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Is the self a spook? Comrade 06/15/2020 (Mon) 04:21:57 No. 524
This has been my understanding for the longest time, not long after I really engaged with Stirner's works, after it was pointed out to me that the ego itself is a spook. This was reinforced by the fact that the old English translations of Stirner were poor and gave readers the impression that he was an egoist who advocated for egoism and cared only for the ego rather than the unique / creative nothing. Wolfi Landstreicher's translation of The Unique and Its Property redressed these historical failures somewhat, but the translation is only 3 years old. When I read Stirner's Critics (again Wolfi's translation), I felt vindicated on this by how Stirner seemed to coyly agree with his critics that the ego is "the spook of all spooks", yet disputed that he didn't mean this all along. After revisiting Stirner's Critics again, however, I find that Stirner always attributed "the spook of all spooks" in quotes and never seemed to explicitly agree, even though he describes the unique as an "empty phrase" and a name for what cannot be named. His first mention of "the spook of all spooks" is in a paragraph immediately recounting Moses Hess' critical review of Stirner's The Unique and Its Property, and seems to attribute this phrasing to Hess—though the paragraph break gives me a different impression, as if he is both attributing it to Hess and affirming the description of "the pale boaster". There was no need for that break and it was inconsistent with how he treated his summaries of Szeliga's and Feuerbach's critiques. Yet what Stirner then affirms about the unique is basically that it is an empty signifier, that it is a form without content, since you are the content. (Isn't that what a spook is, a form without content?) He then proceeds to describe the content of the unique, which is beyond the boundaries of language altogether. His clarifications in Stirner's Critics corroborates with his original work of describing the "self" as ultimately transient, contingent, ephemeral, and always created in the moment from the void of the creative nothing. This coheres with the conception of the unique as a nomination for identifying some ego-form for the creative nothing, and for this notion of "I" to be a mistake of misplaced concreteness about one's own reality. This seems to be the reading of Wolfi, as well, along with many of the other more intellectual Stirnerians, such as Castanea Dentata in Some Thoughts on the Creative Nothing and some of the unique ones I have met over the years; they seem to overwhelmingly conclude that Stirner's "egoism" was a polemical parody and that Stirner was never seriously an egoist, at least not in the usual sense of the word, having rejected in so many words the ego itself as just another phantasm of the mind. Yet Stirner attributes this notion of the ego as "the spook of all spooks" to Hess and never directly affirms this critique of the self. Even when the florid satire of the original work is toned down and Stirner speaks more directly in Stirner's Critics, he seems to be critiquing his critics by indirectly agreeing with their critiques of the unique and pointing to his original work as proof of that agreement. But I still meet "egoists" who idolize Stirner but vulgarize his critiques, as if they read Stirner through Ayn Rand, lauding selfishness while condemning any enlightenment of their self-interest. And it makes me wonder if this seemingly heterodox reading of Stirner attributes more to him than is due. Ultimately, I do not care so much whether Stirner believed the self / ego to be a spook. I do not need his endorsement to believe that myself. I would just like to think Stirner had that depth and self-critical capacity, and that his early critics were wrong to critique Stirner for believing that the ego itself was not slain by his own critique. If I am wrong, then so be it; I have then taken Stirner's own critique radically further than even he had. But I do not think I am. How do you read Stirner? Do you really think he was so naïve as to have been this vulnerable to immanent critique? Or was he just being his usual coy, circumlocutory self even on the spookiness of the self? Or do you even defend a reading of Stirner that affirms the self / ego as somehow not spooky?
Correction: The "spook of all spooks" phrase was attributed to Szeliga, not Hess, and was first used in his paragraph about Szeliga, as seen in the image. That explains the paragraph break, since it was meant to summarize the three summaries in respective order. I would edit my post to quietly correct this embarrassing mistake, but I forgot to set a password. Anyway, in my defense, it was a lapse on my part caused by being very tired and having just reread that section of Stirner's Critics while very tired. I thought I was noticing something I didn't before, which caused the initial confusion, but this error is ultimately beside the point because my main message remains.
i don't know about any of this kind of stuff, do I have to read anything before I read Stirner's stuff? is he readable
What does it mean for the self to be a spook? From what I remember, Stirner was very careful to make it obvious that he talks about the concrete individual and not individuals in general. But it's been years since I have read it and it was the old translation. Maybe it is time for me to read Wolfi's translation.
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>>526 Stirner is rather accessible so long as you remain cognizant of his irony and sarcasm throughout and remember to perhaps not take him literally at times even when you ought to take him seriously. While there is context that can enrich your understanding of Stirner and the milieu he was situated in, it is ultimately not necessary to understand the philosophy of his works. If anything, it is easier to understand him now than back then because Stirner has come to be known as a forerunner for much of the philosophy that developed in the 20th century and has transformed culture into the one you now live in, especially in the latter half and in postmodern philosophy, such as structuralism and post-structuralism and some of the radical nominalist / constructivist ideas which became in vogue. Basically, if you know who Jesus is, you have some vague familiarity with the fact that Stirner was a 19th-century writer who had some association with Hegelian thought, you're more than set. And even those are optional! If you want some context for him, though, Hegel and the Young Hegelians in particular, along with German idealism and the Enlightenment-era thinking more generally, is where to go. Given that these are some of the big thinkers of history and Hegel is basically one of the absolutely most difficult philosophers to read and understand in history (even though Hegel's writing style is surprisingly accessible), it is quite fortunate that understanding Stirner does not require this yet is enriched by it. I will note, however, that while Stirner is accessible in terms of reading and understanding his words without being burdened endless jargon and insular academic philosophical debates (he really cuts through all that), Stirner can be extremely difficult to really get by someone who is unwilling or unable to have some of their most sacred cows and ideological idols reduced to mere hallucinations of the mind. Stirner is also hard to understand if you naïvely take him at face value and lack the ability to read the smirk in his words (Just look at that smirk! He's having the time of his life!). Unlike many philosophers, or at least unlike the public perception of philosophers, Stirner is much more flippant and satirical in his language, to the point of stunning hyperbole. This is why I recommend what I did in my first sentence: if you don't, you can easily come away from a book like The Unique and its Property thinking that this man is an egotistic lunatic who literally considers you his property, believed everyone around him to be possessed by ghosts, views himself as the creator of all existence, and bases all his outrageously bold claims on absolutely nothing at all. The fact that the older English translations (not the Wolfi one I linked below) are not very good only exacerbates this. These peculiarities are principally because of Stirner's milieu, but also because his The Unique and Its Property is meant to be both a polemic against many of his contemporaries and the prevailing new philosophical movement of his time (Hegelianism) as well as a parody of Hegelian thought (despite having an implicit anti-/Hegelian character). While polemic is common in philosophy, especially philosophy from and after the Enlightenment; and even parody and satire are not uncommon, albeit less common, with Voltaire being a major Enlightenment thinker who used it; they tend to contrast with what one might expect from philosophical treatises, especially if you're new to philosophical literature, and they tend to be nowhere near as outrageous as Stirner takes it. The closest parallel I can draw here in philosophy would probably be over 2,000 years earlier, in ancient Greece, with the Sophist Gorgias of Leontini's lost work On Nothing as a satirical critique and response to Parmenides' On Nature, arguing that not only does nothing exist, but even if anything does, it is unknowable to us, and even if it is knowable to us it is incomprehensible to us, and even if it is comprehensible it is unable to be communicated, and even if it is communicable it is unable to be understood. In a sense, Stirner takes after that critical undercurrent in philosophy and so considering him in that context may avoid some of the more common pitfalls with reading his works. All this makes Stirner the more livelier a writer to read, though, which can make his work engaging even if difficult, even for the lay reader. So give it a shot, it's free to read on The Anarchist Library: The Unique and Its Property by Max Stirner (1845), trans. Wolfi Landstreicher (2017): https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/max-stirner-the-unique-and-its-property Stirner's Critics by Max Stirner (1845), trans Wolfi Landstreicher (2011?): https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/max-stirner-stirner-s-critics Stirner wrote other works, including on education (he was a teacher at a girl's gymnasium before resigning in anticipation of the controversy of his publications) and "philosophical reactionaries" among others. The two most relevant to post-left theory and philosophy (and radical nihilist philosophy generally), as well as the lasting philosophical legacy of Stirner, are the two linked above.
>>528 What it means, concretely, is that any attempts at reifying the self is itself an act of idealism because it is treating the idea of the self as more real than the body being described thus. When considering this in the context of subjectivity and identity, and in particular how the subject (and subjectivity) is the interpellation of ideology (see Althusser and Butler) and how identity is ideology in the subjective, it becomes much more clear how the self is a very spooky construct. Identifying your self as a spook, as ultimately an ego-form of the creative nothing that constrains the free creativity of that nothing, thus helps drive the point home in the deepest sense how all the ideas you have about who and what you are are all ultimately hallucinations of your mind. Taking this one step further, even your mind is itself a hallucination of the neuromachinery of your body, with consciousness itself being a user illusion generated as a simulation in the nervous systems of bodies with sufficient neurocomplexity (see eliminative materialism). Yes, Stirner it talking about bodies in spaces (I would even object to "individual", which is spooky), much like Foucault and Deleuze do over a century later, but even at an "individual" level the self is a spook. I am not talking about some general Self, but you, the subject you think you are. You are a spook. There is no "you", no "I", only creative nothings beyond the boundary of language, which are given the empty phrase "unique" to signify that they are utterly—and incomprehensibly—singular in all of existence and unable to ever be replicated or reproduced, even by itself. Like I said, I do not need Stirner's endorsement to argue this. I just like to think what I am saying here would not be new to him.
>>524 The way I understand it, a spook is, first and foremost, an abstraction. So the content of the spook is based on an imagined or percieved phenomenon. A spook without content, without fixed ideals can not exist. The self holds no contents that could be fixed at any point, for it is nothing. That means that the self is only identified by exactly NOT having any fixed parts, and therefore can not be abstracted. It's content is whatever the self makes of itself, but it doesn't have to have any goal in mind here, but can literally make itself into anything. Of course you can make a spook out of the self, by attributing (like you already mentioned) for example vulgar egoism to it as its inevitable content. The self is not an Randian egoist as in an egoist who only tries to knock down others for his own gain, but rather as in the act of relating everything to its will. And if the egoist, the self wants to sacrifice himself for other people, and wants to do so out of his own pleasure, not to serve a spook, he is still an egoist, cause he related the sacrifice to his own will instead of instead of morality. Not "I want to sacrifice myself cause it's the right thing" rather "I want to sacrifice myself for my sake, cause it fulfills my desire". The vulgar, spooked egoist adheres to the abstraction of egoism, and even if his lover is in peril, and his psyche is telling him that the loved ones life is worth sacrificing oneself for cause of what she/he means to him, he still obeyes the order of the spook called 'egoist' demanding him to save himself and let his lover die. For the abstraction of what egoism means, he gives away his actual self-fulfillment.
>>543 Some clarifications which may dispel the apparently cross purposes here: by "content" I mean material content, as in spooks are spectral forms that lack any material content, literal Ideas much like Plato conjured to subsume all the unique particularities of and around us; and by the self, I mean precisely this idea of the self, this abstraction, this fixed concept of who and what you are and how you understand yourself in identitarian, categorical terms which petrify you into yet another Being in the world (or Being-in-the-world) rather than yet another object ever in the process of Becoming. So the self is a spook because there is no fixed identity to which we can refer in describing the contents of "I", there is no identity to which we can affix the "I"; the self, the concrete creative nothing we call the unique, is a content without form because it is not an idea but a body in space, a body which itself is utterly unique beyond the confines of any formal model. This content is the creative nothing, a nothing that does not mean merely empty, but rather that from which everything springs — and so that which contains everything. There is no form for this content because this content is the content of all existence. Or, to put it in more Marxian terms: <The self is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality will have to adjust itself. We call the self the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence. Perhaps my largest problem with sustaining this "egoist" language of and about Stirner is that it fundamentally no longer works once both the ego and the ideology which is constructed therefrom (the -ist) have been exposed as spooks as well. For me, I am not an egoist because I am Stirnerian in my thinking. I reject the identity, the framework, altogether as insufficient to capture what it means to be a creative nothing and to seek to liberate that creative nothing from all that fetters it — to liberate me from all that fetters me. Indeed, such language constrains me as a creative nothing by limiting my ability to communicate myself except in terms which have been so thoroughly abused and maligned and enlisted for all manner of contemptuous ideological disease. As far as I am concerned, terms like "ego" and "egoist" and "property" are rhetorical holdovers from Stirner's parody of these very ideas. How I read Stirner, he had no interest in egos or egoisms or notions of property. These were all so many spooks. What mattered to him was that he was unique, the creative nothing from which everything springs, and his entire project was about coming to terms with this absolute debasement in a way that understood how the tyranny of everything, the war of all against all, shackles his free creativity and how to radically break free from this by abolishing everything and affirming his creative capacity to recreate everything anew — what Nietzsche would later call transvaluation, or the revaluation of all values. I understand what you are saying, and can appreciate how even an egoist framework can capture something resembling an enlightened self-interest devoid of any spectral selves, but I cannot help but halt at the fundamental contradiction between the language — the word — and what we are trying to say through it. It was this apparent internal contradiction that Stirner's critics had clung to in their critiques, yet all I see in Stirner's reply is the same smirk and satisfaction of knowing that these critics, the spooked specters that they are, were so daft as to believe Stirner did not already anticipate this and had not already implicitly addressed it in the language of his original work, moreover that these critics failed to grasp how radically deep the irony and parody had gone. They read a joke and thought the punchline proved it wasn't one, having forgotten what punchlines are. And so, when these critics failed to get Stirner the first time he punched them, he punched them again. What I read from this, and believe I learned from this, is that it was folly all along to believe him — and us — to be egoists at all. Because there is no ego, and his whole point was against the -ist.
>>547 What makes this creative nothing different from a self?
>>550 There is no phantasmic form of the creative nothing. Whereas the self can, if not necessarily must, be a spooky form without content; there is no possible conceptualization of the creative nothing as formless content which can generate a spook of itself. This is precisely because of the nature — or rather nomination — of the creative nothing itself. There can be misunderstandings of precisely what Stirner meant by the creative nothing, and attempts at reconsidering the creative nothing through revisions of theory, but by virtue of the creative nothing being the absolute debasement of existence situated beyond all boundaries of language — such that the Outside is its only home — and a non-conceptual description of a pre-conceptual embodiment that resists all attempts at comprehension, the creative nothing is the anti-spook of all anti-spooks; the desecrated individual, which none can chase from the self; the dark debaser. You are a spook; the creative nothing is you.
>>547 But how is every idea of the self a spook? To be a spook, the idea must spook (spucken), by that I mean the idea must somehow have a relation to my own will, either affirming or contradict it. If my self, as in my identity, is the idea I have of myself based on what my different properties are, it is not an ought-to-be, but a description. The description neither affirms nor contradicts what my individuality is supposed to be, it simply states what I hold. But I can let everything I hold go because my identity is not fixed. Do you think that every idea, every thought we make about the world is a spook? Because the way I understand it, Stirner took care to describe a spook as a certain type of geist (idea), which is different from just regular thoughts we make about the world, in that the spook has power over us because of the way we think/percieve it. But if I take the thought back as mine, cause I am it's originator, it has no power over me. Why wouldn't I be able to take the idea of my self back as mine?

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