18 July 2015

Academia's Geistesgestell

Das Geistesgestell (the set-up mind)

A recent e-mail exchange prompted a new word to my mind in the early hours: Geistesgestell (mental set-up, mind's set-up). Today's academia, being an established institution, is itself a Geistesgestell that sets up the mind to admit only a certain range of questions across the range of disciplines, and to suppress others. In this, our current age, those questions must be suppressed by hook or by crook that put this established world into question in the deepest way. The Geistesgestell is the modern age's rigged mind-game.

Hence, for instance, physics cannot entertain openly the question of time (but only on its own dictated terms of mathematizability), and philosophical scholarly discourse must avoid the simplest, most elementary questions that open the abyss underneath all kinds of metaphysical thinking. 'Professional philosophy' (a contradictio in adjecto) skilfully circumvents it. Instead, one discourses argumentatively -- never conceptually -- around certain illustrious names such as Kant or Kierkegaard or Heidegger or whatever major or minor name is currently being taken seriously in the academy for a time, around the issues themselves. Philosophy scholars talk endlessly about philosophy without ever doing philosophy, which is rigorous and risky. This corresponds to the apparently innocuous technical distinction between primary and secondary literature, which does not capture what it means to risk being a primary source in this current age.
Strange concepts naming the simplest phenomena are avoided like the plague, for the academy will not accept them. One accommodates oneself to accepted linguistic usage. For instance, to take the distinction between the phenomenality of 'who' and 'what' seriously and speak of 'whoness' is taboo ('whatness', by contrast, has its venerable pedigree as quidditas, essence, etc. and is allowed -- from a distance). You will be booed if you speak of whoness. If not expressly booed, then tacitly, consensually ignored. You talk about the subject and the self and selfhood without ever touching the term 'whoness', let alone its expressly developed conceptual phenomenality.  If you speak about how renowned philosopher X used the term 'whoness', this is, of course, acceptable, because you're only reporting what someone else has said, not risking any thought of your own.

I could provide more key examples from my now long philosophical life-experience, rich in failure that has been a great teacher. Academia's Geistesgestell  works with eerily Kafkaesque perfection. Only those outsiders, who are vitally interested in certain questions regarding the phenomena themselves, can see the Geistesgestell's oppressiveness without difficulty. I can speak openly and easily with them, for they have no scholarly pretensions, no skin in the academic power plays, nor have their minds been fucked over by the scientific mind-set in one of its variants, be it natural- or social-scientific.

This unique juncture in our age -- scarcely comparable with the long, excruciating (also bloody) transition out of the medieval age -- in which an alternative thinking that is no longer metaphysical has been initiated, needs those very few, very brave ones who press on with trying to see how the world could shape up (surprisingly) differently from an other elementary hermeneutic cast, starting with the simplest, most unheard-of questions (and associated concepts). These questions are invariably dismissed by the agents of the Geistesgestell as ridiculous, trivial, banal, crazy, zealous, dogmatic, fanatic, unscientific or what have you, The vocabulary of denunciation for an attempted historical recasting of mind from scratch is inexhaustible.

Mostly, however, no denunciation is needed; the agents of the Geistesgestell continue cosily with their established business, cultivating the discourse within their respective disciplines with their respective reputational power plays, asking the questions that are deemed worthy of being asked, and receiving professorships, accolades and honours and suchlike if they are successful. No one asks the obvious, elephant-in-the-room question: What are the criteria for this game of mutually estimating the who-status of the players? The question is impolite, indeed, obscene, indecent and inadmissible for serious, professional philosophy. One prefers not to speak so meanly and ungraciously in (ostensibly) merely subjective, psychological terms. It's not the done thing. One would suffer consequences in the ongoing power plays.

How, under these circumstances, against the treacly resistance of the Geistesgestell, can anyone nowadays work at the bleeding, leading edge of thinking? One crucial step would be to learn to see that the Geist -- i.e. the mind, the psyche -- is not enclosed within a subject's consciousness. To attain this insight would require modern psychology's self-abolition and its radical recasting. The Geistesgestell would and could never allow this.

Outsiders are therefore indispensable, outsiders of a special ilk who put their vital energies into learning to see what they and everyone else already see and understand, but to see and understand in an elementarily different way.


  1. The following posted on behalf of Ian Hays from http://ianhays-finneganswake.com/ :

    As usual a great serious subject taken out of the box Michael. I fully agree with these remarks and it's true that generally the academy and its like are seriously in awe of such a terrible and chronic issue of being unable to see the wood among its own trees. The problem of what Language is is of course a vastly ignored phenomenon. Our means of working with the very material in which we write in order to comment on it is of course not at all new. In the Arts and Humanities I don't see any change in what academies produce or teach. When I have given papers on the subject of Language as such I see dull faces and nothing more. I get "Art is its own language!" when of course it's not. I think Wittgenstein was absurdly right when (informed by Russell) he thought that there should be another Language to challenge our current Language and that Heidegger thought rather the same or something similar is telling.

    I think that you see your field as ignoring so much that has been sadly "taken for granted" while I too feel the same about the visual arts and Language.

    Best for now and thanks enormously for your thoughts that have brought my own day into happiness!!


  2. of course it MUST be outsiders who sound the trumpet and invite a new way of thinking: the professional academics are by nature sworn to protect their orthodox POV, just as much as catholic priests were dedicated to protecting papal procedures and systems of power which kept them in power. although there are a few outsiders who have positions in universities, they walk a fine line between idolatry and redundancy....
    martin luther was a revolutionary: where are the rebels today who dare take on the post-modern secular priest class?
    who will call for a serious look at whoness? [i know who will reject, belittle or mis-understand this quest.]
    the academic geistesgestell rules, just as the two ruling parties rule the political discourse in usonian politics.
    although it is an important insight to recognize and name this, this recognition does nothing to alter the asymmetrical power: the controlling geistesgestell will continue to dictate political, moral, aesthetic decisions, et cetera for a LONG time.
    where are the squads of wittgensteinians who challenge the predominant language game? where are the meta-metaphysicians who expose the ruling metaphysical framework which most canna see? a few insightful lone wolves present no danger to the ruling elite, so they can write blogs and present papers at obscure gatherings-- as long as the mainstream academics can keep them away from the rudder which directs the ship of state, and as long as their fellow travelers can be induced to argue about trivial minutiae.