On Wed, Jan 5, 2011 at 11:55 AM, Ralph Dumain  wrote:
> This is, however, a superficial analysis of what this is all about.
> There is, as far as I can tell, a qualitative difference between a
> quasi-existentialist position like the Biblical narrative of Job and the
> existentialist sensibility we find from the 19th century on. I imagine
> one could find comparable pre-modern alternatives in other
> civilizations. China's Juan Chi, for example, is not far removed from
> Diogenes. But let's begin with the 19th century and delve into the more
> distant past another time.

CB: Well, of course, I'm saying it's a profound point, not a
superficial one (smiles).

Yes, earlier societies had individual consciousnesses. Hell, all
philosophers are pretty much.


> A reminder, though, that Existentialism is both a philosophical doctrine
> and a sensibility. The average person, thank goodness, was usually
> innocent of the conceptual structure of the doctrine, and absorbed the
> obviously resonant dimension of existentialism through literature rather
> than philosophy. The first time I heard this nonsense about essence
> preceding existence, I thought someone was pulling my leg.

CB: You mean "Existence preceding essence"? There big point is to rip
the individual out of social and historical determinants and pretend
each individual life develops itself , self-determinedly, independent
of the socio-historical. This is a distorting abstraction, a bourgeois
illusion, or an illusion that becomes rife with bourgeois society,
though it exists in prior societies as you say.


But as a
> teenager I had an existentialist sensibility, which I think is quite
> suitable for teenagers.

CB: I had what I considered existential ennui as a freshman in college.

> The acute consciousness of the individual stripped of traditional
> supports is progress.

CB:  Well, might be one step forward two steps back..


 But no-one lives in a vacuum.

CB: Hello ! Exactly. No _individual_, no ONE, lives in a social
vaccum. No one is an isolated individual. This is the fundamental
bourgeols ideological trick, foolishness. It is rife among the
intelligencia of bourgeois society.


 The role of the
> existential sensibility in one's overall world view and trajectory is
> vital to understand, as well as the appropriation of the
> metaphysical/epistemological baggage to support one's projects.
> The modern period, which of course witnesses the scientific revolution,
> the Enlightenment, the rebellion against feudal authority, clericalism,
> and metaphysics, and the emergence of the bourgeoisie, also sees the
> emergence of the individual as a self-conscious entity.

CB: Not surprising.  "The" individual gets "irritated" out by
capitalist alienation. ( See Marx's "Economic and Philosophic
Manuscripts of 1844" on this alienation process)


 This is real
> progress, which has yet to conquer the whole world as it should. This
> consciousness of the individual, however, is configured in different
> ways and has differential relations to the political and to tradition.

CB; It is also a profound illusion. There is very little significant
"individual" consciousness. That consciousness which so many in
bourgeois society delude as individual is highly social. All of the
individual's language, for example, by which the individual does all
this "individual" stuff is thoroughly social.



> Both the Enlightenment and Romanticism are witnesses to the emergence of
> the notion of the autonomous individual.

CB: There are no autonomous individuals.  That's a fundamental
illusion of bourgeois illusion.  Christopher Caudwell, the British
Marxist philosopher is excellent at critiquing this fundamental
illusion of modern consciousness.


Romanticism (confining my scope
> to Britain and Germany for the moment) itself embodies contradictory
> tendencies towards progress and reaction.
> Dissatisfaction with the social order and the state of humanity goes
> back to the beginning of all civilization.

CB: Sure, History of all hitherto existing society since the break up
of the ancient communes, is a history of class struggle and resistence
to what is dissatisying.


 There is an idealist, utopian
> dimension to all metaphysics and religion, however reactionary: it
> prescribes an ideal of what should be while reinforcing what is.  As the
> progress of modernity strips away traditional metaphysical supports, the
> dissatisfied individual, disillusioned by the corruption of society or
> the ineluctable prospect of mortality, finds himself alone, acutely
> conscious of his own condition and alienated from the collective
> existence of his society. What is new is that the metaphysical and
> mystical resources of the past no longer provide an outlet valve in a
> disenchanted cosmos.
> The conservatively bent, socially privileged intellectual, warring
> against the hypocrisy and emptiness of official society, needs someplace
> to go, and when it takes a religious bent, as it did in Kierkegaard, the
> irrational retreat into the otherworldliness of Christianity is
> predicated on the thisworldliness of material privilege.

CB: Well said.


> conservatives make great literary people and cultural critics up to a
> point,

CB: See Engels on one of the British literary figures. I forget the
name.  Some reactionaries/feudalists/aristocratic intellectuals had
some valid criticisms of capitalism.


but their imaginative conceptual constructs are predicated on the
> same social assumptions of the society whose bounds they need to escape.
> The smug empiricism of David Hume is quite a different animal, forward
> looking, in terms of the emancipation of the bourgeoisie from feudal
> obscurantism, but it's not the Radical Enlightenment. And empiricism had
> its reactionary incarnation in Berkeley.
> Already by mid-19th century, one sees the dualism of bourgeois thought
> encapsulated in the dichotomy of positivism and irrationalism, or if you
> will, scientism and Romanticism, and by the late 19th century, the
> dynamic is in full force. It is most clearly revealed in German thought
> and in the appropriation of German thought elsewhere. Romantic
> right-wing anti-bourgeois ideology is a virulent form of bourgeois
> ideology that becomes prominent in the 19th century, but which bears
> features that make it amenable to the (mostly humanistic, i.e.
> non-technocratic)

CB: I just remembered. Anti-technology is common to Heidegger and Marcuse.


left bourgeois intelligentsia.
> Philosophers, of course, appropriating German thought (and in some cases
> the Dane Kierkegaard, who is also a product of German thought), also
> appropriate the metaphysical/epistemic apparatus of existentialism to
> varying extents and in varying combinations with other intellectual
> traditions. In the person of Heidegger, existentialism overlaps
> phenomenology, and both may be taken together or separately.

CB: Is there really a big difference between them ?


 I won't
> repeat what I wrote about Marcuse and Sartre.
> The pop existentialism of the postwar period is a mixture, as I have
> said, of an actual philosophy and as a sensibility loosely tied at best
> to the conceptual structures even of the popular Sartre. We also know
> that Sartre, recognizing the deficiencies in his philosophy
> (encapsulated in /Being and Nothingness/) spent the better part of the
> 1950s trying to meld existentialism and Marxism. (I've not yet braved
> /Critique of Dialectical Reason/, which I take to be Sartre's /summa/.)
> The -ism part may be greatly exaggerated in the appropriation of
> existentialism by others. (I'd suggest Cotkin's/Existential America/ as
> a starter.) As I mentioned, existentialism was a popular trend within
> the civil rights movement (not everybody was in church all the time) and
> within the New Left. It was not merely about individualism but the
> relation of the individual to society (Sartre at least was no escapist
> or reactionary cynic).

CB: Sure , but its fundamental error is in making "the" individual
primary in relating in individual and society. It shares that error
with libertarianism, even as they have differences.

> I also need to retrace my steps and mention Richard Wright again, who
> has been misidentified as a tail-ender to the Paris crowd, when in fact,
> quite the opposite was the case. They learned from him rather than vice
> versa. My memory is hazy here, but I'm guessing that in the first half
> of the 1940s, when Wright was formulating ideas that would be explicitly
> treated later on, Wright had access to Kierkegaard rather than 20th
> century figures and before Sartre emerged on the international scene.
> CLR James was fond of reciting this anecdote, in which Wright shows
> James his shelf of Kierkegaard books, and says all of this confirms what
> I (Wright) already experienced as an American Negro. And Constance Webb
> told me her version of what Wright was up to in this period.
> But what's important about Wright also is that his orientation towards
> existentialism and depth psychology was a bridge between the black
> experience and official Marxism, and between his own highly
> individualistic orientation and a critique of the folk culture that the
> Stalinists were bent on romanticizing.

CB; Folk culture should be romanticized if anything should be,
especially American Negro culture.


Sartre, of course, was also
> engaged in a revitalization of Marxism out of its Stalinist sclerosis,
> but from the subject position and intellectual patrimony of the
> disillusioned bourgeois.

CB: Stalinism didn't have sclerosis.


Existentialism per se, in the Kierkegaardian or
> Sartrean sense, was not a foundational philosophy for Wright; it was a
> tool for filling in a world picture that would explain the predicament
> not only of modern civilization in general, but of newly and rapidly
> modernizing populations, such as Wright himself experienced in the
> migration from the South to the North in the USA.

CB: Existentialism is lousy tool to explain the predicament of modern
civilization.  It is fundamentally wrong in that regard. It's first
step is false. The explanation of modern society in any sense is not
to be found in "depth psyche", or starting with analysis of "the"
individual. That's a dead end for such a project.


> The notion of the collective preceding the individual is a banality that
> requires no thought to promulgate.

CB: Evidently, it's a truism lost on most bourgeois intellectuals,
including existentialists. Its' one of those truisms or "trivialities"
that turns out to be profound.


 I am reminded of that bullshit
> Afrocentric slogan "I am because we are" as if this is some answer to
> Descartes. (Actually, one African philosopher told me it's a real folk
> saying and not just something cooked up by American dashiki crackpots as
> I assumed.

CB: Evidently, all existentialist should chant said slogan 50 times each day.


 But as a folk saying, it does not refer to epistemology.)
> Feminist philosophy, 99% of which is obscurantist drivel, offers up a
> comparable bourgeois left-liberal attack on rationalism. But here's what
> CLR James and company had to say in 1958, which is superior to all the
> accumulated philosophical garbage of the past 35 years:
>    To a society advancing in science and industry, Descartes gave a
>    philosophy that expressed and released the readiness to adventure in
>    every realm, including the realm of ideas. His philosophy was imbued
>    with the conviction that every discovery contributed to the
>    liberation of humanity. It inculcated freedom from national
>    prejudice for all thinking men. This philosophy bore its name on its
>    face—rationalism. 'I think, therefore I am,' said Descartes, and the
>    world rejoiced at the perspective of the expansion of individual
>    personality and human powers through the liberation of the
>    intellect. This resting of self-certainty on man's own thought, and
>    man's thought alone,

CB: The critical point here is "Man" means the species not individual
members of it.  The correction of Descartes is "We think therefore we
are."  I is an error. Same one the existentialists make.


was a revolutionary defiance of the medieval
>    dogma which had derived certainty of self from God or the Church.
>    Rationalism encouraged and developed an elite, the organizers of
>    ideas, the organizers of industry, the discoverers in science. At
>    that stage of human development they were needed. They cultivated
>    the individual personality.

CB: Newton had an understanding of this issue superior to that of
Descartes and the existentialists. He knew he, as an individual ,stood
on the shoulders of giants. Society  and history were prior to his
individual genius in science.


 It followed that they looked upon the
>    masses of men as passive unthinking servants of the active
>    organizing elite. Rationalism saw each human being as an individual,

CB: Speaking of banalities, trivalities and truisms


>    the natural leaders being the most able, the most energetic, the
>    most far-seeing individuals. Its political form, as developed by
>    Locke, if only as an ideal, was democracy, the transference of free
>    individual competition into politics. It was invaluable in the
>    conquest of nature, and under its banner reaction was driven
>    steadily back and the modern world was created.

CB: Democracy is not the transference of the free individual
competition into politics !   It's  Popular Sovereignty,  We the
People, All Power to the People a  whole and the equality of each
individual "all men (sic) are created equal ". " Individual
competition" is a euphemism for "the dog eat dog, ratrace" engendered
by capitalist relations of production. Divide and rule, and the
ultimate division of the working class is into competing individuals,
dog eat dog , race like rats in a cage, alienation, isolation of
individuals from each other, lonliness.  This is the origin of
existential ennui and absurdity.


>    Today the tasks envisaged by Descartes, the great man of the
>    Sixteenth Century and their followers in the Seventeenth and
>    Eighteenth, are accomplished. The pressing need of society is no
>    longer to conquer nature. The great and pressing need is to control,
>    order, and reduce to human usefulness the mass of wealth and
>    knowledge which has accumulated over the last four centuries.

CB: Ok


>    human, in social terms, the problem of mankind has gone beyond the
>    association of men in a natural environment to achieve control over
>    nature. Today mankind is sharply divided into two camps within the
>    social environment of production, the elite and the mass. But the
>    trained, educated elite no longer represents the liberation of
>    mankind. Its primary function is to suppress the social community
>    which has developed inside the process of production. The elite must
>    suppress the new social community because this community is today
>    ready to control, order, and reduce to human usefulness the mass of
>    accumulated wealth and knowledge. This antagonistic relation between
>    an administrative elite and calculating and administering the needs
>    of others, and people in a social community determining their own
>    needs, this new world, our world, is a world which Descartes never
>    knew or guessed at. As an actual liberating philosophy of life,
>    rationalism is dead. It is rationalism which no longer commands the
>    allegiance of men.
>    *SOURCE:* /Facing Reality/, by C.L.R. James, Grace C. Lee, Pierre
>    Chaulieu [pseudonym of Cornelius Castoriadis] (Detroit: Bewick/Ed,
>    1974, orig. 1958), pp. 67-68.
> On 1/5/2011 10:13 AM, c b wrote:
>> “In community, the individual is, crucial as the prior condition for
>> forming a community. … Every individual in the community guarantees
>> the community; the public is a chimera, numerality is everything…”
>> – Søren Kierkegaard, Journals
>> ^^^^
>> Pace Kierkegaard, of course , for we social determinists , this is
>> absolutely backward, fundamentally wrong. The social, the communal,
>> the community is prior to individuals. Kierkegaard's statement is a
>> basic maxim of bourgeois ideology, whether as existentialism,
>> libertarianism, Social Darwinism, positivism, Reaganism, Tea Parting
>> et al. In all , "the" individual is primary over and determinative of
>> the social. It is an error in the understanding of the levels of
>> organization of reality, and specifically of human life.  Human
>> culture, society and history constitute an emergent level of reality,
>> in which the whole is more than the some of its parts, and is
>> determinative of the parts. It is a philosophical error concerning the
>> relationship of the whole and the parts. "The" human individual is a
>> social individual. Even Kierkegaard was; he just didn't know it. So,
>> is the most radical libertarian; they just don't know it. Our species
>> name should be, not homo sapiens, but homo communis. Our high level of
>> sociality is the differentia specifica of our species.
>> _______
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