Monday, August 21, 2006

The Rhetoric Of 'Enlightenment'

One should always try and rescue words from their employment in the current rhetorical marketplace. One should try and return to words their history and ambiguity, against the purely strategic and polemical uses demanded by present actions.

This very process of laying bare the rhetorical device is of course a facet of enlightenment. Enlightenment, a court in permanent session, charged with drawing up an itinerary of one's unthought-out assumptions, stock of prejudice and unreason – all that was merely inherited from society or history. It's ironic, then, that Enlightenment itself is today one of those rhetorically useful words that have to be time and again saved for meaningful exchange.

Perhaps they would have been surprised, the original epigones of the enlightenment.. to see enlightenment defined as an already attained state, around which various bulwarks can then be erected to protect it from outsiders. And from inside this citadel the Newly Enlightened can point condescendingly towards a history from which they are conveniently exempt.

The idiot ritual of the Newly Enlightened: to endlessly intone that prejudice and unreason reside always with the Other, the purpose of this intoning being, it seems, to rediscover oneself as yet again Good and Reasonable; the insistence that the unenlightened Other can never be worthy of support no matter how violently attacked or exploited so long as this Other refuses to sign up to the Enlightenment program; the motley appeals to common sense and the blindingly obvious, the promptness with which anything counter-intuitive, unfamiliar or difficult arouses ridicule or suspicion…

Meanwhile… Enlightenment, that imperative to self-questioning, self-critique, the relentless uprooting and naming of merely inherited assumptions, stubborn but false beliefs, the accidents of context and history mistaken for nature…. All this is by the Newly Enlightened misrecognised as liberal self-flagellation or else strategically forgotten.

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