Affirmative Philosophical Interventions

I think it’s unreasonable to think that the whiny tone of the Humanities will ever change, and while Badiou’s attempt to reverse critique may be a bit of an overstatement, it is worth repeating.   Moses Boudourides, discussing the need to prevent ideas and people from being knotted together, quotes Alain Badiou from the “Philosophy in the Present: Badiou & Zizek” (Polity, 2009, pp. 80-84):

It seems to me that the problem with philosophical commitment is that it is often thought to be primarily critical. Very often, one equates philosophy with critique. So that philosophical commitment would ultimately amount to saying what is evil, what is suffering, of saying what’s not acceptable, or what is false. The task of philosophy would be primarily negative: to entertain doubt, the critical spirit , and so on and so forth. I THINK THIS THEME MUST BE ABSOLUTELY OVERTURNED. THE ESSENCE OF PHILOSOPHICAL INTERVENTION IS REALLY AFFIRMATION. … a point on which I agree with Deleuze. When Deleuze says that philosophy is in its essence the construction of concepts, he is right to put forward this creative and affirmative dimension, and to mistrust any critical or negative reduction of philosophy. … Glucksmann’s fundamental thesis … is that it is not possible to unify consciences around a positive vision of the Good. One can only unify consciences in the critique of Evil: this is the pivotal thesis of his entire intellectual itinerary. This negative position defines a philosophical intervention of an entirely specific sort: THE PHILOSOPHER IS A KIND OF A PHYSICIAN. He diagnoses evil, suffering, and, if need be, he suggests remedies in order to return to the normal state of affairs. … For my part, I think it is important to defend a wholly other conception of philosophical intervention. It is not for nothing that the first great philosophical idea was Plato’s idea of the Good. Plato had understood perfectly well that at a given moment it is the element of inhuman affirmation which is decisive, that it is this element which carries a radical choice. (The previous letter capitalization was mine, not in the book.)

3 thoughts on “Affirmative Philosophical Interventions

  1. Ok, I really need to get back to my own stuff, but I can’t help commenting on this (partly because my ‘real work’ is about the concept of critique and criticism). Anyway, here goes:

    The opposition of ‘negative’ stance criticism against positive stance affirmation is overblown to begin with. In what’s going to be a rather striking convergence with Kvond (!), I’m going to say that all concept-formation (which is the backbone of every neo-Kantian program from Windelband through to Cassirer) has to do with a specific sense of simplification and limitation. Regardless of whether you see concepts as ‘multiplicities,’ they can only function as concepts if they simplify. Otherwise they’re intuitions (and maybe Husserlian intuitions of abstract objects), etc. In fact, every critique worth its salt is affirmative — they’re simply not wholesale affirmations (this is the whole romantic notion of potentiation and fragmentation that ultimately converges with or releases the absolute).

    On the other hand, however, the kinds of philosophical affirmations we’ve seen within recent history all tend to lead to monstrosity. Fichte affirmed the French Jacobin revolution, Buber affirmed the necessity of WWI, etc, needless to mention Heidegger, Cioran, affirming fascism, and then they’re the intellectuals who affirmed communism, etc. Chomsky actually has a really nice list somewhere about this. his point tends to be that Intellectual affirmations of something or other tend to amount to the status quo. Put differently, you can only affirm singularities. But their specificity precludes large swaths of other possible states of affairs.

    I don’t want to ramble, so I’ll leave of here. Needless to say, the binarization of affirmation and critique also makes anything approximating a Hegelian Aufhebung impossible. Anyway. To be honest, Critique has got a bad name because people do it badly. And folks are far too forgetful of all the “wonderful” things that affirmation have brought us.

  2. On the issue of affirmation vs. negation, I side with Fredric Jameson in that I think the dialectic requires an oscillation between conceptual affirmation and critical negativity.

  3. To put on my Badiou hat, I think he is right on the money here. To use an example from one of my areas of interest, you hear Heideggerians critique this and that (Husserl, Descartes, Kant, etc.) and at the end of the day, leave it at “being-in-the-world. boom, problem solved!” They are sutured to old philosophical situations and have no fidelity to post-evental truths because they are simply repeating old critiques in the same philosophical languages that have already been assimilated into the situation of normal philosophy. It is the paradigm shifts which make philosophical history interesting, because everything else is just the tedious working out of implications.

    If you want an example of a philosopher/psychology who was militant in his evental truth procedure, check out Julian Jaynes. I think a reviewer put it best, “The weight of original thought in [this book] is so great that it makes me uneasy for the author’s well-being: the human mind is not built to support such a burden.”

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