19. The Privilege of Experience

In stark opposition to the usual ideal of science, the objectivity of dialectical knowledge needs more of the subject and not less. Philosophical experience will otherwise wither away. But the positivist tenor of the age is allergic to such a program. Not all people, one hears, are capable of such experience. It is the prerogative of certain individuals, determined by their aptitudes and their life histories; to demand it as the prerequisite to knowledge is elitist and undemocratic. One must concede the point: not everyone can have philosophical experiences, not to the same degree, and not in the sense that all people with the same IQ can replicate laboratory experiments or should be able to follow mathematical deductions, even though ordinary opinion thinks that it is precisely such endeavors that require distinctive talents. At any rate, the subjective portion of philosophy, if compared with the virtually subjectless rationality of a scientific ideal that has in mind the universal replaceability of persons, does retain an irrational supplement. It is not a natural quality. The argument against experience puts on a democratic face, while ignoring what the administered world makes out of its conscripts. Intellectually, the only ones in a position to oppose it are those not entirely moulded by it. The critique of privilege becomes a privilege; so dialectical is the world’s course. It would be fiction to imply that under social and especially educational conditions that stunt the intellectual forces of production, straightening every curved line, crippling them many times over; that alongside the poverty of images, alongside the pathogenic processes of early childhood, diagnosed by psychoanalysis but in reality unchanged for all that—it would be fiction to imply that under such conditions everyone should be able to understand everything or even notice it. Were such the expectation, then knowledge would be reoriented towards the pathic [pathological and passive] features of a humanity whose ability to form experiences had been driven out by the law of the ever-same, to the extent it possessed such an ability in the first place. To construct truth on the analogy of the volonté de tous, the will of all—the furthest consequence of the subjective conception of reason—would, in the name of all, cheat everyone of the very thing they require. It is up to those who, in their intellectual makeup, have had the undeserved good fortune of not altogether conforming to the prevailing norms—a bit of luck for which, in relation to their surroundings, they often enough have to atone—to express, with moral effort and as it were vicariously, what most of those for whom they speak are not able to see or what they, in order to stay realistic, forbid themselves from seeing. The criterion of truth is not its immediate communicability to every person. It is important to resist the almost universal compulsion to mistake the communication of insight for insight, and perhaps to rate it higher, when at the present every step towards communication sells out and distorts the truth. All things linguistic are by now afflicted by this paradox. Truth is objective and not plausible. It may not come to anyone without mediation, and it may to a high degree require subjective mediation, and yet to that same degree, we can claim for its woven mesh what Spinoza all too enthusiastically claimed for the individual truth: that it is the index of itself. The character of privilege attributed to truth by spite—truth loses this by not sitting pretty on the experiences that give rise to it, but instead by embarking upon configurations and contexts of justification that either help truth to the evidence or else convict it of its deficits. Elite arrogance is an attitude wholly unbecoming philosophical experience. The latter has to reckon with how badly, possible as it is within the status quo, it is contaminated by the status quo, and finally by class relations. In philosophical experience, the odds—or chance—turn against the universal, a chance that has been conceded in desultory fashion to the individual by the universal, which sabotages the universality of such experience. Were we able to produce such universality, the experience of all individuals would thereby be transformed; it would shed much of the contingency that has irredeemably disfigured it thus far, even in the places where it is still kicking. Hegel’s doctrine—that the object reflects itself into itself—outlasts its idealist version, because for a transformed dialectic, the subject, divested of its sovereignty, becomes more than ever before objectivity’s form of reflection. The less definitive and all-encompassing the stances struck by such a theory, the less it reifies itself in relation to the thinking person. Escaping the compulsion to system permits the thinking person to rely un-self-consciously on his own consciousness and his own experience, in a manner that the pathetic conception of subjectivity did not tolerate, a conception that pays for its abstract triumph by sacrificing its specific content. This is in keeping with the emancipation of individuality that took place in the period between high idealism and the present, and whose achievements, despite and because of the pressure at present of collective regression, cannot be theoretically countermanded, any more than the impulses of the dialectic circa 1800 can be canceled. Nineteenth-century individualism no doubt weakened the objectivizing power of the mind, of Geist—the power of insight into objectivity and the power of its construction—but it also procured for the mind a differentiated complexity that strengthened the experience of the object.