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, which takes as its starting point objective and essential laws, not raw data or basic statements, is speculative. In recent years, in order to clear oneself of the suspicion of being ideological, it has become easier to call Marx a “metaphysician” than to call him “subversive.” But solid ground becomes a phantasm at the point where truth claims command us to rise above it. Philosophy is not to be fobbed off with theorems that mean 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 sensed this, though these, it is true, were invariably compromised by obscurantism. But philosophical resistance has to be developed over time. Music, too, and probably art of any kind, finds that the impulse animating its opening bars will be fulfilled only via articulated progression and so not all at once. In this sense, music, as much as its totality is mere appearance, performs critique upon appearance by way of totality—critique, that is, upon the appearance that its content is present 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 is primitive and stuff-fearing. It cannot evade the dignity of these themes, but one cannot discuss the Big Issues confident that this adds up to philosophy. Philosophy has so much to fear from the worn grooves of philosophical 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 let consciousness be 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 thinking breath, its pneuma and windedness. 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 once they’ve taken an oath to the theodicy of evil and death. A theological endpoint is foisted secretively 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 depth that, throughout the history of thought, always looked kindly on the very status quo they condemn for being insufficiently deep. The power of the status quo erects the walls that consciousness bangs its head against. It has no choice but to try to 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 its law transcends those facts even from a position of intimacy with the world’s objects, and it does so by refusing transcendence in its sacrosanct versions. The point where a thought is beyond the thing that it binds itself to in the course of resisting it—that is its freedom. This 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 expression, is mediated by objects.


-Translation updated, April 13, 2019