On the Narratology of Concept-Being, Lecture Seven: In Search of Plotinian Order

by Joseph Nicolello

We began these discourses tinkering with the idea of whether it was a fruitful idea to advance Cole’s epistemological wager in a manner that fills in the blanks of postcritique’s recounted limitations with new directions, and now turn to a source that I have nowhere seen appear in literature studies pro- or contra-Cole, that of Eric D. Perl’s Theophany – as the book aside from Plotinus concerns Pseudo-Dionysius, who Cole also notes as a key dialectical thinker[1] – it has for a time struck me as an ideal source for the student seeking order in literary cognition, or insight, that is dissatisfied with the Marx-forward approach, or in that case, stalemate. In Perl we are dealing with a Neoplatonic scholar whose book, thin and dense, sees Plotinian texts and commentary peppered throughout in a manner highly conducive to the student of literature by way of a perpetual intertextual engagement of dialectical identity/difference, ranging from Plotinus’s life prior to writing up to and through contemporary engagement with scholars, commentators through the century long overshadowed by Aristotelian predominance. Further, what emerges from Perl’s dialectical accounts of Plotinus is a portrait of a figure whose negative theology is concisely in rhythm with a hypothetically enormous impact in the field of literary studies in an age of permanent sexualized technologies. And I believe this is so because of Perl’s Dionysian work on Plotinus that I shall herein review, particularly concerning the movement of conceptual appearance in text and thought to reality[2] as well as identity/difference in Perl’s portrayal of Plotinian literary cognition has greater implications for a new methodological historiography, which I have declared is a prerequisite to any future reinstallations of literary-theoretical discourse.

            Plotinus’s being-made-to-be is for Perl an apprehension of higher-level thinking that will eventually technologize itself into a rejection of fireside lore, orality. What this means is that Plotinus was well aware, seventeen-hundred years ago, that dialectical thinking run amok risks the undisciplined process of running off its rails unless it is kept in check. Today we can see this in among several fashions, a pair worth noting in particular: technological advancements that have led to digital rather than paper pages, and the proliferation of cinematic immersion that has rendered would-be readers skeptical of the mere page, what with its silence, 26 letters, and dubious black ink. But here we must again fully understand Cole’s construction of Hegelian recentralization in light of the Plotinian measure of refurnishing a dialectic of mute perception, or reading, which is not solely technological reconsideration but also an ancient concerned merged with theory’s continual rejection of surface-level entities, exemplified in the way that Plotinus could not stay put with Plato.

            For Perl, Plotinus’s meditations on Platonism, a school that he both revolutionized and in his neglected way transcended, are not unlike the theorist today seeking to move beyond spokesmen and forerunners as cults of personality, who are at the same time cognizant of the predicament’s semiotic cementing of a revolutionary place in dialectical thinking. The idea for Plotinus was not discredit or abolish Plato, and I feel the same way even as concerns more tarnished reputations, such as de Man or Althusser – like Plotinus on Plato, I advocate studying these figures for the simple reason that anything less than doing so is a denigration of one’s theoretical mastery, or personal framework. At the same time, there is the need of offering up participatory causality in light of the textual One, or eclipse of limitation: “Reversion, in fact, is nothing other than participation, the participation of the determined effect in its causal determination, considered as an activity of the participant.”[3] This idea, in time picked up by Pseudo-Dionysius,[4] is designed to furnish the perceptive apparatus in order to free up the possibility to transcend both choice and necessitation by transcending the space between them. Choice, in the Heideggerian sense, is the hermeneutic facticity of reality: that how one approaches it is a choice.[5] Literary fiction, and hence theory, is a testament to the transcending of choice and necessitation. It offers a choice to read that is itself a ready-made heuristic canon: modes of reading; schools of thought; the individual; the group; the scholar; the artist; the laity; the type of fiction. And what of necessitation? Plotinus says, in so many strokes of Neoplatonic genius: Think in order to live. Write in order to live. Choice and necessitation, for Plotinus, are not abstractions that are lost in technological upheaval;[6] they are rather ever-present origins of dialectical thinking on the way to literary-theoretical cognition.

            But whereas suspicious hermeneutics is wont to excoriate the soul if it is to acknowledge it at all, the Plotinian preoccupation that leads to Hegelian Geist is unconcerned with whether one has a soul or not. Rather, the dialectical concern is that preoccupation of mortals which can neither be definitively put to rest nor empirically proven. One proclaiming to have evidence of the soul is in the same camp as one proclaiming to have extinguished it, entertaining archival finality wherein the dialectician sees an abstract essence eternally returning all over the world. Its essence is therein the essence of essence, the very existence of conceptual nonexistence; in this way it mirrors both literary cognition and technological identity, matters of disruptive simulation weathered by the stages of ideology and the state, formerly feudal dialectics and negative theology.[7] Suspicious is thus never abandoned, but entered into a formulaic discourse whereby subjectivity is held captive by the state apparatus: “To be is the activity of a being; and herein lies the possibility of evil.”[8] To be online is the activity; ‘cancel culture’ is the permanent idea of identifying evil in public and non-public figures and nailing them, like flies, against the digital wall. If religious evil has vanished from Western dogmatic thinking, it is mistaken; it has rather transferred, seamlessly, from the ecclesiastical public square into the political discourse of object, home, and portability.  

            Criticism, in transcending itself, still faces the issue of its various processions as simply more and less universal modes of the same divine presence. Consider that “Pseudo-Dionysius’ doctrine of analogous participation in God is thus closely parallel to Plotinus’ teaching that the nature of all things is their share in contemplation or intellectual activity (which itself is the manifestation of the One), so that the life of plants is a ‘growth-thought’ and that of animals a ‘sense-thought'” (3.8.8.14-15).[9] But what is perhaps even more engrossing for the literary dialectician is that the Intellect, for Plotinus, is not some abstract notion between wisdom and folly; it is rather a concrete, immutable level of discourse and historicism that is readily available rather than scarce.[10] A population may veer away from Intellect, or a community might have the notion it has not only run up against a brick wall but has replaced Intellectual with a steady institutional stream of such well-wrought walls; but whether or not a land or community is for it or against it, Plotinian Intellect is immunity incarnate, traversing all countries and space in peace, and indifferent to the oscillating patterns of persons. It warrants a heavenly order that, in its presence, does away with despising human beings.

This immutability-incarnate is also a perpetual process of unfolding that is particularly conducive to texts:

            In Plotinus’ system, according to a conventional but superficial reading, the One    generates Intellect, which in turn generates Soul, which in turn generates the sensible   cosmos; and sensible things, on this view, are not produced directly by the One but stand          at several removes from it. But in fact, each level is not another being additional to its            prior, as though the One were one thing, Intellect a second, Soul a third, and the sensible           a fourth. Rather, each level down in the differentiated appearance, the expression, the             unfolding of its prior, so that the content is the same throughout all levels, in differing       degrees and diffusion.[11]

By differentiating theoretical terminus from its conceptual-historical moment of unfolding, the literary scholar is given the tools to engage the greater textual problems with a technology of critique that is not bound, by automatic ideology, to an eternal return of suspicious hermeneutics. Nor is one trapped in the scenario whereby dogmatic identity defeats itself in prejudicing itself in the game of, “You’re not me, so you cannot possibly know my struggle”; such identity is non-identity, its difference a mishandling of dialectical difference that is steadily developed from Plotinus to Hegel.[12]

For both Cole and Perl, Plotinus’s identity/difference is correlated with the causal presence of hypostases.[13] Hypostasis is the last of Plotinian realities,[14] following the One and Intellect, predicated upon stability and movement.[15] This movement and stability – like Hegel’s Geist, or novelistic construction – indicates a development that is fathomed through conceptual history without ever being apprehended (outside of aesthetic-epiphanic insight, which is in turn methodological revelation). The moment of aesthetic intuition cannot be understood until the subject has reached a place of reflexive exile, temporarily removed from the preordained. This may well come about in a public setting – but it will not be understood by the general public. Moving from historical patterns, it latches onto the identity and difference of a Subject: suddenly Augustus, from the typological point of view, is split in half: Augustus is on the one hand a man well-known by generally unknown men. On the other, medieval theology renders him a typological casting in the divine, dramatic brutalities of Christological ebb and flow. For a moment no one is pointing fingers but rather existing. This aura of transcendence is the Plotinian intuition behind both the composition of a text and its continuation in the public sphere. Notice I did not say “second life”, or “after life”; rather, let us consider the text from a musical point of view: the words, just like a song with or without them itself, stays with us after it has been completed. The totality of the aesthetic object is no longer conceptually a dialectical matter of identity and difference but always has been. Even before Plotinus, it was on the way to Plotinus. There may well be traces in the pre-Socratics, or the Sophists for the matter;[16] but we cannot compare the Plotinian system to the Platonic or Aristotelian in the same way that we cannot compare the critic to the author or the musician to the listener. Pluralism discounts individuation, thereby cavalierly advocating an abstract utopianism; for we cannot say that the guitar-listener and the guitar-player approach the sound of a guitar the same way, as we cannot compare a marathon runner to one daydreaming of a treadmill.[17]

Method in Ontology:

Plotinus and the Apophaticism of Literary Theory

The manifestations of philosophic silence deployed by Plotinus often take the form of extended literary techniques; as his writing style typically flows along a series of problems and investigates different ways to approach them, reflecting the discussions from which the Enneads were in part drawn, isolated citations rarely do justice to what he is doing in a literary sense.[18]

What looks like politics, and imagines itself to be political, will one day unmask itself as a religious movement.[19]

As far as Aristotle was concerned, after untold efforts they found a subtle means of reconciling him not only with Plato, but with Plotinus.[20]

This lecture unpacks Andrews Cole’s survey of Plotinus in his Birth of Theory, expanding Cole’s Hegelian-theoretical reconsideration in a manner that engages contemporary theorists. While laying a vaster foundation for what it means for Plotinus to serve as the beginning to re-understanding what Theory is by unpacking Cole’s prolegomena, my project in a sense takes up where Foucault’s History of Sexuality halted; but this archaeology of return, and a complete rejection of identity-as-liberation, are the sole two – albeit key – Foucauldian aspects of my thesis. I, like Cole, set Plotinus first in a lineage of neglected philosophers who answer questions that hitherto appear – to critics – unanswerable. Plotinus signals the inception of a chain of philosophers culminating in Hegel which Theory, by neglecting, cannot otherwise expect to find an adequate language through which understand itself (or direction). That literary theorists have valued fragments of philosophical and historical texts has not resulted in a new way of understanding literature, but a way of understanding where an absolute poverty of historical and philosophical knowledge leads; and that in Plotinus we have ripostes that others claim are yet-to-come or unavailable until Kant or Heidegger. Plotinus is also neglected precisely because it is inconceivable for so many theorists to go back further than Kant, let alone to the third century; but this is not a matter of progress; it is a matter of dialectical anthropology. Were this project to take on the scope of a monograph or book-length study, there is a host of neglected gems that in fact gel harmoniously with Cole’s groundwork.[21] But for I we utilize a Dionysian negative-theological approach to see where Harman and Felski are mistaken, on the wrong track, and why a conceptive, Plotinian process of theory’s ‘birth’ is perhaps the right one: an epistemology of historical and philosophical immersion rather than sexual technologies and temporal modernities.

Ordo Ab Chao

Andrew Cole’s idea is that literary theory comes into its own with Hegel through a cycle beginning with Plotinus. In order to understand this, however, we must give Plotinus more than a couple of pages to understand the magnitude of Cole’s wager. I therefore now offer a critical account of Plotinus that is (understandably) lacking in Cole’s text, dissecting the great Neoplatonist through a dialogical critique of two contemporary scholars, Graham Harman and Rita Felski.[22] Harman and Felski have recently published theories for a literary-theoretical future that I find make for a lukewarm forecast peppered with occasional epigram; the intellectual aura[23] these writers claim to seek to recapture is completely absent, though not due to what they are looking for, but rather that the totality of their systematics is predicated upon, in both cases, faulty premises. It is a part of this logical absence that I believe is more comprehensible than either make it sound. Detective work guided by emotional politics is no longer the variation; rather, what is needed is the cold logic of historiographical investigation.

It is thus the pair’s narrow conceptual diagnostics that propel us to better understand the Plotinian remedy therein: either author calls for a utopian future in the name of a feigned anti-utopianism that is predicated on a critical underestimation of identity and difference. Harman is mistaken in his rejection of the former,[24] while Felski descends a crooked timber of Deleuzian misreading that ends in emotional appeal; the theoretical options Felski brings to the fore are thus cataclysmically insubstantial in their treatment, despite at least some substantive observations. Without the historical comprehension of identity and difference, though, neither these authors nor any other is going to develop a coherent systematic for authentic proceeding in literary studies. For a key, if subconscious, part of this “crisis” goes beyond technology and into an inauthenticity of jargon, and must confront the crisis of comfortability from a Sorelian point of view[25] on the way to a deconstruction of sexual technology that begins in classical antiquity. For this inauthenticity is itself predicated upon linguistic ambiguities that abound in theory’s ongoing cults of personality,[26] but it is not a sickness that is going to change by curricula or condemning conspiracy theorists. In fact, the sign that both Felski and Latour are even compelled to mention such dubious sources is neither humorous nor enlightening, but indicative of the course having run its gambit. It is by replacing the history and structure of identity and difference with utopian cunning and political religions that the mess began, and it is by comprehending the path from Plotinus to Hegel alone that any authentic sense can be made of novelistic discourse and its gatekeepers. Lastly, the reason this road has not yet been traveled is vast: first, there is the awkwardness in realizing that one’s literary tools do not end with either Heidegger or Kant.

Now of course, one may well do so; but in so doing, one renders obsolete one’s claim to epistemological clarity, as it is simply untrue that our understanding of literature begins with Kant. Hence, the circularity with which this greater conceptual process entails contains uncomfortable truths. One might consider Etienne Gilson’s observation that Augustine beat Descartes to everything Cartesian ideology rests upon by over a thousand years, by simply reading Montaigne in light of medievalism;[27] and that on the contemporaneous hand it is not a greater, progressing human freedom but Donald Trump that is the culmination of those “leftist politics” Harman mentions by name and Felski cannot afford to take into account.[28] What, then, can one do? The literary scholar may, I suggest, come to terms with the outrageous poverty Theory works with in its disregard for virtually all philosophical history while feigning a rigorous philosophical discourse with texts. The second that scholars are willing to stop acting surprised at that which is perfectly causal is the second that we are ready to confront Plotinus.

Let us hypothesize the briefest of exercises concerning the inclusiveness of literary-theoretical studies: imagine listing all the greatest philosophers, famous and not, canonical or despised, everyone and thing in between, who are alien to literary theoreticians. In no time one with even the scarcest philosophical knowledge would be concocting voluminous lists. But here is the key: it would not be a list for the sake of making a list of what’s-not-there; it is rather that Literary Theory claims to work with Literature, guided by Philosophy – all of it. And thus, all that could ever be adequate in tandem with this idea of critique would be a mainline of unlimited types of philosophical thought throughout the ages; a school that offers an intellectual inclusiveness whose flag it waves but cannot comprehend putting into any sort of practice. Indeed, were Theory to actualize itself it would end up birthing a glorious new school altogether. One does not enjoy doing surgery on it; but let us imagine, for a change, not putting another coat of paint upon a house that is collapsing. One needn’t seek another meager system, nor more of the State, nor newspaper paraphraseology: one needs an actual immersion in the hermeneutic facticity of rudimentary principles and hereditary figures in the genesis and structure of narratological discourse.

Hence, it is not a matter of actors, networks, tools; with the switch-blade immediacy of Heideggerian thrownness[29] one should pass over toolboxes, screwdrivers, sheds and theodolites alike, delving into the genealogy of medievalism, feudalism, from late antiquity into Hegel and the French Revolution, beginning at the beginning – with Plotinus.

Method in Ontology

In order to understand where the Plotinian idea of literary theory takes root we must first define two recurring themes for Plotinus: the One and the Intellectual Principle. This One stands for unity[30] and identity, and the Intellectual Principle for difference and plurality.[31] Straightaway we are working with a duality that differs from the archetypal[32] Athenian school of Platonic-Aristotelian ‘One and the many.’[33] Insofar as we acknowledge this tradition we consciously or subconsciously acknowledge another in Plotinus’s isolated case: that unlike Iamblichus of Syria,[34] the profundity of Plotinus’s thought has no direct correlation to Christianity’s triumph over Rome and the fused, or absorbed, paganistic schools of philosophy and theology therein; and unlike Proclus, effective oddity has not come into historically singular fruition as per an exorcised polymorphism of human consciousness.[35] Plotinus is to this extent in the world of classical antiquity but not quite of it; the imperceptible One is something other than God, or one of the gods. A more general unity and identity might call to mind concrete image, concept of laid bricks or a brick’s hue; but Plotinus here has in mind a One that is attainable through strict intellectual practice, structurally unified through its illuminating identity’s interior gifts for the philosopher-scholar. It is unlike the Ideas or Forms of Plato in that the One is both a process and a summit, the epitome of the Real.[36] The Intellectual Principle, then, is a hypostasis that transcends the soul; production begins in earnest at the advent of perfection-as-verb.[37]

The One, in another way, is for us twofold. We could take it up in Plotinian terms and tread a straight line of textual analysis; but this will be saved for part two. For now let us cut right to the chase and consider the twofold theological-negative realm to this Plotinian blueprint for theory, in that the One is the text, the Intellectual Principle its life upon entering the public square and thereafter opening itself up to difference (not-self) and plurality (critics), or differential pluralities (or further still, plurality through negative dialectics).[38] This line of thinking takes us beyond the point of a general sense of wonder and to the cusp of “the semantic reflection of emanation, and an overflow of meaning, transcendence, and immanence.”[39] At stake for Plotinus was certainly the relationship between author and text (Although Plotinus did originally teach oral – not written – lessons, with a vow of silence beset upon his pupils), emanating from the perceived and the transcendent. What becomes of this is, I believe, less a ‘secularization’ of literary-philosophical text, than a mutation of consciousness that is another textual aspect entirely, one of secular metaphysics not unlike what Fiction came in time to signify.

But the demanding stimulation of theory basking in the light of novelty could not help but burn out in mere decades so long as it had no idea of where it came from, and hence where it might end. By abandoning sanity, a monomaniacal obsession with conceptual progress that has neither an actual end-game nor a system of logical discourse cannot help but become a perpetual recourse to the new, or temporality, and hence dependent upon the insubstantial, was born. It is in other words beyond dosage and trapped within the operative, causal system of living off of what is destroying its structure, which is a theory without assemblage. Neither Artaud’s body without organs nor Zizek’s organs without bodies, but a school of architects who have never read Vitruvius due to a burning, irreligious evangelism that cannot justify – and never has – said historiographical and methodological poverty. Nietzsche at least paved the path for a man who both did LSD in Death Valley and died of AIDS and could still abhor the ‘Summer of Love’ and identarian glaucoma; this sort of thing, reality in philosophical and literary history, is no longer shocking when one is in pursuit of the One. Earlier still, Augustine will after Plotinus enter into the conception of theory in a way that, incidentally, leads to the erudition of Pseudo-Dionysian negative theology; and all of this runs in an illuminated, literary-theoretical line, unconsciously, albeit now evidently, within the sphere of Plotinian “ontological self-mastery.”[40] Whether or not the text entails a theological reception or thematic is for Plotinus irrelevant to its epistemological bent in being-of-itself in the dialectic of identity/difference. We might ask then, in the Plotinian spirit, does not monotheistic thought, from oath to being, entail the same – that is the Name, or Focus on the one hand, and its contemplative not-self is the other?

If it does, it must be noted that this Great Architect cannot be broken down into the Plotinian quadrangular cognition of multiplicity by means of successive impression. For the Enneads is a documentarian ascent in the religion of philosophy, an apotheosis of textual transmission and care for an interior narrative castle. As such, the concept differentiates from the totality of negative being; the future can only ever exist in terms of the past; for the not-arrived is nonexistent but when it arrives it both appears and culminates at once.

This force of proximity to the textual One of Plotinus is directly tied to the furnishing of intellect as the principle mission in life, itself the subconscious driving a literary theory done well. Platonic Forms are active but also actively disrupted; in apprehending the text one engages in the simultaneous practice of revelation and dissolving. Traditional measures of God do not converge with the quantitative aspects of Plotinian philosophizing, which is multiplied by impressions until it sees the One. This is a concept that will later be taken up by Bonaventure and Walter Hilton, among so many more. For Plotinus textual transmission is a step en route to multiplicity, wherein we perceive a shade of literary theory in that not only can the novel or poem no longer “speak for itself”, but in fact never could. Likewise, Bloom’s poetical mis-readings give way to Jamesonian dissolving of happenstance, which itself is tinted with a conscious Augustinian – and thus Neoplatonic – light. Plotinus therefore apprehends likeness and the literality of parallels,[41] discrediting receptive ambiguities of the text in taking the dialectical process to its limits, as the critic renders the author’s archival finality of an ending and reinjects the preordained object with a scaffolding of heuristic canons. It is for this reason Cole notes that the Plotinian-critical-theoretical strand took aim at authority before it became the authority by usurping the silent codes of well-kept oligarchical gates; it confronts that most imaginary of things, reality. Likewise, for Plotinus repetition and abstraction culminate in a dialogical subjectivity that does not lead to suspicion but rather is born in suspicion. For this reason, Cole affirms, a definitive turn away from suspicion will not suffice without diluting itself and thus disintegrating back into hermeneutic morality plays:

Examining Hegel’s words in the Plotinian frame we realize that both the tarrying and the looking convert the negative into being in that uniquely phenomenological way: there is delay so as to acquire vision, to see what is at first unseeable, to undergo a formative experience (Bildungs-Erfahrung) that, through repetition, sharpens perception and establishes the phenomenological investigation of appearances… what, in other words, logically mediates the immediacy between being and nothing works, as well and quite easily, at subsequent, more mediated, less aporetic moments. That ‘what’ is identity/difference.[42]

Plotinus and Hegel both employ abstract determination in a way that Plato cannot, as his commitments are neither theoretical nor historiographical enough,[43] whereas Claude Romano takes this idea and today calls for a return to Husserl, proclaiming the priority of a pre-linguistic order.[44] By setting their works within the dialectical vigor of theory and historiography, Plotinus and Hegel reap the fruits of refined typology, borne of an interrelated philosophical consciousness that seeks to move from shadow to reality as concerns the prospect of moving from pre-linguistic order to conceptual history – or the One, the Concept, or Absolute.[45] Predating the dialectical semiotics of Hegel’s systematic Phenomenology by fifteen-hundred years, Plotinus throughout the Enneads confronts delimitation and deconstruction by means of a referential openness which lends itself to a generation of meaning within the text-itself; today we might conceive of the most accurate novel that could ever be written simply having each word in quotation marks. For Plotinus, however, the term hoion (as it were) is utilized in such a sense in order to signify the line between symbolic language and terminological negativity.[46] Here the phenomenologist is also in business in returning to Plotinus regarding the question of language, as in our case the literary theorist is in a less synthetic place by moving backward, rather than forward, from the architects of suspicious hermeneutics (but especially Marx, for the sake of comprehending Marx – rather than Marxism).

Of all the different ways one may pursue, study, unravel the One, there is for Plotinus totality and infinity lurking in a concrete literary sense beneath the veneer of manifest subjectivity. It is no wonder Levinas’s Existence and Existents is rife with poetical memory: his prison camp wherewithal must move from the perceptual oblivion of eternity to a concern with moving from the referential to theoria; it does not, cannot matter that ideas seem to crystallize somewhere beyond the limits of thoughts; for this is itself a coincidence of opposites, or spatial dialectic, predicated upon the linear logic of delimited reference:[47]

Dialectic works with things as they are – existents, as it were, its materials – following a method by which it possesses, together with the statement about them, the objects themselves. Dialectic knows error and sophism only indirectly: discerning another’s error to be alien to the truths within itself, thus recognizing what is advanced as counter to the canon of truth.[48]  

For both Plotinus and, on the other hand Harman, the subject matter, or dialectic, is a unity of opposites. It is the text and its reception; the critic and the text; the object and the method; the group and the other from which all syntheses flow. But the Plotinian dialectic of Identity and Difference is also critical for Harman’s theory because of its concern with ontology, and the value-claim for its method. Plotinus considers dialectic “the most valuable part of philosophy”;[49] it strikes one as a means of adding more concrete form to Harman’s argument, by – if utilizing philosophical history at all, or as literature’s handmaiden – to go all the way. Philosophy is not the handmaiden of literary theory; but nor is dialectic its handmaiden. For prior to Cervantes there were about twelve centuries of prose that brushed against what would become known as literature, theory, and literary theory. There are moments in philosophy, theology, and medieval history writing where either of the genres appear substantive as literary genres. By offering in a moment an example of my and Cole’s method, laying a Hegelian groundwork that looks backward in order to shine a foregoing light on otherwise apparently cloudy, foggy terrain in what theory is, we can seek further whether or not stopping at Kant is predicated upon logically faulty premises. Despite wealth of knowledge and depth of probity, are such readings themselves in fact chronologically and typologically limited?

My Plotinian answer to all this talk of actors, tools, guerillas, networks, and boxes while trying to ‘understand’ ‘where’ theory is ‘going’ is precisely concerned with what Cole refers to as the “wholesale omission of the great middle of intellectual history.”[50] Plotinus looks ahead to the Middle Ages, that place where today’s literary scholar ought to look lest permanent – and needless – bewilderment reign, while Hegel looks back at Plotinus. For either writer, in the spirit of literature and its theory, entity is determinate, containing difference within itself; it does so by the essence of contradiction as the generative essential.[51] Elusiveness is revealed as a matter of lacking dialectical proximity, the force field preventing a move from text to action is revealed empirically subjective and subjectively empirical, connotating the death drive as linguistic life in the spirit. Plotinus moves from Aristotle’s contained probity[52] and ornamental rhetoric to ontology, metaphysics, and cosmology. We might consider a fitting analogy in that everyone in Ireland who read Jonathan Swift understood his maniacal genius at once. But he could not spawn disciples, because of his rich, inimitable corpus. Such is the stature hoisted upon the theoretician: a trickle-down pondering.

The Handmaiden’s Tale

That which cannot be imitated signals the further mutation of collective consciousness and thus collective memory, which then gives way to further components,[53] one of them being an aspect of Harman’s article, when we read that “Despite what Derrida thinks, the problem is not self-presence, otherwise known as ‘identity.’ Instead, the problem is the assumption that such self-presence can be converted adequately into a form of presence for something else.”[54] The glaring issue here is that to say that our problem (which is Derrida’s), or identity, is not is to miscalculate the genesis and structures of literature, where form and presences for-the-other are the intrinsic measures of austerity whereby the tradition is cultivated and blossoms, from Athens to the desert, from the monastery to the university, to the thinning screens and down into the pocket. The methodology that took on this structure was born in the exilic desert, where each text is a disruptive spark emanating from the machinic-eternal return, as Sells, writing on Plotinus, makes clear: “For Plotinus, discursive reason reflects alienated consciousness; and this unfolds in the movement of nous to theoria. Plotinus moves from the noetic identity of subject and predicate, being and act into a fusion identity.”[55]

For Plotinus, the density of that which is known cannot compare to the negative theology of nothingness in light of the One as movement, intellect, and being. The mustards seeds of criticism are with us today, remain with the laity, and sprout from a similar place of bafflement: “How did she write that?” “What was going on in Proust’s mind?” But like Plotinian dialectic, even were we to construct a formulaic that seems to entail a ready-made kit for poetical and novelistic discourse, would remain amidst the shadows and specters of Plato and Marx. If one is to dive into a domain that is thus far untapped in terms of theoretical letters, the outcome should entail not an eclipsing of Plato or Marx; rather, a ferociously quenched thirst as concerns drinking from such water in a hitherto scorched exodus is our Plotinian modus operandi. Dialectical relations now acquire the very measure of taking the known to a level that seeks no longer to occasionally recall or acknowledge but to novelize its historical aura:[56] such is the Plotinian school of narratological being and non-being, or the novelistic undertaking of Dasein, which “attempts to think across the void of non-being and being and seeks to conceptualize the transition from the former to the latter without giving up and dismissing the problem.”[57] His project is to comprehend, in a word, how nothing begets something. Of course, even our most well-developed medical language will still mask that Aurelian reality of conception; but Plotinus is uninterested in that which is readily knowable, even if it pertains the generative principle and all its shrouded masks in time. His proto-existential prosody is thus parallel to the theorist’s: one knows, technically, how a text was written: it likely involved at least a hand, a grass blade, and a leaf. We also know what most likely transpired between one’s parents in order for one to come into concept-being. But this is all surface-level in light of the One, which invites a permanent intellectual rigor that is the chiseling down and refining concept-being and concept-time.

But for Cole, Plotinus’s identity and difference come second to hypostases.[58] Movement and stability – like Hegel’s Geist, or novelistic construction – indicates a development that is fathomed through conceptual history without ever being apprehended (outside of aesthetic-epiphanic insight, which is in turn methodological revelation). The moment of aesthetic intuition cannot be understood until the subject has reached a place of reflexive exile, temporarily removed from the preordained. This may well come about in a public setting – but it will not be understood by the general public. Moving from historical patterns, it latches onto the identity and difference of a Subject: suddenly Augustus, from the typological point of view, is split in half: Augustus is on the one hand a man well-known by generally unknown men. On the other, medieval theology renders him a typological casting in the divine, dramatic brutalities of Christological ebb and flow. For a moment no one is pointing fingers but rather existing. This aura of transcendence is the Plotinian intuition behind both the composition of a text and its continuation in the public sphere. Notice I did not say “second life”, or “after life”; rather, let us consider the text from a musical point of view: the words, just like a song with or without them itself, stays with us after it has been completed. The totality of the aesthetic object is no longer conceptually a dialectical matter of identity and difference, but has always been; for even before Plotinus, it was on the way to Plotinus. There may well be traces in the pre-Socratics, or the Sophists for the matter; but we cannot compare the Plotinian system to the Platonic or Aristotelian in the same way that we cannot compare the critic to the author or the musician to the listener. Pluralism discounts individuation, thereby cavalierly advocating an abstract utopianism; for we cannot say that the guitar-listener and the guitar-player approach the sound of a guitar the same way, as we cannot compare a marathon runner to one daydreaming of a treadmill.[59]

Plotinus’s pre-formulaic to the later Hegelian Absolute Concept is thus abstraction for-itself, in order to eclipse itself by rendering the reader a living system designed to successfully move narratological structure to the next level, engage the reader in an enlightenment for-himself without grander, delusive hopes, and thus invariably eclipse dialectical reason:

Thought brings unity to the dissimilar similars or, if one can bear that tautology, thought is the unity in which dissimilar similars are thought. What unifies all of these oppositions is the soul, but, as we see with Hegel’s absolute, these contradictions never disappear and remain in place as the mystic, the phenomenological observer, rangers from difference to difference.[60]

It is furthermore worth noting that this Heideggerian business of “dissimilar similarities” is taken from Meister Eckhart, who took it from Pseudo-Dionysius, who is for Cole next in the Plotinian line of negative theology and dialogical critique on the way to Theory. Again, I make note of this because one who is proclaiming that our issue begins with Heidegger is in a position far different from that of coming to a collective sense of excitement, anticipatory revelation, the living mythic form that cultural beginnings take on. Were it this way, we could entertain the idea of a Kantian prolegomena on the way to Heidegger who would in turn help us form Felski’s propaedeutic, hoist up three or four intellectual figures as politicized sentinels, and proceed. But the fact that the opposite is the case is all but Koselleckian,[61] which indeed Felski agrees upon.

We might note, for instance, that in Hegelian philosophy culmination is the byproduct of a progressive unfolding rather than situational incidentality, or cumulative rather than abrupt. But what is curious, as Halfwassen notes,[62] is not just the Plotinian parallels in Hegelian terminology, but the fact that Hegel perpetually turns to the ancients in laying the groundwork for his positive eschatology; and in this sense Hegel’s task is similar to ours.[63] This is a matter of at last recognizing the theoretical current’s inability to come to concrete terms with first some things, and then anything(s)-in-itself, as it was for Hegel’s contemporaries’ ill-fated entanglement with rationalistic and transcendental-critical discourse comingled with an inability to return to metaphysical apprehensions of totality and infinity.[64] He turned to Plotinus – as do we, in the spirit of Cole’s Hegel – because “Plotinus was the first to comprehend nous as the fulfillment and the encompassing totality of Being.”[65]

Plotinus as a brilliant prefiguration of Hegelian metaphysics; but also, suggests Halfwassen, an alternative. For both Hegel and Plotinus, for instance,

Thought is not the act of a subject that initially exists only for itself, which relates to an object that is separated from it and merely stands in opposition to it, so that it must remain inconceivable how it can relate to itself in this relation. Such a view drawn from the model of sense-perception remains fundamentally inappropriate for the self-relational Thought. Pure Thought does not originally orient itself towards a separate object, but rather towards the unity of noetic Being. This is the One-Being, which in its self-unfolding returns to itself and which in itself already is thinking self-relation. Thought, for that reason, recognizes itself as Thought in the grasping of the unity of Ideas – i.e. it recognizes itself as pure Thought of itself. Nous does not stand in opposition to the Ideas, then, as a subject which is different from them, but rather it is identical with the idea-filled Being as the all-unity meditating itself to itself.[66]

For Plotinus the Intellect is not the Absolute in that it is not the One which is beyond the limits of thought, as “Plotinus knows that the self-relation of Thought in ineluctable to all thinking; consequently even in thinking the Absolute it cannot be objectively circumvented”; they meet on the Intellect and part on the Absolute, their “ultimate horizon of unity discovered precisely in the self-relation of Thought.”[67]

The Well-Spun Broken Record: Theory of Purgatorial Holzwege

It could very well be argued that criticism is indeed temporarily hopeless. But I, and I believe Plotinus, would argue that there is a more damning factor than the poverty of spirit within academic culture itself; and it is that were academic texts of or on literary theory (or cultural theory for that matter) to vanish overnight, readers and beings more generally would suddenly find themselves nearer to the prospect of an open theoretical discourse. That what is needed now is an empirical wave of authentic literary-fictional genius to sweep out decades of stale, pseudo-political ideas; Plotinus did this in inviting anyone to his discourses treating them as equals (Benedict would mirror this in time, hence laying the groundwork for monastic, and thus academic culture). Nancy cites Diderot to this effect, “that can be read as the program of Kantianism: ‘When does one see the birth of critics and grammarians? Just after the century of divine productions and genius.’ The critical grammarian poses the question of the production of the oeuvre to come: he is attached to the (literary) work as if to something he himself has lost.”[68] Taken from this point of view, it is fitting that Harman moves from Kant forward,[69] to Heidegger as it were, although a shame that he does not utilize the most fitting Heideggerian term for his ideas in Holzwege, or, “ways that lead nowhere.”

I now turn to three interrelated excerpts from Graham Harman’s “The Well-Wrought Broken Hammer: Object-Oriented Literary Criticism”: “It is my view that philosophy should not be the handmaiden of any other discipline, whether it be theology, leftist politics, or brain science… Often it is better to be surprised by what others do with our work, rather than command those adaptations like a bossy partygoer selecting the music in all other homes.[70] If philosophy is the handmaiden of literary theory, we must first unpack how this has come to pass, and this is rather simple: Homer begets Aristotle, rendering philosophy something of, as Gomez-Davila observed,[71] a literary genre. At the same time I actually agree with Harman, especially on the grounds of legitimate aesthetic theory succumbing to politics, the latter of which are at this point in time nothing more than incessant, technologically-sexualized propaganda that persons bear with them in their pockets around the clock.

But while the idea that brain surgeons have set a leash upon philosophy is more imagistic rhetoricity than anything else, it does strike one as odd that Harman is upset with theology’s intermingling with philosophy. Do not the two overlap par-excellence, historically and conceptually? Our two great poles of justification are that there is either meaning (God) or no meaning (no God). It is of course regularly recycled that there is plenty of meaning without God; but from the Plotinian point of view this is just untrue, and from the logical point of view to expect a philosophy without theology nearby is equally absurd. We are seeking not dissolvement or moving from theological geography to mere objects. What we as dialecticians are seeking is the heuristic structure of unbalanced balance, codified in linguistic symbology and rectified in the sound and vision of imaginative structure. Dostoevsky also holds court in this regard, between the twin pillars of anthropology and historiography: that without God, anything goes. This is true, but not true enough; for it would seem that with or without a Great Architect chaos reigns. The object of literal warring violence recedes for a moment in time; and therein psychological havoc begins; Plotinus, Hegel, literature, the theory of literature see this and also see right through into the dialogical and dialogical arena that is a lightness in the gravity of time, or text-being, being-texts, words made flesh.

It is therefore presciently symbolic that Harman sees philosophy as a handmaiden in these three realms and yet decides to plunge right in, like a child allergic to chroline en route to the pool. It is furthermore reminiscent of Deleuze and Guatarri in their “Postulates of Linguistics” suggesting doses rather than totality, this then reminiscent of Plotinian observations on intellectual proximity and illumination: “Knowledge is a kind of longing for the absent, and like the discovery made by a seeker. But that which is absolutely different remains itself by itself, and seeks nothing about itself; but that which explicates itself must be many.”[72] Doses of insight toward a reckoning of static literary studies thus, preliminarily, long for what is absent. Just what is absent will depend upon whomsoever one asks. But the nucleus of such collective replies would entail the desired, and it would be desired not because it is past but because it is good. Let us then consider the Thomistic aesthetic: that which being seen, pleases; such is the good. One seeks this. But an object or objects cannot however seek themselves and remain by themselves in the opposite of consciousness just as a seaman’s monkey island is well and good, but one does not care to draw attention to it when its ship’s floor has had holes shot out all through it.

This situational element of Harman’s argument furthermore suffers from his initial call for ideological segregation instantaneously rendered null by the author’s thereafter-admission of regularly collaborating with other genres, and then proceeding to do so in the article. By considering collaborative inquiry as philosophical handmaindenry, Harman loses sight of a prospective modus operandi on the minds of at least some literary-theoretical practitioners, which is the aforementioned concept of philosophy as a literary genre. His bringing the founder of phenomenology into the Kantian mix and alluding to the root of all theoretical activity but refraining from explaining just why seems to one a weak ambiguity that makes sense if we consider that dialectics is at the Plotinian heart of literary theory, and not objects; namely, again, the dialectic of identity and difference.

The very meditation of critique has life breathed into it at the sign of difference. This is the negation and totality of signification: that difference gives way to the aforementioned Jamesonian prospect of injecting a little more hermeneutic Gnosticism into Bloom’s vision of canonical misreading. The critic who hoists a strained flag while scoffing at the metaphysical advocate raises a point, but not the one that one thinks: rather than display an eclipse of ghosted binaries one is at last announcing to the world one’s absolute poverty of the structure of historical knowledge. One is photographing oneself at the voting booth with a toothy smile, later wondering why nothing ever changes, doubting everything except one’s method while the Marx of “Estranged Labour” is fuming in his casket. But the image of self-restraint and illusory barbarisms are more according to Proclus palate, and we will not join Cole in moving from Plotinus to Proclus. Let us therefore at least re-echo his prescient remarks in terms of comprehending Theory, in moving from Plotinus, “who effectively moves dialectic from rhetoric, logic, and dialogue to ontology, metaphysics, cosmology, and theology, to Proclus who systematizes dialectic of this precise sort and codifies the centrality of identity/difference to dialectic.”[73] We must render unto dogma’s what is dogma’s, theory’s unto theory’s: the prolegomena is also the postscript: “Estranged Labor” to Hegel, and backward to Plotinus. Let the scholars embark on such a critique of technological feudalism, political religion, manufactured subculture, and Numerical Beings in this light: here you will at last have the authentic way forward.

Forward into Authenticity and Theophany

Eric D. Perl takes a step forward in the dialectical history of literarily mystical narrative, moving – as does Cole, albeit briefly – to Pseudo-Dionysius. Taking Pseudo-Dionysius into account by means of a Hegelian reflection, Perl writes that “Self-consciousness epitomizes identity/difference because it recalls the very ancient problem of being and not-being to which Plotinus and those after him applied these logical terms to good effect: as Hegel puts it, self-consciousness is ‘aware that it at once is, and is not, another consciousness.’”[74] Whereas Plotinus lays a linguistic groundwork with identity and difference, Hegel engages opposed consciousnesses in either recognition of the other or in lifeless separation, or indifference (Gleichgultigkeit). This “vanishing magnitude” is in concrete correlation with the technological history of letters, and Benjaminian isolation: from the monastic blossoms of heaven and ashes of hell to feudalism, vice-versa, to unending religious slaughter and industrial acceleration, to the age of psychological genocide and Numerical Beings, the literary cognition that traverses through this world-spirit is relegated by author and not-author, artist and not-artist, composer and listener. But in this transformative repetition difference-itself is bound to linger, broken up by confrontation with the recurring Kantian prospect of worm-eaten dogma that is most recently, and persistently, identity in object-accumulation; or as Cole puts it, “the definition of identity in possession”,[75] and the prescient treasure trove of re-foundational prospects present within the corpus of Hegelian feudalism[76] that has its genesis and structure in Plotinian methodologies:

Plotinus understood what I think is a fundamental point for theory – namely, he knew that his dialectical expositions required a particular kind of prose that enables the very thought of figures as concepts, concepts as figures. In this respect, as we will see, Plotinus both anticipates Hegel’s own phenomenological style and, more importantly, supplies us with a fresh perspective on what makes anti-dialectical philosophies, such as we find in Deleuze and Guatarri, dialectical in an elementary way.[77]

If we return to reconsider now Harman’s Heideggerian musings we again find fractals of sub-argumentation that, like his thesis, would be less questionable had they a formal understanding of Hegel engrained therein. For Harman’s discrepancies entailing specific, recent aspects of a dialogical issues in fact go back much further than nineteenth or twentieth-century schools of thought, or even Kant for that matter. It is a historiographical process that has been taken to Hegel by Habib and Nuzzo, but most critically by Andrew Cole in his Birth of Theory, where Cole locates literary theory’s foundation or culmination with Hegel; but begins the process with Plotinus. Between Hegel and Plotinus there is a wealth of literary dialectical history; but for the time being I would like to question if the issues considered in our readings go back farther than is assumed, or laid out; and if so, that it is so seldom assumed because novelistic discourse did not become itself until the time of Cervantes that we believe the dialectical process of identity and difference that is literary theory began with what is called fiction. Consider what Plotinus has to say in the third century in conjunction with what Harman situates no later than Kant, perhaps substituting ‘existents’ for ‘tools’:

Dialectic works with things as they are – existents, as it were, its materials – following a method by which it possesses, together with the statement about them, the objects themselves. Dialectic knows error and sophism only indirectly: discerning another’s error to be alien to the truths within itself, thus recognizing what is advanced as counter to the canon of truth.[78]

We must therefore reconceptualize what Harman cannot manage, which is an authentic severance from the proclaimed vanity-of-vanity; and again, Plotinus works perfectly as our guide in this literarily-philosophical matter. Such a schematic is laid out in John Cooper’s Pursuits of Wisdom, which parallels between the critic’s task and Plotinus’s idea(s); how Plotinus moves from Plato; how Plotinus moves from the stoics; how, hence, his dialectical departure from either traditional School allows him to conceptualize the intellectual self at a distance that parallels that which is necessary in order to engage in theory; Schopenhauer example applied to the theorist: the realm of all talk and exchange as opposed to living and inventing – but further, the hostile complementariness that is akin warring factions that beget peace time, or the chaos of Forms inherent in a formulating work of art en route to the handed-over product of-itself; Plotinus does not linger on the differences with Aristotle and Socrates but transcends them:

Our life, Plotinus thinks, lies exclusively in activities of pure intellectual thinking that we, all of us, engage in all the time, most of us without even realizing it; our task is to become as self-conscious as possible of this activity, and to constantly focus our minds upon it (something we can, in principle, do even while, qua embodied animals, living an embodied life… That, for Plotinus, is the human good and human happiness. Philosophy’s task – one that only philosophy can perform – is to make us truly alive, and to keep us alive, in that self-consciously intellectual way.[79]

But naturally the literary artist sees through the totality of this veneer while sympathizing with its vitality. For even the closest contact to a revolutionary insight remains slated for historical demolition whilst in the limbo of signification, and otherwise composed in a torturous prose that persons do not have the time for (and not because they are unintelligent, but because they must survive). Harman and Felski fail to realize the linguistic subjectivity that the literary tradition makes its berated subject. This is why, I believe, Felski’s conclusion concerning emotional approaches to seminars is both deflating and inevitable: she ends where she begins, in the realm conceptual progression, “digging for buried truths.”[80] But – whose truths? For this concept, while fine in passing, entails ‘truths’ that even the author of a text does not know. If its illogical reality is part of a jest, it is precisely this sort of non-humor that ages unwell, narcotized by irony. Buried truth certainly concerns all of the non-critic, or non-scholar, but also critics and scholars; if one writes a book, and another says that “Author reveals in this symbol a prescient truth concerning the nature of technological transformation of the collective conscious”, but the author was in fact writing about a literal doorbell, i.e. “I recall writing that. It is a doorbell; the character was at the other character’s doorstep, and it seemed like the next logical move was to ring the like doorbell. That this doorbell is also a surveillance camera is so because I simply know people who have such a thing, and this character does too.” Felski explicates that the problem is one of perception. Plotinus suffered from this as well.[81] Her concerns, like Harman’s, are not ontological; they are institutional.[82]

We can laugh off the notion of a human soul; yet from even the Heideggerian point of view this glorification of raw materials is nothing more than the sputtering end of a productionist metaphysics. One does not need to elevate objects or matter in order to replenish a theory of letters; one rather needs to comprehend the recurring ambiguity of this process that is its hermeneutic and etymological blueprint. Thus while Plotinus broke away from the tradition of cyclical commentary that continues to this day, he was able to retain a dialectical focus on the linguistic and conceptual history of the soul of souls, the text-soul and concept-thinking soul, or becoming-soul of a soul’s innermost soul, so that one – student, reader, thinker, writer – might “center upon the great triad of basic Substances postulated by Platonist metaphysical theory (they are Platonism’s divine Trinity, rival to the Christian one): the One, Intellect, and Soul.”[83] Thus, in Deleuze, Benjamin, Latour, and Felski we see this everlasting reference to detective work; but never is the precise sort of detective undergone, which I believe is threefold: historiographical, theological, and philosophical. If the conceptual detective work is not rigorously engaged in either of these three foundational movements in the dialectic of novelistic discourse, the surface-level connotation inherent in the recycled analogy goes beyond obvious and into the realm of makeshift ambiguity. Concrete instances, such as Wittgenstein’s leisure reading and Jameson’s book on Raymond Chandler, offer an actually stimulating insight into the realm of dialogical detectiveness; but otherwise the analogy must in time appear little more delusive, e.g. persons convinced they are engaged in detective work when the outcome of said work is predetermined, and thus titular illogical in its proximity to a dissatisfying byproduct of the contemporaneous self, or Numerical Being’s, inability to probe Mystery rather than mystery, in the realm of Platonic Forms that is, ultimately, the text. It is therefore no coincidence that the theorists who consider themselves engaged in detective work are a far cry from the recaptured aura of Cole’s Birth of Theory, that line traced backward from Hegel to Plotinus. This neglect of Plotinian, or Platonic principles, is less a rejection of ancient philosophy than it is the nucleus f literary cognition. For let us recall that “Platonists claim that the natures themselves are not there to be learned about by any use, however extensive and effective, of our senses and memories and making projections from the past to the future, from data we might collect about things or properties of those natures.”[84]

The coming and going of that-which-constitutes converging with that-which-destroys is for Plotinus the object of conceptual history.[85] Linguistic subjectivity, again, is enhanced by survival instincts in order to diagnose pro and contra as pertains to flux and debris, or tier and reality. But to end at human investment is to end at the beginning and is the object of literary theory at its worst, or a perfect combination of predictability and a confederacy of charlatans. The world situation (in the Hegelian or Shakespearian sense world-spirit, or world-stage) must recognize itself as a perceptual totality rather than totality, a skylight far beneath the sky. For if there was nothing substantive to theory’s subject matter, what worked for Doblin or Proust would suffuse the supermarket fantasias of King and Koontz. There would be academic philosophy alone rather than academic philosophy beneath philosophy-itself (Magee #), and the school of theory would organically move from Derrida and Joyce to Actor Network Theory and the Twilight series. And it is within the very linguistic assumptions that prevent this from happening that Plotinus was himself concerned with, vindicating ontological illumination within having to worry what was coming next or whether his method was sufficient, or how the body (text) can possess a soul (literary cognition) that takes on bodily aspects (Bloomsday):

Plotinus’s ingenious solution is to suppose that in animating human beings (as well as other animals) Soul provides a special sort of “illumination” in their bodies (Plotinus constantly expresses his views here in heavily metaphorical language). Soul casts a certain “image” of itself (another metaphor) into the bodies of these living things. It is this image or illumination in the body which, taken together with the body, constitutes it as a “living being” (ζῷον). This image is animal consciousness (including perceptual and desiring and emotional consciousness). The living being itself, constituted by this consciousness in that body, possesses the powers of sensation, physical desire, and emotional reaction, all of which have both bodily and conscious components, and it does so because of the soul-image animating and “illuminating” it, and so, making it conscious. The point we need to notice is that Plotinus, by attributing the powers of sense perception and sensory memory, bodily desire, and emotion to this soul-image, can avoid having to think of Soul itself as directly providing or ground these activities, ones that are so evidently alien, and contrary, to its own nature. Soul itself, and therefore all particular souls, being purely spiritual, thinking, “intelligible” entities could not possibly be “affected” by anything bodily, as this soul-image is, when it activates all these powers. However, it is not difficult to conceive of an image of Soul, just because as an “image” it is darker and more obscure, and somewhat deformed, as something mingled in precisely such ways with the body that it animates. We can suppose (even if we do not fully understand it) that this image can make us conscious with these sorts of bodily consciousness.[86]

Perhaps a second key to understanding the poverty of theoretical criticism is expounded in another Plotinian note by Cooper, in that, “One can engage fully and successfully in those operations experimentation, theory construction, medical and atomic-physical research) without thinking or knowing anything about the natures of things (in the sense in which a nature is, on Platonist theory, something abstract and completely nonbodily).”[87] We see here that Latour and Felski’s uncoincidental notes on conspiracy theorists begin to take form in a new light. Latour is against conspiracy theorists not because of their methodology, but because it is the same method of inquiry as his. Felski remarks the same thing. Such is, in a word, the unspeakable crisis of our times: that we do not so much authentically lament historical tragedies but rather the fact that the subjugated remained so even in contemporaneous essence, and that we cannot admit that we are not against evil but rather that we cannot yet inflict it ourselves by willpower of digitality and euphemism alone.[88] The former slave loses his chains but must acquire a call to absolute mental enslavement, and in this poetical-linguistic regard Adorno was wrong: it is not inhuman to write poetry after death camps; no, what is inhuman is a culture whereby the word “Nazi” becomes so common it loses its value, hence its life, and thus is given the subterranean sphere to regroup. Likewise, collective linguistic disintegration reveals that its society’s plebeian chanters would in fact love nothing more than a regime of their own beliefs, becoming that which they claim to despise, and this adds fuel tothe unsung fire that is conservative distrust of such Orwellian groupthink. In half a century theoretical liberalism has culminated not in a joyous, Summer of the Love-of-the-soul, but its utopian freedom has actually stayed well put in that the etymology of utopia takes us to literally nothing.

Peripatetic Rocks

Such are the stakes today including when Felski or Harman the problem is neither the country, what is called literature, nor theory; but rather that neither would be willing to ever move beyond specifically set boundaries in their lamentations for the precise reason that purgatory is for Dante never rendered an infernal – or paradisal – turn. What is at stake in this purgatorial moment is not purposely getting in trouble or offending persons, as Auerbach’s poet of the secular world did not condemn persons to purgatory for the sake of shock-value; what is at stake is the actualization of destroying the sphere of intellectual stagnation in order to eclipse at the same time its opposite,  destruction,[89] but for the sake of a return to aesthetic-anarchical pilgrimage. For the limit of critique is the hermeneutic facticity of itself: that its adherents are too comfortable to shake things up (I find this absolutely pragmatic, as the end of this talk will make clear). That there is, in the end, nothing around the corner, despite the daily foreboding and promise of revolution on one hand and liberation on the other, neither of which arrive. We lift our eyes from Plotinus and Hegel and find Harman’s toolbox is charming but offers nothing beyond lukewarm of theories of a fictionality that is out of his league. He thus pales in comparison to his task at hand not by virtue of working in a sense akin to a hypothetical light-hearted ancestor of Heidegger and Kant, but by even bothering to announce he is working from this mutual shadow; Kant and Heidegger are too close to the present in their working in a post-Swiftian framework, and furthermore have in the last analysis nothing new to tell us about the Homeric tradition in which philosophy is conceived. Kant and Heidegger were not there for the earliest stages of theory and work in a way whereby literality is incidental; Kant’s Critique of Judgment is a great book, but fragments say nothing to us about our technological feudalism, manufactured subcultures, and the linguistic subjectivity of Numerical Being.[90] How, then, could a Plotinus possibly do so?

Having considered the article and text in a Plotinian light, let us conclude with the answer to this question, which simultaneously considers why either of the contemporary theories or theory we have weighed and found wanting: were either Harman’s article or Felski’s book to vanish tomorrow literary cognition would go on unchanged. This is not a harsh judgement on either writer, in whom I see traces of good ideas. But until they understand, like Cole, that identity and difference takes us backward as the only, invaluable way forward, nothing can possibly bear the brunt of spectacular technological assault we now experience around the clock. This is not linguistic trickery: the historiography of dialectical letters is single chance one has to maximize the impact of a redeemed studies of literature and the cognition of the literary work of art.

An important topic does not beget an important text; temporality does not indicate illumination but fragmentary channels. I do not, like the 1950s Chicago School Aristotelians, claim that we must go back to one author in order to proceed; rather, I say that Theory’s usual suspects are less than a fraction of philosophy-altogether. One must turn to Plotinus if one is going to comprehend the conceptual history of theoretical letters; and while I advocate staying there for a sufficient amount of time, it is for the greater sake of climbing the ladder of ascent to Hegel, in whom we can seriously begin to fathom the ontological depths of letters and their future. The rest is circular verbiage in so far as variations on the same themes are concerned, rather than an epistemology of the Concept; we are trapped in the Agambenian pre-god stage of mere language, or incidental action-names.[91] For “if we ask what we, the subjects of our consciousness – that is, the object of our self-consciousness – in fact are (what this thing is that is active in our being consciousness of ourselves being conscious of objects), Plotinus’s answer is that it is our intellect. Indeed, it is because of and from out intellect, through its “image”, that we have the rest of our consciousness, what he calls “lower” consciousness, at all.”[92] Lower indeed.

I near the end of this Plotinian wager with an analogy. In his Creation and Anarchy, Agamben theatrically and haughtily dismisses the Petrarchan moment as a cultural memory of midframe faith in aesthetic development that begets what shall in time become the Kantian realm,[93] disregarding its implosive conceptualization of time and imaginative space, heuristically transmitted into the poetics of Petrarchan simultaneity and temporality.[94] Agamben here is so far off the mark that one wonders if this is an egregious translational blunder; if the same writer with insights coming through on each preceding and descending page could in truth fly from historiographical erudition when it comes to Petrarch’s Augustinian moment and what it signals to forthcoming modes of insight, it is a testament to basketed eggs. One coming from the school of Dantean-poetical reflexology wonders if Agamben is flippant. Here, however, is the thing: were we to stick to the old method, I would hypothesize for some pages why Agamben is wrong, what it means to his argument, and perhaps reference an acclaimed article that establishes the Petrarchan moment and works out the kinks of indexical differentiation into something of a canonical scholarly note. But I have advocated in these pages on behalf of a new method that is so radical it is the stuff of kitchen table discourse: working through Andrew Cole’s thesis on the Hegelian foundations of literary theory and going right to the beginning, or to the ever-present origin. And thus in keeping with this spirit while concluding our talk on Plotinus with a contemporary critique of Agamben’s Petrarch, I present to the reader a philosopher off of the beaten track, in Jean Gebser, enclosed as an Appendix. Gebser is himself fond of Plotinus, and hitherto completely neglected by the school of literary theory. When we have compared Agamben’s abrupt dismissal with Gebser’s conceptual erudition, we will begin to better understand the Plotinian totality and infinity of the dialectical-dialogical One through historiography, en route to Hegel’s Geist.

For many moons persons have said, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ But now it is broke, and one must fix it. It does not matter whether Harman’s Heideggerian toolbox suffices or if Felski has another rhetorical device about conspiracy theorists. What matters is that the object-oriented venture coincides with the worn-out conspiratorial jab: both of these epistemological networks necessitate a poverty of invention whose condemned foundation incubates within a manufactured subculture void of literary or philosophical invention. Like Ashbery’s cathedral, these are not ways forward but ideas that are slated for demolition. Either one must undergo an archaeology of the toolbox if one or the other is to comprehend legitimate technologies of critique. The text is desirable because it is identical with reading, and reading is loved because it is identity and difference within the rhizomatic sphere of mute perception, both microscopic and a little larger than the entire universe. The scholar possesses a thing that pleases when one is immersed in the totality of immersion and resurrection of the One; then we can understand, like Cole, why wisdom was born not in Rome but on her scorched, heinous, abhorred outskirts, by they who rejected everything and thereby gained all, whereby to know literature is to know oneself, as the above is below, and the past is what transpires next, the event on the way Dasein, that “in self-ignorance, we are ugly.”

There is also, in theory, the Plotinian specter of literarily leading by philosophical-dialogical example.

Appendix I

Concept of the Concept: Plotinian-Deleuzian Pedagogy for the Question of Digitality and Being-Death

I once saw a book in which it was maintained that

embryos look upon birth much as we do upon death

Could any death be as horrible as birth?[95]

Samuel Butler

            If the process of life has long enabled age to see with severe clarity the folly of younger generations, today one must look down from technological heights with excruciating perturbation. It appears that all of a sudden there is no time to concentrate, or that – rather – the means of our daily lives (the sexual technology Foucault noted) lend themselves to the annihilation of concentration, which is the lifeblood of aesthetic, intellectual fulfillment. This is the place of understanding one must come from – with or without mercy – in understanding today the younger generation’s automated willingness to breeze over psychanalysis and psychological schools more generally; for today there is a pill for everything, and whether or not one is on pills a good deal of that which was once deemed taboo is today either expected, accepted, or enforced. But I would like to make a twofold point here in the name of psychoanalytic understanding from an outsider’s point of view: first, that if we are ever going to understand the totality of psychoanalytic practice as an historical event in letters we must be willing to see its ecclesiastical aspects, both linguistic, confessional, complicatedly self-evident and liberating; second, this essence is found in the way that one can return to Lacan in a sense that his descendants seem to miss the mark on. Touching on the theme of the above paper, I would say that this is more than the-original-as-authentic; for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest may well be a better film than Kesey’s novel; and works on Kant may well be more desirable than the man’s books themselves. I mention this because the reader who is perhaps looking for a new method in proceeding who is reading Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition may well hit a speed bump when the author veers into Freud. But we must understand Freud less as a fraud[96] or an unread, dissolving household name, but as a key figure in the secular priestly tradition. We must understand psychoanalysis as a revolutionary expansion upon the ecclesiastical office, one that was willing to confront essences that perhaps Scripture never accounted for (One who truly knows despair shall know it by undergoing crises for which even the Bible itself has nothing to say). It is at this point that we can better understand the potentiality in a return to the earliest centuries of formulating-Christian thought, Gnostic texts, and of course, Plotinus; for Plotinus is a secular figure and philosophical master in whom we in addition to literary-dialectical traces find ourselves “the other side” of the Faith. For it is true, indeed, that the original is inimitable insofar as it is itself; but consider how seldom one reading Freud’s chapter in Interpretation where Hartmann is mentioned,[97] who never thought to go and retrieve that 800-page treatise directly fashioned in the improbable synthesis of Hegel and Schopenhauer (improbable when considering the polar opposite these philosophers underwent in life).[98] It is from this text I would therefore like to turn our attention before moving into a word on a Deleuzian pedagogy for the twenty-first century, as Hartmann that is forerunner to Freud, the nucleus of that ecclesiastical-linguistic movement named psychanalysis (that again we must understand in its proper religious-historical place prior to any other familiar or unfamiliar place):

Appendix II: Concept-Gnosticism, Alienation, Typology

            The history of dogmas teaches one not that dogmatic procession grows and degenerates like any other living thing, which is obvious, but also that with the fused advent of sexual technology and irreligious scientism dogma did not dissolve from the public specter but deeper into its subconscious than it could, literally, comprehend. Technology ensured an acceleration in alterative, linguistic ambiguity; but it also engrained dogmatic empiricism far deeper than Quine’s philosophical brackets[99] and straight onto whatever was left of the kitchen table. And I believe that we who should be working together shall remain at contrived odds so long as we fail to see precisely what Foucault did what he could to shine a glaring, contradictory light on: feigned freedom as ontic enslavement, or subjugation in the form of a ceaseless, meaningless propaganda (today in such a full swing it is almost impossible to imagine it getting worse). But what do I mean by ‘working together’? Surely this is not some utopian rallying cry – no, it is not; I have thus read critically into history from both ends of the ideological spectrum, and thus expect nothing higher than a whimsically prolonged diversion of catastrophe. Our first order of business is for now our last in that the most Foucauldian thing acolytes can do is this: stop imitating him and pick up where he left off. Retrieve thy library card, thou heathen, and pick up Pagels’s The Gnostic Paul; Kolish’s Medieval Foundations of the Western Intellectual Tradition; Plotinus; Eric Voegelin; Georges Sorel; Ficino. The list was originally much longer and filled with notes. But in essence we can abandon the past; though let it be known this indicates less enlightenment or progress than theoretical ruin, the breakdown of once-living bones. It was written somewhere, once, Know thyself. One cannot probe for whom reality is a glance-unto-absolute-judgment; such is infantility. One ought to have a page reading “Foucault’s Vol 4” in one hand, and Bryan Magee’s Hegel & the Hermetic Tradition in the other.

Appendix III: The Specter of Thomism

            If we may take the briefest of interrelated detours, I would like to make a note in correlation to conversations I have recently had, discussions heard and papers given, at recent conferences concerning aesthetics and literature. In a word, the sentiment is Thomistic: the nature of reason within a person inclines one to the good.[100] That is to say, that by elucidating one’s conceptual reason or general philosophy of reason we may fairly judge whether this person inclines to the good. Before we can object on grounds of subjectivity let us recall that a text must adhere to reasonable protocol even in the case of its insides being out of joint (in a similar vein a person seriously ill may put on a good outfit and go to work). To make my case, a person may well take a crack at Finnegans Wake in the same English course they take up Conrad. Criticism, then, is predicated on a radical good; it proclaims – correctly – at its best that society has got it wrong, and that there is more to the text than authorial tactics and aim. Published, a work is now a matter of public discourse, and these two parties as one proceed to work in aspects of the good, guided by methodologies of reason.

Now, it is unreason to pursue an unworking thing to a theoretically better end. One cannot ride a bicycle without wheels no matter the revered frame. This is Theory now; Aquinas nails liars to the wall; theoretical logic surmounts political (temporal) emotion.

Appendix IV

            In the above we had briefly considered Agamben, an author for whom there may well be a place as concerns an extended prolegomena for any future Plotinian study in theory. But for the time being I would like to include Jean Gebser’s remarks on Petrarch, and his Augustinian vision that I find so oddly lacking in Agamben’s otherwise richly dialogical text. Gebser, I believe, can here alongside point us in a twofold direction, one of content and context; for I agree not just with what he writes but how he writes it, which indicates a care for the contemplative self, or perceptive apparatus, that I find disrupted in the contemporary-temporal discourse of letters. Gebser writes [seminar turns to print-outs of Jean Gebser’s The Ever-Present Origin, 12-16.


[1] “Pseudo-Dionysius prescribes negation in order to make visible the contradictions that must than be thought through, and overcome in the contemplative ascent, only after which point language, words, and figuration fall away, and conceptualization takes over.” Birth of Theory, 44.

[2] Perl, 33. “To pass from appearance to what is appearing, from being to God, is not to pass from one thing to another thing. Rather, since God is not another thing but the enfolding of all things, to go from beings to God is to gather the whole diverse content of reality together, and in so doing, since being necessarily involves multiplicity and distinction, to pass beyond being.” See also Enneads 6.9.11.42-43, and Perl, 95.

[3] Perl, 40.

[4] Cole, 42-6.

[5] Note from Heidegger Hermeneutics of Facticity. See also the “dissimilar similarities”, a Heideggerian concept taken up from the medieval dialectical phenomenology of Meister Eckhart, and dually noted by Cole, 45.

[6] Perl, 52.

[7] Perl, 55, e.g. “The fall of the soul from intellectuality to sensuality is, as it were, played out in the particular evil deeds we perform as a result of sensual desire, fear, and other passions: ‘[T]he sin of the soul can refer to two things, either to the course of the descent or to doing evil when the soul has arrived here below’ (Enneads 4.8.5.17-18). Moral evil, then, consists for Plotinus not in matter but in the soul’s failure to be fully intellectual, a failure which is an ontological diminution of the soul itself.”

[8] Perl, 59.

[9] Perl, 71.

[10] Enneads v. 5.8.3

[11] Perl, 74.

[12] This is unpacked at some length in Clark Butler’s Hegel’s Logic: Between Dialectics and History (Northwestern Univ. Press, 1996), viz. 140-43.

[13] Cole, 39; Perl, 67.

[14] See Deepa Majumdar’s Plotinus on the Appearance of Time and the World of Sense: A Pantomime (Routledge, 2016), 45.

[15] Majumdar, 169, 201.

[16] Part of M.A.R. Habib’s argument against Cole, which I take up below.

[17] Here a reference to O’Brien’s three compilated Plotinian hypostates is invaluable: Soul, Intellect, and the One, whence “Here, with a vengeance, ontology reposes upon personal introspection, cosmology is the extrapolation of psychology.” 90-108.

[18] Nicholas Banner, Philosophic Silence and the ‘One’ in Plotinus (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2018), 212.

[19] Kierkegaard as quoted in Georges Bataille’s Visions of Excess (Univ. of Minnesota, 1985), 178.

[20] Lucien Febvre, The Problem of Unbelief in the Sixteenth Century: The Religion of Rabelais (Harvard Univ. Press, 1982), 463.

[21] Five further sources had a hand in this reconsideration: Jean Gebser’s The Ever-Present Origin (Ohio Univ. Press, 1986); Deleuze’s Difference & Repetition (Columbia Univ. Press, 1995); Georges Sorel’s Reflections on Violence (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1999); Reinhart Koselleck’s The Practice of Conceptual History (Stanford Univ. Press, 2002); Jean-Luc Nancy’s Discourse of the Syncope (Stanford Univ. Press, 2008).

[22] Harman: “The well-wrought broken hammer: object-oriented literary criticism.” New literary history 43, no. 2 (2012): 183-203; Felski: The Limits of Critique. Univ. of Chicago Press, 2015.

[23] It appears Walter Benjamin and I have independently come to a parallel linguistic conclusion. One task of this discussion is my wager that today the theoretical “Real” sans aura is simply intricate misidentification. As Eric Voegelin observed in his masterful “On Hegel—A Study in Sorcery” (The Study of Time, pp. 418-451, Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg, 1972), at some point the Lacanian circus of Zizek and co. had to end; whether there was substance or not will be up to the excavators; but rather like Foucault on the ‘Summer of Love’, I believe I speak for many when I say I am ready – and equipped – for a new direction. Nonetheless, a brisk, compact read on Benjamin, aura, and the prospect of a twenty-first century theological theory is found in Michal Beth Dinkler’s Literary Theory and the New Testament (Yale Univ. Press, 2019), 85.

[24] Harman, 197.

[25] See Sorel’s “Letter to Daniel Halevy” in Reflections on Violence (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1999), 3-35; this idea is unpacked a little below.

[26] “Its sheer difficulty accentuated its allure to a certain kind of critic, convinced, akin to Burke commenting on the sublime, that the obscure is inherently more affecting and awe-inspiring than the clear. Indeed, there was often a fannish dimension to theory – evidenced in a cult of exclusiveness and intense attachment to charismatic figures.” Felski, 27.

[27] Unity of Philosophical Experience, 156-158. My reading of Cole was stimulated by this unlikely place in Gilson, less who-said-what-first than a method of literary reflection that moves from canonical clouds of unknowing to particle showers.

[28] “Those who seem furthest from wrongdoing turn out to be deeply implicated in the creation of social suffering.” Felski, 90.

[29] The Heideggerian approach to existence-as-perspective – textually, symbolically, both – is ineffective because it is not Heidegger who brings this development into being but Nietzsche (Gadamer, The Beginning of Knowledge, 31); and therefore it thus less a matter of what Nietzsche leads into, when that angularly acute, vertical descent has already been exhausted, leaving ripe the ancient grounds of pyramidal exegesis (Gebser, The Ever-Present Origin, 257) than what at the same time, novelistic discourse comprehends concerning “the horizon that one speaks of in the fusion of the horizons of interpretation is nothing that one ever reaches [directly in line with Plotinian thinking]… [that the] horizon of interpretation changes constantly, just as our visual horizon also varies with each step that we take” (Gadamer, The Beginning of Knowledge, 61). The idea of Heideggerian tools or objects, let alone “guerilla metaphysics”, is, first, a matter of faulty premises; but further, in the second analysis, let us cut to the chase: if the student or professor of literature is going to carve out a new direction in theory, there must be something of a call for a systematic training in Heidegger – not an idea or two molded into the linguistic subjectivity of an aggrieved proprietor, nor a minor text or two – but a call undertake Heidegger-qua-Heidegger before anyone even thinks of bringing such thought into the specter of novelistic discourse. Until then it shall appear as though ideas plucked out of the next purgatorial hat at random because this is what the matter boils down to when the non-philosopher seeks to dive into such extreme density, and equally when the philosopher makes the pallid mistake of kickstarting one’s technologies of critique from Kant forward without even so much as a Wolffian prolegomena to Homer. The direction, summarily, is predicated upon theoretical historiography in the philosophical development of what is called literary cognition. Anything less results in precisely what has transpired, is transpiring, and otherwise shall: an equatorial sphere, lukewarm, wrapped around the bursting, paralytic study of dialogical-hermeneutic facticity in neglect; temporality all the way ‘round.

[30] “[For] any being, to be is to be finite and unitary, and hence to be dependent on the unifying definition by which it is the one being that it is… Plotinus turns the One as the ground or source on which being depends, that by which all beings are beings.” Eric P. Perl, Theophany (SUNY Press, 200810), 10.

[31] Andrew Cole, The Birth of Theory (Princeton Univ. Press, 2014), 8.

[32] Plotinus differentiates between the participant and participated, whereby the “image” is rendered contradistinctive from archetype (Perl, 23); where by way of  “differentiated appearance of the cause (or text) …we may think of all things as the many different points on the circumference of a circle. If we imagine all the points moving toward the center, each along its own radius, the circle will become progressively smaller. When all the points meet at the center, the circle will ‘blink out’ altogether. That is the One: not anything, but the undifferentiated containment of things… What distinguishes each being from the others is also what distinguishes each being from the One.” Perl, 25.

[33] This work is not only foundational but ongoing, as in the case of W. Norris Clarke, S. J., viz., “At the root of all intellectual inquiry, including the metaphysical quest, is the radical dynamism of the human mind toward the fullness of being as true, what Bernard Lonergan calls ‘the unrestricted drive of the mind to know being, that is, all that there is to know about all that there is… Plotinus initiated a dramatic new turn in history, Platonic Ideas as well as Aristotelian forms: an utterly simple, infinite, concentrated fullness of perfection beyond all limitation even of intelligible form, from which flows out the whole universe by necessary emanation in successive descending levels, each constituted by a further limited participation in the perfection above it.” The One and the Many: A Contemporary Thomistic Metaphysics (Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 2015), 14-5, 156.

[34] Writing around the same time as Plotinus, I mention Iamblichus because he would be a most excellent figure in one looking to synchronically merge Roman Christianization into a reformulated vision of Theory. One might also in this regard trace a long clerical line right into the philosophical culmination of psychoanalysis. But for information on this other figure of late antiquity, see Theurgy and the Soul: The Neoplatonism of Iamblichus (Williamsburg: Angelico Press, 2014).

[35] See Bernard Lonergan’s Insight (Univ. of Toronto Press, 1992), cf. “The many gods give place to the many philosophies. The intellectualism of a Plato and an Aristotle is opposed by the atomism of a Leucippus and Democritus. Time divides the Old, the Middle, and the New Academies. The Lyceum deserts the fifty-odd unmoved philosophers of Aristotelian cosmology to settle down to empirical research. Philosophy itself becomes practical in the primarily ethical concern of Cynic and Cyrenaic, of Epicurean and Stoic, and the brilliant speculation of a Plotinus ends in the more effective oddities of a Proclus and Iamblichus.” 704.

[36] Inherent within my argument is that Zizek and Edelman have failed to reach the Real. More than a matter of being non-Plotinian, such authors become language animals rather than philosophical visionaries in their misappropriation of a latter-day misappropriation of the Plotinian Intellectual Principle. The very strata of their theoretical structures must, by law, summon a sense of deflation rather than concrete epiphanic insight. This is not a polemic but an argument offered in the spirit of Plotinus: these authors’ misappropriation of the Real has terrible linguistic consequences, not least of which is an ambiguous density that is truly, in the last analysis, hollow.

[37] See O’Brien, 94-8.

[38] “The positive turns out to be a temporary way station en route to the negative, whose sovereignty rousingly reaffirmed… the halo dropped by the poet has been picked up by the critic”, Felski, 128-34.

[39] Sells, 32-33.

[40] Sells, 33.

[41] Cole, The Birth of Theory, 9.

[42] Cole, 15.

[43] Cole, 17.

[44] To this end Romano strikes me as much more sophisticated, if not tenable voice crying in the theoretical wilderness. See his At the Heart of Reason (Northwestern Univ. Press, 2015), 13.

[45] “An appearance of a real thing is not the real thing itself, nor is it another real thing, but neither is it nothing.” Perl, 20.

[46] Michael A. Sells, The Mystical Language of Unsaying (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1994), 16-17.

[47] Sells, 21.

[48] Elmer O’Brien (ed.), The Essential Plotinus (Hackett, 1964), 122-3.

[49] O’Brien, 123.

[50] Cole, 24.

[51] Cole, 34.

[52] “In opposition to Aristotle, Plotinus understands matter, insofar as it is not form, as privation (2.4.16.3-5), the ontological deficiency of sensibles in relation to purely intelligible realities.” Perl, 54.

[53] Assmann, Aleida. “Memory, Individual.” The Oxford handbook of contextual political analysis 5 (2006): 210.

[54] Harman, 197.

[55] Sells, 23-25.

[56] Whereas Harman has conflated ‘allure’ with a genealogy of Benjaminesque aura (“In Husserl’s philosophy there is a further hybrid strife between sensual objects and their real qualities; it need not be discussed in this lecture, though I hold that this is the root of all theoretical activity in all domains… [I contend allure] is the key phenomenon of all the arts, literature included. Allure alludes to entities as they are, quite apart from any relations with or effects upon other entities in the world” (187). Husserlian allusions of allure may just bode unwell, then (and in the last analysis), as literature’s handmaiden. Allure is obvious is physicality in the realm of the senses; a theory of literature seeks surgical devices for metaphysical operations on readily available and seemingly impenetrable organs alike.

[57] Cole, 36.

[58] Cole, 39.

[59] Here a reference to O’Brien’s three compilated Plotinian hypostates is invaluable: Soul, Intellect, and the One, whence “Here, with a vengeance, ontology reposes upon personal introspection, cosmology is the extrapolation of psychology.” 90-108.

[60] Cole, 45.

[61] Felski obscurely references the text on 41. While Koselleckian conceptual history is synonymous with what we might call etymological archaeology, Felski does not realize the irony of her compressing such an enormous concept into a mere glance at etymology and how she therein intensified the very crisis she proclaims to probe: “Concealment and intensification are one and the same process.” Koselleck, Critique and Crisis (MIT Press, 1988), 127. Plotinus further illuminates the dire subjectivity in makeshift etymology: “etymologies are to be taken as anyone wishes… for even the light of the sun which it has in itself would perhaps escape our sense of sight if a more solid mass did not underlie it”. Enneads V (Loeb), 173-77.

[62] From Gersh (ed.): Plotinus’ Legacy: the Transformation of Platonism from the Renaissance to the Modern Era (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2020);Jens Halfwassen’s “Hegel’s Programmatic Recourse to the Ancient Philosophy of Intellect”, 217-229.

[63] Halfwassen, 217-220.

[64] Halfwassen, 218.

[65] Halfwassen, 219.

[66] Halfwassen, 224.

[67] Halfwassen, 227-8.

[68] Jean-Luc Nancy, The Discourse of the Syncope (Stanford Univ Press, 2008), 43.

[69] “The strange blindness of all those who have bound Kant to the pillory of literature lies in the fact that they have never taken into account the statements of Kant himself, who never ceased to complain of lacking literary talent. And it goes without saying that philosophers, for their part, have considered his declaration even less.” Nancy, 20.

[70] Harman, 183. No politic is good in that it is mortal and hence temporal and ulterior; but the most of odious of politics, despite its surface-level packaging, is that which is predicated upon the propaganda of moral superiority, as laid out by Nietzsche, e.g. “wherever the strength of a faith steps decisively into the foreground, we infer a certain weakness in its ability to demonstrate its truth, even the improbability of what it believes. We, too, do not deny that the belief “makes blessed,” but for that very reason we deny that the belief proves something—a strong belief which confers blessedness creates doubts about what it has faith in. It does not ground “truth.” It grounds a certain probability— delusion.” Genealogy of Morals (Oxford World Classics, 2008), 124, or 3.24. It is thus not that all apparent morals are feigned; but those explicitly so much fall even lower than an honest immorality.

[71] See Scholia to an Implicit Text (Colombia: Villegas Editores, 2013), I., 312. 

[72] Enneads V, 109.

[73] Cole, 49.

[74] Perl (Theophany, 54) is here citing Hegel’s Philosophy of History, 384. Unfortunately, the corona-virus has closed Walsh Library and I am unable to re-obtain Perl’s book through interlibrary-loan in order to revisit which edition and translation Perl is using. I have the Dover English translation, unabridged, and see similar albeit imprecise phraseology on its page 384. I have also combed other English translations available online but cannot find an edition with these exact words on any page 384. At the same time I have not removed this note altogether because the sentence excerpt is clearly in line with a Hegelian observation, and furthermore we may have Walsh Library up and running in time for me to re-receive the Perl text (This is the sole tidbit of information I do not have down in my voluminous notebooks, or approve to have misplaced).

[75] Cole, 81.

[76] Cole, 83.

[77] Cole, 155.

[78] Plotinus, Enneads [1] (Harvard: Loeb Classical Library, 1966), translated by A.H. Armstrong, 158-61.

[79] Cooper, 307.

[80] Felski, 33.

[81] But Plotinus had no time for such platitudes, which is to say that he understood the banality of irrelevant pondering. He goes further in equating the visible, or object-oriented, with a futility of mind; the Plotinian dialectical procedure is as severed from empirical dogmatism as is Wittgenstein when he remarks that “The world of the happy man is a different one from that of the unhappy man” (Tractatus 6.43). On his teaching method and life, see Pierre Hadot’s Plotinus, or the Simplicity of Vision (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1993), cf. 1-34, viz., “turning away from sensible things, philosophy is essentially a conversion, a violent uprooting from the alienation of unconsciousness…” the Plotinian inward turn mirrors that of the literary artist engaged in novelistic discourse several centuries down the line. See also Dominic J. O’Meara, Plotinus: An Introduction to the Enneads (Oxford Univ. Press, 2005), 1-11.

[82] “Our selves become bare centers of intellectual activity, through which we are, in fact, constantly in touch with the higher reality of true being” (Cooper, 318) – as is the text’s critique.

[83] Cooper, 319.

[84] Cooper, 319.

[85] Cooper, 325-6.

[86] Cooper, 332.

[87] Cooper, 338.

[88] This idea is less radical than it sounds; and while it came to me in my studies of contemporary propaganda, my research led me to Georges Sorel’s “Letter to Daniel Halevy” as well as Pascal’s 296th fragment in Pensées.

[89] Again one recalls the Deleuzian admonition of doses rather than totality; Malcolm Lowry’s voyage that never ends; Foucault’s demolition of moral propaganda; Schopenhauer’s laceration of the ‘Truth’ in order to apprehend the process in-itself.

[90] The history of this spirit is the history of religion, evidenced in The Fiery Brook: Selected Writings of Ludwig Feuerbach, “The moment it becomes the objection of narration, it ceases to be a miracle. It is therefore not without reason that people say that time betrays all secrets. Consequently, if a historical phenomenon were actually the manifestation or incarnation of the deity, then it must extinguish – and this alone would be its proof – all the lights of history, particularly church lights, as the sun puts out the stars and the day nocturnal lights, ” (Brooklyn: Verso, 57-58).

[91] The Sacrament of Language (Stanford Univ. Press, 2011), “the names of the gods are initially names of actions or brief events, Sondergotter who, through a long historico-linguistic process lost their relationship with the living vocabulary and, being more and more unintelligible, were transformed into proper names.” 45.

[92] Cooper, 339.

[93] I’ve included the Jean Gebser text in an appendix.

[94] Makkreel, Rudolf A. The Imagination and Interpretation of Kant: The Hermeneutic Import of the Critique of Judgment (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1990), 23-9. In a similar way, Kant’s synthesis of imagination employs an order recognition, reproduction, association, and apprehension. These aesthetic things, in the realm of teleological judgment, strike me as a far more reasonable place for the theorist to dive in rather than predetermining whether the line of focus is visible or invisible, under the bracket of one fleeting critical genre or another.

[95] The Way of All Flesh (Middlesex: Penguin Books Ltd., 1997), 432-33.

[96] See Frederick C. Crews’s Freud: The Making of an Illusion (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2017).

[97] “The idealists are far nearer the truth when they allege that [unprejudiced introspection, cultivated taste] is something lying beyond consciousness, antecedent to the conscious aesthetic judgment, consequently something a priori in respect of the latter…As our ear in the deepest tones does not hear a tone, but a droning noise, in the highest is aware no longer of a tone, but an acute pain, as our eye does not distinguish with a very feeble illumination, and is dazzled and destroyed by a brightness all too bright, without the adaptation of these organs being thereby defective, the purposive reflexes can also be looked for only within certain finite limits of the scale of stimulation, but these limits will themselves again by teleologically determined.” (Philosophy of the Unconscious, Routledge, 2010), i.270; iii.232.   Joachim Fischer’s “Nicolai Hartmann: A Crucial Figure in German Philosophical Anthropology—Without Belonging to the Paradigm.” The Philosophy of Nicolai Hartmann (2011): 85, 89-91.

[98] See Cartwright’s Historical dictionary of Schopenhauer’s philosophy (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016), 10.

[99] See Quine’s “Two Dogmas of Empiricism”, Can Theories be Refuted?, 41-64. Springer, Dordrecht, 1976.

[100] Thomas Aquinas, Treatise on Law (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 1996), 60.