Provisional Absolutes: The Second Manifesto for Generalized Athropomorphism

 

Until recently, the goal of every globus has been to hide the planet. Today, however, the planet – this strange celestial body of ours – is violently brealing through the all-ebracing surface of the global world order from within. We do not need to go to the moon to discover the existence of our planet any more. Merely watching the weather forecast or the financial news suffices to remind us of our planetary existence. The world has reached its limits and those limits are planetary.

Even though we know all this very well, the way of life of the better-off remains unchanged. How can we account for our greed and desire to live at the cost of another? It has become clear now that we cannot rely on solutions based on the notion of free will and the freedom of choice of individuals since these are the very notions at the core of the global world order. The solution to the crisis between global world order and the planet demands thorough changes in the social and economic structure as well as in the hearts of individuals – in the ways of perceiving, thinking and desiring. Some insist upon change on the first level, others on the other. But do these demands complete or discredit each other? The answer is: both. However, it is hard to imagine how both the global world and its prevalent mode of citizenship, the modern bourgeois subject, could be changed simultaneously and reciprocally. For this reason, nothing seems to be changing.

The aim of this manifesto is to resign the foundation, the Reason, that which ties the subject and its world order together, and to show what follows from this resignation. The manifesto completes a former one on “generalized anthropomorphism”.1The focus of this second manifesto is not only the human figure but also Reason, the foundation of human experience. Our strategy is to take Reason to its extreme: to force its transformation into something non-human by affirming and generalizing its very own modus operandi. Both the means and the end result of this process are what we call provisional absolutes. They are understood and defined as the most general mode of anthropomorphism and, thereby, as its ultimate limit. Provisional absolutes are fiction written by Reason about its own metamorphosis. In order to understand how provisional absolutes are formed, we must first listen what Reason has to say; we need to listen to the fable it tells us about its own fate.

FABLE

The modern age began when the heavens descended upon earth. This did not mean, however, an end to the otherworld – the result was not heaven on earth – but instead con-fusion between all known metaphysical spheres: heaven and earth, transcendence and immanence, life and death, time and eternity, finitude and infinity, humanity and divinity, culture and nature, human and animal. The chaotic modern state of things gave birth to a fantasy that continues to reign the minds of modern people to this day. According to the fantasy, these polarities and incongruences between spheres have been undone in human experience: the modern bourgeois subject is the root cause, the synthesis, and the telos of all metaphysical antagonisms. Where this synthesis does not yet reign, it has to be executed by humans, or, by the bourgeois world order.

However, the history after the modern revolutions shows that such synthesis never existed. In fact, the modern rational individual vacillates between one thing and something completely different: at times she is a self-rejecting ascetic, at times lust-indulging demon; at times she is a alienated consumer, at times worried yet powerless world citizen panicing over the global state of things; at times she is a conqueror seeking world domination, at times innocent victim of hideous terrorist acts. Everything that applies to individuals applies to societies as well, even up to states and federations.

The dialectic nature of our existence denotes its inherent inconsistency which in turn is merely another name for the chaos our modern way of life promotes. The more rational and reasonable our description of a given situation is, the more chaotic it is. The bourgeois world order is another name for the chaos whose true colours are starting to shine through each day clearer.

When the modern age began and human beings and societies were overtaken by chaos,the Spirit of Critique emerged. The aim of Critique was to restore clarity, to create clear connections between things not only to render these connections perceivable but also controllable. This is how justice, freedom, and peace became re-established among all beings. Thus, even the most theoretical domain of Critique, the critique of Reason, that is, modern philosophy, was political in nature. The Spirit of Critique became the Spirit itself. It became the power that kept beings together and apart from each other. The purpose of Critcism was to establish a new, more transparent order between all things.

In modern philosophy, Reason manifested itself as an unconditional precondition, an ultimate demand for a foundation (principium rationis). This demand was the voice of God within man himself. The voice did not come from the outside anymore but designated the becoming-god of mankind, or, the humanization of God. Reason demanded and promised things. It demanded unity, totality and systematic order among all beings and promised a new world order. Alas, it could not guarantee this promise. In order to claim it, Humans had to follow Reason in their actions. Reason spoke within their hearts and in their brain and became understood as the power that summoned the modern subject. The subject was born to follow and obey Reason as her law, as the utmost precondition on which she based her shared experiences with her fellow subjects. Reason served as the foundation for the subject´s self-production and re-production, and promised her mastery over all things. The ultimate reason, the reason of all reasons, was the free will of the rational subject.

The humanization of Reason, the separation of Reason from God as its absolute point of reference, did not put an end to the modern confusion; the radical nature of this confusion could not be rationally overcome. As Reason subsisted solely upon itself and trusted only itself it lost its proportions altogether. It gave birth to a host of otherworldly fantasies that produced “metaphysics” in the derogatory sense of the word. Reason’s unconditional demands turned out to be too infinite, too absolute, and thus blind and hostile to humanity itself. As a consequence, Reason lost its trustworthiness both in the domain of theory and in practice. It had to be submitted to critique and control. Reason had to be tied back to finitude and the empirical preconditions of experience. It was forced to acknowledge them as its own even if the rational subject, by the end of the day, never truly believed in them. This critical mission became a true paradox since it was executed in the name of Reason itself, as its self-critique. What actually happened was the separation of Reason and the Spirit of Critique. As a consequence, the modern subject understood its auto-critical mission in a profoundly tragic key.

This interpretation – the critique of tragic Reason – reveals the inherently human characteristic of rationality. Instead of destination, Reason became our destiny and a source of modern pessimism. Reason was seen as a prison from which to escape. The end result was another major turn in the history of Reason: the birth of critique of the critique of Reason. Born of an attempt to abandon the tragic and fatalistic rationality, it embraces the promise of non-human Reason – Reason that would no longer attempt to understand itself through and through.

The aim of this manifesto is to become a part of a long history attempts to bring the critique of the critique of Reason to its limits, and to show what kind of vistas await us there. In order to be able to rise again on the limbs of rationality, we need to avoid certain pitfalls and the most trodden paths. We need to put ourselves to the test and ask ourselves a series of questions about the relationship between human beings and nature.

INTERROGATION

First we must question the presupposition that Reason is a distinctive property of human individuals and societies. What if Reason were not a human privilege at all? Is there not something akin to Reason among all beings? Have we not learned our essential abilities precisely by studying this very Reason by tracing the causes and aims that reside around us, within the nature? Are not reindeer, for instance, most reasonable in all their activities and behaviour in relation to their given circumstances? Are not all beings essentially self-centred and mainly concerned about their own survival? Why would this not apply to human animals as well? We detach ourselves from all given conditions and construct them anew by creating a world. But are those newly created circumstances something more than those of the reindeer? Are these new worlds something else than mere breeding dens for mankind? If they are not, then also the universe is thoroughly rational and explainable. This is what we call the naturalist view. If the human world is in itself something more than a beehive, then Reason has proved to be an autonomous force capable of founding itself and appointing itself as the absolute. This is what we call idealistic view.

No matter which route we choose, the naturalistic or the idealistic one, we are always confronted with the question of the telos of Reason, From the naturalist point of view, it is the scientific research that sets the course for the whole mankind: science thus becomes an evolutionary tool for the human species to endlessly enhance one’s natural abilities, improve one’s habitat, prolong one’s life, and so forth. The end result of this process is the scientific worldview. For the idealist, the birth, existence, and development of Reason appear as more problematic. If reason is actually a property of mankind that is only projected onto the outside world, how can we ever be sure, then, that we actually know anything at all about the non-human world? All knowledge about everything else is merely a human projection. For this reason, the idealist argues, everything exists only for us, or for the Reason “itself”. It is a crypto-naturalist position where only our natural planetary existence remains unquestioned. On the other hand, in case where naturalistic world view is used to justify the abuse and oppression of other lifeforms, we end up with a separatist and thoroughly idealistic view of the man as the lord of creation. What is lost in both cases is the touch, relationship, difference, critique, and freedom between things. Opposition reveals itself as mere name for fusion: chaos being the common denominator for both. Modern subject is naturalistic idealist and idealistic naturalist, trans-immanentialist, a hybrid that sees itself only from one side. Today, this is the mode of existence we accept as normal.

Thus, whatever our choice might be in the face of the naturalist-idealist division, we always choose human Reason. We accept the antinomic order of the rational world which is, on one hand, an endless web of clearly defined relations between entities, on the other, created and sustained by humans and their own free will. Our world is both transcendent and immanent even though our experience of it vacillates between the two. Transcendence and immanence never meet each other nor does any relation between them ever emerge. Chaos means precisely the lack of such relation, blending of spheres and their constant battle: the oppression of one term under the other. We constantly tend to forget the ability of modern man to give birth and affirm this relation. Our astonishment at beehives and large metropolises is fundamentally the same astonishment at rational world. Within rational world order we sustain connection to things other than ourselves by constantly alternating our position without realizing the chaotic and unfounded nature of this alternation. The same logic of unconscious alternation applies to our personal life as well as to our social existence and to discussion about its conditions. In this given situation, each of us has become one’s own metaphysician, a titanic bearer of the global world. All attempts to escape this world stumbles upon the totalizing nature of the concept.

The possibility of finding reason in nature – the question of the rationality of the reindeer – is actually lost as quickly as it is raised. The question about non-human Reason always turns into a question about adaptation, about rationality within given circumstances. Adaptation is always already the main principle behind human Reason even though it is portrayed as something inherent in nature. The scientific world view is built upon laboratories and research facilities supported by high technology and complex urban systems. At the same time the empirical evidence given by science, the knowledge through which mankind is supposed to actualize its own “nature”, escapes beyond all experience and segregates human beings even further from their imminent non-human environment. In order to encounter anything else than ourselves we need greater technological efforts and more money than ever before. What is more, this access is granted to fewer and fewer people each day.

WORLD = NATURE

The global world order, the end result of modern Reason, means that the world and nature have become one. The possibility of true critique of globalization as the critique of the critique of Reason requires thorough questioning of this very equation, a new kind of segregation that avoids these old metaphysical oppositions and hierarchies.

The unraveling of the equation between the world and nature reveals the cruel metaphysics behind all identities, even the most logical ones. Do not neuroscience, contemporary brain research, cognitive science as well as a host of humanistic branches of knowledge – pragmatism and phenomenology included – endeavour to prove this equation to be true? Is there not a shared paradigm and a common denominator within all these disciplines that claims that our purpose as human beings is not to add anything to nature but merely imitate it: to only continue its blind processes and adapt to them; to adapt by continuing, to continue by adapting? Is not adaption the most natural kind of rationality, nature’s spontaneous yet systemic endeavour? What looms behind these kinds of arguments is the naturalist belief that human beings belong to nature and that nature is our home.

If we call the prevalent order of things “natural”, there is no alternative in sight. From the beginning, nature has always been a concept of Reason. It is a potential world, a world yet-to-be-realized; globalization is the fate and telos of nature. Each mode of thought that equates the world to nature and believes that all problems are solved by preaching the equality between human beings and the reindeer, is doing nothing more than advocating the dominance of anthropomorphic Reason. If we are always already at home everywhere, only a fool does not want to live there. It is “only natural” that the final fate of our planet is to be swallowed by the swelling Sun, and the thought of it touches the naturalist hardly more than a memory of a long-departed relative. This global madness that simultaneously clings onto this particular world and gloats over its inevitable destruction in a thoroughly nihilistic manner is nothing less than the ultimate nightmare of rationality, a total eclipse of total Reason.

It does not take more than the most elementary critique of critique of Reason to see that the dominant form of rationality does not really fit in this whole to which it claims to belong. This form of rationality projects its subjects beyond the whole towards the metaphysical position of a rational subject and its unearthly virtual space. By the same token, all attempts to naturalize the world leads to an extreme form of metaphysics where transcendence mutates into “ressendence”2, that is, finite but absolute separation of beings from each other. On the geo-political surface of the global world order all metaphysical hierarchies turn into horizontal ones. They appear within the global networks of exchange as geo-political control: as limitations and constraints within the shared space and time. They take place between “us” and “them”, “us” and “those”, no matter if “they” are human or not. As we put our cynical faith into “this-worldliness”, we can only pray that we find ourselves “beyond”, among the winners, the prosperous, the civilised: in short, among those who live at the cost of the rest. Since the global world is always dependent on its finite and material conditions, the state of inequality and its barriers are never secured; work has to be done every day to sustain them. Thus all unearthly spaces and moments of happiness are merely virtual in nature.

The critique of the critique of Reason has revealed the victories of the modern rational world over chaos to be superficial, relative, temporary, and provisional. Each world summons a totality within its closed sphere, a globus, which nourishes itself with the very chaos it denies, isolates, and shuts outside. This denial is something that no world – be it a nation, a state, or a global federation – can acknowledge even if it were encountered by its subjects each everyday. To err may be human, but to humanize chaos by giving it the shape of a world is to create a monster. “Our world” is the biggest and the most horrible of all lies. Our worlds are colossal spaceships ferrying their passengers towards destruction. The inevitability of the destruction is due to the ship itself, the way they draw together and bind their passengers, not with chains but with seat belts in the name of security and common good! The truth about 9/11 is the truth about ressendent world order. If every attempt towards absolute creates its own collapse, even the cheapest of all conspiracy theories are on the right track. This is why our critique of the critique of reason means more than anything a critique of the world. It does not crave for a “better world” any more, no progress nor utopias, but rather a freedom from the world, from any given circumstances. It aims beyond the world: not at some “other world” but somewhere where there are no worlds at all.

OUT OF THE WORLD!

Every critique of the current universalist world order that is not interested in sustaining and reforming the existing system is in tune with the demands of non-human Reason. Non-human Reason reveals the limits of Reason as a means to encounter something else than itself. There is nothing irrational about such a demand. Reason is the name for the human ability to go beyond, the ability to distinguish between transcendence and immanence. Reason should now abandon the demand for totalization and foundation and go through a fundamental metamorphosis. We cannot yet start speaking another language since our everyday life is based on Reason and is saturated by its logic. We can only try to use Reason in a new way that simultaneously neutralizes its absolute and totalizing power. On one hand, we should be more finite; on the other, we should not fall into the trap of this-worldliness and its cruel consolations. We should retain our radicalism, the subversive power of Reason and yet prevent ourselves from building up another dreamland. But how can we do both?

If Reason is capable of building spaceships our logical conclusion must be: spaceships for everyone! If Reason measures itself in relation to nothingness, death, and chaos then these vessels must be made a common issue! The democratization of Reason does not have to mean democratic Reason of a bourgeois subject but infinite redistribution of Reason itself. Instead of dreaming about other worlds and homes, we should be brave enough to reclaim a new kind of homelessness that would not be marked by the lack of home within a given world but by the profound worldlessness of the encountered situation. Void, unfoundedness, and gaps that have so far meant only states of collective alienation or mystical ecstasy of a singular authenticy have to become common and public issues. The modern mysticism has to be betrayed and the modern alienation has to be acknowledged as a state that cannot be “subtracted”. This kind of space fills those who encounter it with a new kind of fear and bravery.

The worldlessness encountered thus, is no longer reserved for the extraordinary individuals nor for the rejected masses. It becomes a collective dimension for all those who cannot find their home in a global world, and in the end, do not even long for one. Their fear is no longer the fear that is used to control people within worlds, nation states, and their federations. These institutions justify their foundation by hinting at the threat of its absence, the threat of chaos that is as totalized as the world meant to shield people from it. Their concerns are not the concerns of the world seeking only to ensure the continuity of its own existence so that nothing truly new or surprising, unexpected or unforeseeable ever emerges. Their hope is not the hope of the world where happiness will ensue only when everyone acknowledges the same world as the right one and lives according to the same Reason in a cosmopolitan fashion: in a polis that has assumed the proportions of cosmos. This is the spirit and the order of globalization which the critique of non-human Reason wants to unravel.

Those who answer the call of non-human Reason, or rather, those whom it seizes, descend onto the level of chaos and recognize it as something to be shared and encountered together. When the world disappears, nature as its conceptual counterpart disappears as well. There is no turning back: only a step into the void that can be taken only together. Those who take it, become trans-immanent, that is, they take the responsibility for the relationship between transcendence and immanence. The fear that they encounter is of planetary scale. Planetary fear can be felt only for the other, and for oneself only to the extent that one is other for the other, a separate being or body, or a planet. This fear does not associate itself with death anymore as does the fear of an individual associated with an unidentified false hope of escaping from world. Planetary dimension does not recognize scales: it is not greater nor smaller. Planetarity operates with particles and the forces in between them. In the depths of space, there are no sublime limits we could chase nor a horizon. The universe itself is a mere being, a particle among others! We can feel compassion towards it as well. The key to space travel does not reside in the speed of light but in the pursuit beyond speed.

The con-fusion of spheres, the founding gesture of the modern era, blurred also the boundaries between life and death. Despite all the false religious nostalgia injected to our brains, there is no returning back to the old times. We have to learn to live with death in a non-tragicway. The most important implication here is that we can not bargain with death, we cannot count on it nor can we transform it into any kind of foundation for our existence. It is time to acknowledge that our current ephemerality is definitely something quite different from the ephemerality of those living in the Ancient times. This is something we have barely been able to accomplish so far. In fact, we no more lament the brevity of our life but rather its infinity and the infinity of our death: the state of confusion that should be encountered with great patience and care. The spreading of death into the public, the culture of care, is one of the most characteristic traits of our time. Indeed, the fact that there is no escape, that death does not guarantee relief, and that we are more or less dead already is enough for us to demand for an exit from a world that is fighting death by inflicting death to others!

In the midst of our worldlessness, among the plurality and heterogeneity of things, we may recognize our need for individual and collective worlds, the need for home and society, the need to institute. But we should also recognize the finite nature of these needs, the artificial and human nature of these institutions: each one of us forms our own world, necessarily a provisional yet absolute one, without a common world. Reason itself becomes dispersed; it becomes the primary principle of its own dispersion and nothing will bring it together again. Reason does not reside behind everything, not within the foundations but in between – in between immanence and transcendence, on the border that simultaneously unites us and separates us from each other and which forms the domain of the common. From now on, the presence of something non-human, for instance a juniper, is no longer a mystery for us; it wonders as much as we do its own existence. Plants do not grow in nature. They stretch their roots into the void.

All those who hear the call of non-human Reason and reach out for worldlessness are to be understood as provisional absolutes3: empty and solitary units, monads or planets, whose total and infinite character is no longer at odds with their finitude: their relative, partial, and corporeal nature.

The corporeal nature of provisional absolutes means that the absolute gives birth to the boundary between its interior and exterior and thus gives itself a sense of finitude. From the outside provisional absolute is akin to Reason caught in the making. Something that reveals itself as so many non-human dependencies, in its finite infinitude, infinite finitude. As we recognize something as a provisional absolute, it no longer belongs to an imagined, shared world but appears on the border, no-where, the birthplace of worlds, always already organizing our relations with things.

Internally provisional absolutes are always empty. They are the elemental form of human experience, Reason that is offered to everything that is encountered and created by our experience. Everything appears for the provisional absolute as reasonable and uniform while it constantly transforms itself. In order to the absolute to change its form and desist becoming every thing in everything, it has to be empty in a certain way. It

1 “A Manifesto for Generalized Anthropomorphism” from 2004, www.eurozine.net. The first manifesto was about how theatre can renew itself. To achieve this, the manifesto called for a non-figurative theatre that would give up the human form in exchange for the human phenomenon. The manifesto argued that this could be done by generalizing the human form, and lending it freely to every other being and every other form of experiencing, thus turning the stage into a space where an equality of communication flourishes between all forms of being and experiencing.

2 The concept of “ressendence” has been influenced by Martin Heidegger’s letter to Ernst Jünger entitled Zur Seinsfrage from 1955.

3The term “provisional absolute” derives from Harry Martinson´s essay “Starsong” (Stjärnsången) from 1938 where the author ponders upon the possibility of poetry that would take its place vis à vis the results of modern astrophysics and science. Insofar as these results surpass the limits of human imagination and experience do not they also compromise the power of poetic inspiration that is tied to human language and its narrow modes of representation? According to Martinson, poetry can retain its credibility only by considering poems as “provisional absolutes” (provisorisk absolut): simultaneously restricted but infinite perspectives into the universe connecting us thus with it.

 

Esa Kirkkopelto 2013

 

Published in Manifesto Now!. Instructions for Performance, Philosophy, Politics, ed. Laura Cull & Will Daddario, Intellect Books, Bristol, UK / Chicago, US, 2013, 165-220