8. The Speculative Moment

Even having rejected idealism, philosophy cannot dispense with speculation, which idealism taught us to cherish and which it has since brought into disrepute, though of course philosophy needs speculation in a sense broader than Hegel, all too positively, meant it. It is not hard for positivists to point out all the ways in which Marxist materialism is speculative; it takes as its starting point objective and essential laws, not raw data or basic statements. Over the last few years, if you have wanted someone to know you’re not a pinko, it has been easier to call Marx  “metaphysical” than to call him “subversive.” But solid ground becomes a phantasm at the point where truth claims instruct us to rise above it. Philosophy is not to be fobbed off with theorems that try to talk it out of its essential interest instead of satisfying that interest, if only with a “no.” From the nineteenth century on, the counter-movements against Kant have all felt this way, though these, it’s true, were invariably compromised by obscurantism. But philosophical resistance must be allowed to develop. Music, too, indeed art of any kind, discovers that the impulse animating its opening bars will be satisfied only via a certain articulated progression and so not all at once. In this sense, music, at once both appearance and totality, performs critique upon appearance by way of totality—critique, that is, upon the presence of its content in the here and now. Mediation of this kind befits philosophy no less than music. If it takes it upon itself to make rash pronouncements, it opens itself up to Hegel’s verdict on empty profundity. A person who utters profundities does not thereby become profound, any more than a novel becomes metaphysical by reporting on the metaphysical views of its characters. To demand of philosophy that it show an interest in the question of Being or the other central themes of western metaphysics amounts to a pious and primitive belief in matter and motifs. It cannot evade the dignity of these themes, but a person cannot sound off on the big issues and expect this to count as philosophy. Philosophy is so scared of the worn grooves of reflection that its emphatic interest seeks refuge in ephemeral objects, the ones that haven’t yet been overdetermined by intentions. The traditional philosophical problematic needs to be negated, definitely and determinately, though this negation will of course be chained to that problematic’s own questions. A world that has objectively gathered itself up into a totality will not set consciousness free. It relentlessly pins consciousness to the very place it was trying to get away from. Thought, on the other hand, that sets out on its merry way, mindless of the historical shape of its problems, falls prey to those problems with renewed force. Philosophy is able to partake of the idea of profundity only by means of its pneuma, its thinking breath. The model for this, in the modern era, is the Kantian deduction of pure reason, whose author apologized, in a fit of inscrutable irony, for its being “pitched rather deep.” Even profundity, as Hegel well knew, is a moment in the dialectic, and not an isolated quality. There is a vile German tradition that considers thoughts deep only once they’ve taken the oath of theodicy and so promised to justify evil and death.  A theological endpoint is foisted, in secret, upon thought, as though its dignity were decided by its results, the ratification of transcendence or the immersion into interiority, mere being-for-itself; as though withdrawing from the world were the same, presto, as having insight into its principle and ground. Resistance would be the true measure of profundity, compared to the phantasms of the profound that, throughout the history of thought, have always looked kindly on the very status quo they condemn for being insufficiently deep. The power of the status quo has erected the walls against which consciousness bangs its head. It has no choice but smash through them. That alone would wrest away from ideology the notion of profundity. It is in resistance of this kind that the speculative moment survives; whatever refuses to let the given facts dictate the law transcends those facts from a position of intimacy with the world’s objects, and it does so by refusing transcendence in its sacrosanct versions. A thought is sometimes beyond the thing that it binds itself to in the course of resisting it, and that is its freedom. Freedom follows on from the subject’s need to express itself. The need to let suffering speak is a condition of all truth. For suffering is objectivity impinging upon the subject. What the subject experiences as its most subjective thing, its self-expression, is mediated by objects.