Publication 7919

Gumbrecht H. U. (1996) Form without matter vs. form as event. MLN 111(3): 578–592. Fulltext at
Excerpt: The occasionally authoritative gestures of Niklas Luhmann’s writing may intimidate those who do not also perceive his gentle touches of irony. He seems to enjoy presenting obscure authors and counterintuitive arguments with so radical a lack of introductory scaffolding that readers may feel guilty about their own astonishment – and may, out of this feeling of guilt, begin to consume books and subscribe to arguments whose pertinence (or lack thereof) they are far from understanding. Although Luhmann is probably not its author, the short thematic presentation on the cover of Probleme der Form, a collection of essays dedicated to the fascination, in systems theory, 1 with the work of the British mathematician George Spencer Brown, is a good example of this production of authority by lack of insistence: “Von der Form der Unterscheidung zu sprechen, wie G. Spencer Brown es vorschlägt, löst den Formbegriff aus seinen Gegenüberstellungen zu Materie, Substanz 2 oder Inhalt. Er wird damit frei für einen Kalkül von Bezeichnungen, die in Abhängigkeit von Unterscheidungen getroffen werden und sich auf die Einschluß- und Ausschlußoperationen von Unterscheidungen hin beobachten lassen. Daraus läßt sich eine Theorie der einseitigen Verwendung von Zwei-Seiten-Formen gewinnen [.… ].” 3 It is perhaps of some anecdotal interest to mention here that such emphasis on discussing the form-concept as detached from notions of “matter” and “substance” (which had been coupled to it ever since Aristotle) resonates with a structurally similar remark in the entry “Form” from the fifth volume of the New Catholic Encyclopedia, published in 1967, during the heyday of Western neomarxism: “In recent philosophy the term form rarely occurs and the issues concerning the relationships between form and matter are no longer argued, the term matter being generally used without reference to form.”

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