As for us, we were never concerned with the Kantian-priestly and vegetarian-Quaker prattle about the "sacredness of human life". We were revolutionaries in opposition, and have remained revolutionaries in power. To make the individual sacred, we must destroy the social order which crucifies him. And that problem can only be solved by blood and iron. The man who recognizes the revolutionary historic importance of the very fact of the existence of the Soviet system must also sanction the Red Terror.
Modern man, brought up on Kantian idealism, regards nature as being no more than an outcome of the laws of the mind. Losing all their independence as divine works, things gravitate henceforth round human thought, whence their laws are derived. What wonder, after that, is if criticism had resulted in the virtual disappearance of all metaphysics? [... ] As soon as the universe is reduced to the laws of mind, man, now become creator, has no longer any means of rising above himself. Legislator of a world to which his own mind has given birth, he is henceforth the prisoner of his own work, and he will never escape from it anymore. [... ] if my thought is the condition of being, never by thought shall I be able to transcend the limits of my being and my capacity for the infinite will never be satisfied.
Love is about giving, about caring for the other person's welfare. Love is treating someone, in the Kantian sense, never as a means but as an end in themselves. Love is sacrifice, love is something you work at, something you build like a house or tend like a plant, brick by brick, drop by drop, day by day. Nonsense. Old wives' tales, old husbands' tales. That is affection they are talking about, that is companionship, that is charity, that is tickets for the Cancer Research Ball. You must ask the young if you want to know what love is. Only they are deep enough in it to describe. We older ones have clues and simulacra, we base our judgement, like pathologists do, on the dents and scars and sediments of hearts long kept in formaldehyde. It is the pulsing heart you want to probe: the pulsing, beating, leaping, dipping, fluttering heart of a seventeen-year-old.
But that there is a simple relation between literary and other fictions seems, if one attends to it, more obvious than has appeared. If we think first of modern fictions, it can hardly be an accident that ever since Nietzsche generalized and developed the Kantian insights, literature has increasingly asserted its right to an arbitrary and private choice of fictional norms, just as historiography has become a discipline more devious and dubious because of our recognition that its methods depend to an unsuspected degree on myths and fictions. After Nietzsche it was possible to say, as Stevens did, that 'the final belief must be in a fiction.' This poet, to whom the whole question was of perpetual interest, saw that to think in this way was to postpone the End-when the fiction might be said to coincide with reality-for ever; to make of it a fiction, an imaginary moment when 'at last' the world of fact and the mundo of fiction shall be one. Such a fiction-the last section of Notes toward a Supreme Fiction is, appropriately, the place where Stevens gives it his fullest attention-such a fiction of the end is like infinity plus one and imaginary numbers in mathematics, something we know does not exist, but which helps us to make sense of and to move in the world. Mundo is itself such a fiction. I think Stevens, who certainly thought we have to make our sense out of whatever materials we find to hand, borrowed it from Ortega. His general doctrine of fictions he took from Vaihinger, from Nietzsche, perhaps also from American pragmatism.
What one should add here is that self-consciousness is itself unconscious: we are not aware of the point of our self-consciousness. If ever there was a critic of the fetishizing effect of fascinating and dazzling "leitmotifs", it is Adorno: in his devastating analysis of Wagner, he tries to demonstrate how Wagnerian leitmotifs serve as fetishized elements of easy recognition and thus constitute a kind of inner-structural commodification of his music. It is then a supreme irony that traces of this same fetishizing procedure can be found in Adorno's own writings. Many of his provocative one-liners do effectively capture a profound insight or at least touch on a crucial point (for example: "Nothing is more true in pscyhoanalysis than its exaggeration"); however, more often than his partisans are ready to admit, Adorno gets caught up in his own game, infatuated with his own ability to produce dazzlingly "effective" paradoxical aphorisms at the expense of theoretical substance (recall the famous line from Dialectic of Englightment on how Hollywood's ideological maniuplation of social reality realized Kant's idea of the transcendental constitution of reality). In such cases where the dazzling "effect" of the unexpected short-circuit (here between Hollywood cinema and Kantian ontology) effectively overshadows the theoretical line of argumentation, the brilliant paradox works precisely in the same manner as the Wagnerian leitmotif: instead of serving as a nodal point in the complex network of structural mediation, it generates idiotic pleasure by focusing attention on itself. This unintended self-reflexivity is something of which Adorno undoubtedly was not aware: his critique of the Wagnerian leitmotif was an allegorical critique of his own writing. Is this not an exemplary case of his unconscious reflexivity of thinking? When criticizing his opponent Wagner, Adorno effectively deploys a critical allegory of his own writing - in Hegelese, the truth of his relation to the Other is a self-relation.
The church's theology bought into this ahistoricism in different ways: along a more liberal, post-Kantian trajectory, the historical particularities of Christian faith were reduced to atemporal moral teachings that were universal and unconditioned. Thus it turned out that what Jesus taught was something like Kant's categorical imperative - a universal ethics based on reason rather than a set of concrete practices related to a specific community. Liberal Christianity fostered ahistoricism by reducing Christianity to a universal, rational kernel of moral teaching. Along a more conservative, evangelical trajectory (and the Reformation is not wholly innocent here), it was recognized that Christians could not simply jettison the historical particularities of the Christian event: the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, there was still a quasi-Platonic, quasi-gnostic rejection of material history such that evangelicalism, while not devolving to a pure ahistoricism, become dominated by a modified ahistoricism we can call primitivism. Primitivism retains the most minimal commitment to God's action in history (in the life of Christ and usually in the first century of apostolic activity) and seeks to make only this first-century 'New Testament church' normative for contemporary practice. This is usually articulated by a rigid distinction between Scripture and tradition (the latter then usually castigated as 'the traditions of men' as opposed to the 'God-give' realities of Scripture). Such primitivism is thus anticreedal and anticatholic, rejecting any sense that what was unfolded by the church between the first and the twenty-first centuries is at all normative for current faith and practice (the question of the canon's formation being an interesting exception here). Ecumenical creeds and confessions - such as the Apostles' Creed or the Nicene Creed - that unite the church across time and around the globe are not 'live' in primitivist worship practices, which enforce a sense of autonomy or even isolation, while at the same time claiming a direct connection to first-century apostolic practices.
James K.A. Smith