18. Dialectics, the Fixed, and the Fast

Dialectics unchained does not lack for fixed terms any more than Hegel did. It ceases, however, to grant the fixed term primacy. Hegel did not much emphasize the fixed term at the origins of his metaphysics; it was supposed to step forward from his system at the end—as a totality properly vetted. Hence the peculiar twofold character of his logical categories. They are at once organically risen, self-aufhebende structures and a priori, invariant ones. What brings them into line with dynamics is a particular Hegelian doctrine—the idea that immediacy reproduces itself afresh with each new stage of the dialectic. The theory of “second nature,” tinged with critique even in Hegel, abides in negative dialectics. It accepts abrupt immediacy as it is—the formations that society and its development present to thought—in order to lay bare their mediations via analysis, taking as its measure the immanent difference between the phenomena and what the phenomena themselves claim to be. For analysis of this kind, the fixed and persisting thing—the kind of thing that the young Hegel called positive—is the negative. The preface to the Phenomenology still characterizes thought—positivity’s archenemy—as the principle of negativity. A moment’s reflection suffices to establish this point: anything that does not think, preferring to hand itself over to Anschauung, to perception or views, will tend towards a bad positivity by dint of that passive condition which, among those who criticize reason, denotes the sensory sources of knowledge’s authority. To receive something in just the way that it presents itself at a given moment, by forsaking reflection, is always potentially to appreciate it for what it is. Every thought, by contrast, is the occasion for negative movement. In Hegel, of course, the primacy of the subject over the object remains undisputed, despite his many assertions to the contrary. It is the semi-theological word Geist that masks this primacy—Geist, spirit, mind, which cannot help but recall the subjectivity of the individual. The price that Hegel’s logic pays for this is its excessively formal character. Obliged by its own concept to be substantive and content-laden, it, nonetheless, in its striving to be everything at once, both metaphysics and a theory of categories, expels from itself all determinate entities, the very things that could legitimize this approach. It is in this respect not so very far from Kant and Fichte, whom Hegel tirelessly condemns as the peddlars of abstract subjectivity. For its part, the science of logic is abstract in the most basic sense; the reduction of thought to universal concepts eliminates in advance their contrary term, the concreteness that the idealistic dialectic prides itself on carrying and developing. Mind wins its battle against an absent enemy. Hegel’s sneering remarks on the subject of contingent existence, the “Krugian quill” that philosophy can and shall be too lofty to deduce from itself, is a caught-you-red-handed. Hegel’s logic was only ever interested in the concept as medium and refused to reflect on the relationship of the concept to its contents in anything but the most general way; it was thus assured in advance of the absolute character of the concept, despite undertaking to prove that very point. But the more that subjective autonomy learns to see through its own pretenses, becoming conscious of itself as just one more mediated term, the more binding is the obligation born by thought to take on whatever it is that delivers to it the fixity it intrinsically lacks. If it were not for this latter, there could be none of the dynamism with which dialectics moves its otherwise fixed load. It is a mistake to reject out of hand each and every experience that comes to one as primal. If the experience had by consciousness were entirely missing—what Kierkegaard defended under the name “naïveté”—then thinking, having lost faith in itself, would acquiesce to whatever the set of established things expected from it and would turn naïve for real. Even terms like Urerfahrung—a primal or primordial experience—however compromised by phenomenology and the new ontology, designate something true, while also damaging it with their stiltedness. If resistance against the façade did not stir—spontaneously, unconcerned about its own dependencies—then thoughts and activity would be but dim copies. Whatever in the object surpasses the determinations imposed on it by thought—this presents itself to the subject in the first instance as unmediated; in that place where the subject feels most sure of itself, in the primal experience, there the subject is least subject. The most subjective term of all, the immediately given, escapes from the subject’s encroachment. Except that such unmediated consciousness is neither indefinitely retainable nor straightforwardly positive. For consciousness is at the same time the universal mediation and as such incapable of leaping its own shadow, not even in its own données immédiates. They are not the truth. Idealistic Schein is the confidence that the totality will issue seamlessly from out of fixed and immediate terms, from out of its primal simplicities. For the dialectic, immediacy does not stay as immediate as it first pretended to be. It becomes a factor, an element, a “moment,” instead of a ground. The situation is no different at the opposite extreme, with the invariants of pure thought. Only a childish relativism would dispute the validity of formal logic or mathematics and abuse these as ephemeral merely for having emerged in history. Except that the invariants, whose very invariance is produced, cannot be pared away from all that varies, as though one could thereby hold the world’s whole truth in one’s hands. Truth is knit together with real substantiality, which changes; its unchangingness is the delusion of prima philosophia. The invariants do not, it is true, dissolve into the dynamics of history and consciousness without difference, but they are elements therein; they pass over into ideology as soon as they are picked out as something transcendental. None of this is to say that ideology will always take the form of an overtly idealistic philosophy. Ideology dwells in the foundation of any first term, almost regardless of its content, in the implicit identity of concept and thing, which cannot help but justify the world even when the dependence of consciousness upon being is summarily taught.