sccntrio has scmcthing of a familiar riog. Its perrurbing
orig.iaaliLy i!> 1u press lu :a !.bird stage t11t' t\)0\lt:fueJll,
filmihar 10 .restherici'ting d'l 01.1gh1) fwm CCI(>n:inn f(l The
('OnCtpt i s retained: bm the la' tO hich wi\1
yield c.onsent is 1\(ltbing law of uniqU>C being. In taking
wer lh<: mudr.l uf fr et:: :1ppmpri:a11un uf bw, but 111
stripping tha( )ll\lo r)( it5 uniformiry md uni\'Cr$1tlism, Nic:.v;sc:hc brings
Jow any notion of social consensus. ' ,\nd how sbo1.1ld there be a
"'common good" !', he scoffs in 89v;nd G()l)t/ tJnJ Etil. 'The term
contradict$ itself: whatevu can b-e common a:hv.Jys has lutlc ''3lue. "''
l n n, r.,t;glu t{ m, !liM he ... irrue as Jinl..:
mor<' than *mirniC'ry'. thus sC'OJ'nfuDy 0\'Crtu:mi.ng the whole Durkeian
vision of aesthetic: mimesis as the IY.tsis ()( socilll muluality. A:;U.:tics
tnd polities are now outright antagonists: aU gr(-at periods of culture
have been periods of politic:al decline, and the whole rouctpl ur t.hr:
'(;u(Lurt::)late', uf tJu: lletthc: tic as cc_ luc:niunP-1.
rfl crtpeutic:. iro anorhcr dismal of a.rl's
amor.1l po\4'tr. l
Nicv_..u-.r., ari"mcr:ttic: cho;.c l:.in fnr a common measurll:' is by no
means wholly unJcccptabk to bourgt<)is indMdualbm. Dut it strikes
at tht' root of COO\'entional order, and so catches tbt b(,urgtoisie m1 it$
sorfst point of oonD'adiction bef\\cea Irs clream of au1onomy and
demand for krality. In tbe eod, Nietzsche is claiming that the I'R2>ent
uf lep) autf omraJ suhja1huud mctliatei bcrwt1::n tv.'<l
."Varts or ont 'Nrbaric' :.nd the othrr If thjl i1
hardly tlad tidinp for <)rthod6x 60Ciet). neither is bis impudent
St:\'t:ring uf all o:nnneaiun hefWet.n an ond mnh. l ( rt is mt ' for
Niemc:hc, it is only bc<'.atl$(' irs ilhuorineu embodies the ttuth that
there is no ttuth. 'Truth is ugly,' be wntts in TAt Wilt Iii PNcr. (We
possess an lest we- ptrish of the rruth. ll An the will to
poW<:r; but rhc will ro power is nothing but tnusieut
a(.,t!arauc:t:, :.orusuuu:) Lift: ilsdf is 'aclilhr:tic' ht.,:su:;c i.t aims
only a1 s.cm.bbncc. rnuning, error, dceepri_on) simularioo, delusion,
se.l.f .. dtlll'Sion'; ... and art ll true to this reality prcci&clr in its f.lkity. It
1s :!l'>(l fal!'e tu i(, !'int:r it iTn(lrinl:$ an sOibilil:y of bei:ng (lO
th.is mfaoinldcss W'ill'rint offorces; there is no way in -;.hkh tbc ro
power c.an be represeoted Mthout being io that oJoroeJit disaorttd.
An txprrsses the brute senselessness of r.ht- will, but
oonceah this bck of meaning by the (a5hioninc of siJnifiunt form. In
doin1 so, it tricks us into a mom<:ntary belief th;lt tbc world has some
sigmficant shape to itt aud S<J fulfals sootething of tbe fw\ct.ioo of tht
l<ll nrism imanina.ry.
The mort f.tlst art is, thtn, the truer it b to tht tlSentW of
life; bur sin" art is d<kmliM&c illusion, it thelcby conce3l.s the tnath of
tltaJ f.'llli.ity ...
Ar a single S('n)ke, :m nd sl'tields us
from the rerribk (un)mnh of tilt t>nlvtne, and thus b dooblr ials<.
On 1h.e: one hand, its COD$Oiatory fonns U!S from the dre-adful
insight that there is nothing at that the wiU to powCT io
neither reo!, tnlt nor self-identical; o>n the other the V"')'
content of thOSC! fonns is the will its<IJ', whitb is no more than an
eternal dissembling. Art as dynamic process is rruc w the untruth of
the "'ill to power; art as product or appearance is untrue to this
(un)ttuth. In artistic creation, then, the wiU to power is harnessed and
turned for an instant against its own cruel indifference. To produce
forms and values from this tumultuous fore<o i.< in once sense to work
apinst it; but it is to do so with a touch of itS own dispassionate
serenity, in the knnwledge that aU such values are purely ncli"".
One might put the sorne point di!Terendy by claiming that art for
ro;ictzsche is at once masculine and feminine. If it is stn:nuous,
muscular, productive, it is also ficl:Je, mencl.u:ious, seductive. Indeed
Nietzsche's entire phiiU50J>by turns on a curious amalgam of these
sexual stereotypes. This most outrageously masculinist of creeds is
devowlto h)mning the 'feminine' volues of form, surface, semblance,
elusiveness, senswdily, against the patriarchal metapbym'S of esseoce,
truth and identity. In the concept ofthewlll to power, these two sets of
se>ual characteristics ...., subtly interwovell- To live according to the
will is to live robustly, imperiously,rcleascd from aD female obeisonce
to law into splendid pballic autonomy. But to have mastered oneself in
this style is to be set free to live mischievously, pleasurably, ironicaOy,
lWMialing in a teasing span of masks and pcn;onac, gliding in and
out. of every passion and subject-position with all the serene self-
composure of the Sllfl!. Nietzsche is thus able to speak up for the
'feminine' principle precisely one of the most virulent sexists of his
age, a tide he shares with the obsessively misogynistic Schopenltauer.
If truth is indeed a woman, then the dairn is complimentary ro
In the aftennalh of Fichte and Scllclling, NietzSChe is the most
flamboyant el<lUI'lplc we have of a fllll-blooded aesthelicizcr, reducing
....,rythiog there is - truth, cognition, ethic.<, reaUry itsdf - to a
species of artefact. 'It is oaly as an ;lmwmmrm', be wri1<-s in
celebrated pbrase, 't:hat existence and the world an: etcmally
j ustified:"' which mens among other things dl:lt the blood-spOrt of
history is at least a spm, which intends no hum because. it intends
nothing but iiSelf. Thought itself musr be aestheric:ized, shedding its
leaden eomestness to become dance, laughter, high spirits. The key
Tlli.JF. IIJ. Ug()NS
tthical leJ'ms .:Jt"e !tOblt anll base r;H.htl' than gotJd aud had, queotimts
of o; t)le and tal!tr. rarht: r than nf mnral iudgr.mcnr. li vin(! is a
m;;.ncr of artiJtic consistency, hammerinr ooc>s existence imo an
austerely unilitd ,.;l}' lt:. Art i1 .. elfi s hlt ss1ng and J dh-.Jtinn: ir mno; r he
Y.'f'\' .stc.-.d from th(': monkjsh and restored to lhe body, to Of$)'
and fe$tivc ritual . '\esthetic ' 'Olluc-jud{erncnts must tediscoe!' tht:ir
tme f(l(mti.1tion in the libidin,ll drivt's ."-rt ins:lructs us in the
profound lruth Q( how to );.e superlici:aiJ:i, fO h:aJt <ll the StfiSUOU!i
r.&Jhtt tl1an Lin: illusory t:SSt:lll."C hcnl':llh i1. l'erll:.rs
.o; ;Jpc:rlir.iality h th': tmc: c::ssr.nr.c: nf lirr., and dc:ptb :1 mere wiJ 1hrowo
0\'Cf lhe autheotic of th::tp.
Tu d:timlh:tllhcre is no1hing hut "ur t:,cc is HI in ef(ec: t, lhll
mttsr rdioquish its metaphysical justificatiOn$ for
wh1t it doc&. It is a feature of tht sec:ubrizing of
sociery, !lS. we h.-v..- seen all't11<1y, rhar it rend-s f()
undtrmin: tomt of the: very ,aJ.ues on which choal society
d ep .. in 1art ftJ1 il l> Nit:l:;.$du:'s thought puinJ.s une:
holcf \\':1}' um uf this cmbaiTf.s.o;ing c"nn<1diction: socicf) should
reoounct. such metaphysical pictie$ md Jive d;irinsfy, g:r<Jundlcssly, in
I he: oi in; m:m:riJI :u:li\'iry. It is thi!:> :u;th.il}' whic:t. in rbt>
concept of the "'il1 1o power has bttn raised to the aesthe!ic dignity of
an end in itself. IJourgeois cr.erraes must theit owtl
rcundR.rioa; the \'t\lut.>s \A.'hkh rati.t) the social order rnusr -conjured
direccly out of its 0 \\'11 .. ital fo.-c:es, out of chc :facts' oi it! incesu.u
Slti\ iug l llli nut hw <n:ntiully s.qk raddt:d fnHH .st)Utt:
supc;:rnarural .'ifmrc:t:. Hisrnry mu'iT II) h< o; (lf-g: ner.lci' 'f." and
sdfk:gitimabng, open in e.us to the hard lesson of the
This wtu.tlt: prulifa;:r:ning flctwork nf dmnin.1m:c, :ll:j:gri!"st..lmt..,.;.; ami
appropriation must oonfronl lhc dearh of God and h.n.:- the c.our<!gt
to b-: cwn r.1tionalc. T he dc.-th or God 1s the de.Jth of tht
sodery musr mnke tiel inn'1l tl vli1h tl"e n( lno;
Cl"-1l prodnctiV(': for<'cs. the Nil) to JX'"''Ct
Viewed b. this lighl, Nittu:ht'$ work. legitim:uiot! crisis in
which the- brute facts cf 50ticty are no longer cdsil)
r.uitialllf' hv an nuciun ,,f 't:ulrure. \\' e rnu . .;r 1<::-J r lh.:
tinfry' nf tll:tt llllc:gcol r.;::aliry of rhr m11n nf (111hm\ t )
thai none of the S<X'ial on oft'h -
K:mtian duty, 1\l(JJiLJ sense, L'tilit:uioan hedonisot ;aDd dtt t'eSl- afe
uuy Rutl:u: l' thao se.:uch au.or.iou:Jy fur :O.Uilk
alternative g\tarurcc. we should embrace dt.c will to
power- which is to say, the gu3fantcc that no ulti!rultc
ground is n(.'(.'{k d, {hat vioh:nc;c: and clnmination s n jwo1 cxprc!l5ir.ms
of the W<JY Lllte univcne is and no justification beyond this. It is
this tb:lt Nief'l!':>t:he means by h\i ng aesthetically, pou.er :1s
an end in iutlf. But tbis rums ou1 tO be simply one more
mvestjJ.g JJfe with aU the glamour or tbc cosJuic ideologies we should
Kietzscbc pits the productive vita.ll'Y of life apillsr its drive
fur thus lurning cmt: c:urml l uf tbt: at:!ilhetit: :against
another. On the 00( band. <t rampant ats{h.niciz.ation S"'A'(<pi
across tbe whole of c-onventional unOOing its ethics and
epis1cmoloRY. its sopern..1Htl";31 C..:tl(lool:nions :md scu.:ntit-..:
and demolishing in ils radical indhiduaUsm all of
stahlc: l"'lii..:a.l l)rdcJ. On tlat: (Jther hata..l, this fur..:c: 1.'4U
be seen the very life-blood of t hat conventional iCdcty - as the
ur3.: In infinite prcah.M.:uvity :&. '<; :tn t:rn.l in itself, '.ll itl! c::a.:h
locked in e:tfmaJ comb.11 wilh the mhers h is thr.mgh. Nieusche
fin(js in this <ltganized soc-ial inationalism so:n<thing of art)s
f.l)lt:OOilll) autotd iL: uu.ture. Io cuaHettlpi for lht tim(lrolls bourgeois,
he unYcils as his ideal thu \ioJcndy seu:.wnllng crtalure, conjurirt{!:
himself up aoe" :u tft:t y monlt lll
,.,bo was fot Kierkep.ud the bst
wmd in furilit}'. Hut rhis rr.roci-rm" nnw ercatiun, :>tamping
his ()vtrburitl.!f ! hape on the world ,._;th. aD the lriiUUur <1i the old
' " tlt:W Jo> ht! oppt::trs. If the funous.
ot the UM?r.mr.-lt terrifies th.f stout rn<etaphyska:J cidzen,
he nuy als.o tigure <lS h.is fanu.stb; ttlt(l'tgr}. in the sphere: of production
if nm in !he :iltl:n:d flrt cim.:L-.. nf tS.tnil), IHUI :-."lute. Tu
advcnturou.dy, Cl:Pcrimcntally, m-ay jcopar4ize metaphysical certi-
tudes; but such resourceful self-imptov.i.'l:ltiou i,; ha.rdty :an uJ\f:uniliar
lilr.-style in lht: markc:1 plt:t:. 'Jic: tl.'it:ht: io; an asumi'>hingly r dit:al
thinker> wbo hacks his throu@'h the superstructure to Leave
:a. S. lrul uf it slauJin:;. As r:tr :.IS the ba .. .oiC rJ.dltalisJU
tn<tly liS it onlv a good dl.'al ml)re so.
I Fmdr.id1 G.:t)' Sm11n, lr.un;latt:d by Waltrr Kaufm:mn
(1\ew Yoli<. 1914). p. JS.

2 Ibid., p. 1".
:l Pri cdrich Ni.:tzsc: hc, 11u Jf1Ji ta tratl:olatcd by Walter Kall irnann
t1nd K. J. Hnllingtble (\lt:\l' )ott, I %K), p. liO.
4 f'rit."tlricfl NM.v_o; .. he, Bqrmd Gtwl :J.M i:,";;if, i11 \\'alu.:r Kaufit'.unn (cd.),
HM.fit. f.JfirilfU Xiu::..st!U (New \' t>rk
I %8), p. J07. Hrrt::thcr
5 f'riodric:h ()" '""l,;..""r"v ()).-ww.-ls, ilfj;; pp. 550 and 498.
6 Niet'1scht., Ht:y!ltuf <":MNi lllt!l ::if, HW p. !')II).
7 Frk'tlrich H1mum, All 1'uc /ilolfu;r;, (jU011.d b) Kidwd
1983), p . .f29.
8 Niclzscftc. CtntMINf.Y !!J( M1m;fl. ms-: p. S21 .
9 !IJid .. >'V 5ZZ- J.
10 lhi..J., p. S23.
II N'tetaio.:hc, !fill !to P .. wrr. p. 4tH.
12 fric:t.lrn:h 1M Wom;.' n"' :.mi Jus Slid?::.-. by Sc:l! .. dll.
!). 310.
13 TRr W, S.:ttn.:.r, by Scll:.t111,. p. 1'90.
1-4 Nict?.:;ch<:, 1Wil._41t f/}' :l.r /dt:l;, tratl$latcd b) A. M. lcd.,vici
(London, I 9'27}, p. J+.
IS 1Ut fl/iiJ M p. J l5.
16 :"'iet:tsd!(:, DW p. SS7.
17 IIH<l.
18 Nicl:1.s<:he, fk:;-J 4INI I:tl, DW p. J9J.
19 Nk tl$di\:, lJW p. 532..
!0 fDid., p. 265.
21 Nieu.$Cb.:;, t Nt Wifl PmM; p. 269.
2l Jii rf(n lhb.'!rmu, Kn..,.!fi$r :md H11.- (Lc:tnOOn, I IJ8i),
p. 299.
2.3 r.ttr-n1:e, ,\'iff'!.v/tr ""'" fJ/tillrl;IJI/tr pp.
Nicus<hl.-, Tlfr T-"Ji'd11 tftlrr IJfJ!r, p. S'i .
2S Ni;:lru:hc. Rl)Yln.i P.ti.', RW p. 205.
26 Nicusthc, H r r 286; n .. 'lfvilif.h. 'if'lt,-J:I.)k, p.
27 Nict?.t>chc:, Bqtomi tmd E::il, 8Wp. 291.
28 lhi t:l.,p . .126.
2'! Nicwd tc, l ti'if fir p. 4JJ.
JO Mamn 1 NNtu(/u , ''t)L I: 1'11e Wif.' ' " l'mr:t" ;u 4n (L.ond(on,
p. 127.
J I FOc:drich Nietll,chc, .\'odtlm'J, qumed by ,\rthur C. D1nto, ,\ 'jdi: >illt'
f'iu kWJI.tr (i'/( _. Yo"l"k, l tWi), fl 22ft
32 F4;1r Sift i,'ti('T{'Sfing !lfl ill' rnty ll:noi t!lli!:ric m<ni l?. in
sec Ah:.\:ander .'lthil1fllls
Li/t liS (CmbOOJc, Ma:>s.,
IY85). Set: :llliu ,\lbJ! Mtflll af Ertmr.irJ (lkrt.clcy. 1985},
Pan I.

JJ Nitwc.:bc, GnK:JWD t(M'ITIIA, BWp. 521.
34 Niel&$<:be. T'l.t WiN I() PoUW',. p ... 21 .
JS NiWJdtt. p. 76 .
.l6 TIH WiN 10 Pw-.n:. p ... 90.
J7 Ntetl.KDe.. Tilt Ct17 Danlo, p. 147 .
.l8 TNt Will 10 PDtM'. p. +++.
39 Ileuieggc:r. NiG:J:Itt, p. 128.
+ 1 B(ltlftJ G(I(X{ _,.,t & if, JJW p. JJO.
4! BW p. 24J.
43 Tilt Will'" P()tM'. p. 435.
T1H (;q Stirn::r, p. 282.
45 SC'C' Picrrt A pf Ul(rlfry (l.c:Jndon. 1918),
PaJ1 1, Cor an paraUcl appro.ch. Sc.e algo P.ul& Mm's
Jt:c.oonl tJf TIK llbrl: t{ TwwJy I" II( RrAJiJtt (New Havert.

'4kf1.h<, n.- Bml ifT,.r.M), RW 1.12.
47 !bOd., p. 61.
21i I
11ze Name of the Father:
Sigmund Freud
If the aesthetic informs some of Karl Marx's most centr:al political
and ccooomic t:atl'JOOCS, it abo inliltratcs tho: psychoanalytical
doctrines of Sigmund Freud. Pleasure, play, drt3m, myth, scene,
fiiJia>)', represmtalion: lhese are no longer to be conc..ived
of as supplcmenwy mam:rs, .esthetic adommerus to the proper
busineo;s of life, bur as l)ing at the very root of human existence, as
what Charles Levin loas c..U.:d ' lind of primiU.e subo.tanee of .uo::ial
process' .
Human life Is aesthetic for Freud in so far as h is all
about intense bodily sensations and baroque imaginings.. inherently
signmOIIOIJ' ond symbolic, inscpuablc from figure and fanta)'. The
unconscious worka by a kind of 'aesthetic' IDgic, condensing and
displacing its images with the cr.tly opportunism of an artistic
brimlmr. An fur Freud is thus no privikg.:d realm, but is continuous
with the libidiDal processes which go to make up daily &fe. If it is
somehow peculiar, it is only because dtat daily life is itself etteedingly
siDllg.:. If the aesthetic has been promoted in idealist circles as a
form of sensuousness without desire, Frend will llllliWit the pious
naivety of this \iew as itself a libidinal yearning. The is what
we br, but for a Freud as opposed to a Schiller, this is at least as
much catastrophe as triumph.
Niei2Sehe anticipated Freud's demysril}ing of aesthetic disinter
cstcdness; but in one imponant respect Freud presses beyond lhe
Niem;che who oo strikingly prdigure< his lhougbt. Nlettschr's will to
power is unequivocally positi-re, and the artefaCIS which express it are
rcsonur with such a1limwioa. It is this virile vitalily, this phallic
repletion, which psychoanalysis 10ill with lhe concept of
nn:. NAME OF nn: FA"''Hl.R
dcslre. Desire insiluwes a lack at !he very bean of Ibis Nicaschean
robustness, slides into the wm a negntivity or perversicy which renders
it DOn-identical with iasel[ Our powers hne etemally
dissatilied about !hem, a motility and indeterminacy which causes
lbem to miss !he matk, go awry, swerve back upon themselves; there
Is a subtle flaw at the cen1re of power ...nlch cuts a shadow cm:r
Ni.ettsche's repressi1ie drive for health, sanily, integrily. It is because
our bodies are not poriously autOIIOIDOUS, as Nieasche tends to
imagine 1hem, but bound up in tbeir .-.olurion wilh !be bodies of
others, that this trucherow faltering or deviating uf our impulses
come. about. If Nietzschean power plumps the body full, Freudian
desire hollows it ouL Aod this will have ils elfects on our \iew of the
aestheric lUTefact, which for all Freud's own somewhat mdidon.allst
aesthetic notions can no longer dupe us as integnl, well-rounded,
symmcuical. Such au anefact is a covert trope of tile bmnanist
subject, which :ofter Freud can never be lhe same again. What he
implicitly interroglltes is the whole classical aesthetic heritage, from
Goetbe and SchiUer to Marx and Manhew Arnold, of the rich,
potent, serenely balanced subject.. On the contrary, Freud lll'g\les, our
drives are in comndicdon 'Wilh one anodler, our faculties in a slate of
permanent warfan, our fulfilments Deering and tllinted. The
iu:stbctic may be, for Freud as much as for Schiller, an itnapnary
C01150lodon, but it Is also abe detonator of profound discharges which
unmask the hwn111 >-vbjC<"I .. lissurtd and wtfinislu:d. The hwnaaist
dream offullness Is Itself a b'bldinal faniU)', .. Indeed Is !be whole of
traditional aesthetics. What that aesthetics yearns for is an object at
once sensuous and rulebound, a body which is also a mind,
combining all !be delicious plenitude of !be senses with me autborily
of an abstract decree. h is therefore a famasy of molher aDd falhcr in
one, nf lm-e and law commingled, an imAginary sp:u:e in which
pleasure-principle and n:ality-principlc fuse under the 'Ps or lhc
former. To become at one witll abe aeslhedc repre&entation is to
recover for a lftasured moment that primary mrcissiSlic condition in
which objcct-liliclo and cgo-hoido cannot be riven apan. Freud
acknowledges in Citvis.Mn and iu Disanttmlr that psJChoanalysls has
had hardly an.)1bing significant to say about aesthetic beauty, ils
nature and oripn; but be is cemin (as how would Ill: Mt be?) !bat it
derives from 'the field of sexual feeling', as a libidinal impulse
inhibited in its aim, and concludes his somewhat bemused refkctioDS
1'Ht NA'-i OF 11-IE rATIIE.R
a bme commcnr oo the unacs1hctic appearance of the male
'l'o relflte 11 6eerhovt'fl sonnt.1 to the io: hnnHy in the sryi( of
traditional ae$thetic5.. Freud sav.agtly ck:mysdhes culttae, tracki ng its
murky 10 IJte tecesses o( dte uucot\..SCtous as rdentlessly i&S
,\tarx.ism disc!oscs i1s conccaJcd source in histork't.l barberlsm .. '\rt is
infnlilt: anllegn:ss.i ve: a OI)()JIWI'Otic fonn uf substirutc satisfaction;
incapable of 1.1 bandonin!l' a objctt, mt:n and wunt:n shifT
from toying -.;tit their faeces to tinkering with trombones. Worb of
llfl dre.uns less thoul they do ;okes, aod the d oscsr thing 10
the sublime for Freud is the ridiculous. In a britf paper enridcd
'Hufu(lut:, be rtg<lftk buooour a& a lind of lriumph of n:arcissism,
whcrc:b) the e-gn rdiJst:s fn he dtt: ut n:aJi l)
in a ,ictorious asserti<:l n of irs irmdJ1CJ'abi lity. Humour transmutes a
lhn:mming 14orttl in1o :m nu.:a.itun fur afKI hJ lhi!o cxJeltl il
resembles nothing as much as the sublime, which $imil11rfy
perollts us to rup rratifKation from our soenset of impcniousness ro
thr: H:m u-!1 armuu.l U:i. ' I 'he has iL'l buSlt in tltt: lov. t :il, tu i1
gesture of Bak.hrinian rcvcrul which sbancr; tbc lying pretensions of
cuhur.tl ide-:J iisru. na3t mno: t luAy u( all Romatalic caregories - ' 'is ion-
lies embarrassingly close to thost lowly libidinal we <.'l111
dreOlms. Idealist culture spuks bod)' but rardy sreili ,, it,
s it is ro r<lund upon its OW'O entbling Fnud will
usail this noble lie in IUs gravely sd c:ntihc, emJnently rcsj)('ctablc
mien, Jeaviug the ('Juttaged bourg:eoi! to dismiss him as no more than
a c:ntde rr..-lucrionist. If this is su, Lltr.tl il is J) IJu.liug why f reud
himself Yr.lS so deep in cuJMe, so edified and cnthrllled b)'
it. Or at le:t!)l it i!'> puzzling to 1husc .,..JUJ have JJ(Jllakeo the poiAI of
WiliWn 'lloist pasroral thar 'the mo'i. t deoin:..,
are inherent tn the plaine5t, afHI woaiJ he ,lake il tluy :totmt'J. '.1
WhP.neYP. r an)'One Sfi-P.::lk."i. 'hadly hut nut ill' of human bctnp. rc:ma1ksi
Kk tzsc'b(. defining them as a bd1)' wi rh rwn n(:cds and a head with
one, then 'the lm-cr of l:nowllgt should listen eareil.JJI)' and wi rh
diligCJ\Ce :
F'rend"o: other implki uu 1r:tdi1iun:al :u:li ll td i\:li ill to
d(( (oRStnW:I ia cnt(ial br.rwc:.; n ' cul m:' and 'ci\il !\lK:it:ty'.
he refuses to culture and c-Mlizatioa, the
of \':iluc: 1.he re:ilit\ o( appetite. There iii no utiliu rian
which L" irmou:nt ur the li bidinal! as LlteJt: is 1 10
nu; NAM OF nu; FA nuJl
value absolved from the aggressive drives by which civiliation is
consl:riiCted. The bourgeois rests satlsfied in his purillll belief th2t
pleasure is one thing and .reality another; but Freud will come to
dcxOJUtroc-t the opposition belwcen these two mighty principles,
\klring the reality principle simply as a killd of detour or cwming zig-
zag by which the pleasure principle comes to achieve its goals. A
whole set of distinctions ,;tal to bourgeois ideoiOl!Y - between
enterprise and enjoyment, the pt'liCliaiJ and the pleo:rurable. sexoal and
commercial intercourse - are accordingly dismantltd.
l.lle traditioo21 esthetic ideal is one of a unity of spirit and sen..,,
reason ond sponiRneity. The body, as we have seen. must be
judiiously reinserted into a ratianal which might othc.-..ioc
wither into despotism; but this opention must be corried out with
minimum of disruption to that disc"""" itself. For such conventional
esthetic theory, Freud is exceedingly bad news. For his lesson is that
the body is n""er quite at home in languoge, will never quite r..:mer
from its tmllllalic insertion into it, escaping whole and enlire from
the mark of the signifier. Culrure and the body meet only m conflict;
tlu: scars which we bear are dte traces of our bruising inruption into
the symbolic order. l'sychoanolysis elWilines wlut takes place when
desire. is given tongue, comes to speech; but speech and desire can
never coruon amicably as meaning and being ooatinually
displace one another; and if language. broadly conceived, is what
opcru up de$ire in the first place, desire is also what can bring it to
stammer and fa.il. If this is trUe of buUWl subjects, it is equally trUe of
the discourse of peychoonalysis itself, dealing as it does \\ith force<
which threatcn to play havuc with its O'loll thoort:tical coherence.
Desire is itself sublime, fiMlly defeating all representation: there is a
substrate in the unconscious which cannot be symbolized, even if it is
in some sense rumed rowards language, strives for upression, from
the outset.
It is precisely at this j\IIIC!Ure, between mute force and articulate
meaning, that Freudianism insUils its enquiry. It is born as a
discourse at the busy crossrj)llds between the semantic and sDmatlc,
and aplorc:s their >lnmg1: invcrsio.,.: orpn as sigolfier, sigrtifier as
m.ttrial practice. for f1 reud are ceminly meanings, not the
mere imprint or reRex of the drives; but once this whole U!>.tUal
process is so to speak Dipped over, viewed throuch a different optic, it
can be read as nothing less than a mighty warring of somatic forces, a
TI-ff. liAMf. Of TIIr. r.HI IfR
lit:l tl in which I he bt)l l) !tchir:ws, ur rn SJl('CCh.
The Freudian drivr,s lie somewhere (J:t the frontier 1:1<-lwtt-n the
ment.tl and the corpore.al, represntmg the body to th(: wbere
WI! h:!Vt: :l drive, "".! h.We (I demand pJ:l(fd Oro {he mind b)." Vinut'
of ics oonnecti()l'! ":ith the bod)-. to clo<im th:1t we jha\IC ;ut
unco.uscious' is not tu designate-a b.iddt:J) art'.lt uf 1he sell, like an
invisible kidney or ghostl)' pancu:as, bu1 to !ipc:.dt of the W1J our
consciousness is distorted from the inside b) Lbe hutly
U(NIO il.
This body, ho"'e,er, is ror <1 fictional representation
rather thiln a brute matt rial fot<:l. Ou.ly by an intt:ne1Ung rtprt=sl!'nla
tioo can rhe drh'tS prcsem them:sehcs t<> C()nsdousncs:s, :md even i.n
the uooonstious au instinct must be ftptesented h!' att idc:.t. T\ hll4l
.,.ith Fn:utl thal lhr: t:su is (:ss.:ntiafl y a bucJil)' i'i ro i1 as a
kind of artefact, a figurative projection oflht body, a p$-ychic mimc.sis
u(ils 'fht: q,-t i":. kimluf !'>h:tdu"'')' inner 'it:reen which
the newsreel of the body's romple.x history, in nored stosory oonr:ae1.s
aDd multiple duling:s the world. Prcud otnchors \he mind in the
bod), to,; rea sou as fuundt:d in \l e:-.in: ':"i tK.I a:. culwim:d
,.;t.h bw this is not to S(C things as the mere cffllacs of
f.Ontc:thing MJ1id. fur l11at ' "ulidily' is ibd f 3 J:.)t:hic
..-onscn1n. as the ego build; op an imaf!C of th<' bod) 'after the ncm'.
so tt/$peak, re-ading it wifbjn a $)"mbolic schema as :a complex of needs
and imper:uives: r:uher th:m simply "rt>flecting' i t Tbe
betwtcm C10 and body to that CX1cnt rcscmbks the Althusscrian
tc1a.tioo btlwoetn tbe01y aO\l hilllOI)', ...s j :.&utt"-SVn ha"
de:.t:rihr.tl if:
fur Ahhu:s.o;a rt:al iaisturit:al !i.nt e jo; nnly imlira:tly
l'lcccssiblc to u;, acrion ((It him \I.'Ould seem to b<- a kind of
blindfolded opcratio:t, a manipulation at distance, in which
we L"'ttuld :il h-e.st w:m:h uur own indirec!ly, 3:>
though in ., mirror, it lw;k from the Y11rious
f(".tdiustment! or COn.K'iOtls..ne.u wf:aJch rtsuh from the:
alteration in the. external situation itself."
If 1hc:: mJtlc child <ruds' the body as li'cldng. ir is a reading
lauoclWd within tht law of castnbon, under tbe aegis of the ! ignifier.
not simp!) ptrteytiuu. Tu a:ndtur 1he mind mlhe body is
thus to lend it no sea.>re foundation: indeed there is something
elusive aDd unlocatable about the body which. as Paul Ricoeur has
argued, makes it the most appropriate image of the unc:oo.clous:
When how it is possible for a meaning to cml
wilhout being consclous, the repDeo: II!
mod.e of being is thai of the body, which is neither ego nor
thillg of lbe phcaornenoloJist is Dot saying that
the Freudi:m unconscious is the bod); be is simply saying
that the mode o( being of the body, ocithcr n:pn:scntalion
in me nor thillg outside of me, is the cmtic model for oey
conctiwble uncon.scious.
It would be a mistake to equate the ego with W subject, since
the drives - as in nan:issism or masochism - can just as t11sily veer
round upon it to make it their objCC'I. 'lbe dmes are not in
pbenummologiral Jl'lrbnce 'intentional', de(lllOd by th.ir object;
objects for Freud are coolingeat and acbangeable, mere cphemcnl
targets for instincts whose aim predolllin2tes over !heir end. Subject
and objt, as for Nietzsche, are passing products of th. play of the
:md what optns llp the subject/object duality in the first place
is the deeper dialectic of pleasure and unpleasure, introjection and
expulsion, as the CJIO separates certain bits of the world from itself
and masticalt$ certain otben, rhus building up thMe primordial
identifications of which it is a kind of storehouse orcemttery. lfthis is
so, then Freud lilc Nietzsche dcconsuucts at a stroke the whole
problematic "'ithin which traditional aesthetics moves - that of the
encounter between self-identical subject and stable objt, ... &OR
mutual estrangement may be wondrowly transcended in the act of
lasle. It is not a question of rescuing the sobjt for a prtciolls
moment from its alienation; tO be a subjccl is 10 be alienated anyway,
renderecl eccentric to oneself I'! the movement of desire. And if
objects maner at all, they matter precisely in the place where they are
absent. The dcared object, u Juliet Mitchell has argued in Lacani111
vein, COIIWI into existence"' 1111 lll;m only when it is lost to the baby
or infant.' It is when tlurt ob;ect is --d or prollibited that it lays
down the tnce of d<:sft, so that its secure possession will abrays
move under the sicn of loss, its presence wuped and overshadowed
by tbe perpetual possibility of its absence. It is just this unnenoing
vacuity ar me !lean of me object, this permanent esrrangeability
which permeatAos its every aspect, which the aesthelic
represen12don is out m repress in its fedsbiud organici<m.
Freud's thousbt. then, is in one sense wlmlly 'a<:sthclic', all to do
with me lheatre of sensational life. If it is the motions of pleasure. and
unpl.,...ure which briDg an objective world about in the ftr.;t place,
then all of our noa-aesthetic relalions wilh that world will continue to
be S41urated with this origiruuy hedonism. Yet this hedonism, bound
up as it is with egoism ll!ld murderous aggressiity, has lost all of the
innocuousness of cludcal aesthetic pleasure, "'hich was a respite
from such base impulses l'lllher than a product of them. Freud
retuniS to this harmJI;ssly defused pleasure ils hanb unplcasurability,
its ranoour, sadism and malice, its negativity and perversily. 'lne
aesthetic ottitude, he believ.s, moy for the suiTerings of
enstence, but C311llot protect us from them; if the aesthetic is
conotioed of as plenitude and equipoise, as a wealth of fulfilled
powers, then few thiltlr.ers since Jonathan Swift have been 1110re
sceptical of uch an idW. The principle dominalu the
mental apparatus from start to finish, and yet is at loggerheads with
the whole world; there is not the least possibility of ils programme
being carried through, for the intention thar hwnanity &bould be
lappy was omined from the plan of creation. Freud's bleak
Hobbesian view of human society forbids him from cnvisaginJ it as a
potentiaDy nourishing space, or from imagining monliry as enw>eip-
atoty rather than oppressive; ll!ld he is thus as far as Hobbes himself
from the vision of a Sluftesbury, Schiller or Marx, of a social order in
which the realizalioo of human capacities could become a dclighlful
end in itself. In this sense he is a radical anti-aesthelician, with scant
sympathy, in the words of Paul Ricoeur, 'for what might be descmcd
as an esthetic wortd view'.' Or perhaps it might be llliDre nccurnte to
dlaractcrize Frelld as 1 tbinlter who, while inheriliug something of
that great ride of aesthcriciling thoupt whlch we h .. e fcllow.:d
throughout the centwy, reccin:s this legacy in deeply
pessimistic spirlr. as a heritagl: I!OOC sour. There can be uo retwuinJ
to purely raliooalist eoo<:epts, for the aesthetic has done its solnen!ive
work; bUI there can be little hope or joy in this aestheticiling
either, for a Freud as opposed to a or a
Heldegger.lfFreud remains a rationalist, though lilte Swift one with
a profound suspicion of reason, il is among other reasons because he
is dry-eyed and lwd-headtd enough to acknowledge the odinu.
coroUaries of that be2dy celebntion of instinct, inlllition DJid
spontaneity of which me aesthcticizing lineage, at its most allow,
must sttnd convicted. It was, indeed, one particular hi.rorical
tenninus of such thousbt which drove him into exiiC:.
There is a <tory, which Fret1d might have awrecioted, of M051:s
descending Mount SiMi v.ilh the tablcu of lhc law under his ann.
'I''"' gOt !hem down to ten, be shoutS to the assembled Jsr.uolites, 'but
adulrer:y's still in.'
Freud regarded the law as one of his oldest enemies, DJid much of
his therapeutic project is de"'l!ed towards tempering its sadistic
bruU!ity, which plunges men and women luto madness and despair.
The law for Freud is not of course ""!Y an enemy, since in his view to
(aJJ outside its >-wwy i> to fall sick; but it has an intemperate violenc.:
!hat must. be countered. This law or superego, 011 at least one of
Freud's accounts, is simply a ditl'erentiatiun of the id, whereby some
of the voracious energy of the Iauer is channelled and dmncd into a
remorseless iolcnce agoinst the ego. The has its origin in
what Freud describes in '111< Ego Mil tlrt 14 as an individual's first and
most imponant Identification, !hat with the father of his or hu 01>'0
personal prehistory. As a result of this identification, which is prior to
any objc:U-CIIhc:xis, one pan of tlu; ego is ..:t O'ier against the other, to
becd111e moral idul, voice of conscience and CctlSOrious judge. The
superego is born of a sptittinr of the ego induced by the action of the
id upon it. As an inttmalization of the parental problbidon, the
Sllpercgo is the heir to the (),dipus complex, kind of hangover of
this lurid dratllll; indeed it plays a decisive role in !be repression of the
complex, the male child's hostility to the father modulates into an
identification with his symbolic rok. The superego is thus a residue
of the earliest objcct-choic:t$ of the ld; but it also n:pruents wbat
Freud calls. au 'energetic reaction-forrn:atbt' 3g:tinst those choices.,
and so springs 10 binh under the sign of oootradiction. Exhoning the
child to be lW: il> father on the om: band, it bans it from some of the
father's mosr eDViable activities on the other. The "'lJ>ereSO is thus a
kind of aporia or irnpossibilil)l, a conundrum or double-bind
COIDJIWJdmL'llts arc of being obeyed.'" Since it is the heir to
the Oedipus complex, it is therefore, as Freud argues, 'also the
expression of the most powerful impulses and most imponant
TilE NA.MI. OF Til FArnEll
tibidinal 'Vicissitudes of the id',
closer to the unconscious than is th<
ego. In lhe act of mastering lhe Oedipus complex, then, the ego
succeeds in handing itself subllliukely mer to the id, or .,.,... e:ucdy
to !hat representative of the id which me superego signifies.
All of this lends the law a frifhtcniDg power. The superego Is as
forceful as it i.< beau.<e it is the consequence of me fiut idenri6ation,
which twk plaoc when the cpJ ia.clf wu still feeble; and bccaU3C it
sprlnp out of lhe Ocdipllli complex it 'has thus inlroduced lhc most
momentous objects into tbe ego'." It is the source of all idealism, btot
also of all our suiJt; it is at once hi&b priest and poticc agent, positive
and neg:ukoe, lhe image of the desirable md the promulpmr of
lllboos and prohibitions. As lhe voice of conscience it has its root in
the thn:at, md is responsible for all our self-odium and
self-scourging, of which Freud drily reJJI2fla< that the 'noml21 m2n' is
not ooly for more iuunorl, but for more moral, than he knows. This
ine:rrorable Jaw directS what Freud calls an 'emaordlnaty barslllless
and severity' upon the timorous ego, r:ogi.ng g:oinst it with merciless
\'iolcncc; and in the condition of melancholia, or acute depression,
this lialence can result in 1he ego's c:xtinCiion by silicide." It is in
these circumstances in particular thai some of the feroci.ous energy or
the supt:rcgo can be UiliDllSkcd for what it is - u nothing less, so
Freud comments, than ' a pure culture oflhe death iDstiDct', which it
has aught up and turned to its own predatory purposes.
The superego is not only self-contradictol)', but in a cmuin sense
selfundoq. Freud posiJs in lwman beings both primary nardsslsm
and a primary aggresslver>e$5; and th consrrucrion of civaization
in-rolves a sublimation of both, directing them outwards to higher
goals. Pan of our primary aggtesSivenessl.< thus divemd fmm the ego
and fused with Errn, builder of dries, to dominate Nature and create
a culrure. The dealh drive, wbk:h luru within our aggresstrity, is thus
tricked out ofits nefarious intentions :and hamt.SSed to tbe business of
a social order. But this so.ial order innitably entails a
renunciation of instinctual aradficalion; so that part of our argressive
is dmen bock upon the ego to be<:ome the genq of the
superego, source of the law, morality and idealism essential to the
operations of society. The paradox, lhen, is tbatlhe more civilized we
become, the more we tear ourselves apart '1\M guilt nd internal
aggression. Every renunciation of instin"tual satisfaction strengthens
the authority of lhe superego, intensifies i1S brutality and so deepens
TilE NAME OF l1lE fAlllEI
our gllilt. admirably idealist we grow, the more we !llake up
wlthln ourselves a culrure of lethal self-batted. Moreover, the more
...., direct ourwuds part of our narcissls1ic libido for dle COOSINCiion
of miDzatioa, the mure depleted we leave its intcmal resouJttS, to
beaJme a prey ro Eros's old 1lum4l1Js or the dead! clrive.
ldealilianion wid! d!c fadler in>Oives a sublimation, and so
desenWJzadon, of our erode dmu, which in Freud's !llrinsent
ecooomy of the unconsciOU$ leaves them fatally and so all dle
Jus capable of holdiag out agaillst their great anmgoaist.
It is in 1his sense that ci'filir.arion for Jl'reud 11 pecullarly self
thwaning. The >Upm:go is a deeply ambi..Uent formation, at once
upresslve of dle ld and a reaction-formation againsl it, dcminJ from
the tlltr8)' of the Oedipus complex yot turning: bad: repressillely
apiDst IL In a grim irony, it harnesses somcdling of the id's own
rabidly a:mor31 IOrces to a campaign for social idealim and mont
purity. To light the id, to repress insdn<1, is to btxome aD the more
wlner:able to its desii'UCtiveaesa in a differcat guise; so d!atlhe ego is
caught up from lhe outset in -lhiag of a mug's game, hedged
round on aD sidea by mom! enemies, pulling off what poor barpins it
can between them. The internal complexity oflhe superego, bown-er,
extends funher stilL For if it is at one level the product of an
introje.:ted external authority, it is at another level caught up wllh the
ego's own primary towards itself - with that lethal
masochism which Freud came to see in his later work as more
fundamental !han sadism. As. I" rood puts it. 'The sadistn of the super-
ego and the masochism of the ego supplemeat each olher and unite to
produce the same effect.'" If the superego is thus a pecuiWty
ovcrdctcrmiacd phcnomcDOD, it is so in another seose too. For lhe
hosdlity which it unleashes \1])011 lhe eao Is at Ollce that of the
introjected pGirenW function, and the child's own ogg:ressive reaction
. to this ageucy. It is ., though the child hijacks somcdlinr or lhe
pan:nl's severity, fuses it .,;th i1s own boslile rcacdoft to such
hushness, and tums both against its o..,. ego. As Leo Bersani has put
it: 'The child will iugeaiously identify with that (parcnral] authority,
not in order to continue its punishments but ralher in
order to safely possess it, on the inside, as the object or victim of its
own 111 eulte lmpulses.'" The superego, in short, bas aD the
U!ngefulness whlch the child would like to direct apinst the punitive
father; 'lhe curoing of oggressioeness', as Bcrsani comments, 'offers
the only rulistic stntegy for sarisi}'ing .ggressiveness.'" The
supmgo tbus rep"'senrs a iind of contndicliun berween past and
present, infantilism and maturity: at the very moment that it shows ou
the !Uth towards an ideal humanity, it pulls liS back into
childhood. 'Through the institutionalisarion of the sup<!tego', writes
Norman 0. Brown, 'the parents arc intcmalised and man linally
succeeds" in becoming father of himself; bot at the cost of becoming
his own cbild and keeping his ego infantile.'"
Freud's most subvenive move, lllroughout the wbok of this
discourse, ism reveal the law itself as grounded in desire. The law i.s
nu mon: than a modality or differentiation of the id; and it c:au
therefore no be a mmer, as with ttaditional idet.llst thought, of
envisaging a transcenclenml order of authority un.<athed by h"bidinal
impubc. On the contnuy, this eminently rational power S!ands
111111Wled in Freud's writing as imtional 10 the point of insanity- as
cruel, venS"ful, vindictive, malicious, vn.in and paranoid in irs
authority, madly cxccsoivc in ill tyra1111ical demands. Like the political
!ltate in the eyes of ManOsm, the law "-ould appear auguatly
rranwen<knllll but is in f. 1ct t he sublimotion.o.f appetite, 'interested' to
itl rooo while prcscn iog a facade of impartial judiciousness. It is old
of aU realism, obtw;ely blind to what the ego misht reasonably endun:
and what injunctions are simply beyond its fragile 'Kant',
writes Paul Ricwur, 'spoke of the patJwlosy of desire; Freud speaks
of the patbolo@y of duty.'" Indeed Freud remarks c.qllic:idy in 'The
Economic Problem of that tht Kantian catr:gorical
imperative is the direct heir of the Oedipus complex. Tbe law is 1
form of !Ugh-minded terrorism, which Uke the Mosaic code in the
judgement of St Poul will men:ly illurninote how far short of it we
hove faUen, instruct us in what to avoid bot give us no pedagugkal aid
in bow m achieve the ideals it bnndisbes before us. As far as the
prohibitory aspeas of the superego are concerned, Freud would no
doubt have S}mpathized .. ;th W. H. Auden.'s crttk about the
U$ClcSiness of a moral law which simply obse!ves human natu:e 011d
then ii!Serts a 'Not'. Monlily as we hate it Is a condition of pei'IIW!ent
self-afimotion; every human subject is colonized by a foreign master,
a filih colwnnist within the self.
The Freudian super!!" thus corresponds to that form of polltkal
coercion which we have contnosted in this study with the concept of
hegemony. It represents that absolutist, crudely I!Deducatl\-e Reason
which foro Schiller wns in dire need of some sens110t1s tempering. It
is a form of potitical powet appropriate to the 1111dm riginu, an
imperious ruler with no regard t<> the feeling.< and c2paciries of his
subjects. The superego, as Freud remms, 'docs rwt trouble itsclf
enough about the facts of tbe mental constitution of human beings. It
issues a command and does not ask whether it is possible for .People
tu obey it.'
It has aU the arr011am:C of power but none of its
crafiinc!s, berd of aU sttarO!ic sense and psychological insight. The
question, then, is huw this uncuuth despotism is tu become
hegemonized; and we sh.all see in a moment what answer Freud gives
to this problem.
Meanwhile, it is worth noting that the f..:t that power bas iis ba.is
in desire deUvero an 1mbivalent poliric21 message. 1'here is nn doubt,
to begin with, that it is this wltich ronders the Freudian law as potent
as .it is. One I'C250il why repressive political regimes are as tenacious
and refractory as they are would he in F...,ud's view because they are
secretly fueUed by implacable desire, characterized by aU the purblind
recalcitrance of the unconsclou<. And this i< doobdess one reason
amoog severn! why they are :w diff..:ult to dislodge. A power structure
held together by ncthing but rational consensus or conscious
manipulation would he far easier to ropple.lfFreud is to be betieved,
late socil:ty swtains its rule not only by police fon:es and
ideological appanruses, but by r.dding the resources of the death
drive, the Oedipus complex and primary agressi\11)'. On this theory,
it is because such regimes are able to tap into the veey cnc:rgies
invdved in the turbulent coosdrution of the human subject lhat they
appear at times to have aU the obdurate resistance to upb.,..,al of a
mounllln range. The forces wbleb SIIS!Iln audlorlty, in shon, are
comJ"'lsive and pathological, and " 'ill resist transfolllllltion as
stubbornly as an analysand will repeat rather than remember.
Cmlization itself by cornering the cu""nts of the id in
or<.kr to oudlanl it, flexing those drives back upon themselves
through the relay of 1 portion of the ego in a repression every bit as
intemperate as the Hfe of the Itself.
That desire and the law ore bedfellows as much as sworn foes C1ID
he formulated in a number of ways. The law, u""' have oeen, is Itself
desirous; It ..,.. lhrouP the bw, in the shape of the originary
probibition, tluot desire came into the world; and it is in the nature of
taboos to intensify the longing's they forbid, exciting tbe vel)'
concupiS<:(ncc they &()Wn on. This recognition, of the mutual
imbrication ofbw 3nd desire, h-35 scn<d in our own time ro fic:;cnsc a
cenain potiric.1l pessimism; and ir is strrf.'ly a ue th<lf no
mere cxpression/r<prcssioo model. of the kb d adopted .;ar te:ast io
part L:oo Mun, com sun;in: the Frt -udia.n ae<:uufd uust.'al lu:i.l. If t1tt: law
and desire arc bom at 11 stroke, then then: c-an be no q11t stioo of
positing ao imrir.sic.ally ct-e:.ath e destte which ls o.erelr in its
hy a rc:cakilT!tnr cx:h:mal pm1,;rr. Hu1 it i:; alst(H.:.s\t'llr.
to ' 'itw this grim c.cmdition from another angle. If the law really "'t're
tf'.utS(tndentaUy disinterested, thco the polittcsl left would most
rertainly bt' in ttoobJr. ' 1 'hat the lslw is 001, idec:Jogic9ll)' speaiJn, ,
how it would like to prcsen1 itself is <l t once political
OllJ)(utunit). Jf its gruw1diu.( iulk."'>ire is what deepttt.s its \'iruJence, il
is aho what renders it precari-:>us and problematic. as a gcnuinc!y
tf':ttN.l !llllent:tl :tut hurily wmll nut he. Martell hy tht: sie., nf
castration, con<taJing its lack bent:ruh lts logocentrism . the Jaw has
sonlCth.ing Q( d)( Wstabilny of the uncoRScious as well of m
J ri\t:nne.-.:.. T he \' t:r)' t!ltu::i.' ufi L"' .-.c:aJ ;:, lltt: d ein!.. iu it:. urnttmr -
QnJy b(causc it signifies the authorituiani$11\ 6f the insecure.
but it the bv. in a t:ta!oeles!: arouflii..g
ic intcrc:l icts, h:r.o<' in (he nam<: r.f
order. The law is I)Ot of h.a:nd, .and if its deere($ become
rh.en ir its \o'1.:; rims with no r:hnice hut tn r,.,n ill l) f
neurosis or to rrbeJ. Doth ooursu of action h..t''( 1heir ambiguous
pains aod pleasures.. It w:as such rebellioo which rrcud in mind
when he: wmtc in '1'1to. Fimm: 11} .. an llb . titm tlutl if' a filib tu
d(vtlop bC)'ortd the point where the satisfaction of a minority depends
upnn cht! uf rn:tjuri ty, il nur the
pJOSp(<'t of a lasting <'xistcnc(>. K (n such coo<lirions. Fn:u<l P.dd;,, (lnt'
c.a.nnot C.II])'C'Gt 1n internalization of cultural prvhibitic-ns to t.ake pbce
:trnong the urpreo:sed - which i!> 10 <::1)' th:u pnlitn::!l puwer wuuld
CC11.5C t () be hcg.:.mooic.
)fthere is in the law. a similar doubltocss ""'" be seen
to lie-on the side of tbos.t. who languish beneath its "''o\y, The re.al
t':'fif:ITIY nf puliri t:a.l radk":l l It:!>..._ the lh:w
- the rondirion in which we tn l(l\'C and rtn: law ie,;df. If
the Superego stems from an intrOjCCti(IR ;,(the fathct, then it bears
wiLbin ilthe kl"e lin LhaL fallaer much '.iiS its E'IHnity. fl'eud
amnc:.;ro; 1hc cv:u'!; rlcl>-i rc for punishment v.ith the wi.-.h lube heall::l
by the father," an maso<hism which joins with our
m.uoehism. This psychical STl1te is .. deep-seared :as it is
because trndem.SS and respect for authority are part of the earliest
manlfemdons of love, prior ro the of sexuaUry itself. 'By
nature (that is, originally)', writes Phaip Rieff, 1ove is authoritarian;
sexuality - like Ubeny - is a later achievement, always in danger of
being overwhelm.ed by our deeper inclin2ri.ons towards submissive-
ness and domination.'" Indeed Leo Benani goes so far as to find in
masochism the VCIY of sewaliry, whose weD-nigh sluaering
effects oo the ego would be unendur.able without such perverse
palification." Jean Laplanche, similarly, spe2b of'lbe priviiCJCd role
of masochism in human sexuality'." Yet there Is no 1oYe 'olithout
ambivalence, and Ibis respect for privileged figures is opposed in the
unconscious by intensely hostile feelinss rowuds them. Our sense of
dependency on other:>, after all, is bound tn wound our narcissistic
l'antasies of omnipotence, the consoling cn:ed that we spnng fuDy
llcdged fro111 o11r 01\'11 loins. If the self craves iJs own confu!cment,
theo, i.t also re:aps delight from seeing its gaolers brought low--n if
the result of this, in an unccasinr dialectic, is guilt, further
sublllissieness, and )'et 1110re pleawrc in dethroning the despot.
The Freudian con,'tption of law and desire wooJd thus seem to
defeat trlldilioD21 political notions of coerclon and hegemony. As a
kind nf absolutist monarch, the tyrannkal superego is so crueDy
unrelenling that one would it inCYitably to instigate rerolt. But
"-bar lll2kes it aa implacable .. It is - Its Intimacy with the id - is
exacdy what binds us libidinaUy to it, llnos tiglnerun, ils pip. In a
strilinr what sustains the law's coerciveness is cxacdy what
secures its hcremony. 1\s Freud atgueS about social conllict, 'the
suppressed classes can be emotionally attached to their masters; in
spite of their hoslility to them they m.ty see in them lbelr ideals;
unless such relations of a fundamentally satisfying lUnd subsisted, it
would be impossible to underswrd bow a DIIDiber of cMllzalions han
survived 10 long in spite of the jliSiiliable hostility of brge human
masses.'" The rnnsition which Freud outlines, from an external
parental agency Ill that introjection of it which is the IN(lCrego, is
parallel U> the political shifi from obsolurism to hegemony, where the
laner is as on internalization of the law as the principle of
one's Ou be in(. Y ct iD Fn:ud's scenario this tnnsition would hardly
seem to the law's rigours at all; on the conlrlltY, as he remarks
in CiuiW.UUm and iu Di!ane.tmts, it ushers ln a stare of 'permanent
internal unhoppiness', as we eagerly <Oilude in our own mise.y. We
renouru:e a heteronomous aulhority for fear of its violenee; bur we
then instaU it securely inside us. and renounce instiocrual gratification
for fear of it In one sense, Ibis signifies an e>en decpt:r subjection; fur
this lntenul conscience, unlike the actual falher, is omniscient, knows
our faintest unconscious wishes, and wiU discipline us for these as
well as for our actual conduct. Moreover, unlik<' any roasonablc
father, it punishes us the more we obey iL If we refrain from
aggression, it simply takes over this bit of un:u:ted violence and toms
it against us. We do indeed, in hegemonic fashion, take pleasuu in the
law; but this deepens its despotism radler lhan rendc:n its burdens
In Toltffl rrd Taboo, Freud offers phylogenetic account of the
traDSition from coercion to hegemony, to match Ibis ontorcnctic ooe.
Civiliz.uion c:IIUlot be properly founded until the arbitrary will of the.
patriarchal despot is curtailed; and this is achieved by his death at the
hands of the lribal horde of sons, who gr..: the law to thcnudvcs and
thus estahlim the bonds of commani1y. Coercion rtmains, both in the
form of the internalized dead fa !her ond in the necessity of work; an
societies, Freud comments in Manim vein, have at root an ecooomic
motive.' But if one of the ruUng forces of socW llfe is AM..U
(necessity or coercion), the other is Em, which is a mauer of
bcgetn011y. m lets u the cement of social relations, rendering them
libidinally gratifying ..,d"" providing the 'usthedc' as opposed t<> the
ob;ec:tnely material foundation of social unity. Civaization, Freud
aims at binding the members oftbc community together in
1 libidinal way u wen aad employs every me.ns to
that end. It fat101m every path by which strOll! identllica
tions can be establt,hod between the members of the
conununity, and"" it summons up aim-inhibited libido on
the largest ~ !!0 as to strengthen lhe communal bnnds
by relations of friendship. In order for the.se aims to be
fullilied, a restriction upon sexual life is urmoidablc."
If this is what sustains society, however, it is alsu the nub uf the
problem. For sexual desft and aggressiveness will conftict with these
social goals; clviliulion will threaten ltre; and the more Eros is
sublimated to these worthy ends, the more vulnerable it becomes to
Tluznmos. Ollly a minority of men and women will be capable of
efl'ectiw: sublimation; the masses, for Freud as lar Burke, must mate
do with the coerced sublimation of manual work, which is never nry
effective. Sublimination would seem !he only path by which th.e
claims of lhe ego can be met "ithout repression - but it is a
pr001rious, unsatisfactory alTair. The proces. of hegemony, in short,
I! both panial and self-undoing: what balds society together is just
wlur i< in danger of tearing it apan.
Con>tntiooal aesthetic thought, as we ba.e seen, imagines the
introj<:etion of a tniJl;Ccndcntal law by th<: desiring subject. Ft<ud's
docai.ne, however, deeply compliatts this paradigm: for bod! terms
in the equation ace now di'ided, ambiguous. unstable, mutuaDy
parasitic. It iJ DO longer a question of imprinting a benignant law
upon 'sensibility', but of bringing to bear an impossibly self-
contradictory power on a body which is il5elf hollowed and dirided.
We lave seen that the apparently augwt law is not quite what it
owears to be; but we must also recognize that desire itself; which
SCCDI$ so much mare personal and immediate than the law's
anonymous decrees, Is itself a kind of impersonal force.
Ocsin:, in Jacques LM:an's fanwus slogan, is the desire of the Other.
To desire another is to desire what that otber desires, since this desire
is of tlte other's 'essence', and only by idenlif}ing with ir can we
therefore become one with the other. This is a paradoxical claim,
howaoer, since desire, which splits and dlspcraes the subject, Is no
kind of essRL-e at aU; so dtat to desire the other's desire is to be as
extrinsic to them as they are to lhcmselvcs, t-.ught up in the process
of their own dctttMment. Desire nevu hits its t.VJet: it becomes
entangled in the other's laclr. and """"' off beyond them. Desire