Monday, October 10, 2011

The Secret of Secrets

In the discussion about Zizek's strategic rhetorical confusion of source, content and attitude, the comment about 'secret connections' reminded me of a passage in The Holy Family in which Marx analyzed an example of the use of 'secret' as a Hegelian construct.

I have transcribed the passage from the MIA with a couple of revisions. The translation linked to there translates Geheimnis as "mystery" but "secret" is a more colloquial equivalent and the word I have used.

What Marx says of Hegel and Mr. Szeliga needs to be understood of the Hegelianism of Zizz and the Zizzniks too. Above all, the characterization of Hegel's method as "masterly sophistry." Then, how Hegel executes this sophistry through the subordination of the particular to the universal. Finally, how Hegel articulates this subordination, "in the speculative world are nothing but semblances." Zizzian sophistry does not need verbal legerdemain to effect this reduction of the material to the seeming. Images from movies and accounts from the media provide him with ready made semblances. As well as the ultimate conclusion, that all the complex mechanisms of the sophistry amounts to nothing more than self-dramatization. Even Zizzian stand up is consistent digital Hegelianism. But enough interpretation, let's get on to Marx.

The Secret of Speculative Construction

The secret of the Critical presentation of the Mysteres de Paris is the secret of speculative, of Hegelian construction. Once Herr Szeliga has proclaimed that 'degeneracy within civilization' and rightlessness in the state are 'secrets', i.e. has dissolved them in the category of 'secret', he lets 'secret' begin its speculative career. A few words will suffice to characterise speculative construction in general. Herr Szeliga's treatment of the Mysteres de Paris will give the application in detail.

If from real apples, pears, strawberries and almonds I form the general idea of "Fruit", if I go further and imagine that my abstract idea of "Fruit", derived from real fruit, is an entity existing outside me, is indeed the true essence of the pear, the apple, the almond, etc., then in the language of speculative philosophy - I am declaring that "Fruit" is the "Substance" of the pear, the apple, the almond, etc. I am saying, therefore, that to be a pear is not essential to the pear, to be an apple is not essential to the apple; that what is essential to these things is not their real existence, perceptible to the senses, but the essence I have abstracted from them and then foisted on them, the essence of my idea - "Fruit". I therefore declare apples, pears, almonds, etc.,to be mere forms of existence, modi, of "Fruit". My finite understanding supported by my senses does of course distinguish an apple from a pear and a pear from an almond, but my speculative reason declares these sensuous differences as inessential and irrelevant. It sees in the apple the same thing as in the pear, and in the pear the same thing as in the almond, namely "Fruit". Particular real fruits are no more than semblances whose true essence in "the substance" - "Fruit".

By this method one attains no particular wealth of definition. The mineralogist whose whole science was limited to the statement that all minerals are really "the Mineral" would be a mineralogist only in his imagination. For every mineral the speculative Mineralogist says, "the Mineral", and his science is reduced to repeating this word as many times as there are real minerals.

Having reduced the different real fruits to the one "fruit" of abstraction - "the Fruit", speculation must, in order to attain some semblance of real content, try somehow to find its way back from "the Fruit", from Substance to the diverse, ordinary real fruits, the pear, the apple, the almond, etc. It is as hard to produce real fruits from the abstract idea "the Fruit" as it is easy to produce the abstract idea from real fruits. Indeed, it is impossible to arrive at the opposite of an abstraction without relinquishing the abstraction.

The speculative philosopher therefore relinquishes the abstraction "the Fruit", but in a speculative, mystical fashion - with the appearance of not reliquishing it. Thus it is really only in appearance that he rises above his abstraction. He argues somewhat as follows:

If apples, pears, almonds and strawberries are really nothing but "the subtance", "the Fruit", the question arises: Why does "the Fruit" manifest itself to me sometimes as an apple, sometimes as a pear, sometimes as an almond? Why this semblance of diversity, which so obviously contradicts my speculative conception of Unity, "the Substance", "the Fruit"?

This, answers the speculative philosopher, is because "the Fruit" is not dead, undifferentiated motionless, but a living, self-differentiating, moving essence. The diversity of the ordinary fruits is significant not only for my sensuous understanding, but also for "the Fruit" itself and for speculative reason. The different ordinary fruits are different manifestations of the life of the "one Fruit"; they are cystallisations of "the Fruit" itself. Thus in the apple "the Fruit" gives itself an apple-like existence, in the pear a pear-like existence. We must therefore no longer say, as one might from the standpoint of the Substance: a pear is "the Fruit", an apple is "the Fruit" an almond is "the Fruit", but rather "the Fruit" presents itself as a pear, "the Fruit" presents itself as an apple, "the Fruit" presents itself as an almond; and the differences which distinguish apples, pears and almonds from one another are the self-differentiations of "the Fruit" and make the particular fruits different members of the life-process of the "the Fruit". Thus "the Fruit" is no longer an empty undifferentiated unity; it is oneness as allness, as "totality" of fruits, which constitute an "organically linked series of members". In every member of that series "the Fruit" gives itself a more developed, more explicit existence, until finally, as the "summary" of all fruits, it is at the same time the living unity which contains all those fruits dissolved in itself just as it produces them from within itself, just as, for instance, all the limbs of the body are constantly dissolved in and constantly produced out of the blood.

We see that if the Christian religion knows only one Incarnation of God, speculative philosophy has an many incarnations as there are things, just as it has here in every fruit an incarnation of the Substance, of the Absolute Fruit. The main interest for the speculative philosopher is therefore to produce the existence of the real ordinary fruits and to say in some mysterious way that there are apples, pears, almonds and raisins. But the apples, pears, almonds and raisins that we rediscover in the speculative world are nothing but semblances of apples, semblances of pears, semblances of almonds and semblances of raisins, for they are moments in the life of "the Fruit", this abstract creation of the mind, and therefore themselves abstract creations of the mind. hence what is delightful in this speculation is to rediscover all the real fruits there, but as fruits which have a higher mystical significance, which have grown out of the ether of your brain and not out of the material earth, which are incarnations of "the Fruit", of the Absolute Subject. When you return from the abstraction, the supernatural creation of the mind, "the Fruit", to real natural fruits, you give on the contrary the natural fruits a supernatural significance and transform them into sheer abstractions. Your main interest is then to point out the unity of "the Fruit" in all the manifestations of its life - the apple, the pear, the almond - that is to show the mystical interconnection between these fruits, how in each one of them "the Fruit" realises itself by degrees and necessarily progresses, for instance, from its existence as a raisin to its existence as an almond. Hence, the value of the ordinary fruits no longer consists in their natural qualities, but in their speculative quality, which gives each of them a definite place in the life-process of "the Absolute Fruit".

The ordinary man does not think he is saying anything extraordinary when he states that there are apples and pears. But when the philosopher expresses their existence in the speculative way he says something extraordinary. He performs a miracle by producing the real natural objects, the apple, the pear, etc. out of the unreal creation of the mind "the Fruit", i.e., by creating those fruits out of his own abstract reason, which he considers as an Absolute Subject outside himself, represented here as "the Fruit". And in regard to every object the existence of which he expresses, he accomplishes an act of creation.

It goes without saying that the speculative philosopher accomplishes this continuous creation only by presenting universally known qualities of the apple, the pear, etc., which exist in reality, as determinng features invented by him, by giving the names of real things to what abstract reason alone can create, to abstract formulas of reason, finally, by declaring his own activity, by which he passes from the idea of an apple to the idea of a pear, to be the self-activity of the Absolute Subject, "the Fruit".

In the speculative way of speaking, this operation is called comprehending Substance as Subject, as an inner process, as an Absolute Person, and this comprehension constitutes the essential character of Hegel's method.

These preliminary remarks were necessary to make Herr Szeliga intelligible. Only now, after dissolving real relations, e.g, law and civilisation, in the category of secret and thereby making "Secret" into Substance, does he rise to the true speculative, Hegelian height and transforms "Secret" into a self-existing Subject incarnating itself in real situations and persons so that the manifestations of its life are countesses, marquises, grisettes, porters, notaries and charlatans, and love intrigues, balls, wooden doors, etc. Having produced the category "Secret" out of the real world, he produces the real world out of this category.

The secrets of speculative construction in Herr Szeliga's presentation will be all the more visibly disclosed as he has an indisputable double advantage over Hegel. On the one hand, Hegel with masterly sophistry is able to present as a process of the imagined creation of the mind itself, of the Absolute Subject, the process by which the philosopher through sensory perception and imagination passes from one subject to another. On the other hand, however, Hegel very often gives a real presentation, embracing the thing itself, within the speculative presentation. This real development within the speculative development misleads the reader into considering the speculative development as real and the real as speculative.

With Herr Szeliga both these difficulties vanish. His dialectics have no hypocrisy or dissimulation. He performs his tricks with the most laudable honesty and the most ingenuous straightforwardness. But then he nowhere develops any real content, so that his speculative construction is free from all disturbing accessories, from all ambiguous disguises, and appeals to the eye in its naked beauty. In Herr Szeliga we also see a brilliant illustration of how speculation on the one hand apparently freely creates its object a priori out of itself and, on the other hand, precisely because it wishes to get rid by sophistry of the rational and natural dependence on the object, falls into the irrational and unnatural bondage to the object, whose most accidental and most individual attributes it is obliged to construe as absolutely necessary and general.


  1. that's perfect

    incredible to see the same priestly con carrying on over a century later

  2. Another reading today reminded me of Engels on the relation of particular and universal, "Hence matter and motion can be known in no other way than by investigation of the separate material things and forms of motion, and by knowing these, we also pro tanto know matter and motion as such." Investigate the separate material things - far removed from the Pauline prescriptive universalism.

  3. reminding me also of Nancy Fraser's routine,

    and much similar that is the basic white libprog attack on "identity politics" - its an attack on historical materialism in working class analysis and organising of class struggle.

  4. "feminism" is another secret, another essence the properties of which are being scrutinised in monty python medieval sage fashion, based on this puzzle of its incarnations in etatisme and neoliberalism!

    it's really tempting to identify "decadence" of the sort that Marx saw in political economy after the classic generation to 1830.

  5. not really relevant, but for your zizz=jerk file:

  6. thanks! incredible. It's very similar to a passage I read in one of his love letters to Ayn Rand (iirr) but slightly more blunt

    and another excellent example to show that the supposedly "ungenerous" reading of the more cagey texts is the correct one - a more explicit version always pops up somewhere.

  7. there's a passage in which he complains that men "do all the work" during sex and women "just lie there".

    (unconscious, one presumes)

    lot of info about his fans from that alone.