butlering along

Chuck Grimes cgrimes at tsoft.com
Wed Feb 3 21:37:39 PST 1999

..actually think a lot of discussion has gone on around this stuff, tangentially, but maybe more interestingly than line by line readings.... but there are maybe interesting questions that have been left hanging, like: is butler evidence for a mourning of the 'death of marx'? is butler a social constructionist? is guilt the precursor of subjectivity?...



I didn't volunteer for chapters and was frankly not that interested in Butler--but I have to say, I am now. Unfortunately, my interest is not for what she has to say, but why she chose Hegel as a foil. Perhaps she was lead back to Hegel through Foucault, Sartre and Heidegger. Well, I am sure that was her route, but just to follow the trace back, does not explain her own interest.

I've spent the last few nights wading through a translator's intro to Phenomenology of Mind and still haven't gotten to Hegel himself, but already I am thinking beyond Hegel. At the end of the summer I left off another reading project which was to go back through Marx in a chronological sequence (early to late). Now, I wish I had stayed with that project longer. I was just through his early essays as he was slowly dropping the obvious, heavy handed Hegelian philosophy graduate school style and working himself toward his own style. But the ideas change with the style and he was heading down to earth--less that high speculative tone and more and more focused on the concrete issues of the day.

Well, I want to go back and think about Hegel's extreme metaphysics of self. In other words, it seems possible to argue that Hegel through his metaphysics has managed to extrapolate the human mind (and the self along for the ride) into a vast model for the entire universe. In other words, he has willfully mistaken the totality of thought, for the totality of what is. In other words the phenomenology of mind is a perfect equivalent to a phenomenology of what is, period.

So, given this very tentative idea, then it would be interesting to know if Marx saw this--and what he thought about it. The reason is that Marx must have been very much aware of the romantic links that trace from the French revolution to Hegel, obviously he knew the historical consequences that followed in the collapse of the whole project and its intellectual bitterness. In addition, he obviously realized that the emergence of industrialization made romanticism and the hysteria of the old republicans (original French revolutionaries) seem ludicrous.

Intellectually, it is important to keep the French revolution separated from its idealizations, and inspirational expressions. Hegel in some sense, like Beethoven, literally appropriated the idea of the revolution whole into their work. Part of that appropriation was the supreme position that the concept of Self occupies. I don't mean mere egotism. I mean the celebration of Self as something fundamental and universal to humanity, nature, and the cosmos.

So, connecting the dots, you see the link to Butler. She centers Psychic Lives squarely about Hegel's concept of Self. I can not support this at the moment, but if you think about this centrality, and then consider that Hegel conflated Mind with Universe, you see the boundary seems to disappear between World and Self, one is the other and vice versa. Both Foucault and Derrida, despite their protests otherwise, have done something very close to or intimately related to the same sort of thing. It might just be a consequence of pursuing metaphysics into these extremes--I don't know.

In any event, then returning to Marx, hopefully then it might be possible to see how or really if Marx manages to escape this same dilemma. Well, obvious he does this by concentrating on what is, on the concrete, on the actual, on the practical and on practice itself, labor itself, as it were.

So, at the moment, I am starting to re-read _Contributions to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right_. I just read this last summer, but wasn't thinking at all about it in relation to the metaphysics of Self, or Hegel's link to the French Revolution or any of the rest of this business--i.e postmodernist writings, Butler, power, etc, etc.

Then more dots. Going back to Marx on the Jewish Question. The reason here, is that Judaism is also a nationalism--at that point in history, a nationalism oppressed and broken in ancient history--a mere ideal, a dream. So nationalism and religion, but also self and identity--all of these mixed together and something that Marx has to sort out. I also read this last summer and can't remember a thing about it--because I wasn't really interested, or didn't see its importance in this context.

So these still return to Butler again, and will hopefully enrich a view of her that at the moment is pretty barren and schematic.

The ultimate direction in this odd and meandering reading journey is to return to the present conflict between the Marxists and economic empirical crowd, and the academic, literary, and theory crowd.

But the strange connections keep threading themselves in my mind. Hegel examines Religion and decides to meld religion and history together so that the universal spirit (a religious concept) is both manifested and expressed as concrete History. (In other words, history is Self, realized in time. History is also State, which is also Self--but these are more details on the same theme.) Now, take that idea and consider the arrival of all the religious fundamentalisms that are evolving co-contemporary with nationalisms today. Okay. Now consider the extreme emotional fanaticism of these developments and their identification with 'revolutions'. All of these are being inflamed by the mindless greed machine of international financial exploitation. Oh, and toss in the idiot box, the US media production that does nothing but celebrate Self.

Perhaps Paz was right. We have returned to the original inception of Modernity, since it seems as if the whole world is undergoing some kind of strange resuscitation of the aftermath of the French Revolution.

Well, that's a good enough model for tonight. I know I can't possibly finish all the reading required for this figg'n course. So, I would say no, Marxism is certainly not dead in my mind. Butler seems more and more like a Hegelian everynight. And no, guilt can not be a precursor to subjectivity, because that equation is reversed. Self and its dialectical formation as concrete being and nothing is the presupposed precursor to everything within the metaphysical terrain that Butler has been traversing..

Chuck Grimes

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