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Tag Archives: Friedrich Nietzsche

“In a world full of violence, destruction and death, or “madness in every direction,” as Kerouac would have said, the subject becomes nothing but a projector of the evil within society.”
Cengiz Erdem

The Nihil Solipsist: a being that knows neither its own nothingness nor the dark self-cannibalizing force of all those others within; trapped within the introjected prison-house of an impure fear, bound to the cross of a symbolic gesture, tormented by the thought of its own paranoid-schizoid position this Nietzschean subject relishes the hunt as a repetition of the life-death drives it seeks to unleash at the hands of all those non-others within its own panopticon of deliriums. Cengiz Erdem in his essay The Nietzschean Subject tells us that the “paradoxical nature of the contemporary Nietzschean subject is a result of the turning of self into the other within in the process of becoming. The self of the present has not only become a prison-house of the others within itself but also it itself has become a self-contained monad with no relation to the outside and no awareness of the external world populated by the others’ selves.”

Erdem tells us that today everything has been reduced to the pure or impure exchange value of Capital; even the invention of subjectivity, which no longer touches the oldest of criteria: use value. Instead we have always already become a cog in the machine, a machinic subject, a zombified cogito serving the greater good of Capital itself. Like somnambulists in a dream matrix we have become the illusory beneficiaries of an inhuman thought:

“With societies based on exchange value the relationship between the subject and the object is confined in the paranoid-schizoid position. There remains no gap between the subject and the object when in fact there should be. Everything becomes a substitute for another thing and everything is substitutable. With the advance of global capitalism the subject itself becomes an object. The subject begins to act itself out as an object for the desire and consumption of the other. The subject becomes a substitute of itself.  With global capitalism the subject starts to feel itself as a machine; it becomes inorganic for itself when in fact it is essentially organic. In other words organs start to operate like non-organs, all organicity is replaced by inorganicity, life with death, and in this kind of a society everyone is always already dead.”

Consuming machines that we are we have been reduced to eating our own… shall I say it: shit! Instead of difference we have all become entrepreneurs of the self-same identity of Capital: trending our way to the avant-garde in our latest designer outfits we speak the local lingo like the good netizens we are, forging identities in a spurious masqueradism of conformity to the latest fashion boutique or philosophical blog, hip-hopping or rapping along to life’s happy nihilism like black metal fetishists apotropaically defending ourselves against the encrustations of an artificial slime world where the gods of filth and dionysian ecstasy infuse us with the abyss of the inhuman. Or, as Erdem defines it: “With the advance of global capitalism this herd-instinct can be said to have become nothing but a result of the exploitation of the life and death drives to reduce life to a struggle for and against life/death. The subject no longer has to carry the burden of being different. In this light and in this time we can see global capitalism creating not only the conditions of possibility for the subject to forget itself but also the conditions of impossibility for a remembrance of self, producing the non-knowledge of self as the counter-knowledge.”

Nietzsche‘s Ecce Homo has become for the new trend setters the glorious cookbook for ‘healthy living’, and all those pesky little ghosts of our forbears otherness has suddenly surprised us as the unmasking of our daily selves in the present. Erdem in a final colloquy relates that ”the the non-reason inherent in reason has become the reason itself, and yet the questions remain:

1. What can be learned from Nietzsche’s failure, which caused and continues to cause many other failures?

2. What are the conditions of possibility for a non-antagonistic and yet non-illusory relationship between the self and the other and how can they be sustained?

Those two questions could and should fill volumes, but being a small blog report upon the workings of such a fine mind we can only hope that Cengiz Erdem will be answering these either fully or partially in his upcoming book?

Addendum: Cengiz published another essay just after the previous one, Barbaric Regress and Civilised Progress contra Deconstruction and Affirmative Recreation, which offers some further reflection on the above topic.

via Dark Chemistry

Somebody dying under the MRI.  

The Immortal Subject Beyond The Life Drive

In our daily lives we create little worlds of our own and invest them with various meanings. These worlds have their own logics, orders repetitively staged every day; this gives us a sense of continuity in time and hence a sense of security. Objects and subjects surrounding us, everything fits in its proper place in this microcosmic self-consciousness of ours.

The thought of being a tiny spot in the middle of nowhere, however, or somewhere in the vast universe is too unbearable to be thought through for many people because it reminds us of death. If one thinks this thought for too long all meaning collapses and life falls apart, the established symbolic order of object relations become disorganized. This is when the journey of the subject towards nothingness begins. If the subject manages to maintain integrity throughout the passage from self-consciousness to an impersonal consciousness reconciliation of self with life and the world takes place. With the advance of this macrocosmic impersonal consciousness in time everything symbolic loses meaning and credibility only to lead to an opening up of a space for the emergence of a new meaning. The new is not independent from the old. But is that which had hitherto been unseen, unrealised, unthought as a new possibility of a progressive movement.

Authentic fidelity is the fidelity to the void itself—to the very act of loss, of abandoning or erasing the object. Why should the dead be the object of attachment in the first place? The name for this fidelity is death drive. In the terms of dealing with the dead, one should, perhaps, against the work of mourning as well as against the melancholic attachment to the dead who return as ghosts, assert the Christian motto “let the dead bury their dead.” The obvious reproach to this motto is, What are we to do when, precisely, the dead do not accept to stay dead, but continue to live in us, haunting us by their spectral presence? One is tempted here to claim that the most radical dimension of the Freudian death drive provides the key to how we are to read the Christian “let the dead bury their dead”: what death drive tries to obliterate is not the biological life but the very afterlife—it endeavours to kill the lost object the second time, not in the sense of mourning (accepting the loss through symbolization) but in a more radical sense of obliterating the very symbolic texture, the letter in which the spirit of the dead survives.[1]

So, neither the work of mourning nor melancholia are progressive. It is the work of death drive to kill death, to cause a loss of loss, to destroy the symbolic texture causing death to take place; death drive is the only weapon against death in life. Rather than symbolizing and then accepting death, the subject as death drive contemplates death as nothingness and fills the space of death within the symbolic with nothing. Zizek points out that there is a great difference between willing nothing and willing nothingness.

What we are implicitly referring to here is, of course, Nietzsche’s classic opposition between ‘wanting nothing’ (in the sense of ‘I don’t want anything’) and the nihilistic stance of actively wanting Nothingness itself; following Nietzsche’s path, Lacan emphasized how in anorexia, the subject does not simply ‘eat nothing’ – rather, she or he actively wants to eat the Nothingness (the Void) that is itself the ultimate object-cause of desire. (The same goes for Ernst Kris’s famous patient who felt guilty of theft, although he did not actually steal anything: what he did steal, again, was the Nothingness itself.) So – along the same lines, in the case of caffeine-free diet Coke, we drink the Nothingness itself, the pure semblance of a property that is in effect merely an envelope of a void.[2]

The object that takes the place of the Real is what Lacan calls the objet petit a. The objet petit a is that which the master-signifier causes to be signified. There is nothing to signify the objet petit a, it is that signifier itself. The master-signifier signifies the objet petit a as its own signifier. Without the objet petit a the nothingness behind the master-signifier would become manifest. Master signifier generates signs that signify their own autonomous existence. That is, they hide the latent content of the master-signifier which is nothingness.  By manufacturing the illusion of its own non-being the master-signifier signifies itself as the transcendental signified. It does this through signifying the objet petit a as the transcendental sign, (signifier and signified at once). The sublime object which stands in for nothingness behind it is the object of desire of masses who fantasize that they are drinking something good, when in reality they are drinking the void and their own life/death.

One simply cannot conceal from oneself what all the willing that has received its direction from the ascetic ideal actually expresses: this hatred of the human, still more of the animal, still more of the material, this abhorrence of the senses, of reason itself, this fear of happiness and of beauty, this longing away from all appearance, change, becoming, death, wish, longing itself—all of this means—let us grasp this—a will to nothingness, an aversion to life, a rebellion against the most fundamental presuppositions of life; but it is and remains a will!… And, to say again at the end what I said at the beginning: man would much rather will nothingness than not will… [3]

In The Fragile Absolute, Slavoj Zizek gives the example of Diet-Coke as a symptom of will to nothingness inherent in contemporary society.

So, when, some years ago, the advertising slogan for Coke was ‘Coke is it!’, we should note its thorough ambiguity: ‘that’s it’ precisely in so far as that’s never actually it, precisely in so far as every satisfaction opens up a gap of ‘I want more!’. The paradox, therefore, is that Coke is not an ordinary commodity whereby its-use value is transubstantiated into an expression of (or supplemented with) the auratic dimension of pure (exchange) Value, but a commodity whose very peculiar use-value is itself already a direct embodiment of the suprasensible aura of the ineffable spiritual surplus, a commodity whose very material properties are already those of a commodity. This process is brought to its conclusion in the case of caffeine-free diet Coke – why? We drink Coke – or any drink – for two reasons: for its thirst-quenching or nutritional value, and for its taste. In the case of caffeine-free diet Coke, nutritional value is suspended and the caffeine, as the key ingredient of its taste, is also taken away – all that remains is a pure semblance, an artificial promise of a substance which never materialized. Is it not true that in this sense, in the case of caffeine-free diet Coke, we almost literally ‘drink nothing in the guise of something’?[4]

By drinking Diet-Coke, the subject, rather than being really healthy, is being merely less ill, since Diet or not, Coke is itself unhealthy.  Coke as we know it is miles away from its medicinal uses for which it was invented in the first place. The measure of health is not Coke without caffeine and sugar. So the Diet-Coke cannot be a sign of healthy living. Worse than being unhealthy, it is death disguised as an object of desire, that object of desire being healthy living. So we can see the process through which the Real of the subject’s desire, which is the death-drive, is turned into desire for healthy living. As the subject thinks he/she is moving towards greater health, he/she is in reality moving towards death. We have to be clear about where exactly the life-drive and the death-drive become separated from themselves and hence their roles are reversed, turning them into their opposites. It is precisely at this point of separation- unification of the life-drive and the death-drive that the conflict-event takes the place of the place itself.

This place is a playground on which this conflict-event between the life-drive and the death-drive is played out as a confrontation between the therapeutic society and critical theory. If the aim of psychotherapy is to adapt the subject to the environment, then it is by definition a normalizing practice. But asks critical theory, what is the definition of health? On which grounds are we talking about health? What are the values that make health? All these questions may lead down to the big question of ontology: “What is the meaning of life?” There is no meaning of life. It is my actions and words that invest my life with a particular meaning. What determines the meaning of objects surrounding me is the use I put them into. In this context, progress in therapeutic procedure is signified by an increase in the subject’s ability to use the objects surrounding him/her.

But critical theory says: you are confusing use-value and exchange-value. You are forgetting the need to remember that in your world the exchange-value preceeds the use-value. You are always already born into the world of objects with their values attached to them, how can you say that you are healing these people by telling lies to them concerning the cause of their desire and the Real of the objects they choose to put to use. Isn’t their choice already determined by the pre-dominant symbolic order?[5]

Critical theory agrees with psychotherapy that it is the use value of the object that is important. But what critical theory wants to say is that what psychotherapy presents the subject with, as the use-value, is already the exchange-value, so psychotherapy is presenting the subject with death disguised as life. It is there that there has been a shift in the gears, where Nietzsche conceived of himself as the stage of confrontation between Christ and Dionysus, as the conflict-event that shifted the gears at a certain moment in history. At this precise moment in time negation and affirmation change roles for the very reason that negating the symbolic order becomes the same as affirming the Real. One creates a fantasy which negates the symbolic and affirms the Real as it is, that is, with all its inconsistencies, internal conflicts, imperfections, and incompleteness. Something in the symbolic order is caused to fail by these interventions of the affirmative subject. Here a question awaits us: Does that mean that for creation to take place destruction is necessary? The answer to this question is a yes and a no at the same time. Because destruction causes a split in the order and yet this split’s consequence depends on the future of the response to it. Destruction is not essential to creation but is an inescapable result of it. [6]  So there may or may not be cases where there is something in the process of being created without anything being destroyed. For when one thinks about it, creation is not a subtraction from nature, but quite the contrary, an addition to it. For subtraction to become creative it should be a subtraction from culture, that is, from knowledge, or from the already existing symbolic order. Badiou’s subtraction opens a void within the already existing symbolic order and through this void a new truth flows. It is only in so far as the mortal human animal chooses fidelity to this truth-event that it becomes a subject, that is, an immortal indifferent to death.

André Kertész     Window, paris     1928

The Immortal Subject Beyond The Death Drive

The creature called human can cease being a passive non-being and become an active being only insofar as it produces love against the negative power of the already existing capitalist law. As we all know, the laws’ negative impositions give birth to the vicious cycle of the life and death drives, which is in turn exploited in the way of more money.

With the domination of nihilist global capitalism all over the world social life has become a masquerade. The silence diminishes and noise pollutes the lives of all. This noise is what Nietzsche calls “the noise of the marketplace.” The subject neither questions its being in itself nor its being for itself. The system provides the subject with innumerable facilities to keep boredom at bay so as to sustain the conditions for the possibility of the non-being of thought to take place. The subject simply does not feel the need to think and in time the subject loses the ability not only to think but also to act consciously. It all becomes an empty and meaningless spectacle to live. Every subject takes on a role, or an identity in accordance with the demands of the show business and hides behind this role turning into a solipsistic monad acting itself out in the way of satisfying the big Other. Just like Judge Schreber who had to endure inordinate measures of suffering to satisfy the demands of those cruel gods he populated himself with… And Schreber, satisfied as he was with the mere pleasure of sharing the high profile mission of satisfying cruel and invisible gods, becomes a madman when in fact he was a woman enduring privation.[7]

In the banality of ordinary social reality the subject forgets to think of its death as its own. Absence of the thought of death brings with it the presence of the thought of being, which means that the subject has lost his/her sense of self/other distinction, and is governed by his/her unconscious drives. This leads to the subject’s ignorance of an external world, or perhaps an unintentional neglect of an external reality other than the one it imagines, for it has itself become exterior to itself.

When death is thought about, this thought never takes place in terms of the death of the self. It is always through the death of the other that the subject thinks of death. It is always a “they” who die. Death is conceived as a symbolic incident. The reason of that reductive attitude towards death is the will to preserve the banality of ordinary reality and sustain the conditions for the possibility of an illusory sense of oneness with the world. All this, of course, is done to keep the Real of the external world at bay.

Global capitalism produces subjects who cannot stand the thought of the outside; they cannot conceive the absence of an external world within them. The fear of death is so strong that with the force of its negativity it totally negates death in life, erases the slash in life/death, and vainly erects statues to attain immortality.

It is a strange subject, however, with no fixed identity, wandering about over the body without organs, but always remaining peripheral to the desiring-machines, being defined by the share of the product it takes for itself, garnering here, there, and everywhere a reward in the form of a becoming an avatar, being born of the states that it consumes and being reborn with each new state. “It’s me, and so it’s mine…” Even suffering, as Marx says, is a form of self-enjoyment.[8]

Today the purpose of life has become keeping the subject busy for the sake of the business of not thinking death. The subject is bombarded by objects of introjection to such extent that it has no time for feeling anxious about its own death. The objects form a transparent sheet between the subject and its death. As inorganic substances the objects fill the space of death within life. What we witness in this time is life turned into a project aiming at erasing the silence necessary for thought; and not only erasing but also replacing it with an unceasing noise causing nausea.

The infinite, then, is within finitude, so in order to think the infinite we have to think the finite, that is, the thought of death. Although the thought of death has a high price which the subject pays by a loss of mental and physical health, it is nevertheless useful in opening up the way to limit experiences. The death drive devastates the predominant conceptualisations of the “good” of civilized progress and the “bad” of barbaric regress. The subject of the death drive situates itself as the traitor on the opposite pole of belief and faith in immortality. In the place of statues representing immortality, it erects nothing. That way it confronts the promised land of total security and harmony with a world governed by the anxiety of the feeling of being surrounded by nothingness. In this world there remains no ground beneath the symbolic order. Death is in the midst of life; it is life that surrounds death.

How would our lives change if we were to become capable of imagining ourselves as immortal beings? If we keep in mind that we are always already locked within the vicious cycle of the life and death drives governed by the law of capital, it becomes easier to understand why we need to break this vicious cycle of Capitalism and its governor, liberal-democracy, based on unjust representations, in order to create, produce or present the realm of love beyond the rotary motion of drives. But it must also be kept in mind that when we say beyond, we are talking about a beyond which is always already within the pre-dominant symbolic order and yet not within the reach of mortal beings. It is a beyond only from the perspective of the present state. In our scenario, immortality is not something to be attained, rather, it is a virtual potential or an actual capacity within every mortal being, awaiting to be realised. The realisation of the immortality within us, or the realisation of the infinite potential that life contains, depends on our proper use of our powers of imagination. Let us imagine ourselves as immortal beings then, which we already are, but cannot enact because of the finitude imposed upon us by the already existing symbolic order. Would we need to get out of this order to become immortal? Yes and no. Yes, because the within which we said infinity resides is a within which is exterior only from the point of view of the already existing order. No, because only from within the already existing order can we present an outside of this order, “an outside” in Deleuze’s words apropos of Foucault and Blanchot, “which is closer than any interiority and further away than any exteriority.”

 In his Theoretical Writings Alain Badiou attempts to separate himself from the Romantic understanding of infinity, and the pursuit of immortality. According to Badiou, contemporary mathematics broke with the Romantic idea of infinity by dissolving the Romantic concept of finitude. For Badiou, as it is for mathematics, the infinite is nothing but indifferent multiplicity, whereas for the Romantics it was nothing more than a “historical envelopment of finitude.” Behind all this, of course, is Badiou’s strong opposition to historicism and temporalization of the concept. It is in this context that Badiou can say, “Romantic philosophy localizes the infinite in the temporalization of the concept as a historical envelopment of finitude.”[9]

Mathematics now treats the finite as a special case whose concept is derived from that of the infinite. The infinite is no longer that sacred exception co-ordinating an excess over the finite, or a negation, a sublation of finitude. For contemporary mathematics, it is the infinite that admits of a simple, positive definition, since it represents the ordinary form of multiplicities, while it is the finite that is deduced from the infinite by means of negation or limitation. If one places philosophy under the condition such a mathematics, it becomes impossible to maintain the discourse of the pathos of finitude. ‘We’ are infinite, like every multiple-situation, and the finite is a lacunal abstraction. Death itself merely inscribes us within the natural form of infinite being-multiple, that of the limit ordinal, which punctuates the recapitulation of our infinity in a pure, external ‘dying.’[10]

The political implications of the move from Romantic infinity to mathematical infinity can be observed in Badiou’s Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil. In this little book Badiou criticizes the hypocrisy of human rights for reducing being-human to being a mortal animal. Of course Badiou admits that what is called human is indeed a mortal animal, but what he objects to is the exploitation of this state of being. Against this deprecative attitude, Badiou pits the immortal subject, or rather, the subject who is capable of realising his/her immortality.[11]

Badiou says that “being is inconsistent multiplicity.” As an advocate of immanence, unlike Heidegger, he doesn’t think that there is an ontological difference between Being and beings. As a matter of fact, he altogether refuses that there is such a thing as Being transcending the multiple beings, or beings as inconsistent multiplicities. To understand where Badiou is coming from we only need to look at his critique of Heidegger’s equation of being in the world and being towards death. For Badiou there is no such thing as being in the world, because for him there is not one world but multiple worlds and consequently being in the world as being towards death is a rather impoverished idea doomed to result in the mistaken assumption that consciousness of human finitude is self-consciousness. And I agree with Badiou that consciousness of human finitude merely serves to justify a life driven by death.

 I therefore propose a consciousness of infinitude rather than of finitude for a sustenance of the conditions of possibility for an ethical life and for an ethical death. For when you think about it, if we were immortal, that is, if our lives were eternal, we wouldn’t be so destructive of the environment, not so harsh on nature and one another, because no one would want to live in such a hell eternally. Since it is obvious that as humans we have been turning the world into a hell in the name of progress for a while now, and since death has been the end from which we have come to think we have been striving to escape in this progressive process, it is obvious that a forgetting of death, or rather, a remembering to forget our mortality would make us fear an eternal life in hell, rather than a finite life in an illusory heaven.

If we keep in mind that the global capitalist system, as we have tried to explicate, takes its governing force from its exploitation of life and death drives, that it is based on our fear of death and consciousness of finitude, it becomes clearer why a subtraction of death from life not only shakes, but also annihilates the foundations of capitalism.

To What End Last Words? To What End Suffering…

Throughout this article I have tried to develop a mode of critique in and through which nothing is excluded and/or determined. This reflective mode of critique itself enabled me to situate myself in the middle of the reflective and the determinative modes of judgment. The critical mode employed in this article is still context-bound to a certain extent, and yet it tries to restrictively dissociate itself from the predetermined context, rather than freely associate within it. A new field is opened, the conditions are created for the possibility of a decision beyond the Law of Militarist Capitalism and the Welfare State driven by and driving the exploitation of mortality on a massive scale.

There is this transcendental field that requires a non-mortal mode of being in the world, neither for nor against it, but engagingly indifferent to it in such a way as to turn its own alienation from mortality into its driving force in its attempt to demolish the faculty of finite judgment and create the conditions of possibility out of the conditions of impossibility for an infinite judgment to take place beyond the subject/object of a Law that is mortal, all too mortal.

A truth comes into being through those subjects who maintain a resilient fidelity to the consequences of an event that took place in a situation but not of it. Fidelity, the commitment to truth, amounts to something like a disinterested enthusiasm, absorption in a compelling task or cause, a sense of elation, of being caught up in something that transcends all petty, private or material concerns.[12]

The immortal subject within and without the pre-dominant symbolic order is not only the cause, but also the effect of its own alienation from mortal life. This regulatory idea of immortality, which is also a constitutive illusion, is inspired by the post-structuralist theme of becoming non-identical as we see in Deleuze and Derrida. If one could become non-identical, why would one not also become non-mortal? If one could become alienated from one’s identity, why would one not also become alienated from one’s mortality?  Why not become immortal so as to become capable of criticizing the exploitations of this mortal, all too mortal life? But what motivated me to take immortality as a virtual mode of being was Badiou’s theory of infinity which aimed at secularizing the concept of truth. Badiou’s technique of secularizing the truth is inspired by the 19th century mathematician Georg Cantor’s technique of secularizing the infinite. As Badiou claims, the secularization of infinity started with Cantor who stated that there was not one, but many infinities varying in size and intensity. From then onwards it became possible to link Deleuze’s concepts of impersonal consciousness and transcendental empiricism with Badiou’s theory of infinity and Kant’s assertion that for reflective judgement to take place and turn the object into a subject a transcendental ground is necessary.  Now I can say that for me a transcendental ground is necessary only to the extent that it enables the subject to shake the foundation of its own mode of being and opens a field for immanent critique to take place. In other words, the untimely indifference of immortality is required in order to actively engage in an exposition of the exploitation of mortality in this time.

I don’t know if it is worth mentioning that in this time we are all slaves and yet some slaves dominate the others. Where time goes no one knows. There are necessary illusions in this life, some for life, some not. Both the extreme belief in civilized progress and barbaric regress are good for nothing. These two are now in the process of being left behind. A third possibility of developmental process is emerging in the form of a becoming-reconciled which is based on the recognition of the otherness of the other as it is, that is, prior to the additions and the subtractions imposed upon the self and the other, nature and culture, life and death. For a non-normative and progressive work it is necessary for the participants to become capable of making distinctions between their natures and cultures, their cliniques and critiques. It is a matter of realizing that theory and practice are always already reconciled and yet the only way to actualise this reconciliation passes through carrying it out and across by introducing a split between the subject of statement (the enunciated) and the subject of enunciation.

It is indeed true that sometimes it takes a long journey to get there, where one eventually got to, and realise that one is other than one thinks itself to be. Apparently the numbers indeed start with zero and continue with two, but it takes time to realise this actuality and become capable of actualising this reality. Perhaps we should indeed know that absolute reconciliation is impossible and yet still strive to reconcile ourselves as much as we can to all the living and the dead.

Memory Void-Fallen Leaves By Yellowbagman

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[1] Slavoj Zizek, Organs Without Bodies (London: Routledge, 2004), 13

[2] Slavoj Zizek, The Fragile Absolute (London: Verso, 2000), 23

[3] Friedrich Nietzsche, On The Genealogy of Morality, transl. Maudemarie Clark and Alan J. Swensen (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1998), 118

[4] Zizek, The Fragile Absolute, 22

[5] Marcuse, Herbert. One-Dimensional Man: Studies in Advanced Industrial Society (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964)

[6] Alain Badiou, InfiniteThought, trans. and ed. Oliver Feltham and Justin Clemens (London: Continuum, 2005), 132

[7] Sigmund Freud, Psycho-analytic Notes On An Autobiogrophical Account Of A Case Of Paranoia (Dementia Paranoids), trans. Strachey J. (London: Hogarth Press, 1986)

[8] Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia I, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane (New York: The Viking Press, 1977), 16

[9] Alain Badiou, Theoretical Writings, trans. Ray Brassier and Alberto Toscano, (London: Continuum, 2006), 38

[10] Badiou, 38

[11] Alain Badiou, Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, trans. Peter Hallward (London: Verso, 2001), 41

[12] Peter Hallward, “Introduction” in Alain Badiou, Ethics (London: Verso, 2002), x

 

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In Phenomenology of Spirit Hegel attempts to write a mythology of creation and a creation of mythology in one simultaneous movement in two opposite directions at once. Intimately implicating the process of creation in error and misrecognition, Phenomenology of Spirit is a narrative of the subject’s endless process of negotiating with the world and with itself; in this context the subject is a process of settling accounts without end.

Hegel’s first object of thought is the thought of the object itself. For the negotiation of thought with the self and the world to begin taking its course, the subject has to take its own thought as that which is the other within itself, that is, as its own object. Through this separation between the subject and the object the subject becomes capable of seeing itself through its own thought and its own thought through itself. The thought of the subject is at the same time the object of thought. Thought as the subject and the object at the same time journeys through consciousness towards the unconscious. As soon as the subject becomes conscious of its own division within itself it becomes the Unhappy Consciousness. The Unhappy Consciousness is a consciousness that is conscious of its own unconsciousness. It is not only conscious of itself as the unconscious inherent in consciousness, but is itself that consciousness in which it inheres as the unconscious. It is a consciousness that knows itself to be other than what it thinks itself to be and yet being conscious of itself as always already other than itself it is never present to itself. It is a (w)hole in its own consciousness.  

But although the Unhappy Consciousness does not have the enjoyment of this presence, it has at the same time advanced beyond pure thinking in so far as this is the abstract thinking of Stoicism which turns its back on individuality altogether, and beyond the merely unsettled thinking of Scepticism—which is in fact only individuality in the form of an unconscious contradiction and ceaseless movement. It has advanced beyond both of these; it brings and holds together pure thinking and particular individuality, but has not yet risen to that thinking where consciousness as a particular individuality is reconciled with pure thought itself. It occupies rather this intermediate position where abstract thinking is in contact with the individuality of consciousness qua individuality. The Unhappy Consciousness is this contact; it is the unity of pure thinking and individuality; also it knows itself to be this thinking individuality or pure thinking, and knows the Unchangeable itself essentially as an individuality. But what it does not know is that this its object, the Unchangeable, which it knows essentially in the form of individuality, is its own self, is itself the individuality of consciousness.[1]

The Unhappy Consciousness consists in and of two separate but contiguous parts: Stoicism and Scepticism. Knowing itself to be both and none of these at the same time, the Unhappy Consciousness turns towards the Unchangeable, of which Hegel identifies a particular manifestation appropriate to the stage of the Unhappy Consciousness. What the Unhappy Consciousness wants is to see itself as part of the Unchangeable, to realize that there is something unchangeable for itself and in itself. But the only unchangeable is the perpetually changing way of change itself and so the Unhappy Consciousness, to become the Unchangeable itself, turns against itself and changes; it becomes for and against itself, which it always already was, thus actualizing the Unchangeable which is its state of being divided against itself. Perpetually changing, it is unchangeable, and again changes itself and becomes changeable to remain unchangeable.

The middle term is self-consciousness which splits into the extremes; and each extreme is this exchanging of its own determinateness and an absolute transition into its opposite.[2]

Each self-consciousness is divided within itself. It is divided within itself, against itself and the other self-consciousness. For it to be able to actualise its self-consciousness it has to be recognized by the other self-consciousness. But the other self-consciousness is itself in the same situation. Without one another none is self-consciousness. To proceed from consciousness to self-consciousness they need the other which is always already within themselves. What they need to do is to recognize the other within themselves for them to be recognized as they are to themselves. For the self to be what it is for itself it first has to become what it is for the other, that is, one loses itself in the other within itself in order to find oneself dismembered.

Such minds, when they give themselves up to the uncontrolled ferment of {the divine} substance, imagine that, by drawing a veil over self-consciousness and surrendering understanding they become the beloved of God to whom He gives wisdom in sleep; and hence what they in fact receive, and bring to birth in their sleep, is nothing but dreams.[3]

Hegel’s is a way of writing that proceeds through sustaining the conditions for the possibility of a productive interaction between the conscious and the unconscious. His narrative process is driven by forces that Hegel himself produces out of an activity creating and sustaining a tension between the conscious and the unconscious forces within himself. Hegel never stops writing against himself. And yet this writing against himself of Hegel is at the same time his writing for himself. By writing not for the other but before the other he becomes capable of keeping an eye on himself through the eye of the other within himself. The eye of the other that keeps an eye on the eye of the self is simultaneously interior and exterior to Hegel. By being addressed to himself in such a way as to be addressed to the other Hegel’s writing becomes the fragile contact and a simultaneous separation between the self and the other.

As he puts it in his On the Genealogy of Morality, for Nietzsche, too, there are masters and slaves, which he calls active and reactive forces, but those who play the role of the masters are in fact the slaves and the slaves the masters. So what Nietzsche wants to say is that the slaves dominate the masters because of the false values upon which human life is built. Reactive forces are the slaves who occupy the master position and active forces are the masters who occupy the slave position. It is always the reactive forces who win because their reactions are contagious and it is extremely easy for them to multiply themselves and degenerate the others. The active forces, however, although they are the strong ones, are always crushed under the false value system created by the reactive forces. If Hegel is saying that everything eventually turns into its opposite and the roles are reversed only after a struggle to death, Nietzsche is saying that the roles are always already reversed and the way to set things right, rather than passing through reversing the roles, passes through a revaluation of all values on the way to a new game.

Now I will attempt to think through the separation between Hegel and Nietzsche by imagining the way in which Nietzsche could have possibly read Hegel now. These words by Nietzsche are addressed directly to Hegel:

“Will to truth,” you who are wisest call that which impels you and fills you with lust?

A will to the thinkability of all beings: this I call your will. You want to make all being thinkable, for you doubt with well-founded suspicion that it is already thinkable. But it shall yield and bend for you. Thus your will wants it. It shall become smooth and serve the spirit as its mirror and reflection. That is your whole will, you who are wisest: a will to power—when you speak of good and evil too, and of valuations. You still want to create the world before which you can kneel: that is your ultimate hope and intoxication.[4]

Nietzsche reads Hegel in terms of the disintegration between Hegel’s actions and intentions. In a way Nietzsche implies that Hegel is the very unhappy consciousness he is trying to overcome. Hegel himself is interpreting the unhappy consciousness as a split subject whose actions and intentions do not form a coherent unity. This means that Nietzsche is trying to criticize Hegel with Hegel’s very own logic of conceptualization of the subject as split.

In both Hegel and Nietzsche the relationship between the subject and the object is problematized. In both cases the resistance to contamination by the object of thought through its introjection is not only hand in hand but also drives and is driven by the fear of being contaminated by the object. There is, however, no fear of contaminating the object through projecting onto it that which is always already introjected from it, namely that it is a narrative of the processes of projection-introjection mechanism.

As the narrative of the relationship between the subject and the object, Phenomenolgy of Spirit, against which, according to Deleuze’s reading of Nietzsche in Nietzsche and Philosophy, Nietzsche was writing, is itself written for and against itself, and is indeed a narrative of the unhappy consciousness’s difference from itself.

For Nietzsche, the subject’s creations with and through the objects surrounding him/her is driven by a movement towards self-destruction in that the subject relates to the objects it creates in a way that is against itself. An example of that at present would be in terms of the relationship between humanity and technology. If the subject is being governed by fear he/she will see technology as bad in itself, hence taking on a paranoid attitude towards technology, ignore its good uses, reject it completely, and eventually actualize what he/she was not even afraid of; death. But the opposite is equally true in that if the subject has no trace of fear within, then he/she will lose himself/herself in what he/she creates and actualize what he had no fear of.

Negativity gives birth to negativity. Negativities form an infinite chain chaining the subject to an infinite process of regress. Aggression is negative and as it multiplies itself it destroys both the object and the subject. Reactive attitudes are produced by and produce aggression. It is very easy for aggression to dominate the world and/but it is very difficult to sustain the conditions for the possibility of channelling aggression towards healthy conflict without antagonism.

In Phenomenology of Spirit Hegel presents Stoics and Sceptics as the two constitutive parts of the unhappy consciousness. Now let us try and imagine a subject as defined in the subtitle. Situated in the present context, a subject as the two sides of the same coin that contained a sceptic and a stoic side at the same time would be the Nietzschean/Hegelian subject par excellence in that it would see everything in terms of a dualism, or a struggle between the forces of good and evil. In fact he would himself become the stage on which a confrontation between good and evil takes place. He would read every sign in the external world in terms of this struggle to the point of replacing the external reality with his internally constituted reality. What he introjects would be always already his own creation, which he would still consider to be what’s really going on outside, and consequently would himself become the nodal point of the conflict between the internal and the external, the psychic and the somatic.

 The sceptic exhausts the projection-introjection mechanism to the point of turning against all claims to know the truth, whereas the stoic refuses to take part in the projection-introjection mechanism. It is not that the sceptic sees evil everywhere but that he projects the evil within and onto the evil without that he has introjected from the external world in the first place. As for the stoic, he is so indifferent that he thinks there is no gap between the internal and the external worlds and so there can be no such thing as a projection-introjection mechanism that would simultaneously be the cause and the effect of a struggle between good and evil.

On one pole of this interactivity which constitutes contemporary nihilism is the reactive sceptic and on the other the indifferent stoic. Neither of these are satisfying for themselves nor satisfying in-themselves to produce reconciliation which would be called an intersubjectivity. A reactive force sees everything against itself and an indifferent force sees no point in engaging in an intercourse in the way of an interaction with a reactive sceptic who sees stoics as nihilists.  

Sceptics and stoics are, by being against one another, feeding neither themselves nor the other, but contributing to the production of otherness as negativity, hence taking part in the setting of the very vicious trap in which they find themselves against each other and out of which they both come dismembered. They are both finding themselves locked in an agonizing process, which is destroying both of them. It is impossible for one to survive without the other. Although the problem is the projection-introjection mechanism inherent in them, they are looking for the source of their maladies outside themselves. We are projecting all our bad qualities onto the others and then accusing them of being negative towards us. In turn they are giving birth to the negativity of the other, or otherness as negativity. The source of the negative within and without us is being created by us since we introject what we have projected and inversely.                                                       


[1] Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A.V. Miller (Oxford: OUP, 1977), 130-1

[2] Hegel, 112

[3] Hegel, 6

[4] Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, from The portable Nietzsche, ed. and trans. Walter Kaufman (New York: Viking Press, 1954), 225 

Thus Spoke Zarathustra

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Sceptic:  For me Nietzsche is one of those who do philosophy departing from a wound, from a deep-seated internal problem… The wound is internal to Nietzsche but the source of this wound is external, so you see, he is in-between. He attacks both sides at the same time, there is a profound neither/nor relationship, an endless struggle between the life drive and the death drive in Nietzsche’s books. As for Hegel, I’m not so sure what kind of a man he was. His philosophy doesn’t seem to give me “the kicks” as you say. But to me Hegel is sobering, and that is what I require. In Kant’s books you see everything divided and subdivided into sections and subsections. And you see Kant’s idea is there in three books. I find the life philosophy-academic philosophy distinction ridiculous and luxurious for our times. It deprives us of many great philosophers. Nietzsche’s is neither academic nor life, but a kind of open philosophy; philosophy without the final judgment. Nietzsche has never said and will never have said his last word.

Stoic: Never?

Sceptic: And that there is no such last word or final judgment is itself Nietzsche’s last word and final judgment. It is with Nietzsche that we come to realize this paradoxical situation, this vicious cycle, within which we have come to be entrapped.

Stoic: But Nietzsche also makes us ask, what would be the price paid to escape from this vicious cycle?

Sceptic: That’s indeed another thing that he does. It is precisely because of these endless questions leading to one another, each question the answer of another, and this incompleteness of his philosophy is only one of the reasons that make Nietzsche attractive for many. The second is this: Nietzsche has four-five teachings, the first one is, which for me is the most important, that “knowledge is perspectival by nature.” As soon as he says this, his philosophy becomes an opening up to a new field for thought and life. Everyone can enter Nietzsche’s new space and take what they want, it is like a toolbox. There is something for Hitler in that work, something else for Bataille, for Heidegger, Freud, so you see how clear it all becomes in this context, what he means when he says on the title-page of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, “A book for no one and everyone.” You can translate this as a book for everyone who will understand but at the same time for no one, since no one can completely understand what exactly Nietzsche means. This formula is applicable to his philosophy as a (w)hole, a philosophy for none and all at the same time. And there is no (w)hole of Nietzsche’s philosophy to be comprehended as a (w)hole anyway. This attitude would reduce “Nietzsche” to its bare bones when in fact it is a very fleshy writing. It wouldn’t be fair on Nietzsche. Mine is a stance from which I try to justify Nietzsche, save him. It is the tendency of most readers of Nietzsche to be his advocate. And yet I now realize that this attitude, too, is not so true to the spirit of Nietzsche. And this is the reason why I distanced myself from Nietzsche, after witnessing what has been happening in the world for the last one hundred years, since Nietzsche’s death. You might as well read “there can be no poetry after Auschwitz,” as “there can be no philosophy after Auschwitz.” Or you at least become compelled to admit, “after Auschwitz it becomes very difficult, almost impossible to unconditionally affirm Nietzsche’s philosophy.” You might, and you should, feel the need to introduce a distance between yourself and Nietzsche.

Stoic: Another paradoxical situation emerges here, for Nietzsche is himself against himself in this respect and on this subject.

Sceptic: Yes, he is indeed.

Stoic: And this indicates a self-deconstructive reading at work, that is, you are already deconstructing your own reading as you read Nietzsche.

Sceptic: But isn’t this a natural outcome of philosophical thinking? I think Nietzsche’s grandest illusion was his excessive self-assurance, a pathological self-confidence which led him not to use his critical eye in relation to himself as much as he did in relation to others. He perspectivizes truth but he never situates himself in the nineteenth century as a priest who had been influenced by the likes of Wagner and Schopenhauer; he never comes to terms with his finitude, and so he never manages to reconcile himself to life.

Stoic: In 1889, when his passage to the other side is semi-complete he is about forty-five.

Sceptic: Yes.

Stoic: The most interesting aspect of his work is its posthumousness. He left behind a multiplicity of texts in complete silence and yet all his work, this multiplicity of texts, is itself an unceasing and singular voice at times causing nausea. When one is looking at this oeuvre one wonders what kind of a will to power is Nietzsche’s, it’s not clear, some say it should be translated as will towards power. I think will to power and will to nothingness are one and the same thing. Will towards power and being towards death are the two constituent parts of becoming what one always already is. And what use of a will to truth if it is not in the service of becoming true to one’s being. Perhaps if his work had not been interrupted by illness, he, and we with him, would have been better able to make sense of these circular movements of thought.

Sceptic: Nietzsche’s working method involves taking notes as he walked… And then revising those notes…

Stoic: …Organize those thoughts, put them in order? But it’s different when Zarathustra speaks. He wrote Thus Spoke Zarathustra locked in a room, sitting in a chair in front of a table on the mountains after his devastating Lou Andreas-Salomé experience. There is a close relation between aphorisms and steps, fragmentary writing and walking. It is the same in the case of other aphorism writers, there are flashes of insight involved, always fragmentary, little thoughts complete in themselves and yet to be formulated in relation to one another. Nietzsche’s process of thinking is itself discontinuous, fragmentary; it’s an attempt to give birth to partial objects without relation to an external idea of wholeness. As soon as something strikes him he feels as though if he doesn’t put it down immediately he never will. And since he thinks about the same thing from different perspectives through a period of time, the result is a plurality of partial objects all somehow linked to one another rather than to a whole outside them. He didn’t have time to make sense of all he thought. His thought was larger than his life. He used to write so rapidly but still his infinite speed of thought always left his writing behind.

Sceptic: If only he had lived longer and thought with less speed.

Stoic: Perhaps he could have finished the work of his life in a much more precise way. If he were able to write a second Ecce Homo at sixty years old, he could have survived his thought. But of course I’m assuming too much here.

Sceptic: Actually it is good to throw some light on where Nietzsche is coming from and where he is heading towards. It makes visible the great potential of Nietzsche’s thought; explicates the possibilities of new ways of thinking and living it has to offer.

Stoic: In a new light everything becomes other than itself.

Sceptic: Plato criticized his own concept of the Idea later in life. Perhaps if Nietzsche had lived longer he would have had a critical look at his earlier work.

Stoic: The other day I had a look at On The Genealogy of Morality as a preparation for our conversation. In it I saw Nietzsche thinking about two hundred years ahead of his time. And this prophetic stance is not very common among philosophers. Usually poets tend to tell of the future.

Sceptic: Poets do tend to have messianic expectations.

Stoic: Yes, poets too operate at messianic levels but Nietzsche is assured that what he thinks will take place in the future will actually take place; he believes in the truth of what he assumes. And worst of all, we now see that what he thought would happen is really happening. Have a look at what he says:              

What meaning would our entire being have if not this, that in us this will to truth has come to a consciousness of itself as a problem? … It is from the will to truth’s becoming conscious of itself that from now on—there is no doubt about it—morality will gradually perish: that great spectacle in a hundred acts that is reserved for Europe’s next two centuries, the most terrible, most questionable, and perhaps also most hopeful of all spectacles…[1]

He sees the rise of Nihilism. And we see him say this in Genealogy published in November 1887. It has been 117 years and we can say that his prophecy has proved to be true for the first 117 years out of 200. On this account we can bet that this truth will increasingly maintain its truth status in the remaining 83 years. Looking backwards he tells of the future. With a messianic force he writes Ecce Homo in which he proclaims himself Christ and Dionysus. What he means by that self-fashioning is that he has passed across the Nihilism, went through the will to nothingness and reached the point after the fantasy is traversed where Christ and Dionysus confront one another. But Nietzsche never says that he is the overman. Nietzsche, in Ecce Homo, fashions himself as the one who remains the man who wants to die. In Gay Science we see the theme of God’s death merging with the story of a madman wandering around with his lamp, looking for God. He distinguishes two forms of Nihilism: one is an active nihilism he associates with destruction, the other is an exhausted and passive nihilism he identifies as Buddhism.

Sceptic: Perhaps it’s true; today we know the West is turning towards the East.

Stoic: He sees not one, but two distinct futures of a Nihilist Europe. But I don’t really get what he means when he says he has himself overcome nihilism. Has he really overcome nihilism or is it just wishful thinking?

Sceptic: I don’t know whether he has or he has not overcome nihilism, but what I can say concerning why he thinks in that way is this: In a nut-shell nihilism is the absence of “where” and “why,” or “direction” and “intention.” Nietzsche is convinced that he is showing humanity a new direction towards which to head. His project of revaluing the values is itself an attempt at overcoming nihilism, but this attempt only partially overcomes nihilism, for even after all the values are devalued there remains the new values to be created out of the ruins of the old. Revaluation cannot be completed unless destruction is left behind and creation takes its course.

Stoic: Absolutely. Nihilism is necessary for the devaluation of values, but should be left behind before revaluing the values. So nihilism is a useful tool in turning the existing order against itself but when it comes to creating the new it is nothing other than an enemy. Nietzsche’s discourse is almost a Marxist discourse without Marxist terminology. To see this aspect of Nietzsche more clearly let me give you a brief account of the master-slave relationship in Hegel and Nietzsche. For Hegel everyone is a slave and some slaves, out of a dissatisfaction with slavery, fight to death for mastery, win the fight, and through recognition by the slaves as the masters, become masters, and dominate the slaves. Dialectical process, however, does not end there and in the next stage, and “as history has shown us” in Marx’s words, since in time everything turns into its opposite, slaves eventually become masters. Whereas for Nietzsche from the beginning there are masters and slaves, which he calls active and reactive forces, but the ones who play the role of masters are in fact the slaves and the slaves the masters. So what Nietzsche wants to say is that slaves dominate the masters because of the false values upon which human life is built. Reactive forces are the slaves who occupy the master position and active forces are the masters who occupy the slave position. It is always the reactive forces who win because their reactions are contagious and it is extremely easy for them to multiply themselves and degenerate the others. The active forces, however, although they are the strong ones, are always crushed under the false value system created by the reactive forces. If Hegel is saying that everything eventually turns into its opposite and the roles are reversed only after a struggle to death, Nietzsche is saying that the roles are always already reversed and the way to set things right, rather than passing through reversing the roles, passes through a revaluation of all values on the way to a new game. How would you respond to that?

Sceptic: Well, Nietzsche looks at things otherwise. Through eternal recurrence everything is continually inverted into the spotlight and everything turns into something other than itself in time. So he comes to the conclusion that everything is so reversed that the weak wins. That’s what he sees as the outcome of nihilism. In Nietzsche’s world what everyone understands from improvement is in fact the opposite of the real meaning of improvement. Look what he says, 

One should at least be clear about the expression “be of use.” If by this one intends to express that such a system of treatment has improved man, then I will not contradict: I only add what “improve” means for me—the same as “tamed,” “weakened,” “discouraged,” “sophisticated,” “pampered,” “emasculated” (hence almost the same as injured…)[2]

Stoic: I admire him for what he achieved but at times doesn’t he become more than self-confident. I occasionally feel that he saw himself as a prophet.

Sceptic: Well, it is obvious that he suffered from a certain megalomania. No doubt he lacked self-critical eyes.

Stoic: Does he give you the feeling that he regarded himself a prophet from time to time? Could he have thought he was revealing the word of God?

Sceptic: The thinker talking through Zarathustra’s mouth has that prophetic quality. Zarathustra is himself a prophet. There are various speculations concerning Nietzsche’s entry into the realm of madness. When it occured and so on. Some say when his books are read with a clinical intent there is no trace of madness in his work. I don’t agree with this. Already in Zarathustra there is a deterioration of his thought processes. An exaggerated self-confidence appears in Ecce Homo. But to be considered a prophet is what Nietzsche dreaded most. He says it in Ecce Homo: “I have a terrible fear that one day I will be pronounced holy.”

Stoic: One still wonders whether he is the first prophet without a God, if he thought himself to be the first prophet without a God, and with this thought he went off the rails?  

Sceptic: Are you listening to what I’m saying? 

Stoic: He also sees himself as the disciple of Dionysus.

Sceptic: Have you heard what I’ve just said?

Stoic: He signed Dionysus the last letter he wrote to Strindberg.

Sceptic: And Crucified at the same time. Nietzsche’s thought is full of paradoxes. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why it is a philosophy for everyone. On any topic, on this or that subject, there is this perspective and there is that. You can choose whatever works for you and ignore the others. But that’s not what I’m really concerned with. The contradiction at the heart of Nietzsche is that his theory of eternal return and the becoming of overman cancel each other out. There are two distinct layers of time at which Nietzsche’s teaching operates. First is the linear time of history, the time in which animals live, it is a measurable time. Birth, reproduction, internalisation, metabolism, dissolution all take place in this time; it is the time of life and death. The exact opposite of this time is the circular time of the spirit. It is a time that transcends the linear time and the physical world. It is a product of man’s dissatisfaction with the physical world; a will to go beyond the physical and/or outside time. He conceived of both of these forms of time (Aeon and Chronos) and he existed in both at the same time. He was a man who knew that there is nothing outside physical time and/but who still strived to go beyond this time.

Stoic: How agonizing is that? I think it is none other than himself he is talking about when he says,

Precisely this is what the ascetic ideal means: that something was lacking, that an enormous void surrounded man—he did not know how to justify, to explain, to affirm himself: he suffered from the problem of his meaning. He suffered otherwise as well, he was for the most part a diseased animal: but the suffering itself was not his problem, rather that the answer was missing to the scream of his question: “to what end suffering?”[3]                 

All his life he tried to make sense of the inordinate measure of suffering and privation he had to endure. In vain he looked for a way of exposing “the vanity of all human wishes.” He was dissatisfied with his life and he hated himself for that. He kept resisting the Stoic within himself. But his Sceptic side was incapable of putting something other than the teachings of Socrates in the place left empty by the demolition of his Stoic side. He equally resented having remained under the shadow of Socrates. To escape from Socrates he attacked Plato’s metaphysics of presence and did this with the tools he borrowed from Heraclitus; a pre-Stoic philosopher who has deeply influenced both the Zeno of Citium, who was the founder of Stoicism, and the Zeno of Elea, who explained how it could be possible for a tortoise to pass Achilles in a race. If you look at the latter Zeno’s paradox carefully you see that what he wants to say with all his arrow business is that there can be no motion out of immobility. Yes, the arrow is at rest at every instant and the mind unites those individual instants each a picture in itself. What the eye receives is already what the mind’s synthesizing force creates. We see the arrow in motion when in fact it is, at every instant of its existence, at rest. You see where Zeno is coming from there. He is coming from Heraclitus’ idea that “one cannot step into the same river twice.” The river which is stepped into is a different river at each instant of its flow. You can see that Heraclitus is making a distinction between the flowing water and the bed in which it flows. It is Heraclitus who first splits time. So Zeno finds himself in a split time and can say that before rational thought unites time there is no movement to be perceived.

Sceptic: But this means that Zeno thinks reason creates something out of nothing, or movement out of immobility.

Stoic: And this is very similar to the foundational truth upon which Epictetus builds his therapeutic philosophy. Epictetus says that we create our history, our past, present, and future. It is up to us to change the way we perceive things, put them in a new light, see ourselves differently, and act in way which would be in harmony with nature, in accordance with reason, and for the benefit of all. Epictetus doesn’t see the care of the self as other than the care for the other, he reconciles the interior and the exterior of the subject. So knowledge is a construct of the synthesis of the internal and the external; we project what we have introjected. Between projection and introjection there is a synthetic activity that unites the internal and the external, or the psychic and the material. And a balance between the truth of what’s really going on outside and how the subject perceives this truth is a sign of health. An internally constituted external authority, the truth of universal humanist rationalism, governs the subject in harmony with nature. Listen to what nature says to you and you will know the right thing to do, truth is of nature, say the Stoics. But Plato says: “I, the truth, am speaking.” How megalomaniac is that?

Sceptic: It is quite megalomaniac indeed. And that is the Platonic side of Nietzsche, an exaggerated self-confidence.

Stoic: But with the thought of eternal return Nietzsche is shattered. He realizes how random and chaotic life is and I think his thought of eternal return is a response to his fragmentation at the time he was in Turin. The contingency of all things led him to formulate the eternal return, a circular time with no beginning or an end. In this circular time “a throw of the dice will never abolish the chance,” as Mallarmé put it. So after the nihilistic fantasies and Dionysian hallucinations are traversed the new age of bliss begins for the ones who have learned to learn from what happens to them in this life and rather than fall into the wound pass across it and affirm life as it is. Amor fati is both the driving force and the outcome of the eternal return. Everyone is born free. One who loves one’s fate whatever happens is free. It is a very Stoic thought; as long as the mind is free who cares about the body in chains. But this is not to despise the body, on the contrary, Stoics do care about their bodies; cleanliness, appetite, health, good behaviour, humour, kindness, affirmative attitude; it is a very naturalist social philosophy.

Sceptic: I didn’t know that you were so off the rails. If I understood you correctly, in eternal return there is no room for Darwinist linear evolution. Evolution is peculiar to linear time. Nietzsche is after finding a new form of progressive movement in complicity with the circular movement of time. The idea of eternal return is a very vague formulation of what he was really after. It is Bergson who came closer to saying what Nietzsche wanted to say. In his Creative Evolution Bergson investigates Zeno’s paradox and comes to the conclusion that Zeno’s idea that there can be no movement in-itself because time is infinitely divided within itself is not sufficient to theorize a practical and creative evolutionary process other than a linear progress. Bergson says that cinema achieves what Zeno thought was impossible. By creating motion pictures out of pictures at rest at every instant he introduces mind as a projection-introjection mechanism just like a camera. “But while our consciousness thus introduces succession into external things, inversely these things themselves externalise the successive moments of our inner duration in relation to one another.”[4] Bergson doesn’t differ from Zeno as much as he thinks he does, in that, it was Zeno who said mind projects what it had introjected. And this projection-introjection mechanism is a binding-splitting force at the same time. It binds the subject to the social as it splits the subject within itself, right?

Stoic: Well, almost. It is a matter of working through ways of dealing with history, with the contingency of every event and the randomness of what happens to us in time. Stoics look down on death and suffering. They say that which has happened cannot be changed in linear time, but in circular time everything can be changed in perception and then projected onto the present so as to leave behind the traumatic incident and move on towards becoming present. So, you see, you are always already present and yet this presence is always changing in relation to your past and future, and hence while you are always present you are never present, you are always a non-presence becoming present. So the way in which you relate to your past, the way in which you read your history, determines your actions at present, so why don’t you read your past in such a way as to enable yourself to become self-present. It is about creating the self so as to create itself as a perpetually renewed self-presence. It is not out of nothing that something is created, there never is nothing for the self. You can see that it is all very closely related to the thought of death in Stoics. “Let death and exile and everything that is terrible appear before your eyes every day, especially death; and you will never have anything contemptible in your thoughts or crave anything excessively.”[5] It is one of his principal doctrines always to start from sense-experience. Life is a process of breaking down and remaking the sense of experience. 

Sceptic: And after his intense sense-experiences Nietzsche dies, leaving behind words that have long ago ceased to be his. Writing is a process of transforming the sense-experience to make it visible for the others. But at the same time writing is itself a sense-experience. And in Nietzsche we very occasionally see writing about the experience of writing. There is an intense meditation on the affective quality of language in Nietzsche.   

Sceptic: But he is partly blind to what’s going on not only inside him but also outside him.

Stoic: He gets too excited about the affect of language. And together with the will to experience more of it he falls on the side of total dissolution. He pushes his thought to its limit after which there is nothing, but he goes on and in utter dismemberment he finds himself. But when he finds himself he is already dismembered and so finds that there is no self outside the social. To find that out he had to push his thought to its limit and pay the price with the loss of his mental health. Perhaps he was a bit too aggressive towards the Stoics who could have shown him a way out of his dilemma: “Remember that what is insulting is not the person who abuses you or hits you, but the judgement about them that they are insulting. So when someone irritates you be aware that what irritates you is your own belief. Most importantly, therefore, try not to be carried away by appearance, since if you once gain time and delay you will control yourself more easily.”[6] But Nietzsche was busy with struggling with Stoics for their rationality and universality.

Sceptic: Well, Nietzsche’s aim has never been to write therapeutic prescriptions for the ill. He sees this as taming. And yet this is what he is doing. With Nietzsche therapy and critical theory confront each other. “With priests everything simply becomes more dangerous, not only curatives and healing arts, but also arrogance, revenge, acuity, excess, love, lust to rule, virtue, disease; though with some fairness one could also add that it was on the soil of this essentially dangerous form of human existence, the priestly form, that man first became an interesting animal, that only here did the human soul acquire depth in a higher sense and become evil—and these are, after all, the two basic forms of the superiority of man over other creatures!…”[7]  Here he is talking about Christianity and Buddhism, but you can imagine the same criticism directed against not only Plato but also the Stoics. Nietzsche’s sees the Jews as the beginners of “the slave revolt in morality.”[8] You see, he is after an attitude to life that would be neither Jewish nor Greek. And the common ground on which both the Greek and the Jewish civilizations are built is an assumption that man is superior to other animals. It is not difficult to see where he is coming from if you remember that Christians thought Jews to be as inferior as animals. As for Buddhism, it is passive nihilism, a will to nothingness, for what is Nirvana if not a mystical union with God, with nothingness. After dissolving all these belief systems in a universal cesspool Nietzsche moves on to a revaluation of all values in the light of the Genesis in The Old Testament: “At the beginning was the word.” But what God is, for Nietzsche, is precisely this: nothingness. It doesn’t start from nothingness, it starts with language, and everything comes from language which has neither a beginning nor an end.

Stoic: But I think you are missing Nietzsche’s point there. For there is a pre-linguistic domain which is not nothingness, but something in between nothingness and everything that there is, that space between is the realm of partial objects which serve the purpose of relating to the world even before the language is acquired. And with this he comes back to what Zeno was saying. At the beginning there is no-motion, but that state of the being of things is not perceivable, for the mind unites partial-objects to form a sequence of events, before which there is nothing perceivable. Zeno says, movement in-itself and for itself is impossible because there can be no movement prior to the synthesis of the individual states of being at rest. But with cinema we see that motionless pictures are put one after the other in a particular sequence and when the film revolves a continuity of images, a flow of pictures is created. There is the illusion of one continuous motion of events when in fact each event is a motionless picture in itself.

Sceptic: But if it cannot be perceived how can you say that at the beginning there is nothing and immobility?

Stoic: Well, that’s not what I’m saying. There is nothing at the beginning precisely because nothing can be perceived before the beginning. You see, there is the absence of something, there is nothing as the object of perception. You have to assume that beginning itself has no beginning so that you can begin living, acting, and doing things. Otherwise how can you live with the thought of being surrounded by nothingness and death at all times? Death is where you cannot be. It is absolutely other to you, its presence signifies your absence and inversely. Perhaps we should have said there is nothing before the beginning and after the end. That fits in better with everything.

Sceptic: Yes, and with this sentence the riddle is solved to some extent; it is not a matter of beginning or ending; everything is in the middle, and nothing is before the beginning and after the end. The eternal return has neither a beginning nor an end.

Stoic: Even when you die your body is still in the process of dissolving; you dissolve into other things and become something else. It is not resurrection I’m talking about here. Nor is resurrection what Nietzsche attempted to theorize with the thought of eternal return, but a very materialist understanding of nature and its relation to man. Nietzsche never says what exactly the eternal return means but from what he says we come to a grasp of what it might mean. Let me quote Nietzsche at length. In this one of the best descriptions of what the eternal return might mean we see Zarathustra talking with a dwarf about time, the moment as a gateway to possibilities, and the passage of time.

 ‘Everything straight lies,’ murmured the dwarf disdainfully. ‘All truth is crooked, time itself is a circle.’

‘Spirit of Gravity!’ I said angrily, ‘do not treat this too lightly! Or I shall leave you squatting where you are, Lamefoot—and I have carried you high!

‘Behold this moment!’ I went on. ‘From this gateway Moment a long, eternal lane runs back: an eternity lies behind us.

‘Must not all things that can run have already run along this lane? Must not all things that can happen have already happened, been done, run past?

‘And if all things have been here before: what do you think of this moment, dwarf? Must not this gateway, too, have been here—before?

‘And are not all things bound fast together in such a way that this moment draws after it all future things? Therefore—draws itself too?

‘For all things that can run must also run once again forward along this long lane.

‘And this slow spider that creeps along in the moonlight, and this moonlight itself, and I and you at this gateway whispering together, whispering of eternal things—must we not all have been here before?

‘—and must we not return and run down that other lane out before us, down that long, terrible lane—must we not return eternally?’[9] 

You see, what renders the eternal return possible is saying yes to difference in repetition. The eternal return is Nietzsche’s grand conception which excludes all binary opposition and defies the binary logic of being and non-being. You can see that it is far away from what Diogenes Laertius was saying concerning the relationship between absence and presence. For Laertius where there is absence there can be no presence and inversely. But Nietzsche thinks that being and non-being, presence and absence are intermingled, are the two constitutive parts of becoming. One side of becoming accomplishes its movement while the other fails to accomplish its movement. So the persistence of being can only take the form of becoming. It is the becoming of being that counts as the immaculate conception of the eternal return. The eternal return is not a metaphysical concept, rather it renders possible attachment to the material world, the world as it is before turning into a fable in and through a linear narrative of history. The eternal return is a tool for interpreting the world in its infinity and finitude at the same time, and its legacy lies in its rejection of both a purely transcendental and a purely immanent interpretation of the world. When Nietzsche makes the dwarf say “everything straight lies[…] all truth is crooked, time itself is a circle,” he is pointing towards an ethical imperative, namely, that one must give free rein to the unconscious drives so that in time, as these drives are let to manifest themselves in and through language, it becomes apparent that it is ridiculous to repress them for it is repression itself that produces them; so the more one represses them the more one contributes to their strengthening. As you see what at stake here is a way of governing the self in relation to others. Eternal return is will to power and will to nothingness at the same time, it is the name of the process of becoming through which the subject becomes other than itself. This becoming other than itself of the subject is in the form of an emergence of the new out of the old, that is, realization of an already existing possibility and will towards its actualisation through this realization. So the subject assumes what it was in the past and upon this assumption builds its present as already past and yet to come. It is in this context that Foucault says genealogy is “a history of the present.”

Sceptic: Very interesting. You seem to have figured out the ways of passing across the avenues Gilles Deleuze opened in the way of explicating the meaning of eternal return and its use. Look at what he says in a passage, perhaps the most lucid articulation of Deleuze’s conception of time and its passage in Nietzsche and Philosophy:

What is the being of that which becomes, of that which neither starts nor finishes becoming? Returning is the being of that which becomes. “That everything recurs is the closest approximation of a world of becoming to world of being—high point of the meditation.” [Will to Power, 617] This problem for the meditation must be formulated in yet another way; how can the past be constituted in time? How can the present pass? The passing moment could never pass if it were not already past and yet to come—at the same time as being present. If the present did not pass of its own accord, if it had to wait for a new present in order to become past, the past in general would never be constituted in time, and this particular present would not pass. We cannot wait, the moment must be simultaneously present and past, present and yet to come, in order for it to pass (and to pass for the sake of other moments). The present must coexist with itself as past and yet to come. The synthetic relation of the moment to itself as present, past and future grounds its relation to other moments. The eternal return is thus an answer to the problem of passage. And in this sense it must not be interpreted as the return of something that is, that is “one” or the “same.” We misinterpret the expression “eternal return” if we understand it as “return of the same.”[10]

Stoic: It is true. Let me explain. With the big-bang a substance of infinite intensity begins its still ongoing process of expansion-contraction. And this process must always already be complete for it to even begin taking its course of becoming; everything happens at present and for that reason there is neither a beginning nor an end of time. The force combinations are infinitely repeated but because of its previous repetition the quality of the forces themselves change and give birth to its becoming different from itself through repetition of what it assumes itself to be in relation to time. So the subject always already is what it strives to become and yet the only way to actualise this becoming what one is is this: one has to realize that what one is striving to become is already what one is. All the configurations have to repeat themselves eternally for the return of the same to take place. But when this same returns one sees that it has never been the same but always already different from itself. When the future comes it becomes present, the subject is always at present and can never know what it would be like to exist in another present. There is nothing and the present.

Sceptic: Eternal return is the first conceptualisation of the death drive. It is not death drive but it operates the way death-drive operates, and since none of these have any existence outside their operations they are the two different forms the same content takes. The subject of the eternal return wills nothingness and this willing nothingness always returns as a will to power. You can see that Nietzsche uses this grand conception of the relationship between creation and destruction to invert destructive and reactive Nihilism into the spotlight; he turns Nihilism against itself through the thought of eternal return as the thought of becoming other than what one thinks one is. What was repressed and locked into the unconscious once turns into its opposite and becomes the order of the day in a new light and in another time. In this light time is itself the fourth dimension of space. That is how Nietzsche can see the rise of Nihilism in its material, historical conditions. We all come and keep coming from inorganic substance and will end up there. Nietzsche’s confrontation with truth was the confrontation of brain with chaos. And out of this confrontation emerges the truth of the death drive, the will to nothingness disguised as the will to truth, the internally constituted external governor of a Nihilistic Europe.

Stoic: Yes. They are in our midst and yet exterior to us. We are surrounded and governed by nothingness and death which have neither a beginning nor an end. Well, at least not for us, who are those governed by them. For when we die we are nowhere to see our dead bodies or experience death as our own. Death occurs where there is the absence of my self’s sense-experience, all the rest is a process of being towards death, dying, becoming-dead. When death finally arrives even my name ceases to be mine, or rather, it is realized that even my name has never been mine. There remains no one to carry out my life in my name once death is here.

Sceptic: Death and nothingness are interior and exterior to us at the same time. Most of us, however, keep the thought of death at bay at all times; those of us are the ones who live their lives without thinking about death, for they think, in a Spinozan fashion, that “he who is free thinks of nothing less than of death and his meditation is a wisdom not of death but of life.” This is the time of good-sense where everything is identical and everything can be substituted by something else.

Stoic: The will to power and the will to nothingness reverse the roles. We break down as we go along the way towards the completion of passing across the field of partial objects.

Sceptic: Precisely. You told me what I was trying to tell you.  And what is thought worth if it is not in the service of the present? Sacrificing the present by scarfacing yourself for the sake of a better future face is itself the worst thing that can be done to your face at all times. In vain is he/she who strives for immortality.

Stoic: Let us move on to the subjects of finitude and infinity, then. Here is a question for you: Are we finite becomings or infinite beings?

Sceptic: We might as well be neither or both of these. It’s a matter of taste depending on whether you see being alive as a process of dying or a process of living.

Stoic: I think we who are alive, or at least think we are, are infinite beings by nature, but turn into finite becomings in and through our cultures. I say we are infinite beings because infinity has no beginning or end, so it’s impossible for an infinite entity to be a becoming, only a being can be infinite, whereas a finite entity has a beginning from which its becoming starts taking its course and comes to a halt at the end. Since the concept of time is a cultural construct imposed on nature by human beings, because we see other people die, we have come to imagine that we are limited by finitude and surrounded by infinity, when in fact it is the other way around; that is, we are infinite beings and death constitutes an internal limit to our being in the world, giving birth to our idea of ourselves as finite becomings. Do you understand?

Sceptic: Yes I do. We don’t have to strive for immortality, for we are always already immortals who are incapable of realising their immortalities.

Stoic: Shall we leave it at that, then?

Sceptic: Let’s do so.

Stoic: No last words?

Sceptic: None at all.

Stoic: No worst of all words.

Sceptic: None worse than last words.

Stoic: Well then, the end to which we are all devoted shall be to raise our glasses to this worsening suffering!

Sceptic: To what end last words?

Stoic: To what end suffering?

Stoic and Sceptic: Oh, dear!  


[1] Friedrich Nietzsche, On The Genealogy of Morality, trans. Maudemarie Clark and Alan J. Swensen (Cambridge: Hackett, 1998), 117

[2] Friedrich Nietzsche, On The Genealogy of Morality, trans. Maudemarie Clark and Alan J. Swensen (Cambridge: Hackett, 1998), 103

[3] Friedrich Nietzsche, On The Genealogy of Morality, trans. Maudemarie Clark and Alan J. Swensen (Cambridge: Hackett, 1998), 117

[4] Henri Bergson, Time and Free Will, 228

[5] Epictetus, The Encheiridion: The Handbook, trans. Nicholas P. White (Cambridge: Hackett, 1983), 16

[6] Epictetus, 16

[7] Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genalogy of Morality, 15-6

[8] Nietzsche, 17

[9] Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 178-9

[10] Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy, 48

 

Bir mum alevinin sönmeden önce dayanılmaz bir biçimde son bir kez parlaması gibidir bazı ilişkilerin bitişi. Son bir kez karşı konulmaz bir arzu duyarız sevdiğimize karşı, ama bu arzu çok geçmeden yerini aynı derecede karşı konulmaz bir kayıtsızlığa bırakır her ne hikmetse. Mum sönmüştür artık ve artık tekrar karanlıktayızdır bir süreliğine, yani ta ki hiç beklenmedik bir anda karşımıza bir başkası çıkıp da sönmeden önce gözlerimizi neredeyse kör edecek kadar parlayan söz konusu mum ışığına yeniden hayat verene kadar.

“İnsan yanmayı ve küllerinden yeniden doğmayı bilmeli,” demişti Nietzsche. Küllerinden yeniden doğan anka kuşu misâli yeniden doğmaya benzer adına aşk demeyi alışkanlık hâline getirdiğimiz duygu durumu. Ama genellikle dürtüsel bir etkilenimden, veya bilemediniz tutku tabir edebileceğimiz bir yakınlık hissinden başka bir şey değildir adına aşk demeyi alışkanlık hâline getirdiğimiz o duygu durumu. İlişkinin bittiği kesinlik kazanınca, yani artık yaşadıklarımız bizi ne üzer, ne de mutlu eder hâle gelince, bir başka deyişle kayıtsızlık zuhur edince işte, “ben aslında bu insanı hiç sevmemiş, ona hiç aşık olmamışım ki,” diye geçiririz içimizden, ki nitekim geçirmemiz de gerekir zaten. En kötüsü de aşkla acıma hislerinin birbirine karıştırılmasıdır ama bence, zira bu hem bize hem de sevmek yerine acıdığımız ama acıdığımızın farkında olmak yerine ona aşık olduğumuzu sandığımız kişiye zûldür.

“Ne insanlar gördüm üstlerinde elbise yok, ne elbiseler gördüm içinde insan yok,” sözünü hepimiz duymuşuzdur. Kimin, ne zaman söyledği bile belli olmayan bu son derece özlü sözle biraz oynarsak onu şu hâle sokmamız mümkündür: “Ne aşıklar gördüm aşkın zerresinden haberleri yok, ne aşklar gördüm aşıklarının yaşayacak bünyesi yok.”

Yıllar önce bir sevgilim bitirmekte oldukça zorlandığımız o dillere destan ilişkiyi bitirebilmek için dahiyâne bir sözle hadiseye noktayı tereyağından kıl çeker gibi koymuştu: “Kalplerimiz bu sevgiyi kaldıramayacak kadar küçüktü.” Adı lâzım değil, hakikaten doğru söylemişti bence söz konusu sevgili, zira gerçekten de söz konusu aşk o yaşta ikimizi de aşan ve artık kontrolümüzden çıkan bir hâle gelmişti. Biz aşkın özneleri değildik artık, bilâkis aşk bizim öznemiz, bizse aşkımızın nesnleriydik. “Aşkın kölesi olmak” lâfı biraz anlam ihtiva ediyorsa, söz konusu aşkın nesnesi olma durumu buna harika bir emsâl teşkil eder niteliktedir kanımca. Neticede aşkımız bizi aşınca biz de onun içinde boğulmamak için benim de katkılarımla “kalplerimiz bu aşkı sığmayacak kadar küçüktü,” sözünü ilişkimizin bitişini mümkün kılan söz olarak lânetlenmiş kalplerimize kazımış ve yollarımızı ayırmıştık. Bazen ayrı yollardan gidenlerin de aynı yere varabileceklerini nereden bilebilirdik ki?! Kalplerimiz büyüdü artık ve aşkımız tanınamayacak hale geldi belki şimdi, lâkin ikimizin de bildiği bir şey var işte hiç değişmeyen; insan doğru hayatı yanlış yaşayabilir, ezberler bozulmak içindir, çünkü insan hayatı boyunca sadece tek bir kez, sadece tek bir kişiye aşık olabilen ölümlü varlıklara verilen addır, gerisi ise teferruattır…   

I’m hungry, I shall consume flesh.             

"Where would I go, if I could go, who would I be, if I could be, what would I say, if I had a voice, who says this saying it’s me?" (Beckett - 2)

Expulsion of the Negative and Affirmation of Life are Mutually Exclusive

Purgatory, purification, extraction of the positive, expulsion of the negative, projection, introjection… Throughout his discursive life Deleuze conceived of purification of the self as the goal of literature. He believed that through an exposition of the evil within one was healing the society. But this theory can only produce otherness as negativity and that is almost exactly the opposite of what affirmative critique ought to be. Nietzsche’s project of “the expulsion of the negative” is a recurrent theme in Deleuze’s writings. Like Nietzsche he thought that it is only through regression that one could be purified and get outside the confines of the Cartesian cogito. Deleuze’s attempts at escaping from the Cartesian dualism, however, can only cause an interruption of the splitting process and slides towards overcoming the split to attain oneness. Giving a voice to the other creates the conditions of impossibility for the other’s finding his/her own voice.

With Deleuze it is always one dies rather than I die, or as the Cynic saying goes, “when there is death I am not, when I am there is no death.” Instead of accepting the state of being wounded as a perpetually renewed actuality, instead of affirming death within life, the other within the self, Deleuze climbs over the walls of his wound, and looking down on the others, he loses the ground beneath his feet, and eventually falls into the split he was trying to get rid of.

Affirming the mutual inclusiveness of introversion and intersubjectivity means preferring an a-sociality, what Blanchot calls “being in a non-relation,” to the symbolic order. Blanchot’s attitude is exactly the opposite of the symbolic market society that dissolves the most fundamental questions of being human in a pot of common sense. The subject of the market society is continually in pursuit of increased strength and self-confidence. And for that reason governed by what Nietzsche called the herd instinct, the will to nothingness, this subject becomes a reactive and adaptive subject. The symbolic order loses the ground beneath itself when and if the majority starts to see living with the thought of death not only as a natural necessity, but also as something to be affirmed.

 Do not seek to have events happen as you want them to, but instead want them to happen as they do happen, and your life will go well.[16] 

We continually have to work on turning everything that happens to us in this life into “for the good.” For everything good or bad to become for the good we have to affirm that which has happened to us. But how are we going to affirm something so terrible that nails us to a painful existence indefinitely? First of all, we have to accept that, that which has happened is not changeable, it has already taken place and we cannot go back there to unlive it.  But at the same time the meaning, value, and significance of what has happened is never fully established. Only death accomplishes the event’s significance, only through death is established the truth of what has happened to us.

For the Stoics one has to have a perfect understanding of the workings of cosmos and nature to be able to live in harmony with the world surrounding one. It is such that everything is a cause and an effect at the same time and everything is linked to one another. Everything that happens causes other things to happen. To a certain extent what happens to us is not in our control but at the same time if we know what the consequence of a certain action would be we could choose what to do, and so what happens to us, to a certain extent, becomes our own doing. We have to figure out how to act, which words to use in the way of affecting the external world so as to maintain ourselves as an active agent in any circumstance.[17]

Let us imagine an example. If we have done something so terribly wrong that it is causing us great distress, before drowning in our sadness we have to find a way of reading it in such a way as to turn it into something that was necessary for our present and future happiness. If we let ourselves go after a disappointing incident, if we let things happen to us and not do something to change the course of events we might as well find ourselves in an irresolvable situation at the end, which would lead to madness and death.

At every moment throughout our lives we are confronted with obstacles that keep us from accomplishing certain desired ends. And yet there is also always a certain potential of accomplishing something even better because of the very obstacle that caused the desired end to become unattainable. The Stoic solution to this problem is simple and yet sophisticated.

What we have here is not a total negation of desire but a rejection of certain objects of desire that one must know from past experience are bad for us to desire. If we want something to happen to us, something that would satisfy a certain desire, and if the desired event cannot be accomplished through our actions then there is no point in striving for the attainment of an unattainable object of desire. Instead one should make the best of what is at hand and accomplish other events that render possible the attainment of objects of desire that are within reach. If we don’t know what and how to work for, we get nothing out of life, find ourselves locked in a room on the door of which death continually knocks.

Paintings by Andy DenzlerTitle: Bertolt Brecht People remain what they are even if their faces fall apart - but does it float

Painting by Andy Denzler
Title: Bertolt Brecht

Epictetus’ philosophy is a very practical one. In it we find ways of coping with the difficulties of life. And it is adaptable to the present state of the human condition in which we find ourselves face to face with the exploitation of the life drive and the death drive through a manipulation of the mutual dependence of these two based on the ambiguous, because a-symetrical, conflict inherent in the relationship between them.

If we know not how to choose what to desire, if we allow the objects of our desire to be shaped by the capable hands of the big Other represented by the global capitalists, we also let the ways in which we desire be determined by a source other than ourselves, hence become puppets trying to satisfy an external force rather than ourselves and our lovers. We have to know what to desire and how to make it happen, otherwise nothing happens and where there is nothing happening there can be neither creativity nor communication; for what is one to create or communicate if there is nothing to create and communicate.

Once it is realized that there is nothing other than nothing to be struggled against, it becomes clearer how it would be possible to detach oneself from external circumstances and act in the way of maintaining an impersonal vision of what happens around us. One dissociates not the events themselves, but dissociates oneself from the events surrounding one. The Stoic indifference requires a subject in the form of an impersonal consciousness who maintains its dissociating function at all times. For this dissociation to take place, however, the subject has to know how to associate events that have led to the present, that is, one has to immerse oneself in the plurality of the past events, and extract from this multiplicity a combination of events so as to enable oneself to constitute oneself as an autonomous, free agent. This attitude emphasizes the importance of each instant. At every instant we have to act in such a way as to make the future better than the past. And this brings us to Nietzsche’s eternal return. According to Nietzsche, we have to act at every present moment in such a way that we will regret nothing in the future. Every present is an eternal moment in-itself and it is at times in our control to turn the present into for-itself, and at times it is not.

So, at every present we have to consider the possibilities from different angles and decide which way to go and which way not to go as if we were immortal. What Epictetus seems to be suggesting is that once a choice is made the only way to make it work for us is to push it to its limit where it either turns against us or against itself and creates another possibility of choice. Epictetus is not in favour of an individuality that would be constituted through moderation, but in a subject that would be indifferent to lack or excess. In Epictetus’ world there is no lack or excess; what there is lacks nothing and nothing in what there is is excessive. If one is satisfied by what there is with its lacks and excesses one needs no moderation of one’s actions, for there is nothing lacking or excessive to be moderated in one’s actions. Lack or excess can only be determined by a whole external to the already existing. But there is only that which is, which never lacks anything in relation to something outside itself. The concepts of lack and excess belong to the world of metaphysics which exists only in imagination.

So I eventually arrive where I could possibly have arrived; the end of this voyage, which is at the same time the beginning of another one. And here I find out that the more affirmative one’s attitude towards life gets the more fragile the contact with the other becomes. But as the contact becomes more fragile and affirmation more difficult, maintaining the conditions for the possibility of a perpetually recreated affirmative cont(r)act becomes more essential to the continuation of healthy life of self in touch not only with its own death but also with the death of the other.

Sometimes the only way to keep affirming is to affirm the fragility of the affirmative cont(r)act itself. It is only by affirming a broken and irregularly beating heart in its broken irregularity that one can relate to it. But to affirm this heart one must detach oneself from it, not identify with it, not become broken and irregularly beating itself, so that one can find in oneself the strength to undertake repairing the broken heart. Affirmation of life as it is, I think, is only the beginning of a fragile and yet beautiful friendship… Read More

 via senselogic

la mort - death

The Pre-Socratics: A Case Study

The fate of the pre-Socratics has often taken two routes, that of either complete dismissal due to inescapable primitivism or as purveyors of deep esoteric truths completely lost to our time. As is often the case however the truth lies somewhere in tension between the two. For examination of these founders of philosophy can provide two illuminating roles. Firstly we can conceive the ideas of these pioneers in the context of their ultimate evolution… Read More via An Excavation of Ideas


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