It would be in Hegelian fashion to state that the process of asking any question forces upon the world the negation of all answerable potentia that’s not permitted within the scope of the original inquisition. Alas, not only does the question dictate the attitude of the response, but it also severely cuts off the unsaid remainder. So when I ask the question, Does Democracy exist?, I have instantaneously set forth, both the active and potential negation that follows such line of questioning. If it is such the case that Trump can be perceived as a threat to democracy, then perhaps we can tug on this Hegelian string and see what else unfolds. Žižek, moreover, projects a paradoxical nature to the concluding Wittgenstein proposition of “whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent” (Žižek 23), by making a radical assumption of Wittgenstein that wholly undercuts his project by cherry-picking his proposition. Wittgenstein states, as it were:
Skepticism is not irrefutable, but obviously nonsensical, when it tries to raise doubts where no question can be asked. For doubt can exist only where a question exists, a question only where an answer exists, and an answer only where something can be said. (Wittgenstein 6.51)
If the process of asking questions casts a large shadow of negation over the topic-at-hand, then it is surely a Hegelian that will interpret Wittgenstein as ‘paradoxical’, but the intentions of Wittgenstein were not to point to a paradox, but rather they were designed to draw the line in the sand between “what can be said, i.e. propositions of natural science” (Ibid. 6.53) and “things that cannot be put into words,” i.e. the “mystical” (ibid.6.522). The final concluding proposition of Wittgenstein is only paradoxical if you reject everything he said prior to that. But, conversely, it could be argued further that there is even a mystical character to Wittgenstein’s project of trying to remove the mystical from philosophy:
Those who know do not talk.
Those who talk do not know.
Close the mouth.
Shut the door.
Blunt the sharpness.
Unravel the knots.
Dim the glare.
Mix the dust.
This is called the mystic oneness.
They cannot obtain this and be closer.
They cannot obtain this and be distant.
They cannot obtain this and be benefited.
They cannot obtain this and be harmed.
They cannot obtain this and be valued.
They cannot obtain this and be degraded.
Therefore, they become honored by the world.
(Tao Te Ching §56)
When one seeks out mystical questions (and/or questions of metaphysics), one cannot negate that which is ineffable, as nothingness is not reducible to a negative. Even the process of defining the constraints of the mystical is a mystical process — so goes Wittgenstein’s rousing inner-Hegelian. However, in light of what has been said, we will persist with Žižek and ask, to which he asks and responds to Adorno: is there a such thing as poetry after Auschwitz; and to which I will ask in parallel: is there a such thing as democracy after Trump? As, the answers may be one in the same.
Žižek agues with the concise proto-Hegelian argument qua Lacan dictum that “truth has the structure of fiction” (Zizek 23), to make the inverse argument to Adorno, that after Auschwitz, it is only art (and poetry) that is efficacious at bringing “truthfullness” and heightened comprehension to the questions/concerns of the holocaust. There may be merit to this wisdom but the source thereof may not be as Žižek argues — that ones natural response to trauma (from the Holocaust to a rape victim) is to aestheticize the experience into a spatiotemporal disjunction of a fragmented episteme, that looks more like Picasso Cubism than a factual account of reality. But, perhaps, to which I will argue, this is not some natural response to trauma, but perhaps this was the only accessible means of relational response to the negating effects of the question itself. Maybe it is fascism that thrusted forward an implicit question that negated all possible actualizations of rational discourse, in exchange for limiting the scope to the realm of the aesthetic.
In the 1930’s Walter Benjamin argued that the rise of fascism was interrelated to the mass mechanical reproduction of art, insofar that the mechanical reproduction of art stripped the “aura” from art that hitherto resided in the cosmic relationship between the artist and patron (Benjamin 218, 221). When you severe the relationship between artist and patron — henceforth replacing it with a relationship between patron and machine — you have accepted that the aesthetic order can be contentless, formulaic and purely functional. Fascism, in response to the loss of the dynamic richness of the aesthetic order, created the “politics of the aesthetic” (Benjamin 241) and replaced rational discourse with an impulsive and brute emotive style of governance.
So it could be that such-and-such is the case, that fascism responded to the presuppositions of the enlightenment that divided the world — with judgement in hand — between the rational and irrational; the knowable and unknowable; the speakable and the mystical — ahem, the pure reason and the unsaid trace of non-pure reason. This is what Foucault means when he said that man ‘invented himself’ (Foucault 42), insofar that man came to the enlightened realization that he does not need God to define the terms of engagement to Truth, nor metaphysics. Aesthetic conduits of epistemology are invalid — beauty is for beauty itself and beauty is not a path to knowledge and understanding.
Fascism responded in force to the assumptions of modernity by forcing upon the world the irrational, the aesthetic and the mystical; to which it packaged into the ahistorical container of political ideology that has no predetermined notional prerequisite to what category of Truth/knowledge can fill the vacuum of the body politic under the dominating and subsisting pressures of social diremption and unrest. Alas, maybe Marx was right, insofar that in response to the oppressive character of capitalism the proletariat would feel angst and alienation; but wrong insofar as he only speculated the efficacy of his prescription that the proletariat would erect the nurturing communal state qua mother archetype (the aesthetic of the politic (Benjarmin 242)); while neglecting the potentiality of the strong-arm and rigid fascist state qua father archetype (the politics of the aesthetic (Benjamin 241)). In other words, if the industrialization of the modern world — as capitalism persists — creates a vacuous void that wholly and systematically drains the unsaid and mythical wonder of our aesthetic relation to the world; hence, negating the possibility of the unspeakable transcendental qualities that the sacred order; — that religion once held ownership over — which eventually lead to a society that buckles under the realness of the blessing/burden of self-invention — this is where fascism is born. The bifurcation of response to said buckling is to demand either the transformation of political deployment into the content of art (communism) or into the form of art (fascism). This process — dialectically so — subsumed the previous negations by advancing the negation of all rational discourse and forced the conditions where both the persecutor (master/fascist/communist dictator) and persecuted can only ask/respond within the disjointed and nonsensical arena of the mystical and the aesthetic.
In this sense, Adorno’s original intuition is correct, as the door fascism (and communism) opened — that flung equally in both directions — was not the realization that we can never know the beauty of poetry after the horrid atrocities of the holocaust; but rather that fascism/communism introduced the allowance of the exploitation of the aesthetic as an instrument for the exploitation of man as an acceptable and adequate political modality. So when we return to the question of Trump and democracy, it needs to be understood that Trump’s unsaid calling card of “the medium is the message” (McLuhan 23), was engendered by fascisms process of shifting aesthetics into the category of politics and destroying (negating) the potentiality of the sacred and transcendental.
But, if I contest to argue that Trump won by reveling solely in democratic form (popular vote), while loathing the process of democratic content (an informed body politic), then this can stand in parallel to the concern of poetry after Auschwitz and argue that the only feasible response to asking if Democracy is possible after Trump, is by responding in-kind to his negation with a radical reclaiming of democracy in its most purest form. Will this bring back democracy — I don’t know. Will this help restore the ineffable character of art — I don’t know. Will this force a radical introspection of modernity as it comes to terms with mans most formidable beast — himself? I don’t know. But it may certainly be the case, that “if there is no god, it would be necessary to invent him.” (Voltaire) and maybe we will — vox populi, vox dei — restore the beauty of the divine and exhausstibly relinquish the possibility of fascism all together by returning to the drawing board of the enlightenment, once again.
Benjamin, W., & Arendt, H. (1969). Illuminations. Edited and With an Introd. by Hannah Arendt. Translated by Harry Zohn. New York, Schocken.
Foucault, M., & Rabinow, P. (1984). The Foucault reader. New York: Pantheon Books. What is the enlightenment?
McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding media: The extensions of man. New York: McGraw-Hill.
L., & Lin, D. (2006). Tao te ching: Annotated & explained. Woodstock, VT: SkyLight Paths Pub.
Voltaire. (n.d.). Epitre à l’auteur du nouveau livre: “Des Trois Imposteurs” .. S.l.: S.n.
Wittgenstein, L., Russell, B., & Ogden, C. K. (1992). Tractacus logico-philosophicus. London: Routledge.
Žižek, S. (2012). Less than nothing: Hegel and the shadow of dialectical materialism. London: Verso.