Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Critical or Pre-Critical?

Kind of stacks the deck doesn't it? Post-critical is ruled out a priori. Despite the obvious influence of Kant on Heidegger and Derrida, for example, it is not at all clear to me that they are any closer to Kantian critical philosophy than is Althusser.

The lines of lineage are a bit more crossed and re-crossed than all this. It reminds me of Agamben's dichotomy between philosophies of immanence and philosophies of transcendence, or of Althusser's claim that the two tendencies of philosophy are materialism and idealism. I understand those as tactical distinctions, but to take them too seriously seems to me to be a mistake. It's dangerous to too closely identify with one's polemics.

Over on Unemployed Negativity, it has been suggested that our task is that of "thinking social relations beyond the category of the individual." That seems more fruitful to me. And if the line of demarcation is between philosophies of individuality and philosophies of trans-individuality, then Heidegger and Derrida end up on the same side as Althusser and Deleuze.


Rob said...

Here's the full passage from Badiou about the critical/pre-critical distinction (from the Deleuze book): "We can state that Deleuze’s philosophy, like my own, moreover, is resolutely classical. And in this context classicism is relatively easy to define. Namely: any philosophy may be qualified as classical that does not submit to the critical injunctions of Kant. Such a philosophy considers, for all intents and purposes, the Kantian indictment of metaphysics as null and void, and, by way of consequence, upholds, against any 'return to Kant,' against the critique, moral law and so on, that the rethinking of the univocity of ground is a necessary task for the world in which we are living today." (45-46)

It does seem interesting that, while the distinction itself might be questionable, so many scholars in the continental tradition have recently taken it up -- e.g., Badiou, but also Toni Negri, Quentin Meillassoux (very explicitly), Pierre Macherey (in when he opposes Spinoza to Hegel), etc.

The problem with opposing critical to pre-critical is, perhaps, that the distinction seems to encourage a kind of discipleship. I don't think that it has to, though. The prevalence of the distinction is itself sufficiently interesting, even if you conclude that the distinction is ultimately invalid.

Also, I have to admit that it seems a bit strange to me to claim that Heidegger is no closer than Althusser to Kant's critical philosophy. Maybe the question is: Which Heidegger? The Marburg-era Heidegger was influenced as much by Neo-Kantianism as Husserlian phenomenology, referred to funamental ontology as "transcendental science," set Kant apart from the history of philosophy (since Aristotle) as the only non-vulgar thinking of time, and so on. In Being and Time, the influence of Kant is quite clear (unsurprisingly, as Heidegger was lecturing on Kant at the time of its composition). I'd argue that Derrida also continued to work in a recognizably Kantian problematic. I don't know Althusser as well, so perhaps I'm missing something.

Will Roberts said...

Ah, yeah... Badiou...

Wish I had something intelligent to say about him. All I can think of though is this: I can't help taking all his polemics with eight grains of salt. The polemical spirit--drawing a line in the sand and taking a position--is a powerful strand in Marxism, in general, but Althusser seems to be the immediate progenitor, as he insisted that philosophical practice was necessarily thetic.

So why'd I say that Heidegger and Derrida seem no closer to Kant than does Althusser? Well, maybe it goes to the question of the univocity of ground that Badiou insists upon. (But, really, I don't know anything about Badiou, so you shouldn't listen to me at all.)

I would say that Heidegger and Derrida do take up the inquiry into conditions of possibility, and therefore retain, in Derrida's terms, a quasi-transendental orientation. And this does give rise to a certain normative structure. But this normativity is precisely what deconstruction then undermines, by thinking the condition of possibility as also being the condition of impossibility. That is certainly not a univocal ground, but that lack of univocity seems to be what decisively separates Heidegger and Derrida from Kant. The Heideggarian or Derridean end of metaphysics is not Kant's end of metaphysics.

And Althusser seems to be on-board with Derrida here, in that the whole point of his thetic philosophizing is to open up a space of freedom in the field of philosophy upon which it intervenes.

I know I'm the odd one out here--I don't know many people who read Althusser and Derrida as being on the same side. Still, the later works that were recently translated into English, on the materialism of the encounter, explicitly place Heidegger and Derrida in this whacked out underground current that also includes Epicurus, Rousseau, and Marx.

Anyway, I'm rambling all over the place here. In short, I agree with you about the influence of Kant on Heidegger and Derrida, still want to insist on a fundamental break between critical philosophy and deconstruction, and read Althusser as being on the deconstructionist side of that break, alongside Marx. (And don't know what to do with Deleuze or Badiou, except to squirm when they try to lump some of the people I like (Heidegger & Derrida) in with Kant, while simultaneously lumping other I like (Althusser and Marx) in with Hume!)