Tag Archive: enlightenment


From: Nietzsche and the Post-Modern Condition (1991) Lecture 1: Nietzsche as Myth and Mythmaker

Transcript: …again, this word “Nihilism” I’ll… I’ll say a bit more about. In a context where the threat was Nihilism. A culture where there was no fabric from which to construct meaning. Now, Nihilism, in a certain way won’t be used by me to describe a philosophical position. Because to the extent it does, it’s supposed to be some silly position like this: “Nihilists are people who believe in nothing”. Well, if that’s what Nihilists were, there wouldn’t be any, and that’s not what we are diagnosing.

We are diagnosing a Nihilistic culture, where no enduring beliefs can provide meaning for the overwhelming majority of members of that culture. That’s the problem that Nietzsche identifies coming along with modern life. And also, not coming along as a mystification, but coming along as part of the insight of modern life. Comes along with Darwin… in other words, being demystified about our origins. It comes along with a new view of the cosmos. Being demystified about the importance of the Earth. You know, where it is, how big it is, and in the centre of what. Being demystified concerning a whole series of things, about which earlier there were powerful, important, meaning giving myths.

Part of the work of the enlightenment was this destructive work of destroying myth. That was the work carried out by the bourgeois class and its ideologues. You know, it’s not bad… you remember, they said you won’t have a decent world to live in until the last priest is hung on the guts of the last king and stuff. Those are the mottos of the great revolutions. This is Washington DC, right? These are the great bourgeois revolutions. We love them, and they may be in fact a world of historic destiny.

Nietzsche’s worry was that this kind of demystification… without creating new festivals, new games, new myths… would lead to a situation in which human beings willed only not to will any longer. Who wanted, sort of, only not to want any longer. And Nietzsche saw this emerging culture as one that would be inimical to human life… about which… as I said, he doesn’t have a lot of consoling things to say.

From: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 8: Philosophy and Postmodern Culture

Transcript:
The goal of a mass telecommunication culture is psychoanalysis in reverse. It’s that the little, last remaining parts of that garrison become unconscious. It’s precisely to reverse that process of enlightenment. Mass culture is enlightenment in reverse gear. Precisely to wipe out that last little garrison of autonomy. It is a constant assault upon it.

That was why the last time I was out here, I approached it from this religious angle of Kierkegaard’s, and characterised the assault as one that caused despair. Where despair was not a mood, but a structure that belongs to a captured garrison. Not an accidental feature of a captured garrison, but part of it. A structure of it. Fundamental to it.

From: Self Under Siege (1993) Lecture 4: Marcuse and One-Dimensional Man

Transcript:
…now, that’s the method within which Marcuse criticises capitalist society. Not with external norms drawn from some utopian situation, but by its own terms, with its own terms. I also think that’s not only a good strategy as a style of critique, but its utterly fair. I mean, in a way, it’s like demanding of yourself that you do what you say… which you want to demand at least of your friends… that they do most of the time what they say they’ll do. But it’s certainly a good demand to place upon, ah, your society, its leaders, and so on. The trouble is – just as I have stated before – we are blocked. We are blocked in a way by an unprecedented structure of what I have called here… sort of… cynical, sceptical reason. To me it’s historically unmatched. I have never read or heard of a period like this one.

Now, I have read about many historical periods. But not one in which you can talk to young people the way you can at the college level today, and find out that they believe… nothing. Want… nothing. Hope… nothing. Expect… nothing. Dream… nothing. Desire… nothing. Push ’em far enough and they’ll say: “Yeah, I gotta get a job. Spent a lot of money at Duke.” That’s not what I am talking about. They hope nothing. Expect nothing. Dream nothing. Desire nothing.

And it is a fair question to ask whether a society that produces this reaction in its young is worthy of existence at all. It really is. It’s worth asking that. Whether it’s worth being here at all. And my criticism of this society couldn’t get more bitter than it is in that case. It couldn’t possibly be. Remember, I am talking about the young I have encountered at Duke. These are privileged youth. At an elite southern school. Mostly white, mostly upper-middle to upper class. Now, imagine what the attitudes are like on the streets of DC, for another race or another social class. We have outlived in the 20th century the responses that Marcuse would have given to this.

I still admire in his book, the argument concerning enlightenment. I still admire his vicious attack on bureaucracy, both here and in the Soviet Union and elsewhere, and his attack on the world in which money comes before human beings. That to me is the, sort of, one line essence of the critique of Marx… I mean of Marxist critique… where money is placed ahead of human needs. Or just money is placed ahead of them.

Marcuse still tries to defend ah, as I say; freedom, happiness, creativity. He still believes in the truth. He still believes the human race has a happy destiny. I mean, I think that we have to look back at Marcuse who at the time we looked at as a vicious radical; I think we have to look back at him as a kind of Norman Vincent Peale of the 60’s. I mean, Marcuse wasn’t radical at all by the standards of this world into which we have slipped by the late 20th century. No, he really does sound like Norman Vincent Peale at times. It’s… it’s, ah, it’s almost, ah… quaint, if it wasn’t so… horrifying.

Download: The Self Under Siege (1993) Lecture 5: Habermas and the Fragile Dignity of Humanity.avi

Transcript: In this lecture I want to discuss one of the most important philosophers who is still working, still alive, his work ranges over many areas in social theory, it ranges in areas of philosophy, linguistics and so on, and that’s Jurgen Habermas. Habermas is one of the last great defenders of rationalism in a period in philosophy in which rationalism is not held in very high esteem. In many ways Habermas is an outgrowth of one of the figures that we discussed last time, namely Herbert Marcuse and the Frankfurt School; that would include Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer. Habermas was in fact Adorno’s graduate assistant and so the original project that Jurgen Habermas set himself was to reformulate the kinds of theories being worked on by Marcuse, by Horkheimer and by Adorno. In particular his first venture was to reformulate their distinction between traditional theory – understood as both philosophy and science, both – as opposed to what they called “critical theory”; a theory whose interest was in the emancipation of human beings. View Full Article »

Download: The Self Under Siege (1993) Lecture 4: Marcuse and One-Dimensional Man.avi

Transcript: Okay, this is the fourth lecture and we are going to pick things up a little bit here because we have a philosopher who I came in contact with in college through pamphlets and so this is someone I really enjoy, and I hope that you will get something out of this lecture. I am going to talk about Herbert Marcuse. Again, like Sartre, we are talking about an intellectual who becomes a pop cultural figure. I mean this is a very rare thing for a German philosopher to have their picture on the cover of Life magazine, but this happens with Herbert Marcuse in the sixties. The reason it does… and this time I will go into the theory. In the case of Sartre there are so many periods and stuff to follow out that it’s difficult, but with Marcuse there are a series of guiding themes that we can follow that I think will explain why Marcuse was the philosopher of the 1960’s, and I also want to explain more than that. View Full Article »

Download: Nietzsche and the Post-Modern Condition (1991) Lecture 8: Nietzsche’s Progeny.mov

Transcript: The last lecture on Nietzsche is quite a challenge since one of Nietzsche’s arguments are there are no “lasts”. There are no last interpretations, there are no last desperate moments, in fact it’s a little remark about history that I might begin this so-called last lecture with. It’s that the spirit of danger and catastrophe we may feel ourselves in today is in a sense profoundly ahistorical. I have a feeling that in a certain way perhaps every moment of history has seemed at least to some of its participants to be a profound moment of danger, and certainly if one looks back over the trail of history it’s much easier to see its barbaric ruin than its rational progress. View Full Article »

Download: Nietzsche and the Post-Modern Condition (1991) Lecture 1: Nietzsche as Myth and Mythmaker.mov

Transcript: The first lecture will be an introduction to Nietzsche that I have called “Myth and Mythmaker”. I’d like to say a little bit about his life because there is really not too much to say about it. It will only take a few minutes, I think, to summarise. He had a really unexciting life, and so we need to distinguish right away two things. One is what I like to call “The Nietzsche Effect”, and I am a child of the sixties, so I am very familiar with the so-called “Nietzsche Effect”, and that’s the effect that Nietzsche has on adolescent young males who read him for the first time [crowd laughter] and begin to name their cars “Ubermensch” wagons, ah, and begin to quote Nietzsche in order to date women who dress in black, as I am dressed today, and the Nietzsche fascination. That characterises one’s first encounter and certainly it characterised my first encounter with Nietzsche as well. View Full Article »

Download: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 3: Kant and the Path to Enlightenment.mov

Transcript: I have the daunting task of summarising 2000 years in two sentences, so I’ll avoid it, and hope that you saw the last tape. Which was basically… the movement so far is to present something like a traditional history of ideas but – if you’ve noticed – with little rejoinders along the way that suggest that that history of ideas is not innocent. Not as though it were being presented in the way that the National Association of Scholars would have you believe. Books being selected as though by very intelligent readers because they are the best books. That isn’t always wrong, but the story of the survival of books and the formations of canons clearly has other factors. View Full Article »