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pynchon-l@waste.org publiziert

Enlightment trash

A short essay

The German-jewish philosopher and Marxist Ernst Bloch ("Principle Hope") wrote a book in the early thirties called "Erbschaft dieser Zeit" ("Inheritance of this time"); as far as I know this book was published one year before the Nazis came on power. In this book Bloch created a neologism which he called "Aufklaericht" - untranslatable, but it means something like "enlightment trash".
The book was published in the same year as the "mastermind" of the conservative revolution, Ernst Juenger, published his "Der Arbeiter. Herrschaft und Gestalt" ("The worker. Power and Gestalt") and Walter Benjamin his "Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit" ("The work of art in the age of its technical reproduction"). Bloch's book has a lot of similarities with the other two books, but this is not the subject of this essay.

The English translation "enlightment" for "Aufklaerung" has its own difficulties, the meaning of the two words is not simply the same. In German "Aufklaerung" doesn't mean only a special period of European philosophy or the beginning of a new era but also is often used in every-day-life. We also know the expression "Aufklaerung von Verbrechen" (crime detection) or "sexuelle Aufklaerung" (sex education) but do you know "enlightment of crimes" or "sexual enlightment"? 

Because Aufklaerung (in its original meaning "the weather gets clearer", "the sky clears up" etc., also in German) is a multi-functional word in German you must be very careful when you use it in philosophical or scientific contexts. The sub-meanings of every-day-life are still in it if you use it philosophically, with the consequence that you can produce a lot of misunderstandings and disturbances.

For Kant in his three criticisms Aufklaerung means the unity of "Verstand" and "Vernunft" - for both there's only the English word "reason" (French: raison). But in German "Verstand" and "Vernunft" are not the same. "Vernunft" is the general pre-condition ("Bedingung der Moeglichkeit") of perception and cognition, it belongs to the "transcendental subject". "Verstand" incorporates the categories of "Vernunft", like time, space, causality a. s. o., it's - so to say - the pre-condition of the "empirical part" of "reason". "Vernunft" is "theoretical reason", "Verstand" "practical reason".

My thesis is now that this difference between the two "powers of reason" mirrors exactly the difference between "modernism" and "pomo". The "synthetische Apperzeption" (synthetical apperception) as a Kantian category belongs only to the Vernunft, it's the "God in us", the a priori-subject of all entities (like history, subjectivity, identity a. s. o.), the Verstand is that what we all can know ("common sense", so to say), the Wittgenstein verdict "What we cannot speak about, we must be silent" is a consequence of this. Verstand is the "deconstruction" of Vernunft, and already Kant's analysis inherent.

The "limits of reason" are - in Kantian categories - the limits of the Verstand, not the limits of the Vernunft. The Vernunft is a "block box" for us, as reality, our "Ding an sich". the "Big Other" in the terms of Lacan. The Verstand can only show us his own limitations, and self-reference and self-doubting, the "hermeneutic circle" are the consequences of this, the paradox movement of the "infinite regress", the unlimited search for limitations.

The Hegelian version of this paradox movement of "hermeneutic circle" and "infinite regress" is called dialectics, and dialectics is inherent the promise that this endless movement will come to an end ("absoluter Geist"). Marx later called it communism.

But there must be added another thing. The ability/the competence to use your own Verstand Kant calls "Vermoegen". But the word "Vermoegen" also has in German a double-meaning: on the one hand "ability/competence", but on the other "property/fortune". And Kant exactly knew who has no such "Vermoegen": for example mentally disabled persons, children and - women. Those who have no property don't have competence, too. It's a very, very male and bourgeois Verstand Kant described.

Enough for today, the second part will follow tomorrow - or in a few days.

Enlightment trash, Part two

The Vernunft is the "meta-language" of enlightment - to speak in the terms of Lyotard and the poststructuralists.
Marxists would call it the "social synthesis", the categories and "principles of analysis" which build up the social cohesion.

A provocative question - on the first view: what has Holocaust/Shoah to do with enlightment or better the enlightment trash? Isn't Nazism and all its consequences just the opposite of it, a consequence of irrationalism?

The French-Greek philosopher and psychoanalyst Castoriadis who wrote a long time for the French magazine "Socialisme ou barbarie" and now and then for "Les temps modernes" (his opus magnum is: "Gesellschaft als imaginaere Institution", Frankfurt 1990, "Society as an imaginary institution") distinguishes in "Society as an imaginary institution" betweeen "social imagination" and "individual imagination". Individual imagination in deed belongs to the realm/sphere of psychoanalysis, but "social imagination" is for Castoriadis not the same as the "collective unconscious" of C. G. Jung. Social imagination does not handle with archetypes but with the constant flow of social "pictures" and "images", "the stream of the social unconscious". This fluid stream can be fixed by social institutions, and this act of fixing Castoriadis calls the production of the "social imagined", so to speak the products or "ready-mades" of social imagination.

The individual imagination must be embedded in the process of social imagination, otherwise the individual risks to become psychotic or getting another mental disease. Social innovation can be established if the individual imagination or a group imagination is able to become a general social imagination which most of the members of a society share, or a representative part of the social/cultural/economic elites. Sometimes social innovation must be established against the majority/the elites, and these proceedings are normally called "revolution". So - very briefly - the theory of social imagination by Cornelius Castoriadis.

Somewhere Castoriadis says that reason (raison) can derived from social madness (folie) not vice versa. The unity of "madness" and "reason" is conditio humama, independent from all social formations or/and conditions; a very unusual statement by a marxist. But this is the only way you can understand the unity of rationality and (social) madness, of modern society and barbarism in the 20th century.

Now, is there a real "pluralization" of holocausts? What is the difference between pogroms and the Shoah, between Stalinism and Nazism, between Auschwitz and Pol Pot?
Without any doubt, the Shoah was an industrialized genocide, and this exactly the difference to other genocides. The social phantasms about a "jewish world conspiracy" were no contradiction to the advanced social and organizational techniques the Nazis used for their crimes. In contrast to other opinions, I believe that Nazism was no "archaic" or atavistic relapse, but a mixture of the most advanced social technologies of that era and very special "German" fantasies (which Goldhagen describes in his "Willing executioners" correctly but with a false theoretical background, a kind of "history of mentality" - the French historians of the Annales-school are much better in that).

If the singularity of the Shoah is a very special combination of social fantasies and industrialized mass murder, the Stalinist Gulag system is a consequence of universal paranoia. In contrast to Nazism where you exactly could know if you were an enemy or not (it was - so to speak - the "advantage" of Nazism), during the Stalinist regime you never knew if you were a "friend" or not, a "comrade" or a "class enemy". This often changed from one day to another. I give you an example for this. In the midst of the nineties, I met in a town in East Germany near the Polish border a Russian-jewish journalist whose name is Boris Schumatsky. Boris lived in these times half a year in Moscow, half in Berlin and wrote articles for German and Suisse newspapers and features for Deutschlandradio Berlin, among other things about the Russian-Czechenyan conflict. In Goerlitz which was the name of the East-German town he gave a lecture about the "Homo sovieticus", an analysis of the Russian society in Foucaultian categories. The thesis of his lecture was that the whole Soviet system based on the principles of the Red Army, even in the social microcosm, f. e. in families or company groups. Everybody was a soldier and a potential spy, betrayal could be everywhere at any time. You couldn't trust anyone, not your father, not your mother, not your children. In this climate of universal suspicion, in the last instance, you couldn't trust yourself, and this was the basis of 70 years Bolschevism in the Soviet Union, Boris explained.

In 1999, Boris published a book in German "Sylvester bei Stalin" ("Sylvester at Stalin's") in which he wrote a kind of family chronicle. In this "genealogy" he wanted to reconstruct the structure of stalinism on the basis of the fate of his forefathers.
I was very astonished as I read that Boris' great-grandfather whose name was also Boris Schumatsky was a famous member of the Bolschevist elite after the October Revolution. First Boris Schumatsky sen. was the leader of the Red Army in Siberia and helped the communist insurgents in Mongolia. In the twenties he became the Soviet ambassador in Teheran, in the thirties leader of the Soviet film production: two fotos shows him together with Charly Chaplin (B. S. sen. had some influence to the storyboard of "Modern times") and with Stalin - during the famous "congress of filmmakers" 1935 in Moscow he is standing directly beside him. B. S. sen. couldn't like Eisenstein - he was to "avantgardistic" for him. And Stalin and B. S. sen. were rivals from the very beginning because B. S. sen. did everything to minimize Stalin's influence as long as Lenin lived.
On sylvester 1937/38 B. S. sen. received a phone call. Stalin invited him to the sylvester party in the Kreml. B. S. sen. refused the invitation politely, he said to Stalin he wanted to be together with his family. A few weeks later, Boris Schumatsky sen. was arrested and never seen again. His great-grandson assumes that he was shot in a Siberian Gulag camp 1941 shortly before the German invasion.

Story and Hi-Story (thanks to Michael Jackson and his little boyz). Let's say this is a modern story but what is post-modern? Some say that in "Post-modern times" (who's writing the storyboard for this?) there's No Language Beyond Language. The meta-language disappeared. But where it is hiding? Or is it the sleep of reason?
Or the real background for all this (the revenge of modernism): there's No Capital Beyond Capital? 
 

Kurt-Werner Pörtner

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