3.2 “The spirit is a bone.”

It thinks rather badly, but it thinks steadily. It is in these very terms that Freud announces the unconscious to us: thoughts that, while their laws are not exactly the same as those of our everyday thoughts, whether noble or vulgar, are certainly articulated. There is no longer any way, therefore, to reduce this Elsewhere to the imaginary form of a nostalgia for some lost or future Paradise; [...] Moreover, if any doubts still remained in our minds, Freud called the locus of the unconscious ein anderer Schauplatz, another scene [...] This spray of cold water having hopefully sharpened our wits, let us move on to the scientific formulation of the subject’s relation to this Other.

—Jacques Lacan, 1955

Yes, let’s. But lest we aim to calculate the transfinite trajectories of a self-perpetuating ping-pong ball, we might bracket a finite set of volleys by tabling crosses and crossing tables: On the (A) side, find the Vienna Circle, with its Gödel, Carnap, and Popper (a mise en abîme resembling nothing so much as Beckett’s Lost Ones), who served up the Analyticals in turn, e.g., from Carnap to Quine to Dennett (a mise en abîme resembling nothing so much as Buñuel’s Exterminating Angel). On the (B) side, bounce Existential Phenomenology, from Hegel to Husserl to Heidegger (a mise en abîme resembling nothing).


Ping, ping, ping. Legend’s ledgers lecture of young Ludwig as he rebukes Carnap’s cohort, back turned to the room, reciting Rabindranath Tagore, etc., lest they take his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus as Ur-Manifesto of Logical Positivism (a mise en abîme resembling nothing so much as Sartre’s No Exit), whereas TLP could just as readily (and with less cognitive dissonance) have been taken as an austere asymptote Via Negativa unto mystical revelation (a mise en abîme resembling nothing so much as Artaud’s Umbilicus of Limbo), as an aggravated arc of sufficient torque to snap theodicy from logic and hang philosophy out to dry. This prime Wittgenstein is no doubt the “anti-philosopher” whose more if less contrite company, as Badiou has it, is kept with Saint Paul, Nietzsche, and not least, Lacan.


to catch the conscience of the king

Should we serve up the latter’s litany—of “desire, boredom, confinement, revolt, prayer, wakefulness, and panic [as] evidence of the dimension of this Elsewhere”—to our A/B table-tennis teams, we could split the return volleys into “mere moods that deadpan thinkers can put in their place” on the low side, and “permanent principles of collective organizations” on the high side. Pace Quine, we are evidently apt to opt for the latter. As such, should we wish to make some sense of the custom observed by four of five Western armchair operators of nominating Heidegger and Wittgenstein as the two ‘canonical philosophers of the 20th century’, we would face another series of either/ors, foremost:


We could (A) axiomatically decree that (A1: half of) ‘Wittgenstein 1’ is wholly discernible from (A2) ‘Wittgenstein 2’. This seems the preferred strategy, despite that it precipitates a similar disjunction in order to read LW2 as either (A3) a behavioristic externalist or (A4) a skeptical internalist. Or, (B) we would have to discern (B1) the strictly Jamesian no-fly zone of “the mystic” such as LW1 suspended above his drop-kicked ladder, from (B2) the scaffold Heidegger installed atop the “Rhineland Mysticism” borne of one Virgin Hildegard—triangulated by Eckhart, Cusanus, and Böhme—then more-and-less wobblingly squared up by Hegel’s peg-leg (under the post-facto rubric of “German Idealism”).


Never having met a dead-end unfit for head-butts, nor monkey-bars unfit to brachiate, we shall opt for the latter (of the latter, not the ladder). This may seem a fool’s errand on par with overturning poker tables—but then, poker isn’t bridge—and we ought no more mistake the Fool for an ass than the Joker for a jester, the Hangman for a hanged man, or an upended errant non-dupe for le Pendu. Tick-box nit-picks. To permute a hokey aphorism, not only can you in fact pick your friend’s nose, but moreover, with a bit of fancy footwork you can pick your friend’s fights. ¡Ding!

Even so, there is a link between idealism and the Platonic mystical traditions that requires clarification. [...] First, there is the kind of theory that simply defends the claim that there is a second, deeper source of insight [...] in the divine dimension, where we have direct contact with God; in morality, where we are in direct contact with the spirit of the community; or even in epistemology, there the spirit of the world reveals itself to us (the Stoic heritage). This is the kind of mysticism Kant embraced briefly in 1768. Second, there is a theory that tries to show that [...] the foundations of knowledge are not accessible to ordinary knowledge. So a special insight is required, and this is said to be demonstrable [...] entailing a continuity between philosophical argument and ensuing mystical practice, which pursues the direction philosophical arguments intimate. This is certainly not the type of mysticism Kant’s criticism covers...

—Dieter Henrich, 1973

Thus Henrich, quick with a shovel, digs ‘mysticism’ out from under the same semantic drift suffered by ‘metaphysics’ (at least in common parlance). By the same rationale, we can indeed discern their legitimate and illegitimate fruits—if perhaps not quite as easily as the contemporaneous labors of ‘alchemy’—to wit: while philosophical alchemy serves as an historical supplement to what, post-Hegel, we would call ‘speculative metaphysics’, material alchemy served as an historical precursor to chemistry. Middlebrow pop notions such as “turning lead into gold” descend from 17th-century decline—into decadence on the part of the former, into hucksterism on the part of the latter. Moreover, here we will find vestiges of judicious editorial on the part of historians of science—for, however often alchemy’s reverse and obverse may have imprudently met, in the 16th-century hands of Paracelsus, they produced the first formulations of toxicology and of germ theory, whereas in the 18th-century hands of Newton (despite his better judgment as to laws of motion, etc.), they produced a tissue of theosophical absurdities on par with glossolalia. Gesundheit—!


to search the eternal abyss like the blind seer, etc.

If we turn from the forms, produced by external circumstances, and go to the root of things, we shall find that Sakyamuni and Meister Eckhart teach the same thing; only that the former dared to express his ideas plainly and positively, whereas Eckhart is obliged to clothe them in the garment of the Christian myth, and to adapt his expressions thereto.

—Arthur Schopenhauer, 1851

Deftly put—but if this were so, we (‘Westerners’—as Christians and/or schismatic ‘post-Christians’) would all be Buddhists—not that it would make much difference what we called ourselves, inasmuch as we find the same duplicity of book-keeping in putative Buddhisms (as schismatic subsequents to Hinduism) as in putative Christianities (as schismatic subsequents to Judaism). More particularly (but not to sectarian specificity), take e.g., the redoubled books by which Buddhist sects may take (the concept-term) ‘reincarnation’ (and its substitutes) to denote (mutatis mutandis, transposed to Western terms, viz., of Greek Antiquity) either (A) metempsychosis—that is, the direct transmigration of 1 unit personage from body X to body Y to body Z—or, quite incompossibly, (B) palingenesis—that is, the recycling in aggregate of transphysical (‘disembodiable’) life-essence.



In light of this redoubling, how is any or every avowed Buddhist of the former (metempsychosic) type to account for the circumstances in which one Tenzin Gyatso (Dalai Lama #14), necessarily pressed for time (and by contingent political exigencies), is on the lookout for his own ‘reincarnation’ in the (redoubled) person(age) of Dalai Lama #15? His unconventional (unprecedented?) strategy (ploy? ruse?) is liable to provoke, among said faithful, some heady cognitive dissonance—or, in Freudian terms, ‘anxiety’ of the type that drives Heidegger’s purport of ‘authentic’ Sein-zum-Tod (Being-towards-Death). But this is sophistry; to paraphrase Eco, we shan’t waste our preliminaries p-p-p-prelaminating a Parmenedean press pass: Eckhart, for one, can speak for himself.

When I stood in my first cause, I had no God and was cause of myself. I did not will or desire anything, for I was pure being, a knower of myself by divine truth. Then I wanted myself and nothing else. And what I wanted I was and what I was I wanted, and thus existed untrammeled by God or anything else. But when I parted from my free will and received my created being, then I had a god. [...] And if a fly could have the intelligence by which to search the eternal abyss of divine being out of which it came, we should say that God, together with all that God is, could not give satisfaction to that fly. Therefore, we beg God that we may be rid of God, and take the truth and enjoy it eternally, where the highest angels and the fly and the soul are equal, there where I stood and was what I wanted. And so we say: if a person is to be poor in will, he must will and want as little as when he not yet was. This is how a person is poor, who wills nothing.

—(Meister) Johannes Eckhart (von Hochheim)



The first thing that should spring back to mind from this quote (give or take the abyssal horror of the unheimlich) would be Eco’s “many reservations” about our conflation of to be and to ex-ist—where the former “being” is intransitively and intensively terminal and the latter “being” is transitively and extensively interminable. (“Which is like saying that it refers to everything but has no meaning.”) In accounting for Eckhart, then (and lest we get short-changed by Artful Shopkeeps), we do not find the sort of touchy-feely ‘New Age’ neo-buddhist capitulation that would convoke palingenesis with Christianity by way of aphoristic platitudes like ‘God is the part of us that is allowed to live on once our bodies die.’ We would in fact find quite the opposite—namely, a revocation to recapture the crucial trauma as, e.g., ‘We are the part of God that, once embodied, is allowed to die.’ Well, maybe that does sound like some sort of Buddhism—at least, of a sort purged to equally orthodox vacuity. But then this sort of surmise tends to travel with the ‘death of God theology’ now greeted in the kindest case with fractious polemic in place of the traditional cruelty of fracturing pokes. Heresy’s hieratic taxes, or attack lowbrow hearsay?



The basic message of religion, to put it in a nutshell, is that humanity cannot stand on its own, that you need an otherness, not a natural otherness like the earth or the all-embracing feminine. [...] Here I may be approaching not so much gnosticism as certain not a little bit heretical twist, because I want to say not only that humanity only knows God through Christ but that only through Christ does God know himself. We all know that this is a well-known gnostic, or not so much gnostic as a certain mystic tradition or heretical move, this idea that our knowledge of God is divine self-knowledge, and so on. [...] But again I cannot emphasize enough, I am not playing the old game, “theology is just the alienated self-image of humanity” and so on. The whole problem is precisely that humanity never coincides with itself.

—Slavoj Žižek, 2003

Not for nothing did the Hierophantic High-Hats institute enhanced interrogation techniques for reeducating Knights Arrant and suspending Night School detainees. If we have failed to make it plain, this particular pendulum swings in such a way that, depending on your initial approach angle, it describes a redoubled arc that just as readily makes atheism look like (an unsparingly orthodox) Christianity as makes Christianity look like (an unspeakably orthodox) atheism. Either way, should you wish to hang the hapless hermeneut by his thumbnails, you can take a hot tip from Žižek (2009), “My claim is that it is Milbank who is effectively guilty of heterodoxy, ultimately of a regression to paganism: in my atheism, I am more Christian than Milbank.” Or, if we thumb back a few pages, a more sober distinction may help resolve our (A/B) demarcation problem without necessarily dissolving (into) fideism (or fallibilism)—which is (not) to exchange (one for) the other.



Mysticism, it is true, was at one time very popular; and the word comes from “myein,” to shut the eyes—but to do so, like the blind seer, with the intention of seeing ever more clearly. Convulsion, possession by spirits, foaming at the mouth, went by the name of Shamanism, not mysticism. Mysticism properly so-called, at it is found most clearly in Eckhart, was inaugurated at a high point of reason; it had its birth on one of the peaks of philosophy, and was brought into the world by the last great thinker of ancient times, Plotinus.

—Ernst Bloch, 1968

In fewer words, “Mysticism properly so-called” is strictly concerned with de-myst-ification. Mark, this is not an asymptotic aporia, or a contradictory conundrum, but is rather a retracted redaction that puts bathetic thumbscrews to pathetic wingnuts to wring the last drop of metonymic blood from the metaphoric ‘philosopher’s stone’—an elliptically orbiting projectile deflected from thick-headed post-premodern alchemy to thin-skinned pre-postmodern apology. Duck! Or—for a still more sober reading, Henrich draws Kant’s “misconstrual” back to this same period of discursive drift—yet with consequences that remain very much in force:

Idealism actually is in the neo-Platonic tradition, but not in the sense which Kant believed, because neo-Platonism was not what Kant thought that it was. Kant’s misconstrual derives from the fact that he briefly embraced mysticism, and drew on seventeenth-century “neo-Platonic” sources that more nearly approach the first type of mysticism [the dualistic] than the second [the demonstrable], which more aptly defines neo-Platonism. This brief observation permits us to see that something is going wrong when the orthodox Kantians, including Kant, direct the charge of mysticism in such an unspecified way that it pertains to nearly every theory claiming a peculiar insight that differs from ordinary insight.

—Dieter Henrich, 1973



If, having summarily disposed of ‘bad-faith’ non-critique (if not ressentiment in full), we were to take Schopenhauer’s pointers and aim Eckhart analogically Eastward, we would find the latter faces more the Taoist Sage than the Buddhist Bodhisattva—and in either case, ‘we Westerners’ (generally ‘Post-Indo-Europeans’ as we say, having being reoriented via, e.g., the Ancient Greeks, Egyptians, Sumerians, and Romans—and more particularly, we adult males) do not tend to virtually measure ourselves (if you’ll pardon the caricature,) against the (Arche-Ur-Proto-type-of-a-)guy who as it were comes to his senses while he’s out for a stroll, or as he sits under a tree. Rather, we viscerally identify with the guy who gets impaled and/or chopped to bits, gets burned and/or buried underground, is exhumed and/or reassembled, and is finally resuscitated, ready to kick ass, take names, and ride off into the sun. That is to say, we (are seriously convinced that we) do not want to die—and if we have to not-be, we’re going to be-have unpleasantly beforehand. While our brief comparison may smack of ‘cultural relativism’, for us it strikes asymptotic—for to quote the durable Terence, “Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto.



den Geist stunt-doubles blood stent Gestell

As for the (A/B) dis/joint cleaving Wittgenstein’s and Heidegger’s (hemi-/demi-/semi-)mysticisms (in the manner of a Magdeburg Sphere), the foregoing may index, at least in some sense, why (A) Wittgenstein turned to ascetic piety to guard the content of his religious convictions from post-critical scrutiny, whereas (B) Heidegger turned to impious askesis to recapitulate pre-critical irreligious speculations.


Or again: the young Wittgenstein errs on the side of austerity, in consequence of which any punk with a palette knife can re-paint him incomparable shades of red by innumerable contrariwise cuts, whereas the middle-aged Heidegger errs on the side of abundance, which where recursive subtraction is concerned, is like burning unnecessarily negative figures into a sufficiently scorched ground.


Or again: take, in Wittgenstein, his clerically logical path to contented poverty, versus taking Heidegger clinically as to his pathological poverty of content, verses spit Hold ’er line To go Rabid in wrath, the Urbild a Goat/Alien reload tip severs. Two-watt your doubled candles melt, laments scan bode err we to wit, how ox-cart spans can trap tar-pits or sparse prat Carnap’s tart crow: “In the realm of metaphysics (including all value-theory and norm-science) logical analysis leads to the negative conclusion that the alleged statements in this area are totally meaningless.” (1932)


For a frayed-end short-circuit, should we wish to tally up the (Pèr-)versions of “L.W.” young and old, we could simply out-Žižek Žižek out-Hegeling Hegel: no sooner does he (dis)count a third “Wittgenstein [#3] as a Hegelian” evacuating the Cartesian codicil of On Certainty than we draw him to the unassimilable remains (or “non-dialecticizable excess”) of Last Writings on the Philosophy of Psychology, by which we count exactly not a “Wittgenstein 4” but rather a nameless and numberless, impenetrable and impredicative nth. The crucial point not to be overlooked here is

The essence of spirit is the concept.
[...1] thinking which thinks itself
[...2] the conceiving of
oneself
[...3] the grasping of the not-I
[...4] a differentiation of the difference
[...5] the essence of the spirit
[...6] the negation of a negation
[...7] ‘absolute negativity’
[...8] “cogito me cogitare rem”
[...9] the essence of the
conscientia.

—Martin Heidegger, 1927

Not to leave the last remaining readers hanging, we shall attempt in brief to square the wheelwrights of Heidegger’s Hegelian horse-Cartes. On one hand, “The essence of spirit is the concept” says it all, so long as we’ve recourse to reconstructed phonology: by spinning Jakob Grimm’s fictitious Fairy Tales’ slates, earful factitious meager Books age in spines. On the other hand, should we wish to coherently de-and-re-articulate these dry and brittle bones, we must ex-plicate tactics more modern than the com-plicated blacksmithing by which Heidegger im-plicates Hegel’s Geist, grasps it in the tongs of Descartes’ Cogito, and hammers it flat on the Scholastic anvil of conscientia. How many tools did that take? Just Ask Josef Albers. How many tools will this take? That depends upon our ‘desideratum’ as the philosophers say. Here we shall aim for a concise topological specification by cutting a merciless transverse through historical linguistics, cognitive semantics, neurophysiology, metapsychology, schizoanalysis, narratology, semiotics, economics, mnemonics, phonics, conics. Whatever it takes to break it at the joints.




“It thinks rather badly, but it thinks steadily.”

The bondings of the imagination would not be very significant in themselves if they did not duplicate the powers of thought, for those appearances which bind and obligate the souls of those who are simple-minded, stupid, credulous and superstitious, are derided and condemned as empty shadows by those who have a sober, disciplined and well-bred mind. As a result, all practitioners of magic, medicine and prophecy produce no results without a pre-given faith, and unless they act according to the rules of that faith. (We use the word ‘faith’ here in the more general sense in which it is used by these people, individually and as a group.) This faith arises in some people from their pre-given powers, which are well-disposed and organized, and in others, from a disturbance of their powers.

— Giordano Bruno, 1591


Imaginary effects, far from representing the core of analytic experience, give us nothing of any consistency unless they are related to the symbolic chain that binds and orients them. I am, of course, aware of the importance of imaginary impregnations in the partialization of the symbolic alternative that give the signifying chain its appearance. Nevertheless, I posit that it is the law specific to this chain which governs the psychoanalytic effects that are determinant to the subject—effects such as foreclosure, repression, and negation itself—and I add with the appropriate emphasis that these effects follow the displacement of the signifier so faithfully that imaginary factors, despite their inertia, figure only as shadows and reflections therein.

—Jacques Lacan, 1966

Without unpacking the Bruno in full (for Lacan unpacks his own kit, as it were), he plays a strict four-corners game—a cloverleaf, or a chiasmus—in which (to put it in neo-Kantian terms) the intelligible and the phenomenal recursively contravene fideism and fallibilism—and (to put it in neo-Lacanian terms) he deals up his imaginary face cards through a face-down symbolic dummy. But we should not mistake methodological demystification for self-intervened ventriloquism; “ridiculously affected mannerisms” aside, you are unlikely to find two more humorless jokers.


Let us then assume that, when we are (A) taken as a group of rational adults (read: highfalutin knowitalls), we are of a “sober, disciplined and well-bred mind,” with our “pre-given powers ... well-disposed and organized,” and when we are (B) taken individually, there may arise a “pre-given faith” in some discernible set of rules (indeed any set of rules) to which each individual acts in accord (this is called “custom”). Lacking (B), find the wolf in sheep’s clothing; lacking (A), find the lamb-chop in the lion’s maw. In any case, we assume that we will have discarded the prehistorical hocus-pocus before we raise the ahistorical stakes. Which hocus? Which pocus? Which stakes? While this game may be a cheap kick in the sandbox, not everyone can play by our rules—namely, that you cannot simply table your stakes; rather, you must stake your tables.



The virtual stakes, for example (as in our various metaphorical gambles) can stand here for interrogation of symbolic (arbitrary, linguistic, nominal, codified) schemata, while the actual stakes (as in metonymic witch trials) can stand here for investigation of phenomenological (phantasmic, imaginary, imagistic) vestiges. While we should like to properly distinguish these two registers, orders, or modalities, the combined force of both, as (we suppose that) Bruno and Lacan have made equally clear, is directed at their combination, confusion, and conflation—in sum, their co-operation—or for that matter, given four-corner recirculation, their “co-propriation” (Heidegger). As phonographic animals, we are all bound at one point or another to be held to account for our habits, dispositions, beliefs, or schemas—by name, type, and token—of kind, and in degree—in sum, our categories.


This account is apt to resolve to one of four stances; however, if our stylistic book-keeping constraints are shifted from categorial schematization to categorical proposition, we are forced to choose between two which are both totalitarian insofar as they foreclose discourse from material transformation, thereby sealing its fate. The stance of totalitarian absolutism propounds a doctrinaire literalism that binds our categories to any arbitrarily frozen text (of strictly undecidable translation; see Quine 1960) which, by foreclosing critical thought, reduces symbolizing persons to programmable post-apes. The stance of totalitarian relativism propounds a dogmatic anti-literalism that binds categories to an evolutionarily frozen symbolic structure (by dint of premature birth; see Lacan 1954) which, by foreclosing signified objects from signifying chains, splits symbolic subjects into antonomastic automatons in mute thrall to their own phantasmagoria.


present for all of us and closed to each of us

The former stance we reject out of hand; the latter we shall not reject as such but rather reorient, by pitching the axis mundi across the yawning horizon to the re-solutely sub-totalitarian antipode in order to hold the incomplete schema over the incoherent statement—yet only for a moment—before we unceremoniously slam down the shell to recapture the pea. For despite Quine’s Dogmatic re-Kants of Leibniz’s “containment” as half-witted, we shall shew two half-wits necessary and sufficient to a (w)hole t’wit: When this most durable of formulae for the conceptual conduit is followed out by way of propositional logic, it results either in pathological poverty (“A = A”) or occasionalist parthenogenesis (“all things are in all”); when the notion of containment is abjected to ‘schizoanalysis’, it fractures a three-ring Borromean circus of clockwork clowns juggling wishfully eccentric chainsaws around a stubbornly centric ‘Sinthome’ (where synthetic + symptom + SainThom = ) . . .



Signifiance is never without a white wall upon which it inscribes its signs and redundancies. Subjectification is never without a black hole in which it lodges its consciousness, passion, and redundancies. Since all semiotics are mixed and strata come in at least twos, it should come as no surprise that a very special mechanism is situated at their intersection. Oddly enough, it is a face: the white wall/black hole system. A broad face with white cheeks, a chalk face with eyes cut in for a black hole. Clown head, white clown, moon-white mime, angel of death, Holy Shroud. The face is not an envelope exterior to the person who speaks, thinks, or feels.

—Deleuze and Guattari, 1980

By contrast, when circumscribed by way of cognitive linguistics (e.g., as per George Lakoff or Leonard Talmy), the nominal concept-term CONTAINER is interpreted as a dynamical “image schema”—a conceptual primitive extensible to any transient configuration that presents (or affords, appears, forms, conforms or performs, figures or configures) a variable ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ as obverse subsurfaces that must of necessity be non-total in order to present their composition as a container. In terms of reflexivity (self-reference, etc.), this constraint is at once reflective and refractive, and as such would bash in any ‘holographic’ monad purported to have “no windows” (Leibniz).


So specified, the CONTAINER schema is exactly not a representation, and thus offers a converse (but not inverse) problematic to that of solipsistic representationalism (or “theoretical egotism”). Seeking better definition, rather than speaking of a ‘container’—as the noun would project a substanceless substantive—we might ask how it is that we ‘contain’—as the verb would objectivize a subject. Now that action is interjected, we cut transversally from lexical semantics to philosophy of mind: are we talking about a “kinesthetic image schema” (Mark Johnson) or an “imagistic action schema” (Peter Carruthers)? Or have we recoursed to talking about talking about it? It? What it? Perhaps we’re getting in back of ourselves.




Zeit/Geist Boxring aus Knochen

It is to this object that cannot be grasped in the mirror that the specular image lends its clothes. A substance caught in the net of shadow, and which, robbed of its shadow-swelling volume, holds out once again the tired lure of the shadow as if it were substance.

—Jacques Lacan, 1963


But what is this shadow a low-dimensional projection of? I claim that it is a shadow not of a captive person, but of the cave as a whole. It is the physical organism as a whole, including all of its brain, its cognitive activity, and its social relationships, that is projecting inward, from all directions at the same time, as it were.

—Thomas Metzinger, 2003

Hegel’s Phänomenologie des Geistes (1807) is of course translated into English as either ‘Phenomenology of Mind’ or ‘of Spirit’—chosen ‘indifferently’ so to speak. We can clear the cobwebs in one blow by way of idiom, as in English we use ‘zeitgeist’ to mean “spirit of the age” or “spirit of the times” (cf. Heidegger 1927: Ger. Sein und Zeit to Eng. Being and Time). This would be a metaphor, an idiomatic usage which cannot in all seriousness be reframed as supernatural. Or can it? To what, exactly, does it refer? If amphibious bean-counter Alan Greenspan recaptured the zeitgeist of late-’90s recannibalistic recapitalization in his net-net of “irrational exuberance” then we are haunting hollow grounds indeed.


But our immediate translation problem (as it were) is Hegelian in more ways than one: the English reflex/cognate term for ‘geist’ is ‘ghost’—thus, we could just as well translate the Hegel as Phenomenology of Ghost. Funny? Sort of. From this same ambivalent etymon, find our similarly indifferent usages of ‘Holy Spirit’ and ‘Holy Ghost’—a vernacular speciality which we may somewhat less indifferently take to refer either (A), in polite politic terms, by way of doctrinal schematization, to: the Third Person of the Christian Trinity—or (B), in impolite sociopolitical terms, by way of dogmatic psycholinguistics, to: any hypostatic abstraction nominated by any community of believers in aggregate.


Or better, for “nominated” read evoked, in the sense of ‘spirit’ as breath (cf. Lat. noun spiritus ‘soul, breath’ to verb spirare ‘breathe’ from PIE *(s)peis- ‘blow’), in contrast to disembodied personage—just as Eng. inspire/inspiration and aspire/aspiration parallel Skt. prana and Gk. pneuma, as in Eng. pneumatic. Or are we simply blowing smoke? Heads or tales—call it in the rarified air: Kierkegaard or Shopenhauer? Churchmouse or Storehouse? Wardens warrantee guarded yards; gardens guarantee warded wares. Avaricious verses revere rewards; veered averse, aware avers reverse. So much for ‘unattested’ philology.



For those of you keeping score, this (A/B) coin-toss is something of a ruse that would allow us to stake plastic tokens in the place of worn coinage—for it is solely by the mechanism of (B) that we can rationally account for our use of ‘zeitgeist’ qua the “irrational exuberance” (meaning, in particular, religious hysteria—to which, compare ‘enthusiasm’) of a community of speculative investors—or, a community of over-extended would-be middle-class home-buyers—or, a community of Wall-Street brass-caballs no-stakes shills.


To put it another way, this rhetorical maneuver is a formalism by which (ahem) ‘one’ could instate, for example, “late-’90s-venture-capitalists-in-aggregate” as a surrogate semblable for hysterical collectivities in general—but in such a way that one avoids needlessly skewering sacred cows, golden geese, lambs, lions, tigers, bears, wizards of oz, blue fairies, perfidious pirates and other perennially perforated personages. Despite baroque whimsey, the foregoing should be sufficient to our prior Who’s-Who charge of hoo-hah double-bookkeeping (that spanned the ‘Age of Reason’ to the ‘Enlightenment’), insofar as what of late we puff up as ‘the mind’ is none other than ‘the spirit’ in a freshly-starched, hypostatically-charged sheet. But just try to fly that tragicomical Jolly Roger up your local crow’s nest and see how long he flaps and grins before your boots get boardwalked up the nearest plank.

HAMLET: There’s another: why may not that be the skull of a lawyer? Where be his quiddits now, his quillets, his cases, his tenures, and his tricks? Why does he suffer this rude knave now to knock him about the sconce with a dirty shovel, and will not tell him of his action of battery? Humph! This fellow might be in’s time a great buyer of land, with his statutes, his recognizances, his fines, his double vouchers, his recoveries: is this the fine of his fines, and the recovery of his recoveries, to have his fine pate full of fine dirt? Will his vouchers vouch him no more of his purchases, and double ones too, than the length and breadth of a pair of indentures? The very conveyances of his lands will hardly lie in this box; and must the inheritor himself have no more, ha?


HORATIO: Not a jot more, my lord.

Well, that nearly acquits the quintessence of dust. Irrespective of personal foibles and windmill-tilts, we (civilized persons) would do well to firm up an empirically legitimate flesh-and-blood basis for formally reckoning the parameters requisite to constitute an ‘ent-ity’ of individual ‘Zeit-and-Geist’ personhood—that is, as demonstrably distinct and juridically discernible from nominal smoke-and-mirrors corporation—or again: the nomination of “corporate personhood” is as legitimate for Spiritus Sancti as Sam Seelig’s Safeway Inc(orporated). As such, we should not be discouraged by the even odds of this (apo)phatic argument ‘be-ing’ the same ‘ex-istent’ (cata)basis on which we woulda if we coulda if we shoulda legitimately discerned Pythagoras from Odin and Thumbelina, lo, so many boo-hoos ago.


Yes—on the one hand, this may sound like we’re suggesting a Habermasian procedural; but, no—on the other hand, in the 21st-century USA, “substantive ethical ideas” have not simply “infiltrate[d] the interpretation and practice of the formal regulations” but have risen to hegemonic dominance as a “generally binding political culture” in a form and fashion properly incomprehensible to anyone who has not witnessed its perfusion firsthand—just as, conversely, as American civilians we cannot hope to comprehend the true costs of war as can, e.g., European civilians. Nevertheless, should we wish to compare apples and oranges in terms of a hypethetico-deductive empirico-rationalism, we would meet little resistance, both nominal entities being veritably edible and approximately fist-sized in type, if variously sweet and sour in token. Should we evaluate them in terms of an allegorized cultural relativism, we would meet a Swedenborgian knuckle sandwich from a punch-drunk Johnny Appleseed. “God Bless America!” Which one? Which one what—? Or, which one what?


An economist and a theologian walk into a punch line.


The eo ipso plurality of our United States, if we must resort to repetition, entails our ipso facto pluralism—it does not warrant the late imposition of, for all intents and purposes, a perversely polytheistic Paganism purported under post-protestant decoys. If we must resort to repetition, “[Habermas:] the essential moral content of the constitutional principles is secured through procedures that owe their legitimizing power to the fact that they guarantee impartiality and the equal consideration of the interests of all.” Indeed they do—but which interests? Social? Economic? Socioeconomic? Psychical? Linguistic? Psycholinguistic? Ontic? Ontological? Onticological? Taxonomic? Nominal? Metaxonominal?


Today, should you wish to be elected to public office in the US, you must proclaim to have submitted yourself, in effect, to an orchestrated psychotic break through which the voices in your head were (and are) controllably convoked through trance induction in order to bind normative constraints to an oligarchical dictate. To put it another way, you must proclaim to have received (and to receive) your authorization to govern not from the constitutional principles hammered out by Adams et alii, but from the mythopoeic mandates of Odin et hoc genus omne. Well, we can no more parry lightning with hammers than capture smoke with sweaters. Nevertheless, as Olafur Eliasson de-monstrates (and by which we pit one Norseman against another), given the right light, the receptive eye, and the bundle of dispositions to disbelief, we can dispel Black Boxes with little more than illuminated fog.



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