Adorno and Heidegger on Being, language, and the question of philosophy

Why can man ask about the why, and why must he ask? — Heidegger

The annihilation of the question compels praxis — Adorno

This essay aims to centre a debate between Adorno and Heidegger highlighting their respective concerns for language and ontology. These concerns, more specifically, are framed around two problems Adorno puts to Heidegger: 1) the question of being, and 2) the ontological need. These problems are further grounded in how they function in the ‘actualisation’ or completion of philosophy itself.

Adorno’s remarkable critique of Heidegger lies, first of all, in the way Adorno grants special importance to Heidegger’s work prompted not only by the centrality of Heidegger’s thought, as foremost ontologist in Germany at the time, but in part by the awareness of the deep convergences between their thought, most prominent in their ideas about language, to which Heidegger provided the basis for allowing Adorno to situate his own project developed from an immanent critique. Perhaps against the standard picture of their irreconcilable differences, Adorno even goes to make the characteristically Hegelian concession, in that within every falsity lies a truth, that Heidegger did take us up to a point at which we can understand the dialectical insight into the non-identity within identity but fails to carry this over into the concept of Being itself (ND 120). This, however, is just one instance of many where we see Adorno finding a kernel of truth (or the truth of the “untruth”) within Heidegger’s ideas. Adorno’s practice of immanent criticism means, above all, that he does not seek to propose oppositions between any two philosophical positions whereby we take one side over the other, in this case between ontology and dialectics. This is a resistance against a “philosophy of standpoints” (OD 1) where the transition to dialectics consists in the immanent self-reflection of ontology (4).

Adorno had spent the better part of his career engaging with and critiquing the ideas of Heidegger and he does so, it could be said, for two reasons: of subjecting the foremost ontologist to criticism’s Adorno thinks necessary if philosophy is to have any hope of ‘actualising’; and using Heidegger as the unresponsive antagonist utilised to present Adorno’s own project as substitute. Despite the many criticisms and interrogations, sometimes playful and oftentimes brutal, we witness a different tune in his lecture series Ontology and Dialectics, one that is highly charitable in its exposition and surprisingly affirmative of Heidegger’s ideas with respect to their shared criticism of the sciences and positivistic thinking. It is not important that we characterise Adorno as particularly kind, for we could say that his ‘generosity’ is a reflection of the dialectical method at work. However, we must also take Adorno at his word when he says truth is an extraordinarily fragile thing, that things stand on a knife’s edge and where all the differences matter: “lose your faith that truth clings to massive differences” (43-4).

By focusing primarily on Adorno’s lecture series Ontology and Dialectics – considered here as the most sustained and comprehensive critique of Heidegger’s project – and the opening introduction of Heidegger’s Being and Time, the difference this essay aims to place at the forefront is the problematic role the question plays in their approach to answering for philosophy’s historical actuality. The difference that makes all the difference, shadowing the debate on Being, language, ontology, is the question of praxis. These are important for they put into question Heidegger’s reliance, from Adorno’s perspective, on the question-and-answer function characteristic of idealist philosophy in general presented via the question of Being. On an initial basis, this is consequential, for Adorno, for it ends up identifying thought fully with its objects which follows the idealist pretence that the goal of a philosophical system is one that can think the totality of the actual, the whole. Against such pretension is Adorno’s own project of a negative dialectics – an unwhole system born from the privileging of the non-identical, the materialist remainder of thought. Although this essay will not be an exposition of negative dialectics itself, it remains useful insofar as Adorno asks whether the actuality of philosophy is still possible after the failure of idealist philosophy. The problem of actuality relates to the topic of this essay, namely the debate around the “question of being” and Adorno’s critique of the symptomatic existence of the “ontological need” exemplified by Heidegger.

As Adorno makes clear in his essay “The Actuality of Philosophy” (written 30 years prior to Ontology and Dialectics and much of a precursor to the ideas we see in it), actuality does not refer to a maturation of a general intellectual situation[1], but to whether an adequate relation can exist between philosophical questions and the possibility of their being answered at all. This is the place from which Adorno’s critique of Heidegger can begin since the question of Being attests to Heidegger’s aim of providing an answer for Being. More so, Adorno is questioning the very possibility of questions at all, namely those that can be totally answered for. Can philosophy provide answers adequate to represent and understand the whole? The history of philosophy is a history of questions and answer, and “only out of the historical entanglement of questions and answers does the question of philosophy’s actuality emerge precisely.” (my italics; AP 124)[2].

One motivation behind Adorno’s thinking on the actuality of philosophy is a rejection of the ideological nature of idealist philosophy’s complicity with its present situation, in that it contributes to a political milieu of a static and unchanging present philosophically justified by the appeal to timeless and eternal truth. This has the consequence of essentialising and eternalising the reality of the present condition, of affirming what already is. Adorno’s concern refers to the way it promotes the bourgeois idea that not only nothing new should or can come into existence but that such an attempt should be seen as a threat to their existence, maintained by the present condition (K 26). Such an ideological function is also present, prior to every answer, in the emphasis on the priority of the question of Being as proposed by Heidegger (AP 120).

Adorno’s wit shines through when he provides an outline to the historical significance of the problem of Being, portrayed as the “ontological need”, commenting how it is necessary to understand the “pathos” that belongs to the question of Being, that is, why people are so enormously excited by it and how it had served so influential even all the way down to radio announcements and toothpaste advertisements (OD 6). If there is truth to this exaggeration it shows Adorno’s point of attack towards the ahistoricism of the question. By doing so, Adorno first genealogically traces the appearance of the question throughout history and, subsequently, uses this emphasis on history by providing a project that aims to make history constitutive of the kind of ‘ontology’ (though he would dismiss the term) appropriate to the actuality of philosophy.

Adorno provides three causes to the ontological need. First, it is a problem internal to the history of philosophy which is best expressed by Kant; secondly, it is a reaction against the modern development of the sciences, or, the question of Being is a philosophical remainder from what can be answered as a genuine philosophical question; lastly, it is a response to the failure of the prospects of Hegelianism, seen to be the pinnacle of what a philosophical system can achieve.

Throughout Ontology and Dialectics Adorno discusses how the question of Being is philosophically and historically symptomatic of a problem that goes back to Kant, if not to the dialectical method of Socrates. Identifying Kant as the source is important because he was the first to systematically explain why reason is necessarily and inevitably motivated by the fundamental problem of ‘being’, of what is, broadly understood. As we learn from Kant, reason is incapable of answering the kinds of questions it gives itself as problems, namely the question of freedom, the soul, God, immortality, and the unconditionality of reason itself, yet Kant remains reluctant, by the criteria set by his own system, to provide an answer to the question he poses elsewhere: how is metaphysics as a natural predisposition possible? (B22). The problem of God, freedom, soul, and so on, relates to this question insofar as Kant sought to explain the “peculiar fate” of reason which burdens itself with questions it cannot dismiss, but which it cannot answer, since they are beyond the capacity of reason itself (Avii). Kant’s answer is found in a section on the “Dialectic” in his Critique of Pure Reason where he investigates these questions presented as transcendental Ideas. Without detouring through the complexities of Kant’s Dialectic, what remains important is how distinctively Heideggerian a question it is. As Adorno puts it, “why the devil should be interested in metaphysics as natural disposition?” (K 37). By invoking the transcendental Ideas Kant provided a palliative attempt to ask the more fundamental question as to the genesis of the fate of reason itself. As a result, Kant takes it as a given that human reason is disposed to ask questions it cannot answer, and we can speculatively show a homology to Heidegger by repeating his own question: why can man ask about the why, and why must he ask? (KPM 199). Heidegger does not comment on Kant’s Dialectic for the most part, yet by pointing to this homology of questions it may show how Heidegger’s analytic of Dasein aims to answer the fate (“destining” in Heidegger’s terminology) or disposition of reason by emphasising the problematic role of the question posed by the interrogation of Being.

If ontology is concerned with understanding what is, or being, then, for Adorno, the “need” for it is reflected in the motivation to answer the fundamental problem reason gives itself but, if epistemologically prohibited, can only remain content in explaining the “preliminary question” of how knowledge is possible at all (OD 7).

For Adorno, “Kant’s philosophy already represents a kind of concentrated disappointment in philosophy that has been inflated and transformed into a mighty system.” The failing of Heidegger’s project is implicit in Kantian philosophy itself to the extent that the impossibility of answering the fundamental question (of being) is transformed into a positive project.

In a wonderfully concise and dense way, Adorno says “the fundamental structure of Heidegger’s philosophy dictates that the impossibility of answering metaphysical questions – and Kant indeed had already recognised this impossibility – is itself substituted for the answer that it fails to provide” (144). For Adorno, as I understand it, Heidegger effectively substitutes the impossibility of answering the kinds of metaphysical questions that Kant prohibited as constitutive of Being itself. That is, of presenting Dasein as existentially confronting the very impossibility of its own existence, as a kind of being for whom Being is a problem for it. This is why Dasein is ultimately a problem for itself in that, to parallel with Kant, the transcendental Idea which reason could neither totally validate nor access is embodied within reason itself. Thus reason is placed in the paradoxical situation of needing to account for itself using the capacities of reason that it consequently lacks. Adorno even ventriloquizes a retort by Heidegger stating the fact “that I cannot give this answer is actually the answer itself.”

In a preliminary note to the third edition of his Kantbook, Heidegger says: “The problem for Metaphysics, namely, the question concerning beings as such in their totality, is what allows Metaphysics as Metaphysics to become a problem. The expression “The problem of Metaphysics” has two senses” (KPM xxi). This reveals, in a rather concise way, what is at issue for Heidegger, which turns out to be a confrontation or “interrogation” with a problem which compels Dasein to provide an answer. However, to be more specific, it is not Being that presents itself as a problem but the problem of the problem itself, that is, the problem of being compelled to give an answer, to ask “why?”, and where Dasein relates to Being respondent to the problem. This can explain why Heidegger introduces his fundamental ontology in his Kantbook defined as the metaphysics of Dasein that is required for metaphysics to be possible. The task is to inquire about Dasein’s own possibility for inquiring (1). For Heidegger, the ‘why’ already has a reference to Being. The reason Dasein asks ‘why’ is because of its relation to the problem of Being, of Being presenting itself as a problem for the kinds of beings who cannot help consider Being as a problem. Because it is Dasein who asks the question, Heidegger thereby links language and speech to Being. And although we may consider ‘Dasein’ as inseparable from the ‘why’, although we can accept that the problem of the why is a problem of Dasein, contra Heidegger is it not about. Adorno’s ideas on the historical development of language offers a new way for thinking about the enigma of the ‘why’ against Heidegger’s insistence that metaphysics occurs necessarily as Dasein (K 162). Here Heidegger’s implicit attempt to answer Kant’s problem of metaphysical disposition becomes evident, for what compels human reason towards metaphysics is to be explained as constituting human reason itself.

Heidegger does not cease to remind us that Man is in essential relationship with metaphysics as concerning the essence of Being. In Introduction to Metaphysics, Heidegger expands on the role questioning takes regarding the status of Being by reminding us of the first, most originary and deepest, question of Being: why are there beings at all instead of nothing? Two reasons can be provided as to why Heidegger privileges this mode of questioning: 1) the question (of Being) is the question of all true questions (IM 7) insofar as it is the ground upon which we may understand anything else, and 2) the question distinctively (uniquely) relates Dasein with being as a whole. Because it is Dasein who asks the question, it is Dasein who has this unique relation kept open (or mediated?) by the question. Language and speech links Dasein and Being. And Heidegger goes further, asking what grounds the why-question itself, or, why ask why? (5).

This opens up a fallacy Adorno accuses Heidegger of glorifying in that Heidegger hypostasizes this very impossibility of the question of Being, prioritising the question over the answer, and turns this impossibility into a positive interpretation of human existence (OD 145). Where there is no answer to provide, the question assumes a “dignity of truth” (147). But Adorno himself is not averse to the role of question(ing) in philosophy, and even gives it special status in opposition to the sciences, going so far as to hint at the possible project of investigating the distinctive structure of questioning in the history of philosophy and one not plagued by the spell of Heideggerianism, in which every question is a question of Being. A theory of the question sensitive to a historical and dialectical approach. In line with the rest of his project, Adorno, like Kant, forbids the fundamental questions from being (philosophically) answered at all. Because for Adorno dialectics and language is non-identical, no concept is adequate to the task of sufficiently representing its object, just like how no answer is sufficient to the question. For reasons that are grounded in the philosophy of history (his natural-historical ‘ontology’), Adorno’s own solution to both the problem of Being and the identity between questions and answers is extrapolated to a resolving of philosophy itself through actualisation as provided by praxis. In keeping with the spirit of his answer 30 years prior to Ontology and Dialectics, the answer to the philosophical question takes shape not in the form of the concept (solely) but through praxis. Praxis eliminated the need for answering the question. In this way, Adorno provides a political answer to an otherwise philosophical need for ontology (itself symptomatically political). Or rather, in a Wittgensteinian manner, praxis therapeutically eliminates the question itself.

The problem of the question is that it assumes the “possibility of its answer that being itself is appropriate to thought and available to it” (AP 120). Not only does the question presume that it can be answered, but that the answer, presented in the guise of an object, can be made identical with a pre-established question available to it through a concept. That is, there becomes an object waiting to be moulded with the empty form of the concept. The question supposes that the answer it seeks can be examined, that what it looks for does not exceed the grasp of the questioning. In Being and Time, Heidegger describes the question as a unique kind of ‘seeking’ where the possibility of getting an answer is expected because of the form of the question itself. Because the question is a seeking, it needs prior guidance from what it seeks. This is how, for Heidegger, the meaning of Being must already be available to us in some way (BT 4). In his later works, Heidegger can be seen to reformulate the seeking of the question by positioning thinking closer to that of the poet, who takes the role of the seer: “A seer has always seen already. Having seen already he sees in advance” (OBT 260). Adorno views the idea of Being as “nothing more than an empty form-principle whose archaic dignity helps to cover any content whatsoever” (AP 120). This is the charge that the concept of Being is a general one, where any concept can support it without exhaustion and where Being is merely the totality of beings. But Adorno is quick to mention that Heidegger was aware of this problem, and indeed he was, considering that the “forgetting of Being”, for Heidegger of Being and Time, was precisely an issue of this sort, of failing to think Being as distinct from the totality of beings. This is why the question is, to begin with, important. Because the question has been lost, and the destruction of history is one way for Heidegger to “retrieve it”. However, Adorno’s main point of attack reflects the tautological nature of the question itself. And again, Adorno reflects on how Heidegger understood this problem, but neglects to investigate the presupposition characteristic of the circular argument within his idea of the priority of Being. The contention involves the way the priority of the question of Being is presupposed by the ontological originality of Being. Heidegger emphasises that the question of Being precedes that of the being of beings, with which the sciences limit their investigations to, yet the centrality of the fundamental question of Being already implies a decision as to its priority made and presupposed in the very form of the question itself. Although this is a problem acknowledged by Heidegger but subsequently avoided, Adorno goes to agree with him that “the task for philosophy is not to escape this circle but to enter it at the right point” (OD 16). Any philosophy with a “mania for foundations” is, for Adorno ultimately tautological in its presupposing of what is in need of explaining, and explaining what is already simultaneously posited.

Heidegger defines Dasein as the creature whose being is essentially determined by its ability to speak, and whose discoursing acts as the “guideline” for arriving at structures of beings we encounter in discussion (BT 24). Speech is characteristic of the Dialectic as a mode of enquiry famously performed by Socrates. Yet Heidegger goes so far as to say the Dialectic, exhibited by Plato and Socrates, is an embarrassment and superfluous, and it wasn’t until Aristotle, for Heidegger, that speech (Logos) can be placed on a more fundamental level. Logos, variously translated as speech, discourse, or reason, doesn’t only refer to discourse but, further, “what is being talked about” (30). Logos reveals something through speech, for the speaker. “What is said should be derived from what is being talked about” (31). Speech relates Dasein existentially to Being through the question. Questioning, for Heidegger, has an ‘aboutness’ to it – “what is interrogated [Befragtes] also belongs to questioning.” We are always already involved in an understanding of Being because Being is already available to Dasein in a certain way as formulated by the question. As Dasein, we do not know what Being is, only that we understand the isness of the ‘is’ in “what is being?” (4). For Heidegger, speech accounts for the pre-ontological status of Dasein that apprehends the objective presence (present-at-hand) of beings. Accordingly, and initially, being is interpreted as presence, thus initiating Heidegger’s project in Being and Time to investigate Dasein through the function of time.

Adorno provides a historical critique of Heidegger’s reliance on speech as uniquely relating to Being by, like Heidegger, trace back to Aristotle the relation between ontology and language by showing how Aristotle’s use of “categories” in his Metaphysics is tied up with speech itself, for category signifies “nothing more than ‘in accordance with speech’.” Adorno then goes to show how Kant later adopts Aristotle’s categories with few modifications, which had the result of relating language to being itself: “the pure forms of speech themselves are supposed to be the forms that say something about being itself” (OD 35-7). Thus, it is no stretch to say how Heidegger comes to adopt this relation between language and being when he goes to posit Dasein as the being for whom Being presents itself as problem, and this problem presents itself in the form of the question, of language. This is the moment when speech and Being have a direct compatibility with each other.

An ambiguity is then formed between a concept of Being (as one of identifying an object under a concept) and Being itself (immediate relation, via speech or language, between speaking-being (Dasein) and Being itself). We can agree here with Adorno that we cannot speak about Being without substituting Being for a concept of Being. Even the word Being signifies something that is not Being itself, for, as Adorno notes, this would be a kind of immediate relation we do not have. But the kind of ‘immediacy’ Heidegger seems to aim for is not between concept and object but between an ‘existential’ (as pertaining to the very nature of the speaker themself) question and the problem of what *is*, Being itself. Although this does not tell us what, exactly, Being is, it nevertheless gets us closer to a relation that is essentially problematic, and it is the nature of the problem (the disposition of reason) which relates, at least minimally, Dasein to Being. And so, the answer Heidegger has to provide is the question of the problematic of Being, of the problematic of the question itself.

In Heidegger’s later post-war writings, the problem of Being and the consequences of its forgetting underwent some significant changes from the time he wrote Being and Time. One of those changes puts into place the necessary relation between the essence of Being and of its being forgotten, for it puts into new perspective the “destiny” to which a new ‘man’ can arrive and understand the enigma of Being. Or further, that the essence of man rests in thinking the truth of Being (BT 281). This is important for the way Heidegger re-emphasises the importance of language as it relates to the essence of Being as to be found in the true meaning of ancient Greek thought or “saying”. In Heidegger’s text “Anaximander’s saying”, we see most clearly his presentation of the problem of Being as it relates to language, translation, and the latent political actualisation or “destining” of the world-historical truth of Greek thought. The text is an explication of a short fragment by Anaximander which aims to reveal what it is “saying” understood in terms of the truth of the language of the Greeks and their expression of Being, as opposed to a ‘historiographically’ mediated “opinion”. This is the first instance where language (of Being) binds any two historically remote periods. Such an attempt to understand what Anaximander is saying is complicated, for Heidegger, via the process of translation. This is how Heidegger’s reliance on original terminology in all its etymological significance can be seen as an attempt to preserve the truth of Being.

The reason for the need for ontology in Heidegger’s case can be explained in his analysis of the forgetting of Being.

Being forgets itself. This is what Heidegger effectively says. Being is concealed, both historically and constitutively, from those who try to pursue it. Because Heidegger tries to locate the primordiality of Being within Greek thought, he ascribes to this time a destiny to which, like Nietzsche’s “Overman”, a unique kind of people will come to understand the truth of Being as an epoch that relates together the past of Greek thought to a future epoch which embodies this Greek destiny of Being. The essence of Being is at once concealing and illuminating, and any attempt to unconceal it darkens the light of Being: “by revealing itself in being, being withdraws” (BT 253-4). The forgetting of Being is re-thought in terms of historically necessary misinterpretation. Throughout this history, the “destiny of the Greeks awaits for what will become of its seeds.” In connection to Adorno, we see Heidegger position the problem of Being in terms of the completion of metaphysics and the actualisation of its world-historical truth, similar in vain to the Hegelian Geist. A new world-history that effectively doubles as the pre-history of the ancient Greek world. Everything considered, Heidegger wants nothing more than to return to what already was or is. The question of Being finds its answer already given in the ancient world. The epochality of Being reveals Heidegger’s answer to the ontological need. For the need really is to get back to a kind of thinking that is violated by the historical developments of the sciences and technology. In this sense, Heidegger might agree with Adorno’s criticism that the focus on Being is a reaction against positivist science and remains as a philosophical remainder. Yet Heidegger’s is a reaction tout court. The problem of Being is essentially that remainder which has been omitted from the history of thinking itself. The stakes at which Heidegger is dealing with are explicitly shown when he says, “in an exaggerated way which nevertheless touches on the truth”, the “destiny of the West rests on the translation of the word ἐόν (being [seiend]), given that the translation [Ubersetzung] is a crossing over [Ubersetzung] to the truth of what comes to language in the ἐόν” (260).

Adorno’s rejection of Heidegger’s ontological need for retrieving the forgotten question of Being is by showing how its formulation was a uniquely modern reaction against the development of scientific research and positivist thinking. Both Adorno and Heidegger agree on this point, that a critique of positivist thinking rests on a resistance against the reification and objectivising of the world into facts. For Adorno, Heidegger’s need to regress to the Greeks is an effect of formulating questions that are authentically philosophical away and against any attempt to answer it scientifically. And it is here that the problem of Being emerges as a “remainder” of philosophical enquiry against the dominance of positivism. Moreover, the ontological need is positioned against the backdrop of the failure of Hegelianism, and where the stagnation of philosophy after Hegel was fulfilled once again as an exciting new attempt to move philosophy beyond the confines of the study of particular branches, itself an effect of the institutionalisation of philosophy. “The ontological need is an index of lack”, says Adorno (OD 104), left there not only from the failure of Hegel to fulfil his promise of thinking totality, but also of correlating with the consciousness of society, instead of “lagging behind”. If philosophy is to promise anything, and we see this in Adorno’s comments on praxis, it is to actualise along with the development of society.

What is preventing philosophy’s actualisation is, among other things, the problem of the status of ‘man’ or the individual. Because the problem of Being concerns, fundamentally, the question of the human being, a subsidiary question is (archaically) posed: what or who is man? Adorno, directs another point of attack towards the regurgitation of the idea of ‘man’ as found in Heidegger but also, says Adorno, the day-to-day life of marketing ads which “proves” that man himself does not exist. The lack involved in the ontological need refers, in part, to filling with meaning what already lacks meaning – life itself. Although Adorno is not making the claim life is meaningless, he is pointing to the phenomena that philosophising continues insofar as people substitute the emptiness of life for concepts (OD 150). Fatalistically perhaps, Adorno says philosophy itself ultimately becomes a kind of market to which people are more easily deceived about their own loss of humanity within the concepts they use. The failure of philosophy to actualise effectuates its own perpetuation as compensation. Such a position presses stronger in Adorno’s claim that humanity is not identical to the concept of freedom, for the concept merely puts in place what we have essentially lost. From this we see an essential difference between Adorno and Heidegger concerning the actuality of philosophy based on this question of man. It is only through an elucidation of Dasein and Being that philosophy, for Heidegger, can be realised and metaphysics ‘ends’. Yet for Adorno, philosophy is there to conceal the fundamental loss of man itself, in which case the attempt to end metaphysics through it is mere deception, a philosophical and ideological veil.

Adorno’s comments on the loss of man nicely relate back to the Heideggerian need to provide an answer for Kant’s question: how is metaphysics as a natural predisposition possible? In their own ways, it can be shown that Adorno and Heidegger are both implicitly responding to this question as it concerns not only investigating the nature of the human being but also the actualisation of philosophy. For it seems that what Adorno and Heidegger have in common, above all, is their shared reliance on the question of the individual as it relates to the development of an idealised social life. This essay accepts as convincing Adorno’s critique of Heidegger’s project in pointing to both its philosophical and, importantly, ideological failures, but the question remains open as to what a historically and dialectically informed investigation can do to answer the fundamental problem of the “fate of reason”. To ask such a question is to provide an answer for what is, which Adorno’s negative ontology rejects for an ‘ontology of false things’, namely of what is not. But it remains to be said whether a picture of humanity and philosophy’s historical actuality can only be considered via negativa, and whether the fate of reason is to be shown as an effect of historical determinations (not unique to capitalism, for its genealogy can be traced to the beginning of philosophy itself) or if it is ‘internal’, that is to say ontologically and psychically, to thinking beings themselves. To repeat Adorno we continue to ask, because we must ask, what is the need of philosophy itself if not to compensate for its perpetual failure? This is the point Adorno’s own work pivots on, in that we cannot drop philosophical enquiry for the blind sake of political practice, instead we must think praxis alongside philosophy, but we also have to resist the need for philosophising as compensation for the failure of praxis. Is need constituted or constitutive of man? How do we get out of this deadlock?


  1. CPR = Kant, Immanuel. The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant. Critique of Pure Reason. 15th ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009)
  2. ND = Theodor Adorno, Negative Dialectics, trans. Dennis Redmond, (Suhrkamp Verlag, 1970; online, 2001)
  3. OD = Theodor Adorno, Ontology and Dialectics, trans. Nicholas Walker, ed. Rolf Tiedemann, (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2019)
  4. AP = Theodor Adorno, “The Actuality of Philosophy”, Telos Press Publishing, (1997, vol. 31): 120-133, doi: 10.3817/0377031120
  5. K = Theodor Adorno, Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Rodney Livingstone, (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2001)
  6. KPM = Martin Heidegger, Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics. 5th ed., trans. Richard Taft, (Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1997)
  7. IM = Martin Heidegger, Introduction to Metaphysics, 2nd ed. trans. Gregory Fried and Richard Polt, (London: Yale University Press, 2014)
  8. BT = Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. Joan Stambaugh, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2010)
  9. OBT = Martin Heidegger, Off The Beaten Track, trans. Julian Young and Kenneth Haynes, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002)

[1] Echoing Kant’s maturation of reason in “What is Enlightenment”?

[2] Does this also mean that the question of philosophy’s own actuality cannot be answered for?


The “no” of psychoanalysis

Within the opening sentences of Sigmund Freud’s short text ‘Negation’, it is important to learn that the resistance displayed by the patients “no” is not a reply to a question posed by the analyst, but a reply to a pre-supposed question provided, or projected, by the patient speaking on behalf of the supposed motives or beliefs of the analyst. It is in this way that we can say the presence of negation is an example of the patient themselves, paradoxically, instigating analysis. Paradoxical because at once the negation refers to a refusal of analysis ‘proper’ taking place, that is, by denying the significance of some content and not others in allowing the analyst to help them in all their symptoms (or perhaps the patient preemptively decides for themselves exactly what symptoms are in need of treating) while also initiating the beginning of analysis by being the first to propose an interpretation – we might ask: where, and with whom, does analysis begin?[1]

This double movement is expressed by the patient’s own very first words “you may think that I. . .”. The patient is not in analysis for no reason, so it must attest to their presence within the clinical setting that expectations and assumptions be met. It could be said that the mere entering of the clinic allows for the possibility for patients to encounter their own identity and away from the general psychological solipsism of everyday life by allowing them to recognise themselves self-consciously with, through, against the analyst. This is where the truth in the fortune-cracker wisdom, “happiness begins with yourself”, can emerge, yet only, or especially, aided within the clinic with the help of the analyst. Interpretation is not provided by the analyst, it already exists with the patient. The task is, however, to couch it.

What this brief comment aims to show is that the existence of the No is intimately tied to the question and/or problem of the role of interpretation in the analytic experience, or to make note of the many interpretations of the No as itself a symptom of the multifacetedness of the concept itself that is confronted by Freud throughout his career.

Within this essay, I will comment upon the various interpretations of the No and comparatively analyse the way these interpretations affect the very status of the No itself, and finally, but primarily, explore the differing ways the expression of No subsequently reveals the multiple dimensions of a latent “yes” that lies behind the negation in ways that contradict one another depending on the object of association linked with the negation. This will include Freud on fetishism, Alenka Zupančič on the crack or gap within the unconscious, Martin Heidegger on the self-recognition of Dasein, and Andre Green on displaced desire.

The No begins, Freud notes, as a “rejection by way of projection, of an idea that has just come up (my italics)”. The rejection has its significance via the strength of the idea the patient enforces upon himself that he must expel as quickly as possible, there is nowhere for it to go but out. The by-now classic example Freud gives is of a patient recounting a dream, saying “you ask who this person in the dream can be. It is not my mother!” with Freud replying “then it is your mother”. The reason for this conclusion is that by associating negation with unconscious repressed material, any negation can be said to be the contrary, i.e. it exhibits the workings of the unconscious process. But this is not a simple formula – no means yes –  for it says nothing about the form of the repressed material, which is its condition for emerging, which would otherwise lead us to naively adopting the content of the negation, namely, the object “mother”.

If the content of the repression is not the object “mother” per se, it is because the “mother” reveals the mechanism of unconscious censorship, and brings us to ask for what reason is the patient censoring a content for which presents itself as “mother”. The truthfulness of the negation, then, lies not with the content but with the reality of the “intrusion of the unconscious”, a distortion. This distortion brings to light what Zupančič refers to as the crack or gap within the unconscious where the No is to be thought not as an instrument of the unconscious, patching up the gaps of repression, but as the ground both of itself and the condition of repression as such.[2] This is why Freud must not end but begin with the negation, for the truth in the symptom of the no is not only in its content but also, and importantly, in the form of its expression, the condition of repression.

The method of extracting information, or the truth of their symptom, from a patient has its significance in getting the patient to think the unthinkable, or, to “imagine what is most unlikely”, to reach the farthest depths of the psyche. If the patient falls into this “trap”, Freud believes he will almost always get his answer, namely, the truth as the symptom, albeit only the beginning of thoroughly grounding this truth.

Instead of affirming the opposite of the negation getting the answer we want and see this as a sign of the end of analysis, following Zupančič we say that this is only the very beginning, that is, the point when analysis proper can take place. Like the fetishist, the patient can come to recognise their symptom, but only “intellectually”, yet the (cause of the) symptom still persists, the “negation itself is negated”, and so it is the negating process which must be understood. Jean Hyppolite reminds us that there is no “no” in the unconscious, but its recognition on the part of the ego “demonstrates that the ego is always misrecognition.”[3] This is where the source of denial can be seen to come from. The patient rejects what is otherwise alien from them, reject, and eject, that source of negativity they unconsciously do not want to consume within their ego. As a consequence, an ego is an imaginary ideal by way of what it has negated, the ego is what is left after the rejection of negativity. But such negativity never really goes, instead it remains, but unrecognised by the ego.

What the slip or utterance of the mother reveals with regard to the unconscious mechanism of negation is that it reveals something hidden but only in a way that what we miss is the literality of its existence when we try to apprehend its “latent content”. Paradoxically, what the patient wanted to say is precisely what he did say, because what he said was the direct consequence of the negation itself.[4]

The peculiar uniqueness of the patient’s negation is that the truth of the symptom immediately reveals itself via negativa. As Zupančič nicely summarizes: “every explicit negation, every strongly emphasised distancing from a certain content, strongly indicates the truth of precisely this content”.[5] What Freud understood, and what Lacan emphasises, is that within the analytic setting no utterance is free of significance. Lacan makes the case that there is no reason to exclude the knowledge given by the patient of their own psychical phenomena, even if what they present contradicts what the cause of the symptom is, because it is in analysing this contradiction (the patients’ disavowal) that we can begin to understand the symptom. This means that the analyst no longer chooses among the various psychical reactions which are significant or not, but begins by “no longer choosing”. Lacan calls this the “law of non-omission”.[6] The significance of the discovery of negation is that it reveals a double function of meaning. Although what a patient says may “have no meaning”, it is in their saying to the analyst that it conceals one anyway.

The apparent and literal status of negativity is nicely demonstrated in Todd McGowan’s review of Alenka Zupančič’s book What Is Sex?, highlighting the relationship between Martin Heidegger or existentialism and psychoanalysis. Such a connection rests upon the notion of nothing and its relationship to subjectivity. Like Freud’s negation, the way we relate to or name the nothing, for Heidegger, is through the confrontation and recognition of the anxiety we feel when in contact with the nothing itself. Heidegger says we are accustomed to dismiss, or deny, a possible fright as being really nothing, yet the paradoxical moment is that such a denial correctly identifies, without knowing it, the way we ontically reach the nothing “by way of talking”. It is through this anxious negation that we approach the nothing. When we dismiss something, the object cause of our anxiety, “as nothing”, we “ironically identify the cause correctly”. When we say nothing, we really mean nothing. Compared with Freud’s comments on negation, the patient first arrives at a truth from the last place they look, “the most unlikely imaginable thing” and the “furthest from the mind”, whereas with Heidegger, the nothing is the last thing we arrive at from the first place we look. What they both share is the primary misrecognition of the no-thing. The question is whether we recognise the nothing as nothing upon its dismissal or, as with Freud’s patient, negate this negation. And whether, clinically, we can reconcile this anxiety of the nothing as being the constitutive feature of our subjectivity. The difference between Heidegger and Freud on the role of no-thing is whether what is negated is produced by way of projection (Freud) or what is denied is what already exists (Heidegger). For Freud, negation is constitutive within subjectivity, for Heidegger, the nothing exists alongside or with Dasein. In other words, the difference comes down to the gap (or lack thereof) within the subject. McGowan concludes that if there is anything to be made between psychoanalysis and Heidegger, we have to avoid talk of “authentic being courageously enduring the anxiety of the nothing”, but instead, of “recognising the impossibility of any authenticity”, that “none of us can attain a privileged relation to nothing”.[7] The question remains: how do we recognise this nothing as our nothing? The similarities between Freud and Heidegger does not only concern the denial of the no-thing, but also how the subject responds to this encounter through the affect of fright or anxiety. In his text on fetishsism, Freud draws in a lot of the ideas mentioned above, of negation, denial, anxiety, etc, when confronting the problem of castration and how the subject, or young child (typically male) is provided with the opportunity of developing a fetish as the symptomatic effect of denying the non-existence of his mother’s phallus.

If a patient comes to recognise and accept the contents of what is repressed, they do so through negative judgement. Such a process helps thinking free itself from the restrictions of repression and becomes the indispensable material which allows for the proper function of thinking. The importance of judgement, for Freud, has to do with the way an ego comes to organise its reality, in a yes or no logic, by, first, consuming or internalising everything which it finds pleasurable and spitting out or keeping outside the ego – avoided – that which it finds unpleasurable. This is the function of the pleasure-ego. The second stage of judgement, this time by the reality-ego, is to find these pleasurable objects it has internalised back out into reality. What was once consumed with the ego is now re-presented in reality. The ego repeats reality for itself in a way that complicates two-fold the distinction between inner-subjective and outer-objective. What Freud emphasized about the second stage of the reality-ego is that it refinds these pleasurable objects in reality  so as to convince itself of their continual existence. Reality is re-produced, or mediated, by the ego. From this, we can better understand the role disavowal plays in the castration complex. In the case of fetishism, the child is confronted with a reality, or the non-reality of an object, which it does not like and so denies it by no longer recognising it. But the problem the child now faces is in refinding this object, the mothers phallus, that never existed back out in reality. The child cannot do so by pretending the object continues to exist as he thought he knew it before, but to refind it through substitution of another object. The fetishised object has its significance because, so long as it exists or remains, the trauma of the encounter with the missing phallus can be avoided. A fetish is one way of disavowing trauma of castration. But it is also an affirmation of the trauma itself in a way that the fetish simultaneously conceals and points towards its lack.

Slavoj Žižek further extends the fetishist disavowal by pointing to the way that the confrontation with castration is itself a disavowal of a prior expectation that, in contrast to man, the woman did not simply lose her phallus but never had it to begin with. The question Žižek draws our attention to is why women’s lack of phallus results in castration? Because it is against the background of expectation that the child should see a phallus.[8] It is here that we can re-mention the reality principle of the ego. The child takes cognizance of his own phallus, deems it a source of pleasure and therefore grants it a place in his reality, and then expects to refind it everywhere else. Castration presents itself as a destroyer of reality. Its disavowal is reality protection. Protection is an important concept with regard to disavowal for the reason that, in the case of a child, the way to protect itself from loss is by dominating and mastering it that may take the form either of fetishsim, play, fantasy, etc. Mastery is to take control of one’s own trauma, or death. To play with absence, as Paul Ricoeur says, is to dominate it.[9] This is most fully elaborated in the well-known example provided by Freud of the game fort-da. The reality principle, for Ricoeur, involves mastery insofar as the ego tries to recompense for the absence or loss of the object previously consumed by the pleasure-ego refinding it in reality.[10] When upon the child faced with the mother’s non-phallus the defence against this crucial fright is not to withdraw but to master it in ways that manifest either as substitution, as is the case with fetishsism, or through the repetition of this trauma, as is the case with fort-da.

A fetish may develop when, in the course of the development of the child’s psyche, it is normal that when confronted with his mother’s lack of a phallus he should accept and give this fact up. From the child’s invested belief in the existence of his mother’s phallus, he comes to reject this by refusing to take cognizance of this loss, for “no human being is spared the fright of castration at the sight of a female genital”.[11] Such refusal relates to how the child’s ego does not want his reality disrupted. The child is then under obligation, as a matter of psychic survival, to be able to do so by substituting this non-phallus for another object, and the fetish exists because it is designed to preserve this loss from extinction. It is important to note that this negation is not a repression, for as Freud says repression relates to affects, but a disavowal of an idea. As such, the child’s belief in his mother’s phallus remains intact, though altered. Under the guise of unconscious thought, the child strikes up a compromise, his mother has got a phallus, in spite of everything, but it is no longer the same as it was before.[12] The negation of one thing has been transferred to the acceptance of another. The fetish remains a “token of triumph” over the threat of castration. What goes into the making of this seeming ‘decision’ of substitution? Perhaps it results from a symbolic swap of the image of the phallus, or perhaps, as Freud preferred, the choice is not altogether arbitrary and is instead a residue of a traumatic memory at the scene of castration. This would explain, for Freud, why so many fetishsits have as their object-choice shoes or feet because the child is at ground level. The ability of the feitishsit to comfortably accept his fetish is because it is not known by others and so cannot either be used against him nor withheld from him, which means no sense of prohibition is felt and thus no reason to deny or reject its existence. And perhaps it would no longer be a fetish if  indeed it did have to be rejected.

The ego of the humorist likewise refuses to be distressed by the provocations of reality through the  trivializing of suffering by way of regressing back to a child-like state. The humorist simultaneously adopts the role of both child and adult reflecting what is the internalisation of the superego, which allows for the ego to transpose negativity out onto the superego. In his text Humour, Freud further develops the notion of the superego’s function of prohibition by introducing the temporary lifting of restrictions which gives the ego a small, liberatory, sense of pleasure expressed through humour. Although Freud leaves open the complexity of this new insight of the role of the superego, we can say that its function is now, on the face of it, not an all-consuming No, even if what little comfort it may give to the ego takes place as a narcissistic illusion, but a strategic permissiveness.[13] For the fetishist, the superego remains absent which forces the ego to convert this trauma into a new object, whereas for the humorist, the presence of the superego means that the trauma can be reduced to a trivial illusion.

Andre Green provides a unique case study of the notion of negation in the clinical setting when he shows that every no hides a surreptitious yes, and he calls this a negative affirmation.[14] Although Freud says plainly that every negation reveals an affirmative judgement, he does not go into explaining why negation exists as an effect of prior familial relations between patient and, in most cases, their parents. Instead, he emphasises the fantasmatic dimension of the no in relation to the content of a trauma, without regard for a displaced desire directed towards an object outside the child-parent relation. This is where Green gives further insight provided into negative affirmation by an example of one his case studies of a young woman called ‘Ninon’. As a young girl, Ninon had a troubled relationship with her authoritative mother that resulted in Ninon developing distress, anorexia, selective-mutism towards strangers, and a phobia of going to school for fear of leaving her mothers side. After many failed interventions made by Green in analysis and after many responses by Ninon in the form of “I don’t know” and emphatic “No”’s, Green could not work out the reason for the correlation between these symptoms and Ninon’s resistance, until he picks upon a story remembered by Ninon of the traumatic “tomato-rice dish” episode. After young Ninon refused to eat the dish her mother made, her mother trapped her into a corner and tried to force Ninon to eat a mouthful. When Ninon spat it out, her mother threatened Ninon by sending her to school, dragging her there despite Ninon’s screams and tears. From this scenario we can say that the desire hidden in the ‘no’ of the refusal to eat the food was that Ninon did in fact want to go to school, but her mother’s ambivalence prevented her from doing so, for which the mother was even upset at the prospect that Ninon had done well in school.

Compared with Freud’s example, it is not that upon refusing to eat the food Ninon really did, in fact, want to eat the food because the food itself was not the site of trauma as such but its trigger. The same goes for the patient denying his mothers presence in his dream, in that the real cause of the symptom is not necessarily the object ‘mother’. In the case of Ninon, perhaps we can say that the food was an arbitrary vantage point from which Ninon can reject her mothers wishes in order to fulfill her own (hidden) desires. But the paradox that emerges from this is the fact that Ninon, in later years, suffered with anorexia, in which upon its analysis, we would incorrectly trace this symptom as having been a direct consequence of the tomato-rice dish episode, rather than as an associated illness for which the real cause still remains hidden. Complementing Zupančič’s comment on the truthfulness of negation, Andre Green says that far from being the obstacle of truth, the function of resistance is its lever.[15]

In ‘Negation’, Freud did not go into the details of what exactly the ‘affirmation’ behind the negation amounted to. But through our studies of the various ways the No can conceal an alternative Yes, the status of this ‘yes’ can vastly differ depending on the alternative object associated with or away from the ‘mother’ (as presented in the patients dream).

To conclude, I will briefly recount and provide different possible answers with respect to the thinkers we have discussed. By doing so, the question must be asked: What is the ‘yes’?

For Zupančič, there is no yes’, strictly speaking, instead, what the negation reveals is the very gap that constitutes and conditions the unconscious itself. There is an irreducible and irreparable crack that surfaces as a symptom and works as the structuring of repression itself. The paradoxical conclusion that can emerge from this is that the object ‘mother’ could signify not only ‘not-mother’ but also, and more significantly, a ‘not-not-mother’. This is a crucial and fatalistic insight that views the sources of trauma residing solely within the gaps of the unconscious. For Freud, in the case of fetishism, the ‘yes’ as revealed in the fetish-object is not a prior hidden desire but one that forces its way into existence as a defense mechanism against the trauma of the No. In this way, the ‘yes’ is completely arbitrary yet necessary. What is desired is the preservation of reality made up of objects. For Heidegger, the No encounters itself in the self-recognition of the ‘yes’, that is, the presentation of nothing necessarily allows the subject to regress back to what it always already was, Dasein. For Green, the ‘yes’ is a displaced desire of the No. It is expressed as a kind of fate: “If I can’t do this, then that leaves me no choice but to do this other thing”. Forced choice turns out to be achieving what one already wanted. Such a choice simultaneously lessens the responsibility of saying ‘yes’ while heightening the capacity to enjoy this ‘yes’ as transgressed desire.

[1] We could also extend this idea by speculating on how the patient’s call to begin analysis functions within analysis.

[2] Alenka Zupančič, “Not-Mother: On Freud’s Verneinung”, e-flux #33 (2012)

[3] Jacques Lacan, “Appendix I: A Spoken Commentary on Freud’s “Verneinung” by Jean Hyppolite” in Écrits, ed. Bruce Fink (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006), 753

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Jacques Lacan, “Beyond the “Reality Principle”” in Écrits, ed. Bruce Fink (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006), 66

[7] Todd McGowan, “What Is Nothing?: Alenka Zupančič with Martin Heidegger”, Continental Thought & Theory #2

[8] Slavoj Žižek, For They Know Not What They Do: Enjoyment as a political factor, 2nd ed. (London: Verso Books), 174-5 

[9] Paul Ricoeur, Freud & Philosophy: An Essay On Interpretation (New Haven and London: Yale University Press), 314

[10] Ibid.

[11] Sigmund Freud, “Fetishism” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud Volume XXI, ed. Anna Freud, James Strachey (London: Vintage Books 2001), 154

[12] Ibid.

[13] Sigmund Freud, “Humour” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud Volume XXI, ed. Anna Freud, James Strachey (London: Vintage Books 2001), 162-6

[14] Andre Green, “Negation and Contradiction” in On Private Madness (London: The Hogarth Press, 1986; repr., London: Karnac Books, 2005), 257

[15] Ibid., 262

essai, Uncategorized

Incels, Chads, Eco-Primitivists, Self-Betterment Guru’s and the Desire for the Real: A ‘heroes’ quest for the reproductive-system

What connects Incels, Chads, Eco-primitivists, Self-betterment Guru’s, and Terrorists? They are each failed ‘heroes’ in capturing and over-coming what they most desire: the reproductive system — whether that be Mother-Nature, God, The Strong-Self, or simply, a Woman. Each Object for each subject represents a value that both must be attained and reproduced for the survival and flourishing of themselves or society. They are ‘heroes’ because it is they who will go and retrieve from the rest of “us” what is lost to, or has been taken from, their kind: The Reproductive System (Woman, God, Mother-Nature, etc.). 

As any hero of value must contend with, they have to live through, fight, and become survivors to a system they deem decadent. Each subject are survivors, but not ones who adapt to their environment and stand-alone. Instead, they are dependant upon the idea, and eventual attainment, of the idealised Mother-Reproductive-Object. They are survivors who are left without (or has been taken from them) the object they deem they or the rest of humanity deserves. They are people for whom their lives and existence is dependant upon possessing this lost object, and as such, it is not only by acquiring the object in order to fulfill their experience, but give essence to their existence.

Survival in this sense turns out to be characteristically Oedipal, in which a child in fear of losing his mother to his father/society/Other-Chads, must fight — destroy — them in order to gain access to what is “rightfully” theirs — the reclamation of the reproductive mother-system. Except in a twist, this ‘maternal’ figure, whether Nature or Woman, turns out not to exist outside the fantasy that produces it. In other words, Incels condemn themselves as Orphans to a Mother that never existed, never abandoned, and thus, ought never to be repressed from. 

We can make a distinction between the insatiable attainment of the objet a and the impossibility of fulfilling desire for an object that never existed. There is no Mother-Nature for the eco-primitivist to return to, no God to turn to after his Nietzchean Death, no mother for the ‘orphaned’ child, and no Woman for the Incel or Chad because it is ultimately themselves that is the barrier to what they long to possess. 

And what does the failed-hero do once he realises his impotence? He terrorizes the system, society, or simulated object he thought impeded him from gaining access to his rightful desires. And so kills, kills — murders — with fashionable wrath. A spectacle indeed. Yet it is a war on Spectacles. As Crump shows in his essay The Aeneid for Incels, Roger Elliot’s manifesto “is a horrific and extensive explication of the development of, as he calls it, a “fascist” sexualization of the world — a sexualization that both terrorizes him and drives him to terrorism.” Further noting: “All objects becomes a means to a literal sexual gratification — a gratification that Roger never experiences.” We can see parallels with Baudrillard’s analysis of the “grotesque hyperreality” of Late Capitalism and Rogers’ “fascist sexualization” of society, wherein they both point to the pornographic structure of society itself — an ever-present and obscene display of sexually charged consumerism. Money is sex. Which only adds weight to the feelings of loss, missing-out, resentment, and inadequacy that incels necessarily experience. Because what they encounter is a society formally structured around the very thing they know to not have in their possession, which suggests not only a partial detachment of a particularity of living in a society, which is having sexual relations, but of being wholly detached from a society that is formed on the basis of libidinal relations. To not be apart of such a ‘natural’ stream of consumption is then to be deemed ‘unnatural’ — a sure sign of having failed or to have let oneself fail to a misaligned society. 

As Baudrillard notes, Hyperreality is there to signal or suggest, through its “grotesque hyperrealism”, that there does remain some real out there. Yet such a “reality” (in this case, the reproductive-mother) is a simulacrum of hyperreality itself — a copy without an original. Reality is an artificial production by the machine of hyperreality as to secure its own survival. 

One can also see this theologically, like access to the forbidden fruit, the mother/woman is a prohibited object to which the prohibition itself is the cause of desire. There is nothing being prohibited except the desire of prohibition itself. And as such, the subject seeks to both overcome and reinscribe this desire-producing prohibition as a way of perpetually maintaining a sense of desire whilst not killing and satiating it. Or, how a child only wants a toy the moment you say: No!

Thus the grotesque, malicious, evil and wrathful violence inflicted by the incel-terrorist is perhaps the one and only true object provided by themselves for themselves using women as a scapegoat in achieving what they wanted to achieve all along: Damaging the society that has so ‘wrongly’ made them insignificant. Yet there is a nuanced difference with the Incel-terrorists relation to weakness, it is not in simply being oppressed and dominated by all-powerful society, but of letting oneself be reduced to weakness, a lack of strength, by a socio-entity that is itself already deformed. This is what particularly connects the self-betterment guru’s often found in alt-right spheres — one has to be strong in a weak society. Self-betterment is as much, if not more, an attempt to repress those ‘natural’ tendencies to hurt and compete than it is to be genuinely good. It is the negative-theology of Ethical Living. ‘Goodness’ is only the Will and strength to not be Evil, following the Hobbesian idea of the natural, brutish man. An Ethical Leviathinism. 

Violence then becomes as much directed towards the outside as much as it is a reflected attack on their selves, which suicide after terror attacks seems to suggest. 

Violent attacks take shape when one is no longer able to withhold their repressions. Yet to be repressed about something signifies a real object which is lost — and as I have shown, the lost object never existed. They have been sold a product which does not exist and lacerate themselves, and others, for their poverty whilst angered and frustrated with the rest of us who supposedly possess the riches of sexuality. Thus the unrequited search for Sex/Love is as much an illusion as the wealth of images that distribute and exchange its representation. Repression is no longer of sex, but “through sex”, as Baudrillard notes. And this is the place of the Chad. He understands the ‘illusion’ of authentic sexual-intercourse yet is still unable to satiate his desire despite through his activity of copious and meaningless sex — often at the exploitation and manipulation of women. Sexual Promiscuity for the Chad defers the ever possibility of allowing himself to participate in genuine sexual relations. Sex keeps him from sex. The Chad, like other addicts, seeks to subvert the confrontation with their true condition by excessively indulging in the activity for which they seek to detach from. 

The “last cigarette” of any smoker, as Zupancic shows, is never their last. It only enables them to carry on indefinitely smoking with the reassurance of acknowledging their problem. In a footnote, Baudrillard says, “Sexual discourse is invented through repression, for repression speaks about sex better than any other form of discourse. Through repressions (and only through repression), sex takes on reality and intensity because only confinement gives it the stature of myth. Its liberation is the beginning of its end.” (my italics). 

Baudrillard: “Sex being an anamorphosis of the categorical social imperative”. Sex is always an End. This means, for the Incel, it’s not only a matter of finding a partner but a partner for who will consolidate with the gift of sex. But this is where prohibition comes in. The Incel wants sex but not as themselves, but as the Other-Chad. “I want to be like him” signals not only jealousy for the object in the Chad’s possession, but of the subject of Chad himself. The Incel unconsciously refuses sex, or the potential to grow a relationship that might end with it, on the grounds that it would eventually be he who has to perform it. It is their own body that is in the way of their desire. This emphasises that sex as the end is nothing but an idealised fantasy that can only ever cease once they commit to the idea that women (and others) are not objects of reproduction of the values of survival. Sex is not the end. But the social categorical imperative which the perverse ubiquity of the exchange of sex makes this irredeemably difficult for the typical American phenomena any typically male has to live through. 


“The problem with the Incel”, Crumps rightfully says, “is problematic to the very essence of how it desires”. And I would specify, such desire is as much directed outwards as much as it is a self-reflection, of how the incel sees himself through the eyes of the other-woman. 

The common query people raise with regards to this inexhaustible desire for sex is: “Why don’t incels just hire sex workers?”. And as Crumps suggests, “there is absolutely no reason to believe that acquiring the elusive utopian sex that Rodger [Incels] demands of the world would “cure” anything.” Because “sex workers cannot address the issue”, which is fundamentally, in Crumps’ view, about “Eros” and Sexuality proper. Someone like Roger Eliot isn’t an “alien” or an animal from outer space, he harbors exactly the same desire any of us are susceptible to which are “produced by the society around him”. 

No doubt society produces, governs, manipulates desire, but is it really the case Incels are referring to that aspect of Sexuality that is just too deep for them to reach? That they are heroes of sexuality, setting themselves the quest of finding what is most precious and rare? Instead, I think it is the opposite, Incels do care only about the explicitness of sexual intercourse, yet the reason they may refuse sex workers is that they refuse the ideological dressage, civil procedures, and the very commodification of sex which they abhor in society. It is rather that participating with sex workers holds with it an element of artificially constructed performance they’d rather not have. Reduced to spectators to their own enjoyment — is it really you performing sex or merely being performed on? Which means it would be remiss to suggest Incels desire something more than intercourse because whose to say sex with sex workers is real or even about intercourse as such? One would be too preoccupied with the Event that intercourse would become insignificant. Rather, it is once the ‘illusion’ or performance of sexual involvement is stripped and becomes only a primal and visceral engagement between you and your partner that intercourse becomes all the more desirable and the only thing to exist and matter. Incels are too wary of the abstract procedure that is involved with finding a partner and into finally having sex. And perhaps this is the very reason for their inability to accessing sex, because they wish to get to the end product without first traversing the social because such social bonding supposedly diminishes and makes inauthentic the sex they so desire. The Incel has refused to acknowledge the necessary movement of first being ‘inauthentic’ into then becoming your ‘true self’. And we can see this reflected in their attitude of good looks. They want women to accept them as who they already are because who they are is biologically determined — they are “blackpilled”. There is no becoming-chad. But isn’t such an attitude of condemning oneself to the biologically determinant features of their body already a socially-embedded construct they’ve pigeon held themselves in? You are what you do, you look as you do too. 

What any incel-terrorist seeks to destroy is the very fabric of sociality itself. 




Art Criticism, Philosophy of Art, Uncategorized

The Fun House of Contemporary Art – Appendix

Appendix to: Aesthetics, or, The Capitalist Production of Cultural Logic  __

I.    The World with its many Rooms and its many Smells:

The World is divided into rooms and each room carries its own aroma. Yet it is not the case we follow the scent that we like into the room of our pleasing. It is not a smell we believe is good, but a simulated appearance for which we merely accept and embrace. Having ideas is adopting them. The Carnival is one such instance of a room with its smells of excessive enjoyment to the point of dis-pleasure and pain (Jouissance?). Its twists and turns turn strange and unfamiliar, provoking nausea and inducing us to coming away feeling uncanny to the point we become frightened of the very thing that’s meant to to do the opposite. Clowns are just another example. They’re exaggeration only highlights the fact their smiles are a cover up for a deeply disturbing world for which they run. The world is a Fun House.

‘Aesthetic pleasure’ is thus a smell with which we accept and assume and take it as emblematic of our identity. We quite literally wear our smells. We are what we stink of! It is an acceptance of an experience we believe what has always already been the case. We are converted and seduced. No! We are proud of our discoveries! The discovery of something ‘new’ is really a finding of something that was always meant to be, of something lost, of needing to be re-found. The saying “I need to find true Love” is not a matter of being without Love, but of accepting the Love of the other that should have always already been present in our lives. Prior to the relationship the other is missing. What I was missing before I met you was not Love itself, but you. ‘Aesthetic Experience’ then, as being gifted or given to us as motive for us to find it is not to fill in the gap of aesthetic displeasure but of persuading us to accept the object of such pleasure as the necessary part that was specifically lost to us prior to our engaging with the art object. Meaning, the art object presented under the Funhouse of Late Capitalist Contemporary Art is providing us with the Love we think we always needed – and yet it turns out to be nothing other than a provisional stimulating simulation. Love in this instance is a lie sold to us so we can buy something else or subscribe some other romantic relationship – maybe adopting, and thus condoning, additional marketing ploys.

The Funhouse of Art sees itself as Destiny providing us with our Fate – the Fate of pleasurable experiences. Something specific has to turn out according to plan… except what? We can never have the capacity to know what Fate has provided for us; we are then left to our own intuition as to whether we accept a particular event as an act of fate or not. We are in charge of our own Fate. Under these false pretenses, it is here, then, that we choose our destiny.


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A Sexy Odyssey

What can maybe be said to connect or preoccupy us all – regardless of where we are in the world, what culture we’re raised in, what race we feel we belong to or the differences in identity – is a feeling and acknowledgement of the want/need to be noticed by others. Now this isn’t a cynical comment about obtaining a sense of self-gratification but that of not being lonely, of being apart of a community and a reciprocation of identity formation.

And of course, this desire to be noticed manifests itself differently relative to the level of culture, community and individual identity itself. And while this post will refer exclusively to where I am situated in (England) and where I am enveloped in (America), I wanted to take the opportunity to semi-seriously make note on the preoccupation of the desire to be noticed, as emphasized on the media I am involved with, which in my opinion is characterized as the desire to be seen as Sexy. (and what I can extrapolate out of the seemingly trivial subject of sexiness)

This is not what is sexy but how.


There is no being sexy – in the same way as there is no being sincere – as it suggests intent on doing and artificially constructing a mode of being or doing and of being seen that is not true to itself (in other words, inauthentic). It is what is presumably what happens to you, without your acknowledged doing. Except, as we will come to see, such a basis for authenticity, sincerity and even sexiness is through the process of ideological cynicism and a performance for an other and oneself.

Authenticity is one of the primary and fundamental criterion for any being – having the capabilities of possessing and carrying out what could be described as Attitude – to be seen as sexy. As such, authenticity suggests a being for oneself which instigates confidence (another criterion of sexiness).

Confidence is the link between performer and spectator, an exuberance that can be spotted, if not, called for from the performer. Ideological cynicism is what allows a performer of sexiness to both act as if one were sexy and, as a result, be sexy from such action. Any act of sincerity performed enough times inevitably puts oneself into a position of sincerity (even if only from an on-looker. Yet if both performer and spectator believe in the existence of either sexiness or sincerity, does it matter at all?).

It is not only authenticity and confidence needed to be sexy, and such a rigid and well kempt definition surely goes against the lure of sexiness itself, but here is to my mind, a litany of sexiness: appeal, charm, allure, seduction, concealment/secrecy, allusion, teasing, eroticism, contentedness, and the spectacle etc.

One begins the act of sexiness by first being dishonest, insincere, inauthentic, and incomplete. Sexiness is a reenactment, a construction or playing out of being, a productivity, an action, a performative rhetoric. By literally doing the actions of sexy, one tricks oneself into believing and thus invariably become sexy (but of course, one must know what sexiness is in order to perform it, yet, in my opinion, it is not so much what is performed as it is the performance itself that is sexy. Which is to say, there is no being one way or another, there is only being).

This acting or Performative (Procedural) Rhetoric is nicely described by Levi Bryant on an idea thought by Ian Bogost as to how we learn through playing video games such as SIMS. “A Performative Rhetoric is a rhetoric that persuades not through language, but through situating an audience in an activity. The audiences understanding is transformed through the activity of doing. In this regard, games are a form of rhetoric. They change us through their play.” Interestingly, the audience described here is the one playing the game, in other words, the actor performing or ‘playing’ the role of sexiness. Yet because such an act of sexiness is characterized by its being an act for an audience, a spectator, then a second audience exists and can be said to also posses the understanding of sexiness – the receiving of pleasure – by being put, as well putting themselves through, the act of doing, the act of being a part of a spectacle or an audience.

This Performative rhetoric can also be considered along the lines of Ideological Cynicism, following the procedure of belief. The difference is, where or to who the feeling of sexiness exists, in the performer or its audience? The rhetoric allows for oneself to believe in oneself, effectively tricking oneself into becoming, in order to finally become, so others too can witness it. Ideological cynicism, on the other hand, allows oneself (the audience) for the option of having the potential to see, witness and experience sexiness where ever it may not ‘actually’, or intend to, exist.

The similarity is in a shared truism: Fake it til’ you make it! Zizek has a lot to say about Cynicism, and so I will go through two ways in which I can appropriate him for my own cause (without just referring you to him).

The first is in the way such an actor produces for themselves a sense of authority confirmed by their apparentness, attitude, confidence and supposed authenticity (to the eyes of others). This authority plays a crucial role in Lacan’s symbolic order, whereby we treat the subject of authority only with regards to their authority irrespective of what they are like without it. As Zizek says, this takes the form of a fetishistic disavowal: “I know very well that things are the way I see them /that this person is a corrupt weakling, but I nonetheless treat him respectfully, since he wears the insignia of a judge, so that when he speaks, it is the Law itself which speaks through him”. Sexiness, then, replaces the Judge. Regardless if one is actually or truly sexy, the confidence and performance with which the subject is enacting, takes the role of authority,  receives from it all the gratification and acceptance of its audience for whom can only believe that it is a sexiness irrespective to how they actually feel.

Another example of fetishistic disavowal is, as described in one of Zizeks stories, how one can perform the same lucky ritual or superstition even if one disbelieves in it, and have its effects still ‘work’. “seeing a horse-shoe on his door, the surprised visitor said that he doesn’t believe in the superstition that it brings luck, to what Bohr snapped back: “I also do not believe in it; I have it there because I was told that it works also if one does not believe in it!”” It could be said that if only one believed what one hoped to see or experience, one would end up experiencing that very thing, if not only a fiction produced via ones own imagination. Its how the dirty mind sees sex everywhere! 


Sexiness is a technique of seduction, not in search for a partner to fill the gap of sexual inadequacy or to confirm its (sexiness) existence, but of acquiring an audience. Sexiness is a play of the spectacle, set up as an Amphitheater home to an all-seeing audience competing among each other over the cause of sexiness and over the acquisition of the experience of sexiness itself. It is also this competition that further emphasizes, even rarefies such a feeling of sexiness to both performer and audience.

If one were to pinpoint the sexy in the subject, one would come away empty handed and exhausted. For what we can only find is the reflection of our own idiosyncratic eccentricities and fetishistic desires that transposes the sexy from the performer into the mind of the spectator.

In his book Mythologies, Roland Barthes describes Wrestling as a spectacle of excessive, exaggerated and most importantly, grandiloquent gestures. Yet these gestures are nothing without its audience, for what makes of wrestling without them? Two people limply fighting, unconvinced of their own performance? This is to say that sexiness – and wrestling – is a direct relationship between performance and audience.

I’m inclined to say that it is with the apprehension of never being able to achieve, attain, or gain full satisfaction from the object of sexy is what constitutes sexiness itself. It is a never full-filling eroticism that goes beyond the mere illusion or caricature of sex appeal. Yet what constitutes the erotic? Barthes asks, “Is not the most erotic portion of a body where the garment gapes? In perversion (which is the realm of textual pleasure) there are no “erogenous zones” (a foolish expression, besides); it is intermittence, as psychoanalysis has so rightly stated, which is erotic: the intermittence of skin flashing between two articles of clothing (trousers and sweater), between two edges (the open-necked shirt, the glove and the sleeve); it is this flash itself which seduces, or rather: the staging of an appearance-as-disappearance.” The slow reveal of the clothing (or obstructive toy) that masquerades the object of sexy.

This disappearance is the curiosity a spectator feels that is diminished through an eagerness to see more – such as the trouser leg raising beyond the ankle, exposing too much, yet not enough –  and yet what is more is not what is there, as it is what is not there is what we actually want. The libidinal intensification one now feels is a result of now having endured the prolonging of sexual teasing.

Paradoxically, after all, there is no audience a performer of sexiness can/does perform to directly, as if the performer were just as aware of the audience as they were of the performer. Except, one performs believing such an audience exists, even if not to be watching. Which is to say that sexiness is as much for an audience as it is for oneself.


Unkempt Thoughts — Act I

Among the few truly influential and attitude re-adjusting books I have read, E.M. Cioran’s debut book On The Heights of Despair (Written at age 22, similar to when I first read it, aged 21), is certainly one of them. Although this will not be a review of either the book or pessimism in general (although those will certainly feature in the near future), but a presentation of the unedited and unrefined notes scribbled within the empty spaces of the pages themselves – and in this way, such a direct and affected response to Cioran via these notes can be taken as a review itself, except not from any post-reading contemplation but an immediate reaction. Also, not every note made was necessarily a direct response to the text but an additional rumination using the framework with which I had indulged myself in through reading such a text.

On a side note, because I made just as many notes as did Cioran, I will make a few separate publications that allow for ease of digestion.


— I would hate to think that I am perfect, and I would hate to think that others think I think I am perfect. But one of the troubles of Being is that we cannot know whether we are deluding ourselves or not. Like anybody, I’d like to think I’m not deluding myself, and if I’m not, well then I’m pretty damn perfect if you ask me.

— If there are possible absolutes, we are not one of them. On the spectrum of all possible worlds, all possible words have failed because of us. We are the cause for their failure, a median on the spectrum of non-existence. How can you know of anything if living a reality is just being alive in a world of either absolute good or evil? Such lack of conscious comes from a world where you don’t know you are not. We are the truly pessimistic world because we know of a world wholly better than ours. A world that doesn’t exist and yet can never cease from existing. An impossible. The paradox of the worst kind of suffering is not enduring absolute suffering, the worst pain imaginable, even though such suffering goes unthought as one can never know of anything except pain, and thus wouldn’t know themselves to be enduring anything but living a life as if nothing else was known, but, with the taste of hope this world offers coupled with the sense of freedom from pain.

— This world can be described as: Life is the emergency we must attend to

— What’s more cynical, sadomasochistic, and ironic than trying to make something out of living knowing such horror?

— All great and revelatory ideas bore from pessimism, its the only reason we do anything. Become radical, think differently. Because we ignore, refuse and rebel against ourselves and the normalities of the world. We fight it. But all radicality must soon come to an end with its own inevitable collapse. Until we regress once more, indefinitely! A fight for and against ourselves!

— Life lived is nothing but contradictions, opposites and partial truths all places along a spectrum.

— How torturous sleep would be if the night went over in a blink of an eye. The nights begun and I’m already beginning to feel the pain.

— Teaching others to suffer is on the spectrum of criminality, facing its counterpart of the gruesomely and torturous knife crime. Slicing at the flesh exposing the innards. Stabbing, one would hope, by anything other than the rusty blunt blade, skewering, fragmenting, severing each vital organ as it jaggedly punctures through. Wishful thinking is hoping the blade remains inside us as to not reveal our absence and bleed out. To allow the metal in becoming as much apart of us as any other ligament. Its metal re-filling the gaps where flesh and self once was, only to be removed again leaving us with a physical and emotional hole, an emptiness in need of filling with life. We cannot teach suffering no more than we can teach knife crime or even suicide. We can only teach through the history of suffering, through acts and recitals. Suffering need not be voluntarily shown as it makes itself present anyhow. Teaching through noticing, of oneself and others. Connecting, relieving selfishness.

— What does one do when given money in a way that one is unable to return, to then find themselves having to return or owe the so called gift-giver in investments of small sums that may or may not equal the gift received for the rest of ones life? Just as how we are gifted life, forced into a world. Life gives us life. But unlike that of anything outside ourselves, we cannot return it. We cannot return to a place once before, to be unborn from life. And to commit suicide is to do oneself an injustice! We are thus left to live in obedience, sometimes slavery, towards nature giving back that which we never asked for.

— Should we care for the unborn? The wish to be born to fight the necessity of ever having been born! If only one had the option to be born. I don’t wish to be unborn, just unborn.

— I suffer at a greater intensity so others don’t have to. I feel it too, but it is the greatest of selfish acts one can do in feeling comfort knowing other feel a similar, if not greater, or even worse, suffering than our own. But it is through such selflessness that we wish to recreate what we have experienced, to also suffer at a greater intensity so others don’t have to, and so on, indefinitely, until we are all equally suffering and suffering equally.

— The sad paradox of anti-natalism is the hope that those who make the decision not to reproduce, ought to be the ones reproducing.

— Just look how disgustingly privileged I am, alive but never living. How selfish must I be to have a life others die for. I am deeply sorry. I feel a duty of care to live and carry on living the lives of all those who lost theirs.

— I don’t feel this emptiness so many others proclaim to feel. It is, in fact, a feeling of fullness, of nothing else being able to quench my first, feed my hunger, pleasure my appetites. It is in this sense that I am in fact empty of all things to come, all that I long for. I don’t wish to dine on what I once had, provisional pleasures. I have a fetish for the new, not the long lasting beauty but the ephemeral pretty. A longing to be able to turn myself back on and repeat a pleasure, forever fresh. For otherwise they turn sour and bitter, regurgitated.

— There’s no surprise the sad man sleeps throughout the day becoming restless at night. Sleep being a quasi-suicide, a trial of death. We cannot know of such people because they are no where to be seen. Away during the day in a dreamt up coma.