suicides, murders … and no gravediggers???


the Loneliness of the Scientist, While Trying to Escape the Murderers

It is remarkable I think – especially as it is one of these issues we all know, and state repeatedly. It is about the political animal – explored in Aristotle’s Politics -, and the not less important aspect, highlighted by Marx in The Grundrisse, namely that

[t]he human being is in the most literal sense a political animal not merely a gregarious animal, but an animal which can individuate itself only in the midst of society. Production by an isolated individual outside society … is as much of an absurdity as is the development of language without individuals living together and talking to each other.

– in short a social animal, only coming into existence in and with and through society.

Being too well aware of this, a remark that I recently read in the context of an analysis of Da Vinci’s Last Supper caught my special attention – I try to reproduce it here as close as possible to how it had been stated:

If you are alone, you just belong yourself – becoming aware of  it, it is a moment that the solitude turns into loneliness.

It is the interpretation of a quote in the same text, namely the supposed reflection by Jesus when he turned away, knowing it would be about turning towards his own death (btw., so very different to Socrates as captured by Plato in the Apology).

Common to all these post-Aristotelian messages is that this “individuality within society” is about actual instances of opposing, contradicting exactly this society: the paradox of individuation happening in the mentioned cases by way of opposing. Obviously, this is very much about the devil not existing without god. This, then, may evoke the question, however, if god would “be in existence” without the devil’s existence in the first instance. It may seem at first glance an absurd and useless reflection. But a closer look may teach us differently: all this is very much a different formulation of topics that stand at the very heart of political philosophy: Hobbes’ Leviathan, the embodiment of a god-like institution, protecting humans against themselves, namely their boundless evil character. Taking up on this, though not representing Hobbesian thought, but moving towards Hegel’sl notion of “True is, what does exist”, and “good is (or will be) what becomes the absolute idea”, it is the eternal and absolute good of society. In Hegels own words, taken from the Science of Logic we are asked to accept as

the sole subject matter and content of philosophy

(para 1782)


[t]he absolute Idea has turned out to be the identity of the theoretical and the practical Idea. Each of these by itself is still one-sided, possessing the Idea only as a sought for beyond and an unattained goal; each, therefore, is a synthesis of endeavour, and has, but equally has not, the Idea in it; each passes from one thought to the other without bringing the two together, and so remains fixed in their contradiction. The absolute Idea, as the rational Notion that in its reality meets only with itself, is by virtue of this immediacy of its objective identity, on the one hand the return to life; but it has no less sublated this form of its immediacy, and contains within itself the highest degree of opposition. The Notion is not merely soul but free subjective Notion that is for itself and therefore possesses personality — the practical, objective Notion determined in and for itself which, as person, is impenetrable atomic individuality, but explicitly universality and cognition, and in its other has its own objectivity for its object. All else is error, confusion, opinion, endeavour, caprice and transitoriness; the absolute Idea alone is being, imperishable lifeself-knowing truth, and is all truth.

(para 1781)

And of course, Rousseau has to be mentioned, also dealing with the topic, for instance in his Discours sur l’Origine et les Fondements de l’Inégalité parmi les HommesAt the very end of the text he concludes:

Il suit de cet exposé que l’inégalité, étant presque nulle dans l’état de nature, tire sa force et son accroissement du développement de nos facultés et des progrès de l’esprit humain et devient enfin stable et légitime par l’établissement de la propriété et des lois. Il suit encore que l’inégalité morale, autorisée par le seul droit positif, est contraire au droit naturel, toutes les fois qu’elle ne concourt pas en même proportion avec l’inégalité physique; distinction qui détermine suffisamment ce qu’on doit penser à cet égard de la sorte d’inégalité qui règne parmi tous les peuples policés; puisqu’il est manifestement contre la Loi de Nature, de quelque manière qu’on la définisse, qu’un enfant commande à un vieillard, qu’un imbécile conduise un homme sage, et qu’une poignée de gens regorge de superfluités, tandis que la multitude affamée manque du nécessaire.

Bringing this thought together with Hobbes’ notion, Rousseau emerges as kind of Anti-Christ? And reading his various works, doesn’t he actually contend that true society emerges by way of leaving it as such spontaneously developing, naturally? In other words, he is not opposing society as such, but some “artificial society” …

… which, if we take god as slightly truncated good, would suggest that the devil is actually turning out to be god and vice versa.

Admittedly playing a bit around, it marks, I think, one of the fundamental problems not only of our time: the problem of finding hic and nunc meaning, making the current situation meaningful, overcoming the lack of excitement.

Zygmunt Bauman, in a talk from July 2016, engages in these questions. He emphasises the need to leave the comfort zones that we established over time  comfort zones that secured a gated and thus pleasurable setting which does not make much sense. However, it is also a dangerous setting, demeaning history and society as real places where real people act in real history. This ia about revisiting the question of truth (and finding truth), looking at it as matter of dealing with difference.

Thus we have to look for

a step towards people who are in a cosmopolitan situation.

So, what is history, and with this, what are remembrances, about?

Actually it is about history as matter of future, and thus off critique. With this we come to the challenge of remembrance as much as the challenge of living in academia: the establishment of living in society even if it is – temporarily or structurally adverse.

To establish history as another artifact, like society, like life and living means segmentising until we reach a level of not being able to maintain any longer a distinction. The paradox is that the distinction is fading away behind walls of segregation – walls like that between Israel and Palestine and – still in the making – between the USNA and Mexico and, too often, that between “historical artifacts” and the presence of history in the here and now emerging for shaping the future. It is also to often about remembering and even establishing the other – the other country, the other person, the other “system” … overcoming of lack of excitement.

Living in history is not a “collection of items”. But it is the latter that we are taught in daily life of the “economic formation of liquid modernity”. A lengthy passage on page 156 f. from Bauman’s book on “Liquid Modernity”, dealing with the pilgrimage of procrastination may clarify this ambiguity – an ambiguity that moves towards loss of meaning as loss of real history:

Living a life as a pilgrimage is therefore intrinsically aporetic. It obliges each present to serve something which is-not-yet, and to serve it by closing up the distance, by working towards proximity and immediacy. But were the distance closed up and the goal reached, the present would forfeit everything that made it signifi­ cant and valuable. The instrumental rationality favoured and privileged by the pilgrim’s life prompts the search for such means as may perform the uncanny feat of keeping the end of the efforts forever in sight while never reaching proximity, of bringing the end ever closer while preventing the distance from being brought to zero. The pilgrim’s life is a travel-towards-fulfilment, but ‘fulfil­ment’ in that life is tantamount to the loss of meaning. Travelling towards the fulfilment gives the pilgrim’s life its meaning, but the meaning it gives is blighted with a suicidal impulse; that meaning cannot survive the completion of its destiny.

Procrastination reflects that ambivalence. The pilgrim procrasti­ nates in order to be better prepared to grasp things that truly matter. But grasping them will signal the end of the pilgrimage, and so the end to such life as derives from it its sole meaning.

And part of this process is that it goes hand in hand with its opposite, about which we read on page 150

And so the beginning and the end of procrastination meet, the distance between desire and its gratification condenses into the moment of ecstasy – of which, as John Tusa has observed (in the Guardian of 19 July 1997), there must be plenty: ‘Immediate, con­ stant, diversionary, entertaining, in ever-growing numbers, in ever-growing forms, on ever-growing occasions.’ No qualities of things and acts count ‘other than instant, constant and unreflecting self-gratification’.

This is as well about processes of fundamental alienation, about the walls that urge us to search for or claim that we are dealing with eternal truth.

The first step is about demeaning of labour, the prolonged and deepened process already presented by Marx, prolonged and depend by cutting off further ties. From the Liquid Modernity wager we read on page 148

Once the employment of labour has become short-term and precarious, having been stripped of firm (let alone guaranteed) prospects and therefore made episodic, when virtually all rules concerning the game of promotions and dismissals have been scrapped or tend to be altered well before the game is over, there is little chance for mutual loyalty and commitment to sprout and take root.

Sure, we have to emphasise that this is the old pattern – labour, employment under capitalist conditions has never been a “safe heaven”.

And the same is true for research, more general: working in academia. Two very common poles: clientelism and personalised servitude versus objective measures and uncreative research as “applied”, subordinated under the needs of …, well, that was simply the requirement of system maintenance.

So we are back to history, well reflected in a contribution by Robert Cox, distinguishing in the piece on

Social Forces, States and World Orders: Beyond International Relations Theory, published 1981 in Millennium – Journal of International Studies, between problem-solving and critical theory. He contends

[c]ritical theory is directed to the social and political complex as a whole rather than to the separate parts. As a matter of practice, critical theory, like problem solving theory, takes as its starting point some aspect or particular sphere of human activity. But whereas the problem solving approach leads to further analytical sub-division and limitation of the issue to be dealt with, the critical approach leads towards the construction of a larger picture of the whole of which the initially contemplated part is just the part one component, and seeks to understand the process of change in which both parts and whole are involved.

Critical theory is theory of history in the sense of being concerned not just with the past but with a continuing process of historical change.

This background is at least one of different possible ideal frames to revisit the question of remembrance of the

Lonely Scientists, While They are Trying to Escape the Murderers

It is about living in a world that erects monuments, creates its actors as monuments – monuments standing on the shoulders of other monuments …: another dimension of peer-reviewing, namely undermining to speak, to develop something, to open spaces for and of open debate …. – it is strange when looking around and seeing that sooooooo much is going on and one finds sooooooo many calls for papers, but .., yes, but barely a simple call, inviting to a conference, workshop and take part in a discussion … – for which there is not even the time left anyway, as we are too busy, much too busy. Jo Littler points this out on page 67 of her work on Meritocracy as Plutocracy:

In research recently conducted in St Pauls, an elite North American fee-paying school, Khan and Jerolmack noted that typically these students were conscious of the idea of their privilege, and replaced a frame of entitlement with one based around merit by continually emphasising how hard they’d worked. The researchers argued that ‘they generally do not work hard, although they are adept at performing a kind of busyness that looks and feels like hard work.’ (Students that did regularly go to the library were conversely positioned as ‘freaks’). As they put it, ‘“hard work” is mostly a form of talk – but important talk nonetheless. It is a rhetorical strategy deployed by students in a world of “new elites”’. These are elites ‘saying meritocracy but doing the ease of privilege’. (emphasis added, the comedian)

In any case, the question is obviously not the monument, event, fact that we investigate as such, but it is the context, i.e. the essential content. In other word, it is about the essence of the “one item” for the here and now which is itself, as being in the present, in some part (and only in some part) essence of the future. Essentially critical socio-historical existence (or should we speak of “essentialistence”?) Simple knowledge, “knowledge of the facts” …, of course it plays a role. But the real knowledge is about much more than the ability to be aware of the

or we may summaries it by returning to Bauman’s presentation, presenting the meaning of happiness as matter of overcoming unhappiness. In the present context: historical events, monuments, events, facts that we investigate as such are meaningless, gaining meaning not by our interpretation or by knowing their casualties and causalities but by our practice, by developing ourselves as part of

‘the social’ as ‘an outcome of the interaction between people (constituted as actors) and their constructed and natural environment. Its subject matter refers to people’s interrelated productive and reproductive relationships’

as we know from Social Quality thinking, as long as it is truly relational and to obsessed by the search for indicators.

Any limitation is about clipping the wings of the rooster further, moving back to the charade (alluding to the New Chinese Year, the year of the rooster, following the year of the monkey – in German language charade translates into “theatre of monkeys”)

Suicide by following the rules and requirement of pure existence, being paralysed by looking into the eyes of the murderer, accepting (to use the words of Ben Williamson) that

Computer code, software and algorithms have sunk deep into what Nigel Thrift has described as the “technological unconscious” of our contemporary “lifeworld,” and are fast becoming part of the everyday backdrop to Higher Education. Academic research across the natural, human and social sciences is increasingly mediated and augmented by computer coded technologies.

All these suicides and murders are actually about suicide in different forms and “doses”, as

  • two-sided fake
  • one or another [I guess you get similar, and without paying, from here, though I did not check] way of prostitution (and believe me, this has nothing to do with China or Chinese; I could tell stories from EUrope …  well, may be I could tell one and I would not be able to even say a single word thereafter …, other people had to face their end for speaking out on “lesser problematic” issues)
  • my be some are right, saying that there is onanism involved
  • escape into meaningless minuteness of looking into some minor details of the kilogram…

Dr. Davis, who is working closely with those making the final decision about the fate of the kilogram, says he is not so sure. “In terms of published results, the watt balance is closer of the two,” he said. “But it’s very hard to say which is better.”

Well, yes

Some of you say religion makes people happy. So does laughing gas.
Clarence Darrow

and we may add: happy as matter of successful we may get by remembrance, by knowing the facts … but the step from there to overcoming the “unhappy events” of history, the “unhappy facts” of the presence, moving to real happiness in the sense suggested by Bauman with reference to Goethe, may a long, a very long road indeed,

because we forget the skills which are absolutely necessary in the offline world

skills of which the development indeed takes time

Indeed, the question of living and being lived … This means that it is not really about the question if there is such thing as society or not and if and to which extent we are part of it or if not, if we can and should possibly escape. Nor is it about any “abstract” or “artificial society” that stands against a “natural” or “original society”. Instead, as Samuel Knfao and Benno Teschke underline, while looking at The Rules of Reproduction of Capitalism: A Historicist Critique

[a] structural model of capitalism [and we may expand this, saying of society; P.H.] can only be derived if all the key parameters are independent from concrete historical settings so that the logic can be translated to various contexts where we find different social institutions. This is the classic positivist trap. For taking a theory or a proposition that is useful in one context and for a specific purpose in order to turn it into a generalisation, as if it captures an essential logic that applies to multiple cases (Knafo 2010: Critical Approaches and the Legacy of the Agent/Structure Debate in International Relations’, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 23 (3): 493-516.), leads to the standard bifurcation between an abstract conceptual definition, which is meant to ground the explanation, and case-specificities, which are then demoted to the status of accidental accretions, superficial appearances, or un-typical anomalies, rather than accepted positively as presences that defy the general abstraction. In this way, a contextualised observation is made to stands on its own, but only at the cost of severing the rich tension between theory and history (Teschke 2014: IR Theory, Historical Materialism, and the False Promise of International Historical Sociology’, Spectrum: Journal of Global Studies, 6:1, pp. 1-66.).

One can also say that some of the debates amongst philosophers are indeed …, well, just a bit of a contemplative game, taking god and the devil and the possibility of changing roles (as it had been done in the beginning of these reflections) too serious, and considering too little the role of real people in real life. And indeed, real studies in history, real remembrances, real social analyses, real academic studies – are like real philosophy.

It took me a long time to understand the little story a friend, Hans F. Zacher, told me. We had been sitting in the Limoni, opposite of the Institute in the Amalienstrasse in Munich, for one of our more or less regular, though too rare lunches; leisurely talking about …, I think on that occasion it had been about the Baron, i.e. Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu who frequently featured in our contemplations. And now the little story – it took me a rather long time to fully understand its deeper meaning. It went like this:

You know, many colleagues say that I am a philosopher …, but I am not. Here is what I usually answer when somebody asks me if I would be philosopher.

He interrupts himself, looks at me with his impish smile, before he continues

I know about philosophy. And you may even say that I know quite a lot. But I am not philosopher. I would consider myself as philosopher .., look imagine 4 rooms – living/office rooms let’s say. The one is Kant’s, the other Marx’, then …, Nietzsche’s and the one of Leibnitz …

I am not sure …, or actually I am sure that he most likely did not refer to this list, but this is not relevant.

And looking at the room I would, seeing how the chairs are positioned, how especially the chair at the desk is positioned, I could tell you exactly who is living and working there.

He closes, again his impish smile .., which leaves me first simply puzzled … until … I understand, a bit later, the wisdom … . The understanding of memorials, ideas, approaches is very much like understanding human men and women ….

And indeed, isn’t anything below this, any remembrance and any solely problem solving theory, that explicitly and acceptingly lost any critical, and that is also self-critical, ambition like the Trumpian presidential inauguration-ball cake? Of this Masha Gessen says that

much of what little it brings is plagiarized, and most of it is unusable for the purpose for which (…) [they] are usually intended. Not only does it not achieve excellence: it does not even see the point of excellence.

Try it yourself, when you take your chair next time ….

Otherwise … or if you try to do it alone, there remains only

the Loneliness of the Scientist, While Trying to Escape the Murderers

facing the plans that are made to be permanently changed, leaving all of us the permanently I am sorry, but it all because being so busy, hard working ….

And it remains Bitches Brew, if not as  death knell, then as a new wake up call, replacing, or reshuffling the old powerful one which, being used in the market lost strength, it is is a bit going down the drain. – Le chemin de la vie ne passe pas par un jardin de roses.

Un pensiero riguardo “suicides, murders … and no gravediggers???


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