EPITAPH ON MARTYRDOM
He [Socrates]—despite all the preparations and political justifications that Critias offers for himself—refuses flight from prison to avoid execution. The Platonic question thus ashed through Socrates was this. How is it possible that a man can so detach himself from everything in his environment, that he comport himself so differently, when our own comportment, as we generally see, consists precisely in conforming ourselves to the natural and social conditions of the life in which we stand? That a man goes so far out of bounds as Socrates, and, unaffected by what― 290 ―everyone does and by what everyone says, holds fast to the Idea of what is Right? What must this Idea be? It must be obvious, visible and incontestable, for him who lives accordingly and thus unwaveringly makes his decision.
GADAMER, “Amicus Plato”
“Whoever philosophizes will not be in agreement with the conceptions of the times.” As a quotation from Goethe it was indeed well mashed, as it was in continuity with Goethe's characterization of the Platonic writings. But if one does not want to make a martyr of oneself or voluntarily choose emigration, such a motto can nevertheless convey a certain emphasis to the understanding reader in a time of enforced conformity, and affirmation of one's identity.
HANS-GEORG GADAMER, Reflections on my Philosophical Journey
Pairing these two epigraphs from Gadamer (even without our previous discussion of “Gadamer and Nazism” in mind) may raise uncanny questions. Do Gadamer and philosophical hermeneutics more or less tacitly concede that they can only always fail to understand or interpret (never mind live up to, meaning die for) the seminal Socratic definition of philosophy and its one ultimate test? Does what Gadamer ultimately meant by his obsessive recurrence tophronesis amount to nothing more or less than this abject falling short of philosophy? Perhaps this is why Gadamer (said that he) turned in the one direction away from Socrates and the pre-Socratics ahead to Plato and Aristotle, and in the other direction away from Nietzsche and Heidegger through Dilthey back to Plato. The uncanny sensation lingers as it does at all Janus-faced portals. According to our two epigraphs read together, Gadamer and philosophical hermeneutics could never have understood or interpreted the Platonic Socrates who defined himself in terms of his willingness to be a martyr for his greatest Idea, his Idea of Right. Any full understanding or interpretation of this Socrates is simply impossible if Gadamer himself was unwilling—even in theory let alone in practice—either to “make a martyr” of himself “or” to “voluntarily choose emigration.” This is an uncanny “or” (inasmuch as Socrates precisely rejected the option of emigration, in favor of martyrdom), its meaning obscure. But what should remain plain as day is that there is nothing whatsoever uncanny in Gadamer's decision to live for whatever reason and cause (including theoretically endless interpretations of Aristotle's relationship to Plato). This decision can be ultimately no more or less uncanny than any of our own decisions. Instead, what lingers so uncannily in the Gadamer Industry is the unanalyzed aura around what Gadamer in our second epigraph (mediated by reference to the quintessential mediator, Goethe) states is his own “masking.” Due to this lack of clarity, what will remain at the end of the day is the question mark after just how far Gadamer's own canniness extended. If Waite has his way, this question mark will always adhere to philosophical hermeneutics as to all other philosophy (if only as one flea the dog can't quite scratch).
But let us not get too personal. If, as Gadamer suggests in his essay “Am-icus Plato magis arnica veritas” (1968), the Socratic refusal to avoid death is the very ground and inception of the philosophical and ethical project, and if the philosopher (nearly per definitionem) is willing to die for what is Right, even for the Idea of the Right, then in what sense was Hans-Georg Gadamer a philosopher? According to this definition, he could not have been a philosopher (at best a great historian of hermeneutics)—unless we have misunderstood all along what Gadamer really thought philosophy and the Idea of Right to be. If Gadamer were to return this question to us, by saying that the point of philosophical hermeneutics is not (only) what Gadamer thinks but (also) what we think, he would seem justified. For what about us, what do we think philosophy and the Right are, and do we act accordingly? But there would persist the huge problem with this imagined response by Gadamer. If it is informed by unacknowledged esotericism, philosophical hermeneutics may be more of the problem than the solution to even formulating ultimate questions, let alone helping us answer them.
Actually, the official English translation of Gadamer's now famous quotation from Goethe, as recited in “Reflections on my Philosophical Journey,” is typically inaccurate and misleading (whether the fault here be Gadamer's or his acolyte translator's is unclear). As cited by Gadamer in his original 1934 text, Plato und dieDichter (Plato and the poets), the quotation could sooner be translated: “Whoever philosophizes is not one with the modes of the conception of his times or with his preceding ones” (Wer philosophiert, ist mit den Vorstellungsarten seiner Vor-undMitwelt uneins). At strict issue therefore is not (contemporary) conceptions but rather (transhistorical) types or modes of conception. And these include, in Plato's case just to begin, exo/ esoteric transmission. In any event, Gadamer's (new) remark emphatically rejects martyrdom as an option, at least for himself; and apparently this issue is simply closed to what Gadamer means and practices as “open dialogue,” Zuckert as “moderation.”
In our contemporary or “postcontemporary” world, however, such so-called ethical appeals to “dialogue,” “moderation,” and their cognates are simply redundant insofar as they are always already part and parcel of precisely that hegemonic ideology and discourse of parliamentary-democratic, free-market capitalism which they (wittingly or unwittingly) reproduce. In this conjuncture, these appeals certainly can have nothing important or even interesting to do with philosophy, and are at most the quintessen-tially bourgeois “commonsense” or sensus communis, which for communists (to paraphrase Gramsci) can never be “good sense.” In properly political ontological terms, “infinite alterity is quite simply what there is” and the “commonsense discourse” of “toleration” (like that of all relativism or his-toricism) possesses “neither force nor truth,” not least because “we need … to make explicit the axioms of thought that decide such an orientation.”
In one sense, then, Zuckert is quite right to infer (though she cannot cite anything “actually said” on this score) that Waite doesn't accept dialogue (or the dialectic, for that matter) and moderation as the basis of philosophy and of criticism, or as “one of the two primary political virtues.” This is not to say that dialogue and moderation are not virtues or should not be practiced, in some sense. The problem remains that true dialogue and moderation have long been co-opted not only by exo/esotericism but also by capitalism, in its various political modes, just as it has co-opted virtually everything else. Communism, or other alternative practices to capitalism, must thus be leery of prophets crying “dialogue, dialogue, dialogue!” (or “peace, peace, peace!”) when there precisely is no dialogue (or peace). And, what is more, there should be none—if and when the only dialogue (or peace) is the one controlled and manipulated by transnational capitalist hegemony (Gram-sci's “non-coercive coercion”), when the discrepancy between the hyperrich and hyperpoor grows by the nanosecond, and when all of us (meaning by “all of us,” all of us) run the risk of collaborating with it and of ignoring or concealing this simple fact.
“Gripped as we are by the vortex of this war-time, our information onesided, without distance from the mighty transformations which have already occurred or are beginning to occur, and without a sense of the future that is formation,” Freud opened his 1915 “Thoughts for the Times on War and Death” as one might today open a reflection on the struggle against capitalist hegemony. And Freud concluded his remarks on “our attitude towards death” with these words:
We remember the old saying: si vispacem, para helium. If you want to obtain [er-halten] peace, prepare for war. It would be timely thus to paraphrase it: Si vis vitam, para mortem. If you want to endure [aushalten] life, be prepared for death.
“Thus: for your death, “Jean Laplanche adds, echoing Heidegger. Yet, he continues,
In the unconscious, death would be always the death of the other, a destruction or a loss we provoke, and we would accede to some intuition of our own mortality only through and ambivalent identification with a loved person whose death we simultaneously fear and desire. … So that, more modestly perhaps in relation to the temptations of the heroic formulation, “If you want life, prepare for death” might be translated as “If you want life, prepare for the
So it is, in conclusion and Waite's own voice, that I salute Zuckert and (her) Gadamer and their discursive practice as triumphant, as currently far more successful than the one I present or represent. God knows, as one used to say, Zuckertian and Gadamerian moderation serves well the unconscious God that is Capital. “Le mart,” as Marx wrote in Capital, “saisit le vif!” And today capitalism remains nothing if not Death Triumphant. Yet I salute, as I began, with the salute of the gladiators: “Those [or we: te salutamus—another variant] who are about to die salute you!” Some among us will take far more solace than others in the fact that among the first required to utter this salute (until one very fine day in 73 B.C.E.) was a person named Spartacus, “the most splendid bloke the entire history of antiquity has to show for itself”—among the many immoderate blokes with whom Hans-Georg Gadamer and his repercussions have not tried to enter into dialogue. Or is this just strategic, more or less eloquent, silence?