January 26, 2010

Secondary sources and the anarch

"Secondary sources": this academic convention came to mind during recent discussions on Ernst Jünger. It seems that secondary sources have different meanings to different people. Why this is so relates directly to the anarchic quality in that person - or its absence.

In the common sense, secondary sources are external authorities commenting on the intellectual productions of the subject of one's own studies. The first person is thus the student, or commentator,  the second person the work or author studied, while the third person (the "secondary source") is another individual commenting on the work or author. I (first person) study Ernst Jünger (second person) and, as part of that study, I analyze what another (third person) said about him or his work.

It should now be obvious why my explanation of the all-too-obvious is not superfluous. As an anarch who takes his own authority and understanding as the only ultimately relevant one - and grants that right to every other individual -  I ask myself why the "secondary source" is not called a tertiary one, since that is the position of that participant in the process? This question reveals much about the  independence and being of many intellectuals and academics.

Contrary to appearances, many of them apparently undervalue themselves. For even as authors of an academic work (and thus the primary source who should make the ultimate judgments on the subject of the work), they often lose themselves (and are lost to the reader) in long and bulky comparisons of "secondary sources". The original face and intelligence of the author disappears here and he becomes a mere disc jockey of other people's intellectual efforts.

(The active first-person contribution to this kind of intellectual production is so minor and indirect that the author should really be designated anonymous - "there is no-one at home" in the work, no true ownership, all is borrowed. In these cases the secondary and tertiary sources take on their own collective life and a new academic work "just happens", without conscious direction. This sophisticated "cut and paste" process spins itself out into myriad abstract constellations in the academic world, so that new intellectual "creations" and discussions may contain absolutely nothing original and moreover have moved into total disconnection with any real world. If detached objectivity was the original motivation for this approach to ideas, it here degenerates into pure nonsense.)

An anarch never loses sight of himself and his own first-person reality to this degree. He strives to remember himself, keep himself at the center of the process. He is always his own primary source. The external work being studied - and in a broader sense, the whole outer world - is a secondary source, and others commenting on it are tertiary sources.

An anarch makes a conscious effort to always recall the second of Stirner's two commandments (as summarized by Jünger):
"Nothing is more important than I."
This does not mean he is a naive egotist. He does not disregard secondary sources, since "everything is my business, but Nothing is My business". As a pragmatist, he realizes that the world is filled with human insights which can be harvested, eaten and digested by him to form his own material.

But no external sources, not even such elevated ones as angels, gods or Nobel Prize winners, are necessarily valuable or sacred to him.

Above all, they are never more important to him than his own genuine self-won understanding of the matter at hand.

Because at the end of the day, what does the borrowed understanding of another mean if the first person subject does not understand and cannot therefore benefit from this understanding? What good does it do me if I fool the whole world into believing I understand something by remixing the words and ideas of others but get no real benefit from it myself? (The answer is that vanity provides its own illusionary reward. But an anarch prefers even a gram of real understanding to a ton of flashy illusion.)

As an aspiring anarch, I try to keep myself the primary source - even when I read Ernst Jünger. He would have wanted it no other way.

2 comments:

Jd said...

Well said; a point of criticism I will attempt to take to heart.

Karl Fraser said...

Not only you, JD. I too must remind myself of this when I read Juenger for example. I can easily make him my primary source in the anarch's sense - something he himself would not have approved of.