Thursday, April 3, 2008

Romanticism and cynicism

We have allowed technical-rationalism and capitalism to degenerate our ideology until many people have just accepted that human development has come to a stand-still. Peter Sloterdijk chronicaled this degeneration in his remarkable book entitled Critique of Cynical Reason. In this book Sloterdijk illustrates how most comprehend, to a substantial degree, what he refers to, if I properly recall, as ‘enlightened false consciousness.’ But it is easy to forget that in the 19th century people still existed in a state of pre-cynicism. There was a time when utopia was a place still worth looking for. Here is part of a letter written by Shelley to his friend Elizabeth Hitchner in which he reminds her that even if perfection is not entirely attainable, it is something for which we should constantly strive. “You say that equality is unattainable: so, will I observe, is perfection; yet they both symbolize in their nature, they both demand that an unremitting tendency towards themselves should be made; and, the nearer society approaches towards this point the happier will it be. No one has yet been found resolute enough in dogmatizing to deny that Nature made man equal; that society has destroyed this equality is a truth not more incontrovertible. It is found that the vilest cottager is often happier than the proud lord of his manorial rights. It is fit that the most frightful passions of human nature should be let loose, by an unnatural compact of society, upon this unhappy aristocrat? Is he not to be pitied when by an hereditary possession of a fortune which if divided would have very different effects, he is as it were predestined to dissipation, ennui, self-reproach, and to crown the climax, a deathbed of despairing inutility? It is often found that the peasant’s life is embittered by the commissions of crime … (yet can we call it crime? certainly when we compare the seizure of a few shillings from the purse of a nobleman to preserve a beloved family from starving , to the destruction which the unrestrained propensities of this nobleman scatter around him, we may almost call it virtue). To what cause are we to refer this? The noble has too much, therefore he is wretched and wicked, the peasant has too little … Are not then the consequences the same from causes which nothing but equality can annihilate? and, altho’ you may consider equality as impossible, yet, admitting this a strenuous tendency towards it appears recommended by the consequent diminution of wickedness and misery which my system holds out … is this to be denied?”

No comments: