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Excision Ethos: Flat Ontology and the Posthuman Object/Subject.


Fritz Kahn (1888-1968) (author), Stuttgart,1926. Relief halftone.

When the speculations concerning the extinction of all life on earth as a consequence of an explosion of the sun in 4.5 years hit the headlines for the first time, Dr. Lawgiverz was in a deep meditation, meditating the possible reasons of and the forces behind the sudden whitening of all the television screens in the world about a year ago. Needless to say, the news had come as a shock, not only to Dr. Lawgiverz whose flow of thought was interrupted, but also to the ordinary citizens of the world, who were mostly thinking nothing at all, on the verge of psychosis perhaps, as a result of their deprivation from visual images for almost a year. Dr. Lawgiverz himself didn’t mind living in the lack of visual images, because for him, to use a phrase from the famous French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, the brain itself was a screen. As the attentive reader might have easily recognized, Dr. Lawgiverz was a man of contemplation, although we preferred to use the word meditation to describe his activity on that particular morning a few sentences ago. He contemplated everything from death to life and back. He even contemplated the existence of thought after there was no one left to think. There are many more things to say about Dr. Lawgiverz, but for the time being let us be content with merely saying that we who are not one have decided to leave these to the later parts of our narrative. For we are sure that all shall reveal itself as it is, to you, to us and to all the other mortals who are lucky enough to be witnessing all these speculations, as our narrative unfolds.

Dr. Lawgiverz considered himself a realistic speculator belonging to the group of speculative realists who considered themselves to have initiated a new philosophical movement which they called Speculative Realism. Even though some of them were extremely unhappy with this designation – Ray Brassier, for instance, had recently articulated his doubts about the term speculative realism, which he himself had coined – since there is no other alternative to replace it with, we have decided to stick to that problematic term. Need we say that just like us and Dr. Lawgiverz, the speculative realists too, nevertheless submitted to the naming for the sake of being something and not willing nothingness rather than not willing something, the opossite of which the famous German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche would have said if only he was alive. Let us do not hesitate to resurrect all the living and the dead.                                                                             

Quentin Meillassoux, Ray Brassier, Iain Hamilton Grant and Graham Harman were the forerunners of this new philosophical movement as far as Dr. Lawgiverz was concerned, although Meillassoux preferred the phrase Speculative Materialism as he had put it in his book After Finitude. Perhaps now is the time we should talk about another term coined by Meillassoux a little bit, in the way of opening up new passages in and through which our narrative can flow. Correlationism, which is the term coined by Meillassoux as we have already pointed out without naming it in the previous sentence, means simply this: incapability to conceieve of a world independent of human reality, and incapability to conceive of a human reality independent of the world. “Does a reality of the world in itself exist independent of human perception?” is the question Meillassoux asks and answers: yes it does, but we as humans are as yet to speculate on that. We don’t know if it is worth mentioning that our speculations must be realistic, rather than in the form of the ravings of a lunatic, as is probably the curious case of Dr. Lawgiverz. What we mean when we say real is the Lacanian Real. As those of our readers delved into psychoanalysis know, the Real is that which is outside consciousness, and it is here that the term speculation becomes relevant. For how can one talk about that which is outside one’s consciousness unless one speculates on nothing. What is required is analogical thinking, rather than a logical sequence of thoughts, to be a speculative realist who acts out nihilistic speculations. For Dr. Lawgiverz, the Real and the Unbound Nihil are the same side of two different coins.

As for Ray Brassier, it was he who coined the term Speculative Realism at the Goldsmiths conference which had taken place in London in 2007. In his book Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction, Brassier had made a very efficient use of Laruelle’s non-philosophy, Nietzsche’s “willl to nothingness” and Lyotard’s essay Solar Catastrophe. Although all these are extremely useful for the development of our narrative, as the reader keen on paying attention to detail might have and should possibly have realised, Lyotard’s Solar Catastrophe is the one that is of exceptional importance for our purposes which are yet to be calarified.

            When Brassier, following Lyotard,  asks towards the end of his Nihil Unbound, how  thought can think the death of thought, he is clearly, just like Meillassoux, questioning whether a mortal can conceive of a being in the world as not being towards death, but rather as being outside the world and already dead. Against Kant and Heidegger, Meillassoux and Brassier propose an idea of life inclusive of death, that is, a life that doesn’t require the absence of death for its being. The post-structuralist conception of death as an absent presence in the midst of life derives from Kantian and Heideggerian forms of correlationism. In both Heidegger and Kant infinity and death surround life, they are external limits to life. But for Meillassoux and Brassier, death and infinity constitute an internal limit to life, in other words the life of thought is a life driven by death. This must be it, ends Dr. Lawgiverz his flow of thought. 

In his After Finitude, Meillassoux argues that “it is incumbent upon us to break with the ontological requisite of the moderns, according to which to be is to be a correlate.[1] Meillassoux’s aim, as he says in the following sentence, is to break with the correlationist philosophy and become capable of understanding “how thought is able to access the uncorrelated.”[2] This reminds Dr. Lawgiverz Heidegger’s equation of being in the world with being towards death. Needless to say, for Heidegger, being dead is not being in the world, for being of being requires the non-being of non-being, thinks Dr. Lawgiverz. The question is whether death is something uncorrelated or nothing at all.                                  

Noticing that we have unconsciously shifted from the past tense to the simple present tense, a wave of depression engulfed us. But since we don’t want to bore you with our personal problems and the reasons of this engulfment, we would now like to get back to the past tense as if nothing happened, or rather as if something didn’t go wrong. As we were saying earlier on, the news had come suddenly, as it generally does. Dr. Lawgiverz heard it on the radio, as probably many others did, due to the lack of televisons and their screens. The reporter was reading the headlines from the newspapers in the morning news program with a very excited voice which was and remains the voice interrupting Dr. Lawgiverz’s flow of thought: “According to the spokesman of The World Scientific Research Institude, who was an eminent astrogeologist, the sun will explode in 4.5 years, extinguishing all life on earth. The spokesman said, ‘we are convinced that this solar catastrophe will take place in 4.5 years and we regret to inform you that there is nothing that can be done to prevent it and save the human kind from extinction.”

So once again, thought Dr. Lawgiverz, nothing to be done, Beckett was right after all, disaster after disaster, from bad to worse, when will it all end? This question was pointless as it was obvious that it would all end in 4.5 years, but perhaps out of shock, perhaps not, Dr. Lawgiverz had asked it anyway.

(c) Cengiz Erdem. Mortal, All Too Mortal. Cyprus, January 2010.

[1] Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude, trans. Ray Brassier (Continuum: London, 2008), 28

[2] Meillassoux, 28

1. Overview

The fragile title of the introduction, which splits as it unites deconstruction and affirmative recreation, should not discourage the reader from even beginning to engage in an encounter with this thesis. This thesis is the product of an intense meditation on the relevance of Freud’s concepts of the life drive and the death drive for contemporary cultural and critical theory in the light of Melanie Klein’s projection-introjection mechanism. I consider  Bentham’s Panopticon to be the material form taken by the life and death drives as well as by the concepts of projection and introjection, since Foucault’s interpretation of it in his Discipline and Punish as the model of modern Western societies started to manifest its effects.  

I propose that these concepts, both the Freudian (life drive and death drive) and the Kleinian (introjection and projective identification), are becoming more and more relevant with the recent developments in technology. As an inorganic realm, the realm of technology forms a transparent sheet that blurs the line between life and death, the organic and the inorganic. But rather than develop a paranoid and reactive attitude towards technology, which would be a ridiculous thing to do at this stage of its development, I attempt to find a way of affirming life attached to technology in the face of the truth that affirmation of life requires affirming death within it.

There is no reason to interpret this attitude as a stance against technological development. On the contrary, my problem is not only with the content of the developmental process; technology remains a transitional object for me. My concern is also the form of the developmental process, the ways in which the failures of this developmental process manifest themselves, and where this developmental process is heading as seen in particular works of literature and cinema.

This thesis does not project an apocalyptic vision of existence. My will is highly optimistic, it is my intellect that is pessimistic.

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… [1]

During the course of my investigation first I distinguish two distinct forms of the will to nothingness. The first one is the death drive and the second one is the life drive. As we will see, I used Freud’s drive theory to split Nietzsche’s will to nothingness, or what might be called nihilism, into two separate but contiguous forms. These two forms of nihilism, that I distinguish using Freud and Nietzsche under the guiding hand of Melanie Klein, are perpetually in conflict with one another. At times they put on one another’s masks and costumes; they act out one another’s roles, and they keep the show business going on.

Perhaps what was at stake was the confrontation between Eros and Thanatos, the yet to be discovered life drive and death drive within him, when Nietzsche proclaimed himself Christ and Dionysus at the same time in one last cry. In this light I see the life drive and the death drive as the two constituent parts of the will to nothingness, two driving forces behind the will to nothingness, which give birth to the two different forms of contemporary nihilism: “Civilized progress” and “barbaric regress.”

But that I don’t find the resolution of the conflict between them satisfying does not mean that I am dreaming of a higher form of reconciliation. What I mean is that these two are always already reconciled, and yet that the only way to actualise this reconciliation is to think their separation through introducing a difference between them that unites them as it splits them.

I see the failure of the relationship between civilised progress and barbaric regress as something becoming increasingly relevant for an analysis of cultural and natural transformations of life. The ongoing conflict between what we started to understand from civilized progress and barbaric regress after Hegel and since his three different applications to the study of culture, embodied by Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud, does not seem to have been a sufficiently fruitful one.

As Foucault put it in his essay Nietzsche, Marx, Freud with these three thinkers a new form of interpretation emerged in three different practices. Following Nietzsche, Foucault asserts that the dominant discourse of the classical period is “the history of an error.” According to Nietzsche this is a history written by the ones who hold the power but who are at the same time “the weak.” Nietzsche says that these have a slave mentality and this mentality subjects them to being reactive forces that multiply themselves by contaminating the others who are treated as inferior but are in fact “the strong.” In pursuit of escaping from that history of an error written by the slaves and which is a product of slave mentality, Foucault attempted to practice a new way of reading history which he, borrowing the term from Nietzsche, calls “genealogy.” In Foucault’s words from another essay in the same compilation,

Genealogy does not oppose itself to history as the lofty and profound gaze of the philosopher might compare to the molelike perspective of the scholar; on the contrary, it rejects the metahistorical deployment of ideal significations and indefinite teleologies. It opposes itself to the search for “origins.”[2] 

Where the soul pretends unification or the Me fabricates a coherent identity, the genealogist sets out to study the beginning—numberless beginnings, whose faint traces and hints of colour are readily seen by a historical eye.[3] 

Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud are they who set the task and determined the objective. This task is to learn from the past and sustain the conditions of impossibility for suffering to repeat itself. In other words, the task is to supply the subject with practical tools for living a long, healthy, and happy life. But the health of the subject is not separable from the improvement of the other’s conditions of existence. Horkheimer and Adorno, and Marcuse followed this line of thought.

Writing for different reasons, in a different way, and in a different context, the solutions of the past are my problems. My aim is to show that what seems to be a liberating attitude turns into its opposite and becomes a restrictive and paralysing theoretical approach. In other words, the symptom which is the non-reason inherent in reason turns into the cure when in fact it is the manifestation of the illness. This dynamic of a vicious cycle will be the major object of this study.

To stay alive in a state of conflict what one needs to learn to do is to write and rewrite a law for oneself as one goes along the way; a law that is permanently in touch with the others within and without. One is to become capable of imagining another world and still live in this world in such a way as to turn life into a movement towards a new life. Death as Law is interior to the subject as much as it is exterior to it. 

The Satyr, at his first sight of fire, wished to kiss and embrace it, but Prometheus said, “You, goat, will mourn your vanished beard,” for fire burns him who touches it, yet it furnishes light and heat, and is an instrument of every craft for those who have learned to use it.”[4]

At the root of every progressive movement Nietzsche sees a traumatic incident, and for that reason the real is always touched through a surface event. Nietzsche sees progress as an effect of regress and regress as an effect of progress. Nietzsche confuses causes and effects. For Nietzsche the event that manifests the change of roles between cause and effect always takes the form of a conflict between the causes and effects of regress and progress on/of one another. This unrepresentable and unnamable event, which, for Nietzsche, goes beyond the gap between the psychic and the somatic, is itself the cause of a traumatic effect the transcendence of which is at the same time a process of passing through the state of being governed by a superior and yet unknown force, death, which is interior and exterior to the life of the subject at the same time. For me this process involves passing through the walls of one’s wound rather than being caught up in an endless process of climbing over it and falling back in again. 

Slavoj Zizek points out that Lacan calls this process of passing through “traversing the fantasy.”[5] Deleuze would have said, it is, at the same time, traversing the symbolic, in that it is a passage across the field of affective intensities and partial objects where there remains no gap between fantasy and reality, psychic and somatic, part and whole, organ and body, self and world, transcendental and empirical. Traversing the fantasy is the process of becoming in and through which Nietzsche feels himself to be “all the names in history.” Where transcendence and immanence become one, there one experiences a sublimation of sublimation, and learns to affirm life as it is by affirming the negative contact, and lives on as pure immanence surviving psychic death.

 All this, of course, requires a realization that the external forces, having become interior to the subject, themselves create the conditions of negative contact, and yet the affirmation of the negating subject is itself constitutive of the affirmative contact.

Nietzsche had failed in surviving this process of realization. The confrontation with the unconscious, the Real forces of the outside, had become so intense that a spiralling of his thoughts into nothingness became inescapable. His painstaking process of writing against himself caused a turning against itself of his desire to immerse himself in the chaos of the Real. When this condition of impoverishment and exhaustion coincided with his will to write he found the strength to say what he may: “And, to say again at the end what I said at the beginning: man would much rather will nothingness than not will…”[6]

2. Objective

The principal objective of this thesis is to point out the continuing, and even increasing relevance of the concepts of life drive and death drive for contemporary cultural and critical theory. When Freud created the concepts of life drive and death drive he was influenced not only by Nietzsche, but also by Darwin’s theory of evolution and the neuroscience of his day. In the light of the recent developments in neuroscience Freud’s drive theory may appear to have lost its relevance, and yet this does not mean that it cannot be affirmatively recreated and put to use in the critique of contemporary cultural products and the psychoanalysis of the world in general. The use of these concepts should not mean that I am reducing being human to a dualistic vision of life, for I am not ignoring the existence of other drives such as the drive to play, but trying to show that many cultural products still operate at the level of a Freudo/Cartesian dualism, and are based on the production, exploitation and/or oppression of the life drive and the death drive.  

I situate the concepts of the life drive and the death drive in the context of philosophy and rethink these concepts through their relation to immanence and transcendence, affirmation and negation. It would, however, be too simplistic to equate the life drive with transcendence and the death drive with immanence. That, precisely, is not the case in this thesis. To my mind the life drive unifies the multiple by transcending death and the death drive splits the given unities by transcending life. So life/death drives are both transcendence and negation oriented, whereas immanence and affirmation signify and are signified by life/death without unconscious drives, but conscious desiring. This form of being in relation to the concepts of life drive and death drive enables me to see these drives not as unchanging constituents of human nature and life, or as solidly defined concepts constitutive of a certain kind of knowledge about human nature and life but as modes of being and forms of thinking produced and projected onto human nature by cultural products. In the light of this, I propose that these concepts can be used as components of a mobile and dynamic critical apparatus targeting the works in and through which the myths of life drive and death drive are not only produced, but also exploited and/or oppressed.

I attempt to show how the life drive is exploited as the death drive is oppressed in some literary and filmic texts, while the death drive is exploited and the life drive is oppressed in some others. The condition of possibility for the oppression/exploitation of the life/death drives to take place is sustained by a manipulation of the ambiguous relationship between these two; they can easily reverse the roles and disguised as their opposites, the life drive and the death drive become enemies working in the service of destroying the subject whose life, with the advance of global capitalism and the increasing abuse of the recent developments in technology, has literally become an oscillation between them. For instance, the subject takes on the characteristics of Eros as his persona, becomes a virtual Eros in a chat-room on the internet, but has to act like a Thanatos at work, and becomes someone who pretends to be a Thanatos in ordinary social reality, when in fact he prefers to be a descendant of Eros, or inversely.

 My aim in this study is to look for traces and investigate the implications of this paradoxical situation in particular works of philosophy, psychoanalysis, cultural and critical theory, literature, and cinema produced during the twentieth century. At present this situation in which the subject finds himself/herself has become not only imposed on the subject but also willed by the subject.

As I already said, while in some cases the death drive becomes the target of exploitation/oppression, in some other cases the life drive becomes this target. I use texts from, cinema, literature, philosophy, and psychoanalysis in order to explicate this theory of the emergence of the new forms that power, embodied by and embodying the Big Other, takes.

Unless one splits the past and the present, the self and the other, the theory and the practice, the life drive and the death drive, the subject of enunciation(conscious desire) and the enunciated content(the unconscious drive), the critical and the clinical, it becomes impossible to create a space out of which a new and practical truth emerges, and hence the conditions of existence cannot be developed.  All these binaries are separate but contiguous to one another, they are always already reconciled but the only way to actualize this reconciliation is to introduce a split between them which unites them as it exposes the gap inherent in their relationship. We are in the process of realizing this precisely because we have started to see that if theory is not practical it serves nothing. This realization should bring with it a will to split theory and practice, for their unity means the destruction of both of them; already before the beginning of the process of becoming one they start destroying one another. Their oneness is their death, for one dies as much, more than one lives as such. For me theory aims at developing practical ways of practicing freedom, and its goal is to sustain the conditions for the possibility of its own destruction. On this both Adorno and Foucault agree.

In the light of the result of my investigation I propose that a practical theory of progress based on an interaction between deconstruction and affirmative recreation is not only possible but is also already at work within the contemporary psychosomatic and sociopolitical realms of experience.

3. Method

The nature of this study requires an interdisciplinary and a multi-methodological attitude which goes beyond the opposition between merely conceptual and merely empirical approaches. It is based on a mode of enquiry which takes its driving force from thought-experiments that open paths to a new field in which various perspectives interact and form an intra-subjective dimension of theoretical practice situating psychoanalysis, cognitive neuroscience, and philosophy in the context of cultural and critical theory. For the emergence of a new truth out of the old knowledge one must pose new questions concerning the workings of the human mind. In the light of the recent developments in cognitive neuroscience, for instance, especially the works of Antonio Damasio and Gerald Edelman, Freud’s concepts of the life drive and the death drive, Klein’s concepts of introjection and projective identification, and Wilfred Bion’s affirmative recreation of Klein’s theories in the way of a theory of thinking become extremely relevant for the development of a universal cultural and critical theory.

Cognitive neuroscience proposes that the quality of an external object is always already projected onto that object by the neuronal activity of the brain. What cognitive neuroscience lacks is a historical context, likewise what cultural studies lacks is an organic basis. An interaction between psychoanalysis, linguistics, philosophy, cultural studies, and cognitive neuroscience can break out of the closure of the humanities and give birth to the link which has come to be considered missing, between nature and nurture, organic and inorganic, empirical and conceptual, epistemological and ontological, transcendental and immanent, the objective and the subjective.

Because of the dynamic and parallel nature of re-entry and because it is a process of higher-order selection, it is not easy to provide a metaphor that captures all the properties of re-entry. Try this: Imagine a peculiar (and even weird) string quartet, in which each player responds by improvisation to ideas and cues of his or her own, as well as to all kinds of sensory cues in the environment. Since there is no score, each player would provide his or her own characteristic tunes, but initially these various tunes would not be coordinated with those of the other players. Now imagine that the bodies of the players are connected to each other by myriad fine threads so that their actions and movements are rapidly conveyed back and forth through signals of changing thread tensions that act simultaneously to time each player’s actions. Signals that instantaneously connect the four players would lead to a correlation of their sounds; thus, new, more cohesive, and more integrated sounds would emerge out of the otherwise independent efforts of each player. This correlative process would alter the next action of each player, and by these means the process would be repeated but with new emergent tunes that were even more correlated. Although no conductor would instruct or coordinate the group and each player would still maintain his or her style and role, the player’s overall productions would lead to a kind of mutually coherent music that each one acting alone would not produce.[7]

The model of mind conceptualized by Gerald Edelman shows us that the mind is an embodied substance which has the ability to adapt to changes surrounding it. If we keep in mind that cinema, literature, art, and music show how the mind works at a particular moment in history, as well as the emotional state of that particular moment, it becomes clear why a mode of enquiry rather than a specific method is required for the analysis and critique of human consciousness and its relation to the environment surrounding it. In this context, the plot driven critique of the literary and filmic texts aims at distinguishing between the world of consciousness and the world of appearances. My claim is that it is only through looking at the mortal world of appearances with the eyes of an immortal consciousness that we can see that which is present as an absence in the predominant symbolic order. By looking at “what happens when” in a movie or a book as well as “how that thing happens,” I sustain the conditions of impossibility as the conditions of possibility for cont(r)action to take place and give birth to an immortal subject. Needless to say, this subject is also an object encountering and encountered by the unknown within the known, the chaos inherent in the order itself, that calls forth he who has died so many times and is yet to die again and be reborn many more times so as to live as dead again. The reader might be disappointed because I will not have pursued and incorporated Edelman’s neural Darwinism and further developed the idea of a context-bound cognitive neuroscience and a matter(brain) based cultural and critical theory. The reason for this is that I discovered Edelman’s work towards the end of writing my thesis, and then  rewrote the Introduction. As a matter of fact, after this discovery the whole thesis itself could have been rewritten. Just as the Law changes its object and is in turn changed by that object, my critical apparatus, too, changes and is changed by its objects, in this case cultural products, be they filmic, literary or philosophical texts. It is such that this theoretical narrative moves on in such a way as to cut itself from its own past and unite with its own future at the same time, that is, in one simultaneous movement in two directions at once.

Hence it becomes clear why I pay attention to “what happens when” and “how that thing happens,” at the same time. For this I am indebted to Edelman who shifted the perspective of cognitive neuroscience from “how the brain makes sense,” to “when the brain makes sense.” If one reads the writings on film and literature in this thesis with the conscious naivety of their plot based critique in mind, one can sense the underlying current of humour and the erratic undertone of irony, both of which knock down the serious tone of the critique based on a linear reproduction of a circular plot – as we see in the investigation of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive for instance.

In his Critique of Judgement, Kant distinguishes between the determinative and the reflective modes of judgement.

If the universal (the rule, the principle, the law) is given, the judgement that subsumes the particular under it… is determinative. If, however, only the particular for which the universal is to be found is given, judgement is merely reflective.[8]

If we keep in mind that the reflective mode of judgement reflects on particulars in such a way as to produce universals to which they can be subjected, and that the determinative mode of judgement determines a particular by subjecting it to a universal, it becomes understandable why among these two I shall be using the reflective mode which splits as it unites the subject of enunciation and the enunciated subject. But it must be kept in mind that the subject of enunciation which refers to the universal is itself a constitutive illusion, or a regulatory idea necessary for the emergence of the immortal subject as the enunciated content. It is only in and through a position of non-mortality within and without mortal life at the same time that the exploitation of mortality can be brought into the spotlight. A critique of the exploitation of mortality inherent in particularly exemplary cultural products will be achieved through putting them in a perspective that analyzes the life death drives in such a way as to expose the exploitation of the fear of death as the driving force inherent in them. The point is that it is indeed necessary to fantasize being what one is not, in our case being non-mortal, to be able to become self-conscious of one’s self-reflexivity in the way of creating an order of signification not caught up in the rotary motion of drives locked in Klein’s projection-introjection mechanism,  but rather one which breaks this vicious cycle and at least attempts to subtract death from life in a counter-act to the post-structuralist idea of life as a process of dying and death as an absent presence in the midst of life. It is only through such a subtraction of the absent presence of death within life that the productive interaction between Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism, Foucault’s bio-politics, Badiou’s theory of infinity, and Kant’s reflective mode of judgement give birth to the immortal subject as the womb of a new thought, a new life, and a new mode of being, free of the exploitation of mortality and engagingly indifferent to this mortal, all too mortal life.

Let us imagine a subject who finds himself in a certain situation which appears to have no escape route; a situation which nails him to a painful existence and brings him closer to extinction with every move he makes. What he needs is Bion’s theory of creative process and the emergence of new thought from within the dominant projection-introjection mechanism. In his Theory of Thinking Bion says that dismantling is as important in creative process as integration, that is, introjection and splitting are as necessary as projective identification and unification. Bion pays special attention to the process of introjection and projective identification and recreates Klein’s paranoid-schizoid position as a way of showing that it has two forms; one is healthy and the other is pathological. For Klein it was only with the attainment of the depressive position that the formless experience was given a form, the thoughts were invested with symbolic meanings. Bion sees introjection and projective identification as the two separate but contiguous halves and the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions as the complementary parts of one another in the creative process. Now, if, following Bion, we think about Klein’s introjection and projective identification in the context of Derrida’s technique of deconstructive reading, we see that deconstruction is a mobile and dynamic mode of critique which moves between fragmentation and integration of the meaning of a text. Although deconstruction, as practised by Derrida himself, adapts itself to the internal dynamics of the text as the object of critique, it still lacks the affirmative and immanent fluidity which is necessary to open up holes, or passages, through which a new truth in touch with the requirements of the present situation can slip. This is because Derrida’s practice of deconstruction is still a negating activity and a transcendence oriented practice, which remains within the confines of the antagonistic relationship between the life drive and the death drive. To become affirmative, deconstructive practice needs to produce and incorporate its own difference from itself, that is, it has to become immanent to itself and the text it interprets.

As a mode of thinking, deconstruction attempts to erase the gap between the life drive and the death drive, but always fails, and this failure eternally confines deconstructive practice to the domain of antagonism between the life drive and the death drive. And if we keep in mind that deconstruction as a mode of thinking has become the dominant way of being creative we can understand why a critique of deconstruction is a critique of contemporary culture.

In this thesis I try to expose the workings of the deconstructive practice in certain works of art, literature, and cinema, which, consciously or unconsciously, exploit the ambiguity of the relationship between the life drive and the death drive, hence oppressing the one or the other. Needless to say this oppression of the one or the other necessarily exploits the one or the other, for oppression of the one requires exploitation of the other. As a consequence of this dynamic inherent in contemporary nihilistic culture projected onto the subject, the reader/spectator is removed out into the transcendental world of unconscious drives, leading to an illusory sense of omniscience on behalf of the reader/spectator.

The difference between deconstruction and affirmative recreation is that in the former an interaction between the destruction of a structure based on metaphysics of presence and creation of an opening, production of a void within the meaning of the text based on logocentrism is at work, whereas what is at work in the latter is a simultaneous dismantling of meaning, opening up of a void in the context of the text, and sustenance of the conditions for the possibility of the meaning’s flow in and through this void and out into the outside of the dominant context.[9] Derrida’s well known proposition that “there is nothing outside the text” is not the basic assumption of affirmative recreation; quite the contrary, a hole is opened within the context, and the meaning of the text flows through this hole. The meaning of the text is made to move on progressively, not just left without any foundations on which to stand and consequently fall. Deconstruction is concerned with exposing the rigidity and the solidity of rigid structures and solid constructions as is clear from its name. In a nutshell this is what Derrida’s self-reflexive reading strategy called deconstruction does: the socially and historically constructed and generally accepted dominant meaning of the text is explicated. And then this meaning is shown to be self-contradictory through the opening of a gap between what the author intended to say and what he has actually said. In affirmative recreation what’s at stake is a melting of the meaning and its continuous reshaping like a sculpture. The text is turned from a solid state into something like lava or clay and kept hot for further and perpetual reshaping, not into another completed sculpture. For me sculptures are products of an attempt to freeze life and/but a frozen life is no different from death.    

  4. The Cont®act

The word cont(r)act in the title of the introduction means two things at the same time. The first one is counter-act and the second one is implosion. When these two meanings intersect we get a contact without a contract. In this new form of contact the parties involved agree on the necessity of the absence of a contractual relationship in their contact. For the two meanings of the cont(r)act, counter-act and implosion, to function interactively in the way of sustaining the conditions of possibility for the emergence of a contact without a contract between the self and the other, an affirmative attitude is required. When and if the cont(r)act becomes affirmative, the counter-act and the implosion of the pre-dominant projection-introjection mechanism, which we can also refer to as the pre-dominant context based on negation and transcendence, intervenes in the situation and interrupts the order of things. Cont(r)action opens a hole in the internal structure of the projection-introjection mechanism and initiates change in the way of opening up new paths towards new modes of being, thinking, and creation.

It is important to note here that every projection-introjection mechanism belongs to the world of unconscious drives. Opening a hole in the world of unconscious drives makes the good objects and the bad objects spiral into the void and the subject escapes oscillation between the paranoid-schizoid position and the depressive position, or between the life and death drives. This also means that the subject’s world turns from being governed by the metaphysical mode of production based on unconscious drives and into the social mode of production based on conscious desiring.

The concept of cont(r)act is the product of an interaction between deconstruction and affirmative recreation. The cont(r)act produces an outside within the pre-dominant projection-introjection mechanism, or context. Cont(r)action connects the counter forces of the inside with the unnameable forces of the outside. The inward explosion creates a turbulence within the projection-introjection mechanism causing the good objects and the bad objects to spiral into the outside within created by the counter forces of the inside and into the void constituted by the unnameable forces of the outside. We must remember that good and bad are concepts that belong not to the material world but to the metaphysical world, not to life but to the beyond of life. As we know, psychotics see everything in terms of a struggle between the forces of good and evil. If we apply this psychotic vision to the polarity of the life drive and the death drive we can understand what I actually want to mean when I make a distinction between the world of unconscious drives and the world of conscious desiring. But by doing this am I not, in a psychotic fashion, dividing the world into two; the bad world of unconscious drives and the good world of conscious desiring? Am I not, in a way, trying to transcend the state of being governed by the unconscious drives? I am indeed, for I still am within the psychotic world of metaphysics trying to create an outside, or an opening to loving without interpretation and identification. To achieve this I have to act self-reflexively, which I think is what I do when say it is necessary to pass from the state of being governed by unconscious drives to the mode of being productive of conscious desiring. This self-reflexivity and these paradoxical statements are the forms this passage takes and they lie at the decentred heart of my epoch.    

To sum it up and to clarify it all I shall now say what I merely hinted at right at the beginning. The theory of cont(r)act employs deconstruction and affirmative recreation with the aim of sustaining the conditions of possibility for a fragile and yet affirmative contact not based on a contract between the self and the other, between the old and the new, between illness and health, between the clinical and the critical, and even between life and death. The counteract and the implosion are the complementary positions of cont(r)action, that is, of the theoretical practice demonstrating an interaction between deconstruction and affirmative recreation.

5. Structural Summary Of The Thesis

The thesis is composed of three parts divided into six chapters, each of which is  divided within itself into several subsections, followed by the consequences and an afterword. The three major parts concentrate on three different discursive forms (theoretical, filmic, literary) and each part stands for one of the three different positions in the course of the developmental process of a practical theory of cont(r)action composed of two complementary actions counter to one another which are deconstruction and affirmative recreation. These three positions in the developmental process of a practical theory of cont(r)action, which is constituted by and is constitutive of a theoretical practice demonstrating the interaction between deconstruction and affirmative recreation, are worked through application to contemporary theoretical(part I), filmic(part II), and literary(part III) texts.

The enunciated content of the thesis is not one, but three. If one of these is missing, however, the other two cannot persist. For the enunciated content to stand firm and manifest itself they have to remain separate from but contiguous to one another at all times.

In each chapter the relationships between progress and regress, creativity and destruction, projection and introjection, identification and alienation, the life drive and the death drive, as well as theory and practice, are analyzed in various ways and using varying means. There is not one way of looking at things here, but three; for each part requires its own way of being looked at.

The theoretical, literary, and filmic texts studied can be considered partial-objects interacting with one another where a fragile contact between illness and health, psychoanalysis, philosophy, post-structuralism, and critical theory, and even East and West, North and South, West and North, the Real, the Imaginary, and the Symbolic takes place. These theoretical, literary, and filmic texts are transitional objects in the service of explicating the relevance of Kleinian concepts of projective identification and introjection, and Freudian concepts of the life drive and the death drive, for contemporary cultural and critical theory.

The first chapter opens with the summary of the encounter between Freud and Einstein upon a call from the International Institute of Intellectual Cooperation in 1932. This first chapter aims at defining and analyzing the formation of certain concepts, such as the life drive and the death drive, introjection and projective identification, which will play dominant roles throughout the thesis. In this chapter I also compare the projects and critical strategies of post-structuralism and the Frankfurt School drawing on sources from Adorno and Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, Michel Foucault, and Gilles Deleuze. The first chapter attempts to lay the foundations of a healthy conflict between philosophy and psychoanalysis, as well as psychotherapy, or clinical theory and critical theory. It also sets the grounds for the analysis of the relationship between creativity, automatism, and the Real in the following chapters.

            In the second chapter I intend to show the relevance of Lacan’s theory of subject formation to the thesis and link it to Klein’s pre-verbal – if not pre-linguistic – stage of development. Lacan’s critique of Klein for being too biological is reconsidered through a look at their altering theorizations of the emergence of schizophrenia which can be translated from Greek as “split-soul,” or, “broken-heart.”

The third chapter investigates the cinematic apparatus and how it is able to directly communicate with the unconscious and shape it. I tend to believe that in its present state cinema is a machinery that populates the spectator with “bad objects,” and following Christian Metz, I argue that it is not by saying that cinema is the “good object” that cinema will get better, on the contrary, my critique of the cinematic apparatus targets its use as a tool for manipulating the unconscious; my critique of cinema is aimed at criticizing a particular use of cinema which gives birth to a larval fascism by constantly provoking projective identification.

The fourth chapter concentrates on David Cronenberg’s films including The Dead Zone, Dead Ringers, Videodrome,  eXistenZ, The Naked Lunch, and is aimed at explicating Deleuze’s version of the relationship between creativity and destructivity. In Cronenberg’s movies we usually have an artist, a writer, or a scientist who undertakes a creative task and/but whose project turns against itself in the process through the domination of his psyche with the non-symbolizable aggressive impulses. Cronenberg portrays creative people who in time turn into agents of destruction through science and art. And Deleuze has often mentioned the possibility of an interruption of the creative process by the entry of a traumatic kernel which should remain non-symbolized and unconscious if one were to be able to go on creating consciously without becoming self-destructive.

The fifth chapter looks at the Surrealist movement and how Breton tried to use the unconscious in a productive way and failed in doing so. To show the shortcomings of Surrealism I use Bataille’s comparison of Nietzsche and the surrealists and his criticism of Dali’s Lugubrious Game. This is followed by a brief comparison of Artaudian theatre of cruelty and Shamanism. We will have seen that Surrealists and Artaud laid the foundations of two differently conceived techniques of manipulating the unconscious drives and exploiting the ambiguity of the relationship between the life drive and the death drive. The next section of the fifth chapter is on Beckett and analyzes Beckett’s generic thought as pointed out by Alain Badiou in his book On Beckett. I try to show how Beckett not only represents the human-condition through subtraction of the Symbolic from the Real, but also to portray a Beckett explicating the dynamics of the unconscious as a hole in the subject in his plays such as Waiting for Godot, Krapp’s Last Tape, and Endgame

The sixth chapter investigates the relationship between literature, psychoanalysis, violence and trauma. My intention in this chapter is to investigate the ethical and the political implications of trying to represent the traumatic kernel which resists symbolization. I especially concentrate on D.M. Thomas’s The White Hotel which is a post-structuralist novel about the Holocaust and a problematization of the truth of psychoanalysis. Working through The White Hotel I attempt to put under a critical and clinical magnifying glass the foundations of the contemporary understanding of “healthy living.” In this chapter I also analyze the interaction between the life drive and the death drive in William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies and the workings of projective identification and introjection in Jack Kerouac’s The Subterraneans. This last chapter prepares the grounds on which I can finally show, via Slavoj Zizek and Friedrich Nietzsche, how illness is presented as health in today’s transglobal capitalism, how the roles of affirmation and negation, immanence and transcendence, the life drive and the death drive are reversed, turning them into their opposites.

Following the consequences, which uses Alain Badiou’s theory of infinity and the immortal subject to break the vicious cycle of the life and death drives in the way of opening the realm of love beyond the rotary motion of drives and the law of capital, the thesis ends with an Afterword entitled and composed of A Conversation Around Nietzsche Between a Stoic and a Sceptic.  Before the conversation, however, there is a note on the context of this conversation and its connection to Klein’s projection-introjection mechanism as well as Hegel’s unhappy consciousness. In other words, the first section of the afterword links the conversation to the theories of the subject in the works of Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger and Klein. Entitled The Unhappy Consciousness, or, the Stoics and Sceptics Locked in Klein’s Projection-Introjection Mechanism, it is a theoretical explication of the relationship between Hegel’s concept of the unhappy consciousness and Klein’s paranoid-schizoid position and manic-depressive position. It is essential to the nature of this study that it ends with a division between a Stoic and a Sceptic embodied by Nietzsche. This division is, at the same time, the one between Eros and Thanatos, or Oedipus and Narcissus; and Nietzsche conceived this division within himself in the form of a division between Christ and Dionysus. But what about the Stoic and the Sceptic, where do they enter the scene?   

Today Stoicism is considered a therapeutic philosophy of life and Scepticism is considered a critical attitude. Stoicism adapts the subject to the existing order and Scepticism detaches the subject from it. These two attitudes are embodied by Nietzsche, whose life consisted in an oscillation between illness and health. Therefore, a conversation around Nietzsche between a Stoic and a Sceptic is actually a conversation between clinical theory and critical theory taking place within Nietzsche’s head.

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

[2] Michel Foucault, Nietzsche, Genealogy, History, from “Essential Works vol.2: Ethics,” ed. Paul Rabinow, trans. Robert Hurley and others (London: Penguin, 1998), 370

[3] Foucault, 374

[4] Plutarch, Moralia Vol.2, transl. F.C. Babbitt (Harvard University Press; Cambridge, 1971), 8-9

[5] Slavoj Zizek, The Ticklish Subject (London: Verso, 1999), 51

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

[7] Gerald Edelman,  A Universe of Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 49

[8] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment, trans. James Creed Meredith (London: Wilder Publications, 2008), 13

[9] It is important to note that here context signifies the dominant projection-introjection mechanism. To go outside this projection-introjection mechanism requires what Bion calls “the binocular vision.” Binocular vision means that the subject is still within the dominant context and yet he is also in touch with another mode of being which he is able to project onto the present and future. Binocular vision is the first step towards creating a new situation out of the present situation. Wilfred Bion,  A Theory of Thinking, Second Thoughts, (London: Karnac Books, 1984).

Now, the history of depths begins with what is most terrifying: it begins with the theatre of terror whose unforgettable picture Melanie Klein painted. In it, the nursing infant is, beginning with his or her first year, stage, actor, and drama at once. Orality, mouth, and breast are initially bottomless depths. Not only are the breast and the entire body of the mother split apart into good and bad object, but they are aggressively emptied, slashed to pieces, broken into crumbs and alimentary morsels. The introjection of these partial objects into the body of the infant is accompanied by a projection of aggressiveness onto these internal objects, and by a re-projection of these objects into the maternal body. Thus, introjected morsels are like poisonous, persecuting, explosive, and toxic substances threatening the child’s body from within and being endlessly reconstituted inside the mother’s body. The necessity of a perpetual re-introjection is the result of this. The entire system of introjection and projection is a communication of bodies in, and through, depth.[1]

                                                                                                                             Gilles Deleuze.


1. Nature, Culture, and Lacan

 According to Lacan a psychoanalysable subject’s drama is an outcome of the conflict between nature and culture. As Claude Lévi-Strauss put it, this conflict arises from the incest taboo, which is a result of the prohibition of marriage among family members who are tied to one another by blood.

It is modern structuralism that has brought this out best, by showing that it is at the level of matrimonial alliance, as opposed to natural generation, to biological lineal descent—at the level therefore of the signifier—that the fundamental exchanges take place and it is there that we find once again that the most elementary structures of social functioning are inscribed in the terms of a combinatory.[2]

 From the perspective of structuralism the incest taboo produces the cultural family and separates it from the natural family. The incest taboo is the effect and the cause of the conflict between nature and culture.  Oedipus delivers the subject’s role in society and hence gives the subject its cultural and sexual identity. This separates the subject from its non-identity and forms the basis for the conscious desires to flourish. All that is repressed in this process gives birth to the unconscious. But unconscious is not a pool in which the repressed waste material is accumulated; rather, it is a theoretical construct to explain what happens to the repressed material but which nevertheless has discernible effects in everyday life and behaviour.

            For Freud, with the resolution of the Oedipus conflict the period of primary narcissism comes to an end. All that the subject wants is to get back what it had lost upon entry into the symbolic order through Oedipus. The subject loses the sense of omnipotence and is in pursuit of narcissistic sense of oneness. Each time the subject steps it tries to step towards the pleasures of narcissistic satisfaction of the first step, and yet with each step moves further away from it. Lacan’s narcissistic period, the mirror stage, is the period after the period of an unmediated relationship between the child and the mother and it is in the mirror stage that the child identifies himself with his whole image on the mirror to become what his mother wants him to be. Identification with the mother turns into identification with the self’s whole image on the mirror which is assumed to be the object of mother’s desire. Since the child cannot yet make a distinction between the me and the not-me, and sees himself as one, the child is as yet a mere (subject), that is to say a subject that is not a subject of culture.

The child exits the order of nature and enters the order of culture through symbols. It is a symbolic entry to the world of symbols in which a subject becomes the subject. A symbol fills the space in-between the child and the mother and is the third world, the imaginary world between the symbolic and the real, which takes the place of the unmediated relationship between the other two.

            The reflection on the mirror sets in motion the numberless introjective-projective processes that the subject will experience throughout his/her life. Seeing the whole image of self on the mirror helps the subject to develop a self-consciousness as a separate being neither in-itself nor for itself. The awareness of selfness brings with it the awareness of otherness. The subject distinguishes between the me and the not-me. This situation cuts the subject in two halves; one half is the omnipotent exhibitionist and the other half is the object of the gaze of others. Realizing that the subject is not only the observer but also the observed produces a self-conscious consciousness; being conscious of self as that which can never be fully conscious of itself.

The subject is produced in and through language. When the subject says I the symbol becomes the mediator between the internal and the external worlds, which means that language splits the subject and the object as it unites them. Following the mirror stage The Name of the Father completely ends the unmediated relationship between the child and the mother and establishes its own laws and institutions. The symbolic father is he who has what the mother lacks and to whom the mother is subject. The father deprives the mother and the child of their unmediated relationship and deprives the mother of the phallus. For Lacan, the civilizing castration, the castration that turns the human child into a cultural subject, does that by directing the child from being to having. Rather than being the phallus the child begins to want to have the phallus. It is the absence of the phallus that is established rather than the phallus itself. In pursuit of the phallus as a substitute for the unattainable mother, the subject obeys the father’s law. The constitution of the phallus as a lack opens a gap between the subject and the object. It is this gap, this lack, this absence that is the unconscious and renders the conscious subject possible. What man lacks is a mythological totality symbolized by the phallus. And this lack is a condition of the subject. The subject and its unconscious are produced at the same time. Language turns the human child into a non-subject, it gives him his sexual identity, at the same time produces unconscious drives and situates the subject in the symbolic order and induces pain.

Oedipal discourse forms the basis for the deliverance of the subject’s sexual identity and is the discourse of the other, the unconscious. For the subject to be able to use language, first he has to acquire language. In the learning process the unconscious manifests itself in and through slips of the tongue, jokes, and dreams. Slips of the tongue, and jokes reveal the real of the speaking subject’s desire. The unconscious is the condition of conscious discourse. 

            For Lacan, language is the condition of the unconscious. The symbolic order constitutes the unconscious drives. That which the subject wants is the unmediated experience of existence lost upon entry into the symbolic order. The rupture between being and non-being opens with language and in the unconscious the symbol of the fullness of being, completeness of the subject is the phallus. And the phallus is that which the subject had lost upon entry into the symbolic order. But since the subject has to use language to attain the lost object, his striving for wholeness is in vain, which renders him tragic and exhilarating. For as I said earlier on, as the subject thinks that he is stepping towards the real of the desired object he is in fact moving further away from it with each word he adds to his vocabulary.

            Here I would like to tell the most known of the Oedipus myths, but at the same time the one that is least known as an Oedipus myth, the story of Adam and Eve. We shall listen to Adam and Eve’s story as though it is our own story. For man perpetually runs after his dreams, and as he does this he moves on through disappointments. I shall therefore stress the significance of disappointment and frustration in psychoanalytic discourse.

            Adam eats the forbidden apple given to him by Eve. Counter to what Genesis and Milton say, I think the relationship between male and female is built on a prohibition. Adam eats the apple. Adam is expelled from paradise for doing that which shouldn’t have been done. He is banned from the heaven on earth (Eden) and is nailed to pain and suffering. And he is promised paradise after death. But why is an apple prohibited in paradise? Because as a cultural fantasy, paradise is the other of something forbidden, it is the product of this forbidding. If the law, the symbolic, is removed from the scene, all symbolic meaning collapses. And since it is law that produces the unlawful, since it is repression that forms the unconscious, there can be no symbolic order without the fantasy supporting it and keeping the unconscious drives at bay.

            It is the sense of primary Narcissism that is the desired object of fantasy, a sense of oneness with the world, omnipotence, and completeness. So life doesn’t end with death, it reaches its most complete form in the womb, it begins with a death. Life is a striving for a death oscillating between a forbidden death and a promised death. Death pulls the subject towards itself with all the attraction of its staticity, or stasis. Eros and Thanatos are twin brothers.

            Expulsion of Narcissism is a condition of cultural life. Narcissus, this beautiful man, falls in love with his own image on the water. His love for himself prevents him from seeing the love presented to him by culture–Echo’s love. Narcissus leans forward to touch his image and leans so much that he falls and drowns in the water, dies in his own image.[3]

            This period of primary Narcissism is what Lacan calls the mirror stage. As I have shown in the previous pages, at this stage there is a conflict between the Ideal-I and the I as the object of the other’s desire. It is this that splits the subject. In other words every individual re-experiences the tragedy of Narcissus at the back of his/her mind throughout life. And it is this regressive re-experiencing that produces and is produced by the real of the subject’s desire.

            The father’s law forbids identification with the mother and promotes identification with the object of mother’s desire. Father’s law is the law of the culture. If the child doesn’t obey the father’s law, that is, when the child refuses to leave the mirror stage behind, the child cannot move on to the next stage and distinguish itself from the others; it resists codification. This is what a schizophrenic is. To be locked in the mirror stage is to be a schizophrenic. Here the subject experiences existence as an illusory reality. He can do nothing to act upon the world for he doesn’t know what use the objects surrounding him have. The schizophrenic who refuses to pass from father’s civilizing castration, is he who escapes cultural codification. And culture locks away the mad into a cell with mirrors on all walls that hide the secrets. A chain of identifications with the objects of others’ desires begin when and if the subject passes through the fantasy world of the mirror stage and becomes rational. It all ends with an idealized war culture, when and if culture is built on and through the Name of the Father.

            We can see this in Tolstoy’s War and Peace. The order of culture has two poles: On one pole is the unmediated love, on the other pole is the idealized war. In War and Peace Prince Andrey, although he loves his wife very much—or rather because he loves her so much—chooses to leave her behind and go to war to fight Napoleon’s armies. He follows greater ideals, for the future of Europe, and leaves behind the little world of the females; he chooses to go in search of his Oedipal destiny.

 2. No Replica?

Klein is the first psychoanalyst to analyse a pre-verbal and pre-Oedipal stage of development, that is, before the child starts to hate the father and want to unite with the mother whom he believes to contain the father’s penis. In her Psychoanalysis of Children Klein gives a brief account of how this adaptation to reality takes place. 

The small patient will begin, for instance, to distinguish between his make-believe mother and his real one, or between his toy brother and his live one. He will insist that he only meant to do this or that to his toy brother, and that he loves his real brother very much. Only after very strong and obstinate resistances have been surmounted will he be able to see that his aggressive acts were aimed at the object in the real world. But when he has come to understand this, young as he is, he will have made a very important advance in his adaptation to reality.[4]

Klein analyses the process of adapting to reality in terms of the child’s relation to his mother’s body. In the first year of life it is through introjection of the mother’s body as the embodiment of the external world that the child learns to relate to reality. At this stage the child sees the breast as the representative of the mother. The child projects his own reality onto the external world and believes that the mother’s breast belongs to him. When the flow of milk is interrupted the child becomes aggressive towards the mother and bites the breast. According to Klein this is the paranoid-schizoid position characterized by oral sadism.

Klein associates this attitude of the child with the dynamics of an adult schizophrenic mind.  A child who cannot yet make a distinction between the inner reality and the external world is like a psychotic adult who cannot make a distinction between what belongs to his fantasy life and what to the external world. 

A good example to this situation can be selected from the Hollywood horror scene. What we see in the Red Dragon, for instance, is a man who over-identifies with Hannibal Lecter, and becomes what Hannibal Lecter identified with in the first place; a psychotic serial killer who identifies himself with Blake’s Red Dragon.

The psychotic serial killer who believes himself to be constructing a work of art with stories of his murders, sees his criminal acts as the actualization of a prophecy, an incarnation of the myth of Red Dragon. It is through William Blake’s painting, Red Dragon, that the character is familiar with the myth of Red Dragon. Towards the end of the film we see him literally eating, incorporating, Blake’s original painting. That is when his total transformation from bodily existence to a mythological dimension beyond the flesh takes place. Until that point in the film he is governed by the Red Dragon, now he is the Red Dragon, which means that he no longer takes the orders from a force outside of himself. He has introjected the source of power and has become his own master against himself. And perhaps he even believes that his becoming is complete now. 

3. The Significance of Klein’s Fantasies

            It was Klein who emphasized the importance of fantasies and playing in the process of development. Klein brought to light that as humans we perpetually oscillate between paranoid-schizoid position and the depressive position throughout life. Klein categorized the death drive as more dominant in the paranoid-schizoid position and life-drive as more dominant in the depressive position. For Klein a successful therapeutic procedure would result in maintaining a contact with the intermediary realm between phantasm and reality. Klein’s importance lies in her acceptance and affirmation of our most primitive drives’ role throughout life. The need for satisfaction of those drives sometimes reaches to such inordinate measures that we become aggressive in the face of reality. Frustrations arise and things get worse, for we don’t know how to turn our frustrations into fuel for the life-drive, and eventually fall victim to the death-drive in search of omnipotence.

            According to Freud, as he puts it in his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, drives were governed by the pleasure principle and the object of satisfaction of these drives was not very important. In other words, between the drive and its objects there was no natural tie. But for Klein, who prefers the word instinct instead of drive, from the beginning of life onwards instincts are connected to certain internal objects. From the beginning of life the human subject is in pursuit of object relations in the way of satisfying the instincts such as hunger and thirst.

            Klein’s shifting conceptualisation of the process of subject formation can be clearly observed in her analysis of the relationship between The Early Stages of the Oedipus-Conflict and Super-Ego Formation. Klein takes the beginning of socialization to a pre-Oedipal stage, a pre-verbal if not pre-linguistic stage, to the first year of life. When a baby is born it immediately is in the world of objects. And language, being the extension of the world, that is, being one of the objects surrounding the subject, is immediately at the disposal of the subject just like any other object. We must keep in mind, however, that from language Klein understand not only the words but also the objects such as a toy soldier, or a ball, or any other object. Now, the baby as the subject throws its toy soldier at the mother to get her attention, or to articulate that it is hungry. This action of the baby is similar to someone sending a letter to his/her lover to articulate that he/she has missed him/her and wants to have sex soon. It is in this larger context that we understand language not only as words but also as everything that is at hand.

            According to Freud, Lévi-Strauss, and Lacan, the formation of the subject begins with the appearance of the Name of the Father and his law prohibiting the incest. It is only with the father saying, “No, you shall not desire the mother, but try to be the object of mother’s desire,” that the child experiences his first confrontation with the symbolic order. But in Klein this process is related to the development of object relations in a time where there is imaginary meaning and not symbolic meaning.

Early analysis offers one of the most fruitful fields for psychoanalytic therapy precisely because the child has the ability to represent its unconscious in a direct way, and is thus not only able to experience a far-reaching emotional abreaction but actually to live through the original situation in its analysis, so that with the help of interpretation its fixations can to a considerable extent be resolved.[5]

When a child creates imaginary characters, pretends that they are real and talks with them, this is considered as playing, but when an adult does the same thing he is considered to be a schizophrenic, a subject of psychosis. Schizophrenia is a term coined by Bleuler to designate a set of symptoms such as loss of memory and excessively regressive behaviour usually associated with old age. The schizophrenic experience, as understood by Bleuler, is the reliving of childhood near death in the form of a disorganizaton and loss of the pieces constituting the memory.

[…] by projecting his terrifying super-ego on to his objects, the individual increases his hatred of those objects and thus also his fear of them, with the result that, if his aggression and anxiety are excessive, his external world is changed into a place of terror and his objects into enemies and he is threatened with persecution both from the external world and from his introjected enemies.[6]

Klein describes schizophrenia as the “attempt to ward off, master or contend with an internal enemy.”[7] This theme is linked to Klein’s discussion about the dynamic of envy. For Klein, the child, not yet capable of making a distinction between what is inner and what is outer, attacks the source of possible gratification. Envy is a product of a fantasy that the breast is good all the time because it supplies the child with milk whenever he wants. When the milk is denied to the child the child believes that the mother is bad because she is withholding the source of good. The child splits the object into good and bad to save the good breast from possible damage caused by his attacks on the bad breast. Klein goes on to say that it is at this stage that the child develops a sense of external reality by beginning to see the mother as another person, and the breast as a whole object which is good and bad at the same time. This is the depressive position in which the same object has conflicting significations for the child. Understanding that he has been attacking not only the bad breast but also the source of good induces guilt in the child who in turn learns why not to be envious. Klein sees guilt as therapeutic of envy. What appears to be the illness turns out to be the source of good in Klein’s therapeutic procedure. With Klein therapy is reaffirmed as the process of reconciliation through which a rational subject is created.

            4. Klein, Lacan, and Psychosis

            For Lacan there is this solipsistic period of life at the beginning. The subject becomes capable of making a distinction between himself and others after the Narcissistic period of mirror stage. The subject’s ability to interpret and adapt shows signs of progress. Once the mirror stage is passed through and the fantasy is traversed, the subject becomes capable of controlling the unconscious drives and touching reality. The child learns to postpone gratification and finds other ways of satisfying himself. The function of the I shows itself when the child feels the need to act upon the external world and change things in the way of attaining pleasure and satisfaction of desires. When the child gives up desiring his mother and realizes that he has to identify with his father the foundations of the super-ego formation are laid. It is the fear of castration that leads the male child to give up the mother. The sexual desire turns away from the forbidden object and moves towards finding ways of expressing itself in and through metaphors supplied by the predominant culture.

            According to Klein the formation of the super-ego begins in the first year of life. For Klein the “early Oedipus conflict” is at the root of child psychoanalysis. Klein says that Oedipal tendencies of the child start with oral frustrations and this is when the super-ego takes its course of formation. 

These analyses have shown that oral frustrations release the Oedipus impulses and that the super-ego begins to be formed at the same time. […] This is the beginning of that developmental period which is characterized by the distinct demarcation of genital trends and which is known as the early flowering of sexuality and the phase of the Oedipus conflict.[8]    

            It is Klein’s legacy to have taken the beginning of development to a stage earlier than the appearance of the Name of the Father. In this world the castrating father figure doesn’t yet exist. And the child has at least three years ahead to become capable of using language. Klein’s journey into a zone before language, a zone before the child finds itself in the signifying chain, is valuable especially for showing the lack of the role of fantasy and phantasmatic production in Lacan’s story of the formation of the subject. And Gilles Deleuze uses Klein’s insight to make the necessary connections between literature and the unconscious. But before moving on to Deleuze I would like to show from where Klein is coming and hint at the direction she could possibly be heading towards.

            Klein attributes as much importance to the death drive as she does to the life drive. For Klein, already in the first year of life there are object relations and these relations involve expression of libidinal and aggressive impulses.

[…] unfavourable feeding conditions which we may regard as external frustrations, do not seem to be the only cause for the child’s lack of pleasure at the sucking stage. This is seen from the fact that some children have no desire to suck—are ‘lazy feeders’—although they receive sufficient nourishment. Their inability to obtain satisfaction from sucking is, I think, the consequence of an internal frustration and is derived, in my experience, from an abnormally increased oral sadism. To all appearances these phenomena of early development are already the expression of the polarity between the life-instincts and the death-instincts. We may regard the force of the child’s fixation at the oral sucking level as an expression of the force of its libido, and, similarly, the early and powerful emergence of its oral sadism is a sign that its destructive instinctual components tip the balance.[9]

            The child projects his aggressive impulses onto the external world and sees the object (the mother’s breast) as an enemy trying to destroy him. The frustrations that take place in the first year of life cause anxiety and lead the child to express his aggressive impulses through oral sadism (biting the breast). The fantasy that the mother contains the father’s penis leads the child to want to tear apart the mother’s body and introject the object hidden in it through oral sadism. After an oral frustration the attention of the child shifts from the mother’s breast to the father’s penis. The aggression against the father’s penis and the response this aggression gets plays a dominant role in the formation of the super-ego. As it develops the super-ego becomes more and more important in the way the subject handles his relation to the world.

[…] by projecting his terrifying super-ego on to his objects, the individual increases his hatred of those objects and thus also his fear of them, with the result that, if his aggression and anxiety are excessive, his external world is changed into a place of terror and his objects into enemies and he is threatened with persecution both from the external world and from his introjected enemies.[10]

             An aggressive attitude towards the external world damages the relationship with the external world; the external world is regarded hostile, which leads to aggression, and this aggression in turn provokes hostility against the child. It is this kind of a vicious cycle in which many psychotics and neurotics find themselves. Klein describes schizophrenia as the “attempt to ward of, master or contend with an internal enemy.”[11] For Klein, the force of aggression as a result of oral frustrations can reach to such levels that the subject feels obliged to project the super-ego ideal onto the external world. The super-ego is terribly ruthless and aggressive. The projection of the super-ego onto the external world turns reality into an enemy. The subject becomes ill and shuts himself up into his fantasy world and detached from reality suffers inordinately. Lacan sees schizophrenia in a similar way; for Lacan what produces schizophrenia is the exclusion of the Name of the Father.                      

            With Klein we learn that the sense of reality is gained through oral frustrations. Lacan, too, thinks that frustrations have a role to play in the constitution of the reality principle. But according to Lacan what’s important is not the natural frustrations themselves, but how they are symbolized, how they are represented in and through language, how they manifest themselves in the form of cultural products. Lacan finds Klein’s theories too biological.

            Dick has a toy train which he repetitively moves to and fro on the floor. Klein says, “I took the big train and put it beside a smaller one and called them ‘Daddy train’ and ‘Dick train.’ Thereupon he picked up the train I called Dick and made it roll [toward the station]… I explained: ‘The station is mummy; Dick is going into mummy.’[12] At the end of this first session of therapy Dick begins to express his feelings. It is after Dick becomes capable of situating himself within the symbolic order in relation to his mother and father that he becomes a human. He begins to play his role given to him by Klein.

            Human reality is a mediated reality. We can see in Dick’s case that the biological turns into cultural through Oedipalisation. Lacan thinks Klein’s therapeutic technique is correct but her theory wrong. What Lacan thinks Klein’s theory lacks is the castrating father figure who says “No.” Lacan complains that the castrating father figure is not given a role in Klein’s scenario. It is true that father is not given a role in the process of subject formation, but Lacan’s assumption that Klein is Oedipalizing the child is wrong. For if the father is excluded from the scene how can the Oedipal triangle be formed. All Klein does is to tell Dick that mummy and daddy copulate. Klein’s world is entirely biological, whereas Lacan is talking about the subjectivation of the individual in and through symbols. For Lacan the unconscious is nothing other than a chain of signifiers. There is nothing before the symptoms manifest themselves in and through metaphors. So metaphors are the products of repression which splits the subject into two separate but contiguous sides; the biological self and the cultural self. Psychoanalysis is about a regressive process which goes back in time through a chain of signifiers and tries to reach the Real of the subject’s desire. A symptom is the manifestation of the Real of the subject’s desire in the form of metaphors.

In advancing this proposition , I find myself in a problematic position—for what have I taught about the unconscious? The unconscious is constituted by the effects of speech on the subject, it is the dimension in which the subject is determined in the development of the effects of speech, consequently the unconscious is structured like a language. Such a direction seems well fitted to snatch any apprehension of the unconscious from an orientation to reality, other than that of the constitution of the subject.[13]

            Psychosis appears when all the signifiers refer to the same signified. Language and meaning dissolve. Locked in the mirror stage the subject identifies everything as me, and the me as the phallus. But the reality is that the “I” is not the phallus inside the mother’s body. The psychotic is deprived of nostalgia, of the feeling of loss which is constitutive of the subject. Lacking lack the psychotic subject lacks what Lacan calls “lack in being.” And lacking lack in being the subject cannot identify his natural self as being separate from the cultural objects of identification. By entering the symbolic order the narcissistic sense of oneness, “the oceanic feeling,” is lost. And this loss opens a gap within the subject, which the subject tries to fill with the objects of identification presented to it by the predominant culture. Identification is a way of compensating for the emptiness within the subject caused by the loss of sense of oneness. But the unconscious desires can never be satisfied by metaphors. To overcome the frustration caused by the loss of his fantasy world, the subject turns towards symbolic acts in the way of climbing up the social ladder. The subject becomes a doctor, pilot, teacher; all to endure the pain of not being able to satisfy one’s unconscious desires, or the Real of one’s desire. It is in this context that Lacan sees repression as productive of the subject as a split subject. Because the psychotic has lost nothing, lacks nothing, he has no motivations for such pursuits as becoming a doctor, pilot, or teacher. The psychotic has no sense of nostalgia and he is therefore extremely indifferent to the external world. Experiencing no frustrations in the face of the harsh reality of not being one, the psychotic desires nothingness.

5. Klein, Derrida, Deconstruction

According to Klein we all oscillate between the paranoid-schizoid position and the depressive position throughout our lives. This means that none is normal since the world is a place in which all kinds of abnormalities take place all the time and nobody can be a normal person independently of all these abnormalities. One may choose withdrawal and indifference in a Stoic fashion, but who can claim that this is normal? The only thing that is normal is that nothing is normal.

Klein used the word position as she was creating her concepts to designate moods which one finds oneself in throughout life. It is necessary to underline the word position because the word position is especially chosen to signify psychic conditions rather than stages of a linear course of development. The paranoid-schizoid position and the depressive position are complementary situations  of the subject in a non-linear course of development which attaches the death drive, as much important a role as it does to the life drive in the course of development. It is obvious that for Klein the relationship between regress and progress is not in the form of a symmetrical binary opposition.

If we keep in mind that creativity means creating a meaning out of the meaningless chaos we can see how Klein’s theory can be used in the service of a critical theory aiming at destroying the static unities and recreating non-static formations. Influenced by Klein, Wilfred Bion developed a theory of thinking concentrating on what Keats called negative capability. Negative capability is the ability to remain intact in the face of not-knowing throughout the thinking process. While Klein emphasized the negative aspects of the paranoid-schizoid position and gave a more important role to the depressive position in the developmental process, Bion argued that fragmentation of previous theories is as important as the reintegration process for the emergence of new thought. For Bion the subject’s oscillation between the paranoid-schizoid position(splitting) and the depressive position(synthesizing) is necessary for a healthy creative process to take place giving birth to new thought.

Counter to the reparative and reconciliatory tendencies towards reconstructing the pre-dominant symbolic order, the poststructuralist subject of the death drive aims at explicating the problems inherent in the structure of the existing symbolic order. It is a response to the loss of an imagined future and involves a negation of the existing order which is based on negation and in which the subject finds/loses itself. The subject as the death drive is simultaneously the effect and the cause of splitting. The subject as the death drive occupies the other pole of faith. Its domain begins where belief ends. Its domain is a realm where silence and non-being confront the daily banalities of symbolic societies. In this realm nothingness and substance confront each other.

            As the subject’s intensity of self-consciousness increases, so does its pain and anxiety in the face of death. This causes hopelessness and despair which may or may not lead to a total devastation of the project of inverting and putting into the spotlight the nothingness at the centre of the subject. Heidegger repeatedly puts all this down in Being and Time when he says that “being-towards-death is angst.” One cure for expelling anxiety has been to believe in god, any other metaphysical construct, or in some cases it has even taken the form of a materialist system of thought; in all these cases, however, an escape is seen as a solution when in fact it is the problem itself. For our concerns, an escapist attitude, and especially one that tries to go beyond the physical, does not work at all, for what we are looking for is a way of learning to make use of the reality of the death drive as an interior exteriority constitutive of the subject as a creative agent. 

            The self-conscious subject questions itself. With the thought of death the subject gets in touch with the death drive and pushes itself further towards the periphery of the symbolic order and becomes its own persecutor in the service of a critique of the status quo. The subject of the death drive shakes the foundations upon which is built its own mode of being. Its mode of being becomes its movement towards non-being. It is the perceiver and the perceived of its own, the subject and the object of its actions, the persecutor and the persecuted at the same time. Through the death drive one can go beyond one’s symbolic role and become conscious of its time and place in the world. The use of the death drive requires recognition of death as the absolute master. That way one can become reconciled to life as it is.   

In critical theory we usually have to read the text at hand in an unorthodox way so as to create a new meaning out of it. The critical theorist breaks-down the meaning of the text and out of the pieces recreates a new meaning, which is to say that creativity bears within itself destructivity and inversely. It may not be necessary to destroy something intentionally to create something new, but to have destroyed something is usually a consequence of having created something new.  Jacques Derrida’s reading strategy called deconstruction exposes how a text writes and unwrites itself against its dominant meaning and in contrast to common sense perception. I see Derrida’s corpus as an intense meditation on the meaning of meaning itself. First Derrida shows the dominant meaning of the text as perceived by the majority and then he exposes the other within of the text, the minor meaning which contradicts the major meaning. By doing this Derrida makes not only the absolute meaning of the text collapse in on itself but also causes the concept of absolute meaning itself to explode from within. In Kleinian terms what Derrida does is to start from the depressive position and then move to the paranoid-schizoid position and there apply the splitting process peculiar to the paranoid-schizoid position to the text. It can be said that in a way Derrida exposes the paranoid-schizoid position within the depressive position. By doing this Derrida shows that the life drive and the death drive are within and without one another at the same time. This means that for Derrida creation and destruction are one. It is for this reason that I find deconstruction insufficient for effective critique to take place. For without the affirmative recreation of the destroyed text there remains nothing outside the ruins of the past. But that the new is inconceivable from within the pre-dominant context does not mean that it is impossible. What Derrida’s deconstructive practice lacks is the active intervention in the predominant order which would create the conditions of possibility for change, out of the conditions of impossibility. Derrida remains paralyzed in the face of the infinity of possibilities for change by declaring that the chain of signifiers is infinite and therefore nothing is outside the text when in fact nothing is this infinity itself since when there is infinity then everything disappears and nothing conceivable remains within the text. It is true that deconstruction dissolves the transcendental signified but the question remains: What is the price paid when the transcendental signified is deconstructed rather than affirmatively recreated and turned into an immanent sign here and now. In Derrida there is the waiting for the new to arrive but no action is taken in the way of making this arrival possible now. We shall ask why not recreate oneself as the new, why not do it now and give birth to the new here and now, why not be the new in action? In a fashion similar to Hamlet, Derrida perpetually postpones the action by playing with language and ends up locking himself up in an endlessly deferred self-perpetuating, self-consuming, and self-reflexive endgame with no beginning and no end, making it impossible for conscious desire to engage in effective action.

 Conclusion of Part I

Barbaric Regress and Civilised Progress contra Deconstruction and Affirmative Recreation

            In Homer’s Odyssey the call of the sirens is a sign addressed to men who can only survive this seductive call by turning a deaf ear to it, by ignoring, not acknowledging and repressing their desire for it. If the desire is of a visual object then you can turn a blind eye on it, or you may prefer not to close your eyes and just look at the object of desire; you can be a voyeur or an innocent witness if you wish. But the sexual sign that targets the ear is much more dangerous. The ears don’t have lids. And the voyeurism by ears, in contrast to normal voyeurism, can only give pain rather than pleasure. In Leonard Cohen’s song, Paper Thin Hotel the man’s pain listening to the sexual intercourse next door is immeasurable; but if there was a hole on the wall, things could have been otherwise.

Odysseus’ way of protecting himself from the call of the sirens is different from his companions’. He doesn’t stop his ears with wax; quite the contrary, he is more than willing to hear the call. But against the danger of following the call he has himself tied on the mast. The oarsmen’s stopping their ears to the call, and Odysseus’ having himself tied to the mast so as not to follow the call are the two different versions of resisting the sirens. While the former is a measure taken by the ego against the object of desire, the latter is that of the super-ego. In stopping one’s ears with wax what’s at stake is a will not to hear, pretending as though the object of desire didn’t exist, the desire is repressed, and the object is forgotten. Whereas by having oneself tied to the mast one hears the sirens, the desire is accepted but not pursued; the object is consciously resisted. But what is this thing that is so forcefully prohibited, which when adhered to leads to death, and when ignored makes life so boring and existence so banal? To this question there are two answers which in the end become one.

The first answer is Lacanian: the call of the sirens represents the desire for the mother. This desire for the mother is neither totally instinctive, nor totally sexual. It belongs to a period where the instinctive and the sexual are one. This desire is prohibited by the father. And the acceptance of the impossibility of uniting with the mother causes growth. Every child desires the whole of the mother, not just parts of her. The mother, however, is fragmentary from the beginning; in Adam Phillips’ words, the mother is promiscuous. So there is the tragedy: On one hand there is the obsessive attachment, and on the other hand there is the paranoid reaction.

There is an abundance of texts depicting the tragedy born of the tension between promiscuous women who are openly open to other relationships at all times and obsessively in love men who are hypocritically monogamic throughout the history of literature. The femme fatale is nothing but the archetype of the unsatisfied desire for the mother.

With the law of the father the desire for the mother becomes a real call of the sirens. If the child obeys the call, the result is death, or a psychotic existence signifying death. In psychosis the subject builds his life on an obsession for the unattainable mother, and his every act will be in the way of attaining the warmth, security, and protective environment of the womb. Not to become a psychotic the child chooses another way; he chooses to close his ears to the call and obey the law of the father; but then he becomes an ordinary neurotic. Perhaps the best way to choose is to face and accept the desire for the mother, acknowledge the call of the sirens, but not to follow it.

The second answer to what the sirens signify is Freudian. Following Freud’s later work one can say that the call of the sirens represents the death drive. If the oarsemen of Odysseus hadn’t stopped their ears with wax, the voyage would have ended in death. The bee that is seduced by the colourful flower which feeds on insects flies to its death. Following Freud, Herbert Marcuse says that the drive to reproduce the species, the life drive, and the drive to destroy, the death drive, are both for and against one another, that is, the life drive and the death drive are within and without one another at the same time.

There are many forms in which the death drive manifests itself. These vary from melancholia to aggression, from self-destruction to paranoia. What is common to all these form of appearance is a kind of revolt against having been born. The death drive wants jouissance, a condition in which infinite satisfaction is possible and in which repression and release, pain and pleasure do not exist. Freud explains this obsessive and neurotic desire with the concept of the compulsion to repeat; a desire to return to a previous state of being in the history of being. And needless to say, this is a desire to return to the womb, to the state of being before birth. So we can see that the death drive and the desire for the mother signify and are signified by the same will; the will to nothingness. The refusal to accept having been detached from the mother, the will to reunite with her, and the will to return to the womb, signify and are signified by the same desire. Unless accounts are settled with the will to nothingness the subject remains trapped somewhere between paranoid schizophrenia and obsessive neurosis and cannot reach the point zero which is where the real love and affirmation of life flourish.

In contemporary nihilism a mentally healthy person is defined thus: the one who has managed to repress the death drive, who has attained inner harmony and who has been able to project this inner harmony onto the external world in the way of healthy social life, in other words, one who has established a perfect balance between the ego, the id, and the superego, and who knows how to control the destructive impulses and even direct these impulses to professional life. This healthy subject has become capable of reconciling himself with life and with others, who has become a part of the world of goodness. This is the typical healthy subject as defined by the pre-dominant discourse of contemporary nihilism.

From the perspective of contemporary nihilism the exact opposite of this type of a healthy individual would be from the world of badness. Someone whose ego cannot be reconciled to the external world, and who is undergoing a fragmentation. His death drive has become so dominant that he has become aggressively destructive of both the self and the other. He is at a loss. His emotional ties with the external world have been cut. He has no sense of value, truth, meaning. He feels nothing for the world of goodness. Eventually the death drive produces the most aggressive response imaginable to the conflict between civilized progress and barbaric regress constitutive of contemporary nihilism. But that the response of the death drive is the most aggressive one does not mean that it is destructive, on the contrary, it gives aggression a new form. It is not aggression that is bad in-itself, rather, what’s important is the form aggression takes.

Unfortunately today many forms of critical attitude towards global capitalism take on a nihilistic, reactive, and slavish role, rather than an affirmative and active response, and fall victim to their own ressentiment, or what Klein would have called envy. I think a critical attitude towards this nihilism produced by the conditions of global capitalism should be in the way of developing a practical theory of theoretical practice for change, driven by and driving an interaction between deconstruction and affirmative recreation — a cont(r)action —  rather than total negation leading to barbaric regress and violence.

It wills now not exactly what occurs, but something in that which occurs, something yet to come which would be consistent with what occurs, in accordance with the laws of an obscure, humorous conformity: the Event. It is in this sense that the amor fati is one with the struggle of free man. My misfortune is present in all events, but also a splendor and brightness which dry up misfortune and which bring about that the event, once willed, is actualized on its most contracted point, on the cutting edge of an operation. All this is the effect of the static genesis and of the immaculate conception.[14]

That at the root of every progressive movement there is a traumatic incident, war, destruction, suffering, pain, is as yet a commonly held opinion. What we see through the opposition between “civilized progress” and “barbaric regress” is that both these attitudes, these two differently conceived forms of nihilism, have at their core the life drive disguised as the death drive and inversely: they are towards totalitarianism and stasis rather than dynamism and multiplicity. Both ignore the foundational question which is how to be and let the other be rather than to be or not to be. The problem today is to know how to become what one is without confining the other into the realm of non-being. How to create the self in such a way as not to be destructive of the other and itself at the same time?

[1] Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester with Charles Stivale, (London: Continuum, 2003), 187

[2] Jacques Lacan, Seminar XII, The For Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, 150

[3] Maurice Blanchot, The Writing of The Disaster, trans. Ann Smock (The University of Nebraska Press: Lincoln and London, 1995), 126-27-28 “The Greek myths do not, generally, say anything; they are seductive because of a concealed, oracular wisdom which elicits the infinite process of divining. What we call meaning, or indeed sign, is foreign to them: they signal without signifying; they show, or they hide, but they always are clear, for they always speak the transparent mystery, the mystery of transparence. Thus all commentary is ponderous and uselessly verbose—all the more so if it employs the narrative mode, and expands the mysterious story intelligently into explanatory episodes which in turn imply a fleeting clarity. If Ovid, perhaps prolonging a tradition, introduces into the fable of Narcissus the fate—which one might call telling—of the nymph Echo, it is surely in order to tempt us to discover there a lesson about language which we ourselves add, after the fact. Nevertheless, the following is instructive: since it is said that Echo loves Narcissus by staying out of sight, we might suppose that Narcissus is summoned to encounter a voice without body, a voice condemned always to repeat the last word and nothing else—a sort of nondialogue: not the language whence the Other would have approached him, but only the mimetic, rhyming alliteration of a semblance of language. Narcissus is said to be solitary, but it is not because he is excessively present to itself; it is rather because he lacks, by decree (you shall not see yourself), that reflected presence—identity, the self-same—the basis upon which a living relation with life, which is other, can be ventured. He is supposed to be silent: he has no language save the repetitive sound of a voice which always says to him the self-same thing, and this is a self-sameness which he cannot attribute to himself. And this voice is narcissistic precisely in the sense that he does not love it—in the sense that it gives him nothing other to love. Such is the fate of the child one thinks is repeating the last words spoken, when in fact he belongs to the rustling murmur which is not language, but enchantment. And such is the fate of lovers who touch each other with words, whose contact with each other is made of words, and who can thus repeat themselves without end, marvelling at the utterly banal, because their speech is not a language but an idiom they share with no other, and because each gazes at himself in the other’s gaze in a redoubling which goes from mirage to admiration.”

[4] Melanie Klein, Psychoanalysis of Children, 11

[5] Melanie Klein, The Psychoanalysis of Children, trans. Alix Strachey (London: The Hogarth Press, 1975),9

[6] Klein, 143-4

[7] Klein, 144

[8] Melanie Klein, The Psychoanalysis of Children, 123

[9] Melanie Klein, The Psychoanalysis of Children, 124

[10] Klein, 143-4

[11] Klein, 144

[12] Melanie Klein, quoted from Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus, 45

[13] Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, 149

[14] Deleuze, 149

1. 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.

Slavoj 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.

2. 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.

3. Expulsion of the Negative and Affirmation of Life are Mutually Exclusive


To valorize negative sentiments or sad passions—that is the mystification on which nihilism bases its power. (Lucretius, then Spinoza, already wrote decisive passages on this subject. Before Nietzsche, they conceived philosophy as the power to affirm, as the practical struggle against mystifications, as the expulsion of the negative.)[12]

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.

It is at this mobile and precise point, where all events gather together in one that transmutation happens: this is the point at which death turns against death; where dying is the negation of death, and the impersonality of dying no longer indicates only the moment when I disappear outside of myself, but rather the moment when death loses itself in itself, and also the figure which the most singular life takes on in order to substitute itself for me.[13]

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.

A wound is incarnated or actualised in a state of things or of life: but it is itself pure virtuality on the plane of immanence that leads us into a life. My wound existed before me: not a transcendence of the wound in a higher actuality, but its immanence as a virtuality always within a milieu (plane or field).[14] 

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.

Death has an extreme and definite relation to me and my body and is grounded in me, but it also has no relation to me at all—it is incorporeal and infinitive, impersonal, grounded only in itself. On one side, there is the part of the event which is realized and accomplished; on the other, there is that “part of the event which cannot realize its accomplishment.”[15]

4. Cont(r)action is not the same as imposing one order of meaning upon another which is considered to be lacking in something essential to healthy living.


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.

5. 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.

So detach your aversion from everything not up to us, and transfer it to what is against nature among the things that are up to us. And for the time being eliminate desire completely, since if you desire something that is not up to us, you are bound to be unfortunate, and at the same time none of the things that are up to us, which it would be good to desire, will be available to you.[18]

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.

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.

As you aim such great goals, remember that you must not undertake them by acting moderately, but must let some things go completely and postpone others for the time being.[19]

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.

6. To What End Last Words? To What End Suffering…


Throughout this thesis 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 thesis 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 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.[20]

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.

Reference Matter

[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] Gilles Deleuze, Pure Immanence: A Life, trans. Anne Boyman (New York: Zone Books, 2001), 84

[13] Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester (London: Athlone, 1990), 153

[14] Deleuze,  Pure Immanence: A Life, 31-2

[15] Deleuze, Pure Immanence, 151-152

[16] Epictetus, The Encheiridion, trans. Nicholas P. White (Hackett: Cambridge, 1983), 13

[17] Epictetus, 11-3

[18] Epictetus, 12

[19] Epictetus, 11

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

1. The Unhappy Consciousness, or, Stoics and Sceptics locked in Klein’s projection-introjection mechanism


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 Genealogy of Morals, 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 projection-introjection mechanism that would simultaneously be the cause and the effect of a struggle between good and evil.

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.


One tries to fill the gap created by the absence of truth with the words which he/she attempts to construct an explanation which makes sense, and which is called knowledge. It is for this reason that knowledge emerges as the negation and destruction of the truth, that truth being nothing, or in a Lacanian interpretation the Real. So knowledge is like a veil put on the void to cover the meaninglessness of life. That veil which serves as a cover from the nothingness behind itself is what we know as knowledge. The tragic consciousness is conscious of this fictional quality of knowledge and knows too, that this is something that has to be done for life to win over death. But this consciousness simultaneously carries within itself an unnamable joy and happiness, what Lacan calls jouissance. This unhappy consciousness does not negate life, on the contrary, it affirms it, it is the motor of affirmative becoming that turns a state of mind, unhappy consciousness, into a mode of being, being affirmative. The figure that feels knowledge as the deformation of truth most deeply is Dionysus. By whipping his own pain like whipping horses running a carriage, Dionysus turns his impossibilities into possibilities, his incapability into his capability.  An Ancient Greek God, Dionysus, unlike Hamlet, does not get caught up in desperation and become passive because of his tragic knowledge. On the contrary, Dionysus considers loss of consciousness, drunkenness and dancing to the rhythm of cosmos meritable actions. Unlike Hamlet Dionysus doesn’t become inactive but still his actions are doomed to be lost in the labyrinths of death drive. With his excessive destructivity Dionysus is only one of the steps on the way to creating something new. If Apollo’s creative and ordering actions that give a form to the chaos and turn the unconscious drives into conscious desire don’t intervene, however, Dionysus’ self-destructive passage through the void, his unconscious exploration of the world of drives, do not mean a thing. Apollo carries out the creativity phase of this passage through the process of change towards the new by giving a form to Dionysus’ formless insights. The attainment of the impersonal consciousness of the creator can only be possible by this process of change carried out by co-operative interaction of Apollo and Dionysus. Human helplessness in the face of death and nothingness can only be overcome by a special form of relationship between the creative/destructive powers of Apollo/Dionysus.

We are familiar with these ideas from Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy. For someone to write these he must be in a deep depression. Nietzsche whose writings carry the stamp of his pain and suffering never said anything like creativity requires pain and suffering. For Nietzsche the creative process necessarily bears within itself a certain pain. When he says “that which does not kill me renders me stronger,” what Nietzsche wants to mean is that rather than fall into despair and hopelessness in the face of the bad things that happen to us, we should keep in mind that that which has happened to us will gain its meaning in time, so with this knowledge in mind we should try to act in such a way as to make this bad thing gain a positive meaning in time. That is, relate to the bad thing in such a way that it will have happened for the good in the future. Yes, this terrible thing has happened to me, and yet I shall act so as to make this terrible thing that has happened to me and which I cannot change render me stronger rather than weaker. So is how Nietzsche becomes a philosopher not striving for pain and suffering, but welcomes pain and suffering as they come, and know that they are not to be excluded from life of which inescapable consequences they are. Nietzsche is not saying that suffering is the cause of creativity, rather, Nietzsche is saying that the creative person is he who suffers a lot, but suffering is not the motor of creativity. Perhaps if we try to say the exact opposite of what Nietzsche says we understand more clearly what he means: That pain and suffering renders the subject stronger, so it is a must that one brings as much calamities upon oneself as possible in the way of more and greater sufferings.

Nietzsche is not only not in favour of killing the self or the other, he is also obviously against self/other destruction. This resistance to death is driven by the will to power, which affirms life in all its inconsistencies, surprises, incompleteness, finitude, with its happiness and sadness, the bad things and the good things in it, as it, with all its inner-conflicts and paradoxes, is.


2. A Conversation Around Nietzsche Between a Stoic and a Sceptic

Stoic: I found some interesting stuff as I was messing about today, you may have come across it before; Nietzsche responds to Flaubert’s idea that one can only think and write while one is sitting by saying that only those thoughts we think while we walk are worthy of thinking. Unfortunately at the moment we are in the position of Flaubert, we will have to think and talk as we sit. But we could as well have talked as we walked. Perhaps we would have had problems with recording what we said, but still, when you think about it, it would be great if we were on the hills with a third party to put down what we say.

Sceptic: I don’t think what’s important is whether you sit or walk as you think. I don’t know how Plato used to think, but I think I know that Aristotle used to walk a lot.

Stoic: Heidegger liked walking. Who else is there from the walkers? Nietzsche is one. Anyway, I want us to talk about our personal experiences of Nietzsche a little bit. How did you come across Nietzsche, did you experience him differently in different periods of your life? I was thinking about that this morning, I met Nietzsche quite early in life. It was a crooked encounter of course, as is usually the case in those ages, but this encounter had a peculiarity to it. Perhaps the first reading is the most truthful reading.

Sceptic: It is difficult to feel the same excitement later on.

Stoic: One does not know the context that well at first. So the text is free floating, one can invest it with almost any meaning one wants, a kind of projective identification operates which doesn’t always have fruitful consequences.

Sceptic: And yet sometimes it does. One has no idea about the context at all. One doesn’t even know that there is such a thing as context. I don’t know which one of his books you read first but I read Zarathustra. It came as a shock to me; it wasn’t like anything I had ever read before, a total confusion. It was out of the question to agree or disagree, I remember having been crushed under the book. And as you said, then you don’t know the context, where he is coming from and where he is heading towards and all that, and all meaning remains hung up in the air. You can’t situate it, it was like a burning meteor coming towards me and I couldn’t do anything other than stare at it blankly.

Stoic: I don’t exactly remember from where I started Nietzsche, but as far as I can remember it was an unauthorized French edition of some fragmentary writings. I was talking about my problems with one of my teachers, thoughts were circulating in my mind, and when I tried to express myself not much made sense. My teacher gave me some names one of which was Nietzsche. He said German philosophers gave a lot of thought to anxiety causing problems of life, their concerns were very similar to your anxieties; Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Heidegger. So I checked out Nietzsche and as I said it was like a crash, a way of expression I had never come across before, an attitude so extraordinary… It’s only now I realize that I was undergoing a very dangerous experience. The danger with Nietzsche is, you know, I had a period of reading Nietzsche through other writers. When I was in my twenties I read Deleuze’s Nietzsche, Klossowski’s Nietzsche, Blanchot’s Nietzsche, and all kinds of other Nietzsche’s, others’ Nietzsche’s. In a way their attitudes served as a kind of directory, they were guides to Nietzsche, they open paths as they close some others, and yet they teach you what and how to look for, what really matters in Nietzsche, but in another way they deprive you of the possibility of one to one, direct encounter with Nietzsche. I remained under the influence of what I had seen through those glasses for a long time.

Sceptic: Did you keep on reading Nietzsche in-between your periods of depression?

Stoic: I was reading, but always within the fields they opened, not beyond their horizon. I still didn’t have my perspective on Nietzsche. And after that period came to an end, the period of reading Nietzsche from the others’ perspectives, I didn’t read Nietzsche for at least ten years. I had a really serious depression in 1988. I looked for remedies in the books; I looked in vain for therapeutic writers. I looked at Kafka, Dostoyevski, I didn’t want to read them, after three-four pages I threw them away, it was all very upsetting. But when I discovered Ecce Homo, I considered it as the deliverance of my salvation, it really came as a relief, and I finished the book in one sitting during a cold and rainy night. To some extent it cured me. When after a while I recovered completely I turned back to Nietzsche only to find out what we all know: One understands what one had read at twenty in a completely different way when one gets to thirty because one changes and with one the book’s meaning changes. The text remains the same perhaps, but we move on to another place and another time.

Sceptic: Even the meanings of words change, free from us, independently of our personal change.

Stoic: In different periods of my life Nietzsche had different effects on me. When I look back now, to what extent can Nietzsche be considered a philosopher, how far out is he from ordinary philosophy? Of course it would be very difficult not to consider Nietzsche a philosopher, but there are many cases where you see academic philosophers turn a blind eye on him, but that’s their problem of course, it’s their loss, not Nietzsche’s. And the reason why he has been so influential especially outside academic philosophical discourse, in literary, critical and cultural studies for instance, is that he has written such exciting texts that one may die of pleasure. You don’t get the same effect from Hegel for instance, you don’t die from the magnificence, the splendour… Nietzsche has a massive poetic potential. Not that I’m fond of all of what I have just said of him, of course…

Sceptic: But I do get immense pleasure from reading Hegel. I even find him extremely humorous at times. Phenomenology of Spirit gives me hope, when I’m too desperate it even fills me with an irrational bliss. Can’t you hear the laughter in Hegel? Or maybe it’s just my laughter which I think comes from Hegel. I can see your point about Nietzsche though, he is much more affective. You can read Nietzsche isolated from his philosophical thoughts, as a writer of literary texts, texts on life itself rather than life reduced to knowledge. It is Nietzsche’s style that gives you the kicks. How about Nietzsche’s poems?

Stoic: To be honest, I don’t like them.

Sceptic: I agree, but there are many admirers of his poems too. Some even see his poetry as prophecy, a kind of expansive message from beyond. But I think Nietzsche’s prose is much more beautiful, especially when read in German.

Stoic: Perhaps. Unfortunately I don’t have the privilege of reading original Nietzsche, I haven’t had that privilege.

Sceptic: That’s the dangerous aspect, he can tempt you, put you off the rails, as he has done and continues to do to many.

Stoic: He has quite an asphyxiating effect. I can’t think of Nietzsche having an ordinary effect on anyone; he either makes you hate him, or love him with a great passion, at least at the beginning.

Sceptic: I believe my attitude was a bit more cautious than yours. I didn’t really get into Nietzsche, or perhaps I should say Nietzsche didn’t penetrate me as much as he did you. Nietzsche came to me naturally and is now in the process of leaving me naturally. I haven’t had a Nietzschean drama, he has never been a writer I turned towards out of hunger and thirst for a way out; I tried to comprehend him and when I finally thought I comprehended him I realized that it is almost impossible to come to a total understanding of Nietzsche, for if one does figure out what Nietzsche really wants to say one becomes a victim of Nietzsche and hates him, and with him, hates oneself. I have never really came to a total understanding of Nietzsche, because he disapproves of so many things, and it is impossible to know what exactly it is that he is disapproving of, so you see, it becomes difficult to follow his story. I was a Wagnerian when I was twenty for instance, and I couldn’t see why he was so reactively critical of Wagner. I had no idea about the history of the relationship between Wagner and Nietzsche, and without this background story you don’t get Nietzsche’s point in Nietzsche contra Wagner. There is always a lot more going on behind what Nietzsche writes than one could possibly imagine, he is the iceberg and his writings are his tips.

Stoic: You still are a bit Wagnerian, you like it that way?

Sceptic: Yes I like it… Nietzsche objects to the whole of European thought from Plato through Hegel and Schopenhauer and why he does so is linked to his personal experiences of this collective history of European thought. And we are not born with the knowledge of Nietzsche’s experiences. His critique of Christianity, I don’t know, I’m not a believer, but I don’t approve of Nietzsche’s reactive aggressiveness as he attacks the Christian God. As I said one has to know Nietzsche’s life but how possible is that? Unlike you I have never read the secondary literature on Nietzsche, I’m only familiar with the names you mentioned earlier, but I don’t know what they are up to with Nietzsche. 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…[5]

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 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 one’s 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…)[6]

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?”[7]              

 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 minds’ 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.”[8] 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.”[9] 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: 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.”[10] 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!…”[11]  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.”[12] 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.

 ‘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?’[13] 

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 is as “return of the same.”[14]

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 and 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] 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 

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

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

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

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

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

[10] Epictetus, 16

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

[12] Nietzsche, 17

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

[14] Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy, 48

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