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Oct. 23rd, 2006

06:19 pm

This is the blog for Philosophical Parables
 
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It seems to me that it must be obvious to anyone who makes the effort of effecting a distance from the taken-for-granted categories generated by the present societal order that its nature is obscured by these very notions. The purpose of this course is to look at a number of … let us call them … pictures, which have been offered by a number of thinkers in the history of European philosophy. We will try to see what we can make of them as tools for making sense of the present-day.
 
Though each session is free-standing, in that it will not presuppose attendance at earlier ones, there are a number of themes which, I hope, will link the sessions into some sort of unity. These are:
The question of the intelligibility of the human world.
The rationality of historical agency,
The cultural matrix of market relations.
The argument that the present-day has characteristics which mark a break with previous societal forms.
 
This post comprises some notes on the session on Plato + brief bibliographical notes on the forthcoming talks.  Notes for Darwin and later sessions will be added shortly.
 
 
 
PLATO’s Cave     10 October
In Book VII of the Republic Plato constructs a powerful image of the non-philosophical vision as chained to an illusory world of images. This image of ordinary persons as being like a prisoners in a cave whose only access to the real is as spectators of shadows of puppets functioned to legitimate a despotic state. What is remarkable about his fable of the prisoners is that it is an uncannily accurate picture of the physical situation of viewers in a cinema watching the projected image on the screen.
 
A photograph of a cinema audience, all wearing 3-D vision specs was used on the cover of one of the English edn. of one of the works of the Situationists - a revolutionary movement of the mid-20the C which - though taking its inspiration form Feuerback, not from Plato - made the construction of the subject as a spectator the centrepiece of its politico-philosophical project.
 
Plato’s parable implies that the mass of humanity are passive spectators of an illusory show. As such, they must be incapable of being effective agents in history. Part of the purpose of this image, for Plato, was to legitimate the rule of those who could comprehend the real - the philosophers. The historical agent of the last century which most approximated to Plato’s vision was the theory of the revolutionary party expressed by Kautsky and then by Lenin. Whereas Plato regarded the enthralment to illusions as part of the human condition; for this tradition it was the situation of the wage-worker, necessarily entrapped by the material categories through which capital extracts surplus-product.
 
But what was shared by Plato and by these marxists was the notion that liberation from the chains of illusion could only come from outside the life of the prisoner. Guy Debord, key figure in Situationism, argued that the point was not to comprehend historical situations, but to make them.
 
However, if we conceive of historical subjects as subjected to external manipulation and devoid of autonomy, then how can we have any politics other than one of despotism? Some may argue that, at the deepest level, this is the root of Stalinism. This is, in part, the motivation behind Postmodernism’s rejection of 'Grand Narratives'.
 
The questions I would like us to consider around the image of the prisoners in the cave are:
Does this parable have any resonance for us now?
Does it seem to be about the political, or about the metaphysical.?
Is there not a chasm at the centre of this metaphor?
Why are the prisoners there? Whose interests do they serve? They are in chains, but why bother to provide them with the shadow-show?
 
The edn. of the Republic which I will refer to is Alan Bloom’s. His Preface should make clear why I do so. However any other English trans. will do for the image of the Cave..
 
What I have found most useful as introductions to Plato are KRAUT'Introduction' and HAVELOCK Plato. MURDOCH Fire explains Plato’s oppostion to poetry as part of his anti-democratic politics, the shadow-show being expressive of the subversive tendencies of theatre.
 
The view that the present-day shadow show - the world of the "media" is actually part of a strategy of political containement is argued in DEBORD Spectacle. For an excellent account of the history and theory of the Situationists, see PLANT Radical.
HITCHENS Abolition, Ch 6. POSTMAN Amusing gives an account of the history and meanings of the wider culture of the "media". BOORSTIN Image, written over forty years ago is a detailed account, in the vein of Vance Packard, of the imagistic nature of American culture.
 
HUME’s ‘All Things Are Loose And Separate’     17 October
This phrase occurs in Section VII of HUME Enquiry. For an expression of modern version of Hume’s attack on metaphysics, see AYER Language. For a defence of the category of essence, against Hume’s dismissal of this, see MEIKLE Essentialism, Introduction and MEIKLE 'Marxism'. The empiricist tradition is criticised in NOVACK Empiricism.
 
HEGEL’s Owl Of Minerva     24 October
This is in the Preface to HEGEL Right. The argument we will look at is made by BLOOM'Introduction', and its development is in FUKAYAMA End. The political and philosophical context of Fukuyama’s thesis is discussed in CALLINICOS Theories, Ch 1. For a criticism of any kind of 'metahistory', see the works by Arthur Marwick in biblio. The term itself originated in BULLOCK'Purpose'.
 
MARX’s ‘All That Is Solid Melts Into Air’     31 October
This occurs at MARX/ENG Manifesto, p70. It is in section I, for those using other editions. For a discussion of the cultural texture of modernity which uses this image, see BERMAN Solid, esp. Ch II. Other books which look at the distinctive nature of modernity in similar ways are KERN Culture and EKSTEINS Rites.
 
ENGELS’ Escalator     7 November
This is a term not actually used by Engels. I have chose it as the best image of a view of history as a process which has an inevitable and determined outcome. This view is found in ENGELS Socialism. A very strong expression of his position is in NEEDHAM'Integrative'. A standard criticism of this is BERLIN'Inevitability'. Essential to read on this is CARR What?, Ch 5. An attempt to defend the notion of progress by recourse to the ‘long view’ given by archaeology is CHILDE Man. BENJAMIN'Theses' is an influential attack on Progressivism, by a communist.
 
DARWIN’s Entangled Bank     14 November
WITTGENSTEIN’s Ladder     21 November
WEBER’s ‘Iron Cage’     28 November
 

PARABLES BIBLIO
 
 
AYER Language: A J Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic, Penguin, 1983
 
BEERDarwin’s: Gillian Beer, Darwin’s Plots, 2nd edn, Cambridge University Press, 2000
 
BELL Cultural: Daniel Bell, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, 2nd edn., Heinemann, 1979
 
BENJAMIN'Theses' BENJAMIN1940: Walter Benjamin, ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’, in Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn,Fontana, 1977. 1st publ., Neue Rundschau Vol 61 No 3, 1950. This was written in 1940.
 
BERLIN'Inevitability': Sir Isaiah Berlin,‘Historical Inevitability’, in Patrick Gardiner (ed.), The Philosophy of History, Oxford University Press, 1974. From Isaiah Berlin, Four Essays on Liberty, OUP, 1969
 
BERMAN Solid: Marshall Berman, All That is Solid Melts into Air, Verso, 1991
 
BLOOM'Introduction': Allan Bloom, Editor’s Introduction to Alexandre Kojève’s, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel,ed. Allan Bloom, Basic Books Inc, 1969
 
BOORSTIN Image: Daniel J Boorstin, The Image, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1961
 
BULLOCK'Purpose': Alan Bullock, ‘The Historian’s Purpose’, in Daniel Snowman (ed. ), PastMasters - The Best of History Today, 2001, 1st publ., History Today, February 1951
 
CALLINICOS Theories: Alex Callinicos, Theories and Narratives, Duke University Press, 1995
 
CARR What?: E H Carr, What is History?, 2nd edn., Palgrave, 2001
 
CHILDE Man: V Gordon Childe, Man Makes Himself, Moonraker Press, 1st illustrat. edn. based on 3rd edn. by Pitman 1956, 1981. 1st edn. publ. 1936
 
COOPER End: Barry Cooper, The End of History – An Essay on Modern Hegelianism, University of Toronto Press, 1984
 
DARWIN Origin: Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, ed. J W Barrow, Penguin, 1978
 
DEBORD Spectacle: Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, Zone Books, New York, 1995.
 
EKSTEINS Rites: Modris Eksteins, Rites of Spring,Bantam, 1979
 
ENGELS Socialism: Frederick Engels, Socialism - Utopian and Scientific, in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels - Selected Works in One Volume, Lawrence & Wishart, 1977
 
FERGUSON 'Virtual': Niall Ferguson, ‘Introduction - Virtual History: Towards a “chaotic” theory of the past’, in Niall Ferguson (ed.) Virtual History , Papermac, 1998
 
FORBES'Introduction' FORBES1975: Duncan Forbes, Introduction to G W F Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History - Introduction: Reason in History, trans. H B Nisbet, Cambridge University Press, 1982
 
FUKAYAMA End: Francis Fukayama, The End of History and the Last Man, Hamish Hamilton, 1992
 
GEYL'American': Pieter Geyl, ‘The American Civil War and the Problem of Inevitability’, in his Debates with Historians, Fontana, 1970. 1st publ. in Mededelingen of the Dutch Academy, 1949
 
GEYL'Inevitability': Pieter Geyl, ‘Historical Inevitability (Isiah Berlin)’, in his Debates with Historians,Fontana, 1970. 1st publ. in his Tochten en Toernooien, 1950
 
HAVELOCK Plato: Eric A Havelock, Preface to Plato: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1963
 
HEGEL Right: G W F Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right, trans. H B Nisbet, Cambridge University Press, 1991
 
HITCHENS Abolition: Christopher Hitchens, The Abolition of Britain - The British Cultural Revolution from Lady Chatterly to Tony Blair, Quartet, 1999
 
HUME Enquiry: David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Selby-Bigge and Nidditch (eds.), O U P, 1983
 
JANIK & TOULMIN Wittgenstein’s : Allan Janik & Stephen Toulmin, Wittgenstein’s Vienna:Weidenfeld & Niolson, 1973
 
KATZ'Language': Steven T Katz, ‘Language, Epistemology and Mysticism’, in Steven T Katz (ed.), Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis,Sheldon Press, 1978
 
KERN Culture KERN1983: Stephen Kern, The Culture of Time and Space 1880 - 1918,Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1983
 
KERN Culture: Stephen Kern, The Culture of Time and Space 1880 - 1918,Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1983
 
KOJÈVE Introduction: Alexandre Kojève, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel:trans. James H Nichols, ed. Allan Bloom, Basic Books Inc, 1969
 
KRAUT'Introduction': Richard Kraut, ‘Introduction to the study of Plato’, in Richard Kraut (ed.)The Cambridge Companion to Plato, C U P, 1995
 
MacINTYRE After: Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue:2nd edn., Duckworth, 2003
 
MacINTYRE Ethics: Alasdair MacIntyre, A Short History of Ethics, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1971
 
MARCUSE Man:Herbert Maarcuse, One Dimensional Man , Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968
 
MARWICK'Approaches': Arthur Marwick, ‘Two Approaches to Historical Study: The Metaphysical (Including 'Postmodernism') and the Historical’, Journal of Contemporary History, Vol 30 No 1, 1995
 
MARWICK'Documents':Arthur Marwick, ‘ “A Fetish of Documents” ?: The Salience of Source-Based History’, in Henry Kozicki (ed.), Developments in Modern Historiography, Open University + Macmillan, 1998
 
MARWICK New: Arthur Marwick, The New Nature of History,Palgrave, 2001
 
MARX'Theses': Karl Marx, ‘Theses on Feuerbach’, in Karl Marx & Frederick Engels, Collected Works Vol 5, Lawrence & Wishart, 1976
 
MARX/ENG Manifesto: Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, trans. Samuel Moore, in Political Writings Vol 1, Penguin, 1981
 
McCARNEY'Endgame': Joseph McCarney, ‘Endgame’, Radical Philosophy, No 62, Autumn 1992
 
McCARNEY'Fukuyama': Joseph McCarney ‘Shaping Ends - Reflections on Fukuyama’, New Left Review, No 202, 1993
 
MEIKLE Essentialism: Scott Meikle, Essentialism in the Thought of Karl Marx,Duckworth, 1985
 
MEIKLE 'Marxism' MEIKLE 1983: Scott Miekle, ‘Marxism and the Necessity of Essentialism'’ – review of Ste Croix’s, The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World, Critique 16, 1983
 
MURDOCH Fire: Iris Murdoch, The Fire and the Sun:Based upon the Romanes Lecture 1976, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1977
 
NEEDHAM'Integrative': Joseph Needham, ‘Integrative Levels: A Revaluation of the Idea of Progress’, in Joseph Needham, Time: The Refreshing River, George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1943. Herbert Spencer Lecture, Oxford University, 1937
 
NOVACK Empiricism: George Novack, Empiricism and its Evolution - A Marxist View,Pathfinder, 1973
 
PLANT Radical: Sadie Plant, The Most Radical Gesture,Routledge, 1992
 
PLATORepublic: Plato, The Republic of Plato: 2nd edn, trans. Allan Bloom, Basic Books, 1991
 
POLLARD Progress: Sidney Pollard, The Idea of Progress Penguin, 1971
 
POSTMAN Amusing: Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, Methuen, 1987
 
ROSENFELD ‘Reflections’: Gavriel Rosenfeld, ‘Why Do We Ask "What If?" Reflections on the Function of Alternate History’, History and Theory, No 41, December 2002
 

06:14 pm

HEGEL’s Owl Of Minerva     24 October
 
 
For Hegel, philosophy can only arise when the societal order which is its object has taken final shape. Does philosophy have any leverage on the world? Is history at an end?
 
 
A further word on the subject of issuing instructions on how the world ought to be: philosophy, at any rate, always comes too late to perform this function. As the thought of the world, it appears only at a time when actuality has gone through its formative process and attained its complete state. This lesson of the concept is necessarily also apparent from history, namely that it is only when actuality has reached maturity that the ideal appears opposite the real and reconstructs this real world .. in the shape of an intellectual realm. When philosophy paints its grey in grey, a shape of life has grown old, and it cannot be rejuvenated but only recognized, by the grey in grey of philosophy; the owl of Minerva begins its flight only with the onset of dusk,
(G W F Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right, trans. H B Nisbet, ed. Allen W Wood, Cambridge University Press, 1991, p21)
 
 
This postion is one way of grasping the argument of Fukuyama that history, in the sense of the production of new societal orders is over: that there can be no mutations beyond liberal capitalist democracy. His argument for this order being the terminus of history is that;
1) It satisfies the fundamental human desire for recognition.
2) It makes possible, and is itself underpinned by, a technological rationality which makes it economically and militarily superior to any possible antagonists.
 
Whatever criticisms can be made of the details of Fukayama’s position it surely cannot be doubted that this expresses a major belief of present-day culture: That whatever massive changes occur in the future, this will be within the matrix of a societal order whose wealth-generation is structured around the wage-labour capital relationship.
 
For this reason, there is good reason for taking Hegel’s seemingly bizarre view seriously.

The Owl of Minerva and The End of History
 
 
The present-day commonsense of historiography expresses much the same postion as that of Hume’s dictum that 'all events are loose and separate'. Yet, at this co-exists with a position which - on the face of it - is in total contrast to and contradiction with it: namely the thesis of The End of History. This, of course, is the title of Fukuyama’s famous book. The central claim of this position is that liberal capitalist democracies are the final form of human societal organisation. In this sense history is at an end: there will obviously be events, but ‘history understood as a single coherent evolutionary process’ has terminated [1].
 
Fukuyama partly bases his position on the work of Alexandre Kojève, a French philosopher of enormous influence (see BLOOM'Introduction'). The major vehicle for Kojève’s teaching was his lectures on Hegel’s The Phenomenology of Spirit, which appeared in print as Introduction to the Reading of Hegel. Kojève’s argument is based on the implication of taking seriously what he takes to be Hegel’s view of historical development. In the penultimate paragraph of the Preface to Lectures on the Philosophy of Right, Hegel makes that point which is the target of Marx’s comment in the Theses on Feuerbach that ‘the philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it’ (MARX ‘Theses’, p5). Hegel claims that it is only possible to produce a scientific theory of a world when that world has ceased to develop – the point being that otherwise it might become something other than what it was contemporaneously with the theory. In what is surely one of the most melancholy statements on their own philosophy ever made: after rejecting the notion that philosophy can offer any kind of advice to the world, Hegel explains why this is so:
it is only when actuality has reached maturity that the ideal appears opposite the real and reconstructs this real world .. in the shape of an intellectual realm. When philosophy paints its grey in grey, a shape of life has grown old, and it cannot be rejuvenated but only recognized, by the grey in grey of philosophy; the owl of Minerva begins its flight only with the onset of dusk.
(HEGEL Right, p23)
 
Alan Bloom, the editor of Kojève’s Introduction explains why it must be, from the perspective of Hegel, that we are necessarily at the end of history. For Hegel:
nothing really new can again happen in the world [because this is] the ineluctable necessity of[the position that] human life [is] historically determined, for anyone who believes that thought is relative to time … For if thought is historical, it is only at the end of history that this fact can be known; there can only be knowledge [of this] if history at some point stops.
(BLOOM'Introduction', p x)
 
If knowledge is historical and if that is now realised in the self-consciousness of humanity at the present, then it follows that the human world itself now accords with reason, it is now rational. But as all of history has been the development of this, it follows that the development is complete, that history has terminated. Thus, we are now in post-history, we are involved in the reflection and enunciation of the consequences of this fact. In other words, the Absoluteness of the present-day is the necessary logical conclusion from its apparent relativism. This may suggest a connection between Endism (a kind of Absolutism) and Alternativism (a kind of relativism): as if the commonsense of a plurality of realities were taken seriously.
 
Now the thesis that humanity’s societal/cultural mutations have terminated is, of course, to our present-day sensibility a quite extraordinary claim. This is both because of the substantive claim and because to make any claim of such a scope seems like a voice from another time. The thesis appears so amazing that it is easy to see why many, on first encountering it, attempt to refute it with the banality that since Fukuyama much has happened which is quite properly called history – therefore, history is not at all at an end. But of course, that is not at all the point. The point of Fukuyama and of Kojève is that political/societal mutations are at an end: that whatever massive changes will occur, they will be within the framework – the ‘meta-narrative’ – of liberal democracy.
 
For Hegel, the central world-historical event of his time was the battle of Jena - the decisive victory of Napoleon over Prussia allied with Russia - this was:
the end of History properly so-called. In and by this battle the vanguard of humanity virtually attained the limit and the aim, that is the end, of man’s historical evolution. What has happened since then was but an extension in space of the universal revolutionary force actualised in France … From the authentically historical point of view, the two world wars with their retinue of large and small revolutions had only the effect of bringing the backward civilizations of the peripheral provinces into line with the most advanced .. European historical positions.
(KOJÈVE Hegel, p160)
 
This was how Kojève presented Hegel’s own vision. However, he was prepared to modify this vision by (to slip into Doctor Whoese) a temporal translation; in a lecture in 1937 he asserted that:
Hegel had seen something correct but had miscalculated by a century: the man at the end of history was not Napoleon but Stalin
(CALLINICOS Theories, p27, referring to a student’s notes)
 
Hegel once remarked, on seeing Napoleon at the Battle of Jena, that he had ‘seen the world spirit on horseback’. For Kojève, the world spirit was Stalin in a tank. So, I suppose, we could see Fukuyama as extending this translation to a present world-historical figure: Though shifting from Stalin in a T34 to George W Bush in an Abrams M1-A1 somehow does not have quite the same ring to it! As we will see later, it is significant that Kojève was a Stalinist.
 
At one and the same time the end-of-history-thesis seems, to present-day sensibility, both outrageous and utterly commonsensical. It is hard to overemphasise the sheer weirdness of the co-existence in presentday culture of Endism and of Alternativism. Alex Callinicos has pointed out that it was:
something of a paradox of recent intellectual history that the 1980s, the decade of postmodernism, should have ended with an attempt to rehabilitate the grandest of all secular narratives – Hegel’s philosophy of history.
(CALLINICOS Theories, p4)
But the paradox is compounded when that postmodernism expresses itself in a form of historiography which is dedicated to the proposition that historical processes do not have a determinate outcome, and that far from their being any single End to history there is an infinity of them – in other words, that there is no End at all. So it is not just that Endism finds itself in a culture which is saturated with the postmodernist sensibility, but that the specifically historiographical form of this seems to be constructed so as to be the absolute antithesis of any variety of Endism. To return to the - admittedly problematical notion - of the political unconscious: If a person holds two beliefs or attitudes which are, in the normal sense of things, contradictory in that they are mutually negating then we must suspect that there is something going on which is not apparent on the surface.
 
Fukuyama’s argument seems outrageous because it is taking absolutely seriously a theoretical position. It is - in the words of the editor of the English translation of Kojève - to take seriously ‘a book, knowledge of which is requisite to the full awareness of our situation’ (BLOOM ‘Introduction’, pvii). To take seriously any book of theory in our present-day climate of frivolity seems self-evidently absurd. In a world where academics put on fancy dress to attend a conference on the odious Harry Potter oeuvre [2] nothing seems so foolish as to engage in ‘the humble and old-fashioned business of spending years studying an old book’ (BLOOM ‘Introduction’, p xi). And, by the way, it is this which is behind Bloom’s excoriation of the postmodernist frivolity carried by the poisonous influence of Nietzsche (BLOOM Closing). Fukuyama was, of course, a student of Bloom [3].
 
Yet, at the same time as the Kojève/Fukuyama thesis in its explicit form seems absurd, yet Endism is utterly commonsensical to the present-day sensibility. It was the widespread assumption that there is no alternative to capitalism which enabled New Labour to jettison even the rhetoric of socialism from the culture of the Labour Party. Endism, in this sense, is embedded in such works as Anthony Giddens’ textbook Sociology and Will Hutton’s The State We’re In. Who now believes that there are any possibilities open to humanity other than the fine-tuning of the market as the modality for the organisation of total societal labour? Those famous words of Margaret Thatcher ‘There is no alternative’ are accepted by all from warcriminal Blair, through Mandela, through Putin to the political elite of the CPR [4].
 
 


[1] For a concise account of this argument, and discussion of some problems, see McCARNEY'Endgame'.
 
[2] See CADWALLADR ‘Harry’: an article which itself revels in this decadence.
 
[3] I am here treating The End of History as a coherent, univocal text. However, it has been persuasively argued that there are two voices arguing throughout this text: Kojève and Leo Strauss, - who had argued over the issue of Endism for several decades. (McCARNEY'Endgame', p36; McCARNEY'Fukuyama', p41). I will ignore this, as my concern here is with the way in which this text has been received.
 
[4] Who? We should recall Hegel’s remark that the American continent will be the site of a world-historical struggle and we might think on a remark by President Chavez: ‘the concrete utopia of Ernst Bloch is being constructed in Venezuela’ – but that is another story.
 

06:11 pm

HUME – ‘All events are loose and separate’
 
David Hume was a major figure of the European Enlightenment and one of the outstanding British contributors to this.
 
Hume regarded himself as a materialist, and saw his work as a contribution to purging thought of the toxins of metaphysics. This is a desire which every new generation of empiricists takes on anew. In the last century the followers of Hume have been Russell and the school of logical positivism, whose best known member in the UK was A J Ayer (AYER Language)
 
What is meant by ‘metaphysics’ here is the use of categories which are not the reflections of immediately perceptible events. Metaphysics is about ideas which do not form part of the empirical sciences, which are not of the same kind as such notions as:
·         evolution by natural selection
·        the kinetic theory of matter
·        the class-struggle as a pervasive level of the societal order.
 
One of the ways in which anti-metaphysical philosophies differ is as to whether they regard the issue as between good metaphysics and bad metaphysics; or as between metaphysics and no metaphysics. Hume and his followers are of the latter persuasion.
 
I will argue that philosophy of the Hume kind is unable to perform this work, and indeed generates, by a kind of necessity its own apparent opposite ie metaphysics.
 
I misquoted Hume in the flier. I rendered ‘events’ as ‘things’. Hume’s work is based on a tradition of atomistic metaphysics which stretches back at least to Democritus. Please note my claim that Hume does indeed have a metaphysics.
 
Plato is one of the figures who those who think like Hume wish to consign to the same room as the poets. You may remember that Plato wished to banish the poets because they thought with images and not with concepts. Hume, followed by Ayer and Reichenbach would have join them.
 
But remember that one of the points in Plato’s Cave parable is that the prisoners who can only see shadow of icons on the cave wall would count as knowledgeable those amongst them who could predict which shadow would next appear.
 
For Hume, this is indeed all that there is to knowledge. It is not that we could, even in principle turn away from the shadow display on the wall, leave the cave and see real things out in the sunlight. For him, there is nothing but shadows.
 
The shadows are the impressions which experiences make in our minds. But these shadows, these impressions are the imprint of the surfaces of things. When we go behind a surface what we find is not a depth which generates the appearance and gives us the essence of something. What we find is another surface ... and so on all the way down.
The scenes of the universe are continually shifting, and one object follows another in an uninterrupted succession; but the power or force, which actuates the whole machine, is entirely concealed from us, and never discovers itself in any of the sensible.qualities of body. We know, that, in fact, heat is a constant attendant of flame; but what is the connexion between them, we have no room so much as to conjecture or imagine.
(HUME Enquiry, p63)
 
we never can .. discover any thing but one event following another … there appears not, throughout all nature, any one instance of connexion which is conceivable by us. All events seem entirely loose and separate. One event follows another; but we never can observe any tie between them
(HUME Enquiry, p74)
 
In this view the events in the world have no essences, they are colligations of appearances, yet appearances which are not in contrast to a reality. Likewise, the self has no enduring core, but is a bundle of impressions and memories.
 
In the word of one commentator:
What remained of the foundations of knowledge after Hume’s surgery? Nothing but what is immediately before us in sensation. Verifiable knowledge was contracted to the pinpoint of the individual’s own impressions and ideas at the very moment of experiencing them.
(NOVACK Empiricism:, p69)
 
But, nonetheless, we do use the notions of causality and of agency. Why? Because we are compelled to do so out of practicality. We cannot function in the world without these, and for this reason, they are for H of importance as expressions of the animal passions. We use these out of custom, not out of reason. They have no logical justification, but they are what we must use. For Hume, when the philosophy quits his study he becomes one with the vulgar and joins with them in using notions which as a philosophy he would diss.
 
Now, is this a satisfactory position. That the discourses of the philosophy and the everyday are incommensurable. Surely it is, at least, problematical.

Oct. 9th, 2006

04:53 pm

Hello to all course attendees. I apologise for my dilatoriness in posting this. But I have recently started work full-time. The trouble with such is that … it takes up so much of one’s time!!

The next posting will be at the end of this week, re Hume + bibliographical essay. It will be followed by notes on Hegel.

It seems to me that it must be obvious to anyone who makes the effort of effecting a distance from the taken-for-granted categories generated by the present societal order that its nature is obscured by these very notions. The purpose of this course is to look at a number of … let us call them … pictures, which have been offered by a number of thinkers in the history of European philosophy. We will try to see what we can make of them as tools for making sense of the present-day.

Though each session is free-standing, in that it will not presuppose attendance at earlier ones, there are a number of themes which, I hope, will link the sessions into some sort of unity. These are:
The question of the intelligibility of the human world.
The rationality of historical agency,
The cultural matrix of market relations.
The argument that the present-day has characteristics which mark a break with previous societal forms.

PLATO’s Cave 10 October
In Book VII of the Republic Plato constructs a powerful image of the non-philosophical vision as chained to an illusory world of images. This image of ordinary persons as being like a prisoners in a cave whose only access to the real is as spectators of shadows of puppets functioned to legitimate a despotic state. What is remarkable about his fable of the prisoners is that it is an uncannily accurate picture of the physical situation of viewers in a cinema watching the projected image on the screen.

A photograph of a cinema audience, all wearing 3-D vision specs was used on the cover of one of the English edn. of one of the works of the Situationists - a revolutionary movement of the mid-20the C which - though taking its inspiration form Feuerback, not from Plato - made the construction of the subject as a spectator the centrepiece of its politico-philosophical project.

Plato’s parable implies that the mass of humanity are passive spectators of an illusory show. As such, they must be incapable of being effective agents in history. Part of the purpose of this image, for Plato, was to legitimate the rule of those who could comprehend the real - the philosophers. The historical agent of the last century which most approximated to Plato’s vision was the theory of the revolutionary party expressed by Kautsky and then by Lenin. Whereas Plato regarded the enthralment to illusions as part of the human condition; for this tradition it was the situation of the wage-worker, necessarily entrapped by the material categories through which capital extracts surplus-product.

But what was shared by Plato and by these marxists was the notion that liberation from the chains of illusion could only come from outside the life of the prisoner. Guy Debord, key figure in Situationism, argued that the point was not to comprehend historical situations, but to make them.

However, if we conceive of historical subjects as subjected to external manipulation and devoid of autonomy, then how can we have any politics other than one of despotism? Some may argue that, at the deepest level, this is the root of Stalinism. This is, in part, the motivation behind Postmodernism’s rejection of 'Grand Narratives'.

The questions I would like us to consider around the image of the prisoners in the cave are:
Does this parable have any resonance for us now?
Does it seem to be about the political, or about the metaphysical.?
Is there not a chasm at the centre of this metaphor?
Why are the prisoners there? Whose interests do they serve? They are in chains, but why bother to provide them with the shadow-show?

The edn. of the Republic which I will refer to is Alan Bloom’s. His Preface should make clear why I do so. However any other English trans. will do for the image of the Cave..


PARABLES BIBLIOGRAPHY

ANNAS Republic: Julia Annas, An Introduction to Plato’s Republic, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1981

BARROW Plato: Robin Barrow, Plato and Education, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1976

BEER Darwin’s: Gillian Beer, Darwin’s Plots, 2nd edn, Cambridge University Press, 2000

CROMBIE Examination: I M Crombie, An Examination of Plato’s Doctrines Vol I, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969

DARWIN Origin: Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, ed. J W Barrow, Penguin, 1978

GEYL 'American': Pieter Geyl, ‘The American Civil War and the Problem of Inevitability’, in his Debates with Historians, Fontana, 1970. 1st publ. in Mededelingen of the Dutch Academy, 1949

GEYL 'Inevitability': Pieter Geyl, ‘Historical Inevitability (Isiah Berlin)’. in his Debates with Historians, Fontana, 1970. 1st publ. in his Tochten en Toernooien, 1950

HAVELOCK Plato: Eric A Havelock, Preface to Plato: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1963

JANIK & TOULMIN: Wittgenstein’s: Allan Janik & Stephen Toulmin, Wittgenstein’s Vienna: Weidenfeld & Niolson, 1973

KATZ 'Language': Steven T Katz, ‘Language, Epistemology and Mysticism’, in Steven T Katz (ed.), Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis, Sheldon Press, 1978

KERN Culture: Stephen Kern, The Culture of Time and Space 1880 - 1918, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1983

KRAUT 'Introduction': Richard Kraut, ‘Introduction to the study of Plato’, in Richard Kraut (ed.)The Cambridge Companion to Plato, C U P, 1995

MacINTYRE Ethics: Alasdair MacIntyre, A Short History of Ethics, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1971

MARCUSE Man: Herbert Maarcuse, One Dimensional Man , Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968

MURDOCH Fire: Iris Murdoch, The Fire and the Sun: Based upon the Romanes Lecture 1976, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1977

NETTLESHIP Republic: Richard Lewis Nettlship, Lectures on the Republic of Plato, Macmillan & Co, 1951

PLANT Radical: Sadie Plant, The Most Radical Gesture, Routledge, 1992

PLATO Republic: Plato, The Republic of Plato, 2nd edn, trans. Allan Bloom, Basic Books, 1991

POLLARD Progress: Sidney Pollard, The Idea of Progress, Penguin, 1971

Sep. 7th, 2006

05:23 pm

 
Philosophical Parables
 
 
A course of eight evening classes, organised by the South Place Ethical Society (Humanist educational charity), presented by David Murray.
Beginning 10 October 2006
 
 
We will consider some of the most powerful images in European philosophy, as a way of thinking about linked themes around the nature of knowledge and of modernity.
The focus will not be on textual exposition, but on using the images as a basis for discussion and exploration. Though there will be some connection between sessions each one will be free-standing, in that it can be followed on its own.
 
----------------------------------------------------------------
PLATO’s Cave     10 October
This powerful image of the non-philosophical vision as chained to an illusory world of images functioned to legitimate a despotic state. But can we use it to critique a media-saturated world?
 
HUME’s ‘All Things Are Loose And Separate’     17 October
It’s hard to overestimate the extent to which this Enlightenment figure articulates the most unreflective everyday commonsense. But is it really surface all the way down?
 
HEGEL’s Owl Of Minerva     24 October
For Hegel, philosophy can only arise when the societal order which is its object has taken final shape. Does philosophy have any leverage on the world? Is history at an end?
 
MARX’s ‘All That Is Solid Melts Into Air’     31 October
This remarkable image, in his paen to the revolutionary nature of the business-class, pictures capitalism as swept by waves of ‘creative destruction’. And yet … it seems so solid: which is the actuality?
 
ENGELS’ Escalator     7 November
Progress is not what it used to be … i.e. is not at all. The idea that history has a direction - or is even intelligible - is now routinely dissed by historians and philosophers. Is there anything at all to be saved from this notion?
 
DARWIN’s Entangled Bank     14 November
The Origin ends with an intricate picture of immense organic complexity generated by the operation of a single principle. This picture has been taken as a model for a societal totality. But is there such a thing?
 
WITTGENSTEIN’s Ladder     21 November
At the close of one of the strangest works of philosophy its author, like a Zen master, urges us to bin it once we have understood it. How come this seeming rigorous philosophy licences mysticism?
 
WEBER’s ‘Iron Cage’     28 November
Is Alasdair McIntyre correct in his assessment of Weber as providing the common-sense of our epoch by coupling technological reason with an irrational choice of ends?
 
----------------------------------------------------------------
Classes begin on Tuesday, 10 October 2006.
Meet @ 18:30 for prompt 19:00 start. Classes finish @ 21:00.
The Library, Conway Hall Humanist Centre, Red Lion Sq, London WC1.
 
A text for each class will be available at the preceding one. That for the first one will be available at the discussion blog for the course, here:
www.livejournal.com/users/presentvisions
 
Further information from: 07985 958951
or www.ethicalsoc.org.uk

Jun. 26th, 2006

03:34 pm - Text for talk on Brave New World

Brave New World
 
 
 
Who - without looking it up - got the allusion in the title?
 
This points to one of the ways in which a proponent of AH’s vision could say that it is now coming true.
 
It’s very easy to see how this vision can be taken as now more prescient than when it was first mooted. Consider:
The vastly greater role of the State in civil society.
The increasing prescriptiveness of education.
The banalisation of the mass media.
 
Yet also consider what is missing:
·         He never conceives of TV as an individualised pastime, it is always in the movie-house; this is part of his notion that mass society wishes to erode the individual - there is a sense in which this is correct, but it is in a more modulated way than he conceives of.
 
·         There is no mention of advertising. This is a really astonishing omission. Why are there not slogans on the buildings, why do the feelies not include injunctions to consume?
Did he actually work for an advertising agency?
 
What I want to suggest is that this notion of the prescience of BNW is wholly mistaken and that the real reason for the resonance of the book is because it is based on, and reproduces deep ideological tropes, that it works just because it articulates a kind of ‘common-sense’ which is actually a part of what it appears to be in opposition to.
 
---------------------------------------------------
Firstly, to outline the background and the plot of BNW:
AH’s story is set in our 2540. In the calendar of this world it is 632AF - After Ford, ie after the first production of the Model T motor car. It is a world under a global state, established after the Nine Years War of our 2049. The societal order is a system of five castes, to which embryos are assigned in gestation, which is artificial. This is the feature of the world which is most clearly science-fictional - humans are grown in hatcheries, the principle of Fordist mass-production applied to the production of humans. Note that even the outlines of its economic system are extremely vague – we will return to this later. There is some small mention of money, though at some points it appears as if the lower castes are paid in soma - the ubiquitous chemical which is an all-purpose drug in this world . The major, indeed only economic problem, appears to be that the rational employment of technology would lead to an excess of free time and thus to discontent amongst the lower castes.
 
The ruling elites of this world are benevolent, they act out of a sense of duty. We learn that at least some of them are chosen from intellectual dissidents, who are offered the choice of either becoming one of the College of Controllers or of being permanently exiled to one of a large number of islands were intelligent dissidents are sent to. Note that the only dissidents we hear of are intellectual ones – there is absolutely no sense that could be any conflict of material interests in this world.
 
It is a world which is, as Morris noted of his own utopia, a ‘time of repose’ - it is static, the 'stablest equilibrium in history', as Mond puts it. But unlike Morris’ world, it is an equilibrium which is maintained by the continuous, frenetic practice of production, by consumption of the products of such, and by the febrile pacification of the producers by soma, uncommitted sex, meaningless sports and total sensory immersive cinema. In this way it is actually not satirical exaggeration of the world in which Huxley wrote - a world characterised, at least in its appearance, by the continual reproduction of pseudo-novelty, where 'all that is solid melts into air'. It is clear that totalitarian control is far from absolute, as is shown by the presence of islands for the exile of dissidents, by the ever-ready riot police equipped with soma aerosols and anaesthetic sprays, and by the occasional failures of embryo-rearing.
 
Visually, this world is very much that of the cityscapes of the science-fiction comics of its time: sterile cities of towering buildings, a landscape familiar from Metropolis, . Politically, its vision is a kind of negative Fabian utopia: a managed capitalism where the masses are kept in their places by a an enlightened elite - the kind of thing favoured by such as George Bernard Shaw, who believed not just in eugenics, but in the extermination of the unfit. We are told that his works are the only ones from the past which are permitted in this world; there is no explanation for this in the logic of the text, its only explanation must be extrinsic - presumably that for Huxley he was an icon of the modernist sensibility which he loathed. Indeed, we could take Brave New World as a satire on the nostrums favoured by many of the people whose images are around us, in the library of Conway Hall, and who have sat and lectured in this room: world government, rule by an educated elite, eugenics, birth-control, sexual mores modelled on those of Margaret Mead’s Samoa (Growing Up in New Guinea had just been published).
 
The motto of the World State is ‘Community, Identity, Stability’. The meaning of this is brought out in Adorno’s commentary:
Community defines a collectivity in which each individual is unconditionally subordinated to the functioning of the whole … Identity means the elimination of individual differences .. stability the end of all social dynamics
(ADORNO Prisms, p99)
 
It’s worth noting how the tone of some of these terms has changed. 'Community' is now, in our present-day an unquestioned buzz-word, used by everyone from the BNP to Respect 'Identity' now means the assertion of difference: it is who I who is different from, but as good as who you are for. But for Huxley in this motto of the World State it means what it says: equality, which means sameness.
 
The story is straightforward: Bernard Marx (the Bernard is of Claude Bernard and/or GBS) is an outsider, he is clearly constructed in the way that English conservatives pictures the Jewish intellectual dissident: a physical oddity, compensating for his ugliness by an imagined intellectual superiority, which goes along with political posturing and moral cowardice. Indeed this caricature goes back further: to the first picture in Western literature of the dissident, Thersites in the Iliad. Marx is unpopular with his boss and is in danger of being sent to exile, not to Siberia, but to Iceland. Meanwhile, the pneumatic [1] Lenina is the subject of disapproving gossip because of her long term – 4 months – relation with Herbert Foster.. Part of the comedy of the story is the continuance of a general interest in the sexual behaviour of folks, but with an inversion of the content of this moralism: monogamy is now frowned upon, it is immoral to be with one person for an extended period of time. In order to escape social censure Lenina attaches herself to Bernard. They go off on holiday to a Reservation, where savages are preserved as objects of curiosity. There they chance upon the ex-girl friend of Bernard’s boss, who had got lost on a similar holiday several years earlier. She has committed the great sin of becoming pregnant and having the baby. Seeing his chance to shaft his boss, Bernard manages to take them back to the UK.
 
The bulk of the reminder of the book is devoted to the conflict between the son, John, and the sterile world of BNW. A centrepiece of it is a meeting with one of the world controllers, Mustapha Mond, who explains to Marx and Herbert Foster why the world must be as it is. This exchange bears comparison with the interrogation scenes in Nineteen Eighty Four between Smith and O’Brien. It seems to me very likely that Orwell had this exchange in mind, especially at that moment when O’Brien asks Smith why he thinks The Party rules, and Smith replies in terms which could have been taken from Mond’s talk, to the effect that the masses cannot rule themselves and they need guidance …. at which point O’Brien gives Smith an extra powerful electric shock for being so stupid.
 
John makes a futile attempt to rouse a group of lower caste workers from their apathy, then flees to the countryside and in a slapstick ending becomes a of tourist attraction for hordes of sensation-seekers and hangs himself as the only way of escaping.
-------------------------------------------------
 
The first thing to be noted is that considered as a story, as a novel, this is a very poor work. Its characters have no life, there is nothing in them with which we can either identify or empathise. The plot is as weak as that of a bedroom farce, which in many ways it resembles. the Savage, in particular is an absurd invention. A man brought up in a culture which has a fertility and animistic religion who turns out to have the prejudices, inhibitions and artistic and sexual tastes – all that flag – of a late 19th C English public-school boy.
 
It is quite wrong to see this as in any way a dissident work. It fits very nicely, thank you very much with a tradition by which the hegemonic culture continually secretes mockeries, parodies and sham criticisms of itself. Think of the way in which corporations and the state are now routinely cast as villains in Hollywood movies. All of these are sham, just because they are in the cynical mode, by which I mean a mode which will continually mock the pretensions and hypocrisies of the powerful, yet which can conceive of no other world – it is a kind of court jester.
 
And yet, this book has worked as a potent fable, referred to time and time again as a prescient account of our world. Why? Let’s look more at the way in which BNW relates to its own time and to ours. Its world is a kind of triumphalist hypermodernism. It is significant, and also a kind of cheap pantomime joke, that almost all of the characters have names which allude to persons in the recent past of the present of its writing, and they are all icons of the modernist sensibility, or at least as construed by someone of Huxley’s sensibility.
 
Benito
Mond
Rothschild
Diesel
Morgana
Bakunin
Marx
Bradlaugh
Hoover
Helmholtz
Watson (after J B, behaviourist psychologist and later advertising man)
Bernard
 
It may be noted that a remarkable absence, in terms of his ideas and his influence is Bertrand Russell - I would guess because he was personally known to Huxley.
 
Though BNW appears to satirise modernity it is complicit with many of the deepest assumptions of the dominant culture.
 
What Huxley has done is to put together figures who might easily be thought of as contraries: Ford and Freud, Marx and Ford, Freud and Watson. Mechanised production and sexual freedom; the capitalist and the communist; the depth-psychologist and the behaviourist. It is in this construction that the deep conservatism of his vision lies.
 
It’s important to note that Huxley was of the first generation which was aware of mass-production: ie a conveyor belt off which come an in-principle endless stream of identical commodities. This is the great importance of the figure of Ford, which conveniently rhymes with ‘Lord’ so we can get ‘our ford’ and ‘our Fordship’. Even more convenient, take the crissie cross, lop off the bit above the horizontals and we get a T.
 
The importance of Ford was not just his adoption of Taylorism but his recognition that the societal totality in which this work-practice was inserted implied
mass consumption, a new system of the reproduction of labour power, a new politics of labour control and management, a new aesthetics and psychology
(HARVEY Condition, p126)
 
He realised that the imperatives of the new kind of production went far beyond the factory gates. The essence of Fordism was to take the control of the labour process which had been theorised by Frederick Taylor and to realise that this entailed the construction of, in effect, a new type of human who would be not just in the factory, but in their life at home, at school and in recreation – where they would re-create themselves as the Fordist worker.
 
For Ford the life of the worker outside the factory was important in producing a new type of workers who would be not just diligent producers, but avid consumers. To this end Ford 'sent an army of social workers into the homes' of his workers (HARVEY Condition, p126). The cultural importance of this was seen by Antonio Gramsci, writing in his Prison Notebooks as Huxley was writing this work. However Gramsci, like most, if not all, contemporary commentators other than Huxley got the content of this new culture precisely wrong. It seemed to Gramsci, as it had seemed to Ford himself, that the extra-factory life of this new worker would be characterised by those virtues often summed-up in the phrase ‘’The Protestant Ethic – a code of behaviour and a structure of feeling characterised by devotion to work, by frugality, self-discipline, strict time keeping, sobriety and distaste for self-indulgence. What Ford partly saw was that this would result in a population who were excellent producers, but poor consumers and the realisation of profit does, of course, demand that manufactured commodities must be sold. He realised that his austere producers must be avid consumers.
 
What he failed to see was that the logic of Taylorism meant that the worker need not be internally motivated by a work ethic. This was only necessary when the worker was not supervised and thus had, to paraphrase Marx on Protestantism, got the foreman inside of his head. The Taylor revolution was to take the craft-knowledge of the worker, convert it into algorithms, decompose it and put it at the command of the managerial strata. In other words, Fordism put the foreman back outside the head of the worker. The most skilled of workers was to become in actuality what they had always been in the discourse of the bourg – ‘hands’. Because of this the logic of Fordism made the Protestant ethic unnecessary at work and a hindrance outside of it.
 
This was what Huxley had seen, hence he saw that a caste society, a permanent despotic control over labour need not go along with sexual repression. In this he saw far more clearly the nature of the administration of labour-power than was seen by his contemporary Wilhem Reich – he realised that in many ways the happy worker was the better worker. His vision was that the more animalistic the human was in those parts of his life which he shared with animals, the sexual  - the more he could be dehumanised in that part of his life which was essentially human – labour. What this resulted in was a world in which there is
a degree of introjection and integration of social pressure and coercion far beyond that of the Protestant ethic
(ADORNO Prisms, p100)
 
Now this insight of his fits, it seems to me very uneasily, with the plain fact, that viewed as a speculation on a possible form of life, BNW is as nonsensical as it is as a novel. We are told that there must be a caste system, because it was shown experimentally that a society of alphas would be utterly unviable and would rapidly degenerate into civil war. Now a major reason for this was that alphas do not want to do menial, boring work. Yet, at the same time, we are told that the technology which could drastically shorten socially necessary labour time must be inhibited because were it to be applied then there would be a shortage of work for the lower castes to perform and they would become discontented. Now this is plainly an ideological move, it has no basis in logic or reality, it is about justifying things as they are. It is an echo of our actual world – again in the words of Adorno:
Today class lines have .. lost their ‘natural’ character, an illusion created during the undirected history of mankind, so that classes can be perpetuated only through arbitrary selection and co-option [in the hatcheries of the World State] … the directors create an artificial slum atmosphere. In the midst of unlimited possibility they organize degradation and regression
(ADORNO Prisms, p100-01)
 
So in one way Huxley has no grasp of political economy, yet he sees something about the cultural imperatives of a world of mass production, mass consumption and the complete absorption of civil society by the state which eluded most others of his time. Why?
 
Why? Because he participated in the vision of Brave New World in that his own authorial voice is split between the two figures of Mond and of the Savage. In one way it is clear that the savage is Huxley – the man who prefers the primitive and the natural to the modern and the false, who speaks in the tongue of Shakespeare, yet just because this is the voice of the savage it shows itself to be also the voice of nature. The authorial voice of Huxley is in part that of the Savage, spurning the advances of 'the strumpet' Lenina – a name obviously echoing that of John’s mother, Linda – being harassed by the sensation-seeking mob who can only escape by killing himself. But his voice is also that of the urbane Mustapha Mond – the man who realises that mass education is dangerous and that, for their own good, the masses must be stifled and managed as the only way which will give us stability. Remember that Huxley was just of an age to have been vaguely aware of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria and to have been affected by her death. He grew to manhood in those years which nostalgia has constructed as the long, blue-skyed summer of Edwardian liberalism, but which was in fact torn by strife over gender (suffragism), class (the military in Liverpool) and Ireland (Civil War being expected). A return to stability, even an imagined one, was something which Huxley must have yearned for.
 
This was the split which AH felt when he visited the industrial midlands shortly before writing this book. He was appalled by its poverty, yet was even more horrified by what seemed to him the alternative – a society of mass plenty, but one which would thus be the rule of the mediocre.
 
An alternative to running and hiding was to write a novel that would show that, bad as mass misery is, mass happiness would be worse. This was the genesis of Brave New World
(CAREY Intellectuals, p87)
 
Its premise is that what the masses are capable of is vulgar, shallow and worthless - but that this would be the price to be paid for stability.
The implication of Huxley’s novel is that mass happiness is inherently inferior. Only the solitary individual can experience happiness that is significant or profound.
(CAREY Intellectuals, p88)
 
For Huxley, a world without suffering would be one which was soft and ignoble. The human spirit needs pain and hardship, his 'notion of the human spirit as combative and aspiring corresponds exactly to Nietzsche’s' (see Beyond Good and Evil). This is view which certainly has deep roots in Euro culture, it shows
the heritage of Christianity, with its emphasis on redemptive suffering, as well as vestiges if the ethic that was used to underwrite nineteenth-century expansionism and imperialism - the systems of exploitation that produced the European leisured class to which Huxley and Nietzsche belonged. (ibid)
 
The novel works because it appears to express the dominant commonsense that somehow suffering and strife are noble and that any world which does not endorse this will be a shallow and sterile one.
 
The very fact that Huxley’s work has the resonance it has should lead us to worry about the world which makes it seem a reasonable vision
 
The apparent paradox of BNW is that insofar as it has any discernible political contours it is a state capitalism, yet is one which has obliterated the individual
Its highest moral principle .. is that everyone belongs to everyone, an absolute interchangeability that extinguishes man as an individual being .. and defines him as existing merely for the sake of others
(ADORNO Prisms, p104-5)
 
In one sense, its vision is too optimistic - is such in the sense that Huxley believed in the subversive power of ideas. Old books (with the exception of those of George Bernard Shaw) are banned because of fear of their effects. A few decades after Huxley another European intellectual in California, Herbert Marcuse, came to the realisation that the world satirised by Huxley was capable of absorbing dissenting ideas, this was what he called 'repressive tolerance'.
 
The actual world which was forming as Huxley composed his dystopia is well characterised by Neil Postman, in his devastating critique of the mass media:
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book … Orwell feared that we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy … Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.
(POSTMAN Amusing, pviii)
 
___________________________________________________________________________________


[1] A term from that other anti-modernist and anti-Semite T S Eliot’s 'Whispers of Immortality'. This is a word now used in the porno-press. Whether this was derived from Huxley’s book, or whether it was already in use by the time of Eliot’s poem (1918) and he picked it up as part of his technique of using scraps from his contemporary culture.
 
Presumably her name alludes to some remarks by Lenin on the relative unimportance for the Party of individual sexual morality. The point here is not what Lenin actually said or what he meant, but how his remarks were taken. Bolshevism was associated in the popular mind, for much of the 1920s with lax sexuality

03:29 pm - Revised book list

Visions of the Present:
some books
 
 
The following notes are in no way intended as a comprehensive bibliography. They are sources which I have found useful and which raise some of the issues which will be touched on in particular classes. It is not a précis of my talks, but a fairly free-associative list of themes and problems. I hope to post an outline of each talk a few days before each one – but that may be a utopian hope J. Publication dates for some widely-available works are missing; some are not to hand as I write; a line of *** means a serious omission. I will update this list from time to time, see:
www.livejournal.com/users/presentvisions.
 
For a discussion of some of the issues in utopian literature and a more focussed bibliography, see BRUCE'Introduction'.
 
-----------------------------------------------------
 
News from Nowhere
This was written in part as a response to Edward BELLAMY’s technocratic vision of statist collectivism. It bears comparison with more recent utopias by Ernst CALLENBACH and by Marge PIERCY depicting anarcho-communist worlds which combine rural living with advanced technology. Both of these emerged from 1970s American counter-culture and New Left politics … it may be some while before their like appears again ! On Bellamy and Morris see MORTON English. The political background to this in dealt with in THOMPSON Morris. The roots of Morris’ medievalism are sketched in WILLIAMS Culture, Pt 1, Ch 7
 
The enormous importance in the history of English radicalism of a particular historical legend is discussed in HILL 'Norman'. A recent defence of the importance of heritage in the construction of an anti-capitalist vision by someone from the tradition descended from Morris is SAMUEL Theatres; this is in part a criticism of the anti-heritagism of WRIGHT Living. A polemic against a politics which uses heritage is FUREDI Mythical (the relevance of the author’s later political trajectory is a moot point !). For a wider discussion of some aspects of the politics of tradition, see NEOCLEOUS Monstrous
 
Part of Morris’ utopia is a hostility to cities, see BURUMA & MARGALIT Occident for a critical discussion of this.
 
Some of the difficulty in our response to Morris is that the culture which nurtured his vision has vanished, far a brief evocation of that culture see ELEY Forging 113-5
 
 
Brave New World
POSTMAN Amusing is an incisive critique of present-day culture in a way which takes Brave New World as a paradigmatic vision. For a criticism of those cultural fashions which have taken on the notion that the world has dissolved into a version of the ‘feelies’ see NORRIS Uncritical; his main target is BAUDRILLARD Simulations. An interesting conservative criticism of the culture of television is HITCHENS Abolition Ch 6. For a discussion of the importance of Henry Ford, see HARVEY Condition, Ch 8.
 
For a brief and incisive demolition of Huxley’s pretensions as a social critic, see CAREY Intellectuals - which also reminds us of some of the endorsements of barbarism by several of the figures in the 'progressive' tradition celebrated at Conway Hall, such as Shaw and H G Wells. ADORNO Prisms contains a sustained critique of Huxley, arguing that his vision is actually of the same order as that which it appears to be condemning - and this is partly explains its familiarity and popularity.
 
SHERBORNE Notes is a useful explanation of the sources of the characters’ names, the significance of most of which has now faded. It has a bibliography on Huxley and on Orwell. He has also written a similar guide to Nineteen Eighty Four, which I have not seen.
 
The culture from which this novel came, and to which it spoke, is evoked in GRAVES & HODGE Long. It seems to me that there are some parallels between Huxley’s attitude toward modernity and that of the literary and cultural critic F R Leavis - for a good dissing of him see ANNAN Age, Ch 20.
 
It’s now hard to realise that in the recent past it was assumed by both conservatives and revolutionaries that sexual repression, or at the very least Puritanism, was a major component of the fabric of political order. See, for example, the writings of Wilhelm Reich. Apart from the rantings of the crissie and mossie fundies, it’s hard to find anyone who now believes this. But for an early critique of some aspects of this, see JACOBY Social, ‘The Politics of Subjectivity’. In this sense, Huxley here appears more prescient than our next vision.
 
 
Nineteen Eighty Four
Yevgeny ZAMYATIN was one of the major sources of Orwell’s vision. The central image in this, the transparent dwellings, is derived from DOSTOEVSKY Underground, which in its turn is a rejection of BENTHAM’s view of political order. On Dostoevsky’s response to Bentham, see CARROLL Crystal. For a discussion of the device which is the origin of the telescreen, Bentham’s Panopticon, see FOUCAULT Discipline. One of the puzzles of Nineteen Eighty Four is its use of BURNHAM - see ORWELL’s criticism of his book. For the political background to James Burnham, see DEUTSCHER Outcast. For a discussion of Orwell see WILLIAMS Orwell and his later sharp modification of this, WILLIAMS Politics Pt V, Ch 2.
 
Orwell’s loathing of the politics of Stalinism derived from his experience of the betrayal by the Stalinists of the Spanish Revolution, see ORWELL Homage. For a sense of what he felt, see Ken Loach’s magnificent movie, partly based on it, Land and Freedom. To get some idea of the culture satirised in the figure of the oleaginous Parsons, see SAMUEL 'LWBC 1 - 3'.
 
For a savage attack on Orwell, by an avowed Stalinist see, once again, MORTON English: though I have listed this as a secondary work it is, in a strange way, also a primary source - both celebrating Morris, and denouncing Orwell for his polemic against Uncle Joe !!
 
Another influence on Orwell was LONDON Iron. It might be interesting to explore the uses of Orwell by White Racial Nationalists, given their use of the title of London’s novel, itself one of the key images in Nineteen Eighty Four, as a synonym for ‘ZOG’ and ‘The New World Order’.
 
 
The Space Merchants
For an early appreciation of this, see AMIS New. An example of the culture-criticism which this novel parallels is PACKARD Hidden. BOORSTIN Image is relevant here, as it is for Huxley. There is a discussion of the dissident impulse in contemporary American science-fiction in PILGRIM ***.
 
MARCUSE One takes up the native culture-criticism of the likes of Packard and injects into it the Critical Theory developed along with the abortive European revolutions of the 1920s - over 40 years old, this book is now more relevant than ever.
 
It is one of the oddities of American cultural history that so much of its writing has been - at least at some level - anti-cap. The reason this seems a puzzle is that one of the most influential books on British culture of the last two decades, WIENER English has argued that English literary culture has been massively anti-business and anti-technology. RUBINSTEIN Capitalism shows that this is not at all peculiar to the UK, but was the case in those nations (the USA and the German Federal Republic) used by Wiener and his many followers (eg Corelli Barnett and Margaret Thatcher) as paragons of those business virtues supposedly lacking in th UK. So the most powerful capitalist nations have had a strong culture which appeared to be anti-cap … how come? HEATH & POTTER Rebel offer a disturbing answer to this.
 
 
Making History
I came to read this book because I met - in a sense - its key character when I was a student at Ruskin College. (see www.livejournal.com/users/david_murray for post which will appear shortly - you’ll have to read the book to get the joke!).
 
Some other alternate history novels are: AMIS Alteration; MOORE Bring; DICK Man (Amis’ novel features an alternate version of this … if you see what I mean). Those with a stomach for multi-volume whoppers might try Harry Turtledove’s series The Great War (like Moore’s this is premised on a Confederate victory, seemingly a popular idea in this genre … I wonder why J ?). Don’t confuse it with his World War series, which has a race of feudal saurians invading Earth in 1940.
 
For a discussion of Alternate History see FERGUSON ‘Virtual’ and ROBERTS ‘Introduction’; for some examples of this genre, see the essays in those collections. Other volumes of such are COWLEY What? and COWLEY More. An attempt to theorise the cultural significance of alternate history is ROSENFELD ‘Reflections’. For the use of a kind of alternate history in the political memory of a defeated tradition, see PORTELLI ‘Uchronic’. For a gateway to Alternate History on the Web, see www.uchronia.net.
 
I strongly recommend a forthcoming talk - 

‘Alternate History and The End of History’, 

organised by Philosophy for All, @ The George Tavern, 
The Strand, London WC2R 1AP 
(Opposite The Royal Coursts of Justice), 2 August, 19:30.

YOU CAN FIND A MAP AT www.multimap.com and pasting the postcode into the search field.
__________________________________
 
BIBLIOGRAPHY - NOVELS
 
AMIS Alteration: Kingsley Amis, The Alteration, Jonathan Cape, 1976
 
BELLAMY Looking: Edward Bellamy,  Looking Backward, Penguin,
 
CALLENBACH Ecotopia: Ernst Callenbach, Ecotopia, Pluto Press, 1976
 
DICK Man: Philip K Dick, The Man in the High Castle
 
DOSTOEVSKY Underground: Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground, trans. and ed. Michael R Katz, WW Norton, New York, 1989. Also available in Penguin, and in Walter Kaufman (ed.),  Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre.
 
FRY Making: Stephen Fry, Making History,Arrow, 1997
 
HUXLEY Brave: Aldous Huxley, Brave New World,Grafton Books, 1988
 
LONDON Iron: Jack London, The Iron Heel, Bantam, 1971
 
MOORE Bring: Ward Moore, Bring the Jubilee, Four Square, 1965
 
MORRIS News: William Morris, News from Nowhere, in Asa Briggs (ed.), William Morris - Selected Writings and Designs, Penguin, 1980
ORWELL Nineteen: George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty Four,Penguin, 1955
PIERCY Woman: Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time, The Women’s Press,
 
POHL & KORNBLUTH Space: Frederik Phol & C M Kornbluth, The Space Merchants,John Goodchild, Wendover, 1984
 
ZAMYATIN We: Yevgeny Zamyatin, We, Penguin,
 
 
 
BIBLIOGRAPHY - SECONDARY WORKS
 
ADORNO Prisms: Theodor Adorno, Prisms, trans. Samuel & Shierry Weber, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass, 1986
 
AMIS New: Kingsley Amis, New Maps of Hell,Gollancz, 1961
 
ANNAN Age: Noel Annan, Our Age: The Generation That Made Post-War Britain, Harper Collins, 1995
 
BAUDRILLARD Simulacra: Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, trans. Sheila Faria Glaser, University of Michingan Press, 1994
 
BENTHAM Panopticon: Jeremy Bentham, The Panopticon Papers, Verso
 
BOORSTIN Image: Daniel J Boorstin, The Image, Penguin, 1961
 
BRIGGS'Morris': Asa Briggs,'The Appeal of William Morris', in his The Collected Essays of Asa Briggs Vol II, TheHarvester Press, 1985
 
BRUCE'Introduction': Susan Bruce, ‘Introduction’, to Susan Bruce (ed.) Three Early Modern Utopias, Oxford, 1999
 
BURNHAM Managerial: James Burnham, The Managerial Revolution, Penguin
 
BURUMA & MARGALIT Occident: Ian Baruma & Avishai Margalit, Occidentalism - A Short History of Anti-Westernism, Atlantic Books, 2004
 
CAREY Intellectuals CAREY 1992 John Carey, The Intellectuals and the Masses, Faber and Faber, 1992
 
CARROLL Crystal: John Carroll, Break-Out from the Crystal Palace, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974
 
COWLEY More: Robert Cowley (ed.), More What If?, Pan Books, 2001
 
COWLEY What?: Robert Cowley (ed.), What If?, Pan Books, 2001
 
DEBORD Spectacle: Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, Zone Books, New York, 1995.
DEUTSCHER Outcast DEUTSCHER 1963: Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Outcast, OUP, 1970
 
ELEY Forging : Geoff Eley, Forging Democracy, OUP, 2002
 
FERGUSON 'Virtual': Niall Ferguson, ‘Introduction - Virtual History: Towards a “chaotic” theory of the past’, in Niall Ferguson (ed.) Virtual History , Papermac, 1998
 
FOUCAULT Discipline: Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, trans. Alan Sheridan, Penguin, 1979
 
FUREDI Mythical: Frank Furedi, Mythical Past, Elusive Future , Pluto, 1992
 
GRAVES & HODGE Long: Robert Graves & Alan Hodge, The Long Week-end, Four Square Books, 1965
 
HARVEY Condition: David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity, Basil Blackwell, 1994
 
HEATH & POTTER Rebel: Joseph Heath & Andrew Potter, The Rebel Sell, Capstone Publishing, 2005
It is worth googling these, and also <Thomas Frank>
 
HEWLETT'Paradise': Maurice Hewlett, ‘A Materialist’s Paradise’, review of News from Nowhere, in Peter Faulkner (ed.) William Morris - The Critical Heritage, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973. 1st publ., National Review No XVII, August 1891
 
HILL'Norman': Christopher Hill, ‘The Norman Yoke’: in his, Puritanism and Revolution, Panther, 1968. 1st publ. in John Saville (ed.), Democracy and the Labour Movement, Lawrence & Wishart, 1954
 
JACOBY Politics: Russell Jacoby,  The Politics of Subjectivity, Harvester
 
JAMESON'Progress' JAMESON1982: Fredric Jameson, ‘Progress Versus Utopia; or, Can We Imagine the Future?’, in Brian Wallis (ed. ) Art After Modernism, The New Museum of Contemporary Art, in assoc. with David R Godine, 1984. 1st publ., Science-Fiction Studies Vol 9 No 2, July 1982
 
JOHNSON L'Review News' JOHNSON L 1891: Lionel Johnson,‘Review’ of News
from Nowhere, in Peter Faulkner (ed.) William Morris - The Critical Heritage,
Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973. 1st publ., Academy No XXXIX, 23 May 1891
 
KNIGHT Conspiracy: Peter Knight, Conspiracy Culture - From the Kennedy Assassination to the X-Files, Routledge, 2000
 
LOWENTHAL Past: David Lowenthal, The Past is a Foreign Country, Cambridge University Press, 1985
 
MARCUSE One: Herbert Marcuse, One Dimensional Man
 
MARSHALL Morris: Roderick Marshall, William Morris and his Earthly Paradises,  Compton Press, 1979
 
McLUHAN & FIORE Medium: Marshall McLuhan & Quentin Fiore, The Medium is the Massage, Hardwired, 1996
McLUHAN Understanding: Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, Routledge, 2002
 
MORRIS'How' MORRIS1894: William Morris, ‘How I Became a Socialist’. in Asa Briggs (ed.) William Morris - Selected Writings and Designs, Penguin, 1980. 1st publ., Justice, 16 June 1896
 
MORTON English: A L Morton, The English Utopia,Lawrence & Wishart, 1952
 
NEOCLEOUS Monstrous: Mark Neocleous, The Monstrous and the Dead: Burke, Marx, Fascism, University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 2005
 
NORRIS Uncritical: Christopher Norris, Uncritical Theory - Postmodernism, Intellectuals and the Gulf War, Laurence & Wishart, 1992
 
ORWELL ‘Burnham’: George Orwell, ‘James Burnham and the Managerial Revolution’, in Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters, Vol IV, Penguin,
 
ORWELL Homage: George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia, Penguin
 
PACKARD Hidden: Vance Packard, The Hidden Persuaders, Penguin
 
PILGRIM ***: John Pilgrim, *****, Anarchy c 1964. This is a study of social criticism in American SF … sorry I cannae remember its title, if anyone is really keen, then I’ll visit the archives and dig it out.
 
PORTELLI ‘Uchronic’: Alessandro Portelli, ‘Uchronic Dreams: Working-class memory and possible worlds’, in Raphael Samuel and Paul Thompson (eds.) The Myths We Live By , Routledge, 1990
 
POSTMAN Amusing: Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, Methuen, 1987
 
ROBERTS ‘Introduction’: Andrew Roberts, Introduction to Andrew Roberts (ed.), What Might Have Been, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2004
 
ROSENFELD ‘Reflections’: Gavriel Rosenfeld, ‘Why Do We Ask "What If?" Reflections on the Function of Alternate History’, History and Theory, No 41, December 2002
 
RUBINSTEIN Capitalism: W D Rubinstein, Capitalism, Culture, and Decline in Britain 1750 - 1990, Routledge, 1993
 
RUBINSTEIN'Interview': W D Rubinstein,‘Interview’, in Richard English and Michael Kenny (eds.), Rethinking British Decline, Macmillan, 2000
 
SAMUEL 'Heritage': Raphael Samuel, ‘Heritage-Baiting’, in Raphael Samuel, Theatres of Memory , Verso, 1994
 
SAMUEL 'LWBC 1' Samuel 1985: Raphael Samuel, ‘The Lost World of British Communism’, New Left Review, No 154, November/December 1985
 
 
 
SAMUEL 'LWBC 2' Samuel 1986: Raphael Samuel, ‘Staying Power: The Lost World of British Communism, Part Two’, New Left Review, No 156, March/April 1986
 
SAMUEL LWBC3: Raphael Samuel, ‘Class Politics: The Lost World of British Communism, Part Three’, New Left Review, No 165, September/October 1987
 
SCHUMPETER Capitalism: Joseph A Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, George Allen & Unwin, 1976
 
SHERBORNE Notes : Michael Sherborne, Brave New World - Aldous Huxley - Notes Longman, 2005
 
SHERIDAN Foucault: Alan Sheridan, Michel Foucault – The Will to Truth, Tavistock, 1982
 
THOMPSONE P Morris: E P Thompson, William Morris, Pantheon Books, 1976
 
WEEKS'Fabians': Jeffrey Weeks, ‘The Fabians and Utopia’, in Ben Pimlott (ed.), Fabian Essays in Socialist Thought, Heinemann, 1984
 
WiEner M English: Martin J. Wiener, English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit: 1850 -1980, CUP, 1981
 
WIENER M'Interview': Martin Wiener,Interview’, in Richard English and Michael Kenny (eds.), Rethinking British Decline, Macmillan, 2000
 
WILLIAMS Culture: Raymond Williams, Culture and Society, Penguin, 1961
 
WILLIAMS Orwell: Raymond Williams, Orwell, Fontana, 1974
 
WILLIAMS Politics: Raymond Williams, Politics and Letters, NLB, 1979
 
WRIGHT Living: Patrick Wright, On Living in an Old Country, Verso, 1985
 
 

May. 20th, 2006

03:07 pm

This blog, community or forum is primarily for those attending the lecture series 'Visions of the Present', Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London, WC1. 30 May - 4 July (inclusive). But anyone interested in the issues may join and post. In order to join, you must first open an account with LiveJournal, this is free, go to www.livejournal.com. Only members of this forum can join, this is in order to prevent anonymous posts and so that anyone posting off-topic can be barrred.

Anyone membermay post anything relevant to the course.

May. 17th, 2006

05:10 pm

Visions of the Present
 
A course of six evening classes, organised by the South Place Ethical Society (Humanist educational charity), presented by David Murray.
 
Beginning Tuesday, 30 May 2006. Refreshments @ 18:30.Class 19:00 – 21:00
The Library, Conway Hall Humanist Centre, Red Lion Square, Holborn, London WC1
(020 7242 8037)
 Except for the final one each class is self-contained.
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Just as all works of history are ‘about’ their contemporary worlds, so utopias/dystopias are about their authorial worlds. We will look at five novels which offer different visions of their - and our - worlds. We will discuss their strengths and weaknesses, consider their political and cultural contexts and
examine some broader issues.
 
30 MAY: William Morris, News from Nowhere(1890)
Anyone who has attended political meetings at Conway Hall, or elsewhere, will empathise with the despondent narrator as he leaves a fractious meeting of the Socialist League. He, however, has the good fortune to timeslip forward to a utopia of handicraft production and a reconstructed medievalism. In what way have images of the past figured in theories of political transformation?
 
6 JUNE: Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (1932)
Perhaps the best-known of our visions. Its world is a caste society, whose members are kept happy by drugs, free sex and total sensory immersive cinema. We will ask how far our present-day world is one in which direct experience is being displaced by ‘virtual reality’. This novel poses the question as to the nature of that freedom which is the norm in advanced capitalist nations.
 
13 JUNE: George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty Four (1948)
Its most potent image is the omnipresent surveillance of the ‘telescreen’. We will look at the origins of this in Jeremy Bentham, via Dostoevsky. We will consider the relation of Orwell to Burnham’s Managerial Revolution. To what extent is this a satire on ‘totalitarianism’ in general, and to what extent is it specifically about Stalinism?
 
20 JUNE: Frederick Pohl and C M Kornbluth, The Space Merchants (1953)
This nightmare of a world dominated by the megacorps and saturated with advertising comes out of a strong tradition of American culture-criticism going back at least to Veblen. It echoes the popular sociology of Vance Packard and of W W Whyte. How is it that the hegemonic nation has produced, and is continuing to produce, powerful satires of itself?
 
27 JUNE: Stephen Fry, Making History (1996)
As well as being a campus comedy, love story and tale of youthful angst this is a moving work of alternate history which asks what would have happened if … a certain historical figure … had not been around. The answer which it produces, which it makes, is surprising and disturbing. This will lead to a discussion of contingency versus necessity in history, and of the current interest in Alternate History .
 
4 JULY: OVERVIEW
Who was more prescient: Huxley or Orwell? Is there a qualitative difference between these imaginings and earlier utopian visions ? Though the commonsense of our culture is that liberal capitalism is the final form of human society there has never been such a profusion of imaginings of different worlds. How do we make sense of this?
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A general reading list of secondary material will be available two weeks before the first class. Hand-outs for each class will be available the previous week. These will be in paper form at Conway Hall, and will also be available on the Web.
FURTHER INFORMATION:
www.livejournal.com/users/presentvisions                                           07985 958951
 
www.ethicalsoc.org.uk