2. Dialectics Not a Standpoint

No theory escapes the marketplace any more; each one is put up for sale, just one possible opinion among competing opinions, all on display, all swallowed. A thought that would oppose this condition cannot strap on blinkers; the self-righteous conviction that one’s own theory has been spared this fate is bound to sink into self-advertisement. But dialectics need not fall silent in the face of this accusation, or the concomitant accusation that it is superfluous, arbitrary. The name “dialectics” says nothing more, to begin with, than that objects do not disappear into their concept, that they are not exhausted by it, that they come into contradiction with the customary norm of adequation. Contradiction is not what Hegel’s absolute idealism could not help but transfigure it into; it is not some Heraclitean essence. It is the index of the untruth of identity, of the vanishing of the conceptualized into the concept. The appearance of identity, however, is intrinsic to thought itself, according to it pure form. To think is to identify. Conceptual order smugly drapes itself across whatever thought seeks to comprehend. Its appearance and its truth are intertwined. Appearance cannot be willed away by decree, by, for instance, avowing some being-in-itself beyond the totality of cognitive determinations. Kant secretly says—and Hegel would later turn this against him—that the thing-in-itself that lies beyond the concept is completely indeterminate and thus void. An awareness of the conceptual totality’s illusory character has no choice but to break immanently through the appearance of total identity: by totality’s own measure. But the conceptual totality is constructed according to logic, whose core is the principle of the excluded middle, which means that anything that does not conform to this principle, anything that is qualitatively different, bears the mark of contradiction. Contradiction is the non-identical seen from the perspective of identity. The primacy of contradiction in dialectics takes the measure of heterogeneity in identity thought. Identity thought crashes into its own limits and thereby exceeds itself. Dialectics is the consistent and thorough consciousness of non-identity. It does not begin by occupying a standpoint. Thought is driven to dialectics by its own inevitable insufficiency, the guilt it bears for what it thinks. You could level against dialectics a charge first made by Hegel’s Aristotelian critics and repeated ever since—that it reduces everything that falls into its mill to the purely logical form of contradiction—and you could add, as Croce would still argue, that dialectics ignores the full multiplicity of the non-contradictory, of the merely diverse, but this would be blaming the method for the fault of the matter. Everything different will appear divergent, dissonant, negative, as long as consciousness is compelled, by its very formation, to press towards identity, as long, that is, as consciousness measures against its claim to totality anything not identical to it. Dialectics holds this up to consciousness as a contradiction. Contradictoriness, by dint of consciousness’s immanent quality, itself has an inescapably and fatally lawlike character. Identity and contradiction are welded together in thought. The totality of contradiction is nothing more than the untruth of total identification manifesting itself in identification. Contradiction is non-identity under the spell of a law that affects the non-identical as well.

One response to “2. Dialectics Not a Standpoint

  1. You’re my hero. It is fantastic that you are doing this.