Professor Pop on Adorno and Horkheimer's "Dialectic of Enlightenment"
Yesterday, we heard Cappy Cahtah Kohenum's critique of Shakespeare for the latter's ideological defense of a hierarchical society in which rebellion gets punished by death, but we know -- if we've read all of Carter Kaplan's novel, Tally-Ho, Cornelius! -- that this same 'Cappy', Captain of a Corsair Crew of Rebel Angels (if I might capitalize on multiple allusions), may be an untrustworthy stand-in for that great rebel Satan. One of Cappy's confederates in 'crime', Professor Pop, speaks up today in defense of the Corsairs ('Coarse Airs'?) for their infiltration of the "Second Ether," that complex realm known as the multiverse that enables those who have entered it to achieve immortality. There's some riffing off of John Milton's views here on the sublimation of matter into spirit, I think, but I haven't figured that out entirely. Anyway, the first ether doesn't get mentioned in Kaplan's book, not that I recall, but I'm guessing that it refers to the supralunar realm of the Medieval cosmos. The "Second Ether" would be the realm beyond even that, outside the cosmos. Getting there requires rebellion in the name of freedom and reason, but there are some suspicions about the legitimacy of this rebellion that Professor Pop addresses in his critique of Adorno and Horkheimer's views in their article "Dialectic of Enlightenment." He calls their own views the Dialectic of Reactionary Closure:
The Dialectic of Reactionary Closure was designed to penetrate and subvert the very same reason that would allow species to evolve into forms which could enter the Second Ether. It varies from system to system, but the contours of the Dialectic and the way it takes hold of a species are the same. First, a tragic event is seized upon, and in describing the causes of that event the Dialectic of Reactionary Closure places blame squarely at the feet of Reason and freedom. Reason and freedom are made into a straw man, a villain. Reason is portrayed as instrumental and technocratic, as an overarching philosophy of history based on the notion of the domination of nature, and it argues that any civilization, impelled by the instinct of self-preservation, will destroy itself and the world through the technology that Reason allows beings to create. Although Reason overcomes the terrors of nature, the illusions of magic, and the deceptions of myth, the Dialectic of Reactionary Closure attributes to this same spirit of Reason a sort of technological barbarism that frightens entire civilizations and deceives them into rejecting the spirit of Reason in toto. (Kaplan, Tally-Ho, Cornelius!, page 149)The "tragic event" mentioned by Professor Pop is the Holocaust, of course, at least in this particular universe, but Pop's critique of Adorno and Horkheimer is self-interested, for the Corsairs' use of 'Reason' does appear to be entirely technocratic and instrumental, given their use of information technology to enter into the Second Ether. Moreover, Cappy the Corsair Captain reminds us (or me) of that exemplar of instrumental reason, Odysseus, a nobody who could step into the role of just about any somebody or other if necessary, just to survive. Here Cappy-Odysseus stands at the helm of a stolen airship, making his great escape on a 'celestial voyage' to rescue his Corsair Crew and re-enter the Second Ether. The 'gigantic' Reverend Dr. Cornelius, who has sort of been kidnapped, has just broken into the airplane's cockpit:
The Reverend Dr. Cornelius was startled by the scene. It was the pilot's chair strapped down and blocking the door, and there was Cappy standing on the cockpit floor with his feet braced against the wall and the center console, the oversize headset squeezing his ears, his back arched proudly, his chest thrust forward, one hand on the tiller at his side, the other grasping the control wheel -- the Reverend Dr. Cornelius was damned if his little friend didn't resemble some kind of miniature buccaneer! Then the lad turned to confirm the giant's progress was checked by the chair and cried, "Yo-ho! You better hold on, Padré. I've just been cleared to the active runway. Prepare for take-off!" (page 190)The Reverend Dr. Cornelius, having made a pact with the devilish Cappy, is in for more than he bargained for and may indeed be "damned" . . . but the book doesn't make this entirely clear, nor does the author, Carter Kaplan, fully show his own hand.
But that very ambiguity offers a puzzle to reflect upon, the sort of thing that keeps me preoccupied in this mortal universe . . .