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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

All philosophical taxidermy is repugnant falsification of actual philosophical thought

Adam Says: September 21st, 2007 at 8:18 am To formalize Kierkegaard in Zizek’s terms, first Abraham has the “pro-family” God — the one who is going to make him a great nation, etc. This God lines up with the general cultural expectations, but is going to make Abraham (despite present appearances to the contrary) especially successful in that regard. This God is basically in harmony with the shared cultural big Other of the time — Sittlichkeit, let’s say (the “universal,” which Kierkegaard is drawing from Hegel). Then he gets a second message that doesn’t make sense in terms of the big Other — kill Isaac.
So okay. Then we have Lenin. By 1917, the entire world has collapsed around him. His big Other is Marxist theory, but the situation no longer seems to cohere with it — but despite the fact that Marxism says revolution can’t happen in a place like Russia, etc., he is convinced that the time for revolution is now and that not seizing it will mean delaying it for decades. So he steps out and does it — which not only creates a massive change in the overall geopolitical situation, but also introduces a qualitative change into Marxist theory itself. This change having been made, I would argue that Lenin himself collapses into perversion, such that Marxism-Leninism becomes the new big Other or Sittlichkeit, and then Stalin continues this degradation all the more. Marxist-Leninist theory underwrites the “historical necessity” through which Stalin justifies his horrible crimes — he has no comparable “Kierkegaardian” moment. (If you think he does, then be my guest — but you are going to end up more sympathetic toward Stalin than Zizek is, and you’re going to have to be clear that Zizek is somehow underwriting your idiosyncratic Stalin.)
You’re, again, placing too much emphasis on the bare fact that “God” is talking to people. In Zizek’s terms, we all get messages from “God” (the big Other), we all believe in that God — the teleological suspension of the ethical means discarding the God we previously knew.
It’s a risk, but if the odds were known or even knowable ahead of time, it would still be “covered” by some overarching scheme or big Other. The risk here is worse than “long odds” — it is 100% guaranteed to be wrong in terms of the given situation. (For instance, it’s not like there was only a 10% chance that revolution could happen in Russia in Marxist terms — it had to be an advanced capitalist country. Or there’s the more obvious example of killing your son.)
It doesn’t make sense to me to claim that Abraham had, say, a 50/50 chance of being right about this whole “sacrifice Isaac” thing — risk is the only word I can think of for that situation, but the connotations of “playing the odds” are not appropriate. If you can’t deal with that kind of ambiguity, then for your own good, stop reading Kierkegaard!
Anthony Paul Smith Says: September 21st, 2007 at 8:20 am ‘Seriously, this is another one of those things Kierkegaard anticipates. If this is just one of those things that was perfectly normal way back when - however that might have been - then Abraham wasn’t the father of faith.’
No! It’s not the fact that God communicates with Abraham that makes him the father of faith. What is not perfectly normal about Abraham is his response to God. Read Genesis, as Kierkegaard did, and you’ll see that God is talking to people from the get go way up until the end (though it gets more and more indirect).
It’s also not clear to me you understand the ethical in Kierkegaard. It’s not that you’re free from having to mess about with the good or concrete acts of charity. In non-Kierkegaardian terms you are confusing what is called for by a transcendental, “the good”, with the infinite demand of a radical transcendence. This is much clearer in Practice in Christianity than in Fear and Trembling. And of course the Postscript is helpful here too. This is all a bit off topic with regard to Zizek though since I’m not at all sure he has read either of those texts, though he really should just for his own upbuilding if he is really committed to this whole Protestant secular theology thing.
Re: Lenin. I think it is a gross oversimplification that leads one to total falsification. At the very least you aren’t going to convince anyone who is sympathetic with Lenin and read him, though you will certainly get a lot of head-nods from others who are unsympathetic. To be quite fair I can’t really take you to task for not knowing your Lenin better; you’re a liberal who initially supported the Iraq war. And your Lenin = utilitarian is certainly supported by other liberal critiques of Lenin (like Service, though his is a more complete picture than you have, even as you hide it under ‘broadly’).
For me, and this isn’t a majority view and you certainly are not going to change your mind becuase of me, all philosophical taxidermy is repugnant falsification of actual philosophical thought. I just don’t find them helpful and very, very unpersuasive. In the ecosystem of thought I’m a Gleasonian. Still, I know it is not a popular view, but if you come back at me with some bullshit about how I don’t actually believe this I’ll ban you from the site.
Anthony Paul Smith Says: September 21st, 2007 at 8:24 am ‘This change having been made, I would argue that Lenin himself collapses into perversion, such that Marxism-Leninism becomes the new big Other or Sittlichkeit, and then Stalin continues this degradation all the more.’
To be fair Lenin never considered himself a Leninist of the grand order. But this is still an open debate about how much of the blame of Stalinism can be laid at the feet of Lenin and hardliners of both sides really grasp at straws here.
Anthony Paul Smith Says: September 21st, 2007 at 8:33 am Actually if I remember correctly it was Stalin who coined the term Leninism in a pamphlet by the same name.

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