Wojciech Kaftanski: Kierkegaard, Mimesis, and Modernity

Kierkegaard, Mimesis, and Modernity: A Study of Imitation, Existence, and Affect Couverture du livre Kierkegaard, Mimesis, and Modernity: A Study of Imitation, Existence, and Affect
Routledge Studies in Nineteenth-Century Philosophy
Wojciech Kaftanski
Hardback £120.00

Reviewed by:  Steven DeLay (Research Fellow, Global Centre for Advanced Studies)

The concept of mimesis has a rich, complicated career in the history of aesthetics, philosophy, and theology. Plato and Aristotle both make much of it. Later, Lessing, Kant, and the Romantics draw heavily upon it as well. More recently, so too have René Girard and Heidegger. The term’s power to compel widespread attention is due in part to its fascinating ambivalence. As the existentialists noted famously, imitation (a core notion at the heart of mimesis) can be pernicious, “a mysterious force animating masses of people to uncoordinated collective common action,” a source of “dissolution of differences leading to normative uniformity,” a “spontaneous reflexive process” responsible for “marginalizing the value of human individuality, the meaning of subjective experience, and the role of passion and faith” (1). At the same time, imitation is fundamental to the artistic representation of beauty, the creative and ethical tasks of grappling with ideality, and, of course, the theological notion of imitatio Christi. In the human search for meaning, mimesis is thus both fundamental and inescapable. And to be sure, modernity’s “way of thinking about […] the role of authority and institutions in humanity’s orientation in the world” (2), entails a reconceptualization of mimesis itself, and how in turn it shapes the distinctly modern pursuit of an authentic human existence. According to Wojciech Kaftanski’s study Kierkegaard, Mimesis, and Modernity, it is Søren Kierkegaard who “offer[s] us one of the most comprehensive and profound accounts of modernity” (1). “What, then,” Kaftanski naturally asks, “are we to make of Kierkegaard’s understanding and use of mimesis?” (7).

Mimesis can be variously defined, as Kaftanski observes. It can designate “emulation, mimicry, dissimulation, doubling, theatricality, realism, identification, correspondence, depiction, verisimilitude, resemblance” (7). In the classical world, it typically denoted “faithful imitation of a model” (7). In the modern context, it is has come to be associated with creativity, “as originality, genius, individuality, imagination” (7). It is thus “ambivalent, inconspicuous, and in many ways blurry” (7). For as Kaftanski notes, mimesis also admits of a “pharmacological” meaning—it is “both a problem and a cure for the maladies of the modern individual” (7). Realizing it is futile to give the term any single concrete and exhaustive definition, it is better to approach the term by treating its cluster of concepts along the lines of Wittgenstein’s theory of family resemblance.

This polyvalence of mimesis is apparent in Kierkegaard’s own handling of the term. Contrary, then, to what one might initially expect from a study of Kierkegaard, Kaftanski’s interest in the term extends beyond “simply imitation, or the imitation of Christ” (7). As he notes, Danish does not provide “a direct translation of the Greek mimesis into a noun” (9). The key term is Efterfølgelse (which can be literally translated into English as “following after”), a translation of the Latin term imitatio, itself the translation of mimesis (9). But Kierkegaard’s linguistic repertoire for mimesis is expansive and multi-layered, an “impressive and far wider” vocabulary than has been acknowledged (9). As Kaftanski says,

Kierkegaard uses a variety of terms to refer to the broad mimetic sphere in his corpus, such as Gjentagelsen (repetition), Ligne (likeness, and to liken, to resemble), Lighed (similarity and equality), Sammengligning (comparison), Eftergjøre (going and doing after), Efterabelse (aping or parroting), mimisk (mimic or mimical), but also Fordoblelse (redoubling), Reduplikation (reduplication), Dobbelt-Reflexion (double-reflection), Dobbelthed (doubleness or duplexity), Dobbelt-Bevoegelse (double-movement), Billede (image or picture), and Forbillede (prototype, model, tyfpe, pattern) (9).

In addition to the linguistic complexity of the phenomenon, there is the further fact that mimesis also reflects the multifaceted aesthetic, scholastic, economic, political, social, and religious context in which Kierkegaard was living and writing. Human beings orient themselves in place. And in the modern period, the city is central to that place. As Kaftanski says, the reinvention of Kierkegaard’s own Copenhagen was itself undertaken in mimetic fashion, by architecturally and culturally emulating Belin, Paris, and London (3). According to Kaftanski, the becoming of the modern city is a “macro-representation of the becoming of the individual […] the city and its inhabitants mirror one another” (4). How so? Part of it is that “mimesis entails both retaining the old and assimilating the new” (4). Copenhagen accordingly transformed itself into something new by reworking its past. But such reworking was not so banal, but in many ways radical. At the time, nineteenth-century Copenhagen was a city indelibly shaped by the formation of mass society, as well as class struggle. Consequently, a tendency emerged among its lower-classes to attempt to “imitate and appropriate” the standards, values, and tastes of the bourgeoisie (6). However, dissatisfied with their economic and political conditions, “an age of revolution” (2) quickly swept across Europe beginning in France and Germany, eventually finding its way to Copenhagen too. This “revolutionary mass action” exhibited a “mimetic-affective crowd behavior” (6)—a force of “mimetic magnetism, fascination, somnambulism, scapegoating, and violence” (12), which Kierkegaard himself was keen to resist, and led him to coin the pejorative terms “the public” and “the crowd.” Thus, as a modern critic of modernity, Kierkegaard’s account of becoming a single individual was deeply responsive to the interlocking mimetic structures of his economic, social, political, and religious milieu. Assuming a countercultural role resembling his philosophical hero Socrates, in this way the “gadfly of Copenhagen” was born.

As Kaftanski explains, Kierkegaard’s literary output reconceptualizes mimesis by creatively appropriating a variety of both classical and modern sources. At stake in doing so, is a conception of mimesis that shifts from “the ideal of representation characterizing pre-modern and the early modern” to an understanding that sees “humans as radically imitative creatures” (5). Mimesis, in short, is not simply an aesthetic phenomenon pertaining to the realm of artistic representation, but a fundamental feature of human existence as such. As Kaftanski says, “Representation is among the three fundamental meanings of mimesis conceptualized in classical Greece. The other two are ‘imitation’ and ‘expression’” (15). On such a view, mimesis is a process of “making present,” one guided by the goal of achieving “similarity and truth”—an artwork sets its vision on replicating “morally desirable objects,” aiming to reproduce something guided by “normativity and correspondence, form and mode” (15).

But whereas for classical art mimesis is “about representing some original, hence producing copies” (19), modern artists sought instead to create “new originals” (19). For the moderns, art should not merely seek to copy reality, but instead express something original or novel. Art, so the thought goes, “should not serve any other purpose but itself” (20). Here Lessing’s influential theory of aesthetics proves illustrative. “Lessing,” says Kaftanski, “asserts that the goal of art is to display beauty; hence, art is irreconcilable with suffering. Second, aesthetics is its own goal; it does not serve other ends” (21). Indeed, according to Lessing, art and religion have their distinct and largely “irreconcilable territories” (20). As is well-known, the Romantics consequently “tended to consecrate art as a religion” (19). Kierkegaard seizes on Lessing’s view, turning it to his own purposes. For according to Kierkegaard, if art and religion are in some way incompatible, this underscores the essential fact that art is said to be unable to express the religious dimension of suffering (15) which so interests Kierkegaard. Religious suffering, as Kaftanski says, is something Kierkegaard sometimes appears to maintain cannot be represented in the arts (20). If the goal of art is depicting beauty, then the ugliness and horror of the crucified Christ eludes its power of portrayal. For Kierkegaard, that art is unable to capture the inner truth of religious suffering in turn suggests that the religious life is itself irreducible to, and indeed higher than, the aesthetic life. For whereas a strictly aesthetic existence remains characterized by “human indecisiveness and a sensuous and disinterested attitude toward the world” (16), religious striving concerns “the pursuit of […] absolute fulfillment that the world cannot provide” (17), a “becoming an individual before God” (17). If art is undertaken simply for its own sake, it would appear to be irrelevant to the kind of authentic human existence Kierkegaard is so interested in expressing.

And yet, as Kaftanski notes, some of Kierkegaard’s own writings indicate a more ambivalent relationship to the value and function of both art and aesthetics. This becomes apparent when one considers the concept of ekphrasis important to Lessing himself—as Kaftanski says, “Ekphrasis is at work when a physical object of art, such as a painting or a sculpture, gets its written account” (21). Because ekphrasis uniquely “engages the subjectivity of the recipient” (21), it has the power to transform the viewer in ways that have implications for religious transformation. Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous author Anti-Climacus says as much. “The synergy of word and image,” Kaftanski writes, “can be seen in cases where Anti-Climacus refers to the activity of telling a picture, or describing what is represented in the picture, hence following the classical definition of ekphrasis, of re-presenting in words what already has a visual representation” (24). “Anti-Climacus,” says Kaftanski, “believes that if one can ‘be’ moved by the image of the suffering Christ to the imitation of His sufferings into one’s life, then one is becoming a genuine Christian” (25). In short, the experience of viewing the picture has an existential and mimetic dimension (27). Although, then, for Lessing, “the guiding task of aesthetics is to represent what is beautiful and harmonious, ‘the image of the crucified Christ’ is ugly and represents violence and chaos” (27), in Kierkegaard, because an artwork is not reserved to one particular medium, but instead consists of various media, it is possible to create a “spoken picture or, one could argue, a visualized narrative” (27). Such a work could in principle serve a mimetic function, by in effect calling the viewer to change.

Kierkegaard, thus, is neither a classical nor a full-fledged modern thinker (40), as his idiosyncratic view of the relationship between art and religion attests. For one thing, Kierkegaard is deeply suspicious of the modern ideal of human autonomy. Whereas the Enlightenment was wholly critical of classical mimesis, which it viewed as incompatible with the values of originality and creativity, Kierkegaard finds certain aspects of the modern conception of mimesis objectionable. For Kierkegaard, the modern ideal of an anti-mimetic, self-sufficient existence is a myth to be rejected (28). And yet, although the Enlightenment ideal of self-sufficiency is primarily hostile to mimesis, Kaftanski notes that it is actually Kant who in a way formulates a number of mimetic concepts that are relevant to Kierkegaard’s own attempt to work out a mimetic account of human existence. For Kant, the open-endedness of artistic production entails that aesthetics becomes a “judgment of taste” (30). Central to aesthetic production and valuation are four concepts of imitation: “copying [Nachmachung], aping [Nachäffung], imitation [Nachahmung], and emulation or following [Nachfolge]” (30). For Kant (and the Romantics too) who “cherished the ideal of mimesis understood as originality and criticized forms of art that aim to represent reality and hence were related to a pre-given existing model” (37), this modern criticism of classical mimesis led to the rejection of the mimesis-imitation of an artist to the elevation of the creativity of a genius (32). If for Kant, “genius cannot be taught and learned” (129), previous works of great art serve as exemplars “not for imitation” but “for emulation”—in encountering such a work, “another genius is thereby awakened to the feeling of his own originality, to exercise freedom from coercion in his art in such a way that the latter thereby itself acquires a new rule, by which the talent shows itself as exemplary” (127). Kierkegaard follows the Romantics in valuing originality over realistic representation of a model, but he “maintains that the Christian existential creation is in fact in relation to a model […] the model is transcendent” (37)—namely, Christ the prototype. Romantic anthropology, which takes autonomous agency to mark the human essentially, fails to provide the conceptual resources necessary to depict “the representational dimension of Kierkegaard’s own presentation of the ideal self” (33). As Kaftanski explains, “the aesthetic-religious puzzle of the representation of the suffering of the crucified Christ” (39) in turn leads Kierkegaard to formulate philosophical and literary works whose mimetic idioms seek to present an adequate picture of ideal Christian existence.

To do so, Kierkegaard begins by taking up existence in its “time-oriented and concrete, but also mundane, ordinary, and recurrent” everydayness (44). It is here that a pair of key Kierkegaardian notions, repetition and recollection, enter the picture. “Repetition—this is actuality and earnestness of existence,” says Kierkegaard (50). Repetition’s experiential task is to “recognize continuity in time” (45). In thinking about the drudgery of modern factory work and life, for instance, it is easy to understand how the banality of such an existence could lead to despair. One way it might do so is by leading those crushed beneath the weight of existence’s apparent absurdity and emptiness into substituting reality for a realm of ideality, of imagination. This is what happens in the aesthetic life, as Kierkegaard understands it. In this “hyper-reflective existence fueled by and lived in imagination” (51), there is a “lack of commitment to one’s life possibilities” (51). For the aesthete, “life splits up into a boundless multiplicity [held] within the sphere of reflection” (61). “Devoid of the ethical component,” the aesthete’s reflective “system” is not a life-view (61). The danger of imaginary dispersion in hyper-reflection is manifestly apparent in the theatrical. When producing or viewing a performance in the theater, one “entertain[s] a number of self-representations, which [Kierkegaard] calls ‘possible variations’” (52). The trouble is that, by doing so, one fails to actually be oneself, and instead loses oneself in imaginary characters and situations that have no real bearing on one’s real life. “This mimetic mirroring of the theater,” says Kaftanski, “constitutes a type of a private laboratory where one can fragment oneself” (52). Suffice it to say, if the dangers of idle escapism attending aesthetic enjoyment and diversion were already pressing with nineteenth-century forms of entertainment such as the theater and the newspaper, today that is only more so the case, given the advent of television, film, and the Internet.

According to Kierkegaard, however, the aesthete’s fragmentary response to existence is not the only possible form a response to the spectacles of the modern milieu may take. The key to appreciating the alternative Kierkegaard envisions lies in the concept of mimesis itself, which, according to Kaftanski, Kierkegaard himself sees “as embodied and performative” (44). Repetition as a mimetic concept entails “movement, imagination, and time” (45). And if this mimetic process is put in the service of a model truly worthy of imitation (60), then instead of remaining trapped in an imaginary world of ideality, ethical transformation and religious awakening is achievable.

If “life emulates art,” such emulation should “contribute to the becoming of a self in actual existence” (72). Here Kierkegaard exploits the mimetic power of texts themselves. For according to Kaftanski, Kierkegaard’s notion of repetition is a forerunner of Ricoeur’s refiguration. “The textual extension of real life,” says Kaftanski, “becomes mimetically re-appropriated back into real life and, essentially, becomes a part of it” (73). In a word, “the self emerges from the text. In effect, the text contributes to the creation of the self” (74). It is possible to actualize the ideality contained in a text. In this way, a text can function as a mirror of one’s existence, as a basis through which to pattern one’s own life. This becomes particularly salient in cases in which a text serves as a form of self-examination, not for any reader only, but especially for the author himself. Like Rousseau, whose Confessions were meant to be an exercise in self-judgment, so too Kierkegaard’s own partly autobiographical texts become an occasion for narrative self-examination (78). As Kaftanski says, “Kierkegaard’s autobiographical narratives participate in a formative process of the self—hence, the formation of the self—through a continuous and repetitive procedure of self-recognition, self-interpretation, self-understanding, and self-creation” (78). Writing becomes an extension of life, by enacting a process of “life-development,” through which Kierkegaard reworks himself “in and through his own literary production” (81). Rather than remaining a merely aesthetic pursuit, literary and philosophical production perform an ethical, even religious, function. “Autobiography,” so Kaftanski concludes, “is a peculiar mirror that allows the author to see oneself as another, to correct oneself, and, paradoxically, to correct the mirror” (82).

Central to this mimetic interplay between text and life is what Kierkegaard calls a “psychologiske Experiment” (82). The author invents various characters (which may or may not be versions of one’s actual self) that in turn serve as a source of ethical and religious self-assessment. Far from aesthetic production serving as an escape from reality, it can thus serve as a means of perfecting it, by cultivating an “authentic existence” (82). It does so by individuating the author (and its other readers) from the pernicious influence of social contagion and conformism. Due to the sociality of mimetic desire, “herd behaviors in humans include panic and rioting” (83), as such mimesis involves “affective and visceral mood-sharing” (84). While Plato’s conception of mimesis was focused on representing objects, and Aristotle’s at representing action (88), Kierkegaard’s coordination of action and fiction is not then simply about realistic representation, but demands an authentic existence—providing “templates of existence” (90), the resulting literary figurations are designed to be taken as existential prescriptions (90). Kierkegaard recognizes that stories needn’t be mere fictions, for poetic depictions of life can serve to perfect human life and transform it (89). By means of the text, mimesis effects a transition from literary representation to representation in action in real life. Informing us “about the world as it is and as it could be, or even sometimes as it should be” (90), they are not “simply fantasy or, for that matter, corrective mirrors” (91). They issue “blueprints” for existence, prescriptions for selfhood (91). These literary “experiments” (91) are exercises in life itself, for “writing and reading is a process of self-understanding, encapsulating oneself, and self-formation that is stretched between two worlds: the actual and the fictive” (91).

In Kierkegaard’s own case, the highest “poetic possibility of himself” (92) is to be a genuine Christian. At stake in his literary production is expressing a self-ideal of himself (“Kierkegaard the martyr”) and hence a “picture of the ideal Christian” (91). Thus, as Kaftanski notes, “Following Ricoeur’s mimetic arc, we can understand Kierkegaard’s ‘real’ life as dependent upon, or mediated through, a textual representation of himself” (91), and it is this tension between poetic and actual existence and the issue of translating a prescribed ideal of life into reality, that constitutes “the conundrum running through his authorship” (92).

How, then, can an “imaginary construction”[1] (94) assist the process of becoming a single individual, an authentic human before God? It is necessary to reduplicate, through action, the ideality embodied by Christ. Whereas the aesthete is one for whom his “life has no history, no unity, and no continuity to it,” the life of genuine faith “has a beginning, is organized around a unifying idea or a goal, and has a telos” (93). In reading Kierkegaard’s portrayal of such a life, one is called to undertake the task of becoming an individual, a form of existence itself “represented in descriptions of the imaginary characters’ wrestling with suffering, love, death, finitude, freedom, and time—but also with God, despair, and sin” (95). If the ideal expressed in the text is ever to be truly understood, it must be appropriated by a reduplication in the actual existence of the reader. When it comes to faith, this reduplication requires a far more earnest and serious effort than what in Kierkegaard’s Copenhagen was taken to suffice. As Kierkegaard says,

No, Christ has not appointed assistant-professors—but imitators or followers. When Christianity (precisely because it is not a doctrine) does not reduplicate itself in the one who presents it, he does not present Christianity; for Christianity is an existential-communication and can only be presented—by existing. Basically, to exist therein, to express it in one’s existence etc.—this is what it means to reduplicate (99).

Imitation, we see, is an experiential imperative for Kierkegaard’s account of the development of a life-view. As Kaftanski notes, a cluster of concepts—Eftergjøre, Efterligne, Lighed, and Ligne—are operative in the Dane’s account of existential redoubling and reduplication (113). “Eftergjøre,” Kaftanski explains, “refers primarily to a sophisticated human capacity for imitation that is has mostly secular application” (114). When, then, writing of the ideal of “Being like Christ, or resembling Him” (115), Kierkegaard sometimes uses the term Ligne, which, like Efterfølgelse (“following after”), is to be contrasted with Eftergiore and Efterligne, meaning “to counterfeit, to mimic” (118). He chooses Efterfølgelse to account for this task. While Kierkegaard frequently contrasts Efterfølgelse with Efterabelse (“mimicking” “aping”), towards the end of his literary production he attributes pejorative connotations to Eftergjøre and Efterligne. In any case, the point for Kierkegaard is that the individual ought to find a way to incorporate the ideality of authenticity into actuality. For in doing so, the authentic human being, which Kierkegaard names “the single individual” (122), transcends mundane “social expectations” (120), and, overcoming the tug of conformism and mediocrity characterized by a kind of “levelling” rooted in a pernicious perfectibility entailing a “certain plasticity, malleability, or moldability of human nature” (121), instead emulates the image of Christ genuinely, in what Kaftanski terms Kierkegaard’s “existential mimesis” (123). Here again, Kaftanski finds it fruitful to turn to Kant. Kant notes four types of imitation in the Critique of the Power of Judgment—“Nachäffung, Nachmachung, Nachahmung, and Nachfolge” (125).

The first word has been translated into English as ‘aping’ or ‘parroting’; Nachmachung has been translated as ‘copying;’ ‘imitation’ is the usual translation of Nachahmung; Nachfolge has been translated as ‘emulating,’ ‘following,’ but also as ‘succeeding’ (125-26).

Reworking Kant’s own conception of “exemplary originality” (127), Kierkegaard articulates a form of existential emulation whose ideal entails an “interpretive duty [with] an individual and subjective character, in contrast to imitation that follows a preset standardizing pattern that can be adhered to on a mass scale” (130). Whereas patterning oneself on societal everydayness “produces in individuals the feelings of estrangement and alienation, who then seek the remedy to these negative feelings in mimetic collective behavior” (130), Kierkegaard’s imitatio Christi is meant to produce an integrated, authentic individuality. In doing so, such existential mimesis “does not place the imitator in an elevated position based on their functions and education, as it is in Plato and Aristotle, nor based on their extraordinary skills or moral merits, as in Kant” (130). Rather, Kierkegaard’s existential mimesis is an egalitarian project (130), for everyone is able, if he is so willing, to follow after the pattern of Christ.

Of course, this is not to say that doing so is easy. As Kierkegaard himself notes repeatedly, many people fail to do so successfully. What particularly interests Kaftanski is the complex mimetic imagery Kierkegaard develops in the course of developing an account of how this process of becoming a single individual is supposed to work itself out in actual existence. As Kaftanski says, “Kierkegaard’s Forbillede denotes that which represents an idealized and hence ‘prototypical’ quality of someone or something. The Danish Forbillede, also translated into English as ‘pattern,’ comes from Billede, which stands for ‘image’” (133). These terms are roughly Danish equivalents to the classical notions of “figura and exemplum” (133). “Forbillede,” says Kaftanski, “the prototype—plays an important role in Kierkegaard’s Efterfølgelse—imitation” (133). At stake is a “movement from the ideal to the actual” (134), a “creation in reference to a model” (133) that captures for Kierkegaard what it “means to be and become a genuine Christian” (134). Because “figura denotes something material and visual, but also formal and structural” (135), not only does such a figure “already embody and determine modes of interpretation, appropriation, and representation” (135), it sets “an ideal that an individual should internalize” (137). It is an ideal that many fail to ever internalize—negative models, for Kierkegaard, include “pastors, assistant professors, journalists” (137). But there are examples of those who do accomplish it (or come close)—Abraham, Job, the sinful woman, even the lilies and the birds! Job, for instance, represents the “ideality” (151) of the biblical criterion for being human as a single individual—for in the “existential redoubling” (152) by which Job enacts the ideal of faithfulness to God, by “actually relating himself to the ideal” (153), he finds himself persecuted by all of those he knows, including his friends. Job becomes an offense. Unlike the hero who achieves the admiration of others, Job is scorned and hated. As Kaftanski recounts, “What follows is the public condemnation of Job, disapproval of his person, mockery, insults, and ostracism. This social phenomenon of universal punishment represents ‘the scapegoat mechanism,’ and Job is the scapegoat” (144); “The friends contribute to the suffering he experiences. Instead of soothing his pain, they condemn him and amplify his misery” (147). Depicting the suffering of Job, Kierkegaard expresses his own ideal of Christian martyrdom, of the idea that to be a true Christian is to suffer. Recollecting the life of Job in literary form in turn serves as an injunction to reduplicate that same suffering in one’s own life. As Kierkegaard says, “My entire work as an author has also been my own development” (141).

But as Kaftanski notes, if “Forbillede designates a perfected or ideal representation of someone or something” (150), for Kierkegaard, existential reduplication in the case of ideal Christianity is impossible. The Christian is always “a being in becoming” (155). This means that the typical view of Kierkegaard, which interprets him as straightforwardly recommending the imitation of Christ as prototype for human existence, must be modified. Kaftanski, rather audaciously, claims that, for Kierkegaard, “Christ as the prototype is not sufficient with respect to guiding would-be Christians to successfully imitating Him” (154). This is so, says Kaftanski, because according to Kierkegaard, “[Christ] is not a human being as we are” (157), but is rather “a God-man” (158). Paradoxically, then, Kierkegaard’s “ideal picture of being a Christian” (158) requires acknowledging that Christ himself is not a Christian. “Jesus Christ,” says Kierkegaard, “it is true, is himself the prototype, and will continue to be that, unchanged, until the end. But Christ is also much more than the prototype; he is the object of faith” (156).[2] In depicting the ideal picture of being a Christian, Kierkegaard intends to show others, particularly his complacent fellow Danes, that exposing “themselves to the mirror of the Word” (162) involves “perpetual self-accusation” (161).

Consequently, “an authentic Christian existence, which demands from Christians not admiration but imitation” of Christ (179), must navigate the reality of human frailty. This means, first, recognizing the pitfalls of admiration itself. As Kaftanski observes, “admiration is collective and contagious” (179), “is not powerful enough to motivate us to do the good” (182), and “is suspiciously like an evasion” (182). As an affective phenomenon, admiration is subject to “magnetism” and “prestige” (185), the “power of opinion” (186), a morass of “shared feelings, emotions, passions, and affects” (186), which, typified by the “readership of a newspaper” (188) only forms a contemptible “collective identity” (189) that stunts the individual’s becoming. That alone would be bad enough! Yet admiration, which lies at the root of social conformism, is also prone to violence and irrational upheaval. Here Kaftanski exploits the insights of Girard. For if, as Kierkegaard would say, “the public is a phantom” (192), this is because the “deindividualization created by mass media and public opinion” (193) is susceptible to dynamics of “social pressure, human collectivity, and affective contagion” (204) which for Girard culminates in violence and scapegoating. This is powerfully apparent in the horrific death of Christ himself, who the crowd turns upon. The Messiah, who was initially hailed as a King upon entering Jerusalem, is shortly thereafter handed over to the Romans in lieu of Barabbas—“crucify him!” As Kaftanski says, “The quickness and the spontaneity of this altering reaction of the crowd suggests a kind of affective independence of that swing of valences on the pendulum of affectivity” (196).

Given the fraught nature of such mimetic behavior, there is an admitted oddity in “Presenting mimesis as a remedy to the problems caused by mimesis” (215). But this is precisely what Kierkegaard’s account of existential mimesis aims to do. The important difference between good and bad mimesis, Kaftanski notes, lies in the “non-comparing” and “nonimitative” nature of the former. Here, “indirect prototypes” can be useful—as Kaftanski observes, “one can become a Christian by living as the lily and the bird live” (222). Such “icons” or “middle terms” are necessary in the process of becoming an authentic self, argues Kaftanski. For again, if “Christ is a God-man,” and thus “not a Christian” (227),[3] this means that the ideal of being like Christ is one for which we will always fall short. In some sense, emulating Christ entails being left to one’s own self—“In walking alone, one is deprived of the direct resource of the visible model” (229). I should note that, although Kierkegaard was highly critical of what he perceived to be the superficiality, insincerity, and hypocrisy of the Danish Lutheran Church, his attack on Christendom often remained largely beholden to the theological dogma inherited from Augustine and Luther. Kierkegaard for much of his career, like Luther, labors under the idea that human depravity essentially prevents one from ever measuring up adequately to the ideal of authentic Christian existence. In effect, one is never truly a Christian, because being a Christian involves a kind of perpetual incompletion, or, better, imperfection. However, it should be noted that, in his very last journal entries, Kierkegaard at times expresses discontent with this Augustinian and Lutheran conception of human depravity and weakness. Such an anthropology, Kierkegaard notes, unintentionally leads to the same mere admiration of Christ he criticized so adamantly, for it eliminates the sort of “primitivity” Kierkegaard comes to view as essential to New Testament Christianity. This is all to say that some of Kierkegaard’s more pessimistic remarks concerning the supposed impossibility of ever emulating Christ genuinely should perhaps be tempered by his own later comments on the subject—remarks which, abandoning Lutheran orthodoxy, underscore the legitimate possibility of emulation. Such a view, as it happens, would be more in line with a strand of optimism apparent in the New Testament itself, which frequently mentions the possibility of obeying God, insofar as God’s commandments are not burdensome and provide joy, peace, and rest.

Having traced the various shades of mimesis, their pertinence to modernity, and their relevance for the project of human authenticity, Kaftanski at the work’s conclusion can rightly conclude that, “Just as Kierkegaard is not perceived as an important theoretician or critic of mimesis, so Kierkegaardians do not seem to find mimesis to be of much importance to Kierkegaard’s thought and authorship” (238). Kaftanski’s book corrects both these errors by convincingly (and engrossingly!) reconstructing Kierkegaard as a thinker “contributing to the modern shift in appraising mimesis from artistic representation based on the ideals of similarity to mimesis as a human condition underpinning the individual and social aspects of human existence” (239).

Needless to say, philosophers of religion, readers of Kierkegaard, and scholars of post-Kantian European philosophy more generally, will benefit from Kaftanski’s text immensely. Everyone knows that reading somehow changes us. Kaftanski in effect provides us with a powerful account of how exactly the art of reading does so, by shaping and transforming the individual who authentically encounters a text. Of course, no work is flawless. Others will object to some of the things Kaftanski says. At this stage of the review, it would be customary to list the potential objections. Instead, however, I should like to emphasize that Kaftanski’s work is an important contribution to an influential body of works that has taken up the issues of authenticity and identity in modernity—to wit, Charles Larmore’s The Practices of the Self, Stephen Mulhall’s Inheritance and Originality, Claude Romano’s Être soi-même, and Charles Taylor’s Sources of the Self. While reading this text, one’s mind frequently will inevitably turn to Heidegger, a figure who looms large in such a context. Fitting, then, that Kierkegaard, Mimesis, and Modernity’s very last line should mention Heidegger by name. The concluding reference to Heidegger proves timely. It is no small thing that, by the work’s end, Kaftanski has shown how it is Kierkegaard, not Heidegger, from whom we have the most to gain when reflecting upon what it means to live an authentic human existence. As for the significance of Kaftanski’s own text’s contribution to that task, it bears returning to an earlier moment in the text, in which Kaftanski examines Kierkegaard’s remarks from a book review of the nineteenth-century Danish novelist Thomasine Gyllembourg-Ehrensvard. In his review, Kierkegaard is very complimentary of her work for many reasons. As Kaftanski says, chief among them is the fact that Kierkegaard found writing the review of Gyllembourg-Ehrensvard’s book to not only serve as an exercise in recollecting what the book contained. More importantly, Kierkegaard found himself “changed in the repetition” (57) of writing it. I have had a similar experience in writing this review. Having thought about what Kierkegaard, Mimesis, and Modernity gives to think in the course of writing this review of it, I have been reminded of what an extraordinary gift existence is, and how invigorating it is to feel the possibility of being able to continue the task of actualizing the ideal of becoming a single individual through Christ. No doubt other readers will have the same experience. For, more than just a theoretical meditation on existential mimesis, Kaftanski’s account is a call to it.

[1] The clear resonance between Kierkegaard’s notions of “imaginary construction” and “psychological experiments” and Husserl’s phenomenological technique of eidetic variation is not coincidental. As Shestov reported, Husserl once confided to him that a secret inspiration for his phenomenological method was Kierkegaard.

[2] According to Kierkegaard, in the New Testament, Christ is represented strictly in the mode of being, rather than becoming. For this reason, any strict emulation of Christ is rendered impossible for us, since as mere human beings we find ourselves in a contrasting process of incessant becoming. Without at all meaning to suggest that Kierkegaard is wrong for emphasizing the uniqueness of Christ as the God-man, I do think it is worth noting that there are apparent traces of Christ’s own process of becoming in the Gospels, a becoming that accentuates the humanity of Christ. For example: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” (Luke 2:52).

[3] Interestingly, Nietzsche says exactly the opposite: “There has only been one Christian, and he died on the Cross,” The Anti-Christ, §39.

Neal DeRoo: The Political Logic of Experience, Fordham University Press, 2022

The Political Logic of Experience: Expression in Phenomenology Couverture du livre The Political Logic of Experience: Expression in Phenomenology
Perspectives in Continental Philosophy
Neal DeRoo
Fordham University Press
Paperback $32.00

Steven DeLay: Faint Not: Twelve Brief Meditations on the Word of God, Wipf and Stock, 2022

Faint Not: Twelve Brief Meditations on the Word of God Couverture du livre Faint Not: Twelve Brief Meditations on the Word of God
Steven DeLay
Wipf and Stock
Paperback $15.00 / £13.00 / AU$22.00

Ion Tănăsescu, Alexandru Bejinariu, Susan Krantz Gabriel, Constantin Stoenescu (Eds.): Brentano and the Positive Philosophy of Comte and Mill, De Gruyter, 2022

Brentano and the Positive Philosophy of Comte and Mill Couverture du livre Brentano and the Positive Philosophy of Comte and Mill
Ion Tănăsescu, Alexandru Bejinariu, Susan Krantz Gabriel, Constantin Stoenescu (Eds.)
De Gruyter

Ahad Pirahmadian: Das Sein & das Tragische, Königshausen & Neumann, 2022

Das Sein & das Tragische. Die onto-tragische Bestimmung des Seins in Heideggers seinsgeschichtlichem Denken Couverture du livre Das Sein & das Tragische. Die onto-tragische Bestimmung des Seins in Heideggers seinsgeschichtlichem Denken
Orbis Phaenomenologicus Studien, Bd. 57
Ahad Pirahmadian
Königshausen & Neumann
Paperback 49,80 EUR

Rüdiger Zill: Der absolute Leser

Der absolute Leser. Hans Blumenberg. Eine intellektuelle Biographie Couverture du livre Der absolute Leser. Hans Blumenberg. Eine intellektuelle Biographie
Rüdiger Zill
Paperback 38.00 EUR

Reviewed by: Alexander Gerner (CFCUL, Faculdade de Ciência da Universidade de Lisboa)

1. Introduction: Towards an Intellectual History of Technology of Hans Blumenberg in Rüdiger Zill’s « Der absolute Leser. Hans Blumenberg-Eine Intellektuelle Biographie »

Rüdiger Zill is a scientific referent of the Berlin-based Einstein Forum, who, together with Oliver Müller, will soon present us with a first comprehensive Blumenberg Handbook (announced for 2022). Zill’s (2020) actual intellectual biography of Hans Blumenberg “Der absolute Leser” is a rich and extensive resource – including a chronology and a comprehensive register of primary and secondary (German) sources to access not only Blumenberg’s published work, including journal texts in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Akzente, the swiss NZZ or published under Blumenberg’s pseudonym of Axel Colly. Still, Zill’s book makes countless archive documents, such as the primary resource for posthumous editions from the Marbach archive accessible to the reader. In three circumnavigating parts after the plunging into the introduction on the readability of thinking, it enters in the first part, Description of Life, circles around his work in part two-Work on the works-, and circumnavigates in the third part around the process of philosophical curiosity.

Hans Blumenberg (1920-1996), besides Odo Marquard (1928-2015) as well as the spiritus rector of the reformed and interdisciplinary University of Konstanz -Hans Robert Jauss (1921-1997), took part in the historically influential interdisciplinary research group Poetics and Hermeneutics (Boden & Zill 2017), that has shaped the landscape of humanities and cultural studies in the old Federal Republic of Germany as perhaps only Critical Theory has done comparatively. Zill provides us with a biographically augmented sphere of possibility to experience and reflect a diachronic examination of Blumenberg’s life and structures of ideas, rich in historical and biographical detail, exact in its descriptions, and up to date regarding the editions of posthumous work of the Marbach archive. Zill achieves this by going beyond imaginary soul checking or vicarious embarrassment regarding the uncovered and naked truth (Blumenberg 2019) of the philosopher’s life. By mapping out the internal motivations and external events, we are introduced to the thinking machine called Hans Blumenberg, one of the 20th century’s most curious and inspirational and still to be fully discovered post-WWII German philosophers. Suppose you want a diachronic introduction to Blumenberg or are fond of Hans Blumenberg as a philosopher of intellectual wit and richness of detail. In that case, you will read Zill’s book with assertive pleasure. In a techno-anthropological perspective on technical aiding tools and procedures, we get to remember that Blumenberg, from the very beginning, separates self-assertion as a historically rendered conscious phenomenon from self-preservation as a biological and factual principle. However, why Blumenberg localizes these thoughts historically in the shift towards the medieval age seems not clear to Zill. He assumes that the theory of meaningfulness (cf. Heidenreich 2018) and the theorem developed in Blumenberg´s work on myth relates to the banishment of the fear-inducing absolutism of reality (in Marquart’s perspective on Blumenberg). The employment of rhetoric relief figures- becomes paramount to handle the tension inside a critique of pure rationality that has emerged since the 1960s in Blumenberg’s work.

There are strategies that Blumenberg puts at the fore to generate significances: means of effectiveness {Wirksamkeit} for action as methods of conceptual formation of pregnant formulations, rhetorical forms such as “simultaneity, latent identity, circularity, recurrence of the same, reciprocity of resistance and increase of existence, isolation of the degree of reality.” (Blumenberg, in Zill 2020: 534). Zill mentions the loss of the absolute world picture {Weltbild} as an essential topic in Blumenberg: In Zill’s reading, the world picture as an institution is irreversible gone and lost for Blumenberg. Subsequently, human beings would have to live in a provisional (Blumenberg 2015: 136), groundless and unhinged world! For Blumenberg, so Zill, we have not fallen out of a worldview in modernity but out of the idea of worldview par excellence[1].

In this respect, Zill’s intellectual biography is a unique book within a biographic (cf. Blumenberg in Zill 2020) narrative philosophy (535) tradition that shows us how multifaceted archival sources can be made accessible for understanding a life´s work and a philosophers life -including Blumenberg’s interesting reading notes and sometimes surprising evaluations- by describing the lifetime and historiography not only of the philosopher himself, but by the life’s example of Hans Blumenberg lets us enter a society tentatively searching for new grounds in the post-WWII Federal Republic of Germany struggling with its Nazi heritage and cultural burden, starting with two central life experience: First, being the best pupil of his age group, and- nevertheless- not being allowed by his former schoolmaster to hold the farewell speech, – against the tradition of the high school Katharineum in Lübeck- as having being stigmatized as a half-jew at that time (cf. The review of Krajewski on to the topic – in my view overstated – of formative bitterness, even only because Blumenberg in this situation became his school friend´s -Karl August Rohrbach (Zill 2020)- ghostwriter (55) instead. Second, assisting the allied bombings -while hiding from the Nazis, of his hometown Lübeck on the Palm Sunday night 1942 with mixed feelings- referring to the destroyed church organs and feeling sorry for his friends from Lübeck, but with asserted clarity about this beacon of the turn of the war (93). Zill’s book not only shows excellently how Blumenberg dealt with conflict situations – anger and strength in his responses being indeed a more robust motivator of Blumenberg- elegantly and forcefully during his whole life but as well how the philosopher´s theoretical positions changed over time and how he has evolved consciously as a person far from any tentative spiritual glorification that recently even assimilated the philosopher to a sort of a reclusive mystic as in Wolf (2020). On the contrary, Zill offers us an overlooking expansion of the scholars and Blumenberg editor previous fundamental studies on the work of Blumenberg. Zill had already worked on Blumenberg’s Metaphorology (2010{1960}) as substructures of thought (Zill 2002) or the theme of the Minima Historia by analyzing forms of philosophical writing (Stegmaier 2021) traditionally, if at all, considered minor forms. As Zill emphasizes, Blumenberg’s technique and writing celebrated to become a significant textual focus, wittily densifying scenes to dramaturgically sharp to a point by which the philosophical anecdote (Zill 2014; Zill 2014b) installs a climatic horizon of thought, that readers then can think even further.

Zill shows how from the work on myth onwards, Blumenberg’s interest in the history of science turns into intellectual history in which he reflects on the possibilities of Blumenberg’s approach to describing a history of technology that focuses on the time of Copernicus and not, for example, Albert Einstein (cf. Zill 2020: 483). This argumentation, however, falls short in understanding the importance of the complex problem of the scientific image as a model that is treated inside Blumenberg’s thought on inconceptuality. We can reflect on the relation of metaphorical shortcomings of untreated metaphysics and metaphor use in philosophy and theological world views and even more so inside scientific praxis and rationalities (cf. Gerner 2012) where it is supposed to be entirely avoided. Zill designates Blumenberg’s posthumous anthropology {Beschreibung des Menschen} as a philosophy of speculative paleoanthropology that could also be called a narrative anthropological phenomenology. Zill’s  view is based on the idea that Blumenberg puts different explanatory models to the test to understand the pragmatic intellectual performance of each approach according to external criteria. Then, according to Zill, Blumenberg chooses the theory that can explain more, which Zill then points out, for Blumenberg to be the theory that can narrate more and might not yet be empirically proven any better than the other theories.

2. Towards technological rhetoric of reading, storing ideas for writing and finding philosophical forms

How do we organize the experience of reading and keeping ideas we want to work out further?

Blumenberg takes advantage of essential material order tools of the pre-digital humanities: Pencil, ruler, and foremost a system of index cards in a flexible slip box to organize the experience of reading and subsequent mapping of ideas in writing. Zill shows us that Blumenberg’s slip box is of utmost importance; as for Zill, it becomes clear that it is particularly productive when it stores the findings of many years of the author’s work of reading and with very few selected keywords of themes and authors as the articulative axis. From early on -in the late 1940s-Blumenberg organized his tools and traces. He carefully managed and meticulously documented the genesis of the intermediate textual steps. Moreover, Blumenberg used as material storage of quotations, rare notations collected in a flat hierarchy of broad categories – that he could restructure quickly and flexibly: keywords included concepts such as {Aufklärung,} or {Anthropologie,} or {Zeit,} {Technik,} {Welt,} {Judenfrage.} Late in Blumenberg’s slip box, in 1992, a new keyword entered the thinking stage: boredom {Langeweile}.


3. On Blumenberg´s assistants, detour technologies of the Stenorette and the file card box (Zettelkasten)

When do reading and reception finally turn into production and writing, and when does production cease?

In the chapter Finding philosophical styles, Zill follows Blumenberg’s technical methods and rehearsals of thinking: traces of reading, lecture, stenorette, index cards. Zill also provides us with insights into the terrain of production of typescripts tested in the auditorium. In a household of thought, big projects were produced with the help of 1 to 5 assistants and his wife Ursula Blumenberg Proofs corrections, as well as with the help of his main publishing house and its proofreader Axel Rütters at Suhrkamp, for the book project of the Genesis of the Copernican World. Zill lays out traces of the origin of The Copernican Turn from within essays of Blumenberg, as well as Blumenberg’s dialogue with his critics, evident in, for example, the correspondence with Carl Schmitt (Blumenberg and Schmitt 2007) – an ideological opponent and equal sufferer of “curiositas” (111).

Blumenberg’s preference for the anti-method of detour – especially in his late works, as shown in his Freud prize reception speech, is that the basic movement pattern of culture-based dynamics becomes evident via technical mediation devices. Instead of dictating to his secretary, Blumenberg often used a transcribable and correctable stenorette as a mediating and recording tool. Rehearsal stages of thinking, such as the testing and probing of actual lectures held, are later at night, respoken into this kind of tape-recorder. For Zill, the stenorette is a means of Blumenberg’s use of his time economy –, particularly the night work. But Zill insists that the stenorette is foremost a distance medium, enabling actio per distans, as an action tool from a safe distance: allowing a personal thinking recording machine when others sleep. After the transcription of the spoken dictation by his secretary Ute Vonnegut, usually, two copies were made, which were corrected and revised by hand. Blumenberg only typed significant additions again or asked his secretary to do so. On an important note, Zill reminds us that Blumenberg – ten months before his retirement – wrote (cf. Zill 2020) to Alfons Neukirchen about the ceasing of production by being thrown back to typewriting with his own hands: “In 300 days, I will lose my secretary, and then I will be back where I started: writing on my own. Fortunately, in 27 years of writing full time, I’ve never stopped keeping myself in practice. The >output< has decreased anyway: in Giessen, it was still 20 pages per day, here recently 8, and with self-writing, I will probably retreat to 3. “Braggart, I secretly call to myself, it will be two if it goes well – and 0 if it doesn’t go at all.”(393; my translation from the German original)

Regarding notes from friends, Blumenberg ironically remarks about his card index cabinet of the latest technology, filled at the time with 16000 file card entries: “All your hints are written on file card slips (…) When the thing is full, I stop collecting and start writing”. Zill carefully approaches this development of Blumenberg’s file card box {Zettelkasten} method of selected reading samples, collecting, and writing notes that predisposition and luck play a role in this diachronic textual genesis machine, denying any mysticism of any technical self-constitution texts of reading material bogged down as supposedly self-executing. Depending on the context of use, the quotations collected by Hans Blumenberg landed in ever new places, thus declaring the file cards box a dynamic turnover point that says nothing about the arbitrariness of what had been written down before. While a rigid pattern governs index cards, Zettelkästen is characterized by its flexibility. Individual notations can wander to other places and migrate into different contexts, creating flexible references. Only what is read into it can be read out of the card index. What does not fit into the thesis is left to the note box. In this venue, Zill interprets the laughter of the Thracian woman as a Blumenberg’s self-conscious treatment of the loss of recontextualization of the material that is necessary after its decontextualization. Blumenberg’s search pattern based on which the material is perceived according to its usefulness is already at work in his reading that served the philosopher as an incubator for his works. His activity of collected and set aside reading is connectable to what has already been collected and an expansion of his seeing and thinking in the sense of an expansion of man as a historian of ideas: a conceptual synthesis of person and thing, the reader and the read. Zill emphasizes that the term {Zettelkasten} as archive “note box” or file card box – after the liberation of the rigidly organized index cards as used by Lichtenberg- has become an established technical term that today has been even entitled as “ruminant machines”[2](Helbig 2019a, b). It might be essential to add to Zill´s (2020) excellent elaboration on the Zettelkasten, following the work of Bülow and Krusche that for Helbig (2019a), Blumenberg´s Zettelkasten-method is seen as crucial to developing a systematic theoretical attitude (Blumenberg 1981) towards the history of science and science studies. Inside a critical stance towards the interpretation of the Zettelkasten method by von Bülow and Krusche (2013) in a tendency to self-conversation as a medium of self-communication (113-114), Helbig positions Blumenberg´s index card method beyond a mere technique for Soliloquium. For Helbig (2019a), the importance of Blumenberg’s adoption of the method lies in the diachronically augmented degree of freedom and constitution of a ruminant field of play within the Zettelkasten-method that allows the establishment and cultivation of „a Geschichtsverhältnis, or “relation to history“(96) to provide „a space to play with connections as they have been formed by historical predecessors or might be formed in the present“(97).

Blumenberg’s project of a history of ideas includes, above all, work on the history of science, technology, metaphorology as the pragmatics of metaphysics inherent and thus often less reflected even in scientific world images, a metakinetics of historical changes in meaning horizons. Blumenberg, later in the 70s -and already pre-announced in a text in 1966- corrects his course of philosophical action into anthropology and theory of non-conceptuality {Unbegrifflichkeit}. In the tension between the infinity claim of reason and its procedures of finitude as anthropological conditions, Zill designates Blumenbergs writing as a philosophy and anthropological rhetoric of gaining or taking distance to stimulate Pensiveness– a process of meaning possibility exploration. Against coming directly to the point, >Pensiveness< digresses and, preliminarily in zigzags, allows itself detours as the most critical cultural operation.

Zill elaborates on the retreat of the late Blumenberg in which not only there were no more questions of his students answered by him, with an idea-historical approach. Blumenberg’s implicit aversion of the student revolt of 1968 elevates critics into a moral habit, despite Blumenberg’s preference for rhetoric as a trick of reason to install pragmatic reasonableness in disfavor of absolute reason. Reasonableness is an outcome of an anthropological variant of reason, one that has learned its limits in the passage through self-criticism and has become modest in its insurmountable provisionality. This becomes evident in {Die Verführbarkeit des Philosophen} (cf. Zill’s 2014:38), in which Blumenberg launches a short anecdote in the direction of our forgetting of history entitled {Das jeweils Vergessene,} in which the “respectively forgotten” of each philosophical approach densifies in a short master-pupil anecdote of a joint hurrying towards a leaving train: Heidegger running after the forgetful professor Husserl, that asks his student what it was that he had forgotten to take with him on his journey: “Herr Geheimrat- And History?” Heidegger prompted, and Husserl supposedly answered: “History, yes that’s it, that´s what I have forgotten” (Blumenberg 2014: 63; my translation from the German original): a self-demarcation of Blumenberg to continue to work on the “respectively forgotten” in each thinker or epoch. This self-demarcation is present as well in one of the rare and hand-selected photo reproductions in Zill’s book (2020; image 35) of Hans Blumenberg; a photo of Hans Blumenberg’s handwritten remark posted onto his habilitation work on the “ontological distance” that had been labeled with a skull and a note that says: To be used only with great caution! (376) that Zill comments clearly: “His habilitation thesis thus went into the personal poison cabinet. The closeness to Heidegger annoyed him very soon.”(Ibid.)

4. Rehearsing the dramatization of philosophical curiosity: On the anecdote as a philosophical form

Zill´s book follows philosophical curiosity as a trial treatment of thinking, which I like to call rehearsals. In this sense, writes Zill, Blumenberg is less concerned with the ideology-critical search for some fundamental naked truth, but instead with the process of rendering visible something that has been self-evident to Blumenberg, but that is not or no longer self-evident to us. One of these rehearsals is Blumenberg’s anthropological phenomenological approach, not only of traditional topics such as the concept, as a technical device that allows us, humans, to act at a distance towards the thing described and back over language. For Blumenberg, man is only given inside time, which renders the historical dimension inherent in humankind: and this implies for Zill that historicity, according to Blumenberg, means relatedness of all certainty to horizons, to the temporally manifest real. Zill clarifies that Pensiveness lies beyond traditional hermeneutics as texts through Pensiveness are not an object to be understood but a technical means and opportunity to understand oneself.

Blumenberg’s stupendous erudition laid out his thinking paths in large and small forms precisely cut into short and often ironic and concise miscellanies. He is always form-conscious and ready for witty comments (cf. Alexander Kluges’ (2022) project of thinking as commenting). Despite his rhetoric’s that he might have published smaller text as a preliminary trial test or “rehearsal” {Probe} or even as “small escapes” {kleine Fluchten} and that some since 1973 might be better called “unauthorized fragments” {Unerlaubte Fragmente}, seems an ironic self-comment that shows that Blumenberg’s thinking and philosophy style lies beyond the rolling of problem-rocks, thick-bodied “problem thrillers” (Odo Marquard), but that Blumenberg growingly showed his delight in digressions into the shorter and densified philosophical forms: the compressed and pictorial, the dramaturgically sculptured episodic and the sharpness of the anecdotal.

Beyond lighthearted and history-forgotten narrative style memorials Blumenberg’s writing often could be condensed into a short narrative such as an ironic gloss or an anecdote up to a particular point: The non-edited, or the unpublished in a lifetime is precisely meant -as we deepen our understanding with Zill- with an-ekdoton. The importance of a precise anecdotal writing style is treated in the unpublished manuscript of Blumenberg “Die Unverächtlichkeit der Anekdote” (UNF2241; Zill 2014:36), in which Blumenberg refers to the unrealized program of Nietzsche’s attempt to extract three anecdotes from each philosophical system and accordingly the three basic narratives of a philosopher’s life we should still care about discarding at the same time each particular systems or exorbitant grand theory. What are these three densified anecdotes or philosophical and intellectual biographic narratives in turn that would reveal all the rest? Blumenberg comments on Nietzsche’s pre-announced but never fulfilled program Nietzsche that would have meant an ultimate rebellion against the monocracy of the concept. But, Blumenberg twistedly adds that we will never know if it succeeded. The short gloss of Blumenberg as philosophical crisp and straightforward narrative of an anecdote that grows into a formal philosophical statement, in my view, is missing in the recent edition of Werner Stegmaier’s introduction of “forms of philosophical works” (Stegmaier 2021: 260) which mentions Blumenberg au passant as merely part of one out of three contemporary forms (besides the philosophical, analytical scientific paper and new digital metric and designed forms) as having contributed to transdisciplinary theme volumes, that opening up new thematic fields put forward by the collective of poetics and hermeneutics. But, Blumenberg works on the transformation of hermeneutics through the minimal form of philosophical buccaneering in which the anecdote, according to Zill, becomes the third field of a theory of non-conceptuality alongside the work on myth and metaphor.

5. Towards an Intellectual History of Technology

Zill’s book is by far too rich to put down in a short review. However, still, I tentatively attempt to cut a breach into Zills work of the multifaceted reading of Blumenberg’s intellectual biography into an intellectual history of technology: Zill reconstructs Blumenberg’s project of development of an Intellectual History of Technology {Geistesgeschichte der Technik} but also assists in early archeology of Blumenberg of technology as a self-contained topic. In this vein, besides the important initial texts of the Kiel inaugural lecture of 1951 The Relationship Between Nature And Technology As A Philosophical Problem {Das Verhältnis von Natur und Technik als philosophisches Problem} and the Brussels conference contribution Technology and truth {Technik und Wahrheit} of 1953, among other writings and lectures in the volume Works On Technology {Schriften Zur Technik} published posthumously in 2015, Zill refers to the fragmentary text from a lecture of 1956 entitled Automation which Zill commented (Zill 2019) and which has now also been published (Blumenberg 2019b). As Rüdiger Zill points out, Blumenberg focuses not only on the economic and cultural but specifically on the spiritual and philosophical preconditions of automation. Blumenberg does not shy away from drawing a big bow from the human ability of symbolization to technology that means from the power of sign-use to automation. For automation, according to a manuscript transcribed by Zill – Blumenberg (2019b), goes back to mathematization: For Blumenberg -as Zill reminds us- what can be formalized, can be mechanized; and what can be mechanized, can be automated. Consequently, for Blumenberg in his text on automation, technology slumbers in theory, and in the sign reside the machine.

Zill notes that Blumenberg does not focus on the moral and social problems of technology because he does not consider the social and economic consequences of automation to be problems of technology itself, but rather to be technical problems: turning the appearance of a deficiency inside technology towards a problem of a lack of technology.” Blumenberg, with his early philosophy of technology – as Zill convincingly maps out- stands in contrast to positions of contemporaries such as Friedrich Georg Jünger, Martin Heidegger, or left-wing cultural critics such as Horkheimer, Adorno, or Günther Anders (cf. Eatherly, Anders, and Russell 1961) in questions of technology. However, Zill (2020) notes the astonishing – unquoted- familiarity in what Anders wrote on prompting and the technological shortcuts as a way to the barbaric and – in opposition- the cultural methods of digressions and the productive tensions created by detours in both authors (458-459) reconstructs that as early as 1966, Blumenberg sees the historical interest in technology seconded by its anthropological dimension of how to win time could be treated as a significant human technological category. However, Blumenberg’s strength does not lie in the scientific adequacy of evolutionary anthropology. For example, in the evolutionary theoretical he defends a kind of a savannah hypothesis, which is necessary for his argumentation to draw on the habitat change from forested terrain to free steppes and explain man as a distance being, currently historically aged scientific knowledge. What matters is much more his speculative detours on anthropological details: Since in Blumenberg visibility serves the self-determination and self-assertion of man, the examination of the history of technology was intensified in the 1960s. Zill shows how Blumenberg, through his publications and lectures as a member of the leading group “Man and Technology” in the “Association of German Engineers” (VDI), is perceived as a decisive philosopher of technology of his time, primarily through three lectures. Since the lectures on Some Difficulties in Writing an Intellectual History of Technology {Einige Schwierigkeiten, eine Geistesgeschichte der Technik zu schreiben}, which additionally was broadcasted as a radio transmission on Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) in 1966, moreover, the lecture Methodological Problems of an Intellectual History of Technology {Methodologische Probleme einer Geistesgeschichte der Technik} and Dogmatic and Rational Analysis of Motivations of Technical Progress {Dogmatische und rationale Analyse von Motivationen Technischen Fortschritts}, which was presented at the timely conference of the VDI in Ludwigshafen in 1970, Blumenberg relies on the elaboration of the relationship between theory and reality and the boundary between technology and craft in particular consideration of Cusanos. Zill is particularly interested in Marx’s development of machinery in the book “Das Kapital,” noting that in Marx’s chapter “Machinery and Great Industry,” the possibility of mechanizing a production process only became visible for Blumenberg through the division of labor.

If we speculate a bit further, we could ask: What would Blumenberg have thought of literary and cultural experiments such as the “1 the road” project (Goodwin, Mcdowell, and Google 2018) to write a – theoretically eternal and unstoppable – road trip book with a machine learning algorithm, or the works of the text collective of Gregor Weichbrod and Hannes Bajohr of the “0x0a” the hex code for the line break, as a character that does not exist in the analog, cannot be spoken and exists only as a “control character” – as attempts to produce genuinely digital literature in the line of algorithmic aesthetics today? We know that Blumenberg distinguished clearly unreflective monologs of AI protocol machines (Blumenberg 2002) based on unanimity {Einstimmigkeit} (39) of judgment or atomized sentences from dialogic concordance {Übereinstimmung}(Ibid.) after inspection {Prüfung} (Ibid.) of compatibility of different views and dialogic co-descriptions. By the automatization of writing (cf. Schönthaler 2022) of programmed contextual understanding of automata based on the operation of signs that must be determined and connected for interacting with humans; however, according to Blumenberg (2002), uninvolved world-less spectators are created, such as Joseph Weinbaum’s ELIZA artifact. Due to the lack of the non-mechanical intermittence of dialogic conscious experience of perception and reflective self-interruption, AI protocol machines are ruled out by Blumenberg (38-43) as any other kind of evidence establishing machine. Zill does not explicitly work out these possibilities of rethinking contemporary issues of philosophy of technology (cf. Bajohr 2021 and its relation to Blumenberg’s specific beginning with a technology of language (Blumenberg 1946; Blumenberg 2001; Bajohr 2018; Bajohr 2017). But there is still a possibility for such a philosophy of language and technology beyond mentioning that Blumenberg was more focused on initial human techniques and not abstracted technology systems questions in the words of Zill(2020):  “The algorithms of modern computer technology or the procedures of chemical industry were not fields in which he wanted to spend his efforts.” (497).

With Zill’s reading of Blumenberg’s intellectual biography, we might not reach an absolute end but come back to a preliminary beginning by continuing to think what it was that made Blumenberg’s life so fascinating to read in these short-lived 814 pages. What was it, we wanted to understand while observing the way Blumenberg thought and lived, particularly in the field of Intellectual History of Technology? For Blumenberg (2009) each science has to bare its own history (9), and each intellectual biography has to bare its history as well: I think it is time for us readers to (re-)read Rüdiger Zill’s book and discover Hans Blumenberg’s intellectual biography anew!


Alsberg, Paul. 1922. Das Menschheitsrätsel. Jena.

Bajohr, Hannes. 2017. “History and Metaphor: Hans Blumenberg’s Theory of Language.” Doctoral Thesis, Columbia University. https://doi.org/10.7916/D83X8JX1.

———. “Ein Anfang Mit Der Sprache. Blumenbergs Erste Philosophische Veröffentlichung. ».” Zfl Blog (blog). August 13, 2018. https://www.zflprojekte.de/zfl-blog/2018/08/13/hannes-bajohr-ein-anfang-mit-der-sprache-hans-blumenbergs-erste-philosophische-veroeffentlichung/.

———. 2020. “Die ‹Gestalt› Der KI. Jenseits von Holismus Und Atomismus.” Zeitschrift Für Medienwissenschaft 12 (23-2): 168–81. https://doi.org/10.14361/zfmw-2020-120215.

Bülow, Ulrich von, and Dorit Krusche. 2013. “Nachrichten an Sich Selbst: Der Zettelkasten von Hans Blumenberg,” In Zettelkästen: Maschinen Der Phantasie, edited by Heike Gfrereis and Ellen Strittmatter, 113–19. Marbach: Deutsche Schillergesellschaft.

Eatherly, Claude, Günther Anders, and Bertrand Russell. 1961. Burning Conscience: The Case of the Hiroshima Pilot, Claude Eatherly, Told in His Letters to Günther Anders; Preface by Bertrand Russell. London: Weidenfeld And Nicolson.

Bayertz, Kurt. 2014. Der Aufrechte Gang: Eine Geschichte Des Anthropologischen Denkens. München: C.H. Beck.

Blom, Philipp. 2017. Die Welt Aus Den Angeln Eine Geschichte Der Kleinen Eiszeit von 1570 Bis 1700 Sowie Der Entstehung Der Modernen Welt, Verbunden Mit Einigen Überlegungen Zum Klima Der Gegenwart. München: Hanser Verlag.

———. 2020. Das Große Welttheater: Von Der Macht Der Vorstellungskraft in Zeiten Des Umbruchs. Wien: Peter Zolnay.

Blumenberg, Hans. 1946 (Nachdruck 1991). « Die sprachliche Wirklichkeit der Philosophie ».  Hamburger Akademische Rundschau 1 (1946/47) 1, Berlin: Reimer.

———. 1981. “Ernst Cassirer Gedenkend.” Essay. In: Hans Blumenberg, Wirklichkeiten, in Denen Wir Leben. Aufsätze Und Eine Rede, 163–72. Stuttgart: Reclam, Philipp.

———. 2001. “Sprachsituation Und Immanente Rhetorik.” In Ästhetische Und Metaphorologische Schriften, edited by Anselm Haverkamp, 120–35. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp.

———. 2002. “Der Phänomenologe Kann Sich Nur Selbst Berichtigen.” In Zu Den Sachen Und Zurück, edited by Manfred Sommer, 19–43. Suhrkamp.

———. 2007. Theorie Der Unbegrifflichkeit. Edited by Anselm Haverkamp. Frankfurt, M. Suhrkamp.

———. 2009. Geistesgeschichte Der Technik Mit Einem Radiovortrag Auf CD. Edited by Alexander Schmitz and Bernd Stiegler. Berlin: Suhrkamp.

———, and Carl Schmitt. 2007. Briefwechsel 1971-1978 Und Weitere Materialien. Edited by Alexander Schmitz and Marcel Lepper. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.

———. 2014. “Die Unverächtlichkeit der Anekdote” (n.d.)  UNF2241, Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach, in: R. Zill, « Minima historia. Die Anekdote als hermeneutische Form. » Zeitschrift für Ideengeschichte 8(3), p.36.

———. 2014. Beschreibung Des Menschen. Edited by Manfred Sommer. Frankfurt Am Main: Suhrkamp.

———. 2015a. “Einige Schwierigkeiten Eine Geistesgeschichte Der Technik Zu Schreiben.” Hans Blumenberg: Schriften Zur Technik., edited by Alexander Schmitz and Bernd Stiegler, 203–29. Berlin: Suhrkamp.

———. 2015b. “Weltbilder Und Weltmodelle.” In Hans Blumenberg: Schriften Zur Technik, edited by Alexander Schmitz and Bernhard Stiegler, 126–37. Berlin: Suhrkamp.

———. 2016. Paradigms for a Metaphorology. Translated by Robert Savage. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.

———. 2019a. Die Nackte Wahrheit. Edited by Rüdiger Zill, Berlin: Suhrkamp.

———. 2019b“Automation.” In Metaphorologie, Anthropologie, Phänomenologie. Neue Forschungen Zum Nachlass Hans Blumenbergs, edited by Alberto Fragio et al., 214–234. Freiburg, Albers.

———. 2020a. “An Anthropological Approach to the Contemporary Significance of Rethorics.” In History, Metaphors, Fables: A Hans Blumenberg Reader, edited by Hannes Bajohr, Florian Fuchs, and Joe Paul Kroll, 718–847. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

———, 2020b. Hannes Bajohr, Florian Fuchs, and Joe Paul Kroll. 2020. History, Metaphors, Fables: A Hans Blumenberg Reader. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

———. “2020c. Prospect for a Theory of Inconceptuality.” History, Metaphors, Fables. A Hans Blumenberg Reader, by Blumenberg Hans, translated by Hannes Bajohr et al., edited by Hannes Bajohr et al., Ithaca: New York, Cornell University Press, 2020, pp. 739–799.

Boden, Petra, and Zill, Rüdiger. 2017. Poetik Und Hermeneutik Im Rückblick : Interviews Mit Beteiligten. Paderborn: Wilhelm Fink.

Gerner, Alexander Matthias. 2012. “Philosophical Investigations of Attention.” PhD Thesis, Universidade de Lisboa. https://repositorio.ul.pt/handle/10451/6496.

Goodwin, Ross, Kenric Mcdowell, and Google. 2018. 1 the Road. Paris: Jean Boite Éditions.

Hanusch, Frederic, Claus Leggewie, and Erik Meyer. 2021. Planetar Denken Ein Einstieg. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag.

Heidenreich, Friedrich. 2015. “Bedeutsamkeit.” In Blumenberg Lesen – Ein Glossar, edited by Daniel Weidner, 43–55. Berlin: Suhrkamp.

Helbig, Daniela K. 2019a. “Life without Toothache: Hans Blumenberg’s Zettelkasten and History of Science as Theoretical Attitude.” Journal of the History of Ideas 80 (1): 91–112. https://doi.org/10.1353/jhi.2019.0005.

———. 2019b. “Ruminant Machines: A Twentieth-Century Episode in the Material History of Ideas.” Journal of the History of Ideas (blog). April 17, 2019. https://jhiblog.org/2019/04/17/ruminant-machines-a-twentieth-century-episode-in-the-material-history-of-ideas/.

Kluge, Alexander. 2021. Das Buch Der Kommentare. Unruhiger Garten Der Seele. Berlin: Suhrkamp.

Krajewski, Bruce J. “BLUMENBERG RECONSIDERED the Afterlife of Hans Blumenberg’s Centennial.” Journal of the History of Ideas Blog, 20 Sept. 2020, jhiblog.org/2020/09/14/blumenbergs-centennial/. Accessed 21 Oct. 2021.

Merker, Barbara. 1999. “Bedürfnis Nach Bedeutsamkeit: Zwischen Lebenswelt Und Absolutismus Der Wirklichkeit.” In Die Kunst Des Überlebens: Nachdenken Über Hans Blumenberg, edited by Franz Josef Metz and Hermann Timm, 68–98. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.

Rothacker, Erich. 1963. Heitere Erinnerungen. Frankfurt a.M/ Bonn: Athenäum Verlag.

Schönthaler, Phillip. 2022. Die Automatisierung Des Schreibens & Gegenprogramme Der Literatur. Berlin: Matthes & Seitz Berlin.

Stegmaier, Werner. 2021. Formen Philosophischer Schriften. Zur Einführung. Hamburg: Junius Verlag.

Wolff, Uwe. 2020. Der Schreibtisch Des Philosophen : Erinnerungen an Hans Blumenberg. München: Claudius.

Zill, Rüdiger. 2002. “>>Substrukturen Des Denkens<<.” In Begriffsgeschichte, Diskursgeschichte, MetapherngeschichteGrenzen Und Perspektiven Einer Metapherngeschichte Nach Hans Blumenberg, edited by Hans Erich Bödecker, 209–58. Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag.

———. 2014. “Minima Historia. Die Anekdote Als Philosophische Form.” Zeitschrift Für Ideengeschichte 8 (3): 33–46. https://doi.org/10.17104/1863-8937-2014-3-33.

———. 2014a. “Anekdote.” In Blumenberg Lesen. Ein Glossar, edited by Robert Buch and Daniel Weidner, 26–42. Berlin: Suhrkamp.

———. 2019. “>>Automation<<. Die Entstehung Der Blumenberg´schen Technikphilosophie Anhand Eines Frühen Vortragsmanuskripts . Freiburg: Albers, 187-213.” In Metaphorologie, Anthropologie, Phänomenologie. Neue Forschungen Zum Nachlass Hans Blumenbergs, edited by Alberto Fragio, Martina Phillipi, and Josefa Ros Velasco, 187–213. Freiburg: Albers.

———. 2020. Der Absolute Leser Hans Blumenberg. Eine Intellektuelle Biographie. Berlin: Suhrkamp.

[1] An interesting point to explore, if we compare this view with the historian Phillip Blom who argues for the necessity of a reinvention of world pictures as part of a dramaturgically padded world theater (Blom 2020) by imaginative forms such as narratives to be able to face and act accordingly to our precarious planetary condition and thinking (cf. Hanusch, Leggewie and Meyer 2021) under the threat of mass extinction and climate change (Blom 2017) as one possible counter reading to Blumenberg.

[2]Wiederkäuer: a system to chew over various bits of reading material over periods that are long enough to allow new connections and combinations to appear, and thus to generate genuine surprises“ (Helbig 2019b.)

Jeffrey Andrew Barash: Shadows of Being, ibidem Press, 2022

Shadows of Being: Encounters with Heidegger in Political Theory and Historical Reflection Couverture du livre Shadows of Being: Encounters with Heidegger in Political Theory and Historical Reflection
Jeffrey Andrew Barash
ibidem Press
Paperback 34,90 €

Caleb J. Basnett: Adorno, Politics, and the Aesthetic Animal

Adorno, Politics, and the Aesthetic Animal Couverture du livre Adorno, Politics, and the Aesthetic Animal
Caleb J. Basnett
University of Toronto Press
Hardback $65.00

Reviewed by: Matthew J. Delhey (University of Toronto)

In Adorno, Politics, and the Aesthetic Animal, Caleb J. Basnett defends two major claims: first, that Adorno’s political thought cannot be separated from his concerns with art and animality; second, that Adorno’s unification of these themes delivers us the « surest guidance » for transforming ours into an emancipatory society (4). In my view, Basnett renders the first claim compelling but not the second. Nevertheless, Basnett’s book makes an important contribution to Adorno scholarship and post-humanist debates in political theory. It is recommended for specialists in these fields. It will also be of interest to students looking for an introduction to Adorno’s political thought.

Basnett structures his book argumentatively and thematically, not chronologically or textually. He unfolds his argument across a roughly four-step arc, although one that does not exactly map onto the book’s four chapters:

  1. the establishment of a hegemonic and domination-perpetuating theory of human capacities found in Aristotle, grounded in the biological differentiation of the human from the non-human, that Basnett calls the « Aristotelian problematic »;
  2. the development of Adorno’s conceptual framework of negative dialectic as responding to the metaphysics of identity found in Aristotle and Hegel;
  3. an investigation of the consequences of Adorno’s alternative conceptual framework of non-identity for his views on human reconciliation as a new kind of animality;
  4. the resolution of the Aristotelian problematic in Adorno’s revitalization of aesthetic education as a promise for radical subjective transformation, a utopian subjectivity that Basnett calls the « aesthetic animal. »

In what follows, I summarize each of these four interpretive claims advanced by Basnett vis-a-vis Adorno. After that, I return to my doubt regarding the persuasiveness of Basnett’s claim that Adorno’s theory of the aesthetic animal provides the most promising guide to transformative or revolutionary politics available to us today.

1. The Aristotelian Problematic (Introduction)

Basnett begins by discussing Aristotle’s famous claim from the Politics: the human being is by nature a political animal (13–22). The naturalness of human society asserted by Aristotle, Basnett argues, cannot be understood independently from his biological writings. This is because, for Aristotle, there exist non-human animals who are political in ways that differ from the political activity of human beings. So to specify the sense in which the human animal is political, Aristotle must distinguish between the political activity of human beings and that of other non-human animals. This differentiation requires Aristotle to introduce a politicized human-animal distinction based on a hierarchical ranking of organisms.

According to Basnett, Aristotle must articulate this human-animal distinction in terms of capacities. For Aristotle, an animal is essentially a soul constituted by a bundle of capacities (14). Animals can therefore only be distinguished from one another by their capacities. According to Aristotle’s comparative zoology, human beings uniquely possess nous, the divine capacity for intellection which underwrites our related capacities for speech and reason. The political life of human being, then, is that which best actualizes those capacities most closely associated with nous. Basnett concludes that Aristotle’s distinctly biological conception of the human capacity for nous amounts to nothing less than an « ur-politics » (17), since such a theory of human capacities necessarily institutes a normative hierarchy of living beings.

For Basnett, this identification of the political with the biological, one which determines genuinely human capacities by contrasting humans with animals, lies at the heart of the Western tradition of political theory. And this tradition is not dead. It forms what Basnett calls the Aristotelian problematic. This problematic has two diverging consequences for contemporary political thought. The first is regressive with respect to human emancipation. Since in this problematic what is valued is what is most distinctly human, a hierarchical ranking of individual organisms according to the barometer of humanity is unavoidable, both within human societies and between humans and non-humans. This hierarchy inheres in any animal-contrastive definition of the human and leads unavoidably, on Basnett’s view, to political practices of violence and domination. This is the same basic violence and domination that characterizes our societies today (3–5).

But Aristotle’s politicized separation of the human from the animal also contains two transformative dimensions, capable of being unleashed by later theorists like Adorno. First, Aristotle recognizes that humanity does not hold exclusive rights to politics. Since there exist non-human political animals, the realm of the political extends beyond the human. Second, against himself, Aristotle demonstrates in the Poetics the constitutive role of aesthetic education in the process of becoming human (21–22). For Aristotle, aesthetic education functions as a means of subjective transformation. In art, we not only learn what counts as human through mimesis but are also taught to recognize which possible capacities we ought to realize to become free individuals. Poetry, in other words, develops and transforms our subjective potentials. This transformative function of art thus shows us not only that human beings undertake cultural processes to learn how to be human and so to identify as « something other than simply animal » (22); it also teaches us that we can be otherwise (126). So although Aristotle « [fails] to recognize the role art plays in shaping the identity of the human being, » he nonetheless provides the theoretical resources for thinking about the politics of non-human animals and the transformative dimension of aesthetic experience (3).

Enter Adorno. Adorno’s political thought, Basnett argues, can be read in its entirety as responding to the Aristotelian problematic (23). This problematic also identifies Adorno’s argumentative strategy: radicalize art, ditch humanity. In the remainder of the book, Basnett portrays Adorno as developing across his writings an immanent critique of the human-animal distinction and its complicity in practices of human domination in the West.

Some readers may object to Basnett’s presumption that Adorno’s work forms « more or less a coherent whole » insofar as it responds to, or is « constellated around, » the intertwining of politics and animality in the Aristotelian problematic (22–23). However, this assumption is likely unavoidable for productive engagement with Adorno’s work on this topic. Moreover, the course of the book justifies, in my view, this assumed continuity in Adorno’s relation to Aristotle’s politics. Basnett’s careful attention to the understated but essential role of Aristotle in Adorno’s political thinking, often downplayed by his commentators (29–32), is a welcome contribution to the scholarly literature on Adorno.

2. Hegel’s Idealism and Negative Dialectics (Chapter 1)

In chapter one, Basnett draws on this Aristotelian framing of Adorno’s political thought to explicate the conceptual landmarks well-known to readers of Adorno, what we might call Adorno’s metaphysics. The most important of these landmarks for Basnett’s argument is Adorno’s negative dialectic or theory of conceptual non-identity. Basnett aims to elucidate the political import of negative dialectics, so his highly original account remains justifiably non-exhaustive.

As with Adorno’s encounter with humanism, Basnett reconstructs Adorno’s negative dialectic genetically. In particular, Basnett presents it as a developmental resolution of unresolved problems in Aristotle (29–40) and Hegel (43–50). These problems, Basnett argues, turn on the issue of conceptual mediation.

In the case of Aristotle, Basnett sees Adorno’s negative dialectic as addressing two obstacles in Aristotelian metaphysics: the possibility of change and the relation between universal and particular. Aristotle, lacking an appreciation of the dialectical interaction between particular things and universal concepts, cannot account for the way in which particular things necessarily supersede their original meaning and constitution and therefore always « pass beyond the limit that defines them » (40). A properly dialectical theory of mediation, one which tarries with the non-identity of objects to themselves and so with their perpetual escape from conceptual identification, is therefore necessary in order to give a satisfactory account of the possibility of objective change and, therefore, the futurity of objects and their potential transformations of subjects.

Hegel provides Adorno with just this sort of theory of dialectical mediation, according to Basnett. But in order to foreclose Hegel’s drive towards conceptual totalization, Adorno must separate Hegel’s idealism from his dialectic. This separation amounts to saving the dialectic’s ceaseless negativity from the « closure » of Hegel’s idealism (48). Such a separation has the further consequence of opening up the dialectic to the future and the historical horizon of redemption (ibid.). Dialectic without idealism is Adorno’s negative dialectic. It seeks the « non-identical in the identical, » the negative dynamics of the naturally selfsame, rather than purporting, as Hegel’s did, to discover « identity in non-identity » (43) and so « crush[ing] » and « devour[ing] » the non-conceptual into the concept (44). In this way, Adorno preserves Hegel’s insights into the conflictual dynamics of modern experience without taking on board the totalizing consequences endemic to Hegel’s idealistic system. Moreover, this separation entails that, pace Jay Bernstein, Adorno breaks completely with Hegel’s idealism (but not, of course, with Hegel’s thinking tout court); Adorno does not, according to Basnett, « [accept] the rudiments of Hegelian idealism » as Bernstein claims (quoted on 46). Only in breaking totally with Hegel’s idealism can the dialectic open itself up to the future possibility of a radical transformation of the sociopolitical world.

I have moved quickly through Basnett’s arguments in this chapter. Nevertheless, it is clear that some of the interpretive claims required by Basnett’s account of Adorno’s « determinate negation » of Aristotelian and Hegelian metaphysics will remain controversial (39), especially as regards Adorno’s « appropriation » of Hegel (43n8). For example, the meaning and significance of Hegel’s idealism remain quite obscure. Basnett suggests that Hegel’s idealism has something to do with spirit’s, or the absolute subject’s, projections onto objects.[1] This sounds much like Charles Taylor’s « cosmic spirit » reading of Hegel, or, if not that, then the old ontological reading of « idealist monism. » However, this interpretation of Hegel’s idealism has been met by influential criticisms from Robert Pippin and many others. However, Basnett does not acknowledge this literature on Hegel’s idealism in the book. Does Basnett intend his reading of Hegel, attributed to Adorno, to be compelling for us today? Moreover, if Hegel’s dialectic cannot be separated from his idealism as argued by at least some of his readers, then Bernstein’s contention that Adorno must accept some aspects of Hegelian idealism, if he is to retain the dialectic, begins to appear more plausible than Basnett’s suggestion of a complete break. But given the mode of exposition adopted by Basnett, it is difficult to say where Adorno ends and Basnett begins. I will return to this issue in §5.

3. Reconciled Humanity and Animality (Chapters 2 and 3)

Over the next two chapters, Basnett argues that Adorno’s theories of reconciled humanity and utopian animality form the relevant dialectic immanent to the Aristotelian problematic.

In chapter two, Basnett presents Adorno as using the image of reconciled humanity as a way of dialectically rethinking social progress. A reconciled humanity would be a humanity that no longer struggles: against nature, against other animals, and against itself (65). Basnett reasonably concludes that Adorno’s vision of reconciled humanity amounts to a set of « utopian speculations » that hold open the possibility of radical change to humanity in the future, changes which would put into question the very idea of humanity as inherited from Aristotle (66). This utopian vision of humanity is negative and non-identical. Negative because it carries no positive program for what this escape from struggle might look like. Non-identical because, in radically transforming the meaning of humanity, this transformation can only be conceived if we also recognize that the human being is not reducible to its natural determinations and so must be capable of being otherwise—in other words, that the human being is non-identical to itself. It is this possibility of an anti-naturalizing reconstitution of the subject to which Adorno refers when, in the Problems of Moral Philosophy, he announces, « if humanity [Humanität] has any meaning at all, it must consist in the discovery that human beings [Menschen] are not identical with their immediate existence as the creatures of nature » (quoted on 66).

In being non-identical to itself, humanity also resists domination. Non-identical humanity refers « not to a transcendental subject whose basic potentials are already given in advance of their actualization, but rather a subject constituted in resistance to the forms of domination that organize the objective world. » Human subjects, conceived non-identically, are thus « always pushing against the forces of compulsion » (61). We therefore have, on the one hand, a concept of the human being that is identical to struggle, domination, and violence. But, on the other, one which, like all concepts, is never exhausted by its identifications; it always maintains a non-identical side, a « preponderance of the object » (50–51, 61). In the case of the human being, the relevant non-identity lies precisely in the possibility of reconciliation. Realizing this redemptive possibility, one which inheres in the very idea of humanity itself, would, therefore, be the « end of humanity » as we know it in its self-identity (58). Naturally, we would like to know something about this reconstituted subject, even if our knowledge of it necessarily remains negative. This is the task of the book’s next chapter.

In chapter three, Basnett relates the notion of reconciled humanity to Adorno’s thinking about animals. In particular, Basnett advances a surprising interpretive thesis: the kind of thing that participates in Adorno’s reconciled humanity cannot be said to be a human being at all, but must instead count as a new kind of non-human animal (73, 77). The primary inspiration for this animalist interpretation of reconciled humanity comes from Adorno’s memorable imperative in Negative Dialectics, wherein we are told to live « so that one may believe himself to have been a good animal » (quoted on 106). But why must reconciled humanity be an in- or non-humanity? While Basnett does not present his argument in the following way (see his summary 77–78), his line of thought can, I think, be condensed into a sequence of three claims: first, that the idea of humanity is fundamentally tied up with compulsion, domination, and violence; second, that, since reconciled humanity demands the overcoming of such forms of struggle and since struggle is inherent in the idea of humanity, reconciliation must involve the determinate negation of humanity; third, that the appropriate determinate negation of humanity, one capable of producing a community free of constitutive struggle, is animality. Reconciled humanity therefore requires for its realization that the human subject become a utopian animal, that is, an animal which is no longer caught up in relations of violence and domination towards others, world, and self. In short, reconciled humanity is no longer identifiably human.

It strikes me that this part of the book will incur the most skepticism. There are two likely sticking points. One has to do with Adorno’s stipulation that the human being cannot be thought without necessarily invoking violence to self, world, and others. For Basnett, Adorno bakes violence into the very idea of humanity; violence is « deeply embedded in the human constitution » (166). There can be no instance of humanity, in thought or in the world, that does not contribute to domination: « the concept of humanism, and even the word ‘human,’ are deeply misleading and encourage the perpetuation of a cycle of violence » (58). The second sticking point concerns emancipation. Why must a successful redressing of the violence historically associated with humanity take us outside the realm of the human? Must we not invoke values, and thus enter the realm of the human, to justify our attempts to overcome violence (and, indeed, to justify any course of action)? This, at any rate, would be the humanist response to the challenges so far identified. But for Basnett, reconciled humanity cannot be an emancipation of humanity as we currently understand it—it cannot be an « emancipated humanity. » It must instead be « humanity emancipated from humanity » (58n8), and therefore a humanity « for whom the word ‘human’ would be an anachronism » (23).

These sticking points, closely related and perhaps even identical from a logical point of view, will elicit at least three responses. First of all, if it true that the very word ‘human’ misleads and anarchonizes, then it becomes difficult to understand why Adorno maintains his use of the concept across his writings, such as in reconciled humanity. By Basnett’s admission, such use of the human amounts at best to a ruse played by Adorno on his readers, since humanity turns out to be constitutively irreconcilable. This consideration suggests to me that Adorno does not conceive of emancipated humanity as strictly non-human.

Second, while it remains a historical truism that the human correlates with violence and domination, there remains an obvious humanist response to this fact: namely, that this correlation is just that, a coincidence, not a necessary connection; moreover, the humanist will also claim that the means of overcoming this historical connection between violence and humanity, so far more or less co-terminus, is to become more human, i.e., to further realize our human values (such as non-violence and non-domination), and not to abandon them. In short, we eliminate violence through humanity, not by overcoming it. Basnett addresses this humanist rejoinder on more than one occasion and is clear enough that he intends the book to provide an extended defense of the necessity of welding humanity with violence, both in humanity’s identity to violence and its surplus resistance. In effect, however, it is the Aristotelian problematic which provides this linkage for Basnett, since it is in it that we see how a differentiation of biological species based on their capacities necessarily entails a normative hierarchy, one that can later be recapitulated in a political community. But to generalize this claim to all forms of humanism clearly supposes that all humanism must be Aristotelian in the specific sense laid out in the Politics. And this further claim is by no means obviously true, either for Adorno or for us. If we instead permit the possibility of separating humanity from violence, things become quite different. In that world, Adorno could be suspicious of the legacy of humanism without affirming animality as its proper remedy.

Finally, there remains the general abstractness of these claims. Despite Basnett’s reasonable assurance that Adorno remains a deeply historical thinker, the violence, domination, and self-preservation that confront the reader throughout the book are nowhere historically differentiated. This makes it appear as if the violence in question bears no traces of its historical specificity in Adorno’s account. It is today the same violence to which Aristotle attested in antiquity. I will return to the issue of abstractness in §5.

4. Aesthetic Education (Chapter 4)

Finally, Basnett must show us how reconciled humanity, now understood as a new kind of animal, can be actualized in history. How are we to bridge the gap between our present humanity, tied up with domination, and the future utopia of a world populated by non-human political animals who no longer struggle? Accounting for the possibility of realizing this post-human world is the task of the book’s final chapter, wherein Basnett argues that such a transformation occurs only with the aid of a new kind of aesthetic education. It is through art that we « learn to live as good animals » (116).

What does this aesthetic education towards animality look like? Basnett’s most pertinent answer is that aesthetic education cultivates animal impulses through passive and active relations to art. As he puts it, aesthetic education

would attempt to cultivate animal impulses so as to enable them to resist human capture and thereby facilitate the kind of displacement of the subjective coordinates that constitute the human by turning toward non-identity through the addendum. In this way, Adorno’s aesthetics can be seen to address the question of producing an aesthetic animal, in the sense of an animal being constituted not simply through the senses, through its bodily comportment towards objects, but through the arts. (148–49)

Art reactivates our animal drives, mobilizing them against what we identify as our humanity and so « liberat[ing] the animal from the human through aesthetic experience » (26). In the remainder of the chapter, Basnett goes on to explain the distinct contributions made in aesthetic experience by the passive moment of reception and the active one of production in an illuminating reading of Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory.

Two things stand out to me as noteworthy in Basnett’s presentation of Adorno’s politics of the aesthetic animal. First, Basnett recognizes that the subjective transformation of the human into the animal, as theorized by Adorno, is not sufficient to realize sociopolitical transformation. Consciousness-raising about humanity’s inherent domination cannot on its own produce sociopolitical change. Adorno’s contribution is, after all, only a « theory of the subject » (1); it tells us how our agency and relation-to-self are constituted and how they could be constituted otherwise. It is in the very nature of this kind of theory of subjectivity that it describes only possibilities of subjective reconstitution. Thus Basnett rightly tells us that Adorno’s theory of subjective transformation only « might make possible » radical social change (26). Aesthetic experience, then, also offers merely « the possibility of sociopolitical transformation » (151). This important qualification makes it clear that Basnett sees aesthetic education into animality as necessary but insufficient for social change (173). Realizing a world of utopian animals would require other transformations of sociopolitical reality, too. We might imagine that this transformation would also require, for example, the development of labor-saving technologies.

Second, Basnett presents Adorno’s views on aesthetic education as responding primarily to Aristotle. This is a local instantiation of the book’s global claim, viz. that Adorno’s politics is, as a whole, best understood in its relation to the Aristotelian problematic. However this version of the global claim presents novel issues not found in the metaphysical questions discussed in chapter one, i.e., the relation between universals and particulars and the nature of the dialectic. Part of the problem is that the theme of aesthetic education is itself never explicitly thematized by Aristotle in the Poetics, a point, of course, acknowledged by Basnett. This omission is, after all, the reason why Aristotle fails to appreciate the full scope of art in constituting the human despite his own unconscious insights into the matter. The implicitness of Aristotle’s theory of aesthetic education makes Basnett’s task of presenting Adorno as primarily in dialogue with Aristotle more demanding than it was in the prior cases, where we found Aristotle addressing the issues explicitly and in some of his most famous works. Moreover, in the case of aesthetic education there exists other, more immediate figures standing in the way. Given the affinities between Adorno’s views on aesthetic education with those of Hegel and especially Schiller, why not see these figures as at least equally important as Aristotle in the development of Adorno’s views (148–49)? Finally, given Adorno’s insistence on treating specifically modern art, it is difficult to see how his views on aesthetic education can be understood as responding to what is naturally only a theory of ancient art in Aristotle. As a result of these concerns, some readers will remain understandably skeptical that Adorno develops his theory of aesthetic education primarily as a response to Aristotle’s Poetics. Unfortunately, Basnett provides no direct textual evidence in support of this claim, either. He instead provides a sophisticated account showing how one can read Adorno’s theory of aesthetic education as responding to problems which arise for Adorno in Aristotle’s Poetics and shows that, in responding to these problems, Adorno in turn address other aspects of Aristotle’s practical philosophy (thaumazein, praxis, theoria, etc.), forming a constellation (154–59). But this kind of argument, while philosophically compelling in many ways, cannot rule out the possibility that, pace Basnett, figures like Hegel and Schiller play equal or even more important roles than Aristotle in Adorno’s aesthetic theory.

5. Adorno Today

Finally, I would like to address what I take to be the second major contention of Basnett’s book, viz. that Adorno’s theory of the aesthetic animal provides the best available way of thinking about our present social and political moment. Here is how Basnett puts the point in the book’s final paragraph:

I have argued that Adorno is the most apt guide to our current political juncture and the theorizing of its transformation, for he allows us to see our own animality as it has emerged through the history of humanism and to take the possibilities for transformation as beginning from this situation. Moreover, unlike those who might through their focus on ontology or even their focus on particular struggles inadvertently reify the current place of struggle in political life, Adorno shows us that we cannot get rid of the utopian dimension of political struggle. Rather, we must hold dear to this utopian promise, even if, as Adorno himself admits, the moment of its realization may never arrive. (184)

As I have already noted, I find this first-order claim unconvincing despite finding much of value in Basnett’s project of reading Adorno’s political thought holistically and in dialogue with Aristotle’s. My recalcitrance lies in the general abstractness of Basnett’s argument and his conflation between Adorno’s standpoint and our own. Let me give a sense of what I mean.

First, Basnett’s exposition of Adorno’s politics occurs at a high level of abstraction. Perhaps such an altitude is unavoidable in a work of political theory that connects moderns with ancients, or is a product of the unrelenting negativity of Adorno’s thinking. Or maybe it simply reflects an arbitrary choice made by Adorno. In any case, the high level of abstraction in Basnett’s presentation of Adorno’s political theory lessens, in my opinion, its attractiveness for us today.

In §§3 and 4, I mentioned the abstract nature of the violence, domination, and struggle (characteristic of the human) and sociopolitical transformation in Basnett’s Adorno. Regarding the former, Basnett seems to claim that the distinctly human activities of struggle and violence have remained constant across history, at least insofar as they are capable of defining the human. All human history has been uniform insofar as it has been a history of domination, and it will continue to be so long as history remains human. If this were not so, we would no longer be in the grip of the Aristotelian problematic. Regarding the latter, we not only do not receive a set of conditions sufficient for achieving utopia (only necessary ones), but we also receive little assurance regarding the direction of sociopolitical transformation. Things can be otherwise, which means they can also get worse. To be sure, Basnett does provide some reasons for believing that the direction of this transformation will be positive, reasons grounded in the human necessity of resisting suffering and art’s solidarity with this suffering. But, again, this suffering and its resistance in art and life become historical constants, universals whose progressive credentials and even continued existence are open to reasonable doubt.

I found myself surprised to be worried about the abstractness of Basnett’s Adorno. Basnett makes it clear that he takes the concreteness of Adorno’s thought, his attentiveness to the historical and the material, as one of the primary reasons why Adorno remains more relevant for us today than other twentieth-century Continental philosophers. Indeed, Basnett criticizes Deleuze and Derrida for locating in animality something « inherently liberating » and therefore perniciously independent of « particular sociopolitical outcomes » (178); such approaches are « too abstractly theorized » (179). Honneth’s theory of rational capacities and their pathologies suffers the same verdict (48–49). Merely « abstract negations » should be avoided (98, cf. 49n77). But I struggle to see why, or in what sense, this criticism of abstraction does not equally apply to Adorno as interpreted by Basnett, given the ahistoricality of the Aristotelian problematic and the rudiments of its resolution in Adorno (against this see 182).

Second, Basnett nowhere distinguishes his own standpoint from Adorno’s. This conflation, unavoidable to some degree, to be sure, in any philosophical reconstruction, nevertheless introduces some challenges for accepting Basnett’s claim that Adorno offers us the surest guide to contemporary political theory. I have already mentioned in §2 that Adorno’s reading of Hegel, at least as presented by Basnett, does not appear to me very plausible in light of contemporary Hegel scholarship. Distinguishing between Adorno’s standpoint and our own would allow us to reengage with this sort of interpretive disagreement more productively. Such a distinction would also be the condition of a genuinely critical reading of Adorno, one in which we would need to evaluate the degree to which Adorno accomplishes the tasks that he sets for himself. True to Adorno’s principles, such a reading would also require us to theoretically acknowledge changes in our objective circumstances. In my view, a critical reading of this sort would be a precondition for defending the Basnett’s first-order claims about the usefulness of Adorno’s political thought. To put the point differently, one has the sense that, lacking a distinction between these two standpoints, Basnett’s book will do little to convince readers who have not already been converted to Adorno’s side.

That said, it is easy to recommend Adorno, Politics, and the Aesthetic Animal to several audiences. Since Basnett deftly synthesizes across Adorno’s major works, the book functions well as a politically-minded introduction to Adorno. Basnett’s mastery of the literature on his subject also makes the book a helpful guide through the burgeoning field of Adorno studies. Moreover, Basnett redresses the state of this field, convincingly re-centering Aristotle in our understanding of Adorno. The book will therefore be essential for anyone concerned with Adorno’s relationship to ancient philosophy. Finally, Basnett’s leveraging of the Adornoian wedge in posthumanism will be of interest to interdisciplinary scholars wondering what Frankfurt School critical theory might contribute to these debates. In sum, Adorno, Politics, and the Aesthetic Animal is a philosophically astute reconstruction of Adorno’s political thought that anyone with an interest in this topic will want to discuss.

[1] Basnett writes: « For Hegel, it is only through the activities of consciousness culminating in an absolute subject that all particulars find unity and so are assigned fixed identities in a totality. The absolute subject, or spirit, is at once found to be the origin of the process and its goal—the constitutive conception of the subject needed for dialectic noted by Adorno above becomes in Hegel the ultimate guarantor of objects in their particularity, for the subject does not simply project concepts onto objects; rather, the truth of the objects themselves is for Hegel to be found in these projections, in their ideality. Thus there is a preponderance of the subject and the concept over the object in Hegel that, like Aristotle’s metaphysics, falls back into a static conception of the totality of the world and of the positive identities of the objects therein » (44–45). Hegel’s « theodicy » is discussed on 45–46.

Sara Heinämaa, Mirja Hartimo, Ilpo Hirvonen (Eds.): Contemporary Phenomenologies of Normativity, Routledge, 2022

Contemporary Phenomenologies of Normativity: Norms, Goals, and Values Couverture du livre Contemporary Phenomenologies of Normativity: Norms, Goals, and Values
Routledge Research in Phenomenology
Sara Heinämaa, Mirja Hartimo, Ilpo Hirvonen (Eds.)
Hardback £96.00

Jens Bonnemann, Paul Helfritzsch, Thomas Zingelmann (Hg.): 1968. Soziale Bewegungen, geistige WegbereiterInnen

1968. Soziale Bewegungen, geistige WegbereiterInnen Couverture du livre 1968. Soziale Bewegungen, geistige WegbereiterInnen
Jens Bonnemann, Paul Helfritzsch, Thomas Zingelmann (Hg.)
zu Klampen Verlag
Paperback 28,00 €

Reviewed by: Matthias Warkus

»1968«, die Studentenbewegung, die Jugendrevolte, wie auch immer man das Phänomen genau nennen mag, ist etwas, wozu es insbesondere aus der Außensicht des politisch interessierten Laien, wie der Verfasser dieser Rezension einer ist, zwei konfligierende Leiterzählungen gibt. Die eine könnte man die orthodoxe oder revolutionäre nennen. Ihr zufolge war »1968« tatsächlich ein Epochenbruch, ein – im Guten oder im Schlechten – grundstürzendes Ereignis, der Beginn unzähliger Kausalketten, die erheblichen Anteil an der Hervorbringung der Welt, in der wir heute leben, hatten. Die andere Erzählung könnte man, um einen Ausdruck von Jacques Rancière auszuborgen, die »furetistische« nennen.[1] Hält man sich an sie, dann war 1968 weniger ein Anfang als ein Ende: der Kulminationspunkt und die Sichtbarwerdung einer bereits seit Jahren im Schwange befindlichen Transformation der westlichen Industriegesellschaften.

Im Zuge der Rechtsbewegung zahlreicher westlicher Demokratien in den letzten Jahren (oder doch zumindest der Aktivierung und Sichtbarwerdung ihrer latenten rechten Kräfte) liegt auch die Frage erneut auf dem Tisch, inwieweit die heutigen Verhältnisse ein Produkt von »1968« sind, was auch gleichzeitig die Frage bedeutet, was anders sein könnte, hätte »1968« größere oder geringere Auswirkungen gehabt. Nicht die schlechteste Lektüre dazu ist der Sammelband 1968. Soziale Bewegungen, geistige WegbereiterInnen, herausgegeben von Jens Bonnemann, Paul Helfritzsch und Thomas Zingelmann (Springe: zu Klampen! 2019, 270 S.).

Schon die Einleitung der Herausgeber führt auf hervorragende und kompakt Weise zu dem Problem der Einordnung des Phänomens »1968« heran (und diskutiert dabei mit hoher Aktualität die Bezüge zum »Rechtsruck« der letzten Jahre, 7–10). Die folgenden Beiträge gehen dieses Phänomen in schlaglichtartigen Einzelbetrachtungen multidimensional und ohne Anspruch auf eine »Entschlüsselung« oder klare Beantwortung der eingangs benannten Fragen an, wobei die Herausgeber (völlig zu Recht) eingangs betonen, dass »1968« Wurzeln hatte, die bis weit in die 50er zurückgehen (16).

Das theoretische Atomgewicht der Beiträge nimmt von vorne nach hinten weitgehend stetig zu. Den Auftakt machen Zeitdarstellungen: Sabine Pamperrien gibt in ihrem Beitrag »Szenen des Jahres 1967«, der laut Anmerkung auf einer Lesung aus ihrem Buch 1967. Das Jahr der zwei Sommer basiert, einen guten Überblick über die Ausgangslage in der Bundesrepublik und international. Sie arbeitet dabei überraschende Parallelen zur Gegenwart heraus. Wolfgang Kraushaar zeichnet anschließend die nach seiner These maßgeblich durch die Situationisten geprägte Entwicklung der in Deutschland führenden Akteure um Rudi Dutschke nach.

Der Beitrag von Hannah Chodura und Paul Helfritzsch nimmt sich für seine Kürze etwas viel vor, indem er anhand von Guy Debords Die Gesellschaft des Spektakels und Goyas berühmtem Alptraum-Capricho eine Neuausdeutung des Traums als Metapher für die kapitalistische Gesellschaft versucht. Deutlich »süffiger« liest sich der Aufsatz von Christian Dries, der in seinem Aufsatz einen hilfreichen Überblick über verschiedene Parameter des politischen Engagements von Günther Anders vor und um 1968 gibt.

Michael Jenewein und Jörg Müller Hipper beschäftigen sich in ihrem Beitrag am Beispiel der Rede Michael Köhlmeiers am 5.5.2018 mit den sartreschen Begriffen von engagierter Literatur und von Literatur überhaupt. Werner Jung diskutiert knapp, aber informativ die Lukács-Rezeption in der Studentenbewegung vor und um 1968, wozu Lukács’ Positionen zum Realsozialismus, aber auch seine Wirkung in die Inhalte von Lehre und Forschung (insbesondere in der Germanistik) gehören. Sein melancholisches Fazit ist allerdings, dass eine tatsächliche produktive und das Gesamtwerk nicht verzerrende Rezeption nie stattgefunden habe.

Gerhard Schweppenhäusers Beitrag über »Marcuse und die Metaphysik« liefert über die Erwartung des Titels hinaus eine kompakt und kurzweilig geschriebene Zusammenschau der frühen kritischen Theorie insgesamt und ihres Verhältnisses zur Metaphysik im Speziellen, die gegen Ende in eine Parallelsetzung von Marcuses und der heutigen Zeit einmündet. Diese geht mit einer in der kurzen Form arg thetisch und formelhaft wirkenden Programmatik für eine Erneuerung der kritischen Theorie einher, wie man sie schon öfters gesehen hat. Der Verfasser dieser Rezension ist in der »Szene« der gegenwärtigen kritischen Theorie ein informierter Außenseiter und weiß nicht so recht, was er von den immer neuen Aktualisierungsforderungen zu halten hat. Manche Punkte Schweppenhäusers erscheinen empirisch fragwürdig, dort, wo zum Beispiel die Rede davon ist, Phantasie konzentriere sich heute »auf das Ausmalen ›technischer Utopien‹«; während zu Marcuses Zeit und noch bis weit in die 1970er, wenn nicht 80er technische Utopien mit fliegenden Autos, Kuppelstädten, Raumkolonien, Abschaffung von Krankheit und Leid seriös präsentiert wurden,[2] hat dies heute eigentlich aufgehört. Die technischen Utopien unserer Zeit, soweit man sich überhaupt noch traut, welche zu äußern, sind sozialtechnische Utopien von »Connectivity« und »Digitalisierung«. Diese kritisiert Schweppenhäuser am Ende seines Beitrages eher schematisch und wenig überzeugend.

Ebenfalls Einführungscharakter hat Alfred Betscharts Beitrag über »Die Vordenker der sexuellen Revolution«, der in großem Bogen von Freud über Reich, Marcuse, Margaret Mead und Kinsey, Gide und Genet, Kerouac und Ginsberg die Wurzeln der sexuellen Befreiung der 60er skizziert, vor allem aber dichte Belege dafür liefert, dass der Einfluss von Sartre und Beauvoir auf diese kulturelle Bewegung nicht zu unterschätzen war. Der auch sprachlich gelungene Aufsatz schreckt vor zielsicheren Spitzen nicht zurück (wenn etwa mokant und eher nebenbei die »in der Frankfurter Schule nicht unübliche[] Umwandlung bildungsbürgerlicher Ideale in vermeintliche linke Postulate« aufgespießt wird, 154f.), lehnt sich aber hier und da etwas aus dem Fenster (es wird etwa angedeutet, Literatur habe nur noch bis in die 1970er eine »außerordentliche Reichweite in der Gesellschaft gehabt, 157, oder »die Ephebophilie« sei »bis in die 1980er Jahre die dominante Form von Homosexualität« gewesen (158), ohne dass dies belegt wird).

Eine pièce de résistance des Bandes, nicht nur aufgrund des gerade erschienen »neuen Houellebecq« Anéantir, stellt für mich der Aufsatz des Herausgebers Jens Bonnemann dar, der sich mit eben jenem französischen Bestsellerautor und seinem Verhältnis zum Erbe der sexuellen Befreiung beschäftigt. Er zeigt, deutlich detaillierter als Betschart zuvor, die Bedeutung von Wilhelm Reich für »die 68er« auf und arbeitet vor allem genau heraus, dass das der freudomarxistischen Kulturtheorie Marcuses immanente Konzept einer Befreiung des Eros nichts mit der zur wirtschaftlichen Deregulierung homologen Befreiung des Sexus bzw. des »Sexual Marketplace«[3] bei Houellebecq zu tun hat.

Jörg Müller Hipper führt in seinem Beitrag mit und gegen Helmuth Plessner den Nachweis, »dass soziale Konzepte der maximalen Nähe und Offenheit«, sprich der Gemeinschaftlichkeit im Gegensatz zur Gesellschaftlichkeit, entgegen der Intuition zahlreicher »68er« keine gangbare Grundlage für neue, bessere Formen menschlichen Zusammenlebens darstellen. Im Gegenteil müssten solche Formen schon aus rein anthropologischen Gründen auf einer Gesellschaftlichkeit von Distanz und Takt, »die Möglichkeit, unbehelligt zu bleiben, nicht mitmachen zu müssen« (205) aufbauen.

Herausgeber Thomas Zingelmann nimmt im Anschluss die beliebte Vorstellung auseinander, die verschiedenen Gegenkulturen, die heute mit der Zeit von »1968« assoziiert werden, seien miteinander verflochten und irgendwie eine Einheit gewesen. Er unterscheidet die verschiedenen Unterströme in kollektivistische Protestbewegungen und individualistische Gegenkulturen (und bleibt damit im Groben in der Spur von Müller Hipper zuvor). So liefert er eine knappe, aber informative historische Beschreibung und Einordnung von Beat Generation und Hippies als Vertreter des unpolitischen Gegenkulturaspekts.

Der dritte Herausgeber, Paul Helfritzsch, konzipiert in seinem Beitrag, der nicht mehr unmittelbar kulturhistorisch ist, im Ausgang von Jean-Paul Sartre und Frantz Fanon die Rolle des Intellektuellen als Instanz der performativen Benennung von Unterdrückungsverhältnissen auf Grundlage von Theoriewissen. Auf dem Intellektuellen liegt nach Helfritzsch eine »ontologische Verantwortung«, also eine Verantwortung für das Verfasstsein der Welt in durch diese performativen Benennungen erst etablierten Strukturen von praktischen Begriffen.

Der Band schließt mit einer geschichtsphilosophischen Betrachtung von Peggy Breitenstein, die sich implizit auch gegen eine Reihe der versammelten anderen Beiträge stellt, indem sie mit einem benjaminschen Geschichtsverständnis den Wert von Versuchen der Geschichtsschreibung, die Fragen wie »Was war…?« und »Was bleibt von…?« stellen und sie von berufenen Zeitzeugen (»Siegern«) deuten lassen (245), allgemein in Frage stellt. An verschiedenen Belegen (Erinnerungen der Malerin Sarah Haffner, die Thesen des Westberliner Aktionsrats zur Befreiung der Frauen sowie Kommentare und Reaktionen darauf wie das berühmte »Penisflugblatt«) entlang zeigt sie die der Studentenbewegung als Lebensstil und als politische Bewegung entgegen ihrem revolutionären Anspruch innewohnenden patriarchalischen Strukturen und Selbstwidersprüche auf. Ihre Bilanz bleibt eine melancholische: dass die »selbstreflexive und selbstkritische Praxis« (259), die jede Emanzipation mit Marx sein müsse und die in den weniger theoriegesättigten feministischen Seitenbewegungen von »1968« noch eher zu finden gewesen sei, bis auf Weiteres höchstens Dialogräume und solidarischen Rückzug bedeuten kann, da das Erbe der emanzipatorischen Diskurse bis heute zumindest im akademischen Raum vor allem in Form von »Debattenwettstreit und Konkurrenz«[4] (262) stattfinde. Breitensteins Aufsatz hat aufgrund seiner inhaltlichen Spannweite und stilistischen Brillanz die prominente Position am Schluss, sozusagen als »inoffizielles Fazit«, des Bandes mehr als verdient.

Insgesamt kann der Band, auch wenn nicht alle Beiträge gleich interessant sind und man sich mancherorts einige Belege mehr gewünscht hätte, trotz (oder gerade wegen) seiner Entstehung als Tagungsband für nicht ins Thema Eingelesene als gute Heranführung an das Phänomen 1968 dienen und auch Kundigeren die eine oder andere neue Perspektive vermitteln. Ein Wermutstropfen bleibt die leider nicht geringe Zahl von nicht nur Tipp-, sondern auch Grammatik- und Trennfehlern, über die man in der Lektüre immer wieder stolpert. Die Frage, ob »1968« nun eher Ursache oder eher Wirkung war, löst sich beim Studium des Bandes jedenfalls nach und nach zusammen mit jeder scheinbar kompakten Substanz des Phänomens auf. »1968« erweist sich als Sammelbegriff für eine heterogene, allenfalls familienähnliche Vielfalt von zeitlich grob koinzidierenden Entwicklungen, deren Zusammenordnung unter einer leitenden Erzählung selbst vielleicht am ehesten so etwas ist wie eine popkulturelle Retrofiktion.

[1] Vgl. Jacques Rancière, interviewt von Julia Christ und Bertrand Ogilvie: »Republikanismus ist heute ein Rassismus für Intellektuelle«, in: Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie 65.4 (2017), 727–761, hier 731.

[2] Drastisch vor Augen führt dies ein Blick z.B. in Ulrich Schippke, Die 7 Weltwunder von morgen, Gütersloh 1972, oder ders., Zukunft, Gütersloh 1974.

[3] Dieser Ausdruck ist in der Szene der militanten modernen Frauenfeinde (»MRAs«, »Incels«) in den sozialen Medien, die u.a. für ihre Unterstützung von Donald Trump und die Anstiftung mehrerer Massenmorde berüchtigt sind, der geläufige. Houellebecq kann, wenn nicht als Stifter, so doch mindestens als geistiger Vorläufer dieses Denkens gesehen werden.

[4] Der Verf. dankt Katharina Herrmann, München, dafür, durch sie schon vor längerer Zeit auf Karl Helds berühmte Sentenz »Ihr wollt ja lieber dichten« beim konkret-Kongress 1993 hingewiesen worden zu sein.