The Holy Family, Chapter VII

3) The Un-Critically Critical Mass Or “Criticism” and The “Berlin Couleur”

Critical Criticism has not succeeded in depicting itself as the essential opposite, and hence at the same time as the essential object, of the mass of humanity. Apart from the representatives of the obdurate Mass which reproaches Critical Criticism for its objectlessness and gives it to understand in the most courteous possible way that it has not yet gone through the process of its spiritual “moult” and must first of all acquire solid knowledge, there is the soft-hearted correspondent. He is no opposite at all, but then the actual reason for his approach to Critical Criticism is a purely personal one. As we can see a little further on in his letter, he really only wants to reconcile his devotion to Herr Arnold Ruge with his devotion to Herr Bruno Bauer. This attempt at reconciliation does credit to his kind heart, but it in no way constitutes an interest of a mass nature. Finally, the last correspondent to appear was no longer a real member of the Mass, he was only a catechumen of Critical Criticism.

In general, the Mass is an indefinite object, and therefore can neither carry out a definite action nor enter into a definite relationship. The Mass, as the object of Critical Criticism, has nothing in common with the real masses who, for their part, form among themselves oppositions of a pronounced mass nature. Critical Criticism’s mass is “made” by Criticism itself, as would be the case if a naturalist, instead of speaking of definite classes, contrasted the Class to himself.

Hence, in order to have an opposite of a really mass nature, Critical Criticism needs, besides this abstract Mass which is the figment of its own brain, a definite Mass that can be empirically demonstrated and not just conjured up. This Mass must see in Critical Criticism both its essence and the annihilation of its essence. It must wish to be Critical Criticism, non-Mass, without being able to. This Critically un-Critical Mass is the above-mentioned “Berlin Couleur”. The mass of humanity which is seriously concerned with Critical Criticism is confined to a Berlin Couleur.

The “Berlin Couleur”, the “essential object” of Critical Criticism, of which it is always thinking and which, Critical Criticism imagines, is always thinking of Critical Criticism, consists, as far as we know, of a few ci-devant [former] Young Hegelians in whom Critical Criticism claims to inspire partly a horror vacui [horror of emptiness] and partly a feeling of futility. We are not investigating the actual state of affairs, we rely on what Criticism says.

The Correspondence is mainly intended to expound at length to the public this world-historic relation of Criticism to the “Berlin Couleur”, to reveal its profound significance, to show why Criticism must necessarily be cruel towards this “Mass”, and finally to make it appear that the whole world is in fearful agitation over this opposition, expressing itself now in favour of, and then against the actions of Criticism. For example, Absolute Criticism writes to a correspondent who sides with the “Berlin Couleur":

“I have already heard things like that so often that I have made up my mind not to take any more notice of them.”

The world has no idea how often it has dealt with Critical things like that.

Let us now hear what a member of the Critical Mass reports on the Berlin Couleur:

“'If anyone recognises the Bauers'” (the Holy Family must always be recognised pêle-mêle) “began his answer [The reference is to the answer given by an adherent to the Berlin Couleur to one of the authors of the anonymous report “Aus der Provinz” published in the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung. Heft VI, May 1844]I am the one. But the Literatur-zeitung! Let us be quite fairl’ It was interesting for me to hear what one of those radicals, those clever men of anno 42, thought of you....”

The correspondent goes on to repckrt that the unfortunate man had all sorts of reproaches to make to the Literatur-Zeitung.

Herr Edgar’s short story, Die drei Biedermdnner he found lacking in polish and exaggerated. He could not understand that censorship is not so much a fight of man against man, an external fight, as an internal one. They do not take the trouble to bethink themselves and to replace the phrase the censor okects to by a cleverly expressed and thoroughly developed Critical thought. He found Herr Edgar’s essay on Béraud lacking in thoroughness. The Critical reporter thinks it was thorough. True he admitted himself: “I have not read Béraud’s book.” But he believes that Herr Edgar has succeeded, etc., and belief, we know, is bhss. “In general,” the Critical believer continues, “he” (the one from the Berlin Couleur) “is not at all satisfied with Herr Edgar’s works.” He also finds that “Proudhon is not dealt with thoroughly enough”. And here the reporter gives Herr Edgar a testimonial:

It is true(1?) “ that Iam acquainted with Proudhon. I know that Edgar’s presentation took the characteristic points from him and set them out clearly.”

The only reason why Herr Edgar’s excellent criticism of Proudhon is not liked, the reporter says, can only be that Herr Edgar does not fulminate against property. And just imagine it, the opponent finds Herr Edgar’s essay on the “Union ouvrière"’ unimportant. To console Herr Edgar the reporter says:

“Of course, it does not give anything independent, and these people have really gone back to Gruppe’s point of view, which, to be sure, they have always maintained. Criticism must give, give and give!

As though Criticism had not given quite new linguistic, historical, philosophical, economic, and juridical discoveriesl And it is so modest as to let itself be told that it has not given anything independent! Even our Critical correspondent gave mechanics something that it had not hitherto known when he made people go back to the same point of view which they had always maintained. It is clumsy to recall Gruppe’s point of view. In his pamphlet, which is otherwise miserable and not worth mentioning, Gruppe asked Herr Bruno what criticism he could give on speculative logic.[65] Herr Bruno referred him to future generations and —

“a fool is waiting for an answer”.
[H, Heine, Die Nordue, second cycle “Fragen"]

As God punished the unbelieving Pharaoh by hardening his heart and did not think him worthy of being enlightened, so the reporter assures us:

“They are therefore not at all worthy of seeing or knowing the contents of your Literatur-Zeitung.”

And instead of advising his friend Edgar to acquire thoughts and knowledge he gives him the following advice:

“Let Edgar get a bag of phrases and draw blindly out of it when he writes essays in future, in order to acquire a style in harmony with the public.”

Besides assurances of “a certain fury, ill-favour, emptiness, thoughtlessness, an inkling of something which they are not able to fathom, and a feeling of nullity” (all these epithets apply, of course, to the Berlin Couleur), eulogies like the following are made of the Holy Family:

“Lightness of treatment penetrating the matter, command of the categories, insight acquired by study, in a word, command of the Objects. He” (of the Berlin Coulcur) “takes an easy attitude to the thing, you make the thing easy.” Or: “Your criticism in the Literatur-Zeitung is pure, graphic and relevant.”

Finally it is stated:

“I have written it all to you at such length because I know that I shall give you pleasure by reporting the opinions of my friend. From this you can see that the Literatur-Zeitung is fulfilling its purpose.”

Its purpose is opposition to the Berlin Coulcur. Having just witnessed the Berlin Couleur’s polemic against Critical Criticism and the reproof it received for that polemic, we are now giuen a double picture of its efforts to obtain mercy from Critical Criticism.

One correspondent writes:

“My acquaintances in Berlin told me when I was there at the beginning of the year that you repel all and keep all at a distance; that you keep yourself to yourself and let nobody approach you, assiduously avoiding all intercourse. 1, of course, cannot tell which side is to blame.”

Absolute Criticism replies:

“Criticism does not form any party and will have no party of its own; it is solitary because it is engrossed in its” (!) “object and opposes itself to it. It isolates itself from everything.”

Critical Criticism thinks it rises above all dogmatic antitheses by substituting for the real antitheses the imaginary antithesis between itself and the world, between the Holy Ghost and the profane Mass. In the same way it thinks it rises above parties by falling below the party point of view, by counterposing itself as a party to the rest of mankind and concentrating all interest in the personality of Herr Bruno and Co. The truth of Criticism’s admission that it sits enthroned in the solitude of abstraction, that even when it seems to be occupied with some object it does not come out of its objectless solitude into a truly social relation to a real object, because its object is only the object of its imagination, only an imaginary object — the truth of this Critical admission is proved by the whole of our exposition. Equally correctly Criticism defines its abstraction as absolute abstraction, in the sense that “it isolates itself from everything”, and precisely this isolation of nothing from everything, from all thought., contemplation, etc., is absolute nonsense. Incidentally, the solitude which it achieves by isolating and abstracting itself from everything is no more free from the object from which it abstracts itself than Origen was from the genital organ that he isolated from himself.

Another correspondent begins by describing one of the members of the “Berlin Couleur”, whom he saw and spoke with, as “gloomy”, “depressed”, “no longer able to open his mouth” (although he was formerly always “ready with a quite impudent word”), and “despondent”. This member of the “Berlin Couleur” related the following to the correspondent, who in turn reported it to Criticism:

“He cannot grasp how people like you two, who formerly respected the principle of humanity, can behave in such an aloof, repelling, indeed arrogant manner.” He does not know “why there are some people who, it seems, Intentionally cause a split. Have we not all the same point of view? Do we not all pay homage to the extreme, to Criticism? Are we not all capable, if not of producing, at least of grasping and applying an extreme thought?” He “finds that this split is motivated by no other principle than egoism and arrogance”.

Then the correspondent puts in a good word:

“Have not at least some of our friends grasped Criticism, or perhaps the good will of Criticism .. ‘ut desint vires, tamen est laudanda voluntas’.[the strength may he lacking, but the will is praiseworthy]

Criticism replies with the following antitheses between itself and the Berlin Couleur:

“There are various standpoints on criticism.” The members of the Berlin Couleur “thought they had criticism in their pocket”, but Criticism “really knows and applies the force of criticism”, i.e., does not keep it in its pocket. For the former, criticism is pure form, whereas for Criticism, on the other hand, it is the “most substantial or rather the only substantial thing”. Just as Absolute Thought considers itself the whole of reality, so does Critical Criticism. That is why it sees no content outside itself and is therefore not the criticism of real objects existing outside the Critical subject; on the contrary, it makes the object, it is the Absolute Subject-Object. Further! “The former kind of criticism disposes of everything, of the investigation of things, by means of phrases. The latter isolates itself from everything by means of phrases.” The former is “clever in ignorance”, the latter is “learning”. The latter, at any rate, is not clever, it learns par ça, par là [here and there], but only in appearance, only in order to be able to fling what it has superficially learnt from the Mass back at the Mass in the form of a “catchword”, as wisdom that it itself has discovered, and to resolve it into the nonsense of Critical Criticism.

“For the former, words such as ‘extreme’, ‘proceed’, ‘not go far enough’ are of importance and highly revered categories; the latter investigates the standpoints and does not apply to them the measures of those abstract categories.”

The exclamations of Criticism No. 2 that it is no longer a question of politics, that philosophy is done away with, and its dismissal of social systems and developments by means of words like “fantastic”, “utopian”, etc. — what is all that if not a Critically revised version of “proceeding” and “not going far enough"? And are not its “measures”, such as “History”, “Criticism”, “summing up of objects”, “the old and the new”, “Criticism and Mass”, “investigation of standpoints” — in a. word, are not all its catch-words categorical measures and abstractly categorical ones at that! ?

“The former is theological, spiteful, envious, petty, presumptuous, the latter is the opposite of all that.”

After thus praising itself a dozen times in one breath and ascribing to itself all that the Berlin Couleur lacks, just as God is all that man is not, Criticism bears witness to itself that:

“It has achieved a clarity, a thirst for learning, a tranquillity in which it is unassailable and invincible.”

Hence it can “at the most treat” its opponent, the Berlin Couleur, “with Olympic laughter”. This laughter — it explains with its customary thoroughness what it is and what it is not — “this laughter is not arrogance”. By no means! It is the negation of the negation. It is “only the process that the Critic must apply in all ease and equanimity against a subordinate standpoint which thinks itself equal to him” (what conceit!). When the Critic laughs, therefore, he is applying a process! And “in all equanimity” he applies the process of laughter not against persons, but against a standpoint! Even laughter is a category which he applies and even must apply!

Extramundane Criticism is not an essential activity of the human subject who is real and therefore lives and suffers in present-day society, sharing in its pains and pleasures. The real individual is only an accidental feature, an earthly vessel of Critical Criticism, which reveals itself in it as eternal Substance. The subject is not the human individual’s criticism, but the non-human individual of Criticism. Criticism is not a manifestation of man, but man is an alienation of Criticism, and that is why the Critic lives completely outside society.

“Can the Critic live in the society which he criticises?”

It should be asked instead: Must he not live in that society? Must he not himself be a manifestation of the life of that society? Why does the Critic sell the products of his mind, for thereby he makes the worst law of present-day society his own law?

The Critic must not even dare to mix personally with society.”

That is why he creates for himself a Holy Family, just as the solitary God endeavours in the Holy Family to end his tedious isolation from society. If the Critic wants to free himself from bad society he must first of all free himself from his own society.

“Thus the Critic dispenses with all the pleasures of society, but its sufferings, too, stay remote from him. He knows neither friendship” (except that of Critical friends) “nor love” (except self-love) “but on the other hand calumny is powerless against him; nothing can offend him; no hatred, no envy can affect him; vexation and grief are feelings unknown to him.”

In short, the Critic is free from all human passions, he is a divine person; he can apply to himself the song of the nun.

I think not of a lover,
I think not of a spouse.
I think of God the Father
For he my life endows.
[From the German folk-song Die Nonne published in the book by F. K. Freiherr von Erlach, Die Volkstieder der Deutschen, Bd. IV]

Criticism cannot write a single passage without contradicting itself. Thus it tells us finally:

“The Philistinism that stones the Critic” (he has to be stoned by analogy with the Bible), “that misjudges him and ascribes impure motives to him” (ascribes impure motives to pure Criticism!) “in order to make him equal to itself” (the conceit of equality reproved above!), “is not laughed at by him, because it is not worth it, but is seen through and calmly rciezated to its own insignificant significance.”

Earlier the Critic had to apply the process of laughter to the “subordinate standpoint that thought itself equal to him”. Critical Critkism’s unclarity about its mode of procedure with the godless “Mass” seems almost to indicate an interior irritation, a sort of bile to which “feelings” are not “unknown”.

However, there should be no misunderstanding. Having waged·a Herculean struggle to free itself from the uncritical “profane Mass” and “everything”, Critical Criticism has at last succeeded in achieving its solitary, god-like, self-sufficient, absolute existence. If in its first pronouncement in this, its “new phase”, the old world of sinful feelings seems still to have some power over it, we shall now see Criticism find aesthetic relaxation and transfiguration in an “artistic form” and complete its penance so it can finally as a second triumphant Christ accomplish the Critical last judgment and after its victory over the dragon ascend calmly to heaven.