Excerpts of this work (Chapters 2 & 3) have already been published as ‘Marx and the Sacred’ in the Summer 2010 issue of the Journal of Church and State, Volume 51, No. 3.
Go to: “They Destroy, We Create: The Anti-Austerity UK Alliance” in Planet Magazine: The Welsh Internationalist
Go to: Fatal Repetition: Badiou and the Age of the Poets, with Appendix: A Psychoanalysis of Alain Badiou
Marx and the Revolution of the Sacred
Opening: Marx and the Sacred
Chapter 1: Into the Breach – the Meaning of Marx
Chapter 2: Marx’s Criticism of Religion
Chapter 3: From Religion to the Sacred
Chapter 4: Marx and Sacred Rebellion
Chapter 5: Marx and Contemporary Radical Theology
Chapter 6: Marx, Heidegger and ‘Eigentlichkeit’
Chapter 7: A Violent Sacred – Marx and Bataille
Chapter 8: A Retrieval of the Sacred in Marx
Chapter 9: A Genealogy of the Sacred in Marx
Closing: The Sacred After Marx
Opening: Marx and the Sacred
‘It doesn’t matter whether a cat is white or black, as long as it catches mice.’ – Deng Xiaoping
One of the unfortunate consequences of the conflict between the True Believer and the Atheist is our failure to work together for fundamental social change (despite ideology or rationale). In this book, I argue that it is not religion or science for which we should fight, but for a sense of the sacred which liberates our true commitments and social power to act. Religion and science do not matter upon the plane of the higher questions of freedom. The fight between ‘science’ and ‘religion’ is a distraction and only approaches a type of pseudo-thought which merely deflects attention from the fact of human exploitation and the necessity of a radical liberation of resources to end exploitation. At the end of the day, I agree with Wittgenstein in his Remarks on Frazer that it is not the ideas that matter but the unimpeachable practices of an ethical life.
Religious suffering is at one and the same time the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions.
Religion is the general theory of that world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in a popular form, its spiritualistic point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, its universal source of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence because the human essence has no true reality. The struggle against religion is therefore indirectly a fight against the world of which religion is the spiritual aroma.
Perhaps the most formidable obstacle in the task of retrieving a sense of the sacred in Marx consists in his repeated, and often polemical, statements against religion – or the edited selections of his editors and guardians. Indeed, such an obstacle may in the end be one of our own making, as we are trapped within the labyrinth of our own historical understanding. Yet, assuming, for the moment, that religion and the sacred are the same phenomena, if we take his pronouncement that religion is the opium of the people – which I purposely left out in the opening quotation – in isolation, we may be lead to believe that Marx felt that at best religion – and thus the ‘sacred’ – is a narcotic, which while it may be utilized to alleviate pain, remains an illusory amelioration for a situation of humiliation and despair. Religion is an opiate in that it not only implies sedation from the pain of a life of exploitation, but also – ambivalently – suggests a systematic and strategic attempt to deaden or absorb any critical impulse to liberation. In this sense, Marx’s characterization of religion as an opiate is a forerunner of many of the most radical criticisms of religion and ‘negative’ theology in last century – Gutierrez, Miranda, Bultmann, Heidegger, Derrida, and Bataille. Each of these thinkers, in his own way, articulated a sense of the sacred in the wake of Marx and his deconstruction of religion as an ‘ideology’ – despite, perhaps, his own generation’s scientistic blindness to the regulative status of all ideas.
The kinship which is shared by each of these thinkers is a disdain for mere religion in favour of the ‘sacred’. Religion simultaneously constructs a ‘picture’ (Bild) for contemplation (Anschauung) and an organization that cultivates our captivity to that ‘picture’ (Wittgenstein). The sacred, on the contrary, intimates ‘love’ (Badiou), ‘binding commitment’ (Heidegger), an engaged and affirmative eruption of liberation amidst finite existence. Religion constructs its eternal church as an everlasting perpetuation of the ‘picture’, of an idol – a captivating grammar of existence – while the sacred exults in this moment of lived existence, in the haeccitas of Duns Scotus. If religion is a ‘rational’ and ‘systematic’ orchestration of feeling and phenomena, the sacred is an attempt to seek access to a phenomenon beyond the array of objectification towards traces of the numen. Indeed, for Otto, one need only begin amidst this singular event.
In light of this preliminary distinction between religion and the sacred, it will be the task of Marx and the Revolution of the Sacred to excavate and disclose in the writings and historical activism of Marx an affirmative sense of the sacred which is alterior to his inherently negative conception of religion. With Marx’s empathy in his ‘sigh of the oppressed creature’, we can glimpse a sense of the sacred dissociated from a religious leviathan that merely serves to perpetuate suffering – we can begin to glimpse a sacred that exists as a radical commitment to liberation. In this way, I will contend that Marx’s criticism of religion as an ideology of oppression and sedation in no way forecloses on a possible relationship between his work and Twentieth and Twenty-First Century attempts to articulate a sense of the sacred in the world. There emerges in these latter attempts the possibility of an openness which discloses a topos for an encounter with a sense of a sacred not mediated by ‘ideology’ (or positive theology).
In this way, that which will be disclosed as the ‘unity’ and coherence in these encounters of Marx with different strands of contemporary theology and philosophy is the inner kernel of ‘love’ and ‘commitment’, of affirmation, against nihilism and oppression — it is this ‘inner kernel’ that is an openness to the sacred. That which is sought is an indication in Marx’s writings and advocacy of a personal expression and articulation of the sacred which transcends both scientific prognostication and political advocacy. What we seek is the deeper ground of the sacred in Marx.
Otto suggests in the first part of his seminal work The Idea of the Holy that there is a non-rational, non-moralistic, and obscure feeling, a fascination and dread, in the wake of the numinous, the Mysterium Tremendum, the Augustus, which intimates to the mortal self a radically overwhelming and powerful sense of the holy, of the Sacred. Such an apprehension stands outside of the rationalist/empiricist/moralistic program of mere religion as ideology, of the merely Apollonian. It is that which stimulates, arouses the mortal being to affirm the sacred – in the well of feeling, amidst this Dionysian eruption of the event. Such an incitement enacts and intimates a sense of the sacred amid the world – expressed in poetry, the work of art, and praxis. It is a call to a radical phenomenology of the sacred – not of rationalist morality or dogma – of mere religion – but of a sacred affirmation, one which is situated, for Marx, amidst the historical topos of Capital. There is no exit.
Ideology is a picture which, problematically, indicates the truth of the world. A picture is untimely – de-temporalized – and thus, the notions, concepts, pictures of the ‘natural’ – of species, population, nation, race, gender, class, and humanity are merely idealizations (and erasures) of the concrete situations of lived existence… this place of strife, conflict and ‘love’. An ‘ideal unity’, ultimate meaning, picture, of ‘life’ is an ideology which operates as an erasure of a temporality of liberation amid this fractured existence of an alleged ‘humanity’ – another ideology. For Marx, there exists a temporal and existential dialectic of action amidst a discordant and coercive matrix of terrestrial power. This ‘dialectic’, this metaphor for a discordant ‘reciprocity’, indicates the actuality of freedom, of free existence. Yet, Marx’s commitment to such an emerging actuality of freedom comes into conflict with religion as a disciplinary matrix of the individual soul. However, if we can agree that mere religion plays a negative or sedative role in the thought of Marx, this does not preclude the possibility of an existential or ethical openness to an affirmation of the sacred. Indeed, as I will seek to show, the very criticism of religion by Marx is, in the context of his writings and actions, indicates an affirmation of the sacred – the meaning of this ‘term’ being, for the moment, left indeterminate, in the manner of Nicolas of Cusa. That which is essential is an openness which, following Otto, Bonhoeffer, Eliade, Altizer and others, enacts a personal commitment which transcends, overwhelms, the self – existentially prior to the posited ‘stems’ of ‘theory’ and ‘practice’ – this moment of an ecstatic ‘event’ beyond, but as, existence.
The texts that bring me directly to the sacred in Marx are his early poetry (and the traces of his poiesis which emerge throughout his life and later works). I will attempt to enact a retrieval of the sacred in his early poetry and writings which explicitly affirm a personal, existential ‘love’ of and commitment to revolution. We can find a beginning of his lifelong commitment in his early poetic writings – before philosophy.
I refuse to simply dismiss these poetic works as merely immature eruptions of ‘enthusiasm’ (that would be to rubber-stamp the notion of linear temporal development of a thinker – into periods – which I think is suspect). Marx may have supplemented his early writing of poetry with the concrete texts of the epigramist and social theorist, but the traces of the poetic opening which signal his affirmation, his obligation, intersect his entire so-called mature work, from the literary and rhetorically dramatic works such as The Communist Manifesto, the Eighteenth Brumaire, The Holy Family to the traces of his early poetic awareness in his many key references to Shakespeare in Capital and his earlier Contribution and Grundrisse. His opening, and beginning, in poiesis stands in contrast, but is ultimately complementary to, his trope of praxis. His poetry marks the breach in the usual depiction of his work as merely ‘scientific’, or as, Miranda writes, ‘Western’. From its eruption, Marx’s poetry guides and envelops his ‘scientific’ prose. As Heraclitus writes, ‘An unapparent connexion is stronger than an apparent one.’ Marx’s ‘analysis’ is not that of a disinterested observer, abiding safe on the island of strict, necessary, and universal knowledge. He writes amidst the act, the deed, in the trajectory of ‘love’, commitment and praxis. His writings, in this way, could be described as a poetics of existence.
In this light, I am trying to excavate the sacred impulse expressed in Marx’s poetry, which continues to underscore and find expression in his works and life. Indeed, beyond the texts and the allusion to the [un]said, there is the unmistakable affirmation in the life of Marx – especially in his political advocacy and in his difficult fatherhood. I do not believe we should see Marx as a mere political reductionist, a Burroughs junky – or, as a one-dimensional man – he may have been an ‘atheist’ with regards the Judeo-Christian or Islamic traditions, but that does not mean he must stand outside the sacred.
In the following, I will begin with the question of the meaning of Marx in the controversy surrounding the ‘continuity’ or ‘discontinuity’ of the works of Marx. In Into the Breach: the Meaning of Marx, I will examine the theory of the ‘epistemological break’ of Althusser and set forth a criticism which calls for a complete openness to the various works of Marx. I will next lay out an interpretation of the extant statements made by Marx concerning religion as such in Marx’s Criticism of Religion, providing a critique of ideology (Weltanschauung) – which seeks to forbid a strategy of interpretation which is oriented to praxis. I will follow this with the development of a distinction between religion and the sacred in From Religion to the Sacred. I will contrast the terrestrial requirements of religious production and reproduction with the dysteleological (Otto and Urpeth) affirmation of the sacred in the moment. In light of this distinction and its relationship to Marx’s criticism of religion, I will next consider the relationship of revolutionary thought to the sacred in Marx and Sacred Rebellion. I will consider the role of the sacred in the works of Gustavo Gutierrez and Jose Miranda in light of their commitment to liberation of the poor. In the wake of their explicit affirmation of Marx’s criticism of capitalist exploitation, I will question the purist interpretation of Marx’s critique of ideology in light of an explicit capacity for resistance in a radicalised – Miranda would say ‘true’ – christianity – or even secularism, if such exists. I will next turn to a consideration of the relationship of Marx to 20th Century Theology in Marx and Contemporary Radical Theology. Rudolph Bultmann will serve as the exemplar of this historical movement in theology, which, I believe, culminates in the controversies surrounding the role and proper articulation of theology – whether a Radical Orthodoxy, with political and cultural ambitions, or a radically apophatic theology, a, less than negative, theology of ‘thinking-practice’ as symptomatised in the work of Johannes Hoff.
I will be examining the affinities and differences between Bultmann’s project of de-mythologization and Marx’s criticism of ideology in light of the notions of ‘love’ and ‘commitment’. In a specification of the sense of Marx’s commitment, I will next consider Heidegger’s radical criticism of Marx as a mere ‘man of action’. Marx, Heidegger and ‘Eigentlichkeit’ will raise the question the sense of the sacred (or lack thereof) with respect to the existential decision of commitment and action. I will disagree with Heidegger’s contention that Marx failed to articulate a pre-theoretical understanding of existence and world. Although I will agree that Marx did not articulate any thought upon death, I will contend that Heidegger’s portrayal of Marx as a mere ‘man of action’ fails to appreciate the depth of Marx’s existential and personal ‘love’ and commitment to a radical historical transformation of the world. In light of the provocation to Heidegger of the play, differance of language, I will explore Marx’s poetry as a plausible response to Heidegger’s doubts (nevertheless, it is, after all likely, that Heidegger knew nothing of this poetry, for if he did, he would have made the most of it). Amid the horizon of the same question, I will explore the intercourse betwixt Marx and the post-structuralist thinker, writer, and activist Georges Bataille in A Violent Sacred: Marx and Bataille. I will explore the various pathways for such a radical commitment, the most significant of which is Marx’s advocacy of violent (‘on the outside, trying to get inside’) revolution as perhaps the most explicit indication of a sacred affirmation in Marx – but in a negative, actively nihilist, sense.
Without downplaying the necessity of Marx’s commitment to a revolutionary social transformation of the world, I will explore the possibility of an affirmative sense of the sacred in Marx, beyond the sacrificial logic of mere political and social violence. The event of ‘dialectical’ praxis, of revolution, as an intimacy of thought and action, forecloses on a merely voluntarist (or, on the contrary, ‘scientific’) interpretation of Marx. Seeking a more thoughtful and poetic Marx – as with his early German Romantic and German Idealist coming of age – I will begin to delve into the inner kernel of his thought in A Retrieval of the Sacred in Marx, a hermeneutical examination of his early poetry in which he allows himself to express an explicit affirmation of the Sacred, or of Being. I will investigate the poems Transformation, Creation and Awakening.
This consideration of Marx’s early poems will also provide the avenue for a re-thinking, in Chapter 9, A Genealogy of the Sacred in Marx, the meaning of his later works, such as Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, Communist Manifesto and Capital (and the Grundrisse).
In this sense, we can, in the spirit of Reiner Schürmann read Marx backward in a desire to come to grips with the root of his affirmation. Yet, differing from the reading the works of Heidegger, we must read Marx forwards, and then backwards, in a (hermeneutical) circle, as it were, so as to attempt to cast into relief not only Marx’s own consistent existential and social ethos, but also his affirmation of revolution as a necessary and inevitable event amidst this finite moment.
Chapter 1: Into the Breach – the Meaning of ‘Marx’
Before we can begin to grapple with our question of the ‘relation’ of Marx and the sacred, we must undertake a more preliminary investigation of the meaning of ‘Marx’. This hermeneutical question stands in our face – the question of the various, and often mutually exclusive, interpretations of the very topos of Marx. On its face, such diversity of interpretation should indeed be encouraged. Yet, in many instances, interpretation has been over-determined by ‘political’ exigency. Like a contortionist, Marx has been forced into one posture after another in order to justify any specific political program. Of course, this is no surprise as Marx himself was a highly political and politicised thinker. However, as ‘politics’ concerns not necessarily truth, but mere power and strategy, we will be careful not to allow ‘Marx’ to be manufactured as just another ‘ideology’. There must be an attempt to remain faithful to the texts and life of Marx so as to disclose the meaning of his work beyond the fleeting projections of political expediency. There is no ‘Marx’ an sich – there for our immediate reckoning – there is no ‘agreed framework’. Amid a vast topography of interpretation, we can apprehend many variants of the formal indicator of ‘Marx’. Yet, it would seem to be seemingly impossible to allow the texts to speak for themselves. Yet, in the spirit of Schlegel, we must attempt a certain irony, impossibility – in the first instance, through a look at ‘Marx’.
Such contortions and renderings took place in Marx’s own lifetime. One need only recall the well-known anecdote of his dissension at a meeting of the Second International, in which he declared, in response to a particular interpretation of his political economic theories, that he was not a ‘Marxist’ – though he never came around to Bakünin. The question of the meaning of Marx surged in theoretical-political controversies – especially those concerning Capital – in the formation of the Third International between Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, Hilferding and others. A more recent controversy concerns the status of his early writings, such as the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1844). This controversy however is unique. Unlike the earlier theoretico-political disputations which concerned the interpretation of available texts, such as the drafts of Capital, this controversy is a contestation over the very texts which may be included in the relevant opus of Marx. This dispute was and is a struggle between two of the most dominant tendencies in Marx interpretation since 1932. It concerns a decision on the part of the interpreter upon the relevance of Marx’s earlier works, many of which were unpublished. It was not until 1932 (after the death of Lenin, for instance) that Marx’s early writings began to be published, including the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, his Dissertation on the differences between Epicurus and Democritus, his Critique of Hegel’s Doctrine of the State, his poetry. All of these texts are forcefully suppressed by Althusser. Yet, we ask – why?
It may be significant that none of the early Communist thinkers never had the chance to read these earlier texts – although it will be argued that no book is a prerequisite for the event of revolutionary praxis. Yet, it is certain that, with the publication of these works, many party-affiliated ‘communist’ intellectuals (and their allies) dismissed the philosophical and libertarian sentiments and concerns of these works as pre-scientific and idealist. Indeed, such an opinion held and holds sway as later interpreters such as Althusser declared Marx’s early writings irrelevant to that which should be deemed as his true achievement – a ‘science of history’. For Althusser, the early writings are too close in affiliation with Hegelian and post-Hegelian idealism, and thus, do not achieve the level of science – despite the radical sense of Wissenshaften in their works. For Althusser, and the many followers who still follow this view, Marx had undertaken an ‘epistemological break’ in his displacement of philosophy by ‘scientific materialism’. In this way, following in line with the Analytic revolution, Althusser asserts a ‘scientific’ variant of ‘Marx’ in an interpretation which posits a discontinuity in his work – he is a ‘discontinuity theorist’. On the other side of this great divide are those who have emphasized the significance of Marx’s early studies of alienation and his libertarian vision of ‘communist’ revolution. Such thinkers, such as Ollman, wish to envision Marx’s work as a ‘continuity’, as a network of internal relations, in becoming, and as a result, have to a great extent re-cast the interpretation of Marx’s later works in the light cast by the earlier philosophical works. In this context, such thinkers could be described as ‘continuity theorists’.
In the absence of any explicit repudiation by Marx of his earlier work, it is the contention of this strand of Marx interpretation that there is no need to censor or suppress the reading and interpretation of these texts. In other words, there is no need to accept the meaning of Marx which has been handed to us by Althusser et. al.. Indeed, it will be argued below that all of Marx’s later insights were originally developed in his early works. Capital did not simply fall from the sky, and this text exhibits traces of these early works.
In the following, I will argue for the significance of Marx’s earlier works. While there is never a total continuity in any life, witnessed as a coherent field of discontinuous events, I feel there is no essential incompatibility between the early and later works. Yet, not only will I argue for the necessity of investigating Marx’s early philosophical work, but I will also argue, like I have done in the case of Nietzsche, that Marx’s poetry must be included in the ‘Canon’. Indeed, I will contend that Marx perhaps undertook a break, but one differing in character from that proposed by Althusser. That which erupts in Marx is a poetic space in which he began to explore the sense and contours of ‘love’ and commitment, of the sacred, a space, as with dasein in Heidegger or the ethical in Levinas, where an alterior sensibility is disclosed which is not articulated via the theoretical and practical ‘logics’ of rational organization. There has been no significant treatment of Marx’s poetry which is usually described, as with Nietzsche and his poetic and musical works, as early enthusiasms – at the worst embarrassing, at the best, irrelevant. In the following, I will begin with an examination and criticism of Althusser’s interpretation of the meaning of Marx and of his suppression of the latter’s earlier works. On the basis of this examination and criticism, I will articulate an argument for the inclusion of the early works in the corpus of texts which will be the topos for an interpretation of the meaning of Marx. I will contend that this inclusivity is necessary in order to ask what have become forbidden questions.
Althusser: Marxism as a New Science
Althusser allows for no ambiguity in the question of the meaning of Marx. Indeed, he is very clear that it is not even a matter of interpretation. The question of an interpretation of Marx is not even raised. In fact, such a possibility is suppressed. In his lecture, ‘Lenin and Philosophy’, given to the French Society of Philosophy in February 1968, Althusser sets forth a rhetorically ‘scientific’ picture of Marx. This picture indicates a situation in which a reduction is being offered as a ‘new continent’, a ‘new episteme’, as that which destroys that which is there in the initiation of a discursive formation, a ‘new science’. And’ for him, in his captivation, this is the only picture which ultimately matters. He simply states that Marx’s early works deserve no consideration – perhaps, in that they are children of their times – they are ‘philosophical’ in the worse sense of the word – a ‘false path’. Philosophy becomes a mere rumination upon itself and its own questions – divorced from historical considerations, questions of its own implication in the materialist regime and dissemination of capitalist power. Althusser states that philosophy – even critical or post-critical – remains implicated in a regime of indoctrination in an educational system which is part and parcel of the ideological state apparatus. No matter what, philosophy, as orchestrated in a system of education amid a class society, serves to propagate capitalist ideology in those who are forced into the indenture servitude of the student. Philosophy, as it is, cannot escape its status as ideology, on its own. It needs an intervention from the outside – a theory of philosophy as a ‘false path’.
For Althusser, such an ‘outside’ is intimated and demonstrated in some works of Marx. He points to two traces in the works of the Marx, the Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach and the statement in the German Ideology that this latter work is written to ‘settle accounts with an erstwhile philosophical consciousness’. Althusser casts the Eleventh Thesis as a premonition of a breach with philosophy in an attempt to articulate a new science of material history. The German Ideology, which was also unpublished, is also interpreted as a displacement of philosophy via a materialist science of history. Of all the early works, Althusser focuses only upon the Eleventh Thesis, and he is only concerned with the first phrase, ‘The philosophers have only interpreted the world’. Philosophy in this way is only ideology – ‘interpretation’ is ideology. For Althusser, the ‘authentic’ significance of Marx is that he is concerned with a science of the world. This science is articulated not only in the German Ideology but also in Capital and other political economic works.
Despite his earlier criticism of philosophy (and education as such, to which he himself ironically belonged) as being a mere indoctrination system, Althusser states that there is, in the current period, no exit from the categories and labels which will serve to orient the meaning of Marx with respect to the division of concepts into science, philosophy, sociology, etc. In this way, Althusser seems to accept the academic division of labour of capitalist indoctrination, despite his resistance to this regime. Indeed, he projects this division upon Marx in the distinction between philosophy and science. Upon the basis of this projection, Althusser suppresses the early philosophy work of Marx in order to orchestrate a particular meaning for the later, so-called ‘scientific’ works (certainly not Goethean ‘science’). With the early works excised, the later works become ‘pictured’ as pursuits of ‘objective knowledge’, of science, intellectual praxis. Indeed, it could be argued, against Althusser, that in such a divorcement of context, these works could in the end be interpreted according to whatever paradigm or ideological context that one may choose.
That which is significant for Althusser is the explication of the ‘operation’ of philosophy, one which gives off the reek of ideology. It is amidst this realisation that philosophy is a regime of ideology that it becomes possible to elaborate a theory and a description of philosophy as a ‘false path’. With this realization, it becomes possible not only to understand the implication of philosophy in a regime of indoctrination but also to articulate the (questionable) possibility of a theoretical intervention which displaces the stratagems of ideology in favour of an unveiled disclosure of concrete ‘reality’. In this way, we can see Althusser’s address on Lenin as such an intervention.
Althusser purports a scenario in which Marx breaks free from philosophy. His evidence is, on one hand, the ‘philosophical emptiness’ that is allegedly exhibited in the wake of the ‘epistemological break’ announced in The German Ideology (a work we should recall was written with Engels and was never published). Althusser seems to merely accept the academic definitions or pictures of philosophy – not only as a separate discipline, distinct from the others, but also as specific portrait of philosophy as an ontological discourse akin to religion and ethics, each conceived in an idealist or utilitarian sense. Althusser declares that, even if we can accept his definition, Marx never again, after the break, wrote philosophy, he was no longer engaged in ‘interpretation’ but emerged into the Real, the Science of Concrete Historical Man. In this way, Marx’s break with philosophy is not merely a theoretical shift from one philosophy to another, but a break from one episteme to another. As philosophy, for Althusser, is a false path, there must be a theory of an ‘epistemological break’ that will intervene to put out of play ‘all existing philosophy’. Althusser declares,
What was announced in the Theses on Feuerbach was, in the necessarily philosophical language, of a declaration of rupture with all ‘interpretive’ philosophy, something quite different from a new philosophy: a new science, the science of history, whose first, still infinitely fragile foundations Marx was to lay in The German Ideology.
Althusser characterizes Marx’s ‘philosophical emptiness’ as the proclamation of the ‘radical suppression of all existing philosophy…’ In a remarkable resemblance to the iconoclasm of the Vienna Circle, this ’emptiness’, for Althusser, is the awakening of the ‘fullness of a science.’ He attributes to Marx a suppression of philosophy as it is a ‘hallucination’, ‘mystification’, and a ‘dream’ – as it, in other words, abides some relation with the imagination, poetry, or art. Althusser asserts,
Philosophy, like religion and ethics, is only ideology, it has no history, everything which seems to happen in it really happens outside it, in the only real history, the history of the natural life of men, known by the action which reveals it by destroying the ideologies that veil it: foremost among these ideologies is philosophy.
The veil of the philosophical imagination must be torn asunder as it is merely a manufactured article of capitalist reproductivity. ‘Marxism’ – the new science – will suppress and destroy philosophy as a discredited imaginative artefact (poiesis) in order to allow the World of the Real – Science – to emerge as a new source for knowledge. The character of this new episteme, the new science (scientia) is a system of concepts, a nexus which displaces a mere play among ‘ideological notions.’
In order to cast his theory, his interpretation of ‘Marx’, into relief, Althusser sets out a topographical metaphor of the sciences as regional formations, as continents, of the ‘World of Science’. The formation of each continent occurs in an ‘epistemological break’. We can imagine, for instance, the breaking off of continents in the terrestrial drift of plate tectonics. Each break is destructive, but also creative or formative of novelty, in this case, of a new ‘real’ – science – a new episteme. Among the continents Althusser identifies are Mathematics (including its sub-grouping Logic), Physics (including Chemistry and Biology), and perhaps, he muses, a continent that has been opened up by Freud. Yet, Althusser is more certain about the new continent opened by Marx, although, in the manner of a good scientist, he sets forth this theory as a hypothesis, as a proposition, one that is to be put to the test. Althusser proposes,
Marx has opened up to scientific knowledge a new third scientific continent, the continent of History, by an epistemological break whose first still uncertain strokes are inscribed in The German Ideology, after having been announced in the Theses on Feuerbach.
Althusser reassures us that he is only testing the possibility of this new continent. We are to judge along with him. Indeed, this break, this event, is not, as he warns, instantaneous. Such an event becomes apparent in the midst of a historical re-organization of concrete existence, occurring in the wake of such a breach. Indeed, that which we consider to be an instantaneous novelty could be the fruit or recurrence of an ancient longing. Yet, even in its subtlety and its requirement of patience, Althusser wishes to apply his theory of an ‘epistemological break’ to the question of the meaning of Marx. He states,
In fact, the operation of these reorganizations, which affect essential concepts and their theoretical components, can be observed empirically in the sequence of Marx’s writings: in the Manifesto and The Poverty of Philosophy of 1847, in the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy of 1859, in Wages, Prices and Profits of 1865, in the first volume of Capital in 1867, etc.
As we have heard, the break is announced in the Theses on Feuerbach and given a few preliminary strokes in The German Ideology. In an uncritical positivist vein, Althusser states that the subsequent texts exhibit empirical evidence of a re-organization in the wake of the breach. Moreover, this is a scientific break, a declaration of independence of Scientia from Sophia. The implications of this break are radical and manifold. In the midst of this event, philosophy must remain silent, it must be suppressed as it is. Working from a rather academic and political, or, in other words, Platonic, definition of philosophy, Althusser states, in reference to Lenin,
Lenin began his book State and Revolution with this simple empirical comment: the State has not always existed; the existence of the State is only observable in class societies. In the same way, I shall say: philosophy has not always existed; the existence of philosophy is only observable in a world which contains what is called a science or a number of sciences. A science in the strict sense: a theoretical, i.e. ideal (idéelle) and demonstrative discipline, not an aggregate of empirical results.
Despite the palpable absurdities of his statements, Althusser draws a broad conclusion from his ‘observation’, indicated, we will recall, in the context of a discussion of the emergence into the Light of a new episteme, a new science of History. In order to clarify the relation between philosophy and science in this context, Althusser invokes Hegel’s myth of the Owl of Minerva, the goddess of wisdom who only flies at dusk. Minerva/Athena born from the head of Jupiter/Zeus evokes a philosophy of evening and Night. Yet, as Althusser is not open to the influence of such a Night upon the contours of the new day, he focuses merely upon that which he calls the dawn – science – that which could, in the end, if he is mistaken, be the longest and darkest of nights. Althusser enters a mythological topos, but retains the posture of an ‘objective scientist’. Philosophy is not yet, it is a possible recurrence under certain specific conditions. He states,
Philosophy is this always a long day behind the science which induces the birth of its first form and the rebirth of its revolutions, a long day which may last years, decades, a half-century or a century.
Althusser thus offers us, at a lag, the possibility of a new philosophy. The pre-scientific philosophy will be suppressed either directly or indirectly in the wake of the scientific epoche. Indeed, any new philosophy must be born from the scientific inducement of an ‘epistemological break’. Succumbing, perhaps, to this warmed-over Hegelian myth, Althusser states that a Marxist philosophy will arise only in the newly founded neighbourhood of a Marxist science of History. In a very poetic, though bastardised vein, dripping with bad faith, Althusser states,
The day is always long, but as luck would have it, it is already far advanced, look: dusk will soon fall. Marxist philosophy will take wing.
It is in this way that Althusser bids farewell to philosophy as it has and does exist – he welcomes an eclipse, a new dark age. He embraces the ‘philosophical primitivism’ (Wittgenstein) of Lenin (and of Engels) as this is interpreted as a sign of an emergence of a primitive consciousness of the ‘concrete’ from behind the veil of ideology. The day is long, it is not yet dusk. A new philosophy is to be reborn, recur, amid complex re-organizations of philosophy in the wake of the ‘epistemological break’. Perhaps, it smoulders as the ‘unknown continent’ of Freud (although his student Lacan may have more to ‘show’), a student of Nietzsche. Yet, despite the rhetorical tentativeness of his ‘proposition’ of Marxist history as a new continent, Althusser reiterates his disdain for Marx’s early writings in his criticisms of Lukacs and Gramsci. Those who cannot wait out the ‘long day’ proclaim a ‘philosophy of praxis’ – take their point of departure from ‘Marx’, in proximity to Hegel – not in the Real of Science.
The Topos of Revolution: a Criticism of Althusser
The meaning of Marx for Althusser consists in a theory (much in the manner of the Vienna Circle) of an ‘epistemological break’ from the false path, ideology, of philosophy, to the science of History. As stated, this is not a shift from one philosophy to another, but of one episteme to another. In the wake of this break, all existing philosophy becomes silent in the wake of a new dispensation of truth. Only after this dawn, after a long day, can philosophy, at dusk, take flight.
In the context of this narrative, we feel the hands of persuasion upon us, tempting us to forget Marx’s pre-scientific, philosophical works as these are creatures of a Night that had never known a dawn, have never set foot upon the ground of a new science. Althusser never explicitly mentions Marx’s poetry, but in light of his dismissive reference to ‘God-builders’ among some of the members of Mach’s circle, it is not difficult to fathom his line on this issue.
It is clear that publication was not a criterion for Althusser. He had the benefit to live in the post-1932 generation in which all of Marx’s texts were available. Yet, on the basis of his theory of a ‘Marxist science’, he unflinchingly suppresses all of the texts which pre-date the Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach. This is a strange decision, especially in light of his reliance on Hegelian metaphors – but a dependence that operated, at the end of the day, according to a quite straight forward logic. From the latter text, Althusser deduces that it is interpretation that is illusory, and in The German Ideology, he points out that Marx wishes to ‘settle accounts’ with philosophy. From these facts, Althusser alleges a radical break from ‘all existing philosophy’. His supporting evidence for this interpretation is the ‘philosophical emptiness’ which followed the announcement of the break. Since philosophy is criticised by Marx and since it is alleged that Marx no longer wrote philosophy, an ‘epistemological break’ is certain enough for Althusser that he will effectively and overtly reject Marx’s earlier works. For him, the theory is proven.
An initial point of contention for Althusser’s picture of Marx is the preliminary situation and scenario in which Althusser defines his terms. Indeed, Althusser’s theory of an ‘epistemological break’, as it is applied to ‘Marx’, remains parasitic upon the academic division of labour in its definition, planning, orchestration, and assessment of the boundaries of several disciplines. Foucault, a fallen student of Althusser, will designate these disciplines as ‘truth regimes’. While it may be argued that amidst such a system there is ‘no exit’ from its historical limits and horizons, in this case the division of labour, such a perspective remains blind to other phenomena and possibilities. From an existential perspective, it could be argued that Marx was not an academic, even though he received his doctorate in philosophy with a dissertation on Democritus and Epicurus. As his thought is of the ‘outside’, it is not clear whether we can understand Marx from the perspective of the academic division of labour, of its ‘pictures’ and formal specifications of poetry, philosophy and science. It is certainly possible to conceive of the so-called ‘scientific works’ as explications of truth in a deeply philosophical sense. Indeed, one can point out enormous philosophical continuities between Capital for instance and the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts. One could also find a marked similarity between the German Ideology and Marx’s early poems Transformation, Creation and The Awakening. Yet, it is upon this political-academic division that Althusser sets his application of the theory of the ‘epistemological break’ (although this is not necessary, but a different sense of such a ‘breach’ could alter the limits of ‘canonical’ texts). In a rather crude way, Althusser lays out his theory of a ‘philosophical emptiness’ on the basis of these academic demarcations. In his indication of the signs of a re-organization in philosophy, he lists the works on political economy which followed The German Ideology and the Theses on Feuerbach. Althusser seems to naively accept the disciplinary division between philosophy and political economy and of history without question. Since Marx is centered on political economics, he is not focussed upon philosophy. And thus, he has broken with philosophy… Althusser cannot let himself conceive of Capital as a philosophical work, as a pathway of articulation which enacts a logos of truth, as the indication and disclosure of the phenomenon.
Even if we, just for an instant, submit to this logic of identity and discipline to which Althusser seems to have already acquiesced, we may question the ‘identity’ projected upon Marx’s texts (and the blind violence to the ethos and poiesis of Marx’s life). Indeed, it would seem that Althusser reifies the academic division of labour into a historical necessity and forgets the bios of the street. Within the same parameters of evidence, of the Eleventh Thesis and The German Ideology, and the later string of works on political economy, we could give a radically different interpretation than that proposed by Althusser. In the first instance, as already suggested, these works are explications of the conditions and limits of truth in a philosophical sense. Indeed, Marx shares with Althusser a criticism of idealist philosophies in all of the texts which precede The German Ideology. Yet, his so-called ‘scientific’ works are not only seeking truth, but are orchestrated conceptually according to familiar philosophical patterns. For instance, the analysis of money in the Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy is hardly the articulation of a simple empirical fact. It is a highly orchestrated and post-Hegelian analysis of the ‘dialectical’ conditions for the emergence of the social relationship of money. The significance of Marx’s transformative appropriation of Hegelian dialectics with respect to his portrayal of the myriad social relationships amid the capitalist era, a philosophical strategy that is shared by the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, Introduction to a Critique of Hegel’s Doctrine of the State and the Contribution, and indeed, Capital, is Marx’s concern to intimate the existential situation of concrete estrangement in the capitalist era.
Moreover, as Marx is not merely a ‘scientist’ or an ‘epistemologist’, but a revolutionary, philosopher and finite human being, his emphasis upon the estrangement of human existence also abides an indication of pathways, of praxis, as with Fichte and the Romantics – and French communists – which may transform this temporal situation. Perhaps, if we were working from that reductionistic agenda as Althusser, we could consent to the picture of Marx as a ‘scientist.’ Yet, this would be blind to not only a much broader and richer expression of the desire for truth that is philosophy, but also the deep philosophical and ‘categorial’ background to any alleged scientific ‘fact’ – and of the much deeper facticity of existence and of action. Moreover, as I will argue below, it is not even a question of whether or not Marx wrote philosophy, but that he wrote at all, and in many voices throughout his life. This pluri-vocity exhibits a continuity and maturation of insights that emerged quite early, as we will see. Perhaps we can assent to Althusser’s notion of an ‘epistemological break’, but understood as an ‘existential breach’, we would wish to resituate the ‘event’ not merely in the early philosophy, but in Marx’s poetry, an expression which indicates the emergence of a profound questioning which took placed amid his first readings of Hegel, Fichte and Schelling. Without such considerations, Althusser’s picture of Marx is, to invoke Rosa Luxemburg, quite ‘bloodless’.
Indeed, Althusser himself descends from the pedestal of positive science to that of metaphor, of poiesis, on three significant occasions. His first excursion into poetry is his attribution of ‘philosophical emptiness’ to Marx in the wake of the birth of the new science of History. This formulation has an existentialist ring in its statement that Marx is nothing that is philosophical, he is empty of philosophy (Sartrean ’emptiness’). Yet, as we will see in Althusser’s other uses of metaphor, his attempts ultimately fail as he seems to be unable to see the internal relations of the metaphor amid the nexus of concrete existence, and thus, the possibility of differing and myriad interpretations of a metaphor. For instance, perhaps Marx’s ’emptiness’ could imply that ‘Marx’ is in need of philosophy or of a existential ‘interpretation’ which explicates the philosophical continuity in the later works, or, to throw out another metaphor, that he is an empty vessel longing for a philosophy. While Althusser may chose the latter version, it is clear that not only are there many possible readings of this situation, but also that, as I have indicated, there is a manifest kinship between Marx’s ‘early’ and ‘later’ works.
Althusser’s second significant metaphor, that of epistemic continents, is applied to Marx to show that there is an ‘epistemological break’ between the early and later works – indeed, it is this theory which sets up this distinction in its agenda of constituting a ‘science’ of History. I have conceded that the meaning of Marx could be, in a significant way, associated with a breach, but not one which could be described in terms of the academic and political nomenclature of the day. Marx’s radical criticism, his breach, I will argue, begins in his poetry and unfolds throughout the trajectory of his works, as a literary and political praxis. It should be said that Althusser’s topography points to a topos of expression that is the finite existence of ‘Marx’. A sensitivity to phenomena and existence may allow us to take a step back into the deeper ground of Marx’s breach from the labyrinth of culturo-ideological indoctrination and of his creative transformation of the intimate kinship of truth and praxis – an ‘outside’ which seeps in, as in the Masque of the Red Death of Poe. Perhaps, Althusser would simply dismiss such considerations as a descent into psychology, biography– or, the ‘existentialisms’ of Heidegger and Sartre. Such notions still persist in the Night before the dawn.
Indeed, such a relationship between Night and the dawn is prominent in Althusser’s use of Hegel’s myth to the Owl of Minerva. As we have seen, Althusser places his emphasis upon the dawn as the ‘epistemological break’ which founds a new continent, a new science. It is only after the dawn, after a long day, that dusk will descend upon the world. At such a time, [Marxist] philosophy will take wing. However, such a hyper-linear formulation forces philosophy into the role of the vulture which ‘sucks blood from dead corpse’ (Agnes Heller). Indeed, despite Althusser’s appeals to the ‘natural man’, he fails to apprehend the cyclical implications of his metaphor of dawn, dusk, Night and twilight. Indeed, he projects his (forced) linear ‘Enlightenment’ agenda upon a phenomena which displays itself as akin to a circle, a recurrence of the ‘same’. In this way, if considered in a circular fashion, it is the Night and the twilight before the dawn which give birth to this Twilight and Light. Perhaps, the dawn is only one moment in a circle, in which each possessed ultimate significance. It is clear that Althusser’s metaphors, much to his dismay, bring with them more questions than answers. In fact, it is quite simple to subvert his meaning into a differing interpretation.
Yet, that which is most perplexing about Althusser’s address on Lenin is the Janus-faced character of his discourse. On the one hand, he specifies a reduced terrain of textual relevance in his constitution of the meaning of ‘Marx’. On the other, he slips into metaphors which serve in the end to subvert his initial proposition. For instance, how can Althusser reject Marx’s early works due to their ‘Hegelianism’, and simultaneously justify his significant reliance on the Hegelian schema of the Owl of Minerva? In light of his own use of metaphor and poetry, how can Althusser reject Marx’s poetry as the spark of the breach which announces a different meaning of Marx? Indeed, a powerful meaning of the Myth of the Owl of Minerva is the deep gestation of the thought, of lightening from the dark cloud, the birth of Athena from the head of Zeus, or Apollo from Dionysus. One can neither destroy the kinship of these powers of existence, nor assert a priority betwixt them. In this way, the poetry and early philosophical writings of Marx, even on Althusser’s terms, would be the gestation, the topos of formulation for the insight of Marx, and are thus worthy of better treatment than suppression, rejection, and libel. It is this topos which opens a ‘place’ for an authentic revolutionary praxis.
As ‘evidence’ for this alternative interpretation, one which emphasizes the ‘continuity’ amidst the works of Marx, we can highlight that which is missed in a merely scientific – or epistemological – interpretation of ‘Marx’. As suggested, the kinship between the early and later works, indeed, the flow amidst differing topographies of expression, from poetry, to philosophy, political pamphlets and programs plays itself out an a still unfinished legacy of political economic, philosophical, sociological, and ideological analysis, deconstruction – and action. ‘Marx’ therefore is a topos of indication and expression, the truth of which would be destroyed if there was an imposition of a monologicity of meaning, an interpretation, which in the end forbids all subsequent interpretation. Philosophy as the desire for truth is not enough for Althusser. He must possess her, his new episteme, as absolute truth. Althusser’s presumption of concrete historical truth, free of interpretation, is similar to Hegel’s Absolute Idea. The latter described his Logic as the ‘thoughts of god before creation.’ It is also significant that Marx placed a copy of this book upon his desk as he wrote Capital. He also had a physiology textbook on his desk. These ‘simple empirical facts’ show the ambiguity which is introduced if we seek to deconstruct the rigid portrayals of the meaning of a work. Indeed, it may be suggested that with his consent to the symbolic division of labour of the academic ‘ideological apparatus’, Althusser’s interpretation of ‘Marx’ as a new science is a commodification of Marx and is perhaps one of the vanguard of capitalist ideologies. That to which Althusser is blind is the sense of estrangement and alienation that exists amidst capitalist hegemony. As he does not see the surreal up-side-down world of the capitalist ethos and bios, but consents to it in his adoption of the Hegelian schema – Althusser’s ‘theory’ becomes a ‘case study’ of alienation. Not only does it drift into seemingly non-scientific regions such as metaphor and poetry, but it also blindly acquiesces to the stratagems of otherwise condemned philosophers. Yet, amidst the detours into pictures, a linear reason is preserved as it runs roughshod over the cyclical or lateral metaphorical topographies. Althusser suppresses that which does not fit into his schema. However, as we have seen even his break is problematic as continuities are readily in evidence throughout the works of Marx. It is in this way that we can ask questions, such as the sacred, even in a ‘materialist’ sense, as in the case of Bataille, that have been forbidden by the architectonic rhetoric of Althusser (and the positivist 20th century, enamoured of ‘science’, questions which involve the internal relations between each and all of the texts – and of life, etc….
Ditto for Badiou, Cf. Fatal Repetition: Badiou and the Age of the Poets with Appendix: A Psychoanalysis of Alain Badiou
Chapter 2: Marx’s Criticism of Religion
Marx sets forth his first philosophical criticism of religion in his appropriation of the Feuerbachian humanist criticism and inversion of not only Hegel, but also of Christianity. Returning to the poetry of Theognis, such a sensuous inversion of religion forces us to become, as Bataille has written, disintoxicated – no longer to stand upon our heads – but, to see religion as that which it is, as an abstraction of ‘real man’ into ‘ideal man’. Such an idealization constitutes alienation in the loss of agency vis-à-vis this all-too-human artifice which occurs, for Feuerbach, in the forgetfulness of the concrete origin of the work of art – in human sensuousness. For Feuerbach, it was simply enough to realise such a loss and alienation to regain the essence of humanity once and for all – for Marx, Feuerbach remains an idealist, a contemplative.
The simplicity and genius of Feuerbach’s insight, that God is the ideal representation of the aspiration of the human species, was not enough for Marx. While he would not ultimately deny the possibility of flights of desire, of thought and being on the ‘outside’, as in a moment of revolutionary aporia, Marx also demanded a materialist deconstruction of the real interests of religion, in word, thought and deed. Mere insight, mere thought, could never undo this material substratum, that configuration of terrestrial power, which originally sets the hegemonic parameters, horizons for thought – which deny this ethos of existence. There must be, as the root of any theoretical activity, on the contrary, a situation or clearing of existence, a radical dialectical transfiguration of the real conditions of existence for there to be a transmutation and alternative disclosure in the ideal reflection or thought of being.
Marx contends that a criticism of religion is the pre-requisite for any concrete analysis of the actual social relationships of human existence. Indeed, a criticism of religion is not merely an exercise of thought. It requires resistance to and refusal of its rituals of outward effect. It requires existential praxis. Religion – as distinct from the sacred – becomes ideology, as it is, for Marx, an alienated product of an alienated existence. As an alienated activity, amidst a matrix of systematic alienation, its own self-interpretation is divorced from any immediate awareness of the conditions of its emergence and maintenance – one that, with Nietzsche and Bataille, hides its own dark roots. It therefore cannot be anything but a mask that shrouds the concrete truth of human existence. In this chapter, I will set forth Marx’s criticisms of religion as mere ideology. While I will argue below that Marx’s criticism of religion is already expressed in his poetry, his initial philosophical criticism of religion is greatly influenced by Feuerbach, and the humanist criticism of absolutist idealism. Marx’s step beyond, towards a materialist criticism of religion, is a specification and concretization of the insight of Feuerbach.
Yet, despite the significant traces of Feuerbach in the later Marx, as in the notion of fetishism of commodities articulated in Capital, Marx’s deconstruction of religion abides the implicit possibility of a retrieval of a non-alienated sense of the sacred as a concrete human activity and reflexivity via praxis. While Marx departs from Feuerbach, it is crucial to the following inquiry that there be a deep continuity in the writings of Marx. It is this continuity which must put to rest a greatly misunderstood ‘epistemological break’. I will attempt to disclose the contours of this continuity and argue that it is only from this perspective that we can glimpse, most clearly, the distinction in Marx between religion and the sacred. Let us begin with one of Marx’s most direct statements on mere religion,
Religion is the general theory of that world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in a popular form, its spiritualistic point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, its universal source of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence because the human essence has no true reality. The struggle against religion is therefore indirectly a fight against the world of which religion is the spiritual aroma.
As long as ‘religion’ is embedded in the grand narratives of moral, political (religious) instruction, there exists, if we consider the apophatic, negative theology of ‘Marx’, no avenue to explore the intimate trajectories of the way or manner of temporal irruption of the sacred. In mere thought, we cannot smell the spiritual aroma of the religious cult. In this way, religion, as a concrete indication of existence, is a symptom of an actuality in which humanity is alienated from its own self-understanding. A desire for a truth of the sacred must overcome mere thought and the practical, utilitarian (moral) stratagems of religion. It must be awakened to its own free existence. As I will argue below, such a situation of alienation indicates a severance of humanity from an authentic sense of the sacred. Religion as ideology prevents an awakening to an intimate and authentic sense of the sacred, just as is the case with those other ideological forms such as mere politics, mere art and mere philosophy. Indeed, if it is possible, as Marx suggests in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, to achieve via a revolution a non-alienated sense of social being and social praxis – and in the context of a community that is the prerequisite situation for the emergence of an individual) , it would seem possible to be able to achieve a non-alienated sense of the sacred – of a, albeit temporary – affirmation of the heterogeneous amid the mask of a homogenous order. This would be to indicate a sense of the sacred which is not a phantasmogorical product of mere thought and ideology, but an authentic singular and social praxis which is liberated from the snares of a condition of alienation.
Beginning with the Feuerbachian inversion and transformation of the Hegelian dialectic, Marx insists in the Theses on Feuerbach, the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, and in the Introduction to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, that the authentic interests of a ‘universal humanism’ remained enshrouded within an a-historical regime of consciousness in the matrix of religious ideology. In this interpretation, the traditional grand referent ‘God’ and the theological infrastructure articulated on the basis of such a conjecture persists as a lost work of art – ultimately of human origin, but forgotten in its genealogy. Marx writes that religion is the ‘self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet found himself or has already lost himself again.’ That which was created by human beings has attained an abstract agency over humans in that the origin of the work of art has been erased. Amidst the narrative of ‘consciousness’, our own creations have been given agency over and against us. An alienated social existence gives rise to an alienated consciousness. We can no longer see or hear these contours of our existence as we only apprehend that which is indicated in a free-floating matrix of an imposed interpretation. As Miranda suggests, we do not question the legitimacy of the ownership of capital or of the apparent justice of the wage system, for as Wittgenstein writes in his Philosophical Investigations (115), ‘A picture held us captive, and we could not free ourselves from it as it is inexorably repeated in our language.’ For Miranda, the picture must be destroyed amidst the birth of the ‘Kingdom of God’ amidst the invasion of Yahweh. In different language, the ‘death of God’ meant, for Altizer, the fulfilment of love in the moment of existence. We are here together now, and we can do whatever we must do amid this temporal opening. Amidst existence, possibility expresses the meaning of this, my own self.
Yet, the language of ideology is a ‘phenomenalism’ all its own. It points out, indicates, that which will specify the ‘facts’ which will serve to reproduce its own existence, its theory or morality.
We are talked to death. We are given a world through these words. But, these words serve merely to cover over that which exists – at least from the concrete perspective of a contestation of ‘which’ facts.
We are told everything, but shown nothing. And, as with Miranda and others who challenge the entire edifice of religion and cult, Marx hit upon a struggle for truth in the wake of a systematic falsification of existence by ‘religion’, by a ‘cult of sacrifice’. This raises the question of the relation of the sacred and revolution (Cf. Chapter 6).
In Marx’s works written under the influence ofFeuerbach, one senses a transition away from the merely religious – albeit negative (‘the against’) – sensibility one finds, for instance, in Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity. The famous Eleventh Thesis, which exhorts action over interpretation, serves as a transition from mere thought to a praxis amidst this everyday and existence. Yet, it does not operate amidst any new epistemic event – the Eleventh Thesis is akin to all of Marx’s early works. Already in his poem, The Epigramist, Marx expresses a preference for concrete action against the religiosity and ideologi-osity of moral demagogues, even such as the contemplative poetry of Schiller. Indeed, concrete action or the praxis of human existence takes center stage in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, or Paris Manuscripts of 1844, texts written, as with the Introduction to a Contribution to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1845), under the shadow of the fiery brook… Feuerbach… through which each, Marx declares, must travel…
However, the posture of the Eleventh Thesis does not mean that Marx has merely abandoned, or will ever abandon, interpretation as radical criticism or even the methodology of inversion which he orchestrated in his earlier writings. Despite the many academic and political dis-continuity theorists who seek to leave Marx – and philosophy and ‘science’ as such – dissected upon the cutting table – in an epistemological break – Marx continued his life of writing and political advocacy continually setting forth engaged interpretations, analyses, and pictures and poems of the ‘situations’ and ‘laws of motion’ of the ‘world’. For Marx, interpretation undergoes a transformation of meaning – amidst praxis.
A critical hermeneutic and strategy of inversion continues to surface in Marx’s writings, even in those in which he collaborates with Engels, such as The Holy Family, a radical and often comic criticism of the idealist philosophies of the so-called young Hegelians and in the German Ideology, a text not published in his own life time. In both of these texts, there is a displacement of a Feuerbachian humanist fundament via a materialist analysis of history. That which is consistent in these critical works is a confrontation with a quasi-Hegelian absolute idealist and a-historical ‘interpretation’ of human existence, a camera obscura which remains parasitic on an abstraction of human essence which projects an eternal exemplar deemed to possess exclusive access to a disclosure of ‘Nature’. From one side of the coin, such an image or world-picture (Weltanschauung) fails to acknowledge the radical historical character of human existence; from the other, such a picture merely serves to reinforce a conception and ethos of human existence which is portrayed as a completed, and thus natural, and therefore, unchangeable static situation. Such a picture simply obscures existence in its eruption amidst struggle. At the ceremony of the end of history erupts a new surprise, unexpected…
This is the essence of Marx’s criticism of religion – and ‘objective’ science and ‘systematic’, ‘rational’ theology – it merely serves to pre-empt, ideologically, the ethical intentionality, of an ethical significance of our lifeworld, of the possibility of a radical disclosure and transformation of the situation and contours of singular, historically urgent human existence. Marx’s disclosure is therefore more complex than a mere refusal of an interpretation of human existence, which projects itself as an eternal exemplar. He never throws down the ladder. His motivations are also existential in the sense that he deconstructs a metaphysics of interpretation which projects a typology of interpretation which not only paints a static image of that which is, what existence is, but also, in accord with this depiction, serves to consolidate a dominant ideology which considers change impossible – and begins to teach this to our children.
Mere interpretation – the ‘scientific method’ – as it exists, in the context of Marx’s criticism, beyond the maelstroms of existential temporality and historicity, gives the interpreter – the safe, eternal observer – a sense that he can create the world in his own image. The interpreter, in this sense, sets back away from historical events and merely describes that which is – in a posture of objectivity – as a transcendental subject of modernity, as a contemplator of ideology, a Christian ego in a Secular world. Marx writes that religion is the ‘illusory sun which revolves around man as long as he does not revolve around himself.’ Such a gesture conjures the spirit of Giordano Bruno, against the merely Copernican metaphysics of Kant, who opens up the possibility of an intimate self-interpretation of human existence which resists the ‘secure’ stratagems of ideological falsification. Bruno wrote that the center was everywhere, that each tenuous existence opens toward the Sacred. Such a notion of radical immanence subverts the solid and safe architectonic of a subjectivity which could only rest upon a structure of transcendence which was immune to a radical sense of the sublime. The structure of transcendental subjectivity, as it is immune from the overwhelming sublimity of the sacred event, of the roots of the sublime, temporality, or as Otto suggests, of the numinous, posits a safe place where the ‘subject’ is protected from the radical makeshift sense of existence. The sublime, in the context of Kant’s Third Critique, becomes nothing but a spectacle viewed from the safe distance of a protected exteriority, a transcendental subject which is a safe, little island… or, as Critchley muses (in denial), very little, almost nothing.
For Marx such a comfortable station was not an option. With his indication of praxis, and with the serious visceral repercussions of his political advocacy (not to mention the tenuous situations of his life of poverty in London), there was no longer the possibility of an 18th or even 19th century scientific (Enlightenment or Darwinist) objectivity to his inquiries, but an engaged praxis through which he learned as he acted amidst his world. Once again, this is not, however, to suggest that Marx merely refused interpretation as such. It would be to set forth the possibility of a radically different typology of interpretation – one influenced at its core by the cry of the oppressed, even the cry of oneself as he walked for thirty-five years to the Round Reading Room at the British Library, as he aged in Levinas’ sense. For instance, one could contend that Marx’s Capital is a work of interpretation, a hermeneutic poiesis. And, as one reads this work, one fathoms that it is neither a merely mythological interpretation of the ‘beginning’, as with the earlier political economists with the ‘natural state’ (the myth of the hunter and the fisherman), nor is it a work exhorting the pretence of a scientific methodology of an objective, pan-optic or god’s eye observer. It is an engaged work, one of methodical research and revolutionary advocacy, but also one infused with myriad factual data and documentation of the actual situation of workers (cf. Chapter 10, On the Working Day) and of owners of capitals amidst a novel matrix of historical existence – that which Marx dubbed as the capitalist mode of production. However, Marx’s work is not therefore a work of positivism of empirical descriptive generalization as with the inductive works of the working class writer Dietzgen, who Marx called ‘our philosopher’. There resides a strong interpretative and hermeneutic sophistication in Capital – and there is the legacy of Feuerbach in Capital in its historical and political economic articulation.
That which truly discloses Marx’s criticisms of religion is a consistent criticism of idealistic abstraction and positivist reification from the perspective of lived existence. This perspective is underscored by Marx’s choice of words to describe this novel historical constellation – fetishism. It is in this light that we can fathom Marx’s Eleventh Thesis in a new light. It is not interpretation as historical hermeneutics oriented to praxis (or poiesis in the sacred sense) that Marx is criticising, but the idealized projections which attempt to stand beyond the historicity of human existence (or those positivist assertions which wish to make history stand still) – the always bad poetry which merely serves power. While Marx sets forth his (and Engels) grand narrative of historical materialism in The German Ideology (condemned to the criticism of rats and mice), he, the old mole, is involved, from the imminent perspective of praxis, in an intimate hermeneutic of human existence, articulated amidst the horizons of a specific opening of historicity. The commodity is the latest manifestation and modus operandi of Adam and Eve, of the inexorable narrative and theatre of human impotence. The commodity is our god – our fetish. Marx no longer seems to need to speak of religion per se as all this idle chatter – pseudo-religion – is being catastrophically eclipsed amidst the pseudo-renaissance of the 19th century. But, it is a renaissance which is also indicative of an eclipse of an authentic notion of the sacred. Religion and the sacred become identified into a matrix of the Same. Not only that, but the new god, the commodity, as a fetish, exudes the resonance of that which is utterly profane – intimating the other connotation of the term fetish – in the sublime spirit of the Marquis de Sade who was so admired by Georges Bataille. Religion cowers in its concentration camp. It is the concentration camp. This sacred affirmation erupts amidst this ‘life’.
Marx is playing here to Protestant ideology as the novel spirit of capitalism and to Christianity as the ‘special religion of capital’. Not only does he suggest the possibility that capitalism constitutes a retrogression to the so-called ‘savage’ religions, which would so offend the supremacist delusions of the newly-chosen Christian elite, but that our very situation of affliction is a perverse desire – a fetish. We are addicted to our affliction, to our god and to our masochistic prostration to a mere ‘cultus’, as Miranda suggests. Such prostration to the ‘Grand Inquisitor’, of cultus, is a renunciation, a displacement, of an affirmation and cultivation of the sacred. The madman Nietzsche shouts out, as the new Cassandra, that God is Dead in his Thus Spoke Zarathustra and his Gay Science. No one listens to him, but everyone feels the wake of that which he speaks. But the death of god does not mean – or was not intended to mean – that there is nothing holy, that there is nothing divine. A sacred opening does not close with Marx’s deconstruction of religion, or of Nietzsche’s objections to a mere Platonic (Augustinian) or Aristotelian ‘Christianity’. Indeed, the impetus for such cries in the wilderness, as with any prophetic intervention, was and is that there exists a sacred that has not been destroyed by the facile refusals of a scientific or religious hegemony. The deconstruction is the simultaneous prerequisite for an affirmation of the Sacred. Marx’s criticism of religion consists in a confrontation with an -historical idealism and positivistic moralistic rationalism which, through its inability to disclose the truth of human existence, serves merely to mask a historical condition of self-deception and perverse self-laceration. Religion, or, the a-temporal, but successionistic ideology of power is not concerned or existentially aware of an intimate affirmation of the sacred.
Marx does not need to directly articulate a doctrine of the sacred – or of the possibility of a non-alienated sense of the sacred after communism (remember Bultmann or consider apophatic, negative theology). His affirmation is enough – indeed, communism was only the means for that which would emerge – he is always already on sacred ground in his taking sides with the weak and oppressed. In deed, Miranda contends that the praxis of earthly justice, of love, [is] the sacred itself, which for him is envisioned as a god of liberation, justice and love. Such a possibility and comportment is evident in the said of a life of confrontation and advocacy for a different world. As Kant writes in his Religion, the actions and life of a man indicate (problematically) his disposition. Marx’s poetry and his poetic references in his later works and his actions serve as symptoms or indications of a desire, an affirmation which is the concrete actualization of an intentionality toward and amidst a sacred opening. Indeed, although it is unlikely that Marx is working within the horizons of the Bible or any other religious text, he, in his affirmation, fulfils the prophets’ injunction against speaking or setting forth an image of the god. Such an image is a symptom of an existence which had created masks to obscure and prohibit the possibility of communication. That which lies beyond the image is an affirmation of a sacred praxis.
Mere religion as an instruction, as an ideological discipline, collaborates with the de-sacralisation of the world – with the eclipse of the sacred. There is nothing left but words which point to nothings, which disclose nothings. The refusal of these nothings – of the myriad chaos of beings entering and exiting ‘THIS’ world which are distinct from the No-thing of transcending in Heidegger – is a rejection of an ethos and methodology which serves to either reduce the event of existence to either an a-historical narrative, without phenomenological or existential relevance, or, to a scientific narrative of descriptive everydayness. Marx is not interested in constituting a Marxian Science or a Marxian politics – he confronts the abyss of commodity, this irruptive being which determines our alienated, capitalist ‘consciousness; – one which yawns between you and me. We cannot pretend that this abyss is not there – that we can ignore it. By ignoring this situation, we more firmly affirm our situation of pathetic incarceration. [Mankind] is afflicted by its own alien projections and fabrications. Marx incites us to apprehend our own concrete situations and predicaments… it is not merely the workers with which he is concerned – ‘we’ are all alienated – each from each other.
There must be something deeper at work here…
Chapter 3: From Religion to the Sacred
Religion, in a dialectical materialist analysis, is not dismissed merely as an idealism or a phantom – as if a mere refutation of ideas could lead to the evaporation of religion. Marx uses the term ideology (weltanschauung), and this term does not indicate a mere ‘reflection’ of material conditions, as a logos is that which issues forth as not only as an interpretation of existence (dasein), but also as an expressive topos of a differentiated and conflictual matrix of power. Ideology is a camera obscura which masques power relationships by means of an organization which orchestrates a regurgitation of spurious interpretations, or pictures. As Foucault writes in Discipline and Punish, ideology is not merely a repression of ‘conscious’ representation, but as discourse, indicates, in its intimacy amid the disseminations of power, a proactive cultivation of a reproduction of configurations of power. The medium is the message, as McLuhan taught us. And vice versa. Miranda contends that religion, as the cultus, is a falsification of the meaning of lived existence. From the radical perspective of Miranda’s interpretation of the Old and New Testaments, the cultus of religion, as it has suppressed the authentic meaning of the sacred as a pursuit of justice, serves to eradicate the breach which is a call for resistance against oppression. In this way, religion is not simply an idea, but a medium of transmission and control, with its own organisations, networks, and mnemnotechnic devices of indoctrination, of repetition – or as they say, ‘remembrance’.
Yet, from amidst this exposure of religion, one sees, hears and smells that a sense of the sacred does not depend on the latest concept or image – all of these will be engulfed in the various modifications of the spectacle, of the serial articulation of a profane gallery. That which clears the topos for an opening to a sacred dimension is a temporal existence which overwhelms the finite self in the moments of horror, terror, comedy, and in a more preliminary sense, in anxiety. In a radical phenomenological gesture, we can cast the sacred into relief as not only this personal apprehension of finitude, but also, as this possible awakening to the Other – or to, as Otto suggests, the numinous, the mysterium tremendum, or, with the face, as indicated by Levinas. In this way, an apprehension of the negativity of finitude may pass over into a situation in which one may tune into one’s own ethos amid an affirmation of the possibilities of ecstatic existence. For an isolated, alienated self – there erupts the event of transcending – Ariadne’s thread descends amidst a labyrinth of a merely ‘negative dialectics’. This exit-less destination is transfigured into an affirmation of the sacred meaning of existence.
It was perhaps with the Emperor Constatine that religion, specifically the Christian religion, as it was made the legal and ideological orthodoxy of the Roman state, began a process in which the ancient Pagan, and if we can agree with Miranda, the authentic Biblical notion of the Sacred was erased from the public lifeworld of existence (it is perhaps possible that the Biblical notion of the sacred was eradicated at an even earlier date in the redactionist interpretation of, for instance, Exodus). In the wake of the untimely death of Julian, the so-called Apostate, who attempted to reverse the subversive and radical edicts of the new religious hegemony of nascent Christendom, the myriad public and private cults of the gods, goddesses, and spirits began to suffer inquisitorial interdiction amidst a totalitarian project which sought the establishment of a unitary and political sense of the sacred. With the eventual establishment of the Holy Roman Empire under Charlemagne, and with the triumphant power of the Roman Church, the actuality of a political cultus overwhelmed an immediate and fragile assertion of a sacred resistance to oppression and injustice. For Miranda, the hegemony of Greek (Platonic and Aristotelian) philosophy over Christian Theology served to continue the suppression of the authentic conception of the sacred in the Old and New Testaments – not to mention of the Pagan mysteries.
The sacred as the breach of the ‘order of things’ was suppressed in the wake of the desire for worldly security. Such an inquisitorial project existed even after the paltry initiatives of the Reformation. For even in light of the assertion of Luther that one would be judged by God via the criteria of faith alone, the various reformational cults aimed, in the end, to establish their own regional jurisdictions, serving merely to highten the paranoia of the inquisitional spirit. For instance, despite the idle chatter against popery and the priest, there was never any affirmation of a singular disclosure of the sacred on the part of the individual soul – this soul was never set free. If one did manage freedom, she could find herself burning on a stake at a public festival, the Christian version of human sacrifice. Once again, the propaganda and rhetoric of Luther far exceeded the actual transformation which he was facilitating as this re-formation did not provoke or invoke the questioner to a singular awakening and liberation to an intimacy amidst a sacred event. The iconoclasm of images and the erasure of the indulgences (bribery of God) and the destruction of a politico-religious bureaucracy never foreclosed on the mediating role of the spiritually elect, of the reverend, and of a protestant political authority. The continued propagation of a specific interpretation of the bible, a book, biblio, which is, in any event, political through-and=through – having been changed here and there with these whims of power – not to mention the exclusion of hundreds of books of the original – served to foreclose on the possibility of a radical encounter of a singular mortal being with the sacred. If one is to perceive and imbibe the divine by faith alone, and not via works, then there is no need of a bible – or a Church. There is the radical possibility of an immediate opening amidst the sacred. For Miranda, such an opening is a pursuit of justice which is the sacred, is the divine. In this sense, there is not even a need to proclaim and name such an intimacy – it is inexorably lived. In this way, an outward appearing a-religionism may indeed betray a life lived in the immediate light of the sacred. Do not let your right hand know what your left is doing.
The Reformation, in this way, is aptly named, as it indicates a re-configuration of that which was already there. There was never any attempt to re-write the bible – the Canon – or to re-insert the many documents which had been excluded by the Roman Catholic Church, that whore of Babylon, such as the Gospel of Thomas, or to dismiss the bible as such – or to separate the Old from the New Testaments, etc… Religion remained the same as it had been since the monotheist insurgencies – that which Breasted designated as ‘religious imperialism’ – albeit in devolved, fragmented ‘forms’ – ‘organizations’, ‘networks’ – but still articulated by that strange hybrid, the ‘Bible’ – the book, the index. The doctrine of faith alone – as it was a doctrine of a church, never set free the soul to cultivate a direct and intimate relation with the divine or the sacred. The reformation, under the directives of Luther, Calvin and others, never allowed for the possibility of an I and Thou. In the language of Marx, born into a Jewish family that had converted to Protestantism for reasons of physical and emotional survival, religion, even after the so-called reformation, remained an ideological and political concern. Max Weber does well enough to describe the incestuous relationship between Protestantism and capitalism, but does not address or intimate the interiority of the sacred (or the affirmation involved in this spirit). The Reformation not only provides cover for an expropriation of the spoils of theocratic order of roman Christendom, but also set forth its modus essendi.
However, it is not merely the Christian religion which is subject to the characterisation of ideology. It is well known that India and ancient City-States such as Sparta and Athens projected their own hierarchial discipline as a sacral topography upon everyday life in the articulation of its own narrative of cosmic and political legitimacy. Each city-state created a mythos in its own image, but as a city-state, forced the play of the sacred opening into a reduced logic of communication, command and control – of politics. What is significant here is that there is in religion a political and organisational component which necessitates the laying out and the perpetuation of an idea – a logic of ideas. The Pythagoreans often spoke of mnemnotechnic artifices which would facilitate the continuance, remembrance and dissemination, of a specific array of ideas or beliefs. For instance, there is poetry, stories, music instruments such as the rudimentary monochord, which any child can learn, or various other symbolic and narrative artifices or icons, such as the doctrine of transmigration, which can be passed on and remembered. Religion implies a historical dimension of reproduction which stands outside any direct and intimate awakening to the sacred as such with respect to a singular mortal being. Indeed, as we see in the ‘dawn’ of modern philosophy, religion, if not summarily dismissed, is given a merely instrumental or rational signification. It is, to again invoke Foucault, a technical regime of disciplinary power. The word ‘religion’ itself implies a ‘binding’, a ‘tie’, which holds, contains the constituency of believers in a way which transcends any situation of an intimate and free encounter with the divine. Indeed, such a ‘tie’ and ‘binding’ may intimate the possibility of an opening amid the divine, but as it is articulate in the form of ritual, it is a tie and binding which implies an alterior meaning of the ‘religious’.
One could consider, as an example, the situation of Akhenaten in his attempt to eliminate the priesthood of Amun for an immediate encounter with the Aten or Sun-Disc. The bureaucracy of the priesthood, for its continuance, necessitated obedience towards it authority and an active propagation and dissemination of its doctrines if it is to survive. The heretic Akhenaten built his city in the desert, but within little more than a decade, was killed and his son was re-named Tut-ankh-amun from Tut-ankh-aten. There is not merely a change of power in the terrestrial sense, but also a transformation in the articulation of the symbolic and aesthetic dimensions of the topoi of the phenomena of sacred meaning. In this way, the Amun priests sought to erase any artefact of Akhenaten.
This allusion may serve to explain the timidity of the Reformation. Mere religion does not necessarily have anything to do with the sacred. It has its own interests and reasons, and as an organised bureaucracy, must orchestrate its own procedures, its discipline, its truth, in order to secure its own survival, its terrestrial recurrence. A priest or a reverend has different interests and ‘ideas’ than his flock – or should have. Paul is not Jesus (nor is Homer, Odysseus). He thinks beyond this or that mass or service to the future of the church. He asks different questions: how am I to make sure that this teaching will survive into the future? How will I ensure that the children of my flock accept and perpetuate the doctrine of this teaching? The answer to his questions, for the Judeo-Christian or for the Civil-Pagan, inexorably comes in the form of the Bible or of a retroactive ‘hierarchy’ (as opposed to hierophany, first suggested by Eliade in The Sacred and the Profane) projected upon doctrines of polytheism – these are extant texts that can surf along amid the tides and waves of history. Yet, such a-historical life-rafts, as they are merely mnemnotechnic artifices of trans-generational continuance, may preclude, conceal an intimacy with the sacred – with the divine. This intimacy is an irruption amidst the homologous articulation and operation of profane ideology of a radical power of horror, terror – of the overwhelming. This vertiginous encounter reveals to us that we are, each of us, is radically vulnerable, not only existentially, but each step along the path of ageing – as one makeshift resolution displaces the last. At the gateway of such a disclosure, the singular being exalts in surprise amidst its fatal and tenuous predicament. If this being does not seek to flee, to hide amidst the cult of security, of the Last Man, she or he may seek to embrace this situation of uncertainty as an intimation of the sacred significance of this opening of our being. Of course, much of this mysterium is sublimated and even eradicated from this terrain of utilitarian reproduction, if, that is, we are to continue amidst this prevailing ‘order of things’. Yet, despite the sanitization and the tranquillization of horror, death – abjection – via the profane world of work and profane religion, sacred events, moments of vision, truth events break in reminding us of the chaos which churns in ourselves. Of course, we do not wish to merely disintegrate into animality from our suspension between consciousness and the sacred. Yet, we neither wish to be absorbed in a pantheistic reason which turns us into puppets and parrots. We wish, each of us, to have autonomy amidst our own personal and spiritual lives, a demand which breaks the chain of homogeneity and irrupts this heterogeneity of the singular, mortal, being, event. Yet, if such an intimacy has always been or is always a possibility for each soul, what would be left for the priest, the reverend, the mediator – the politician – the self -chosen elect?
In this present study of Marx, we are already forced to remove ourselves from the mediational, ideological reality of religious and political assertion. Marx has already rejected – in line with his understanding of the being of this historicality of human existence, religion as an ideology, as a mere ‘logic’ of ‘ideas’ – eidos, mere pictures, idols. Such a rejection implies a criticism of not only the narrative idealism and mechanisms of perpetuation of the cloth, but also the recognition of the politico-ideological discipline of an organisational matrix of cultural perpetuation. This discipline asserts itself as a religio-cultural matrix. It is ‘consciousness’ in the free-floating vision of the ‘idealists’ or the dead sight of ’empricism’, in the eyes of Marx, that this ‘consciousness’ is determined by being, existence, and thus becomes – as with any phenomenology of life – symptomatic and indicative – but not, therefore, powerless. That which is implied in such a deconstruction of ‘consciousness’ becomes the sacred meaning of praxis. We are not to live in the camera obscura of the ‘world picture’, but are to act and be, and in this nunc, to think, to grasp after, and seek deep within that which is glimpsed in this event of praxis or the event of nothing. Marx is not a Prostestant in that he exults action, but he is not a Catholic or a Jew. He advocates revolution, a transgression of the ‘Law’ in all its concrete manifestations. His indication of praxis (especially in light of Aristotle’s distinction between praxis and poiesis) shatters, as we will see in Marx’s encounter with Bultmann, the world picture of representation via events of transgression – the existential breaks which give insight amid an the ‘de-ontological’ event, a ‘slant of the eye’ (augenblick), saturnalia, potlatch (Bataille) – this event of sacrifice and the gift, as Mauss tells us.
Yet, incessant action, excessive transgressions dissipate the mortal self into a profane chaos of existence. Mere action alone, having dispensed itself of the necessity of interpretation, of thought, loses itself in the everydayness of a busy flight from existence. We run after our commodities, our fetishes, and thinking this is the ultimate being of the ‘real’, we suppress any hermeneutic engagement with existence. Mere action, assertion (but not, as we will see, praxis, in Marx’s sense), as it is oriented only to the everyday, remains outside an authentic poiesis of existence. In Heidegger’s conjuration, Marx’s Eleventh Thesis is pictured in its seeming haste. Even though Marx may have expressed himself under the influence of a deeper affirmation, he in the end holds the fragments in his hands. Yet, seeing, feeling these chards of reality, he does not reject action, but instead castigates the fragments. For Heidegger, Marx seeks action in a displacement, escape, of his own finite existence. Such a trajectory of escape resembles that of nihilism, as indicated by Nietzsche. Bataille intimates Marx’s ambiguous senses of the sacred and the profane so as to remind us the radical – scandalous – ‘origins’ of longings, of our desire for the radical exteriority of the violent – of a saturnalia of sacred existence. Yet, Heidegger’s ‘literal’ reading of the Eleventh Thesis cannot stand as Marx – even without the prerequisite destruktion, is not simply embracing a superficial version of positivist voluntarism – Marx exists in the thrown place of existence, rejecting ‘theory’ for an ‘act’ which seeks, amidst an event, to fulfill that which is his ownmost possibility..
We should keep in mind that Marx himself engaged in a poiesis of the sacred in his early poetry and in the genealogy of his work. Poetic expression is not annihilated in his later works, but only emerges into the light amidst a phenomenology of Capital, a disclosure of the cycles of profane reproduction. All throughout Capital Marx makes references to literature, poetry or throws in a statement about the coming revolution which will resolve the contradictions, oppression, and suffering of class ‘society’. His vision is always that of a radically transfigured situation via praxis in which the direct producers – the workers – own the means of production and self-manage a matrix of poiesis at the point of production. This is the poetic and philosophical affirmation of liberation, of the sacred – born amidst this deconstruction of the capitalist ethos. Perhaps, such a revolution, as envisioned by Marx, will allow for a transfiguration of the mere poiesis of capitalist, utilitarian production to the sacred poiesis and praxis of the gift.
As he never repudiated his poetry, we may not, in the usual manner, simply assert that such expression was of an immature student, nor can we interpret Marx as one who designates all linguistic, expression, indication as ideology. While some language games subsist in themselves as theoretical ‘totalities’, Marx’s poetry indicates an awakening to alterity – and, in this awakening, he apprehends, amidst this topos, a sense of ‘love’ and commitment, of affirmation. Each of his writings can be seen as a phenomenology of indication which seeks to disclose the truth of the world, truth as a-lethea, which must be dis-closed via a struggle for authentic self-expression.
While the specific contours of Marx’s early poetic affirmation of the sacred may transfigure themselves amidst a life of writing, the poiesis of affirmation abides in his consistent advocacy of revolutionary transformation. Marx is neither priest, scientist, nor politician – he is engaged in the poetry of existence – he is, as Arthur Miller wrote, a ‘white nigger’, a reluctant prophet. If we are, in our interpretation of Marx, to give to the ‘picture’ a sense of the whole man, we must witness his acts as symptoms or indicators, as Kant writes in his Religion, of a disposition, even if such a notion of character is, with Heidegger and Bataille, and Marx, ultimately temporal – and secret.
Chapter 4: Marx and Sacred Rebellion
While the quip that religion is the opium of the people is well known, the preceding lines are lesser so. As we have seen at the head of this study, Marx had also written, ‘Religious suffering is at one and the same time the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions….’ This reference to opium goes beyond for Marx his own contemporary resonances of lost souls, such as Poe, who were mired in the clouds of the den. But, then again, is such a reference to opium merely to be taken as ironic – after all wars were fought over opium and the experience itself of opium is that of bliss. Can we at this tenuous place of history ever comprehend Marx’s reference to opium? Indeed, this analogy of religion to opium – taken in the Coleridge sense of escapism (which is not in itself accurate) has been made by Kant and Nietzsche, among other philosophers. Religion as opium, as heart of a heartless world, while implying that such a heart may ultimately be illusory, indicates a space of difference and of a desire to be liberated from a ‘profane’ hegemony of objectification and commodification. Such a gesture toward difference, to the ‘exit’ indicates the desire and the possibility of a nascent movement of resistance and solidarity, of refusal and, simultaneously, of affirmation amid the prevailing situation of the world – and a projection, anticipation, of a brave new world.
The primary criticism by Marx against religion consists in its operation as an ideological matrix, a panopticon of the soul, of the heart. Religion works as the artist of the Lacanian imago (Wittgensteinian psychoanalysis as the dissolution of captivity to hegemonic picture, ideology), the primal sense of reality constituted first in the child. This description displays a religion, which not only distorts the truth of the world, but also subverts the ‘ethical obligations’ of members of this ‘tie’ (religio). Religion systematically instills a con-fusion (Babylon) in the hearts of the many, spiritually coercing these to a ‘form of life’ which is against their own profane and sacred ‘interests’. In the wake of a classic, and ironic, Nietzschean criticism, religion breeds nihilism for and sickness in the world to legitimize its Janus-faced valorization of the other world of reward and repose – the carrot which disguises the stick. This picture of religion is well known. Yet, how can Marx respond to a movement of ‘materialist’ Christians, indigenous religions, and even Neo-pagans, who in many cases have been and are being killed for their advocacies for liberation? What if the practices are ‘right’ – despite the ‘ideas’?
Marx cannot simply recoil into the posture of scientist – nor does he want to. Marx is engaged in praxis and so are the Liberation Theologists. Moreover, Marx has a nuanced perspective of human freedom and of this existent capacity for resistance and affirmation, phenomena which the usual determinist or structuralist stereotypes will not allow. Such perspectives come to light in his early writings most explicitly, but continue to emerge throughout his further works. He cannot be regarded as merely a scientist. Perhaps ‘science’ is one strand in the tapestry of his work, but it is not the sun around which the planets revolve. Such a view risks turning Marx into a ‘one-dimensional man’. In this way, Marx could perhaps welcome this eruption of a free affirmation of the sacred from amid the ideological matrix itself. The affinity between Marx and Liberation theology consists in an obligation and a commitment to ‘justice’, beyond these myriad ‘grand narratives’ of religio-political reduction. Both resist these narratives – and that which is indicated in these words – the topos and ethos of this hegemony.
Indeed, although the dominant religious interests have generally been those allied with the ‘ruling class’, there are many instances, prior to and contemporary to Marx – and in our own era – where ‘religious suffering’ has facilitated resistance to conditions of oppression – or has sought intimacy amid the sacred. One need only think of the various historical rebellions, such as German Peasant’s Rebellion, the Abolition movement against Slavery, the non-violent Ghandian civil disobedience to colonial and racial oppression, Nelson Mandela, Liberation Theology, the Civil Rights Movement – and, in a much more contemporary upsurgence, Islam – especially in it more militant expressions. In each of these instances, it is the preference for the poor as enunciated by the Zoroastrianism, the Jewish Old Testament, Buddha in the 6th century B.C., by Jesus and early Christianity and the Koran, among others – which serves as the exemplar for sacred resistance and as an exception to dominant religious interests and alliances with the ruling matrix. While ‘Marx’ may not find such a contention satisfactory, it is clear that [religious] suffering need not merely serve the interests of power and wealth, at least in an overt manner.
Liberation Theology is a movement most relevant to our present concerns in light of its explicit affirmation of much of Marx’s analysis of the operational matrix of capitalist exploitation. Ghandi, on the contrary, never affirmed the Marxist explication of an explicit opposition of labour and capital – his vision was much more wed to a theologico-corporatist strategy of reconciliation – as Nelson Mandela describes his pursuit in an article The Sacred Warrior, as bringing the oppressors and oppressed into a common pursuit of Truth. Liberation theology seems far less naïve as to the possibility of a moral conversion of the exploiting class and their agents (and ‘death squads’). As articulated by the dominant theorists of this movement, such as Guttierrez and Miranda, there is an explicit preference for the poor – a taking sides in favor of the liberation of the poorest of the poor from a labyrinthine system of oppression and exploitation. That which is significant in this context is, as I have mentioned, an explicit affirmation of the work of Marx. Yet, each of these Christian thinkers have a differing perspective upon Marx. Gutierrez sees Marx as a ‘scientist’, while Miranda discloses him as a ‘prophet’.
It may seem – from the usual (and clichéd) picture of ‘Marx’ as an ‘atheist materialist’ – inconceivable that there would explode a movement of Christians – both Catholic and Protestant – and in some cases, Neo-Pagans and native religionists, which would embrace his analysis of capitalist exploitation. Yet, the very fact that such an embrace was undertaken serves to place into question the unambiguous opposition ‘Marx’ seems to have held to that which he portrayed as the mystifying idealism of religion. It would seem, instead, that the primal question is that of the practises of the insurgents, regardless of their ideologies. That which is significant about Liberation Theology – and which could serve as a beckon to the Islamic militants and resistance fighters) is its explicit attempt to examine and confront material conditions of oppression, not only as Jesus threw out the money changers, but also as a makeshift of thought upon sacred action amid this ethos of hegemony. Recognition of, and reflection upon, these conditions of exploitation leads to a praxis oriented via a desire for ‘justice’, for the ‘kingdom on earth’.
Theologies of Liberation: Gutierrez and Miranda
Perhaps the most prominent member of this group of thinkers is the Peruvian Catholic theologian and activist Gustavo Gutierrez who published his Theology of Liberation in 1971. Guttierrez, with his formula, see-reflect-act, has embraced the Marxian analysis of capitalism, but as he sees Marx, following Althusser, as merely a ‘scientist of history’, has integrated this analysis into an already existing ethos of Christian leadership, activism and scholarship – instead of a Romantic and German idealist topography of social, economic and cultural alienation.
The main concern of Gutierrez in his work, A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation, is upon an explication of the relation of a critical, reflective theology to praxis amid a situation of political-economic exploitation and imperialist cultural domination. Indeed, action on behalf of the liberation of the poor is not merely a supplemental aspect of this work, but exists as an integral aspect of any authentic theology. The incantation of see-reflect-act incorporates an explicit recognition of Marxian social analysis. This latter recognition holds its most significant place in the first moment of this triad – although it cannot be excluded from the other two moments. To see the world, to ascertain the conditions of exploitation amid existence, in ‘capitalist’ society, is not merely a naïve, empirical act of sense perception (although in some cases, that may be sufficient). It takes a gaze into the interiority of relationships, of power which become these entangling snares of control, command, and direction. Gutierrez, writing under the shadow of Hegel and Marx, writes:
For Marx, to know was something indissolubly linked to the transformation of the world through work. Basing his thought on these first intuitions, he went on to construct a scientific understanding of historical reality. He analysed capitalist society, in which he found concrete instances of the exploitation of persons by their fellows and of one social class by another. Pointing the way towards an era in history when humankind can live humanly, Marx created categories which allowed for the elaboration of a science of history.
As Marx had already articulated – and which is a repetition of Hegel’s criticism of sense-certainty in his Phenomenology of Spirit – to see already involves a structure of categorical determination. In other words, to see is to ascertain the underlying conditions of a situation of exploitation and oppression. Yet, the significance of Marx extends far beyond a mere methodological procedure for interpretation, conceived as mere contemplation of an external object. As Gutierrez intimates, the very meaning of ‘science’ undergoes a radical transformation in Marx, and this is a mutation not lost on Gutierrez (or on the early Romantics or German Idealists). In a discussion of the eminent East German Marxian theorist Ernst Bloch, Gutierrez underscores the importance for Bloch of Marx’s famous Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach: The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways, the point, however, is to change it. Yet, in an attempt to delineate the contours of Marx’s radical re-casting of the meaning and significance of interpretation, he emphasizes the not-so-famous First Thesis on Feuerbach. Gutierrez quotes Marx:
The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism – that of Feuerbach included – is that the thing [Gegenstand], reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object [Objekt] or of contemplation [Anschauung], but not as human sensuous activity, practice, not subjectively.
The significance of this reference is disclosed most forcefully in light of the insertion by Gutierrez of the original German. The transformation of the meaning of interpretation (and of materialism) by Marx and of its intimate connection to action (praxis) is cast into relief through the distinction between Objekt and Gegenstand. While the former implies an external thing thrown against, as a thing to be contemplated by an external observer, inside the causal nexus of a merely phenomenal consciousness, the latter stands against in an intimate, intentional topos of existence. This is not merely a thing that is distinct from the observer or knower, but a situation which stands here and there, as intimacy in this breach, as this phenomena of existence, as the self amidst its world.
In contrast to a merely contemplative, theoretical orientation toward this sensuous life, there is articulated a possibility of an emergence of a different topos, one of human praxis – and that of thought -amidst this opening of existence. Gutierrez writes,
Marx’s idea of praxis is different; it is based on a dialectical conception of history – necessarily advancing, with eyes fixed on the future and with real action in the present, towards a classless society based on new relationships of production.
Yet, despite these several references to the poetic vision of Marx and of the circumscription of production and science within this vision, Gutierrez follows the line of Althusser. Marx is merely a ‘scientist’, and therefore, an instrument to be oriented into the broader fabric of an eschatological project. The Marxian analysis of capitalist exploitation, divorced from its own indigenous ethical meaning, becomes a mere supplement to his theology. At the end of the day, there was no need to depart from the explicit preference of the poor which is extant in the canonical Gospels. The analysis is merely to serve the overriding affirmative project of liberation of the poor. Indeed, this points to the second moment of the triad – with the recognition of the exploitation of the poor and the material processes thereof – there is the reflective moment which reflects upon the meaning of this exploitation and oppression. And, despite the traditional alliance of the Church hierarchy with the landowners and an urban capitalist class, Gutierrez, a theologian, activist and priest – at a high personal cost to himself – placed his focus upon the martyrdom of Jesus in his celebration of the poor. To reflect upon the material conditions of exploitation is thus, for him, to look upon the spoken words and example of Jesus – and of those – Bonhoeffer, Huber, and Benjamin – not to mention the countless faces of the oppressed – who have been erased amidst this hegemony. For Gutierrez, poverty is an explicit challenge to the ‘Christian’ – and a call which discloses the possible, sacred significance of human existence (despite the fact that Jesus stated to Judas that there will also be ‘the poor’). At the same time, this was also the response of Marx in his own political advocacy, one which intimates the connection between his own dialectical approach to the historicity of existence to an affirmation characteristic of the sacred. But, that which is peculiar to Gutierrez, in distinction from the usual caricature of Marx, is the explicit and primary moment of reflection. In this caricature, there is nothing equivalent to this reflective, existential moment in the extant writings of Marx – there is nothing beyond the latter’s early affirmation of social or species being – which is thereby excluded since it is not ‘scientific’. Yet, as I have suggested, such a ground of affirmation and criticism can be found, not only into his poetry, but also in his call for revolution – it is in this call that one is invited to return to the existential depth of human existence. Amidst the wasteland (T.S. Eliot) of the 19th Century, Marx could draw on no affirmative resources which obviated the horizons of ‘scientific optimism’. His life of engaged praxis is enough to indicate that there was, after all, something different about Marx.
The final moment of the triad – see-reflect, act – is action or praxis – once again, a decidely Marxist reference. Once one sees and reflects, one is confronted by the necessity for action in the pursuit of the liberation of the poor. Marx is not merely a scientist of history as Althusser suggests. Instead, such a science – as the analysis of historical – cannot be divorced from concrete praxis in the world, and from each of the strands in the tapestry of the world. Interpretation is not a self-subsistent endeavor – it is necessary, but not sufficient. There must be engagement amidst human sensuous activity. In this way, we must gather together the dissected strands of Marx’s work in order to fathom a holistic existence. He is not merely a theorist, but also an activist, father, etc, but also a singular mortal being, engaged in a project of affirmation and commitment.
Marx enacts a radical phenomenology of capital. In this light, we must indeed draw – in the spirit of Bataille – from the decidedly sensuous content of these early works – especially Marx’s poetry. It is here where we can find the affirmation for his commitment to and advocacy of a revolutionary transformation of existence and his affirmation of an engaged praxis. To do otherwise is to miss the radical significance of Marx’s insight and elaboration of a dialectical materialism. For, it is in these early works that we can decipher the meaning of his persistent, though understandably sublimated, commitment to a poiesis of existence, one which propels him into praxis.
In the same year as Gutierrez’s Theology of Liberation, Miranda published Marx and the Bible: A Critique of the Philosophy of Oppression. He contends in this work that the authentic message of the Bible has been displaced via the infiltration of Greek concepts into Christian theology. Yet, with closer reading, we discover that it is not the ‘Greeks’, but instead, Plato and Aristotle – and their monsters, Augustine and Aquinas. Even though he is attuned with the Platonic Allegory of the Cave, Miranda objects not only to the treatment of the poets, but also to the radical otherness of the doctrine of forms which serve only to undervalue the present situation, this ‘world’. Miranda, as with Nietzsche, and Duns Scotus, wishes to find affirmation amidst ‘this’. His objection to Aristotle is concerned with the notion of substance, ousia, or in its ancient Homeric meaning, possessions of the household. His opposition to Aristotle and Plato amount to one thing – a revolution against property and merely contemplative otherworldliness – escapism – for these are two sides of the same coin. Indeed, far from being anti-Greek, Miranda intimates the spirit of Odysseus in his attempt to disclose an authentic Christianity. The suitors have taken over the very possibility, the seeds of kingdom, turning it into grain, cheese and meats for a household to be consumed. Miranda seeks to deconstruct the Thomist aristocracy of property and security so as to clear a space for the eruption of an authentic biblical affirmation and engagement amid this world. Yet, Miranda does flirt with Augustine, yet, again, he is suspicious of Augustine’s neo-platonic affiliations in that these are nihilistic. Miranda is not averse to the apocalyptic sensibility of Augustine, but, in his opposition to the collateral damage of ‘Greek’ concepts of substance and political discipline, he seeks a notion of ‘justice’ which is not merely juridical, legal, amidst our current crisis. Miranda seeks a ‘kingdom of god’ beyond Platonic Law, Aristotelian Substance and Augustinian polis.
Miranda, among others, points out that there are differing interpretations of the Christian biblios, from the perspective of the Libertarian-Exodic interpretation of the Bible to that of the Sinai redaction. He emphasizes that the latter interpretation rests upon a redaction, or upon an addition to the sacred text at a later date. For Miranda, the ‘Bible’ was originally a document of resistance. And, despite the redactions, it still is a sacred text of revolution. In this context, Marx is portrayed in two ways. First, as a prophet, as one who echoed the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, etc. Secondly, as a ‘dialectical’ philosopher, one whose poiesis engages amid a terrain of praxis. It is clear that Miranda seeks to appropriate Marx into his project of a ‘kingdom of god’ upon the earth. His notion of the sacred, of the divine, and of justice are the same. It is ‘love’. We must thus act amidst this ‘moment of love’ to eradicate suffering and oppression. We must have a ‘preferential option for the poor’. The very struggle against suffering and oppression is ‘the’ divine, ‘the’ sacred. That which is significant about Marx is his thoughtful commitment amid a struggle for liberation, of a poiesis which abided an existence of praxis.
In light of the third moment of action, Marx’s explicit emphasis upon praxis in his Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach underlines the status of Liberation theology as an exception to his overriding characterization of religion as a narcotic, as a mystifying ideology which serves an explicit denunciation of the oppressed in favour of the ruling elites. The suppression – and often assassination, torture, and mutilation of members of this movement – including Archbishop Romero and countless others, via the religious hierarchy and the ruling landowning families in Latin America, indicates a sacred resistance which can be distinguished from mere religion.
We can only be thankful– of late, and in an unprecedented manner, that the tide has turned — look around, could it be true? But, whatever the case, no one should be complacent – for the predators are always outside the gate. As Heraclitus remains us, ‘Protect your laws as if they were your city walls.’ I still cannot believe the situation in South America. Is it just for show, almost a humiliation of the Left – look, we can make the monkeys dance, we after all hold all the strings of the puppet — or is Lula, for instance, an ‘authentic’ leader of the interests of the people – is he the man that he ‘was’ ….. who is he, who is Chavez… Is he just an actor?
Chapter 5: Marx and Contemporary Radical Theology
It must be stated again that religion is not identical with the sacred. Such a distinction has been made countless times, from the deists of the Enlightenment to the radical theologians of the Twentieth Century, such as Otto, Bultmann, Tillich and Altizer, who each in his own way, advocated a religion-less Christianity or a de-mythologization of religion. In this way, the idea of the holy, as Otto dubbed the sense of the sacred, could plausibly be distinguished from not only the rationalization of morality, but also the practice of Christianity in particular or from organized politico-religion generally. One could also mention the forerunners of these thinkers, such as Kierkegaard, hardly an atheist, who distinguished the religion taught by Jesus and that which he castigated as Christendom. Even Nietzsche, the greatest enemy of Christianity, affirms a sense of the sacred or eternal in his work Thus Spoke Zarathustra, in his poetry and prose. In this sense, Marx, a contemporary of Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, could be considered a forerunner of Twentieth Century theology in light of not only his ethical or moral critique of capitalist exploitation, but in his attempt to enact and express an existential situation of freedom, of the Epicurean ‘wiggle’ – of our capacity to judge and to act amidst our contingent situation. Yet, in tune with many contemporary criticisms of mere humanism and of scientific optimism, Marx can be called to account as to the ‘root’ for his ethical and/or moral-political advocacies. Marx is clearly on sacred, or at the very least, he is upon ‘ethical’ ground.
Revolutions are not instigated and waged merely as the result of scientific analysis. They are creatures of the heart which explode into the streets as rage takes hold of the exploited, or the ambitious. After all, it was the Marquis de Sade, hardly a cold rationalist, who screamed through a drain pipe from his prison cell to the French hordes, telling them that prisoners were being killed and invoking them to storm the Bastille. Revolution is a creature of commitment. In this chapter, having ascertained that Marx shared with Liberation Theology a core of practical commitment, we will sketch out the meaning of this commitment in an interface betwixt Marx and radical, existentialist theology. Marx shares with this theology a criticism of religion as Weltanschauung, and both project a critical posture to the exoteric baggage of the cultus of religion. I will first set forth the attempt by Rudolph Bultmann to articulate a de-mythologization of the Christian religion in his Jesus Christ and Mythology. I will next turn to his attempt to disclose a non-objectified sense of the divine which is the expression of the sacred from the concrete situation of the person – outside the scientific objectification of the antithetical regime of ‘subject’ and ‘object’ in his essay ‘What does it mean to speak of God?.’ In this light, I will not only criticise the scientific variant of Marx and its attempt to speak of existence from the ‘outside’. Drawing on the full spectrum of Marx’s writings, I will next attempt to compare Bultmann’s deconstruction of a scientific world-view (Weltanschauung) with Marx’s critique of ideology. I will contend that the only way for Marx to escape his own criticism of ideology (i.e., for Bultmann, a scientific analysis of ideology remains a Weltanschauung and thus an ideology) will be for him to take the ‘step back’ from his criticism of religion towards an affirmation of the sacred significance of existence. Such a ‘step back’ from the constructed stems of subjectivity and objectivity will disclose a non-alienated sense of the sacred.
The current question is the character of Marx’s affirmation of the sacred, of his obligation and commitment amidst his criticism of religion as idealism. Indeed, Marx not only fails to answer the existential theology of the 20th century, but it remains possible that Marx may also be in accord with this theology in its critical posture to the exoteric cultus of religion.
Perhaps the most significant Twentieth Century radical theologian in this context, as I have asserted, is Rudolf Bultmann. In the following, I will set forth the attempt by Bultmann to articulate a de-mythologization of the Christian religion in his Jesus Christ and Mythology. I will next turn to his attempt to disclose a non-objectified sense of the divine which is the expression of the sacred from the concrete situation of the person – outside the scientific objectification of the antithetical regime of ‘subject’ and ‘object’ in his essay ‘What does it mean to speak of God?’ From within this context, , I will not only compare Bultmann’s deconstruction of a scientific world-view (Weltanschauung) with Marx’s critique of ideology, but will also criticise the scientific posture of ‘Marx’ and his apparent attempt to speak of existence from the ‘outside’.
For Bultmann, the phenomenon of the sacred is disclosed in a personal way. In many ways anticipating and also echoing Heidegger, he points to ‘God’ in radical despair. This is no idealist/positivist philosophy or logic of ideas, but a despair of a singular being amidst nothingness, ‘God’. The significance of Bultmann lies not, as with Liberation Theology, in any explicit social analysis of the conditions of material exploitation, though he is not unaware of such contours of existence. The importance of Bultmann lies instead in his attempt at a de-mythologization or, in the present context, at a de-ideologization of religion and a call for a thinking, and acting, which is an expression of the concrete situations of one’s existence. Not only did he call, in his works ‘The Crisis in Belief’, ‘What does it mean to speak of God?’ and Jesus Christ and Mythology for a de-mythologization of Christianity and of the impossibility of conceiving of ‘God’ as an object (as opposed to a phenomena), but he affirmed the this-ness of a personal apprehension of the sacred. Religious dogmas and religious laws are merely detours, distractions, impediments. Bultmann indeed rejected systematic theologies and the ideological propagation of the Christian religion – in a way which would be and has been disturbing for most Christians. In this way, there is a special affinity between Bultmann and Marx – at least in their own respective attitudes to the idealistic/positivist distortions of a hegemonic religion. However, that which distinguishes Marx from Bultmann is (if we go along with the usual portrayal of Marx) the latter’s explicit articulation of an existential dimension of the self which apprehends an un-certain – non-theoretical – sense of the sacred in a moment of existential despair. Marx never spoke of the self in his theoretical writings, except for a single reference to death (which we will consider in our chapter on Heidegger). This is that which is missing from ‘socialist’ philosophies. As with Otto, Bultmann apprehends the Holy as that which radically overwhelms this finite self.
Of course, one could point to the early poetry of Marx as an explicit affirmation of the sacred – though one would be cautioned not to take this in a religious sense – we are speaking of the ‘sacred’. Or, one could also trace the places where such affirmations emerge throughout the latter texts of Marx. Yet, this would be insufficient as it would underplay the implicit criticism of the scientific Marx that is possibly offered by Bultmann. Bultmann does not mention Marx, as does Gutierrez. Yet, it would almost seem that Marx, or at least Nietzsche, somehow haunts Bultmann’s works, especially in his critique of scientific objectivity in ‘What does it mean to speak of God?’ There seems to be an invitation for an engagement of the two thinkers. In the following, I will attempt to accept this invitation.
Jesus Christ and Mythology to a significant extent replays or repeats Bultmann’s earlier criticism of world-view (Weltanschauung) in his earlier writings and lectures, especially ‘What does it mean to speak of God?’ which will be consider below. In Jesus Christ and Mythology, he is explicitly turning his critical arsenal toward the figure and person of Jesus of Nazareth. It would seem that his audience is the Christian community itself. He is neither simply seeking to dismiss mythology as such, as a ‘primitive science’, nor is he seeking to simply dismiss Jesus and the lore which surrounds his name as myth, muthos. Instead, in an echo of Heidegger’s early radical phenomenology, he is seeking to see the stories of Jesus in the New Testament as indications of the possibility, but un-name-ability, of sacred existence. Bultmann writes:
This method of interpretation of the New Testament which tries to recover the deeper meaning behind the mythological conceptions I call de-mythologizing – an unsatisfactory word, to be sure. Its aim is not to eliminate the mythological statements but to interpret them. It is a method of hermeneutics.
Bultmann, as with Heidegger, does not wish to simply dismiss mythology as untruth in the face of a judicious scientific objectivity which claims a pre-eminent enlightenment. As we will see below in Bultmann’s essay, ‘What does it mean to speak of God?’, such a posture of the ‘outside’, of enlightenment objectivity, is merely ‘fraud’, ‘posture’, as it loses, erases, that which it claims to name, to ‘identify’. On the contrary, mythology points to truth in an exoteric sense, but it is our task to disclose the esoteric meaning of the text. Bultmann writes:
Mythology expresses a certain understanding of human existence. It believes that the world and human life have their ground and their limits in a power which is beyond all that we can calculate and control. Mythology speaks about this power inadequately and insufficiently because it speaks about it as if it were a worldly power.
In this light, Bultmann is not interested in destroying mythology. He merely wishes to evade the ousiology of the said. He wishes to get back to this [de-ontological] event of saying. This distinguishes his work from the Critical Theory of Adorno and Horheimer, which orchestrates an objective mission to bring light to the world, to eliminate the superstitions of the masses, and the phenomena to which ‘they’ point. Bultmann, on the contrary, is attempting a hermeneutic endaevor to disclose the meaning of the text, of the mythologies – without destroying them. There is an intimacy between myth and meaning, but Bultmann is seeking to go beyond the objectification inherent in the mythological procedure of ousiological, substantialist naming. He contends that names, the words of the myth, cannot be conceived as objects which can be viewed from the ‘outside’. The hermeneutic enterprise seeks to disclose that to which these names point, indicate. Bultmann writes:
We can understand the problem best when we remember that de-mythologizing is an hermeneutic method, that is, a method of interpretation, of exegesis. ‘Hermeneutics’ is a method of exegesis.
But it should be stated that this is not a scientific or objectivist procedure, but as is most explicit in the earlier works of Bultmann, the ‘life-relation’ to the sacred is an expression from the concrete existence of my finite being. Bultmann writes:
I call this relation the ‘life-relation’. In this relation you have a certain understanding of the matter in question, and from this understanding grow the conceptions of exegesis. From reading the texts you will learn, and your understanding will be enriched and corrected. Without such a relation and such previous understanding (Vorverstandnis) it is impossible to understand any text.
Such an understanding of a life-relation, as a personal expression of this concrete situation of existence, a pre-understanding, can neither provide a system of meaning, nor can it provide an ideal picture of that which should be or is. On the contrary, there is no stability or ground in such a relation. There is no attempt to flee from this situation of finitude into a paradise of the ‘outside’. In this situation in which there is ‘no exit’, we cannot simply dispense with mythology, but see it as indicative of the truth of a situation amidst a life-relation. Myth points to these various contours of personal existence. In this way, myth is not the same as the objectifying stratagems of a rational, everday, consciousness. We cannot dispense with myth in favour of mere regimes of consciousness, of a rationalist conceptuality which seeks to destroy the event of the numinous in an ‘order of things’. Bultmann writes:
Mythological conceptions can be used as symbols and images which are perhaps necessary to the language of religion and therefore of the Christian faith. Thus it becomes evident that the use of mythological language, far from being an objection to de-mythologizing, positively demands it.
In anticipation of the engagement of Bultmann and Marx below, we could contend that what Bultmann is seeking to achieve is a non-alienated sense of the sacred. In a way similar to Marx’s own criticism of ideology and Heidegger’s destuktion of an uprooted consciousness, Bultmann is seeking the determining context of being or existence for his phenomenology of the sacred. Indeed, Bultmann could agree with Marx’s criticism of religion as an idealist (and realist) falsification of thought which masques the concrete relations of existence. Yet, he would disagree with Marx, however, that the notion of the sacred – as opposed to his early advocacy of ‘social being’ or the secular notion of the ‘comrade’ – simply would disappear with the evaporation of religion. In the step back from ideology, there is a place from which one can undertake a hermeneutics of existence through which one can understand the radical finitude of my own being. Bultmann writes:
In my personal existence, I am isolated neither from my environment nor from my own past and future. When, for example, I achieve through love a self-understanding, what takes place is not an isolated psychological action of coming to consciousness; my whole situation is transformed. In understanding myself, I understand other people and at the same time the whole world takes on a new character. I see it, as we say, in a new light, and so it really is a new world. I achieve a new insight into my past and my future. I recognize new demands and am open to encounters in a new manner. My past and future become more than pure time as it is marked on a calendar or timetable. Now it is should be clear that I cannot possess this self-understanding as a timeless truth, a conviction accepted once and for all. For my new self-understanding, by it very nature, must be renewed day by day, so that I understand the imperative self which is included in it.
Bultmann offers us a makeshift sense of self-understanding, a radical temporal hermeneutic of existence, with ’empty hands’. He could contend against ‘Marx’ that a non-alienated sense of the sacred would indeed be such a radical hermeneutic of existence, such a ceaselessly existence of new lights and new worlds. ‘Marx’ does not himself explicitly speak of such possibilities – but perhaps show these – as one looks to his activism, poetry and his early works, and from this fresh perspective, his ‘later’ works. Indeed, I will contend that Marx’s poetry expresses the so-called ‘scientific’ insights of Capital, etc., although it also says a lot more.
In order to draw out this possibility in more detail, we must turn to Bultmann’s analysis of Weltanschauung in his essay ‘What does it mean to speak of God?’ It is in this essay that we can find the most striking affinity with the work of Marx, but an affinity which will pose a challenge to Marx – despite his obvious reservations about religion – to consider the possibility of a non-alienated sense of the sacred.
In his 1925 essay, ‘What does it mean to speak of God?’, Bultmann goes to great lengths to explain to us that the very attempt to speak about ‘God’, in its enactment, serves only to erase God, to obliterate the Divine. The key phrase is italicised: to speak about. Obviously, Bultmann is speaking about God – he is deploying the word in a field of linguistic construction, a communication. Indeed, he admits this and closes his essay with the bald statement that this very essay is a work of sin. We do ‘speak about’ God, but what does our speaking mean? What is the meaning of the activity of constructing and uttering propositions and sentences about God? Bultmann has already indicated that such speaking about is sin. Yet, what is sin, in a de-mythologized sense? For Bultmann, the speaking about God interjects the Divine into a discourse which is governed by a logic of objectification. God becomes an entity, an object (Objekt) – in our concept, we become alienated from the divine. Not only, in this gesture, does God lose its capacity for a transcendental significance, but also God, beyond the picture it has become, is severed from the singular mortal being. Our ‘speaking about’ is a symptom or indication of a fallenness from God. We speak about God for we do not apprehend God. The deeper significance of the objectification of God is that instead of an intimacy with a God which transcends the world – we have a worldly God, who as worldly, must die. We have killed God and our speaking about God is a symptom of our guilt – as with Nietzsche, we are the ugliest man. We are speaking about God, but not living God, amid a life of intimacy inside the sacred opening of existence. Such speaking becomes a picture of the world, it becomes a world-picture (Weltanschauung) – an ideology.
Bultmann contends (echoing Hegel) that reality itself is a construct according to criteria laid down by the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, these movements, as with Miranda, articulating themselves in the shadow of the world view of ‘Greek’ philosophy. He states,
We consider something to be real if we can understand it in relation to the unified complex of the world. The relation may be thought of as determined causally or teleologically, its components and forces may be conceived as material or spiritual. The antithesis between idealism and materialism is irrelevant for the question with which we are concerned.
The question is of our speaking of the sacred, of the divine, of God, the gods. With Idealism and Materialism, there is much to be said about God and gods or the lack thereof. But in our obsession with pictures, with our great artwork [Reality], we displace the intimacy of personal existence and the space for an encounter with the Divine, the Holy. Bultmann describes this act of displacement, and contends it is rooted in an anxiety in the face of existence, amidst the horizon of finitude. He says:
We ourselves are observed as an object among other objects and are put in our proper place in the structure of this picture of the world which has been fabricated without reference to the question of our own existence. When this picture of the world is completed by the inclusion of man, it is customary to call it a world-view (Weltanschauung). We strive to acquire such a world-view or, if it supposedly has been attained, to propagate it.
Such a construction is makeshift, although it is not recognized amidst this panic flight from the truth of existence. The world-picture is a cave in which to hide, but one composed of sand. Yet, they are secure enough and allow one to hide from themselves for many ticks of the clock. The flight from an authentic apprehension of the truth of finite existence is the construction of the world-picture – it is its modus operendi. As such, this abandonment of the truth, not only of death but also of the Divine, indicates an abandonment into the world, a fallenness into the world, a guilt to oneself. We have forgotten the truth of ourselves, we have abandoned ourselves in anonymity. Bultmann contends that the very attempt and operation to construct the truth regime of Reality is a flight from the ‘riddle of destiny and death’. We are confronted by the overwhelming, and as with Kant’s response to the sublime in his criticism of aesthetic judgment, we imagine that we are able to control the overwhelming, the sublime. We name it, classify it into a discursive formation, a ‘truth regime’. Our subjectivity is satisfied that it is more powerful than the sublime itself, than the overwhelming. God becomes an object in our standing reserve of useful concepts. We imagine that we have found the truth. However, Bultmann contends that this picture is built at an extreme cost:
But that very view is the primary falsity (prvton yeudos) and its leads necessarily to mistaking the truth of our own existence, since we are viewing ourselves from outside as an object of scientific investigation. Nor is there any gain if we label ourselves ‘subject’ in distinction to the other objects with which we see ourselves in interaction. For man is seen from the outside even when he is designated ‘subject’. Therefore the distinction between subject and object must be kept separate from the question of our own existence.
We can speak about neither God or ourselves as objects. For as we do we at once set the latter up as the edifice of reality for the former. In such a cloud of falsity, we lose ourselves and God. Bultmann, in an anticipation of Heidegger, asks if indeed silence, Quietism, is our only recourse in this situation. However, he contends that this posture too is merely an act of the subject ‘with respect to’ God. It is making a decision on how God is to be treated. This procedure, this silence, is also a species of objectification.
As Lenin once asked, ‘What is to be done?’ But, contrary to Lenin, Bultmann argues that there is a ‘middle course’. Existence is in-between and prior, it is the root of the stems, to echo Heidegger’s appropriation of the metaphor of the tree of life from Aristotle and Descartes, of the subject and object. For Bultmann, existence consists of the free act, and this act is that of obedience to God, a must that is freely undertaken. This free act is commitment to the divine amidst a sacred opening. The free act is resistance to the flight from existence; it is a free acceptance of the truth of finitude. Amidst this situation of complete dependence, the postures, masks, of the subject and object melts into air. Bultmann states:
For the free act which is truly the expression of our existence (in the proper sense we exist only in such action and not otherwise and such action is really nothing other than our existence itself), the truly free act can never be known in the sense of being objectively proven. It cannot be offered for investigation as something ‘to be proved’ (probandum). For in that case we should be objectifying it and putting ourselves outside it. A free act can only be done and in so far as we speak of such doing, the possibility of it can only be believed.
In the externality of mere discourse about God, there is not only a flight to an illusory ground outside of God, but there is also a fleeing from this free act which is the truth of one’s own existence. The free act is an openness to the intimacy of finite existence, the truth of which is God. The intimacy of this act cannot be conceived or integrated into a lawful system of objectified knowledge. It cannot be subjected to logical or argumentative proof. Such a displacement of the intimacy of the sacred would forbid that very ‘object’ of our desire. Only in a surrender to God, to our own radical finitude do we paradoxically find the greatest surety. Bultmann says,
Only in the act is it sure. It is always sure as faith in the grace of God who forgives sin and who, if he pleases, justifies me who cannot speak from god, but can only speak about God. All our action and speech has meaning only under the grace of the forgiveness of sins. And that is not within our control. We can only have faith in it.
One may be perplexed about the possible relation of the foregoing explication and Marx, especially this last affirmation of faith. Yet, if we consider the meaning of this indication as a surrender to the sacred in a de-mythologised sense, we apprehend a situation of radical finitude, a world of care, the limit of which is death, which is at once an openness to the sacred, a free act of binding commitment. In this light, and in tandem with Bultmann’s deconstruction of ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ reality as an organized system of knowledge, we can glimpse the deeper significance of not only Marx’s affirmation of praxis – his dialectical materialism – but also the primordial ‘Abgrund’ (Abyss) of thrown existence. Marx’s criticism of religion as an ideology is strikingly similar to Bultmann’s explication of the regime of the subject and object, of the world-picture which masks the ‘truth’ of human existence. Yet, for Marx, as well as Bultmann, to escape from this antithetical regime of speaking about, each must find a place, a topos, from which to not only resist this ‘truth regime’, but also to retrieve an intimacy amid this truth of human existence. For Marx, it is praxis – beyond the sin of speaking about, from his early poetry on throughout his later analytical works – that beckons this truth event of his own existence, event. Yet, as with Bultmann, these words are not meant to re-enforce a self-similar regime of ideology, but to break through these words with counter-indications, threads, and acts which can possibly lead us out of this labyrinth of objectification. For Marx, it is a praxis which seeks to go beyond, to transform, the world – or, to intimate a differing world. His dialectic indicates a space in-between in which an affirmation and a commitment, as a free act, can invoke the true to human existence. Bultmann’s de-mythologization of the sacred seeks an intimacy amidst a sacred praxis which resists the world-picture (Weltanschauung) of falsity for the truth of finitude.
That which Marx and Bultmann share is an affirmation of an obligation and commitment which seeks to go beyond this world, not in a Platonic sense, but as an awakening of a topos of existence exudes a non-alienated sense of the sacred, which Marx does intimate in his spacings, in his surprises, his interjections of truths from the ‘outside’. It could be contended that the practical implications of such affirmations bore radically differing fruit in Marx and Bultmann. And the words each deployed were radically distinct – the classless society of non-alienated human existence or the free acceptance of finite existence as a surrender to God. Yet, there persists a striking similarity not only with respect to the regime of objectification, world-view and ideology, but also with respect to the inner kernel of ‘love’ and commitment which abides in the free act, in praxis. In each case, there is an affirmation and a commitment to the truth of human existence as the sacred.
It cannot be over-emphasized that Bultmann is not the typical theologian – indeed, he is rejected by many theologians who fear that his radical existential sense of the sacred falls merely into ‘subjectivism’. Yet, what this criticism fails to comprehend is that Bultmann is invoking a hermeneutical phenomenology of the sacred – amidst the ‘intentional structure of consciousness’, Bultmann is open to the phenomena of the holy, of the sacred. ‘God’ as a formal indicator, [He] can never be an ousiological object, a thing in the world – it is rather a ‘No-thing’ as a transcendental condition or limit for existence. But, such a Kantian gesture would be too far for Bultmann. The sacred is apprehended in the singular moment of vision – in this, my situation of openness to that which overwhelms – this is not ‘subjectivism’ as it concerns not ‘objects’, but phenomena, a sacred praxis amidst finite existence. In other words, it is perhaps in prayer, in the moment of anticipation, or in aiding the needy, where Bultmann meets God – perhaps as a ‘Father’ or a ‘friend’.
This attempt of a de-mythologization of the sacred, as with Liberation Theology, answers in a significant way Marx’s critique of religion as such and the Christian religion, in situ, as an ideology of oppression. However, on the other hand, this attempt abides an openness toward the sacred which is seemingly absent in Marx – if that is, we refuse to detect the traces of such affirmation in his early work and his poetry. In this way, an openness toward finitude and the possibility of the sacred invokes a dimension of awareness which is not tainted by the facile slander of ideology or mystification.
Bultmann calls on us to find the sacred for ourselves, amidst our own event – not to adhere to a mythology, a morality or stable systematic theology amid some profane exoteric repetition. In this way, he is not an idealist or propagandist – but an existentialist and a phenomenologist who abides a sense of the holy. While the question may be put to Bultmann as to why he never spoke explicitly about the capitalist system, it could just as easily be asked of Marx why he did not explicitly speak about a non-alienated sense of the Sacred. Between the two, there is a meeting place and a chance for dialogue.
Chapter 6: Heidegger, Marx and Eigentlichkeit
It could be suggested that in his attempt to decode the camera obscura of capitalist ideology, ‘Marx’ occluded from his own perspective the possibility or necessity of a retrieval of not only a non-alienated sense of the sacred, but also, a non-alienated meaning of existence, of be-ing. ‘Marx’ remains relatively silent, in the ‘Canon’, of an affirmative sense of existence – or to, as Heidegger indicates, an existence which is Eigentlichkeit. Heidegger paints a rather one-dimensional portrait of Marx, playing his typical game. Yet, even if it could be argued that Marx had a sense of ‘world’, it is possible that his ‘pre-understanding’ had not undergone the interrogation of death and demise. We will have to see. Through an encounter with Heidegger, we will ‘step back’ to an existential sense of the situation of the finite self for Marx. Yet, this leads us out of the Christian neighbourhood that we have been travelling – as instead of God or Jesus, we will be entering ‘nothingness’. The question, therefore, is the noesis and ethos of the sacred that is opened up in Marx.
Heidegger specifies the question: praxis without thought – in his Letter on Humanism and in his comments on ‘Kant’s Thesis About Being’ in the late 1960’s – Marx, as with Nietzsche, is a mere creature of the deed. In this way, the latter has no access to a primal ‘unity’ of phenomena. That which is crucial is the starting point. Heidegger could ask: what is the character of the ‘unity’ in the dialectic of dialectical materialism? Amidst his own ecstatic temporality, in which the meaning of being is disclosed as a projection upon temporality, Heidegger does not apprehend a starting point in severed positions, of a subject and object. Marx does not seem to abandon unity either. Yet, Marx continues to deploy the arsenal of modernist subjectivity in his dialectical analysis of historical development. For Heidegger, Marx throws down the mask or statue of ‘interpretation’ only to deploy an uncritical array of concepts in an attempt to change it, the ‘world’. Marx fails to articulate a philosophy of existence which gives appropriate respect to thinking and being. Such considerations are greatly shrouded by the techne of the subject and object, phenomenon and noumenon, and of the profane and sacred. For Heidegger, to rework or destructure a dispensable and problematic starting point, to question one’s own presuppositions, or to be open to the possibility of a new or different truth, is the essence of philosophy as the love of the truth. The question would simply be: is the Hegelian trace in Marx, amidst the ‘against’, of the aufhebung, instructive as to Marx’s theoretical willingness to not only advocate a violent revolution, but also to assert that such an event is the preservation and transcendence of the ‘order of things’. What does Marx mean by ‘revolution’, ‘praxis’ in its supreme sense?
Despite Heidegger’s notion that Marx was not awake to an ‘analytic of dasein’, it is easily shown that Marx incessantly expressed his sensitivity to thought, imagination and temporality – something lost in Heidegger’s focus on his own reading of the Eleventh Thesis. Marx neither recoils in the face of the overwhelming, nor flees into an anonymity of action. Marx, in his advocacy of a radical transformation of the ‘world’, the praxis of revolution, discloses, as Marx showed through his activism, his own existential world, his nexus of binding commitments, expressed implicitly in his be-ing, and explicitly in his poetry and writings. Such sensivities intimates a life attuned an affirmation of and a desire for a sacred existence. This was not a life merely of the mind, a mere play of concepts,
Perhaps, Heidegger felt that Marx’s emphasis upon class struggle was a species of the warring stems (a divisive influence in the ‘house of Being’,) and thus did not give due honour to a more fundamental ‘unity’ amidst ecstatic, singular existence in this moment of the Open. This dangerous ‘perhaps’ demands a disclosure of the moment of sacred affirmation in Marx. An existence, one which has not disclosed to itself, its own finitude, of this insurmountability of death, is still alienated – the impetuous move to action forclosed, for Heidegger, on the opportunity, the topos, of finite questioning, makeshift thinking.
Marx, an enemy of religion, still intimates a sense of the sacred, of ‘love’ and commitment amidst a world of horror and terror. Indeed, such a sacred obligation and commitment seeks to invoke a non-alienated existence. Yet, as Levinas and Bataille ask, ‘what’ is on the hither and thither side of such an ethical affirmation?
In the following pages, I will set forth Heidegger’s criticism in more detail, in reference to Heidegger’s only references to Marx in his Letter on Humanism, his Kant’s Thesis on Being, and his criticism of Marxism as a ‘productionist metaphysics’ in his 1935 Introduction to Metaphysics. I will contend that not only does Marx, in light of his poetic resolution, basically escape the criticism of his Eleventh Thesis. Moreover, with a richer interpretation of Marx’s thought and action – not to mention the other ten Theses – we can answer the questions regarding Marx’s ‘subjectivism’ and ‘productionism’. In light of these answers, we will in many ways detect a strong affinity between Heidegger and Marx. However, such an affinity is set upon tenuous ground in the context of the question of death. This question will be the destination of the following as this chapter will lead up to an investigation of the this phenomena in Heidegger and Marx. Our discussion will focus upon one of the rare indications of ‘personal’ death in Marx from the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts. Indeed, the great fault of this effort is its resignation with respect to a personal, individual or singular sense of sensuous human existence. Yet, it is the poetry of Marx which evokes the topos for a questioning of finitude and death. It is amidst such a topos that it is possible to question the deeper obligation and commitment in Marx, shrouded in his other works.
The Meaning of World
In addition to his brief reference to ‘Marxism’ as a productionist metaphysics in his notorious Introduction to Metaphysics (1935), Heidegger intimates his criticism of Marx as a mere ‘man of action’ in at least two texts, the post-war essay Letter on Humanism and in the 1962 lecture, ‘Kant’s Thesis About Being’. In both instances, Heidegger circles in on Marx’s Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach, which I already cited above. In response to the contention that the philosopher has only interpreted the world in various ways, but the point is to change it, Heidegger contends that in order to act, one must already have a sense of the meaning of world. Such a ‘having’ for Heidegger implies much – indeed, it implies that we can never have the ‘world’. One can only objectify things… or, each projects a world of binding commitments, the horizons of which set free things to enter into the place of opening, of the sacred.
For Heidegger, Marx seems to want to throw all into the abyss in an orgasm of action in an effort to possess the world (‘I am nothing, but I should be everything!’). Heidegger is certain that Marx has become a ‘positivist’ and a mere ‘activist’. Marx is blind to the world, existence, such as that transcribed in Being and Time – a necessary task of disclosing the world and the meaning of existence, the truth of being from the perspective of being-there, existence (da-sein). As a result, Marx is forced to adhere to a notion of the world conceived merely a collection or system of objects. From the perspective of Heidegger’s formal indication of the Goethean tree of life in his Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, Marx has never left the derivative and constructed modalities of vorhanden and zuhanden, translated as theoretical and practical. Ironically, it could be suggested that it is Heidegger who may give the best analysis of the tragically continual litany in the Marxian paradigm of the question of the relationship of theory and practice.
Heidegger insists that Marx, if he were to descend from the stems to the root, would have to seek to disclose the world in this singularity of being-towards-death as it climaxes – the event of anticipatory resoluteness, in a disclosure of a sense of being, the meaning of existence as a simultaneous projection of temporality upon Sein and the excession, giving, of temporality by Sein. Marx speaks about history, but for Heidegger, he does not realize that if he had a sense of the radical finitude of existence, he would abandon his architectonic of subject and object, and thus, of a dialectical reason. There is no need of a dialectic between relata, if these latter do indeed find there ‘unity’ in a differing topos. Indeed, despite the affinities between Bultmann and Marx, it is not clear whether the persistence of the dialectic between subject and object, which is predominant in the first volume of Capital allows Marx to escape the taint of ideology. Moreover, it is further unclear whether this distinction and dialectic is the only way to read the works of Marx – not to mention the many texts which do not evoke these terms.
Marx’s poetry has never been allowed to enter the house of the ‘Canon’. His ‘juvenile’ poetry (and plays) is, according to the pundits, mere enthusiasms of youth, and therefore, deserve no ‘scientific’ merit. Yet, if poetry is excluded from the ‘Canon’ of Marx, then we must merely accept the Kantian idealist schema in which the imagination, temporality itself, will be merely harnessed in order to provide the synthetic engine for the fulfilment of the theoretical and practical ends of reason. If we can consider Marx’s poetry and the light that is cast upon existence via this indication, we can trace a circumvention of the ‘order of things’. It is here where we find the seat of Marx’s affirmation of the sacred.
For Heidegger, and I feel as attested by Marx, human existence cannot be reduced to such a merely theoretical or practical interpretation. As Heidegger is attempting a radical phenomenology of existence, he is seeking the finite horizons of sense, meaning, for the mortal being. Heidegger can charge Marx – in the absence of a sensitivity to the latter’s poetic, interpretive hermeneutic – with not only repeating the metaphysics of subjectivity, of humanism, as being is merely posited by the subject. Whether this is by the scientist of dialectical materialist or by the proletariet as the subject of history, this revolution violates his own rhetoric of having transcended ‘ideology’, the world-picture (Weltanschauung) in the call to action, or authentic praxis.
If we accept Heidegger’s interpretation of the Eleventh Thesis, Marx never escapes an interpretative matrix in his impatient call to throw down the ladder in action or praxis. Such a call merely repeats the process of objectification which annihilates the unique character of human existence indicated as a projection in the face of finitude. It is in this way that we should interpret Heidegger’s statement that ‘Marxism’ operates on the level of a productionistic metaphysics. In such a scenario, social or species being, despite it naturalistic or socialistic call for an annihilation of egoistic individuality, remains, for Heidegger, a metaphor of the ideology of the Anyone (Das Man). Yet, Marx neither wishes to nor can escape interpretation. He merely interprets the world – conceived as a system of objects – in yet another way. Yet, it is not clear if Marx is merely blind to ‘world’ in Heidegger’s sense. Indeed, even if Marx is an atheist, such questions such as finitude must have come up… More seriously, that which is essential is not mere questions of ‘time’ and ‘being’, but of the temporal disclosure of truth amid this opening.
As I have stated, the entirety of Marx’s work could be seen as poetry of existence, with an affinity to the original irruptions of a poetic opening. Such a perspective is disclosed in light of a reading of Marx’s poetry and plays, and if one is attuned to literary perspectives, in all of Marx’s work. We must explore the significance of his hermeneutic of existence and its relation to the sacred – even if much of it is disseminated in the form of scholarly prose. Could the event of revolution and decision to participate in such an event be an authentic expression of the sacred? Or, is the affirmation located at a deeper place of existence, before this ethical event, in the ethos of the self, of the moment of vision (augenblick) in singularis? What would a post-Heideggerian Marx look like – and what sense of the sacred would be evident in a Marx set free from modernist subjectivity? Or, did Marx already set himself free, as Schürmann suggests with respect to his anti-humanism? If we can find resources in Marx which can fend off the most serious challenges from Heidegger’s Being and Time, the most deadly criticism of Marx by Heidegger comes from his emphatic turn to releasement, piety and contemplation. Tracing his own early emphasis upon the finitude of existence, Heidegger’s thought, after the turn, in a Taoist gesture, seems to have displaced that voluntarist project of any subject, agent, whatever apparition it may take. But such a thinking which is a thanking is a further transfiguration of the philosophy of the turn which gave to da-sein a destiny amidst this prevailing dispensation of technological being. For Heidegger, there is a danger in this technological unfolding. Our role in this prevailing circumstance is to not only be open to future possibilities, but, in the mean time, to resist the hegemony of technological representation in its communication, command and control of its assertion of the ‘truth’ of existence and the world.
Yet, despite that Das Man are far from being open to the truth of being, and are enthralled by the latest big lie, Heidegger does not wish to lose a sense of Being in its dispensation – in its withdrawal. Such a sentiment is similar to his 1936 lecture course ‘What is a Thing?’ in which he delineates (in a quite late Heidegger manner) the various systematic projections of mathesis in the context of the sciences. He gives as an example a leaf. One could see it amidst the botanical projection as a species from such and such a region, requires this care, has this diseases, has a specific physiology. Or, as a quantity of chemicals and chemical configurations analysed into its constituent substances, its component parts. Geometrically, the leaf is of a certain shape and configuration. Chaos theory steps up with its ‘medicine bag’ of fractals. Calculus can compute the ultimately approximate spatial dimensions of this leaf. Or, on the other hand, we could see it as a religious or secular symbol, such as the fig leaf and the laurel. Religion and the Secular swarm at each other in a matrix of the Same. Yet, even in the Same, there is already a plural voice, even amidst the projected mathesis. Yet, the only voice that is missing is that of the leaf itself – to simply sense the leaf, in its Istigkeit, to witness it in its this-ness, in its singular, authentic existence.
As Heidegger increasingly apprehended, and was also noticed by Deleuze, Foucault, Derrida and others, there must a cultivation of this space on the ‘outside’, amidst ek-sistence, so as to shelter the phenomena in its openness to the truth of its own existence. Such an ‘outside’ is indicated in poetry as poetic expression allows for the self-expression of the phenomena in question. It is unclear how Heidegger may have taken Marx’s poetry – yet, it is clear that he regarded the poetic and philosophic works of major thinkers, such as Kant and Nietzsche, and those by the poets themselves Hölderlin, Rilke, Sophocles, as artistic events which disclosed that which ‘was’ there, ‘is’ here. In the context of Heidegger’s 1920’s radical phenomenology, such a formally indicative role is played by his elaborate topology of phenomenological descriptions and existential categories, or existentials (Existentiale). In this light, it could be suggested that the poetry of Marx can in fact be interpreted as an articulation of a pre-philosophical, existential and ethical understanding of the world. Not only is such a world indicated and disclosed, but the basic commitments of the poet are also disclosed.
In light of the prolific corpus of Marx and the existential continuity between his various excusions and detours, it could very well be contended that Heidegger’s objection to Marx can be cast aside in light of his extant poetry and of the continuation of this poetic trajectory throughout Marx’s writings and his political, social and familial engagements. In the end, if we take into account Marx’s poetry and his in-depth writings, we can dismiss Heidegger’s claim that Marx is implicated in a vulgar sort of praxis. Marx’s poetry deals directly with the phenomena of death and struggle in its relation to the authentic commitments of the self – of his own self. Indeed, these poems are a precise objection that has long been held against Marx with respect to his notion of the personal, or of existence in Heidegger’s tumultuous sense.
Death and the Sacred
For Heidegger, there is a deeper region of being which is – in light of the formal indication of the Goethean tree – the root of these stems is existence (da-sein). This root-being (Wurzel-sein) and the morphology, contours of this existence, are prior to the realm of technical production, practical morality, politics or ethics, superficially conceived. Marx is forced to posit action or praxis as the link to the world, conceived, Heidegger would suggest, as a world view (Weltanschauung). In the absence of any apparent knowledge or insight into the poetry of Marx by Heidegger, however, any analysis of Marx remains in the superficiality of the stems, to continue with Heidegger’s long standing metaphor of the tree. In such a context, Marx fails to enact a self-interpretation of existence which would explicate world as a projection of binding commitments disclosed in the anticipatory resoluteness of being-towards-death (Sein-zu-Tod). Such an indication is relevant due to the paucity of references to death in the writings of Marx of the post-Hegelian Marx. Yet, many senses of death are articulated in the poetry of Marx, not to mention in his later writings. There is described a situation of finitude, desire, sorrow, joy and a thoughtfulness amidst nihilism and commodification. Yet, in the post-‘Canon’, Marx speaks only of the deaths of revolutionaries, workers, and the death knell of capitalism.
Accepting into our discussion the post-Hegelian Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, Marx refers to death almost in passing in one sentence. He writes in ‘Private Property and Communism’, giving his most explicit ‘analysis’ of the self:
Man, much as he may therefore be a particular individual (and it is precisely his particularity which makes him an individual, and a real individual social being), is just as much the totality — the ideal totality — the subjective existence of imagined and experienced society for itself; just as he exists also in the real world both as awareness and real enjoyment of social existence, and as a totality of human manifestation of life.
Thinking and being are thus certainly distinct, but at the same time they are in unity with each other.
Death seems to be a harsh victory of the species over the particular individual and to contradict their unity. But the particular individual is only a particular species-being, and as such mortal.
One gathers from this reference that singular death is subsumed within the category of existence conceived as a species event, as a great cycle which transcends the individual being, a particular. He or she is merely a leaf falling from the tree of life. Our relationship to the other is mediated by experience and imagination, but in the end, the particular being is merely a finite aspect of a deeper, non-subjective truth of being. For Heidegger, who never mentions the Paris Manuscripts, death – the overwhelming existentiale of a being-towards-death indicates the primal phenomena of the finitude of existence and the possibility of an authentic projection of the meaning of existence as temporal. Such a projection of binding commitments, as World, though temporal or ultimately makeshift, is the primal excession of meaning which discloses the horizon for any subsequent articulation of theory or practise.
Yet, beyond the apparent brevity of his reference to death, Marx contends that the individual is real, actual, a singular human being who must think and act to exist. That which is essential in this excerpt from the Paris Manuscripts is that Marx states that the individual conceives of his relationship to others, as with the Romantics and the German idealists, in the context of an ‘ideal totality’. It is obvious that he exists in a material, terrestrial adjacency with others. However, his conscious, thoughtful relationship to these others is mediated via the imagination, by language, art, and all other types of action, articulation and expression. In this way, thought and the possibility of self-interpretation still maintain a sense of freedom with respect to being – there is no determinism, whether by class or structure or place or blood. Marx reveals his imposture in his seeming resignation with respect to death. His poetry has already said so much more. Yet, leading to his thin statement about death as a surrender of the particular to the universal, he speaks of an ‘imaginary’ relation with others as an ‘ideal totality’ – Marx, in this Aristotelian schema, lays out a theological relationship between the mortal being and the everlasting. Worlds and ages roll. Yet, in this opening, amidst ‘real’ social existence, Marx asserts, in this and in other places, the imaginative, temporal and singular character of existence. His poetic engagement with existence, amidst the ‘imaginary’, Temporality, history, etc. exposes his ethos of affirmation and commitment to spiritual transfiguration and world revolution.
In the projection of a temporally binding horizon of commitments amidst the event of anticipatory resoluteness, there is, for Heidegger, the disclosure of not only the insurmountable horizons of finite singularity, but also, by implication, the possibility of an apprehension of that which transcends this situation of finite existence – toward its meaning. It could be argued that such a situation of finitude would de facto eliminate the possibility of a disclosure of the transcendens, and this may well be the case. However, in accordance with Heidegger’s contention that Sein is the transcendens pure and simple, and that da-sein as ecstatic being-in-the-world (in-der-welt-sein) is transcending in its projection of its meaning upon temporality, it could be argued that with the deconstruction of the edifice of transcendental subjectivity, there is an invasion of the finite self by that which overwhelms it.
In this way, while a transcendent conception of an ousiological God-idea may be inaccessible to finite singularity, this does not preclude the possibility of an apprehension of the sacred – even if Heidegger, in his early radical phenomenology remains reticent to express Sein in terms of the Divine or Sacred.
Marx’s commitment to revolutionary praxis parts ways with later Heidegger in that Marx seeks to further specify what Heidegger indicates as Das Man as a topos of praxis. Heidegger, once an advocate of praxis, seeks only the pious gift of dispensation. Marx is not so content.
Chapter 7: A Violent Sacred: Marx and Bataille
For Bataille, as an event of affirmation, release, the sacred erupts amidst terrestrial existence, an intimacy amid terror, horror, ecstasy, and joy. It would be instructive to investigate the contours of Marx’s sense of ‘love’ and commitment in this context, even as he purportedly maintained his own focus upon the political economy of concrete Man. In this way, we can turn to Bataille, who more than anyone else, has not only brought the question of the relation of the sacred and ‘economy’ into relief, but has intimated the ethos of suspension that is this ‘human condition’. In light of Bataille’s indication of restricted economy with the profane and his advocacy of the general economy, which allows a sacred as the dimension of uselessness, of that which transcends the regime of utilitarian calculation, it is possible to raise the question of the sacred and the profane in ‘Marx’.
Bataille takes ‘Marx’ to task in light of his contention that the fulfilment of reason is taking place through the socialization of production in the capitalist economy, within the limits of mere reason – via a profane reduction to thing-hood. For Bataille, such a rationalist, evolutionist theory of the ‘laws of motion of modern society’, stands in contradiction to Marx’s own insistent affirmation of unlawful revolution. It also suppresses the question of a sacred characterized as a resistance (as heterogeneity) amid oppression and poverty (homogenity). Which is the real Marx? Is he, as Sayyid Qutb describes the ‘West’, ‘schizophrenic’? Or, is this question un-decidable? In this vein, we can cast into relief the character of Marx’s ‘revolution’ and question if it merely repeats the ‘sacrificial’ rationality of theoretical and political economic violence. In the bad neighborhood of Bataille, we will seek to disclose in ‘Marx’ the possibility of a sense of the sacred which moves beyond the scenario of a ‘great night’. After a portrayal of the sense of the sacred and revolution in Bataille, we will seek to move beyond a merely sacrificial sense of the sacred as formulated in Girard’s work, Violence and the Sacred to a topos of the gift. In light of Marx’s poetry, a possibility arises where we may move toward an affirmation of a sacred economy of the gift, of a community of sacred praxis. Can an affirmation of revolution be congruent with any notion of the sacred? And, if so, what type of revolution would fulfil the conditions of this sacred? Can such a revolutionary affirmation rest upon the profane rationality of political economy?
Bataille and revolutions
In one of his many incarnations – one of his many merely makeshift projects – Bataille initiated a politico-sacral group entitled the Democratic Communists. This temporary, ad hoc project, standing alongside his other attempts, such as the ‘secret society’ Acephalae and his short-lived anti-fascist re-alliance with Breton in the guise of the Combat Group (not to mention his brief inclusion in the ‘official’ Surrealist organization of the ‘Trotskyist’ Breton), extolled the virtues of ‘headlessness’ and ‘heterogeneity’ as counter-thrusts to operative fascism. From what one can gather from the paltry extant literature of these groups, Bataille attempted to incite the desire for a ‘Great Night’ in which the capitalist class and it ‘organized’ henchmen would be sacrificed on the altar of a sacred rebellion of a leader-less proletariet. Bataille writes, in ‘Notion of Expenditure’,
As dreadful as it is, human poverty has never had a strong enough hold on societies to cause the concern for conservation – which gives production the appearance of an end – to dominate the concern for unproductive expenditure. In order to maintain this pre-eminence, since power is exercised by the classes that expend, poverty was excluded from all social activity. And the poor have no other way of re-entering the circle of power than through the revolutionary destruction of the classes occupying that circle – in other words, through a bloody and in no way limited social expenditure.
Such a desire intimates the possibility of an eruption of radical intimacy, of heterogeneity, of the sacred instant of a differing potlach amidst the homogenous terrestrial world. In an obvious way, this desire exemplifies Marx’s maxim that the liberation of the working classes must be performed by the workers themselves – and it has to be done in the most radical manner – through the destruction of the ruling classes. The only other option for the bourgeosie would be a renunciation of the rationalist propaganda that it used against the exuberant nobility and to become noble itself. That would mean, however, resuming the obligation of the gift in all of its myriad transfigurations and rhythms.
Despite Bataille’s curious ambivalence with respect to aristocracy, he announces the ‘headlessness’ of existence, of the lack of a single power of command, control and judgement – of a de facto paganism, polytheism – many voices, pluri-vocity.
From a philosophical perspective, ‘headlessness’ would thus express the possibility of an excession of a will (Willkür), which is not determined and disciplined by a purist reason, whether theoretical, practical, or aesthetical. In a tacit criticism of Kant’s valorization of Christianity in his Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone and the former’s practical faith in the substantial reality of God, Bataille writes, in his essay, ‘The Sacred’ (and in Theory of Religion, ‘Religion within the Limits of Reason’) that the ‘grail’ which haunts the reductive stability of the ‘modern spirit’ concerns not a ‘personal and transcendent being (or beings), but an impersonal reality (objecitification) Christianity has made the sacred ‘substantial.’ For Bataille, on the contrary, the sacred erupts as a ‘privileged moment of communal unity’, in an event which discloses a radical disjunction or breach between the sacred and substance/profane. Indeed, in light of the traditional meaning of substance, especially in Aristotle, as possessions or property, one can clearly discern an intimate connection between the sacred and anti-capitalist revolution – as an event of ‘convulsive communication’ of the suppressed and oppressed. For Bataille, however, this breach is not a mere disintegration but a portal which opens up a field ‘perhaps of violence, perhaps of death, but a field which may be entered – to the agitation that has taken hold of the living human spirit.’ In fact, in the current era, after Nietzsche’s proclamation of the death of god, it is the radical breach between a substantialist (or ousiological) god and the sacred which intimates the event of revolution. Practical Morality has become propaganda for theft, property – the sacred is suppressed, controlled and diverted in the violence toward the outside. Bataille writes
The fact that ‘God is recognized to be dead’ cannot lead to a less decisive consequence; god represented the only obstacle to the human will, and freed from God this will surrenders, nude, to the passion of giving the world an intoxicating meaning.
The open field is this realm of intoxication and headlessness of revolution before the trauma, prior to the attempt to consciously control that which erupts from ecstasy. One embraces the open field and the risk of the radically unknown. We are humbled, we are nude – amidst the death of God, we do not proclaim ourselves gods, but dance ourselves into intoxication, in Emma Goldman’s sense. Bataille writes,
Whoever creates, whoever paints or writes, can no longer concede any limitations on painting and writing; alone, he suddenly has at his disposal all possible human convulsions, and he cannot flee from this heritage of divine power – which belongs to him. Nor can he try to know if this heritage will consume and destroy the one it consecrates. But he refuses now to surrender ‘what possesses him’ to the standards of salesman, to which art has conformed.
It is the ‘profoundly ambiguous’ and ‘dangerous’ character of the sacred which erupts into the intoxication of the privileged instant. Bataille has no illusions that such an instant will become an enduring nunc stans, that we can somehow hold on to these as our possessions. In a reversal of the hubris of the ‘modern spirit’, he suggests that we are in fact the ones possessed by such moments. We seize hold of these makeshifts of a maze, surrender to our possession – while the fleeting lasts – until we again return to the ‘stability’ of the dis-intoxicated. As is readily seen, such an explicit absence of rational and moral determination of the will, the typology of morality, is not meant to indicate a be-ing which is not open to the sacred. Quite the contrary.
Bataille and the Sacred
In a way which evokes a strange resemblance to Kant’s distinction between phenomena and noumena, Bataille lays out a historical and philosophical distinction between the profane and the sacred. In his much neglected work, Theory of Religion, Bataille traces the genealogy of the phenomena of the sacred before and within the limits of Reason (alone). Yet, that which may seem strange to those versed in the nuances of the Kantian system of pure, practical Reason, Bataille indicates that any rational determination of the will (to use the language of Kant) abides – in an echo of Mauss – in the domain of the profane. This does not mean, however, that Bataille is merely inverting the Kantian schema in an exhaltation of the ‘irrational’. Nor is he repeating Kant’s maxim of limiting reason to ‘make room’ for faith – and thus, a pure, practical reason.
Heterogeneity, the ‘outside’ of mere representational consciousness (system) – as a primal remembrance of mere animality, as Bataille begins his narrative, indicates a situation which is akin to ‘water in water’. Animality describes a situation of radical immanence – there is no possibility of a procedure of linguistic and bodily objectification – of the reification of [consciousness]. However, human beings have not, in becoming [conscious], merely thrown down the ladder of animality, having attained an enlightened, unambiguous situation of clear and distinct rationality. We cannot escape the domain of objectification – of project – in a similar way in which we cannot escape the modality of the everyday in the early Heidegger. Nor can we escape the entanglement of animality.
Yet, what must be emphasized, there is no radical distinction between the domain of animality and consciousness as with Kant’s implausible distinction between phenomenon and noumenon – or between the theoretical and the practical. Instead, the human situation is suspended in-between consciousness and animality, the profane and the sacred in the archaic ‘general economy’. We cannot escape the ordinary – this strange situation of suspension erupts as a chaotic dance of influences, events. Other versions of this situation of suspension is expressed in Bataille’s work Inner Experience as that between the wildness of ipse and the loss of self in a desired communion, and in ‘The Psychological Structure of Fascism’, in which he discloses the radical tension between heterogeneous forces of existence and the homogeneity of the ‘order of things’.
The message seems to be that there is no simple, analytical distinction between well-defined regions of rational determination. That which marks Bataille off from Kant is his historical genealogy of the emergence of a regime of rational determination – of religion without the limits of Reason. For Bataille, the possibility of the sacred has its roots in the remembrance of animality – immanence – and the desire to retrieve the radical intimacy or communion with the divine. Such a desire intimates a threat to the profane realm of the conscious determination of everyday, practical ends – of utility, of production and destruction of products, business as usual. The objectification of a profane consciousness serves for the reproduction of a system of needs.
Yet, just as it is impossible to mark a clear and distinct gulf between consciousness and pre-conscious animality, it is also impossible to achieve a merely profane system of rational organization and objectification – there must be an openness to a general economy, to the economies, official and unofficial, the threads in the perverse and decadent tapestry of existence. This is not due to a lack of progress in our faculty of Reason, one to be remedied by the further expansion of an enlightened reason – as is the case in Spinoza, Hegel and their latter-day descendents. It is due to our situation of suspension – of ambiguity. Yet, each makes his and her own decisions, as the story goes.
The situation of ‘the’ human being, while being determined by the emergence of consciousness, cannot, as historical, ever leave animality or the remembrance, recurrence thereof completely behind. Indeed, such a radical breach would not even be desirable – just as, for Nietzsche, a pure Apollonian clarity would not be able to extinguish the radical ferment of a Dionysian force of life. The Platonic project to achieve the pure realm of the light – of the Good – is not only impossible, but may not be desirable as it will provoke a radical implosion of a system of enlightened objectification in a ‘Great Night’. As Nietzsche suggests in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, as one seeks the realm of pure light and goodness, the roots of the self strive ever deeper into evil and darkness. Wild dogs bark in the cellar seeking release from their cages. Just as the surrealists refused to consent to the aesthetics of pure order, Bataille – in a much more radical manner – contends that the very possibility of the sacred abides in an affirmation of a radical non-knowing – in the abyss of the Night – in the heterogeneous.
For Bataille, in his explication of the meaning of sacrifice, the sacred thrives in the affirmation of the desire for radical immanence. However, as he warned in Inner Experience that the desire for total communion would – if possible – would annihilate the wildness of ipse, of the self, a situation of total sacrifice would not only destroy the profane conditions of existence, but in such a destruction, would condemn the destroyer to radical self-destruction. This – as Marcel Mauss admirably outlines in his The Gift – allows us to ascertain the incipient – sensuous – reason indicated in sacrifice, specifically in the potlatch. The project for a pure reason or logic – of a conscious regime of utilitarian objectification – is illusory and intimately self-destructive. Such a recognition of the truth of the human situation – as the Delphic Oracle counselled ‘Know Thyself’ and ‘Know Thy Limits’ – affirms the constituent significance of non-consciousness, non-knowing – of the virtue of uselessness, of dys-teleology. The enactment of sacrifice intimates such an awareness of the surreal limits of human consciousness.
Sacrifice enacts a limited destruction of the regime of conscious objectification in the annihilation of an everyday object of use. The destruction of the object is a partial return to the immanence of the animal – but as it is a partial destruction of this regime, it indicates a sacred awareness of the constituent ambiguity of the human situation. The gift to the gods or spirits implicit or explicit in the sacrifice is the affirmation of an alterior dimension of existence – beyond the mere calculative, rational domain of systemic reproduction. But, it must be emphasized, such a Saturnalia must be limited as there is the simultaneous recognition of the historical, genealogical emergence of the human from the intimacy of pure animality. We are suspended between the domain of the animal and the illusory, de-ceptive goal of a noumenal ‘kingdom of ends’. But, perhaps, there is no Overman (Ubermensch) which could provide an escape, from another, many detours. In such a place, Bataille can agree with Sartre that there is ‘no exit’ – that all is ‘nausea’ and impossible responsibility. However, amidst this labyrinth of total mobilization, one, many, can resist towards a ‘better’ expenditure.
This Saturnalia of radical expenditure, implicit in the enactment of sacrifice, is a recognition of the specific character of the human predicament – and an affirmation of the sacred dimension which overwhelms the latter-day hubris of a desire for a pure Enlightened subjectivity – of religion within the limits of reason. As indicated above, there is a superficial resemblance between Bataille’s makeshift distinction between the sacred and the profane and the Kantian statement that theoretical reason must be limited in order to make room for the rational faith of practical reason. And, despite the radical difference suggested by the apparently a-historical character of the Kantian architectonic, the enactment of sacrifice differs radically from such an illusory limitation of reason. Indeed, practical reason, in its blind determination of the will (Willkur by Wille), has, in an unfavorable contrast to even the Second Edition of the Critique of Pure Reason, eliminated any trace of imagination or sensuality. This is beyond even the mere considerations of an Epicurean concern for private happiness (heteronomy) – especially in light of Heidegger’s emphasis on the hidden – suppressed – operation of a transcendental imagination in the Second Critique. For Bataille, a Kantian autonomy stands – in light of his work Theory of Religion – necessarily in the domain of the profane as it is still a function of reason – of a moral consciousness albeit, as Kant reassures his theological, anti-Spinozist critics – ‘it is merely practical’.
Perhaps, there may be some affinity between Bataille and the anti-rationists Jacobi and Hamann, but it is clear that these latter would be uncomfortable with the former’s admiration for eroticism, transgression, and joy, each of which implies a neo-pagan affirmation of the sacred. In a radical refusal of a rationalist concept of autonomy, Bataille affirms a sense of the sacred bound to the excession of heterogeneity. Such a volatile sense of the sacred traces its roots to that which is before – a merely historical Reason, beyond a schizophrenic compartmentalization of differing regions and sectors of a hegemonic rationality. For Bataille, beyond a rationalist autonomy, there is – amidst the eruption of a sacred heterogeneity, a sovereignty for the mortal self in its suspension between merely a calculative, utilitarian reason and an immanent animality. Such a situation of suspense indicates the sacred possibility of human existence. There is no escape from the surreal trace of the accursed share.
This detour into the work of Bataille places an interpretation of a sense of the sacred in Marx at a crossroads. For the post-Hegelian Marx – for whom the real is rational and the rational is real, it is capitalist articulation – socialization – which demonstrates the positive enactment of reason in the world – it need only be consciously recognized and controlled – disciplined – ‘Thus I willed it!’ – the cheer of a strategic planner. In this way, one could simply state that Marx either left any relationship with the sacred behind and walked into the realm of the profane, seeking to describe its laws of motion, or considered the actualization of reason through history to be the fulfillment of an eschaton. Or, perhaps there is another spin, blah. Blah, etc. After all, even if we keep within the post-Hegelian schema and Nietzschean framework, it could be that the ‘I’ is the saturnalia of the poor, of the workers, etc… The every-second intimacy of the poor in spirit and of a world which would be born of this present world, is an affirmation of a sacred alternative. It is resistance amid, toward these ‘busy’ articulations of power.
Marx was not merely interested in ‘science’ and he is not a Hegelian theologian. His concern is thought and action, as evident in his writing Capital and his affirmation and agitation of revolution, an invocation of a breach in history. For Marx, revolution would inaugurate true human history. We have little to go on – outside his poetry – there is only the reference to social or species being in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts – and the traces of poiesis which surface here and there in his so-called mature works. Upon this least trodden path, one is left with many questions.
What is the basis of Marx’s affirmation of a social being? Is there a sacred ground for his affirmation of praxis, of a conscious-material interaction which radically transcends the animality of design witnessed in the labour, for instance, of the spider? What is the sacred? What is the ground of Marx’s attribution to Man the capacity to comprehend and articulate in a universal manner all of the operations of mere animality. What is the basis and source of this capacity, of this attunement with the Universal? Is it merely the ruse of a blind, quasi-historical reason which is merely material – although dialectical? Against the background of the Platonic dialectic – and in light of the Nietzschean criticism of the ressentiment of all dialectic – what lies hidden – if anything – in this ‘dialectical materialism’?
There is after all the road less taken. Beyond the questions pertaining to the mere basis of Marx’s designation of social being and of his statements of the necessity and inevitability of a worker’s revolution – Workers of the World Unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains! – all in the context of a ruse of political economic reason, there is the affirmation of violent revolution, of the ‘Great Night’ of a radical breach against the calculative regime of disciplinary control. Is violent revolution an expression of Marx’s aspiration for a Saturnalia, for an eruption of the sacred amid the world of the profane? Marx’s enduring affirmation of violent revolution indicates a willingness to step outside of the profane existence of utilitarian calculation. His desire for radical change, his ‘No!’, abiding a ‘Yes!’ cannot merely be reduced to the obsessions of a political junky. We can and must return to the pre-Hegelian Marx – before philosophy – in order to retrieve a sense of the sacred which is set free from the violence of the Hegelian aufhebung. In light of Bataille’s sense of the sacred, Marx discloses an intimacy with the sacred, indicated in his poetry. Bataille writes in ‘The Notion of Expenditure’:
The term poetry, applied to the least degraded and least intellectualised forms of the expression of a state of loss, can be considered synonymous with expenditure; it in fact signifies, in the most precise way, creation by means of loss. Its meaning is therefore close to that of sacrifice.
In the suspension, the gift can never be free of sacrifice. Poetry, for Bataille, is/was always, or almost always accompanied by a sigh of despair. Mere writing can never be a substitute, simulacrum, for this eruption of praxical affirmation. Amidst such an eruption of a singularity, existence, poetry indicates, evokes, and invokes. Yet, in the postures of a life of writing, it is once removed. In this sense, the step beyond poetry transfigures sacrifice and the sacrificial situation into a topos of the gift – it returns to poiesis, poetry. Indeed, on this basis, one could set forth a different interpretation of revolution in its relation to an affirmative sense of the sacred. Mere poetic revolutions intimate only the impotence of loss, reluctant detachment. It is a poetry of existence, of praxis, that, in its transgression of the limits of power, discloses this truth of be-ing via its own actions and words amidst a horizon of events and situations. Despite Bataille’s pessimism with regard to poetry, there could be a more congenial and fruitful path traversed in the awareness of an intimacy between poiesis and praxis, in tandem with an openness of affirmation.
Chapter 8: A Retrieval of the Sacred in Marx
There are not only instances of ‘theological’ thought which is not merely complementary to the Marxian project – such as Liberation Theology, but there are also varieties of ‘interpretation’ which surpass the reflections of Marx, calling into question his silence with regard to the possibility of a non-alienated sense of the sacred. In light of those such as Bultmann who abides his reflections upon the inner despair of existential motivation, one could suggest, with Heidegger, that in his all-too-impatient dismissal of ‘theology’, Marx has remained in the mode of alienation – while he calls on ‘humanity’ to reclaim its social being in a non-alienated form in terms of the political economic artefacts of the direct producers, he fails to provide a convincing affirmation of the sacred. As we have detected in the philosophical criticisms of Heidegger and Bataille, a mere determination of human existence in terms of species, class, nation, etc. remains, to use Marcuse’s phrase, one-dimensional. Such a determination remains susceptible to an overriding neo-Spinozist liquidation of the multi-dimensional character of human existence into a monological reduction to mere animality and mere consciousness – or perhaps, to the collective happiness of the Last Man, which fails to explicate the singular, existential dimension of the mortal being.
Marx’s relative silence with respect to death has already been indicated – the particular species being must merely accept the harsh judgment of Nature. Such a fatal-ism fails to comprehend the specific character of human existence – freedom – and thus, fails to affirm the true character of real human beings in real social and individual situations – referring to the rhetorical language of the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts. In light of Marx’s poetry and his openness to the ‘imaginary’, to the Temporal, and, as a rejoinder to Heidegger’s limited portrayal, such an emphasis upon the singular mortal being and upon its disclosure – poetry – cannot merely be dismissed as a retreat or a repetition of petty-bourgeois or bourgeois ideology – as a mere ideology. Such a dismissal based on our makeshift theories about ourselves would not only trivialize the existential situation of the mortal being, be also, would dismiss the poly-valent depths of human existence. In this light, bringing Marx’s poetry into play will provide the resources to deal with so many questions.
However, this criticism of Marx and the present attempt to enact a retrieval of the sacred in Marx would stand at an impasse if the latter and his post-Marxists advocates would simply remain in a state of refusal – insisting that religion and all anti-Enlightenment mythology must simply be ‘put to sleep’. In such a situation, one could merely insist, as Althusser seems to have done, that Marx had attained a position outside idealism – that ‘Marxism’ has achieved the standpoint of a ‘Science’. In response to such an impasse, siege, one must not only make the claim that Marx, in this portrayal, has failed to disclose the true depth of human existence, but also that the absence that it detected in his extant project indicates an implicit failure to escape the parameters of a sacred logic.
This suggestion has already been made with respect to the question of the authentic ground of the Marxian advocacy of revolutionary transformation of capitalist society. Yet, even such a question, which in a significant way is based upon a reading of the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, could be dismissed by such advocates of a ‘discontinuity’ in the significance and theoretical intent in Marx’s extant writings. Interpreters such as Althusser could merely state that the early philosophical works remain too close in their affiliation with Hegelian idealism and thus do not attain to the level of ‘Science’ as for instance that articulated in Capital. In this way, all of Marx’s writings – before perhaps the German Ideology, are species of ideology – and can therefore be dismissed, except as historical antecedents and anecdotes (doxa).
However, it would be simple (and unnecessary if one merely picks up the works – and reads them) to respond to such a blanket dismissal of Marx’s early works by pointing out continuities in the later work – for instance, the notion of alienation in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts with the notion of a ‘fetishism of commodities’ in Chapter One of Capital – or, of the portrayal in Chapters 12-15 of the transformation of the artisan into the ‘appendage to the machine’. Or, one could merely point out the many ethical and advocational statements, his voluminous letters, or, in his later writings which obviously move beyond mere science. At the end of the day, one is left either with a very limited reduction of Marx to ‘Science’ (with all the philosophical problems which that would entail), or one would be open to explore what Heidegger would call the ‘unsaid’ in the work of Marx. In such a case, it is clear that much has been left unsaid – that much is absent in the work of Marx – especially with respect to the sacred. Yet, in his poetry, there is much that is said – not to mention the saying (Levinas), or the showing (Wittgenstein).
In light of the possibility of a radical refusal in the wake of the question of the sacred on behalf of Marx or the Marxists, a stronger work of deconstruction emerges in the contention that the very ‘logic’ of the Marxian attitude towards the sacred never abandons that which may be indicated as a ‘logic of the sacred’. Such a criticism comes from the topos of literary criticism in Cesareo Bandera’s work, The Sacred Game: The Role of the Sacred in the Genesis of Modern Literary Fiction. Bandera takes his point of departure from the work of Rene Girard, Violence and the Sacred, in which it is argued that the essence of the sacred, a function of the ‘unity’ of a ‘community’ consists in the radical expulsion of a sacrificial victim. In the destruction of the victim, often an innocent, that which is affirmed is an original position – every wrong of the collocation of singular beings is projected upon the sacrificial initiate. With the offering of the sacrificial being, there is a re-affirmation of the icons of the ‘community’.
In the case of Marx, it is, for Bandera, the notion of the sacred itself which is sacrificed on the altar of a Marxian ‘Science’. In tune with the reflections of Gerard, Heidegger asserts that Nietzsche’s ‘against’, in his polemic The Anti-Christ, incites a repetition of that which is opposed. There is no escape from the logic of the sacred if the very operation of the opposition and exclusion repeats or re-enacts the character or trauma of the attack, extermination, etc. Even if that which is affirmed is to be utterly distinct from that which is refused – as is Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his temporal son for the a-temporal truth of the ‘Father’ – or, of the eternal Son – the very methodology of opposition – even if the scapegoat is cast into the wilderness – forces a repetition of the deep logic of exclusion, in Girard’s view ala Bandera, of the sacred. In this way, as with Nietzsche in Heidegger’s view, Marx does not escape the logic of the sacred – even if he is left merely with the ’empty hands’ of an a-theology – which in this context is – as it was with the ‘death of God’ mysticism of Bataille – still a theology.
While the raison d’etre of Bandera’s deconstruction of Marx consists in making the strong case that Marx – even in his radical refusal – could not extricate himself from the ‘logic of Sacred’, it would seem that this criticism – while dealing with the obstinate refusal of ‘Marxist Science’ to even entertain the possibility of a non-alienated sense of the sacred, remains unsatisfactory with regards the question of a retrieval of an affirmative sense of the holy in Marx. What we are told is that Marx cannot escape the sacred. We are neither told what such a sacred may entail, nor are we able to pose the possibility of a radically different affirmation of the sacred in Marx. Yet, we could throw into question the very sense of the sacred set forth by Girard. A merely sacrificial interpretation of the sacred – as it seems to rely all-too-heavily upon the etymology of the term ‘sacred’ – fails to considert the possibility of a positive apprehension of the polymorphous divine – even Bultmann seems, in his existential emphasis upon finitude, seems open to an affirmation of the holy, even if we – ultimately – must remain in the Nameless. Prayer, for instance, seems to be an act – non-apophantic, and thus, non-reductive – that, while one may be able to trace it to some genealogy of sacrifice, to have as its pre-eminent moment an affirmation of that which overwhelms – or transcends. Moreover, in the absence of an affirmative sense of the sacred, and therefore, of the divine, what would be the content of a ‘Marxian Sacred’ – as it still would reside in the negative interpretation of the sacred? Are we to erect a violent revolution against the capitalist system in which there is an orchestration of a ‘Great Night’ of sacrifice in which the capitalist class and its supporters are sacrificed on the altar of proletarian et al. revolution? Should we return to the Aztecs, as it were? Shall we eat the Rich?
While such a possibility may be intriguing, for some, we could question such a negative sense of sacred action from several perspectives. Firstly, one could simply question the ultimate effectiveness of such a meta-strategy. In light of that which we have indicated with respect to the ‘against’, would not such a ‘meta-strategy’ entangle a movement of liberation in a scenario of violent repetition? Consider the ultimate failure of the French Revolution. Did the guillotine aid the cause of France? Are the writings of the Marquis de Sade more influential than a French Revolution for our ‘time’? While a revolutionary transformation must of necessity be a creature of the heart, there must exist an inner kernel of affirmation which emerges as an event of radical alterity – any ‘against’ must be of necessity a secondary moment to the radical cultivation of an alternative existence. To borrow from Bakünin, freedom must be achieved by means of freedom – and not from coercion. In such a scenario, violence is merely a derivative factor in a movement which affirms and enacts an alternative situation of intimacy. Such is the case with Liberation Theology. The advocacy of violent revolution points to the possibility of an affirmative sense of the sacred – wrapped up in the rhetoric and street fighting of violent change. Yet, even though there may be suitors who are plundering the household, Marx underscores, in this Paris Manuscripts, that alienation afflicts human beings per se – capitalist, manager and worker. He seeks to emphasize the systemic and historical ‘ground’ of this relation. There is the possibility of an affirmative path for Marx, but despite the latent humanism of his analysis, his own experiences of Realpolitik, such as that of the 1871 Paris Commune, assured he would not be blinded by a naivety as to the possibilities of reconciliation. Even amidst affirmation, Marx may require the Epicurean ‘wiggle’, action that is mixed up in violence, agitation and alterity.
In this light, we must attempt to excavate the radical, inner kernel of affirmation in the work of Marx – beyond the mere sacrificial logic of revolutionary transformation. In a retrieval of the sacred in Marx, I will excavate the radical, inner kernel of affirmation in its initial expression in Marx’s poetry in which we can begin to discern an affirmative sense of the sacred. Contrary to Heidegger’s procedure of sometimes forcing his interlocuters to ‘say’ the very words he has already placed in their mouths, I believe that we can find such a saying affirmation – said – in the early poetry of Marx. However, in accord with Heidegger, we can enact a retrieval of Marx in light of his phenomenology of formal indication. Each is an artwork which discloses that which is there…
In his poetry, Marx expresses a dazzling sense of the sacred, of the divine, to an extent that has been a source of embarrassment to the dogmatic materialists. This poetry has often been dismissed as juvenile work, as enthusiasm. Yet, I will attempt to show that these poems express, in poetic form, his incessant and ‘durable’ radical insights. I have chosen the poems Transformation, Creation, and Awakening to provide a rich tapestry for an exploration of the sacrificial and affirmative senses of the sacred in Marx. I will contend that Marx’s poetry not only pre-figures most of his later criticisms of idealism, ideology, and existence, but also expresses an affirmative sense of the sacred in his commitment to a meaningful and authentic existence amidst his concrete engagements of everyday life.
Without undertaking a didactic analysis of the poetry of Marx, it will be sufficient to indicate a few poems which express a positive affirmation of the sacred, of the divine. Indeed, it would seem that – even in his many love poems to Jenny – that Marx had abided an imaginative kosmos inhabited by a myriad of spirits, gods, goddesses and supernatural powers. In the following, I would like to cast light on some of these poetic references in order to begin to unearth a positive affirmation of the sacred at the ‘inner kernel’ of Marx’s work. Such attempts are provisional, but ought to intimate the questions posed in the proceeding lines.
It could be stated that some of Marx’s poetry exalts the ‘diabolical’, as with his poem ‘My World’, where he proclaims his will higher than that of even the gods. Yet, even here, he states that ‘endless battle’ is like a ‘Talisman’, and in this way, has not left the ground of the sacred. Indeed, his references could even be described as Faustian or at the least as pagan – such as High Magician and the like. Whatever the case, Marx is working from a topos of magical and surreal events.
For instance in his poem, ‘Feelings’, he writes,
All things I would strive to win
All the blessings Gods impart
Grasp all knowledge deep within
Plumbs the depths of Song and Art.
At the same time, a deep, existential passion resides in these poems (not to mention his many plays). Of course, there are references to spirits, gods, demons, etc., but that which is most prominent is a soul who is struggling, who is seeking, loving – a soul which expresses anguish, doubt, love – something which is mostly sublimated in his later work – even in his last poems which become merely those of, what he calls, an epigramist. In these, he merely comments on events – the inner depths of his soul – whether saved or damned – becomes a utility. This is the origin of the suppression of a sacred topography in Marx. One such poem is entitled ‘Epigrams’ and concerns the external motif of the German public. He contents himself to dismissing the pretensions of the higher aspirations of poetry for the voice of the street (but the voices in the street can be an affirmation of the sacred). Yet, there are too many poems to mention which exalt in an ecstatic awareness of the divine and the sacred. Almost all of his pre-epigrammatic poems abide amid a terrain of supernatural beings, Homeric references, and affirmations of the divine source and significance of a magical world. He is also not adverse to articulating his own very personal and passionate existence.
In the following, I would like to indicate this sensitivity to a sacred, divine, world in Marx through a consideration of the poems ‘Transformation’, ‘Creation’, and ‘The Awakening’ – there are certainly more, but these indications will suffice for a beginning. It should be noted that Marx – even in these early poems – was already radically sceptical of the hegemonic religion of the time, as expressed in his ‘The Last Judgement – A Jest’ and in his other un-conventional (Spiritualist, pantheist, neo-pagan) and classical – mostly Homeric and Ovidian – references. Yet, that which is significant is his positive affirmation of a sacred and divine existence which in many ways is quite radical – even in comparison to his later, so-called ‘mature’ works.
Yet, without further digression, let us read a few of his poems:
Mine eyes are so confused
My cheek it is so pale
My head is so bemused
A realm of fairy-tale.
I wanted, boldly daring
Sea-going ways to follow
Where a thousand crags rise soaring
And floods flow bleak and hollow.
I clung to Thought high-soaring
On its two wings did ride,
And though storm winds were roaring,
All danger I defied.
I did not falter there,
But ever did on press,
With the wild eagle’s stare
On journeys limitless.
And though the Siren spins
Her music so endearing
Whereby the heart she wins –
I gave that sound no hearing.
I turned away mine ear
From the sweet sounds I heard,
My bosom did aspire
To a loftier reward.
Alas, the waves sped on,
At rest they would not be;
They swept by many a one,
Too swift for me to see.
With magic power and word,
I cast what spells I knew,
But forth the waves still roared,
Till they were gone from view.
And by the Flood sore pressed,
And dizzy at the sight,
I tumbled from the host
Into the misty night.
And when I rose again
From fruitless toil at last,
My powers all were gone,
And all the heart’s glow lost.
And trembling pale, I long
Gazed into my own breast;
But no uplifting song
Was my affliction blessed.
My songs were flown, alack;
The sweetest art was gone –
No God would give it back
Nor Grace of Deathless One.
The Fortress had sunk down
That once so bold did stand;
The fiery glow was drowned,
Void was the bosom’s land.
Then shone your radiance,
The purest light of soul,
Where in a changing dance,
Round Earth the Heavens roll.
Then was I captive bound,
Then was my vision clear,
For I had truly found,
What my dark strivings were.
Soul rang more strong, more free,
Out of the deep-stirred breast
In triumph heavenly
And in sheer happiness.
My spirits then and there
Soared, jubilant and gay,
And, like a sorcerer,
Their courses did I sway.
I left the waves that rush,
The floods that change and flow.
On the high cliff to crash,
But saved the inner glow.
And what my Soul, Fate-driven
Never in Flight o’ertook,
That to my heart was given
Was granted by your look.
Creator Spirit uncreated
Sails on fleet waves far away,
Worlds heave, lives are generated,
His eye spans Eternity,
All inspiring reigns his Contenance,
In its burning magic, forms condense.
Voids pulsate and ages roll,
Deep in prayer before his face;
Spheres resound and Sea-floods swell,
Golden stars ride on apace,
Fatherhead in blessing gives the sign,
And the All is bathed in Light divine.
In bounds self-perceived, the Eternal
Silent moves, reflectively,
Until holy thought primordial
Dons forms, Words of Poetry.
Then, like Thunder-lyres from far away
Like prescient Creation’s Jubilee:
‘Gentler shine the floating stars,
Worlds in primal rock now rest;
O my Spirit’s images,
Be by Spirit new embraced;
When to you the heaving bosoms move,
Be revealed in piety and love.
‘Be unlocked only to love;
Eternity’s eternal seat,
As to you I gently gave,
Hurl to you my soul’s lightning out.
‘Harmony alone its like may find,
Only Soul another Soul may bind.’
Out of me your Spirits burn
Into Forms of lofty meaning;
To the Maker you return,
Images no more remaining,
By Man’s look of Love ringed burningly,
You in him dissolved, and he in me.’
When your beaming eye breaks
Enraptured and trembling,
Like straying string music
That brooded, that slumbered
Bound to the lyre,
Up through the veil
Of holiest night,
Then from above glitter
Trembling you sink
With heaving breast,
You see unending
Above you, below you,
Floating in dance-trains,
Of restless eternity;
An atom, you fall
Through the Universe.
Is an endless rising,
An endless falling.
When the rippling flame
Of your soul strikes
In its own depths,
Back into the breast,
There emerges unbounded,
Uplifted by spirits,
Borne by sweet-smelling
The secret of soul
Rising out of the soul’s
Your sinking down
Is an endless rising,
Your endless rising
Is with trembling lips –
Lovekiss of the Godhead.
Before I undertake a reading of each of these poems, and of all of them amidst their various interactions, I will make a short comment on the significance of poetry to any philosophical or hermeneutic endeavor. Everyone is familiar with Plato’s wishful desire in his Republic in which he casts the poets from the polis. Fewer are aware that Plato was himself a poet, but one who wished to convey, like Euripides, in his poetry, an array of philosophical conclusions. Plato failed as a tragic poet as his anguish in the face of the Dionysian – in the destruction of the ‘household’, of ‘substanse’. Plato became a philosopher and a very specific type of philosopher. It is certain that there is a measure of hypocrisy in Plato’s refusal of the poets. He himself relied heavily upon poetic images to convey the sense of his ideas. For Plato, the imago was subservient to the project of a dissemination of the possibility of pure reason. Yet, there are other ways to look at images, pathway and ways of being which do not necessitate the banishment of poetry. Moreover, unlike the Renaissance moralists who wished to exterminate poetry, we can become open to language which indicates the myriad truths and expressive possibilities of the world and earth.
Whether we consider the methodology of formal indication in the radical phenomenology of the early Heidegger, or his reflections upon the origin of the work of art in the 1930’s or of the Fourfold in his later work; or, if we listen to the surreal expressionism of Bataille in his ambiguous juxtaposition betwixt the sacred and Profane; or, again, if we witness the sacred refusals of Liberation Theology or the many other fighters of the good fight; or finally, if we heed the warnings of the Twentieth Century theologians who called us back to the immanence of the source – to an existential phenomenology of the moment – there are non-apophantic acts and contemplations would allow for the cultivation of a topos of opennness toward the sacred. There need be no rational control of the works of imagination and temporality, but only an openness to that which is resonating in the language of existence. Whether we conceive of language as expression or indication or in any other way, there is no ultimately secure position from which to radically exclude one expression from another.
We must seek to listen to Marx’s early poetry and to his ‘first’ decisions and affirmations in these works, written in the late 1830’s when he was in his late teens turning twenty. Marx must be interpreted against the background of the ground-swell of Romanticism and politically and artistically engaged romanticism. This was a left romanticism arising in the wake of the enclosure movement, the Romantic poets such as Blake, Shelley, and the political economic resistance in the form of the Chartists. These threads were eventually interwoven into the Communist, socialist and anarchist political movements, the first of which was, as Marx remarks in The German Ideology, meant to sweep away all that currently exists. There is no reason to contend that this writing is not significant since he was young – look at the wide interest in Rimbaud, who retired at nineteen, for instance. Revolution is a young man’s game after all. Moreover, Marx never repudiated these works – he cultivated an interest in literature to the ends of his days. Yet, that which is most striking is the compatibility between his early expressions of the sacred and his later social revolutionary affirmation – even though no such connection was never explicitly made by Marx or by anyone else.
In the following, I will enact a reading of each of the selected poems in light of the question of Marx and the Sacred. This does not mean that I will conduct a poetic analysis of these poems, nor, will I not provide a line by line commentary of these poems. In the wake of a summary of each poem, I will excavate the sense or senses (or non-sense) of each of the poems in light of our questioning of the sacred in Marx. We will be looking for traces of a pre-philosophical, poetic, affirmation and disclosure of life, existence, and the sacred.
Marx is left bloodless and confused by a sudden realization, his head is bemused by a realm of fairy tale. Casting himself as Odysseus, he expresses the sense of his confusion, pallor and bemusement as a drowning amidst a courageous, sea-going flight into thought. He did not falter, but pressed upon his journey. He resisted the seduction of the Siren in his pursuit of a higher goal. But the waves of Poseidon sped on, overwhelming him in a misty night. Marx rises again from his fruitless toil, but without power, his heart’s glow lost. Song is gone and there is no God or Deathless one who can save him. The fortress has disintegrated, there is no home. Yet, in this nothingness, the light of the soul shines, a changing dance, that of the heavens rolling around earth. In this vision, Marx has found the fulfilment of his dark strivings. Soul rings freely in happiness out of a daring breast, his heart is reawakened. His spirits soar and are swayed by Marx himself – who becomes a sorcerer. Crashing waves of the sea are left behind, all trappings are lost, but an inner glow is preserved. The fate of existence has overwhelmed the flight of thought, but the inner glow of the heart has achieved, in the vista of the heavens, that which thought could not offer.
It would be tempting to set forth an interpretation of this poem as an early rehearsal of Marx’s later criticisms of idealist philosophies and religion. However, while such may be the case, such an interpretation erases any discontinuity within the corpus of Marx. Such attempts, already indicated above, to break up the work of Marx into periods fail to be sensitive to the existence of Marx as a poet, thinker, writer, political activist, father, husband and man. This poem serves as a landmark in the destination of Marx. In a way similar to Kant, Heidegger and Bataille, Marx has expressed a ‘limit-situation’ in which the world he knew has disintegrated, he is overwhelmed. Mere thought, whether religious, scientific or philosophical, proves insufficient in the wake of existence. Yet, though Marx has been laid bare, or perhaps he has experienced his own finitude, he is open to the sublimity of the cosmos, to the heavens. Heidegger has suggested, in tune with most Ancient Philosophy, that the sky is the face of the divine. Marx does deny that he can be saved by a God or Death-less one – but he speaks of an inner glow which remains in his re-awakened heart. And, he casts himself as a sorcerer in control of the spirits which overwhelm him. In his openness to the overwhelming excession of existence, an inner glow lives in his heart. He accepts his finitude and the inability of his thought to subject the this to rational control – yet, in this existential disclosure, Marx discovers his own openness to the sacred and the spiritual power of resistance and revolutionary agitation.
To a significant extent, Marx is in accord with Bultmann in his denial of the possibility of ‘God-talk’. Significant for Bultmann is the encounter with the sacred – perhaps, as the inner glow of Marx. While we cannot perhaps ignore the denial by Marx of a salvation via a God or Death-less one, Marx indeed has expressed the possibility of a sacred moment in his affirmation of soul, even if this could be described as another variant of the Plotinian world-soul. After all, such a soul is still an emanation from the divine. In this way, Transformation can be read as a deconstruction of the suffocating artifices of ‘religion’, of thought and ideology, but simultaneous to this radical criticism, as an opening to a deeper affirmation of the sacred.
An uncreated spirit sails upon the waves far way, an eternal spirit in whose magic forms condense, worlds are born and die. Golden stars ride on apace. In prayer in the face of the heavens, the Fatherhead gives the sign amidst the overwhelming pulsation and roll of voids and ages. The self-perceiving eternal gives forth forms of existence in the words of poetry. The heavens reveal and emanate piety and love, the only harmony which can bind a soul to a soul. The spirits of the eternal find expression in the voice of the poet, in images, but these are makeshift, inexorably returning to the creator. Man’s look of love is encircled in a fire in which is dissolved this one and the All.
This poem, Creation, has a different character than Transformation. While the latter performs a critical deconstruction with a simultaneous affirmation of another possibility, the former is an explicit attempt to develop the affirmation of the Sacred which began as a mere openness. Having thrown off the ideological and idealist-philosophical baggage which prompted him to the impossible, he seeks in Creation, to express a rough sketch of the sacred world to which he has become open. There is no longer (not yet) a transcendental subjectivity or reason which disciplines and controls the sublimity of existence, but, an open-ness to an uncreated spirit – a transcendens pure and simple, in which forms condense and fade. Yet, beyond the myriad modulations and excessions of Being, the self-perceiving Eternal, the Fatherhead, communicates, gives a sign, expresses existence itself as the words of poetry. The cosmos itself, the heavens, is the poetry of the great spirit, and these heavens, as we saw in his affirmation in Transformation, communicate via their very disposition and life, piety and love – these are the only virtues, Marx says, which can bind a soul to a soul. Man himself is dissolved in and as a manifestation of this poetry of the heavens, in this world of love and piety. Each finite expression and image is, once again, dissolved into the soul of the great spirit.
It could be suggested that this poem indicates a mysticism which intimates a radical intimacy with the divine. All images will crash – does this not speak to Marx’s longing for total revolution, his criticism of idealism and ideology? Each of these is one of the images that will shatter in its return to the source, to the sacred existence which originally spoke these words of poetry. In a way similar to Schopenhauer, poetry is an expression of the Will, it is an emanation of the divine. However, as Reiner Schürmann wrote in his Heidegger, these emanations, as they travel away from the source, have merely deficient similarity to the origin, to the one. In such deficiency, it is all too possible, as Heidegger warned in his 1928 lecture course, The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic, to get lost in a detour of an array of free-floating concepts which no longer indicate existence in an authentic manner. In this light, Marx’s affirmation of an intimacy with the divine in its truth, as that which is beyond the word and image, continues to play itself out in his criticisms of religion, science, and philosophy as ideology. In a way which would make Luther blush, Marx aspires to the truth of the phenomena with a faith that the cosmos itself ceaselessly reminds us that all works are makeshifts. However, all is not vanity or futility simply due to this sacred affirmation of meaning. All words and images, ages and empires, can be washed away by the waves, but the inner glow remains, the glow of soul which aspires to and already possesses (beyond its camera obscura) an intimacy with the divine.
Amidst the holiest night, your vision breaks, enraptured and trembling, your fingers on the lyre stray, brooding and slumbering, but through the veil, you see from your inner depths, this boundless sky, endless worlds dancing in the heavens. Amidst the eternity of existence, you fall through the universe as an atom. An awakening to this existence is an endless rising, the rising, an endless falling. The soul rises out of its own daemonic abyss – the secret of this rise erupts amidst the rippling fire of the soul and sweet smelling magical tones, lifted by the spirits. Marx evokes,
Your sinking down is an endless rising
Your endless rising is with trembling lips –
the Aether-reddened , Flaming, Eternal
Lovekiss of the Godhead.
Awakening expresses the most explicit encounter with the sacred in the poetry of Marx. Perhaps his best poem, Marx moves beyond both of the moments of vision expressed in Transformation and Creation. In this poem, the songs of the lyre, amidst the holiest night, as with the song in Transformation, breaks down – the fingers clumsily fall off of the strings – poetry itself is silenced in the wake of the boundless sky which is discovered in the inner depths. In the vortex of endless transmutation, one falls through the cosmos as an atom. Yet, in accord with his criticism of Democritus in his Doctoral Dissertation, The Difference between the Philosophies of Democritus and Epicurus, even amid a descent of the atom through the cosmos there is an ascent – a ‘wiggle’ – indeed, the Cosmos is an endless rising and falling of which this atom or monad is a makeshift figuration. In the spirit of Giordano Bruno, there is something more than a mere endogenous system of atoms – each rises from its own daemonic abyss. The fire of the soul and the excession of magical tones intimate the secret of this rising. One falls – but in ascent, in this openness, each fears, and trembles before this overwhelming destination. Yet, at the apex this is, despite the fear and trembling, a kiss of love amidst the sacred.
I believe that this poem specifically answers the charge that Marx’s poetry are works of immaturity. Indeed, Awakening sets forth a very sophisticated and mature indication of an eternal fluctuating cosmos in which there is an intimacy with the sacred dimension of the soul, or as Heidegger indicates, this abyss of ecstatic singularity. That which is significant is Marx’s radical dismissal of the Democritean atomism and its latter day Newtonian survivals. The daemonic abyss is an Epicurean ‘wiggle’ which is existence, the surreal openness to that which is not merely physical – whether this be pseudo-religion, science, or politics. Marx, more informed by the pre-Socratics and Homer, than post-Christian philosophies – which he calls idealist – expresses a sense of the sacred which implies a divine significance to a world, which while intimating the truth of the sacred, is merely another makeshift which will fall into the vortex of nothingness. In this sense, Marx’s affirmation of death in its mystical significance, is not a fatalism, but an openness to the sacred, to the radical apprehension of that which overwhelms. As he writes in the Holy Family,
Among the qualities inherent in matter, motion is the first and foremost, not only as mechanical and mathematical but even more as impulse, vital spirit, tension, or – to use Jakob Bohme’s expression – the anguish and torment of matter.
Chapter 9: A Geneaology of the Sacred in Marx
The sheer amount of work undertaken by Marx throughout his career presents a serious challenge to philosophical interpretation. Indeed, the influence of Marx upon all regions of thought has been profound, and despite the political struggle that is associated obliquely with his name, his work has become a standard feature of the Canon of Western thought – in anthropology, sociology, politics, economics, history – and aesthetics.
Nevertheless, and with some irony, the position of Marx in philosophy has remained ambiguous, divided into radically incommensurate interpretations. This uncertain status of Marx in philosophy has been determined, to a great extent, by the history of the reception of Marx’s works since their original appearance in 1848 with the Communist Manifesto. Due to the overtly political – and illegal – status of this first published work, the history of Marxian thought was determined in the first instance by political struggles, first in the 1848 revolutions taking place across Europe, secondly, in the global reach of the Second International, and finally in the Third International associated with the revolutions which again swept across such places as Europe, Russia, China, Vietnam in the 20th century.
It was in this latter context – one heavily influenced by the work of Marx’s associate Friedrich Engels – that various revolutionary interpretations of Marx’s Das Capital emerged at the hands of Lenin, Rosa Luxembourg, Leon Trotsky, Stalin – not to mention the radical and innovative contributions of Mao Tse Tung, Fidel Castro and other theorists of revolutionary socialism across the globe. In this way, the development of interpretations of Marx has been radically determined by political exigency, one that only began to dissipate with the end of the Cold War near the end of the 20th century and the new divide between the West and BRICS.
The question that must be asked, however, is that of the philosophical status of the works of Marx. Such a question was perhaps impossible to adequately address in the context of the revolutionary struggles associated with the Communist movement. Indeed, major theorists of Marx, such as Kautsky, were excluded from the Marxist Canon due to political disagreements – in this case with Lenin. Kautsky was actually the editor of what was to be the Fourth Volume of Das Capital – but was removed by Lenin in light of Kautsky’s lack of support for the Bolshevik revolution, of the coup de’etat. The fourth volume was subsequently published by the Soviet Progress Publishers as Theories of Surplus Value.
The occasion for such a question – that of the philosophical status of the works of Marx – did arise however until 1932 with the publication of Marx’s early philosophical works – most prominently, the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1844) and Critique of Hegel’s Doctrine of the State (1943) and other works. These works are explicitly related to the disputes surrounding the various factions of Hegelians in the late 1830’s and early 1840’s. In these works, Marx develops the themes of alienation, alienated labour, and a philosophical vision for the resolution and overcoming of alienation in communism.
From the outset – in 1932 – there emerged a breach in Marxian interpretation, and many communist theorists refused to accept Marx’s philosophical writings as anything but juvenile productions – ones which do not rise to the level of ‘science’. The early philosophical writings – especially in their advocacy of socialist democracy – have been regarded by dis-continuity theorists in the West as indicative of a thought that was still determined by, pejoratively, ‘petty bourgeois’ or ‘bourgeois’ ideology. Evidence for this position is often Marx’s Communist Manifesto, Critique of the Gotha Programme, a seminal influence upon Lenin’s State and Revolution, in which he repeated Marx’s declaration of the necessity of a ‘dictatorship of the proletariet.’ Yet, it could be suggested that the first of these texts, perhaps the most important, was written in the midst of Marx’s early work, and therefore, that it is not helpful to distract readers from Marxian thought through a false debate about its continuity.
It is moreover necessary to consider the overtly political context of the writings of Marx – and furthermore to be able to distinguish between such political writings and tactical advocacies from the underlying philosophical topos of Marxian thought, which operates upon a fundamentally different level of abstraction – and which has its own specific history. It could be suggested, moreover, that with the alleged failure of the international communist movement, that it would perhaps be appropriate to re-trace the emergence of Marxian thought in a manner that is not mired in the often questionable political interpretations of Marx. Such a retrieval of the philosophical significance and meaning of Marx is perhaps the best response to the vast array of sectarianism in the world of socialist and communist politics, an array that has to a large extent served to bury the original philosophical significance of Marx.
It will be suggested, in this light, that a prerequisite investigation of Marx be undertaken which is oriented to his own philosophical context of emergence in German Idealism. As we can readily ascertain, the field of German Idealism, as it emerged from the post-Kantian debates, is a topos of conflict and divergence. We are well aware of some of the offshoots of this period in figures such as Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. Marx can be considered to be another of the offshoots of this period, in his initial youthful advocacy of the philosophy of Hegel, through his development into a ‘Left Hegelian’ and finally with his materialist inversion of the philosophy of Hegel in light of the influence of Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872). It was the latter’s ‘transformative method’ which allowed Marx to develop a radical communist critique of Hegelian Absolute Idealism, one that is oriented not only to the fundamental philosophical notion of alienation, but also to the practical task of its overcoming.
Feuerbach outlined his ‘transformative method’ in his work The Essence of Christianity, in which he re-interpreted the theological tradition – and this will include the idealist tradition – as an idealisation of the desires of the human species into various states of aesthetic, logical and ontological perfection or completion. For instance, Feuerbach contended that human beings created the idea of God as the idealisation of a desire born of finitude, lack, and suffering. Yet – and this is the profound critical move which was to influence Marx – this creation of God by human beings is forgotten with the result that our own product is given agency over us. In this way, we are alienated from our own creation. This critical transformation would be mapped onto the capitalist mode of production in Marx’s early philosophical writings – in which he would disclose the condition of alienation that is characteristic of an alienated form of life.
The condition of alienation is such that the producers of commodities are alienated – expropriated of – from their own creative action. In other words, the direct producers are alienated from their own labour and own selves as creative beings. Such a philosophical consideration would lead directly to a notion of political action in which conditions of alienation are to be overcome through a sittlichkeit or ethical situation of collective ownership – in the nullification of class society. It was at this time, most prominently in Critique of Hegel’s Doctrine of the State, that Marx advocates that which he calls true democracy – one that overcomes the inherently flawed conceptions and examples of democracy which are extant in the continued persistence of class society.
Such a philosophical vision for the progressive development of human society offers a fruitful contribution by Marx to political, social and aesthetical philosophy – and one that is not immediately determined either by the political networks and sects operative under the name of Marxism, or by the now out-dated notion that Marxism must be regarded as a merely one of ‘science’.
The continuity of this philosophical approach – most notably the indication of alienation – can be traced into the later works, specifically Das Capital, in the notion, for instance of the ‘fetishism of commodities’ in Chapter 1, Section 4 of Das Capital, and in the repeated juxtapositions made in this text – and in its outline Grundrisse – between the exploitative regime of capitalist production and the class-less society to come. In light of such a plausible and illuminating continuity with the context of emergence in German Idealism and its radical overcoming, it would be intellectually questionable to simple dismiss the significance of the early philosophical writings of Marx – as done, for instance, by Althusser amidst the events of May ’68 throughout Europe and indeed the world.
It is in such a context that we can consider the significance of art and the sacred in Marxian philosophy, especially in light of Marx’s criticisms of the idealist traditions of Romanticism and German Idealism. For Marx, it is necessary to understand that the artwork is also a social and indeed a political product, one that reflects the political economic and socio-cultural situation of any particular society. But, with respect to the sacred, commitment, art is not to be utilised as a mask of power, but the expression of a desire for revolution in everyday life.
Art in capitalism functions not merely as a commodity – as is the case with all production in such social formations – but also as ideology. As we will recall, the Western Marxist Adorno outlines the ideological function of artistic production in his work The Culture Industry. Again, as in all capitalist industry, art is not only a commodity, but an ideological mask for the networks of power which lie at the basis of exploitation. Moreover, the realm of art in such a context becomes an explicitly political field of struggle in the challenge to the regimes of capitalist exploitation. Art and ideological becomes agons of contestation.
This fact was well known to the Cubists, Surrealists, and other movements of art which have manifested a distinct and clear political consciousness.
Critical Theory is a contemporary and vibrant movement in continental philosophy – which means of course philosophy which traces its roots to the myriad European traditions of critical philosophy. Critical Theory has broad reach in English speaking academia as well as in many other countries and continents. In accord with its inherent activism, Critical Theory is adaptable to any social, political economic and cultural situation and invites reflection upon the practises and self-justifications of power and ideology.
Critical Theory has its beginnings in many directions, with many names coming together to form what would be – even retrospectively – a movement. The direct topos of origin is the Frankfurt School and of its various manifestations after its relocation outside of Germany during the War years. The major names of the group were of course Adorno and Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse (who attempted to complete his dissertation under Heidegger), Erich Fromm and a host of others. Habermas was a later theorist of the group, part of a seocnd wave which also included Claus Offe, amongst others. Walter Benjamin, although his work retains a great independence, is also affiliated with Critical Theory.
The persistent thread that runs through critical theory is an engagement, both theoretical and practical, with the capitalist existence as it produces and reproduces itself. The theoretical orientation, which remained dominant in the group, is that a Marxian perspective not only with respect to the analyses of the capitalist mode of production, but also, of the broader issues of the social and cultural reproduction of capitalism.
This latter emphasis emerged in light of the influence of Marx’s earlier writings and of their explicit connection to the tradition of German Idealism, especially that of Hegel. In light of this rich philosophical resource, the Critical Theorists were able to extend Marxian thought beyond the party and the political economist, to the areas of cultural production and reproduction of the capitalist reality of alienation. In this way, Marxian thought opens up to different fileds of praxis in light of the re-valuation of cultural and aesthetic values as key determinants of power and capitalist survival.
The critical capacity emerges from the Kantian legacy of Critical Theory, of the assertion of freedom of thought. Yet, the critical self is not safe like Descartes looking from his window, but is caught up and indeed produced by the dialectical shifts and transformations of history. It is the task, however, of the critical self, to retain the freedom of thought while recognising the alienated condition of existence and thought in the current historical period. In this light, Critical Theory will seek to move beyond a mere methodological treatise, to a critical engagement with existence itself in the domains of art, music, literature and so on. In this way, we have Adorno’s Culture Industry, Marcuse’s Eros and Civilisation, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, and other key texts upon the cultural domain of the production and reproduction of power and alienated existence. Such thinking is accompanied by and accompanies mass and chaotic movement and events of popular culture and art.
There are theoretical tensions in Critical Theory, whether actual or potential, in light of the work of Habermas, who as stated earlier was a later theorist of the Frankfurt School. Habermas seems to shy away from the more ‘suspect’ cultural perspectives, such as Bataille, with his focus upon the idea of Modernity. Moving beyond the Marxist leanings of Benjamin and Adorno, Habermas emphasises a focus upon the law as the condition of modernity, the latter regarded as a positive value. The core value is openness, transparency, in reference to the primary criteria of an ‘ideal speech situation’. In light of the fact that we are in the world, and are free (ideal), there must be ‘communicative action’ between individuals with the task of openness and adherence to common rules, Law. In this way, Habermas is able to supply a formal description of modernity, of its conditions and of its appropriate practical protocols (for instance, elections).
Adorno or Marcuse could perhaps suggest that such a description is that of the height of alienation, naivity.
Post-structuralism should not be seen as a challenge or at odds with Marx or critical theory as these are many strands of revolutionary thought, of which Marx himself was perhaps a chord. Philosophy itself, and the specific development of early German romanticism (in its allegiance to the French revolution) and German Idealism, the politicisation of philosophical thought in the Feuerbachian ‘turn’, into Marxian practise, itself necessitated by the overt revolutionary situation of rebellion which swept Europe in the 1840’s continues in the work of post-structuralism. The poetic and literary interests of Marx, or his emeddedness within the world given by the great poets and thinkers of the turn of the eighteenth century in Germany and afterwards, and his own affirmation of a free creativity, were, due to practical situations and relations, sublimated into his awe-inspiring magnum opus Das Kapital, an ultimately incompleted work of four-volumes. However, Bataille, the godfather of post-structuralism, was himself a Marxist and displayed a marked sensitivity to not only the radical temporality and flux of existence, but also the necessity of revolution.
Perhaps the way to explain post-structuralism is through a familar metaphor – of the return of that which was denied.
The radicalisms of earlier in the century, of surrealism, dadaism, re-emerged with May 68 and the cultural rebellion of the late 20th century. Derrida’s ‘Of Difference’ was given three months before May 68. It expresses a sense of being the playthings of history, of being caught up in the general economy when no restricted economy has hegemony. It is the feral wild-ness of the street that is expressed.
It is in this light that any assertion of identity rests upon the violent suppression of difference – for the criteria of comparison comes from that which was revealed in the chaos itself, perhaps, a different type of freedom than that of the formal (structural) idea of freedom as self-control. The emphasis upon Freud and psychoanalysis in post-structuralism resides in this contestation of the possibility of the formal criteria of freedom, or to contest its description of freedom. If we are caught up in this Heraclitean flux, then the thread that will guide us will be language, the logos, which includes the language of the unconscious. The post-structuralist project, in this way, is a contestation within the ideological battle over the very meaning of the idea of freedom, and is influenced by the traditions of early German Romanticism, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Heidegger, Lacan, and others.
Bataille, it could be argued, was a significant writer and facilitator for the tendency and emergence of post-structuralism. His work on the sacred and the profane, heterogeneity and homogeneity, general and restricted economy laid out the topos for the sense of otherness inherent to post-structuralism and for the relationship of this otherness with the restricted economy of control which prevails in the social and public realms. Such concrete work, upon the topology of what we may provisionally described as the ontic dimension, is undertaken by Foucault, Derrida, and Deleuze, as a historical marriage of Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Marx. Such a marriage is an indigenous development of revolutionary thought, which once again, one was an important link in the great chain of revolution thought, but still only a link. In his poem, ‘The Rules of Life’, Nietzsche reminds us of our humility:
The Rules of Life
To enjoy life,
You must stand above it!
That is why you must learn to rise!
That is why you must learn to look down!
The nobility of impulse
Is cultivated advisedly:
For each kilo of love,
Take a gram of self-contempt.
We must be able to see the myriad contributions of many writers, artists, poets and thinkers in the broader conceptualisation of a revolutionary culture, network and movement. There is much to learn from so many, so as we must remain attuned to concrete situation and relations, concrete conditions and actions, themselves oriented by the ever challenging horizon of need and desire. Any revolutionary movement should draw on as many intellectual, artistic, and practical resources that it can – for we are not trying to create the perfect theory or distill the purest interpretation, but are seeking to fulfil our commitment to change the world.
Closing: The Sacred after Marx
It is clear that, even if we wanted to, we could establish some type of relationship between Marx and the Sacred, even if this were only a negative relationship. Marx is not the great atheist, nor is he the great authoritarian. Such interpretations result from either deliberate mis-representation or reductionistic and partitionistic readings which fail to disclose the most plausible ands profound readings of Marx. Lenin never read the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, nor the German Ideology – it is truly doubtful if he ever read Marx’s poetry. Be that as it may, such an example can serve as a warning for those who have become complacent in their theoretical stereotypes. There is more to Marx than the merely political or even historical significance to which he has been assigned. Even in the 2100 pages of Capital (excluding the text Theories of Surplus Value, rejected by Lenin as its editor, Karl Kautsky, did not support the policies of revolutionary defeatism and insurrectionary communism), Marx makes numerous advocacy and poetic statements. Often, he speaks of a communist society as a contrast to capitalist exploitation. His most explicit reference to the ‘moral’ as that which must be affirmed is his reference in Capital, Vol. 1 of the moral character of the standard of living (similar to Sraffa’s ‘standard commodity’). There is a moral, practical criteria for the level of subsistence, based on the prevailing historical situation of class warfare and struggle. This concrete phenomenology of a temporal morality of material existence is in tune with his own sense of the overwhelming character of the Sacred and the inner glow that remained after the implosions of his own illusions. One could speculate, as legitimate as any of the interpretations of Marx, that he maintained his inner glow and sense of the Sacred even amidst his dull references to a scientific political economy. The implicit affirmation exhibited by his own statements and by his political advocacy and involvement (even to the extent that he was sought for arrest and was exiled numerous times) indicates that a merely secular or atheist interpretation of Marx is unsound.
I have attempted, firstly, to show that the typical Marxian quip that religion is the opium of the people and merely idealistic distortion is contradicted by historical example of sacred rebellion such as Liberation Theology and the Ghandian rebellions in South Africa and India. I have tried to show, secondly, that Marx’s ostensible criticisms of religion are much in tune with 20th century radical theology most clearly articulated by Rudoph Bultmann, but falter in the face of the latter’s radical phenomenology of the Sacred. Thirdly, I have tried to show, through interpretations of Heidegger and Bataille, that the usual interpretation of the question of Marx and the Sacred – even if this is expressed in Marx’s own words – is met with strong counter-interpretations which demonstrate clearly that Marx not only remains embedded in a metaphysical, interpretive topos, but that a sense of the sacred is necessitated by his ethical and moral advocacies. In light of Marx’s poetry, the sense of the sacred is cast fully into relief. Yet, the question remains as to the significance of these sacred affirmations in his poetry -especially in light of his subsequent works and statements regarding idealism and religion. Yet, in the absence of an alternative ground of affirmation – to seek the affirmation which sets beneath Marx’s humanism and his later conformity to 19th century scientism, we are thrown back to his poetry, especially in its sophisticated criticism of a merely idealistic sense of the Sacred and in its imaginative reconstruction, affirmation of a Sacred which overwhelms the finite self, but also allows this self to guide the spirits which infuse themselves into the self – as a Sorcerer who writes this poetry of existence. He is a poet, who will remain silent in the face of the Nameless – the Overwhelming.
Wittgenstein ends his ‘mystical’ Tractatus with the words: What we cannot speak about, we must pass over in silence. Yet, even though the mystical lies at the limit of ‘world’ – Die Welt ist als der Fall – the mystical stills exists. The mystical, or in the context of this present study, the sacred is not ‘the case’, it is not a thing, an object or state of affairs in this world to which a convenient label can be tagged. It is ‘outside’ – at the limit of the world, but it can and does erupt amidst existence, of which, a world is only one aspect. Marx has already said all of this in his early poetry. Marx can neither escape the sacred, nor can a merely negative sense of the sacred be defined for him. His poetic explorations are indeed the existential root of his latter work and thought. There is no discontinuity, there is the lived present and possibility.
 Marx, Karl. Introduction to a Contribution to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Oxford University Press, translated by Joseph O’Malley, 1970.
 ibid. 3.175.
 This point indicates the question of the various interpretations of Marx. Indeed, there is no “Marx” an sich, there for our immediate reckoning. Indeed, there are many variants of the formal indicator “Marx”. Yet, two of the most dominant tendencies in Marx interpretation concern a decision on the part of the interpreter as to the relevance of Marx’s earlier works, many of which were unpublished. It was not until 1932 that Marx’s early writings were published, including the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts. It is a significant fact that none of the earliest Communist thinkers had ever read these earlier tasks, although Lenin plowed through Hegel on his own in 1916, as evidenced by his Philosophical Notebooks. Yet, it is claimed by interpreters such as Althusser that Marx’s early writings are irrelevant to that which should be deemed as Marx’s true achievement – a science of history and society. For Althusser, the early writings are too close in affiliation with Hegelian idealism and thus do not achieve the level of science. For Althusser, and the many who follow his view, Marx had undertaken an “epistemological break” in his displacement of philosophy by scientific materialism. In this way, Althusser represents the variant of Marx interpretation which posits a discontinuity in his work – he is a “discontinuity theorist”. On the other side of the great divide are those who have emphasized the significance of Marx’s early studies of alienation and his libertarian vision of communist revolution. Such thinkers, such as Ollman, wish to envision Marx’s work as a continuity, and as a result, have to a great extent re-cast the interpretation of Marx’s later works in the light cast by the earlier philosophical works. In this context, such thinkers could be described as “continuity theorists”. In the absence of any explicit repudiation by Marx of his earlier work, I feel there is no need to censor the reading of these texts. In other words, there is no need to accept the Marx which has been handed to us by Althusser. It could be argued that all of Marx’s later insights were originally developed in his early works. Capital did not simply fall from the sky, and this text exhibits traces of these early works. Marx and the Sacred thus embraces an existential approach to the work of Marx. While there is never a total continuity in any life, I feel there is no essential incompatibility between the early and later works. Yet, not only will I argue for the necessity of investigating Marx’s early philosophical work, but I will moreover argue that Marx’s poetry must be included in the “Canon”. Indeed, it is in this poetic space where we can begin to disclose a sense of the sacred in Marx, a space, as with dasein in Heidegger, where an alterior sensibility is disclosed which is not articulated via the theoretical and practical logics of rational organization. There has been no significant treatment of Marx’s poetry which is usually described, as with Nietzsche and his poetic and musical works, as early enthusiasms – at the worst embarrassing, at the best, irrelevant.
 Although Marx never speaks about such a distinction explicitly, we will excavate an implicit sense of obligation and commitment, of affirmation in not only his existential activity as such, but also in literary decisions in his political economic works and his early works, including his so-called juvenile poetry.
 The imagery for this metaphor comes from Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Notebooks, Number 115.
 Otto, Rudolf. The Idea of the Holy, Penguin , 1959.
 Many may contend that Marx is an irreducibly secular thinker. And, while the all-too-usual – whether Marxist, neo-Marxist, marxian, or anti-Marxist – approach to his work may bear that out, there are clear exceptions to the apparent secular tone of much of his writing. For instance, we have the quote at the head of this essay, “Religious suffering is at the same time a protest against real suffering”, itself a piece of poeisis from Marx’s unfinished analysis of Hegel’s doctrine of the state. There are many indications in the writings of Marx, many non-scientific, poetic excursions, calls for revolution, which, like Herodotos’ Histories, do not sit well with the analysts. At the same time, is there any necessity to impose upon our exploration these categorical separations which deflect that which is most worthy of thought and action.
 Miranda, Jose. Marx and the Bible: A Critique of the Philosophy of Oppression, translated by John Eagelson, Orbis Press, Maryknoll, New York, 1974.
 Kirk, G.S. et. al. The Presocratic Philosophers, Cambridge University Press, 1988.
 This approach to the poetry of Marx bears a superficial resemblance to the methodology of Heidegger, who has thought through various unsaid possibilities in other thinkers and in the poets. Yet, for Marx, such a saying of the Sacred was said – and continued to be said, even if his poiesis of the sacred was eventually wrapped up in the most analytical prose. Although his poetry was merely the articulation of the logos, it indicated or pointed to an opening to the sacred. Such a use of language pre-ceded or exceeded a logical or conceptual-philosophical discourse which seeks only to objectify an ‘event’ into an entity.
 This is a reference to Herbert Marcuse’s work of the same title.
 Of course, this would be to systematically ignore the literature which seeks to situate Marx in the realm of the Old Testament prophets as is indicated by Miranda and the many others who have sought to appropriate the analyses of Marx within the sacred tradition. In this way, one can understand Liberation Theology beyond the tentative appropriations of Gutierrez towards the work of Miranda and others, including the Popes who have interpreted Marx in light of the genealogy of the prophets and Jesus.
 Indeed, beyond the various traces in the extant text of Marx, and even with the arguably relevant early poetry, there can be excavated a deep structure and event of a sense of the sacred in the writings of Marx. As I have pointed out in my final chapter, A Retrieval of the Sacred in Marx, Bandera has used Gerard in order to contend that the entire gesture of Marx’s thought stands on Sacred ground in the limited and negative sense of sacrifice. Such a negative sense of the sacred emerges in the gesture of a sacrificial event of revolution. Without nullifying the significance of such a gesture of negativity, of active nihilism, I am trying however to go beyond a merely sacrificial sense of the sacred toward that of the gift as indicated in Marcel Mauss’ work of the same title. I seek an affirmative sense of the sacred in the work of Marx, not merely in his early poetry, but in a life of affirmation and engagement. I consider my work to be an overture for a dialogue which I feel needs to occur with respect to a non-reductive ‘materialist’ re-thinking of the sacred. It is clear from early on that Marx contends that a criticism of religion is a pre-requisite for all social analysis. However, it must be asked: what is his motivation for such criticism and social engagement in the first place? Marx explicitly enacts a commitment to revolutionary social transformation. Could such a commitment abide upon a merely scientific or political level? Can we not investigate the existential ramifications of the writings of Marx with respect to the question of the sacred?
 Schürmann, Reiner. Heidegger: Being and Acting, From Principles to Anarchy, Indiana University Press, 1986.
 I am aware of the problematic status of truth in the post-modern era, especially in the wake of the insights of Nietzsche, Foucault, Derrida and others. However, I will contend that it is possible to undertake an intimate hermeneutic in which there is awakened a desire for truth. In this way, the “test” for this exploration of the Marx and the sacred, as Heidegger wrote at the outset of his Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, will be its power to illuminate the question before us.
 There is a clear precedent in Lenin’s suppression of Theories of Surplus Value from its status as the fourth volume of Capital due to the latter’s political differences with its editor Karl Kautsky.
 It will be seen below that even Gutierrez held to this interpretation and thus sees the significance of Marx as merely a supplemental science of political economic history.
 Ollman, Bertell. Alienation: Marx’s Conception of Man in Capitalist Society, Cambridge University Press, 1971.
 Althusser, Louis. “Lenin and Philosophy”, Lenin and Philosophy and other Essays, translated by Ben Brewster, Monthly Review Press, p. 26.
 Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy, p. 37.
 Althusser, p. 37.
 Althusser, p. 37.
 Althusser, p. 37.
 Althusser, p. 38.
 Althusser, p. 38.
 Althusser, p. 39.
 Althusser, pp. 39-40.
 Althusser, p. 41.
 Althusser, p. 41.
 Althusser, p. 43.
 Althusser dismisses those in Mach’s circle who wished to cultivate Marxist thought in the context of an affirmation of a, ‘authentic humane’ ethos, etc. Mach, Althusser reminds us, was the central straw man in Lenin’s work Materialism and Empiro-Criticism.
 Marquard, Odo. “In Praise of Polytheism (On Monomythical and Polymythical Thinking)”, Farewell to Matters of Principle, Oxford University Press, 1989.
 For an excellent disclosure of a poetic breach, of gaps, in the works of Kant and Hegel, as this speaks to Althusser, cf. John Sallis, Spacings – of Reason and Imagination, University of Chicago Press, 1987.
 Georges Bataille, Inner Experience, SUNY press (1988), p. xxxii.
 Marx, Karl, Introduction to a Contribution to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Marx-Engels Collected Works, International Publishers. This is the same text, by the way, that the opening quote is taken: “Religious suffering is at one and the same time the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions.” (cf. endnote 1)
 ibid. 3.175.
 I refer here to Heidegger’s 1936 essay, “The Origin of the Work of Art”, Poetry, Language and Thought, HarperCollins, 1985.
 ibid. 3.175.
 Marx, K. Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy, Lawrence and Wishart, pp. 20-21.
 “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways, the point is to change it.”
 Marx, Karl, Introduction to a Contribution to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, CW 3.176.
 One need only consider, as an archetypal example, Section Four of Chapter One of Capital on commodity fetishism. Immediately, in this “scientific” work, as Althusser ands Gutierrez describe it – one that has left the youthful, immature Hegelianism behind, one finds a sophisticated and darkly humorous analysis of an all-too-human situation in which commodities become the real actors in human existence. This self propelling wheel of commodities not only afflicts the working classes – who, for Marx, in a significant way, serve merely a strategic position for the liberation of all human beings – but also the owners of capital. Commodity fetishism orchestrates a camera obscura of oppression. Such a characterization of the commodity as fetish echoes his earlier Feuerbachian alliances. We have created the commodities, but now they have agency over us – they are our fetishes. Of course, it is the direct producers who have created these commodities, but the capitalists and agents of dissemination and distribution (commodity realisation) read and create the desires in the direct consumer – We are all alienated, but that does not evaporate personal responsibility – differing ways and with differing concrete involvements. Yet, for “we”, it is the commodities who go up and down on the magic wheel of fortune of the stock exchange. It is they, as well as the abstractions of nation states, who are deemed to have the agency and authentic power of human existence. We are all left – workers and capitalists alike – setting here witnessing the flashing lights, sounds, smells, tastes of an alien orchestration, on our skin – if that is, we continue adhere to Feuerbach’s humanistic optimism.
 Marx, Karl, Theories of Surplus Value, CW 3.448.
 Miranda, Jose. Marx and the Bible, pp. 53-67.
 For an impression of the character and tactics of the early Christians, see Plotinus’ treatment of the “Gnostics” in the Enneads.
 Under the influence of Levinas and of the various readings of Heidegger of this period, Miranda lays out a radical differentiation between Biblical revelation and Greek ontology. Yet, it is not clear whether or not his interpretation of the Greeks is either inclusive or accurate. On the one hand, it seems that he is relying on a very Aristotelian picture of “Greek” philosophy and religion, and on the other hand, he is discounting the justice which is sought and described not only by the pre-socratic Greeks and the Homeric indications of a plethora of Gods who seek justice in human affairs. It is simply not clear that the “gods” as he portrays them, even if they have devotees in various situations of cultus are any different from the “God” Yahweh who is beyond cultus. One could ask if the same criticisms of cultus could be applied to the “gods”. In other words, is “God” so different from the “gods”? It could be radically questioned whether it is possible to simply label the Greeks as “ontologists”. Such a generalization has as much meaning as the “Christians”.
 For an excellent discussion of the tactics and matrix of discipline of a religious and/or political bureaucracy, see Foucault’s work Discipline and Punish.
 There is no suggestion, in this present study of Marx, of either a psychological or biographical treatment – reduction – of “Marx”. That which is demanded is the possibility of considering the works of Marx in depth, an attempt to disclose in these a sense of the sacred. Marx was more than a philosopher, writer, etc., but a husband and father, in a household, engaged in networks of radicals, in keeping with the trends of the 19th century, where two of his children died. He took long walks with his children, telling them stories on the way. The stories on a path point to aspects of human existence, to things themselves, each of which express and indicate this event of existence. Yet, this is part of the fiction, for we cannot know what lies in the heart of Marx. We can simply attempt to consider the works of Marx as hermeneutically rich texts and extend the notion of his works to his social and political praxis – a work attuned and expressive of his basic affirmation.
 This of course is a reference to the well-know work of Marcuse. We could keep in mind the broader notion of Wissenschaften as the horison of inquiry, but it would seem that Marx’s main polemical objections would be against the postivistic ‘scientists’ who would state that the world is complete, natural, that change is impossible, that freedom is merely a dream.
 This article is available from Time magazine’s section on the “Person of the Century”, 2000.
 For a more exhaustive discussion of the relation between Christianity and Marxism, see Arthur McGovern, marxism: an american christian perspective, Orbis Books, New York, 1984 and Jose Miranda, Marx Against the Marxists: The Christian Humanism of Karl Marx, Maryknoll. Orbis, 1980.
 Gutierrez, Gustavo. A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation, translated by Sister Caridad Inda and John Eagleson, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, Revised Edition, 1988.
 ibid. p. 19.
 ibid. p. 123, 232n.
 ibid. p. 126.
 This term is to be understood in the sense laid out by Reiner Schurmann in his final work Des Hegemonies Brisees. Mauvezin, Trans-Europ-Repress, 1996.
 Mere religion, an echo of C.S. Lewis, indicates religion as a mere instrument of political utility.
 It is not that Bultmann is unaware of the potentialities of a liberation theology. Indeed, in his 1924 essay, “Liberation Theology and Latest Moment”, in Faith and Understanding, he explores the ethical implications of Christian Theology – sixty seven years before the work of Gutierrez. However, that which is significant in the present context is not Bultmann’s political credentials, but his possible criticism of Marx in that the latter has not articulated an explicit philosophy of liberation which is rooted in the concrete situation of his own existence. Bultmann could say that Marx’s ideology critique is mere ideology.
 Houston Craighead sets forth an interesting, though deficient, exploration and defense of Bultmann in “Rudolph Bultmann and the Impossibility of God-Talk” in Faith and Philosophy 1/203-215 (April 1984), where, although he indicates the importance of Heidegger’s Being and Time for Bultmann, fails to leave the neo-Kantian lexicon of “experience” in favour of a radical phenomenology of the sacred.
 Rudolph Bultmann, “The Crisis in Belief”, Philosophical and Theological Essays, MacMillan, 1975.
 Bultmann, “What does it mean to speak of God?”, Faith and Understanding, Harper & Row, 1969.
 Bultmann, Jesus Christ and Mythology, Charles Scribner, 1958.
 One can readily detect the divergence of Bultmann and Heidegger in the latter’s 1936 lecture, “The Origin of the Work of Art”, as artworks which disclose the truth of that which is. Bultmann never leaves the topos of the icon, while Heidegger finds intimations and disclosures of “truth” in a pair of shoes.
 ibid., p. 18.
 ibid., p. 19.
 ibid., p. 45.
 ibid., p. 50.
 ibid., p. 67.
 ibid., pp. 75-76.
 Bultman, Rudolph. “What does it mean to speak of God?”, Faith and Understanding, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1987, p. 58.
 ibid., p. 58.
 ibid., p. 59.
 Lenin, V.I. What is to be Done?: Burning Questions of Our Movement, International Publishers, 1986.
 “What does it mean to speak of God?”, p. 62-63.
 ibid., p. 65.
 Sallis, John. Spacings – of Reason and Imagination, University of Chicago Press, 1987.
 Heidegger never mentions that Marx spent thirty-five years in the British Library’s Round Reading Room [now merely a library museum], investigating the discordant circulation of existence and agitating for its possible harmony.
 This reference is taken from Aldous Huxley’s work The Doors of Perception (Perennial Library, Harper & Row, 1990, p. 17), in the context of a reference to Meister Eckhart.
 See, for instance, Sonya Sikka’s book Forms of Transcendence: Heidegger and Medieval Mystical Theology (SUNY, 1997) which explores the relation of Heidegger to religion and the sacred.
 Bataille, Georges at al., Encyclopedia Acephalica, Atlas Press, 1995.
 For an excellent look at Bataille’s activities and writings in the 1930’s see Jean-Michel Besnier, ‘George Bataille in the 1930’s: A Politics of the Impossible’, On Bataille, Yale French Studies, 1990.
 That Bataille had indeed made an explicit connection between his notions of the sacred, sacrifice, and headlessness with revolution can be seen in a footnote to his essay, “Nietzsche and the Fascists”, in Visions of Excess, where he writes: “The Russian revolution perhaps shows what a revolution is capable of. The questioning of all human reality in a reversal of the material conditions of existence suddenly appears as a response to a pitiless demand, but it is not possible to foresee its consequences: revolutions thwart all intelligent predictions of their results. Life’s movement no doubt has little to do with the more or less depressing aftermath of the trauma. It is found in slowly active and creative obscure determinations, of which the masses are not at first aware. It is above all wretched to confuse it with the readjustments demanded by the conscious masses, carried out in the political sphere by more or less parliamentary specialists.”
 Op. cit. “The Notion of Expenditure”, pp. 120-121.
 Bataille, G. “The Sacred”, Visions of Excess, University of Minnesota Press (1999), p. 242.
 ibid. p. 242.
 ibid. p. 244.
 Goldman, Emma. The Traffic in Women, and Other Essays, Times Change Press, 1970.
 Op. Cit.. p. 244.
 Bataille, G. “The Psychological Structure of Fascism”, Visions of Excess, pp. 140-148.
 For an excellent discussion of the context of the Kantian historical “synthesis”, consult Beiser’s The Fate of Reason, Harvard University Press.
 These are the words of Simon Critchley in a Doctoral Supervision meeting at the University of Essex, in the Fall of 1999. He contended that the use of myth in philosophy amounted to fascism.
 Louis Althusser. Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, Monthly Review Press, 1971.
 Cesareo Bandera. The Sacred Game: The Role of the Sacred in the Genesis of Modern Literary Fiction, Pennsylvania University Press, 1994.
 Rene Girard. Violence and the Sacred, John Hopkins University Press, 1993.
 Marx Engels, Collected Works, Volume 1, International Publishers (1975); trs. Clemens Dutt.
 Pierro Sraffa. Production of Commodities by means of Commoditiies, Cambridge University Press, 1979.
 Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1963.
© James Luchte (2002)