- Itinerant SubiratsA cybercafé discussion
It is fitting that my first encounter with Eduardo Subirats came via e-mail. He is a globetrotting public intellectual committed to cautioning society about what he considers the nonpersonal forms of existence found in high-tech tyranny and in the culture of simulacra. Resulting from the crisis of modern reason, these developments gradually force us to lose our individuality and historical memory.
In El continente vacío: La conquista del Nuevo Mundo y la conciencia moderna, Subirats offers a new reading of the conquest of America. His study is not limited to finding the roots of Eurocentric reason but also examines its devastating effects. Subirats is also known for his discussions of aesthetics, in particular the theory of the avant-garde. Beyond an initial revolutionary and utopian agenda, he accuses the avant-garde movements of establishing strategies of dominance and dehumanization. Although the Frankfurt School—for example, Adorno and Marcuse—examined this aspect of modernist culture, Subirats demonstrates that the movements became structures of dry, empty, and totalitarian forms, as evidenced in Nazi and Communist European regimes. In La linterna mágica, Subirats addresses the clash between high tech and the human need for individuality. He argues that the citizens of the present live under siege in the glass towers characteristic of modernist architecture and that we have to contend with powerful media forces that render experience invisible by encapsulating reality in tight electronic containers. In equally interesting reflections on art, Subirats explores how this encapsulated environment shapes our aesthetic sense.
I engaged Subirats in this cybercafé dialogue from a myriad locations: Rio de Janeiro and Salvador de Bahia, Brazil; South Hadley, Massachusetts; Toledo, Spain; Miami; Mérida, Mexico; and Lima. The changes in scene helped expand the topics we discussed. [End Page 76]
What is the role of philosophy in Western culture? And what impact, if any, ought philosophers have in the media-driven global village?
I don’t know if what I am going to say about philosophy invalidates the second part of your question. I’m not a philosopher, nor do I believe that anybody ought to claim to be one today. Philosophy—is this a meaningful word? I don’t think the word philosophy has recovered a meaning after the Second World War. A word strongly tied to the metaphysical comprehension of being, to a universal understanding of scientific knowledge, and to a homogeneous and meaningful understanding of history. It has been repeated ad nauseam. Marx himself subverted the logos; the mystery of being became the trick of the exchange value of commodities. Nietzsche too mocked the myth of reason, pointing to its obscure origin in pietistic asceticism, in the perverse strategy of Christian culpability, and in the dream of redemption in worlds beyond. He called the phenomenon by its proper name: decadence, culture of decadence. On the other hand, Freud is responsible for a Copernican inversion of the philosophy of the subject.
I studied philosophy in Berlin under the tutelage of Klaus Heinrich. With him I learned to take a slanted view, which had been partially forwarded by Adorno and Horkheimer, of the reconstruction of the myths of the logos, of the history of religions subjacent to the history of scientific reason. I learned to deconstruct the problems of philosophy with an anarchist view in the history of art, in political iconography, in musical themes, and in the history of religions. We subverted the principle of identity, the mythic foundation of being. . . .
I cannot say what Western culture is or may be. The end of the twentieth century changed things around. On the one hand, there are Auschwitz and Hiroshima, the most important historical events of our time, no matter what learned denominations we currently use: postmodern, postindustrial, postcolonial, and so on. The Holocaust called off the discourse both of the Christian word and of the philosophical logos. Existentialism, the last philosophical movement in a traditional sense, also identified this failure, which has been reiterated many times under imperceptible variations. Albert Camus and Samuel Beckett formulated poetically the idea of the absurd. Lyotard expressed it too, with the air of...