Totality again

Jukka Laari jlaari at
Sun Nov 20 12:52:48 MST 1994

Jon, you are right. My examples ("context specific analysis" etc) were real
lousy ones. I try to explain what I had in mind. (Unfortunately I don't
have any proper books at hand, so this explanation will be quite a
sketchy one.) I'm afraid that won't be satisfactory... I would have to
write this first in Finnish and then translate in English to get it
work, but that'll take too much time...

Besides, I'm afraid that the problems of the concepts of totality and
totalization are far more extensive than I first realized: for example
what are the concepts of totality with Hegel, with Marx, with Frankfurt
school, with Althusser & cetera. Then comes the question of totalization.

> Isn't a totality necessarily abstract?

Not necessary: I had in mind the good old schema of
concrete-abstract-concrete, where the first concrete is something like
the concrete of atheoretical understanding, the thing in it's (physical)
concreteness; abstract refers to the 'level' of abstractions, of
conceptual thinking; and we are at the second concrete, when we have a
structured whole of concepts, when our concepts present or represent
(or, when they 'mirror' - don't laugh!) the object properly, that is,
when they present, 'show' - rather: postulate? - the essential relations
and structures of the object. And that's totality in one sense. So
totality can't be abstract, if we accept the line of reasoning above.

> Isn't the real moment of critique the moment when we acknowledge the
> insufficiency of any such pseudo-totality (...)?

What if that's the moment when "real totality comes really evident"?

Well, forget that joke. I think that at least one moment of critique is
the totalizing one, when it shows how the truths of special disciplines
(sciences) and discourses are always restricted ones, how there are limits
and conditions to those truths, which render the truths contingent and
finally unacceptable.

But on the other hand, yes, every totality will also be displaced (by,
perhaps, another totality?). Perhaps that'll be the real moment of critique?

> How can you have a totality at the level of thought, but not at the
> level of practice?

Because totality refers to the categorico-conceptual, that is, to the
dialectical categorico-conceptual movement?


I try to explain that last point. This will be highly hypothetical,
because I'm neither a Scholar of Hegel nor The Logician...

In "Logik" Hegel realizes or, rather, shows that categories and concepts in
a way cannot have some 'eternal' identity or self-identity (no 'fixed
meaning'): instead every concept leads or refers to another. Dialectics.
(Marx, of course, thought that Hegel was standing on his head; that
conceptual dialectics was somehow mirroring the processes of real world.)

All that happens on 'the level' of basic categories and concepts (some
people call it metaphysics), that is, it didn't concern directly the
problems of, say, empirical thinking, of some specific concepts we are
using when confronted with 'natural' objects: rather it's a question of
those categories we need always - all the way from abstract to being,
from general to particular to singular etc. (I think Robert Pippin's
"Hegel's Idealism" might clarify this, or Kenneth Westphal's "Hegel's
Epistemological Realism" - they are good and valuable recent books on
Hegel in English, therefore worth reading for everyone who's interested
in dialectics, whether marxist or not.)

So if we are considering Hegel's logic as some 'categorial ontology'
(= doesn't do interpretation that implies 'metaphysical' Hegel) - in
"Hegel Reconsidered", ed by H. Tristram Engelhardt, Jr & Terry Pinkard,
there is that kind of strategy based on Klaus Hartmann's thinking;
unfortunately I haven't read that book yet - then the whole question of
totality at the level of practice doesn't seem appropriate, because its
a question of thinking, not of practice.

Now that's one side, the idealist or hegelian side of the coin.

My point might be, that this isn't or it doesn't have to be any problem
from a marxist point of view: (leninistic?) tradition simply didn't paid
attention enough for the 'facts' that Hegel's Logic

(a) is concerned with the basic categories and concepts of thought, not
(to put it bluntly) with the question of the relation of thought and
being or thought and physical reality - in a sense, there wouldn't be
much sense to make materialist translation of Hegel's logic

(b) isn't metaphysics in a sense that Hegel would have believed he had
grasped the Ultimate Reality like dogmatic metaphysicians before Kant (at
least that's what we are used to believe they believed).


Lastly, the totalizing thinking or totalization: Slavoj Zizek reminds us
in his latest book "The Metastases of Enjoyment" (pp. 198-200) of
Foucault's use of the concept or notion of the Panopticon in "Discipline
and Punish". Foucault uses it "as a uniform matrix, a structuring model
that can be applied to different domains..." I would say that's bad
totalization (if its totalization at all), because Foucault doesn't pay
attention to different logics at work in different domains.

Zizek says that we have "to introduce the notion of fantasy as the
common matrix that confers consistency upon the plurality of social
practices." Now that's good totalization (if its totalization at all),
because he is able to give us the Universal, that which we all share, as
the ground or the basic level at which everything in the human reality
happens. Something like that was in my mind at first instance.

I'll have to go now. But I try to write a more in the next week.

Jukka Laari


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