The Mythological Being of Reflection

The whole world is inside our head.

This seems to just about sum up the post-Kantian problem of reflection. If the self represents itself ipso facto reality becomes a dream like experience, i.e. an appearance of itself. Thus, the German idealism tradition (Schelling, Fichte, Hegel), the self becomes an object just like all others as soon as it is drawn into relation with other objects.

In this post I take up Markus Gabriel’s essay from Mythology, Madness and Laughter – The Mythological Being of Reflection. For a more thorough discussion on the entire book, head over to An und für sich.

Book Cover

For Kant, the constituting experience itself cannot be experienced. The very idea of the world is such that it has to be predetermined in advance (31). The self, for this reason, cannot appear on the stage of its own world picture.

As Gabriel points out, it was Fichte who, in the Vocation of Man cleared up Kant’s enlightenment notion of the internal vs. the external world – given that the thinking thing is a part of the world and is made up of thinking and extended substance, reality turns out to be a dream of a dream.

Is it my enflamed consciousness that creates the nightmare or is it consciousness itself a creation of the nightmare? Pyotr Voyd

For Hegel, essence= reality. The problem is that the essential cannot be opposed to appearance or illusion – reality is not out there but it is the result of an operation which distinguishes reality from illusion. Reality is nothing but the process of its own re-duplication, or that which splits up all the objects in time space into appearance and reality.

The world cannot prescribe how to conceptualize itself because it is compatible with more than one description and there is no meta-language in which it is possible to specify the totality of truth conditions for any discourse (54 – 55).

To Schelling, there is no thinking outside of the mythological register. Thus to think God is to think some pure self. This pure self can only be realized through an insight into the necessity of a form which disrupts the alleged absoluteness of self-consciousness.

The problem for German idealism after Kant remains: how to refer to the domain of all domains within ordinary propositional language, to that which presupposes objects that can be referred to terms i.e. things in the world. If the world of worlds is not similar to this how then can we talk about it?

The proper domain of the world of worlds is not a place but a domain itself.

Thus, our very relation to objects, or ‘intentionality’ is always predisposed to nothingness as Heidegger put it, and this nothingness is the world itself. Can the void be apprehended by any “sphere of intelligibility” or by any cosmological model?

Hegel’s sphere of intelligibility anticipates Wittgenstein’s view that any system of belief picks up a background mythology, or picture of the world. Hegel re-doubles ontic monism by showing how being does not contingently manifest itself in finite objects, things, etc). but depends on its doubling into being and appearance. Being ceases to become the being for the thing independent of our activity of doing it. Being becomes the disjunction between being and appearance.

From a logical point of view, existence cannot be determined by those variables themselves. Whether there really are objects in the world (stones, horses, etc.) cannot be determined based on our concepts alone. For Schelling, reflection on the possibility of objects has a mythological character that it can never get rid of.

Being precedes reflection because reflection is based on an experience – but for Hegel, being is the blind spot, or remainder of reflection – if by being we mean that which is in itself that we have to discover in truth-apt discourse – thus the crucial lesson of the Phenomenology of Spirit is that the in-itself is only in-itself for us. Being for us turns out to be a coagulation of reflection.

On closer analysis, reflection is always a movement that goes back to itself. Reflection is to be posited as an object of possible experience. For Kant, the conditions of the a priori possible experiences are the same conditions for the objects of that same experience. And it is here that Hegel presents a radical alteration on Kant by claiming that being is merely reduced to the coordinates of representation.

How does all of this fit into the role of the mythological subject, where being is contingent on reflection for-itself, appears as an another object in the world of representations so as to make sense of representation – the subject misses itself in the act of seeking to grasp itself.

“the form needs to be the content of all that it forms: subjectivity does not reside in its own being, it haunts itself.” Malabou.

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