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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

immanentize the eschaton -like we did last summer

immanentize the eschaton

Photo of Craigenputtock -see below for details

Sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss………….. The sound of steam being released. De-pressurising. I need to unwind from trying to write academic texts in which every statement has to be buttressed and supported by half a dozen references and even then I still get accused of having ‘too many ideas’.

But I like ideas, I like to play around with them, use them as mental cut-ups and collages. But they don‘t move in straight lines, they bounce off each other and circle round merge and fuse or split-off and dance around. Like music based on samples, or stolen riffs … but some themes I keep coming back to - which is more like a big classical music symphony - so if anyone could ever be bothered to read ’em you could trace patterns in the texts.

Right now I have a cluster - it’s the old punk riff, but going green at the edges, mixed in with Hegel :

The life of Spirit is not the life that shrinks from death and keeps itself untouched by devastation, but rather the life that endures death and maintains itself in devastation. It wins its truth only when, in utter dismemberment, it finds itself. … Spirit is this power only by looking the negative in the face, and tarrying with it. This tarrying with the negative is the magical power that converts it [ Spirit] into being. (Phenomenology of Spirit:32)

But what got me going was a translator’s footnote to Hegel’s Philosophy of History. Back in 1899, the translator suggested ‘Illuminati’ / Illumination as a possible version of the German ‘Aufklarung‘ , French ‘Eclaircissement’ - rather than the ‘Enlightened’/ ‘Enlightenment’ we would use today. Illuminati? Immanentize the Eschaton! - which I thought was just a made up phrase from Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminati trilogy but turns out to be an actual phrase thrown around in the USA in 1950s/1960s which linked revolutionary political idealism with gnosticism. And got re-cycled in the 1990s by Bill Drummond’s pre-KLF project The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu…Bill himself, as I found out through researching a local placename -the Penkill/ Penkiln/ Pollcill burn, was brought up a few miles from here at Newtown Stewart and has named one of his websites Penkiln see http://www.penkiln-burn.com/ I did a psycho-geography expedition up the Penkiln burn and found a stream which feeds it called ‘The Strand of the Abyss’ and sent Bill a photo of it.

And the Illuminati trilogy along with Kenneth Grant’s gnostic text A. Crowley and the Hidden God was what Tony D. was reading back in 79 when I first met him. Confused enough yet? There is more to come.

The first UK person to read and review German ‘idealists’ like Hegel and translate German poet Goethe was Thomas Carlyle. TC was a local lad. He spent 1826-1834 living on a hill farm called Craigenputtock here. At Craigenputtock he wrote a very weird text called Sartor Resartus [the tailor re-patched] . It is a piss-take parody of German philosophers like Hegel, but the same time ‘he means it ,man’. In its surreality, in places it also reads like Kenneth Grant…. You can check it out yourself here

Carlyle was an influential writer - from Charles Dickens to Karl Marx. He also opposed what he called ‘The Mechanical Age’ [from Sign of the Times: 1829, also online, go search]

Were we required to characterise this age of ours by any single epithet, we should be tempted to call it, not an Heroical, Devotional, Philosophical, or Moral Age, but, above all others, the Mechanical Age. It is the Age of Machinery, in every outward and inward sense of that word; the age which, with its whole undivided might, forwards, teaches and practises the great art of adapting means to ends. Nothing is now done directly, or by hand; all is by rule and calculated contrivance. For the simplest operation, some helps and accompaniments, some cunning abbreviating process is in readiness. Our old modes of exertion are all discredited, and thrown aside. On every hand, the living artisan is driven from his workshop, to make room for a speedier, inanimate one. The shuttle drops from the fingers of the weaver, and falls into iron fingers that ply it faster. The sailor furls his sail, and lays down his oar; and bids a strong, unwearied servant, on vaporous wings, bear him through the waters. Men have crossed oceans by steam; the Birmingham Fire-king has visited the fabulous East; … There is no end to machinery. Even the horse is stripped of his harness, and finds a fleet firehorse yoked in his stead. Nay, we have an artist that hatches chickens by steam; the very brood-hen is to be superseded! For all earthly, and for some unearthly purposes, we have machines and mechanic furtherances; for mincing our cabbages; for casting us into magnetic sleep. We remove mountains, and make seas our smooth highway; nothing can resist us. We war with rude Nature; and, by our resistless engines, come off always victorious, and loaded with spoils.

But from this end of the Mechanical Age, looks like we are losing our ‘war with rude Nature’.

Back to my punk riff… Hell, this is a tricky one. What I have got from trying to read Hegel, after reading a ‘Hegel for Dummies’ text by an Australian Marxist trades unionist, is that to become ‘conscious’ is a struggle. It is a mental process, but it feels physical. What we had to do back then was struggle to become conscious of ourselves as having the ability to actively make history rather than be passively part of it. But what Hegel (sort of) says is that such a struggle creates its own opposition, and that opposition then defeats what has been struggled for. The ‘work’ done vanishes - but the ‘self-consciousness’ created by the struggle survives and moves on to its next struggle/ challenge - but with greater self-confidence and abilities gained from the previous struggle. [Phenomenology of Spirit: 406-409]

Which does make sense. Back then we struggled, through our ‘work’ we created some alternatives - the fanzines, the records, the squats, the Black Sheep Housing Co-op, Stop the City , Stonehenge Free Festival or what ever. But the more we achieved, the more opposition we encountered - with the Beanfield as an obvious example, but there were many more. Ultimately the opposition, the negation, prevailed. But we endured and moved on and are still here now. Still struggling - but our struggles now contain the ‘self-consciousness’ we achieved back then.

But Hegel had a belief which we lack - he saw the historical struggle from a ‘religious’ point of view, he had a certainty of ‘victory’ which is difficult to embrace. Marx tried to re-construct Hegel minus the religious aspect, but still believed in the ‘inevitable’ collapse of capitalism as a logical outcome of its inherent contradictions. Contradictions he and Engels saw in Carlyle’s attack on ‘The Mechanical Age’- that the impoverishment and alienation of the mechanised workers would provoke them into a revolutionary response.

But that didn’t happen. So Debord took Hegel and Marx and cut-up their texts with others to explain why in Society of the Spectacle. This work had its moment of triumph in Paris in 1968, but this work in turn was negated only to have its slight return via punk to again be negated and changed/ recuperated. And so it goes on and on. To repeat Hegel

The life of Spirit is not the life that shrinks from death and keeps itself untouched by devastation, but rather the life that endures death and maintains itself in devastation. It wins its truth only when, in utter dismemberment, it finds itself. … Spirit is this power only by looking the negative in the face, and tarrying with it. This tarrying with the negative is the magical power that converts it [ Spirit] into being. (Phenomenology of Spirit:32)

Utter dismemberment? Magical power? That sounds almost like shamanism. But Hegel is not talking about the /an individual, but rather a process involving collective un-consciousness, his ‘Spirit’[= ‘God’ in his version] achieving self-consciousness through history. Yeah, sure. But then… if we are to take global warming seriously, then it is a process which can be seen to start back in Hegel, Carlyle and Marx’s time with a fossil fuel powered ‘mechanical age’. Even Debord’s society of the spectacle, for all its hi-tech enchantments still needs uninterrupted flows of mechanically derived energy from fossil fuels or nuclear sources. When the power is cut, even the spectacle dies.

The collective struggle right now, the ‘work’ is to find ways beyond the heat death of the mechanical age. To find a way into an Organic Age. Which takes me back to punk.

Our work which was negated required minimal energy inputs. We recycled and reused, reclaimed and restored the wasted ruins of the mechanical age - but not, unlike Carlyle’s vision, by retreating into some medieval vision of a feudal past, but as good anarchists, by creating a new world in our hearts. It was no less flawed, no less imperfect than any other world, as racked with internal contradictions and personal conflicts … but its carbon footprint was tiny. And it was creative, vibrant, exciting, stimulating, liberating, challenging. It was fun. More fun than cheap holidays in the sun. More fun than supermarket shopping. More fun than passive consumption of a spectacular society.

Let the tribe increase. We shall live again. Lets immanentize the eschaton again, like we did last summer…


Blogger yan tree said...


I wanna be like you!

I love your blog site!

i am un-worthy

but check out my blog spot bit...maybe in a few few weeks - when I get into it!


12:57 am  
Blogger A.V. Michaels said...

hear, hear...well done, great read. Happened upon you looking for 'immanentize the eschaton' and much enjoyed.
Aloha, Angela

1:22 am  

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