[Karl F Tullah, Nadim Bakhshov]
Karl: Welcome back to the show. Nadim returns this week to review some of the developments and ideas of this last week. Can we start with this simple question: what is the ontological axiom you have developed and what does it mean?
[Turns to Nadim]
Nadim: Good question. Perhaps not the easiest one to start with.
Karl: Where do you want to start?
Nadim: There was a very interesting talk in which a professor presented a life-narrative to frame the emergence and engagement with a theoretical perspective. There were several things I was struck by when listening to this.
Karl: Can I just stop you?
Nadim: Yes, of course.
Karl: Do you think the idea of objective knowledge has not recovered after the sustained assaults of the radical post-structuralist critiques of the 60s? Are you thinking about the tendency to undermine any sense of a grand narrative or overarching paradigm?
Nadim: You mean it as a bad thing?
Karl: Not necessarily. It’s more complicated. I would charitably want to say that postmodernism rose out of the desire to liberate thought and knowledge from certain forms of self-deception – or bad faith as Sartre might say.
Nadim: I’d probably agree. The postmodern moment feels necessary much like adopting a radical skepticism has a place in philosophical invention and development. I’m thinking of Descartes. My personal view runs something like this: narratives, as forms of temporal organization, structurally exclude aspects of the Real, but also symbolically encode the Real. There is this dual aspect: both encoding and excluding. Listening to personal narratives I am struck repeatedly by the odd gestures, half-utterances, accidental remarks which reveal what is left out. What is left out, what is marginalized in the narrative, is real. I suppose I would add that I like the characterization and distinction between reality and the Real.
Karl: You were about to discuss your experience?
Nadim: Yes, listening to the personal story I was struck how an interpretation, coming out of my work, helps me see the issue with the enlightenment project. This issue has come back with a vengeance in our postwar world.
Karl: In what way? The idea that ‘reason’ can finally bring about order, progress and peace? Any system of thought or organization must by its very structure exclude elements of the Real while at the same encode other dimensions of the Real? So, the counter-enlightenment, the growth of romanticism – these were serious responses?
Nadim: Yes. I’ve begun modeling this in a broader way. My idea is that any concept of a system must explicitly include a reference and function of what it excludes. It must also allow this inclusion the opportunity to interact with the main system –
Karl: You’re not the first thinker to attempt this. So much of post-60s thinking led to the same conclusions and the invention of positionality in social sciences, of reflexivity and the inclusion of the subject undertaking the research, etc. – all of these recognize the shortcomings of the standard ‘knowledge is objective and transparent’ attitude. What do you think you’re saying that is innovative?
Nadim: That all forms of organization encode a double-negation. This is close but different to the insights of Derrida – and his model of writing under erasure. The image I have is of MC Escher’s hand coming out of a page, drawing itself. You know the one?
Karl: I think so.
Nadim: In my version, the hand is both drawing itself and rubbing itself out.
Karl: Can you say more?
Nadim: Hegel talked about the structure of desire as being a movement of double-negation. In epistemological terms, there is a Real but it is directly unknowable. The movement of knowledge encodes a negation of this unknowable into a category of knowable and available to our cognitive and rational faculties. This then becomes the conceptual foundation of science: knowability. The move then formulates symbolic and notational writing to encode and work within this parameter.
Karl: Knowability? Do you mean intelligibility?
Nadim: Good point. I would say the unknowable thesis I have in mind is close to the one put forward by Fredric Jameson – but, yes, I think to be precise and draw Wittgenstein into the discussion: the Real is unknowable in itself.
Karl: That’s not entirely consistent with some of your earlier remarks. Surely the Real is both knowable and unknowable? There is a possibility of encoding sense through our conceptual and epistemological schemes. But, critically, it is not exhausted by this category?
Nadim: Yes, I think I over-emphasized just one aspect. The position does have to reflect some idea of ontology here. I think of a baby coming into the world. The world is not completely unintelligible.
Karl: You could argue that our social formations encode intelligibility into them?
Nadim: What would that mean?
Karl: Let me hazard a guess – that the phenomenal world is not a simple given but arises out of a natural order – the planet ecology, etc – and this order, in bringing forth itself draws knowability out of the Real?
Nadim: Yes, that captures it. I would add though that knowability is not removed. The world is not a purely rational formation. Within its structure and movements is the presence of the unknowable – look at contingency, for example, how it operates in the ordinary world.
Karl: Have we got sidetracked?
Nadim: Not necessarily. So my thinking accepts narrative as an organising principle which excludes aspects of experience. These excluded, marginalised, ignored, etc – aspects coalesce into a category of the ‘irrelevant’ or the ‘waste’. Then, I would argue, something interesting happens. This category then returns as a context-structure and operates on the life-flow, polluting it, confusing it, complicating it and, in some cases, unsettling it. The more aggressively it is denied and excluded the more parasitic it becomes and the more impact it has. The utopian fantasies of reason become underwritten by an unconscious – this is my tracing of the birth of psychoanalytical thought. This broader narrative, which includes the impact of the excluded on the initial narrative, create a fundamental problem – an antagonism that means the more we attempt progress in our technocratic formations the more they are fractured by what does not fit. Politically and culturally we see variations of this phenomenon everywhere – from the rise of fundamentalisms and literalisms in the field of religion – which create the condition for modern religious terror, to the explicit claims from the system itself that it speaks for those that are marginalised. The politically charged concept of inclusivity, multiculturalism are all attempts to bring the ‘waste’, the system ‘effluence’ back into the system – hence a kind of metaphysical recycling. This move, which is nothing more than a totalizing gesture, still leaves out the ‘surplus’ or ‘remainder’. It cannot be fitted into the system. It always acts in ways that do not fit into the categorial schemes of the system.