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Max Stirner and Marcel Duchamp

Max Stirner and Marcel Duchamp

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10/15/2013

 
Max Stirner: Sowing the Seeds of AuthenticRebellion
In order to find a way to coherently articulate my belief that it canbe otherwise in these days of acquiescence and resignation, anacquiescence which for many is a consequence of a cripplingmalaise born of the doubt about being able to voice an effectivecritique of our current situation, I wish to look back. Thisbackward glance, focusing on a milieu that is now so distant, theGerman intellectual circles of the 1840s, has all the earmarks of anenvelopment in the velvet caress of a lulling nostalgia. But there ismuch more to discover in this epochal turn of events. In a very realsense we as purveyors of early twenty-first century culture havenot passed beyond the polemics which the so-called YoungHegelians brought into focus so long ago. Here, I wish to argue,are precious glimmers of a completely new way of life, part of which has already come to pass in our demimonde of dividedloyalties, which even then had the appearance of a wildly joltingprogression of thought. The episodes that make up its historychallenge the most earnest and energetic attempts to impart somesemblance of intelligibility to their recondite and somewhat raggedmeanderings, and makes it extremely difficult to find a basiccoherence in its impassioned call to action that might still have thepower to infuse an attitude of refusal and of affirmation with a realsense of grounding.Our new sense of danger deriving from the experiences of living ina world spiralling out of our control has been building for a longtime. It appears that two resolutely opposed forces, the will toauthoritarianism and the drive for individual autonomy havedeveloped themselves in such a way as to precipitate a culminatingcrisis, which seems to be nothing less than a final resolution of thisperennial opposition that has gripped the human race since it firstorganized itself into societies.The outcome of the epic battle among the Young Hegelians is anunusually clear one in the history of ideas. This was in keepingwith its overall history. Those who were seeking a way beyond thestatus quo of their day scored victory after victory against thereactionary forces of old Prussia. I trace these victories thusly: firstthere was D. F. Strauss, who focused on what he took to beinconsistencies
in Hegel‟s conception of eschatology, which
seemed long on transcendence and short on immanence. Christmust be brought into the already existing world; but this meant that
 
he functioned more as a myth than as a historical reality, and thisthe old guard could not accept. The historicity of Christ had beenthe feature of Christianity that separated it from all other religions,
which by Christianity‟s standards, never rose above the level of thefairy tale. The meaning of Christ, then, in Strauss‟ view, was
aboveall the expression of the mythic aspirations of a culture at aspecific stage in its development. The question of his historicitywas thus left open. Bruno Bauer took this a step further with hiscriticism of the Synoptic gospels, demonstrating that none of thetexts had any historical value. Atheism was only a step away, andBauer proceeded across this line with little hesitation. Religionbegan to appear as a positive obstacle to the spirit of rationalinquiry, and Karl Marx summed up the Young Hegelian project as
it existed in the early forties with the pithy phrasing “the critiqueof society begins with the critique of religion.” Feuerbach provided
his own picture of the meaning of Chrtistianity, positing a modelof projection which transformed anthropology into theology. Thegreat philosophical task, Feuerbach thought, would be to reversethis process. Unmask the meaning of this projection of humanqualities onto an abstract locus known as God, and it wouldimmediately be clear that what was attributed to God was in reality
embodied in the collective soul of humanity. “Man is to man thetrue Supreme Being”, Feuerbach famously wrote, and his view
energized the Left intelligentsia for some years after itsintroduction in his book, The Essence of Christianity, published in1841.
This changed radically with the appearance of Stirner‟s “breviaryof destruction” (as the art critic James Hunecker called it), The
Ego and Its Own, in late 1844. For the Young Hegelians hadalready determined that the problem, in its most basic form, was
religion; wasn‟t Feuerbach merely introducing a new religion, a
religion of Man, in the guise of a communistic atheism? Stirner
demolished Feuerbach‟s argument, and at the same time forced
consideration of the implications which appeared as a result of 
taking Feuerbach‟s and Bauer‟s ideas to their logical conclusions.
How do we undermine religion at its roots? Stirner answered this
question most unsettlingly; we must extend Feuerbach‟s concept of 
projection into that of the fixed idea. God is only one of the ideasthat give birth to the religious impulse. Any idea that subjects theindividual to itself has the same purpose. To say that heimplications of this thesis are far-reaching would be putting itmildly. And so the first immoralist, or, to put it more accurately,the first amoralist, came into being.
 
For a long time, these incendiary ideas smoldered underground.The revolutions of 1848 had turned attention away fromindividualist concerns to collective ones, and then the reaction tothe revolutions followed. Nevertheless, by the 1860s, in the work of writers such as Dostoevsky, the disturbing questions resurfaced.
What is it that I am authorized to do? Stirner‟s answer, anything
that it is in my power to do, seemed to Dostoevsky the ultimate
horror. “If God didn‟t exist, everything would be permitted.” Thetwentieth century seemed to bear Dostoevsky‟s apprehensions out.
But a new sensibility, meanwhile, was being born. By 1880, belief in the old rationalism was assaulted on many fronts. Europeseemed to be hiding a ghastly secret behind its glittering façade,
one that must be divulged to be gotten rid of. “We knowers areunknown to ourselves”. This was how Friedrich Nie
tzsche put theproblem in 1887. All that energy put into inquiring into theoutside world
 — 
was it just an elaborate ruse to avoid deepexamination of what was within the human psyche? This focus onthe disparity between the outer world and the inner one revealedmuch. It was possible from this perspective to see that the oldculture was sick, possessed of a sickness unto death, but whatseemed to be on its heels was anything but a beneficenttransformation of the self and society. Without finding that elusivequality, a deep connection to life on its own terms, not inpiecemeal fashion, but in a global sense, which somehow was invery short supply, wanton destruction would inevitably ensue. Inthis climate an important faction of Modernism was born; itspractitioners perceived the pitfalls of this new existence with itsmechanization of seemingly everything, up to and including the
human soul; it‟s possible to read their output as part of a strategy to
counter the effects of this drive to oblivion. Cassandra warns us
once again! We speak of these luminaries now as a “vanguard”,
but what exactly is the significance and direction of this vanguard,if any? I believe it is possible now to answer this question in amuch more satisfactory fashion by considering such relationshipsas I sketch below.Max Stirner and Marcel DuchampHere at last the domination of the law is for the first time complete.
„Not I live, but the law lives in me.‟ Thus I have really co
me so far
as to be only the „vessel of its glory.‟ “Every officer carries hisgendarme in his breast”, says a high Prussian officer. (Stirner 
1995, 50)

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