Additions to the last blog entry „The end of a year“ / Ergänzungen zum letzten Blogeintrag „Das Ende eines Jahres“

This is the english version; for the german original see below.

One of my long-time readers, N. B. Innuendo, brings to my attention a possible mis­un­der­stan­ding of some sentences in my last blog post. He writes: „Surely, when you write that the pandemic is man-made, you do not mean that the pandemic will eventually eliminate us. That, even if the casualty figures are high, would be an exaggeration, wouldn’t it?“ Indeed, it would be. But I didn’t mean it that way either. What I meant was: this pandemic is a paradigm for the threats we have to face if we don’t change course. First we, or rather those who do not want to perceive those threats – the so-called „Trumpists“, to whom Bolsonaro I mentioned also belongs – will abolish de­mo­cra­cy. And in the consequence then (presumably world) wars for the still remaining and further decimating re­sources will be led, which could bring us already considerably near to the end of mankind.

We have been experiencing a foretaste of this three-stage scenario for years through the attempts of new-right movements, led by their new role model in the Trump esta­blish­ment – hence the talk of „Trumpists“ – to deny the facts and thus undermine the democracy that is based on facts. Whether or not the mob that stormed the Capitol in Washington, D.C. on its Save America March on 6/1/21 was directly incited to do so by Trump is open to question. The long-term problem is that in the cradle of modern democracy more than 70 million voters gave their vote to this tribune, not, to point it out, at the beginning of his term in office, when people could still have been deceived about his true goals, but at the end, when there could no longer be any doubt about these goals. The desire for self-abolition of democracy, as a foretaste of the end of humanity, at least in the sense of „human(e)ity“, has thus become more than obvious.

*

The end of mankind is often mentioned in the first volume of my book project „Versions of Thinking“, but only as a natural event, as a supplement to the end of history, which is also mentioned in it. But probably the difference, just because of the structure of im­ple­mence and because it is about the „whole“, is not so big. This is exactly what the at­ten­tive, philosophical observer experiences through the pandemic. The natural end of hu­man(e)ity is always also its historical end – that exactly means „implemence“: With the One, outside of which there is not the Other, the Other perishes. But we, we intellectuals, have imagined the historical end somewhat differently. Or not? Perhaps as a transfor­mation of nature or, as Adorno would put it, as a reconciliation with it. But certainly not as its own end – for that is precisely what „emergence“ means: With the Other, outside of which the One still exists, the One does not perish.

I would like to put it this way: Utopian thinking, which is to become the subject of the third volume of my trilogy (whether it will or not is written in the stars), is having such a hard time at present partly because human(e)ity is in the process of abolishing itself. Not as the trans-, post- or metahumanists imagine it: as a triumph of the strengths of mankind over its weaknesses, but as a triumph of its stu­pidity and ignorance. Much can be said about this stupidity and ignorance, which has become espe­cially evident in the last decades of human history. One day, I suppose, it will prevail to give even the old Darwin still a proper fright. And whether this will be then in the end the victory of im­ple­­mence over emergence or vice versa, we can leave confidently on itself. There will then be probably nobody who could still determine that. Or will there be? (Cf. here my abbreviatory speculation on the pages 98f and 288 of my book).


This is the german original:

Ergänzungen zum letzten Blogeintrag „Das Ende eines Jahres“

Einer meiner langjährigen Leser, N. B. Innuendo, macht mich auf ein mögliches Miss­ver­ständ­nis ei­niger Sätze in meinem letzten Blogbeitrag aufmerksam. Er schreibt: „Si­cher­lich meinen Sie, wenn Sie schreiben, die Pandemie sei menschengemacht, nicht, dass wir uns durch die Pandemie am En­de auch selbst abschaffen. Das wäre doch wohl, auch wenn die Opferzahlen hoch sind, eine Über­treibung, oder?“ In der Tat, das wäre es. Aber so habe ich es auch nicht gemeint. Was ich meinte, war: Diese Pandemie ist ein Paradigma für die Bedrohungen, die uns noch bevorstehen, wenn wir nicht umsteuern. Erst schaffen wir bzw. diejenigen, die die Bedrohungen nicht wahrha­ben wollen – z.B. die so genannten „Trumpisten“, zu denen ja auch der von mir erwähnte Bolsonaro ge­hört – die Demokratie ab. Und in der Folge werden (vermutlich Welt-) Kriege um die noch verbliebenen und sich weiter dezimierenden Ressourcen geführt werden, die uns dem Ende der Menschheit dann schon beträchtlich nahe bringen könnten.

Einen Vorgeschmack auf dieses Drei-Stufen-Szenario erleben wir seit Jahren durch die Ver­suche neu­rechter Bewegungen, angeführt durch ihr neues Vorbild im Establishment Trump – eben des­halb die Rede von „Trumpisten“ – die Fakten zu leugnen und so die De­mo­kratie, die auf Fakten be­ruht, zu unterhöhlen. Ob nun der Mob, der am 6.1.21 auf seinem Save America March das Ka­pi­tol in Washington D. C. gestürmt hat, dazu von Trump direkt angestachelt wurde, sei da­hin­ge­stellt. Das langfristige Problem besteht darin, dass in der Wiege der mo­dernen De­mokratie mehr als 70 Millio­nen Wähler die­sem Volkstri­bun ihre Stimme gege­ben haben, u. z. wohlgemerkt nicht am An­fang seiner Amtszeit, an der man sich über dessen wahre Ziele noch hätte täu­schen (las­sen) kön­nen, son­dern am En­de, an dem es keine Zwei­fel mehr an diesen Zie­len geben konnte. Der Wunsch nach einer Selbst­ab­schaf­fung der De­mokratie, als Vorge­schmack auf das Ende der Mensch­heit, zu­mindest im Sinne von „Menschlich­keit“, ist auf diese Weise mehr als offen­bar gewor­den.

*

Vom Ende der Menschheit ist im ersten Band meines Buch-Projekts „Versionen des Den­kens“ üb­rigens oft die Rede, jedoch nur als Naturereignis, als Ergänzung zum Ende der Geschichte, von dem in ihm auch die Rede ist. Aber wahrscheinlich ist der Unterschied, eben aufgrund des Im­ple­menz­ver­hält­nisses und weil es in ihm ums „Ganze“ geht, auch nicht so groß. Genau das erfährt nun der auf­merksa­me, philo­so­phische Beobachter durch die Pandemie. Das natürliche Ende der Mensch­heit ist immer auch ihr ge­schicht­li­ches Ende – genau das bedeutet ja „Implemenz“: Mit dem Einen, außer­halb dessen es nicht das Andere gibt, geht auch das Andere zugrunde. Aber das geschichtliche Ende ha­ben wir, wir Intellek­tuellen, uns dann ja doch etwas anders vorgestellt. Oder nicht? Viel­leicht als Transforma­ti­on der Natur oder, wie es Adorno formulieren würde, als Versöhnung mit ihr. Mit Si­cherheit aber nicht als deren eigenes Ende – denn genau das bedeutet ja „Emer­genz“: Mit dem Ande­ren, au­­ßer­halb dessen es noch das Eine gibt, geht nicht das Eine zugrunde.

Ich möchte es so formulieren: Das utopische Denken, das Gegenstand des dritten Ban­des meiner Trilogie werden soll (ob es es wird, steht in den Sternen, ist selbst eine Art Utopie), hat gegenwärtig auch deshalb einen so schweren Stand, weil die Menschheit dabei ist, sich selbst abzuschaffen. Nicht so, wie es sich die Trans-, Post- oder Me­ta­hu­ma­ni­sten vorstellen: als Triumph der Stärken der Menschheit über ihre Schwächen, sondern als Triumph ihrer Dummheit und Ignoranz. Viel lässt sich über diese Dumm­heit und Ignoranz, die besonders in den letzten Dezennien der menschlichen Ge­schich­te deutlich geworden ist, sagen. Eines Tages, vermute ich, wird sie sich durchsetzen, um selbst dem alten Dar­win noch einen gehörigen Schrecken zu versetzen. Und ob das am Ende dann der Sieg der Imple­menz über die Emergenz oder umgekehrt sein wird, kön­nen wir getrost auf sich beruhen lassen. Es wird dann ja wohl niemanden mehr geben, der das noch feststellen könnte. Oder doch? (Vgl. hier­zu meine abbreviatorische Spe­ku­la­ti­on auf den Seiten 98f und 288 meines Buches.)

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The end of a year / Das Ende eines Jahres

This is the english version; for the german original see below.

2020 was a hard and stressful year for me, but also an exciting and enlightening one.

*

The year was hard and stressful because, due to the Corona pandemic, in addition to all the other dangers and adversities that this pandemic brought with it – I think for every­one – I was no longer able to do those things in my two contexts of work that are im­por­tant to me, or only to a very limited extent. My two contexts of work are: my writing and my teaching.

I’ll start with the latter: I enjoy teaching, but only through direct, „analog“ contact with my students and not through „digital“ media. No matter what was said during the Co­ro­na pandemic about the blessings of the digital age, anyone who believes that teaching and learning without direct contact between teachers and students is as intensive or even as effective as face-to-face contact is deluded. There is no „substitute“ for face-to-face teaching. And if digital media can play an effective role in the classroom at all, then only if teachers finally give up this empty, hollow ideal of substitution. It is precisely those teachers who claim to „substitute“ direct, „analog“ contact with students via „di­gi­tal“ media who will fail in their teaching activities. He or she is oriented towards a post­mo­dern ideal that is often proclaimed, but can never be realized. I have experienced this myself this year and have had it confirmed again and again in exchanges with my colleagues in the field.

But also my writing activity has suffered from the consequences of the Corona pan­de­mic this year – more precisely, not my writing, but publishing activity. As my readers know and have widely become aware of in this blog, the first part of my long planned book trilogy „Versions of Thinking“ was already finished at the beginning of the year (see my blog entry of 10.1.20). Together with my publisher, I then decided to postpone the publication, as under the restrictive regulations that came into force in March to contain the pandemic it seemed hardly possible to present the book to a wider public, for example through presentations at trade fairs, through readings or other release events. The same procedure was then repeated in the fall when it became clear that there would again be a prolonged lockdown / shutdown (or whatever). So now the book will not be published until January 2021 – a year after its completion and despite the danger of being lost in the general cultural inattention that the pandemic unfortunately brings.

*

However, the year was not only hard and stressful, but also exciting and enlightening. As is the case with such „events“, such as the pandemic in this case, it is always possible to wrest a „gain in knowledge“ from the stresses and strains that accompany them. One part of my insight relates to my book project, the other to the context of the pandemic:

I have had to realize, paradoxically just in the pandemic, that the work on a book that is finished – at least on a book as I write it or would like to write it – never stops and that, if one does not supplement it by working on a new book project, it continues by itself (be­cause philosophical thinking never comes to an end). After I had completed a pre­li­mi­na­ry draft of my trilogy the year before last, in 2018, which then, retroactively, made the first volume in 2019 possible, I have not yet been able to start work on the second volume. For this, in order to achieve the same retroactive effect, I would first have had to complete the preliminary draft of the third volume. So I continued to write on the first volume in the year 2020, which is now coming to an end, and have incorporated some of this work into the already completed book, among other things a chapter on the logical theory of intension). The originally envisaged 320 pages, which the publisher had once announced, turned into more than 400 pages in the end.

The pandemic was and is not a purely natural event – if I have understood it correctly, it is man-made – but it comes across as a natural event because it hits us on our most vulnerable, biological side. It is, so to speak, the confirmation of my thesis of the im­ple­men­ta­ti­on relationship between nature and culture, which is also explained briefly in my book. This thesis says: A culture becomes a violence against itself as an emergent of nature, if it denies or excludes nature, which is its implemental basis. In this case, it excludes it in such a way that even the last natural refuges are razed to the ground. The attitude of the – clearly fascist – Brazilian President Bolsonaro before and during the pandemic was „exemplary“ in this respect – it gives us an „example“ of what will hap­pen if we continue to wage war against nature. First, for the sake of our survival, we abolish democracy – which has long been a thorn in the side of global capitalism (think of China) – and then, in the end, we abolish ourselves.


This is the german original:

Das Ende eines Jahres

Das Jahr 2020 war für mich ein hartes und belastendes, aber auch spannendes und auf­schluss­reiches Jahr.

*

Das Jahr war hart und belastend, weil ich aufgrund der Corona-Pandemie, neben allen anderen Ge­fah­ren und Widrigkeiten, die diese Pandemie – ich glaube, für jeden –  mit sich brachte, in mei­nen beiden Arbeitskontexten nicht mehr oder nur sehr ein­ge­schränkt diejenigen Dinge tun konnte, die mir wichtig sind. Meine beiden Ar­beits­kon­tex­te, das sind: meine Schreib- und meine Unter­richtstätigkeit.

Ich fange mal mit letzterer an: Ich unterrichte gerne, aber nur im direkten, „analogen“ Kontakt mit meinen Studierenden und nicht über „digitale“ Medien. Was auch immer während der Corona-Pandemie über die Segnungen des digitalen Zeitalters verkündet wurde, wer glaubt, Lehren und Lernen sei ohne direkten Kontakt von Lehrenden und Lernenden genauso intensiv oder gar auch nur genauso effektiv möglich wie im di­rek­ten Kontakt, erliegt einer Mär. Es gibt für den Präsenz-Unterricht kei­nen „Ersatz“. Und wenn digitale Medien überhaupt eine effektive Rolle im Unter­richtsge­sche­hen ein­neh­men können, dann nur, wenn Pädagogen dieses leere, hohle Ideal des Er­satzes endlich aufgeben. Ge­rade wer als Lehrender den Anspruch erhebt, den direkten, „analo­gen“ Kontakt zu den Studierenden über „digitale“ Medien „ersetzen“ zu wollen, wird in sei­ner Unterrichtstätigkeit scheitern. Er orientiert sich an einem postmodernen Ideal, das immer wieder gerne verkündet wird, aber niemals eingelöst werden kann. Das habe ich in diesem Jahr selbst er­fahren und im Aus­tausch mit meinen Kolleg*innen vor Ort immer wieder bestätigt bekommen.

Aber auch meine Schreibtätigkeit hat unter den Folgen der Corona-Pandemie des ab­lau­fen­den Jah­res gelitten – genauer gesagt, nicht meine Schreib-, sondern Publikationstätig­keit. Wie meine Leser wissen und in diesem Blog weitläufig erfahren haben, war schon zu Beginn des Jah­res (vgl. meinen Blogeintrag vom 10.1.20) der erste Teil meiner schon lange ge­planten Buch-Trilogie „Ver­sionen des Denkens“ fertigge­stellt. Gemeinsam mit meinem Ver­leger habe ich mich dann entschie­den, die Publikation aufzu­schie­ben, da es unter den restriktiven Re­ge­lungen, die im März zur Ein­dämmung der Pandemie in Kraft tra­ten, kaum möglich schien, das Buch ei­ner breiteren Öffent­lich­keit vorzustellen, etwa durch Prä­sen­tationen auf Messen, durch Lesun­gen oder sonstige Release-Events. Dasselbe Spiel wie­der­hol­te sich dann im Herbst, als klar wurde, dass es erneut zu ei­nem längeren Lockdown / Shut­down (oder wie auch immer) kommen wür­de. So wird nun das Buch erst im Januar 2021 erscheinen – ein Jahr nach seiner Fertigstellung und trotz der Gefahr, in der allge­mei­nen kulturellen Unaufmerksamkeit, die die Pandemie leider mit sich bringt, un­terzugehen.

*

Das Jahr war aber nicht nur hart und belastend, sondern auch spannend und auf­schluss­reich. Denn wie es nun einmal mit solchen „Ereignissen“, wie in diesem Falle der Pandemie, ist, lässt sich den Belastungen, die damit einhergehen, immer auch ein „Erkenntnisgewinn“ abtrotzen. Der eine Teil meines Erkenntnisgewinns bezieht sich auf mein Buchprojekt, der andere auf  den Kontext der Pandemie:

Ich habe feststellen müssen, paradoxerweise gerade in der Pandemie, dass die Arbeit an einem Buch, das fertiggestellt ist – zumindest an einem Buch, wie ich es schreibe bzw. schreiben möchte – niemals aufhört und dass sie sich, wenn man sie nicht durch die Arbeit an einem neuen Buch­pro­jekt sup­plemen­tiert,  quasi von selbst fortsetzt (weil philosophisches Denken nie an ein En­de ge­rät). An den zweiten Band meiner Trilogie konnte ich mich –  nach­dem ich im vorletz­ten Jahr, 2018, einen Vorentwurf davon ab­ge­schlos­sen hatte, der dann, retro­aktiv, den ersten Band 2019 überhaupt erst mög­lich machte – noch nicht setzen. Denn dazu hätte ich, um die gleiche retro­ak­tive Wirkung zu er­zielen, erst einmal den Vorentwurf zum dritten Band abschließen müssen. Also schrieb ich im jetzt auslaufenden Jahr, 2020, am er­sten Band weiter und habe von die­ser Arbeit noch Ei­ni­ges in das schon fertig gestellte Buch einfließen lassen, unter an­de­rem ein Kapitel zu Gei­sterhaftem (Nicht-) Gegebensein. Aus den ursprünglich an­vi­sier­ten 320 Seiten, die der Verlag ein­mal angekündigt hatte, wurden so am Ende über 400 Sei­ten.

Die Pandemie war und ist zwar kein reines Naturereignis – sie ist, wenn ich es recht ver­stan­den ha­be, menschengemacht – aber sie kommt doch, weil sie uns an unserer verletzlichsten, eben biolo­gi­schen Seite erwischt, wie ein Naturereignis daher. Sie ist quasi die Be­stä­ti­gung mei­ner, auch in mei­nem Buch in aller Kürze erläuterten These vom Implemenzverhältnis von Na­tur und Kultur. Diese These besagt: Eine Kul­tur wird zur Gewalt gegen sich selbst als Emergent der Natur, wenn sie die Natur, die ih­re imple­men­tä­re Basis darstellt, verleugnet oder aus sich ausschließt. Und zwar in die­sem Fal­l so aus sich ausschließt, dass sie auch die letzten natürlichen Refugien noch dem Erd­bo­den gleich­macht. Die Haltung des – ganz klar faschistischen – brasilia­ni­schen Prä­si­den­ten Bolsonaro vor und während der Pandemie hatte in dieser Hinsicht „Vor­bild­cha­rak­ter“ – sie gibt uns nämlich einen Vorgeschmack da­von, was passiert, wenn wir wei­ter­hin Krieg gegen die Natur führen. Zu­nächst schaffen wir, um unser Überleben willen, die De­mokratie ab – die dem globalen Kapitalis­mus (man denke an China) ja schon lange ein Dorn im Auge ist – und am Ende dann uns selbst.

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Disappointing Thinking (excerpt #10 No. 44)

1

Half-truth of our postmodern modernity: Good is that everyone decides for himself what is good.

2

By clearing up the past alone, the present cannot be understood.

3

I am not from this world, I never was, but I am not from any other world either. How can one be at home in this disaster called mankind?

4

Philosophy is – theoretically – objection to disappointment, to the triviality of ontology, and it is – practically – objection to every form of realism, to the disappointing call: „Be realistic!“. A realistic philosophy is a disappointing absurdity. More precisely, it is the absurdity of philosophy.

5

There are, it seems, two registers in which thinking moves: that of the (disappointing) profane and that of the (utopian) sacred. But thinking does not only move in these two registers, it also moves between them, in an in-between, which, if it were to be under­stood as a register itself, would be the register of the (resistant) humane.

6

Our true opponent is ourselves.

7

To be dead does not mean that you can no longer exist. To be dead means to be cut off from an existence that can suffer death.

8

Philosophy is not so serious about the game, but certainly about the game of the game, the thinking of the thinking, the doing of the doing: the slightly different playing, the slight­ly different thinking, the slightly different doing.

9

Writing is always writing against failure – an act of resistance.

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Disappointing Thinking (excerpt #9 No. 40)

Through the posting of a befriended photographer, Daniel Harders, in a social network, I became aware of a photograph by Christian Conrad, which was published in a Tai­wa­nese photo magazine called „Snapp“ (number 21 of 2013). The picture shows a spider in front of a bright light source, possibly under a lamp or even under a glass. At the top of the page is the sentence: „Don’t forget that you are living a life behind a window.“

The ambiguity of this sentence, its literal and metaphorical interpretability, fascinated me at first sight. In fact, we mostly live behind windows / behind glass: in interiors that we call our apartments or workplaces, often in square boxes with which our cities are built. In this way we seal ourselves off, against the public, and at the same time create a view of it that gives us the feeling of not being trapped.

But we are, we know it, nevertheless trapped (like the spider in the glass of the pho­to­gra­phy). Because there is another interior space with windows in which we still live when we leave our homes and workplaces, when we go out into the public, into the „outside“ – that is ourselves. As much as we struggle and struggle, as much as we create exits and passages, as much as we let the public and the private enter into exchange, this one private space, that of separation, whose doors are our senses, remains with us.

We carry it around with us, or rather, according to Kafka’s intuition („A cage went loo­king for a bird.“): it carries us around with it. Philosophers have given much thought to this strange phenomenon of the ego / the self, and in discussing the „problem of so­li­psism“, as they like to call it, have taken absurd paths: How does the ego come to the alter ego, they asked, how does the ego come to the you? As if it hadn’t already been there – with the alter ego, with the you, hadn’t already come from there, every child knows that – from the alter ego, from the you.

Rather, the problem should have been different – and as such, on the so-called „theory level of intersubjectivity“, on which one likes to move so much today, it is still un­sol­ved: How do I get from the alter ego to the ego, from the you to the I? If one follows the paradigm of intersubjectivity instead of consciousness, this is indeed a mystery. For the human being is an open book, the public itself and the ego, seen from there, is an inner that does not exist.

And yet the question of solipsism has its underlying right (it has, so to speak, its right from below and not, as metaphysically believed, from above). It lies precisely in the phy­si­cal – literally physical – isolation in which each of us is born, lives and dies. The ego, the self, that is our body, we are, with skin and hair, not transcendental, but em­pi­ri­cal, not mental, but physical. Each of us remains always and is last – alone. There is no es­cape. Or the only escape is death.

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Disappointing Thinking (excerpt #8 No. 24)

That the Catholic Church is still so strong today is – paradoxically – due to the Re­for­ma­tion. But not in the trivial sense of an intensification of contrasts, but in the sense that what the Reformation originally intended, namely to restore the Christian message to its original purity and to heal it from infection by profane values, became the task of the Catholic Church itself, while the Reformation, in its conspiracy with the „spirit of capitalism“ (Weber), succumbed to this infection.

Here a principle prevails, a dialectical if you like, the effect of which is frequently ob­served: the supposed decadence is halted by a revolutionary or reformist movement, but the movement that stops it ultimately proves to be even more decadent than its op­po­nent. It is overtaken by the decadence it opposes. Its opponent survives or becomes even stronger, but it becomes weaker and even threatens to perish.

This is, certainly, not always the case. But the many examples of failed great attempts at revolutionary change or reformatory efforts in the history of mankind make one think: Protestantism and Marxism, the student movement and – again today – the ecological movement … It is as if there were something like a law of entropy, something like a per­ma­nent victory of conservatism, even in the cultural, social or political sphere.

This does not have to mean that the student movement and the ecological movement – to name only these – had no or only devastating effects – as some incorrigible critics like to claim again and again (compare the criticism of the alleged „old leftists“, the „old 68ers“, the „Club of Rome alarmists“, the „fundis“ etc. pp.) The opposite is the case. They had an effect, even, if one can say so, a „salutary“ one: they made progress possible in the first place.

But can anyone claim that they actually averted the catastrophe they sought to avert? They only postponed it, that is, it got stuck in a peculiar „différance“ for which we cer­tain­ly cannot blame Derrida. But isn’t that perhaps the only really convincing definition of progress: postponing the catastrophe?

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Disappointing Thinking (excerpt #7 No. 21)

With some, death occurs a little earlier – in life. When one has taken up a profession, per­haps started a family and raised one’s children, ossification may already occur, but cer­tain­ly – in view of the whole of society – a certain disillusionment. If, like me, you have not ta­ken up a career, started a family and raised children, what happens then? Surprisingly, the same thing. Only much earlier.

„Get married, you will regret it. Don’t get married, you will also regret it“ writes Kier­ke­gaard in the ecstatic lecture ‚Either / Or‘ of his youth and monumental work of the same name. In this – whether one marries or does not marry, but will regret both – beyond the individual happiness one may or may not find, at least so much is true: that the modern life of industrial and post-industrial capitalism, which is based on performance, effi­cien­cy and effectiveness, leaves us with very few real alternatives.

In 1988 the English post-punk band ‚The Godfathers‘ captured this lack of alternatives, this desolation that finally haunts us in all niches of life in the song and album title „Birth, School, Work, Death“ in an inimitable way: „Yeah I been high and I been low / And I don’t know where to go / I’m living on the never never never / This time it’s gonna be forever / I’ll live and die, don’t ask me why / I wanna go to paradise / And I don’t need your sym­pa­thy / There’s nothing in this world for me.“

For the respective individual is superfluous in the modern high-tech societies in which we live – perhaps not in relation to segments of his or her little life: his or her family, circle of friends, colleagues. But seen in its entirety. Because the whole does not collapse in on itself if he, the individual, is missing, because he – for the sake of the whole – can be replaced at any time.

This is whatever the brutal or realistic, in any case disappointing logic according to which politics today functions, not only open power politics, but also and especially social politics. Here, individual consideration is just for show, the fig-leaf for the still unsolved problem of how to reconcile the legal fact that people are governed with the social fact of their dignity. Politics as a whole – and this constitutes the discontent of every individual – is subordinated to the logic of the whole; and such a logic knows no dignity.

That human dignity concerns the individual, that it is only the individual that has dig­nity, that there is no dignity of the whole and that, in human affairs, the whole must never be at stake, humanity is still far from putting this insight into practice – not to say into practical politics. With the argument, in any case, that it is all about the whole, every act of violence can still be justified. Think of the wars that are still raging, of the fanaticism of some religions, of the fight for oil, water, clean air, etc. So – and this is the conclusion – it is not the whole picture that is at stake when it comes to the individual. This must first be understood at the end of the third term, i.e. quite late: Birth, School, Work, Death.

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Disappointing Thinking (excerpt #6 No. 19)

During my stay in the USA, I was reminded again and again of the US-American pop and rock culture, which for many decades was not really recognized in Europe due to the un­speak­able contrast between E- and U- music (i.e. serious and light music) – and perhaps is not even fully recognized today.

It is therefore revealing that Tony Judt, the British historian who died a few years ago and spent the last years of his life in New York, in his book „The Chalet of Memories“, when asked what he considers to be the three best things about America, answers without hes­ita­tion: „Thomas Jefferson, Chuck Berry and the New York Review of Books „.

In the following, he has a number of remarkable things to say about his choice of the New York Review of Books – which should be of interest to academics, of which he himself was one. But what I find much more exciting is his reference to Chuck Berry and his laconic com­men­tary on this choice: „Chuck Berry does not need to be justified.“

Really? Some Americans would perhaps rather call Elvis Presley or Hank Williams, the „first rock star the world has ever seen“ (Hank Shizzoe), perhaps Ray Charles, Jimi Hen­drix or – „we are all immigrants“ – John Lennon; think of the memorial in Central Park. But historically, Chuck Berry is probably the better choice; for he is the older of the two (he was born in 1926), and perhaps the more influential in terms of time.

For example, Nik Cohn, in his famous 1969 book „Awop­Bopa­Loo­Bop­Alop­Bam­Boom“, puts him at the top of his pantheon, al­thoughone might expect something else given the title of the book, named after the scat intro to Little Richard’s song ‚Tutti Frutti‘: „Chuck Berry“, Cohn writes, „may have been the best of all rockers and is my absolute favorite.“

What would a German intellectual answer to the question that was asked of Tony Judt in relation to Germany? I do not know. The clarity with which Tony Judt calls Thomas Jeff­er­son and Chuck Berry in the same breath cannot stand in a European context, at least not in a country of old Europe like Germany.

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Disappointing Thinking (excerpt #5 No. 16)

The scyscrapers of the US cities, especially of New York City, are monumental humanistic symbols: monuments of the humane. For this very reason, the reconstruction of the World Trade Center can also be understood as humane defiance. What the attack on the Center was intended to force down („man down“), in the literal sense of the word, was homo erec­tus, regardless of what motivated the assassins in concrete terms or what their intentions were.

Whether they did it because they wanted to hit the American way of life, because they wan­ted to set an example against American imperialism or against the globalizing ca­pi­ta­lism. Or whether they wanted to punish the entire Western civilization as such, people of other faiths and unbelievers. … In fact, they stood up against humanity, even against their own humanity, which they, as believers, could only show contempt for by catapulting them­sel­ves, as they believed – and in this they were not even wrong – directly into heaven. Not in­to a divine heaven, however, but into an empty heaven („empty sky“).

Not only that in the towers into which they maneuvered the airplanes people lived and worked – the bombs were directed against these living and working people in the first place –, the scyscrapers themselves, together with their functionality, represent works of art glorifying mankind – but for the assassins glorifying only one particular, the „Western“ man. And as such, when I walked the streets of New York in July 2012, even more so on Independence Day, fascinated by them, they reminded me of the anthropomorphic forms of the American minimalists of the 1960s: the works of Tony Smith, Robert Morris, Joel Shapiro, Donald Judd, Richard Serra, Sol le Witt, and others. Or perhaps you can see it the other way round (e.g. on the third floor of the MoMA): these works refer you – in or out of the museum – to the architectural forms of the city.

Just as in Picasso’s sculptures a bicycle handlebar can become a metaphor for goat horns or, if you look at it the other way around, the goat horns open up the rubbish of civilization for you, so in the objects of the Minimalists the forms become metaphors of urban ar­chi­tec­ture or, if you look at it the other way around, these works of art only become accessible to you when you look at the American cities. It is, in fact, the gigantic, maximalist scenery drawn by scyscrapers that condenses in them in a minimalist manner.

Strictly speaking, therefore, it was not the museum artists who elevated the cubic form to the status of a new principle – now in sculptural, not painterly space –, it was the ar­chi­tects of the scyscrapers. Of these, the „boxes“ of Robert Morris, the „specific, three-di­men­sio­nal objects“ of Donald Judd, or the „frameless and pedestal-less sculptures“ of Richard Serra with their abstraction and functionalist reduction on the one and their mechanized and industrialized production on the other hand, sometimes represented a strong, some­times only weak, distorted image, for example in the beam-like sculptures of Joel Shapiro.

When the well-known art critic Michael Fried raised the accusation of the theatricality against the Minimalists in his much-noticed essay „Art and Objecthood“ in the middle/end of the 1960s , this weakness may have been obvious to him – he called it the negation of art – even though the concrete reference itself probably escaped his attention. What he saw was a radical denial of meaning, a self-referential, tautological presence of things that he could have seen even if he had looked more attentively at the Manhattan sky – or from the sky down into the ravines of rectangular streets.

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Disappointing Thinking (excerpt #4 No. 11)

What do we know about the end of history? – The debate about the thesis of the Russian-French philosopher Alexandre Kojève about the so-called posthistoire reached the Ger­man-speaking world in the mid-1970s, around the same time as the punk movement was shouting out its No Future. Looking back on these and other coincidences, it seems that the „posthistoire“ of the punk movement is more clearly visible to the next generation than to those who took part in these events or who were their direct witnesses. Depending on age and origin, however, this historical distancing becomes increasingly difficult in the last decades.

There had already been intense discussions in the sit-ins and teach-ins, love-ins and be-ins of the student movement in the 1960s about whether the technological utopia of an unstoppable progress of mankind as a whole might not be a fundamental error. One re­ferred in particular to Marx’s utopia of a transition from an empire of necessity to the empire of freedom, which was founded in this progress and was thus necessary.

Herbert Marcuse, perhaps one of the most distinguished theoreticians of the student movement, had raised some weighty objections to such ideas, which gained influence in the eco-movement in the 1980s – one might think of Herbert Gruhl, for example, but also of Rudolf Bahro. In Marcuse’s 1967 text „The End of Utopia“, which is still worth reading today, he argues that one could speak of an end of utopia, but not of an end of historical progress, an end of history, as he expressly said. According to Marcuse, in the sense, in which a project of social transformation contradicts real natural laws, it is an utopian one, let it lead to the end of history or even out of history. But inasmuch as the material and intellectual forces for social transformation are already technically available here and now, and although their rational use is still prevented by the existing organization of productive forces, the end of utopia is a reasonable idea.

Ten years later, when the whole world was talking about the post-structuralists of France, and Alexandre Kojève in particular, the meaning of these sentences had already turned into their complete opposite. The end of utopia, that now meant the „failure of the New Left“, was the title of a lecture Marcuse gave in 1975. The meaning of the speech about the end of history was precisely to admit to this failure and to renounce further political claims beyond a capitalistically organized and thus, by the way, also deformed democracy. According to Kojève in the new edition of his texts, cleverly launched by Suhrkamp (a German publishing house) in 1975, in leaden times, history comes to a standstill „at the mo­ment when the difference, the contrast between master and servant ceases, at the mo­ment when the master ceases to be master because there is no longer a servant, and the servant ceases to be servant because there is no master (without, incidentally, becoming master again because there is no longer a servant)“.

The servants, according to the Marxist reading, were the proletarians, the masters were the capitalists. But the proletarians had secretly „said goodbye“, as André Gorz aptly cha­rac­te­rized it; and the capitalists were therefore no longer recognizable as such. The basic and superstructure prophets had lost their respective „historical subject“, they had lost their „subject-object“, as Lukács said.

One could have left it at that and progressed to a „critique of economic reason“, as André Gorz had actually presented it at the end of the 1980s. But history needs its winners, and it needs its losers. That is why the beneficiaries of this new paradigm – the revolutionaries, now in the civil service, who wanted to abolish the very state they were now working for – preferred to savour their victory and shake up anyone who still dared to dream: The ex­pe­rienced powerlessness, they argued according to Hannah Arendt’s 1970 essay ‚Power and Violence‘ , leads either to the creation of a new institutional power base or to naked vi­o­lence. History was stripped of its air as it marched through the institutions, and it was bea­ten to death in the terror of the RAF.

Was there any need for Kojève to refer to the „American way of life“ as „the typical way of life of the post-historical period“? Was there any need to point out „that from a certain point of view the United States has already reached the final stage of Marxist ‚com­mu­nism‘, since practically all members of a ‚classless society‘ can already acquire what they like there without having to work more than they want to“?

As the offsprings of the revolution, it seems, we are all short-sighted. So we put on glasses in order to see more clearly – but end up in the Kleist dilemma of realizing: Which glasses are the right ones? Because we don’t know, there is no end to the stories about the end of history. This too is a realization that has been dawning on us since the 1970s.

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Disappointing Thinking (excerpt #3 No. 10)

On an advertising postcard for a book by Frank Berzbach: Enduring creativity. Psy­cho­lo­gy for Designers, which is currently on display in Berlin restaurants along with many other postcards, I read in light blue writing on a dark blue background: „Do I have to do again today what I want to do?“Stunned by such a twisted rhetoric, at least from a phi­lo­so­phy-of-freedom perspective, I take the card and decide to write a few words about it soon, if it should come up.

What kind of fascination goes out from such a rhetoric Do I have to do again today what I want to do? or must be assumed to print it specifically on a postcard? At first it makes no sense to me at all to have the feeling of having to do something I want to do. With the post­card in my hand, I say to myself: „If I want to do something, I’ll do it, if there’s nothing to stop me doing it. And if I don’t want to do it, then I won’t do it, and yet I only have the fee­ling of having to do it when I’m forced to do it.“

The more often I silently recite these sentences in different variations, the more it dawns on me where the question Do I have to do again today what I want to do? gets its re­mark­able fascination from. It gets it from of its obvious reversal: Do I want to do again today what I have to do? For this necessary transformation of unfreedom into freedom – with a few exceptions, which we then, fortunately, have sovereignly at our disposal – is the fate of us all. Since unfreedom is the foundation of my freedom, I am forced again and again to transfer what I don’t want to do into something I want to do.

So, I’m forced to want it, I have to want it even though I don’t want it. Only then does the first sentence make sense. Because if what I want to do today is ultimately what I do not want to do, then – and only then – I have to do what I want to do today. And that, precisely that, is what we then call autonomy. This is how the – I suspect: autonomous – author of this sentence, Frank Berzbach expressed a deep philosophical truth, probably without knowing it: Because unfreedom is the foundation of our freedom, I must first want to do what I do not want to do.

*

So I am forced again and again to transfer what I do not want to do into something I want to do. But not always. Because every now and then I take the liberty – obstinately, re­sist­ant – not to transfer what I do not want to do into something I want to do, but to ac­knowl­edge it as what it is: what I do not want to do. „This here, this being here, I do not want that!“ „But“, says the other side, „why not? What do you want instead?“ And then I ex­plain, because I do not yet know what I want instead, but already know what I do not want instead, this very thing.

Precisely this very thing – I did not choose it, neither this: what I am against, nor that: my being against it, nor this unequal race between hare and hedgehog, whose inequality con­sists in the fact that what I do not want is always already there, always already here – and not away from here („Ick bün all hier!“, „Ick bün all hier!“). And that is why I ask this ex­is­ten­tially difficult question here once again, the question of freedom: If I take the liberty of not wanting to do what I do not want to do, in other words, if I am against what I do not want to do, have I already done what I want to do?

And I answer: „No, on the contrary.“ I was – and still I am through this no, on the contrary – bound to that which I do not want to do; I am „arrested“ to it, to this there, to this here. In order to be against it, in order to be able to think against it, I must take it up in my thin­king and writing, pick it up there and negate it in so many turns that I can no longer think its being out of its negations, out of its non-being. And yet, it is there, it is here. It is always there and always here. It disappoints me wherever I walk or stand.

So should I give up, put an end to all disappointment? But how could I break the top of this ongoing thinking process? How can I stop thinking seriously from one day to the next? Not to think about it, to think something over / to think it(’s) „over“, to think it out / to think it(’s) „out“. The only way to interrupt the inwardly circling thinking – „I can’t see my stream. “ – is to place another thinking, that of another, at its side. The final dis­ap­point­ment for a thinker should come from those who can recognize his „stream“: the readers.

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