ARC: CONCEPT WORK
Strife-Withering of Critique

Strife: Withering of Critique
The task at hand is to pursue inquiry and reflection opened up by categories and topics so as to identify candidate elements for inclusion in an ethos of the contemporary. Within the category of the withering of critique there are an unknown (but certainly large) number of such topics. Given that the category encompasses a large ensemble of phenomena whose content and contours are currently unknown, specification of individual topics is a mandatory first step in order to facilitate future inquiry and casuistry. Such specification entails the putting into operation the series diagnosis-analysis-inquiry as well as second-order observation of the products and ramifications of such an operation.
Here the topic to be taken up is strife. The task at hand can be posed as follows: What are the narrative genres deployed (in the recent past and currently) to write about strife; in what mode are images of strife with critical intent produced today (and in the recent past); how is form taken up as a problem so as to inter-relate such writing and imaging? The working hypothesis is that this problem space—of how to render strife visible (and sayable)—operates differently in a contemporary mode than it did in a modern one. Today, it appears that uncertainty is a more trenchant variable than is determinations, that restive recalcitrance better captures the modes of subjectivation than do ironic heroism, etc.
As a device to underscore the challenge of how to approach the topic of strife (taken up under the category of withering of critique), we employ two German words—Streitschrift and Streitbild. As terms are composed of words+concepts+referents the challenge is to delineate and reflect on a preliminary analysis of candidate concepts and referents.
Streit=strife
Why translate the German word Streit as “strife” and not “struggle”? Although there are a range of reasons for this decision, the main one here is that it helps to open attention to the concepts and referents engaged by one word or the other. Thus, the word and the term struggle have been used for two centuries now predominantly either as a political concept or as a psychological one or as the mutual inter-relations of these two scales. Today, it seems to us that struggle has become a tired trope, ultimately a term of critique that contributes to the withering of its potency (and its virtuality). Attempting to remediate the term struggle would entail breaking down the term into its component parts; replacing the older concept and referents, modifying them, or at least defending them in innovative ways given their history and changed current conditions. That work would likely constitute a fruitless task given (among other things) the affective fields in which the term arose and has long since been historically integrated.
Contrastively, an advantage of the topic strife is that it disrupts the taken for granted modernist semantics of struggle. By so doing it brings to light the need for careful inspection of the components of this and other such common topics and terms thereby opening up the space for reconsideration of critical and veridicational discourse. Said differently, such disruption makes it possible to identify instances in which other terms and relations are at issue.
Thus, it is plausible to maintain that struggle arose, cohered and was taken for granted within an ethos of modernity given that ethos’ heroic mode of subjectivation (individual or collective) as well as its prior status as a key principle within philosophies of history during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The term’s very conditions of success are arguably now its conditions of waning. This claim does not exclude the possibility that situations best characterized as struggle can continue to occur. To establish a state of affairs as an instance, example or case of struggle, however, requires intellectual labor not gestures of self-evidence. It is a working hypothesis here that such labor into the current practices and discursive uses of struggle would benefit from focusing first on an analysis of its relationship internal to the force/power couplet rather than one that began by linking struggle immediately to politics.
Strife characterizes a situation, rather than a directionality of historical or individual action. Strife used as a topic opens the opportunity to explore its linkages with other topics. One such category (encompassing terms and topics) is sozein. Linking strife to sozein might well open a path to discovering a range of ethical considerations and practices embedded within situations taken up as ones of strife.
The use of the couple strife/sozein calls for a diagnostic response: what type and intensity of strife is at hand? The diagnostic move opens up a range of intensifications or diminutions of the situational dynamics, of discordance, of secession, etc. The range and scale of care, repair and protection is highly variable and remains to be explored. Ultimately, as an element in a contemporary ethos, strife might well enable a replacement or modification of relations assumed to be antagonistic ones with an understanding that takes them up as agonistic ones. Conversely relations taken to be harmonious might well be seen to be characterized by unrecognized dynamics of strife.