dialectics for dummies
Thesis = T
Abstract Negation = AN
Negation of the Negation = NN
T: there is a God
AN: there is no God
NN: Man is God
T: ‘Scholastic’ dogmatism
AN: naive realism
NN: extreme skepticism
T: aristocratic idealism
AN: liberal-bourgeois progressivism
NN: conservative pessimism/nostalgia
AN: Classical Liberalism (capitalism)
NN: State capitalism
If you believe that any of the above categories accurately represent non-ideological reality, you are within the ideology of these categories. The same applies if you think the ‘problem’ could be fixed by adjusting the labels.
So, this is an ideological map of ideology, or an interpretation of the beliefs of others. It is in that sense ironic.
What is left out:
1. Relatives — i.e. ‘naive realism’ relates to positivism, extreme skepticism relates to relativism, ‘state capitalism’ relates to Stalinism and neoliberalism, etc. In other words, the categories can be adapted, through argument or adjustment, to metaphorically include terms that would be different in other contexts.
2. Everything that is not ideological. By this I mean, everything that does not attempt to respond to either of two false problems, a) what is human nature? and b) what is the meaning of nature? This includes scientific (practical) empiricism, playing the piano, walking, digestion, vector algebra, and taking good notes, among other things. And yet any of these activities can give rise to metaphysical, ideological beliefs, which in turn reorient the thinker’s relationship to them. Or, as is often the case, this relationship can be affected by an already existing ideology. While it may be true that there is nothing that is outside of ideology, no actual process or activity can be determined by ideology.
This last point is the essence of Marx’s critique of abstract philosophizing. Abstract critique can only go as far as Hegel’s ‘negation of the negation,’ or to put it sloppily the position of the rejection of ideology. In Michael McKeon’s interpretation (via Althusser) this always retains some element of the original thing negated, which, rather than manifesting at a ‘higher level’ (Hegel’s Aufhebung), appears as a nostalgic affectation, the longing for a utopia that is known to be impossible. Because the combinations through which this position can be formed are variable, the third stage of every dialectical triad is inherently unstable, tending in practice to fall back on one of the two previous stages for support. Satire, for example, can merely reproduce the genre conventions of romance in its sending up of realism, or it can become a variety of self-hating realism, yearning for a ‘true expression’ that is always out of reach. The conservative (I use this in terms of the dialectic, in an extra-political sense) may become an armchair authoritarian, or he may acquiesce to the way of the world while keeping alive the fantasy of something ‘better’ through sheer force of will. Or he may ‘accept’ the ‘contradiction’ and claim to have ‘learned to live with it,’ by which he must mean he has tried to stop thinking.
I avoid specific examples here because I see no reason to hide my position within the sphere of double negation, also the position of unstable, world-weary, hysteric modernity itself, what today we tend to call ‘postmodern irony,’ with spurious attempts to connect my abstract categories to historical fact. None of my terms are capable of accurately representing reality, only interpreting the history of abstraction. What does it mean that modernity regards itself a priori as the incoherent outcome of incoherent conflicts? Nothing, and certainly this ideological confusion is part and parcel of the Modern World’s self-presentation: that of unprecedented productivity, creativity, and originality. I say self-presentation — appearance — because it appears productive, creative, and original to us insofar as it is chaotic, incoherent, and self-obsessed. It sees no reason to hide what it has produced, and it sees no reason not to produce anything it can think of. Would another kind of production appear to us as productive? Would another kind of activity appear as active? How different would something have to be to appear truly different to the dialectical mind?
I am speaking about the limits of a myth — modernity — that will remain real as long as we moderns continue to resist the possibility of a stable foundation for meaning, that is, for ideology. This is a resistance to both action and thought, as every thought is also an act, and each calls another into being.