Remembering recent proclamations in the local media about the dying of book culture, I believe that this is an interesting phenomena to some extent; while literacy has on the one hand exploded and the general population receives a relatively high degree of education, with just about everyone out there waving a diploma these days, although of comparably questionable quality to those from previous decades, it is at the same time immersed in the cyber sphere through the role of the new tech and media. Do people still read books, and read them properly today? I do not know, and am not sure if I am to trust the so-called self-proclaimed people of culture, as far as they represent today’s bourgeoisie, a bunch mostly resembling a universalized Madame Bovary.
What probably did happen though is the decline of literacy not in this general level of simply being able to read and comprehend in an abstract way, since today’s world is ruled by abstractions of the virtual and financial kind and everyone is somehow immersed in those, but in the more deeper sense of critical theory. If one would pose the question ‘is it possible to be a philosopher today?’, in the majority of cases the answer would be negative, with just a few privileged individuals coming to mind, those whose sole purpose is to act as the exception to the rule (Žižek, Badiou, Sloterdijk, etc.). And even they are getting old.
Perhaps it would be fruitful to connect this decline of critical theory together with philosophy as such with a more general fascination with images and sound, with the so-called imaginary realm. One could get back to Hegel’s criticism already found in his Phenomenology of Spirit, which is all about how one must first move away from the beginning standpoint of sense certainty to be able to deal with philosophical issues at all. That was apparently his entire reason for writing the book and it’s sole use, to be discarded like a used condom later, with the punchline being that that entire effort of the path achieved through it’s reading is the standpoint of absolute knowledge at the end. What this means for me is that while people are generally literate, they do not necessarily make this general philosophical move away from the direct unmediated experience of being, being in the world. Do we need a new Phenomenology?
What we basically got today is the passage from the modern ‘passion of the real‘ (Badiou) as represented in the XXth century, with its direct destructive assertion, into what I would call the post-modern ‘passion for the image‘, of the escape into aesthetisation. Philosophy might be dying, as it always has been, many might already proclaim it dead, but there is no doubt that poetry of various kinds continues to thrive, which could be seen as the victory of the aesthetic against the more modern ‘rule of reason’ as we’ve been used to in the previous century or two.
So what is to be done? While taking both psychoanalytic theory and philosophy as the starting point, both seem to provide inadequate answers to the problem. Psychoanalysis via Freud’s and Lacan’s work unfortunately often seems to resemble nothing more than mere sophistry, when looked at from the philosophical perspective. Let me just note in passing the often evoked and quite obvious point that analysts earn money in the clinic with their profession, so the financial impetus is also present – with sophistry being designated already in Plato’s time as the profession of those who attempt to conjure money by empty rhetoric. Now this is a commonplace criticism and I’m not mentioning anything new. On the other hand, philosophical endeavors as seen from the theoretical lens of psychoanalytic thought most often resemble nothing more as different kinds of a narcissistic libidinal economy of the obsessional type. And to back this point it’s easy to mention in passing how Freud connected obsessional neurosis with the religious dimension of thinking, i.e. the vulgar common charge of ‘magical thinking’ could easily be set against various different kinds of philosophers, or at least those proclaiming themselves to be such today.
So both of the huge intellectual projects of the past, be it of the philosophical variant as we’re able to find in the German classical philosophy of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, which already looks like an antiquated fossil of human cultural endeavours from today’s standpoint, or the kind we find in the psychoanalytic clinic of the Freudian and Lacanian variety throughout the entire 20th century, seem to be inadequate and always-already outdated from their very beginning, or somehow strangely contentiously dying at least from their very inception. But what is the alternative? Maybe a new field of theoretical endeavor will eventually have to be invented, somehow by someone, one that will establish new standards for today’s era, or at least stop the trend of a general recession in thinking.
Now a close reader of the assertions written here might notice that it’s not my purpose to simply reject either philosophy or psychoanalytic theory and practice – they have their place and purpose, if nothing more then at least to act as a springboard from where to begin from. What I’m simply afraid of is that theoretical endeavors of both the academic and the extracurricular kind will have to reinvent themselves in order for any kind of thought to survive at all. From today’s perspective it could be said that what we’re witnessing is nothing more than the dying of an entire era of humanity, but with the death of that era together with its so-called cultural achievements we seem to have gotten nothing more than a stillborn baby.
What does this mean? This means that what we’re probably witnessing today is something akin to a new dark era with an entire world order simply disintegrating while nothing genuinely New seems to be able to replace it. And this is quite a dangerous situation, not just for the so-called people of culture and those who dabble in seemingly difficult theoretical obscurities, but consequently for everyone else as well. It could be said that there is no necessity for the general eclipse of thought as engendered in world literature, yet it is still somehow occurring as a tendency right in front of our eyes. Who will be the new big public figures of thought for the 21st century? Unfortunately, I know of no candidates.