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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Disappointing Thinking (excerpt #2 No. 5)

Is philosophy, as it was once understood: as a search for a meaning immanent to human life, but also transcending it, as a question of the meaning of being and time, but also of a meaning beyond of being and time, – is such a philosophy not at an end? Hasn’t phi­lo­so­phy become a special science in which these topics and questions are hardly ever or at best only marginally dealt with?

The analysis so far has shown: philosophy, philosophical thought is a disappointing task, and this at all levels of its activity, historically and systematically, institutionally and trans-institutionally: historically because of its disintegration into individual disciplines and its subsequent constitution as a scientific philosophy; systematically because of the in­suf­fi­ci­ent answers it has to offer in view of the persistence of metaphysical needs: the trans­cen­den­tal, the analytical and the hermeneutical „answer“. It was, in retrospect, an error to assume that these answers could be a final, stable basis for further philosophical thinking, teaching and research, freed from internal self-criticism and self-doubt. On the contrary. The disappointments of philosophy were only further advanced by these answers.

This in turn has both institutional and non-institutional consequences. For the time being, institutional as well as trans-institutional philosophy cannot get over the „historical a pri­o­ri“ of a scientifically regulated language, a tradition defined by the history of reception and a categorically limited way of thinking. This a priori functions like a bundle of the so-called paradigms described by Thomas Kuhn: Without reference to them, philosophizing is no longer possible today. But the institutional form of philosophical thought, which sees itself as a scientific philosophy, is more concerned with this than its emphatic, trans-in­sti­tu­ti­o­nal form. For, since it does not understand itself as science, it is bound to such pa­ra­digms only negatively, not positively. It works itself off against them, while the scientific philosopher builds on them.

Philosophy, it seems, is therefore at the end, but not yet at a final one. It is at a turning point. For there are, in order to change from the apersonal form of articulation, which is widespread in the sciences, to the personal form of speech, there are still one or two topics that I would like to address, or one or two questions that I would like to ask – for example in connection with a biographical memory:


In the middle of the 80s I drove from Berlin to Freiburg/Br. for a few weeks and visited my old fellow students P. and E.. A few years earlier I had moved from Freiburg/Br. to Berlin, because I believed that I would be able to realize my – at the beginning surely overly idea­­li­stic – idea of what philosophy could be better in Berlin. Soon after my arrival there, I had started to work in a playful way with language and to experiment with texts. The first drafts of the ZeitSchrift für TopoLogie und StrömungsKunde, edited by Robert Krokowski and myself, were available, and P. and E. approached me about them:

„Isn’t it a little playful what you and Robert are doing? Concrete poetry or conceptual po­et­ry or something?“ I thought it would be good to go a little further and explain: „I once read Wittgenstein, I think he wrote: „The limits of my language are the limits of my world.“ So if I, as a philosopher, want to expand the boundaries of my world, perhaps even those of the world at all, then I must expand language or do language work, or not?“

And because I knew that P. valued Ingeborg Bachmann above all else – E. began to take an interest in Derrida at the time – I added: „Doesn’t it say somewhere in Bachmann: „No new world without a new language“? Doesn’t Bachmann too – at least that’s how I understand her dissertation on Heidegger and her interest in Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle – think that in order to be able to live new forms of life, we need a new language? And isn’t philosophy, even in this existential and explicitly literary sense, language work?“

P. was annoyed: „This is pure idealism. The sentence does not, as it were, normatively call for work on language to change the world, but only points out, purely descriptively, that there is a constitutive, not just a contingent relationship between the world and language. It is a reciprocal relationship, not a one-sided one. Incidentally, what Bachmann is for­mu­la­ting here is an aesthetic program that can certainly also apply to hermetic texts such as those by Celan, Kafka or Beckett. But as far as I understand it – and I know very little about it – you want to pursue philosophy, not poetry. Don‘t you?“


My old friends from Freiburg times were right. I had – negatively – succumbed to an error and had – positively – given myself over to the illusion that I could change the world with a little language work. Like Hegel, whom I admired, I had perhaps even become an in­corri­gible idealist: „The theoretical work, I convince myself more and more every day“, Hegel wrote in 1808 in a letter to Niethammer, „achieves more in the world than the practical work; once the realm of ideas has been revolutionized, reality cannot endure“, as if Feu­er­bach, Marx & Co. did‘nt ever exist – nor the Critical Theory, which P., E. and I had studied in depth a few years earlier in the form of the Dialectics of Enlightenment.

So without much thought – Julia Kristeva’s La révolution du langage poétique was the in­spi­ra­tion for me – I had been involved in a rebellious project that was, indeed, not a re­bel­lious one, or vice versa in a revisionist project that I considered rebellious. But it was pre­cise­ly in this reversal that the whole problem of the so-called linguistic turn lay for me at the time: was it a rebellious or a revisionist turn? So was I or was I not involved in a re­bel­lious project? Depending on how the turn was understood, I was an idealist / criticist or a realist / dogmatist.

Above all, however, I had made a mistake which I made again and again and about which I could gain sufficient certainty only in recent years. Condition and reason were to be dis­tin­guished: The condition sine qua non is not yet a sufficient reason. „A new world isn‘t pos­si­ble without a new language“ does not mean: „A new world is only possible through a new language“; for that would blur the difference between condition and reason. But that is pre­cise­ly the reason why my friends in Freiburg apparently insisted that Bachmann’s sen­tence was not a normative but a descriptive sentence.

But even if one could not understand it as a one-sided, normative sentence, what did it mean? If, for example, one assumed that it meant a reciprocal relationship, that language and the world were mutually dependent on each other, was it not indifferent where one be­gan one’s work: whether one did language work, for example as a philosopher, writer or scholar, or whether one sought to change the world directly, for example as a natural sci­en­tist, technician or engineer, in a very concrete, material way, reshaping the face of the world? And doesn’t the pluralism of postmodernism arise precisely from this fundamental insight: that the binarism of culture and nature, thinking and being, difference and identity etc. does not imply any value judgements, that the areas are in-different (in the sense of: equally valid)?

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Disappointing Thinking (excerpt # 1 No. 1)

The following text is an English excerpt from my book „Versions of Thinking – Version I: Disappointing Thinking“, which will soon be published in German. Ten other excerpts will follow.

Disappointment, resistance, hope – these three terms denote centers of thought of a philosophical book project called „Versions of Thinking“, of which the first volume is entitled „Version I: Disappointing Thinking“. Each of the three volumes will primarily, explicitly or implicitly, refer to one of these three concepts or will move within one of these three centres of thought: the first volume in that of disappointment, the second in that of resistance, the third in that of hope.

The reference to each of these concepts will be primary, not exclusive, because in none of them is it possible to think of one concept without the other: On the one side of thinking – I will call it the passive one (it is the subject of the first volume) – how would dis­ap­point­ments be conceivable without resistance and hope? And on the other side – I will call it the active one (it is the subject of the second volume) – how would resistance be conceivable without disappointment and hope?

Does not every disappointment lead to a resistance that corresponds to the truth of the hope that underlies it? And is not for this reason also every resistance unthinkable without a hope that drives it, but also disappoints it? Disappointment, resistance and hope form a circle which, starting from disappointment, leads via resistance to hope (d–r–h), but also vice versa, starting from hope, via disappointment to resistance (h–d–r).

Thus, on the one hand, the active side of thinking, the circle between resistance and dis­ap­point­ment closes: all resistance that is – philosophically – nourished by hope is based on a moment of disappointment (d–r–h). And on the other, the passive side of thinking, the cir­cle between disappointment and hope closes: All disappointments are preceded – phi­lo­so­phi­cally – by a hope that leads to resistance (h–d–r).

In each of the three terms, therefore, the other two are „reflected“ – to use an optical me­ta­phor popular with philosophers. Each „reflects“ the other, is a „reflex“ of the other. They form a unity, a dialectical unity: If disappointment is the thesis, then hope, the synthesis, is already anticipated in it in an abstract way. But hope can only be fulfilled by the an­ti­the­sis to disappointment, in which, as a mediation of the two, resistance exists.

Or is not rather, conversely, hope the thesis, disappointment the antithesis, and resistance the synthesis of both? Can resistance be the end? This raises the question: What is re­sist­ance, if it is the end, supposed to achieve? Can we be satisfied with hope or even with re­sist­ance as a synthesis? What are resistance and hope for? The first volume of my book-project, which is primarily devoted to disappointment, cannot give an answer to this ques­tion. Only one thing can be said at this point:

Disappointment, resistance and hope are understood here as philosophical versions of thought which – and this is meant quite critically – remain or „get stuck“ in the realm of theory. But every resistance and all hope must in the end lead to an action that – in reality – changes that against which resistance is directed. This is no longer a matter for phi­lo­so­phy, cannot be a matter for theory alone. It is a matter of action, which means always also a matter of practice.


Disappointment, resistance and hope are thus conceptualized as versions of thought, or more precisely: as turns of thought (cf. lat. vertere = revolve, turn, return). This can be un­der­stood once, in the ordinary, unproblematic sense of „turn“, as types or forms of think­ing. Thinking is then merely the generic term under which the three forms of think­ing fall: disappointing, resistant and hopeful thinking.

But the word „turn“ can also be understood literally, so that every turn of thinking, let it be disappointing, resistant or hopeful, is a reversal, a turning around of the respective think­ing. Disappointment, for example, is turning away from the hope, the „deception“ that sup­ports it and from the passivating realities that force it to turn around.

The reversal of disappointment is thus, analytically seen, composed of two partial move­ments, of a negative and a positive movement: The negative movement is the movement of turning away from the hoped-for or expected reality, which in disappointment turns out to be an illusion (disappointment is dis-appointment, i.e. disillusion). And the positive move­ment is the movement of turning towards the reality which does not correspond to the hoped-for or expected one, in other words: which contradicts it.

In a similar way, as a form of thinking, the reversal of resistance can be understood. It con­sists in turning against the reality towards which disappointment turns, i.e. in the name of the expected reality from which disappointment turns away. In this respect, there is a reversal of movement itself between disappointment and resistance, which means, both are opposite forms of reversal:

Resistant thinking turns away from the reality of disappointment, i. e. from a dis­ap­poin­ting reality. Negatively it rejects it and positively turns to a new reality that may not yet be thematic in re­sistance itself. It takes up the experience of disappointment: what was ori­gi­nally positive is now negative and, for sake of a position not yet realized, positions itself as a negation of the negative. What is positive in disappointment is therefore negative in re­sist­ance and vice versa.

But then, how is hope to be understood? If it is, as I have asserted, the synthesis of dis­ap­point­ment and resistance, it can also be understood as a reversal of movement, but, unlike disappointment and resistance, as a „synthesized“ or a „doubled“ one: it first absorbs the experience of disappointment in so far as, like every disappointment, it turns to the ne­ga­tive of all there is, but second only in order to search in it for traces of the new.

But in this it is resistant. For, since what is is not yet what should be, and what should be is not yet what is, she cannot be content with the search for traces of the new, with such a search alone. She cannot rely on finding approaches to a new, utopian world in the real world; it must also design it. Hope is therefore more than the sum of activity (resistance) and passivity (disappointment): it is creativity.

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Announcement of a three-volume book project

In the following months I will present here on this blog some excerpts from my upcoming book.

The book will be published in German this year and is part of a three-part book pro­ject called „Versions of Thinking“. In this project I am talking about versions of think­ing in the sense of different kinds of thinking and then in the sense of turns of (one’s own) thin­king. The first volume of the book project revolves around the topic of dis­ap­point­ment („Disappointing Thinking“), the two subsequent volumes will be devoted to the topics of resistance („Resistant Thinking“) and hope („Utopian Thinking“).

In the first volume, I will be presenting the dis­ap­point­ments of thinking in thinking itself, e.g. as dis­ap­point­ment that there is nothing given: lost friends, past times or missed op­por­tu­ni­ties; that there is no meaning in history, but that the end of history does not find an end either; that the last word in thinking has not the thinking itself, but the being, not the culture, but nature, not the duration, but the passing, not the living world, but the world of things, not life, but death.

In contrast to what is usual in academic philosophy, I am not interested in a meta-analysis of disappointing thinking, but in practical forms of such thinking itself, in different types of texts and styles of language, which often take sur­pri­sing turns. There are personal bio­gra­phi­cal sketches next to cultural-theoretical re­flec­ti­ons, the report of a journey next to existential-philosophical considerations, aphorisms next to essayistic attempts and literary drafts next to dialectical analyses.

So I link different levels of disappointment, such as the everyday psychological, the cog­ni­tive, the existential and the metaphysical, to form a network of references, the centre of which my fundamental thesis is: Philosophers who do not also speak of them­selves are not. The multilingualism of our dis­ap­point­ments reflects the multilingualism of our life.

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