“The expression ‘democracy to come’ does indeed translate or call for a militant and interminable political critique. A weapon aimed at the enemies of democracy, it protests against all naivete and every political abuse, every rhetoric that would present as a present or existing democracy, what remains inadequate to the democratic demand, whether nearby or far away…” – Jacques Derrida. Rogues. (Stanford University Press, 2005), 86

democracy to come…

Philosophy in Tension, part I

“Between religion and lived experience – in a space, let us note, where one also finds politics, science, and art – philosophy has the task, if I may say so, of spacing as such. Neither form, nor life, nor concept, nor intuition, but from one to the other, or rather, from one within the other, through the other, but also one against the other, a tension without resolution. It is not a question of relieving this tension, for it delights in itself as much as it suffers from itself…. It is not a happy medium, it is the exacting sharp edge of the philosophical decision…”

– Jean-Luc Nancy. Philosophical Chronicles. (NY: Fordham University Press, 2008),13-14.

“I think it’s very hard to keep things in the tensional structure of the openness… of nonmeaning. This is very difficult, which is why there is then the quick grab for transcendental signifiers – for God, for nation, and for other master signifiers.”  – Avital Ronell from: Astra Taylor. Examined Life. (NY: New Press, 2009), 35.

Can we take “tension” in positive terms, without demanding resolution in a dialectical sublation? I believe that is a task at the heart of what I’m calling “non-neurotic thought.”

I use the phrase “non-neurotic thought” to suggest a sort of ethos or discipline that might contend with the anxious inclination to arrive at permanent resolutions and secure guarantees. Absolutism and Essentialism are the tendencies of Neurotic thought. This describes much of the history of Western Philosophy. The concomitant demand is to put “everything in its right place,” like the assignations of the people in Plato’s Republic that define purpose by way of one’s supposed “nature.” “Know your role” is part of the neurotic imperative.

But of course with epistemic foundationalism, the determination of foundations is always arbitrary. At some point, there’s always a leap of faith, though some want to claim it as a point of “certainty” or “knowledge.”

Jacques Rancière contends that at root all of these ways of dividing up the world, such as Plato’s division of the polis, are expressions of a founding opinion. There is always fable in their construction. In fact The Republic openly portrays the crafting of the myth of the metals, the “golden lie.” But fiction and opinion as such are not in themselves problematic because it’s not a matter of condemning fiction in the name of some “truer” absolute. The problem lies in forgetting that we construct, forgetting that we create… forgetting that we don’t live in an eternal present. It’s like we sanctify our creations and imagine that the satellites we’ve sent into orbit are actually infinite, infallible and looking down on us, to govern us…

If that happens, what possibilities are we left with?

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Life as a work of art…

“let us say that moral choice is like constructing a work of art” – Jean-Paul Sartre

“couldn’t everyone’s life become a work of art?” – Michel Foucault

“Clichés are always-already on the canvas.” – Gilles Deleuze

I’m very interested in considering both Sartre’s and Foucault’s conceptions of freedom alongside one another.  I love placing the quote from Deleuze’s book on Francis Bacon in this matrix here too because it really fits with the fact that for both Sartre and Foucault we are always working with givens… our facticity, our situatedness, our history, the mechanisms of subjectivization that we’ve undergone, the discipline we’ve been effected by, the games of power, the regimes of truth, the limits… and asking how we can make something out of what has been made of us.  Creation never starts from a zero point.  Freedom, and thinking, always occur (if they do occur) at the limit.

An artist is always responding to his surroundings, to his position in society, to the traditions and trends which have marked out his own terrain, and making use of the tools available to him… including the canvas, blank though it may appear to be… it is already imbued with expectations and clichés, they become our inheritance.  How do they effect us?  How can we own them and make our own choices in the face of them?


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Why “modern tension”?

“the attitude of modernity… to imagine (the present) otherwise than it is, and to transform it not by destroying it but by grasping it in what it is.” – Michel Foucault “What is Enlightenment?”

Cornel West says about philosophy that it is a critical disposition striving to assert “desire in the face of death, dialogue in the face of dogmatism, democracy in the face of domination” but you never reach the end.  That statement fits well with the reasons I chose the title for this site: Modern Tension.  I think this title can in some way tie together a whole range of philosophical projects I’ve undertaken over the past 10 years or so as a student and researcher.  Most everything that provokes me to read, to talk, to write… connects somehow with questions of how to create, demand, desire, construct a sense of self, sustain a sense of purpose, compile something like meaning, and learn to live.  How do we put things in tension to enable critical perspectives and imagine possibilities?  How can we sustain tension and develop a discipline to live with irresolvable ambiguities, ambivalence and aporias?  How can we keep open a space for creativity, desire in the face of forces which shape us and subject us?  And how can we conceive of pursuing possibilities in the face of contingency and precariousness?

Several years ago, I wrote a short article for Adbusters with the title “Post-Millenial Tension” not long after reading Nicolas Bourriaud’s The Radicant.  I was responding to the question: “What comes after Post-modernity?”  and there seemed to be a certain tension in the air around this question.  A “tension” in the sense of waiting for something, after the death of certain dreams had settled over our world there came an uneasiness about what sort of future might be coming on.  And of course, it’s a tension that cannot be resolved so long as the thought assumes that the resolution will indeed arrive in a definitive form, from without, from on high…

I imagined that article as a response to the typical pitfalls I had grown tired of in “radical” political theory and critique, such as the usual polarization between “purity” and “corruption” and the insularity of universalizing ideologies.  In all of it, there often seems some attempt to satisfy an incessant yearning for BIG Events, BIG Truths, Destiny… It all seems a bit neurotic… There’s something in it that feels like taking the “give me liberty or give me death” motto to the absolute extreme (Give me absolute Truth and Purity, or blow up everything!)  It either makes me feel worried, or bored.

I’m a little more interested in thinking fictions and imagining “as if” scenarios. I’ve never been very interested in Godot actually arriving, even if it is supposedly imminent.  So, what are our other options?  That’s something I suppose want to keep thinking about…

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