Marx and the Revolution of the Sacred

Marx and the Revolution of the Sacred

James Luchte


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.  It is the opium of the people. [1]

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.[2]

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.[3] 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’.[4] 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,[5] 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).

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Yıldızların Enkazı: Nietzsche ve Şiirin Esrikliği – Turkish translation of ‘The Wreckage of Stars: Nietzsche and the Ecstasy of Poetry’


Yıldızların Enkazı: Nietzsche ve Şiirin Esrikliği

 James Luchte

Translated by


 To read the essay in other languages, please visit The Wreckage of Stars: Nietzsche and the Ecstasy of Poetry


Milky Way

The Wreckage of Stars: Nietzsche and the Ecstasy of Poetry – The Unstitute

The Unstitute is proud to present the essay ‘The Wreckage of Stars: Nietzsche and the Ecstasy of Poetry’ by Dr James Luchte – available in English for the first time. It has been included in the permanent archive ‘[dis]Corporate Bodies’.

The essay artfully argues against the scholastic traditions of Western academia, the creation of the modern ‘theoretical man’ and the philosophical ‘spectator’, and explores the challenging alternatives presented in Nietzsche’s ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’.

Read the full essay here: [dis]Corporate Bodies 2  – The Wreckage of Stars
Go to: The Wreckage of Stars: Nietzsche and the Ecstasy of Poetry on this site.

Appendix: A Psychoanalysis of Alain Badiou

This piece is an ‘Appendix: A Psychoanalysis of Alain Badiou’ to my essay Fatal Repetition: Badiou and the Age of the Poets, but though it still remains linked to the essay, I believe that it deserves attention on its own as an exploration into the phenomenon of Alain Badiou and as an invitation to a discussion about Alain Badiou, his relation to Lacan, Surrealism, and Poststructuralism.

Appendix: A Psychoanalysis of Alain Badiou


This current deconstruction of Badiou should be taken, along with the myriad other implications of its criticisms of Badiou, in a political sense as a critique of the credibility of his approach to Marx with respect to the derivative and rather conservative advocacy in his philosophy.  In the press, from which he originally emerged as a host of a television programme, he takes often radical and I would argue worthwhile stands.  But, then, there is his philosophy and the particular psychoanalytic obsession that underlies his thought.  This would seem fair game as he has overtly confessed his discipleship to Lacan.  But, what is this psycho-analytic image that underlies his thought, in the sense in which Wittgenstein felt lay below Heidegger?  

To read the rest of the Appendix, please visit  Appendix: ‘A Psychoanalysis of Alain Badiou’

İştirakî 2. Sayı Çıktı! – Ölümcül Tekrar: Badiou ve ‘Şairler Çağı’ (Fatal Repetition: Badiou and the ‘Age of the Poets’)

İştirakî 2. Sayı Çıktı!

‘Ölümcül Tekrar: Badiou ve ‘Şairler Çağı’ (Fatal Repetition: Badiou and the ‘Age of the Poets’) – Istiraki
Translated into Turkish by Mustafa Kerem Yüksel, Istiraki

kapak toplu

The Body of Sublime Knowledge: The Aesthetic Phenomenology of Arthur Schopenhauer

The Body of Sublime Knowledge:
Arthur Schopenhauer
The Aesthetic Phenomenology of Arthur Schopenhauer

Schopenhauer has been portrayed, since the emergence of the analytic philosophies of Russell and Moore[1], with respect to two primary philosophical results. On the one hand, he is described as a ‘metaphysician’ of the Will. On the other hand, he is depicted as an ‘ethicist’ of the tragic self-denial of the Will. Indeed, there is much evidence for such interpretations in his magnum opus. Yet, the collateral effect of our captivation to this picture of mere philosophical results has been to render Schopenhauer’s philosophy into a closed circle or a philosophical dead-end.

Indeed, even the rare admissions of his influence upon major philosophers such as Nietzsche and Wittgenstein[2] have been accompanied by a decided suppression of any consideration of the philosophical context of Schopenhauer’s original questioning and of the specific meaning of ‘metaphysics’ amid his post-Kantian horizons. Until the last decade or so, the usual attitude to the philosophy of Schopenhauer has been dominated by the prejudicial legacy of the logical positivists – and other anti-metaphysicians – with their respective dismissals of ‘metaphysical’ philosophies. For these iconoclasts, the philosophy of Schopenhauer is a contradictory, idiosyncratic – but above all metaphysical – teaching which sought, due to its own weakness or obscurity (or, Orientalism), to escape from the facticity of existence.[3] Of course, Nietzsche could be blamed for some aspects of this picture of Schopenhauer.

To read the rest of the essay, please visit The Body of Sublime Knowledge.

Zarathustra’s Children

imageSupposing truth is a woman – what then?

Are there not grounds for the suspicion

that all philosophers,

in so far as they were dogmatists

have been very inexpert about women?

That the gruesome seriousness, the

clumsy obtrusiveness with which they

have usually approached truth so far

have been awkward and very improper

methods for winning a woman’s heart?

Friedrich Nietzsche

Women do not have as great a need for poetry

because their own essence is poetry.

Friedrich Schlegel

Beyond Dionysus and Apollo in ‘Greek’ Tragedy and Comedy

If it is the last man, the spectator who consents to the Euripidean denial of the Dionysian power of life, of the terrible truth of existence, it is the Overman (Übermensch) who is that one that can affirm this chaos of being in the world and give birth to novelty under the sun.  Yet, the Overman is not the Tragic Hero in the sense of Euripides.  It is even doubtful that Nietzsche’s Overman is ‘tragic’ at all – notably in the nostalgic senses of Sophocles or Aeschylus.

We have forgotten that devastating myriadity of this power of life in the wake of the suppression of the Dionysian in Late Tragedy.  The ‘tragic’ becomes – for a time – an epochal indifference and unwillingness to confront and master the rage and chaos of the Dionysian power of life.

Indeed, this power is erased and conscientiously ignored, suppressed in Late Tragedy.  In the early tragedies of Sophocles and Aeschylus, narratives that preserve an explicit reference to Homer, the tragic hero, emerging from the Dionysian musical ecstasy of the Chorus, is transported into a rapture of self-annihilation.  In the context of this Festival of the power of life, it is the Apollonian dream image that makes manifest the power that loves to hide.  The devastating tension and chaos of the Dionysian apotheosis, while made manifest in the dream image, is not suppressed or even sublimated, but is allowed to play itself out in the destruction of tragic sacrifice.

To read the entire essay, please visit Zarathustra’s Children