2. Dialectics Not a Standpoint

No theory escapes the marketplace anymore; 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; even so, 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 dissolve 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 at the level of sheer form. To think is to identify. Conceptual order drapes itself contentedly in front of that which 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 the latter’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 the principle 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 occupy a standpoint in advance. Thought is driven to dialectics by its own inevitable insufficiency, the guilt, or liability, 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, as Croce would still argue, that it thereby 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. Thought’s identity and thought’s contradiction are welded together. The totality of contradiction is nothing more than how the untruth of total identification
manifests itself in identification. Contradiction is non-identity under the spell of a law that affects the non-identical as well.

Translation updated, March 2, 2019


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