I doubt I’ll get much of a response to this post, but here goes. Suppose you were designing a polis or city. What would your ideal city be like? In particular, what sorts of entities, human and nonhuman, would populate your city. Most importantly, what would be the mission and prime directives of your ideal city? What sorts of things would your city seek to guarantee and accomplish for its citizens, both human and nonhuman.
Aside from potentially being an interesting thought experiment, these questions are inspired by Exemplaria Symposium entitled “Surface, Symptom and the State of Critique”. On the one hand, I’m interested to see how people react to the very posing of the question. I get the sense that many, myself included, become very shy and uncomfortable when asked to make positive proposals and to “existentially own” a particular set of commitments (i.e., to be responsible for a commitment). What might this unease be a symptom of and what historical circumstances– assuming that this affect is a historical phenomena –might have lead to this hesitation?
On the other hand, I get the sense that while critique is a vital enterprise not to be abandoned– as Deleuze remarks in Nietzsche & Philosophy, “philosophy is nothing without critique –it seems as if there are significant problems with the project of critique where the project of producing social change is concerned. First, it seems that critique somehow ends up parasitically attaching us to that which we critique. Like the hysteric that requires his castrated master to sustain his desire, critique seems to require that which it attacks to sustain the existence and identity of the critique. How might this phenomenon of the beautiful soul– if that’s indeed the appropriate figure in Hegel –be overcome so that we we might get beyond the moment of destruction. Second, critique is skilled at tearing things down, yet once it has done so it seems ineffectual in replacing what it has torn down with something else. How might the project of critique overcome its constructive ineffectivity? Finally, third, critique often leads to a sense of paralysis as in the case of the radical pessimism of Adorno? In and through the critical enterprise we often become so overwhelmed by the mechanisms of power that we see functioning everywhere and that we discern as always recouping that which tries to escape that we come to feel as if no escape is possible whatsoever. Paradoxically, where we begin, de facto, in the project of critique from a stance that is unfree like Plato’s prisoners in the cave but that believes itself to be free, we end in a state that believes itself to be completely unfree, that believes itself to be completely dominated by power, and that therefore comes to believe that it is futile to act. How might we escape this overwhelming sense of impotence, pessimism, and powerlessness, that the critical enterprise seems to produce? How might we escape the sickness of critical paranoia where we come to believe that the gaze of the Other has everywhere already won? As I’ve argued elsewhere, critique is a necessary and indispensable moment of the practice of terraism, yet critique alone seems insufficient. We need construction as well. Might not construction be rendered possible through the development of a clear mission as to what the polis is supposed to accomplish and guarantee? Doesn’t this sense of what ought to be provide the telos that allows us to begin building?