16. The Fragility of Truth

The dismantling of systems and of the system is not an epistemological act. Whatever the system of yore wanted to make the details do, this can be found only in the details themselves. There is no way to tell a thought in advance what it will find in them, or to guarantee that it will find in them anything at all. It is only by way of such dismantling that all this talk about truth being concrete, now totally abused, would come into its own. Such talk obliges thought to linger over the smallest minutiae. The point is not to philosophize about the concrete; the point is to philosophize outwards from within the concrete. But to devote oneself to some specific object is to invite the suspicion that one lacks an unambiguous position. What exists takes for witchcraft anything that differs from it, while the false world goes on chanting charms and spells of its own, like “proximity” and “home” and “security.” People are afraid of losing everything if they lose their magic spell, because the only happiness they know, even in thought, is the happiness of having something to adhere to, the perennial bondage. A wee bit of ontology, at least, is what the people want, amidst the critique of same, as though the smallest unprotected insight didn’t express what is wanted better than a declaration of intention that goes nowhere. Philosophy corroborates Schönberg’s experience of traditional music theory: It teaches a person only how a Satz—a movement, a sentence—should begin and end, but nothing about the Satz itself, about its course. Philosophy, by analogy, should not head straight for the categories, but must learn first to compose. Philosophy must unremittingly renew itself as it proceeds, from out of its own powers, and from out of its friction with whatever it is up against. Decisive is not a thesis or a position but what comes to pass in philosophy—the weave, not the one-track train of thought, be it inductive or deductive. This is why, essentially, one cannot stand up and give a book report about philosophy. If one could, philosophy would be superfluous. That philosophy for the most part admits of book reports says nothing good about it. But a way of proceeding that stands watch over no first principle or secure term gives offense, especially when, thanks to the precision and determination of its presentation, it concedes so little to the relativism that is absolutism’s twin that it begins in its own right to resemble doctrine. It carries on out past Hegel, to the point of breaking with him—Hegel, whose dialectic wanted to have everything, wanted even to be prima philosophia, which, in the identity principle or absolute subject, it actually was. A thinking that has renounced everything First and Fixed does not, however, make itself absolute in the form of something free-floating. This renunciation precisely fastens it to what it is not and eliminates the illusion of its autarchy. What is false in a rationality that has been cut loose, a rationality that is running away from itself—its transposition from enlightenment to myth—can itself be rationally ascertained. Thought, to go by its own sense, is the thought of something. Even in the logically abstract form of the Something, as something intended or a judgment made—a form that claims to posit, of its own accord, no particular beings—even in such a form, there lives on, ineradicable to the thought that would like to eradicate it, thought’s non-identical term, that which is not thought.

Reason becomes irrational when it forgets this, hypostasizing, against the sense of thinking, the abstractions that are its products. To require autarky of  thinking is to condemn it to emptiness and then finally to stupidity and primitiveness. The objections leveled at everything groundless should be turned against the principle of a mind or spirit that maintains itself within itself as the sphere of absolute origins. But Wherever ontology, and above all Heidegger, starts banging away at groundlessness—that is where truth dwells. Truth is provisional, fragile by virtue of its time-bound content; Benjamin pointedly criticized Gottfried Keller’s arch-bourgeois remark that truth cannot run away from us. Philosophy will have to do without the comforting idea that truth will never go missing. A philosophy incapable of plunging into the abyss that the metaphysical fundamentalists are always going on about—an abyss not of fleet-tongued sophistry but of madness—will turn, because governed by its principle of safety and security, analytic and potentially tautological. Only thoughts that go to extremes defy the omnipotent impotence of safe and certain agreement; it takes mental gymnastics to form a relationship to the thing, even though, according to the fable convenue [the agreed upon fable], acrobatic thinking disdains the thing and prefers self-pleasure. No unreflected banality—no imprint of the false life—can be true any longer. Reactionary today is any attempt to arrest thought with catchphrases: to call a thought complacently hyperbolic or to say that it lacks commitment—especially when this aims to make thought more useful. Vulgarly, the argument could be phrased as follows: If you want, I can turn out analyses like these by the dozen. Any particular analysis is thereby invalidated. When someone following this pattern raised suspicions about his short forms, Peter Altenberg gave the right answer: But I don’t want. An open thought is unprotected against the risk of skidding off into the arbitrary; nothing certifies whether or not it has saturated itself with the matter at hand so as to overcome that risk. But if consequently executed, the density of its woven fabric will contribute to its hitting its mark. The function of the concept of certainty in philosophy is turned upside down. The positions that once set out to supersede dogma and paternalism via self-assurance have turned into new certainties, social security for a way of knowing to which nothing should ever be able to happen.  The point is true enough: Nothing will ever happen to the unobjectionable.