notes & questions for sept. 20

The basic question for this set of readings is:  how do they relate to one another?  they all discuss variations on the theme of reification, enlightenment and commodification, which is basically to say the normative establishment of an abstract and impersonal, rationalizing and objectifying matrix through which experience is made to flow in order to be recognized as such.  What does each author call the cause of this, what kind of harm does each attribute to it, and what if any solution/remediation does each allow for or propose?  Who do you find most compelling and why?

Dialectic of Enlightenment

Why do Adorno/Horkheimer claim that “the only kind of thinking that is sufficiently hard to shatter myths is ultimately self-destructive” (4), and “men pay for the increase of their power with alienation from that over which they exercise their power.  Enlightenment behaves toward things as a dictator toward men.  He knows them only insofar as he can manipulate them” (9)?

The key question raised by this selection I think is how precisely to distinguish what the authors call “primitive, magical mimesis” from “enlightenment.”  Both practices involve representation and substitution (10) in more or less instrumental pursuit of some aim (11), so why does magic lack the self-destructive and totalitarian effects of enlightenment?

Without telling you how to interpret it let me just say that, in respect to the preceding question and others, I find this one of the most evocative passages of this book:  “The shaman’s rites were directed to the wind, the rain, the serpent without, or the demon in the sick man, but not to materials or specimens.  Magic was not ordered by one, identical spirit:  it changed like the cultic masks which were supposed to accord with the various spirits….The magician never interprets himself as the image of the invisible power; yet this is the very image in which man attains to the identity of self that cannot disappear through identification with another, but take possession of itself once and for all as an impenetrable mask.  It is the identity of the spirit and its correlate, the unity of nature, to which the multiplicity of qualities falls victim.  Disqualified nature becomes the chaotic matter of mere possession–abstract identity” (9-10).

Also consider the famous analysis of the story of Odysseus and the sirens from later in the book:  “The deception in sacrifice is the prototype of Odyssean cunning [that is, the kind of practical cunning that defines Odysseus’s heroism is nothing categorically new but merely an extension of the deception involved in the most primitive sacrificial rituals]….All human sacrifices, when systematically executed, deceive the god to whom they are made:  they subject him to the primacy of human ends, and dissolve his power; and the deception of the god carries over smoothly into that practiced by the disbelieving priests on the believers.  Deceit has its origin in the cult.”  BUT, Adorno/Horkheimer continue, what makes Odysseus crucially new and effectively the founding father of enlightenment is the way in which, in the sirens episode, he “acts as sacrifice and priest at one and the same time.  By calculating his own sacrifice, he effectively negates the power to whom the sacrifice is made” (50).  This is new because Odysseus dispenses altogether with the mimetic element:  the power to whom the sacrifice is made–“the wind and the rain, the demon in the sick man, the serpent without,” etc.–for Odysseus these do not represent overwhelming powers that he could only hope to influence by, like the shaman, magically imitating them; rather his relation to the power of the sirens is entirely calculating and instrumental.  He could arrive at his strategy of tying himself to the mast only by considering the power of the sirens and his body’s susceptibility to that power in an entirely cold, calculating and instrumental way.  He doesn’t relate to that power, or even to his own body, like the shaman by theatrically mimicking it but, like the scientist or dictator, by calculating and manipulating it.  Odysseus’s heroic cunning exults the capacity to abstract oneself entirely from embodied, sensual experience, and consider it from what has been termed the objective, instrumental, scientific/totalitarian “view from nowhere.”


Honneth also uses this basic picture of a detached, alienated because self-instrumentalizing, perspective to define reification (24-5).  Honneth’s argument however is that “refication doesn’t represent a false form of habitualized praxis, but a false interpretive habit with reference to a ‘correct’ form of praxis that is always given in an an at least rudimentary fashion’ (32-3), a “modus of existential engagement, of ‘caring,’ through which they disclose a meaningful world” (32).


In “Marx, Freud:  the analysis of form,” zizek again picks up the appearance/essence problem we discussed last time, noting that in the case of both Marxian analysis of commodity fetishism and Freudian dream analysis “the point is to avoid the properly fetishistic fascination of the ‘content’ supposedly hidden behind the form,” instead zizek says, the secret is “the form itself” from which the fascination with content distracts us (3).

Here Zizek argues that, in the case of the Freudian unconscious and the commodity fetish alike, the secret of their form is what he calls “real abstraction.”  By this term he means to emphasize two things at once:  first the term describes the form of capitalist economy whereby two discrete object become equivalent and completely exchangeable insofar as they have the same price.  This price, the reduction of a qualitatively discrete object to an quantifiable value, is what Zizek means by “abstraction” (cf. Adorno/Horkheimer:  “Bourgeois society is ruled by equivalence.  It makes the dissimilar comparable by reducing it to abstract quantities” (7)).  This is clearly also central to Honneth’s notion of reification.  Perhaps in contrast to Honneth, however, Zizek secondly wants to insist that this abstraction is nonetheless as real as can be; not a distortion of a more fundamental reality but fundamental reality itself.  The abstraction of exchange value is, as I wrote in the previous post about the abstractions of concepts generally, the lens through which the world as such becomes available to us in the first place.  And likewise the fantasy of connecting with a world prior to or beyond exchange value (e.g. in terms of a dream’s autonomous “latent thought,” or the autonomous value of “labor power”) is not only impossible but also a fantasy that is generated by capitalism itself.

Hence what Zizek discusses as the “scandal” of philosophy (14):  i.e., the fact that philosophy’s pursuit of autonomous critical reflection, which it defines in terms of rational coherence, is not autonomous at all but derivative of “the real abstraction” of capitalism, an attempt culturally to imitate and appropriate the form of value as determined by concrete reality.  The same holds for the rational autonomy pursued by the Freudian ego.  The form of autonomy pursued by the philosopher is, like that pursued by any self, no autonomy at all but instead an attempt to emulate an object, a fetishizing the commodity form.

Zizek illustrates the pivotal effect of commodity fetishism by contrasting social relations under capitalism and under feudalism.  Whereas under feudalism relations are defined in terms domination and servitude, under capitalism domination and servitude persist but not in the relations among people:  relations among people are defined in terms of universal freedom and equality.  Where domination and servitude are expressed instead is in the displaced form of the relations among things, namely commodities.  The fact that our social relations play out as relations among things Zizek attributes to a mass “hysteria:”  we hysterically project our desires and identities onto fetishized objects which now serve as our surrogates.  Under feudalism the relations of domination and servitude determined the official, symbolic (or ‘rational’) order of social value and identity; by contrast, under capitalism domination and servitude have instead assumed the status of a pathological symptom, what emerges in defiance and disruption of the official order of rationality and value.  Our commodities vicariously live out the dangerous dramas of domination and servitude for us which our innocuously free and equal existences can no longer tolerate.

This makes us sound like mini-Odyseusses, calculating and administering our lives via our possessions instead of actually living.  But would this Odyssean picture be compatible with what Zizek says about hysteria?  Odysseus seems transcendently self-controlling not hysterical.  Are these incompatible accounts or somehow two sides of the same coin?


Part of the reason the first sentence of P&P is one of the most famous in English literature is surely that it combines two of Austen’s signature features:  her ironic form of expression and a content centered on economics (i.e., property and income).  How do you understand the relation between this particular form and content?  is the playful irony meant to mask the ugly underlying economic reality?  or is there another way to explain this dynamic?  for instance, although Austen’s emphatic contrast of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet seems so clearly to place the former on an altogether different plane of wit, sophistication, moral circumspection and general admirability, does he not actually share some of Mrs. Bennet’s mechanical predictability?  is his wit, for all its supposed thoughtfulness, ultimately no less prescribed and reified than Mrs. Bennet’s naked thoughtlessness?  and if Austen encourages or allows us to entertain such suspicions of Mr. Bennet’s wit than wouldn’t such suspicion apply to the wit also of the narrator? for instance doesn’t Austen offer something like a mocking caricature of her novel itself–its whole account of Lizzy’s distinctive, class-transcending heroism–in Mr. Bennet’s joke about “throwing in a good word [to Mr. Bingley] for my little Lizzy” (4)?  what is P&P if not such a good word writ large?

Building on this same question of the relation of form and content, what can you say about the grammar of the sentence introducing Mr Darcy?  “His brother-in-law, Mr. Hurst, merely looked the gentleman; but his friend Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien; and the report which was in general circulation with five minutes after his entrance, of his having ten thousand a year” (7f).  And how exactly does FID function in the subsequent sentence?  Why do you suppose the admiration is directly reported and the disgust indirectly mimicked?

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to notes & questions for sept. 20

  1. Aron Rosenberg: says:

    As to the transition from some other mode of perception into our current one:
    Plate 11: Marriage of Heaven and Hell (Blake):

    “The ancient Poets animated all sensible objects with Gods or Geniuses, calling them by the names and adorning them with the properties of woods, rivers, mountains, lakes, cities, nations, and whatever their ENLARGED & NUMEROUS SENSES could percieve.

    And particularly they studied the genius of each city & country, placing it under its mental deity.

    Till a system was formed, which some took advantage of & enslav’d the vulgar by ATTEMPTING TO REALIZE OR ABSTRACT THE MENTAL DEITIES FROM THEIR OBJECTS…”

    As to the transition from our current limited mode of perception into a more essential and luscious one:
    Plate 14: Marriage of Heaven and Hell (Blake):

    “The ancient tradition that the world will be consumed in fire at the end of six thousand years is true, as I have heard from Hell.
    For the cherub with his flaming sword is hereby commanded to leave his guard at the tree of life, and when he does, the whole creation will be consumed and appear infinite and holy whereas it now appears finite & corrupt.
    This will come to pass by an improvement of sensual enjoyment.
    BUT FIRST THE NOTION THAT MAN HAS A BODY DISTINCT FROM HIS SOUL IS TO BE EXPUNGED: this I shall do, by printing in the infernal method, by corrosives, which in Hell are salutary and medicinal, melting apparent surfaces away, and displaying the infinite which was hid.
    If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.
    For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narow chinks of his cavern.”

    The readings for Monday’s class discuss, as Professor Earle stated, “the normative establishment of an abstract and impersonal, rationalizing and objectifying matrix through which experience is made to flow in order to be recognized as such.” In Honneth’s piece he compares this type of matrix through which experience is made to flow with “a more primordial and genuine form of praxis, in which humans take up an empathetic and engaged relationship toward themselves and their surroundings.”

    In his article on Oral, Ritual, and Shamanic Performance, Phillip Zarrilli discusses the differences between a culture with writing, and a “primarily oral” one that doesn’t have written language:
    “For people within primary oral cultures, there is no differentiation between a thought and the words which express it. Saying something is intending something…The very materiality of written words historically encouraged the development of a distinction between what is written and the ideas the words represent.”

    Considering now Adorno/Horkheimer’s claim that “men pay for the increase of their power with alienation from that over which they exercise their power,” (9) it seems like the issue lies, as Zizek attempts to convince, not in the content of the power relationship (that is, not in the who/what of the powerful or the overpowered) but in the form of the relationship between the powerful and that over which they exercise power. As cultures that feature written language add an extra step in the mediation between a thing or a thought and its representation, the understanding of that relationship has an extra step in which to be confused or misunderstood, especially since this mode of thinking prioritizes rationality over sensual enjoyment. (consider Blake’s representation of humans with enlarged sensing abilities in what Honneth describes at the more primordial and genuine praxis.)

    To establish a more genuine praxis one must acknowledge the nuances of the forms of representation. As Honneth asserts, “refication doesn’t represent a false form of habitualized praxis, but a false interpretive habit with reference to a ‘correct’ form of praxis that is always given in an an at least rudimentary fashion’ (32-3) Zizek furthers this claim saying that “this abstraction is nonetheless as real as can be; not a distortion of a more fundamental reality but fundamental reality itself.” The essential (for lack of a better word) difference in the world conceived through the primordial and contemporary ways of knowing is non-existent. The perceived difference is based solely on our understanding of representations which is, nonetheless, a very intricate understanding to unravel. Could this be seen as kin to Blake’s emphasis on the sameness or oneness of body and soul. How we manage to perceive the world, regardless of the world’s content, is based both on our rational perception of its value as a commodity and our personal perception of its uniqueness. Are these two things inextricably tied up in one another?

    Also, did anyone else read the “fearful symmetry” in Blake’s poem as a cautionary comment on the potential perils of mismanaged magical mimesis?

  2. Lauren Weatherdon says:

    The intellectualization of our surroundings, as described by Honneth and Adorno/Horkheimer, reminds me partly of some of the arguments in Brian Fawcett’s “Cambodia: A Book For People Who Find Television Too Slow.” Fawcett claims that

    “Economics and culture are again collapsing into one another, and artistic forms are being challenged to either account for their existence on a functional basis, or to disappear. . . [A]n electronically technologized civilization that encourages ignorance is involved, one in which human motivations are as easily manufactured as a mousetrap. Citizens and artists alike are the mice.” (Fawcett 50)

    This is significant for two reasons: firstly, the emphasis on economics and the prioritization of functionality illustrates the rational manner which we have come to (or at least attempt to) use to interpret and barter with our world. Secondly, Fawcett recognizes that modern society has embraced a technological dogma that reduces men to mere mechanical, recyclable commodities. This reductionism that emerges as a reaction to a commodity-oriented, capitalist society results in a praxis which permeates not only the economic sphere, but also the overall constitution of humanity and the way in which man negotiates the world around him. Truly, as Fawcett argues, “Economics and culture are . . . collapsing into one another.” To refer back to Rousseau’s discussion of egotism, mankind has not only found itself in a condition where it “only knows how to live in the opinion of others” (Origin of Inequality), but one in which individuals feel that it is necessary to market themselves as commodities which are exchangeable for something of equal value. This, of course, is a fundamental aspect—a necessary aspect—in a capitalist society.

    In Pride and Prejudice [despite the lack of technology, mind], the concept of men (and women!) as commodities is evidently demonstrated. In fact, since Jane Austen’s novels revolve around the marriage plot, it is arguably the predominant theme [I recognize that much of her work is wittily ironic, if not satirical]. Mrs. Bennet is indicative of this economic focus, and her “mechanical predictability” speaks to the fact that nothing else is on her mind other than social status and fitting her daughters into an economic puzzle. While I don’t agree with match-making according to income and status (with complete disregard for emotional preference), it is, in many ways, a reality still. Perhaps the idea of reification isn’t as shocking as it is made out to be…. or I have become so accustomed to the reality of the idea that the shock has worn off. That said, there is a stark difference between a world where people are commodities ‘with feelings,’ and a world where we become objects possessing only commercial value–as Honneth indicates.

    Finally, I just want to say that the video interpretation of Blake’s poem is stellar. I love it, and I do agree that the creative act itself is of foremost importance, with the tiger taking a secondary—yet essential—role…

  3. Carmel Ohman says:

    Aron said, “To establish a more genuine praxis one must acknowledge the nuances of the forms of representation.” But as we set about observing and mentally dissecting the forms of representation, are we not further alienating a more genuine praxis? Dialectical discussion is a product of our current mode of perception, a mode which capitalizes on the “abstract and impersonal.” Are we not engaged in reification as we speak, as a “multiplicity of forms is reduced to position and arrangement, history to fact, things to matter” (Horkheimer & Adorno 7)? Of course, there may be a significant difference, as noted by Honneth, between detached observation and recognition. Perhaps active empathy can exist within the act of recognition, where only a suppressed, hidden form of empathy can exist within the act of detached observation.

    At the risk of perpetuating a cycle of detached observation and stifled empathy, and while I realize that this parallel can go without saying, I’m curious to discuss this online conversation as a microcosm to the modern world as a whole, and to liken our interaction to that described in Marx’s “Fetishism of Commodities.” Marx claims that our interaction as commodities is evidence of our value, value which, by definition, demands social exchange. In the context of our online discussion, how would you (meaning anybody) respond to the statement: “In the eyes of each other we are nothing but exchange values” (Marx Section 4)?

    If I understand the concept of reification correctly, it seems to me that it occurs on a few different levels in both the film “Tyger” and the Blake poem that inspired it. On a basic level in the original poem, the indeterminate concepts of Good and Evil (and Heaven and Hell) are embodied in the Lamb and the Tyger respectively. On another level, Good and Evil are concretized within the Tyger itself, whose “fearful symmetry” could be interpreted as tension between sublime beauty and diabolic power. While the Tyger’s capacity for destruction and evil may be the most obvious, its striking appearance, combined with the power of agitation it has over the human characters in the film, is evidence of its sublimity. Like Rhiannon (in her comment on the “Tyger” video page), I’m inclined to see fetishizing and reification in the humans’ actions prior to the passing of the tyger, and to see the characters’ “return to nature” as a central concept in the film. In my mind, the facility with which the characters revert to primitive forms and behaviours underlined the human potential for savagery that bubbles just beneath the surface of civilization.

    In response to the comment made by on the “Tyger” video page … it’s true that the Tyger’s status as an evil killing-machine is not explicitly stated in the poem or film, but it is strongly implied by the events leading up to the poem’s composition in 1794, namely the events characterizing the Reign of Terror. An association with savagery and evil is also underlined by the appearance of the word “Viking” toward the beginning of the film. The word immediately calls up images of senseless violence, rape, and pillaging, however stereotypical these associations may be. The film’s creator must have been aware of the implications of this word and included it with the express purpose of inciting feelings of unease and terror in viewers, and with the express purpose of implying violence. Also, if the filmmaker took the poem’s original social context into account in the realization of his film, which I have a strong feeling he did, it’s possible that the phrase “Looping star” comments on human history’s tendency to repeat itself.

    As an aside, I also think that Blake’s “The Tyger” is a good example of the poetics of negation, in that he invokes discomfort and even fear in the reader by failing to provide answers to the questions he’s asking. What he doesn’t tell us is, therefore, more significant than what he does.

  4. Mandy Woo says:

    If “[i]n the eyes of each other we are nothing but exchange values” (Marx Section 4), then we view social exchanges in terms of debt and indebtedness, that is, what do we ‘owe’ other people and what do others ‘owe’ us. Blake addresses this “ontology” of the “habit, which has become second nature, of conceiving one’s relationship to oneself and one’s surroundings as an activity of neural cognition of objective circumstances” (Honneth 33) in “The Lamb” with the repetition of “who made thee” (Blake lines 1, 2, 9, 10). The framing of the first stanza with these lines point out that “objectiv[ity]” or removal of one’s emotions is “second[ary]” (Honneth 33) to “affirmation and emotional inclination” (35), which exists outside of the “objective” (33) frame. But to hold both of these views simultaneously and “reciprocally taking up the role of a second person” (35), there needs to be an obliteration of uniqueness, which Blake addresses through mimetic indirect speech: “He is called by thy name,/ For He calls Himself a Lamb […] We are called by His name” (Blake 13-18).

  5. Vladimir Cristache says:

    In the chapter from his book “Reification,” Axel Honneth seems to be putting forward a very odd (in the sense of not being philosophically subtle) dichotomy between “reification” on the one hand and “recognition” on the other. The difference here is between abstraction on the one hand and attention to particularity on the other, treating people like objects and treating them like subjects (to the point of even treating objects like subjects). [1] Not only does he make the mistake of putting forward such a simple opposition (and, of course, I have already “reified” it, made it more simple than he would say it is) but also holds that “recognition” came first. Here we have to follow Professor Earle’s own note on page 27 and maintain that Honneth’s argument sounds very much like the Fall of Adam and Eve from Edenic bliss. That is, the fall from “recognition” to “reification.” Therefore Honneth attempts to ground his “recognition” in the fallacy that there really exists a “nature” that is harmonious, and that in order to get away from the horror that is capitalism (and I am by no means denying that capitalism isn’t horrible) we have to return to this “nature.” So, from the very beginning, in the very structure of Honneth’s argument, we have two problems: 1. The positing of a simple opposition, 2. A fallacy from “nature.” [2]

    This simple dichotomy or opposition between “reification” and “recognition” shouldn’t be new to us since it is analogous to de Bolla’s opposition between determinate judgement and reflective judgement. De Bolla, like Honneth, also wanted to escape the dominance of determinate judgement (reification) in favour of “special encounters with art” (35) of an “affective experience” (32) which he allies with reflective judgement (recognition). [3] The importance of this analogy is that it ties the more political argument of reification/recognition back to aesthetics and the concept of the sublime, but I will come back to this as soon as I’ve explored the problems with the initial dichotomy to exhaustion.

    Despite the structural mistakes in Honneth’s chapter, he nevertheless has a brilliant insight, one that he unfortunately doesn’t hold to in his overall argument. This insight is the realization that for Lukacs reification “does not designate a mere epistemic category mistake … this shift in attitude [from “recognition” to “reification”] reaches far too deep into our habits and modes of behaviour for it to be able to be simply reversed by making a corresponding cognitive correction” (Honneth 25). This insight is the classically Marxist one: commodity-exchange (the base) creates an ideology, a way of thinking for those in a capitalist system (superstructure). Anything we think is already stuck within the parameters of our commodity-exchange, therefore my attempt, for example, to escape abstract thinking (reification) is itself already an abstraction. In other words, I’m caught in the closed-loop of “reifying reification.” Here we find the refutation of Honneth’s own dichotomy: “recognition” is already a form of reification.

    In this short passage we’re shown that the very attempt to step back (from reification) is constitutive of capitalism. Jane Austen seems to have realized all of this two hundred years ago when she began Pride and Prejudice. As Professor Earle mentioned, there’s something wrong with Mr. Bennet’s wit. Indeed initially we have the idea that he is a man who can step back from convention (the symbolic order): when his wife asks, “Do you want to know who has taken [Netherfield Park]?” he sees through her question and tells her that “You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it.” Despite his apparent distance, Mr. Bennet nevertheless still performs the conventions for Mrs. Bennet a bit lower down the page: “What’s his name?” “Is he single?” And, as we learn later, he visits Mr. Bingley just as his wife asks. His distance from the symbolic order is therefore nothing more than the mutterings of a man who’s unhappy to do the tasks that’s been given to him (by the symbolic order). But he nevertheless does it.

    Going back to Honneth’s idea of “recognition” (or what I have called “reifying reification”), we can connect this to Zizek’s argument about the shift from pre-capitalist to capitalist societies. A pre-capitalist society, in his view, practices fetishism (a term used in a very similar way to “reification” in this chapter by Zizek) on the level of “relations between men” but lacks all commodity fetishism. In capitalist societies the reverse is the case. The point is that for Zizek the difference between the two is one of “displacement,” and we can hold on to the same term for the difference between “reification” and “recognition” for Honneth: “reification” or “fetishism” is merely displaced in the switch between pre-capitalist societies and capitalist societies. What this term, displacement, denotes is that “reification” and “recognition,” or pre-capitalist fetishism and capitalist fetishism, are two sides of the same coin. To hold to my previous analogy, I can say the same thing about de Bolla’s dichotomy of determinate and reflective judgement. In fact, just as we can find a point that undoes Honneth’s argument in Honneth’s own paper (this point being his insight pertaining to Lukacs), so we can find the same thing in de Bolla’s paper: the two faces of the Kantian sublime. De Bolla himself posits that Kant splits up his concept of the sublime between “mathematical” and “dynamical.” Are these two types of sublime not analogous to the two types of aesthetic judgement discussed so far? And to go even further: are not all the dichotomies we’ve drawn so far mere derivations from the ultimate dichotomy: that of the Sublime? [4]

    However, the implicit critique of Honneth by Zizek doesn’t stop merely at pointing out something that Honneth (and Austen, and Kant) already knew: that reification is a closed-loop. What should truly shock us is that Zizek is basically claiming that capitalist societies use “recognition” as their form of reification, and that the use of “reification” proper (fetishism in “relations between men”) is actually typical of pre-capitalist societies. In other words, although we may perceive Honneth to be a Frankfurt School Marxist, fighting against the alienating effects of capitalism, he is in fact putting forward precisely the illusion that allows capitalism to function (that of the possibility of “recognition”). A question I would put forward is: why does Honneth commit this misrecognition in the first place? Is such a mistake implicit in any attempt at a “solution” or “escape,” and if so, is our only choice that between different shades of negativity?

    1. Zizek points out how, in a literal (etymological) sense, a “subject” is someone we’ve subjected, and an “object” is something that strikes us, has an effect on us, blocks us from functioning properly, therefore reversing the traditional relationship between subject and object, where the former was regarded more highly.
    2. We must note that there is a certain arrogance in Honneth trying to argue for “recognition” in the first place. If we hold to Honneth’s “recognition” then we can’t criticize his argument in the first place: whatever interpretation we would have of it would already “reify” his argument. In order to “recognize” him we would have to assume that we’re the ones in the wrong if we think that there are contradictions in Honneth’s argument. This arrogance is not particular to Honneth; almost all philosophers practice it. We only have to think of Plato and his philosopher-king, or (a more recent example) Badiou and his Event (he implicitly believes his own philosophy to be the Event that we must maintain fidelity to).
    3. Perhaps we can also argue that Adorno and Horkheimer’s dichotomy between “Enlightenment” and “primitive, magical mimesis” is analogous to the reification/recognition dichotomy.
    4. Zizek discusses the two types of sublime at length in his Tarrying with the Negative. It’s interesting to note that he can never make up his mind as to whether he’s dealing with two different antinomies based on Kant’s earlier (from the Critique of Pure Reason) mathematical antinomy and dynamical antinomy, or whether the sublime itself is an antimony. Perhaps it is a meta-antimony (an antimony made up of two antinomies)?

  6. Madeline Fuchs says:

    Lauren – I definitely agree with your argument. I believe the subject of “commodification” is a prevalent one in many of our readings this week – but also in many works of literature as well. Simply to further your argument, I would like to add…

    In the Zizek reading we can see that economics apply more to our individual lives more than we may let on. Zizek’s comparison of Freud’s analysis of dreams to that of Marx’s analysis of the ‘secret of commodity-form’ is almost identical (page 7). Zizek presents the two theorists’ ideas in two part – using similar language – ultimately proving that something as personal and individual (and psychological!) as our dreams and their meanings can be addressed in the same form we use for political economy and commodification. Zizek continues this theme by addressing Marx, and how his analysis of commodity-form, something that “concerns a purely economic question” has “fascinated generations of philosophers, sociologists, art historians, and others” (page 9). I think it’s safe to argue that the field of economics and politics have transcended their own and influenced many other areas.

    As well, to further agree and argue that commodification has inserted itself in literature, it is vital to look at Pride and Prejudice. Austen undoubtedly addresses the subject of economy in her novel, with a large focus on wealth and social standing. This is evident in the grammatical choice of line that Professor Earle addresses describing Mr. Darcy for the first time. By placing the subject “of his having ten thousand a year” at the end of the sentence, Austen is emphasizing the most important thing to remember about him – or rather the narrator – is his yearly income. We often find in the diegetic description of Austen’s novels, subtle emphasis on this notion of wealth. In her novel, Northanger Abbey, we also see Austen spending a quality of time describing the clothing and appearance of many of the characters, as well as inserting itself in the dialogue of the main character, Catherine.

    This idea of commodificiation and self worth can also be seen in Blake’s poems that were assigned for this week. Although it may be a stretch to read it in this sense, it is possible to point out Blake’s emphasis on the creator in both poems. Although these are poems with theological themes, there is still an attention drawn to the subject of money and social class. In “The Tyger,” Blake describes the creator as type of a “blacksmith,” including details of his hammer, chain, furnace and anvil. This presence in Blake’s poem suggests that identity is often defined by what we do, and how much we are worth. (sad – I know)

  7. Rhiannon Gascoigne says:

    Hey Carmel– sorry myotherleft is me– I dunno how that happened.

    I think you are absolutely right about the harrowing implications of the Tyger– he is certainly threatening, and completely transforms– one may say “destroys”– the way of life as the human characters know it. Adorno and Horkheimer refer particularly to the self-destructive nature of enlightenment. SO I suppose I am suggesting that the Tyger represents a sort of enlightenment, but the change it brings about is violent and destructive in nature. However it is important to note that it also brings new and animated life.

    I also agree with your initial interpretation of the word “Viking”–it certainly recalls images of violence and destruction. But I am not certain the film applies these images to the Tyger. The Vikings were famous for treating people like objects– for raping and pillaging and basically consuming people–you might say they are famous for reification. And the humans in the film are basically doing the same, just in different ways. They are behaving like mindless consumers.

    It is also interesting to note that the words “Viking” and “Looping Star” are up in lights–not at all abstract, whereas the house of horrors, from behind which the Tyger emerges, is in shadow and the sign is barely visible–like the 3 puppeteers. So I think that the flashing words belong to the reifying consumerist world BEFORE the Tyger transforms it.

    Re: Madeline’s comment– I probably ought to have said “creatures” or “animals” instead of “beasts”– less of a negative connotation. But yes fear of the Tyger is a part of it I think. Though the animals looked anything but afraid to me. There is definitely an element of liberation in what occurs when they encounter the Tyger and fear is not liberating. I would suggest that it is quite the opposite. But the concept of the Tyger and what he represents–the sublime? enlightenment?–is powerful and frightening. Perhaps we as the audience perceive that power in our focus on the Tyger and what is fearful about it is that we cannot predict the consequences of what such a transformation would entail?

    I think Carmel’s reference to the Reign of Terror sort of illustrates that idea. The Romantics must have been devastated to see the results of what they probably at first felt would be a great liberation–ie the French Revolution. To see it turn to madness, violence, and chaos must have been horrifying. And yet in some sense it was the price of their enlightenment.

  8. Arin Vaillancourt says:

    I would prefer to hear what everyone has to say in person. I dislike this anoyomous form of commentary, it doesn’t allow me to see your faces and your reactions to what other people are saying. I do like that it gives me time to compose a whole answer, but I miss attaching a real face to words. With that said, here are my questions in response to Professor’s questions on Austen.

    Does love truly exist in this novel? Can we say that Jane is really in love with Mr. Bingley? Or does she just love the security of his money? Is Elizabeth really in love with Mr. Darcy, or dos she just like the challenge he presents? Is the opening sentence a comment on the state of marriage and that a wife is simply another piece of property a man needs to aquire in order to be considered a man of stature? Is it also another comment upon his class and place in society if he can maintain that woman and a large estate without having to work? What are women in this novel? What do they represent? Are they objects? Is Elizabeth meant to challenge the notion of a “trophy wife” with her heroism, or does she simply fall into the trap of upper class English existence by marrying an even wealthier man than her sister?

    Maybe this will come up in class sometime in the near future…

  9. Kellie Gibson says:

    I agree that leaving Mr. Darcy’s financial worth until the end of the sentence is so the reader remembers this fact about him, but also is to show its greater importance over his other qualities. I find it interesting that the narrator informs the reader that Mr. Hurst merely ‘looked the gentleman,’ (7) implying that everything outside of his general appearance is ungentlemanly, and then goes on to list Mr. Darcy’s physical attributes. By stating his wealth last, Austen informs that material wealth is most important, but also explains why Mr. Hurst only looks a gentleman, and Mr. Darcy -is- one. It’s as if Mr. Darcy’s ten thousand a year is an inherent quality that oozes from him like charisma. Material wealth and social standing become indicative of a person’s true self. Placing his wealth at the end of the sentence also has the effect of undermining his other qualities entirely and rendering them almost obsolete. If it had read, “…Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by the report which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrace, of his having ten thousand a year; and by his fine, tall person, handsome features and noble mien,” then the message would be that wealth is fantastic, but tall, dark and handsome is better. Because really, who marries for money, anyway?

    I think stating the admiration for Mr. Darcy outright but indirectly reporting disgust shows how being a person of higher status/wealth saves you from direct judgement. You will no doubt be talked about in negative terms, but it will more than likely be behind your back. When speaking of Mary, someone on a lower rung of the social ladder, Austen spares nothing and states, “Mary had neither genius or taste” (17). Mary is not awarded any indirect judgement because she’s not a person of any worth.

  10. Aron Rosenberg: says:

    Vlad, you’re not denying that capitalism isn’t bad?
    So…you’re affirming that capitalism is good…

  11. Aron Rosenberg: says:

    (not to call you out, i just think quadruple negatives ought to be noted)

    • Vladimir Cristache says:

      haha. my mistake. it should read “I am by no means denying that capitalism is bad.” and – are you kidding me? double negatives are awesome. if the english language is missing anything it’s that continental knack for double negatives.

  12. Raquel Baldwinson says:

    When I first read that Zizek was going to locate the genesis place of the symptom in Marx, and reconcile Freud’s conversion theory with commodity fetishism… Well, I thought I was in for a dialectic—one that would be both totalitarian and totalizing.

    Professor Earle remarks on this irreconcilability of connotations: “Would” (I read: “could”) “this Odyssean picture be compatible with what Zizek says about hysteria?” In other words: enlightenment thinking and the psychology of hysteria (rather still under attack by the Englightenment)—how can these two phenomena utilize the same mechanism?

    Like Vlad I got to thinking about last days readings. Referring back to De Bolla on Kant, Vlad called this the “two faces of the Kantian sublime”: the tension between the “mathematical” and the “dynamical.”

    I recall something I learned from Ian Hacking, a science studies critic. According to Hacking, the concept of the mathematical– nominalism and abstract reasoning and all those nice synonyms of reason conflated—is inherently dynamical. The number itself, as a signifier, is constituted through a dynamic determination of itself through its form. The referential is constantly in motion, designing itself and strengthening its relation to its correlates. Not still, but pointing and waving and directing. The ideology of the mathematical relies on conversion. Marx talks about this: “The equality of all sorts of human labour is expressed objectively by their products all being equally values”.

    More than ever the dynamism of fixity (and the consequent switching of subject and object) is clear to me through these readings. I find myself constantly renegotiating the “values” of the terms “subject” and “object” and “reify” and “recognize”… I am becoming interested the oscillations within each fixed “location” of signifier, not just in theory, but in how it makes for learning theory. Does this make sense?

  13. Carmel Ohman says:

    Thanks for the clarification, Aron. Haha … I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who had to pause for a second to sort through that statement.

  14. Lindsay Vermeulen says:


    Call me sentimental, but I do think love exists in the cases of both Jane/Bingley and Elizabeth/Darcy.

    Jane’s love may have been initiated by the impression of Mr. Bingley’s good looks and fortune, but it matures into something of real gravity. This is evident in her extreme decline in happiness/energy when she believes him indifferent to her. As further evidence, in her confidence with Elizabeth she does not gloat about his riches but instead praises his character, as on p.10.

    It is made apparent throughout the novel that Elizabeth is not always a practical individual. She vehemently refuses an overwhelmingly logical marriage to Mr. Collins despite the financial relief it would provide for her sisters, and she is horrified when Charlotte sees marriage to Mr. Collins as a logical course of action. She repeatedly antagonizes Mr. Darcy despite his wealth and stature, based on the assumption that he is lacking come basic human virtues. She walks through 5 miles of mud to see Jane when she is ill. Marrying Mr. Darcy to take advantage of his pecuniary assets would be a cold, calculating, logical thing to do, which would totally contradict the emotional, headstrong character Jane Austen goes to such pains to portray her as. I am at a loss to think of a motivation for marriage that is not directly related to being practical or being in love, and as I can safely eliminate the former I must conclude the latter, that is, Elizabeth falls in love with Mr. Darcy.

    Given their lack of fortune and number of irritating family members, it seems that Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy must also be marrying for love (the matches being illogical and not advantageous), but it is difficult to state this categorically given the very limited insights into their thought processes throughout the novel.

  15. Some quick thoughts on this week’s reading & on the excellent entries of my peers:

    1. In an attempt to “receive all its matter from the myths, in order to destroy them” (Adorno, 12) I believe that the ideas of the Enlightenment are slowly leading Western Culture into bondage to that which it wishes to destroy. As Adorno says, “Nothing at all may remain outside because the very idea of outsideness is the very source of fear.” (16) And what I mean is that we have adopted and appropriated a host of religious/magical practices in order to destroy/control them, when in reality, they have become part of us.

    Yoga classes have become part of the Vancouver lifestyle: you will see numerous yoga classes taught at ubc, an essentially religious practice that has been appropriated by us, stripped of its metaphysiscs, stripped of the magic, and transformed into exercise. Let us turn to horoscopes, which can be found on major websites, such as msn & yahoo, newspapers, psychics, seen on tv shows (oprah, montel), used by police, seen in a numerous infusion of paranormal t.v. shows and movies, etc. It seems that the “factual mentality” (Adorno 4) which came from the Enlightenment has given western society the impression that we are impenetrable to superstition, yet, we seem to center, not only our entertainment but also our lifestyle around practices that are essentially opposed to the ideas of the Enlightenment.

    2. Science is essentially based on the subject-object schema and poses the same dangers as the reified form of life in capitalist society. As Honneth points out, “the idea that we can neutrally comprehend reality is responsible for the ontological blindness that has prevented an appropriate response to the question concerning the structures of human existence.”(Honneth 30) I guess I am trying to rearticulate what was in our reading: knowledge is not enough and cannot regulate human relationships or foster intimacy. “We must at all times remember what intellectuals habitually forget: that people matter more than concepts and must come first. The worst of all despotisms is the heartless tyranny of ideas.” – Paul Johnson

    In rhetoric last year we studied the infamous “Tuskegee syphilis experiment” ( in which African American ‘test subjects’ infected with syphilis were monitored but not given treatment: this allowed the scientist to map out the different stages of the disease, etc. “After penicillin was found to be an effective treatment for syphilis, the study continued for another 25 years without treating those suffering from the disease.” This was because the language used in the research papers which were periodically published was essentially devoid of emotion: I think the people were called “hosts” and the syphilis virus was the “subject”, etc. Science can tell us what is, but not what should be; what was, but not what should have been.

    Science/ knowledge but then be paired either with emotion or normative ethics: “The longer we hold to the traditional opposition of the subject object, the more our life practices will be damaged, since cognition and feelings, …science and art will be thereby more torn apart. … Our emotionally saturated practical dealings with the world provide the basis for all rational knowledge.” (Honneth 37) I am reminded of this quote: “In scientific circles there is a determined effort to exclude hope from conceptual thinking because of a fear of corrupting objective judgment by wishful thinking. But all science is built on hope so much so that science is for many moderns a substitute for religion. Man can’t help hoping even if he is a scientist; He can only hope more accurately.” -Dr. Karl Menninger

    4. I am fascinated with Honneth’s link between reification and social problems: namely, “surrogate mothers [and] boom in the sex industry” (Honneth 19) The question is, what exactly are the “characteristics as human beings”(Honneth, 19) that are being violated? Without religion to give intrinsic human worth, what is my worth in relation to animals? Why is being treated as a ‘thing’ so utterly destructive? Why do we value relationship and intimacy above all?

    5. The intricate economics of terrorism: this video from TED is very interesting as it shows how the leaders of some terrorist organizations are in fact motivated by money/business as opposed to ideology.

    6. We still ask the same questions. Blake deconstructs a catechism in which all questions are predetermined/answered, but modernity is stuck in a philosophy that is eternally circular. We still ask the same questions (where do I come from? Why should I live? Who am I?) but now the answers are impossible to find. Flannery O’Connor once remarked that ‘mystery is a great embarrassment to the modern mind’. As Professor Earle said, “we can’t help searching for something beyond the world that we know”: thus, we live in a paradox, in an insane world: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.”

    “Postmodernism opens with the sense of irrevocable loss and incurable fault – a death that ‘begins’ with the death of God and ‘ends’ with the death of ourselves.” Mark C. Taylor

    ‎7. Can emotion/feelings really replace religion and restore human relationships? A Romanian philosopher/theologian once said: “Without God, man becomes a rational animal, which comes from nowhere, and is going nowhere.” -Petre Tutea Religion provided a network for human value, but now, how do we infuse people with value again? Perhaps we should say “de-animalize” instead of “dehumanize”?

    9. I thought this video is interesting in relation to this class: in it, evil defined as an absence and the end tagline is “religion is knowledge too”.!

    10. In this video, we can now use mathematical equations to recreate the exact sound/movement that was played by the great pianists. So, the piano plays by itself, just as if Glenn Gould was playing it. The transition is this: now, music = notes and how they are played. Future will be music = data + algorithms.

  16. Wow! I’m watching the movie “Zizek!” a documentary which is excellent. (

    Here is a youtube except from the beginning of the movie, on why love is evil:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s