NOVEMBER 10, 2016
VATTIMO IS OFTEN labeled a postmodernist. I find it urgent to ask the question, “Why?” We are witnessing the crisis of merry postmodern particularisms, including feminism. We are also witnessing the failure of the attempted response to this crisis, which has come in the form of renewed calls to revolution of the Marxist variety. Namely, the response has been ineffective and even less revolutionary than the postmodern revolution of the 1990s, while being equally post-Marxist. Feminism is in crisis — and so is communist political activism. Meanwhile, the calls to revolution have become louder than ever. Yet the words “revolution” and “anti-capitalism,” which adorn so many festive revolutionary slogans, are mere utterances. When it comes to current mainstreamed revolutionary projects, signifying grows, while materiality evaporates: masculinist exclamations employing Maoist and Stalinist imaginaries have emptied the master signifier “revolution” of meaning, of any concrete referent.
Some have sought a way out of this deadlock. Non-Marxism, or the Marxism originating in François Laruelle’s non-philosophy, which has influenced what is habitually (and somewhat problematically) referred to as speculative realism, has advocated for a transcendentally “impoverished thought” brought forth by a radically passive subject, one aiming to “depotentializ[e] philosophical overpowering.” These recent philosophical and political debates echo a call that has underpinned Gianni Vattimo’s oeuvre for decades — a call for the “weakening of thought.” Vattimo’s project is not only Marxian but also non-philosophical, i.e., resembling in a substantial way Laruelle’s non-philosophy (or non-standard philosophy) and its rendition of Marxism. Non-philosophy treats philosophy as “transcendental material,” while in the last instance succumbing to the authority of the real rather than the philosophical or the transcendental. Vattimo’s weak thought rids itself of the sufficiency of philosophical truth. In line with Marx’s legacy, Vattimo advocates the employment of philosophical concepts in a non-alienated manner, one that is not estranged from the material (or the physical). In other words, Vattimo’s weak thought aligns with reality and produces an interpretation of it, limiting its ambition to an explication of practice by philosophical means. Marx attempted to create a science of human society — materialistically grounding it in political economy — through its own interpretative apparatus, philosophically minimal and determined by the “real” (a term Marx uses regularly in reference to what his interpreters have traditionally termed as “material”).
In order to radicalize the pursuit of non-estrangement even further, Vattimo adopts Heidegger’s concept of authenticity (Eigentlichkeit), which entails the subject owning up to one’s position and actions. As I see it, it is through this gesture that both Vattimo and Heidegger become prey to a duplicated estrangement, or to philosophy par excellence. However, I do not consider this a theoretical or political error. Rather, it is an aesthetic and moral choice. In order to illustrate this choice let us resort to a symbol with Nietzschean resonances: the image of Ouroboros. The worm eating its own tail symbolizes a form of libidinal investment that is present both in the Dionysian as well as in the Christian imaginary. For the nihilist, it symbolizes a crucial philosophical move: to fill nothingness with reality via the gesture of self-negation, the active avowal of nothingness. The nihilist’s nothingness is thus potentialized: the nihil is filled with its own paradoxical reality. This force emptied of meaning, if affirmed as what it is — namely, sheer force or abstract materiality (void of concreteness) — and politically conceived as abstract power (also void of concreteness), is the crux of Nietzsche’s worldview. Vattimo has built it into the communist horizon, creating one of the most improbable philosophical unions: that of Marxism and Nietzschean nihilism.
Heidegger provided the methodological means for the creation of Vattimo’s (and Santiago Zabala’s) communist hermeneutics. Reality is interpreted by a thought that “depotentializes” its pretension to represent reality; the thought merely describes reality, and thereby produces a universe (i.e., a philosophical recreation of the interpreted reality). It does not recreate the real as truth, whereby the former is substituted by the latter.
Christianity has the same Ouroboros-like position in Vattimo’s thought: it culminates in atheism and, politically, in secularism. It suspends the aspiration to subjugate reality via human speculation, which would mean instituting a truth about God, the universe, and humanity. The thinking subject becomes weak or transcendentally minimal and open to the overwhelming trauma of the real, while diligently attempting to describe and explain its effects. This subject thereby creates a habitable interpretation of “the open” or the “out there,” which we term the real. Similarly, Marxist materialism permits only an interpretation of reality situated outside philosophy; engagement with reality demands, as Marx argued in his Theses on Feuerbach (1845), an exit (Ausgang) from philosophy. The figure of Christ can become the imaginary embodiment of such a depotentialized witness of the truth.
Today, as “strong thought” (but mostly talk, really) of revolution has attempted to replace poststructuralist relativism while, strangely, perpetuating fragmentation and leaving the possibility of reclaiming socialist universality moribund, Vattimo’s oeuvre invites close attention. Socialism necessitates universality, as does feminism. Vattimo’s “weak thought” might enable us to conceive of communist universalism in modes that are not imperialist, colonial, or masculinist. This year, when Vattimo turns 80, I urge you to revisit his “communist hermeneutics.” It is high time to set up a new utopia for the communist horizon. In other words, it is imperative to produce an interpretation of the projected horizon and thus set parameters for a transformative Marxist politics and socialist feminism anchored in concreteness, practice, and the possibilities provided by the approach of “weak thought.”
Katerina Kolozova, PhD, is the director of the Institute in Social Sciences and Humanities-Skopje, Macedonia and a professor of gender studies at the University American College-Skopje. She is the author of Cut of the Real: Subjectivity in Poststucturalist Philosophy (Columbia University Press, 2014) and Toward a Radical Metaphysics of Socialism: Marx and Laruelle (Punctum Books, 2015).