Odor of Absolute Knowledge

Absolute knowledge of the Hegelian model is elusive either because it either exceeds the grasp of thinking and history or is veiled from sight or smell.   That is, one can’t obtain Absolute Knowledge or wouldn’t recognize it if one did. What is the tell-tale sign of the trail of Absolute Knowledge after Hegel? In his impressive history of the interplay of theory and praxis, (Lobkowitz, Theory and Practice: The History of a Concept from Aristotle to Marx, 277) calls this the “opiate of Absolute Knowledge…”

He argues that Left Hegelians’ search for Absolute Knowledge yields a definition of practice as the exercise of self-consciousness to identify their own critical escape from religion and underscore the hope that one-day humanity may develop a critical consciousness.  Whether in publications or in solitary exercises of critical thought, while attending to signs of history manifesting Absolute Knowledge, they doubted efficacy of political engagement. Lobkowitz suggests that the atmosphere of this position is an opiate clouding better thinking about praxis.

Lobkowitz picks up Marx’s phrase to characterize the “Left Hegelians” predecessors of Marx. Chronologically in texts, the opiate of religion follows the “opiate of Absolute Knowledge” but both address religion as a barricade to social and historical development. In this case, the opiate applies to reliance on self-conscious critique or the rumblings of history. Salvation comes from humanities’ escape from religion. Even then “Spirit” lifts the veil and shows the way. Spirit’s vision must be manifested by being externalized in the consciousness and critique.

At the end of Hegel’s “Phenomenology,” the externalization of Spirit takes shape in movement from self-consciousness to time, space, and History. “Externalization” (A.V. Miller; trans. 492) is also “kenosis.” A brief search of definitions yields definitions including “emptying oneself” and “abasement” A Catholic definition is that In Christ’s “kenosis” “He freely subjected Himself to most of the pains resulting from bodily exertion and adverse external influences, e.g. fatigue, hunger, wounds, etc.….Besides, He could prevent their disturbing the actions of His soul and His peace of mind.” –(http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08617a.htm) If one were to imagine the most base result, that would give off some kind of odor.

Lobkowitz writes of the course of the Left Hegelians that until 1848 in “them the general politicization of thought had developed under the unlucky star of Absolute Knowledge.” (209) Leaving no stone unturned relevant to his criticism, he writes that these “cranks” amount to thirty persons at the most. (216). That Left Hegelians were under the shine for an unlucky star is another metaphor for their limited sense of politics and history. The star of Absolute Knowledge is unlucky, not a guiding star by which to navigate

In an unrelated but appealing connection here, Adorno exposes the popular version of finding unlucky stars through astrology. Astrology (T.Adorno, “Stars Down to Earth”) portrays itself as a key to understanding and predicting one’s place in the cosmos. When newspapers (or now other media) carry horoscopes, then, comfort and hope displace feelings of despair and hopelessness. Astrology is a sign of and vehicle of reification.

For Adorno, “occult” beliefs and practices – e.g. astrology – embody or spiritualize social and cultural domination and reification. The individual subjective search for meaning is surrendered to the stars and planets. Adorno writes that followers of occult beliefs find only the “offal of the phenomenal world” outside the configuration of time of birth, place of birth, and positions of the sun, moon, planets, stars, etc.; especially as given in “Christian Astrology” of 1647. (http://www.renaissanceastrology.com/horary.html ).  Adorno (174) uses the term “offal” to describe occult followers’ perception of worldly context. However, I don’t think it is farfetched to think that Adorno feels this way about occult practices themselves.

Offal means the organ parts of animals that are usually undesirable to eat (e.g. lungs, gizzards, livers, kidneys, feet, tongue, or brain) in spite of its appearance. In the U.S. lungs, chitterlings, pork rind, brains, and tongue are parts of the culinary scene. For example, my parents always wanted gizzards and livers from fried chicken. I met a Norwegian sea captain who left the delicacy of fresh salmon eyeballs for a tasty last bite. In Joyce’s Ulysses, Leopold Bloom walks through the city with a lamb’s kidney in his pocket. Needless, to say Romans found auspices in the entrails of birds. Like opium in the Communist Manifesto, the smell of offal might be the smell of sewage, roses, decay, desirable cuisine, or even the hope of further prosperity.

An individual’s taste affects what is offal and like opium. Offal has substance that becomes a stink. Whether offal or opium, the odor may be acceptable to some people in order to get some pleasure. Offal or opium exhibit their own form of thoughtful stimulants. In both cases, the critique of religion falls short of theory and praxis. Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived.” (Helen Keller)

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