Sacrifice on the altar of history: mediation and the corrosive teleology of rationalized efficiency

Sutherland, Thomas (2015) Sacrifice on the altar of history: mediation and the corrosive teleology of rationalized efficiency. In: Reason Plus Enjoyment, 10 -14 July 2015, University of New South Wales.

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Item Type:Conference or Workshop contribution (Paper)
Item Status:Live Archive


‘If we consider the mass of individual happenings,’ writes G.W.F. Hegel, ‘history appears as an altar on which individuals and entire nations are immolated; we see all that is noblest and finest destroyed’. For Hegel, this ephemeral character of history is the concrete image of evil, the negation that drives the affirmative character of reason onward, submerging all particular ends within the universal end of history itself. In other words, the progress of the spirit of world history necessitates the tragic ruination of the past, and through this gradual and repeated sacrifice the universal principles of this process of mediation emerges. This image of history as a process of continual immolation in the name of a larger rational purpose, effectively representing the movement of history in the terms of a cosmic struggle between good and evil, preservation and destruction, is perfectly suited to a philosopher such as Hegel torn between the utopian hopes of Enlightenment progressivism and the intuitionist aesthetics of Romantic irrationalism.

What I wish to examine in this paper, however, is the way in which this account prefigures the normalization of so-called creative destruction in our present age, and in particular, the perceived necessity of sacrifice (of traditions, norms, institutions, and so on) in the name of efficiency as rational end. Looking specifically at the entropic nature of the digital archive, which operates not so much to preserve data as to ensure its continued circulation and regeneration (contra the negentropic design that motivated prior forms of archival), I will argue that we must pay more careful attention to the technical ephemerality of contemporary media, and the presupposition of an inherently rational and teleological end that motivates their presumed disposability. Given the extent to which history (as an object) is conditioned by the media with which it is recorded, do we risk sacrificing history itself to the ‘pragmatic’ exigencies of an ossified economic rationalism that strives to preserve little other than the perpetual need for its own recapitulation?

Keywords:continental philosophy, history, teleology, archival, sacrifice
Subjects:P Mass Communications and Documentation > P300 Media studies
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V500 Philosophy
Divisions:College of Arts > Lincoln School of Film & Media > Lincoln School of Film & Media (Media)
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ID Code:26933
Deposited On:10 Apr 2017 08:23

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