Where is the abyss?

In the Critique of Judgment, Kant introduces his effort by describing the division – and seeming permanent logical separation — between the other critiques where he sees a “gulf.” Gulf is also translated as ‘Abgrund’ that is indicative of a gap as well as an abyss. In between them that may not be overcome. He notes a desire to “throw a bridge” over this gulf for fear of being left with an abyss. The translations of “gulf” or “abyss” cast different connotations. The Gulf of Mexico and the Sea of Cortez are too large for bridges but we know there is land surrounding both on three sides.

‘Abyss’ is a catch all for an unaddressed description topology and topography. Topologically, the edges do not coincide, and topographically the terrain plummets suddenly without a bottom. Does that rift have categories or attributes? It is a commonplace name for what we can’t possibly, by definition, see to its bottom, Is that concept a metaphor of an abyss itself, that fissure for which there is not a conceptual ground?

The concept of abyss is the inverse of a ridgeline, but where there is no corollary of the summit. Unlike the Continental Divide any abyss has not a pinnacle as a mirror. For example, the Black Canyon of western Colorado and the Gunnison River is almost characteristic of a fearful abyss, which is racked by rocks that are black, hard, narrow, and sharp. It seems bottomless, and too dangerous even to have confidence in a bridge. The transparent platform over a cliff in the Grand Canyon casts its tourist into an abyss with a seemingly minimum safety support.

The abyss isn’t dialectical even in the obscurity of ‘negative dialectics.’ Adorno, it seems, wants to avoid the abyss in favor of a choro or a chorograph. Like Kant, he wants to try to throw a bridge across the divide whether it is invisible or not. For Adorno, the bridge can be desired, but not built.

The permanent rumbling of unstable geology marks the abyss. Either side of its composition and loose structure will not collapse even if its collapse, subremption, or ‘aufhebung’ could make a bridge. However, the collapse of a bridge and the formation of the abyss are always immanent. Where is it? Is it only in thinking and writing? Or is it in an end to the tradition of geographic concepts as shown by Eldon’s line of argument? There is not an end to the cartographic making of maps? Does no ‘end’ mean that maps have no purpose to be made? Does this mean that maps will always be used no matter what their use, but their use is not neutral? Does it mean that an abyss is deposited everywhere in thinking and writing, and a bridge has not been thought and cannot be thought? Does it mean that the abyss between thought and building a bridge to the other side cannot be thought? Is there not a bridge but a liquid, flow, or river that leads somewhere else without a bridge? Because Derrida and Adorno are so persuasive on this issue, the answer to all these questions is “yes.”

Odor of Religion

From Karl Marx’s most hated quotation:

“Religion is the general theory of that world, its encyclopedic compendium, its logic in a popular form, its spiritualistic point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, its universal source of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence because the human essence has no true reality. The struggle against religion is therefore indirectly a fight against the world of which religion is the spiritual aroma.

Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and also the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of spiritless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

From Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law” Introduction “Speech for the altars and hearths” in Karl Marx Frederick Engels Collected Works, Volume 3, International Publishers, New York, 1975, page 175}

For Marx at this point, religion is a complement and consolation in reaction to history’s current configuration. Read carefully, the sentences state that religion is a means of expression and protest. It makes ‘spirit’ possible in a heartless and spiritless world. Second, a rhetorical relationship between aroma and opium is there. The aroma of religion is in the air. Religion has the aroma of opium. Now, is opium a narcotic or a pain killer? Using ‘opium,’ seems incongruous with the other ideas or just an ill-conceived choice of words to follow ‘aroma.’ The phrase “of the people” could be read as “for the people.” That might be more plausible depending on what the German phrase is, which I haven’t had time to consult. “For the people” might switch the valence from people accepting to be duped by religion to a veil cast by political and social institutions for the purpose of preventing people from learning the truth about their circumstances. The complex nature of religion is a way for people to find themselves along with real political and economic change or, even, revolution.

But what if Marx had not used the word “opium?” Would any other odor be less dismal or, instead, sacrosanct? What if the aroma of religion were gardenias, lilacs, onions, garlic, garbage, sewage, roses, pine trees, fresh bread, newly mown grass or hay, cilantro, dead fish, curry, oranges, or the Cedars of Lebanon? What about the Amorphophallus titanium at the climax of its rare blooming? What does any odor mask, at the altar, whether of incense, fresh flowers, or Christmas trees? Of course, the “rose” has a great deal of symbolic weight in the Bible and Christianity. But if Marx had written instead:

Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of spiritless conditions. It is the rose of the people. That seems to confound his meaning as well as that of the significance of the “rose” in Christianity. A rose can mask bad odors too. A rose aroma, associated with the thorns of the State, might have been more appropriate than the smell and effect of opium. A rose smell would have lulled people into a pleasant delirium of the senses too. Would then a ‘rose by another name’ smell as sweet?