Nietzsche's Will to Power and Heidegger's Metaphysics of Pain: A Response to Mitchell

As an occasional feature on TELOSscope, we highlight a past Telos article whose critical insights continue to illuminate our thinking and challenge our assumptions. Today, Erik Pomrenke looks at Andrew J. Mitchell’s “Entering the World of Pain: Heidegger” from Telos 150 (Spring 2010).

Heidegger’s thinking of pain allows for a positive revaluation of pain as openness, not closure, to the world. Andrew J. Mitchell contends in his “Entering the World of Pain: Heidegger,” that “pain is the surest sign that we wholly belong to this world; in fact, pain is nothing other than our contact with the world and our ‘openness’ to it.” Mitchell situates Heidegger against two popular accounts of pain: Freudian psychoanalysis and the humanist interpretation of pain as articulated by Elaine Scarry in her book The Body in Pain. Both models oppose pain and openness to the world and therefore see pain as a withdrawal from meaning. Within psychoanalysis, this takes place in the disengagement of cathexis—divestment of libido from love objects. Within the broadly humanist account, world and body are opposed. When the body demands attention, it necessitates a withdrawal from and contraction of the world. Scarry’s thought is structured by such binary oppositions as pain and meaning, interiority and exteriority, and it will be the task of Heidegger’s thinking of pain to reconfigure these oppositions by holding up pain and language as co-original phenomena—a task that Mitchell illustrates by reading Trakl.

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Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and Erogeneity

Renata Schlesier’s “On the Alleged Demise of Vaginal Sexuality: A Mournful Account of the Relationship between Psychoanalysis and Feminism,” from Telos 59 (Spring 1984), explores the common repressions that underscore the interconnected intellectual traditions of psychoanalysis and feminism. Schlesier delineates the limitations of both Freudian theories of sexuality and their feminist responses by emphasizing the problematic sociopolitical entanglement of female morphology and sexual possibility. Focusing specifically on debates regarding on the locus of the female orgasm, Schlesier argues that the Freudian “myth” of the vaginal orgasm and the dialectically opposed clitoral orgasm of feminist theory reflect a common ideological self-mutilation of female sexuality. Through close readings and critiques of Freud and feminist inquiry, Schlesier advocates a redefinition of female erogeneity, aiming to mobilize a reorganization of gender relations and their embodied conditions of pleasure and politics.

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From Eros to Eschaton: Herbert Marcuse’s Liberation of Time

Caroline Edwards’s “From Eros to Eschaton: Herbert Marcuse’s Liberation of Time” appears in Telos 165 (Winter 2013). Read the full version online at the Telos Online website, or purchase a print copy of the issue in our store.

This article explores what Gershom Scholem has called Herbert Marcuse’s “unacknowledged ties to [his] Jewish heritage.” At the core of Marcuse’s vision of transformed, non-repressive social relations, I argue, is a struggle over time, which rests upon a distinctly Jewish approach to the twin questions of remembrance and redemption. One example of this approach is the temporal dialectic between alienated labor time and the timelessness of pleasure’s desire for eternity, which underpins Marcuse’s analysis in Eros and Civilization (1956). This dialectic rests upon Marcuse’s reading of the Freudian Eros-Todestrieb dualism, whose phylogenetic reading of patricide has been read by critics as reformulating the biblical rebellion against an authoritarian Yahweh.

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On Modernity and the Autonomous Individual

As an occasional feature on TELOSscope, we highlight a past Telos article whose critical insights continue to illuminate our thinking and challenge our assumptions. Today, J. F. Dorahy looks at Joel Whitebook’s “Saving the Subject: Modernity and the Problem of the Autonomous Individual,” from Telos 50 (Winter 1981).

Autonomy is, arguably, the most fundamental concept in the discursive constellation of modernity. If it is apposite, and I believe it is, to think in terms of the differentiation between political, socio-economic, and cultural modernities, then it is clear that the concept of autonomy—either with reference to the autonomous individual or the autonomous work of art—is a constitutive force within each sphere. In “Saving the Subject: Modernity and the Problem of the Autonomous Individual,” Joel Whitebook offers a historically nuanced overview of the difficulties involved in thinking the “autonomous individual” under the conditions of a dynamic and increasingly complex modernity. Whitebook’s piece is wide-ranging and fuses a deep psychoanalytic insight with a robust sociological consciousness: a fusion that accompanies, to my mind, the best critical theory. To be sure, the many subtleties and divergences that emerge from Whitebook’s dialectic are resistant to a full reconstruction within this preview. Rather, I would like to simplify Whitebook’s account by drawing out the three historical epochs examined by Whitebook and say a few things regarding the key aspects of Whitebook’s reading of Marx and Freud and Adorno and Habermas as thinkers who most significantly appreciate the problematic nature of the modern, autonomous individual. Finally, I conclude by arguing for the innovative character of Whitebook’s thoughts regarding the centrality of affective relationships in the formation of the autonomous individual.

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The End of the World Designed with Men in Mind

The following paper was presented at Telos in Europe: The L’Aquila Conference, held on September 7-9, 2012, in L’Aquila, Italy.

How should we conceive the distinctive character, the “particular rarity,” of the wearing and growing of the contemporary world? How should we come to terms with our time? What words can we find that are fitting for its specificity when so many of the words we have found fitting hitherto, especially promising words about the course of human history and its political hopes, its hopes in the political (modernity, Enlightenment, civilization, socialism, etc.) sound more and more like the road signs of another age?

Are we not floundering today? Isn’t this, at least in part, what we need to understand, to make intelligible? So we might look out for writings, wherever they come from, that speak to and speak from this world, a world which today, it seems, more than ever, “wears as it grows.”

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Freud, Schmitt, and the Image of the People

Emily Zakin’s “The Image of the People: Freud and Schmitt’s Political Anti-Progressivism” appears in Telos 157 (Winter 2011). Read the full version online at the TELOS Online website, or purchase a print copy of the issue here.

The origin stories of Schmitt and Freud characterize “the people” as emerging and transmitted through processes of identification and embodied in an image. In both their views, the constitution of a body politic requires, logically and psychologically, a protective boundary that delimits inside and outside and a representation (however mythic or phantasmatic) of authority as the basis for preserving imaginary forms of identification and attachment that anchor bonds of association and provide the requisite boundaries for the unities of ego and nation to form. In this essay I develop the idea that the intensity of association that generates a people is not a metaphysical substance but a metaphysical image. I make use of the Freudian idea of a protective shield that enables an organism to withstand vulnerability and counter excitation with representation, in order to demonstrate that any image of the people is captive to tribal forms of affectivity. I conclude by discussing the danger of replacing the image of the people with the image of universal humanity, an appeal that Schmitt claims can only end in the transformation of cosmopolitanism into the terrifying violence of cosmopartisanship.

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