Dennis Robert Redmond dredmond at efn.org
Tue May 29 04:33:25 PDT 2001

On Mon, 28 May 2001, C. G. Estabrook wrote:

> Book Reviews
> Edward Skidelsky
> But this historical oversight is nothing compared to the philosophical
> howler that accompanies it. Badiou is here helping himself, without any
> recognition of inconsistency, to the notion of universality that he
> previously rejected. He begins by condemning the bourgeois fiction of a
> "universal human subject" and ends by condemning fascism because it fails
> to recognise the very same subject. Universality is good when it is
> communist, bad when it is bourgeois; particularity is good when it is
> communist, bad when it is fascist.

(Zzzz). I get this sort of 5th-grade crap from book publishers all the time. The latest rejection email started out, "The author's manuscript is nothing but a rant against transnational capital" before getting really, *really* idiotic. My theory is, the total system actually has these secret underground laboratories staffed by clones of Edward Teller, which cook up these reviews in asbestos-lined vats. Or maybe they just retranslate all those Eastern bloc party ukases denouncing Dissident X for failing to toe Line Y of Leader Z. For the real deal on the dialectics of morality, consistency, and universality, though, one has to turn to Adorno, who penned gorgeous, intricate and inspiring lines like the following (with the proviso that Adorno's mention of Africa and Asia is a reference to the horrors of 1960s-era colonialism):

"The horizon of a condition of freedom, which would need no repression and no morality, because the drive would no longer have to express itself destructively, is veiled in gloom. Moral questions are stringent not in their dreadful parody, sexual repression, but in sentences like: torture ought to be abolished; concentration camps ought not to exist, while all this continues in Africa and Asia and is only repressed because civilized humanity is as inhuman as ever against those which it shamelessly brands as uncivilized. If a moral philosopher seized these lines and exulted, now he has finally caught up with the critics of morality - in that these, too, cite the values comfortably proclaimed by moral philosophers - then the definitive conclusion would be false. The sentences are true as impulse, when they register, that somewhere torture is occurring. They may not be rationalized; as an abstract principle they would end up immediately in the bad infinity of their derivation and validity. The critique of morality is applicable to the transposition of the logic of consistency onto the behavior of human beings; that is where the stringent logic of consistency becomes the organ of unfreedom. The impulse, the naked physical fear and the feeling of solidarity with, in Brecht's words, tormentable bodies, which is immanent to moral behavior, would be denied by attempts at ruthless rationalization; what is most urgent would once more become contemplative, the mockery of its own urgency. The distinction of theory and praxis involves theoretically, that praxis can no more be purely reduced to theory as the "choris" [Greek: separate, apart] of it. Both are not to be glued together into a synthesis. That which is undivided lives solely in the extremes, in the spontaneous impulse which, impatient with the argument, does not wish to permit the horror to continue, and in the theoretical consciousness unterrorized by any functionary, which discerns why it nonetheless goes unforeseeably on. This contradiction alone is, in sight of the real powerlessness of all individuals, the staging-grounds of morality today." (pg 281, "Negative Dialectics", Theodor Adorno)

-- Dennis

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