History and Identity

Roman Forum

Roman Forum

Historical consciousness is a major component of personal identity. From naming practices, languages, and sign systems to insignia and historiography, words and images communicate identities. Personal identity takes no less advantage of all means of communication than national states and public institutions do. Like the insignia of medieval rulers, the dimension of personal historiography is virtually non-existent today. It has been gradually disappearing over the past couple of centuries as a format in circulation. Since the rise of the social sciences and political philosophy in the nineteenth century personal historiography has been phased out and pushed into the group format of the technical media. It has now disappeared as a component of general education completely. At the same time, the social media revolve around the design of personal identities. Blogging and micro-blogging represent a new form of personal historiography. The practice is still too young to have received any kind of meaningful treatment by the philosophical sciences, so it is the most important experimental field in the humanities. Since the humanities are disappearing, blogging is left to its own devices. No educational institution today is tailored to strengthen the articulation of individual identity. We go about body building more methodically than we do about identity-building. iCulture therapy was initiated in the hope to offer this missing link in contemporary online education. It will give the reader the tools and knowledge to develop and cherish a highly articulate, sophisticated personal idiom that is aware and equally attentive to the interior dimension as it is to the exterior facade designed to interact with and benefit the social interface. An empty facade, no matter how correct in its ethical principles and ideals of social justice, cannot contribute anything to the lives of others. It exists only for itself. iCulture is deeply rooted in the intellectual and artistic history of Christian civilisation. The theoretical portion of its contents will continue to elaborate the Christian foundations of the concept of the self as a dwelling place for the trinity.

Political Philosophy and Individual Identity

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Since the nineteenth century official political organs dominate und survey the discursive matrix and formats of communication. Edgar Allen Poe’s short narrative “The Purloined Letter” (http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper/poe/purloine.html) is an astute and intuitively refined allegory of what took place on a much grander scale with the institution of the modern state bureaucracies. That the Freudian structuralist philosopher Jacques Lacan will read this story as justification for the emptiness of subjectivity only confirms that the twentieth century was the century without a subject. We will engage this line of argumentation in a later post, but to set up the coordinates of our journey at this point, it is sufficient to note that Hegelian thought allowed for structuralist reduction of all forms of communication and identity formation.

Though they don’t actively control and censure historiography, through this wider domination of discourse, political organs eliminate not only dissident versions of history, but also multiple and pluralist versions, by withdrawing their discursive legitimacy. Even as they pay lipservice to the buried values of free speech and open scholarly discussion, political structures and edifices of social engineering have been withdrawing investment in the private sphere, which has been wrongly but ubiquitously stigmatized as capitalist and therefore of low value for the community. Nothing is further from the truth. Without individuals capable of articulating their private subjectivities, communal systems of communication and cultural systems of preservation and transmission will stagnate and die.

Material historicism was introduced by the Hegelian thinker Karl Marx and his followers. Its concept of the private sphere does not extend beyond its economic significance, that is, the monetary value of private property. Philosophically, the platform is extremely reductive, but there are historical-discursive reasons for its sweeping success in the twentieth century, the most violent century in Christian civilisation. Political reality is changing rapidly, primarily due to the new forms of communication and exchange of information available to vastly more populous and increasingly more literate regions.

Today millions have access to cultural information that is not mass formatted and at the same time available to the free individual for private use. Individualism is beginning to thrive in a way it has not been since the Renaissance. This is the reason we are seeing the old state bureaucratic systems crumble and lose their legitimacy, as well as the trust of their constituents. The change is not political. No political change is ever initiated by political action. Even revolutionary and partisan violence are incapable of supporting change that is not already programmed by the technological means of information and cultural production. This doesn’t make technology the alpha and omega of reality, simply because technology in and of itself is absolutely neutral and ineffectual. It requires human will and human breath to become actual. Innovation and reflection on technology is where political change takes place. Violent revolutions not only don’t bring change about, but are often a messy and ineffective way of coming to terms with new realities dictated by technological innovation.

G. W. Hegel was able to reflect on the political world to come before it was born because he focused on the movement of thinking, which he called phenomenology, but didn’t go far enough to conceive of thinking as being preceded by technê, Greek for ‘making,’ ‘production,’ ‘craft’ (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/episteme-techne/). iCulture therapy treats technê not as dualistically opposed to episteme, as the Stanford encyclopaedic article does for clarity and simplicity, but as its very creation. Rather than as the practice of theory, iCulture treats technê as the active, underlying, structuring principle of knowledge. In this iCulture follows a Heideggerian conception of technology as the poetic making of being (http://simondon.ocular-witness.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/05/question_concerning_technology.pdf) A later post will expound on this notion, but for now it is important to note that the locus of the relationship between language and technology is poetry, the literary record of individual subjectivity. Techne is creation that takes place in words and other units that carry information. Hegel was too focused on heaven to bother to contemplate the material reality of the phenomenon, which remained pure in his system. Thus he left the materialist side of his system to his followers like Marx, who were, however, not as gifted as their teacher. The functional, utilitarian, economy-based branch of his philosophy, which was undertaken by Marx and which can be termed “economic absolutism,” is simply an afterthought, whereas the core of Hegel’s philosophy remains his contemplation of the standard of Christian phenomenology and its history. By subjecting what remains undeniably private, Christ’s internal presence in the subject, to the principles of classical philosophy, to which interiority was as absolutely foreign as the contents of Poe’s purloined letter, Hegel opened the door to a political reality that will gradually eschew the demands of the individual.

Political change is dictated by an ever changing and a vastly more complex technological system than the social sciences of economic absolutism can grasp. We live permanently in a political laboratory, despite the vein hopes of nineteenth century social science to engineer the future of humanity at the cost the private sphere. The power of social science has peaked and since it dominates the academy, an alternative is yet to be developed. It cannot be expected from the academy. The new political order will be created in the new idiom of technology understood as the individual mastery of its standard. What is taking place online today does not have a political will yet, because it does not know how it understands the world and hence it does not understand what it wants from the world. This initial stage of creation, techne, the making of reality, takes place in the interior before it seeks ways to communicate itself in the world. The dying structures of social science will challenge the new reality in the making to articulate itself in opposition to them, which is why it is of paramount importance to protect its technological foundation from direct engagement with them, if we are to preserve its independence. It is more vital than ever to secure a strong, culturally articulate and self-reflexive interior that will keep one’s core identity steady through times of political turbulence. This endurance has always been the secret of survival for the two millennia old Christian civilisation. It is the meaning of the Christian doctrine of shunning the influence of the world. Far from an ascetic ritual, this doctrine actually protects new creation, the poetry of making the future.

Identity in Psychoanalysis

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Paris, Bibl. Mazarine, ms. 1581, f.211v from liberfloridus.cines.fr

The private individual has a personal history that is much more important for the formation of his emotional and psychological character than his political, national or materialist historical identity. The beautiful design from the French book of flowers illustrated above is a creation first and foremost of the interior of the human psyche. The execution of the private fantasy by means of technê is an act of externalisation and projection in the world that relies on state-of-the-art technology for its impact. Technology on its own, without the contents it carries is an empty structure that cannot survive decay and obsolescence. The crude intelligence of political organisations is furnished with defence mechanisms and instincts of preservation that are developed enough to recognise that control over the individual is afforded by an identity mechanism. It is in the best interest of the political group body to usurp private historiography and claim it as its property, subsuming individual history under the greater political-historical narrative. The past plays an immense part in the formation of identity, which is why political organs rely on identity mechanisms to justify and perpetuate their existence. This mechanism is simple: a set of historical and genealogical data determine the political identity of any given person. This data has little to nothing in common with the real functional and psychologically far more consequential familial history, which is private, i.e. not circulated in public discourse and not participating in social interactions. Even dynastic families possess a private dimension that is separate from the execution of their public identity, such as the coat of arms, for example, and even the most profound psychological analysis of family aetiologies cannot cover it in its entirety.

Psychoanalysis alerted us to the punitive mechanisms that replace the private, familial symbolic order with the group format of political identity at an early stage of mental development. Freud wrongly believed that the threshold crossed at the oedipal phase of development is a transition from a maternal, dyadic inarticulate and largely pre-linguistic familial world into a paternal, triadic social symbolic order. He called this phase of development the Oedipal stage. The ancient Greek tragedy of King Oedipus, written by Sophocles, was a well known piece of literature and familiar to Freud’s turn-of-the-century classically trained Viennese audience. Oedipus’s criminal deed, murdering his own father and begetting children with his mother, was considered by Freud the centrepiece of the emotional world of the developing psyche. He used this classical tragic story to illustrate the renunciation of male desire for the maternal figure that, he thought, every young boy undergoes at a certain age. This may well have been the case with the pre-Christian family, but the Christian symbolic order re-routed the material linguistic and communication systems to refer to the immaterial dimension of the Holy Family, which is both internal, private, and external, heavenly. Because exteriorisation in the Christian discursive structure is no longer rooted back into the material world of the sign’s origin, the Oedipal phase is spared. As a result the private identity of the individual remains in flux, not bound to material constraints. But since Christianity does not exist in isolation from the non-Christian world, political formations were inevitable and with them the necessity of adopting a political-historical identity. For Christians, however, this identity is a mere necessity and a mere part of the material circulation systems. Political identity is truncated and drastically reduced. It is not paramount to the core individual identity as it is for the Greeks and the Romans and all other pre- or non-Christian social orders.

The oedipal formula Freud introduced is only possible if the father is perfectly identified with the group to which he belongs politically. But that cannot be the case in reality, because no individual is absolutely identical with the limited data a politically structured group has about him. The transition from the private and familial to the public and national group format is not necessarily punitive either. Freud understood the function of public law from a Darwinist and anthropological perspective, not from the perspective of Christian civilisation.

Modern society invested a great deal in principles based on Darwin and anthropology, which rely on data from pre-Christian and pre-historic cultures. The goal of the Darwinisation of culture was to eschew and replace the Christian technê of European civilisation. It succeeded, but the price was a massive loss of native languages and cultures, as well as the merciless massification of human slaughter. One needs only remember that upward of multiple thousands of soldiers were slaughtered daily in the trenches during WWI. Humanity had never known such mass destruction before, because Christianity had advanced technology to a point where its highjacking by pre-Christian cultures could only produce mass calamities. Though the Romans had the knowhow to initiate something like the industrial age, they did not, because it took the Christian belief system to create the identity pattern necessary for the development of the technological era. Pre-Christian cultures are not equipped with the identity structure to handle the high level of technological development in Christian civilisation. Currently the displacement of nearly one fifth of the world’s population is another example of the failure of pure technology to design a functional world order.

Technological innovation is quite independent of the Darwinian sciences that dominate the global academy today. Science employs technology as a tool and a legitimating object, but it cannot produce it. Instead of allowing innovation to free humanity of labor, Darwinist social science enslaved it anew. In his contemplation of technology as a social process, the Frankfurt School sociologist Herbert Marcuse found that the natural trajectory of technology leads to the liberation of humanity from the need to labor, but he also immediately retreated in horror from this utopian vision, because he realised that personal loss would then become much more central in the private life of the individual. Here is a link to this strangest of conclusions: http://users.ipfw.edu/tankel/PDF/Marcuse.pdf. Marcuse’s fear of the private sphere was nearly pathological, but understandable if one remembers that sociology trains the mind to think only in terms of structure and treats content as fodder. We will return to this problematic.

Freud’s sophisticated primitivism influenced intellectual life in the twentieth century and continues to do so, though today largely unconsciously. His worldview evolved from the belief system of sacrifice-based religions. A later post will walk you through his fascinating but deeply flawed treatise “Totem and Taboo,” on which this claim is based, but today it is enough to note one of his definitions of the totem, namely as vessel for the identity of the dead father. Freud is most illuminating when he discusses the significance of death and the dead. His theories unveil the foundations of political identity and the entire field of the social sciences. For Freud the father is always dead, because he is experienced as usurper and posessor of every material object of instinctual desire. Since the posessor of what one wishes to own is always wished away, argues Freud, one harbors a death wish against him. This makes the father’s presence both ghostly and material. His identity is dominated by ambivalence. The dead are powerful rulers, writes Freud. The making of reality for Freud is undoubtedly entirely a matter of preserving, organising, re-animating, and re-empowering the material remains of the past. This is true of political structures, but not, as Freud wrongly thought, of individual psychology. His method became a mass success only after the first world war broke out and his therapy was employed in the treatment of the war neuroses. Since his therapy promised the release of pent up and thwarted instinct, generals were inclined to believe the talking cure could bring a soldier to kill the way it could bring a woman to perform her duty as wife and mother. Needless to say this view of both love and war is based on the most basic, primitive forms of human existence, which is thus reduced to its biological, creaturely dimension.

Eyeing the Interior with a Camera -- Spellbound, Hitchcock 1945

Eyeing the Interior with a Camera — Spellbound, Hitchcock 1945

The interior castle, though its temporal dimension is eternal, and because it is marked by absolute difference from the mortal remains organised by linear time and the calendar, also bears an indelible print of history. It is simultaneously a player on the timeline of history, on calendar maps of return and repetition, and through its capacity to externalise its unique living reality as technê also the grand master of the future. In the next post we will consider the culture of interior cultivation, which saw its rise in the Renaissance and its fall in the age of science. Next to the usual suspects Freud and Heidegger, two new companions will accompany us, the classicists Goethe and Burckhardt, the modern fathers of classical literary history and classical art history.

 

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