“Philosophical terrorism, which assimilates the exercise of thought to a logic of the worst: we start from the apparent order and virtual happiness to lead, passing by the necessary corollary of the impossibility of all happiness, to disorder, at random, to silence, and, at the limit, to the negation of all thought. Philosophy thus becomes a destructive and catastrophic act: thought here in work has to undo, destroy, dissolve-in general, to deprive man from all that he intellectually provided of provision and remedy in case of misfortune. Like the vessel by which Antonin Artaud, at the beginning of the theater and his double, symbolizes the theater, it brings to men not healing, but the plague. Thus, appeared successively on the horizon of Western culture of thinkers like the Sophists, like Lucrèce, Montaigne, Pascal or Nietzsche – and others. Terrorist and logicians of the worst: their common and paradoxical concern is to succeed in thinking and asserting the worst. The concern here has changed edge: the concern is no longer to avoid or overcome a philosophical sinking, but to make it certain and inevitable by eliminating, one after the other, all the possibilities of loophole. If it is an anxiety in the terrorist philosopher, it is to ignore such an absurd aspect of the admitted meaning or such a derisory aspect of the seriousness in place, to forget an aggravating circumstance, in short to present tragic an incomplete and superficial painting. Thus considered, the act of philosophy is by nature destructive and disastrous.
The terrorist intention which inspires tragic philosophies therefore differs in kind both from the philosophical disposition called pessimism and psychological provisions specific to the paranoid states. Closer to the terrorist intention is the notion of pity. But not a pity of the Schopenhauerian type, of both a consoling and soothing. On the contrary: a bruising and exterminating pity, easily detectable in all writings of tragic inspiration (both literary and philosophical). The great terrorist discourses held by tragic thought generally allow this element of fairly unique pity to perceive which, far from eating ills, undertakes to exacerbate them until the recognition of the intolerable. Bruising pity, which seems to define his insensitivity, his impermeability to all pity. In this sense, tragic philosophy is a “pharmacy”, an art of poisons which consists in pouring into the minds of the one who listens to a poison more violent than the ailments which he is currently afflicted. Thus, Nietzsche claimed to assess men and philosophies to measure the violence of the poisons that they are likely to assimilate: the sign of health being the “good” receptivity to the poison. So, Montaigne, so Pascal. But the most characteristic representative of this murderous pity inherent in tragic thought remains Lucretia, whose work almost pushes the art of concealing poisons into remedies. The medical intention of De Rerum Natura broke out on each page of the poem: it is a question of tearing up men from their vein anxieties, their unmotivated fears, of bringing them peace and serenity.”
—Clement Rosset, The Logic of the Worst
Daily Archives: August 12, 2022
The Last Illusion
The Disease of Time
“This is the infernal circle of the will, which alternates without truce or joy, expectations and pain, without ever being able to get out of the circle: time turns, but does not progress.”
Schopenhauer’s statement is the direct echo of the famous passages of the Ecclesiastes:
What was was what will be,
And what was done is what will be done;
And there is nothing new under the sun (83).
What was done already existed,
And what will be done has already been:
it brings back what happened (84).
Like the Ecclesiastes, “Schopenhauer suffers from the evil of time; boredom is no longer only weariness or pessimism, he transforms himself slyly into a terror in front of this illusionist master whose men are the unconscious toys, in front of this time that we believed to be alive, and who suddenly reveals itself eternally dead, motionless and always frozen. He has always succeeded in passing past events for new events. Man believed to act in free and regenerative time; In reality, he was in the hands of a corpse. A retrospective horror extends over his whole past, which he has lived as present when, like his future, he had already passed, and forever.” (Clement Rosset, Schopenhauer, The Philosophy of the Absurd)
Nietzsche would expand on this notion of eternal return…
Caught in the vicious circle of hell, wandering in our own ghostly worlds, we exist in a nightmare without reason or necessity repeating the gestures of a “purposeless purpose” like zombies who assume they are free. Death, like birth, like the future, is without taking a past always present: these are poisoned fruits of the disease of time which has ceased to “become”. Between life and death, what difference? Desiring does not stop at these distinctions. Better still, death is a reservoir of life, as the past is the reservoir of the future: “It is from there, yes from there, it is from the Orcus that everything comes, and that’s where already was all that is life at the moment” (86). But this appeasement in the face of the anxiety of death, which is reminiscent of somewhat, although from afar, the arguments of Epicurus and Lucrèce, makes the human person an unimportant toy within a will Eternally repeated, without the future or past, which pays a balm on death only insofar as it removes any meaning to life. Death is no longer a tragedy, but a tragicomedia.
The world, according to Schopenhauer, is dead; we believe that it lives, and the deepest Schopenhauerian demystification is to realize that it only pretends to live, that it clumsily mimics life. In reality, it does not live more than the members of the mannikin activated by strings do not make real movements. Hence the anxiety before the world’s death which is constantly disguising itself, these corpses which always claim to sing the living. The Schopenhauerian anxiety affecting eternal repetition is unfolding well against a background of death, the repetition being the imperceptible defect in which the borrowed movement of a positivity of life. There is no future, no becoming, everything has already always become; it is dead, it is past, it is like the ghosts on a screen in a dark theatre repeating the same lines over and over again without stop; lifeless the images move but do not move forward into a future without time, it is all flat – a circle laid out on the blank screen of nothingness, a repetition of past events that have always been there repeating themselves in the silence.
Schopenhauer’s pessimism when he cursed it, came from the deafness of men with regard to their absurd situation, their experience within absolute determinism, acting as if they were free, and believing themselves active and alive while they are passive and dead. The last illusion: freedom. Ultimately as in Shakespeare:
“The world is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.
What to do?
“Still alive, afloat, afire. Farewell then my penultimate hope: that one may be sunk for direst blasphemy on the very shore of the Shore.”
—John Barth, Night-Sea Journey
Yep, it’s hard not to be a pessimist in this age of fracture, degradation, and corruption. One can either be like Petronius in his Satyricon and blast it to pure farcical hell; or like Francois Villon the criminal poet of France live in the gusto of the moment: drink, eat, and be merry; or like Marcus Aurelius spawn stoic platitudes about curtailing suffering and pain; or like Celine expose the underbelly of life in the trenches where the corruption is a long tale of misery, pain, and apathy or indifference; or, a Henry Miller and fantasize about the mask one wears in imaginary adventures through an ex-patriot hell… or, or.. or…. I think John Barth in one of his tales found something like ten basic stances one could take with and against life from the tragic to the comic nihilist: cynic, stoic, Idealist, materialist … guttersnipe. I’ve floated through them all at one time or another in my life. We all handle it the best we can. What else can we do? We have no control over other people much less our own lives. We muddle through… it’s all chaos my friends. Our sense of order is a pipe dream for the metaphysician and the physicist, not for us commoners who actually live in the trenches. John Barth in Night-Sea Journey suggests,
Mad as it may be, my dream is that some unimaginable embodiment of myself … will come to find itself expressing, in however garbled or radical a translation, some reflection of these reflections. If against all odds this comes to pass, may You to whom, through whom I speak, do what I cannot: terminate this aimless, brutal business!
- John Barth. Collected Stories. Dalkey Archive Press.