Perpetual modernity, ever becoming modernity: re-reconciling state, society and aesthetic ideals.
Against their presupposition, I argue that an aesthetic ideal of harmony can be situated not in unification but in transversal of all unifying forces in life. It is in the divergence, transgression and creation of ever renewing forces in life that human being feels a deeper harmony in existence. Here, Schiller, Hegel and Marx's solutions to the problems of modernity would not be viable models. Only by creating infinite becomings, multiplicities and individuations can "man" heal the mania of a sense of loss of unification in life. It is not a search for unity but a movement toward divergent becomings that may cure the alienation that capitalist society brings to life. It is not in some unifying solution, posed as a finality, that the divided self will be redeemed. It is only in the self's transitioning from one state to another that there can be a hope for harmony in life. There would then not be any reason for us to worry about the loss of unifying self in human life because any unifying force does not create harmony in the self, but rather creates estrangement through the ossification of human potentials. Therefore, let Unity go! Let the Leibnizian God die! We can live without Unity or God. Unity is neither a past thing from which we were separated and are going to return, as it was for Plato, nor it is at the end of a future to which we are all striving, as it was for Hegel. Each unity is better conceived as a Proustian fragment constituting another unity which is also part and partially a fragment. The unity is thus itself in a state of perpetual becoming. It is not the final product of contradictions, but always moves contradictorily toward perpetual becomings. Schiller, Hegel and Marx's notion of unity might then be revised along these lines. I am not celebrating the loss of unity in a kind of postmodernist fashion; it is my different modernity, which I call a perpetual modernity, an ever becoming modernity, which presumes unity as an ever becoming state. My sense of perpetual becoming does not wait to heal up its divisions, but rather creates infinite differences in the human self as a positive condition for the differentiation of the self with the pulse of ever becoming modernity. An ever becoming modernity does not search for unity, but rather creates divergent yet richer differences in human self. (1)
The harmonious "Man" in a harmonious society-viewed as a project of enlightenment-is possible if we can overcome our traditional notions of state, society and individual through the idea of perpetual modernity. Because we began from the point of view that each composes a separate unity which must be brought together, our attempts to understand them generate further misunderstanding. Yet the goal cannot be to unify individual with state and society, or likewise, inner experiences with social experiences, because these are one and the same thing. As Deleuze says "... the difference is not at all between the social and the individual (or interindividual), but between the molar realm of representations, individual or collective, and the molecular realm of ... desires in which distinction between the social and the individual loses its meaning since flows are neither attributable to individuals nor overcodable by collective signifiers." (2) State, society and individual are already a "collective assemblage" of a "social machine" which produces desires, affects and sensations. They undergo the same sorts of flows of experience. So the question is not about how the state, society and art are brought together to find a common expression in a harmonious man but, how does the social machine create becomings such that we can realize harmonious man in a harmonious society? Only such a modernity opens up fields of possibilities in life because it believes in "Making it New." Ezra Pound's credo "Make it New" signifies 'a line of flight' or divergence from what there is, the status quo. Be different and think different, modernity teaches us to go beyond prevalent practices and thoughts. It is because of the necessity of realizing social harmony in the ever becoming state of modernity that we should revisit Schiller, Hegel and Marx's notions of state, society and aesthetic ideals. I want to demonstrate how our false perception of the relation between state, society and individual leads to a frantic search for unity in "man," and how my alternative approach to these entities bears value for us. The first will help us to investigate the way in which the reconciliation effort of perpetual modernity can be played out in a new relation between the social and inner lives of the self to place harmonious "man" in harmonious society; how creative imaginative life finds a home where inner and social life should meet in harmony, not in a kind of totality but in a kind of transgression of every unity. The second helps us to see the importance of perpetual modernity.
Before revaluating Hegel, Schiller and Marx's notions of state, society and aesthetic ideals and their misguided searches for unity between them, I feel necessary to introduce their views on state, society and art first.
On the Level of State
Schiller argues that the modern state cuts itself off from the activities and aspirations of its citizens. It distances its life from the lives of the citizens and becomes an estranged totalizing force coming from without. Schiller says "... never to get an impression of humanity except through representation at second hand ... while the governed cannot ... receive with indifference laws which are scarcely, if at all, directed to them as persons." (3) Resulting from this image is a duality between national interest (general) and citizen's interest (particular), and duty and inclination. This production of irreconcilable duality between national and civil interest is the problem created by Schiller's modernity, framed in terms of a unity which he believed was achieved in ancient Greek Society.
Hegel echoes Schiller's lost unity when he states that the modern world has lost the ideal condition in which citizens work for the state as their higher form of reality, as an end itself. The state was not separated from its citizens, they were one and the same. The private will of the citizens and the general will of the state were placed in a spontaneous accord. (4) And the split between the public will of the state and private will of citizens will be reconciled in the Absolute [Unity].
Marx departs from Hegel's political model of Ancient Greece as the ideal political condition. He claims that there never was an ideal state with no social contradictions. Modern states evolved out of the class struggle created in the rift between individual and state. An ideal state can however be created if the rift between man and state, and public and private interests are reconciled. Communism is the utopian state of this final reconciliation. The state is the spontaneous product of its citizens. Citizens nourish and safeguard the state. This would be an aesthetic state akin to Greek model, but it is still a reduplication of the Schillerian and Hegelian ideal, posited as end.
On the Level of Society
Schiller, Hegel and Marx are also worried about the separation of the individual and the products of his labor. The individual does not own his own product; rather the capitalist owns what he produces. He is cut off from his basic human nature, labor, and reduced to a production machine. The disharmony is created between himself and his world. This is because of the division of labour and the class system. Modern, burgeois industrial society has separated pleasure from labour and divided people into rigorous ranks and occupations resulting in their estrangement and alienation. An individual's humanity cannot be developed in the modern structure of labour and class. Schiller aims to make labour more like activity than forced work. Work is here defined more or less as a dynamic recreation and an ideal condition, "an unlimited capacity for every human utterance ... the ability to experience all our powers with equal freedom...." (5) The condition of labour should be remade in order to make it less physical and more goal oriented activity.
Hegel also harks back to the Greek condition in which the labour (one of the key social elements) was the productive act of its citizen through the conjoined investment of their noblest powers. But that condition has been lost in modern industrial civilization. Still Hegel's aim is not to borrow the ancient model as an ideal for the modern condition of labour but to reinforce the elimination of an inhuman situation of labour in the modern society. The early Hegel states that alienation and estrangement created by the inhuman division of labour in modern society is negative effects but the later Hegel defines it a positive condition for the realization (unification with) of the Absolute (God).
Marx rejects Hegel's notion that alienation is a self-conditioned positivity for the development of self. He also rejects Hegel's idea that the modern form of alienation can be overcome only at the level of thought/spirit or Geist. Marx argues that alienation has its offshoots in the economic realm. Here, wage labour, division of labour, and exchange value of labour set conditions for the alienation of the labourers from their products. The division of labour divorced an individual from his potential as well as from the world around him, reducing his humanity to an appendage of a machine. He is cut off from his culture, religion and any other metaphysical roots. An individual becomes an object; his inner harmony is perturbed.
On the Level of Art
Schiller and Marx lament that modern art is disassociated from social experiences and human nature itself. The spontaneity, wholeness and unity of ancient art have been lost. So, modern art has become obsolete. The harmony between inner and social experiences has been disrupted in modern art. It shows a hero in his striving for unity that he has lost. But in ancient art the unity was realized in the hero's cultural experiences. He was one and the same with his social experiences.
In his book On the Aesthetic Education, Schiller argues for the reconciliation of the opposed faculties of the individual by transforming the material and formal drives into a third condition, the state of the play drive. (6) In the third condition, the condition of full realization of both drives, the opposition between the two will be cancelled and the reconciliation of sense and reason will be realized. This is the aesthetic condition which Schiller aims at to propose a healing for a better social world. This overcoming is only possible through or in art; for people could come to agree for unity at a point of beauty. He says that only "aesthetically reconciled society" can make communication possible between an individual and his race. Such a structure of communication would heal a society divided by the bureaucratized state and the abstracts of rational morality and science. Beauty has that capacity to unite people irrespective of divisions created by state and society.
Hegel holds that art provides an idea to nature, and nature gives a form to the art. Nature and Idea are two different entities to each other but find unity in a work of art. (7) In other words, contemplative mind and striving nature get harmony through the Absolute in art. Beauty in art is the realization of the Absolute in the contemplative mind of the creator and spectator. Hegel does not relate art with social experience but with the exceptional Absolute (Unity) realization.
Marx says that art is an ideological representation which is determined by the material conditions of societies. Art is not a pure mimetic representation or mirror of nature (rather, it is a social mirror) as for Hegel. Bourgeois art always distorts "material conditions of existence" because it always serves the interests of its creator's class. A good form of art is a black and white representation of ongoing class conflict and revolutionary effort to reconcile social contradictions. Art has social reconciliation (unity is emphasized as a resolution) as its mission. So, aesthetic experiences cannot be distinct from social experiences. The two should be in a unitary condition expressed in art.
As we see above, Schiller, Hegel and Marx were persistently looking for unity either on the level of state, society, or art: the state is to be found in a unity with citizens' aspirations; society in a unity with individual nature or his productive capacity; art in an expressive unity with social structure. However, they were not aware of the fact that unity is the result of a "false-consciousness." Individual and society's progress usually takes an uneven path; it is a kind of leap. Ever great advancement is a break from unity. It always transgresses systematicity as for Nietzsche: "Trans valuation of all value." So the search for harmony in a totalizing unity ends up imposing modernity from "outside." Their unification of individual with community is violent and forceful. But we need a form of modernity which would be an unforced transgression of every limit that divides state, society and individual. For this reason, reconciliation is perhaps a false hope. It appears that the more we are separated from the systematicity of the state, society and art, the more we enjoy our liberty. If we trace the genealogy of state or society (take an example of priesthood, one of the key social/political elements in ancient society), it enters into us from "without" to separate us from our power-our capacity to be active (8). So reconciling with such an entity cannot give us harmony. Conversely, the smaller the gap between a body and what it can do, the more we become active and the more we create our own values. (9) For this we should presume that each individual is whole in himself/herself, without need for any higher unity, posited as the end of a progressive development. There is no question of a unity within any functional whole imposed from outside.
Let me deepen this insight. Schiller, Marx and Hegel try to borrow the Aristotelian notion of state, society and art as an organism moving toward a unitary condition as an end. But this notion of an organism moving toward a final unity does not hold much truth for us today in the postpolitical and posthuman age. Neither state and society, nor art can be conceived as a singular and linear constitution. These entities emerge in "a multiplicity of intersecting planes ... by the number and complexity of the planes of experience that intersect, and intensively, through the particular connections and engagements that the human body is capable of supporting." (10) They are always at a threshold moving toward an ever receding "yet to come future." There can be no question of finally aligning these thresholds with any system of state, society and art.
Proposing a solution to the problem of modernity, Marx argues that human liberation will only be realized when each individual recognizes and organizes his own power as a social power so that he no longer separates his social power from himself as political power. Marx is very close to the recognition of the fact that social power and individual power are one. But his attempt to bind human potential with certain political institutions places a restriction on human potential. (11) This restriction itself contradicts his attempt to empower the working class. Normatively, human potential should be above political unity because political practice cannot circumscribe what we are today and what we are becoming tomorrow, unless it would somehow be possible for our becomings not to intercede with other becomings. It's not politics that shapes what we are but what we are depends on how we act to shape the political and social institutions. At least normatively we should presume this. To leave one's responsibility and commitment to oneself at the hand of these institutions is a regressive idea. The individual who acts from within can shape what he is but also what others are; what state, society and art are.
At another point, Marx emphasizes that envisioning a productive subject rather than a reflective, knowing subject can reduce the gap created by modernity. He says that the subject is first and foremost a social formation or situatedness in history, economic structure and class. I agree with this formulation, but I would add that over and above Marx, individuals must be regarded as self-formative processes who rearrange their situatedness according to their desires. If Marx regards the individual as a social-process, he has a burden to prove how the proletariat individual as a social formation can reflect upon and change his condition beyond the prevalent mode of production. How can a powerless proletariat suddenly overcome this condition to become a social hero-a revolutionary agent? If he is merely a gradual outcome of his social formation, how can he decide to break from the systematicity of his formation? (12) In saying that the subject is a historically conditioned social formation, Marx just imitates the historical form of modernity whereas modernity is transhistorical and transubjective. It is a break from every given. Particular subjectivity may pass through historical times and may be grounded in the mode of production but we need a form of modernity that assumes the self-formative subject without subjectivity, (13) that exceeds every historical objectification. Only such modernity can have a hope for the future because it contains a prodigious capacity to take a break from what we were yesterday and what we are today with a promise for an adequate sense of "social rationality," "justice" and morality."
But what kind of social rationality, justice and morality can a perpetual modernity envision that would be able to give us "communicative, community-building and solidarity-giving force?" (14) Even though such a promise can only be made under great burden of proof, I will be as short as I can to prove this fact.
This is possible if we can create a condition of relationship between society and state in which communication of self to self can determine what truth is for oneself and communities. This is possible if we envision societies of people without State as a sovereign entity above them. (15) This form of societies is necessary because, as Spinoza says, politics[State] enters into us when we are separated from our own power; from what our body can feel and do. As for Nietzsche, our body is a political management. It is made, by politics, intransient and opaque. Depoliticizing the body of its status quo assumptions about social relations is a necessary condition for attaining this aesthetic ideal in which an individual retains his freedom to organize his own power as social power. Here justice, morality and rationality bear non-traditional meanings because they are thought under the sign of a becoming active; becoming active means producing positive affects and producing positive affects is what we must count as rational, moral and just. (16) Here, each individual is in solidarity with others and participates in community building only insofar as the form of state and society cannot decree the inter-communicability of the individual. Importantly, it's not unity that facilitates such communicability for a communicative society. It is the recognition of difference that helps to create society, state and aesthetic ideals in a harmonious (obviously the source of harmony for me is different than for Schiller, Hegel and Marx as it will be stated just few lines below) relation. So solidarity is not a binding force but a letting-be of the becomings at work in others. (17) Solidarity is not something we reach in commonsense but in polyvoices of becomings. One cannot bestow solidarity on "community-building" in a unity of "commonsense" but in a common "poly-sense" of the recognition that a harmonious community is possible only if each individual invents plural becomings within himself rather than in a stately intervention which brings his becoming into a consistent form. For, harmony is not the product of the common order of things but of the value created in differences. Harmony cannot be envisioned on the Leibnizian image of a preconceived unity of opposing concepts:
Harmony is unity in variety ... harmony is when many things are reduced to some unity.. For where there is no variety, there is no harmony. Conversely, where variety is without order, without proportion ..., there is no harmony." (18)
Rather, harmony is the creation of differences. Deleuze says "Opposition ceases its labour and difference begins its play." (19) Harmony is not a unitary concept. It does not privilege the unitary condition of the individual with his organic completion in state and society. Harmony regards the individual itself as the highest goal. It refrains from the practices of aligning individual with any overarching unitary systematicity. It bestows upon an individual the absolute freedom to organize his actions and thoughts, his choices, destinies and futures. Schiller, Hegel and Marx presume harmony is achieved in unity. But such form of unity is always coercive and totalitarian in the sense that Heidegger refers to when he defines the so-called natural order as a form of imposition. Beneath the natural order, the intensity and perpetual movements of the self are restricted. State, society and aesthetic ideal cannot be reconciled in any "unifying power of the future," but as a producing force to create divergent futures.
The essential problem with Schiller, Hegel and Marx is that they put the individual in opposition to state and society, and they conceive the relation in terms of dialectics rather than difference. Something like the Habermasian- a sense of "community-building solidarity force" for "social rationality," "justice" and "morality" can only be hoped in the dialectics of differences, a kind of dialectics which does not end in a unity or in a mutual understanding but always encounters differences. It demands deep intensity, recurring movement, vital dynamism, and ever renewing and radical perspectivism toward life-a "trans-valuation" of all prevalent values. This is what modernity as a perpetual becoming advocates for. On this picture, social unity is an intensity and dynamism that itself can be the potential foundation for rationality, justice and morality. Similarly, an individual is not a disembodied object of intensity and movement but is embodied intensity-"zones of intensity" rather than "rational conscious apprehension"-and movement itself. Such an individual self, by virtue of itself, speaks for and in itself, for social rationality, justice and truth.
The same holds true on the level of art. Art should illustrate intensity, affects and movements in inner life rather than unduly copying the external social and political events of life in the fashion of historical objectification. This can save aesthetics from being the mere abstraction of political and economic units resulting in alienation and fragmentation. The politicization and even normativization of forces of life is less valid in our age, especially after the theories Foucault and Deleuze. Social and political experiences-in sum, what constitute our humanness or personality--are not disembodied facts outside of us. They are embodied in the affective states of bodies and their affectivities over subjectivities. Art shows us how "'subject-less' pre-personal arrangements of body and mind" (20) take place in our self; how the human form itself constantly assimilates other forms of life-animate and inanimate-into it. The beauty of art is not achieved in only narrating social events but, more richly, in showing how affections and intensities pass through bodies; how becomings take place at multiple levels of affects and affections. This sort of making diverse, a making of becomings, futures, and infinite possibilities in life can heal the alienation and fragmentation of traditional modernity. In perpetual modernity, art inspires us to express all the human potentials in diverse futures or possibilities. Because these potentials do not reference some pre-existing form of society, there can be no question of alienation and estrangement in social experiences. Jorge Luis Borges's protagonist is an instance of human becoming who creates various futures within him stepping into various forks of time at the same time:
I leave to the various futures (not to all) my garden of forking paths ... In all fictional works, each time a man is confronted with several alternatives, he chooses the one and eliminates the others; in the fiction of Ts' ui pen, he chooses .. all of them. He creates, in this way, diverse futures. (21)
In conclusion, my different version of modernity as a perpetual and ever becoming modernity proposes the re-reconciliation of state, society and aesthetic ideals in differential becomings. Where Schiller, Hegel, and Marx proposed the solutions of reconciliation as a kind of unity, I conceived reconciliation in terms of the differences, becomings and dynamic intensities, which we create in life. I argued that unity is a totalizing force, which always tends to oppose what we can infinitely become tomorrow whereas open-ended difference allows an individual to arrange his own feelings, thoughts and actions in a way he desires to create infinite becomings within him. I also illustrated how such self-arrangement not only heals estrangement and alienation-by allowing the individual his power to be active to create diverse becomings in him-that are jointly created by the modernist ancestors like Schiller, Hegel and Marx's social and political philosophy and modern capitalist industrial bureaucracy, in the fulfillment of a promise for "social rationality," "justice" and "morality," "communication," and "solidarity."
(1) Nietzschean modernity, Spinozian modernity, Deleuzian modernity, Foucauldian modernity etc., are inspirations for my idea of perpetual modernity.
(2) Gilles Deluze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Minnesota: University of Minnesota, 1987), p. 219.
(3) Schiller, Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Mankind (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967), p. 37.
(4) Timothy C. Luther, Hegel's Critique of Modernity: Reconciling Individual Freedom and the Community (New York: Lexington Books, 2009) "Hegel maintains that since universal law is embodied in the concrete institutions of the state, it ceases to be abstract and empty. It prescribes individual duties of one's role in the community," p. 54.
(5) Friedrich Schiller, Naive and sentimental poetry, and On the sublime, trans. Julius A. Elias (New York: F. Ungar Pub. Co. 1967), p. 170.
(6) See Schiller's discussion of three drives in his On the Aesthetic Education of Man in a Series of Letters, trans. Reginald Snell (New York, F. Ungar Pub. Co. , 1965).
(7) Hegel's idea of art gives due emphasis on nature than society. So, it is opposite to Schiller (art as social revolution) and Marx (art as social emancipation). But what strikes me at the heart of these three thinkers' notion of art is the search for unity in art.
(8) See Benedict Spinoza's Ethics, trans. R. H. M. Elwes (Stilwell, KS: Digireads.com Publishing, 2008)
(9) Spinoza again. See his book Ethics to figure out how body works in nature and how we create our values for us in bodily affects and affections.
(10) See Steven D. Brown and Ian Tucker's "Eff the Ineffable," in Melissia Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth's The Affect Theory Reader (Duke University, 2010), p. 232, pp. 229-49. Though brown and Tucker are talking in a different context, I borrowed their idea of intersecting planes of experiences to be used in the context of art.
(11) Here I am close to Hardt and Negri's position in Empire, where the bottom line is always the multiplicity of the people. What we call "human potential" can never be determined entirely by political institutions (witness Egypt in the past few weeks!).
(12) One could certainly say, perhaps, that the proletariat "rose up" in the Russian Revolution, for example, only to have the revolution coopted by "The Party" (at least in certain readings). So one may argue what they are is just social formation rather than their own self-formation.
(13) I argue that subject-less preindividual arrangements of body and mind can have a proper foundation for opening up creative becomings in life. Here affectivity precedes over subjectivity. A-cognitive and nonrepresented forms of affects make us free from the notion of represented form of subjectivity. See Steven D. Brown and Ian Tucker's "Eff the Ineffable," pp. 229-49.
(14) Ibid., p. 46. I believe that Habermasian normative goal for unforced identity can be practically realize in my perpetual modernity but in a very unHabersian way. It is unHabermasian because it defines solidarity, social justice, rationality and moral in a different way.
(15) In the Nomadology section of A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze is trying to answer the question: is there a collectiive form of political organization that is not the State, and is in fact directed against the State? His answer: yes, there is such an organization, which is what he calls the war-machine. This form of collective organization which is still state but it does not work with economic and political power relations. Rather it works with the desires of the people. This sort of organization helps to "affirm the rights of segmentary societies in opposition to the organs of State power." (p. 360). See Deluze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, pp. 351-423.
(16) See Spinoza's Ethics.
(17) We can see solidarity in the community of ascetic dandies who form their own bodies and thoughts.
(18) Leibnize, Textes enedits d'apress les manuscripts de la bibliotheque provinciale de Hanovre, Vol 2, ed. Gaston Grua (New York: Garland, 1985), p. 12.
(19) Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983), p 1.
(20) Brown and Tucker's "Eff the Ineffable," p. 237.
(21) Ann Chatters, The Story and Its Writers: An Introduction to Short Fiction, 4th edition (Boston: Bedford Books, 1995), p. 155, pp. 150-157.
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|Publication:||Journal of Philosophy: A Cross Disciplinary Inquiry|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2011|
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