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Slavoj Žižek and Srećko Horvat, editors,
What Does Europe Want? - The Union and its Discontents
(New York: Columbia University Press, 2014), 240pp.

Reviewed by Eleftherios Sarantis (University of Sofia)

In this collection of essays, the prominent leftist intellectuals Slavoj
Žižek and Srećko Horvat, with the participation of SYRIZA leader
and current Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, foresee the imminent
social challenges for the peoples of Europe, while sketching a scattered
reaction agenda for the Left. Žižek and Horvat are masters in asking intricate
questions through which they launch a targeted discourse against
the expansion of neoliberal economic policy in Europe and in particular
in the EU. They focus a big part of their essays on the hegemonic expansion
of neoliberalism to peripheral EU and European countries,
which remains today a tangible reality two years after the book’s first
publication. The authors derive intellectual material from personal experiences,
historical events, anecdotal stories and jokes, which assist
them to present an attractive narration of their critique of the hegemonic
European elites, by avoiding pompous language or a highly theoretical
argumentation, which would be discouraging for unfamiliarized readers.
The result is an easily digestible text for the non-specialized reader who
is interested in the modern challenges of the Left.
In their responses to “What Does Europe Want,” the authors suggest
that Europe and its dominant political structure, the EU, seem trapped between
to American imperialist ??? capitalism and Europe’s social reflexes,
which still work in favor of the Franco-German model of the welfare
state. Žižek and Horvat ask intriguing questions other that just “What
Does Europe Want?”, criticizing globalization, labor exploitation, the rise
of nationalism and the containment of democracy as result of neoliberal
policies. However, even though they tend to touch upon the necessity for
a concerted and centrally coordinated social reaction, they do refrain from
elaborating extensively on providing the corresponding answers. Nevertheless,
one cannot disregard their evident, yet fragmentarily expressed,
hope that the solution for Europe would come from the South and in par-
ticular from Greece and the leftist SYRIZA.
Even though more than two years have passed since the initial release
of this book (autumn 2013), its discourse remains prophetically
relevant to the most recent developments in the EU (e.g. the refugee crisis,
EU relations with Turkey, the rise of far-right nationalism in many
EU countries, the dream of EU accession for peripheral European countries
etc.). In the co-named chapter “What Does Europe Want” (Chapter
5), Žižek criticizes the decision of the EU to establish a common border
police, a measure that according to Žižek depicts globalization’s tendency
to limit human mobility in contrast to the absolute free commodity
circulation across borders. The tragic irony of the ongoing refugee
crisis, on the back of the Syrian war, confirms Žižek’s criticism and reveals
part of EU’s inhuman face and fear of the other. Žižek further
quoted Max Horckheimer’s “those who do not want to speak (critically)
of liberalism should also keep silent about fascism.” Who would have
believed at the time that the Danish government would decide in 2016 to
confiscate goods from incoming refugees? Horvat was also alert and
warned about the rise of the far-right in Europe and the tough acceptance
of Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia into the EU, but in the meantime
the fear of “outsiders” across core EU states has broadened to include
Syrian refugees and the Islamic State, a direct result of Western
foreign policy in the Middle East. In a discursively coherent manner, the
authors suggest that the EU will need to change its market-driven trajectory,
which propagates economic competitiveness across the peoples of
Europe. This was a prophetic warning when considering the recent risks
of a potential Schengen zone dissolution, following the substantial influx
of Syrian refugees, which stressed the EU’s conformist and individualistic
mentality. If Schengen dissolves, how long would it take until
the EU falls apart?
Despite the authors’ inspiring discourse, the book fails to follow a
progressive logical line of argumentation and consist of a diverse collection
of heterogeneous concepts, separated in several chapters, which fail
to constitute an intellectual whole. On top of that, one cannot disregard
the involvement of the current Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras,
who wrote the foreword of the book, while he participated in an interview
and debate with Horvat and Žižek (both published as the last two
chapters of the book). The Greek Prime Minister seized the opportunity
to communicate his fierce political discourse against the elites of the EU
and on the implementation of austerity-driven neoliberal policies. Since
then political reality caught up with Tsipras. In fact, his government renewed
Greece’s fiscal consolidation program in July 2015 (for three additional
years until 2018), accepting a EUR 86 billion loan, while committing
to implement the exact same policies that Tsipras used to condemn.
Most notably, the Tsipras-led administration has already completed
its first public sector cuts and privatization projects, which comes in direct
conflict with Tsipras’s expressed views in “What Does Europe
Want?”. It follows that Tsipras has been either politically transformed
by power and shifted his political platform to the center to sustain his
popularity or he serves as a Trojan Horse of the Left within the EU, attempting
small strategic steps in an effort to attract more European
forces to his side. The answer to this dillemma would be premature and
is left for now to be addressed by historians and political analysts of the
future. Nevertheless, if Tsipras is not compromised and is actually attempting
to reform the EU from the inside, he is surely running out of
time, as his popularity in Greece declining rapidly and the Right in
Greece (New Democracy) is gradually building momentum for a glorious
return to power. In Chapter 17 of the book, Žižek suggests that
Europe needs a Margaret Thatcher of the Left, acknowledging the
hegemonic advantages that a gifted politician or intellectual endows to a
particular political space. To the disappointment of many, Tsipras shows
that he is unlikely to be such a leader for the European Left, as he seems
unable to bear alone the weight of social transformation in the EU. In
fact, his compromised stance probably does more damage than good to
the prospects of the Left for now.
=====================================================

Jason M. Wirth, Commiserating With the Devastated Things: Milan
Kundera and the Entitlements of Thinking
(New York: Fordham University Press, 2016), 227 pp.

Reviewed by Ilona Valcheva (University of Sofia)

Jason M. Wirth’s investigation of Milan Kundera’s works is impressive
and deep in two ways — in his immersion into the works of the
Czech-born writer and in relating them to other works and philosophies
(conditioned by his education in Western philosophy and interest in Mahayana
Buddhist philosophy). Yet, Wirth asserts, philosophy is a universe
distant from the universe of the novel. And all the time he keeps
the two separate by contrasting what novels do with what philosophers
in the general sense (with a few poetic exceptions like Nietzsche, for example)
do. Even as he keeps these universes separate before our eyes,
Wirth shows that they can touch, though not substitute for each other, or
fuse into a whole. And in this sense, “Kundera’s work in the very terms
that he poses them, flirting with philosophy, while avoiding philosophy’s
ambush,” is the best example of the fluidity and interaction between
the two practices, without the essence of either suffering damage.
Philosophy and literature (art) should remain separate. The philosophy
that relies on rigid dogmatism and delivers answers instead of questions,
this systematic, all-explaining and specific philosophy (phenomenology,
ethics, aesthetics, etc.) will profit greatly if it takes from the novel the
latter’s lack of certainty, its humor, its questioning, as means and practice.
What is philosophical in the novel is that it poses questions which
might or might not be philosophical. The tenor of its revelations, however,
is totally different. The novel aims not to fix the world or to impose
some fixity as its essence, but rather the opposite — to shake it
(with its freedom) and to doubt, but not to erect any philosophical, political
or other ideology, any “know-how,” “morality” or coherence.
Wirth’s book is valuable because it juxtaposes the novel and philosophy
as different types and shows that the novel (art) is not necessarily
derivative of philosophy (quite a big prejudice). The realm of art has
its own importance, means and ways of discovering truth (if it seeks it)
and of contributing to the wholeness of human cultural activity. Such
claims coming from an author who is a philosopher himself reveal a fine
self-awareness and broad mental horizons. The theme of “commiserating
with the devastated things” shows that only the novel can reveal the
fullness of the human condition in its nullity, treating it in another, compensatory
manner — with laughter and compassion. This line finds its
solid expression in Wirth’s historical and philosophical inquiry, which
gathers together great stretches of time and topics philosophically, novelistically
(the history of novel and Kundera’s novels in particular) and
historically.
One thing is common to the novel and philosophy — both contain
wisdom. The wisdom of the novel appears (like the Japanese zuihitsu
style of writing), rather than being sought and logically completed; it arrives
through the “instrument” of laughter (the total shaking of any certainty,
the comic in itself, the reversion of any given thing). Philosophy
of the classical type, in contrast, reaches grand conclusions, and is characterized
by preaching and absolute knowing.
On the basis of impressive philosophical analyses of Kundera’s
works, strengthened by solid philosophical passion and knowledge, and
ample quotations of the author’s works, Wirth distinguishes another two
topics, important for philosophy, revealed in Kundera’s works in their
own novelistic way — the collision of the novel with history and the
problem of graphomania, found in modern writing and in the modern
approach to writing, a self-obsessed attempt to immortalize oneself.
Commiserating with the devastated things can be done only within the
world of the novel, which on another level relates to the merciless depersonalization
of history (in Hegelian terms) and to the nothingness of
death and the abrupt and again merciless renunciation of meaning. Kundera’s
characters deal with the problem of mortality and the related
problem of time in different ways. One important tool is laughter. We
can either see the rupture, the beyond-ness of the gesture, the simplicity
of mortality (without fuss) or else graphomania as a desire for one’s own
life to be memorialized and revered, both as tools for coping with the
problem of time and the iron hand of History, the almost unavoidable
“march” (of Logic, coherence, of the Book which does not allow humor,
unanswered questions, ambiguity). The existential motivation behind
graphomania is pitiful yet understandable and forgivable in the face of
the human condition. However, this does not silence the critical voice
we may hear regarding the fact that today everyone is an “ingredient” in
the Chicken Soup of the world, where everybody writes something (allegedly)
important, and we read less and less. These delusions of our
lyricism, as Wirth calls them, the dramatic and self-important living and
dying, are scattered by history — and by dogs as well, as the fundamental
“companion species,” which show us another mode of being, and
thus make us aware we are not the summit or the owners of the world.
Kundera’s relation to kitsch is also very interesting, one from
which Wirth elaborates great philosophical conclusions. We are all in
kitsch somehow, Kundera points out. Kitsch is the all-encompassing
rigid existential mathematics, the rude business of utilitarianism, of definitive
conclusions about truth. It is not bad art (art failing to make its
message understood for one reason or another); rather, it is non-art, a
devilish practice which pretends to express the whole truth. Its total deceptiveness
leads Wirth to call kitsch “radical evil,” relying on Kant’s
idea that we are not intrinsically evil, but become so because we invert
our self-love and thus pervert our value systems and action. All selfobsession
and drive to autobiography (both in philosophy and novel
writing) is a kind of kitsch.
The people most able to commiserate with the devastated things
(the world of the novel, and our own reality) are the idiots, those who
don’t fit in (saints, the writer who allows every human to be realized in
the novel, madmen). In contrast to the hazy egocentric lyricism of philosophy
and life, the thinking of the novel pauses to see and hear the
devastated things in the devastated world and to try to grasp them together
in the idea of the wholeness and infinity of human possibility.
Quite philosophical, but given its moderate sentimentality and openendedness,
it can be found only in the novel with its methods and characters.
The practice of the novel is true freedom.
====================================================

Gianni Vattimo and Santiago Zabala, Hermeneutic Communism:
From Heidegger to Marx
(New York: Columbia University Press, 2014), 264 pp.

Reviewed by Hans Krauch (University of Sofia)

Looking at the title of this book, other oxymorons like “fresh frozen,”
“jumbo shrimp” or “military intelligence” come to mind. How
could a seemingly nihilistic yet totalitarian ideology work in real life?
Every aspect of life is controlled, yet at the same time no rules are applied
because, after all, what is the point of anything?
Let us try to unravel this mystery to see where we end up with the
concept of this book. We begin with a fairly standard appeal to philosophy
to become more involved and deliver practical solutions to our current
problems. Indeed, given our place today — in the shadow of the
grave of the Enlightenment — we long to break free and search again
for the promised land. Nowhere is the chilling effect of standing in the
shadow of this grave felt more than in the ex-Soviet bloc countries. Recently
released from decades of Soviet Communist rule, they look like
newly released prisoners thrown into the sunlight. They are left dazed
and confused, unsure and nervous about what direction to take.
They certainly are not getting any direction from the self-loathing
Analytic school of thought, so perhaps the best option is to find it within
themselves or amongst like-minded Continental philosophers? First of
all, they (the authors) wish to perform an autopsy on Communism to see
how exactly it died: its death can reveal a way of giving birth to a new
vision of utopia.
Metaphysics is identified as being the primary cause of death. It is
rather unfortunate that metaphysics was not itself explained as fully as it
might have been. Of course, anyone could simply look up the term, but
it would have been helpful to know exactly Vattimo and Zabala’s definition
of metaphysics. Despite this, they do a fine job of describing how
metaphysics killed Communism, so with a little energy readers could
put the pieces of the puzzle together themselves on the basis of the entire
book.
Overt destruction of metaphysics is seen as impossible, so, to bring
about its demise, Vattimo and Zabala craft a strategy of piecemeal assimilation
and digestion into grassroots socialist and humanitarian policies
and ideologies (called here “Specter Communism” — a good ploy
as the term Communism itself evokes too much of a negative reaction). I
see it as similar to the way that Globalization and Multiculturalism destroy
culture — under the pretence of accepting all, none is seen as
unique, and therefore any value or meaning in culture dissolves.
Here, it is objective truth that is dissolved into valueless vapor —
the value of metaphysics is tied to the value of objective truth. Once we
realize that objective truth really does nothing to guide and help lead the
human race towards the abolition of poverty and injustice, then any appeal
to metaphysics will be meaningless. That way you remove it from
the game completely. This book recommends a complete rewriting of
the rules of how the game is played, and this is why the figures of the
old system are so nervous about talking about it. If I were Derrida I
would be honored for being such an overt target of attack — the rest of
us are simply ignored and that is enough to keep us silent.
Certainly, Crony Capitalism and neoliberalism have not had a
beneficial effect on the weak, so methods of escape from this weakness
are sought outside the previously mentioned ideologies and policies. As
it stands today, political science has as much relation to science as it
does to astrology, so any appeal to this academic discipline to give us
coherent answers on anything of a political nature is doomed to chance
or failure: “politics cannot be founded on scientific and rational grounds
but only on interpretation, history and event” (22).
If removing metaphysics from the equation brings together Hermeneutics
and Communism, then it is metaphysics itself that separates the
two. This is an appeal to the value of the subjective. Yes, the Communist
idea that war is a necessary part of capitalism has been proven correct in
some instances, but this rule is now rather the exception. There are much
cleaner ways these days to enslave and subjugate sovereign nations other
than armed force — perfected by decades of practice, the World Bank and
the International Monetary Fund make entire countries dependent on the
production of a handful of commodities, or just one.
Thankfully, violent revolution is not called for in this book — as
history has shown, those who use such methods turn out no better (usually
end up being worse) than the ones they overthrow. Vattimo and Zabala’s
method calls for resistance to capitalist exploitation of the poor
while gaining understanding of the subjective truths behind human existence.
Hermeneutics will now become the totalitarian ideology and communism
its functionary arm — the most enlightened of despots. Vattimo
and Zabala point to the tiny budding examples of South American practices
as a way to move forward. I spent several months in Uruguay during
Mujica’s presidency and witnessed soaring commodity prices and stagnant
wages (similar to what is going on in Venezuela today). The actual
macro-beneficial results of these policies is inconclusive at best.
Such considerations are not part of the analysis here. Vattimo and
Zabala are only concerned with the promotion of the interests of the
weak, the disenfranchised, the poor, the losers, and, most importantly,
those beyond the control of the powers that be. The powers that be are
also known as the strong, or the winners. The weak are finding few
friends in popular academia, and here Vattimo and Zabala especially
mention the works of Searle — the most powerful Madame running the
brothel that is the current business of Analytic Philosophy. Their most
important clients are governments and international institutions, the socalled
“winners.”
I am nearly out of space and have only just begun my assessment,
so the remainder will have to be painfully brief. Where we stand today is
known as “Framed Democracy” (a pseudo-democracy — despotic in nature).
Vattimo and Zabala confuse the subjective and the objective, the
results of which are abominations like moral relativism. They never explore
the “why,” only the “what.”
The violence of truth is a simple enough concept. Truth is force,
and those who move against force receive violence. Jump off a building
and the violence of the truth of gravity will become self-evident. Truth
is political power, which is violence. The violence of subjective truth
lies in the ethics of value, the “Golden Rule.” The conservative nature of
realism is that it seeks out and destroys anything that threatens what is
currently considered “real,” a similar argument to what is mentioned in
the chapters on “The Winners’ History” and “Armed Capitalism.” We
can safely say that efforts to seed democracy with bombs or bullets have
not ended with successful germination thus far.
In economics, we find that free markets are not so free. Risk is
transferred from the winners to the losers, so if the winners make a mistake,
it is the losers who pay for it. This finally brings us back to the im
portance of Hermeneutic Communism — that it gives us an alternative
to simply being exploited with a forced smile on our faces. Truth is not
the problem. It is the winners’ interpretation of it and this is why interpretation
is stressed. I will skip over the deeper elements of Being and
such, but conclude that this idea is, at the very least, an entirely worthwhile
endeavor in an effort to both aid the weak and unshackle ourselves
from the dominion of the dogmatic prostitutes that inhibit free thought
and progress.
======================================================

Yanis Varoufakis, The Global Minotaur: America,
The True Origins of the Financial Crisis and the Future
of the World Economy (Zed Books, second edition, 2013), 296 pp.

Reviewed by Eleftherios Sarantis (University of Sofia)

One could humorously claim that Yanis Varoufakis is the modern
“Elvis Presley” of political economics, though he himself personally enjoys
describing himself as a liberal communist or erratic Marxist. After a
long academic trajectory, Varoufakis built his fame following the 2008
global financial crisis by commenting on structural deficiencies in the
EU, on TV and in various online media, establishing himself as an expert
on the economy, especially in the eyes of the Greek public. His
popularity spiked when he briefly served as the Greek finance minister
in 2015, becoming part of the newly-elected government, led by
SYRIZA (The Coalition of the Radical Left). The controversial handling
of the early stages of the Greek crisis in that year marked the beginning
of Varoufakis’s political career. However, the moderation of SYRIZA’s
earlier radical agenda by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras led Varoufakis
to quit the party within months. Independent of his direct involvement in
Greek politics, Varoufakis announced the formation of a Pan-European
movement for the “reinstatement of democracy in the EU.” Following
the necessary preparatory work, Varoufakis released a small manifesto
for his movement (the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 or
DiEM25) in February 2016.
Back in 2011, Varoufakis published the first edition of The Global
Minotaur: America, Europe and the Future of the Global Economy in
which he attempted to recount in an understandable manner the economic,
moral and regulatory downturn that led to the US housing and
banking crash of 2008. This new edition similarly adopts a critical discourse
on the crisis that would appeal equally to technocrats and nonspecialists.
It is important to mention that even though Varoufakis attempts
to explain technical terms and economic theories in simple terms,
the untutored reader will still have to make a small scientific leap in order
to grasp Varoufakis’s economic and financial arguments. In addition,
Varoufakis is keen on flamboyant language, which distinguishes
his work from the myriad of similar economic analyses, without however
distracting the reader from the essence of his arguments. Most importantly,
Varoufakis accompanies his account with various highly interesting
philosophical references, which enrich and give weight to his
rhetoric. In fact, Varoufakis’s philosophical parallels and literary style
will appeal to readers with a background in philosophy, even those who
would be interested in a more technical description of the causes behind
the 2008 global financial crisis.
The heart of this book is the metaphor of the Global Minotaur,
which Varoufakis wisely invented to explain that above all other factors
(i.e., greed, financialization, regulatory mistakes), the main cause of the
crash of 2008 was the failure in the recycling of global trade imbalances.
The Minotaur of mythology was half-man and half-bull (taurus). The
myth states that the gods caused the wife of the Cretan King Minos,
Queen Pasiphae, to fall deeply in love with a bull, resulting in the birth
of the Minotaur. Minos, ashamed of Pasiphae’s beast-like offspring,
asked Daedalus to construct an underground labyrinth, where the Minotaur
would reside. The interesting part of the myth for Varoufakis is that
Minoan Crete was the economic and political hegemon of the region at
the time, forcing ancient Athens to feed the Minotaur with fourteen
young boys and girls annually, in order to sustain peace in the region; a
Pax Cretana.
Varoufakis draws a parallel between the myth of the Minotaur and
the modern trajectory of the US economy. He explains that the US became
a deficit economy in the late 1960s and instead of trying to balance
its twin deficits (the budget deficit and the external trade deficit), it
strategically decided to exit the Bretton Woods system in 1971 and seek
external foreign capital to finance its deficits perpetually. Varoufakis
explains that several surplus economies, most notably Germany, Japan
and China, “fed” the US economy with immense amounts of capital
(more than 70% of their surplus capital). In exchange, the US economy
offered to its deficit-recycling peers a global framework of financial stability
and economic growth for decades; a modern version of the Pax
Cretana. In other words, the surplus economies paid their tributes to the
labyrinth of Wall Street, wherein lived the Global Minotaur of the US
twin deficits. US capital inflow led to an era of extreme financialization
within the US, during which Wall Street technocrats immediately turned
the incoming capital into investments, shares, new complicated financial
instruments and loans, from which bankers made enormous bonuses.
The most toxic of those instruments was a new form of mortgage-related
securities, with a complicated structure and unclear risk profile, which
directly linked Wall Street mannerisms to the real US economy and the
housing market. According to Varoufakis, in this period of escalating financialization,
the poor regulation of bankers’ greed and the incapacity
of experts to estimate systemic risks related to the new complicated financial
instruments, laid the foundation for the housing bubble and
banking crash of 2008.
Varoufakis seems unconvinced that global policy makers have
learned the lesson of the 2008 crisis. In this second edition of the book,
Varoufakis adds a new chapter to his allegorical account to support his
view that the US continues to sustain the Global Minotaur model, even
though its economy has lost its earlier capacity to attract capital at the
same pace. Varoufakis fears that the world risks entering an era, like the
one before World War II, of dangerous economic imbalances between
emerging economies and the gradually disintegrating reality of the US
Global Minotaur; of which the EU in the post-2008 period is a smaller
self-enclosed replica. Varoufakis concludes that to avoid the social evils
of such profound economic imbalances (e.g., rising inequality, exploitation,
de-democratization or even war) the only solution would be the establishment
of a global surplus recycling mechanism (GSRM). In a good
scenario, the GSRM would regard only emerging economies, but in the
best scenario, it would also include the West (mainly the US and
Europe). The GSRM that Varoufakis proposes is very similar to the International
Clearing Union (ICU), an international trade clearing
mechanism that John Maynard Keynes proposed at the Bretton Woods
Conference in 1944, and which was emphatically rejected by the US
government.
The Global Minotaur is a metaphor that aims to explain the failure
of capitalism from a systemic point of view, but it provides little room
for contemplation of the socio-political causes and future implications of
the 2008 global crisis. Even though Varoufakis remains loyal to his
Keynesian-oriented economic theory, he has gradually shifted his
thought towards political theory and democratization, a pragmatic sign
of which is his decision to form DiEM25. Notably, in his most recent
Ted Global speech (December 2015), Varoufakis exhibited strong signs
of nostalgia for ancient Athenian democracy, suggesting that Western
liberal democracy was constituted on the basis of the separation of the
economic sphere (the corporate world, the masters) from the political
sphere (democracy). Varoufakis warned that the power hegemony of the
economic sphere over the political sphere in the US and Europe threatens
to transform Western capitalism into a surveillance-mad autocratic
dystopia, similar to the current Chinese regime. To prevent this outcome,
Varoufakis called for the reunification of the economic and political
spheres, under a new revised economic model similar to the
GSRM, adding to his vision a Marxist corporate management model that
would render wage labor obsolete. Varoufakis’s next book And the
Weak Suffer What They Must? Europe’s Crisis and America’s Economic
Future is due in 2016, where we can expect him to bring his Keynesian
GSRM vision forward in time, while strengthening his arguments with a
sturdier socio-political analysis that is missing from the Global Minotaur
study.
===================================================

Arab Kennouche, The Hegelian Return to The Barbarism
of Reflection in the Light of the Vichian Imagination of Power
(Berlin: Mensch und Buch Verlag, 2015), 275 pp.

Reviewed by Blagoja Petrovski (University of Sofia)

Arab Kennouche’s The Hegelian Return to The Barbarism of Reflection
in the Light of the Vichian Imagination of Power is a masterful
exercise of philosophical and historical comparison, applying the historical
philosophy of Vico’s New Science to the fundamental works of
the Hegelian system. Kennouche tries to identify Hegel’s Absolute Idea
(Göttliche-Idee) with the Vichian fundamental desire to give humanity a
new comprehensive architecture of becoming, one not limited just to
historicity but including an imagination of power. The Hegelian idea of
Kenosis is comprehensible in the light of the relation that the author
makes between that “power” and “imagination” (64). Thanks to the topography
of the Absolute Idea’s voyage, Kennuche asserts that a powerful
imagination lay behind every reversible displacement of the Idea, an
infrastructure of imagination with Vichian origins thus grounding
Hegel’s imagination on the Vichian laws of Nature.
“Imagination is the first form of thought for the whole humanity,
who has left the animal condition” (iv). The author writes that Hegel’s
thought is thus essentially imaginative and not rational. Beyond the
powerful imagination inherited from Nature, we may find the imagination
of Power ruling over the conception of the Idea.
Vico’s interpretation of the history of civilization states that there
is an underlying uniformity in human nature across all historical settings
that permits the explanation of historical actions and processes. He believes
that there are three epochs in human history: the epoch of the
Gods, the epoch of Heroes and finally the epoch of Humans. There is a
vital element in the first two epochs, which is the common sense. The
human epoch celebrates the rise of the new barbarism, the barbarism of
reflection, not the barbarism of sense. Kennouche sees Vico’s notion of
the general progress of civilization to perfection as repeated "return to
barbarism" as a mode of apperception on the Hegelian dialectical realization
of the Absolute Idea. The barbarism of reflection is opposed to
the barbarism of sense. The barbarism of reflection is perceived as a
barbarism of intellect, reconciliation, self-heroicization, selfidentification,
purity, self-reflection and self-deification.
The Hegelian Reason and Spirit are inserted and governed by a powerful
imagination, the Vichian first thought, and the Barbarism of Reflection.
We achieved to depict the Vichian imaginative infrastructure which accounts
for the travel of the Göttliche Idee to perform a barbarous junction
between God’s pure Reason and Man’s Mind as Spirit. (52)
The barbarism of reflection is identified as Hegel’s desire to actualize
the Kenosis of the Göttliche-Idee by discarding its substantial and
poetic features. The Kenosis of the Idea is topical at the infrastructural
level and depicts a journey from the vision of the Idea as God, pure
thought, pure reason fusing with Nature and the Human Mind. The barbarism
of reflection is effected in the imagination of Man acquiring the
Idea as the Concept. Kennouche confronts Hegel’s idea of Kenosis with
a discussion on the intrinsic link with Vico:
Hegel depicts two processes which are poetical and barbarous: the kenosis
of a pure divine reason within the world, which will end in a spiritualization
and secondly the possibility for human reason, to be identified with
the exterior world. The Kenosis of God intended as a pure rational substance
which realizes itself can be ascribed to the work of a Vichian poetic
reason, which will end in a barbarous Hegelian reflection, the possibility
for the divine reason to purify all the natural substances, including
the human brain to produce Spirit. (185)
Vico’s concept of the barbarism of reflection can be identified as
the eternal law of History in Hegel’s desire to imagine a State outside
the principle of sensus communis. Kennouche states that the barbarous
passage of the Idea into Nature is thus an attempt to foreclose the demiurgic
power of Nature, so as to pave the way for the birth of an Absolute
Spirit, endowed with the same powers as God. He furthermore asserts that
nature has to be spiritualized, not in the pagan manner, but rather on the
basis of a human consciousness which will develop into a divine spirit.
Kennouche furthermore associates the “naturalization of Hegel’s
idea” as the “kenosis of God’s pure thought” with “the first imagination
of Power” which is the result of the birth of a corporeal power stemming
from nature, a “bodily perception of the divinized nature” (72). In this
way the author enters into a rational unfolding of the Göttliche-Idee that
is to be understood as depending on the imagination, while Hegel’s desire
“to eliminate every kind of empty unrealized abstractions, based on
perceptual understanding” becomes the “first step” of “reflective barbarism”
(84). The question of barbarism becomes more evident when Hegelian
Reason begins to grasp itself as “both ideal and unreal, subjective
and objective, unreal and transcendental” (115), and thus symbolizes the
beginning of a “progressive anthropomorphization of the Spirit,” ending
in “its own divinization” (132)
The Inclusion of Hegel’s mind within the Vichian eternal laws of History
is a rehabilitation of the historical power of myth and imagination towards
the understanding of the idea of political power. (iv)
The book concludes with a poetic discussion, Kennouche himself
trying to put to use the poetic imagination and to envision the fall of the
Promethean ideal of the divinization of humanity bringing about instead
the death of human Reason. “After Vico and Hegel’s relative optimism,
we should start thinking about the era of the Phenomenology of Evil”
(263). This somber thought closes the work.