positions politics

“But, there is nothing outside of philosophy”:

Conversation between Shaj Mohan and Rachel Adams

Rachel Adams: Since Kant (and we will be engaging and disengaging here quite precisely with a privileged canon of Western thinking), the role of the philosopher is to take stock of what we are today and to reflect on our present conditions. You are at the cutting edge of philosophical thought and, moreover, a philosopher of the ‘subaltern’ continent, which we might think of as including South Africa.

We had approached you to think with us about what your re-conception of “the principle of reason” means and must entail. Can you speak to us about what you designate through “principle of reason”, and how you see it relating to the theme of the conference here on “Radical Reason”?1

Shaj Mohan: Principle of reason or the principle obtained its classical form through Leibniz. As Heidegger, Michel Serres and others have observed, the principle is not always stated in an axiomatic fashion or in the form of a law. Instead, it appears in at least three forms. First, as the most fundamental question “Why there is something?”. Second, as the ethical imperative “reason must be given” for every change we make in this world.  In the third form it is a principle— “everything has reason”. The third form is complicated, it does not say everything is reason, rather everything has reason.

Then, there are the misconceptions about reason and the principle. The worst of these involves identifying reason with causality. But we know that either we receive each causal order with an implicit reason for it or we feel compelled to give it its reason. As Hegel responded to Leibniz’s critics, reason grounds causality. Today the ‘correlationism’ advocated by the theologians of machine learning and deep learning goes further and says that ‘there is no need for reason and causality, only the correlations discovered by machines will be sufficient as knowledge.’

The second is confusing reason with explanations. Reason is not equal to explanation because we do weigh one explanation against another. Sometimes we set certain experimental results as the reason for this kind of weighing, as we do in physics. A structure of explanation itself needs to be examined and reasons must be given for it. This was something that even Foucault agreed on in his own way.

The third way is not just a misconception but also a method. It rejects the principle on the basis of the above-mentioned misconceptions while citing the authority of certain other laws which remain in acceptance without something like a critique for them. To give one example, Isabelle Stengers’ rejection of the principle follows from her interpretation of the second law of thermodynamics.2 It is too complicated to go into here.

From the classical formulations mentioned earlier, we can already see that reason has several principles enjoined in a dynamic articulation which affects the way we state these very principles. In other words, reason cannot be restricted to a set of laws. Reason enjoys polynomia, or the power to be home to many laws and principles; that is, no statement of the principle is reducible to the others. Dangers and errors follow from the attempts to functionally isolate reason to one or two laws. For now, let me list a new group of these principles while respecting the polynomia of reason.

1) Reason asserts that there is a community of all that is and all that is not. That is, all that is, all that can be, all that will be, and all that will never be are in a community.

2) Reason reveals that there are relations between everything there is, and also between everything there is and there is not. These relations in the classical form were often expressed as ratios—the ratios between things, between words and things, between thoughts and objects of thought, and god and creatures.

3) Reason as drive is nothing but our impulse to find our relation to all things, which also implies the relations amongst things, and then the relation with nothing. This can be seen in the earliest statements that are classified as philosophical and in as recent as Heidegger’s meditations on the nothing, especially the text “What Is Metaphysics?”.

4) Reason as drive is experienced as the responsibility towards everything where we are compelled to weigh our possible and actual actions against all things. That is, we are compelled to give the ratio between our existence and the existence of everything. To give an example, we cannot merely opt for lithium batteries without being concerned about the impact of mining. The responsibility of reason is essential to engage with climatic crises and the crises of democratic institutions of the world.

Then, reason has not disappeared from our world since the so called theoretical breakthroughs of the 1960s. Instead, we, today, experience reason with maximum intimacy in our shared concern about climatic, demographic and democratic, and technological crises.

In this context your title “radical reason” seems important. To me, it asserts that reason is without a radix. It opposes every pretence to radix. Radical reason is the project which disrupts the attempts to install every radix which is in violation of the polynomia of reason.

RA: The Kantian critique of reason rejects reason for reason’s sake, and the unbounded rationalization of our conditions of life. Here, critique plays its role in articulating the legitimate bounds of reason: Foucault speaks of critique – in Kantian terms – as the court of reason.  You speak in your work about forms and epochs of critique, and of the crises that face the current modalities of critique we have at our disposal. Why are there many kinds of critiques?

SM: Critique is named after the Kantian project of the examination of reason performed by reason itself. Kant himself spoke of it in juridical terms. If we take the general principles from there, for this occasion, critique involves conceiving a region in the form of a system. Kant called the art of construction of systems “architectonic”. An architectonic can make systems for abstract objects, material objects, art, culture, a motor car, a game, and politics. But in all these cases such a system, which is assumed by critique, has certain essential features:

1) A system is made up of variables and parameters which are found in specific relations.

2) The system gives rise to regularities which can be identified and then be given laws. These laws of the system allow us to detect certain events as irregularities in it.

3) Further the system is characterised by those parameters which are invariant within that particular system.

4) This kind of a description of a system also tells us which kinds of events are possible and which kinds are impossible within the system. It also allows us to define the limits of tolerance for the system under consideration.

5) In material systems we define what we consider as internal to the system and what we consider external to it. In philosophical systems there is no such outside or exogenous variable. This may be controversial but: there is nothing outside of philosophy.

6) This leads to the Kantian sense of critique which is that the system of the Kantian type sets the limits on possible events on the basis of the primary or first order conditions of this very system. In the commonplace form critique shows us the internal limits for thought on the basis of the conditions of possibility. Kant’s famous example is that for flight to be possible there should not be a vacuum.

From this we can also see that the same system can be organised according to more than one critique. In the previous centuries this possibility was treated as a matter of perspectives. But the reasons for this possibility were not explored sufficiently. This is one of the answers to the question about “the many ways to critique”. And today, we do not think of system in Kantian terms which was to find a unifying concept for a manifold, or for phenomena. But there is another way to architectonic or the art of systems, which I call anastasis.

Kantian critique is only a “special case” of critique, to use an idiom which entered in thought from outside the Kantian milieu. As we know some of the invariants of Kant’s critique were soon found to be variables. That is, Kant’s presupposition of Euclidean geometry and the assertion of three dimensionality of space were set aside by Riemannian geometry.

With a general theory of critique and of architectonic, when we look back at philosophy, we can find critique everywhere, including in Aristotle. On the basis of this general theory, critique is older than Kantian critique. Not just that, critique is something we all do at all times. For example, before cooking a meal we examine the conditions of cooking. These conditions exist outside the kitchen which includes the prices of and our political preferences for the conditions of cooking. The only invariant in this example is hunger.

So, critique should not be treated as the activity of specialists. Instead, we are all responsible for our critiques.

RA: What are the limitations, as you see them, of our current faculties of critique? You speak about the limits of critique. What does it mean to be at the limit of critique, and particularly for the subaltern continent whose crises include these modes of reasoning inherited from the Western thought of which Kant is a part? How is what you call “criticalisation” different from critique?

SM: This is an interesting thought, is it not? Because critique is the very philosophical exercise in determining the limits of systems and you are asking about the limits to critique itself.

Critique assumes a certain ethos of giving each other a sufficiently long interval between actions. If something new is happening then we are not supposed to respond to it with a reflex action. Instead, we are expected to take a sufficient duration and bring the new happening into the system of the critique, and then act according to the limits set by the critique. For example, if there is a new technology or a change in existing technologies, according to the ethos of critique we must take a distance, give ourselves an interval, and then bring the changes under the critique. Then, according to our findings we will propose a new regularity for the technical change which is consistent with the critique.

This interval is the fundamental condition of critique as can be seen in Kant’s political writings.3 We could expect to gain such intervals between changes, legislations, and setting up of norms until the middle of the last century. However, since the 1980s we have been seeing that the intervals are becoming shorter and critique is becoming rarer. This could be the reason why the greatest exponent of the critique since Kant had set his critiques in the past rather than the present. I am thinking about Foucault of course.

We have now observed a limit of critique. Now, should the determinations of the limits of critique be called a meta-critique? It cannot be called that, because the interval is not given to even this very act of determining the limits of critique.

What I, together with Divya Dwivedi, began calling criticalisation from 2007 refers to another limit of critique. We found that when any system, whether philosophical or political, is led to the limits of each of its components and relations, it will not be able to return to the very relations which constituted it. This is usually experienced as crisis. But criticalisation is more than that. In criticalisation the components function at their limits and undergo changes which make them incapable of returning to the familiar relations which were described by critique. To give an easy example, the worn-out parts of a combustion engine cannot be put back together. We can buy another engine but we cannot buy another world. This is really the problematic which occupies the philosopher today—what can be the critique of the irreplaceable?

Today we see these two limits of critique. On the one hand the interval which founds critique is rarer. On the other hand, the familiar systems of politics, scientific enterprises, educational institutions and so on are being criticalised. Criticalised in such a way that we can only nostalgically observe the familiar components that are unable to return to familiar relations. At the same time we have new kinds of components all around us which have new kinds of componential laws. These “little laws” vary at rates which are not conducive to critique.

We are now observing critique and its epochs with nostalgia. For those ­who can afford it critique might linger as a luxury, as do mechanical wrist watches and four wheel drive systems with manual transmission.

RA: Perhaps more practically too, what can a critique of the irreplaceable do? This condition under which critique has to perform is, I agree, distinct to the modern world-space, and hence, for example, Foucault’s focus on a critique of the past. But, critically, the need for it, the ethos of critique, is now heightened. More than ever, we need practices by which we can conceive of and constitute new possibilities that prompt us out of the stasis of now. Has critique no role here? It seems that Foucault’s concentration on historical critique was not necessarily a reflection on his own limitations of thought, but the limitations of critique itself as fundamentally historicised, such that if anastasis calls for a radical break in the historical system of the world, then critique is not fit for purpose, rooted in the very forms of reason of the world that have reached their limit. Thus, as you have said, critique becomes just a form of nostalgia. Then, I think this question of what we take with us from the criticalised world into that which is new becomes really important to think with. What is your difference with Kant and Foucault here? Do you see a return to the metaphysics which Foucault – following Nietzsche – so emphatically rejects for encompassing a teleology of humankind which produced subjects of difference?

SM: I will respond to your question about metaphysics and through it the other questions will be addressed. We cannot return to metaphysics. No returns are possible in the world we experience. However, most laws of physics are time invariant: that is, these laws work perfectly well, whether we are going back or forward in time. Therefore, they are indifferent to these temporal directions.

What we call metaphysics has two component principles. The first is something like a semiotic milieu, which is not essential to metaphysics. That is, one may find different regularities within the same semiotic milieu or one may find oneself in a relation which comprehends several milieus. A metaphysician may incorporate the work of another metaphysician without any regard to the milieu of the other.

The second principle is that metaphysics is abstract: that is, it conducts itself, the way mathematics does, with that which is irrespective of any object or milieu in particular. This is the reason for the profound classificatory schemas in scholastic philosophy where the goal was to find the degree of reality possessed by concepts. It is not that lesser or greater objective reality could make a concept invalid. But rather that all kinds and degrees of reality are valid.

The emphasis on milieu came into philosophy from Hegel onwards. Heidegger gave it the most acute form which he gained through an interpretation of the biology of Jakob von Uexküll. Uexküll developed what we would call the bio-semiotics of animals. His biosemiotics corresponds to the internal milieu of animals; that is, an animal perceives what is given to it by the internal milieu. This can be called the transcendental horizon of animals. Uexküll provides an example of a flower in a meadow which appears as an object to be plucked for a girl, to be drilled into for an insect, and to be chewed for a cow.4 That is, the sense of objects is revealed according to the functional isolations pre-given according to the internal milieu of the organism.

When we read early Heidegger where he speaks about “being in the world” each of those terms—the world, being, being-in—will have to be examined with a view towards the concept of the human animal there, which he inherited from a certain kind of biology. All those who are called major philosophers who followed Heidegger inherited this concept of “internal milieu” as a certainty.

RA: And therefore, self-imposed limitation.

SM: Of course it is! But what is this milieu? It is what he inherited and modified as “the occidental”. Therefore, in Heideggerian terms « the history of metaphysics is the history of the west ».

Both Heidegger and Derrida, and Foucault in his own style, euphemistically spoke of this internal milieu as “the tradition”. Now, what is interesting is that from Descartes to Kant there is no emphasis on a tradition. In fact, Heidegger would say in his Kant lectures that Kant was unfamiliar with the tradition. Is it not intriguing that Foucault the genealogist would not explore the conditions under which the “occident” was constructed in philosophy, and its effects?

Your question on what comes after metaphysics has to go through this enquiry into the makings of the “occident”. In the course of this inquiry, I am waiting for two publications. Robert Bernasconi’s unpublished work on the construction of the west in philosophy in the 19th century is going to be essential to properly address this question. The other is Patrice Maniglier’s research on the ethnology of 20th century philosophy.

On the second principle, which is that metaphysics has at least as much formality as mathematics, it is better to cite Heidegger here. The formal principles of philosophy as found by Heidegger cannot be rejected on the basis of his involvement with ‘milieu’ and ‘tradition’. As we know, Heidegger determined metaphysics in such a way that he could announce its end. If I play with it, then metaphysics of Heidegger’s conception is that style of thinking which privileges a component law of its system which then determines the whole system as its comprehending law. That is, in each instance metaphysics produces a stasis out of itself when it determines a being as Being. Each of these instances of the “determination of being” are often tremendous breakthroughs in thought. This fact should not be forgotten.

In his posthumous work, Contributions to Philosophy, Heidegger spoke of “the other beginning” which will be the work of “the ones to come.”5 Heidegger emphasises that this other beginning can neither be a counter force to “the west”, nor an imitation of it. Rather, it must be aware of the entrapments of milieus and the formal principles of metaphysics such that it gathers the formal organs of metaphysics as if it were a ruin. To follow the Kantian image of the task of the philosopher,6 each philosopher finds in the familiar metaphysics ruins and then one must raise it according to a new comprehending law. This new comprehending law, if it does not have the games of political orientation of the east-west kind as its internal milieu, will then raise a thought which might have components that resemble metaphysics without being metaphysics.

RA: What, then, do you see the relationship being between critique, criticalisation and crisis? If our current global conditions are in crisis, what do you decipher the nature of this crisis to be? Particularly in resisting and transcending racial and social inequality (whether local or global)?

SM: We experience crisis as a situation where we don’t know what to do, because each action can potentially lead us to something worse than before. At the same time crisis, as in the case of a man who is in critical care in the hospital, has a way out. Crisis is managed through the additions and subtractions of components on the one hand and through the prescription of new regularities on the other. In a way this is how we have been trying to handle the world in recent years; we fire a few teachers in the universities and raise money from entrepreneurial programs; we bring austerity measures and lower taxes for the rich; we drop bombs with drones and maintain kill lists; reduce a few motor cars in the cities while burning more coal for electricity. In this sense we have been in crisis for a long time now. We have been even calling it a permanent crisis. How come we never found the adequate exchanges, transplants, and new regularities to find a way towards a recovery process? It is because we are not in crisis.

Crisis is an inadequate designation for where we are today. Today we are being criticalised. The familiar components of a universal bourgeois life promised on the basis of the market are worn out. The institutions which guaranteed the promise of this universal bourgeois life—the university, the parliament, family, employment in a regular milieu, educational skills which could last for decades—are today insufficient. We act today with the confusions of a species that has found itself in a new milieu for which it does not have the adequate senses, or faculties. That is, we are unable to perceive in our new external milieu due to the old faculties which we still carry with us. It is the same as saying that we do not know what is happening to us.

We don’t have enough time to take up this question here and this lack of time partially answers the question. Since I have noted the nature of this criticalisation I should mention the components of our new milieu. First, all the essential economic and technical decisions are being made globally, which are then implemented using the sovereignty argument of whatever remains of nation states. Rather, nation states are merely the enforcers of a global order of economics and technology. Second, technology is somehow accepted as techno-theology which acts from outside the order of politics, as something that is to merely be received. This had begun through the constituting of the people across the world, I must say unequally, as data colonies. When I first wrote about these data colonisations in 2010 we did not have sufficient automatisation in all domains. Automation when combined with automated transportation, real-time monitoring of individuals, and automated residences will make a new demand on humanity. That this species should be distanced from reason, which always displaces every radix, towards “feelings” which can be regulated to exist within the new automated social system.

I do not want to mention anything or anyone in particular. But the politics of feelings as opposed to reason is already here. Both what we call left and right share it. What remains to be done is to find a new norm for feelings and then technologies to ensure that a regularity of feelings is established according to this new norm to institute “homo sentimentalis”7 as Kundera prophesied. We are not far from there.

RA: Would you think with me on whether knowledge – or more precisely the present will to knowledge – is itself in crisis? I also think there are questions here in terms of the dogmatism of science which turns around the dogma of knowability, transparency and clarity, and which reaffirm humanistic precedence over the world in problematic ways. Your work stresses “the obscure” as a class of ideas. The obscure appears as a philosophical object in your joint text with Jean-Luc Nancy which was called “Our Mysterious Being.”8 What could be the relation between transparency, which – given its privileged place within Western discourse and its fulfilment through the interconnection of digital technologies – could be understood as a comprehending law, and the obscure? I also wonder if we can think about the ethics of the obscure, and the not-quite-knowable? Within these spaces – which in some ways may be outside of the clutches of normative and traditional reason – might we find the practices of freedom which our philosophical thought seeks – perhaps rather ironically – to make intelligible?

SM: Your work on transparency interests me. You find that transparency is extracted from those without the power to live in secrecy. We know that we will never know anything of the private lives of the techno-industrialists of our world while they preach to us about the virtues of leading our lives like an open book. Transparency as what you call continuous “self-disclosure”9 is culture, ethics, politics, “security” and economics at the same time. The extraction of transparency from the people is unquestionable today. Between secrecy and transparency there is a range. This gradation has a proportionate articulation: As transparency decreases power increases. The people are more transparent today than the rulers and the techno-capitalists. If we take a principle of equivalence from the proportionate articulation, the techno-capitalists are our rulers.

Clarity, which belongs to the philosophical classification of those ideas which are known in intuition with all their differences, has an analogous relation to transparency. If X is a secret then, in principle, it can be decrypted and revealed. There is certainly an important political project being followed in this domain of secrecy, transparency, whistleblowing, encrypted communications by activists, and legislations seeking more privacy.

However, the class of ideas marked as confused and obscure cannot be brought into the proportional articulation that I mentioned earlier, for obvious reasons. A confused idea in encryption and decryption will remain just that, confused. The same goes for the obscure. We know that confusions can be created to great effectivity in politics. A kind of confusion is shown to be equivalent to “divine violence” by Walter Benjamin in his text on violence. That is, in a situation where the political distinctions have become unclear or confused the forces have the chance for constituting something new. In fact, this makes the confused a necessary component of revolutionary theories.

But the obscure is something else. It is that idea which we know to be distinct. It is distinct, and yet it does not give itself in our intuition. Rather, it is given as the obscure. There are several examples from history where obscure classes of ideas can be found, including time, being, reason, love, freedom and so on. It is not that the obscure appears only in philosophy. It appears eminently in art and even in the sciences. The obscure, much more than the confused, is the object of the drive of reason. Rather, reason is driven to it. I think that apart from continuing to engage in the proportional articulation that I mentioned earlier we should be inventing political praxis along the confused and the obscure.

The text you mention makes an argument through which an obscure experience, which is a mundane experience, can be had. I say that it is an experience in order to make the distance from Kant. For Kant, the obscure is that which is not an object of consciousness.

Since we don’t have much time I can sum it up as follows. We experience ourselves anticipating events in our lives, which often go on imperceptibly. For example, you are anticipating the end of this sentence while I am speaking and therefore you are listening. This can lead to satisfactions, surprises, and disappointments. But the end of the world, the total vanishing of the world, is never in our anticipation. We do not have the faculty for it. Instead, the impossibility of anticipating such a thing according to reason gives us this experience of the certainty of the persistence of the world as the most intimate experience. The sharing of this experience is really the community of the forsaken, which we all are. That is, what we share as the most mundane is the experience whose sense has forsaken us. This obscure experience should be an experience of responsibility. That is, this commonplace and intimate experience, and the community of the principle that we discussed earlier, presuppose each other. They are the very sense of our belonging to each other and what we call the world. Therefore, this experience needs sheltering from technological exuberance and from ethno-nationalisms.

RA: There is an ethical imperative – which we can speak about – of imagining a post-COVID world, one where we learn what it means to live with and share our planet with other forms of life and living. In some senses, we are more profoundly situated together as a “community of the forsaken” now and in the midst of the coronavirus, where death and disease advance more intimately into general consciousness, but remain, as you might put it, obscure. In your work, you use the 18th century term “faculties” in a different sense today. What are the faculties of thought by which we can begin to imagine and construct new worlds?

SM: Faculty is that with which we perceive and act, and inhabit the delays between the two. It is the set of powers through which we make things into significant or insignificant wholes. If “faculty” is treated as individual powers, then it leads to a community which is incapable of acting together. Instead, all theories of faculty presuppose the community of the faculty. That is, the Kantian subject with its faculties is all of us. Then, there are specific faculties. Kant attended to this specific sense of faculties in a text called « The conflict of faculties ». That is, what we call departments are faculties. Those we call professors are faculties or powers.

When I use the term faculties it does not presuppose a universal subject. The older universal subject was infiltrated by a milieu of racialisation and it was often complicit in racialisations and slavery. That is, this universal subject was the universal of some men, and not everyone.

Further, following the challenges to Kant’s philosophy from the sciences, the pursuit of a theory of faculties was suppressed even as it was often assumed in the subsequent systems. For example, the analysis of text presupposes “reading” as a faculty.

Today, it is necessary that we conceive a new set of instruments or faculties of thought which would be sufficient to think this world. In this world we cannot entertain the games of privileged faculties, universal subjects of privileged men, and of truth.

Instead, we need to conceive faculties without referring them to the identity of the subject and to identity itself. This last part about the law of identity is too complicated.  But it is essential to make sure that we do not repeat the formal organisation of thoughts and objects of metaphysics. The elements of such a new thought of faculties are homology, analogy, functions, and polynomia. Homology shows us the constructibility in each and every thing. For example, it is easy to conceive of this very gathering in which you and I are speaking to each other as the first meeting of a political movement. Or to give a biological example, the wings of bats, the flippers of whales, and our forearms are homologous. That is, these distinct structures with distinct functions have a common origin.

Analogy is the power which allows us to perceive the same function being performed by different structures, or material arrangements. When we look at cars with combustion engine and electric cars, they appear the same. But they are nomologically distinct while remaining analogous when we consider some of their functions.

The use of these two terms—homology and analogy—away from their usual deployments presupposes a thought of functions. If we confine function to mathematics it tells us that P is a function of Q. We can give it a practical interpretation and say that in order to get P we need to have Q. In order to obtain P we need to do Q.

As we found with analogy, functions do not require a particular arrangement. The same function can be performed by various arrangements. Therefore, the way we think of functions cannot be formally stated in the same mathematical form. Instead, it will have to be re-formalised.

The variability of functions is between these two at a minimum, though it usually has a far greater range. The same function can be performed by multiple arrangements. The same arrangement can perform multiple functions. For example, the knife can perform many function in a kitchen including cutting, peeling, crushing, opening bottles and so on. This property inherent in all things and all functions is called polynomia. Polynomia designates the power in things, collectivities, people, and abstract objects to legislate themselves in multiple ways.

Since these powers emphasise variations and exchanges of functions, they do not have a principle of subjective or objective identity underlying them. These are faculties of disorientation as opposed to the Kantian faculties which sought the proper orientation of man.

Without a revolution in faculties, which would be capable of interpreting and constructing the world anew, all the other talk about revolution is at best tragic.

RA: What is the function of your idea of stasis and anastasis at this juncture?

SM: Stasis has several referents. One of these is as a determination of evil. As we know there are several conceptions of evil. For the ancient people of the Asian Mediterranean and its surrounding regions, Kakon was evil, which roughly meant disgusting. It is still used in French and German with slight variations. It exists in languages of the Dravidian family as a term for vomiting.

With Aristotle evil was conceived as privation. At the same time in Greece stasis designated a certain political problem. Distinct powers together constituted the city state—the war lords, the politicians, judges, philosophers. These were powers which had their own componential laws, while they were comprehended in an order by a set of laws that were not reducible to any of the component laws. We can call comprehending law that law which is not reducible to the component laws and therefore it cannot be mastered. Stasis takes place when one of the componential laws seeks to legislate over or dominate all the other componential laws. It can take place as either the competition among all the components or as one dominating and destroying all the other components. Of course, the easy examples are totalitarianisms, which are always destructive. I must note that stasis came to determine evil later in philosophy. For example, it is evil understood as blockage. So a stone blocking the flow of water in a canal would be stasis, or evil, for Augustine.

Anastasis is coming over stasis. Anastasis implies that we do not repeat the instruments and processes of metaphysics. What is meant by Anastasis is both a relation to metaphysics conceived as a ruin and at the same time it is a political thought. At the level of politics we know that we are being criticalised in so far as the older arrangements of the world are concerned. In the new arrangements of the world we are in stasis. The components of technology, economy, populist mass organisations, and the military are each competing to be the comprehending law of the world. We can see that technological corporations are more successful in projecting the componential laws of their domain as the comprehending law of the whole world.

Anastasis at the level of politics will be the work of the new comprehending law which can gather the new and old components of this world in such a way that we come over our present stasis.

RA: You have spoken about a “Democracy of the World”, which seems ever more urgent following the events of 2020. As I understand it, one of the critical points of departure here is the multitude of global crises, and the limitations of parochial thinking to address these crises. Can you speak to us about the urgency of this idea now? How is “a democracy of the world” different from “world democracy”? And, how can we think across disciplines, and think with non-experts and think with those whose thought is not formalized within the academy? How can we democratize the conversations that are needed to produce the moment of anastasis?

SM: A world democracy will be a version of a national democracy, which we now know to be a terrible model. A democracy of the world will need another beginning.

To philosophise is to experience the world as ruins which seek anastasis. It is not too different with politics; a political commitment is born out of the experience that we cannot go on in a particular way. Anastasis implies that we do not seek solutions on the basis of idyllic a priori. This is essential. The idylls of the past never existed. This is the first thing to note. Idylls are positions of privilege. These are raised, for example, by the critics of colonialism that there were better days before colonialism. In Agamben we find a certain idyll of the aesthetician and scholar in the past. Such idyllic experiences were possible for only a few and were sustained through extreme oppressions. For example, the idylls of the Sanskrit speaking art enthusiast in the pre-colonial subcontinent were made possible by the oldest and worst form of racial oppression, the caste order.

Instead, anastasis would involve looking at the elements, knowledge, instruments, and institutions of the world with new faculties. The faculties should reveal the elements of the world as those which do not conform to any principle of identity. But as things and events which can be many other things and events. Then we will be able, as a democracy of the world, to think together and experiment together with the new comprehending law that can raise up the world again, which will have to be an unfamiliar world. When we do this, we should be guarding the community of reason founded on the obscure experience.

Rachel Adams is a Senior Research Specialist of the Impact Centre at the Human Sciences Research Council. She is well published and also an editor at the South African Journal on Human Rights.

  1. This conversation took place on the 10th December 2020 as part of the Radical Reason Conference organised by the Human Sciences Research Council, South Africa. Prompted by the events of 2020 that saw life, science and race raised to new profiles, the ongoing project of Radical Reason seeks to explore – on the horizon of the emergence of a not yet fully determinable world – radical thought, science, ethics, institutional arrangements, and other shared systems of valuation and understanding, that are required to give depth and meaning to the full articulation of the questions that we need to be asking now to engender the arrival of a just and equal world to come. For more information on the Radical Reason conference, see: http://www.hsrc.ac.za/en/events/events/sfsa-2020 The transcript was edited and references have been added for publication.
  2. See Isabelle Stengers, Power and Invention: Situating Science, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997.
  3. For the interpretation of the interval in Kant alluded to here, see Shaj Mohan, “On the Relation Between the Obscure, the Cryptic and the Public”, Public Sphere from Outside the West, Bloomsbury Academic (UK), 2015.
  4. Jakob von Uexküll, A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans, Trans. Joseph D. O’Neil, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2010.
  5. See Martin Heidegger, Contributions to Philosophy, Trans. Parvis Emad and Kenneth Maly, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999.
  6. Reference to the Dialectic of Critique of Pure Reason.
  7. Milan Kundera, Immortality, Faber and Faber, 2000.
  8. Jean-Luc Nancy and Shaj Mohan, “Our Mysterious Being”, Philosophical Salon, 2020.
  9. Rachel Adams, Transparency: New Trajectories in Law, New York: Routledge, 2020